Well welcome folks, to the opening days of the year 2018. The past year has been a busy one for the Alberta beer industry, with dozens of new breweries coming online across our fair province.
The number of breweries continued to grow last year, and there are now over 60 breweries in our fair province, with many more still working their way through the construction and licensing process.
The number of Alberta breweries have tripled in the last three years, with most of that growth happening in Calgary and Edmonton, but 2018 looks to be shaping up as the year of the small-town brewery.
The trend towards small-town brewers is already ramping up, with Chestermere celebrating the arrival of Township 24 Brewing just after Christmas, and neighbouring Strathmore has been home to Origin Malting & Brewing since the summer. Visit them both for your own local beer taproom crawl!
With a similar lakeside lifestyle to Chestermere, the town of Sylvan Lake boasts not one, but two breweries, despite having a smaller population than Chestermere. Perhaps this bodes well for the beer lovers of Chestermere, and signals that our own Township 24 Brewing on Rainbow Road may face some local competition in the future.
Being a bedroom community to a larger city seems to be no deterrent, as Airdrie has recently welcomed Fitzsimmons Brewing, which produces a delicious amber ale made from rye grains and caramel malts for a spicy and complex finish.
Looking a bit further north, Ponoka is home to Siding 14 Brewing, which opened over the summer to great fanfare. My favourite is the Brakeman Brown Ale, with notes of toffee and burnt chocolate from the roasted malts, and a mild hop bitterness that is perfectly balanced.
Blindman Brewing can be found just a quick jaunt north in Lacombe, and while they have an ever-changing rotation of different brews, they have made a name for themselves in the Kettle Sour niche, which uses lactobacillus in the brewing process to produce a tart flavour. Sour beers tend to produce strong reactions from the boozing public, so you will either love it or hate it!
Looking to the south, Turner Valley is home to Braueri Fahr, home to the most authentic German beers this side of Munich. The owner and head brewer grew up in a small village in Germany, and eventually came to Alberta after earning a PhD in biomedical engineering, which is reflected in the high quality of each brew.
My favourite is the Old Fahrt Altbier, a style I first discovered while vacationing in Düsseldorf back in the days of my squandered youth. Altbier is a very old and traditional German beer style, and is an interesting hybrid in the ale / lager dichotomy. Altbier is made with ale yeasts and higher hop levels, but fermented at cooler temperatures like a lager, resulting in a sessionable yet highly flavourful brew.
The Fahr Away Hefeweizen is another winner, edging out my long-time favourite Wild Rose Velvet Fog in the hazy wheat beer segment. With the notes of banana and cloves from the unique yeast used with the Hefeweizen style, the grainy body is balanced with a grassy hop bitterness that complements, but does not overpower. This is the perfect summer beer to enjoy on a lakeside patio, so keep it in mind for when the snow melts.
Unsurprisingly, all brews faithfully adhere to the Reinheitsegot, also known as the German Beer Purity Law of 1516, now five centuries old and still going strong.
Even Okotoks has a brewery to call its own, with Six Corners Brew Works most famous for their Trailhead IPA, or perhaps their high-test Triple Summit IPA that weighs in at a hefty 10.3% ABV. My favourite is the Cowboy Trail Ale, an easy-drinking blonde ale that has been flying off the shelves in southern Alberta.
If malt-forward beers are more to your liking, look no further than the Stump Splitter Amber Ale, which pours a deep copper into the glass, followed by a strong malty backbone and a subtle hop kick. A few of these will definitely bring out your inner lumberjack!
Whatever your preference, there is an Alberta beer out there for you, so make 2018 your year of rural beer!