Long time readers will recall that our fair province is teeming with craft breweries, with new ones opening every week.
While breweries have historically been concentrated in large cities, rural brewers have been hanging out shingles in small towns across the land. Close to home, we have Township 24 Brewing in Chestermere and Origin Malting & Brewing in Strathmore, but they are by no means the only places to find craft beer outside of the big cities.
Two of the newest entrants to the market are located in High River and Black Diamond, so I made a day trip over the weekend to visit both of them.
Hard Knox Brewery in Black Diamond opened a few weeks ago, and is the brainchild of long-time residents and siblings Pamela and Cory Lyken. My favourite was the Grunt Work Vienna Lager, a beer style invented in Austria in 1841, and widely considered to be the first pale lager beer ever made.
Vienna Lager is coppery in colour, and has a slightly sweet malt flavour and very low hop bitterness. Brewers in neighbouring Germany liked the style so much that they copied it for that little shindig they throw every year called Oktoberfest, so you can be assured that this beer has plenty of street cred.
I also sampled the Dusty Trail IPA, which uses dry hopping late in the boil for a highly aromatic brew without an overwhelming hop bitterness. The hops provide notes of citrus and pine resin on the palate, nicely balanced by a sturdy malt backbone from locally sourced barley. I particularly enjoy a cold IPA on a sunny patio, and conditions on the patio at the Hard Knox Brewery certainly obliged.
A short drive to the southeast took me from Black Diamond to High River, where I visited High River Brewing, which opened its doors just a few weeks ago.
The two founders are both graduates of the brew school at Olds College, which is pumping out professional brewmasters as quickly as possible, but are still only able to meet a fraction of the demand in our growing beer industry while keeping their professional standards at the current lofty levels.
With four core brews on tap and the occasional rotating seasonals, High River Brewing is an all-ales operation, which is typical for small brewers, as ales can be turned over much more quickly than lagers.
Faithful readers will recall that I am a huge fan of stout beers, and the High River Brewing Muddy Tail Stout was no exception. Weighing in at 6.5% ABV, I sampled it directly from the brass teats in the tap room, and was happy to find it was served slightly warmer than their other beers, as good stouts should be. Bursting with chocolate malts, notes of biscuit and toast, and even a dark roast coffee aroma, it was a stout I plan to enjoy again and again.
The Diving Fox IPA also weighed in at 6.5% ABV, and uses a slightly sweet malt with plenty of toasted grains to balance the citrus and tropical fruit notes from the hops. A highly sessionable IPA, providing enough hop bitterness to be refreshing without going overboard.
The Floating Barn Pale Ale was the most approachable brew, and I suspect it will quickly become the popular favourite with the locals. At an easy-drinking 4.5% ABV, you can quaff this on the patio or while pushing the lawnmower. For the macrobrew drinkers in the audience, this will definitely be your go-to option.
My favourite was the Rising Pheasant Brown Ale, with toasty notes of caramelized malt on the palate, balanced by a robust bitterness that had me going back for more. The Brown Ale style originally hails from Jolly Olde England, but North American brewers have tweaked the style slightly by substituting local hop varietals for their European cousins. Of all the brews I sampled that day, this was the one that I made sure to take a growler fill home to enjoy the next day.
With new breweries germinating and sprouting in every corner of Alberta like our world-class malting barley, odds are you will find one in pretty much any small town across our fair province. Keep your eyes peeled on your next road trip, and support small businesses by stopping for a pint.