The uncomfortable boots have come off. The faded blue wranglers that seem to get a bit tighter around the midsection have been returned to the box they live in with a few old cowboy hats for 355 days per year.
As you may have guessed, I have once more survived the annual bacchanalia known as the Calgary Stampede, and I have craft beer to thank for it.
Regular readers may recall from past years that the Calgary Stampede has traditionally been a bleak and barren wasteland for the beer snobs of the world.
For the past 3+ decades, Labatt has been the exclusive beer sponsor, so all Stampede venues were only able to carry products from Labatt’s parent company.
For those who may not be aware of the labyrinthine organization of the megabrewers of the world, Labatt is owned by the Belgian-based conglomerate AB Inbev, whose brands include Budweiser, Labatt, Corona, Stella, Becks, and hundreds of others. Many of these brands are brewed at the giant Labatt facility in Edmonton, so that Bud Light you were pounding on the patio is not really an import.
While making the rounds with a few buckle-bunnies after a night at the rodeo, I even found a few bars outside the Stampede Grounds that were temporarily serving only Budweiser and Corona, so big beer is willing to pay big dollars for exclusivity at big events.
Faithful readers may recall that a miracle occurred in 2017, with locally produced craft beer available at the Calgary Stampede for the first time.
Craft brews were even more popular this year, with 32 different Alberta breweries sharing space in the basement of the Big 4 building and serving up their delicious wares, much to the delight of the thirsty tourists, many of whom were searching for an escape from both the heat and the omnipresent Bud Light at most of the Stampede venues.
In a nod to local history, the craft beer pavilion was located in the Big 4 building. Local history buffs will recall the so-called Big 4 were the four original founders of the Stampede, namely Patrick Burns, A.E. Cross, George Lane, and Archibald McLean.
While all four of the founders of the Calgary Stampede were involved in ranching and cattle farming, A.E. Cross also holds the singular distinction of founding the Calgary Malting and Brewing Company, which was the first brewery west of Toronto.
You can still see the old brewery in Calgary’s historic Inglewood neighbourhood, where it has stood since 1893. The brewery was acquired by Carling O’Keefe in 1961, then by Molson in 1989. The brewery was permanently closed in 1994, and has remained vacant since.
It seems that local beer has come full circle at the Calgary Stampede, from its original founding by Calgary’s first brewery owner, to local craft beer being served in the building dedicated to those same founders.
Naturally, the only beer on tap way back in 1912 for the very first Calgary Stampede came from the Calgary Malting and Brewing Company, located just down the road in Inglewood.
This year, there were 32 Alberta craft brewers (and the giant Labatt megabrewer) pouring their wares, showcasing our world-class Alberta malting barley to the world.
There are close to a dozen craft breweries within 5 kilometers of the Stampede Grounds in Calgary, with several more under construction and scheduled to open this summer.
The Cold Garden Beverage Company is perhaps the closest brewery to the Stampede Grounds, and is located just a few blocks from the old Calgary Malting and Brewing Company facility in Inglewood.
Located in an old welding shop beside the CP Rail tracks, Cold Garden is your intrepid liquor reporter’s go-to local brewery in the area, with an eclectically designed tasting room that is not only dog-friendly, but serves up some of the finest brews in Alberta.
My favourite is the Vanilla Cappuccino Porter, a malt-forward dark brew with subtle additions of vanilla beans from Madagascar and cold press coffee from Rebel Beans in Okotoks. Imagine that a pint of Guinness and a slice of coffee cake fell in love, and you are drinking the delicious fruits of that union.
Instead of ordering another Bud Light in a plastic cup at the rodeo, my plans for the next 12 months are to visit all of the dozen or so breweries located near the Stampede Grounds. Consider it reconnaissance for next year!