Spring has arrived in our fair province, and I have already enjoyed patio libations on a sunny weekend.
The end of winter can mean many things, but the longer daylight hours and better highway conditions means that it is road trip time, in search of new and exciting craft booze across Alberta!
I made the trip up the QE2 last weekend, with the intent of sampling the crafty wares of the brewers and distillers located in Sylvan Lake and Red Deer.
Red Deer holds many nostalgic memories for me, as my first pint of draught beer was from the now-defunct Drummond Brewing, who had cornered the low-cost beer market back in the awesome eighties and naughty nineties.
Drummond Brewing was very popular in the days of my squandered youth, and was the 3rd-largest Alberta brewery when it was shuttered in 1995, launching me on the first step on my journey from bland macrobrews to craftier ales.
Interestingly, Drummond Brewing was resurrected in Red Deer in 2009, and still runs a popular brew pub aimed at the value segment of the market. On the craftier side, Something Brewing is an offshoot label of Drummond.
Something Brewing was one of the first craft brewers in Alberta to produce a Schwarzbier, which is one of my favourite German dark lagers, so I was filled with giddy delight when our own local Township 24 Brewing here in Chestermere started producing their Meridian Dark Lager in the same style.
While I visited 4 different breweries in Red Deer and Sylvan Lake over the weekend, my favourite was Troubled Monk, a brewery and distillery on the banks of the Red Deer River, conveniently located just off the highway.
Troubled Monk opened their doors back in 2015, with a core of four flagship beers, plus an array of rotating seasonals. Craft sodas and spirits distillation were later added to the existing brewery operation, making Troubled Monk a one-stop shop for nearly anything that wets your whistle.
The taproom was abuzz during my visit, as their Troubled Monk Gin had just won a gold medal at the 19th annual World Spirits Competition in San Francisco, an auspicious event that is sort of like the Oscars or Junos for booze.
Knowing the gin would quickly sell out after winning such a major award, I quickly purchased 2 bottles in the taproom.
Most Gin is crystal clear, but the Troubled Monk Gin is infused with the bright blue petals of the Butterfly-pea flower, giving the Gin a deep blue colour similar to the blue glass in a bottle of Bombay Sapphire.
For those not familiar with the Butterfly-pea flower, it has been used for centuries in Southeast Asia in herbal teas, but has only recently come to North America. As a delightful bonus, the colour will change based on the pH level of the liquid, so adding a twist of lemon juice will change the colour from bright blue to a deep purple, while adding hibiscus will turn the liquid a deep red, opening many possibilities for crafty cocktails.
While my tastes usually run to crafty beer and good wines, I am no stranger to Gin cocktails, from the eponymous G&T, to the dirty martini, and everything in between.
As with any Gin, the dominant flavour is that of juniper, with each distillery lending their own spin with a unique blend of infused botanicals. The Troubled Monk Gin uses the Butterfly-pea flower only for its unique colour, as the petals themselves are almost entirely flavourless.
The Troubled Monk Gin is made in the London Dry style, made popular the world over by the likes of Beefeater, Tanqueray, and Bombay Sapphire.
Gin is of Dutch origin, but found its spiritual home in England in the early 1700s, when London boasted a Gin joint on every street corner, such was its popularity with upper and lower classes alike.
Today, London Dry is the most popular Gin style in the world, and the Troubled Monk Gin is a fine example of the style, with plenty of fresh juniper on the nose and palate, balanced by a complex bouquet of other botanicals that are a closely guarded secret. Look for it at your local well-stocked booze merchant to try it for yourself!