The first month of the year is generally a write-off, with bleak and miserable weather, credit card bills from the holiday season finally arriving and expecting to be paid for, and for some unfortunate souls, the spectre of Dry January, or staying off the booze for the first month of the new year.
Fortunately, February has arrived, and with it, the opportunity for sober reflection on the state of booze in our fair province.
Alberta was home to 70 breweries at in January 2018, nearly doubling to 125 breweries as the year drew to a close.
Surprisingly, the majority of those new breweries did not open in the big cities of Calgary and Edmonton, but in the smaller centres that are finally being recognized as markets ripe for expansion.
Chestermere has been blessed with Township 24 Brewing for just over a year now, bringing the joys of craft beer to our beloved community, with no need to travel east to the big city for a tall glass of hoppy goodness.
Close to 30 other small towns and cities across Alberta have seen craft breweries appear over the past year, including Airdrie, Okotoks, Turner Valley, Cochrane, Lloydminster, and many others.
This past year has indeed been the year of rural breweries in Alberta, a trend that is expected to continue in 2019 as fledgling new brewers seek out less saturated markets to peddle their wares. Our sister lakeside community of Sylvan Lake already has two craft breweries, so perhaps 2019 will be the year that our own local Township 24 Brewing gets a neighbour?
Much like the difficulty a parent has in selecting a favourite child, choosing a favourite brewery amongst so many outstanding contenders is a herculean task.
However, in service to you, the faithful reader, I have toiled through many pints, and driven to many small towns in search of my favourite brewery of 2018, namely Brauerei Fahr in Turner Valley, just an hour southwest of Chestermere.
Faithful readers may recall me waxing poetic about Brauerei Fahr before, with the most authentic German beers this side of Düsseldorf. The beer has been contract brewed at other craft breweries for the past few years while the owner, brewer, and chief bottle washer was building his own facility in Turner Valley.
The brewery and tap room was finally opened to the public a few weeks ago, and I made a beeline there on opening night for what has become my favourite example of the Hefeweizen beer style, brewed to exacting specifications with locally grown wheat and traditional German yeasts to provide those notes of banana and clove that Hefeweizen is known for.
If you are making a trip north, be sure to stop in Red Deer, which is blessed with several craft breweries.
Troubled Monk Brewing has been opened the longest, and their products are widely available in cans across the province. While they started as a craft brewery back in 2015, they have since expanded into kid-friendly craft sodas and not quite so kid-friendly distilled spirits.
I popped into the taproom while passing through Red Deer on the way home from a weekend in Edmonton, and was glad to have made the stop. The Buck Tooth Belgian White was my favourite, made in the traditional witbier style with a light bodied bready malt backbone, balanced with mild citrus hop notes, and a spicy finish from the unique Belgian yeast strains.
My travel companion preferred the best-selling Pesky Pig Pale Ale, a sessionable ale that will not frighten the macrobrew drinkers, while still flavourful enough for the beer snobs of the world.
A clean and crisp beer with hints of cut grass and mild citrusy aromas, with tropical flavours on the tongue balanced with light grainy malts, and a dry finish with hints of orange rind.
I made sure to pick up a growler of the Open Road American Brown Ale to enjoy after finishing the drive the home. Plenty of nutty pumpernickel notes from the hefty malt bill, a creamy mouthfeel from lactose malts, and a finish reminiscent of mochaccino. As a confirmed lover of dark beers, this one has been high up on my list of Alberta beers for a while now.
Take some time on your next road trip to visit one of Alberta’s 125 craft breweries, and broaden your beer horizons.