This might have been the best Calgary Stampede ever. Sure, I still had to wear those uncomfortable boots, and squeeze into the faded blue wranglers that seem to get a bit tighter around the midsection every year, but the long-awaited availability of craft beer made it all worthwhile.
Long-time Albertans will recall that the annual bacchanalia known as 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 Belgium-based conglomerate Anheuser-Busch 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 or Corona you were pounding on the patio is not really an import.
Faithful readers may recall that a miracle occurred in 2017, with locally produced Alberta craft brews being permitted on the Stampede Grounds for the first time. That trend has continued, with this being the Stampede’s third year for Alberta beer, much to the delight of the boozing public.
The 2019 Stampede saw with 20 different Alberta craft breweries sharing space in the Big 4 building and serving up their delicious wares, including our very own Township 24 Brewing from Chestermere! If you did not get a chance to try their Stolen Canoe Pale Ale at the Stampede, pop into the brewery tap room at 100 Rainbow Road for Chestermere’s most local beer.
This year, there were 20 Alberta craft brewers (and the giant Labatt megabrewer) pouring their wares, showcasing our world-class Alberta malting barley to the world.
There are more than a dozen craft breweries within 5 kilometers of the Stampede Grounds in Calgary, with several more under construction and scheduled to open in the coming months.
The nearby Inglewood-Ramsay neighbourhood was historically known as Brewery Flats thanks to Calgary’s first brewery opening there in 1892, and has experienced a resurgence of brewing culture, with half a dozen small craft breweries opening their doors in the past few years, and more in the works.
My favourite is Retro Brewcade, located on the 9th Avenue SE main strip in Inglewood, just a few blocks from the site of the original Calgary brewery.
Retro Brewcade houses both a craft brewery and a retro pinball arcade that takes me back to the squandered days of my callow youth. I can’t get enough of the Pinhead Porter, made with British malts and hops for an authentic old-world taste. Those who prefer lighter beers will enjoy the Invader Hopped Wheat, a perfect summer beer with a hazy orange-gold colour and refreshing taste with a floral hop finish.
Just around the corner is the Ol’ Beautiful Brewing Company, in an old building that longtime Albertans will recognize as the former location of the Smithbilt Hats factory, makers of Calgary’s famed white cowboy hats that are given to visiting dignitaries.
Smithbilt Hats occupied their original bulding for an entire century, from 1914 to 2015, when they moved to new digs just a few doors down, and Ol’ Beautiful quickly moved into the former factory space, converting it to a modern brewery and tap room.
My favourite from Ol’ Beautiful is the Pegasus Pale Ale, made with west coast hops for citrusy and floral notes, balanced by a sturdy malt backbone from the locally grown barley.
Ol’ Beautiful is located directly beside the Cold Garden Beverage Company, another popular local brewery, famous for its dog-friendly vibe, thrift store furniture, and giant disco pineapple hanging from the roof. The beer is pretty good too, with the Red Smashed In Buffalo Jump being my favourite.
Cold Garden’s quintessential summertime beer is the One Summer in Saskatoon, made in the French/Belgian Saison style, with Saskatoon berries added during the brewing process for a tart and sweet finish.
Whatever your preferred brew may be, you should be able to find it on the Calgary Stampede fairgrounds during the annual rodeo, or at the ever-growing number of nearby craft breweries. Take a tour of Brewery Flats on your next trip to the big city and see for yourself!