Oh, what a wonderful time it is to be a fan of beer in Alberta!
Up to about a decade ago, only a handful of small independent brewers existed in the province. Each struggled with the same challenge in finding a way to compete with the big multinational conglomerates with their massive marketing budgets but frankly dull brands. When Big Rock Brewing opened their doors in 1985, the late Ed McNally took charge and cemented himself as the OG (original gangster) of Alberta craft beer. What came next pretty much all started with that man, even if it did take some time to come to fruition.
Ten years ago, while other markets like British Columbia were going crazy for craft beer, there were only a dozen or so independent brewers of note in Alberta. A brewery was a huge investment due to minimum production laws and unless you had incredibly deep pockets there was barely any realistic way to even think about taking on the ‘big boys’. Then in 2013 the floodgates were opened when the province finally removed the minimum production laws completely. Aww yeah!
Over the next couple years things accelerated at an incredible place. What was first a trickle soon became a downpour. The dozen breweries we had ten years ago have today expanded to over 70 with more opening all the time. Unique identities and personas are being established and experimentation is at an all-time high.
Although we encourage everyone to go out and discover the incredible selection and diversity in the market for themselves, here is a summary of some of the breweries that have really caught our attention so far.
Annex Ale Project – Calgary
In their own words “We’ve wanted to make the kind of beer that would appeal to beer drinkers and big thinkers”. We think they’ve nailed it. Experimental styles with just enough strange to push your boundaries in a fun, friendly way. Their Bitter Division North American Bitter showcases this perfectly.
Blindman Brewing – Lacombe
When it comes to producing quality beer, these guys get it. Consistent product and a fun variety of styles, we recommend checking out their New England Style Pale Ale (if you can find it in stock as it does go very fast on retail shelves).
Cold Garden Brewery – Calgary
With an atmosphere that simply has to be experienced, this is a brewery that we believe to be a must visit. Between the giant Disco Pineapple that hangs from the ceiling, a dog-friendly environment and an incredibly authentic vibe this is one brewery with a truly unique personality. Try the All Nighter Vanilla Cappucino Porter to kick off your next session.
Dandy Brewing Company – Calgary
Experimentation and consistency. These guys try it all and always manage to pull it off. With a great crew, no brewery tour would be complete without a visit to their new location in Ramsay. Check out the Dandy in the Underworld Oyster Stout for the perfectly satisfying pint for any mood, food or weather but particularly after a long, productive day. It’s the treat you deserve.
Situation Brewing Co – Edmonton
The only brewery in the province that does cask-conditioned brews 5 days/week. Great food and lots of fun rotating seasonal releases. Check out their Page Turner IPA for one of the best examples that this province has on offer.
Tool Shed Brewing Company – Calgary
Nothing personifies the craft beer culture more than these guys. Constantly involving themselves in hosting beer-making activities, charities and other special events, these guys are a lot of fun. The Red Rage Freakish Red Ale is where we would start.
These are just a few examples of cool places to help get you started in your craft beer ventures but be sure to let us know which breweries have spoken to you in the comment section below. We would love to hear about your experiences as well!