Edmonton bar managers give lowdown on local beer

You’ve got your favourite neighbourhood spots to stop by for a pint, but there isn’t always the opportunity to chat with the folks operating the establishments. We decided to round up a few managers from Edmonton’s popular beer destinations get the lowdown on what they think about local beer, and what their favourite brews are.

Joshua Wickard of The Underground

Joshua Wickard of The Underground

Joshua Wickard, beer and social-media manager
Underground Tap & Grill

Vue Weekly: What is the Underground’s philosophy on beer?
Joshua Wickard: We have a huge passion for beer and we want you to experience it and be a part of it. We also have a passion for food as well, which pairs well with our beer. But we really do push craft beer and getting more people to try that scene, just because there are so many beers to try and so many different places to explore and [you can] do it through beer.

VW: What type of beer is your best seller and why do you think that is?
JW: Our best seller is probably Yellowhead from Yellowhead Brewery, and the reason is obvious. It’s local, but I will tell you this: you won’t believe how many people come in here and ask for a Kokanee or a Molson and we say, “I’m sorry, we don’t carry that because we only carry micro-brewed craft beer. If you’d like something like that please go across the alley.” And they won’t want to leave and I’ll say, “Have you tried this lager? It’s similar to Budweiser, Kokanee”—even though it’s not, it tastes much better. They’ll have a taste of it and they’ll be like, “This is amazing, it’s really good, where’s it from?” And I’m like, “Five blocks that way.” They love it. Once they learn that it’s local, it gives them so much more enthusiasm for the brew, and a lot of them do go from here to visit the Yellowhead Brewery.

VW: Are there any varieties that are a tough sell in Edmonton?
JW: In terms of style, it’s harder for me to sell some barley wines and real stouts because they’re higher alcohol by volume and not everyone wants to sit down and drink a 12-percent beer. … It’s a hard sell, too, for people who might be counting calories or who, you know, are like, “Well I’d rather have a glass of wine” because they view wine as possibly something that’s more healthy if you’re looking at the same alcohol content, even though beer has some great health benefits to it as well. I would say just in terms of those styles, the more specialized the style is, sometimes it’s a rougher sell. But sometimes it goes gangbusters. I brought a beer in once that used a wild fermenting yeast. It was around seven percent and it was an ale. It went off the shelf in two days and it was a lot of beer.

VW: What’s your take on the beer scene in Edmonton?
JW: From our vantage, we were one of the beginners of the trend—we kind of bucked it, which was nice. It was amazing. We started and then you saw Beer Revolution come in and then Craft and you’ve had your stalwarts like Sugarbowl around for a while, and even MKT is relatively new as well, so it’s growing. It’s expanding, but I would like to see us and our competitors do more with really meaning what they say when they say craft beer. I’d like them to actually put more craft lines on and more local lines. Jason Foster did an article not too long back where he talked about us, Beer Revolution and Craft and said who has more local beers on and we won out on that. Because I do the inventory and selection here, it’s really important for me even: if you don’t think it’s the greatest beer in the world, I want to bring it in here just to give it a shot. A lot of beers do fail but it’s better that these guys, the brewers at least, have a shot so they know what they can maybe tweak the recipe with next time, rather than ending up with 50 kegs and nothing to do with them.

VW: What’s your favourite beer?
JW: There was a Berliner Weiss that was made by Three Floyds and that specific style was a sour ale. It has kind of an apple tartness to it. That’s probably my favourite that I’ve tasted in the last year. In terms of style, my favourite has got to be sour ales. Everyone’s all about IPAs and they have been for the last 15 years and it’s so over. Sour ales are where it’s going to be in the next 10 years, and I would love to see some Canadian breweries get ahead of that trend because some of their European and American counterparts are getting into it.

VW: What’s something about the Underground people might not know that you’d like them to?
JW: We are 100-percent local. Beer Revolution is a function of Brewster’s, so it’s based out of Saskatchewan. Craft is obviously based out of Calgary and we’re a local small business. You have places like MKT that are part of the Century Group, which is massive. So I think when people come in here they don’t realize this is actually a small business, so when they buy a pint they’re really helping supporting local and they’re really supporting small businesses, which are the lifeblood of the Canadian economy.

The Next Act's Mike Angus

The Next Act’s Mike Angus

Mike Angus, manager
The Next Act Pub

Vue Weekly: What is the Next Act’s philosophy on beer?
Mike Angus: Well, we took over this business four years ago. It’s been a neighbourhood staple for a long time, and it’s been an independent business that whole time. It’s been owned locally and independently, which on Whyte Ave is kind of unique. There are more and more chains kind of popping up, so we wanted to create like a fiercely locally owned independent business. So when it came to picking beer, picking Alley Kat was a no-brainer, and we started building our brand with them from day one. Four years later, what you’re seeing now with the rise of the craft-beer scene—which is almost synonymous with the independent brewery, even though a lot of the big guys are starting to realize craft beer is a growing part of the market. Craft is basically synonymous with independent and there’s never been a better time to be involved with local craft beer in Edmonton, I don’t think, so that’s how we describe ourself: we’re local, we’re independent and we push craft beer as much as we can.

VW: What type of beer is your best seller and why do you think that is?
MA: Alley Kat Main Squeeze Grapefruit Ale has been our best seller by far. They brought it out last year as a summer seasonal and it was our best seller within a month, almost four to one of all our other beers. Once they realized how popular it was—and the reason it was so popular is not just because it’s a beer that’s got grapefruit, but because I think it’s probably one of the best beers they’ve ever crafted in terms of how they put attention to it and handcrafted it. It’s perfectly in balance between the sweetness of the fruit, but it’s still beer first and I think that has generated such a broad appeal for them—everyone drinks it here. It’s not a situation where you say it’s a fruit beer and some people are going to say, “Well, that’s not for me.” People are finding that it’s beer first. Guys are drinking it because it’s beer and it’s refreshing and it’s a great summer patio beer and people who love fruit beer are in love with it too because it’s delicious all the way through. So that’s been our best-selling beer by far, and partly because [Alley Kat] hit at the right time where grapefruit beer was kind of taking off last summer. They were at the right place at the right time, but mostly I think they just hit a home run. They made a perfect beer.

VW: Are there any varieties that are a tough sell in Edmonton?
MA: I think it’s becoming easier and easier to get people talking about beer all the time. With the rise of the big beer rooms like Underground and Craft Beer Market, they’re doing a great job of teaching people about beer and getting them interested. The big guys, the macros, they own 90 percent of the beer market with one style of beer, and with the 10 percent that’s left, you’ve got people who are curious about trying a grapefruit beer or something darker or something that’s really hoppy. So there are some beers, I think, that are slower to pick up on the general public, but I think there’s never been a better time for people who are curious about trying new things. In our room obviously we focus on the craft side of things and with craft sometimes you get crazy experiments because small breweries can afford to do that—that’s why a lot of those guys started doing beer in the first place, because they were homebrewers and they just wanted to try as much as they could. Every once in a while you get a crazy beer that people will either say, “No, that’s too crazy for me” or “That’s so crazy, I have to try it.” I think that’s the most diplomatic way I can answer that question.

VW: What’s your take on the beer scene in Edmonton?
MA: There’s never been a better time to be involved in beer, period—and especially with beer literacy is what I call it—what people know about beer now as opposed to 10 years ago, I think your average Edmontonian’s beer literacy is much higher. Most people know one or two types of beer, or it used to be that way, where you’d go to a party and everyone would be drinking the same beer. Now people are so curious and excited to try new things and find a new brewery and the story behind small new upcoming independent breweries, especially here in town. I mean, a couple of my favourite beers are brewed here and then one in Wainwright, we’ll talk about that in a second, but just to tell that story where people would be like this brewery, it’s brewed right here, it’s brewed right downtown and people are like oh, really? And they’re curious and want to try it, and I think it’s just because people aren’t used to their favourite beers being local. I think that’s slowly starting to change; people are starting to get excited and realize that—even within our sales, our top three beers are all local beers, so that’s a great. That shows me it’s a great time to be in local beer in Edmonton.

VW: What’s your favourite beer?
MA: I’ve been geeking out on one of the local breweries I’ve been talking about, Ribstone Creek in Wainwright. They made an amazing porter for us—well not for us, but they came out with this amazing porter last winter and we were so impressed that we started talking with them about expanding their portfolio a little bit, seeing what else they were interested in doing. The gentleman out there came back and said, “Well, why don’t we work on a beer together?” and we came up with the IPA, which they called the Lone Bison IPA. It’s very much in a West Coast style. It’s got a really high hop end, which is great, a beautiful citrus finish to it, a nice caramel middle, a nice balance of alcohol and hops. That’s the one beer I’ve been really excited about and having a lot of success pushing as well. Again, you tell people’s it’s from Wainwright and they’re like, “Where? OK, sure, I’ll try it” and then they’re usually impressed.

VW: What’s something about the Next Act people might not know that you’d like them to?
MA: We have a strong selection of celiac-friendly options on our menu, both food- and beer-wise. There are some decent gluten-free beers out there, and Alley Kat just threw their hat in the ring with a really great gluten-reduced kolsch called Scona Gold that we carry. And of course, we carry plenty of ciders that celiacs have really been loving.
We do a cask night with Alley Kat on the first Tuesday of every month where Alley Kat provides us with a unique, one-of-a-kind cask that you’ll never get to try anywhere else. We tap it at 6 pm and pour $4 sleeves until it runs out. It’s a real blast—all the beer geeks come out for it—so we usually fill up quickly. We recommend people getting there as early as possible, because by 6 pm it’s usually standing room only.

The Sugarbowl's Mark Lastiwka

The Sugarbowl’s Mark Lastiwka

Mark Lastiwka, manager
The Sugarbowl Bar & Café

Vue Weekly: What is the Sugarbowl’s philosophy on beer?
Mark Lastiwka: We like to support local beer and we also specialize in Belgian beers, so I would say about half the menu’s Belgian imports; after that, we focus on the local craft market, and then after that we buy North American craft.

VW: Why Belgian?
MK: The owner [Abel Shiferaw] grew up in Belgium or spent a lot of time there when he was younger. The Sugarbowl is modelled after a Belgian-style café, so that’s sort of the product we’d like to sell.

VW: What type of beer is your best seller and why do you think that is?
MK: I guess it depends on draft or bottle. I’d say [by] bottle, Alley Kat Aprikat is probably one of the best sellers, because it’s delicious, refreshing, local—people like to drink that. It’s got quite a following. Draft: probably Erdinger Weissbier. It’s German wheat beer. Again, it’s had a following for a long time. I think it’s popular because it’s kind of an approachable import. It’s fairly low alcohol content, fairly easy drinking and we have happy hour specials on that as well.

VW: Are there any varieties that are a tough sell in Edmonton?
MK: I wouldn’t say there are any styles that are difficult sells. Certain things sell less, but everything gets its turn, I would say. I don’t think there’s anything that’s weak in terms of sales, in terms of style. Different seasons kind of encourage different sort of beers to be drunk. In the summer you’re looking for something lighter and in the winter you’re going to go heavier, so maybe off-season-wise, certain things won’t sell, but I wouldn’t say anything struggles.

VW: What’s your take on the beer scene in Edmonton?
MK: It’s exploded in the last couple of years. New places like Craft, Beer Revolution, Underground, these places have got many taps to choose from and I think it’s catching up to Calgary and maybe the other big cities in Canada.

VW: What’s your favourite beer?
MK: It changes daily; it depends on the mood. It’s nice to have a good selection. I’d be hard-pressed to choose a favourite.

VW: What’s something about the Sugarbowl people might not know that you’d like them to?
MK: We’ve got happy hour from 2 pm – 7 pm, appy hour from 2 pm – 5 pm and an early-bird breakfast special from 8 am – 10 am.

Leave a Comment