Passion in the Craft
Hank Williams Sr. cried into his, Nina Simone took hers with a pig foot, and George Thorogood had bourbon and scotch before he drank his.
Beer is an increasingly irreplaceable part of our social and cultural fabric, and Albertans are becoming masters of weaving that fabric together. The Edmonton Craft Beer Festival is all about that provincial passion.
The festival features more than 300 kinds of beer, is partnered with 20 local eateries and restaurants, features live music, a sports lounge for the playoffs, and a cask stage for those rare one-off brews available only during special events. They even offer seminars to teach you how to pair beer with chocolate. When you’re ready to leave, you can, of course, take your beer home with you.
“I think we’re just catching up in some regards,” says Bill Robinson, president of Alberta Beer Festivals. “If you look at B.C., or Ontario, or Washington, or Oregon, you see a lot of regionalized breweries. So the brewery gets attached to a town or an area and that’s sort of their home turf, and you’re starting to see that in Alberta. I think the economic downturn also gave some people the opportunity to do what they’ve always wanted to do.”
A common trend among local Alberta breweries are their catchy and clever names like Fat Unicorn in Plamondon, Two Sergeants in Fort Saskatchewan, and Hell’s Basement in Medicine Hat. That last one comes from British author Rudyard Kipling’s 1907 journey through Western Canadian oil developments where he wrote, “This part of the country seems to have all hell for a basement, and the only trap door appears to be in Medicine Hat.”
“The last five years, we really hit that bust in the oilfield,” says Hell’s Basement’s brewmaster, Mike Gripp. “I kind of got sick of the ups and downs, and I’ve been a home-brewer for 18 years, so I just kind of decided to follow my passion. I enjoy home brewing and I enjoy beer. I thought I was pretty good at it, and so I just wanted to learn the commercial side of things and went to school up at Olds and here we are.”
Since starting up last summer, Hell’s Basement Brewery has expanded beyond expectations and they’re not alone. The rising amber tide has lifted all boats in both urban and rural parts of the province. In May, half of the medals given out at the 2017 Canadian International Beer Awards went to Alberta breweries. In just the last three years, provincial breweries have tripled with even more to come. Our beer is a growth industry in a recession, but Robinson thinks it means even more than that.
“I love the variety and I love the community around it,” says Robinson. “If you think about, how do you get somebody to help you move? You offer them beer. You got big news or a huge problem? You get together with your buddies over a beer. It brings us together.”
Edmonton Craft Beer Festival
Fri., June 2 – Sat., June 3
Edmonton Expo Centre, $25