Imentioned in my last column that this past summer I toured a number of Alberta’s new breweries to get a sense of the province’s exploding beer scene. In that column I offered some observations about the evolution of the beer industry in Alberta. In this edition, I want to offer some ideas for beer fans who are interested in doing some beer tourism in the province. And while the emphasis will be on the new places you likely haven’t heard of yet, I will both toss in some of the longer standing operations and a couple places that aren’t open quite yet but will be soon.
Let’s start in our sister city to the south. Calgary likely has the fastest growing beer scene in the province—by mid next year they will might have as many as 25 breweries operating. For the beer traveller I think what is interesting is that there seem to be a couple mini-brewery districts forming. The first is in Inglewood, just east of downtown. Within a 10 minute walk you will soon have access to three or four breweries. Cold Garden just opened in the heart of Inglewood, while across the train tracks sits Banded Peak. Later this fall a third brewery is opening up on the main drag in the neighbourhood, called High Line. For the time being a fourth brewery, Outcast Brewing, is brewing out of Cold Garden and will be available there as well.
A second district is in the Northeast. The Dandy Brewing Company has a funky tap room in the Vista Heights neighbourhood serving small batch, English-inspired ales. A short drive (it is a bit too far to walk) is Tool Shed Brewing with Alberta’s only tap room located inside the actual brewing room. This fall a couple blocks away Common Crown will open, creating a little trifecta of breweries.
While in the region you could do a little Bow Valley brewery tour. Start off at Half Hitch in Cochrane, just a few kilometres north of the TransCanada, with their state-of-the-art tap room. Head west to Canmore where you can visit Grizzly Paw and, as of this fall, Canmore Brewing. Your final stop will be Banff Avenue Brewing, a brewpub in downtown Banff.
Alberta’s main commuter highway, Highway 2 between Edmonton and Calgary, is becoming a great beer tourism route. Starting in Edmonton, stop first in Lacombe to visit Blindman. Be sure to try their latest Kettle Sour, which is constantly rotating. Red Deer offers two tap rooms you can stop at, Something Brewing’s Schwarzbier is a must try. And don’t miss Troubled Monk’s World Beer Cup winning Brown Ale while in town. But you are not done yet. Hit the Olds College Brewery in Olds to get a sample of what their students are brewing up these days. If you are adventurous you could head into Didsbury to seek out Alberta’s most mysterious brewery, King of Springs. Don’t expect to find anyone there (I didn’t) but they do sell inexpensive growlers at a local liquor store. If you have extra time take a detour to Three Hills to find some Prairie Brewing beer (at the moment only available on tap at some local establishments). Sometime next year Fitzsimmon’s Brewing should be open in Airdrie to finish off your tour.
Finally, if you are looking for a rural beer experience, consider stopping in Edson. Normally just a gas fill-up spot on your way to Jasper, you now have a reason to spend an hour or two. Bench Creek Brewing is located just west of town with a tap room patio overlooking a lovely view of forest and hills. And then when you hit your final destination, be sure to stop by Jasper Brewing for a pint or two after skiing, hiking or whatever it is you do.
Alberta has always been great for travel. Now you can add beer to your itinerary. V
Jason Foster is the creator of onbeer.org, a website devoted to news and views on beer from the prairies and beyond.