Dish

The future of craft beer in Edmonton

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It can be hard to get a handle on the current health of Edmonton’s craft-beer scene. The city has two stable, successful craft breweries (Yellowhead and Alley Kat), a sturdy brewpub chain (Brewsters) and a handful of quality beer pubs offering extensive tap and bottle lists. In retail liquor stores, consumers can purchase thousands of different brands of beer, including some from the most highly reputed breweries in the world.

Yet Edmonton lags in many ways. Cities of comparable size across Canada and the US tend to have a larger number of local breweries and a handful of brewpubs to brag about. Edmonton’s recent local brewery start-ups, including Amber’s, Roughneck and Hog’s Head, did not find the traction they needed and closed or are struggling. Finding a bar that serves quality—and particularly local—beer can still be a monumental challenge in this town.

So, where is it all heading—will Edmonton continue to lag or are we on the cusp of a beer revolution?

In the short term, I can confidently attest that the Capital Region will soon be seeing more brewery start-ups. In addition to Fort Saskatchewan’s Two Sergeants, I have confirmation of at least two new, independent brewpubs as well as another brewery that will be opening over the next year or so; another couple of breweries are set to open south of Edmonton as well.

One of the nice things about having more local breweries is that the (usually) friendly competition drives each of them to be better. As a result, in the coming years I think we will see more styles and creativity in local brewing; there are rumours of ongoing barrel-aging programs in which beer is cellared in oak barrels like wine.

Over the long term I feel bullish about craft beer in Edmonton, for the simple fact of our city’s burgeoning locavore movement. The drive toward sourcing food locally has been around for a while but has really taken off in the past couple years. To date, the local craft brewers haven’t fully leveraged that growing sentiment to their advantage, though admittedly this can be difficult when there are only two. With more options and a concerted effort, local beer might become just as much a “thing” as local food.

Not everything comes up roses, however. Alberta has the most open borders in the country: it only takes a two-page form and $50 to get permission to import a beer. This means our wide array of import options will continue to dazzle. While of benefit to local beer consumers, this also means that small, local breweries have to compete against the big breweries—and each other—in addition to fighting for shelf space with the world’s best
imports.

So the answer seems to lie somewhere in the middle: more good beer will be in store and, hopefully, more of it will be local. Just don’t expect any radical shifts any time soon. V

Jason Foster is the creator of onbeer.org, a website devoted to news and views on beer from the prairies and beyond.

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