Matt Sawyer stands in 4,200 acres of Alberta cropland – the sun on his face and the malt barley that he grows waving like a field of gold. Me? I’m sipping his WRaspberry Ale an hour away in Calgary’s Wild Rose Brewery & Taproom. My taste buds are rejoicing. Cool, hoppy with a hint of summer raspberry.
The journey of an Alberta beer, from grain to glass, has always been invisible to me. But I’ve learned it moves in not-so-mysterious ways, travelling from the farmer to the malter to the brewmaster to the waitress – who just happens to be bringing me another ale to pair with the taproom’s raspberry cobbler.
A Sophisticated Market
In between the glasses of draft my father would order at his favourite beer hall, he never had to ask what to pair with the flat ale on tap. Pickled eggs or beef jerky pretty much summed it up. But times have changed, thank heavens, and so have the brews and taprooms. The craft beer scene in Alberta is booming.
As tastes become more sophisticated, with home brew enthusiasts and others like me demanding more varied, flavourful and fresh beers, the craft beer market in Alberta continues to expand. The appearance of beer flights on menus has eliminated the need to choose, which I’m grateful for. I can now sip and savour the subtle nuances of a variety of brews. Berry, citrus, honey, chocolate, even chai.
A Perfect Pairing
Here at Wild Rose, parts of old kegs decorate the bar and the chairs are handmade. The barstools even have tractor seats on them, giving new life to the phrase “from farm to table.” With the reliance on fresh, local ingredients, it’s a term foodies love to hear. Top chefs in award winning restaurants are just as taken with small batch brews and often feature menus to highlight the special partnership between beer and bites.
A Natural Partnership
“Everything starts with a good foundation in order to produce a quality product,” says Sawyer, of Sawyer Farms in Acme. “You begin with quality workmanship and some help from Mother Nature.”
Nature gives Alberta the beginnings of the right stuff for making great ale – premium barley (and for certain ales, wheat), and perfect hard water. Next, there are great malt houses such as Rahr Malting in Alix and, finally, experienced brewmasters.
Alberta Success Stories
Led by Ed McNally, Calgary’s Big Rock Brewery got craft beer going in Alberta in 1985 – a success story that grew from one man’s passion for beer. Now, there are premium breweries and tap houses all around the province and his brews are exported all over North America.
Bear Hill Brewing Company is another. It began with the Jasper Brewing Company in 2005, then the Banff Ave. Brewing Co.in 2010 and now the Wood Buffalo Operation – one of the largest brewpub/eateries in Canada. Grizzly Paw Brewing Company in Canmore takes advantage of that pure clear Rocky Mountain glacial water.