On the outskirts of downtown Red Deer, taproom expert Stephen Ross manoeuvres us around shiny stainless steel tanks and fermenters. Troubled Monk Brewery is buzzing on a Saturday afternoon, with locals chatting over pints of craft beers. Tall and well-spoken, knowledgeable enough to be a beer judge and Cicerone Certified Beer Server, Ross talks about light refractions and hydrometers and the science and wizardry of bringing grains to glasses.
Ross pours a pint of the company’s best-selling Golden Gaetz, an ale named after politician Leonard Gaetz, the founder of what is now the city of Red Deer. “We’re in the heart of the best malting barley in the world in Alberta,” says Ross. “This is Alberta in a glass.”
Having poured its first pint in June 2015, Troubled Monk is part of the craft brewery boom in Alberta; the company recently added a 500-litre still and two fermenters designed to produce spirits. Its first release, a clean-tasting vodka distilled from two-row barley, pairs well with the company’s crafted root beer and ginger ale.
The beers are much like the city itself: More sophisticated than you might expect if you’ve never experienced them. Red Deer is a young, rapidly growing city of 100,000 with evolving tastes, and pride in all that’s grown and raised here, owing much to the seemingly endless farmland that surrounds the city. Visitors to Troubled Monk can nibble a cheese tray from nearby Sylvan Star, locally made sausage from Viva Deli, and housemate Nuts and Bolts. “If we’re going to serve something, we think, ‘how can we work with someone in Red Deer? And if not Red Deer, Alberta?’ ” says Ross.
The company also seeks opportunities to collaborate, as it did by creating flavoured syrups for a new cocktail joint. “Have you been to To the Lost?” Ross asks, referring to the hip nightspot downtown. “You have to go. Make time. They're the cocktail wizards of Red Deer.”
To the Lost cocktail lounge serves unique and extraordinarily good cocktails, local beers, cider and wine, bar snacks, gourmet burgers, hot dogs and more. Its coolness defies any previous notions visitors might have about small-town bars. Behind is a cozy little rum and tiki bar called Forgotten Alley, a hangout locals call a hidden gem, with live music, vinyl and open mic nights.
Next door at the Red Boar Smokery, chickens are on the menu from nearby Bowden, pork raised in nearby Lacombe by the Zuidhof family, and other products from Messinger Meats in nearby Mirror, Alta. The award-winning pit masters smoke their own brisket, pork shoulder and belly, chicken and ribs and serve them with classic sides like creamed corn, baked beans, creamy-vinegary slaw, some truly sublime mac and cheese, and their own house-made sausage. It all comes served on small butcher paper-lined baking sheets, all very shareable.
All of this has anchored 50th Street as a downtown hotspot, with a public patio out front, extending the seating area down the street, a community piano, flower-filled planters and plenty of tables to encourage summertime gatherings. Dose Coffee around the corner brews beans curated from some of the world’s most reputable roasters in a small but sleek, stylish space.