By DON TSE
There’s no better time to love beer in Calgary, which now boasts 17 breweries making flavourful craft beer. With most using Alberta-grown barley, drinking local beer celebrates terroir as much as drinking wine in Bordeaux. You can find local beers on tap at most local restaurants; it’s part of cowboy culture that Calgarians support Calgarians.
A LOCAL BEER FLIGHT
The greatest indication of the growth of the local beer scene just might be the creation of Calgary Brewery Tours, which now offers three tour options (or you can customize a tour to your liking). Calgary Brewery Tours are well run and a great way to visit a few breweries, have lunch with like-minded friends, and sample lots of beers without having to worry about planning or driving.
Another great way to try a lot of beers in one location is at Calgary International Beerfest (May 5 – 6). It is by far the largest beer festival in the city; there is simply no better way to sample all the beer Calgary has to offer.
→ Perhaps the best place to start visiting breweries in Calgary is in the Beltline area where brewpubs with great food and house-made beer abound. Trolley 5 Restaurant and Brewery (1), while less than a year old, has already made a name for itself for fantastic beers to accompany upscale casual dining, including in-house smoked meats.
→ Last Best Brewing & Distilling (2) also features casual dining and their own beers. But with a barbershop located in the downstairs bar, featuring cocktails made with Last Best’s own spirits, you can leave Last Best looking and feeling good.
→ For something slightly more casual, visit one of the five Calgary locations of Brewsters Brewing Company (3). Despite the more casual feel, the food is as first-rate as the beer. Next door is sister brewpub Beer Revolution (4) which serves amazing pizzas, a rotating beer list which always includes local brews and Brewsters’ beers.
→ Calgary is now home to a Mill Street Brewery (5). While Mill Street may be a Toronto-based chain, the local brewers devise many of their own recipes to go alongside familiar favourites such as the Original Organic Lager.
→ All of the brewpubs in the Beltline area are child-friendly, full-service restaurants that also offer brewery tours. Trolley 5’s $15 tour includes a welcome beer and a flight of four samples. Mill Street’s $10 tour includes a flight of beers, and Last Best’s tour is free (though it doesn’t include any samples). Brewsters only offers (free) tours at its main brewery in the Foothills Industrial Park, where most of the beer served in Calgary is made. At Trolley 5 and Mill Street tours should be booked in advance, though they are flexible on times.
→ Cold Garden Beverage Company (6) is a small brewery making creative, non-traditional brews.
→ High Line Brewing (7) features a mix of traditional styles and more adventurous brews, including one made with Yerba Mate.
→ Nearby, Banded Peak Brewing (8) has already fermented a reputation for some of Calgary’s best beers.
→ Not far from Banded Peak is Village Brewery (9), which started the current Calgary beer boom when it opened in 2011 by being the first new brewery to open in Calgary in 15 years.
→ All four breweries have tasting rooms where children are permitted, but opening hours are much shorter than at a pub and food choices are generally limited to snacks.
THE BEST LOCAL BEER STORES
If shopping is on your agenda, many local independent liquor stores can happily fulfill your beer (and souvenir) needs. Stop by Oak and Vine, Kensington Wine Market, Craft Cellars, Willow Park Wines and Spirits, 5 Vines, and Vine Arts. It is a testament to the strength of the local beer scene that many of the large retailers and chains also carry local products, so check out Co-Op Wine Spirits Beer, Liquor Depot, or Sobey’s Liquor; you’re never far from one.
→ Calgary’s northeast has also become a hotbed of brewing activity. Tool Shed Brewing (10) is responsible for updated AGLC laws that allow small breweries to operate, and showcases four regular beers and the occasional seasonal release.
→ Nearby Common Crown Brewing (11) offers three regulars and one seasonal beer.
→ Dandy Brewing Company (12), despite being Calgary’s smallest brewery, offers eight beers on tap, many of which are creative, one-time brews.
→ Minhas Micro Brewery (13) offers many beers (you’re probably familiar with their Boxer and Lazy Mutt beers) and a full-service restaurant, making it a good stop in the northeast if you’re hungry.
→ Tool Shed, Common Crown, and Dandy are brewery operations first, so food options are limited. Tours at Tool Shed ($15), Common Crown ($15), and Minhas ($12) should be booked in advance, and include beer samples. Dandy does not currently offer tours.
→ No brewery tour in Calgary would be complete without a stop at Big Rock Brewery (14) Calgary’s original craft brewer, which is now over 30 years old. Tours ($25, includes samples and a souvenir glass) must be booked in advance and Big Rock Grill (open for lunch only) prepares wonderful food to showcase their dozens of beers.
→ Don’t let the industrial décor at Wild Rose Brewery (15) fool you; the food is excellent and so are the beer offerings. Wild Rose is family-friendly and also serves craft sodas for little ones and teetotalers.
Boiling Oar Brewing is busy trying to keep up with demand and doesn’t yet have a tasting room, while Outcast Brewing and Goat Locker Brewing are locally-owned contract brewers. They have no brewing facilities of their own, but make their beer using other’s equipment. You can complete your Calgary beer experience by drinking Boiling Oar, Outcast, and Goat Locker beers at local bars. Also keep your eye out for beers from Calgary’s soon-to-open breweries Anex Ale Project, Caravel Brewery, Zero Issue Brewing, Red Bison Brewery, Bam Brewing, and The Well Brewing Company.