It was a tough assignment, but I was up to the task. So, I set out to visit the Canadian Rockies’ three brew pubs. Friends and I sampled their food, quaffed their house-made beers and filed this report. By Jack Newton
Banff Avenue Brewing Co
Last spring I watched as the owners of Banff Avenue Brewing Co reinforced the floor with steel, installed stainless brewery tanks and converted a high-end restaurant into Banff’s first brew pub. The results are impressive. Features of the previous restaurant remain such as a frosted glass ‘wall of wine’, recycled fir bar and big windows that open onto the main street balcony. New elements include soft leather seats, pool table and open-to-view brewery with tours on request.
Banff Avenue Brewing Co retains the fabulous kitchen of its predecessor and employs culinary director David Husereau to work with on-site chef Scott Kelly on menu detail. So, making our first dining choices was easy; Spiny Lobster Roll is one of Dave’s signature dishes. My server assured me that although it’s an appetizer, “the roll is big enough to make a meal.”
Elegantly presented on a long skinny plate with artistically drizzled sauce, the col-ourful, bursting-with-flavour Lobster Roll is so pretty that it’s a shame to break apart. “I like the contrast between the crunchy outside and the creamy inside,” remarked my dining companion Katie.
We also sampled the Crispy Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. Served on ciabatta with hot sauce, cheddar, bacon and blue cheese dressing, this dish also proved to be a tasty selection. Fries arrived hot and crisp (and soft on the inside) in a butcher paper lined, metal coil cone.
Three of Banff Avenue Brewing Co owners are also partners of Jasper Brewing Co, a brew pub I have long admired for their excellent beers (more on this below). So, my expectations of their Banff brews were high. I was not disappointed. My pint of Reverend Rundle Stout was a nitrogen-infused dark ale reminiscent of Guinness, but milder and easier to drink.
Banff Avenue Brewing Co produces seven beers on-site, each with a distinctive combination of malted barley and hops. The common denominator is Banff’s mineral-rich, glacier fed water that the brewmaster has discovered is best just as it comes from the tap. The only treatment required to make good beer is the removal of chlorine.
Jasper Brewing Co
I have been a fan of Jasper Brewing Co for years. I enjoy dropping by for a pint of their fresh and tasty beer that’s piped to the taps directly from their lower level, visible-through-glass brewery. A tour (available on request) provides an education on beer ingredients and the brewing process. It also confirms this brew pub’s dedication to their craft.
The night before my ‘official’ reconnaissance for this article, I took a seat at the bar to watch the Oilers play hockey on one of their many plasmas. Light Honey Coriander Ale served with lime quenched a powerful thirst created from a day of work. Next to me sat Paul from Phoenix, a burly fellow with flowing beard who had been travelling by motor home for months. “More like a long pub crawl,” he noted. Remembering that I had research to conduct, I asked Paul if he liked his beer. He responded with a thumbs-up and a nod of his head.
The next day my business partner Glenn and I took a seat at a comfortable, window-side booth with main street and mountain view. On the advice of our server we ordered Monkey Fingers, crispy chicken tenders crusted in banana panko (Japanese bread crumbs); curry and sweet chili sauces contributed to the flavour. We also tried the Grilled Salmon and Fresh Veggie Sandwich, a breaded filet on ciabatta with fresh dill tartar, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce and red onion, and a side of outstanding sweet potato fries.
The food was good, and (as usual) the beer was great. The Rock Hopper India Pale Ale was pleasingly bitter; extra hops provide its characteristic taste. Their Honey Bear, made with German hops and clover honey from Canada’s Okanagan, is a brew I recommend if you like a beer with big flavour. We enjoyed the first two pints so much that we ordered a third. Liftline Cream Ale is brewed with British malt and hops, and poured with nitrogen to give it an easy drinking and creamy taste. Beers are served in a signature glass embossed with the distinctive Jasper Brewing Co logo.
Grizzly Paw Brewing Co
Unlike its Banff and Jasper counterparts, Canmore’s Grizzly Paw Brewing Company is a designated micro brewery. Beers from their two-storey, back-of-the-restaurant brewery are both tap poured on-site and available at local liquor stores (their bottling plant is in a separate building). The Paw is also unique insofar as they brew sodas as well as beer. These carbonated fruit drinks plus root beer and cream soda are surprisingly delicious, not as sweet or col-oured as you might expect.
The Grizzly Paw opened in 1996, making it the Canadian Rockies’ original brew pub. The pine finished restaurant has a bar, dining section and patio with overhead heaters, fireplace and barbeque on the main floor. The deck is great, but in winter I recommend eating upstairs in the cozy loft with vaulted ceiling, pool table, fireplace and four big screens. Both levels have views of Main Street, the historic United Church and Three Sister Mountains. Open mic night (from 10 pm) is Tuesday; grab the guitar to indulge your inner entertainer.
My dining companion Warren and I were hungry. So, I ordered the blackboard special, hearty slices of spiced blackened steak topped with cambozola (brie and blue cheese) served with fresh vegetables and a salad comprised of more ingredients than anticipated. Warren ordered the steak sandwich, a tender New York cut bigger than the six ounces advertised. The chef was happy to make the meal gluten free as my friend requested.
Since Warren adheres to a diet free of wheat and barley, the burden of sampling Grizzly Paw beers feel entirely on my shoulders. I chose the Dark Flight, a selection of Rutting Red (Scottish style amber), IPA (made with four varieties of hops), Coffee Stout (seasonal beer) and English-like Big Head Nut Brown, a surprisingly mild beer given its intense color that was my favourite of the four.
Grizzly Paw pours eight housemade beers, two of which are seasonal brews. Above the bar is an intriguing collection of over 100 mugs. Each belongs to a member of the Mug Club; $35 annually gets participants $1 off pints anytime and invitations to tasting parties at a place where everyone knows your name.