THINGS TO DO:
Food & Dining
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. Meanwhile, I’m sipping his WRaspberry Ale an hour away in Calgary’s Wild Rose Brewery & Taproom, the tart taste suffusing my smile as I raise an arm to call over a friend.
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 – from the farmer to the malter to the brewmaster to the waitress, who is just now bringing me another ale to pair with the taproom’s raspberry cobbler.
Then and Now
In between the drafts 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, and so have the brews and taprooms. The craft beer scene in Alberta is booming.
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.
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.
Supply and Demand for Quality
As the consumer, I’m the final but necessary cog in the wheel that helps drive this train. And as my 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.
Local Success Stories
Led by Ed McNally, Calgary’s Big Rock Brewery got craftbeer going in Alberta in 1985, a successstory that grew from one man’s passionfor enjoying beer. Now, there arepremium breweries and tap housesall around Alberta.
Bear Hill Brewing Company is anotherAlberta craft brew success story,beginning with the Jasper Brewing Company in 2005, the Banff Ave. Brewing Co.in 2010, and the Wood Buffalo Operation – one of the largest brewpub/eateries in Canada – recently launched byFort McMurray local, Steven Sachse.