The last decade has seen an absolute high renaissance for beer drinkers. Brew pubs and micro-breweries are springing up everywhere across the prairies. These stood out for me this year.
1. Half Pints Brewing in Winnipeg is a first rate brewery. My brother Dave, no mean brewer himself, is a fan of a half pint of Bull Dog Amber Ale mixed with another half pint of the Little Scrapper IPA. Real hop heads of course will want the Little Scrapper straight up. Iím more of a fan of the Bull Dog alone. Over to you for comparison purposes.
2. The Kings Head Pub on King Street (opposite the Old Market Square) is the kind of bar I love to hang out in. As somebody who travels a lot what I want is decent food, and knowledgeable staff and a huge selection of beers on tap. This is the kind of place springing up all across the country, allowing the micro-breweries to flourish in concert, rather than perish in competition. If you want to explore the local micro brews with a few others thrown in, stop by for a pint or two.
3. Regina is still the home of Bushwakkers, a venerable brew pub from the Nineties. Back then Saskatchewan still viewed breweries as works of the devil, and without Bushwakkers the whole province would still probably be consigned to a dreary life of Coors Lite. The owners kept nagging the WCTU governments until they allowed an updatge to the liquor control act.
Unlike most hop heads, Iím a fan of pilsners. I like a good sharp Czech pils, as opposed to the richer ales. So for me the drink of choice in Bushwakkers is still the Stubble Jumper Pils. Most of the readers will disagree and choose the Palliser Porter. For some reason (probably to do with freezing our asses off most of the year) Saskatchewan is home to some tremendous porters; like…
4. Paddock Wood Brewery in Saskatoon makes a tremendous selection of beers, and the line up changes almost daily. The beers that have been causing large men to swoon like debutantes over their pints are the stouts. In particular the Loki Double Imperial Stout has caused more than one bearded behemoth to moan softly and declare eternal love. Paddock Wood seems to like their alcohol content, so if you’re intent on knocking back an evening of beers with friends be warned. Loki comes in around 9% BA, the Chocolate Stout around 7.5% and the Imperial Pils around 8%. Stick to their British Bitter (4%) if youíre looking for an evening with your peeps watching basketball.
5. Absolutely new, and important news for folks travelling through Saskatoon! Paddock Wood opened a pub, The Woods on 2nd Avenue. They carry a huge variety of beers on tap and by the bottle from breweries across the country and around the world. If youíre with wimps who need their Alexander Keithís and desire to do bad imitations of Scots, you can all be happy in one place. The food’s pretty good and I expect it will get better as they shake things down.
6. I am always shocked by how few hop heads have ever checked out lambics and mead. If you are such a person you need to get yourself to Alley Kat Brewery in Edmonton. They always have a glass of Raspberry Mead on tap which is as close as Iíve come to the heavenly combination of flavours found in a Belgium framboise. Alley Kat is unconcerned as near as I can tell by distribution and I only find them randomly in Alberta liquor stores. All of which gives one a good reason to visit Edmonton.
7. No list of prairies brews would be complete without at least nodding to Big Rock the parent of all of the prairie brew revolution, and faithful patron of local culture both yeasty and otherwise. These days I’m not sure they deserve the micro title – I had one of their beers on tap in Toronto last summer – but they still make a decent brew, and when I hear theyíre on the menu my heart soars. If Iím really lucky the ale on offer is Wart Hog.
8. I find myself in Banff about once a year, and was enormously cheered to stumble over Banff Avenue Brewing. This is a pub with great food, a rare example of a real gastropub. They have a nice atmosphere and solid beer. I’m a fan of the Czuggers pils. Nobody much has managed try though they might to match that perfect clean palate of a Czech pils, but this one is as close as Iíve found. And of course it’s on tap and therefore has that fresh creamy lightness that Pilsner Urquell in the bottle will never have.
9. Village Brewing in Calgary is a year old brewery and Iíve only had one of their brews. They seem to be tres trendy with chai based beer, and a larger selection of blonde beers than is usual amongst hirsute hop heads. (Hey if you havenít got a beard and a flannel shirt you still havenít qualified for Meister Drinker status.)
10. Last but not least the renaissance has reached the Yukon. (Which given the prevailing dress code of beards and flannel shirts should be no surprise.) I havenít had their beers yet, but people keep tellling me good things about them. They tell me they have Winter Spiced Ale on their growler system, and I believe they are the biggest selling beer in Whitehorse, so wander by for a brew or two.
Any number of readers are going to feel I left out a significant contribution to yeast culture by slighting their fave. I apologize in advance: I’m only one man, and can only swallow so much beer in a year.
But let me know what I’ve missed @spectatortrib and @drbooze on Twitter. Meanwhile hoist a glass of your best winter ale and salut the solstice.