Archive for September, 2011


It has been just over a year since BEER QUEST WEST went to press and since then there have been many changes in the British Columbia and Alberta beer scene — new brew pubs, brewers moving to new jobs, and — most important — some very good new beers. Periodically, we’ll be offering brief updates for chapters from the book, starting with this posting on Chapter One, which focusses on Central Alberta.

ALLEY KAT: Following up on the success of the limited edition brews Neil Herbst and crew created to celebrate the brewery’s 15th anniversary, Alley Kat has launched a Big Bottle series. Every six to eight weeks, they’ll be issuing a new brew in 650 millilitre bottles. “It gives our brewing crew a chance to be creative and our customers the opportunity to enjoy some styles they don’t usually find,” Herbst explained. “White Tail” a hefeweizen and “Red Dragon” a double IPA made exclusively with Simcoe Hops have been two of the early offerings. In addition, they’ll be issuing seasonal six packs, this fall’s being “Ein Prosit!” — a six per cent Oktoberfest. (It’s a delicious beer — but I confess that I’ll miss “Pumpkin Pi.”)

AMBER’S: The big news is that Terry Cameron, the founder of Roughneck, took over, this summer, as the full-time brewer at Amber’s. He’s involved with the production of Amber’s three new beers: “Zombie Apocalypse,” a red Vienna Lager, “Amber’s Smoothe” — a light ale, and “Cinnamon and Cardamon Beer” — which adds these interesting and unusual flavours to the light ale base. These new beers are only available in draft — although Jim Gibbons hopes to make them available soon in growlers) available at the brewery only).The brewery’s other two flavoured lagers “Sap Vampire Maple Lager” and ” Australian Pepper Berry,” are still around. The maple flavour of the former has been considerably diminished. It no longer tastes like a pancake breakfast. “Lunch Pail Ale” is now sold without Bub Slug’s name being attached.

BREWSTERS: Gunther Trageser, the chain’s Edmonton Brewer,  reports that “Lanigan’s Red Ale” has been dropped from the list of regulars and replaced by “Fruit Hog,” in which an ever-changing variety of fruid essences and extracts are added to the “Wild West Wheat Base,” and “Curly Horse IPA,” a west coast version of the style.

ROUGHNECK: Terry Cameron has scaled back production at his small Calmar facility. He sold his canning line because, he said, there just weren’t enough orders from the chain liquor stores to warrant continued production. He still has some bar and restaruant accounts for his lager and ale. He plans continued production, on a limited basis, of his two bottled products. “Brewmaster’s Choice India Pale Ale” he describes as not as crazy as the West Coast style. “Brewmaster’s Choice Brown Ale” is full-bodied, but drier and less sweet that the best -known version of the style “Newcastle Brown.”

YELLOWHEAD: Edmonton’s newest brewery continues to produce only one beer: a German style lager. The focus has been on building restaurant and bar accounts, although there are plans to package in six-packs in the not too distant future.

DRUMMOND: Down in Red Deer, Drummond’s main product continues to be the premium lager. An all-grain beer, it is budget priced, and designed for the “regular” Joe who is ready to try an American style lager that isn’t produced by the internationals. Late in the summer, Dave Neilly, who had worked for over four years at Calgary’s Wild Rose and before that at Bushwakker Brewpub in Saskatoon, took over as head brwer.




     Brewing companies call it “Value Priced” or “Budget” beer. Many drinkers call it “Cheap” and go on to use some impolite terms to describe its taste and appearance. My favourite term is “Lawnmower Beer” — something that will quench your thirst while you cut the backyard grass under a hot summer sun. And, because it’s value priced, or budget, or cheap, if it goes flat or gets too warm, or if the can tips over, you don’t have to worry — just go to the fridge and get another. Make sure it’s cold — realy cold. A lawnmower beer may have a low flavour profile, but when it gets warm it doesn’t taste so good.

But what is “IT”? Basically, it’s a pale North American lager that’s priced about three bucks lower a six pack than a half-dozen of the mainstream Molson/Coors or Budweiser/Labatt products. It is very pale, a washed-out straw colour; it’s very light-bodied (so light, a cynic remarked, that a glass of it seems to want to float upward): and it’s very fizzy — hundreds of little bubbles race to the top of the glass to form a frothy white head.

And, it is very light in taste — unthreatening and, for people who like the malty and/or hoppy qualities of microbrews, bland. That’s because the very restrained use of hops in the brewing give none of the bitterness and floral qualities that the little cone-shaped plant can impart. Some of the malt (barley or wheat), the basis of many a hearty ale, is replaced by corn and/or rice, which contain fermentable sugar as does malt, but which is much less expensive. The result is sometimes a sweet taste that, according to the sales departments of some larger breweries, is what tests indicate people want. Oh, yes, they also say that corn and rice give the beer a greater clarity.

Last Friday afternoon, to celebrate the end of summer, we decided to try three lawnmower beers. We didn’t expect them to please us like the beers we usually drink, but we wanted to give the “style” (I use the word to be polite) a fair chance. We chose one beer brewed in B.C., another in Alberta, and the third in Saskatchewan.

When Labatt started pushing Lucky Lager as one of its main western Canada value-priced beers, the words Vancouver Island were frequently used on posters and cartons. But the brew hasn’t been made in Victoria since the ealry 1980s, at which time Labatt closed its Government Street plant and tore it down, not wanting another brewery to take over the premises. The Lucky we tried was brewed in Edmonton. Light, effervescent, and bland, it was, one taster said, “perfect for what it is. It won’t offend anyone.”\

Our next beer was the 21st Century incarnation of a beer that many older Albertans remember fondly as “Lethbridge Pils.” But it hasn’t been brewed in the southern Alberta city for over two decades. The “Old Style” — its non-geographically specific name — that we tried came from Vancouver. The tasters preferred it over Lucky, noting that it had some roasty notes and a bit of a hoppy taste. “It’s as if they were trying to put good ingredients in it,” one person joked.

Our final beer was Olympia, which used to be brewed near the capital city of Washington state. Like many very popular breweries, the brewer went out of business and the name and recipies were bought up by the Pabst Company, who contracted the brewing of these “beers your father drank” to Miller in Milwaukee. The brewing of our six pack had been subcontracted to Great Western of Saskatoon. The can still bears the old tag-line “It’s the water.” One taster suggested, “They need to leave the definite article out of the slogan.” It was fuller-bodied than Lucky, but less so than Old Style. It did have malty notes.

Some of the comments about the three beers were quite humorous. “It makes water seem thick.” “It’s as if they’ve been trying to put ingredients into it.” “Can I try some wine next?” We won’t say which of the three beers elicitied specific comments.

It was a sunny day on the patio; we drank from small tasting glasses so that we didn’t have to worry about our beer going skunky; and we had fun thinking up silly things to say. Best of all, we didn’t have to mow the postage stamp of a lawn that runs from the patio to the fence. The condo association’s maintenance people do that.

When I see them the next time they come to mow, I think I’ll offer them a Lucky or a Pil or an Oly. I still have quite a few in the fridge.