Craft Beers in Alberta

New Styles & Trends

With recent regulation changes, Alberta is entering a brewing renaissance of sorts. Over the last couple of years, we have seen over 20 new craft breweries open in Alberta (with over 50 additional breweries currently in various stages of development). Along with this, we have seen a new wave of innovation that is both refreshing and incredibly exciting.

Drawing on influences from the US and some European regions, Alberta’s breweries – old and new alike – are starting to test the waters a bit more. They are introducing consumers to beer styles that have rarely been brewed locally (with only a few exceptions). Consumers are now able to find style examples that dazzle the palate with characteristics such as intense and unique tropical fruit aromas, mouth-puckering tartness – often verging on downright sourness – and even rustic, complex flavours that possess an earthiness or elements of funk. The beer landscape is getting more and more exciting all the time.

New England IPA

One style that is now making a showing in Alberta is New England IPA (also known as Vermont Style IPA). By now, everyone is familiar with India Pale Ales, but the New England style is an IPA sub-category that has become popular over the past while, though has been somewhat elusive around these parts. A quick glance at any “best beers in the world” list on any of your favorite beer rating websites would tell you that this style is at the top of the popularity scale – especially in the US. This style is characterized by its intense tropical fruitiness derived from the excessive hopping schedule, often focusing on the new-school varieties of Australian and New Zealand hops that are exciting brewers these days. Although tons of hops are used, this style does not tend to be excessively bitter, as most of the hops are added very late (including an often intricate and extended dry-hopping process) to accentuate flavour and aroma without a considerable amount of bitterness.

Sour Beers

Another group of beer styles that are gaining popularity within beer geek circles is the many iterations of sour beers. Whether it’s the traditional, spontaneously fermented and barrel-conditioned variety favoured by Belgian Lambic and Geuze producers, or the kettle-soured version that many smaller craft brewers are experimenting with, sour beer is trending.

The technique that allows many brewers to enter into the sour beer realm with relative ease is the kettle-souring method.  This has been the main go-to process up to now in Alberta, with many breweries beginning to dabble in kettle sours. With this technique, a bacterial culture (usually lactobacillus and/or pediococcus – just like your favourite probiotic yogurt) is added to the kettle, and held at a warm temperature for a prolonged period of time. The rapidly multiplying bacteria essentially quick-sour the beer within a matter of hours. Many people believe that kettle souring lacks some of the complexity and the balance of tart/funk that barrel conditioning provides, though due to the fact that it can take months, and sometimes years to barrel condition a sour beer, I can definitely forgive breweries for going the kettle-soured route. No question – this technique does make a great sour beer!

Exciting things are brewing in the kettles of Alberta breweries, and by extension, Alberta beer drinkers are able to enjoy these new brews.