Canadian Craft Beer
Before I was a wine lover, I was (and still am) a beer lover. I drank a lot of beer while going to university, and while the large commercial breweries dominated the market, a couple of small (at the time) microbreweries (Granville Island and Big Rock) began producing beers that stepped outside the flavour box and introduced many western Canadians to unique, handcrafted brews.
But it wasn’t until I went to grad school in the States (the summer class in Europe helped too) that I really got into the craft beer scene. Craft beer producers are united by a philosophy to produce unique, flavourful handcrafted brews. Small breweries such as Rogue, Pike, Goose Island, Brooklyn and, a little later, Dogfish Head were providing many sought-after options to the mass-produced generic offerings of brewing giants Miller, Coors & Anheuser-Busch.
Even the giants have forayed into the craft beer market by either acquisition (Granville Island is now a Molson property and Goose Island part of Anheuser-Busch) or producing faux craft beers (the motivation for Molson introducing Rickard’s Red, which many sceptics believe is simply Molson Canadian with food colouring).
There are also obvious parallels between craft beers and well made, regionally diverse wines. Looking back, it is drinking these craft brews that allowed me to appreciate unique, handcrafted wines that have a sense of place.
Currently, while the big breweries are dealing with excess capacities, craft beer producers are working overtime to meet demand. It is the only segment of the beer market that is growing. This is clearly evident by the number of restaurants, bars and retailers whose craft beer selections continue to grow while listings and shelf placements for the big boys continue to shrink. Chefs are creating special dishes to pair with craft beers and specialty beer dinners are becoming as common as wine dinners.
And while the craft beer revolution is unquestionably being lead by the Americans, Canadian craft brewers are more than holding their own and receiving international recognition for their quality and innovative brews. Today is a great time to be a beer lover. The list of Canadian craft breweries that follows is a big reason why.
Give these a try:
Dieu du Ciel
This innovative Quebec brewery has captivated the palates of beer drinkers with their unique, flavourful, and extremely well balanced brews. The Aphrodisiaque ($21.99/6 pk) cocoa and vanilla stout is a black ale whose flavours of vanilla, coffee, roasted malt and cocoa integrate perfectly to create a beer that is unique, yet very approachable. The Rosée d’Hibiscus ($18.99/6 pk) is a floral wheat beer that is refreshing and clean with a long, uplifting finish, while the Dernière Volonté ($18.99/6 pk) is a delicious blond Abbey-style beer with robust flavours of hops, spice and malt. The unique Routes des Épices (French for “spice route”) is a rye beer brewed with both black and green peppercorns and is made to go with food, so bring on the stinky cheeses and spicy dishes. There are a number of other delicious and interesting offerings from this producer.
Another great Quebec craft brewery, Charlevoix produces Belgian-inspired beers under their Dominus Vobiscum line and UK-inspired beers under their La Vache Folle line. The latter line’s tasty ESB ($7/500 ml) has aromas of floral hops and sweet malt with a big hoppy flavour but still bright and refreshing. The Imperial Milk Stout ($6.50/500 ml) is black in colour with an attractive beige head, aromas of roasted malt, coffee and dark chocolate with a medium body and full flavours that aren’t heavy, but instead there is a creamy drinkability with a freshness and a hint of sweetness on the finish. Very tasty.
Nova Scotia’s first craft brewery has made waves with its year-round Imperial IPA ($5.50/500 ml) which the brewery claims is the hoppiest beer in Atlantic Canada … and it is very hoppy with full flavours, a touch of caramel and just the right amount of bitterness on the finish. The brewery produces a number of delicious seasonal brews including their Sugar Moon Maple ($5.50/500 ml) made with Nova Scotia maple syrup and the incredibly dark yet smooth Baltic Porter ($7.25/500 ml) with its rich caramel, date and molasses flavours.
Alley Kat is the longest running microbrewery in Edmonton and the fourth oldest brewery in Alberta. Its regular lineup includes Alberta’s first fruit beer, Aprikat ($13.99/6 pk), made with Okanagan apricot concentrate; the Amber ($13.99/6 pk) a delicious brown ale with hints of chocolate, caramel and just the right amount of bitterness; and the easy drinking, organic Charlie Flint lager ($13.99/6 pk). Alley Kat does a number of seasonal and specialty brews including custom beers for restaurant clients. They also have followed the lead of several American craft breweries by holding release parties for their cask-conditioned brews.
After a slow start, Amber’s has been making inroads into the Edmonton beer scene with its Australian Mountain Pepper Berry Lager ($13.99/6 pk) made with sundried blueberries from Down Under; the coffee and chocolate flavoured Kenmount Road Chocolate Stout ($13.99/6 pk); the character filled, yet approachable Lunch Pail Ale ($13.99/6 pk) with its four types of malt and four types of hops; and the incredibly balanced, but I-can’t-have-more-than-two sweet SAP Vampire Maple Lager ($13.99/6 pk). They are also very open to creating custom brews for restaurant clients.
Les Trois Mousquetaires
I’ve only had the opportunity to taste a couple of this Quebec craft brewer’s beers, but what I’ve tasted makes me want to explore further. The Imperial Weizen ($13.50/750 ml) has aromas of citrus with flavours of citrus, spice, hops and a hint of sweetness. Every taste begs another. The German influenced Sticke Alt ($13.50/750 ml) is deep amber with a creamy head, full body, with rich notes of molasses and bitterness from the hops. I am looking forward to experiencing many more brews from this producer.
Located in Surrey, BC, Central City has been making a name for itself at beer competitions across North America. Particular standouts include their golden orange Red Racer IPA ($17.99/6 pk cans) with its aromas of melon, citrus, and pineapple, killer flavours of melon with a bitterness and a finish of orange blossoms; and the Red Racer ESB ($17.99/6 pk cans) with its floral hops, grapefruit, and enjoyable bitterness.