In 2003, I moved to Edmonton from Vancouver for a lifestyle change. I had been immersed in the BC craft beer scene, CAMRA (campaign for real ale), cask events and festivals for 4 years prior to my move. Everyone thought I was going to open a CAMRA Edmonton branch and continue what I had started in Vancouver- and so did I, but it never happened.
In Edmonton, at that time, Alley Kat was the only real microbrewery and it was not easy finding their beer on tap unless you went to their brewery. Cask nights were non-existent and there were no beer bars … anywhere!
It was not until my last year there, in 2008, that there was actually a beer festival and a beer and food-pairing event to attend. This was exciting, although I should mention that both were hugely international and macro beer focused.
Fast forward to 2017, and what a difference!
Edmonton’s 104-year-old Molson plant closed down in 2008 but much of it still stands in the centre of the new ‘Brewery District’ development; a new urban lifestyle filled with condos and shops. But the ‘real’ brewery district, or at least that is what I call it is the place to be. (all of these places are within a manageable walking distance, or a quick drive of one other).
ALLEY KAT BREWING still leads the pack with being Edmonton’s first microbrewery and over 22 years of making great and consistent beers. They have expanded at least twice over the years and increased their capacity from their original 25hl to a whopping 18,000 litres of beer a year. They have a small tasting area where you can sample the beers before you get a growler fill or pick up any of their regular bottled product as well as one of their delicious Dragon Double IPA bombers. And thanks to the Kats at Alley Kat, especially owner Neil Herbst and his tenacity to get the cask socials flowing, there are now casks on a regular basis.
SITUATION BREWING opened in 2016 by partners Wayne Sheridan and Kale Edwards, with head brewer, Matt Cockle, graduate of Olds Brewing College. It is a small 12hl system with 7 fermenters and brite tanks and it is right in the heart of the Whyte Avenue, Old Strathcona district. They have a total of 9 taps, many are their own with but they had several Alberta guest taps. They have growler fills but what was really exciting was to see a cask program, and a daily cask program at that! In Edmonton!!!
BENT STICK BREWERY also opened in 2016, but it is small, a 400hl nano-brewery owned by four ex Alley Kat guys; Scott Kendall, Kurtis Jensen, Patrick Gaudet and Ben Rix. It is only open for a few hours, two days a week for growler fills, but despite their small size I had the opportunity to sample their beers at Situation Brewing as a guest taps and also at Brewster’s. My fave was their ‘Swap the Hops pale ale’- a brew that swaps the hops every batch! And just recently they have started bottling.
According to all my Edmonton beer buddies, the most awaited of the upcoming breweries to open in Edmonton was BLIND ENTHUSIASM which had its soft opening just a few weeks before I arrived, so I was quite excited to check it out. The word had spread-even about their soft opening and there was a line up to get in! I had four beers to try – none of them have names yet – just a code, and the plan is to keep those codes and tweak the recipes until they are happy with the beer- and then they will name them. All four beers I tried were good, so I can’t see a whole lot of changes being made.
And then there are the beer bars!
In 2003 there were none and now there are at least 5! I only visited the two most recommended to me by my beer buddies- SUGAR BOWL and THE UNDERGROUND TAP & GRILL The Underground has seventy-two rotating taps, at least half of them were Alberta beers.
The other three that I know of are Next Act, Beer Revolution and of course Craft Beer Market.
The cask program started in 2010 with the first cask being held at The Sugar Bowl and it was by Alley Kat. Now they are a regular event at The Sugar Bowl but also at The Next Act, Craft Beer Market and Beer Revolution. In 2014, the Edmonton Beer Geeks Anonymous folks created a yearly EBGA Real Ale Festival with the most recent one having 29 casks available for tasting.
Right now there are 9 breweries in Edmonton with two more on the way this year, and a few more in the planning stages for next year.
Almost makes me wished that I had stayed in Edmonton… damn you six months of Winter!