The past year was an exciting one for beer fans in Alberta, and particularly in Edmonton, where several new breweries opened in 2019 and December brought long-awaited first releases from Blind Enthusiasm Brewing’s Monolith brewery.
The arrival of the Monolith, which specializes in complex mixed-fermentation beers that use brewer’s yeast, wild yeast strains and bacteria, is one sign that brewers in Alberta are becoming ever-more creative and adventurous — and that our industry isn’t as far behind craft trailblazers in the United States and even British Columbia as it once was.
A group of industry folks I polled about trends for 2020 each had their own ideas about new things in store, but there was a consensus that one existing trend — tropical and citric hazy IPAs — shows no signs of letting up.
“Because they’re not so bitter, because they have so much flavour, people warm to them and like to drink them. They’re the gateway beers to IPAs,” says Haydon Dewes, a co-founder of Cabin Brewing in Calgary.
Dewes and others expect Alberta brewers and drinkers alike to embrace lagers, for a variety of reasons. Lagers may seem like an obvious choice for brewers looking to capitalize on their easy-drinking qualities, but they take longer to make and create capacity challenges for smaller brewers. As many breweries in Alberta start to expand, look for them to add lagers to their repertoire, Dewes says.
Brewing traditional lager styles like pilsner doesn’t scream “edgy,” but hear me out; achieving the crispness and balance of a lager isn’t easy. The growth of lagers is evidence of an industry that knows its chops and a customer base that can appreciate skillful brewing.
“You have to execute really well. As a brewer, that’s the first beer you want to try when you visit a brewery,” says Matt Cockle, head brewer at Edmonton’s Growlery Beer Company.
Brewers will take the lager trend farther by using hops that haven’t traditionally been used, says Christina Owczarek, a sales and strategic development specialist. Newer hop varieties, particularly ones from Australia and New Zealand, will add bright twists to styles that are traditionally more spicy and herbal,
Owczarek says. “They bring a beautiful tropical fruitiness.”
Owczarek expects the Monolith to lead a charge of more breweries venturing into mixed-fermentation beers — as well as spontaneous fermentation, which inoculates beer with airborne yeast strains and microbiota.
“The Monolith will put more international eyes on our Alberta scene,” she says.
Gaining recognition abroad is a definite feather in the local industry’s cap, but there’s still plenty of room to grow in Alberta, where the big beer brands still dominate the market. Don McDonald, director of sales at Brewsters Brewing Company, believes a key front in that battle will be taprooms and brewpubs, where brewers can educate people about the beer they’re drinking and win converts who will spread the word to others.
“We have to be developing community spirit and getting people to champion what we’re doing instead of banging the drum ourselves,” he says.