The Craft Beer Makeover at Big Rock Brewery

You may have noticed that Big Rock Brewery has made some changes recently. Maybe microbreweries feel pressured to make major changes for the New Year just like humans do. But instead of signing up for the gym (and only lacing up their running shoes 3 times!) they decided to give themselves a marketing makeover and head into 2014 with plans to launch at least 14 new experimental craft beers!


During the new year some people vow to get fit and microbreweries seem to make marketing and brewing changes.

The New Look

One of the most obvious changes is that the Big Rock packaging, , labels and bottles have all been changed (plus the website will be updated shortly). After keeping the same look for years, the marketing team decided that it was time for a facelift.

Big Rock Brewery, Craft Beer

Here are some of the new labels. Personally I find the Warthog one strikes me the most.

The goal is to have a unique and artistic look that makes a statement about their beer. When you try to brew a quality beer that you feel stands out from the norm you want people to recognize that. And let’s be honest, despite the old saying that “you should never judge a book by its cover”, a flashy title and cover work is the first thing that grabs your attention.

The Big Rock Grill has also undergone a makeover. This pub is located next to the brewery and serves up the freshest Big Rock beer possible. I was lucky enough to attend the Brewery Launch Party at this venue in early January and taste some craft beer on tap that is hard to find elsewhere (McNally’s Extra & Reserve).

Big Rock Grill, Craft Beer, Restaurant

The new brewery launch party at the Big Rock Grill featured some excellent food and really fresh craft beer on tap.

This was a party about the changes that Big Rock is going through, including their return to their craft beer roots.

I previously wrote a post about how I liked what Paul Gautreau was doing as brewmaster since this was the direction that he was taking. Paul even gave a speech about how they would be releasing even more new craft beer through their Brewmaster’s Edition and Alchemist lines (the 2 lines that appeal most to me).

New Releases for 2014

Looking over the list of upcoming releases for this year I notice a slight trend. It looks to me as though there are a few beers that will be brewed using ancient techniques & traditional ingredients. This reminded me of their Erratic Stone-Fired Ale (check out the video). When I asked Paul if this was a continuation of Erratic he told me that he “just gets a kick out of replicating some of the older brewing techniques and beer styles” (that’s good, because I get a kick out of drinking said beer!)  I would like to focus on some of these beers which blend a little history with the present.

Big Rock Brewery, Alberta Microbrewery

These bad boys will be working overtime in 2014 as Big Rock increases their nano & cask beer programs to put out more experimental craft beer. P.S. the guy pulling the lame double thumbs up is me.

Kvass Russian Style Beer

This is a 16th Century beverage that is made with readily available ingredients from that time in Russia.

Grains such as rye, dark rye bread, wheat & barley were mixed with sugars like fruit & birch sap which were then fermented with basic baker’s yeast. Various fruits or herbs could be used to cut the bitterness of the beverage and give it a little flavour kick.

Brewmaster Paul will be taking dark rye bread and preparing it with spices before adding it to the brewing process. I am quite interested in tasting this one, it sounds really different.

Druid Gruit

gruit ale

This really, really old school party pic cracked me up so I wanted to share it with you. Courtesy of Brew Public.

This is another ancient brewing style that was used in Europe. It predates hops being used by brewers to add flavour and bitterness to beer.

Gruit is a combination of select herbs. Some of the commonly used ones include yarrow, mugwort, sweet gale, heather, wild rosemary, horehound & ground ivy. Spices and berries were added to the mix to give the beverage a little more character.

I was lucky enough to receive a pack of Historical Ales from Scotland as a Christmas gift a few years back. I found it pretty cool how different these ancient beers were from what we have available today. While I would never be able to live without hops (I crave those little green gems) it was still an interesting flavour experience.


Braggot is a style of beverage that dates all of the way back to the 12th Century.

It is a blend of herbs & spices with mead & beer. Side note: mead is an alcoholic drink that is made by fermenting honey and water with the use of spices, fruits, grains and hops to add character. If hops are used they should not be overwhelming, it is important that the sweetness from the honey and maltiness come through.

Barrel Aged Beer Series

craft beer, cask beer, barrel aged beer

I think that it will be really interesting to try all 3 of the Big Rock barrel aged beers together to taste the difference each barrel makes in the process.

I mentioned the upcoming release of 3 different barrel aged beers (toasted oak barrels from BC, Kentucky bourbon barrels and Naramata Bench red wine barrels) in my post about Brewmaster Paul. I am quite excited about this because barrel aging adds a depth of flavour & character that really appeals to me. I will not repeat myself here, but after watching a presentation by a fellow Cowtown Yeast Wrangler on Cooperage (those Coopers were tough, they made those barrels by hand!) I would like to mention a few things about how this can add to the beer.

The use of wooden staves bound with metal (or wooden) hoops to hold liquids goes back to the ancient Celts for transporting items. When beverages are matured in barrels certain characteristics are taken on by the beer. The amount of flavour imparted depends on the type of wood used (American & French oak being the most common), the degree of toasting applied to the staves and the age of the barrel (most of the flavours will have leeched out after approximately 3 years).

Things get really interesting when used-barrels are used in the aging process. Barrels that previously held wine, port, sherry, scotch and bourbon can be used to age beer. Some of the flavour from these previous drinks is still in the barrels (if they haven’t been used too many times already). This will give the beer even more depth & complexity. It is common to see bourbon barrels used to age beer due to the regulations surrounding bourbon distilling in the USA which state that the barrel can be used only once.

Off to a good Start in 2014

In January Big Rock released their first new beer of the year. Fowl Mouth is an ESB (Extra Special/Strong Bitter) which is a popular style of beer in the UK (think Fuller’s ESB).

It is a little more aggressive with the use of hops (Syrian Golding & East Kent Golding) and usually has a slightly higher ABV. And despite the name, it is not a very bitter tasting beer. The key to ESB is balance between the hops & malt flavours.

Alberta Craft Beer, Big Rock Brewery, Fowl Mouth ESB

The label for Fowl Mouth is another eye-catcher and their tap handles really draw your attention at the pub.

The idea for Fowl Mouth came from Paul’s trip to Europe to do a little craft beer R&D (possibly the coolest research project ever!) One of the stops he made was to a Cornish Beer Festival in England where they served 20oz pints for tasters. He noticed how popular the ESB was and quite liked the balance of flavour that was his ginormous tasting cup!

Fowl Mouth ESB is his take on that classic English ale. It is an easy drinking beer with a nice bitter edge to it that, in my opinion, is a good start to a year of new Big Rock releases.

Until next time, cheers to local craft beer!

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