I have been in a really good mood lately. This is because one of my favourite Alberta craft breweries is opening up a location close by in Calgary. I’m sure that some of you have already guessed that I am talking about Bearhill Brewing Company’s Last Best Brewing & Distilling. I have a feeling that this microbrewery/brewpub will be a game changer for the Alberta craft beer scene.
A Little History 101
The name Last Best Brewing & Distilling is not the guys over at Bearhill being boastful; it is actually a cleverly chosen name that references a period in Western Canada’s history.
Now don’t get worried guys, I may be a history major but I will not turn this into a research paper on you. The phrase “Last Best West” was a catch phrase used during the peak Western settlement (roughly the 1890’s to the eruption of WWI) to market the Canadian Prairies as a new home to potential immigrants.
Now let’s take a look at how this applies to Alberta craft beer. Alberta is a part of the prairies and we happen to grow some of the best grains in the world. As Soc (who along with Brett & Alex own Bearhill Brewing Co.) put it, “we are sitting in a sea of malt”.
Yet there are not too may Alberta microbreweries out there taking advantage of this. When you compare our brewing scene to provinces like BC, Quebec and Ontario we are only beginning to scratch the surface. Hence it is “untouched” just as Western Canada was the last best frontier available to adventurous settlers.
See, I told you it was clever.
A Little About Bearhill Brewing Company
Identifying with the local history, culture and community is something that Bearhill does. Their slogan is actually “Creating Community-Focused Beer Culture”. Let me briefly touch on how they do this.
Beer Belongs to the Community: In Jasper , where it all began, the IPA is much different now from when it was originally released. This is because the local tastes have evolved. Years ago they were not ready for a really hoppy beer, but now different hop varieties are being used and Rockhopper IPA is much more hop forward.
The community had a say in how the beer turned out by voicing their collective opinion. This type of community involvement exists at all of their locations and the Calgary beer drinkers will have their say here.
Weekly Casks: Once Wood Buffalo opened its doors they showed everyone that they weren’t playing around by launching right into their experimental casks. Casks play an important role at all of the Bearhill joints who put out a “firkin” (small cask) of real ale each Friday.
This is a major benefit to the local beer community because it gives the brewers a chance to flex their creative muscles to create exciting recipes that will keep us coming back to see what’s next. I know that I’ll be curious.
The Beer Club: There is a great quote on the Bearhill sites from Don Moore who is basically the “Don” of beer (Godfather references anyone?). He has been working in the industry his complete adult life and was instrumental to getting the Jasper brew pub up and running. Basically he says, “… It’s all about the beer.” And he couldn’t be more right. That is why having a club dedicated to talking, sharing & of course drinking ( sans spitting it out) is a wonderful thing.
The Beer Club in Banff really took off & has become a major part of the beer socializing scene for the local craft beer fiends. Last Best Brewing and Distilling will have a club to spread beer culture as well. Actually, while there on the first brew day I secured member #1! Side note: If you see me at the bar yelling about being #1 feel free to smack me on the back of the head to bring me back down a notch.
Oh Ya… There’s Beer!
There are currently 3 beers available at certain locations in Calgary and soon to be a fourth. While talking with the guys they told me that once they have made all of the necessary changes and bought some extra equipment they would like to have 10 beers available at the brew pub. This will include some rotating handles for seasonals & specialty one-offs and even a special tap reserved for beers brewed by local homebrewers at the microbrewery!
But until then let’s cover the ones already out there:
Show Pony Pale Ale
This was the 1st release from Last Best. Cascade & Galaxy hops (I can’t get enough of the passion fruit from those Aussie hops) were used to make this pale ale.
I was really happy about this beer when it first came out. The reason for this is that I am a big fan of pale ales when they are at their best. In my opinion they are a beer that you can easily drink more than one of and still get some serious flavour from it. My old standby for parties back in Montreal was McAulslan’s Pale Ale. I think that I may have just found its replacement.
Last Best IPA
I tried this beer over at Midtown Kitchen & Bar in Kensington (if you haven’t gone there yet you need to…now!). I was there for lunch with Rob & Brett and we were all pretty impressed with how fresh the mosaic hops made this beer. It felt like I was drinking a pint of spring with the floral, citrus and fruit notes coming up through the glass and smacking in me right in the face (dry hopping can be so frigging good).
There Will Be Porter
Oh yes, the porter will be flowing. Fans of true English style porters will be pleased to see the arrival of this roasted beauty to the Alberta craft beer scene. You couldn’t have a brewery with a name playing off of Western Canadian history without including a porter with its ties to the railroad. I am pretty sure the beer gods would get pissed.
This beer is full of roasted brown malts with hints of smoke and a little bit of bitterness. So it should satisfy all of the English Ale fans out there.
Dirty Bird Black Lager
I mentioned that a 4th beer was going to be released soon. A black pilsner or ‘Schwarzbier’ is currently being developed. So keep your ear to the ground for signs of its approach.
Looking Forward to the Future
The actual brewpub should be opening its doors sometime in November once all of the necessary renos have been done. If you have ever been to one of their other brewpubs you should know that it’ll end up looking pretty sweet. From what I understand they will be keeping the structural integrity but trying to open up the space between the Rhino and District as much as possible. And the patio is just plain kickass, think fresh air and fire pit (camping downtown anyone?).
Foodwise I know that it will have some homeruns on the menu. A wood burning oven will be put in for seared proteins to satisfy your inner caveman. And if you watch Chopped Canada you know that corporate chef David Husereau will have some excellent dishes waiting for you.
But wait, not only will they be making beer & food, they’re also going to be distilling some liquor. I’ve heard that specialty gin and bourbon will be coming out of their craft distillery. I’m hoping for some solid whiskey because when it comes to the hard stuff that’s what I go for.
Basically, if you live in Alberta and like craft beer…you should be just as happy as I am about the coming months. So let’s get serious about Alberta beer and raise a glass to yell out cheers to local craft beer!