Attitudes in the Alberta Craft Beer Scene

Alberta craft beer is in a period of rapid expansion. There has been an explosion of new local breweries opening up across the province. It is really exciting to witness this take place. However, I have noticed on social media and sometimes even in person, certain attitudes that I find detrimental to our local beer culture. This article will be my rant/plea that we make sure to develop a local beer culture that is inclusive, educational, progressive and above all FUN.

Just Calm Down

Before I get into this topic I need to make myself clear on something. I am well aware of the threat that the “illusion of choice” poses to craft beer. Yes, the big boys have been on a microbrewery shopping spree and it is possible to walk in to a bar that has tap handles from various breweries that are really all owned by the same huge corporation. This is definitely something that has to recognized.

However, being militant about only drinking craft is not helpful. When a friend of mine (who has done lots to promote and educate people about craft beer) recently went to an Oilers game and tweeted about drinking a Lagunitas IPA he should not get a bunch of people tweeting about how that is “not craft beer.” You know what? It’s a damn good beer. In fact, Lagunitas has made lots of great beers over the years. So just chill out and recognize that being able to order a beer like this at one of our major stadiums is pretty good considering what our options have been for years.

I have also noticed a lot of negativity surrounding the opening of Calgary’s Mill Street Brewpub. Now, I do think that they should be completely transparent about their ties to ABI because of that whole illusion of choice thing that I mentioned above. But I also think that we should recognize the positive things surrounding this new brewpub rather than jumping on the offensive right away. It is another brewpub in Alberta, so it is another spot for people to try different beers (created by head brewer Bennie Dingemanse right here in YYC specifically for Calgarians), potentially paired with food, in a brewery setting where they will have the chance to learn more about the world of brewing. Imagine if someone heads there before a game and tries a beer that opens his or her eyes to the wide world of variety that exists in the beer world. That’s a win in my books.

Local is Always Better

I started this blog to promote the Alberta craft beer scene back in a time when there was not a lot of talk about the local scene (there were a few though). There was almost an attitude among beer drinkers that local craft beer just wasn’t good. My argument has always been that people should be open to trying the beer brewed by our local breweries because there are good ones out there; and if we support the good there’s a chance that the scene will grow and improve.

With the increase in local breweries and the accompanying spike in popularity that local beer has seen there have been some who, again, act overly militant with their support of #DrinkLocal. Their argument seems to be that we should all be drinking Alberta beer because of where it was brewed. That geography somehow makes it better than beers coming from other locations. Granted, it is hard to beat the freshness that a local brewery can provide.  A fresh pint of Bench Creek’s White Raven or Last Best’s Tokyo Drift is truly a thing of beauty; but this does not mean that a locally produced beer will always be better.  I think that you should drink #ABbeer that you enjoy because….you like it. And if someone does not like a local beer or finds some flaws with a local brewery that person does not deserve to be publicly humiliated for their opinion.

Let’s face it, the local scene is not perfect (my friend Jason van Rassel wrote a great article on this). I can think of two instances where I was not impressed with a new local brewery.

The first involved a public brewery launch party at a popular Calgary beer bar where the beer just wasn’t ready. In my opinion, when a brewery has a launch party to debut their beer to the public the beer should be dialed in. I am not saying that it has to be perfect. I know that craft beer is constantly striving to improve.  But you should be satisfied with it as an artist and be able to stand behind it as a professional once you unleash it on the public.

The second involved Alberta’s biggest beer festival, a brand new brewery who was again debuting their brand to the beer drinking public and flawed beer that all of the gimmicks in the world could not cover up. Beer festivals are a chance for breweries to get in front of people to tell their story & explain their craft while attendees sample their beers. I can totally understand the excitement involved with opening a new brewery and how you wouldn’t want to miss out on all of the fun that comes with a big beer festival. But I think that waiting until your beer is where it needs to be would be a better move than having inferior beer ruin your first impression.

For those of you who disagree with what I have said or would like to discuss anything further I am always up for a conversation over pints. We can each order whatever we want and I promise that I will not criticize your choice on social media. We can even cheers to local craft beer once we are finished.

4 thoughts on “Attitudes in the Alberta Craft Beer Scene

  1. When it comes to the illusion of choice do you have concerns with the pervasiveness of breweries like Mill Street and the foothold that the Calgary brew pub gives them to get more taps and shelf space around town? I am concerned that with the financial backing and industry ins that ABI has that it will just further proliferate the Mill Street brand and make it even harder for the good local craft brewers to make inroads.

    • I do think that they should be transparent about their ties to ABI. That is why I made a point to mention the illusion of choice. I make my living working in the world of craft beer so I have to be aware of that.

      I also think that people can choose to go to their brewpub and enjoy themselves. If they walk out of there with a greater appreciation for beer then I am happy.

      I have been and I think that Bennie is going to put out some good beers. Some people have judged the place without even setting foot inside their building.

  2. I thinks its interesting to note that a situation like the Mill Street Brewpub and its GIANT parent company couldn’t exist in some other jurisdictions (many states in the US for example) as they have distinct divisions between brewers, distributors and retailers, but it is important to be transparent and the Licencor should be considering the competitive advantage that allowing this will create. So its better that people are talking about this and the MSM picks up on it and that people know the difference. And for the record I like the Mill Street Organic Lager and have no problem with the owners cashing out like they did.

  3. Very true, and as I’m sure you know these effects are not limited to Alberta!
    I sometimes wonder if those who get shirty about some (usually very fuzzy) craft beer/ not craft beer distinction are actually just more interested in supporting small business? I really don’t know, but if so then I can at least sympathise, even if I don’t get to quite the same conclusion!
    What’s your view on the rationale for getting excited over the distinction (in 2016 rather than in 2005, say)?

Leave a Reply