PHOTO COURTESY ALBERTA BARLEY
If it seems to you like there is a new brewery opening up in Alberta every week, you wouldn’t be too far off. Though still faced with many risks and regulatory hurdles, more breweries have experienced success in the current environment. But it’s not only breweries that are able to benefit from the rise of craft beer.
Alberta produces some of the highest quality malting barley in the world. Many regional as well as international breweries, micro and macro alike, can trace at least some of their malt back to Alberta sources.
This has become especially true since the federal government made the somewhat controversial decision to dissolve the Canadian Wheat Board back in 2012. Like it or hate it, the decision provided barley farmers with some very interesting opportunities.
Red Shed Malting, located on the Hamill family farm in Red Deer County, is one of a very small number of boutique, micro-maltsters that have set up shop as of late. As fourth generation barley farmers, the Hamills know a thing or two about growing barley, and now the addition of a malting facility allows them to provide a value-added product directly to brewers. They are also able to trace the source of their barley directly to the field that it was grown on – very cool, and something that brewers definitely appreciate.
Though barley is abundant in Alberta, hops are not. It’s the Pacific Northwestern States in the U.S. who produce the majority of North American hops. Although this isn’t about to change anytime soon, two sisters from central Alberta are providing a home-grown option for Alberta brewers. Catherine Smith and Karin Smith Fargey decided to plant just under an acre of hops on a farm in Darwell back in 2013, and Northern Girls Hops was born.
Now, three hop harvests later, the farm is producing well, and it could even be said that the hops are beginning to express a certain “terroir,” so to speak.
“The Goldings hops in particular are beginning to take on unique characteristics quite different from the UK, U.S or BC grown Goldings,” Smith says.
She explains that they also impart a slight mango characteristic, something that is unlike the UK version, which has more of a floral note.
The ability for Alberta’s brewers to source high quality, local ingredients allows brewers to truly showcase Alberta in a way that many other regions simply cannot do. It’s not only a unique opportunity to source hyper-locally, but such practices provide economic benefits and sustainability as well.
With so many breweries sprouting up all over the province, we can expect to see much more of this as Alberta’s beer industry grows over the coming years.
Here are some favourite Alberta beers that feature Alberta ingredients:
A refreshing and summer-focused beer, this is one for the patio. A Munich Helles style blonde lager, Alley Kat uses malt from Red Shed Malting and hops from Northern Girls Hops. A true Alberta-sourced beer in every way! Available by mid-July. CSPC +791675, $8-9 650 mL bottle.
Included as a part of the Canada 150 variety pack, Big Rock’s Hibernation Ale is a rustic ale intended to represent Canada’s North. It includes Alberta malt as well as Alberta-sourced rose petals, honey, and elderberries – along with a plethora of other northern Canadian items such as dandelion root and juniper. CSPC +TBD 6 pack $16.
Cochrane’s Half Hitch Brewing Company is committed to using local ingredients where possible. The Farmer’s Daughter Pale Ale consists of Alberta-grown 2 row and a good dose of Red Shed malting’s Biscuit malt – which provides a nice, light toasty and, well, biscuit character to the beer. CSPC +790719, 6 x 355 mL cans $15.39
The Golden Brown Dandy is The Dandy Brewing Company’s take on English Pale Ale. It has a lovely toasty malt character which is again, largely provided by Red Shed Malting’s Biscuit malt (truly a favorite among local brewers). The base malt is also Alberta-grown. CSPC +776679, 650 mL bottle. $8.39.