by TOM FIRTH, COMPETITION DIRECTOR
photography by JASON DZIVER
Whenever I talk about the Alberta Beverage Awards – whether with the trade, consumers, or even friends and family, I always talk about why we did it.
Launching the competition means that summers are my busiest time of year. I should be out enjoying the beautiful weather, yet I am in my office literally surrounded by bottles.
When Linda Garson and I started talking about doing this back in 2013, we wanted to find a way to celebrate the tremendous selection of wines, beers, and spirits available to Albertans, using Alberta judges, and to focus on something meaningful.
We wanted each and every award to be valuable and valid. In fact, only about a third of all of our entries will win any sort of award. The products featured in these pages are representative of their categories and by being tasted blind without the name, region, price, or even the label on the bottle to distract the judges from the liquid inside. These are the best.
Speaking of the liquid inside, we are absolutely thrilled with the selection this year. Not only did we see plenty of great bottles from around the world, we saw tremendous growth from local producers.
Since the rules for Alberta breweries, distilleries, and wineries were modified in 2013 allowing smaller operations, we are currently riding an explosion of craft producers making some incredible products and we are so excited to have quite a few local producers featured in these pages.
The 2017 competition was our fifth year(!), and we returned to the Hotel Blackfoot with nearly 850 entries in tow — about 3500 sample bottles. Entries were judged by 18 judges from Calgary and Edmonton over three days in July. Our expert palates include retailers, restaurateurs, sommeliers, educators, and journalists, and their experience and enthusiasm lets us find the very best in each category.
In each category there is a “Best in Class”, which is the top performing wine in its category, followed by “Judges’ Selection” which are the other high performing wines in the category. In several categories, there is also a “Top Value”, which is a Judges’ Selection wine that has been identified by the Culinaire editors as providing excellent value as well. Each listed wine has an approximate retail price – every retailer is different, and we’ve included a range in many cases.
With so many entries from Alberta producers, some of these products are only available at the brewery/distillery or at local farmers’ markets, in those cases we’ve tried to use their price rather than a retail price. Each product also has a “CSPC” number, which can be used to help you find it at your local retailer or online.
The Alberta Beverage Awards involves a tremendous amount of work, and our success wouldn’t be possible without the efforts and focus of everyone involved. Thank you to our partners; the Import Vintners & Spirits Association, Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance, and Liquor Connect. Special thanks go to Len Steinberg, our hardworking judges, and our volunteer wine stewards; Mairi, Paul, Patrick, Danielle, Darin, Lana and Rick, who return year after year, keeping us on our toes, and rolling with the inevitable hiccups along the way.
A big thank you to Jason Dziver, our talented photographer who photographs the entire competition – including all the bottle shots – and who never seems daunted by the prospect of having to photograph bottles all day long.
Thanks again to the Hotel Blackfoot, who have been a great venue for the competition for the last five years – we are already casting our thoughts to 2018’s competition at the hotel once again!