If you’ve ever wandered the beer aisle at your neighbourhood liquor store or looked at the menus at better beer bars lately, you may have noticed some unusual new beer names.
Not only are there some wonderfully inventive beer monikers from breweries you’ve never heard of, but you might have observed some perplexing beer styles as well!
With 150 to 200 beer styles, there is certainly no shortage of varieties to choose from. And these styles are not new; most have been around for hundreds of years. But they might seem new to the beer neophyte because very few of the original European beers have ever been imported into Alberta.
While there are dozens of beer styles that fall in this class, it’s the European Sour Ales and Belgian Ales that seem to have come from nowhere. Of all the thousands of North American breweries, only a handful have ever produced these beers…until now.
The European Sour Ale category contains styles such as Berliner Weisse, lambics, gueuze, gose, and Flanders’ ales. Many of these beers are mild wheat ales with a sourness that replaces the bitterness of hops. The result is a citrusy acidic or tart beer, which can taste somewhat like cider, and is sometimes so sour that many are sweetened or flavoured with fruit. The sourness comes from the use of wild yeasts or by purposely infecting the wort with bacteria.
These beers are a challenge to make. Breweries have to be careful to not let the microbes used in sours contaminate other beers. Also, the very nature of these beers makes it difficult to get consistent batches at all times, so many are put into barrels, aged and then blended.
Fortunately, the Belgian Pale Ale category has more approachable beers. Herein lie witbier, bière de garde, and saison. Witbiers have been around for a while now, while Bière de gardes are very uncommon.
Saisons seem to have become the new darling of the craft brewing community. This highly carbonated, spicy, dry, refreshing beer has fruity — and sometimes hoppy — characteristics. Originally brewed as artisanal farmhouse ale to quench the thirst of seasonal workers (saisonaires), it requires special yeast to yield its unique characteristics. North American breweries generally import this yeast from Belgium or France, and once brewers have mastered this style, making fruit versions is often forthcoming.
Already, the nascent Alberta scene has taken notice. Wild Rose Brewery has done very well with its Cowbell sour, and introduced a Berliner Weisse this past summer. Tool Shed Brewing, in conjunction with Olds College, is making beer with captured Alberta wild yeast, hoping to debut in 2017.
Big Rock Brewery has built its own quarantine room within the main brewery to allow wild yeasts from outside to contaminate the wort in open “coolships” in order to create its own lambic-style beer. Now aging in oak barrels, they will be released in 2017 and beyond.
So expect to see more of these different styles of beer. If you’d like to try them, look for some of the European originals. Here are some great versions to try out from local breweries:
Six Corners Brew Works, Post ‘N Bale Farmhouse Ale
This summer seasonal is as spicy and as thirst quenching as its Belgian cousins. The yeast does the talking here. CSPC 778238, $16 per 6 pk.
Banded Peak Brewing, Chinook Saison
A true transatlantic brew; a Belgian farmhouse ale with North American Chinook hops. Typically dry, with a slight spicy flavour. Look for their fruit versions as well. Available on tap, at growler bars, and at the brewery (519 34 Avenue SE, Calgary).
Troubled Monk Brewery, Homesteader Belgian Saison
This Red Deer brewery has created their own tasty homage to manual labour. CSPC 779877, $15 per 6 pk.
The Dandy Brewing Company
At least seven different sours have come out of this small Calgary brewery in the past year. Expect more versions in the future. Look for them on tap, at growler bars or better yet, visit them at #11-1826 25 Avenue NE, Calgary.