Beer Scene Takes Off In Calgary
Craft brews are flowing at bars and restaurants
Story by Don Tse
Photo by Andy Nichols
Good beer is not new to Calgary. Big Rock has been brewing since 1985 and local microbreweries Brew Brothers and Wild Rose have been around since 1994 and 1996, respectively. Bottlescrew Bill’s Old English Pub opened in 1980 and currently offers a menu of over 200 beers, while the Ship & Anchor, which opened over 20 years ago, offers its diverse clientele over 30 draft beers together with a few bottled selections.
But there is no doubt that something big is happening in the beer scene in Calgary. In the Beltline area alone, the last year has seen the opening of Craft Beer Market, Beer Revolution and National Beer Hall. And after years of planning, Village Brewery has finally opened its taps, making it the first new brewery in Calgary in over 15 years.
These new ventures are not aimed only at a small group of beer aficionados, but at a much larger audience. Previously the domain of a small community of beer fanatics, craft and import beers are now hitting the mainstream.
“Beer is the new wine,” observes Rob Swiderski of Craft, “and it’s being made in a lot wider spectrum of flavours.”
Matt Lanigan of Beer Revolution has a long history in the beer industry as one of the owners of the Brewsters chain of brewpubs. Recently, he has observed a change in the market. According to Lanigan, when Brewsters opened, they spent a great deal of time convincing customers to try something new. But today, customers of Beer Revolution display confidence and comfort when trying new beers; in fact, they seek them out.
It’s part of an overall increase in all things culinary, says Kirk Bodnar, beer steward at Charcut Roast House. Charcut was the first restaurant in Calgary to have an on-staff steward to suggest beer pairings with its food.
“There has been an increased interest in food generally, and everyone [in the business] is elevating the market. People are starting to come around and understand good beer,” Bodnar says.
He also consults with other establishments and has even noticed that places trying to play it safe by offering mass-market domestic beers are finding those beers don’t sell as well as the more interesting offerings.
Chris Joyce of National Beer Hall thinks the boom in the Calgary beer scene is overdue. “I moved [to Calgary] from Vancouver Island, where the craft beer scene has been thriving since the 1990s. Calgary is just catching up,” he says.
Swiderski agrees, admitting that Craft is modelled on establishments in the United States that have been around for a long time.
There are many reasons why craft beer is booming, but Beer Revolution’s Lanigan sums it up best: “It’s inevitable; people like beer.”
Drink good beer here
There are many fine establishments in Calgary offering a large and good variety of beers, but the ones listed below are not merely about the number of brews — these places give beer a place of prominence.
BEER REVOLUTION Offers 24 beers on tap. Most of the beers are on for a limited time, so an electronic beer menu board reminiscent of a screen at the airport keeps you informed of the offerings. (1080 8 St SW, 403-264-2739)
BOTTLESCREW BILL’S A selection of more than 200 beers from around the world to go with its pub grub. Next door at Buzzard’s Restaurant, the same beers are offered in a casual dining setting. (140 10 Ave SW, 403-263-7900)
CHARCUT A roast house and charcuterie with an on-staff beer steward to help with beer pairing suggestions. (101-899 Centre St SW, 403-984-2180)
CRAFT BEER MARKET Offers 104 beers on tap, almost all of which come from small, craft breweries. (345 10 Ave SW, 403-514-2337)
HOP IN BREW A true public house offering a handful of carefully selected draft beers. No crap on tap. (213 12 Ave SW, 403-266-2595)
KAWA A coffee shop with a fantastic selection of bottled beers. You can find things here that you won’t find anywhere else in Calgary. (101-1333 8 St SW, 403-452-5233)
NATIONAL BEER HALL In the former Mercury location, this new establishment offers 72 Canadian and American beers on tap. No multinational brewers here. (550 17 Ave SW)