Strong is not a word I associate with Calgary these days. Take your pick of metrics: the economy, oilpatch, unemployment rate, downtown office vacancies, real-estate prices. None are strong. And let’s not forget the ravages of the pandemic.
Yet there’s one Calgary sector where “strong” is not a misplaced adjective. That’s the local craft beer scene.
Even before Covid, I wondered how many of the tsunami of new local breweries would survive. Certainly, the pandemic—with its shifting closures, lockdowns and regulations—didn’t help these fledging businesses. Yet here we are, a year-plus later, and the resilient local beer business is still chugging along.
But today, I want to focus on a different aspect of strong: local brews labeled as “strong beer.” While somewhat subjective, strong beer is generally considered to have an alcohol content (or ABV) of at least 6%.
Such beers are often more intense and complex, which is why I like them, much like I prefer strong coffee or undiluted whiskey. Given the punch strong beers pack, they are perhaps best sipped at home, which is where most of us are doing our drinking these days anyways. As a bonus, many of these local breweries are currently offering doorstop deliveries.
Fortunately, local brewers—perhaps in mad-scientist mode while locked in their laboratories—are doing a fine job of feeding innovative strong beers to the market. Some of these are seasonal or even one-time offerings, so get them while you can.
Here are some of the strong local beers I’ve been sampling lately.
Annex Ale Project is one of the most innovative breweries in Calgary. Retracted Resolution is a 7.7% Belgian dubbel—a dark beer with double the amount of raw materials—with notes of dark berries, toffee and cloves; a surprisingly smooth drink. It’s already gone from the brewery website but I managed to snag a four-pack at my nearby Co-op Wines and Spirits store.
Outcast Brewing is another favourite Calgary brewery. They hit it out of the park again with The Forgetful Brewer, a double-dry-hopped double IPA (8%) with plentiful citra, mosaic and simcoe hops. Twice a Canadian Brewing Awards winner.
The Dandy Brewing Company is another bold explorer, surprising my taste buds with its Tumbling Tide, an 8.5% Belgian tripel, a high fermentation brew traditionally marked with three crosses on the barrel.
Blindman Brewing is an outstanding small-town brewery—located in central Alberta’s Lacombe—that delivers to my Calgary doorstep. Its Wet & Dry Hop Double IPA (8.8%) fabulously captures the flavours of just-picked hops.
Cabin Brewing’s flagship Super Saturation is hopped up here to produce Super Duper Saturation, a lovely 8% Imperial New England pale ale. A seasonal beer, here’s hoping it makes a return soon.
Bonus coverage: Blindman’s Perepllut (see image at top) is an extra strong barley wine ale that, weighing in at 10.35%, frankly knocked me on my ass. Fortunately, it only comes in 355-ml/12-ounce cans. And, believe me, one is enough.