Category Archives: Alberta

Small-Batch Stars at Inner City Brewing

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A flight at Calgary’s Inner City Brewing

The backbone of pretty much every craft brewery is its core beers, ones always available in the taproom and liquor stores. But for Inner City Brewing, it’s the more experimental brews that may grab your attention.

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This is where the small-batch magic happens

So while you can easily pick up standards like the Bridgelandia Blonde Ale and the 800 Block New England IPA in local liquor outlets, you’ll have to saunter down to Inner City’s taproom to sample small-batch offerings like sorghum beer and coconut Hefeweizen.

Location As the name suggests, Inner City is in Calgary’s near-downtown Beltline district, a few doors down from stalwart Brewsters.

Ambience Warehouse chic, with high ceilings, open ductwork, dark interior, exposed brick and a wall of stainless steel brewing tanks

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Warehouse chic design

Food Other than a handul of locally made snacks, your best dining bets may be deliveries from nearby restaurants or bringing your own food

Signature beer Bridgelandia, a modern, hazy blonde ale (5%), featuring juicy hops and tropical fruits. Among the small-batch beers, a standout is The Corner of Here & There, an English red ale

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Half a dozen small-batch brews on tap

Inner City Brewing
816 11 Avenue SW, Calgary
Sunday 1 pm-9 pm, Monday to Wednesday 11 am-10 pm, Thursday to Saturday 11 am-midnight
587-880-8600

Beer and Food a Perfect Pairing at Citizen Brewing

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Fried chicken and beer at Citizen Brewing

Citizen Brewing is noted for its excellent pub food, crafted by chef Brad Stefaniuk. Think chuck burgers, chicken sandwiches and pulled pork banh mi.

But an even bigger deal the day I was there was a bus full of thirsty German tourists. Now that’s a discerning audience.

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The Germans are coming!

Location On an industrial side street, not far from Fox Hollow Golf Course

Ambience Long tables, outdoor hop garden and patio

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The brewery is right beside the taproom

Food Acclaimed burgers and fried chicken

Favourite beer The Hijacked IPA (7%, 80 IBU) has a better story—stolen food truck—but I like the balanced Batch 2 North West Pale Ale (5.5%, 55 IBU)

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A flight of beers

Beer availability Widely available in pubs and in liquor store cans

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A good selection of beers on tap

Citizen Brewing Company
227 35 Avenue NE, Calgary
Sunday to Thursday 11 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-midnight
403-474-4677

Eighty-Eight Brewing Produces Olympian Beers

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Eighty-Eight Brewing is neon cool on two floors

Eighty-Eight Brewing Company is named in honour of Calgary’s Winter Olympics (yes, in 1988). It boast an impressive list of about 15 core and seasonal beers.

The clincher is Noble Pie, which makes 18-inch pizzas—featuring aged and fresh cheeses—hand crafted by Mike Lange and fired in a little upstairs oven. They’re only available Thursday to Sunday or until the dough runs out, a great incentive for showing up early.

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Beer and hand-crafted pizza: Can’t beat that

Location In a little industrial strip mall off Blackfoot Trail near Crossroads Market

Ambience Neon cool, on two levels

Food Hand-crafted, in-house pizzas from Noble Pie

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The roster of pizzas

Favourite beer Double Dare Imperial IPA (7.7%, 88 IBU; 500-ml bottles only). Knocks you down and attacks your tastebuds. Three words: “Big, Dank, Pine.” Enough said.

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The Double Dare IPA might leave you seeing double

Beer availability Widely available in 500-ml bottles in liquor stores, restaurants and bars

Eighty-Eight Brewing Company
1070, 2600 Portland Street SE, Calgary
Tuesday-Wednesday 4 pm-9 pm, Thursday 4 pm-10 pm, Friday-Saturday noon to midnight, Sunday noon-7 pm. Closed Monday
403-452-5880

Craft Beer Booming in Calgary: Too Much of a Good Thing?

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The colourful Cold Garden Beverage Company is one of some 50 craft breweries in Calgary

At last count, there are more than 50 craft breweries in Calgary, compared with a relative handful five years ago. Admittedly, not every brewery on this list seems to actually be making beer yet.

But still, it’s a heck of a lot. By comparison, the apparently less thirsty folks of Edmonton only have about 15 local craft breweries to choose from. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of a bunch of Calgary operations—Goat Locker Brewing, New Level Brewing, Born Colorado Brewing, O.T. Brewing Company, etc.—despite making a reasonable effort to keep track of what’s brewing in Calgary.

It’s great to see this beer boom in Calgary. But the question is this: How do you stand out sufficiently from the crowd to create a viable business and start paying off all that expensive beer-making equipment? (One entrepreneur I talked to recently said his partnership was spending $1.3 million to build a brewery outside of Vancouver.) Given this increasingly crowded Calgary beer market, it would seem not everyone is going to survive. This interview with Steve Carlton, co-owner of the recently closed Red Bison Brewery, illustrates the challenges facing local craft brewers.

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You often need lots of space to make beer, like Caravel Craft Brewery, near Calgary’s airport

There are a few essential ingredients to success. Good beer, obviously. Some standards in one’s beer lineup: an India pale ale (IPA), a pale ale, maybe a stout or porter and, increasingly, a sour. Maybe a unique brew—exotic ingredients include marshmallows, bacon, Chile peppers, doughnuts, you name it.

You also need a comfortable, convivial taproom. It certainly helps to have good food options such as a local chuck burger, fried chicken, barbecue, house-made snacks or hand-crafted pizza.

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Citizen Brewing does some killer fried chicken

Location is also important, to some extent. There are emerging collections of craft breweries in Calgary, such as five in Inglewood and half a dozen in the Manchester area, which encourage things like beer “hops”. And if you can establish a neighbourhood brewery/pub that attracts nearby residents, so much the better.

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Annex Ale Project is nicely located for a beer bike hop in southeast Calgary

But no doubt because of the cost and amount of real estate needed to make beer and build an attached taproom, many Calgary craft breweries are popping up in industrial areas around the city. Which means convincing patrons to a) find you and b) make the trek to your premises (here’s a map showing the locations of most Calgary craft breweries). You also might need hooks to get people in the door: arcade games, military history theme, board games, live music nights, no-tip policies.

Marketing plays a huge part in creating a successful craft brewery. This includes getting your beer into pubs and restaurants and onto liquor-store shelves. Let’s face it, even beer-dedicated places like National and Craft Beer Market aren’t going to put offerings from 50 Calgary breweries on tap.

There’s a myriad other things to consider, like whether to primarily sell your product in kegs, bottles (12-ounce or 22-ounce “bombers”), cans (tall or regular) or growlers. Keeping abreast of provincial regulations and taxes governing Alberta craft breweries is another factor.

So, best of luck to all the brewers trying to make a go of it in Calgary.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be highlighting some of Calgary’s craft breweries, focusing on what makes them stand out. I’ll randomly start with Ol’ Beautiful.

Location: In the heart of Inglewood’s craft beer scene. Indeed, it’s a 20-second stroll across Ol Beautiful’s patio to the colourful Cold Garden. The only intermingling they don’t encourage is carrying drink/food from one location to the other.

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Ol’ Beautiful’s patio is just a few steps away from Cold Garden in Inglewood’s Barley District

Ambience: Comfortable, relaxed

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A cozy, relaxed taproom

Signature beer: Okami Kasu, a Japanese-style, easy-drinking ale that includes rice, plus the leftover rice from sake production, giving the beer “a subtle hint of boozy, creamy funk in the finish.”

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Food: Mostly packaged snacks

Beer availability: Tall bottles and growler fills at select drinking establishments and liquor outlets

Ol’ Beautiful
1103 12 Street SE, Calgary
Tuesday to Thursday noon-10 pm, Friday-Saturday noon to midnight, Sunday noon to 8 pm. Closed Monday
403-978-4721

Hey, use the “leave a reply” link in the upper left to promote your favourite local craft brewery and what makes it special; it doesn’t have to be in Calgary.

Bringing Little Jamaica to Jasper

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The Spice Joint’s Dwain Gilzene is bringing Jamaican food to Jasper

In a tourist town, the midsummer go-to eats and drinks are pizza, burgers, beer and ice cream. Indeed in Jasper, a town of just 4,600 permanent residents inside Alberta’s Jasper National Park, there are at least six pizza joints.

So I’m thrilled to discover, on a little side street off Jasper’s busy main drag, a hole-in-the-wall place specializing in jerk chicken. The Spice Joint is a family business serving authentic Jamaican fare.

How authentic? Consider that co-owner and chef Dwain Gilzene learned to cook as a teenager in Jamaica. After a number of years cooking for upscale Jasper restaurants, he and his wife, Isis, opened The Spice Joint in 2018, offering food based on his recipes.

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The jerk chicken sandwich packs a punch

I go for a spicy but not overpowering jerk chicken sandwich ($10) and a beef Pattie. My companion chooses a jerk chicken Caesar salad wrap ($12). It’s a great, flavourful lunch that doesn’t break the bank in said tourist town.

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The jerk chicken Caesar salad wrap mixes hot and cool

The Spice Joint’s rotating specials include rice and peas, Rasta greens and coconut prawn soup. Sunday dinners point to long-term plans to also open a full-scale Jamaican restaurant.

Maybe sometime in the future they’ll have jerk chicken pizza.

The Spice Joint
614 Connaught Drive, Jasper, Alberta
Weekdays 10 am-9 pm. Closed weekends
780-852-3615

Happy Hour Every Day in Calgary

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Happy Hour at the National at Calgary Westhills

When it comes to cheap eats, it’s hard to beat happy hour.

It’s a win-win situation. The customer gets food and drinks at discount prices, and the restaurant gets customers during an otherwise slow part of the day, usually late afternoon and sometimes late at night.

In Calgary’s beleaguered economy, consumers are increasingly looking for bargains and restaurants for customers. So it’s great to discover, just five minutes from my house, two quality establishments offering lots of happy-hour specials every day of the week.

National and Earls are practically next door to each other in WestHills Town Centre, a typical sprawling suburban mall. And in late afternoon, both are hopping busy, thanks to their happy hours.

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Earls has the most happy hour offerings I’ve seen

National is a thriving Calgary operation, with four locations, specializing in lots of craft beers and good bar food—think burgers, chicken wings, fish and chips and smoked brisket sandwiches. The majority of seating is at long, communal tables, so you’re cheek to jowl with your neighbours, many of them families. It’s a festive, noisy atmosphere, especially at happy hour, so don’t expect an intimate dinner.

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West Hills is one of several National locations in Calgary

On to the happy-hour deals, available 3-6 pm daily. There’s a smattering of cocktails and house wines but, really, you’re here for the craft beer. National lists some 60 brews, mostly local and from B.C. And they’re mostly available at happy-hour prices of $5 for 16 ounces (normally $8.50). Just make sure you’ve ordered your second pint before six, assuming you’re not driving.

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The National’s happy-hour menu

My go-to happy hour foods are the substantial Clive burger ($13 instead of $17.50), featuring two Alberta grass-fed patties and a heaping cone of fries; seniors or kids could easily split this. Another shareable is a lovely mesquite bacon and mushroom pizza ($9.50 instead of $18), an eight-slice steal of a deal. A friend recommends the crispy chicken sliders (local Sunrise Farms)—three for $11 instead of $14.50.

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The substantial mesquite bacon and mushroom pizza is only $9.50 during happy hour

Earls is a much bigger operation, with nearly 70 locations in Canada (eight in Calgary alone) and the U.S. It started in 1982 as a spinoff of the Edmonton-based Fullers. In my experience, it has always produced good, innovative meals at reasonable prices, straddling the boundary between fine dining and a relaxed, family atmosphere.

Happy Hour

These chicken tacos are $6 during Earls happy hour

Unlike the paltry happy-hour offerings at many restaurants, Earls has gone all out on such specials, available, with some variations, at all its outlets. At my Westhills location, happy hour goes from 3 to 5 pm and 9 pm to close, with a list of 18 discounted food items, ranging from $4 garlic fries to $19 Cajun chicken. The dozen drinks includes their proprietary Rhino draught ($5.50 instead of $8.25 for 18 ounces).

Some of the standout deals are the street chicken tacos (reduced from $13.25 to $6), the eight-inch margherita pizza (down from $6.50 to $4) and the crispy ribs ($8 instead of $13).

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And the margherita pizza is only $4

I’ve never had a local dine-and-drink hangout, preferring to experience the vast diversity of choices available in western North American. But with deals like these, you might spot me tipping a pint at these two joints.

National Westhills
180 Stewart Green SW, Calgary
Daily happy hour 3 pm-6 pm
403-685-6801

Earls Westhills
140 Stewart Green SW, Calgary
Daily happy hour 3-5 pm and 9 pm to close
403-246-7171