|If you're in Alberta, get your hands on Alley Kat's flavourful Loaded Goat Maibock. If you're not in Alberta, consider moving. (Supplied)
One of the best things about being a beer columnist is that periodically someone will show up at your door with a box full of beer that you wouldn’t normally get to try.
It’s shocking to realize that while the existence of the tooth fairy may have been debunked when you were a child, there is such a thing as the beer fairy. This is great not only because it saves you a trip to the liquor store, but also because it gives you some context for things that are going on in other parts of the country.
Alley Kat Brewing, for instance, is based out of Edmonton. Since their ambition, according to owner Neil Herbst, is to produce artisanal beers in small batches rather than to expand and become manufacturers, their beers are really only available within Alberta. Periodically, very small orders will come in to beer bars in Toronto, but it’s not the kind of thing that you’re likely to see at the LCBO anytime soon.
I like to get a picture of the whole range of a brewery’s output when I’m learning about them. It helps to give you an idea of what that brewery is about. Sometimes, what will happen (especially in the U.S.) is a brewery will develop a reputation for a single beer, which people will clamour over. That’s good in terms of brand recognition, but it does tend to create an unreasonable amount of hype. Better to consider the entire output of a brewery and draw conclusions from that.
Their core range of beers, produced year round, total four. Alley Kat has managed to do something quite clever with the lineup; they’ve hidden the fact that these are complex, flavourful artisanal beers behind fairly simple names. Charlie Flint’s Organic Lager, for instance, is really more of a Munich Helles. A sort of malt forward Bavarian Lager similar in hopping to a Czech Pilsner. It’s so unlike some of the other Organic Lagers I’ve tried that I actually did a double take when sampling it because of the full body and prominent cereal notes.
Their Amber is another example of this use of a simple descriptor for a complex beer. It suggests on the label below the name that it’s actually a Brown Ale. And it is a sort of Northern English Brown Ale with notes of chocolate and sweet caramel and hints of dried fruit.
Perhaps the most impressive of all is their Aprikat, an apricot wheat beer that manages to actually taste as though you’ve just bitten into an apricot. Sometimes in a fruit beer, there will be a slight chemical note due to the use of artificial flavouring. In this case, they’ve gone with a natural extract and it shows through in the sense that instead of a single note of apricot on the palate, it coats the mouth.
Then, there’s the latest entry in their Big Bottle Series: Loaded Goat Maibock. Sometimes when brewers attempt complex flavours, all of them jumble together. In this case, an actual delineation exists between flavours in each mouthful. The aroma is mostly cereal followed by a nearly pumpernickel dark bread quality in the mid-palate, finishing with a short aftertaste of candied fruit.
Somehow, Alley Kat has managed to create complex, flavourful artisanal beers and has hidden them behind non-threatening descriptors. It’s not a gambit I’ve ever seen before, but it seems to be working for them. If you’re in Alberta, see if you can get your hands on the Maibock before it runs out. If you’re in Ontario, consider moving to Alberta.
Jordan St. John writes about beer in all of its many guides on his blog at Saintjohnswort.ca.