|Craft beer hall. (Jordan St. John/QMI Agency)
If you had told me two weeks ago that Alberta is undergoing a craft beer explosion, I might have been skeptical. However, there are a unique set of circumstances that are driving the craft beer market in Calgary and Edmonton, resulting in an incredible rate of expansion.
The first thing that you have to understand is that Alberta has the youngest population and lowest unemployment in the country and the highest median income when you discount the territories. These are young people who work hard. They want to be entertained and they have the money to go out and enjoy themselves.
The second thing you need to know is that because of privatization of liquor sales in 1993, itís a great deal more straightforward to import beer into Alberta from other places than in any other province. This results in a place like Sherbrooke Liquor in Edmonton having 1400 different kinds of beer. Thereís an amount of variety unparalleled elsewhere.
So what do you get when you combine unparalleled variety and a young population looking for a night out?
You get beer halls. Lots of them.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, these beer halls take their inspiration from those in Germany with a convivial atmosphere and communal seating, making the experience as much about being surrounded by other revelers as beer appreciation. Unlike Germany, where a beer hall is likely to serve the products of a single brewery, Albertaís beer halls have an overwhelming selection of beers to choose from.
Beyond a certain point, the sheer number of options becomes practically unfathomable. Edmontonís MKT, housed in a delightfully converted rail station, sits towards the lower end of the scale with a number that would seem ostentatious anywhere else in the country. Edmontonís Underground and Calgaryís National Beer Hall each boast 72 taps. The current leader seems to be Craft Beer Market in Calgary with well over 100 taps available (with an exclusive launch of Brewdog coming this week).
Because all of this sprung up so quickly, the beer nerdery that crops up in slower developing markets doesnít exist, therefore an entire spectrum of beer is available for drinkers to enjoy. You can order anything from a Rolling Rock to an Imperial Stout brewed by Mikkeller in Denmark and no one will bat an eye. There are new beers coming in all the time for guest taps that would make craft beer enthusiasts in other provinces green with envy.
Despite the fact that everything from glassware to keg rooms are being done exceptionally well, thereís a minimal amount of pretension (and a recognition that everyone has basically come out to have a good time on a Friday night). This is a phenomenon that is as much about communal enjoyment of each other as anything else.
Jordan St.John writes about beer at saintjohnswort.ca. This week heís talking about microbrewing in Alberta.