Jan. 02, 2013 - Issue #898: Apocalypse Not?
A year through the bottom of a beer glass
The top five reasons it's been a beer-y good yearAs I sit amidst the torn wrapping paper and discarded New Year's noise makers, sipping on my first beer of 2013, I find myself in a contemplative mood, thinking back on the year that has just run its course.
All in all, I have to say 2012 was a pretty damn good year for beer in Edmonton. We have lots to be thankful for and much to look forward to in the new year. The last 12 months have treated us relatively well. So, here are my top five reasons why 2012 was a very good year for beer in E-town, done countdown style à la Mr Letterman.
The quiet creep of craft: I was struck this year how the selection of beer at liquor stores, corner pubs and other retailers quietly improved. Two years ago, I would go into an average liquor store and find scant offerings, but this year would discover a couple dozen beer I would be happy to purchase. In a local pub where Rickard's Red used to be the highlight, this year a legitimate craft beer, like Sam Adams or Yellowhead, would have quietly popped up on tap, providing a real option for once. What is particularly intriguing is that it seems to have occurred without fanfare. Just a quiet response to customer demand.
Upping their game: Number four was something I started noticing in 2011, but it really took hold in 2012. Our local breweries seem to be upping their game—experimenting more and offering bolder options. The folks at Alley Kat appear to have a new spirit of adventure in particular. In addition to their mainstay product, they now have a regular seasonal line, the Big Bottle series of one-off beer, the Dragon Series of single-hop Imperial IPAs and unexpected one-time releases. They are playing with oak-aging, sour beer and unusual ingredients. It is great to see—and drink. And they are not alone as Calgary's Wild Rose also seems to be experimenting a bit more as well.
Westvleteren and beyond: 2012 was the year Edmontonians got their hands on one of the world's rarest beer, Westvleteren 12, brewed by reclusive Belgian monks and normally only sold out of the abbey gate. A single, one-time shipment made it to Canada, and Edmonton got a huge portion of the stuff. A once in a lifetime treat, but that is not all. The range of world-class breweries available within our borders keeps growing every year. This past year we saw Green Flash, Courage, Flying Monkeys, De Molen, Jolly Pumpkin and many more arrive in our burg. I keep expecting a fall back as supply over-strips demand, but it never seems to happen. Which means more beer coming our way next year.
New, new, new: 2012 was the year of the new. The capital region saw its first new microbrewery in a while with Hog's Head Brewing opening its doors in the fall (more on them in my next column). But we also saw an influx of new beer locations, including a couple of beer-focused pubs like Underground Tap and Grill (with 72 taps, mostly quality craft) and MKT (with a decent list of good beer), plus a couple more to come in early 2013. We are even seeing some new serious contenders for the beer store market with Co-op Liquor in the southwest and Wine and Beyond in the southwest and in Sherwood Park. Neither yet rivals reigning champ Sherbrooke Liquor, which has the largest beer selection in Canada, but beer options got a whole lot better in the last 12 months.
The tap explosion: My number one reason for feeling like it was a great beer year is the explosion in tap options in Edmonton. Let me be more specific. I am not talking about the sheer number of taps in various locations, which is only one measure of good beer. I am talking about the number of rotational, one-time, specialty and exclusive beer on tap you can now find in a handful of places in town, including Sugar Bowl, Accent, Wunderbar and the newbies mentioned in point number two. In the industry, taps that are not committed to a specific beer are called rotational, and it is that phenomenon of which I speak. This year I have found more than ever before that I can find a couple of beer on tap that were not available the week before and won't be next week. It creates an atmosphere of constant exploration, and it is a hallmark of a maturing beer scene.
Edmonton had a good beer year, but the thing that has me most pumped is the knowledge that this is only the beginning. I trust that in a few years I will be writing a top five list that will make this one look anemic. Hold on to your beer mugs, Edmonton, we are in for a fun ride! V
Jason Foster is the creator of onbeer.org, a website devoted to news and views on beer from the prairies and beyond.
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