When you think of Napa and Sonoma, wine comes to mind. Kentucky is known for the Bourbon Trail and Portland is known for beer. So, how does Alberta fare on the foodie and beer-connoisseur bucket list?

“We’re often compared to places such as Colorado, which is a major brewing mecca in the States,” says Terry Rock, executive director of the Alberta Small Brewers Association (ASBA). “Destination brewers include those in Hinton and Crowsnest Pass, Lethbridge, from a tourism perspective it’s wonderful — a person can travel all over the province and sample local beer.”

Alberta Culture and Tourism announced a craft brewery grant of $60,000 to help the ASBA develop the province’s local beer brand, and establish craft brewing as a must-visit experience for beer fans and brewers from around the world.

“We’re going to start pulling together all of these elements and create a healthy tourism network around our industry,” Rock says.

Craft beer production is exploding across Alberta for a variety of reasons, including a vibrant 100-year legacy, new regulations that make it easier for smaller brewers to enter the market, magnificent malt barley and some of the best water in the world.

From a tourism perspective it’s wonderful — a person can travel all over the province and sample local beer.”
– Terry Rock, executive director of the Alberta Small Brewers Association

Alberta’s beer legacy began hundreds of years ago in the late-1800s with folks such as Alfred Ernest Cross who founded the Calgary Brewing and Malting Company, Fritz Sick of the Lethbridge Brewing and Malting Company, and the Saskatchewan Brewery, located in Medicine Hat. Of course, more recently, we can point to Big Rock Brewery founder Ed McNally.

map of alberta breweries
Illustration: Heff O’Reilly

There are currently 68 brewing licenses in Alberta, compared to only 18 in 2014. Rock says the influx is primarily attributed to a new set of regulations set out by the Alberta Government in 2013 that opened the spigot on the amount of beer being brewed by removing the minimum requirement for brewers to produce at least 500,000 litres per year.

“Alberta’s economy is going through a change, and part of that change is people are looking for new and unique opportunities that are creative and different,” Rock says, adding that Calgary alone has upwards of 30 breweries.

Adding to the perfect brew for an invigorated industry of passionate, Alberta-based entrepreneurs is a quality education program.

“There’s the program at Olds College for [Brewmasters and Brewery Operations Management]. It’s a two-year program, and they’ve just added distilling. Let me tell you, everyone gets a job who goes through that curriculum,” Rock says.

Today, Alberta has quality craft brewers operating everywhere from Edson to Edmonton, and Lacombe to Fort McMurray. Part of the reason Alberta beer tastes so darn good, is our barley.

“We have the best barley in the world and we produce hundreds of thousands of tons of malt barley a year and export most of that. We’re world leaders. It’s similar to how B.C. is known for great grapes,” says Rock.