Best of The West
The TOP Beers in Western Canada
By The Beer Maven Sondra Baker on May. 13, 2016
I have spent the last two months sampling some of the absolute best craft beer that Western Canada has to offer. I have become a connoisseur of sorts and have highly enjoyed meeting local craft brewers, sales representatives and experts in the industry. I was amazed at the kindness and loyalty each brewery demonstrates to the other, they are all in this together and it feels more like a family affair than a competitive industry.
I am thrilled to be involved and spread the love to these 20 phenomenal breweries in Alberta, British Colombia and Saskatchewan. While I would love to include reviews of every beer I was sent it would turn this article into a novel. I have narrowed it down to my two favorites for each brewery.
Cheers, and remember drink local!
Winner of two awards at the 2015 Canadian Brewing Awards including a Beer of the year award for their Scona Gold. Alley Kat is best known for their hugely popular Aprikat beer, once you have your first sip you find out why in a hurry. They like to brew in small batches giving them more control over the quality and the ability to play with new flavours.
Aprikat – The aroma of this beer prepares you for the fresh apricot taste. It has a light clean finish and is one of my new favorite beers.
Big Brown Cat (a collaboration with Big Rock) – Light roasted malt aroma, a dark amber pour with a strong Hoppy pine finish.
Founded in 1985 by Mr. Ed McNally, now the largest Craft Brewery in Canada. Known all over for their well-loved signature series, which features Traditional & Grasshopper and of course their Short Film Festival called The Big Rock Eddies. Huge community and local farming supporter.
Scottish Heavy Ale -The beer write up asks “Is your mouth ready for a warm velvet hug?” And this is a perfect description for this ale. The Brewmaster chose malts with caramel and toffee undertones which plays beautifully with the vanilla that pulls through in the end.
Traditional – An Alberta staple, you can’t go wrong with a Trad. English style brown ale with complementing flavours of caramel, roasted malts and finishes with a mild hop.
Second generation family business once known mostly for their good food and welcoming local atmosphere, now just as popular if not more well known for their authentic craft beer. This can now be purchased at hundreds of locations across Alberta. Their Barley Monk Wine is to die for and I could drink their 52nd St Peach Ale all day long.
Blue Monk Barley Wine – Gorgeous golden brown coloring, medium thick off white head. Scents of floral malts, hops and heat. This one is quite boozy and definitely a sipper. Strong enough to make the Monks start chanting.
River City Raspberry – Always served in a frosted mug with a threesome of fresh raspberries floating on top. My Brewster’s staple is now available at liquor stores across Alberta. A must try.
A brewery invented from friendship and a passion for craft. Their slogan ‘It takes a village to raise a beer. And a beer to raise a village.’ Is followed through with their community involvement, support of local artists and god damn amazing quality craft beer. One of my favorite breweries for sure.
Village Wit – Flavored with coriander and orange. This is an unfiltered wheat ale with light sediment. When my unfiltered beer has a layer of sediment on the bottom I gently swirl it around until properly mixed and I know that this cloudiness means I’m getting extra boost of flavors and accents in this particular beer. Wit is just like that, the golden ale turns into a cloudy creamy mouthed beer that smells lightly of orange zest and begs to be garnished with one. There is fullness to Wit that I appreciate and makes this wheat ale one to really sip and enjoy.
Blacksmith – I love a good full-bodied dark beer. Blacksmith smells of roasted barley, is the color of soot, and has an appreciated hop finish.
A true Alberta gem, made and sold only in Alberta in small high quality batches with local ingredients. Voted the #1 Taproom in Calgary 6 years in a row. Wildrose rocks a great variety of delicious beers. It was hard to narrow it down to my top 2 but I persevered.
Electric Avenue Golden Lager – A homage to the wildest avenue there ever was, now lined with respectable businesses this lager brings you back to time of belly shirts and Doc Martins. My go to Lager after a hot Calgary day, clean, golden yellow and refreshing, just like a Lager should be.
Flanders Ave – A sour beer, barrel aged in red wine barrels. This was my first sour beer so my palate was intrigued. And in a good way, it reminded me of sour cherry candies from when I was a kid.
This brewery made my list after meeting their knowledgeable sales guru Zach. The brewery is located in the small town of Edgerton AB, think farmers fields and blue sky. It was founded in 2012 by a group of friends and business owners. After pumping out a consistently reliable and full bodied lager they came out with some impressive pale ales (Lone Bison , Rangeland ) and an amazing porter which made my top favorite list. I’m very much looking forward to what they come up with next ! And I think a brewery tour is most definitely in order.
Old Man Winter Porter – The beautiful artwork on this can drew me in, it’s definitely the best can design I’ve ever seen. If there’s an award for that it should win gold. The beer inside matches the outside beauty, the aroma is of roasted malts and freshly brewed espresso. Your taste buds aren’t let down as it tastes just like it smells. A very well done porter Ribstone!
Lone Bison IPA – A bold full mouthed IPA, pours a deep bronze with a nice thick head. The flavour lasts and lasts like the energizer bunny. Perfect for this hop fan.
Two former Military IT guys meet in Afghanistan for the first time, find out they live down the street from each other back in Calgary and forge a friendship that is the back bone of ToolShed Brewery. They started making one of a kind home brews in guess where? Yup a Tool Shed! They fought through the crazy AGLC Laws that worked against small breweries and won. When these guys do something it’s all in, in every way possible. Not one to stick to conventional brewing rules, they make their own rules and you can taste it. It’s about friends, stories and enjoying a beer together that has been made with 100% heart.
Flat Cap Stout – Brand New! Not even out yet. I was ecstatic to be one of the first to try their newest member of the family. The pour is black with a nice off white head, full bodied and complex. There is a hop party going on in there, in typical Tool Shed fashion they surprise you with the play of flavours. I might have had two 20 ouncers of this during my tour).
Red Rage – A beautiful dark red pour with perfect carbonation. Think Canadian winter layers, flavors of coffee, baked bread and a tease of hops. This Ginger is my new bff.
Bronze medal winner for their milk stout at the Canadian brewing awards, small Husband and Wife owned brewery in Swift Current, Saskatchewan with surprisingly big tastes.
Milk Stout – I looove creamy Stouts, I could almost taste it before it hit my lips. And BAM! I was blown away. I was sad they only sent me two cans so I grabbed a six pack at the LC. Smells of smoky chocolate and malts. Tastes of roasted barley and intensely deep chocolate linger on my tongue. This brew fills my mouth with a heaviness that I search for in a stout. BlackBridge really hit a home run with this black beauty.
Rye Ale Bright – Amber color, hop scented with citrus aromas. I feel like you can taste the quality, Cheers to you BlackBridge I hope you keep growing strong!
Purveyor of fine extremely unique BC Craft, these guys have some of the coolest beer names and labels I’ve ever seen. Ex, I’ve been thinking about getting the band back together Ale, RedRum Rhubard Rye and Loud Mouth Soup double IPA.
Loud Mouth Soup – Warning this barley soup is for hopheads only. With an IBU of 80 I knew I was in for a hop explosion and I was right. The scent is strong hop and malts, the taste is vibrantly hoppy with a lovely bitter aftertaste.
Kick Ass Coffee Cream Ale – Pour is a deep brown, you can smell the strong coffee immediately. The lactose added to the beer gives it a creamy feel in your mouth. I wish there was a little sweetness factor but overall I very much enjoyed the coffee kick and this brew.
One of British Colombia’s oldest Craft Beer Breweries, they like to focus on brewing great beer and not on self promotion. If you haven’t heard of them they need an intro into your beer fridge. Their beers pass the 1516 Bavarian purity law. Non-pasteurized, pure natural beer.
Moontide Winter Ale – The first winter ale I’ve had with berries. And it’s a winner. The pour is a dark Amber and the undertones of vanilla play beautifully with the strong notes of berries. This is thoughtfully crafted ale. *(I was only sent the one)
Their Breaking Bad meets Mad Men labels kick some creative ass. With a Doctorate in microbiology and biochemistry Michael Kuzyk cooks up some mad genius in the beer lab. And we will give his wife Karen the credit for those sick labels. Gold Medal winner at the Canadian Brewing Awards for their Disruption Black IPA.
Induction Dubbel– 7.5 % A liquid brown sugar boozy goddess with slight fruity notes pouring a rich red colour.
Disruption Black IPA – 6.7% Loved it, even with a 77 IBU it is not overpoweringly hoppy. The roasted malts add a perfection of balance, I can see why this won Gold.
Main Street Beer – BC
Main Street Beer focus on brewing high quality craft in the mecca of Canadian Craft Beer, Vancouver BC. Just opened its doors in 2014 but is already well known with the locals and with brews like (Westminster Brown & Stag and Pheasant Imperial Stout) Its no wonder at all why their popularity has grown so fast.
Westminster Brown – The strong malts meet your taste buds first, followed through with hints of caramel and brown sugar and finished off with the featured triple hops.
Stag and Pheasant Imperial Stout – Pours black as night, rich roasted malts, strong chocolate flavor and a lingering smokey kiss. Beautifully done. I was sad I only had one!
Founded in beautiful Revelstoke BC by a Nuclear Physicist and a Biologist. I know, I love their story all ready. Bart (the former Physicist) was drawn into the craft beer world by trying his hand at home brewing which is how a lot of Canadian Craft Breweries get their start. In the genius of Canadian home brewers brains. Currently expanding into a much larger brewery because of high demand for such beer Einstein brews as their Mt. Begbie Cream Ale and Mt. Begbie High Country Kolsch.
Mt. Begbie Cream Ale – This beer quickly made its way onto my top 10 list after the first sip. It truly is a genuine Cream Ale, smooth, luxuriously full bodied but honest. I need a lifetime supply of this beer please. Mt. Begbie?
The Darkside of the Stoke Stout – Pours dark like a black coffee and the aroma and taste is the same. I love coffee so I loved this coffee stout. If you like your coffee black and strong this stout is for you.
Rich in history this Brewery has a lot to be proud of. It was originally named Caribou Brewing as was established way back in 1957! In the year 1965 PW Brewing made the first canned beer in BC. And more recently in 2005 they won the Canadian Gold Medal at the Industry International awards in Munich.
Schwarzbock – Pours a beautiful deep Amber brown with undertones of chocolate and coffee. Lightly hopped with complimenting malts and creamy off white head.
FestBier – A commemorative beer for the City of Prince George.
Image by: Sondra Baker
The brain child of Matt Phillips, brewing exceptional quality craft beer in beautiful Victoria BC. Some of the best beer I have had comes from this brewery. And their artist designed labels are stunning. If you’re a hop head you’ve definitely had your fair share of Phillips.
Longboat Porter – It’s a bloody amazing Chocolate Beer, left me speechless. A must try! On my top 10 list
Amnesiac Double IPA – An absolute hophead dream. 8.5 % Full bodied, great carbonation, very earthy. Consistently fulfilling every time I try it. Love you Phillips!
Red Collar – BC
The founder David Beardsell studied brewing in Munich where he learned the art and tradition of craft beer. After brewing in England, India & Western Samoa he returned to BC with his wife and has been creating well loved beers in Kamloops over the past 20 years. Red Collar sent me a dream threesome, their Dubbel, Quad and IPA.(I added their Quad to my beer cellar)
Dubbel 6% – A traditional Belgian Trappist style beer. Mouth watering inducing depths of chocolate and coffee with flirts of toffee.
IPA – Deep red pour, strong hoppy aroma and taste. The Australian hops really take the lead and are complex enough to carry through to the finish. A very well done IPA. IBU 78
Red Truck Beer – BC
Founded in 2005 Red Truck expanded from their original brewery in North Vancouver and is now on the outskirts of downtown Vancouver. They are most well known for their red Truck Ale which is a blend of Belgian malts plus German and Pacific Northwestern hops.
Red Truck IPA – Being a lover of big bold taste I enjoyed their IPA the most, with an IBU of 69 and an abv of 6.3% it’s up there on my top 10.
Swamp Thing – Stout Pours black as nighttime in the Rocky Mountains. This Irish style dry stout is simple with no pretence. The first taste is dark and complex which makes way to a sweeter dark chocolate finish.
Self professed beer fanatics, they have been sharing their craft since 1995. Their beer is of course 100% natural with no preservatives and unpasteurized, allowing the taste of their high quality ingredients to shine. These guys sent me 7 delicious bombers to try and I was amazed at the distinctive flavours of each one. It was very hard for me to narrow it down to my top 2.
Black Death – This is a beautiful bottle, it’ll be added to my collection. Roasted malts hit your senses first followed through with subtle hop tears. If you belong to the dark side like myself you’ll enjoy Black Death more than you thought you would. Russell you had me at black.
Angry Scotch Ale – (Canadian brewing award Gold medal winner 2014) Dark brown coloring, thick off white head, Angry Scotch is made with strong Scottish malts and it is dominate in both aroma and taste. At 6.5% it’s a stronger ale and brewed to sip.
Founded in 1995. When they moved into a historic building with a rare steam heating system they experimented and created a one of a kind and the only steam generated brewery in Canada. Steamworks was kind and generous enough to send me a plethora of beer samples. The consistency of the quality of beer was the best part and I understood that every Steamworks beer I drank was going to be an enjoyable experience.
Black Angel IPA – This beer is a black angel from colour to taste. Dark and strong malted with a kicker of 7%. Was very fresh and authentic Steamworks quality.
Jasmine IPA – My first Jasmine IPA and a new favorite. The Jasmine was sweet but not overpowering allowing the quality and taste of the IPA to shine.
A BC original craft brewery established in 1989. They love big bold flavour and make some of the best beers I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking, like their Dunkel and Chestnut Ale. I am dying to try their Pineapple Express Wheat Ale, Grapefruit Ale and Chai Maple Ale.
Dunkel – One of the best beers I’ve ever tried at 4.75/5. Very little if no room for improvement. Tastes like a Christmas chocolate orange. Depth of chocolate layers with orange zest plays beautifully with their choice of Malts. Brewed in small batches in their copper kettles a limited winter edition. I need to meet the Brewmaster behind this genius and shake his hand.
Chestnut Ale – Gorgeous bottle, props for that. Sweet aroma with an even sweeter taste. After drinking their Dunkel I had high expectations and they held up. Blended Caramel and Crystal malts, deep amber color, the roasted chestnuts give it a nutty and unique flavor putting this beer high on my top 10 list.
Thank you to all the Breweries that sent samples my way to review and feature. If you are a brewery and would like to be featured, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on twitter @The_Beer_Maven.
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