This weekend marked another amazing beer-based event in Edmonton – the Edmonton Craft Beer Festival. My husband and I have attended for a few years now. Honestly, every year it gets just a little bit better. Much of this is due to the astronomic increase in local craft breweries and distilleries in Alberta. Every year, there are new brewers just starting out and looking to build their audience. Events like these are a great place for people to check out what’s new, all under one roof!
The event was held on June 2-3 at the Expo Centre, Northlands. Mark and I usually like to give the place a once-over before narrowing down the vendors we want to sample from. We had browsed the vendor listing beforehand, and we both had a handful of breweries in mind up front. But it all came down to who had the most interesting history, pitch, and beer selection. We did our best to avoid the breweries we were most familiar with, like Alley Kat and Brewsters. Not because we don’t love them, but we are very familiar with their products. This was our opportunity to give a little attention to those we didn’t know as well.
We started our hoppy journey at the Olds College table. They’ve offered a Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program for a few years now. And they’ve been cranking out some incredible talent as a result. I sampled their Olds Wit while Mark tried their Schwarzbier. Yeah, we kind of went to both extremes right out of the gate.
The Wit had a nice summery, citrus note, while the Schwarzbier was malty, with a touch of burnt sugar and a hoppy finish.
As soon as we took our last sips, Mark decided we had to go back and try their “The Lion, the Wit, and the Wardrobe” beer. This one was part of a contest called “Be the Brewer,” which Olds College Brewery holds each year. The contest lets the Average Joe get involved with deciding what beer that Olds will make for the festival. People get to submit suggestions for the style of beer, choose a name for it, and even design the label and ads! This was the winning design:
The beer itself was sparkling, a little tangy, and had a mildly dry, hoppy finish.
While we were sipping, Mark asked, “is it bad that I recognize some of the brewers?” I thought it was actually a good thing. It means that these breweries have a recognizable, personable exterior. I’d rather drink beer from a brewery who has staff and owners I can single out in a crowd, than some faceless business only interested in generating revenue.
From here we found ourselves in front of the Two Sergeants Brewing Inc. based out of Fort Saskatchewan. They had this eye-catching little number beside their booth:
I tried their Bear Beer, an amber ale. Mark sampled their IPA since he loves hoppy beers. The amber was smooth and easy. I could see sipping this on a patio.
By this time we were in need of some food! So we stopped by the Sherlock Holmes booth. They had a root beer chipotle pulled pork bun that called my name. It really hit the spot!
Once the carbs settled in, we got back to the beer tastings. We were walking past the Coulee Brew Co. when one of their sales staff stopped us. Before we knew it, he was giving us the Coles’ Notes version of the history of brewing in Lethbridge, where they’re based. He asked us if there was anything we wanted to try, and I found myself torn between their Devil’s Coulee Kolsch and their House of Pilsner.
He generously offered to let me taste a little of both, then I could decide which one to spend my tokens on. I mean, how could I say no to this face? Who loves his job? This guy:
While the Pilsner was nice, the Kolsch was more interesting to my palate, so that’s what I settled on. Mark ordered their Hoodoo Hops IPA. When Mark handed me the IPA and I took a sip, I was floored. I am not a hoppy beer kind of gal. But HOLY. This was soooo good. I’m not the best at describing flavours, but this was complex and robust. The hops didn’t add bitterness, but instead, they gave the beer a bit of tropical flavour and brightness. It was such a surprising and well-rounded flavour profile that we were still talking about it an hour later. In the world of beer, that speaks volumes.
At this point, we decided to take in one of the many seminars offered at the festival. We started with a Brew Master seminar, starring Blindman Brewing.
What we forgot, is that you get try-me’s with the seminars! The first sample was, I believe, a barrel-aged session ale. (It was a bit hard to hear over the other announcements!) Also, the cumulative effects of the beers I’d had previously were beginning to emerge. My notes say “rye session ale saison” so take from that what you will.
Anyhoo. The flavours in this one knocked our socks off. I initially thought I tasted a hint of ginger undertones. There were definite notes of spices, maybe a bit of coriander. Well, I was sort of close. The Blindman men explained that this beer included notes of pepper and clove. They used a slow-acting yeast that had to be isolated from the rest of their brews. They also used barrels from Fallen Timber Meadery with this one. It was spectacular.
The next sample was their Imperial Stout, aged in bourbon barrels. Look at it, light won’t even penetrate its inky blackness. And did I mention that it’s 11.6%?
It’s essentially a barley-wine-style beer at this percentage of alcohol. It was heavy but flavourful, with nice coffee notes. The couple at our table kept commenting on the alcohol content, but we all agreed that this beer was phenomenal. These guys are on the right track. They’re taking chances, but their experimental style seems to be paying off.
The festival also holds seminars on Cooking with Beer. Often, this is more specifically about beer and food pairings. For example, we attended a seminar which combined beer and chocolate pairings!
The beer was supplied by Granville Island Brewing, from BC, and the chocolate was from Cococo, based here in Edmonton. Granville Island is one of our favourite non-Albertan breweries – we’ve never been disappointed by any of their beers, so we were excited for this seminar!
I forgot just how much beer you end up with at the seminars. And for two tokens, the equivalent of $2, they are SO worth it. My only complaint is that 30 minutes feels rushed to chug down all the beer samples, and I tend not to have time to savour each one in a relaxed manner. Still though, beer! And chocolate! And there were two empty seats beside us, already poured and waiting. So we divvied up the beer and chocolate samples between ourselves and the people sitting behind us. They would’ve only gone to waste otherwise. 😉
My favourite chocolate overall was the first one, the butter truffle. So smooth and creamy! The best beer and chocolate pairings were probably the Sunshine Coast Hefeweizen with the coconut chocolate, followed by the Raspberry Ale and the dark morsels. The manon white chocolate gave me weird childhood flashbacks to making chocolates at Christmas with my mom out of those chocolate pastilles that we melted down in a double boiler. The oregano fusion tablette was easily the most unusual chocolate. I love sea salt in chocolate, but the oregano was definitely something I wouldn’t have thought to put in chocolate myself.
After the presentation, the host came around to answer any questions and see which pairing we liked best. I said that I felt that the white chocolate at the end should have been first, because following the dark chocolate morsels sort of overpowered the more delicate flavour of the white chocolate. He explained that while there would have been many ways to order the tasting, they chose to go by the IBU in the beers.
The event ended at 10pm, so we hurried over to the shop to purchase a 6-pack mix of beers before closing:
You *know* it’s a good event when people waiting at the LRT quiz you about what’s in your mix pack. And when you get fist-bumps and high-fives from complete strangers as they get off at their subsequent LRT stops. We had a blast, and will definitely be returning to this event next year!