The recent explosion of Alberta’s craft beer industry has not only given consumers a wider variety of brands and styles to try, it has provided us with a bunch of new places to gather and enjoy them as many new breweries open taprooms to the public.
Like many of the things we eat and drink, craft beer (with the exception of styles that are meant to be aged) is better when it’s fresh — and it doesn’t get any fresher than at the brewery. Visiting a taproom lets you experience beer at its best, and you’re likely to find a few gems that might not be available anywhere else.
These are my favourite brewery taprooms in Calgary, and what I like to drink when I visit.
Dandy Brewing Company: #11, 1826 25 Ave. N.E.
Dandy is a little brewery with big ideas. Dandy’s three-barrel brewhouse is tiny by commercial standards (each batch is about 300 litres) but the company uses it to its full advantage by constantly coming up with new creations in all kinds of styles. In 2016, the brewery made more than 40 different beers, including a cherry sour, a German Marzen, a rauchbier (smoked beer) and a barrel-aged saison. Although Dandy packages its core line-up as well as some rotating releases, many beers are available only at the taproom. It’s a cozy space where the focus is on good beer, good conversation and good vinyl spinning on the turntable.
What I drink here: It always changes, because the line-up is always changing — that’s the beauty of it. If I have a standby, it’s T2E-IPA: a citric and juicy hyper-local IPA that’s exclusive to northeast Calgary’s T2E postal code.
High Line Brewing: #113, 1318 9 Ave. S.E.
Like Dandy’s taproom, High Line’s Inglewood taproom is small — just 23 seats. With high ceilings, concrete throughout and a roll-up door, it has an industrial feel that’s warmed up by some wood behind the bar. But the most warmth seems to come from the neighbourhood vibe: during a recent visit, I ran into a buddy who lives in Inglewood who had stopped in for a pint after work. While I was there, he held court with a steady stream of Inglewoodians (Inglewooders? Inglewoodites?) who had the same idea. High Line is also kid-friendly, with juice and snacks available for the little ones.
What I drink here: Right now, I’m enjoying Smokes: High Line’s interpretation of a Scotch ale. It’s a dark beer well-suited for winter with just a hint of smoke from rauch (smoked) malt.
Tool Shed Brewing: 801 30 St. N.E.
The rough-hewn wood lining the walls here is meant to evoke the backyard tool shed where brewery founders Graham Sherman and Jeff Orr got their start as homebrewers before turning pro in 2013. It does — but with Graham or Jeff often around for a turn behind the bar or leading tours, to me it feels like a party in someone’s retro basement rec room.
What I drink here: Star Cheek IPA. Star Cheek was the first made-in-Alberta IPA to use hops to add layers of complexity to the flavour and aroma to this style instead of just upping the bitterness. Many others have followed suit, but because Star Cheek undergoes frequent tweaks, it’s worth checking out at the taproom, even if you’ve had it before.
Banded Peak: #119, 519 34 Ave. S.E.
Tucked away in an industrial area (like most of Calgary’s existing breweries, due to zoning restrictions in place until recently), Banded Peak’s taproom embraces that aesthetic with a roll-up door and unadorned wooden tables tucked under scaffolding. It’s spare without being cold or impersonal — the scaffolding makes the tables feel like restaurant booths to me, and there’s always free fresh popcorn to go with your beer.
Speaking of the beer, that’s where Banded Peak has invested some serious creative energy with interesting departures from established styles. Summit Seeker, their IPA, gets its amber from roasted malts that add a nutty dimension to a hoppy style that wouldn’t ordinarily have it.
What I drink here: Wheat beers are mainly a warm-weather thing for me, but I’ll happily make an exception for Plainsbreaker hopped wheat ale and its lively citrus zing. As of this writing, Banded Peak’s latest seasonal, Javalanche coffee-infused stout, was still available — and I highly recommend it. The flavour from Rosso coffee beans blends seamlessly with dark malts to produce a smooth, medium-bodied beer that’s only 3.5 per cent alcohol. Not that I’ve ever had any hang-ups about enjoying a beer in the morning, but this is a breakfast beer if ever there was one.
Wild Rose Brewery: #2, 4580 Quesnay Wood Dr. S.W.
This is the oldest taproom on the list — and let it be said that experience counts for something. Wild Rose opened its Currie Barracks taproom about 10 years ago, when its main production brewery was housed in the same building and the Calgary Farmers’ Market was a short walk away. Since then, Wild Rose has expanded and moved most of its production to a plant in the city’s southeast, while redevelopment has uprooted the farmers’ market and threatens to do the same to Wild Rose someday. Through it all, the taproom has remained a place to share some good beer and elevated pub grub — including dishes made with WR beer. Wild Rose’s current lease at the site runs until 2019. I’ll raise a pint to that.
What I drink here: If it’s summer and I’m on the patio, I’ll take a Velvet Fog wheat ale to quench my thirst and beat the heat. As soon as the snow flies, I want Cherry Porter — Wild Rose’s legendary winter seasonal made with cherries that blend deliciously with rich chocolately and roasty malts.
* For all these breweries, check their websites and social media channels for up-to-date hours and closures. Tours and private functions can affect their opening hours.
Jason van Rassel has been writing about craft beer since 2006, when he started a beer blog as a hobby while working as a crime reporter at the Calgary Herald. Jason left newspapers in 2016, but he continues to chronicle Alberta’s craft beer scene as a contributor to theYYScene, The Daily Beer and Drink With Me. He is a member of the North American Guild of Beer Writers.