Project by B.C’s Central City Brewing to celebrate Canada’s 150th teamed them with brewers from across the land, including Calgary’s own Last Best, to create unique, patriotic brews.
Is there anything more Canadian than marking a special occasion with a beer?
Before you respond, it’s a rhetorical question. And the correct answer is, “No.”
We are a worldly nation, a multicultural nation — all things to be proud of — but we are also still a nation of hosers where beer, like hockey, is a beloved part of our national fabric. It’s no accident that in his 2002 paean to our country and its culture, Souvenir of Canada, author Douglas Coupland chose the iconic and instantly recognizable “stubby” beer bottle as the cover image.
So it seems fitting, then, that one of the many celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Confederation involves beer: Surrey, B.C.’s Central City Brewing — best known for its Red Racer beers — teamed up with craft breweries in every province and territory except Nunavut (which doesn’t have a commercial brewery) to produce a commemorative Across the Nation 12-pack of regionally-inspired brews.
The mix-pack has been available for a few weeks, but there will be a unique opportunity to try the entire line-up in Calgary this weekend, when Last Best Brewing — which collaborated on the Alberta entry — hosts a tap takeover on Saturday, June 3 featuring all 12 beers.
“It’s a special birthday for Canada and we wanted to do something with beer,” Central City brewmaster Gary Lohin said during a recent conversation.
There’s a certain Canadian brewery-cum-multinational-beer-conglomerate with a certain patriotically-named beer that frequently uses slick marketing to wrap itself in the flag — and Lohin admitted part of his motivation was to reclaim some of that territory for local brewers.
“We wanted to showcase the amazing craft brewers across Canada,” he said.
And so Lohin invited colleagues from across the country to come to Central City to make beer together, asking each about their favourite styles and what they wanted to brew.
“We didn’t want eight IPAs, and thankfully we didn’t get that,” said Lohin.
Indeed, the result was a wide range of beers. Some used local ingredients as adjuncts, like Manitoba’s entry, brewed with Winnipeg’s Half Pints, which was made with wildflower honey and and rice. Others were inspired by local heritage and lore: NWT Brewing chose to make a grisette — a traditional low-alcohol Belgian table beer favoured by miners — as a nod to the long history of mining in the North.
Here in Alberta, Lohin reached out to Calgary’s Last Best Brewing. Opened in 2014, Last Best is a relative newcomer to the industry but its parent, Bearhill Brewing, has operated well-known brewpubs in Banff and Jasper for several years and the group has also expanded to Fort McMurray.
“I had a long relationship with the guys from Last Best and they’re a good brewery,” Lohin said.
Phil Brian, Last Best’s head brewer, has a reputation not just for creativity, but for precision — both of which are important traits in a brewer and Brian has them in abundance. One of Last Best’s most recent offerings is a first-rate pilsner — and while trend-chasers tend to yawn and dismiss the style for not being “out there” enough, nailing its subtle and delicate traits isn’t easy but Brian accomplished it quite nicely.
For Across the Nation, Brian suggested a Berliner weisse — a low-alochol wheat beer that is soured with the addition of lactobacillus culture (the same stuff in yogurt). Brian’s twist on the style is flavoured with raspberries and has some milk sugar (lactose) thrown in for some added sweetness.
If you’re wondering what a style native to Germany has to do with Alberta, Brian said the answer is rather obvious when you look at the main ingredients in the recipe and where they come from.
“There’s nothing more Albertan than barley, wheat and cows,” said Brian, adding he and Lohin decided on raspberries because they’re common to Alberta and B.C.
For his part, Lohin is a fan of the beer, calling it the “sleeper hit” of the pack: “It tastes like a raspberry Creamsicle,” he said.
Adding the milk sugar was particularly inspired, said Lohin, because it gives the beer some needed body. He’s right: a lot of otherwise well-made and flavourful low-alcohol beers tend to be on the thin side.
To be sure, the Last Best offering is more of a dessert beer that doesn’t lend itself to having two or three during a sitting — but it’s a tasty, well-executed one where the tart raspberry and sweetness manage to play well together while competing for attention.
Part of the fun of collaborations is the opportunity for brewers to experiment and for us to sample the results. As is the case with many experiments, there are some hits and misses. The Ontario beer from Beau’s All Natural Brewing, an ale with peaches and spruce tips, was a bit strange and didn’t quite hang together: the spruce tips were medicinal and overpowered much of the peach flavour.
While I’m likely to fault a brewery for a flawed production beer, I’m more forgiving of an ambitious experiment that comes up short. Anyway, when brewers toss aside the usual style guidelines, as they’ve done here, assessing the results becomes a lot more subjective. Drinking my way across Canada (metaphorically, at least) was a fun exercise and I appreciated the creativity that went into the beers.
Central City’s Across the Nation Celebration Tour stops at Last Best Brewing in Calgary on Saturday, June 3 for a tap takeover featuring all 12 beers from its Across the Nation collaboration pack. The event starts at 5 p.m. and goes until the beer runs out.
Jason van Rassel has been writing about craft beer since 2006, when he started a beer blog at the Calgary Herald, where he covered crime and justice for 15 years. 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. You can find Jason on Twitter and Untappd.