The story of beer in Calgary begins in 1892 with the founding of Calgary Brewing and Malting Company. The brewery was founded by A.E. Cross, who would later help co-found the Calgary Stampede. Suffice to say, Cross was a local leader and a man of influence.
So since the founding of the brewery 129 years ago, Calgary Brewing’s buffalo head and red horseshoe logo has been iconic.
After a series of transactions, the company and brand are now owned by MolsonCoors, but despite the closure of the brewery in 1994, the brand has lived on in the hearts and memories of Calgarians. To this day, the beer continues to be brewed by MolsonCoors for a small but loyal following in Saskatchewan, still sporting the same logo. But the beer has not been available in its namesake Calgary for decades.
The latest chapter in the story of beer in Calgary starts in 2011 with the founding of Village Brewery, kicking off the current explosion in local breweries (there are now more than 40). This latest chapter and the first chapter share a connection. Two of the founders of Village helped decommission the Calgary Brewing brewery (the building still stands in Inglewood) and Larry Kerwin, Calgary Brewing’s last brewer, was Village’s first brewmaster. Because of this connection, it has long been a dream of Village to reimagine the Calgary Brewing brand beer.
Working with MolsonCoors’s craft beer arm, Six Pints Specialty Beer Company, Village finally got the opportunity to fulfil its brewing dreams. “They were amazing,” says Fraser Abbott, Village’s VP Marketing and Community.
“They gave us considerable freedom and let us do what we wanted to do. It was a really great cooperation.”
And what they wanted to do was to bring the brand into the craft-beer era. “The theme of the project was a modernization,” explains Jeremy McLaughlin, Village’s Operations Manager. “We were imagining how the beer would have evolved over time to appeal to the modern craft beer palate.
“It’s a great celebration of Calgary beer!” adds Abbott.
Abbott and his team worked on new, more modern interpretations of the branding, the result being four different can labels. One of each is included in a four pack of the beer. Meanwhile, McLaughlin and his team utilized Kveik yeast, a centuries-old type of brewing yeast that has been rediscovered by modern brewers just in the last few years. McLaughlin also utilized modern hops: Ella, Sabro and Enigma, which add a gently fruity flare to the beer.
“Nostalgia with a twist,” is the way Abbott describes the beer. “Like Empire Strikes Back, there are times when the sequel is better than the original,” he says jokingly.
The beer is broadly distributed by MolsonCoors and is available at liquor stores throughout the Calgary area. It was a one-time brew for the summer, but if there is enough demand, both Village and MolsonCoors are open to repeating it. There are already reports of high demand for the beer, including some places that have sold out, so there are already hopes that the project can be repeated.
Meanwhile, fans of the classic Calgary Beer can drive to Saskatchewan to get some of the original interpretation. But as I would in a game between the Stampeders and the Roughriders, I’ll cheer for the hometown team.
Don Tse has sampled over 24,000 different beers. He is the Official Beer Taster for Craft Beer Importers Canada Inc. and Far Out Exporters Inc. which work with many of Alberta’s breweries. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.