Amongst Canadians, the area to the east of the Rocky Mountains and to the west of the Canadian shield is often jokingly referred to as the “bald-assed prairie.” That’s not entirely fair, but when it comes to beer, great establishments are few and far between in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. With a significant Ukrainian population, beer takes a back seat to borsch in the prairies.
And don’t be fooled by the incredible number of brewpubs that exist in Saskatchewan (there are dozens serving a population of approximately 1 million people). Most exist merely to allow the owners to have an adjacent beer store. Other than these “off-sale” stores, alcohol retailing is government-controlled, so the beer at these brewpubs is usually a secondary matter and is sometimes downright awful. Fortunately, Regina, Saskatchewan is home to Bushwakker Brewpub where good beer is allowed to be front and center.
Alberta is the prairie provinces’ saving grace. Great microbreweries in Calgary include Wild Rose Brewing (known for its unfiltered Velvet Fog Hefeweizen) and Brew Brothers Brewery (known for its great Black Pilsner schwarzbier), while Edmonton boasts Alley Kat Brewing (featuring a heavily-hopped Full Moon Pale Ale). A handful of brewpubs including Wildwood Grill and Brewing Co. in Calgary and Brewster’s Brewing Co., in both Calgary and Edmonton, mean that good beer is around for those willing to look for it.
Alberta’s biggest microbrewery is Big Rock Brewery, so named because of an odd glacial formation just outside of Calgary. Their beers are available everywhere, but its best, McNally’s Extra Ale, which happens to be a favorite of Michael Jackson, will require some searching. It’s worth the effort.