If the craft beer movement is growing in some places, it’s fully mature in Alberta, a province conveniently blanketed in golden fields of barley and wheat. Brew fans have met their match in Calgary, a city filled with passionate, visionary microbrew masters. Make the rounds on your own or join Calgary Brewery Tours to delve into the local brewing and distillery scene, meet the creatives behind the suds, and enjoy some Western hospitality.
Last Best Brewing & Distillery
This spacious, rustically glamorous brewpub opened in 2015 and is full of exposed red brick and retro design. There are 11 top-notch microbrews on tap, all of them made on the premises. But the extensive contemporary menu also delivers pub fare kicked up to the fine dining level (like, roasted bone marrow with grilled romaine and beets, and root beer–roasted wings). This place is the fourth location from Bear Hill Brewing Co., which has three other Alberta breweries. There's also an onsite barbershop if you fancy a shave and a brew?
Try: The aromatic and citrusy Last Best IPA — on the courtyard patio.
Big Rock Brewery
“Deliberately different craft beers” is the motto at Big Rock Brewery, maker of unpasteurized ales and lagers, plus cider. It’s also Canada’s largest independent brewery, founded 30 years ago by aficionado Ed McNally. With a focus on tradition and above all taste, Big Rock still feels personal. Take a one-hour guided tour with a “beerologist” and taste for yourself. Add a Euro-style lunch at the grill to your sampling itinerary, too.
Try: The Winter Warmer spiced ale with everything nice — that is, caramel, cloves, ginger, and cinnamon.
An “it takes a village”-type community is at the heart of Village, a brewery that's big on supporting local artists and crafts people. Open-concept with fresh artwork adorning the walls, this space is friendly and unpretentious. Led by veteran Larry Kerwin, the guys make six lagers and ales “just for Calgary.” Thursday is vintage video game and foosball night. Village offers free facility tours on Thursday and Friday afternoons. Saturdays are for pre-booked tours and tastings. Try a pint or flight in the taproom or take a growler to go.
Try: The “hoppy, fruity” Village Blonde.
CRAFT Beer Market
If you want to get a broad brew overview, head to CRAFT Beer Market, where you can sip 120 local and international labels on tap, plus nosh on North American eats — caesar salad, burgers, fish tacos, and more. The place is vast, with a modernist warehouse-meets-barn interior, ideal for happy hour (or any hour, really). Expect a lively crowd on weekends, alternative music, and multiple sports games on the televisions. Check out the impressive selection before you go to narrow down your choices.
Try: An on-tap Belgian with a classic burger on a pretzel bun with homemade pickles and sharp cheddar, plus sweet potato fries.
CRAFT Beer Market
The Dandy may be small, but it's a local favourite. Opened in 2015 in a light-industrial area, it’s the city’s first nano-brewer, meaning small-batch. Here, you can sample the flat brew from the fermenter taps. Delish! Comfy, laidback, and mellow, it’s a bar with just 20 seats and a picnic table. There are no TVs, but a turntable and vinyl, and the DJ doubles as a server. Using homebrew-inspired alternative equipment, the owner-brewers consistently offer two bargain-priced, quality-focused ales with personality: an IPA and stout. From there, they innovate with bottled and draft beers. There’s no kitchen, but simple snacks. Tour, shop, or meet the artist in residence (open Wednesday to Sunday).
Try: The Oyster Stout with a ploughman’s lunch (meats and cheeses).
Tool Shed Brewing Company
Each small-batch ale at Tool Shed has a handcrafted backstory based on the brewers themselves. Beer names like Red Rage and People Skills give you a sense of what those might be. And yes, the entire operation started in a tool shed, as the name suggests. Buddies Jeff and Graham are the “geekery” behind the brews, seeking to make their mark with outstanding suds. You can find Tool Shed around town, but be sure to taste at the source and enjoy the sprawling indoor beer garden set among tanks, equipment, and colourful murals. Pair your glass with beer and pizza, or a big, juicy BBQ’d burger.
Try: Bold, balanced, and big on the hops, Jeff’s Starcheek IPA.
Original and creative-to-the-max, Calgary’s craft beer makers and the scene are not to be missed. Make time to taste the gamut of offerings. Cheers!