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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Two Cowboys: Getting to Know New Beer Friends at the First Annual Alberta Craft Brewing Convention, Red Deer, Alberta

It's 'Bout Community

We gathered in Red Deer, Alberta for the first annual Alberta Craft Brewing Convention on 28 and 29 March 2017. What was planned for a 100 attendee event by Alberta's Small Brewery Association turned into a whopping 300+ attendee gathering.

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Red Deer is in the centre of Alberta. Canadians consider Alberta barley to be the heart of the brewing universe. There is a new gold-rush on the prairies, and this time it is for golden liquid gold.

Beer Gold 

It makes a lot of sense considering that the Province, and Canada in general, are late comers to craft brewing and distilling game. The country is finally discovering local beer thanks to a relaxation of regulations. It is something that stems from and still lingers due to a legacy in prohibition, controls, tariffs and a continuing governmental infatuation with "sin" taxation.

All this cannot stem the newfound enthusiasm of more than 50+ Alberta craft breweries that already made their debut recently. Judging from the attendees at the convention, more breweries are to come. Even the Alberta's Finance Minister took time out to celebrate the newly found economic optimism with a handout (rather, a partial hand back) to brewing and distilling entrepreneurs in a Province where many businesses are still languishing in the doldrums of the 2015 oil price shocks.

Alberta's infamous booze entangled history is well documented. Maybe it is finally time that beer and whisky production is recognised as a responsible business, grown-up and the economic staple of a diversified Albertan economy. Booze production may just be the next provincial cash cow. It is already on track if you listen to the folks at the convention. Then again, they were well lubricated with free fresh beer when we quizzed them about the industry's viability.

The people that pumped oil a short while ago are now boiling, mashing, fermenting and tapping. Everyone claims ambitiously and boldly to be a first in something. The first nano-brewery, first craft malting company, first sour producer, first up in the morning, first to put poetry on their cans, first on the corner and first to market with the next creative concoction dreamed up during a late night booze-fuelled brainstorming session. We'll leave the jokes about beer and beards for another time.


Experts claim that Alberta can and should produce a lot more beer. The market is nowhere near saturated with craft breweries according to Alberta's Small Brewery Association's President, Terry Rock. The question will be if there are enough drinkers for all this creativity? Will the capital that is pumped into these optimistic ventures actually return a profit?

Two things we know about beer. Like bread, you need to enjoy it is fresh. Like a good Alberta steak, it is best when you share it with friends.

Will the economics stack up around the craft brewing and distilling industries in Alberta? We don't know that yet. We have the foundation in our well-established grain and century old malting legacy. Maybe it will. There are bound to be winners and losers. What we do know is that all this enthusiasm is ensuring we get to drink fresh beer with our friends at our local. Sounds like heaven, doesn't it?

That is why we are on the Great Alberta Beer Run to get to know our breweries and brewmasters. To separate fact from fiction, and to learn who plays dress-up and who are the real community players. There is a lot of road ahead and a lot of beer to sample. As you've also probably gathered, there is also a lot of interesting stories to tell and large claims to be validated. Most of it comes with a little ridiculousness and a whole lot of fun in every glass.

What a glorious time to be in Alberta!

Enjoy our coverage of the event. See you on the road for a cold one.

Hendrik van Wyk
Craft Beer Brewer and Drinking Cowboy

Other material from the convention:
  1. Speech from Hon. Joe Ceci, Minister of Finance for Alberta (Video)
  2. Keynote - Tony Magee, Lagunitas (sponsored by Rahr Malting) (Video)
  3. Art Froehlich Interviewed by Jim Bladon of ATB Financial (Video)
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