“North Of The Border Beers"

Recently, Draught Board 15, our local beer appreciation
club, held a meeting themed around Canadian beer. The
idea was promoted heavily by me since I had previously
spent a dozen vacations all over the land of the Maple
Leaf, from the Maritime Provinces to Ontario and Quebec
to as far west  as British Columbia, and never had any
trouble finding decent brewpubs and great beer.
Unfortunately, however, most Canadian beers available
in the US are reminiscent of American beer prior to the
onset of the craft beer movement: mass produced lager
all tasting mighty similar and all at EXACTLY 5% abv.
There were a few Canadian craft beers to had at the
meeting, but in spite of them it was not the most
popular meeting we’ve ever had. In fact, when I heard
grumbling questions like “Whose idea was this
anyway?”, I found another reason to visit the men’s
room.

So, to reinforce at least MY opinion that Canada can
make good beer, my wife and I decided to take a quick
getaway to the Canadian Rockies to check out the brew
situation in that part of Canada , to which we had never
been. The flights to Chicago from whence we were to
connect to Edmonton were full on the day of our
departure, so we had to make a brief stopover in
Cleveland where we waited for the next morning’s flight
in a very inexpensive, great Ramada Inn. Great , that is,
if you consider stale air, lumpy mattresses, air
conditioning that blows hot air and towels the size of
washcloths to be great. However it WAS economical and
it did offer free transportation to and from the airport in
a 1949 Nash (only kidding!).

The rest of the trip was uneventful and we arrived late
morning at Edmonton where we rented a car and drove
downtown. We were having a little trouble locating our
hotel so I pulled into the parking lot of a large shopping
center in order to get our bearings. While my wife was
looking at the map I glanced up at the building directly
in front of us and was pleasantly amazed to discover it
was Brewster’s Brewpub and Restaurant. How
convenient for a hungry beer lover!

It turned out to be an excellent stop which not only
satisfied our hunger pangs with bison burgers but also
added ten new beers to my log. Brewster’s offers five-
beer samplers and since ten brews were on tap two
flights were required. The flights were presented in a
novel way I’d not seen before: the menu has a section
devoted to what’s pouring with a description  of each
beer. These descriptions were then laminated, cut apart ,
and placed under each glass. “ RIG PIG PALE ALE” (two
stars), “CURLY HORSE IPA” (three stars), “VAMPIRE
REPUBLIC CZECH PILS” (two stars), “BOW VALLEY
BROWN ALE” (three stars), “ORIGINAL LAGER” (two
stars), “JIMMY”S EASY SUMMER ALE” (0 stars),
“NITINAT WEST COAST IPA” (three stars), “DRAFT
LEGAL KOLSCH” (four stars), “HAMMERHEAD RED ALE”
(three stars), and “FLYING FROG GOLDEN LAGER” (two
stars) were happily added to my list.

Perhaps the idea of the descriptions under each glass
were inspired by a quote on the menu attributed to
Brewmaster Robert Walsh: “A beer should tell a story
when you drink it”. When I presented my Beer Nexus
business card and asked if I could keep a copy of the
beer menu to add to my collection, our server went to
okay it with the very gracious manager, Ashley Traynor,
who returned not only with a laminated copy, but also
with a gratis “Brewer’s Dozen”, a twelve pack of bottled
Brewmaster’s beers which came in very handy on
roadside lunch stops and hotel room movies.

We eventually found our hotel and while Judy rested up
I walked a few blocks to the Yellowhead Brewery which
unfortunately was closed in preparation for a private
party. But they for got to lock the front door, so I
walked in, explained why I was there (beer writer from
US trying to locate great Canadian beer to write about,
etc.,etc, blah, blah) and was rewarded with a few gratis
glasses of YELLOWHEAD LAGER and a Yellowhead glass
from which I’m sipping as I write.

Back at the hotel ,a pint of WILD ROSE IPA, picked up
at a liquor store on the walk back, made me drowsy
enough for a late pm nap before we walked around
downtown Edmonton and just happened to find the
Craft Beer Market, a huge pub, with hundreds of kegs in
view already tapped or waiting to be. They also offer
flights, so my log was enhanced by the addition of
GRIZZLY PAW RUTTING ELK RED ALE, STANLEY PARK
SUNSETTER SUMMER ALE, ALLEY KAT LEMON
HEFEWEIZEN, TREE BREWING MELLOW MOON
PINEAPPLE HEFEWEIZEN, HOUSE SOUND SUPER
JUPITER GRAPEFRUIT IPA and WHISTLER BLACK TUSK
IPA which were enjoyed while watching the Yankees lose
in sixteen innings.

We left Edmonton early the next morning to drive to
Jasper National Park. Upon arrival we had lunch at ,
where else, a brewpub, the Jasper Brewing Company.
The lunch was so-so and the flight of Jasper beers was
served too warm with no descriptions or any other kind
of identification. When I questioned the waiter about
this rather unique presentation he handed me the menu
of beers and told me I should know! Some were easy:
the BLACKEYE BLUEBERRY VANILLA PORTER and the
6060 STOUT for example, but I had doubts as to the
differences between the SUTTER HILL PILS, JASPER THE
BEAR ALE, SESSION INDIA ALE, and a guest beer,
ALLEY KAT APRICOT ALE. I used all my powers of
expertise in tasting brews and made an educated guess,
but when it turned out that the waiter didn’t know
either (he held the empty glasses up to his nose in a
vain attempt to differentiate) I didn’t feel too badly that
my powers were in question.

After enjoying the rest of the afternoon in Jasper, we
started heading toward Kootenay National Park and not
realizing that Kootenay Park Lodge, where we had
reservations, was possibly further than our gas gauge
allowed, we pulled into the grounds dangerously near
empty and were immediately transported back to 1935.

The inn, the only private business in the park, features
a main lodge and a dozen or so log cabins which
reminded me of the scene in which the Barrow Gang
escapes from the law, dragging a mattress to stop the
bullets,in the 1960’s movie “Bonnie and Clyde”. To
compound the eeriness, all of the other cabins were
occupied by the vacationing Calgary Model A Club and
parked beside each cabin was a restored model A Ford.
1935 didn’t seem so strange at all. I wish I hadn’t
thrown away my black and white wing tips several years
ago.

A light supper in the main lodge was accompanied by a
couple of Canadian beers reminiscent of the none too
popular DB 15 meeting, KOOTENAY TRUE ALE and
KOKANEE GLACIER FRESH ALE. Later, while sitting
outside the cabin with some of the model A enthusiasts
and watching for the expected meteor showers a couple
of the generously offered twelve pack were enjoyed:
WILD WEST WHEAT ALE and RIVER CITY RASPBERRY
ALE. Canadians must really be into groceries when
drinking beer, because the raspberry ale, along with the
previously tried apricot, pineapple, grapefruit, lemon and
blueberry beers counted for more fruit beers in two
days than I’ve had in the past ten years.

After a lovely breakfast in the main lodge we set out for
the town of Radium not only to take in the scenic
grandeur along the way but also to see if the folks in
Radium glowed. (they don’t). Actually, according to our
hostess at the lodge, Radium was the closest place to
buy gas, so it was off to Radium before heading back
the way we had just come to drive to Banff. To me it
always seems silly to use up some of the gas you just
bought only to get back to where you started from to
get the gas, but when there are no filling stations in
Kootenay or it’s environs you haven’t much choice.

Anyway ,by the time we got to Banff it was past
lunchtime and we were both hungry. Conveniently, the
Banff Avenue Brewpub, featuring a second story deck
overlooking the main drag was only a short walk from
where we parked. This pub is part of the Bear Hill
Brewing Company which owns a few additional
brewpubs, one of which, Jasper, we had just visited.

The server informed us that each pub has it’s own
brewer and different beers. This is evident because
although the presentation of the beer flight was exactly
the same as at Jasper, the beers were vastly superior.
They were served at the proper temperature and the
server was very knowledgeable about the styles. The
flight included BOW RIVER PILS, HEAD SMASHED IPA,
POND HOCKEY PALE ALE, MUSCLES FROM BRUSSELS
WIT, BANFF EARTHQUAKE DOUBLE IPA and NAKED NUT
BROWN ALE, possibly a GREAT selection for the next
Sunny Acres Nudist Beer Festival. ( see: Beer My Way
article “
Brews in the Buff”).

We just had a light lunch figuring we’d have dinner at
our next stop, Canmore, home of the Grizzly Paw
Brewpub. Although there are some beautiful views of
the Three Sisters mountain range, the menu at this pub
is limited, the beers just okay, and the service iffy, at
best. Twelve or thirteen beers were listed on the menu
to choose from for your four beer sampler. Three of the
four I selected were unavailable, so I finally settled for
the BOHEMIAN PILS, SAISON BOREALIS, GRUMPY BEAR
HONEY WHEAT and EVOLUTION IPA. The waitress was
clueless about both the beer styles and availability of
each. She had incorrectly set down the tasting glasses
in the wrong location on the identifying tray, but these
four were easy to distinguish. When I requested a pint
of the IPA to have with dinner she returned with the
Pils. Oh well, ya win some, ya lose some!

To sum up the brief four days, the grandeur of the
Canadian Rockies is not to be missed. The majestic
mountains and frigid glacial streams and aqua colored
glacial lakes are wonderful reasons to visit and to be
sure ,there are some great beers available and some
great venues to drink them in, but over all, beer wise,
congested New Jersey beats scenic Western Canada.

                          Cheers!
     










             Dan
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