After years of criticism from local brewers and visitors who are simply sick of drinking Bud Light after Bud Light, the Calgary Stampede has agreed to offer a variety of craft beer, starting in 2017 — in one location only.

A selection of IPAs, pilsners, ales, unfiltered whites and seasonal varieties from 23 Alberta small brewers will be on sale at The Big Four Station this year, alongside larger-batch brews from Labatt.

Previously, smaller local breweries had been excluded from the Stampede because of a long-running exclusivity agreement to sell only Labatt and related brands.

Those brands include well known beers such as Budweiser, Corona and Alexander Keith's, all owned by Belgium-based brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev.

"Labatt is a big sponsor of the Stampede and, as a not-for-profit organization, we really rely on sponsorship dollars like that from companies like Labatt," said Calgary Stampede communications manager Larry Lalonde.

"We have a lot of exclusivity relationships with other sponsors."

Terry Rock, executive director of the Alberta Small Brewers Association, called on the Stampede last year to open up sales to smaller breweries and applauded the move Friday.

"It's huge," he said.

"This is actually something that Albertans have been asking for. I think that's the most important part of this story."

The craft beer industry has been growing rapidly, Rock noted. He said Calgary will have more than 20 different, small breweries as of later this year, up from just three breweries a few years ago.

The Big Four Station is a bar and restaurant located on the lower level of the International Pavilion in the Big Four Building.

"This is a venue that is designed right for this kind of thing," Lalonde said.

The Calgary Stampede runs July 7 to July 16 this year.


With files from The Calgary Eyeopener