International accolades pour in for Alberta craft breweries

Alberta’s burgeoning craft beer industry is getting accolades in international competition for both its new releases and traditional brews.

50% of medals went to province's breweries at this 2017 Canadian International Beer Awards

Brewsters Brewing Co. won a gold medal at the Canadian International Beer Awards for its Hammerhead Red Ale, which it's been making since the early 1990s. (Brewsters Brewing)

Alberta's burgeoning craft beer industry is getting accolades in international competition for both its new releases and traditional brews.

Of the 100 medals given out at the 2017 Canadian International Beer Awards (CIBA) in May, 50 per cent went to Alberta breweries.

"It just shows there is a high commitment to quality in our province from the big guys to the smallest guys," said Terry Rock, executive director of the Alberta Small Brewers Association. 

Breweries from all over Alberta, big and small, won awards for their takes on different styles.

One of Alberta's oldest and biggest breweries, Brewsters Brewing, won a gold in the UK ales category for its Hammerhead Red Ale.
Brewsters' Hammerhead beat out Whistler Brewing and Common Crown Brewing from Calgary to win the gold medal in the UK ales category. (Brewsters Brewing Co.)

Brewsters has been making the Hammerhead since early 1991 when it set up shop in Calgary. Don McDonald, the sales director at Brewsters in Edmonton, is pleased the beer still appeals to customers after more than 25 years. 

"You find those legacy beers that customers enjoy and you kind of stick with them," McDonald said.

Brewsters beat out Whistler Brewing's Black Tusk Ale and Calgary brewer Common Crown Brewing's The Eddie ESB for the gold medal. 

"We have a few beers that we'll change from years to years but there's a certain core of our beers that our customers would be very disappointed if we took them away, and Hammerhead's one of those for sure," he said.

Alberta Beer Festivals hosts the CIBA, where certified judges do blind tasting before choosing winners from North American and European entries.

"People who know their beer have gone through and in a blind test have decided that this one is worth your time," Rock said. 

Brewsters sales director, Don McDonald, says the Hammerhead Red Ale has become a 'legacy beer.' (Supplied)

"It's important that people recognize that quality product is being made in their own backyard and for them to go try it … and not be intimidated really by all of that variety."

Edmonton's Alley Kat won a gold for its Scona Gold Kolsch, two years after it received "Beer of the Year" at the Canadian Brewing Awards.

Alley Kat's marketing manager Alyson Herbst said the national award in 2015 was a reminder that new exotic flavours aren't always trumping the traditional ones.

"It's often super easy to overlook some of the simpler beers in favour of really exciting fruit beer or really interesting malt or hops or IPA," Herbst said.

The number of craft breweries in Alberta has doubled since 2014 — but the increased competition doesn't bother Herbst.

"Being one of the oldest, it encourages us to keep producing really good beer," Herbst said. "With everything new and exciting coming out, you sort of have to stay on your game." 
Alley Kat's Scona Gold Kolsch won a gold medal in the light/amber hybrid category. (Alley Kat)

Rock said competitions give Alberta breweries a chance to promote their concoctions, new or old.

"Awards give you a bit of a guidepost to try something that you might not otherwise try," he said.

Beer connoisseurs will have 400 types of beer to choose from at the Edmonton Craft Beer Festival on June 2-3 at the Edmonton Expo Centre at Northlands.