Where to Drink in Calgary, Alberta

Destinations by | May 2017 | Issue #124
Illustrations by Sam Brewster

Between the clear waters of the Canadian Rockies and the grain-growing prairies, Calgary has ample access to the ingredients for producing high quality beverages. For many years, however, the best-known beer from this region was the now extinct adjunct lager Calgary Beer.

Recognizing a gap in the market, a couple of locals made it their mission to save Calgary from boring beer. In 1996, the founders of Wild Rose Brewery set up shop in an old WWII aircraft hangar and got to work winning over the hearts of the city’s masses with favorites like Velvet Fog, a “Canadian Wheat Ale” made with a 50-50 blend of wheat malt and barley, and Barracks Brown, named for the brewery’s location in the Currie barracks, part of Calgary’s military base. Visit on Fridays for a weekly cask tapping.

By 2013, there were 18 manufacturing licenses in Alberta, but a minimum production capacity requirement of 5,000-hectoliter (about 4,260 barrels) per year hindered small brewery growth. Sweeping changes came to the brewing industry that year, when the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission eliminated these requirements. No longer forced to brew at a mid-level brewhouse scale, smaller breweries were soon on the rise, and today there are over 45 throughout the province, with at least six more in planning.

Founded in January 2014, The Dandy Brewing Co. operates a 3-barrel microbrewery in northeast Calgary. A bit outside of the downtown area, Dandy is worth the visit. Head to the intimate, 20-seat taproom for a selection from eight taps, like Dandy in the Underworld Oyster Stout or The Dandy, a wild-fermented sour ale. The brewery is known for its quirky label designs as well as teaming up with other Calgary breweries for collaborations like Little White Lie, a white Stout made with Mill Street Brewpub.

Open since May 2016, Banded Peak Brewing serves up brews designed to be enjoyed on some of the many local hikes. But how do you trek a big old growler of its thirst-quenching PlainsBreaker hopped wheat ale through the Rockies? You don’t. Take the outdoor-friendly 1-liter cans available from Banded Peak’s taproom in southeast Calgary instead.

In the shadow of the old Calgary brewery in Inglewood, Cold Garden Beverage Company has made a splash with its eclectic taproom and extreme beers since opening in January 2017. Featuring colorful pool noodles for pipe insulation and Goldfish for bar snacks, it’s a unique place to grab a glass of Cakeface, a birthday cake-inspired Märzen, or One Summer in Saskatoon, a Saison brewed with Saskatoon berries (a sweet and nutty regional fruit resembling blueberries).

Nearby, Cold Garden’s neighbor, High Line Brewing opened in November 2016 with eight draft lines and a minimalist black-and-white taproom. High Line sets itself apart with beers like YMPA, a Pale Ale steeped and “dry-hopped” with yerba mate tea, and Heartless Romantic, a dry-hopped kettle sour.

With beer-hall style communal seating and games like shuffleboard and Ping-Pong, Public Beer Market is a popular spot for locals. Located in northeast Calgary, its 48 taps feature area breweries such as Tool Shed, Big Rock, Village Brewing, and Wild Rose. Menu favorites include the truffle mac ’n’ cheese and the Public Meltdown, a burger with smoked maple bacon, mushrooms, and pepper jack cheese on a pretzel bun. If you really want to eat like the locals, try the Spolumbo’s Grilled Sausage, sourced from a deli run by former Canadian Football Leaguers turned artisanal sausage makers.

For a concentration of beer-focused bars and breweries, Calgary’s cool kids head to the 17th Avenue Retail and Entertainment District. Known locally as the “Red Mile,” it has two brewpubs to choose from. At Trolley 5, grab a pint of the Conductor Beltline Lager and wash down smoked Alberta chicken with white barbecue sauce from the smokehouse-based menu, all in view of the brewhouse tanks. Growlers hang from a custom-made conveyor track that snakes through all three levels of the pub, where garage-style doors and large windows bring the outdoors in. A few blocks east, the Calgary outpost of Toronto-based Mill Street Brewery serves up its Original Organic Lager alongside seasonals like Big League IPA. The popular organic brewery was purchased by Labatt in October 2015, and opened this brewpub a year later.

Located on the end of the Red Mile, 1410 World Bier Haus serves up more than typical bar food, from hand-tossed pizza to a kale and quinoa salad. On tap, you’ll find locals like Village Brewery’s Neighbor Pale Ale and Big Rock’s Grasshopper Kristalweizen. Check out the rooftop patio in the summer for panoramic views of 17th Ave. and prime people-watching.

For one of the city’s most expansive beer selections under one roof, head to mini Calgary chain National, which has four spots across the metro area. At the original 17th Avenue bar, half of the 100 taps that flicker across a digital ticker board are Alberta-brewed, like Outcast Brewery’s Make That a Double Imperial Pale Ale. Meanwhile, you’ll find an eight-lane bowling alley in the basement of the 10th Avenue location, while the 8th Street bar, hidden inside a downtown mall, could be easily skipped over until you discover its inviting rooftop patio.

Want something a little less imposing? Check out Local. The Calgary location of a small chain owned by Vancouver-based Joey Restaurants features a curated selection of ales and lagers like Last Best’s IPA #2 or Tool Shed’s Red Rage Amber Ale. Either pairs with the beer-friendly food here—think potato and cheese pierogis and duck fat tater tots.

Another popular beer hall is Craft Beer Market, also on 8th Avenue. Launched in Calgary in 2011, Craft Beer Market now has five locations in Canada. The beer offerings here are sizable, with over 100 draft options. Take Yellowhead Brewery’s Pale Ale, for example, part of a rotating Community Brew tap line exclusive to Craft that benefits local causes. The menu is broken down into intelligible sections, too, like session beers and gluten-free options.

Looking for beer to go? Willow Park Wines is one of Calgary’s favorite places to shop for beer, with three locations citywide. This independently owned liquor store supplies many of the restaurants in town, so the more than 7,000 products in its flagship store on Bonaventure Drive include beers from the above breweries as well as some from outside the city such as Alley Kat Brewing, Brewsters, The Grizzly Paw Brewing Company, and Troubled Monk Brewery. It’s safe to say Calgary isn’t going thirsty any time soon.