More craft beer choices at the SLGA equals more happiness

by Jason Foster


pintsIf there was one major story in Saskatchewan’s beer scene last year, it was the unusually high number of new beers the SLGA approved for import into the province.

The inventory list of beers that became at least theoretically available at SLGA stores spiked, and some of the new additions are noteworthy. Since the calendar has flipped over, I thought it’d be a good time to do a bit of a preview of some of the new beers you might be able to find on liquor store shelves.

Before I start, note the “might” in the previous line. Because each store makes its own decisions on what to bring in, the beers I’m looking at might not be available at your usual store even though they’re officially in the system.

But even if your local outlet doesn’t have one of the beers on this list, you can have them order it in.

Let’s start with one of the founders of the North American craft beer movement. Back in the 1960s, Anchor Brewing was a struggling San Francisco brewery from another age. Dating back to the 1890s, it had long passed its best-before date. Then Fritz Maytag (yes, from those Maytags) bought it. It took a while for the turnaround to take hold, but by the early 1980s Anchor was a linchpin in the growing craft beer movement. Thirty years later, they haven’t missed a step and continue to be one of the most respected craft breweries in the U.S.

Now you can find six-packs of their Brekle’s Brown and their IPA, both hoppy and well-crafted, in Saskatchewan. Their signature beer, Anchor Steam, doesn’t seem to have made the trek yet but hopefully it will soon.

In contrast, you could try one of America’s youngest craft brewing upstarts. San Diego’s Rough Draft only opened in 2012 but it’s already building a nice reputation. Their Weekday IPA recently entered the Saskie market: it’s what some people call an “India session ale,” which means it’s a lower-alcohol version of an India pale ale — all the hop flavour and bitterness, but with a lighter body and less buzz.

Lots of Canadian breweries are beating a path to Saskatchewan as well. Pick a province and there are new beers coming here from there. How about Picaroons from New Brunswick? I bet you’ve never tried them, but this Fredericton brewery won Brewery of the Year at the 2011 Canadian Brewing Awards. Their Irish Red Ale is loyal to the traditions of Irish red ale, with a delicate caramel sweetness and a dry finish.

Or if Quebec catches your fancy, how about a Shawinigan Handshake, from Le Trou du Diable? This German-style weizenbock has a full-bodied, fruity character with a light spiciness to balance. But what really makes this beer interesting is its label and story. Remember the 1996 incident where then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien choked a toque-wearing anti-poverty protester (because getting choked is what you get for caring about the poor in this country)? Back home in Shawinigan — Chrétien’s hometown and the location of Le Trou du Diable’s brewery — the joke became he was just engaging in a “Shawinigan handshake.” The brewery thought it would be fun to immortalize that evil moment with a beer, and it is.

Closer to home is Alberta’s Hog’s Head Brewing, located in the capital region suburb of St. Albert. They’ve breached the border with their flagship Hop Slayer IPA, and what’s intriguing about this beer is that it’s a bit darker and maltier than many IPAs, almost moving into the range of what some call “red IPA” (although that’s a term that bugs me). But it still has all the hoppy bite IPA fans are looking for, clocking in at an impressive 100 IBUs. This is a beer for hopheads, for sure.

The most interesting new arrival might be Burlington, Ontario’s Collective Arts. In what may be the most creative beer concept in years, Collective Arts combines their brews with music and visual arts to add multiple dimensions to beer drinking. Unlike most breweries that pick a label design and stick with it, every few months Collective Arts launches a new numbered series of limited-edition artwork for its labels, each one with its own distinct tone and style. And using some new-fangled app, you can scan the label to launch music, videos and bios of the artists involved. Clearly this is Canada’s first postmodern brewery.

They’ve shipped Rhyme and Reason — what they call an “extra pale ale” — to Saskatchewan. It’s a lovely rendition of an American pale ale, with a grassy malt base with honey and meadow flowers as an accent. The hops are fruity, citrusy, resiny and not especially bitter. It’s light, sharp and very drinkable.

These are only some highlights of what’s available in Saskatchewan these days. Combine that with all the new breweries opening up in our province, and 2015 promises to be a very beer-y year.