Some excellent Yankee craft beers are hitting SK shelves

PINTS by Jason Foster


It’s no secret that the craft beer scene in the United States is a helluva lot larger than Canada’s. In cities like Portland and Denver, craft beer sells more than corporate macro beer, and craft breweries in the U.S. tend to be a fair bit bigger than their Canuck counterparts.

There are two primary reasons and the first is obvious: the U.S. has 10 times the population we have, meaning 10 times the people who are buying beer. But it’s also about history: the U.S. craft beer scene has been around for much longer. The country’s first craft pioneers (in the post-prohibition era) started plying their trade in the early 1970s, with a big boom in the 1980s.

Canada’s first wave of craft breweries didn’t occur until the mid-1980s, with Vancouver’s Granville Island being the first in 1984 — and a big expansion of the craft brewing scene in Canada didn’t happen until the late 1990s. On the upside, we’re currently witnessing a second wave of new breweries, and one that’s unparalleled in Canadian post-prohibition history.

The point of telling you all of that is because I’ve noticed some very familiar — and formidable — U.S. craft brewing names on SLGA inventory lists and tap menus at better beer pubs around the province. I’ve also heard rumours that over the coming months, more American standard-bearer breweries will breach our borders.

Samuel Adams, made by the Boston Beer Company, has been available in Canada for quite a while. That makes sense, because they’re by far the largest craft brewer in the U.S., producing over 250 million litres of beer a year.

Also available in the province: a beer from the oldest craft brewery in the United States. Anchor Brewing opened in 1896 in San Francisco, but by the late 1960s it was a marginal, low-quality discount brewery. That’s when Fritz Maytag (yup, those Maytags) purchased it in 1969 and decided to turn it into something real — and in doing so, ushered in a new beer era.

Anchor today is a widely respected… anchor (sorry) of the American craft scene, and they’ve released Anchor IPA into the Saskatchewan market. Ironically, this is actually a new creation from them; their main beer is Anchor Steam, which has literally defined the steam beer style. Sadly, it’s not here yet.

Another longtime U.S. craft mainstay you can find in the province these days is Goose Island Beer Company. Goose Island opened in Chicago in 1988 and has grown steadily for almost 30 years. They’re coming into the province by dribs and drabs, currently offering their flagship Honkers Ale and a few other specialty products. They’re a bit hard to find now, but will soon be more regularly available.

Ironically, Goose Island was purchased in 2011 by AB-InBev, the largest beer corporation in the world (owners of Labatt’s and Budweiser among many, many others) — and it’s that relationship that made their Canadian entry possible.

Speaking of AB-InBev, another new entrant (although it might be temporary) is Seattle’s Elysian Brewing. They recently surprised me by showing up in Saskatchewan with kegs of their Immortal IPA. Elysian is noteworthy for their exceptional IPAs, but also because it was just announced that the aforementioned brewing giant has struck a deal to purchase them, to be finalized later this year. That purchase makes future availability a question mark, but we’ll see.

Now to the rumour mill: Alberta has recently been graced with two of the most celebrated craft breweries in the U.S. First, San Diego’s Stone Brewing burst onto the Canadian market late last year in both B.C. and Alberta. Known for their aggressive beer and even more aggressive marketing — the slogan on their most famous beer, Arrogant Bastard, is “You Are Not Worthy” — they have a reputation that far outstrips their size.

Second, Colorado’s New Belgium. They’re well-regarded for their beers, producing an excellent IPA and the ludicrously drinkable Fat Tire Amber Ale (which IS currently on SLGA lists), but are more famous for their politics and green ethos. This 100 per cent worker-owned company is close to becoming the world’s first net-zero (producing as much energy as they use) brewery. If their initial launches work out, I suspect we’ll see both breweries come into Saskatchewan in a big way the in coming months.

Other rumours include Redhook Brewing out of, again, Seattle (partially owned by AB-InBev), California’s Sierra Nevada (one of the first craft brewers, opened in 1980) and Firestone Walker (founded in 1996 north of L.A.).

In hockey we hate them and their politics are a dizzying mess of stupidity. But when it comes to craft beer, Americans can show us a thing or two.

So enjoy what is and soon will be here, and try to forget the makers think NFL football is preferable to the CFL.