Summers are supposed to be when class is out, but beer fanatics might want to consider heading back to school to get their hands on refreshing brews.
Just off the Queen Elizabeth II Highway, about two hours south of Edmonton, is where you’ll find Olds College, home to Canada’s first brewmaster and brewery operations management program. Of course, learning is easier when it’s hands-on, which is why the college has its own operating brewery on site, which visitors can tour.
The brewery produces four core beer varieties, plus two seasonal brews at any given time.
SPIRIT HILLS HONEY WINERY
Some Albertans are putting their own modern twist on mead that’s creating a lot of buzz.
Spirit Hills Honey Winery near Millarville – about a 3.5-hour drive from Edmonton -was established in 2012 and, since then, it has been doing things its own way. It currently produces nine different types of honey wine from the 13 bee yards it keeps in its little piece of the Rocky Mountain foothills. For $10 a person, you can visit the winery, take a tour of the operation and spend some time in the tasting room. Tours are by appointment only, though, and must be booked in advance.
RED CUP DISTILLERY
If you’re more into spirits than beer, head on out to Vegreville, just off the Yellowhead Highway about 100 kilometres east of Edmonton. There, not only will you find the world’s largest Ukrainian Easter egg, but you’ll also find Red Cup Distillery, one of the businesses on the cusp of the craft distillery boom in Alberta.
There, Robert de Groot carries on the traditions of the town from prohibition times, when Vegreville was a hub of illicit moonshine production.
Red Cup uses local wheat, barley and rye to create moonshine and house green malt. Thankfully, the trip isn’t that long, for Edmontonians, and it’s still worthwhile to see the 250-gallon pot still and open-wood fermenters in action.
BENCH CREEK BREWERY
Craft breweries are booming in Alberta thanks to changes in provincial regulations that came into effect in 2013, lifting minimum production requirements on beer makers. And one brewery that consumers keep choosing is Bench Creek Brewery, near Edson.
The headquarters of the upstart brewers is located just a few kilometres northwest of the town, along Township Road 540. If you visit on a Friday evening or a Saturday afternoon, you can take a tour of the facilities and taste one of the signature beers: Naked Woodsman Pale Ale, White Raven India Pale Ale or Black Spruce Porter.
In the 2009 Beaver County census, the hamlet of Bruce, Alta., located about 115 kilometres southeast of Edmonton along Highway 14, had a population of just 71 people. However, on summer Friday and Saturday evenings that population can grow by almost 300 per cent. And it’s all thanks to one hotel and a whole lot of beef.
The Bruce Hotel has become famous across the province for its weekly steak dinners, sometimes bringing more than 200 people to tuck into some Alberta beef. Just make sure to call ahead and make a reservation, as the seats fill up fast.
As you drive east along the Yellowhead Highway, just before you hit Lloydminster, you come across a little piece of heaven for cheese lovers – the village of Kitscoty.
That’s because The Cheesiry is located on a farm just outside the village. There, cheesemaker Rhonda Zuk Headon weaves her magic, taking sheep’s milk and turning it into delicious varieties of pecorino cheese.
The farm features a cheese boutique, and keep an eye on its website, too, as it periodically offers open houses and free tours.
Edgar Farms is a name familiar to folks who regularly shop at the City Market Downtown, but you can visit the site if you make the trek near Innisfail, not quite two hours south of Edmonton.
From mid-May to September, Edgar Farms opens the doors to its country store, offering visitors the chance to purchase its asparagus, other vegetables and beef straight from the farm. It also tries to host an Asparagus Festival every year – weather and crops permitting.