Every time someone opens a craft beer made in Alberta, it highlights the talent of the province’s brewers and the high quality of the local ingredients they use.
You could say the same thing about the taprooms that dot the province, too; each one is a showroom for Alberta’s craft beer industry, where proprietors sell the concept of drinking locally and preach the gospel of Alberta’s world-class barley to people who walk through the door.
The continued growth of craft beer in Alberta is proof that both methods are succeeding at winning converts — but, to an extent, each relies on customers taking the first step to order local pints or visit breweries.
In Red Deer, a group of central Alberta partners is doing the opposite: They’ve taken craft beer to the people by opening a brewery at the local farmers’ market. Craft Beer Commonwealth is making beer on-site with barley grown and malted practically down the street.
The brewery is a partnership between Red Hart Brewing in Red Deer, Blindman Brewing in nearby Lacombe and Red Shed Malting, which supplies specialty malt for breweries across western Canada made from barley grown near Penhold.
The brewery is at the Gasoline Alley Farmers’ Market, a year-round indoor facility that opened in late 2020 with more than 50 vendors selling local produce and handicrafts every weekend.
To the partners behind Craft Beer Commonwealth, the market is an ideal place to introduce craft beer to people who are already inclined to ask questions about where their purchases come from and how they’re made.
“So much of craft beer caters to its fanbase. At the market, you have other people who want to support local,” says Jarod Griesbach, co-owner of Red Hart Brewing.
Craft Beer Commonwealth anchors one end of the building, with gleaming stainless steel tanks beckoning the curious from an upper-floor mezzanine. In addition to customer seating upstairs, the ground level of the brewery is part of a large, licensed and kid-friendly food hall where customers can grab fresh meals from any of the six kitchen stalls. It’s thought to be the first arrangement of its kind in Canada.
The on-site brewery is small, capable of making about 200 litres a batch. General Manager Ben Smithson says it will produce a mix of balanced and approachable beers for the uninitiated as well as stuff that’s more adventurous. Being in the market is a great opportunity to experiment with fruit and other produce sourced from neighbouring vendors.
“It’s going to be more of a fun brewery, rather than a production brewery,” says Smithson.
To satisfy demand, Craft Beer Commonwealth will also sell beer made specially for the market at other central Alberta breweries. Contract brewing arrangements often obscure the fact that a beer is made off-site — but in this case, the origin of the beer will be a point of pride.
“We’re really excited about the doors that this will open for other breweries. We want this to be a hub for central Alberta beer,” Griesbach says, adding Craft Beer Common-wealth will also have rotating guest taps for beer from other breweries.
Although the market is aimed squarely at locals, the number of highly regarded breweries in central Alberta — Blindman and Red Hart among them — has made the area a draw for beer tourists from Edmonton and Calgary.
Smithson says Craft Beer Commonwealth is a place for people to come and discover what the region has to offer.
“It can be a place where people can come, try the beers and then decide where to go next,” he says.
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This article appears in the Winter 2021 issue of Edify.