It’s no secret to anyone who regularly drives between Edmonton and Calgary that Red Deer is a popular spot to gas up, grab a bite or answer nature’s call before hitting the road again.
What isn’t as widely known — but ought to be — is that Red Deer is home to craft breweries that make it worth venturing beyond Gasoline Alley, if you haven’t lately.
“There are some great restaurants, it’s a great community and a lot of people who like good beer,” says Charlie Bredo, who opened Troubled Monk Brewery with his brother, Graeme, in 2015.
Since Troubled Monk’s arrival, three more breweries have opened in Red Deer: Belly Hop Brewing in 2017, Sawback Brewing in 2018 and Red Hart Brewing (which sits just outside city limits in Red Deer County) earlier this year. When Troubled Monk started, Bredo says it was important to have approachable beers like its Golden Gaetz ale to appeal to a market that was relatively new to craft beer at the time. While Golden Gaetz remains a mainstay in Troubled Monk’s lineup, locals are embracing more adventurous offerings like barrel-aged barley wines and sours.
“People want to try what’s new,” says Bredo.
Rotation is also the name of the game at Red Hart Brewing, which has spent its first few months in business making a succession of small-batch offerings. Co-owner Kristy Lawrence says the brewery will likely settle on a short list of mainstays, supplemented by seasonal beers and one-offs.
Red Hart’s line-up may change frequently, but one thing that won’t is where to find it: The brewery has no immediate plans to package its beer, preferring to focus on taproom sales. Lawrence and her partners envision the taproom as a community hub — a cozy, pub-like space with dark wood, a fireplace and comfortable seating.
“We wanted an environment where people inherently knew it was OK to come in and grab a game off the shelf and have some laughs,” says Lawrence.
Try Red Hart’s extra special bitter if it’s on tap: A good ESB is all about balance, and this is an enjoyable sipper with biscuity malt and toasty bread crusts alongside subtle earthy hops. A different three-letter beer style — IPA — was the inspiration for the owners of Sawback Brewing to get into the business. Part-owner Nate Prestie says when he and his partners were home brewers, they couldn’t find an India Pale Ale to their liking. So, they decided to make their own.
Sawback’s varied line-up usually features several IPA variations and interpretations. Its West Coast IPA is bursting with tropical pineapple and mango hop traits, along with the assertive piney bitterness you should expect in a northwest-style IPA.
Sawback also has a deft hand with sour styles and has plans for an added focus on unique and complex beers using wild yeast strains. These beers will be made in limited quantities and likely only available at the taproom, says Prestie.
“You’re going to miss out on a lot of our special beers if you drive by,” he says.