Calgary soaking up beer’s booming market

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Beer is undergoing its own boom in Calgary as business owners seek to satisfy a growing thirst for new brews.

Several new ventures, including the Craft Beer Market, are due to open in the coming weeks, each offering a different twist to the city’s specialty suds market.

The market, opening June 17 on 10th Avenue S.W., will offer 104 different brands of beer on tap in the 11,000-squarefoot space previously occupied by the Mother Tuckers restaurant.

In addition to familiar favourite brands, the business will offer micro-brews, imports and specialty beers.

“Beer is the new wine.

They’re doing a lot of different things with beer,” said Rob Swiderski, one of the new owners. “They’re moving away from a lot of the traditional beers . . . where it was only hops, barley, water, malt. Now people are infusing with fruit.

They’re putting them in old Jack Daniels casks so they take on a bit of the rye flavour.

“It’s just turning into quite an art form itself, especially the craft beer movement.”

According to Statistics Canada, beer remained the alcoholic drink of choice for Canadians in 2010 reaching close to $9.2 billion in sales, up 3.8 per cent from the previous year. In Alberta, beer sales neared $980 million in 2010, a year-over-year hike of 4.5 per cent.

Mike Mendelman, owner of Wurst Restaurant and Beer Hall, to open June 15 on 4th Street S.W., the concept is Bavarian-and German-inspired: a beer hall with big, long communal tables. The restaurant is on the main floor and the beer hall downstairs.

The 20 beers on tap will largely be European based, in addition to Big Rock, Okanagan Springs and Mt. Begbie, said Mendelman.

“Beer is hot right now. Alcohol, like anything else, goes in cycles. So in the boom times we experienced in the early part of this decade from 2001-2002 to about 2008, wine was very hot,” said Mendelman.

“Everyone discovered wine and then you had wine bars. Then we had a recession and it had a little bit to do with creating beer as the next sort of everyman, little bit more budget-conscious (type). It’s not pretentious. It’s fun.”

Consumers are increasingly seeking out craft beers, which have seen an explosion of popularity in recent years.

“Beer is so approachable for most segments of the population. Affordable. Even a very, very well-crafted micro-brew beer. A pint of it is still only $7,” he said.

Stuart Allan has been a fixture in the restaurant/bar industry in Calgary for 30 years. He opened Buzzards Restaurant at 140 10th Ave. S.W., in 1980 and followed that with the opening of neighbour Bottlescrew Bill’s Pub in 1985. Now it’s expanding its beer list to more than 250 different beers from around the world.

“We always used to have a big selection. We had 150 for quite some time. But my son has taken over the business now and he’s added an extra 100 beers and is working on adding more,” said Allan.

“The growth is in domestic micro-brewed beers because there’s many more now than there used to be,” Allan said. “They used to have a much smaller market area so we’re able to access micro-breweries from across Canada. And all these little micros exploring and pushing the envelope and coming up with different combinations of taste, flavour and technique.”

He said growth is also in bottle-conditioned beers primarily from Europe that have undergone a secondary fermentation in the bottle.

Consumers are more “individualistic” than before and are keen to try something different and “they’re more keen to experiment than they were before,” added Allan.

Jamie Vadori, general manager of Wild Rose Brewery in Calgary in the old Currie Barracks site, said the craft beer market has been a trend growing for a number of years across North America, born out of the Pacific Northwest and spreading from there. Wild Rose has a brewery and a pub on site.

“As people are gaining a greater and greater appreciation for high-quality, fullflavoured brews, in our case made locally from local ingredients, they’ve come to like what they taste,” said Vadori. “Beyond that, I’d suggest that craft brewers like Wild Rose and others have really been leaders in innovation bringing unique styles and interpretations of those styles to Albertans and Calgarians. And Calgarians have responded really well.”

Justin Leboe, with the Concorde Entertainment Group in Calgary, said the group will be opening the National Beer Hall, at 5th Street and 17th Avenue S.W., in early fall. The group has several other establishments in the city.

The National hall will be a contemporary North American one, as opposed to the traditional German or continental European kind.

“Our focus is on craft beers, micro-brews; small-batch brewing, high-quality brewing rather than maybe some of the bigger labels,” said Leboe.

“It will be focused on a program of wherever possible sourcing beers out locally then looking at a wider spectrum of beer outside of that after we’ve exhausted everything we could find,” he said, Beer -about 20 on tap and as many as 100 bottled selections -will be served in one-litre steins.