Looking Back Post #4: Canadian Brewery of the Year

(This is the second of several posts detailing what I found to be the breweries of the year for 2011 in various regions. Note that there is no science to the choices I have made, just my own highly subjective reasoning as detailed in each post. The first post, highlighting my Brewery of the Year for Ontario, is available here.)

When searching for a Canadian Brewery of the Year, most beer aficionados would no doubt be tempted to look first to the province of Québec, where reside some of the most talented and innovative brewers plying their craft anywhere in North America. And indeed, that is precisely what I did at first.

But then I switched my gaze westward and arrived at what might be considered an unexpected champion: Edmonton’s Alley Kat Brewing.

I’ve been a fan of this largely unheralded operation ever since the company opened its doors with Full Moon Pale Ale, a subtly fragrant and tasty beer, back in 1995. (In truth, Alley Kat opened with a lager and a wheat beer, but Full Moon arrived so shortly thereafter, and the first two beers were so quickly jettisoned, that I think some poetic license may be allowed here.) In 2011, however, Neil Herbst, who co-owns Alley Kat with his wife Lavonne, took the brewery up several notches to something approaching greatness.

Full Moon is still around, of course, as are the tasty if somewhat simple Aprikat and Amber, but where Herbst has really excelled in recent years is in his seasonal and one-off releases, like the tasty Three Bears Oatmeal Stout, the highly hopped and laudable Blue Dragon IPA and the wonderfully sessionable Fireside Mild, which I saw fit to highlight in Ben McFarland’s World’s Best Beers. And this is not even to mention what might be Canada’s best barley wine, the occasionally brewed Old Deuteronomy.

Big or small beers, Herbst approaches each with skill and enthusiasm, as is most evident from the brews which result. And that’s why this little brewery from Edmonton is my pick as Canadian Brewery of the Year.

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