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Alberta’s drinks are reason to cheer

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Bartender Dylan Libbie of Park Distillery prepares the Observation Peak cocktail, which includes smoked cedar. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor

BANFF, ALBERTA — When legislation was changed earlier this decade to ease the minimum requirements necessary to launch a microbrewery in Alberta a growth in the industry was a given. An explosion, though, is what has been witnessed, creating one of the most enthusiastic and exciting craft-beer scenes in North America.

In 2013 there were 13 microbreweries in Alberta. Now, there are 138, according to Bill Robinson, president of Alberta Beer Festivals, which hosts events in Calgary, Edmonton and Banff. The flavours in Alberta are diverse too. The province’s brewers rely on their home-grown barley and wheat to create a variety of styles. There are dark lagers, hefeweizens, chocolate-infused ales, and traditional German beers that won my attention.

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Jochen Fahr has brought German beer-making traditions to southern Alberta. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

Jochen Fahr has established a brewery that champions the beers of his homeland. A biochemical engineer, Fahr has beer-making in his pedigree. His father worked for two German breweries and he took an interest in the practice while growing up in the Alps. He’s transplanted his passion to Alberta, where he says, “I’m probably the only brewery in the province without an IPA on the menu. That’s because there are no IPAs in Germany.”

DISCOVER MORE: 5 Places to Wine and Dine in Banff

Located in the beautiful Turner Valley south of Calgary, Fahr’s eponymous brewery produces non-pasteurized beer rich with flavour and oozing freshness. It is earning praise and customers beyond its base.

“Joachim is a businessman. He’s already exporting out of province and has plans to export even more,” Robinson says. “Not every brewer has thought that far ahead.”

Fahr was among the breweries on display at the Banff edition of the Alberta Beer Festivals in November. The event showcased more than 100 craft-beer makers and punctuated how rapidly the industry is growing.

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Park Distillery in Banff features decor that romanticizes the western Canadian outdoors. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

Similarly, craft distilling is booming. Turner Valley’s Eau Claire Distillery has been producing exceptional spirits for a few years and their success has inspired other entrepreneurs to invest in making high-quality vodka, gins and whiskeys. In 2018, Park opened in the town of Banff, establishing the only distillery within a Canadian national park.

Its bar on Banff Avenue has immediately become a must-visit spot. With decor that evokes cabin life — including antler chandeliers, plaid wall coverings, and axe motifs — the distillery achieves a look that mixes the charm of Canadiana with contemporary aesthetics. The drinks are likewise familiar and sophisticated. Park produces four types of vodka, two gins and two rye whiskeys. It also makes three barrel-aged cocktails (Negroni, Manhattan and Martinez) that are stored in new oak for six months before being released.

The spirit flavours include a sweet Maple Rye, a deeply tasty Espresso Vodka, and an aromatic Vanilla Vodka.

Park will be one of the businesses participating in the first Tribute to Craft Spirits Festival, taking place in Banff from January 26-27. Seventeen bars and restaurants will each create five cocktails exclusively for the festival showcasing five craft spirits from Alberta and British Columbia.

Whether you make it to the festival or not, you’ll want to drop into Park to sample the Observation Peak, a cocktail featuring the distillery’s Park Glacier Rye, rum, Amaro Montenegro, cherry liqueur, and orange bitters. What makes it special is the smoked cedar square that’s lit in front of your eyes and dropped over the drink, creating a smoke-filled infusion right beneath your nose.

The smell of the Canadian outdoors captured in a glass. A pleasing new take on a Rocky Mountain escape.

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Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and Vacay.ca co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.