Alberta sees craft brewery boom in last 2 years

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WATCH ABOVE: Delicious suds made in small batches, craft beer is all the rage these days and updated rules have dozens of breweries setting up shop in Alberta. Tracy Nagai reports – Jan 7, 2017

High Line Brewing’s J.J. Mathison jokes he’s a brew “bastard” instead of a brewmaster.

He used to live on Hornby Island in B.C. before moving to Calgary and with limited selection at the liquor store, learned to how to make beer in his backyard.

“It’s definitely a playground. I feel like a chef in a kitchen,”

Mathison said in his newly opened brewery in the heart of Inglewood.

Completely self taught and in need of work after being laid off last year, he forged ahead on a new career path with two of his friends.

“I was let go from my job in project management and construction and instead of getting back into the job pool, we took this as an opportunity to start our own business,” Mathison explained.

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High Line Brewing is among several breweries to open up shop in Alberta. In fact, the number of breweries has more than doubled in two years, expanding from 18 in 2014 to nearly 50 in 2016 and at least 20 more are in some stage of the planning process.

“Alberta in particular changed the regulations in 2013. It used to be a brewery like High Line couldn’t start because they were too small. In 2013 that went away and breweries of any size could start,” said Terry Rock with the Alberta Small Brewers Association.

Alberta brewers agree another perk is that their base ingredient is homegrown.

“All of our beers are made with Alberta barley and it’s now being regarded as the best in the world,”

said Ernie Tsu, owner of Trolley 5 Brewery.  “There’s a lot of breweries in the U.S., like big names, that are using our Alberta two-row barley right now.”

The craft beer industry has already taken off in places like B.C. and the U.S. and the hope is it will continue to expand in Alberta.

“We don’t look at it as competition. We look at it as a family because it’s brewing culture. B.C. is at over 150 microbreweries and when you’re there, they’ll recommend other places,” Tsu said.

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That sentiment has many in the Alberta industry dreaming about the possibilities.

“There’s no reason why this couldn’t be one of our signature industries,”Rock said.

“It’s going to be really interesting to see how far we can take this.”