In the travel world, Calgary is best known as “that city you fly into before driving to Banff.”
Calgary will never be called a cosmopolitan city. It’s not very trendy. Its nightlife is virtually non-existent. But there’s one thing Calgary does have: a shocking number of craft breweries.
Calgary, Alberta has suddenly become a craft beer mecca.
The number of craft breweries in Alberta tripled from 2014 to 2017.
Calgary has a long way to go before catching up to Vancouver, which has 50+ microbreweries and distilleries, or Portland, which has over 80 (although both cities have 2x the population of Calgary).
From Cold Garden to Crown, Village to Wild Rose, Calgary is punching above its weight in the craft beer scene – and it shows no signs of slowing down.
Top 10 Best Breweries in Calgary
The fact that I can even make a list of the top best 8 breweries in Calgary surprises me. Five years ago, Calgary didn’t even have 10 breweries in total.
Here are some of the breweries I’ve personally boozed at – and approved – around Calgary (in no particular order).
Tool Shed Brewing Company
It’s called “Tool Shed” because the guys who founded the brewery, Jeff and Graham, used to brew beer in Graham’s backyard tool shed. Today, this brewery is home to my favourite beer in all of Calgary: Red Rage. It’s an incredible red ale. Other notable brews include People Skills, Star Cheek, and the Flat Cap Stout.
Cold Garden Beverage Company
Cold Garden, in Inglewood, launched in 2017. The brewery quickly made a name for itself with unique beers like Cakeface (which seriously tastes like birthday cake) and the All-Nighter Vanilla Cappuccino Porter (my personal favourite). Another thing I appreciate: there’s just one IPA on their regular list of beers. It’s called “This Must Be The IPA”. It’s a refreshing change from American breweries that seem to brew only IPAs. Oh, and the pool noodles make for some cool Instagram shots.
Banded Peak Brewing
Banded Peak is located in the Blackfoot industrial area near the Burnsland Cemetery. It has some of the coolest brewing “swag” in the city, including distinctive, sturdy bottles that seem built specifically to take camping. My favourite is the Chinook Saison, but the Plainsbreaker is very easy to drink as well. It’s a must-stop if you’re touring the Barley Belt.
Village always seems like the “encouraging older brother” among Calgary’s microbreweries. The Village team is super supportive of new breweries. They actively promote the Calgary craft beer scene. They were also one of the first microbreweries in Calgary to really take off. Oh, and they also brew some of the best craft beer the city has to offer. The Village Blacksmith (a black ale) and the Village Blonde (which actually complies with the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516) are their two most popular options. The Squeeze, the Wit, and Neighbor are all very good as well.
Most of Calgary’s breweries are located in the industrial parts of the city. Last Best, however, is right on 11th Ave in downtown Calgary. The fancy interior makes it look more like an upscale restaurant than a Calgary brewery; however, Last Best is one of the more popular brewers in the city, known for options like the Dirty Bird Black Lager, Last Best IPA, and Show Pony Pale Ale.
Common Crown Brewing
Common Crown is located right down the street from Tool Shed in Calgary’s NE (Red Bison also recently opened up next door). The taproom isn’t huge. However, Common Crown has good distribution across the city, which means you’ll be able to pick up its Coppersmith Brown Ale, Journeyman IPA, Brewmaster Blonde Ale, and Ploughman Hopped Wheat Ale wherever you go.
Wild Rose Brewery
Wild Rose is one of the oldest breweries in Calgary. Launched in 1996, the brewery continues to brew good beer to this day. The Currie Barracks location has a great outdoor patio in the summer (it faces due west, which means it stays light until 10 or 11pm in June. You’ll also find surprisingly good food on the menu. Plus, they recently started offering barrel aged beers – something that you don’t always see around Calgary. In any case, you’ll find popular Wild Rose beers at bars across Calgary. Popular options include Velvet Fog, Wraspberry Ale, and the IPA. Interestingly, Wild Rose is one of the few breweries in Alberta to have its own Wikipedia page.
Launched in 1985, Big Rock was the first major independent brewery in Calgary. Here’s the story behind Big Rock: Calgary hosted the Olympics in 1988. In the years leading up to the Olympics, visitors had long complained about the lack of variety in Canadian beer – there were too many average, boring, watery lagers. The creators of Big Rock wanted to make something that would appeal to international visitors – so they made a European-style traditional ale and they called it Traditional. Today, Traditional remains one of Big Rock’s bestselling beers – and the brewery makes an enormous amount of beer from its SE Calgary location. Popular beers include Grasshopper, Traditional, Rhinestone Cowboy, and the Pilsner. If you’re going to do one tour in Calgary, the Big Rock tour is one to do (they give you a lot of complementary beer).
Railyard is up near the airport, making it a bit of a drive for anyone who lives in the good parts of the city. Fortunately, Railyard Brewing is a 2 minute drive from Caravel. Having one brewery in a remote location is tough – having two breweries in the same remote location justifies a road trip. Railyard Brewing is shockingly large inside.
There’s a huge amount of seating and brewing space. The seating area is one of the best I’ve seen at a brewery. There’s a pool table and a bunch of board games free for anyone to use. The staff have also been very friendly every time I’ve been in there. Oh, and the beer is excellent as well. The Railyard pale ale might be my favourite in Calgary. They also make a good DIPA – and this is coming from someone who isn’t a big pale ale / IPA fan.
Caravel Craft Brewery
Caravel Craft Brewery is worth a stop before or after Railyard. We were there for St. Patty’s Day 2018 when they tapped a keg of their Irish red ale mixed with Irish whisky and spices. It was delicious and very festive. Inside you’ll find a surprisingly family-friendly atmosphere (there were more kids, parents, and families here than anyone else the first time we visited). In terms of beer, Caravel has some of the more adventurous beers in the city of Calgary. Their Hazy Horizon Hefeweizen has won some big awards over the years. Their Cold Brew Coffee Lager is also worth getting a taster for the sheer novelty factor. It’s a lager that tastes like a cold brew coffee. The Munich Dunkel Dark Lager was a personal favourite, although it wasn’t on the level of real Munich dunkel lagers from Germany.
Cabin Brewing Company
Cabin Brewing Company just opened in December 2018. It’s down the street from Banded Peak and in the same parking lot as Confluence Distilling, making it a must-stop when touring the Barley Belt. I haven’t had a good meat pie since I went to Australia and New Zealand. This place has authentic New Zealand meat pies – which is an absolute lifesaver when this is your fourth brewery stop of the day. Cabin Brewing Company has the best decor of any brewery in Calgary. It feels like a cabin. There are canoes hanging from the ceiling. Booths are shaped like log cabins. There are tree stumps. It takes brewery decor to a new level. Their mainstay beers include standard pale ales and IPAs, although they also get inventive with releases like their plum gose and their blueberry cobbler ale.
Nuzzled in a part of Calgary I had literally never been before, Citizen Brewing is a popular spot for pale ales and IPAs. Their core lineup includes a session ale, a pale ale, an IPA, and a stout. They also serve food – including brunch on weekends and burgers during the day. If you’re looking to refuel on a brewery tour around Calgary, Citizen Brewing is a good pit stop hampered only by a remote location and a lack of nearby breweries. If you’re up by the airport at Caravel, Railyard, or Zero Issue, then consider stopping at Citizen Brewing on your way back down Deerfoot.
Zero Issue Brewing
Zero Issue is located near Minhas Brewery just south of the airport. We visited on a quiet Friday night just before closing. The brewery was founded by two brothers – one of whom went to school at Olds College.
We were served by their dad, who was happy to chat about the brewery. There’s an IPA, a pale ale, a pilsner, and a sour on tap. The Nemesis IPA was excellent – but the unique and creative artwork elevates Zero Issue Brewing even higher. I feel bad taking these cans to the bottle depot.
High Line Brewing
If you’re looking to try beers you can’t find anywhere else, then High Line Brewing might be the right choice for you. Located within walking distance of 5 other breweries in Inglewood, High Line Brewing is an independent brewery that opened in November 2016. The 23-seat tap room is tiny. There are board games. The staff are friendly. The beers are creative and bizarre (in a good way). Expect to find tea beers, sour beers, gluten free beers, and other things you won’t find at your average brewery. Oh, and your tasters are served in a muffin tray.
Paddy’s Barbecue & Brewery
Paddy’s Barbecue & Brewery is one of the hidden gems of Calgary’s beer scene. It doesn’t get the same attention as some of the bigger players on this list, but they make some damn good beer while serving up some of the best barbecue in the city.
Calgary’s brewing scene is growing so fast that it’s hard to keep up. I leave the city to travel for 3 months, and I come back to find 4 new breweries I haven’t visited.
Here are some of the breweries I’ve heard are good – but haven’t yet visited:
- Goat Locker Brewing Company
- Outcast Brewing
- The Dandy Brewing Company
- Red Bison Brewery
- Bam Brewing Co.
- Boiling Oar Brewing Company
Why Calgary? 4 Reasons Why Calgary Has Become a Craft Beer Lover’s Paradise
Nearby Olds College Has a Seriously Good Brewmaster Program
You may have heard of this little town called Olds, just north of Calgary. That town is home to Olds College. Olds College has a brewmaster program that is not just good – it’s world famous.
The program is officially called “Brewmaster & Brewery Operations Management”. Students come from around the world. Many students end up running breweries in Calgary. Walk into any Calgary brewery, and there’s a good chance you’ll meet at least one graduate of the program.
It’s Part of a Global Trend
It’s no secret that craft beer is exploding with growth worldwide. The trend started in California, expanded across the United States, and has arrived full-blown in Canada (it always takes us a few years to pick up the latest American trends).
The number of breweries in Alberta has tripled since 2014. You’ll find similar stats for Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec. It’s not just a Calgary thing.
Bylaw and Regulation Changes
Craft beer is an important part of Alberta’s economy – and its impact continues to grow. The provincial NDP government has recognized that impact by announcing things like a $20 million a year grant program that returns a significant portion of alcohol revenue to small Alberta brewery operators. Meanwhile, Calgary recently introduced a bylaw making it easier for craft brewers to establish production facilities and brewpubs in populated commercial areas.
What Else Is There to Do in Calgary?
There’s another obvious reason why craft beer is so well-supported in Calgary: there’s not really much else to do in the city. Sure, you can spend the day skiing and hiking in the mountains. But in town, most nights out involve going to a bar and drinking beer. If there’s a new brewery to try, we’re going to find it our next night out.
A Personal Note
The Wandering Boozebag grew up in Calgary.
When I first started traveling in 2012, I couldn’t wait to escape from Calgary’s beer scene and its endless stream of Budweiser and Molson Canadian. In fact, the Calgary Stampede used to make headlines due to its lack of craft beer.
Now, when I’m away, I look forward to getting back to Calgary and filling another growler (or two) with Red Rage from Tool Shed. I couldn’t be happier to see Calgary’s beer scene exploding.