By JASON van RASSEL
I was excited when Alberta Dugout Stories approached me about collaborating on a piece about ballpark beer: I’m a big supporter of Alberta craft beer and there was a time in my life when I was a huge baseball fan.
I fell out of love with big-league baseball for reasons too lengthy to go into here – labour stoppages, steroids, the demise of the Expos, to name a few – but the fun I’ve had attending Western Major Baseball League (WMBL) games in Okotoks and Edmonton has me inching back toward the diamond. The baseball is entertaining and only a few bucks gets you in the ballpark, with a seat close to the action.
I have a feeling loyal readers of Alberta Dugout Stories know all about the baseball. What you might not know is that many of Alberta’s WMBL clubs sell local craft beer at their home games. I’m here to give you the rundown and make some recommendations. Let’s go around the horn!
Brooks doesn’t have any craft breweries — yet — but the Bombers have Burnside Blood Orange Ale from Medicine Hat Brewing on tap. Flavoured beer can seem like a crapshoot if it’s not your usual thing, but this one finds that sweet spot between providing a novel flavour while still tasting like beer. This beer combines MH Brewing’s easy-drinking Hatfield Blonde with pureed blood oranges for a light and refreshing choice that clocks in at 4.5 per cent alcohol.
I enjoy craft beer and I prefer it when there’s a choice. But I’m not a snob: I don’t believe in letting the absence of craft beer ruin an otherwise good time with friends – like, say, an afternoon at the ballpark. Neither should you. There’s no craft beer at Re/Max Field, so grab a Kokanee, Bud, or Bud Light and enjoy watching the game in Edmonton’s idyllic river valley.
Fort McMurray Giants
As I said above, there’s no need for craft beer fans to get upset about drinking the occasional pale yellow lager from a mega-brewery when faced with no other options. But when you have a local option, give craft a chance! Kudos to the Giants for serving Lift Kit Lager from Wood Buffalo Brewing on tap. Beer, like many things we eat and drink, is better when it’s fresh and consumed close to the source. Expect a bit more hop bitterness than what you’d get in a mass-produced golden lager, but a clean finish characteristic of a well-crafted example of the style. (The big guys cut corners by using corn and/or corn syrup instead of 100% malted barley, which is what gives many mega-brands a sweetness that dominates over the other traits a beer should have.)
There are no craft options in Lethbridge — choose from Molson Canadian, Pilsner (of course), Coors Banquet, Coors Light and Rickard’s Grapefruit Radler. I’ve already delivered my lecture for craft fans, so now it’s time for mainstream beer drinkers to listen up. If you’re a Bud Light drinker who bristles at the idea of drinking a Coors Light, I’ve got news for you: they’re virtually indistinguishable, so put aside your irrational brand loyalty and just order a damn Coors Light. I’ve been writing about craft beer for more than a decade and I’ve judged at several competitions over the years — and even with my palate, I would find it difficult, if not impossible, to tell them apart.
Medicine Hat Mavericks
The Mavericks offer two canned choices from Medicine Hat Brewing: Burnside Blood Orange Ale (mentioned above) and its close relative, Tart Cherry Blonde Ale. Tart Cherry has Hatfield Blonde as its base beer (like the blood orange ale) with real pureed cherries that deliver a mild tartness before a clean grainy finish kicks in. Tart Cherry is the first of MH Brewing’s “Patio Series” and at 4.5 per cent alcohol, it’s made for outdoor enjoyment on hot summer days and nights.
(I contacted Hell’s Basement Brewery, which also based in Medicine Hat, to see if any of its beers are available at the ballpark. The brewery never responded to my messages – however, the Mavericks tweeted a picture of their beer selection earlier this week and it included two limited releases from Hell’s Basement: Raspberry Fruit Bat and a special batch of Boxcar Comforts Blonde Ale made with an heirloom variety of locally-grown barley. Unfortunately, I received this information too late to sample them before publishing this.)
It’s fitting that a baseball team in Okotoks sells Big Rock Traditional (aka “Trad”) in cans at the ballpark — after all, Okotoks is home to the glacial erratic that is the brewery’s namesake. People often hesitate at ordering darker beers in the mistaken belief they’re heavier — they’re not. A beer’s colour is simply an indication of how long the grain has been roasted, like the difference in light-, medium- and dark-roasted coffee. It has nothing to do with “heaviness.” Trad is a mild, malty and slightly sweet beer that may not be as thirst-quenching as a lager, but it’ll go damn well with that ballpark burger or hotdog. Trust me.
Starting this season, Seaman Stadium is also serving a couple selections from Okotoks’ own Six Corners Brew Works. Burmis Tree Alberta Pale Ale is a bright pale ale with grapefruit and passionfruit traits balanced with some caramel malt. Stump Splitter Amber is also available.
Jason van Rassel has been writing about Alberta’s craft beer scene since 2006, when he started a beer blog as a hobby while working as a reporter at the Calgary Herald. He left daily journalism in 2016, but has continued to write about beer for a number of publications. Jason recently started a new blog, Original Levity, and writes a regular beer column for Avenue Edmonton.