The Okanagan of beer.
That’s how someone at my day job at a private liquor store just outside of Regina described the local beer scene to me lately as he purchased over one flat worth of local beer to take to his family in Calgary over the May long weekend.
It’s a comment that originally struck me as a bit odd. Does Regina produce world class beer? Of course. I had just never heard it explained in that way. The Okanagan, along with the Niagra region, are basically the wine capitals of Canada. It’s where the best (and basically only) grapes in our country grow.
So, the more I thought about it, the more the comment made sense, and I’m not alone either.
“I say finally,” said Glenn Valgardson, co-owner of Pile o’ Bones Brewing.
The phrase, Okanagan of beer, was originally coined a Canadian Press piece that appeared in the Globe and Mail last year.
Now, it seems to be catching on and if you think about it, it makes sense. Beer is made, for the most part, with barley. Where is some of, if not the best, barley on earth grown? Saskatchewan. Add in fresh local hops and other grains that beer can be made of, it should come as no surprise that some of the best beer in Canada is being made right here in Regina.
The world is starting to take notice too. Recently, Regina was named as one of the top 30 beer cities in the world by the website Uproxx. Some of the other cities on that list are beer powerhouses, so if Regina is on that list, then something must be happening here.
“It’s the passion of the brewers (and) we have the best barley on the planet,” said Valgardson. “It’s the Saskatchewan mentality of do it right. When you’re a self-starter, people tend to take that farming background, that do it right mentality and they come at projects 100 per cent.”
Not only has Regina been recognized as a world-class beer city, one specific beer has been considered one of the best anywhere. Rebellion Brewing’s Flanders Sour won a bronze medal at the World Beer Cup. Just think about that, Rebellion finished third against some breweries that have been making similar beers in that category for over a century.
As the Regina beer scene continues to progress, its breweries are starting to be known for different things. Rebellion makes very technically strong, classic beers. Pile O’ Bones have become the sour kings in town and have cornered the market on SMASH beers, which are made with a single type of malt and hop. Malty National are the mad scientists in town who will make beer made with breakfast cereal, among other things.
“Rebellion makes classically styled beers but also goes out on a hinge all the time. They are such a good benchmark for craft brewing in the city, province or even Western Canada, if I’m being completely honest,” said Valgardson. “I have a really small system, I get to do weird stuff. Then you get Malty (National). They just make some super experimental stuff.”
The biggest change for Regina brewers over the last eight months or so has been the introduction of canned beer. It’s changed the game not only for brewers, who are now able to sell their beer to more places but for the consumer as well, who can now pick up fresher, more portable beer on demand at private stores in the area.
“It allows me the flexibility with my product. It lets me be less dependent on bars. The consumer has always wanted the product,” said Valgardson. “Cans are awesome.”
As Regina and Saskatchewan continue to work hard when it comes to fresh, local beer. The business will continue to evolve and change. New players will come, some with the same passion as Valgardson, Mark Heise at Rebellion or Adam Smith at Malty National.
Valgardson’s advice, make sure you’re getting into this business for the right reasons.
“The strong will survive. If you are not passionate about what you do and wanting to make the best beer you can, then great, I hope you buy a big system and I can buy it on pennies on the dollar.”
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