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Apr 22

Cresting the wave of Albertan beer culture: Calgary’s world-renowned festival ready for second decade

Posted on Apr 22 By: The Beer Bros

For all of you beer lovers out there, we are inviting you to visit the Beer University pavilion down at the Calgary International Beerfest next Friday and Saturday (May 1 & 2). 

Alberta Barley and GrainsWest magazine will be on hand with brewers and beer industry experts alike to provide you with all the info you will need to get your very own Beer University diploma. Tickets are still available at albertabeerfestivals.com (use promo code GRAINS15 for 15% off tickets).

The explosion of beer culture in Alberta can be traced through the near-exponential growth of the Calgary International Beer Festival.

On Friday, May 1, Calgary’s 11th annual international beer festival will take up all available exhibit space in Stampede Park’s BMO Centre, 250,000 square feet.

There will be more than 500 beers from 46 different countries to try at the two-day festival. There will also be samplings from 40 different local restaurants. Entertainment options will include the Green Fools Theatre Company and the inventive singing group Cowtown Opera.

New this year will be “Beer University,” where participants can go through a series of booths explaining the beer-making process from grain to glass, sample a beer and beef pairing, and come out with a ‘Masters of Beer Appreciation.’

Past hits like the ‘Cooking With Beer’ and ‘Brewmaster’ seminars will also be held.

Perhaps the best example of the festival’s growth is the fact the 8,000 square feet used for this year’s coat check is about the same amount of space used for the first Calgary International Beer Festival in 2005.

“When we started it was just my buddy Mark (Kondrat) and I, and a small group of very dedicated volunteers,” said Bill Robinson, president of Alberta Beer Festivals (ABF).

“When we started, the idea of a beer culture didn’t really exist in Calgary,” said Kondrat, director of operations at ABF.

Robinson and Kondrat were the operators of Get A Life Events when a Calgary beer festival was suggested to them in 2004. It took some networking with other festival organizers and vendors before there was sufficient interest in the idea, Robinson said.

The event, first held at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology’s student bar, The Gateway, sold out, setting a trend that’s been duplicated nearly every year since.

“We’ve been voted top 20 in the world, and we’re one of the fastest growing,” Robinson said, adding he wasn’t sure if the growth could continue at this rate.

The success of the beer festival has also helped others start their own beer ventures.

At the time of speaking, Robinson was at a beer-tasting event at Craft Beer Market in downtown Calgary, where the Olds College brewery program was displaying a seasonal ginger beer called the Irish Wrist Watch.

“The guys who opened Craft said ‘we knew Craft would work because your beer festival is so successful,’” Robinson said.

Obviously ABF is only part of the reason for the rise in beer culture, Robinson said.

“We’re a small part of it, but we’re happy to be a small part of it.”

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