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  • Writer's pictureCalgary Brewery Tour Guy

Calgary Brewery Last Best Turns 10

Updated: Jun 20

Last Best Brewery Front Door

When you head out to your favourite brewery for a pint, you're not just drinking the brews made by that brewery; you're sampling the creations of one person—the head brewer (and their team). Similar to ‘Head-Chefs’ in the restaurant world, these passionate recipe creators are the quarterbacks of the beer menu, and whether or not people return all depends on the quality of their product. Many brewers start their careers by learning under a mentor, then move up the ladder by switching to another brewery to recreate the recipes of that brewery’s former brewmaster while hoping to get a few of their own creations on tap. However, this story is unique. If you've been into local beer for a while, you might have unknowingly witnessed an extremely rare occurrence: the evolution of one brewer from a novice with no experience to head brewer, all within a single location.

Calgary’s legendary Last Best Brewing and Distilling is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary as a Calgary landmark, making it one of the city's oldest craft breweries. Back in 2013, when the AGLC lowered production limits, paving the way for the impending craft boom, Last Best began the process of taking over a short-lived brewing operation called Amsterdam Rhino, previously known as Brew Brothers. Before those changes by the liquor and gaming commission, Brew Brothers operated in a difficult Calgary brewery landscape with only a handful of brewing venues. Back then, craft beer was not trendy, and hardcore beer fans were not as abundant as they are today. Despite being ahead of the curve, Brew Brothers faced several obstacles and around 2010 they reached out to Alan Yule, co-founder of Wild Rose Brewery, as a consultant to help turn things around. As part of his shake-up, Yule hired a handful of new staff.

As we now know, Brew Brothers and Amsterdam Rhino did not make it.

When Last Best took over, they renovated the space, updated the decor, and brought in new furniture to match their concept. They hired a new head brewer from Australia, Phil Brian, who had worked under some of the most respected brewers down under, and they also decided to keep around a hard-working original Brew Brothers/Amsterdam Rhino employee named Keil Wilson.

Keil Wilson Last Best Brewer

When Wilson first took the job from Alan at Brew Brothers, he admittedly had no interest in beer at all and certainly had no intention of becoming a brewer. It was just a job for him. But then something changed—he started working closely with Yule and began drinking real craft beer, which was still relatively new and not as popular as it is today. After the collapse of both Brew Brothers and Amsterdam Rhino, fueled by a newfound passion for ales and lagers, and with new employers in Last Best, Wilson began working with Brian. 

Last Best falls under a larger umbrella named Bearhill. A collection of breweries that started with Jasper Brewing, then Banff Ave Brewing, Wood Buffalo in Fort McMurray (closed after the fires), and followed by Campio of Edmonton, and soon to be joined by Maligne Range Distilling in Jasper. With this expanding collective, over the past few years Brian slowly moved into the director of Bearhill operations role, overseeing all production for the company, including brewing, canning, and packaging all popular brands off-site, and leaving an opportunity for Keil; become the head brewer. With Brian leading the way for Bearhill, Wilson is right where he started more than 10 years ago and is now responsible for all the styles available on Last Best’s taproom menu, except for the Last Best IPA which still falls on Brian.

We recall drinking the very first Last Best beers (Show Pony Aussie Pale Ale) a decade ago when a rookie Wilson was just beginning to learn about brewing and working with head brewer Brian. Comparing our memories of Last Best beer from back then to their beers today reveals a remarkable transformation. Respectfully to the brewers, since 2013, our palates, understanding, and appreciation for the craft have evolved over time so sampling the same beer today, may have left a different impression as it did back then when we enjoyed the beer, but it didn't knock our socks off. Then about five years ago, when Wilson was likely becoming more hands-on but still learning, we met some friends at Last Best. A few of the beers were great, while a couple others felt a bit unbalanced and rough around the edges for us. Today, after a recent visit, we are delighted to report that Wilson, now the official head brewer, has thoroughly impressed us with his exceptionally well-crafted creations.

Beer samples at last best brewery

Moreover, realising that we've been following Wilson’s journey over the last ten years without even knowing it is fascinating. His growth and comprehension of the art are evident in a wide range of very well made beers and Wilson’s path is proof that becoming a skilled brewer is not something that can be achieved overnight. It requires years of learning, making mistakes, tweaking, trials and errors, and most importantly, passion, hard work and commitment to the craft.

Recently, we were invited to Last Best by our friends at Brewery Touries, who were shooting a new TV show pilot about beer and visiting local breweries. They asked us to come along and share some information about beer history and what to look for when judging beer styles. Although we are not officially certified as judges, we are enrolled in the BJCP and Cicerone programs and always enjoy talking about and sampling beer, so of course, we said yes!

First up, our pick for Beer of the Week: Grain Surfer Pilsner. There are two main styles of Pilsner—Czech and German. The word Pilsner comes from Pilsen, the city in the Czech Republic where it was first made. Czech Pilsners are light, crisp, and well-rounded with a slight bready flavour and smooth bitterness from Saaz hops. German Pilsners are similar but use Hallertauer hops, giving them a more prominent hop character and stronger bitterness. Although our sample was named "Pilsner" and was crisp, dry, not very bitter, and bready like a Czech varietal, it also had a hop content more akin to a German Pils. So, which one is it? Neither! Last Best calls this a Prairie Pilsner with a West Coast vibe, which makes perfect sense. It’s about creativity in brewing as much as it is about staying true to the originals, and Last Best combined a classic style that pays homage to its roots with local ingredients to create a well-crafted beer that we thoroughly enjoyed.

TV crew at Last best

Other tasty highlights from our visit included the Dirty Bird Black Lager, which contained all the right elements for the style. The Cloud Hunter Hazy Pale Ale was bang on, as was the Tokyo Drift IPA and the classic Last Best IPA #1, which is still brewed by Brian.

To be fair, each of the styles we sampled were practically perfect, properly balanced, and thoroughly enjoyable. More importantly, for us as beer fans and individuals, our minds were changed on what we thought their beer was all about. We have no reservations about visiting them again and raising our glasses with the utmost respect for what both Wilson and Last Best have accomplished.

Beer samples at Last Best Brewery

Here's to ten more years!

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Jun 03
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