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  • Writer's pictureCalgary Brewery Tour Guy

The Best Breweries in Alberta by YYCTOURS

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

Throughout the course of a year, there are numerous beer award competitions held all over the world. The majority of these events rely on the style guidelines as set forth by the Beer Judging Certificate Program "BJCP", and are evaluated by a group of certified judges from the BJCP. Each event has various style categories that breweries can enter and which are always announced well in advance, allowing time for those breweries to create their best versions for submission. Not every brewery enters every competition, but for those who do enter, there is no better way to get their name out there, and to see how their beer stacks up than to compete against their peers in the industry. It should also be noted that these types of competitions do nothing but good things for the industry as a whole by setting standards for what good craft beer should be.


Currently in Alberta, there are six major competitions that breweries most commonly enter; The World Beer Cup, The World Beer Awards, The Canadian Brewery Awards, The Canada Beer Cup, The Alberta Beer Awards, and the Alberta Beverage Awards. All of these platforms are recognized in the Alberta craft beer industry as reputable competitions, and even though they all give out accolades that breweries can use as bragging rights, not all are the same.


Today the YYCTOURS Calgary Brewery Tours team breaks down the six big award competitions accessible to Alberta breweries, and not only lets you know who came out on top as the best breweries in Alberta, but also takes a look at each competition, and what goes on behind the scenes.


Table of Contents


Entering Competitions

Each of the award ceremonies announce, in advance, the style categories that they will be judging. Most are standard at every event such as German Style Pilsner, or Dark or Brown Ale, but some competitions, generally the local ones, will add special categories such as "All Alberta or All Canadian Ingredients"


These contests will set up consolidation points across the country or province where breweries can ship their beer to, so that it can make its way to the final destination, the judges table.


JUDGING

The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), is recognized around the world as the certifying body for the judging of beer and other fermented products. Founded in 1985 by a group of Colorado home-brewers as a way to judge their own local competitions, they now span across more than 60 countries and have more than 9000 active members. Judges become certified through a series of very thorough and difficult exams that cover the BJCP style guidelines, an 86 page collection of more than 120 different beer styles that cover the technical aspects of brewing each style, its ingredients, its history, what it should and should not taste like and overall judging procedures. The Guidelines are accompanied by a 79 page study-guide on all things scientific about beer, that prospective judges must understand so that they can identify not only what makes a good beer of that style, but what may have gone wrong in a beer in order to pass that wisdom off to brewers looking to improve their recipes. Judges are also ranked based on their examination scores and can increase their level from Apprentice, to Recognized, to Certified, to National, to Master and to Grand Master through the accumulation of judging experience at events. Like the breweries that enter competitions, judges also must apply to act as judges. Event organizers will then select the best judges available for their competition. Most of the time, beer award ceremonies do not pay the judges for attending, and any would-be-judges have to pay for their own hotel, travel, food etc. Some of the larger competitions, like the World Beer Cup, do offer a small per-diem and other perks for judges.


Judges will use their education and expertise to carefully evaluate, and award, a Gold, Silver and Bronze in each category, as well as a Best in Show, which is the 'best' overall beer from all the categories combined.


THE COMPETITIONS


THE WORLD BEER CUP


The world beer cup logo








The World Beer Cup is perhaps the most prestigious craft beer award ceremony in the industry. Founded in 1996 by the Brewers Association, this event is commonly referred to as the ' Beer Olympics". The annual event which coincides with the Craft Brewers Conference, receives thousands of entries, features more than 100 categories and 200 judges every year. Here is a video from the Craft Brewers Association.




THE WORLD BEER AWARDS

world beer awards logo







The World Beer Awards are a branch of the World Drink Awards, organized by thedrinksreport.com, an online resource for the alcohol industry. This competition evaluates all types of spirits (i.e. gin, vodka, tequila etc.) , wine, cider and beer and has been running for 16 years. Although this event is not run by an official brewery related body, it is still recognized as a top-honour to receive a nod.


THE CANADIAN BREWERY AWARDS

Canadian Brewing Awards and conference logo







The CBAC's (Canadian Brewery Awards and Conference) is organized annually by TAPS media, a Houston based company with operations in Canada. This national event was until recently, Canada's only country wide beer competition. Since 2000, the CBAC has been holding this event in June, which sees hundreds of breweries from across the country compete in about 50-60 categories that are judged by BJCP certified members.


THE CANADA BEER CUP


Canada Beer Cup logo








In only its second year, the Canada Beer Cup, organized by the Canadian Craft Brewers Association, has managed to stand out as the foremost national beer competition in Canada. Head judge, Stephen Beaumont, is perhaps the most recognized beer judge in Canada, and one of the top in the world. When Stephen, the author of 'Will Travel for Beer' and co-author of the 'World Atlas of Beer', was approached by the CCBA to be the head judge, he agreed, but only on several conditions. One was that he got to pick the judges, two was that they judged beer in glassware and not plastic like many competitions, and three, that he got to create a category called 'Canadian Grain Forward Beer'. At the October 2023 awards, Mr. Beaumont got all of his wishes as he invited high level beer judges from Chile, Brazil, the US, and Canada to evaluate hundreds of craft beer entries from across the country, and they did so using glassware.


THE ALBERTA BEER AWARDS

Alberta beer awards logo







The ABA's are the province's leading craft beer awards. Organized by the Alberta Brewers Association, this contest coincides annually with Alberta Beer Week and the Alberta Craft Brewing Convention. Using BJCP certified judges, this contest see's more than 500 beer entries across nearly 60 categories.


THE ALBERTA BEVERAGE AWARDS


Alberta beverage awards logo and what are they







The Alberta Beverage awards are an annual contest put on by Culinaire magazine. This publication focuses on Alberta's food and drink scene and their event happens every July in Calgary. It is judged by a collection of buyers, retailers, influencers, and other industry professionals. The ABev's see a lot of entries each year, and only around 1/3 end up receiving an award.



THE TOP ALBERTA BREWERIES


Not every brewery enters every competition. The following is a tabulation of awards won in 2023 by Alberta Breweries at the World Beer Cup, World Beer Awards, Alberta Beer Awards, Alberta Beverage Awards, Canadian Brewery Awards and Canada Beer Cup.


HONOURABLE MENTION

Stony Slope brewing was named as Alberta's new brewery of the year by Calgary Brewery Tours.

One of our favorite breweries in Calgary right now received the honour of being named Alberta New Brewery of The Year. We reviewed Stony Slope Brewing here and had nothing but great things to say.


Stony Slope Brewing also took awards for: King's Gambit Imperial Porter (Silver in Porter), Aldona Keptinis-Lithuanian Farmhouse Ale (Bronze in Other flavoured Beer) and Osmotar Sahti-Finnish Farmhouse Ale (Gold in Farmhouse Ale).



6th Place

a list of awards won by Born Brewing and Wild winds brewing in Alberta by Alberta brewery tours


Wild Winds Brewery, a contract brewery in Calgary, are fairly new to the game. They really did well for their first year by collecting 1 Canada Beer Cup gold for Wildflower Belgian Blond, which also won a Silver Alberta Beer Award. At the ABA's, Snow Eater Stout took silver and Zephyr Table Saison took bronze while also winning Best in Class at the ABev's.


Our good friends at Born also won 5 awards. Gold at the CBA's for Get Lucky Lager, (a beer that wins a lot of awards), and 4 ABA's for Easy Rider (gold) and Get Lucky (silver), Blanca Peak -Porter Aged in Rum Barrels (bronze) and Bow Falls NEIPA (bronze).



5th Place

a list of the awards that Cold garden beverage company, Medicine hat brewing and Two Pillars brewery have won in Alberta by calgary brewery tours

Two Pillars is another great Calgary brewery that we really enjoy. You can see our review of Two Pillars and learn a little about Belgian beers here. In 2023, they took home a silver for Two Pillars Dark Strong and a bronze for Two Pillars Pale at the CBA's. They also won 5 Alberta Beer Awards for Two Pillars Dark Strong (silver), Two Pillars Pale (bronze), Two Pillars Wit (silver) , and Two Pillars Blonde won a gold in its category, and a bronze Best in Show.


Medicine Hat Brewing Co has also had a very good year on the award scene. In 2023, at the ABA's they won bronze for Woolfrey Milk Stout, gold for Finlay Crossing American Pale Ale, and silver for Reaper of Death (a Double Imperial IPA). At the Canada Beer Cup they gathered one of each gold, silver and bronze for Sest Pivo Czech Style Pilsner, the Woolfrey Milk Stout and Lagerfeuer Rauchbier respectively. Finally, 1 Canadian Brewery Award gold was collected for Year 4 Baltic Porter.


Calgary favourites Cold Garden Beverage Company had a great year winning seven awards. At the Canadian Brewery Awards, they won a bronze for Dandelion's blonde, and bronze for This Must Be the IPA, both those beers also received an Alberta Beverage Award. Then at the Canada Beer Cup they took gold for All-Nighter Vanilla Cappuccino Porter and at the ABA's a bronze for Dandelion's Blonde and silver for Red Smashed in Buffalo Jump.


4th Place

a list of awards won by Cabin Brewing and Meta brewing in Alberta by Calgary beer and brewery  tours

New to the scene is Meta Brewing Corp who have just gotten their brewery operational. Before that they were consignment brewing around Calgary. At the CBAC's, Meta won two golds for both Spectrum Oatmeal Stout and Celestial Canadian Wheat. At the Canada Beer Cup, they won two bronzes for the same beer. At the Alberta Beer Awards, they won gold for Dynamic Double IPA, which also won an Alberta beverage award, along with Nucleus NEIPA, Hexagon Honey Brown and Spectrum Stout which won Best in Class.


Perennial favourites, Cabin Brewing of Calgary, also had a great year. At the Canadian Brewery Awards they won a silver for Sunshine Rain and bronzes for Fuego and Chapter 4. At the Canada Beer Cup they won gold for Retrospectum and silver for Chapter 4 under wood influenced category. At the Alberta Brewery Awards, Cabin took silver for Sunshine Rain, Cloud Nectar and Super Saturation, and a gold with Luminosity.



3rd Place

a list of all the brewery awards won by Village brewery in Calgary by yyc beer tours

With a total of 10 awards this year, the team at Village Brewery, who we reviewed here, took 3rd place. At the Canadian Brewery Awards they won gold for Binge Watch, a beer we selected as beer of the week this past summer. At the Alberta Beer Awards they saw a gold for Village Wit, bronze for Village Blacksmith, and a silver for CRFT non-alcoholic Pale Ale. At the Abev's they won for Pet Peeve, Binge Watch, Alter Ego , Misheard Lyrics and Blacksmith which won best in its class. Their biggest honour perhaps came in the form of a World Beer Award for Best Run in the Amber/Dark Kellerbier category. With Town Square in Edmonton, Village was the only Alberta brewery to win on the world stage.


2nd Place

a list of the awards that Establishment brewing company has won in 2023 by Calgary brewery tour

What can't the Establishment do, in 2021 they were both Canadian Brewery of the Year, and Alberta Brewery of the Year. Now in 2023, they collected 11 awards across the 6 major competitions, the biggest being named 2023 Alberta Brewery of the Year AGAIN. The Canadian Brewery Awards saw them win silver for My Best Friends Girl Kolsch, and bronze for Faithful Guide Baltic Porter. At the Canada Beer Cup they took a gold for Pocket Calculator Doppelbock, which we wrote about in our Calgary Brewery Tour review of the Establishment. At the Alberta Beer Awards "I left My Wallet in El Segundo" won Best in Show, and gold in its category 'Other flavoured beer', while Chaise Longue and Best Friends Girl both won gold and took accolades at the Beverage awards along with Gold Past Life.


1st Place

a list of awards won by the top brewery in alberta - blindman brewing by YYCTOURS beer tours

With a total of 12 awards overall, and Best in Show wins in every competition, Blindman Brewing wins as best Alberta's best overall Brewery in 2023, an honour they received at the 2022 Alberta Beer Awards when they were named Alberta Brewery of the Year. In 2023 they took home 5 Canada beer Cup Awards in the form of 2 golds for 24-2 Brett Stock Ale and Dwarf Sour Cherry, which also won silver Best in Show and a silver for Pereplutt Barley Wine and a bronze for Spons. At the Canadian Brewery Awards, Blindman Brewing won 2 golds for their barley Wine and Dwarf Sour Cherry, which again won Best in Show. At the Alberta Beer Awards they collected a silver Best in Show and a gold for Cascadian Double IPA, a silver for the popular Dwarf Sour Cherry Saison and a silver for 24-2 Brett Stock Ale. It should be noted they also won acknowledgment as Community Builder of the Year.


Blindman Brewery is the best overall brewery in Alberta for 2023 by Calgary Brewery tours


At this years Alberta Brewery awards there were a lot of new comers to the scene. Edmonton's Monolith swept a category and faired well in others while Calgary's One For The Road won big in the non-alcoholic category. Next year promises to be a great competition.


If you would like to visit any of the breweries we wrote about here in a Calgary Craft Brewery Tour, please do let us know.


Cheers





















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Oct 30, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

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