Friday, December 24, 2010


The Calgary versus Edmonton (Edmonton versus Calgary?) rivalry is one of the cliches of Alberta life. The centre of government against the centre of business, the City of Champions versus the home of the '88 Olympics…. And now, there's a new showdown brewing: one city's Barley Wine up against the other's.

Barley Wine, if you must know, isn't really wine. It's a beer that's been brewed to the strength of wine (anywhere from 8 to 12 percent, although the higher potency seems more prevalent). Rich, intense beer that is heavy on the malt flavour (and also usually an accompanying sweetness). They're also a beer that can be cellared, and (reportedly - I haven't had the discipline to put one aside) improve with age.

What a weird ground for a beer rivalry.

Our combatants are Edmonton's Alley Kat Olde Deuteronomy and Calgary's Wild Rose Barley Wine. The names tell at least part of the story of these two brewhouses; Alley Kat is quirky and inventive, Wild Rose is solid and genre-defining. I like both breweries quite a bit - and as a Calgarian, spend more than a bit of time at the Wild Rose Taproom (Alley Kat sadly lacks such a venue, and is a two and half hour drive away to boot).

You'd expect that the Wild Rose Barley Wine would have a home ice advantage. But sadly, when the 2009 vintage unexpectedly (and briefly!) showed up on tap a few weeks ago, it was hampered by a common Wild Rose problem: being served way too cold. We ended up nursing our glasses of wine for about two hours, entirely so they'd warm up and release the beer's full range of flavours. Which was somewhat okay, as this is a very alcohol-y brew, not something you want to be knocking back in half an hour. But being served warmer would have made this much more enjoyable.

So, maybe the bottle of 2010 Olde Deuteronomy that I picked up would have the real home ice advantage, as I was able to serve it at a more agreeable temperature, direct from the cupboard and a half hour in the fridge. This one is more amber than the Wild Rose's deep brown colour, and more caramel malty in flavour.

These are both good beers, but the Alley Kat edges out the Wild Rose slightly. Perhaps more than slightly, if you start looking at cost per ml - Olde Deuteronomy runs about $4 for a 341ml bottle, while Wild Rose seems determined to price themselves out of market at over $10 for a 500ml bottle (when you can find it in stores).

But wait! As I was grabbing my bottle of Alley Kat for this review, another bottle caught my eye. A few years ago on a visit to Montreal, James Martin dragged me to an unassuming little brewpub whose beers I've since come to admire, Dieu Du Ciel. I grabbed their Solstice D'Hiver without realizing it was also a Barley Wine. So, thanks to my wandering eye, the French Canadians get to play a bit of interference in my Alberta showdown.

Dieu Du Ciel - like so many of their Quebecois counterparts - make mighty fine beer. They keep the alcohol content of their Barley Wine low, coming in at just 9%. This lets them play with flavours more - there are notes of fruit and hints of spice in this, and so the beer comes off as more complex and interesting - and just plain better, though all of these are good - than its Albertan peers.

So there you have it. If, given the choice of Edmonton or Calgary, choose Montreal.

Arif Web Developer

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