Medicine Hat taps into Alberta’s craft beer craze

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In front of me, on a polished long table in a refurbished industrial building on the outskirts of Medicine Hat, sits a piece of wood cut in the shape of the province of Alberta. The five holes in the board are filled with small glasses of beer — there’s a porter, a seasonal hefeweizen, an IPA, a lager, and a delicious concoction labeled “blood orange ale.” I sip the beers from light to dark and every single one of them is thoroughly enjoyable and packed with unique flavour.

This is the scene at the Medicine Hat Brewing Company, one of two craft breweries operating in the city. Built on the site of a short-lived brewery of the same name that opened in 1912, MH Brew Co. is a family-owned and operated business that launched in late 2016 in response to the craze for craft breweries in Alberta and beyond. The beer is all brewed on site, with a large tasting room at the front where patrons can sip on a pint, sample any of the on-tap beers as part of a flight, buy beer by the can, or fill up their growlers.

Treat yourself to delicious brews while exploring the city of Medicine Hat. Plan your adventure.

“It’s still a new thing to Medicine Hat. The whole province was exploding with craft beers,” says Brennan Vancuren, who is part of the MH Brew Co team along with his brother and his parents. “Our brewmaster [Mitch Dalrymple] has close to 20 years of craft brewing experience and 11 of that was as a head brewmaster. So I think that kind of sets us apart, he’s just really good at making smooth, clean beers that people enjoy.”

Many of MH Brew Co’s beers are named after places and people with historical significance. That Medicine Hat pride has also made its mark on the city’s other craft brewery, Hell’s Basement, named for Rudyard Kipling’s famous quote about Medicine Hat's natural gas reserves. Founded by six beer-loving friends, Hell’s Basement’s brewmaster is a self-described “hop freak” from the world’s craft beer capital, Oregon, so unsurprisingly, the IPA reigns supreme at Hell’s Basement. That said, the brewery’s pilsners, lagers, and other ales all hold their own, as do seasonals like the Ryes Against the Machine rye ale and the juicy Fruit Bat Blueberry.

Hell's Basement Beer
Photographer: Elizabeth Chorney-Booth

Like the MH Brew Co, Hell’s Basement boasts a clean and comfortable tasting room, but lined with growlers from around the continent and other beer memorabilia. Kids are welcome (MH Brew Co is 18+) and can indulge in a glass of on-tap root beer and amuse themselves with one of the board games on hand.

Part of the charm of visiting a working brewery is peeking into the brew house and learning how the beer is made. Both MH Brew Co and Hell’s Basement offer brewery tours, but for those who want to make a day out of exploring the breweries, Tourism Medicine Hat also offers a Medicine Hat Brewery Tour, which includes beer flights and tours of both breweries. Visitors can learn how grains are magically transformed into tasty beer, get a look at professional brewing equipment, and ask brewmasters how variations in the process change the flavour of the beer. You might even get a peek at some of the seasonal brews that are in the works.

After visiting the breweries, the tour ends at the local Industry Pub, which carries beers from both breweries on tap so that guests can revisit their favourite brew. Both large and small groups can be accommodated and tours can be set up by calling 1-800-481-2822.

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth’s top Medicine Hat must see and dos

Medicine Hat is a fun to visit — whether you’re coming east from Calgary, south from Edmonton, north from Lethbridge, west from Regina, or even from further afield. It’s a reasonable and relaxing drive and there’s plenty to see and do. The locals are friendly, and there’s loads of natural sunshine.

Here are my tips to get the most out of Medicine Hat, especially if you’re travelling with the family:

  • Medicine Hat is famous for its sunshine, so be sure to get out and enjoy the weather at one of the City’s parks, whether it’s just throwing a Frisbee around at the downtown Riverside Veterans’ Memorial Park or a trail walk along the river at Police Point Park.
  • Medicine Hat is a caffeine-addict’s paradise, with six independently owned coffee shops in town. If ice cream is more enticing, don’t miss the classic Swirls ice cream stand on the corner of Division Avenue and 4th Street.
  • Downtown is where it’s at in the Hat. Medicine Hat has a beautifully preserved historic downtown full of brick buildings (some still painted with advertisements from days gone by) that are now home to local shops, cafés, and other services.
  • No trip to Medicine Hat is complete without a stop at Medalta Potteries. This beautiful old factory now operates as a museum, a public gathering space, and a contemporary art gallery.
  • Be sure to catch some of Medicine Hat’s food trucks, either on the street or at a special event. During the summer, there’s a running Food Truck Festival on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Medicine Hat Visitors Centre (near the giant tepee).

For more information about Medicine Hat, check out their official website.

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