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.
“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.
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.