Something’s brewing in Medicine Hat – craft beer scene
A ZenSeekers' road trip isn't complete unless the destinations include outdoor adventures, and culinary, learning and cultural experiences. Create your #BucketlistAB itinerary in Southern Alberta and come and stay a night and see a sight.
Take the brewery tour and learn about the city’s history, too
Written and photographed by Chris Istace
It’s been a few years since I lived in “The Hat” as we used to call it. So, when the chance came along to go back and experience Medicine Hat on a brewery tour, I was pretty excited. It would be interesting to see how much the city has changed. One thing’s for sure, there weren’t any craft brewers like Hell’s Basement Brewery and Medicine Hat Brewing Co around when I lived there. Today, they’re putting the small southern Alberta city on the international craft beer map.
So far, there are two brewers – and another coming soon – that have set up shop here, along with a pub featuring their beers. That’s enough to warrant a full on Breweries Tour.
Abby Czibere of Tourism Medicine Hat joined us for the tour, which can be done guided with your own vehicle or they can provide the transportation if you wish.
We hopped on the provided bus for the tour and were met with the delicious smell of fresh-baked goods. Abby opened a box of doughnuts from the local favourite McBride’s Bakery and we dug in and made short work of the all that sweetness. There’s something extra special about a fresh doughnut from an old-school bakery and it just happened to be International Doughnut Day, too.
As we licked our sticky fingers clean, the bus rolled up to Hell’s Basement Brewery. This brewery sure catches your attention from the street with its modern architecture and bold graphics. When you walk in the doors to the tap room, it’s obvious the brewery has a real sense of place, paying homage to the city’s history. Notably, the red bricks hearken back to its industrial heritage as a brick and clay-making centre, and of course, a photo of the famous World’s Tallest Teepee that you see as you enter the city.
Amie Weisgerber was our tour guide and led around the shining stainless-steel vats. My curiosity about the Hell’s Basement name was answered when she told us that it came straight from the mouth of author Rudyard Kipling in 1907 who wrote the Jungle Book. It’s a fascinating story that includes Kipling’s visit to Medicine Hat way back when. Amy quoted the unusual passage to us from the author who was invited to the city in 1910 after taking issue with one of the proposed alternate names, one of which was Gasburg. Amy quoted Kipling’s now famous quote: “This part of the country seems to have all hell for a basement, and the only trap door appears to be in Medicine Hat.”
Besides the cool history of the city, the other best part of the tour was sipping the four flight tasters with brewmaster Mike Gripp, who was happy to show us their new World Beer Cup Awards trophy. “We were one of only 14 breweries in Canada to win an award and the only one in Alberta” he said. Their rye beer, Ryes Against the Machine, won silver recently in the international competition.
That first brewery tour only made us want more, so we headed across the city to the new northwest area to the Medicine Hat Brewing Co., that was actually around in 1912. But the Temperance movement forced it to close until it reopened a couple of years ago. The family-run establishment popped onto the local beer scene in 2016 and has become not only a popular craft beer stop but also a restaurant.
What caught my eye was the detail of the restaurant and tap room design, with an industrial-ish look. Again, those red brick walls (you’ll see lots of it here thanks to the I-XL brick plant, around since 1886). The tin ceiling with ornate detail and the rich woods invite you to sit back and relax. The bar is home to one of the longest tap handle lineups I’ve probably ever seen.
The obligatory – and welcome – tasting flights set on a board the shape of Alberta, came to us as we sat in comfy chairs around a large table.
Truth told, I’m more of a cider guy, but with the large selection of beers I knew I’d find something I liked. Matt Los, who was with us on the tour, clearly had his Medicine Hat Brew Co. favourites. “I love the Gentleman’s Stout. It’s dark rich and has a hint of coffee.” From the big menu, he goes for the cauliflower steak and the fresh pretzel.
Getting into the groove of our tasting tour, we headed to our last stop, Industry Pub, which has the distinction of carrying both local breweries’ beers. It’s a chance to have a full size of your new, favourite brew and order something from its hearty menu. Must try: Industry Pub’s take on poutine, made with local potatoes, deep fried and smothered in cheese curds and home-made gravy. A pretty perfect match to that cold beer.
Stay tuned for the opening of the city’s third brewery, Travois Ale Works, opening soon, and another reason to hit The Hat for its “hoppy” side.
If You Go
Check into Tourism Medicine Hat to start planning your beer tour and other activities in the area.
Travel Alberta also has lots of great information about things to do and places to see in Medicine Hat.