During the mid to late 1990s, Canada was facing a significant recession, and this recession was also affecting Canada’s most profitable industry — the beer industry. Since Labatt and Molson either bought out many of their competitors, or had too many breweries in too many communities, they were losing money on brewing beer, so something had to be done: close most of the breweries! On the prairies, the Labatt and Molson breweries in Winnipeg were shut down to move distribution to Edmonton or Calgary. At the time, my aunt Darice said that Labatt had to shut down their doors because my mom wasn’t drinking enough Labatt Lite (my mom’s favourite beer at the time). The after-effects of Molson and Labatt closing down in Manitoba led to the creation of Fort Garry Brewing, which opened in 1994 following the closure of the Molson Fort Garry brewery in 1990 after a merger with Carling O’Keefe. In Saskatchewan, a similar swap happened, with the O’Keefe brewery in Saskatoon facing closure due to the merger in 1989; but instead of letting the brewery close down and start all over again, a group of 16 employees who worked at the O’Keefe brewery bought the brewery from Molson and continued to operate it independently every since.
Fort Garry and Great Western have become prairie success stories, continuing with production even after they were faced with closures of their own. To this very day, if you visit pubs in urban Manitoba or Saskatchewan, you are very likely to find pubs or restaurants with Fort Garry or Great Western beer on tap.
As a tribute of Great Western Brewing’s success in Saskatchewan since 1989, they created the Original 16 Pale Ale, an ale that celebrates the spirit, determination and commitment to quality of their original 16 founders who saved the brewery from closure when their original owners wanted to close it to move brewing a province over.
Original 16 Pale Ale is your a classic prairie pale ale that uses locally grown prairie barley, various flower hops to give it a light bitterness to it and is aged for seven days before being chilled at 1.5 C for 24 days (minimum) to give it the best flavour.
So how does it rank to my taste buds? Pouring it in your standard beer glass, it has a pale golden straw appearance, lots of micro-carbonation (Ha! Molson M, you didn’t create that!) and a centimetre thickness of off-white creamy foamy head. I’ve been staring at this beer for 30 minutes now and the foam isn’t going down — when a beer has a good amount of foam retention, you know that this is a quality beer.
The aroma of Original 16 gives me a standard Canadian pilsner/pale lager scent, smells like fresh cut barley, straw, a bit of corn and a hint of grass. Tasting the Original 16, it doesn’t fare much better, it has notes of straw, corn, a hint of lemon and grass, not that flavourful. This your typical prairie pale ale or lager that you expect from a large brewery like Molson or Labatt, there’s nothing special about it, no bitterness in flavour from the hops, no kick from the yeast, it’s averagely prairie-like.
Considering Saskatchewan has an incredible booming spirits and beer industry with companies like Paddock Wood Brewing, Lucky Bastard Distillery, Bushwakker’s Brewpub and Last Mountain Distillery, you would think that Great Western Brewing would be focusing more of their energy on craft beer lagers and ales — like their counterpart Fort Garry in Winnipeg is, but unfortunately, Great Western only seems to be interested in the Original 16 line and Brewhouse. Then again, if you prefer the Manitoban Caesar which consists of Clamato and beer, Brewhouse and Clamato is the preferred choice by most of my friends. I just wish Great Western would invest in new styles of beer, experiment, just like Fort Garry has been doing for the past three years — it would bring in new beer drinkers for a change.
New beer releases:
Flying Monkeys: The Chocolate Manifesto Triple Chocolate Milk Stout
Flying Monkeys is one of the most over-the-top breweries in all of Canada, but every time they release a product, such as Barenaked Ladies Imperial Chocolate Stout or City and Colour Imperial Maple Wheat Ale, you’re always guaranteed a "party in your mouth" beer. At $15 for a 750ml bottle, it’s quite pricey, but Flying Monkeys’ beer is one brewery that’s guaranteed to raise eyebrows and show that beer isn’t all about lagers and ales. $15.49/750ml bottle — share this with a friend or 2 as it is 10 per cent ABV (alcohol by volume).
Whistler Brewing Powder Mountain Lager
Voted as Whistler, BC’s preferred lager, described as crisp as a moonlit night, cool as a mountain stream and clear as a howl at midnight. Best paired with nachos, light cheeses and Mexican dishes. $2.53/330ml bottle.