TRADITIONAL BEER LINEUP GETS A FACELIFT
While I can’t say I grew up on Big Rock beer, mostly due to liquor laws prohibiting consumption by minors, being a born-raised-and-never-left Calgarian means I did grow up around their brews: my childhood friend’s father did all the original artwork for the labels and my Dad got me a pony keg of Warthog (still my favourite Big Rock beer, if a touch rarer on tap) for my 18th birthday (this is one of the few times I’ve been thankful to be born four days before Christmas because the beer was chilled by the three-foot snow drift on our patio). But then, somewhere between my 18th birthday and my late 20s, craft beer enthusiasts would say Big Rock lost its way. Focus shifted to forgettable, mass-produced lagers named after the kind of vermin you’d want cleared from your property. Some were quick to switch allegiances, while others held a torch — by torch, I mean pint glass — in hope of a return from the revamp.
At the launch of the latest Brewmaster’s Limited Edition, Fowl Mouth Extra Special Bitter (ESB), at the Drum and Monkey I sampled a pint of the earthy, slightly spicy take on an English standard and it holds up. Enough so that by the time I have reached newfound Big Rock CEO Bob Sartor on the other end of the pub, I have a second pint. Sartor also has a pint in his hand, further proof that he’s a force of change to bring Big Rock back to its Albertan roots.
“The first time I had a beer from Big Rock, I was out west for business,” recalls Sartor, “I thought, ‘Holy shit, it’s the Wild West!’ I went to a bar and asked for what was local, what was fresh. Bartender asked if I preferred light or dark beer and I said dark. I was given a Traditional. I didn’t even know what a Brown Ale was, but it’s still my favourite.”
Like the beer, this kind of attitude coming from a CEO is refreshing. “We are brewing so much different beer right now,” he continues enthusiastically. “Just today, Brewmaster Paul (Gautreau) and I drank a fantastically hopped IPA we made in our handle brewery.”
However, Sartor acknowledges that the brewery has a challenge ahead as “we were asleep for a long time and we want to tell Calgarians, Albertans and Canadians that we aren’t asleep anymore. That’s why you see the rebranding and the new beers we’re brewing.” Cheers to that.
Check out Big Rock’s rebranded lineup at your favourite liquor store.
By Spencer Brown
Images: Courtesy of Big Rock Brewery