Day 280: Big Rock Beer – Alberta’s Delicious Medal Of Honor

originally published October 6, 2012

Many of my regular readers will remember that this website is sponsored by Rogue Ales, a fine purveyor of delicious delicacies out of Newport, Oregon. By ‘sponsored’, I mean that I receive no money for them, nor do they endorse anything I write or post. I do, however, write many of my articles through the hazy tint of their bottles, with the satisfying gurgle of meticulously brewed goodness slapping my liver around like a school bully.

But my loving relationship with Rogue is not exclusive. Rogue sees other drinkers and I see other breweries (though seriously guys, a sponsorship check here and there could change that). So when Ms. Wiki poured me a tall, frosty glass of a local brewery, I couldn’t resist shooting it back.

I need to be specific here – the Big Rock Brewery is located in Calgary, not Edmonton. It’s a three-hour drive, but I still consider this to be a local brewery since they appear to have more sponsorship presence at local events than any local beer-maker. They have made themselves the unofficial Beer of Alberta. And while we have some outstanding Edmontonian beer-fare (I’m looking at you, Alley-Kat), Big Rock holds a place close to my heart, and so they get a thousand words out of me.

(tragically written in the AM, hours away from my liberation from work and sobriety)

Back in the mid 1980s, when visionary intoxicatrist Ed McNally decided to start a brewery, there wasn’t much in the way of available beers in Alberta. Beer shelves were stocked with plenty of Molson and Labatt product, with a sprinkling of various other names like “Old Vienna” and “O’Keefe’s Extra Old Stock”. Corona was considered exotic. It was a dark time for beer lovers.

Hooking up with a former Heineken brewmaster named Peppy, McNally’s selection of craft beers was designed more for flavor than mass production. A year later, their competition helped them out.

The good people at Molson and Labatt went on strike, which meant an explosion of sales for Big Rock, and anyone else struggling to battle against the industry titans. By the time I could legally drink, it was more common to hear people ordering a Grasshopper at a bar than to hear them ask for a Molson Canadian.

But enough about the company’s history. Yes, they sponsor a lot of arts events, meaning at our city’s renowned Fringe Theatre Festival or Folk Music Festival you can only purchase Big Rock products. But that’s not important. As with most facets of life, it’s the beer that matters.

Traditional Ale, or ‘Trad’ as every bartender between the Rockies and the Saskatchewan wheat belt knows it, was the first Big Rock product I’d tried, and the one that drew me to the brand. This is a traditional English-style ale, and after it coats the inside of your skin with toasty-malt goodness, it will carry you like a clove of nutmeg on a luffa.

A few glasses of Trad and you’ll re-examine your position on global affairs. Girls won’t just look more attractive, they’ll appear to have better posture and possess a natural affinity for juggling. Trad contains caramel, and we all know that caramel holds more magic than any other dessert topping. Even Cool Whip.

One of my favorite summer drinks, Grasshopper Wheat Ale is usually served up with a wedge of lemon. Indeed, the chemical interaction between the citrusy bite of lemon and fruit-tinged refreshment of the beer creates what science refers to as ‘cerebral giddification’, or in layman’s terms, ‘a happy brain’. After two or three pints of Grasshopper, the entire world appears as if in sequins. People will speak to you, but all you’ll hear are euphonic penguin squeals. This won’t frighten you; you’ll like it.

Grasshopper may not change your life, but it will change your socks for you and inspire you to go out and buy some new stationary. If I was stranded on a deserted island and could only bring one type of beer with me, I don’t know which beer I’d choose, but I’d down a half-dozen Grasshoppers and talk it over with anyone who’d listen.

I remember when Warthog ale was released. It was the ugliest name for a beer we could buy – Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale didn’t exist in our sheltered little northern Canadian world. I seem to remember Warthog as being an IPA, then briefly a cream ale, but the only stuff I can find in my local beer store’s fridge is the brown ale. My memory may be a bit scrambled. Good beer can do that.

The mystical properties of Warthog are surprisingly few. Unless you look at the bottle.

Those cold, hypnotic eyes will break through your soul and leave you with two almond-shaped bruises on the back of your head. Stare too long and you’ll likely black out, waking up on a plane bound for some remote nation you’ve never heard of and which probably doesn’t even exist. Buy this stuff with caution.

Cashing in on the massive success of Bud Light Lime, Ed McNally wondered what a lime-infused lager would taste like if the base product wasn’t some chalky, flavorless, distant and estranged relative to actual beer. So he made his own Lime Lager.

Big Rock Lime will hit the back of your throat like a zeppelin colliding with a hot-air balloon transporting a shipment of confetti: gentle at first, then explosive and colorful. Except instead of hearing the anguished, doomed cries of the plummeting passengers you’ll experience the carbonated whoosh of the perfect warm-weather refreshment, tickling your Eustachian tubes and making your uvula twitch like an anxious school-boy at 2:59 on a long-weekend Friday.

You’ll be incapable of holding in a satisfied sigh after each sip, unlike the Bud Light Lime experience, which inevitably prompts someone to ask, “Did someone piss in a bottle of sprite and call it beer?”

I had to finish with this one.

Of all the droplets of all the beers I have sampled in my 38 years, none have warmed my essence quite as much as those which were dispensed from a bottle of McNally’s Extra. This strong Irish ale almost has a reddish glow – probably because the fiery power of a thousand distant suns fuels the gustatory orgasm contained within every bottle. Also, it might be the malt blend, I’m not sure.

At 7% alcohol by volume, McNally’s is not the ideal beer to calm the nerves before diving into some neurosurgery. It has a kick, a punch, and some kind of crazy Krav Maga move they only teach in the Israeli Armed Forces. The flavor is a virtual novel, including rich character development of all three kinds of hops, rising action, a fizzy climax as the beer embraces and seduces the back of your throat, followed by a textural denouement which will have you aching for an immediate sequel.

All this, and it’s not even noon yet. My belly is here at work, filled with the sour promise of coffee while my heart bundles up in my fridge at home, awaiting my return so that I may wave my flag of Albertan pride and crack open my first Big Rock of the day.

Again, still open to sponsorship money. Just saying.

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