While I was at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon in the early 2000s, I was lucky enough to be introduced to the wonderful variety of the craft brewing movement by Paddock Wood Brewery. At that time, it only had a few different varieties but my roommate and I always enjoyed trying different beer: sometimes coffee flavours in the Black Cat that went very well on a winter evening; or possibly the chocolate flavours of the Bête Noire; or London Porter, each with a very different flavour. In the summer, the 606 Indian Pale Ale or Czech Mate was crisp and cooling. Since those days, Paddock Wood has added more beers, including some lambics made with bacteria that are tart to the palate but finish smooth. While there are other excellent craft breweries today, and I enjoy all of their beers equally, Paddock Wood was the first and has been instrumental in expanding what beer is to Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan produces an average of over 3,600,000 metric tonnes of barley every year. Only about 25% of that is high enough quality to be selected for malting. From those select barley grains, along with yeast and often hops, brewers make beer, one of the oldest beverages enjoyed by people. Over the past few years, Saskatchewan has quickly grown a craft brewery scene with more than ten already, and that number is surging.
“We have seen tourists coming to see our work for several years already,” says Paddock Wood owner and brewmaster Steve Cavan. “Craft brewing is very important not only for tourism, but I think general quality of life. I have had several new immigrants tell me that my beer made an otherwise dead, quiet city become interesting.”
Because of Saskatchewan’s ability to grow malting barley, you would think that it would have a history of many breweries. In reality, we have very few compared to the rest of the country. At the turn of the 20th century, there were some smaller breweries, but like the rest of the world, they were affected by prohibition. When that was repealed in the early 1900s, breweries around the world slowly amalgamated into a few large macro-breweries producing similar tasting beer for the masses, at a low cost. Since then, Saskatchewan has only had a few breweries but they were owned or contracted by larger companies. That was until the early 2000s when Paddock Wood Brewery opened in Saskatoon.
“I actually started out as a supply store to feed my hobby,” says Cavan. “Between 1995 and 2000 I ran a home-based business. In 2000, I took on a partner and opened a storefront which made custom brewed beer kits for people. In 2003 we discovered that making kits was illegal, so we got a permit to brew them. The permit also made us a brewery. So it happened by accident, really.”
Today, ancient and traditional beers are being reborn and the different styles are being pushed into new definitions of what a beer can be. It is now common to find traditionally-rooted beers that are aged for multiple years in barrels like wine and scotch, or brewed with wild yeast. The farmhouse saison, a traditional European beer almost lost to the ages, is one of the most popular beer styles. The same holds true about porters and even more obscure beers that were once thought to be lost in the mists of history. As brewmasters push the boundaries of what beer can be, they are moving back to being something that is sampled, trialed, and enjoyed.
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