Tapping the West: A Book Review
A tasteful book review on Scott Messenger's Tapping the West
What do you think of when someone mentions Alberta? Oil? Banff? Jasper? Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump? One of those ice hockey teams with the obnoxious fans? Probably one of those things but if you’ve been paying attention, you should be reminded of beer! But if you’ve had your head in the clouds the last 5 years and are clueless to the craft beer boom that has taken place in this province, then let Scott Messenger enlighten you! His comprehensive study on micro breweries in Alberta is a great little resource to bring you up to speed. Tapping The West is 270-odd pages of interesting facts and anecdotes about the Wild Rose Country’s adventures in brewskis. From the OG’s like Big Rock to the fresh faces like Analog Brewing, he covers a shit ton of breweries in a remarkably easy read. Of course, he can’t mention them all but I was impressed with what he was able to cover in less than 300 pages. So pour yourself a fine Albertan brew and let me tell you why this is worth a read!
Craft beer to me has always reminded me of another love of mine - punk rock. I’ve had fellow punkers scoff in my face for such a remark, exclaiming “What the fuck is punk rock about paying $20 for a 6 pack of beer?? I can get a 15 of Busch for $22!” Punk rockers are a frugal bunch and in some ways, I can relate. If I have the choice of spending $100 to see the Red Hot Chilli Peppers or $20 to see Lagwagon, it’s a no brainer for me - for a multitude of reasons! But I honestly have no qualms throwing down extra coins to support an Albertan brewery rather than lining the pockets of the Anheuser-Busch dickheads. I’m helping out Buddy down the road and he, in turn, can keep employing someone else then maybe they’ll spend their paycheck on one of my band’s CDs. (Honestly, please someone buy one. The dust is getting out of control!) But isn’t this a book review? Why are you yammering on about punk rock, Josh? Well if you turn to 135 in this book, you’ll see Matt Mercer-Slingsby, Dandy Brewing’s retail manager, refer to their original set up as “punk as fuck”. This statement appealed to me, and although I can’t speak to Dandy’s musical tastes, I can agree that a bunch of friends pooling their money together and making shit happen is certainly punk rock to me! I can say, however, with great conviction that Sea Change Brewing (not mentioned in this book) and Bent Stick Brewing (heavily mentioned in this book) both have ties to the punk rock world and I have the shirt to prove it!
Josh modeling his Bent Stick Black Flag shirt while showing off his Analog Brewing shades
Now let’s get into the contents of the book itself. As someone who is employed in this industry - for a year full-time and two years part-time before that - I soon discovered how many blindspots I truly had. While I may be more “in the know” than the average PBR destroying person in this province, I am far from an encyclopedia of knowledge. I was at least familiar with damn near every brewery mentioned, except my insight on the Monolith was miniscule at best (is it even a thing anymore?) but I certainly wasn’t privy to a lot of the backstories of the breweries. I can say, as a Central Albertan, it was really cool to hear from the founders of such mainstays as Troubled Monk and Blindman and even the Hamill Brothers, who I crossed paths with many times in my days hocking brews at Craft Beer Nation. While I was obviously aware of all these people, I didn’t know their stories and the trials and tribulations they went through to get to where they are today. While I don’t want to spoil anything, this industry is far larger and complex than hip taprooms and cute packaging. From the barley to the hops to the cutting edge technology we are seeing deployed, Alberta is killing it across the board.
Messenger mentions each community’s historic desire to house a local butcher, barber, baker, and brewer, and with the minimum brewing requirement laws being changed in 2013, the latter is making a much welcomed comeback. It’s so cool to see breweries popping up in towns like Innisfail, Sylvan Lake, Lacombe, and Rimbey, and in theory, every other small town could support their own as well. He discusses in detail how many of these have come to be, whether it be bureaucratic roadblocks in certain cities *cough-Edmonton-cough* or simply brewers with an unbridled love for their hometown. Whatever their reasoning may be, there is clearly a demand for craft beer outside of the larger centres of the province. That is not to say that you won’t find amazing beer in Calgary or Edmonton. Obviously, there are dozens of rad breweries in both cities; however, who would have predicted tasty beer being brewed right in Ponoka ten years ago? Not this guy!
To conclude, Tapping the West is an enjoyable read and speaking as a mid-range craft beer dude, I found it highly informative. If you are a beer nerd, you might not learn anything new but anyone with even a casual interest in the scene will dig this. Mr. Messenger has done his research and it pays off. I’m sure he disappointed those brewers who were omitted but for him to include them all, it would have been Stephen King Expanded Edition level piece of literature. And who the hell has time to write or read that? Probably lots of people, I guess, but with the rate of growth of the industry, he would not have been able to mention them all anyways! I whole-heartedly approve of this book and give it two brutal thumbs up!
Get your copy of the book at your local book store or here!