The granddaddy of them all

By Andrew Ross

Imagine yourself as a grain of barley. Along with millions of your non-gendered siblings, you are harvested from the sunny Southern Alberta field you grew up in. Many of your siblings are shipped off to become animal feed, baby food, or gourmet bread. Some poor bastards get mixed up with the wrong crowd (rice and corn) and end up as Blue or Canadian. But not you–you are one of the lucky ones. You are going to Calgary, where you will be crafted into beer by the folks at Big Rock.

The Big Rock brewery is basically a giant beer factory located in an industrial park. However, it is an awfully good-looking beer factory, and really puts the neighbours to shame (not that it’s difficult to do so, but the brewery is actually quite presentable). In fact, if they ever made a sequel to "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" where Willy Wonka was a brew master, they would film it at Big Rock. Even the insides of the buildings look a lot nicer than most of the places where the beer will eventually be consumed.

Today’s tour guide is an interesting sort of fellow. He looks like a beer man; indeed, one could easily picture him making beer in Victorian times, in medieval times or in any other period since the beginning of beer.

Thirty seconds into his opening spiel, while explaining that Big Rock imports their hops from the U.S., he comments on hops being a member of the cannabis family. He notes that they don’t grow hops in B.C. anymore because they’re all growing another member of the cannabis family, which they export to the U.S. This guy knew how to read his student audience.

We continue through the brewery, where we observe the application of micro-brew principles on a macro-brew scale. The money used to build Big Rock was evident throughout: everything was custom-built for Big Rock, and everything used the very latest technology.

They were the first brewery in North America to get the high-tech microfilter they now use. Each fermenting tank contains as many as 160,000 bottles worth of beer, and there must have been at least 60 tanks. I remember thinking that even the smallest room at Big Rock was larger than the entire Wild Rose Brewery. (I remember everything about the Big Rock tour, mostly because unlike the Wild Rose tour, we didn’t get any beer until after the tour.) At this point, someone in our group asks if there are any other Big Rock breweries. Our tour guide asserts that his was the only Big Rock brewery in the entire galaxy, and does so with the force of conviction. I just take his word for it.

We then cross into the bottling building. After the guide finishes telling us about the kegging apparatus, Mike (my boss) asks what the jets of water are that spray the kegs after they are filled. The guide answers that they are just to rinse off the tops of the inverted kegs. Mike giggles, and coins the term "keg bidet." An awkward pause ensues.

On the way to our final destination, the sampling room, we cut through the parking lot, where our guide pointed out the founder’s car. As he was explaining that the guy still comes in to work every day even though he’s 76 years old, a certain member of our group loudly remarks, "an Acura?" The resulting awkward pause was at least twice as awkward as the last.

Undaunted, we reached the beer-tasting at last. While reading the promotional literature over a choice selection of pints, someone comments on the high praise given to Big Rock by Michael Jackson in his book, A New World Guide To Beer. Our tour guide, who has been sitting quietly just outside of my field of vision, leaps into action. I am startled by his sudden burst of energy as he explains that the Michael Jackson in question was "an irreverent Englishman, not that American who plays with himself on-stage." Fortunately, I treat my shock with the three beers sitting in front of me. Ah, AGD, the shotgun nectar of the gods.


Leave a comment