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Aly Gulamhusein/the Gauntlet

It's an ale of a good time!

Calgary International Beerfest brews festivities for the senses of connoisseurs and novices alike

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Beer is humankind's oldest prepared beverage. It is undoubtedly a major part of many cultures and some hypotheses about the origins of agriculture point to beer as the main driving force behind choosing to cultivate grains. Through the constant experimentation and exploration of those brewing it, beer has become the world's most widely consumed alcoholic beverage. Acting as a tribute to this important and popular beverage, the Calgary International Beerfest explores the rich and diverse wold of fermented malts.

This year's Beerfest was the largest one yet. Attendees were able to taste over 200 different brews from around the world, all while supporting the Autism Aspergers Friendship Society. For die-hard beer enthusiasts, brew-masters from far and wide were available to discuss the finer points of their concoctions, as well as the history of their particular beer-crafting styles.

For casual beer fans interested in learning more, there were many workshops. Guests were able to sample everything from imperial stouts to India Pale Ales.

"There are no tickets involved, so I can get them to try darker or hoppier [more earth or grassy-flavoured] beers that they might not go out and try. There are so many great beers out there and so many new ones coming into Alberta from other provinces," said Michele Lowney, head brewer at Canmore's Grizzly Paw Brewing Company and one of the experts hosting a workshop.

There was certainly a lot to sample. While larger brewing companies only offered one or two options at the tap, smaller local breweries and international craft breweries offered a wider selection. The possibilities were overwhelming for those who weren't sure where to start.

"You should try flavours that you know you like already," suggested Lowney. "If you are a wine drinker and you like heavy reds, then maybe stick to some of the darker beers. If you're more into alcopops [and] fruity wines, try some of the lighter beers, like the honey meads, the raspberries or the pilsners."

Other workshops focused on how to appropriately pair beer with foods. Many of the workshops focused on beer and cheese pairings, with free samples, of course.

"Typically, what a cheese does to your mouth when you're eating it is [coat] your mouth. The bubbles in the beer cleanse your palate," explained Coralie Coates from the Agropur Fine Cheese Division.

"And [the Trappist order of] monks can't be wrong. They make cheese and they make beer, so there you go!"

The great variety of Beerfest events were popular with those who attended them.

"They go beyond just regular beer tasting," said Brandon Peterson. "They give you more information about the flavour and history."

"Holy shit, this cheese is good," added Peterson.

Participation and learning were the main focus of the smaller breweries. Bigger breweries like Boxer and Mountain Crest had an obligatory presence and relied on half-naked women and frat-boy gimmicks to entice festivalgoers to visit their displays. Local microbreweries and international craft breweries instead engaged guests and out-competed their bigger-name competitors in both the judges' votes and People's Choice awards at the festival's conclusion.

The increasing prominence of smaller breweries isn't really a new phenomenon. They have been gaining speed since the 1980s, giving larger brew companies a run for their money. Instead of offering their customers generic, mild-tasting lagers like the more corporate beers, they've branched out to offer more exciting fare. From authentic ales and lagers for beer traditionalists to Star Trek-inspired "Romulan ale," there is something in the far-reaching and expansive world of beer for everyone.

"I'm definitely coming here again next year," said Chris Astle, an attendee.

"Fuck yeah, Beerfest!"

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