The year 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of Edmonton’s Labatt plant, the only of the big boy breweries still operating in the province. The Edmonton plant isn’t much to look at – it is a great example of 1960s industrial design – boring, windowless and highly efficient and functional. The oversized beer can hanging off the south wall is not so much beautification as distraction. When it was built, the Edmonton plant was on the very outskirts of town, but today feels closer to downtown than the city boundary.
While I am well aware few readers of this site are regular consumers of their main products (they brew mostly Budweiser and Bud Lite at the Edmonton plant), I believe this is a significant milestone for beer in Alberta. That the plant is still running 50 years later is a good thing (for jobs, local economy, etc.) and it gives us an opportunity to reflect upon where we have come from and where we are going in beer. The early 1960s were the salad days for large, corporate brewing. Molson and Labatt were undisputed kings, with Carling and a couple of others tagging along behind. This was the height of the standardization period, where different labels slowly became more and more alike in flavour. The challenges of the health-conscious 1970s, the cost-cutting 1980s and the emergence of craft brewing in the 1990s had not yet appeared. I can totally sense the optimism of the Labatt execs cutting the ribbon and sipping on the first beer to come off the line. That we still have a direct link to those days
To celebrate the anniversary, the brewers at the Edmonton branch did up a one-time beer. They made only a single batch (but, of course, they make VERY large batches in that plant) and will be selling it around Edmonton for the next few weeks. It is called Maple Jubilee Lager, and as its name implies its feature is the addition of maple syrup.
I recently received a bottle of Maple Jubilee as part of a media kit, and opened it the other day to give it try. It is a dark gold beer, reminding me of Kokanee Gold in appearance. It develops a big, dense white head and looks quite effervescent. The aroma is maple syrup and, well, more maple syrup. They clearly succeeded in imparting a maple aroma to the beer. If I strain, I can pick up a light grainy sweetness underneath. The base beer seems very clean.
Much like the aroma, the initial taste is big, sweet maple syrup upfront. In the middle the sweetness is cut a bit by a grainy malt and a hint of sharpness on the tongue. I also find a little bit of caramel and nuttiness lurks in the background. The base beer is very clean and soft. To their credit, the beer tastes like it is an all-malt batch (no corn syrup). In the finish the maple syrup re-asserts itself with an earthy and fairly sweet character.
Wow, this is one maple forward beer. There is also the signature cleanliness in the beer. It is, as usual from this plant, technically flawless. However, the clean lager character works against them in the overall balance of the beer. To be honest, the beer could stand a bit of messiness to balance the maple syrup – more complexity, possible some fruity esters and a bit more of a bite (more bittering hops, possibly?) to counter the syrup sweetness. I quite like the earthiness the syrup infuses, it just needs something pushing back on it to create better balance.
Happy birthday, Labatt Edmonton! Here is hoping you continue to brew beer in this fair city for many more years to come.