Update on July 5: Notes from our guest writer, Rachel Clark! See below.
Nothing rewards a gruelling long week of work like sitting down for a nice cold beer (or several) – so naturally, last weekend, we were inclined to get our beer on. Having heard about not one, but TWO beer-focused restaurants opening over the past weekend, we had to investigate. After an eventful day at the Calgary Comic Expo, Kent and I (along with our friend Steve) decided to head on over to the Craft Beer Market, which boasts over 100 beers on tap! There had been a lot of hype surrounding this place prior to opening, so we were eager to see what all the fuss was about. Unfortunately we missed the VIP/media opening (though my friend Tiff went – see her thoughts) so we we relegated to seeing it a few days later.
Upon entering Craft, I was immediately struck by the slick styling and vaulted ceiling, replete with polished pipelines that provided a clean yet industrial feel to the place. Being opening weekend, it was pretty packed, but we were still able to get a table immediately. Sadly, the upper floor beer hall was closed so we weren’t able to see what that was like, but I am imagining Oktoberfest-style benches and wenches in my mind.
The beer list is indeed very expansive, and impressively, all the beer is on tap (as opposed to in bottles or cans). There aren’t too many outrageously unique beers on the menu – you can actually find many, if not most of these beers on tap at various places around the city – but Craft must certainly have the most comprehensive compilation in YYC. Unfortunately, the actual selection of beers available on opening weekend was nowhere near what was shown on the menus – we were told that they were out of 46 of them, though judging by the hand-written lists that the waitresses were carrying around, they were probably out of more than that. Of course, it’s really no surprise – after all, Bottlescrew Bill’s is often out of many of their beers, and they only have to order bottles, not kegs! – but nevertheless I felt a little let down given the prominent proliferation of “OVER 100 BEERS ON TAP” advertisements.
In general, I got the feeling that Craft was off to a rocky start – exemplified especially in the service. Sadly, the service was rather atrocious – our waitress had to come back multiple times to take our first (and it turned out, last) beer order, and it took quite a while for our beers to come out on top of that. Given how long it took us to get our beers, we opted against ordering any food or additional drinks and decided to relocated to Wurst after downing our pints. Turns out, though, that you don’t need to order food to receive it, as servers delivered food to our table, TWICE! (unfortunately, it turns out that the dishes belonged to other tables, they weren’t just giving us free food).
Special Guest Blogger: Rachel Clark!
The Craft Beer Market took social media by storm – Twitter and FB were updated on a regular basis, building a fantastic enthusiasm in the Calgary community about the newest addition to our small collection of beer-centric venues. I was very excited to see the CBM – I like beer, and love the idea of a bar with great selection, paired menu items, and the opportunity to try new brews.
Opening night there was a line outside the door, and the people were queued up had actually RSVP’d. But since invitations were offered to anyone who subscribed to the newsletter, I’m not surprised there was some overflow. Once we got in, the first impression was big, bright, and shiny. The draught lines run across the ceiling down to the bar, making the 104 beers on tap the focus of the space. The room is huge, divided into separate levels for restaurant and bar; high ceilings emphasize the open floor plan and dark wood furnishings, so overall the place has a very strong impact. It’s not quite as cozy as I might have hoped, but it’s probably perfect for being sandwiched between Tantra (now Mansion) and The Whiskey.
Ordering at the bar was an adventure, since the bartenders were as new to the beer and payment systems as the guests; but opening nights are NEVER perfect operations, and no one looked too stressed out. Ranging from 6-10 dollars for .25L – .5L – around 12-16oz – the beer is not the cheapest pint you can find in the city (a true pint is actually 20oz, for the record), but not much worse than any other downtown bar.
I had the House Rye Ale, and my friend had the Mill St. Lemon Tea Beer. The House Rye has the same ‘house flavour’ as Big Rock beers, but apart from that I had to keep sipping just to remind myself what it tasted like – very forgettable. The Lemon Tea was a compromise after they didn’t have the first two brews we asked about, but I’m sure they’ll have the full beer list stocked before Stampede! The selection doesn’t have anything too radical on tap, with familiar names and labels from bottled beer selection at several liquor stores in town. But Craft has almost every single branded glass appropriate to each beer they serve, which shows a fantastic attention to detail.
It was so busy, we actually left after our first drink, but the complimentary ‘Free Appetizer’ card on the way out will ensure another visit at a later date. Again, because of the crowds, we chose not to order any food or snacks, so unfortunately I can’t say anything about the kitchen’s prowess from this visit.
As a beer aficionado, I’ll admit my biggest concern about the place is actually those big shiny lines themselves. The Brewer’s Association recommends cleaning draught lines no less than every 14 days – but considering that every clean you lose 3-6 pints per line, it’s a common money-saving measure to push back the schedule just a bit. The only problem is that after two weeks of not cleaning lines, beer starts to go off. Also, many craft beers have higher concentrations of protein and yeast debris, which means that lines get ‘dirty’ faster. For reference, CBM’s website claims 150L of beer in the lines – that’s over 300 glasses for every time they clean, translating to a minimum loss of ~$2,625 (retail price) worth of beer every cleaning. So the question becomes, does your bar spend the extra cash on keeping things clean, or do they leave the beer a little longer than ideal to save you some money at the till?
A second problem is the actual shelf life of a tapped keg of beer – it’s usually no more than 30 days, and often much less for craft unpasteurised products. There are usually 30-90 servings of beer in a keg, depending on the volume of the glasses and the volume of the keg. So with 100 beers, they’ll need to sell around 6.000 glasses of beer in a month just to make sure that the turnover is high enough to keep things fresh. That’s working under the assumption of equal opportunity consumption; that every beer is ordered just as often as their neighbour. As opposed to having your reliable Guinness, Keith’s, and Sam Adam’s drinkers whom will not likely be chugging down Delerium or Fruli anytime soon. To be fair though, Craft has a capacity of something like 300-350 people, so they might not have that much difficulty finishing kegs.
I hope that the Craft Beer Market experiences great success. I’d love to have a place in the city that has beer pairing nights, a weekly cask ale, and a focus on craft products and beer education. However, I have this sinking feeling that the whole place has been set up by some very talented marketing individuals (refer to their twitter activity for examples), instead of beer enthusiasts. As for me, I will hope for the best, and probably visit again soon to taste the food – but any beer I drink will be coming from a bottle (though one of their mottos is that they don’t carry bottles – everything is on tap! –Richard).
It’s unfortunate that things didn’t go too smoothly on our first visit, but the extensiveness of the beer menu and the call of the beer hall make it likely that I’ll go back in the future (hopefully after they iron out the wrinkles). It should also be noted that the beer here is not cheap – there’s a premium to be paid to have some of these beers on tap vs. bottled, though the glasses/pints are slightly larger than your typical bottle so perhaps it isn’t as bad as it looks on a dollar per volume basis.