Beer Of The Week: Big Rock Brewery's Honey Brown Lager

This weekend the Canadian Football League season culminates with a game called the Grey Cup, in its 100th incarnation. A team called the Stampeders, out of Calgary, is visiting Toronto to play the Argonauts. In rough American equivalence this is Dallas against New York, a big game with a dose of civic grudge match. I'm in Calgary this week and you simply cannot escape the big news that the Royal York hotel in Toronto, after initial resistance, allowed a horse (the Stampeders' mascot) to traipse into the lobby, reviving a stunt the Calgary delegation first pulled in 1948.

To get a sense of the moment, you must see the photos on this National Post story. Beyond that, the paper gets the yarn:

[B]efore the craven capitulation by the Eastern elite, it was a resumption of the old battle between East and West. In the 64 years that Calgarians have been riding horses into hotels, the only problems have come in Ontario. Ottawa, in 2004, required negotiations—"We got in, after much struggle," said Mr. [Angus] Watson [a former Calgary Grey Cup Committee chairman]—and in 2007, the horse was turned away from the Royal York again. There was some feeling among the committee members this time that they could have snuck a horse in the back while making a show with one at the front, but it was decided they would go with one. It's not like the old days, anymore.

"My favourite one was years ago at the Royal Connaught in Hamilton," said Mr. Watson. "And we went into the hotel earlier in the day, and we were measuring the freight elevator, and some hotel guys came along and said, ‘What are you guys doing?' And we said, ‘We've got some gifts for the Premier, and we want to make sure they fit in the elevator.' And they said, ‘You're going to put a horse in there!'

"And we said, ‘You know what, you're going to be on the front page of every newspaper across the country, you're going to be on TV on the 6 o'clock news. Why wouldn't you want that publicity?' And he said, ‘OK.'

"And we put the horse in the elevator, and they'd just redone the whole ballroom, carpet and everything. And the horse crapped the whole way through."

Horseshit like that doesn't help Calgary's reputation as a cowtown. But let it be said for this city of a million souls wedged between the Rockies and the prairies: It ain't a bad beer town. A small brewery here called Village crafts some delicious beers, not least an India black ale called Blacksmith; rich with roasted Alberta barley and hops, it's an uncommonly smooth, accessible dark beer.

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Calgary's also home to Big Rock Brewery, which sports a longer lineup of beers. The best for my money is the Honey Brown Lager, named for one of the province's most famous products, along with livestock, oil and drug habits. The honey leaps out initially, then settles down into what the label calls "warm, dulcet tones" and what you might call a nutty, bready, rounded brown. Civilization and beer are inseparable. Brews like this demonstrate that Calgarians are not barbarians, despite their insistence on cavalcading across hotel red carpets and scaring the bejesus out of the unsuspecting janitors of Toronto.

Beer-game pairings
The 100th Grey Cup, for starters. The bee-friendly Steelers roll into Cleveland to play the Browns. Also on Sunday, the Spurs visit the Raptors—another matchup of Texas and Canada that will likely go in favor of Texas, the more ferocious of those two nations.