Peter Skwaruk (Culinary Arts ’02) wasn’t always a craft beer lover. Before he signed on with Edmonton’s Craft Beer Market as its executive chef in November 2013, “I was kind of just a Kokanee and Canadian guy.” But the prospect of a new flavour palette appealed to him. “I thought it would be something I could challenge myself with.”
The transition wasn’t as smooth as he hoped. Each year, the company – which has made its name in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and Ottawa by focusing on unique beers produced by small, often independently owned breweries from around the world – organizes a “craft beer experience” trip for staff. One of the corporate chef offered Skwaruk a malty, hoppy brew called Gypsy Tears made by Vancouver’s Parallel 49 Brewing.
At first, its boldness was a shock. When he tried the beer again the next day, however, he found himself converted. “I’ve yet to not like a craft beer,” says Skwaruk, who now works to bring craft to the broader beer-drinking community. He’s a driving force behind monthly “brewmaster dinners” that match craft brews with 5-course meals and builds a modern menu that complements the bar’s more than 100 taps, all in an effort to expose palates, uninitiated or seasoned, to a world of beer styles.
“It’s pretty much a dream job,” says Skwaruk. For International beer day, we asked the chef for his pairing tips, summer beer recommendations and local breweries not to be missed.
Food and beer pairing tips
“You can find the right beer for any dish,” says Skwaruk, who cleaves to these rules of thumb:
- “The darker the beer, the richer the dish.” For example, he uses Village Blacksmith, a dark ale made in Calgary, in Craft’s dark beer braised beef brisket.
- Conversely, “the lighter the beer, the more delicate the dish,” he says, as with his pacific ling cod. Pair it with a crisp Scona Gold from Alley Kat Brewery Company, for example.
- Indulging in heavier pub fare from the deep fryer? A fizzy lager will help cleanse the palate between bites.
- “The hoppier the beer, the better it goes with spice,” says Skwaruk. It brings out the best in the beer and the dish.
5 perfect patio beers
- Gypsy Tears by Parallel 49 Brewing – Skwaruk recommends his gateway to craft not just for nostalgia’s sake but for its versatility. “I always go to it – it could be 39 below or 39 above.
- Authentic Dry Cider by Lonetree Cider Co. – “It’s considered a specialty beer for us,” says Skwaruk. Brewed in the Okanagan Valley, it’s crisp and fruity, and features a refreshing dry finish.
- Mongozo Coconut by Mongozo Exotic Beers – This gluten-free, low-alcohol beer is “well balanced and has a bit of a zesty flavour.” It’s also fair trade and organic.
- Ginger Beer by Phillips Brewing and Malting Co. – “It’s got a pretty good blast of flavour. A lot of ginger beers fall short. It’s something different.”
- Cowboy Crusher ISA by Trolley 5 and Parallel 49– A collaboration between Trolley 5, a nascent Calgary brewpub and Vancouver’s Parallel 49, this popular beer is hoppy and fruity, light and clean.
3 Alberta breweries to watch
- Blindman Brewing – “They’re small – they’re going to get bigger,” predicts Skwaruk of the Lacombe, Alta. Brewery. Whether it’s their session ale, series of sour beers, porter or IPA, expect “a consistent beer from them every time.”
- Troubled Monk Brewery – Offering a brown ale, saison, pale ale and more, this Red Deer brewery has impressed the chef with its innovation and variety.
- Wood Buffalo Brewing Company – It’s not just the quality of this Fort McMurray-based brewery that Skwaruk admires – it’s their tenacity. “What they’ve had to endure,” he says, referring to the mass evacuation due to wildfire this May. “It’s been a miracle that they haven’t given up.” He’s glad they didn’t. “They’re nailing it every time with their attention to detail.”