Wine column: Farmers markets feature Alberta-made artisanal wine, beer and spirits

Every Saturday the Downtown Farmers Market bustles with happy weekend shoppers toting overflowing bags of local goods.

Now, thanks to a recent regulation change, these bags can also be filled with local liquor products. It was in the fall of 2017 when the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis agency (AGLC) gave permission to small-batch breweries and distilleries to sample their wares and share their stories at licenced farmers markets. This is a step in the right direction, allowing Albertans to benefit from the relaxed and modernized liquor regulations.

Although it’s not an entirely new concept — since 2008, local craft fruit wineries have been sampling and selling their products at farmers markets thanks to Victor Chrapko from Brosseau, Alberta. He led the way by modifying archaic liquor laws and establishing cottage wine regulations so his family-farmed business, Birds & Bees Organic Winery and Meadery, could sell Alberta-made wine and mead at licensed markets. They offer nine handpicked fruit wines, all the fruit grown on their farm, and mead — made from their own beehives.

Strathcona Spirits Distillery in the Whyte Avenue neighbourhood was the first to open a distillery in Edmonton. They use milled grain (farmed less than 30 kilometres from the city limits), mash (using Edmonton water), ferment and distill on-site. Their classic vodka is the subtle base used for all their spirits, made from red fife, a bread wheat that originates from Ontario in the late 1800s.

Sampling at the market allows them to taste and explain the production methods and ingredients used in each of their products; vodka, the sea buckthorn flavoured gin and a barrel-aged gin.

Strathcona Spirits gin and vodka bottles are seen at their stall at the Edmonton Downtown Farmers Market in Edmonton, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019.

Ian Kucerak / Postmedia

“Tastings at markets has been huge for our little distillery,” says Andrea Shubert, co-owner of Strathcona Spirits Distillery. It connected them directly with customers that support the shop-eat-and-drink-local movement.

Although wine is my passion, Blindman Brewing was my gateway into the increasingly trendy and growing world of local craft beers. The popularity of this sector was evident by the size of crowd that had gathered to sample a range of brews.

Kirk Zembal, co-founder of Blindman Brewing from Lacombe, explained how hop varietals and the production method are key to the final style of each brew. For example, European hops add more elegant fruity tones, while American hops contribute bolder fruit flavours.

He used the analogy of using rose petals to make rose water — if you boil petals for any length of time you will end up with bitterness, but if you simply soak the petals in cold water overnight you are left with the essence of roses, without any bitterness. This is the same for hops, which are also a flower — the longer they boil, the more bitterness/hoppiness is created — but if they add the hops late in the process (this is called dry hopping) that’s where the softer, more elegant flavours and aromas of fruit, such as grapefruit, will come from.

Keep an eye out for their next limited releases, the Five of Diamonds Pilsner a “no-corners-cut pilsner” using European hops and the Laphroiag Cask Porter, a barrel-aged beer (no posted release date yet).

Head to an Alberta farmers market or stop at your local liquor shop to purchase and support our fabulous Alberta-made artisan products.

Kirk Zembal, a co-founder of Blindman Brewing, shows his company’s Super Sessions Summer beer at their stall at the Edmonton Downtown Farmers Market in Edmonton, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019.

Ian Kucerak / Postmedia


A dry style made from organic, wild local chokecherries. A little tart and the driest of the line, featuring handpicked cherries and bottled at the winery. Use in a marinade and pair with red meats.


Made from 30 different types of local organic apples. This is an off-dry wine that’s light and crisp, but it’s not an apple cider because it’s made without carbonation. Pair with pork and chicken dishes.


What a wonderful way to showcase rhubarb! Slightly tart and a touch sweeter than the other two. A great pairing with fruit tarts and crisps.


Small-batch distilled (20 times) in a copper and stainless still from single-grain red fife wheat, resulting in a very smooth, soft natural essence of wheat berry complemented by subtle vanilla notes and a light sweet finish. ​


A vodka-based gin that uses distilled juniper from Drumheller’s badlands and local botanicals including the tart, yellow sea buckthorn berries found on thorny shrubs growing in difficult terrain on Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan riverbanks. Use in a gimlet cocktail and for a flavourful gin and tonic.


Treat this like a brown spirit and serve on the rocks or use in a sour cocktail. Their trademark gin is proofed all the way down then barrel-aged in virgin American white oak casks for two to five months, which contributes to the amber colour as well as notes of smoke/oak and brings out spice notes to mingle with the botanical flavours.


This pale ale is the conversion beer for die-hard wine drinkers and a diversion from Blindman’s hoppier styles. This is a light beer at just 3 per cent alcohol without any bittering hops, just delicious beer.


The original fruited kettle sour that stays consistent, made using the dry hopped process. This is my go-to beverage with my burger at Whyte Avenue’s Next Act — easily one of the best burgers in Edmonton (tied with burgers from Wilfred’s and Wishbone).


Kirk describes the third release in this series as, “tart, not puckering, using Canadian, American and Antipodean (Australia and New Zealand) hops, we’re going across the Atlantic and using some fruity European hops for the first time.”

The hop varietals, Hallertau Blanc, add sort of a lemongrass flavor, a slight spice, and the Huell Melon adds a honeydew note.

Wine selections are available at select Alberta shops. Log onto to check availability and give them a call to verify.

Juanita Roos opened Color de Vino, a fine wine and spirits store, with her family in 2014. She has traveled to wine regions around the world and completed the prestigious WSET Diploma from London, England, the prerequisite for the Master of Wine program. Send your questions about wine to