Ales and Lager Enthusiasts of Sasketchewan (ALES)
Gary Falkenstein of Regina, SK has been a beer geek for roughly 30 years now. “My wife bought me a home-brewing starter kit for Christmas in 1987. Might even have been Christmas of 1986. At any rate, I joined a beer club right away. There was a meeting in the store she got the starter kit [from] and that was the ALES Club…I’m not absolutely positive, but I’m sure it was only maybe running for a year or two before that.”
It was slow at the beginning, with sometimes six or ten members showing up for meetings, but it kept going. “We [couldn’t] always meet at the store, so sometimes we met at members’ basements and yeah, it was real small, and well, not a lot happening. It’s definitely had its struggles. There were times when it was pretty much all but dissolved.”
That all changed when the late Beverly Robertson, one of the original members of the ALES Club, opened the Bushwakker Brewpub in 1991. “When Bev Robertson started up the Bushwakker, he was kinda able to get a bit more fire in the club. That’s when they started meeting at the Bushwakker and [have been] meeting there ever since.”
There were some familiar homebrewing events like competitions back then, though not as structured as they are nowadays. “Not long after the club started meeting at the Bushwakker, we started doing the judging course and testing for judges, really starting to produce our own judges. The club was probably putting out their own competitions by the mid-90s. There were probably some less organized one before that, where we made food and didn’t have certified judges. I do remember right after I joined, we would send beers away to competitions at the time. I think it was down east somewhere, Toronto or somewhere. I remember that because I actually won something. Caterfoies were nothing like they are today either. The categories would have been like ‘dark beers’, ‘light beers’ depending on the competitions the may not even have broken down the lagers and ales. Far fewer categories, way more generalized.”
With the ALES Club running for about 40 years now, there are starting to be 2nd generation members and homebrewers. After a hiatus in homebrewing, his daughter Carly got him back into it and they made an American IPA called “Butcher’s Daughter” that won best of show in the 2015 ALES Open homebrew competition.
The ALES Club has grown over the years, and now boasts monthly educational meetings for members (with summers off), the ALES Open homebrew competition in April, which saw over 500 entries this year, and other community events that showcase homebrewing. While the Regina craft beer scene is small, Falkenstein does credit the success of it to the homebrewing community. “All the guys that have started in any craft breweries here all started out as homebrewers and 90% of them were involved in the club to a large extent. That’s where all the innovation comes from. That’s what grows the whole beer scene. If you have a..craft brewing scene, you must have had at least one point a pretty robust homebrewing scene.”
Besides providing the backbone of craft breweries, the ALES Club was also active on the legislative side of things. “We even had a committee that was putting together their ideas and the things they would like to see and what going with the government. We had some fairly well educated people or some people who worked with the government for decades doing that sort of thing. So I liked to think that it carried a fair bit of weight and it did promote some change when it came to laws about alcohol and you know freeing things up so it’s easier to start a brewery. We also have private liquor store now, I mean I never thought I would see the day that we could just go a couple kilometres from my house and just have a backhand selection of beer.”