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The Monolith Makes a Case for Barrel-Fermented Beer

By Bon Appétit/

Great Taste of Canada

The Edmonton brewery’s naturally fermented sours are a force to be reckoned with. 

For decades, the province of Alberta in Canada has been famous for its barley—one of the area’s most significant exports, which also happens to be a key ingredient in beer. Alberta barley has long been a staple crop used by some of the biggest beer makers in the world, and many craft breweries throughout North America have used it to create exquisite small-batch beers over the years. 

Despite the quantity and quality of Alberta barley, a provincial law requiring minimum production volumes prevented local producers from utilizing the crop that was growing right in their backyards, essentially blocking Alberta’s craft-beer scene from ever coming into existence. That all changed in 2013 when a group of local beer enthusiasts worked together to get the law overturned. Since then, something of a craft-beer Renaissance has begun to take place in Alberta, born out of pent-up demand from local beer makers and enthusiasts alike—and out of this burst of energy, The Monolith was born. 

The Monolith is a small, but mighty barrel house from the folks at Blind Enthusiasm Brewing. The Edmonton-based brewers craft three distinctly different types of beer across two locations. Crisp ales, lagers, and complex barrel-aged beers are brewed at the Market, located alongside Blind Enthusiasm’s signature restaurant, Biera. Their second location, The Monolith, boasts one of the largest barrel-fermented beer programs in Canada. 

Traditionally barrel-aged beers—think, lager or ales—are fermented in steel before being transferred to wooden barrels for a period of time, but barrel-fermented beers are crafted using an entirely different process. Wort, or the liquid extracted from the mashing process during brewing, is put into barrels straight after inoculation so that the beer’s primary fermentation happens in the barrel. It’s a slow, sometimes unpredictable process resulting in complex flavors that are more comparable to fine wines than typical beers. These beloved brews are often referred to as “sour” beers, and The Monolith is brewing some of the most interesting, sought-after sours in all of Canada. 

Head brewer Doug Checknita is no stranger to the process of crafting outstanding barrel-fermented beer. After starting his career over a decade ago in Calgary, he went on to learn from master brewers in Belgium while working at the famous Cantillon Brewery, best known for its lambic beers—a spontaneously fermented Belgium ale known for its laborious brewing process. During this time, Checknita developed a deep understanding of the craft, which is now the backbone of the brewing process at The Monolith. “Traditional technique with modern technology and the scientific method,” is more than just the brewery’s tagline; it is the guiding light of the entire beer-making philosophy. Though Checknita and his team take beer-making seriously, the passion transmits into fun—they’re constantly pushing the envelope, trying new things while staying rooted in traditional techniques to create beers that have already gained a cult following in Edmonton and beyond. 

Once you get a taste of one of The Monolith’s beers, you’ll understand what all the fuss is about. The team brews three kinds of barrel-fermented beer: spontaneous, natural, and mixed. Each style uses a distinctive method of introducing yeasts and bacteria into the beer, and all three styles ferment in large-format barrels for anywhere from one to three years. The unrushed, often experimental process yields a difference you can taste; a dynamic lineup of tart, acidic beers with complex flavors. The “Substantially Complete” is considered The Monolith’s quintessential beer—a punchy, bold brew fermented using a house-bled of microorganisms in French oak barrels for one, two, and three years. With medium acidity and notes of citrus and stone fruit, the flavor is lively and complex.

No matter what you’re in the mood for, a visit to The Monolith taproom will leave any experimental beer-lover feeling satisfied. The charming taproom fits just 25 people and operates on a first-come, first-served basis, offering an ever-growing array of beers on tap and in bottles alongside a small food menu. For those beer aficionados looking for a behind-the-scenes view of the craft, weekend brewery tours offer a glimpse into the only purpose-built spontaneous fermentation brewery in Canada. After the tour, you’ll be guided on a tasting to round out your understanding of what the various fermentation techniques taste like. 

Next time you’re in Edmonton, a trip to The Monolith should be on the docket—consider it your first foray into Alberta’s exciting craft beer scene. 

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This story has been adapted from an original article available at: