When it comes to selling beer, it helps to have a good story to tell. And when it comes to good stories, it’s hard to beat the one behind Saskatoon’s Great Western Brewing.
Opened in 1927 as Hub City Brewing Company, the brewery changed hands a number of times over the years, ending up as a branch of Carling O’Keefe until 1989, when the Molson/O’Keefe merger threatened it with closure. To avert this fate, sixteen employees got together and purchased the brewery and relaunched it in 1990 as Great Western.
In the years since, Great Western has never had an pretenses of being an artisanal craft brewery. Its brands are aimed squarely at the mass market and sold largely in Saskatchewan, where the brewery’s local and independent nature is what keeps them selling. So it was a bit surprising to see the launch back in March of Original 16 Canadian Pale Ale, a self-described “premium beer brand” released and named in honour of the brewery founders.
Having now tried the few cans that the folks at Great Western were kind enough to send me, I’m reminded that in the world of beer marketing, the word “premium” can have a variety of meanings depending on the context. Or more to the point – when a brewery that normally produces mass market pale lagers puts out an ale and describes it as a “premium beer,” it’s probably not going to be a rich, hoppy, full-flavoured brew.
Based on Original 16, it’s more likely to be a clear golden ale with a light and sweet aroma of honey-on-toast and fruit cocktail, a crisp and clean body, and a refreshing flavour profile with notes of honey, lemon, grape skin and cut grass. What makes it “premium” is the fact that it’s an adjunct-free, 100% barley malt brew, and that its initial 7 day fermentation is followed by nearly four weeks of aging, a rarity for mass market beer.
Basically, Great Western knows its customers, and has brewed a beer that will appeal to them – i.e. a simple, clean, golden ale that has strong stylistic similarities to a a simple, clean, golden lager. It might not turn the head or excite the palate of someone whose taste is more inclined toward big and bold craft beers. But for what it is, Original 16 is nice little beer.