Any beer-lover worth his or her hops goes to Bushwakker Brewpub while in Regina. This place is a local institution, and was founded by former university professor Bev Robertson, who used to cross-country ski and make beer on the weekends with his buddies.
Bev’s interest in brewing began in the 1976; he’d consumed excellent beer while on sabbatical in Stuttgart, Germany, and was frustrated with the lack of it in Canada. The Bushwakker website describes his problem as such:
“Bev purchased a bottle of Canadian industrial beer in the Toronto Airport. His first reaction was that someone had accidentally filled the beer bottle with water, but a burp confirmed the presence of carbonation. He decided not to let his beer taste buds deteriorate to the point that he could taste Canadian industrial beer.”
Over the next decade, Bev not only refined his skills at small-scale craft brewing, but also lobbied for Saskatchewan to allow brewpubs. Between 1988 and 1991, legislation was created, a license for a brewpub was granted, and the Bushwakker was born (with approximately 1001 other steps complicating the process).
The brewery is setup in the historic Strathdee building in Regina’s Old Warehouse District. The Strathdee, a building that housed a Chinese laundry at the turn of the 20th century, was rebuilt after the Great Regina Cyclone of 1912, then served as a warehouse for decades. It’s now handsomely restored – my favourite part being the pounded tin roof – and home to a pub on the main floor, and brewery in the basement.
Grant, one of the Bushwakker’s managers, took us on a tour. We got to see the entire beer-making process, from the room where the bags of barley are stored and milled, to the brew kettle and mashing tuns (which are upstairs, and visible to pub patrons), the aging tanks, and bottling area.
They make six ales, four lagers, and over 25 different seasonal and specialty brews. It’s an impressive amount and it’s all done on a very small scale – the mash is mixed by hand with a paddle by Bushwakker’s Brewmaster Mitch Dalrymple, NOT a machine, and at the end of the process, the bottles are filled one by one.
In addition to its beers, the Bushwakker is also famous for its Blackberry Mead, a sparkling, semi-sweet drink made with Lumsden Valley honey and mascerated blackberries. It’s available for a short time in December, and so wildly popular that people SPEND THE NIGHT OUTSIDE IN REGINA IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WINTER just to get their hands on the first batch that’s released. 'Tis like purple gold.
After our tour, we sat in the pub, ate a pizza, and tucked into the Bushwakker’s beer-tasting rack. To see so many different brews together is a beautiful thing, and we carefully tasted them all while chowing down on a pizza. Some of our favourites included Honey Thistle Wit, Kai’s Munich Helles, Palliser Porter, and Cheryl’s Blonde Ale, named for the pub’s manager.
Bushwakker was our first trip to a brewery on this trip, and we’re sure glad we went. In case our trip somehow goes into December, we’ll have to stop by on our way back. We can buy ourselves some parkas, pack a thermos of hot tea, and line up with all the other Regina die-hards on the sidewalk when the Blackberry Mead is released.
That, or we’ll just take everybody’s word that it’s really, really good.