Eat your heart out, Ontario: Sure, the Alberta economy sucks these days, but buying booze in this Prairie province couldn't be better. Alberta privatized its liquor stores more than 20 years ago and, since then, independently owned stores have flourished, offering a massive array of wines, spirits and beer to thirsty customers in search of something special.
You want numbers? According to the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission, there are currently 21,793 spirits, wines, beers, coolers and ciders for sale here. Compare that with, say, Saskatchewan – 2,884 drinks on the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority website – or the mere 13,618 listed on the Liquor Control Board of Ontario site.
B.C. wines are typically more expensive in Alberta than in British Columbia, but other than that we're pretty competitive. Plus: sales. We get awesome booze sales here.
Shop around and you'll save big, and many stores offer discounts to regular customers or people who buy multiples, too. And we've got all the fresh and trendy stuff here as well, such as Australian whisky, Slovenian natural wine and orange wines from Jura. You may want to head to Alberta for an adults-only field trip: Here are six shops to help you start planning.
The Wine Cellar, Edmonton
12421 102nd Ave., thewinecellar.ab.ca
Canada's first independent wine shop, the Wine Cellar opened in 1985. The website isn't particularly user-friendly, but if you visit in person, you'll find passionate staff and more than 1,000 wines. There's plenty for budget shoppers and well-heeled oenophiles alike, including a whopping great selection of Burgundies. But what's hot now? Australian labels such as Two Hands and Leeuwin Estate.
deVine Wines and Spirits, Edmonton
10111 104th St., devinewines.ca
DeVine opened in 2005 and quickly found fans for its classy atmosphere, knowledgeable staff and great tastings. The shop features about 1,500 products, including rare ports, top Bordeaux, grower Champagnes, plus inexpensive bottles to drink now. The German rieslings are enough to make a diehard wine geek weep with anticipation. You can also shop online for delivery within the city.
Thumbprint Craft Beer Market, Airdrie, Alta.
6112, 403 MacKenzie Way SW, thumbprintcraftbeer.ca
Alberta's first dedicated craft-beer store, Thumbprint offers more than 600 labels from around the world, including a great selection of limited-edition indie brews from Alberta – such as Alley Kat, Hell's Basement, Troubled Monk and Village Brewery, to name just a few. Everything is available by the bottle and there's also an eight-tap growler bar, with a rotating selection of beers. Don't miss the beer-cap map of North America.
World of Whisky, Calgary
Plus 15, Unit 240, 333 5th Ave. SW, coopwinespiritsbeer.com
A new venture for the Co-op Wine Spirits Beer company, World of Whisky opened in December in a Plus 15 – those covered sidewalks in the sky that Calgarians love so much. Western Canada's first stand-alone whisky store, it offers more than 700 whiskies from around the world: Scotland, of course, but also Taiwan, Japan, France, the United States and even Australia. The bourbon collection is also awe-inspiring and there's a small but well-curated selection of wines and beer, too.
722 11th Ave. SW, metrovino.com
One of Calgary's first privatized stores, Metrovino is where you will find trends before they hit the mainstream. Sherry, for example, or grower Champagne or, yes, orange wines from Jura. You'll find them all, plus great spirits (Calvados or Armagnac, anyone?) and a handful of craft beers. The classes and tastings are excellent and, a bonus, there's usually something to taste while you shop.
Willow Park Wines & Spirits, Calgary
10801 Bonaventure Dr. SE (main location), willowpark.net
One of the largest stores in Western Canada, Willow Park offers something for everyone – Molson-slugging average joes, collectors in search of Bordeaux futures, single-malt aficionados and casual wine drinkers, too. The team gets extra points for its charity work: In 2016, the store raised more than $300,000 for local charities during their annual wine-auction week.