Craft Beer Explosion Overwhelming You in BC? Try Alberta!

People come into the liquor store that I work at, frequently asking me for my opinion on all the newest beers. British Columbia (and the West Coast) has so many craft breweries now, that it’s hard to keep track. Especially since so many of these breweries are producing small-batch limited release beers, we may only get a couple of shipments in before it runs out. Not to mention, trying to keep up is having a negative impact on my waist line and my wallet!

Maybe you love beer so much but you are being overwhelmed with the options. You long for a time when you could say to your friends “I tried them just after they opened!” That ship sailed out of Vancouver and Victoria, BC a long time ago. Where can you get back to ground zero on the craft beer craze?

Go to Alberta! Most people would not think that Alberta would have a budding craft beer culture – most other Canadians associate Alberta with excessive drinking and a redneck culture. Does that automatically mean that there would be no market for beer enthusiasts to imbibe? Not necessarily.

Big Rock BreweryIt was only as of December 5th, 2013 that Alberta removed its old brewery restrictions. There’s a very excellent article about it here. The long and short of it is, prior to this date, no nanobreweries or microbreweries could exist in Alberta. All craft breweries had to produce at a capacity that you would expect more from a Molson subsidiary than you would from a brewery that is aiming to keep their production small and local. So even though Alberta had craft breweries prior to this date (e.g. Big Rock Brewery), most of the world outside of Alberta would not have regarded them as craft because, you could buy it outside of Alberta before craft brewing started to become popular enough to be able to send some of their production out-of-province.

This website goes into great detail about which breweries are open in Alberta (and other prairie provinces), as well as which ones have closed and which ones are expected to open. Keep your eyes peeled for Toolshed Brewing which opened in the Spring 2015, Blindman Brewing set to open late Summer 2015, and Situation Brewing set to open in Fall 2015.

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The Fruit Beer of Summer

Some people think of fruit beer and think of Fruli and wretch. Never you fear though, fruit beer is amazing! The hard part is finding one you like, since all fruits can be used and all styles of beer can be the vessel, so many combinations exist that it can be overwhelming.

Not all fruit beer is created equal. That should be obvious, but allow me to clarify: there is no standardized method for making a “fruit beer”. Some breweries add fruit to the second fermentation, whereas some breweries add fruit juice to the beer, either during the second fermentation or just before bottling. Neither method creates a better product, as it really depends on the potency of the fruit flavour and the base beer flavour. Sometimes, it just adds a neat colour without necessarily a strong fruit flavour. Just to make it more complicated, some beers just taste fruity but are merely characteristics of that beer style, rather than it purposely being made as a fruit beer.

Most fruit beer falls into one of 3 categories: wheat ale base, Belgian sour style base, or “other”. And of course some may fall into both! ;)

Fruit Wheat Ales:

  1. Postmark Brewing Raspberry Lemon Zest Hefeweizen (Vancouver, Canada): I really liked the uniqueness of this flavour. Medium bodied, good balance of fruit flavour with wheat flavour, overall 3.5/5 stars.Postmark Raspberry Lemon Zest Hefe
  2. Bridge Brewing Bourbon Blood Orange Wheat Ale (North Vancouver, Canada): The blood orange flavour was not strong but enough to balance the wheat flavour. The bourbon influence was the most noticeable. I gave this beer 3.5/5 stars.
  3. Fernie Brewing What the Huck Huckleberry Wheat Ale (Fernie, Canada): Now this is some tasty business. Definitely tastes like a berried wheat ale, not specific to huckleberries, but the purple beer is definitely eye catching. Medium bodied, overall 3.75/5 stars.
  4. Four Winds Berliner Weisse Sour Wheat Ale (Delta, Canada): This is absolutely my favourite! It tastes like a lemony wheat beer, slightly sour, like a beer lemonade! It’s light and thirst quenching and amazing. I gave it 4.5/5 stars.

Fruit Sours:

  1. Parallel 49 Apricotopus Sour Saison (Vancouver, Canada): This is not too strong in the apricot or sour flavour. Medium bodied. I would prefer if they made it more sour, as I feel it could have been so much more. 3/5 stars.
  2. Lindemans Lambics (all flavours – Belgium): All the Lambics!These are definitely sour! They come in many flavours like apple (pomme), peach (peche), raspberry (framboise), cherry (kriek), and black currant (cassis). The fruitiness is not subtle, but the sour fizziness of it makes it super light and easy to drink. These were my gateway into enjoying beer! I like the cassis the best, followed by the kriek in a close second. I gave the whole line 4/5 stars.
  3. Mort Subite (Framboise and Kriek – Belgium): Both of these are fruity and sour. I liked the framboise better than the kriek, only because the fruit flavour was slightly less intense and balanced the sour well. However, the kriek has a nice POP to it. Just have to be in the mood. 3.75/5 stars.
  4. Liefmans Cuvee Brut (Belgium): A sour kriek beer that has noticeable bite and still very smooth and had a complex flavour, almost like biting into a sour cherry pie. 4.25/5 stars.
  5. Parallel 49 Lil Redemption Cherry Sour (Vancouver, Canada): Now this one was a treat. This cherry sour was aged for 2 years in cabernet sauvignon barrels with wild yeast and sour bacteria (presumably our friends Brett and Lactobacillus, hmm?) and then blended with sour cherries for 3 months. It was a limited release beer and with good reason. It was just so strong and yet balanced. People who don’t like sours liked it and people who don’t like fruit beers liked it. It won the hearts of many! 5/5 stars.

Fruit “others”:

  1. Le Trou du Diable The Four Surfers of the Apocalypso (Shawinigan, Canada): The English label says it’s a “tropical strong beer” and the French website gives a little more insight into its flavour by calling it a White IPA. So it has the yeast of a wheat beer, the slight bitterness of the hops, and an indescribable nondescript fruitiness to it. Medium bodied. 3.5/5 stars.
  2. Maui Brewing Lorenzini Blood Orange Double IPA (USA): A medium bodied beer that was surprisingly smooth. The blood orange flavour balanced out the hops; not too bitter or sweet and not very hoppy or orange-y either. 3.75/5 stars.
  3. Parallel 49 Grapefruit Tricycle Radler (Vancouver, Canada): If you want something light and refreshing, this is it! All radlers are low in %ABV because they are beer combined with juice, after fermentation. They were popularized by cyclists as they could rehydrate and not be intoxicated enough to leave their bicycle at home! The grapefruit flavour was not too bitter or sweet. 3.5/5 stars.Bomber Brewing Park Life Passionfruit Ale
  4. Bomber Brewing Park Life Passionfruit Ale (Vancouver, Canada): I was weary to try this beer as I haven’t liked any of the beers that Bomber has produced. As in, I would run in the other direction, given the option. Luckily, one of my friends bought it so I had to try it and I was shocked at how good it was! Not only was it fruity, but it was well balanced with the beer flavour AND it was light bodied. I can see why they only sell it in 6-packs, because you will cry at how fast 1 runs out! 4.5/5 stars.
  5. Samuel Smith Organic Strawberry Ale (UK): Now this was something else. It smelled like strawberry jam and tasted it, too! Definitely sweet but I appreciated that it poured like an ale should be coloured. Medium bodied and didn’t taste artificial or syrupy. The intense flavour had to be paced slowly. 3/5 stars.

Your Home Start-up Bar Essentials

My friends Jordie and Darcy just opened a new cocktail supply shop in Vancouver called Sips Cocktail Emporium. Since they are in the business of supplying you with the wares to stock your home bar, perhaps you are asking yourself “Where would I begin?”

Lucky for you, they wrote a blog post about How to Start Your Home Liquor Cabinet. The thing I liked the most about this post was reading about their recommended home bar supplies separately, as well as why. They had some cross-over, but each added their personal flair to it. Which just goes to show, aside from an assortment of spirits, the liqueurs, aperitifs, bitters and so on are really up to your personal preference.


Start_Your_Home_Bar2_1024x1024There’s a theory that with only 12 bottles of liquor you can start your own home bar well-equipped to make hundreds of cocktails. The theory is put forward by the Solomonsons in their book The 12 Bottle Bar. While these bottles will definitely equip you with a lot of cocktail ammo, we don’t even think you’d need 12. When it comes down to it your bar is what you think is important. We believe that, not only is there room for more personalization, it can take much less to start your own liquor cabinet!Personalization is key and even between the two of us, we created different starter home-bars. Here what we came up with:

Darcy’s starter home-bar:
1. Vodka
2. Gin
3. Bourbon
4. Rye
Even though they seem similar, I like to have specify both bourbon and rye (and not just whisky) since they have unique flavours and there are many cocktails that specify which is needed.
5. Amber Rum
6. Dark Rum
Again, while these two rums may seem similar, they are used for completely different purposes. I like a good amber rum for mixing in cocktails and a dark rum for sipping.
6. Sweet Vermouth
7. Dry Vermouth
8. Campari
9. Lillet Blanc
One of my favourite liqueurs! I would ideally like to have a bottle of each kind: Blanc, Rose and Rouge. However, to simplify, I think the Blanc is more versatile as a cocktail ingredient and a drink on its own.
With this selection of bottles, I can make countless cocktails including: A Negroni, a Vesper Martini and my personal favourite A Little Princess (equal parts amber rum and sweet vermouth).

 

Jordie’s starter home-bar:
Now before I tell you what I’d include I think that I should talk about my philosophy here. What you want in a home bar is something that if anyone comes over you can make something to suit their tastes, while at the same time showing off your own. It’s a very free-flowing style, well suited to my own flexible personality.
First off I need the basics:
1. Vodka
2. Gin
3. Whisky
Rye or bourbon is what I prefer for mixing cocktails, bourbon is a little sweeter and rye is a little spicier, play it to your tastes. If you are a scotch drinker, I’d recommend getting a bottle of scotch for sipping and another bottle of a cheaper variety of whisky for pouring mixed drinks.
4. Tequila
Good for certain cocktails, but also useful for those people who just want a shot.
5. Rum
Now many people will criticize this (Darcy included), but you can probably just get away with one type of rum. White rum is used for some types of rum cocktails (Daiquiris, Long Island Iced Teas) whereas amber or spiced dark rums are preferred for more rum-centric drinks (Hot Buttered Rum, Rum & Cokes) that known, no reasonable human being is going to spit in your eye if you offer them one for the other. If you in particular are the sort of person who cares, by all means get all three types. (If you, like me, don’t care I’d say just get a nice tasting amber and use it for everything.)
Then I’d want a few things to just make many classic cocktails:
6-7. Sweet & Dry Vermouth
Crucial for classic cocktails like Martinis and Manhattans these vermouths (unlike rums imho) are not suitable for interchangeable use. I like to age my sweet vermouth in a barrel for a couple weeks before use, but this is not at all necessary.
8. Aromatic Bitters
There’s 100s of types of bitters out there, but the only one you absolutely have to have is an aromatic. I like to use Scrappy’s but other brands are fine, and each offers their own subtleties. Once you get started down the bitter’s road you can expand your bars versatility in many directions, but aromatic is all you need to start (and is what is being referred to when any cocktail recipe just calls for “bitters”).
And finally, a place to start experimenting:
9. Your favourite type of liqueur
There’s many types of liqueurs out there, but there’s no need to get all of them. You probably know what flavours you like and what you’ll use the most. I like to always have Campari and an orange liqueur in the house, but that’s because I particularly like experimenting with those flavours in cocktails. If you like Irish Cream, Coffee Liqueur, Amaretto, Fernet Branca, Lillet, Fireball or Peppermint Schnapps, that’s great. Get those. Just get a flavour you like and experiment with making your own cocktails at home with it. Then when you get bored of it, get something else!
So don’t be fooled into thinking you need certain types of liquor to start your home bar. There are great basics to begin with and there is lots of room for personalization. Ultimately, your home bar is for you: to make yourself delicious cocktails that you love and to show off to your friends what tastes you like.
Happy sipping!

 
 
Links:
Starting Your Home Liquor Cabinet original post
Sips Cocktail Emporium home page

How to Make Orange Liqueur

Orange liqueur is a definite cocktailing essential, but it can end up being quite expensive. If you’re like me and you want high quality taste without a high quality price, then the ultimate dilemma is, “How can I justify buying that bottle of Grand Marnier when I only finished it a month ago?” In BC, it runs $38.49 for a 750 ml bottle, and while it leaves behind a neat golden hue, the price does not justify it for me. I wouldn’t be satisfied with a bottle of triple sec, and Cointreau is too similar a price point to the Grand Marnier.  Keep in mind that making it yourself does not save you much money (only a few dollars cheaper), but you end up with leftovers of the ingredients, can customize it further to your palate, and creates less glass waste!

I searched high and low for an orange liqueur that I thought sounded like what I wanted to produce, and this recipe on Serious Eats sounded the best to me. What distinguished this recipe from others I found is that this one uses equal parts vodka and brandy, rather than just vodka. What I love the most about Grand Marnier is that it’s an orange cognac liqueur, so this seemed appropriate. While I would have loved to use cognac in my homemade concoction, if I could afford something like Courvoisier or Remy Martin, I wouldn’t be ruining it with a pile of flavour and sugar! Brandy would have to do.

I made the recipe exactly as given, to see how it would taste. I really don’t have any modifications to suggest. Some people left behind comments on the recipe page that indicated they didn’t like the taste of cloves and omitted it from the recipe, but I did add the cloves and there is certainly no clove taste in my final product. It was added to the final day of steeping, long enough only to round out the flavour.

As for authenticity, since I consumed all of my Grand Marnier, I didn’t have anything to compare it to. I tried it in a margarita (1.5 oz reposado tequila, 0.5 oz orange liqueur, 1 oz lime juice, 0.5 oz simple syrup, shake and pour into a salted rim glass), a daiquiri (same as a margarita but with a white rum), and a beautiful (0.5 oz orange liqueur, 0.5 oz cognac), and all of them were quite tasty!

Smirnoff and St-RemyI used cheap spirits, Smirnoff vodka and St-Remy VSOP brandy. I bought the bitter orange peel from a local home-brewing supply shop. The recipe said to use “navel oranges”, and I’m not sure if that’s what I brought home; I used small-ish firm oranges that weren’t mandarins. The major point is to use a combination of sweet and bitter orange peel, like the store-bought orange liqueurs would use. I used a zester on the oranges because if you use a grater, you run the risk of having too much of the white bitter pith (bitter in the bad way, not the good way!) end up in the infusion and make it less palatable.

I’ve included some pictures of progress after the recipe directions, so you have some idea of how it will look along the way. I will absolutely be making this again!

Orange Liqueur Recipe (from Serious Eats)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup zest from 3 small naval oranges
  • 1 tablespoon dried bitter orange peel
  • 1 cup brandy
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine zest, dried orange peels, brandy, and vodka in a small sealable container. Seal and shake. Let steep for 19 days at room temperature. On day 20, add the cloves, then seal and shake. Let steep for an additional day.

  2. Bring sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat stirring to dissolve. Let this simple syrup cool. Strain the contents of the jar through a fine mesh strainer and then through a coffee filter. Discard the solids. Combine the strained mixture with the simple syrup in a jar or bottle. Shake and let it rest for a minimum of one day before use. Store in a sealed container at room temperature for up to one year (it’s best within three months). I didn’t have a 1L bottle, so I used two leftover 750 ml bottles.

Here are the pictures of progress:

How it looks a day after adding the ingredients.

How it looks a day after adding the ingredients.

I made sure to add 4 whole cloves (like the one on the left), as I felt the one on the right was missing the little head!

I made sure to add 4 whole cloves (like the one on the left), as I felt the one on the right was missing the little head!

Double filtered. First time through a mesh strainer, second time through a coffee filter. Definitely necessary.

Double filtered. First time through a mesh strainer, second time through a coffee filter. Definitely necessary.

After adding the orange mixture to the simple syrup.

After adding the orange mixture to the simple syrup.

After shaking and letting it sit for a day, now it's yummy and homogeneous.

After shaking and letting it sit for a day, now it’s yummy and homogeneous.

Wild yeast and bacteria – Why is it in my beer?

Sour beers are starting to become a craze on the West Coast. Originating in Belgium with the sour ales, such as the Lambic, Gueuze, Flanders Red Ale, and Oud Bruin (which I wrote about previously, here), a lot of the local breweries have decided they want to make their own sour beers.

Let’s talk about first why we’re calling it wild in the first place. The origin of sour beers from Belgium would be produced in what’s called “open-air fermentation“. This means that rather than using a yeast where it is measured, carefully selected and used in a controlled environment, the tanks in this case were left open. This would allow yeast and bacteria to enter the tanks, leaving behind a sour flavour. While this type of fermentation can leave behind “off-flavours” in other types of beer, this type of fermentation is actively trying to re-produce these wild conditions to develop a unique flavour.

Next, let’s talk about what yeast and bacteria are considered among the wild class:

Four Winds Berliner Weisse

Only lacto. German style sour wheat beer.

– Brettanomyces (aka “Brett”) is a wild yeast that is used in fermentation of many sour beers. It can take weeks, months, or years before the yeast is finished fermenting. It can be a slow process and you won’t necessarily get the same results every time. This is why people may purchase the same beer from year to year and then cellar it (remind you of wine enthusiasts, doesn’t it?). Any time you think of a beer tasting funky, you have Brett to thank for that!

Driftwood Gose-uh label

Only lacto. Gose German style sour.

– Lactobacillus is a bacteria that will consume the sugar and impart lactic acid. This is where the sour of sour beers come from. Since this bacteria is going to be occupied making lactic acid however, the yeast has to be added at a different time so that the increasing acidity doesn’t kill all the conversion of sugar into alcohol. (Thanks again, Brett!If the lactobacillus is used without the Brett however, the flavour left behind is a clean sour taste. Nothing funky or barnyard-y about it!

– Pediococcus is another bacteria that functions similarly to lactobacillus except that it imparts sourness and funk into the mix. I personally haven’t seen it listed on any beer labels, but the Belgians tend not to label their beers, either.

Moon Under Water - Hip As Funk label

Only Brett. Farmhouse IPA.

Since the West Coast beers are relatively new to producing sours, they like to include what they used to make it sour. Which is great, if you know which of the sour flavours you like and don’t like. Sour beers are polarizing; just like IPAs, people either love them or hate them. Knowing what aspect of the sourness one likes or dislikes, they can choose more wisely. Perhaps you like the sour and not the funk? Or perhaps you like the funk or not the sour? Or perhaps you are a sour fiend such as myself and you love all of it!

 

Links for further reading:
The Brettanomyces Project – someone’s Masters dissertation on Brettanomyces, in addition to the beer they are producing
Pediococcus on Wikipedia
Lactobacillus on Wikipedia
Gose beer on Wikipedia
Four Winds Brewing Company – in Delta, BC
Driftwood Brewery – in Victoria, BC
Moon Under Water Brewery – in Victoria, BC