Upcoming Holiday posts

Well well. I’m surprised I had site visitors since I haven’t written anything since August 2015, but I guess the thirst for alcohol knowledge exists whether I am up-to-date or not. Cheers!

A couple of upcoming holiday posts which I plan to make:

top of box

1) My partner and I split the cost of the Phillips Snowcase Calendar. This is a magical advent calendar for adults. No more teeny little chocolates, you get a new beer to try every day! Not only that, but a lot of the beers in the pack were brewed for the advent calendar only.

20151128_200723To follow along with the beer advent mayhem, you can follow me on my Untappd account, where I will be giving my detailed day-by-day reviews. At the end of the 24 days, I will provide an overall review post here, linking to the Untappd posts and reflections of the experience. That way, you can follow along live, or you can get the summary and read further only to the beers you wanted to know more about.

2) Last year, I talked all about my favourite holiday egg nog recipe. This year, I will conduct some mulling experiments. Yes, mulled wine, but many types of mulled wine, cider, and even some white wine! I mulling-spiceswill use this article as my resource  and then compare my concoctions side by side.

In addition to including my personal opinion, I will host a small tasting party so that at least 4 people can weigh in on the comparison. I plan to use at least 3 different red wines, 1 white wine, and 1 to 2 ciders. Yes, cider did grow on me after all!


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.

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

Belgian Beer (Part II – Belgian Strong & Sour Ales)

Continuing off from the previous post, this post will focus on Belgian Strong Ales and Sour Ales.

Belgian Strong Ales are beers that are at least 7% ABV, and its sub-styles are the Belgian blonde, Belgian golden strong, and the Belgian dark strong ale. The tricky part about this style that makes it difficult to define is that Belgian brewers themselves do not use this nomenclature. Yet it is understood as a classification among importers and drinkers alike. In this case, the examples within these categories will do a better job of explaining the category better than I would!

Belgian Strong Ales worth trying:
Belgian Blonde: Brugse Zot – smells like a witbier, tart flavour, light finish. Other beer in this category which I have not tried yet include Palm, and Leffe Blond.
– Belgian Golden Strong: Duvel – smells toasted, light bodied, pairs well with fatty foods. Other beer in this category include Delirium Tremens, and Piraat.
– Belgian Dark Strong: Abbaye des Rocs Grand Cru – smells like caramel and raisins, tastes like gingerbread, medium bodied, pairs well with caramelized foods, and can be cellared for 10 years! Other beer in this category include Gulden Draak, and Kasteel Donker.

"Timmermans" by Fgeerts - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Timmermans.jpg#/media/File:Timmermans.jpg

An example of spontaneous fermentation.

Sour Ales are beer which taste sour but not bitter like an IPA. This is because the sourness is not attributed to use of hops, but more due to spontaneous fermentation and aging in oak barrels. Sour sub-styles include the Lambic, Gueuze, Fruit Lambic, Flanders Red Ale, and Flanders Brown Ale (Oud Bruin). Lambics are exposed to wild yeast and bacteria native to the Senne Valley, Gueuzes are a mixture of Lambics aged 1-3 years and undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle, Fruit Lambics are brewed with various fruits in the secondary fermentation process, Flanders Red Ales are brewed with a special red malt and the Lactobacillus bacteria which imparts lactic acid into the beer creating its sourness, and Oud Bruin which may be aged in oak barrels or not but all do undergo a secondary fermentation as well.

Other terms you may come across: Faro – a type of lambic which is sweetened at the end, so that the additional sugar does not increase the % ABV. Kriek – cherry lambic, Framboise – raspberry lambic, and Cassis – blackcurrant lambic are some of the most common fruit lambic flavours. Keep your eyes out for some fruit beer, as not all of them are created equal; while a lot of them use fruit in their fermentation process, some of them add fruit juice or syrup to the end of fermentation instead (see Kasteel Rouge).

Sour Ales worth trying:
– Lambic: I really like the Lindemans line. Not having recently tried them though, I have no tasting notes to offer, other than their faro was mildly sour and sweet. Other beer in this category includes the Cantillon Grand Cru.
– Gueuze: Van Honsebrouck St Louis Fond Tradition Gueuze – smells sour and fruity, tastes like sour pineapple, has a sharp and clean finish. Other beer in this category include the Cantillon Lou Pepe, Tilquin Gueuze, and the Lindemans Old Gueuze Cuvee Rene.
– Fruit Lambic: Van Honsebrouck St Louis Fond Tradition Kriek – tastes like pie! Sour flavour and sour aftertaste. Other beer in this category include the Oud Beersel Kriek, Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise, and Lindemans (kriek, framboise, peche, pomme, and cassis).
– Flanders Red Ale: Omer Vander Ghinste Bockor Cuvee des Jacobins – don’t smell this beer, it smells like fish! It tastes toasted, sour and fruity. Other beer in this category include the Rodenbach Grand Cru.
– Oud Bruin: I have not tried any of these yet but I am keeping my eyes peeled for these ones: Petrus Oud Bruin, Vander Ghinste Oud Bruin, and the Van Honsebrouck Bacchus.

While the flavour information was my personal interpretation of the beers’ flavours, the Belgian beer lesson and category information (from this post and the one preceding) were given to me by Gerry West from Westbier. He gave us a private tasting at our liquor store, and is a Belgian beer importer into Vancouver, Canada.

Links for further reading:
– Beer in Belgium on Wikipedia
– Lambic Beer on Wikipedia
– Flanders Red Ale on Wikipedia

Belgian Beer (Part I – Trappist, Belgian & French)

Belgian beer is in a class of its own. It’s some of the oldest beer that the world has to offer, and has a flavour profile that is quite unique compared to beer from anywhere else in the world.

What’s even more awesome is that some of the Belgian beers are made by monks. The ones that are called Trappist beers belong to one of only a few monasteries. The monastery makes its money by producing the beer and selling it all over the world. Yet the monasteries do not profit; the money is to provide the monks with a living allowance, to contribute to the monastery for their building maintenance and upkeep of brewing equipment, and then any money leftover is donated to charity. A very different approach to passing around the church plate!

Belgian beer can be broken down into 4 basic styles: Trappist, Belgian & French, Belgian Strong, and Sour Ale (The first 2 styles will be covered in this post, the next 2 styles in the next post). There are also Abbey beers which are brewed in the Trappist style but are not produced by a monastery. The beers within a style are going to be similar but will also express a fair amount of flavour variance.

Trappist and Abbey beer denote their sub-styles by calling them single, dubbel, tripel, or quad. This is a general term to describe how much malt and how much % ABV the beer has. Single beers are not really produced any longer, and were intended to be consumed throughout the day without any marked decrease in cognition. Some of the beers have a number after them (e.g. Rochefort 10 or St Bernardus Abt 12) and this is to denote strength relative to the same brewery. A “12” is not stronger than a “10” among different breweries.

Trappist/Abbey beer worth trying:Belgian beer
– Dubbel: St Feuillien Brune – has a roasted malt flavour, medium body, smells fruity, medium sweetness. Other beer in this category that I have not yet tried include the Chimay Rouge and Westmalle Dubbel.
– Trippel: St Feuillien Trippel – smells like pear, medium body, slight bitter after taste, appropriate as an evening beer. Other beer in this category include the Westmalle Trippel and Kasteel Trippel.
– Quad: Kasteel Cuvee du Chateau – smells like raisins and sweet plum, heavy body, tastes like caramel sweet awesomeness, clean finish. Other beer in this category include the Prearis Quad, Chimay Bleu, Rochefort 10, and St Bernardus Abt 12.

Belgian & French beer denotes its sub-styles by calling them witbier, belgian pale ale, saison, bier de garde, or belgian specialty ale. Witbiers are made predominantly with wheat, belgian pale ales are like regular pale ales but with belgian yeast, saisons are low alcohol pale ales (3-8% ABV) that are brewed seasonally in farmhouses in Wallonia, bier de gardes are a stronger pale ale, and belgian specialty ales are more difficult to classify into one sub-style.

Belgian & French beer worth trying:
– Witbier: Hoegaarden – light citrus smell, slightly floral at the beginning, clean finish, and light body. Prearis Belma – smells like oranges, light and tart flavour but not too sharp, medium body, slightly spicy finish. Other beer in this category include Abbaye des Rocs Blanche des Honnelles.
– Belgian Pale Ale: An example of which I did not try is the De Konnick.
– Saison: Dupont Saison – medium body, tangy, citrus finish, better to pair with food. St Feuillien Saison – light body, slight fruity flavour, clean finish, good on its own.
– Bier de Garde: An example of which I did not try is the Saint Sylvestre 3 Monts. 
– Belgian Specialty Ale: St Feuillien Grand Cru: smelled and tasted like caramel, heavy body; must be stored cool but drink it warm (hands under a fat bottomed glass with a stem), otherwise the bottle can explode! Kasteel Rouge: smells and tastes more like a cherry liqueur than a beer; you will like it if you like sweet things!

The next post will discuss the Belgian Strong Ales and the Sour Ales.

Further reading:
– Beer in Belgium on Wikipedia
– Trappist Beer on Wikipedia
– Dageraad Brewing (A Vancouver-area brewery that produces a Belgian style Blonde and Amber ale)
– Old Abbey Ales (A Vancouver-area brewery that produces a Belgian Tripel, Quad, and IPA)

VCBW – An Insider’s Look

I have to admit, I was little sad that I didn’t make it to any of the Vancouver Craft Beer Week special tasting events. Had I been able to attend any of the special nights, I would have gone to the “Rookies vs. Legends” event, which compared 3 “Rookie” and “Legend” craft brewers side-by-side, and the “Cicerone vs. Sommelier” event, which compared a chef-prepared 3 course meal with suggested beer and wine pairings. At the end of the meal, the attendees got to vote on if the Cicerone or Sommelier “won” – that is, who chose the best food and beer/wine pairings.

Alas, I did make it to the grand tasting hall on the last day of the event, and seeing this was my 3rd or 4th time attending, I thought I would “give back” to the community by volunteering. This meant that for relinquishing 4 hours of my afternoon, I would get into the hall for free and be given 5 free tasting tokens (about a $40 ticket + token value; essentially the equivalent of working for minimum wage).

Volunteering to keep you hydrated!This was a fantastic deal to me, and my job was really easy. All I had to do was fill the water jugs outside of the brewer’s tasting stations (and occasionally, empty their slop bucket), and since the place was massively sized, my section was only about 12 brewers all in a row. It was really hot outside that day, but even still, people were not drinking all that much water. It was fun getting a chance to talk with the brewery reps – it made me happier to know which craft brewers were getting my money, and which ones I was less enthused about supporting based on our conversations throughout the day. One of the horrible head-shaking moments was watching one of the breweries get told to pack it up and leave because the VCBW staff caught the booth operators drinking on the job, not even an hour after the festival had opened. Since that compromises the event’s liquor license, they were sent home immediately.

VCBW mapThe only challenging part of this benevolent endeavour was, after my shift was finished, I only had under 2 hours to try all the breweries that I wanted to check out! I also bought some tokens, knowing I would run out of 5 tokens quickly, and a friend I ran into also gave me 2 of their tokens, so now I had 15 tokens to spend in record time. I’m not at all a fast beer drinker, and I didn’t have much food in me, but away I went! One token got you one 4 oz tasting glass, and drinking 60 oz or 3-4 pints in such a short amount of time was asking for trouble!

I prioritized trying beers from breweries that we carried at the liquor store I work at, as well as other ones I just wanted to try. I did stop half way through to eat from one of the food trucks, and thankfully, the wait for my order was not very long. I wouldn’t have been so adamant to spend all my tokens, except that last year, we were allowed to cash in any unspent tokens. This year, they told us we could only use our previous years’ tokens the following year. I became so determined to spend all my tokens and TRY ALL THE BEERS that I ended up dumping half my taster glasses in the slop buckets. This filled me with some shame of wasting beer, but I needed to preserve my brain cells for the hot bus ride home.

Of the many beers I tried, none of them were particularly outstanding, but they were all above average in tastiness. I would definitely try them all again, and keep my eyes peeled for more styles from the same breweries.

My “local” brewery recommendations to check out:

1) Category 12 Brewing (Victoria, BC): The brewmaster has a PhD in microbiology and biochemistry and makes some yummy beers. I recommend trying the Insubordinate Session IPA or the Disruption Black IPA.

2) Dageraad Brewing (Vancouver/Burnaby, BC): Fantastic Belgian-style beer, made locally! I recommend the De Witte, if it’s still being made. It’s a wheat beer brewed with passionfruit, which is only noticeable in its finish. Very refreshing and not overbearing on the Belgian yeast flavour. The first one I had ever was their Amber, which was tastier than most amber beers I’ve had.

3) Tofino Brewing (Tofino/West Coast Vancouver Island, BC): I have never had a beer from Tofino Brewing that I didn’t like. Their smaller facility forces them to be more choosy on what they produce. Their year-round beers comprise a blonde ale, an IPA, and a pale ale, but if you can get your hands on one of their seasonals, I highly recommend their stout and spruce tips pale ale.

Best part about volunteering: the volunteer appreciation party in a couple months. Free and we can bring a friend for the all-you-can-drink extravaganza! I hope to be able to return to volunteering from them again next year and get a chance to check out their other events during the week.

Beginner’s Guide to (Craft) Beer

LOVE craft beer!

I didn’t always feel this way. I hated beer up until I was 25 years old. Why? Because like many people, I thought all there was out there was the horrible piss clear beer that came in cans marked “Molson Canadian” or “Budweiser”. One wouldn’t think to look around for alternatives when the only ads you see are for the big beer giants. Companies which exist only to get you drunk. Plus when you consider that the price of a pint of beer can be anywhere from $5-10 and that usually the alcohol percentage by volume can be as little as 3% ABV (though as much as 10% ABV), you start to think you won’t be getting much bang for your buck, compared to spirits or cocktails where you get 1 oz of 40% ABV for the same price as your pint. However, 40% only sounds like a bigger number. When you compare ABV to # oz, even 3% at 20oz gives you 0.6 fluid oz of alcohol in a pint versus 40% at 1 oz gives you 0.4 fluid oz of alcohol.

Now that we’ve determined that beer is worth the investment, let’s dig a little deeper. The beer that is sold from the big beer giants is automated to produce a large quantity of a product, which means that profits are a bigger priority than quality. That isn’t to suggest that profit is bad or that a small batch craft brewer won’t be making any money, but it does mean that if your comparison standard comes from the big beer giants, then you are missing out on a world of flavour and diversity. Not to mention that it’s incredibly difficult to find small batch spirits distillers (depending on where you live), and if you are interested in “helping out the little local guy”, then the best way you can support this is by drinking locally produced craft beer.

A trip to an establishment that has an extensive craft beer selection can be overwhelming if you don’t know what you like yet. You have to be brave and have knowing some general guidelines will help. Here’s a colour chart to get you started. I prefer to start by thinking of beer in terms of body or heaviness.

Beer Colour Chart

A modified chart obtained from here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Reference_Method

What this picture shows is a beer’s body in comparison to its colour and also gives some examples of beers that fall into each colour category. In the summertime, establishments will tend to have the lighter beers in abundance whereas in the winter, establishments will tend to have the darker beers in abundance.

Other common terms, tips & tricks:

  • Lighter bodied beers tend to be more “bubbly” – their sparkling effervescence will tingle all the way down
  • Heavier bodied beers tend to be more like a dessert – sweet and challenging to have more than 1 or 2 at a time
  • Lighter bodied beers tend to accompany light meats, seafood, and salads quite well
  • Heavier bodied beers tend to accompany dark meats, potatoes, and stews
  • IPA: India Pale Ale is a bitter beer. This is because of the hops chosen. Hops are a component of most beers however, IPAs and their related friends (IPL = India Pale Lager, Cascadian Dark Ale/Lager) will feature the hop flavour first and then choose a malt, yeast, and brewing style to complement the hoppiness. Some IPAs taste quite floral and some just make you stick your tongue out. While it comes down to personal preference, the combination of hop varieties and concentration will make a huge difference. The best kind of establishment will list all their beers with % ABV as well as in IBUs (International Bitterness Units). The lower the IBU, the less bitter the beer is but remember, the type of beer it is will change the perception of how bitter it tastes. A lighter bodied beer will showcase bitterness better than a darker beer.
2 Flights From Spinnakers' Brewing

Go with a friend! Then you can taste 10 beers at once! Taken at Spinnakers’ Brewing in Victoria, BC, Canada. 2014.

The absolute best way to find out what you like is by trying everything, and trying that variety more than once as each brewer’s interpretation is as unique as their fingerprints. Most establishments that serve draught craft beer will sell beer flights or tasting glasses. This means that you can choose either a set amount of beers to try or any amount you want, and each glass is only 4 oz. This comes in especially handy if you think you might enjoy a fruit-flavoured beer or a coffee-flavoured beer; some brewers include those components into the brewing process, and some brewers add those flavours later after the fermentation process is complete. You’ll begin to notice some similarities among certain varieties, but you’ll also begin to appreciate the smaller nuances and the huge variances as you train your palate. ;)

Links for further reading:

  1. Standard Reference Method – Wikipedia
  2. Beer – Wikipedia
  3. CAMRA Vancouver – Craft Beer advocates