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.

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.

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 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