Some hobbies are more dangerous than others. Certainly, this is one with which requires some care because, by all accounts, I took one for the team with the substantial field work I completed last month during my pilgrimage back home to BC.
Fresh off the airplane, the first stop my father made was for provisions as I would be going into the ‘backcountry’ of BC — read: my cousin’s acreage in Greystoke — to conduct research where the only real threat to life or limb would be my extended family and their stockpile of water guns and water balloons. And if you thought you could outrun an 8-year old, well, ask yourself, can you outrun an 8-year old and a couple of ‘tweens after an afternoon of ‘research’? Throw in an uncle also doing ‘research’ and the landscape gets pretty treacherous … but I digress.
The focus of this expedition would not be the OCD spectrum that runs throughout the wild-ones aka my kin, but rather the relatively tame posse I would round up at the BC Liquor Store (BCLS). And, no, for the record, that’s not the typical first stop of either myself or my father … but it did portend where this story was going to wind its watery way.
While my field journal was still empty, my brain was full of the recent advice provided by other enthusiasts of the blogosphere over the last year, so when I walked into that liquor store, I behaved by all accounts like some child in a hop-filled candy store. Judging by the $100 then put on my Visa, the foraging mission I led over the shelves of this unsuspecting tack shop was none-too-pretty. Rampage complete, I emerged with eleven new trophies tagged for vivisection, including a few whose preceeding reputation made for a very focused hunt along the shelves. In the end, it’s not that what I bought that was really that crazy — it’s that I set out to taste and drink my way through my basket of provisions over the course of the next 7 days … and the clock was already ticking. Suffice to say, I have drank substantially little beer since my return and I’ve been burning the calories on the roads ever since.
Of the trophies I chose, one beer was from Calgary, Alberta, two were from California, and the rest were from six BC cities: Victoria (2), Squamish (2), Revelstoke, Penticton, Whistler, and Surrey. Ah, it was a great bit of travel indeed and filled with a surprising bit of nostalgia as I got to return to all these towns of my younger years … with the exception of discovering a few places in California, a state I’ve still failed to visit. With each bottle I opened, I thought of the waters that defined each of those places and I wrapped myself in the vaporous blankets of their scents.
All kidding and extended metaphors aside, it was a lot of fun, some wonderful discoveries, and a great chance to explore the distribution of craft beer on the other side of this continent that doesn’t easily make its way to Ottawa. Please forgive the brevity of most of the reviews: I was with my much loved family and it was all I could do to write a few lines without getting more appraising looks than I already received.
“Dead Reckoning” (Royal IPA), Big Rock
Stats: Royal IPA. 7.5% ABV. Calgary, Alberta.
Colour: Dark amber.
Mouth Feel: Medium-low carbonation, almost flat in the mouth.
First up a disappointing connection with one of of Canada’s first microbreweries … which is now trying to re-discover their ‘craft.’ Disappointing, to say the least. Big Rock Brewery’s “Dead Reckoning” is very malty upfront; caramel and yeast off the nose. The beer has a ‘strong’ flavor that catches you right away. Toasty, nutty. Rather thin in the middle which is accentuated more by the low carbonation. The end is nice with a crisp bitter ending, a bit of sweetness from the malts, and some residual paperiness. Not a bad beer at all, but the maltiness of it make it more European than Canadian and a poor example of an “royal” (Imperial) IPA.
“Night Time” (Fear the Dark Ale), Lagunitas Brewing Co.
Stats: American Dark Ale. 8.2% ABV. 65 IBUs. Petaluma, California.
Colour: Deep Dark Brown.
Mouth Feel: Medium carbonation, full and creamy.
→ 93 points
As disappointing as my research began in Alberta, a trip California quickly cured this with one of the highlights of the trip. This pours a rich dark brown with a gorgeous creamy head that reminds me of the kind of tight creaminess you find on a Guinness. The lacing is awesome as it slowly fades which portends the excellent bitters that close out the taste — which is why this is an American ale. Oh, and what a first taste. “Creamy” is the first thing you taste – a feeling more than taste, I admit. But that creaminess quickly gives way to chocolate and the rich dark malts that bring a nice charred smokiness to the beer as well. Within the high test elixirs in which it floats, there are elements of this beer that reminds me of a barley wine and its very full flavor.
I’m very sorry this is a limited release and so far only available on the west coast … this a brewery that has style, thought, and a definite craft to what they’re producing. If you like a dark ale, this is something to seek out. And with the 65 IBUs, and a specific gravity just right, it is not a winter beer … it drinks very well as the sun goes down on a hot summers day. Highly recommend it.
“White Bark” (Witbier), Driftwood Brewery
Stats: Wheat Beer. 5% ABV. Victoria, BC.
Colour: Honey-white, unfiltered.
Mouth Feel: Medium carbonation, large bubbles, but rather flat and smooth in the mouth.
→ 84 points
It seemed only fitting to create a juxtaposition of dark with white; big vs. light … and further play off the “dog” in the first label with the “bark” of this one from Victoria.
A nice Beligan-style wheat beer, it pours a light, almost bleached out honey colour. Off the nose there is a bit of light citrus and some yeast with some grassiness from the wheat. In the mouth, the first taste is light, with a low specific gravity leaving a refreshing and none-too-full feeling in the mouth. There isn’t a tonne of complexity going on here with average alcohol and light on the malts giving the wheat and the spices plenty of room to show their character. Contrary the Oranje Weisse previously reviewed, the orange (peel) in here is a bit more fruit forward and pronounced. This followed up nicely with the coriander which brings a bit of that grassiness to the tongue before it finishes with a refreshing and slightly sour (the wheat) finish. All in all, an above average wheat ale that is surely to please a lot of people and make for a great summer-time brew.
“Scorpion” (DIPA), The Tin Whistle Brewing Co.
Stats: DIPA. 8% ABV. Penticton, BC.
Colour: Burnt-Orange Amber.
Mouth Feel: Medium carbonation, produces buttery refreshing taste.
→ 85 points
My first DIPA of the research — though technically the ‘royal’ IPA should have fit in this category as well — I picked a good one. Excellent malts up front create balance for a strong hoppy ending. It pours a beautiful dark amber with a tight shaving cream head that lasts well and leaves an exceptional lacing, even when the beer is done. Off the nose, it is butterscotch and yeast. While the beer doesn’t have the floral or citrusy west coast hop flavours I was expecting, the malts are on full display from beginning to end and produce an expected flavor bomb in the mouth which is woodsy, deep with caramels and when buttressed by the diacetyls produce a butterscotch experience. In the middle there is a bit of sourness that fills out the taste before ending with a refreshing ending with very little in the way of papery aftertaste … indeed, an experience that begs for sip after sip. An excellent beer.
“Red Racer” (IPA), Central City Brewers
Stats: IPA. 6.5% ABV. Surrey, BC.
Colour: Orange Amber.
Mouth Feel: Medium carbonation, large bubbles, creamy taste with refreshing ending.
→ 95 points
Reputation is an iffy proposition. It means the bar is set and if you’re the one going over the bar, all eyes are on you. Red Racer is a BC beer I’ve heard about for a few years and have been tantalized by the description for as long. So I was excited when a six pack of cans stared back at me at the BCLS … this weekend was going to be the moment of truth.
Now I usually shun … and shun by a large distance … anything that comes in a can. But there are a few brewers out there that shun the bottle convention and leave us with a simple choice: accept or simply reject.
Accepting the challenge, I poured this beautiful tiger-tail brew and waited for the experience. A nice head forms quickly and easily but dissipates without a lot of residual lacing except a tight circle that clings to the outside of the glass. Off the nose you’re not peppered with the tell-tale west coast hops you might be thinking for a renowned IPA, but they are there. Instead, what jumps out most is the caramels from the malts. Similarly, that first taste is earthy, and malty … and it ends in a beautifully creamy mouthfeel which is like a loving hand on the back of the throat. There is some clear salt in the middle, some grassiness, and a bit of orange, before the beer ends with an exceptional bitterness which is why hop-heads the continent-over are talking about this beer … and most telling of all, it ends without any of the nasty bitter ending that might otherwise come … a balance produced by the excellent malts.
In sum, this is a beer that lives up to the reputation, carries easily over the bar, and is standing at the end of the event with gold medal around its neck and the national anthem playing in the background: “Oh Canada….” Truly a world-class beer.
“Paradise Valley Grapefruit Ale” (Grapefruit Blonde), The Whistler Brewing Co.
Stats: Wheat Beer. 5% ABV. Whistler, BC.
Colour: Orange Amber, unfiltered.
Mouth Feel: Medium-low carbonation, smooth and creamy, refreshing finish.
→ 81 points
I’m definitely not a fan of the fruit-flavoured beers. I don’t see them and hone in on them like a heat seeking missile, that’s for sure. But when they are done well, they are worth the investigation. And given that the average temperature during this “research trip” has been 35°C, it seemed an even better reason to imbibe in something playful and refreshing.
I have to say, this beer was a treat. While it doesn’t pour with the most magnificent head in the world, the flavours take over very quickly. Off the nose, it is caramel, light, then some of the coriander and then the grapefruit peel. In the mouth, the beer doesn’t get particularly complex but what it does and what it aims for it does well: crisp, clean, and lots of grapefruit (go figure). In this case, it is moderate flavour of grapefruit that pops up in the mid-taste after the light malts start, and then the grapefruit carries the day to complete a bitter, refreshing ending. Really, there isn’t a lot more to say. It is what it is … and in the right time and place, it is perfectly good.
“Nasty Habit” (IPA), Mt Begbie Brewing Co
Stats: IPA. 6% ABV. Revelstoke, BC.
Colour: Amber, perfectly filtered.
Mouth Feel: Medium carbonation, creamy through the middle, and light finish.
Truth in advertising? Yes or no?
Allow yourself to be seduced by our Nasty Habit. A generously hopped IPA, balanced by a diabolical blend of rich specialty malts and pure mountain water. A wicked ale that leaves you lusting for more!
I have to say, I love the label for this beer and so I was thoroughly intrigued what it was going to taste like when it got opened. I poured with a nice tight head, but not overwhelming and it dissipates quickly. The colour is a surreal amber, like someone has truly filled your glass with liquid amber. The taste is a gorgeous butterscotch with some orange peel and as creamy an ending as you’ll get in a glass. And what about the hops? They’re there in spades with a malty start and refreshing bitterness that just lingers in your mouth like candy that has melted in your mouth. Want another? Take another sip and relax because this will indeed become a nasty habit for those that can get it. An excellent IPA from some of the most beautiful mountains in the world.
“Torpedo Extra IPA” (DIPA), Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Stats: DIPA. 7.2% ABV. Chico, California.
Colour: Dark amber.
Mouth Feel: Medium carbonation, tight bubbles, creamy and easy going on the mouth.
→ 86 points
So an interesting week, for sure, to pit the brilliantly esteemed Canadian Red Racer (above) against the much ballyhooed “Torpedo” from Sierra Nevada Brewing, one of the top-rated brewers in the USA for many years. Who’s the top dog?
Pouring a big dark amber with a nice tight foam on top, here’s another beer that is sure to please many a hop head. The brewery claims “Balance” and I would have to agree.
The malts and hops are themselves in balance as is therefore the sweetness and bitterness of the ending … which is pretty well done for a beer that is both 7.2% and an extra IPA (read: DIPA). They claim their method of “dry hopping” provides an abundance of hop flavours not found elsewhere. I can’t say that this beer stands out as “unique” but I will say it is an exceptionally brewed beer. Yeasts and malts come off the nose and the first taste is a beautiful mouthfeel of buttery carbonation that leads effortlessly from the sweet through to the bitter ending. Drink it quickly and you may indeed feel like you’ve been submarined … drink it slowly and you’ll rejoice in a delicious hoppiness that is sure to impress the most ardent hop-head.
As for fame and reputation? Perhaps it was unique once, but I think this beer runs like a 40-year old athlete, ready for the hall of fame, but who is now overtaken but new stars. Victory to Red Racer, hands down — but an excellent IPA, for sure.
“Devil’s Elbow” (IPA), Howe Sound Brewing
Stats: IPA. 6% ABV. 68 IBUs. Squamish, BC.
Size: 1 Quart/ 1 Litre
Colour: Dark Amber.
Mouth Feel: Medium carbonation.
→ 83 points
Named for the dramatic grade 4 Devil’s Elbow rapid on the Elaho River, north of Squamish, BC, this is a beer that is as good as riding down the river itself … though not as perilous as the name might suggest. It pours a dark amber, slightly unfiltered and with an ample and tight head that lingers for a while with a generous amount of lacing which belies the 68 IBUs. The first taste is balanced with the unusual malts that are mixed with a slightly sour wheat-forward taste. The middle opens up very quickly with more sourness and some rustic almost peaty or even smoky malts … and then finishes up some grapefruit zest and some hops and big bitters. There is a bit of iron and minerality at the final end that does detract a bit from an otherwise very well-balanced and very palatable beer … which is very good, because you have a litre to drink with yourself or your closest friends.
“Electric Unicorn” (White IPA), Phillips Brewing Co.
Stats: White IPA. 6% ABV. 68 IBUs. Squamish, BC.
Colour: Unfiltered milky gold … pear.
Mouth Feel: Medium carbonation with a clear finish of fruit.
→ 85 points
Electric Unicorn is a hop-infused white ale; best enjoyed while riding mystical mono-horned laser beast. Racing through the galaxy to the sonic backdrop of screaming metal guitars. Time to ditch reality and take this india pale fairy tale for a ride.
Not sure this hallucinogenic beer was the right inspiration to end the research, but it ended when it end. The beers pours an unfiltered pale, almost pear nectar, of a beer. With a thin head, this is a flavourful white ale if there was ever one. Upfront, the very full-bodied mouthfeel is all pear and apple with a hint of lemon at the end. The beer ends with a refreshing and slightly bitter ending that propels taste after taste to the back of the mouth. Really, this is far from the insipid white ale I’ve come to expect. Refreshing and truly delicious and if you’re looking for an unexpected and tasty white ale, this is one to seek out and find. Citrus and creamy and delicious in a dream.
Hmmm … hallucinogenics in a bottle? Sign me for this excellent white ale.
No, I didn’t get to review the final brew of the field trip: Rhubie Rhubarb Ale from Lighthouse Brewing Company. I drank half of it on the last night of my trip, fully saturated from all the other beers I drank. My impression was poor, but I’ll grant you that I was not in the most open-minded mood when I tasted it and the bar had been fully set by the beers that came before it. I found the taste of rhubarb in it to be weak and unimpressive where the rhubarb was less a ‘taste’ as an effect: sour. All in all, of all the beers I drank, it was my least favourite and I can’t recommend it.