B.C. Beer Blog

The who, what, where, when, why, and how of B.C. craft beer

Posts Tagged ‘saison

Spinnakers Hosts First Cask Festival

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Speaking of culinary tourism, Spinnakers hosted their inaugural cask festival on March 14 from noon to 5:00pm. As they’ve been tapping a different cask every weekday since December, it was only a matter of time before they would have a festival. I got word that the planning was underway when two of their employees attended the X-mas X-treme Caskival at Dix on December 6 to take notes.

The timing of Spinnakers’ cask festival was somewhat unfortunate in that it coincided with Just Here for the Beer’s Wine & Beer Festival at the Plaza 500 Hotel in Vancouver. Forced to make a choice, I selected Real Ale and an excuse to get out of town. Even with a high chance of rain, a day spent indoors imbibing cask-conditioned ale from some of BC’s top breweries, in the company of brewers and the craft beer cognoscenti, is time well spent.

The event was held upstairs in Spinnakers’ pub, which meant a limited number of tickets were available. Demand seems to have greatly exceeded supply as they sold out rapidly. Perhaps for the next one they will consider a larger venue. However, I doubt they will close off the downstairs dining room as I’m sure they make a lot more money from regular diners than drinkers.

Nineteen beers were featured, so there was adequate space to stage the casks around the room. The lineup was:

Some of the brewers who contributed to the cask festival.

In comparison to the more freestyle nature seen at Dix Caskivals, these beers were fairly indicative of their respective styles. A little bit of experimentation was seen with Canoe’s stout, Granville Island’s Ginger Beer, Spinnakers’ Black Velvet, and Swans’ porter, but nothing as eccentric as Dave Varga’s Masala Pale Ale or Tariq Khan’s Chipotle Cream Ale that they brewed for Caskival. Canoe Habit Espresso Stout is a collaboration with a Victoria coffee roaster. I like both beverages; even better together! Granville Island Ginger Beer appeals to all those ginger lovers with plenty of Hawaiian ginger to spice things up — great food pairing beer. Spinnakers’ Black Velvet was a blend of Irish stout and sparkling white wine. This was my first taste of the fest and I found it tasty, light, and refreshing — somewhat reminiscent of Unibroue Chambly Noire. Swans Pod Porter was conditioned with organic Madagascar vanilla pods, giving it a nicely enhanced vanilla flavour that is a major contrast to Granville Island’s over-the-top, cloying Winter Ale. Lovers of the latter should compare the two in a side-by-side tasting.

Spinnakers Katie Zimmerman announces end of their inaugural cask festival.

Spinnakers Katie Zimmerman announces end of their inaugural cask festival.

Although Phillips did not bring a cask, they did do something out of the ordinary that I found most welcome, despite some people’s grumblings — they served their draught IPA through two randalls, one containing Cascade hops, the other Centennial. Basically, they were dry-hopping the IPA even more on the fly. Delicious!

This was the first opportunity I had to try the mysterious Lighthouse Riptide Pale Ale. It’s their first new beer in three years and I must say that it’s about time! Offering seasonal beers is a basic practice for improving marketing: at the very least, you have more to say to the public to get their attention. Naturally, I was curious to find out more about the Riptide — how is it different from all the other pale ales out there; what malt or hops did they use, etc. Unfortunately, they won’t tell me anything beyond their generic marketese: ‘choicest imported malts, mated with a unique hop blend…’ Doesn’t everyone say that? Actually, no. If you look at the festival programme, virtually all of the other brewers talk about the specific ingredients they used for their beer. No big trade secret. Without specific measurements and knowing the particular brewing techniques, it is highly unlikely a brewer will be able to exactly match another’s beer. There are too many variables. I find the secrecy rather silly. Riptide doesn’t have a je ne sais quoi that makes it truly unique. It’s just another pale ale aiming for broad drinkability.

Five hours of drinking means that you need to have something to eat. Spinnakers is a good place to be hungry. I ordered their pulled pork nachos and Highland Beef Burger. There was no need for dinner after! Nevertheless, as a lagniappe, complimentary handmade white chocolate saison truffles were served to sweeten the day’s experience.
I always find these festivals come to a reluctant end. There’s never enough time to talk in a lot of detail to all of the brewers and your craft beer comrades and still be able to taste all of the beers. Fortunately, if you wanted to stay around, Spinnakers honoured purchased tasting tickets and you could order pints of any of the remaining casks. I had a ferry to catch, so I made a hasty departure with my travelling companions, Spinnakers Barley Wine and India Pale Ale malt vinegars for souvenirs.

Super Bowl Super Duds

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A Province article on February 1 explained how their sports department attempted to discover “the best refreshing brew to enjoy” while watching the Super Bowl. Naturally, given the sports orientation of the exercise, this year’s “ultimate Super Sud” was to be determined by a “knockout-style bracket.” The contenders? BC’s eight top-selling beer brands and eight “lesser-known but still tasty” ones. The tasting panel was comprised of six males and one female. (Do we detect a bias?) For the results, read on and weep.

The provincial top eight sellers are:
1. Corona
2. Molson Canadian
3. Kokanee
4. Budweiser
5. Coors
6. Stella Artois
7. Miller Genuine Draft
8. Alexander Keith’s

Notice that seven of the eight are mass-market lagers. All eight are heavily advertised — ergo, the power of media in brainwashing the public. Many would call these everyday beers for the working man, but think of what really is the working man’s brew. Is it beer’s equivalent of Wonder Bread, a product mass-produced by a large corporation to appeal to the lowest common denominator in order to maximize profits? These contenders strike me as the equivalent of trying to find the tastiest meal by comparing McDonald’s with Burger King, Wendy’s, Subway, KFC, Panago, Tim Horton’s, and Denny’s. Because the food can be had fast and cheap, notwithstanding the ultimate high price paid, people are persuaded they are, somehow, good.

The remaining eight were:
9. Sleeman’s  (sic) Honey Brown
10. Carlsberg
11. Grolsch
12. Innis and (sic) Gunn
13. Bowen Island Pale
14. Phoenix
15. St. Ambroise
16. Yanjing

“Phoenix” is actually Phillips Phoenix Gold Lager. St. Ambroise could be any one of eight beers produced by Montreal’s MacAuslan Brewing; in this case, it happens to be their Apricot Wheat Ale.

In the first round, the match-up was between Corona & Yanjing, Canadian & St. Ambroise, Kokanee & Phoenix Gold, Budweiser & Bowen Island, Coors versus Innis & Gunn, Stella & Grolsch, MGD & Carlsberg, and Keith’s & Sleeman. Going on to the next round were Yanjing, Canadian, Kokanee, Budweiser, Innis & Gunn, Grolsch, MGD, and Sleeman. Except for the I&G, all the remaining contenders are lagers.

In the Province article’s commentary, there were some interesting remarks. Corona was characterized as “bland” and “distinctly unimpressive.” So why is it the top-selling beer in BC? If you are what you eat/drink, what would that say about the people here? Of course, being the top-seller doesn’t necessarily mean that the majority of people here buy it. Those that like it may guzzle it a lot, but the rest of us may be justly satisfied with drinking less and drinking well.

Naturally, the St. Ambroise was deemed a girly beer (“This isn’t a Super Bowl beer…”), so the female panelist was rapidly slapped down. But Innis & Gunn proved Kevlar to the Silver Bullet, keeping her in the game as it was her clear favourite. Kokanee trumped Phoenix Gold because it’s “a good, standard, hoser beer.” That clearly deserves a replay. Budweiser dominated Bowen Island, but all of the latter’s tasters were polished off. Sound like the game was rigged? Next to Grolsch, Stella was exposed as “swill,” “rancid and awful.” Better beer does tend to do that. The Sleeman Honey Brown was mischaracterized as an ale. I guess the panel didn’t think a lager could have such flavour.

I was a Kokanee whore. Now I’m changing my ways.
- Rose Weir, The Whip Restaurant & Gallery

The second round pitted Sleeman against Yanjing, Canadian vs. MGD, Kokanee & Grolsch, and Budweiser vs. Innis & Gunn. Given the trend so far, one might expect Sleeman, Grolsch, and Innis & Gunn to get knocked out. Not so. Going on to the semi-finals were Sleeman, MGD, Kokanee, and Budweiser. Comically, Grolsch was characterized as a “Dutch ‘Budweiser.’” Nevertheless, the competition started getting serious. A former CFL player on the panel was reduced to cursing when Bud advanced.

Now at this point, even when you’re drinking swill, the beer can start going to your head. The panel’s choice of sustenance to keep moving the ball forward? Pizza and chips — two of America’s favourite food groups.

With the carbo loading out of the way, the taste of victory was in the mouths of the remaining competitors. Down to the five yard line? MGD and Sleeman! Who’s going to kick the winning field goal? The five times cold filtered contradiction (hint: draft means it isn’t in a bottle) or the beer of colour that’s actually a lager? Potential spoiler: the writer notes that Sleeman comes in clear bottles and “some have said that the taste can be affected by the exposure to light.” However, the panel didn’t seem to think so. I imagine it’s because their bottles weren’t light struck (thus, it’s conclusive this is a myth!). Ever wondered why beer bottles are mostly brown?

Despite the handicap, Sleeman Honey Brown is voted the Super Sud. Why? “…having slogged through so many lighter-tasting beers, they all began to taste the same. But not Sleeman’s.” Wow! A sports-centric group tiring of beer monoculture? We may be starting to get somewhere. But given the glacial rate of progress, I’m not quite prepared to hold my breath. Calling beer “suds” doesn’t indicate to me an appreciable degree of respect for the beverage. Would you catch a writer referring to wine as “plonk?” Only if it were meant to indicate derision.

The first problem with this competition is that the goal was to pick a single beer to imbibe for a whole eight hours. Why do you have to drink just one for the entire duration? What a bore! The other problem was the selection chosen to begin with. Twelve lagers out of 16 evaluated? That’s a distinct stylistic bias. The rabble have yet to discover bocks, porters, dubbels, tripels, quadrupels, saisons, lambics, alts, barley wine, bitters, milds, IPAs, Scotch ale, bière de garde, Rauchbier, Roggenbier, Koelsch, wood-aged ales, red ales, brown ales, Trappist ales, spiced ales, Russian Imperial stout, sahti, Berliner Weisse, Australian sparkling ale, etc. It’s kind of like the Titanic hitting an iceberg: the extent of what exists is not visible from what is merely in the surface.

I’m always puzzled by the strong association of light lager with American football, as epitomized by the Super Bowl beer commercials. If football is such a macho sport, then why do jocks think it is très cool to drink such wimpy, characterless beer? Something more fitting would be a chewy IPA or stout. When faced with the latter, however, the sport nuts are scared of the dark and want the light turned on. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate their image.

In the meantime, stay tuned for periodic beer evaluations from the Thinking Drinkers tasting panel. They will be more even-handed evaluations with an even split between male and female participants. For inspiration, my “first-down” this evening is going to be one of the last bottles of R&B’s Hop Goblin’, which will be replaced with a new brand: same IPA, different name. We can thank the litigious limeys at Wychwood for that.

Indonesian Restaurant Reaches Beyond Lager

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When it comes to beer, most Asian restaurants typically offer little but lager because that is the dominant, if not only, style of beer brewed in their respective countries. For the lager loather, they may have Guinness, but that doesn’t mean it actually pairs well with any items on their menu. This is a shame because there are a number of beer styles that go very well with different Asian dishes. For example, every Indian restaurant should have an India Pale Ale (Alexander Keith’s not being an IPA), not only because the style was created for India but because it also happens to go well with many spicy Indian dishes.

Saison Dupont, Fernie First Trax, R & B Hop Goblin

From top left: saté lamb chop, krupuk (shrimp chips), coconut prawn & sambal mayonnaise, green beans & kecap manis, beef rendang (centre). The beer, from left: Saison Dupont, Fernie First Trax, R & B Hop Goblin'

A Vancouver restaurant is changing this stereotype. I hosted beer-tasting dinners on April 27 and November 8 at Saté Satu, an Indonesian restaurant in Cambie Village, to highlight pairing Asian food with ales (more photos on Picasa) . The menu was as follows:

Salads pair well with wheat beers. In this case, I chose a Belgian wit to go with the Gado Gado. Wheat beers also pair well with seafood. But to change things up a bit and showcase another style of beer, I chose to match the prawn with a saison, a very versatile and palate-cleansing food beer.

Darker beers typically pair well with dark meats. The trick is to discover which style. Depending on how it is prepared, lamb can have a strong flavour. In this case, the spices it is marinated in cut down on the gaminess, while grilling brings out some sweetness from caramelization. Therefore, I chose a brown ale that complements this, but won’t overwhelm the taste of the food with heavy body and full flavour.

One might be tempted to pair the beef rendang with a porter or stout. However, this one was spicy. If you aren’t able to handle a lot of chili heat, either of these styles will be completely inadequate to stand up to the spiciness. Therefore, I chose an India pale ale to dampen the heat. If you can find one, even better would be an India brown ale. The hop bitterness would counteract the chilis on the one hand, while the malt sweetness would be a better match for the beef.

How much spiciness you can handle in your food actually makes a difference as to what style of beer will pair best with your food. The less heat you can handle, the bigger a beer you need; the converse is also true.

Finally, the deep-fried banana has some options, depending on how it is presented. If there is any chocolate sauce, a chocolate or roasty imperial stout would work. In this case, however, it was plated with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and fruit. Consequently, I chose a wheat Eisbock because the caramel of the beer goes well with the carmelized batter of the banana. Also, the banana esters from the wheat beer yeast complement the dessert perfectly.

The owners of Saté Satu were very pleased with the outcome of the dinners, not only because their customers were satisfied with the experience but it gives them an opportunity to distinguish themselves from their competitors. Consequently, they modified their beer selection to include the ones above.

My next beer pairing dinner will be on November 19 at the House of Dosas (1391 Kingsway, Vancouver) with dishes from Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu.

Driftwood in Production

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Driftwood Brewery brewmaster, Jason Meyer, talks about his plans for brewing various styles of beer for a constantly-changing offering (Photo © 2008 Rick Green).

Driftwood Brewery brewmaster, Jason Meyer, talks about his plans for brewing various styles of beer for a constantly-changing offering (Photo © 2008 Rick Green).

Jason Meyer is in the middle of making Driftwood Brewery’s first commercial batch of beer. Their flagship Driftwood Ale and Farmhand Ale saison have finished fermenting. We’re getting closer to experiencing a welcome addition to B.C.’s craft-brewing scene. Driftwood expect to launch these in Victoria this month.

According to Meyer, their 5% Driftwood Ale is a “perfect marriage of Northwest and German hops balanced with cotton candy malt notes and a hint of fruit courtesy of our own special yeast.”

Farmhand Ale is a traditional Belgian-style farmhouse ale named for the beer that seasonal farm workers consumed when bringing in the harvest. At 5.5% ABV, this ale was made with sour mash and added spice.

While Driftwood’s primary market will be Vancouver Island, brewery President, Kevin Hearsum, intimated that their beer will also be available at The Alibi Room in Vancouver. We may also be lucky to see some 650ml bottles with the SRP of $4.75 in select stores.

To track Driftwood’s progress, you can find photos and video on the brewery’s Facebook page. I also have photos on Flickr from my visit there on September 5.

New Brewery Ferments in Victoria

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Third-hand brewing system originally from Flying Monkey Brewery in Olathe, Kansas.

Third-hand brewing system originally from Flying Monkey Brewery in Olathe, Kansas.

Just when you thought Victoria had enough breweries, another one is about to float in on the capital’s wave of craft brewing success. Driftwood Brewery is a new venture of Kevin Hearsum and Jason Meyer, formerly of Lighthouse Brewing. Meyer, Driftwood’s brewmaster, is a BJCP certified beer judge, past President of the Edmonton Homebrewers’ Guild, and Alley Kat’s first employee.

Driftwood will be a production micro-brewery producing draught largely for bars and restaurants in the Victoria area, along with 650ml bottles in select private liquor stores. Some seasonal releases will only be available in bottles. (I think we can persuade Driftwood to send some of their beer over the pond to Vancouver, knowing Nigel Springthorpe at the Alibi Room will want to stop by on his regular trips to the Island.)

What makes Driftwood different? According to Meyer, “We plan on providing an eclectic mix of high quality brews with a continuously changing selection and a decidedly Belgian slant. Expect to see everything from styles familiar to Northwest beer lovers (we love our “C” hops as much as anyone) to wild and brettanomyces-fermented, wood-aged, sour mash, and other adventures in flavour.”

Driftwood brewmaster, Jason Meyer, stands in front of his vented mash tun.

Driftwood brewmaster, Jason Meyer, stands in front of his vented mash tun.

This is welcome news for B.C. We won’t have to import Belgian-style beer from Quebec, the U.S., or Europe to get our fix. There is a building interest in Belgians with many brewpubs and micro-breweries releasing fruit beers, dubbels, tripels, and Wits, Granville Island being just the latest with their limited release Belgian Wit now available. James Walton, brewmaster of Vancouver’s Storm Brewing, has been the most experimental with his phenomenal fruit lambics that were ahead of their time for sufficient acceptance by the local market — unfortunate because he is no longer making them. Spinnaker’s Rob Monk released a saison at the beginning of this year that tasted more like an abbey ale due to the predominant presence of bubble gum in the flavour profile. Nevertheless, I hope he continues to work on this versatile style.

Driftwood is currently under construction; they just received their brewing equipment this week. If you are interested in following their progress, you can track it through their Facebook page. And while Hearsum and Meyer have already made dozens of experimental brews in their pilot brewery, they don’t expect to be in production until the fall. Their goal is to produce 2,000 hectolitres in the first year and 5,000-7,000 hectolitres within five years.

Although they intend on exhibiting at the GCBF, Meyer doesn’t think they will have any beer to offer. Nevertheless, I”m sure they’ll be happy if you stopped by for a chat.

Driftwood Brewery
450 Hillside Avenue, Unit 102
Victoria, BC  V8T 1Y7
Tel: (250) 381-BREW (2739)
Fax: (250) 384-2333

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