B.C. Beer Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Crannóg

Craft Beer Culinary Tour Highlights Gastown

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Rogue Wetbar beer samples & food pairings.

Whenever I plan to visit a new city, if it isn’t in Saudi Arabia, I’m checking out the local craft beer scene online ahead of time  to ensure I enjoy some of the local flavour. I know I’m not alone in that regard because If you visit Rate Beer and Beer Advocate, you’ll notice each has a section set up for the brews traveller. And with the rapid growth of craft brewing in North America, beer tourism is also on the rise.

Beer festivals, like the Great Canadian Beer Festival in Victoria and the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale in Pentiction, are obvious tourism boosts to those cities. Penticton, however, isn’t known as a beer town. Victoria, on the other hand, is well-regarded in craft beer drinker circles for its high per capita number of breweries, pubs, and brewpubs. The fact that I don’t see much of Victoria outside of those when I visit is a testament to the quality experience our provincial capital offers.

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CAMRA Vancouver Recognizes Local Beer Excellence

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Central City brewer, Gary Lohin

Central City brewer, Gary Lohin.

The Vancouver chapter of the Campaign for Real Ale has announced the results of its annual members poll recognizing local and regional excellence in brewing and beer service. Surrey’s Central City Brewing was awarded Best Local Brewpub; the Alibi Room Best Local Beer Cafe, Pub, or Restaurant; and Brewery Creek Liquor Store, Best Local Liquor Store for beer selection. This is the second year both the Alibi Room and Brewery Creek were rated the best in their categories.

With the growing popularity of cask-conditioned ale (Real Ale) in Vancouver, more establishments have been adding this type of beer to their offerings. For this reason, CAMRA Vancouver added a Best Local Cask Night to its list of awards. In a nod to its pioneering role in popularizing Real Ale in the city, Dix Barbecue and Brewery won this category and won silver for its winter cask ale festival. The Whip is also acknowledged for its Real Ale Sundays with a different cask every week supplied by R&B Brewing.

Since last year, Amber Jack’s Tap House, St. Augustine’s Restaurant & Lounge, and Yaletown Brewing have each begun offering Real Ale on a weekly or monthly basis. The Alibi Room now offers a continuously changing selection of three cask ales nightly. They celebrated their 100th beer menu rotation on December 3. Read the rest of this entry »

Moving Mountains

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Sometimes, changing a culture feels like trying to move a mountain. You put all your strength into it and it doesn’t budge. Of course, being that lone wacko on the fringe is like battling windmills with a toothbrush, you can easily be dismissed. Having acquaintances with earth moving equipment, though, begins to lessen the odds.

Fun at the Fest-of-Ale

Modelling beerwear at the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale, Penticton - April 4, 2009.

In BC’s craft beer scene, we witnessed a slight tremor in the mountain in 2009. Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub inaugurated their first cask ale festival on March 14, which quickly sold out. They followed with another fest on November 21. Both days of Penticton’s Okanagan Fest-of-Ale on April 3 & 4 were completely subscribed. Summer Caskival at Dix Barbecue and Brewery in Vancouver garnered a full house. The Great Canadian Beer Festival always sees full attendance on both days. CAMRA Vancouver’s Oktoberfest celebration at the Granville Island Tap Room sold out. X-mas X-treme at Dix on December 5 had to close its doors less than two hours into the event because of reaching capacity. Now we find that the third annual Feast of Five Firkins at Vancouver’s The Whip Restaurant & Gallery sold out in a day!

This can be a bit of a problem for CAMRA members and their circle who have supported many of these events from the beginning. Venues are at capacity when you visit, or events are sold out with even a day’s delay. What’s a poor beer aficionado to do? Well, it indicates an expansion of capacity is necessary. Events may have to grow or become more frequent. More establishments will have to be persuaded to part with their slavish 10 taps of crap and begin offering a rotating selection from other parts of the beer spectrum. Pioneers have to venture out to tame the frontier, bringing living colour to the glasses of macro-lagerdom.

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X-mas X-treme Strong Ale Festival

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One of Vancouver’s best beer tasting events is on tomorrow at Dix BBQ & Brewery. This is an annual event held every December to showcase a variety of strong ales that highlight the seasonality of beer. In the colder weather, you might be inclined to reach for a warming beer, as opposed to a refreshing beer that you would seek in summer.

Typical winter warmers are barley wines, Belgian strong ales, bocks, English strong ales, imperial stouts, Scotch ales, and spiced ales. Here’s this year’s lineup:

  • BigRidge IPA
  • Central City Spiced Winter Ale
  • Crannóg Old Puddin’ Head
  • DIX Saison Visceral
  • DIX Smoked Plum Porter
  • DIX India Red Truck Ale
  • DIX Rum-Candied Mandarin Orange & Organic Espresso cask-conditioned Imperial Stout
  • Dockside Winter Ale
  • Granville Island Jolly Abbot
  • Howe Sound Father John Christmas
  • Longwood Scotch Ale
  • Mission Springs Winter
  • R & B Auld Nick
  • Russell Cranberry Porter
  • Steamworks Blitzen
  • Storm Snakebite
  • Swans Scotch Ale
  • Taylor’s Crossing Dubbel
  • Tree cask-conditioned Double Hophead
  • Whistler Bear Arse Barleywine
  • Whistler Vanilla Bourbon Porter
  • Yaletown Le Nez Rouge
  • Yaletown Oud Bruin

Some of the brewers like to experiment a little, so you often get a one-off beer that you may never ever taste again. Many of the brewers also attend the event, which is a good opportunity to get to know your local brewer. In addition to the full food menu at Dix, there will be a special open-faced turkey sandwich with stuffing and gravy.

For some of the best beer in the province, make your way down to:
Dix Barbecue & Brewery
871 Beatty Street, Vancouver
Saturday, December 6, 2008, noon – 5:00pm
Cost: $20 entry ($10 CAMRA members); $1.00 per 4oz sample

BC Hop Revival

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You may have heard about the hop shortage that started to bite in 2007. It came about as a consequence of poor harvests in Europe and the US—where we get most of our hops from—farmers converting to more lucrative crops—especially those subsidized by the US government for ethanol production—growing demand from China, and a 2006 warehouse fire in Yakima, WA, that wiped out a significant amount of the U.S. specialty hop supply.

This shortage put the squeeze on a number of B.C.’s small brewers, nearly putting some out of business. Not only did the price of hops increase astronomically, it was difficult to even find a number varieties, particularly those used for making Northwest-style ales.

For over 100 years, B.C. had a thriving hop-growing industry. But due to declining demand and business competition, the last hop farm in the province ceased operations in 1997. Consequently, our brewers are almost entirely at the mercy of outside sources.

As a result, there has been an increased interest in reviving hop farming in B.C. Sorrento organic farmhouse brewer, Crannóg Ales, grow most of their own hops. They have two hop yards, for a total of just over one acre, where they grow Cascade, Challenger, Fuggles, Golding, Mt. Hood, Nuggett, and Willamette.

Christian Sartori stands in front of his hop nursery on the Sartori Cedar Ranch. He has planted Centennial, Magnum, Newport, Sterling, and Willamette hops (Photo © 2008 Rick Green).

Christian Sartori stands in front of his hop nursery on the Sartori Cedar Ranch (Photo © 2008 Rick Green).

Last Wednesday, I visited one of the latest entrants in the province’s hop resurgence, Sartori Cedar Ranch. South of Chilliwack, in the Columbia Valley, Christian Sartori is preparing to transplant Centennial, Magnum, Newport, Sterling, and Willamette from a nursery onto three acres. He just took delivery of a shipment of wooden poles with which to construct trellises. Overseeing Sartori’s hop production is Rick Knight who was foreman at B.C.’s last hop farm, John I. Haas.

We began the tour with a look at the field. It had already been excavated for the poles, so you could examine the underlying soil profile. It was also evident the field had good drainage. Despite recent rains, the surface was not saturated.

We next visited the hop nursery. The rhizomes had only been planted this season, yet they were already sprouting hop cones. Given that they didn’t have to compete with grass and weeds for nutrients, they had also developed dense root systems.

Knight anticipates they will be able to harvest half a hop crop at the end of next season and a full crop in 2010. The hop cones will be dried and then baled for delivery to customers. In the meantime, Sartori plans on planting another nine acres with whatever varieties local brewers are interested in.

With initiatives like these, it’s a good opportunity for small B.C. brewers to form direct partnerships with growers that are otherwise not open to them. They can play a greater role in influencing their hop supply and not have to be as concerned they will be outbid or outmanoeuvered by the larger players in a sometimes volatile market.

GCBF Recap

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A place to get out of the sun, talk about the best finds, and recharge before the next sample (Photo © 2008 Rick Green).

A place to get out of the sun, talk about the best finds, and recharge before the next sample (Photo © 2008 Rick Green).

This year’s GCBF was blessed with perfect weather. Not surprisingly, both days were completely sold out. I booked early and enjoyed the comfort of Spinnakers for accommodations. After all that imbibing, there’s a lot to be said for having breakfast and a newspaper brought to you each morning. Alternatively, sitting on their deck for brunch with a view is also hard to beat.

This year was noteworthy for the presence of a number of American breweries whose Vancouver agents, AFIC EXIM and Beerthirst, have successfully negotiated B.C.’s bureaucratic hurdles to sell product here—Anderson Valley, Brooklyn, Deschutes, Gordon Biersch, Lost Coast, North Coast, Pyramid, and Rogue. While this may spur competition and innovation with local brewers, the preferred outcome would be to expand the market for craft beer.

A hallmark of the festival is sampling beer from brewers who don’t even sell here. They come to show their support, enjoy the atmosphere, and experience the Victoria beer scene. We can always count on a visit from our neighbors in Alberta (Wild Rose, WildWood) and Washington (Anacortes, Baron, Boundary Bay, Peaks, Silver City). It’s interesting to see if anyone comes from further afield. This year the ‘brews traveler’ award goes to Bushwakker of Regina and Paddock Wood from Saskatoon.

Dix brewer Derrick Franche, Christina Willis, Brewery Creek manager Gerry Erith, Adam and Gillian Gile (Photo © 2008 Rick Green).

Left to right: Dix brewer Derrick Franche, Christina Willis, Brewery Creek manager Gerry Erith, Adam and Gillian Gile (Photo © 2008 Rick Green).

The GCBF may also provide limited seasonal beers, special one-offs, or even test beers. This may be your only chance to ever try them.

Central City showcased an intense Maris Otter Imperial IPA and Gary Lohin’s latest iteration of Thor’s Hammer barley wine. Expect the latter to be enjoyed for years to come as Lohin plans to have vintage releases. Sailor Hagar’s is still pouring his Thor’s Hammer from 10 years ago. It has aged beautifully, although they may be serving the last keg of it this December.

Crannóg offered casks of Bansidhe Organic Fruit Ale—a base of Munich and Pale malts with a different combination of cherries, crabapples, currants, plums, and Saskatoon berries from their farm in each firkin. If you enjoy fruit beers, you would have wanted to go back to Crannóg’s booth for more than one Bansidhe; every cask was a whole new ballgame. Like Cannery’s Blackberry Porter, it was very popular and sold out early.

Howe Sound may add an imperial IPA and an imperial stout to their regular product line. The GCBF was the public’s first opportunity to sample their Total Eclipse of the Hop and Pothole Filler. Owner, Dave Fenn, said the reaction was very positive. Hopefully, then, we can expect to see them coming out in bottles this year. However, given their high octane, you won’t be drinking a 1 litre bottle by yourself.

The Vancouver cask ale scene was well-represented by a Mark James Group booth under the banner of Yaletown Brewing. Dix brought a cask of their signature Northwest IPA, Taylor’s Crossing offered an English golden ale that will be on draught at the brewpub, Yaletown had their lambic-inspired Framboise made with several bacterial and yeast cultures, and Whistler Brewhouse proffered their Heart of Darkness imperial stout aged on bourbon-soaked oak. Those who attended the Surrey Summer Cask Festival at Central City will not have forgotten the latter, which was voted the best of show.

The organizers should be praised for putting on a quality festival. People were festive without being rowdy, there were decent food options, and musical entertainment ensured a positive atmosphere. For more photos of the GCBF, see my  Beer Festivals set at Flickr.

The Art of Beer Blending

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Blending beer has a history going back hundreds of years. For example, popular convention has it that porter was originally a blend of three ales — a third of ale, beer and twopenny — known as “three threads,” before being named after the class of punters it was most favoured by. (Martyn Cornell, however, has a very interesting article on the origins of porter that disputes the accepted history.)

One of the most widely-known beer blends is a Black and Tan: a blend of pale ale and stout or porter. It’s also been made using lager and stout. I’ve had it at Dix made from cask IPA and stout — a very satisfying drink that was beautifully poured by Aussie bartender Daniel.

I was at Steamworks yesterday and discovered, when chatting with the bartender, that they seem to like experimenting with blending their beers too (not the first time). Their current two seasonals are a Frambozen and an Ipanema Belgian Wit — both excellent beers on their own. Blended together, they make a visually appealing, refreshing, and flavourful drink, called a Berry White. The Frambozen floats atop the straw-coloured Ipanema, with a zone in the middle where the colours blend into each other.

Another off-menu blended beer drink you can order at Steamworks is a Black Berry, which is a blend of Frambozen and Heroica Stout. While you can just ask for your preferred proportion, there are two different approaches by the staff. Some prefer more stout than frambozen, using 1/3 frambozen, 2/3 stout; others prefer the reverse. I tried it with 2/3 frambozen and found it very pleasant. It has a more forward fruit flavour than if you went for the higher proportion of stout, which I tried at FigMint’s B.C. Day On the Wood beer & cheese tasting using Crannóg’s Back Hand of God and Pooka Cherry. (Note to self: next time, try half and half.)

Another blend the Steamworks bartender told me of was their IPA with their fall seasonal Great Pumpkin Ale. I would never have thought of that combination, but now I’m definitely going to try it. However, it probably won’t be the same as last year because their IPA formulation is different now due to running out of their Kent Goldings hops which were the signature variety in the beer.

The latter, in particular, has got me thinking about further exploring beer blending with no holds barred. You may be surprised by what you can discover, so why fence yourself in?