B.C. Beer Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Whistler Brewhouse

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.

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The Best of… Beer Confusion

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WE, the weekly formerly known as the West Ender, recently published its ‘The Best of the City’ readers choice awards. In their After Dark section, they had a couple of categories covering beer, so fewer issues for me to have than with the Georgia Straight‘s ‘Best of Vancouver‘ awards. Nevertheless, it is another canary in the coal mine to judge how beer-savvy their readers are. The verdict? Not terribly.

WE had two categories devoted to beer —Microbrewery and Brew Pub. What were the picks?

Microbrewery:

  1. Dockside Brewing Co.
  2. Steamworks Brewing Co.
  3. Granville Island Brewing

Brew Pub:

  1. Yaletown Brew Pub (sic)
  2. Steamworks Brewing Co.
  3. Dockside Restaurant & Brewing Co. (sic)

Problem? Dockside and Steamworks are not microbreweries They produce beer solely for sale on their premises, hence the term ‘brew pub.’ Microbreweries produce beer for sale outside of their premises. They’ve been allowed to have tap rooms to offer visitors a sample of their brews, but full pub service is not available.

So for next year’s ‘The Best of the City’ awards, let’s get what we’re voting on straight. In Vancouver proper, there are three microbreweries — Granville Island, R&B, and Storm — and four brew pubs — Coal Harbour, Dix, Dockside, Steamworks, Yaletown. If the boundary is actually Metro Vancouver, then the options extend from Lions Bay to Delta, Bowen Island to Abbotsford. That excludes Howe Sound Brewing, Whistler Brewhouse, Dead Frog, and Mission Springs. It also doesn’t include Whistler Brewing which doesn’t even brew in Whistler. Granville Island is a bit of an anomaly because the only beer they brew at the island is their seasonal releases. Anything that’s sold in a six-pack is made in Kelowna.

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.

Upcoming GCBF Highlights

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If you’re going to the GCBF and haven’t perused the brewers list on their Web site, you may want to make your way over there to plan ahead for what you definitely don’t want to miss out on.

For myself, I’m not interested so much in the exhibitors with bottles aka import agents and large producers. You can buy these in a liquor store. My first priority is breweries whose products I can’t get here. Of those, cask ale tops the list as they may be a one-off or at least of a regular style they brew but of unique character.

Non-B.C. breweries I’m looking forward to sample are Baron, Boundary Bay, Peaks, Silver City, Wild Rose, and Wildwood. Bushwakker from Regina, SK, is one coming the furthest to represent themselves and another I’ll be thoroughly evaluating. Paddock Wood from Saskatoon will be there too, but their products are available in Vancouver and they have exhibited only bottled product in the past.

Specific beers on my to do list: Anacortes IPA, Baron über-Weisse, Boundary Bay Imperial Oatmeal Stout & Scotch Ale, Peaks Dungeness Spit IPA, Pike IPA, Silver City Indianola Pale Ale & Imperial Stout, and Wild Rose Port-infused Oatmeal Stout

My second priority is B.C. brewers with a cask, a seasonal, or something new, followed by breweries whose beer I’ve never tried — Barley Mill Brewpub from Penticton and Hells Gate in Delta (I suspect this is the new Mark Anthony brewery).

B.C. beers I’m excited to try: Central City Imperial IPA; Crannóg Bansidhe, Bogtrotter Brown, Insurrection Pale Ale, and Pooka Cherry Ale; Howe Sound Pothole Filler & Total Eclipse of the Hop; Longwood Imperial Stout, IPA, Märzenbier; Nelson Paddywack; Spinnakers Hefeweizen; Steamworks Great Pumpkin Ale & Grand Espresso Stout (conditioning since last winter); Swans Scotch Ale; Tree Hophead; and at the Yaletown booth, Alchemy, Dix IPA, and Whistler Brewhouse Heart of Darkness.

Central City Thor’s Hammer is another standout. Brewer Gary Lohin used to make this when at Sailor Hagar’s. Sailor Hagar’s still have some of it from ten years ago and had a keg on draft last December — incredible! Word is they have one left, so keep an eye out for it later this year. In the meantime, you can try Thor’s Hammer the Younger in Victoria. If you’ve had Thor’s Hammer the Elder, you will recognize the progeny. Hopefully, Gary will put some away in a cool, dark corner and sit on it for a few years. Otherwise, bottle it so we can do so.

We’ve been expecting a Dead Frog cask in Vancouver from Tony Dewald (formerly of Dix) for a while, but he did not participate in the Surrey Summer Cask Festival, nor Caskival 5 at Dix — much of whose success is because of him. Now it looks like he’ll have a cask of their Nut Brown, so I’m anxious to sample it.

Dave Woodward’s Heart of Darkness from Whistler Brewhouse won best beer at the Central City’s Surrey Summer Cask Festival. An Imperial Stout aged on bourbon-soaked oak, it is a delightful mouthful that ought to be a staple Après-ski winter warmer in the Village.

If you stop by the Crannóg booth, one sample you should try to get Brian make up for you is a blend of 1/3 Pooka Cherry and 2/3 Back Hand of God. It makes a wonderful cherry stout.

On a final note, don’t overlook the wonderful cider from Merridale. Their cask Cyser is a must. It’s very popular, though, so I would recommend sampling it early. It also makes sense to do it before the big-flavoured, high gravity ales so you can fully appreciate it.