Tag Archives: Beer Tasting

The Great Dark Beer Taste Test

One thing you need to know about beer geeks is that we like to subject others to our endless stream of knowledge on all things ale. Taking this one step further we like to use our friends like laboratory mice and subject them to various tasting experiments –oh wait maybe that is just me. Well either way I had so much fun with my blind test taste of craft versus commercial beers that I decided to put people to the test with their stouts.

The Great Dark Beer Taste Test consisted of a selection of 9 stouts representing various styles  –Oatmeal, Foreign Extra, American and Russian Imperial- and different brewing regions –Canada, US and UK. I wanted to see if people could taste the regional and stylistic differences in this most robust of beer styles. Before I continue with my analysis of the evening I would like to proffer this little pearl of wisdom; nine is too many stouts to sample in one sitting so do not try this at home. Despite this error in estimating my alcohol tolerance I think the evening offered some interesting insights but first let me provide a little information on the stout styles, the contenders, the tasters and the taste test:


Oatmeal Stout – A very dark, full-bodied, roasty, malty ale with a complementary oatmeal flavour.

Foreign Extra Stout – A very dark, moderately strong, roasty ale. Tropical varieties can be quite sweet, while export versions can be drier and fairly robust.

American Stout – A hoppy, bitter, strongly roasted foreign style stout of the export variety.

Russian Imperial Stout – An intensely flavoured, big, dark ale. Roasty, fruity and bittersweet with a noticeable alcohol presence. Dark fruit flavours meld with roasty, burnt or almost tar-like sensations. Like a black barley wine with every dimension of flavour coming into play.



Southern Tier Brewing Company Mokah (American Double/Imperial Stout) 11.2% ABV; North Coast Brewing Co. Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout 9% ABV; Spinnakers Titanic Stout (Foreign Stout) 7.5% ABV (X2); Fort Garry Brewing Co. Kona Imperial Stout 6.5% ABV; BrewDog Rip Tide Twisted Merciless Stout (Imperial Stout) 8% ABV; McAusian Brewing St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout 5% ABV; Le Bilboquet Brasseur Artisan La Corriveau 5.5% ABV


Leanne Fawcett, lover of Goody hair accessories and ardent supporter of the continued use of suspenders.

Brick Rodgers, audiophile unable to commit to just one hair band and fervent devotee to the use of macramé.

Catherine Carveth, ironic lover of Motely Crue and fan of rainbow coloured suspenders.

Delbert Davis, former drummer for the Shitty Beatles and proud sporter of a beer gut not requiring any apparatus to keep his pants vertical.

How it all went down…

In order to make this tasting as blind as possible I wrapped all the bottles in paper bags taping them tightly and covering the caps in masking tape. I let someone else uncap and pour the beer so I did not see what bottle was being poured, and we set out three samples at a time so we could undertake a little cross-comparison. Being the consummate beer geek I am, I asked (coerced) everyone into keeping notes on appearance, aroma, flavour and finish as well as make their best educated case at the region and style of stout. I provided the Beer Judge Style Guide notes on the style we were sampling as a point of reference. Then the fun part began the tasting!

Now for some of the broad gleanings from the evening, aside from nine stouts being too many. A lot of the character of a dark beer is contained in the mouthfeel. It felt a little redundant describing the deep brown/black colour with tan head, and often the stouts had very similar coffee and/or chocolate noses but it was in the actual tasting that the differences truly emerged. It seems like the style of stout tended to fall into two broad categories; the after dinner dessert like stout that was viscous, sweet, heavy and high in ABV and the more quaffable cold coffee, lighter-bodied, almost carbonated style or stout. Interestingly we all scored very well on guessing the region of the stout but a little more hit and miss on determining the style.

The top beers of the evening were:

  1. Southern Tier Mokah
  2. BrewDog Rip Tide
  3. Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout
  4. St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout

Who (or where) Brews it Best?

Tuesday night was fight night at Firefly Fine Wine and Ales as Lundy Dale from Pink Pints led a group of raucous beer geeks in a blind taste test to determine just where the best beer styles are coming from. Are European breweries with their distinguished pedigrees, years of brewing experience and matter-of-fact labeling making the best beers on the market? Or are the new-kids-on-the-tap North American microbreweries with their assertive ingredients, style bending combinations and cheeky labelling defining craft beer styles for future generations?


The nights line-up consisted of head-to-head match-ups in four common beer styles; Bohemian Pilsners, Belgian Tripels, English IPA’s and London Porters:


Bohemian Pilsners are a type of pale lager that originated in 1842 in the Czech town of Pilsen. Pilsners are a bottom fermented beer, which means a bottom-cropping yeast is used to produce the ale at low temperatures. They should be burnished gold in colour with notes of caramel and spice. Pilsners are hoppy and bitter but clean drinking. This is one of those cases where a singular beer defines the style.

For the blind taste test we sampled the grandfather of all pilsners Pilsner Urquell (Czech Republic) and Paddock Wood Brewing Company’s Czech Mate (Saskatoon).

Belgian Tripels, or Belgian Abbey Tripels, are Belgian beers with styles similar to Trappist ales but brewed by secular commercial breweries. Generally, Belgian beers favour malt flavours over hoppiness and have a unique flavour imparted by the regional yeast strain. Tripels are malty, spicy and highly carbonated. They are strong and have a honey like sweetness with a dry finish.

Our tasters were St. Bernadus (Belgium) and Unibroue’s La Fin Du Monde (Quebec).


English India Pale Ales are very close to the bitter beer style but tend to have more substance with tons of malt character while still maintaining the UK hop profile. Descended from October beers brewed in the English country side. English IPA’s are nutty and spicy in flavour with a bitter finish.


We tried Thornbridge Brewery’s Jaipur (UK) and Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s IPA (California).


London Porters are dark brown beers with roasted malt character and subtle hops. A diverse and hard-to-define style, Porters are considered to be the first industrialized beers. I like to think of them as stout’s kid brother but since they came around first I guess Porter are more like stout’s frail grandparent; this is merely to say they are lighter in body and often lower in ABV than their robust stout offspring.

Last up was Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter (UK) and Propeller Porter from Propeller Brewing Co. (Halifax).


It was not that easy to tell these beers apart in a side-by-side comparison, which speaks volumes about the overall quality of the craft beers being produced on both sides of the pond. Being a student of history and a fervent adherent to the adage ‘they don’t make em’ like they used to’, I assumed the European beers would be the exemplars of the styles with the North American brews being adequate representations BUT I was pleasantly reprimanded by the beers I tried.

Particularly impressive for me was Unibroue’s La Fin Du Monde, which could pass for a ‘true’ Belgian without question. Another interesting surprise was Thornbridge’s Jaipur, which on appearance alone did not even seem like it belonged in the IPA family yet it had a strong hop profile and nice dry finish. A very informative and challenging event!

When Good Beer goes Bad

The more you delve into the world of craft beer (i.e. the more you drink) the more familiar you become with the spectrum of styles and tastes out there in the beer world. Some tastes are good and some not so good and then every once in a while, when a blue moon rises, the magnetic poles reverse, and your house plants die, you get something a little …well …off. Not off in the way I sometimes feel like my hop heavy beers taste like lilac soap but off in the way that your beer smells and tastes like rotting vegetables or rubbing alcohol. Before I took my home brewing course I would have merely written off said ales as crappy beer  but now I realize that when things go wrong in the brewing process there a specific chemical changes that result in your beer tasting ‘off’.

For those beer drinkers who have not yet transitioned into beer brewers (just you wait, you will get there soon enough) there exist off-flavour kits, which allow you to intentionally contaminate your brew. Yes, I know, I have officially reached Level 8 Beer Geek when I seek out spoiled brew but this can be an amazingly educational endeavour that actually enhances your overall beer drinking lifestyle.

Ever send back a beer in a pub? Me neither, mostly because I could not really articulate what was wrong. Think this type of liquid insecurity ever happens to wine geeks with their uber-sophisticated terminology? No, it does not. Wine geeks can send back a glass with the best of them. So what are we afraid of beer geeks, get your geek on and learn to embrace the uglier side of beer.

That diatribe segues nicely into my recent participation at Legacy Liqour Store’s ‘Off-Flavour’ Beer Tasting (luckily not a beer pairing). Graham With from Parallel 49 Brewing was our instructor, and the ever insipid Coors Light was our unfortunate guinea pig. Opting to ease us in with samples of seven potential off-flavours, instead of the palate destroying twenty-one off-flavour kit, we got one control glass of Coors for comparison and then quickly work our way through the seven deadly beer sins.

Buttery/Butterscotch Diacetyl Buttery or oilyFlattens out the beer Premature bottlingInfection
Green Apple Acetaldehyde Unripe fruitPungent nose Bacterial InfectionDisrupted Fermentation
Fruity Isoamyl Acetate BananasStone fruits Too high fermentation temperatureDesired in certain white or wheat beers
Creamed Corn and Cabbages Dimethyl sulphide (DMS) Canned vegetables (tin taste)Cabbage

Tomato juice

InfectionImproper Brewing
Skunky (Light Struck) Mercaptan Rancid noseCorona flavour Left your beer in the sun too longClear bottles
Oxidized trans-2-nonenal CardboardLaquer


Exposure to oxygenStaleness
Infected Band-Aid, plastic, medicinalSour, astringent

Acetic Acid

All the crappy flavours under the rainbow

Poor sanitation at any stage of the brewing, bottling, tapping or serving

I found this to be a really great opportunity to taste some of the things that can go wrong with beer. Some of the off-flavours were hard to pin point for me but generally it was pretty darn easy to tell when something was wrong. Most often the nose was a dead giveaway with some of the beers becoming so pungent you could barely drink them! Coors Light never tasted better than it did at the end of this evening.

One thing that I wanted to ask about was visual changes produced through any of this chemical missteps but the set-up was not very conducive to getting any sense of dialogue going. I really wish this had taken place in a smaller venue where you could get a sense of what your table-mates were tasting/smelling as well. I also wish we had taken a bit more time to go over the different off-flavours, the whole tasting felt hurried.

Another issue for me was how applicable this knowledge will be to craft beers, which generally differ significantly in flavour profile from Coors; could I discern green apple in a robust stout or a triple? Will the medicinal qualities of a double IPA negate any canned veg? Nonetheless, very worthwhile event and I think I may just purchase myself one of these kits and replicate the evening with a smaller group of dedicated (and brave)beer geeks.

A Personal Anecdote:

My first home brew had a sanitation issue with several bottles so I would like to share this little (embarrassing) picture of what you do not want your beer to do when you open it…

Winter Beer-Off 2: Saltspring Porter vs Samuel Smith Taddy Porter

It’s time for another winter beer-off and this time I am putting two Porters head to head in a battle royale for that most coveted of distinctions – being named amongst the chosen few deemed to be superior winter beers on my blog (just kidding). This time around I thought I would revisit a couple Porters to see what works, what doesn’t work and perhaps even why one beer is a better ambassador for a style than another. Tasting two beers in the same style side by side, or a flight of beers, really improves your ability to articulate those elements that you enjoy as well as your ability to discern areas for improvement.

Salt Spring Porter: Deep brown almost black ale with good clarity and a bit of carbonation. This Porter has an off-white head that sadly does not stick around for the party. Definite coffee-like nose. I say coffee-like because the nose reminds me of roasted coffee beans but not necessarily fresh ground beans; almost like coffee that has gone a bit bitter or has sat around for a bit. Not a ton of flavour in the mouthfeel, again the coffee notes dominate but I do not get much else. It is light in body and has that distinctive Saltspring taste. I am not sure what exactly gives this flavour but it reminds me of mineral water or artesian water and it imparts a really clean taste to all of the Salt Spring beers. This beer has a minimal finish just that same slightly bitter taste.

Samuel Smith Taddy Porter: Night black ale that may have clarity but you cannot see anything through it to tell; perhaps no discernible sedimentation is the best conclusion I can draw. This Porter has a stiff mocha-coloured head that is definitely large and in charge. The nose is malty with a slight bit of coffee. This beer is light in body with some stickiness in the mouthfeel from the sweet malt. Excellent balance between the bitterness imparted from the roasted elements and the sweetness brought by the malts.  There is a notable bitterness that lingers nicely on the finish.

The Verdict? I have to go with the Samuel Smith on this one. Porters are like a fine art, there is not a ton of body to this beer style so the balance between bitterness and malts really needs to be spot on. At the same time the darkness of the beer speaks to the amount of roasted elements, which if left unchecked can become the sole taste dominating the beer. Saltspring Porter seems to be lacking in the balance so all you really get is the roastiness. Taddy Porter on the other hand seems to have found that elusive balance. Tough style to master I would think. I didn’t try blending the beers this time because I think the addition of more coffee elements to the Taddy would have been doing a disservice. It is a shame Samuel Smith’s is only brewing the Taddy Porter as a seasonal beer – go get it while you can!

My Hopscotch Hit List

I have been doing my homework for the upcoming Hopscotch 2011 Grand Tasting and I have compiled a list of beers I am thinking of sampling. For those of you not in the Greater Vancouver Area, Hopscotch is a long-running annual scotch, whisky and beer festival hosted by Foodconnect. It is the biggest combined whisky and beer event across Canada consisting of three nights of tasting and a ton of satellite events and master classes. I wanted to get this post out before Saturday’s event so I could take advantage of the knowledge of my fellow beer enthusiasts. So please feel free to post comments, concerns and/or recommendations so I can get the best out of the fest:

Anchor Porter Beer

A unique dark brew, which was introduced by Anchor in the early 1970s. Anchor Porter, like all Anchor Brewing beers, is brewed with only natural ingredients. Specially roasted dark malts are used, along with a top-fermenting yeast. The brew is hopped at a very high rate, and is naturally carbonated to produce an intensely rich flavour and thick creamy head.

Howe Sound Brewing Co. Diamond Head Oatmeal Stout

This is a traditional English oatmeal stout with an intense roasted barley flavour. This is a sweeter style stout with a lovely creamy texture and smooth finish. This stout won a Silver award this year at the 2011 Canadian Brewing Awards in the Stout category.

Elysian The Immortal IPA

A Northwest interpretation of a classic English style, golden copper in color and loaded with New World hop flavor and aroma. Extremely drinkable. MALTS: Pale, Munich, Crystal and Cara-hell. HOPS: Bittered with Chinook, finished with Amarillo and Centennial.

Green Flash Double Stout Black Ale

Golden naked oats mashed with dark crystal and robust roasted malts create a luscious black brew with satin smooth finish. An old-world style, done the Green Flash way. Big, bold, flavorful and complex.

Grolsch Lager

Grolsch Premium Lager comes from Holland and has more than 400 years of history. Medium-gold in color, Grolsch delivers a smooth, refreshingly pleasing balanced flavour with rich grain and hops aromas.

North Coast PranQster – Belgian Style Ale

Sophisticated brewing techniques, yeast blends and unique flavoring elements have elevated the beers of Belgium to the status enjoyed by wine in other countries. PranQster follows in this tradition using a mixed culture of antique yeast strains that produce a floral nose, a full fruity flavor and a clean finish.

Radeberger Pilsner

Radeberger Pilsner from the only brewery in Germany which has brewed pilsner beer without interruption since 1872. Radeberger Pilsner is intentionally positioned as a monobrand. The soft water from Radeberger’s own wells, the predominant hops flavour, the golden colour and creamy foam give Radeberger its distinct, smooth bitter taste. 4.8% vol bottom-fermented

Central City Brewing Red Racer India Pale Ale

A style of ale fashioned to survive the long voyage from England to India during the British colonization. Hops, hops, and more hops! This ale has an intense aroma and a long lingering finish. A beer for the connoisseur, this is the Brewmaster’s choice.

Central City Brewing Red Racer Winter Ale

Big, malty, and brewed to keep you warm through the long dark days of a west coast winter. This complex amber ale has vanilla and maple syrup undertones, with a warm, spicy finish. Best enjoyed when only partially chilled.

Tin whistle chocolate cherry porter

Made from fresh cherries and belgium chocolates. rich and exciting! limited release every fall. don’t miss out on this one, its a winner!

Wiehenstephaner hefeweisser dunkel

95 rating ratebeer. The world’s oldest brewery! a medium-dark wheat beer that is supple, malty and mellow. Memorable for its perfectly blended flavour.

Yukon Red Amber Ale

2009 Canadian Beer of the Year – Highest scoring Amber Ale ever at Chicago Beverage Testing Inst. “a full malt body, bold, fruity and persistent with a snap of of clean hop bitter.

Hopscotch 2010 Highlights


So you think you know your Craft Beers?

The Beer Tasting Line-up

I’ve been thinking a lot about the development and evolution of my palate lately. The types of beers I enjoy, the flavours I can discern and my ability to articulate differences between beers has changed a great deal since I began exploring the world of craft beer a couple of years ago but how far have my skills come? When push comes to shove can I tell my Budweisers from my Brooklyn Lagers? How well do any of us self-proclaimed beer enthusiasts really know our ales? In order to put my skills to the test I recruited five willing (does bribing with cupcakes count as willing?) guinea pigs to try a blind taste test. I chose nine beers all with an ABV of around 4%-8% and all fairly middle of the range style-wise i.e. no heavy stouts, double IPA’s, cask conditioning or anything else that might give away the craft element. I created a rating chart so people could comment on appearance, aroma, flavour and then provide their best guess as to whether the sample was a craft or commercial beer, the brand, the style or anything else they wanted to mention. I put myself in the role of omnipresent beer god so I knew which beers were being served but I still partook of the sampling purely in the name of science. Other variables to note; I served everything quite cold and in glass, I rinsed between samples and water with lemon was available to cleanse the palate. To amalgamate the results I decided to highlight a few of the reviewer’s comments on each aspect of the beer in the table that follows:

Mendocino Brewing Company Red Tail Ale American Style Amber Ale

Handcrafted American

ABV 6.1%

“Just by looking at it I thought it was craft”

“dark amber”




“mild hop”


“bitter, hoppy, caramel”


“Not Kokanee”

“Pale Ale”

Driftwood Ale Northwest-style Pale Ale

Craft Canadian

ABV 5%

“Golden cloudy”


“light colour”

“sour tinge”

“mild at best”


“harsh metallic finish”

“reminiscent of soap”

“fruity, citrus, light hops”

“Not Craft?”

“could be a craft because of the cloudiness”

“mass produced light ale”

Stella Artois Belgian Premium Lager

Commercial Import

ABV 5%

“very light”

“Domestic, industrial”

“very filtered

“familiar but not distinctive”

“little aroma”

“Doesn’t leave much behind”

“metallic finish”

“green apple sour/sweet mix”

“Mass lager”



Tree Brewing Co. Cutthroat Pale Ale A Classic Pale Ale

Craft Canadian

ABV 5%

“Fall colours”

“Light Amber”

“a little cloudy”

 “warm, earthy, sweet” “smooth and citrus”

“hint of hop”

“airy after taste”

“Six pack standard craft”

“Pale Ale”


Molson M Microcarbonated Lager

Commercial Canadian

ABV 4.9%

“super filtered”

“super light”

“Beer hall”

“White grapes, sweet”

“Nothing here, flat line”

“Apple, sweet, but very tepid”

“Smooth and dry”

“Summer Beer”

“Industrial Lager”


Colt 45 Strong Beer

Commercial American

ABV 8%

“Makes me worry”

“light golden, foamy”


“Sweet, flowery”

“Standard beer”

“Not much”

“Lingering aftertaste makes me suspect mass market”

“Fruity – but what kind?”

“Stronger finish”

“Maybe a strong beer”


“Mass produced pilsner”

Brooklyn Brewery Lager American Amber Lager

Craft American

ABV 5.2%


“Golden Amber”

“sweet, hoppy”

“complex and sweet”


“Excellent, well balanced”

“sweet grapefruit”

“Hop aftertaste”

“Perhaps Brooklyn”



Budweiser Lager (?)

Commercial Canadian

ABV 5%

“Apple juice”

“very light yellow”


“no aroma”

“not much”



“No flavour”

“Not offensive”


“Industrial lager”

“Possible craft”

Moon Under Water Lunar Pale Ale Pale Ale

Craft Canadian

ABV 4.2%

“Deep amber”


“Little head”

“Hoppy, floral”

“Flowery, grapefruit”

“stronger than most”

“Clean taste, a little sweet, some hops”

“Smooth with robust pop”

“Lingering finish”, excellent”

“Higher production craft”

“Craft IPA”

Pale Ale Red Ale”

So what did I learn from this experiment? Well after several hours of gruelling conditioning I could make my guests salivate when I rang a bell …oh no wait wrong experiment. Seriously now, I was impressed with everyone’s ability to pinpoint the majority of the craft beers while at the same time I was impressed with some of the complexity people were getting from those mass marketed beers we tend to pass over in our trips to the beer store. The Colt 45 was a particularity interesting case since the higher ABV seemed to confuse our palates by bringing out contesting elements that made one lean towards craft then lean back towards commercial. At the same time the less-than-stellar reaction to Driftwood was a bit of a surprise. To be fair to all the beers nine is a large sample to keep things distinct and if I had more glass ware I should have probably served everyone all nine in one sitting so they could compare and contrast. For those who rated their samples using various systems Brooklyn Lager was the clear winner followed closely by the other craft selections. The best of the rest was probably the Colt 45 and Molson M. Overall an amazingly fun and informative evening and I would like to give a quick acknowledgement to all of my most excellent human subjects – ‘The participant with fancy shoes’ ‘The participant who likes sex often’ ‘The participant who likes light coloured beer’ ‘The participant who wears a size 12’ and ‘The participant who likes the way Guinness changes colour’. Cheers guys!

Hopscotch 2010

Last Saturday I attended my very first Hopscotch an event that has become an annual rite for Scotch, Whisky and Beer drinking Vancouverites.  Initially I had some reservations about the beer portion of festival noticing an absence (or very limited presence) of many of my US Northwest favourites but I had many pleasant surprises and found myself tasting out of my element –a good thing!  So onto the ales; some of the beers I sampled include Delirium Tremens, Jolly Pumpkin’s Bam Biere, Lagunitas Brown Shugga’, Rogue’s Yellow Snow IPA, Granville Island’s Imperial Chocolate Stout, Howe Sound Winter Ale, Whistler Brewing’s Winter Dunkel Signature Series vol. 2, Smuttynose Wheat Wine Ale 2009 Vintage, Tree Brewing Co. Vertical Winter Ale and Tree Brewing Limited Reserve Spiced Ale.  For the sake of brevity I will do a sports reel style recap highlighting the memorable moments –for better or worse.

10.Coming in at my least favourite libation Lagunitas Brown Shugga’…wow sweet beer, not sweet like awesome dude, but sweet like drinking a glass of brown sugar dissolved in a mediocre ale.

9.  Rogue Yellow Snow IPA; ah Rogue sometimes I think that you and I will never meet in the middle, either I cannot discern the nuances between your hopped up beers or too many hops drown the other elements.  The former is the most likely case and kudos on the fun seasonal name.

8.  Sliding in at number eight, Howe Sound Winter Ale, nice dark ale but on the whole not remarkable.

7.  Next up one of the two chocolate beers on this evening’s roster Granville Island’s Imperial Stout.  A complex stout with many competing elements; coffee at the forefront, a slight bitterness and just a hint of its chocolate namesake.

6.  Smuttynose made me wait and it was a little warm so it rounds out the bottom half of the list.  I found the barley wine really dominates this ale with its distinct rich liquor taste not letting the great taste notes of the wheat ale come through.

5.  Jolly Pumpkin swings in at five with a strong, cloudy ale containing lots of malt flavour and that somewhat unique taste so often described as barnyard.

4.  One of the two Tree offerings lands at number four.  The limited reserve Spice Ale was the final beer of the evening (and free).  Dark strong ale with a mild amount of spice but to be fair this beer will get another turn at bat since I have one cooling in the fridge.

3.  Third star of the evening goes to (oops did I switch metaphors?) Delirium Tremens the ale that heralds itself as the ‘World’s Best Beer’.  Okay, okay it was good, very good, clean and strong with just the right amount of fruitiness.  I would have no trouble picking out this Belgian from the rest of the line-up and I would not hesitate to pick it up again.

2. Our second star of the evening, and the second kick at the chocolate can, Whistler Brewing’s Dunkel.  Quite possibly the best chocolate beer I have tried.  Dark and slightly effervescent, a malty Dunkel with a prominent chocolate taste.

1. Drum roll please, my favourite of the evening, the only beer to make it to repeat drinking status… Tree Brewing’s Vertical Winter Ale.  Mild ale that is crisp with a nice balance of spice and vanilla. A beer to accompany fireplaces and good books –the benchmark to which all ales aspire, at least in my mind.

Out of a possible five I would give this event a 4.0 (points lost for the ridiculous cab/shuttle situation and lack of options for us vegan beer aficionados; c’mon it’s Vancouver)


The Great Canadian Beer Festival 2010

Friday morning saw me crossing the Salish Sea to attend the Great Canadian Beer Festival in Victoria BC.  The somewhat tedious trip on the ferry gave me plenty of time to review the impressive line-up of brewers, pick my must-haves and plot my route.  I decided that I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, fruit beers and lambics, and try some brews that would challenge my palette and broaden my horizons.

First stop was at Driftwood Brewery to try the ‘Friday Only’ ‘once in a lifetime’ Old Cellar Dweller 2009.  This 12% barley wine was casked in November especially for the festival and it did not disappoint –even after dinging me for two tokens, ouch!  This golden-amber slightly cloudy beer was strong and hoppy with little to no head and a strong liquor taste.  In retrospect a good pour to end, not start, the day with as the successors seemed not to deliver quite the same kick.  Undeterred I headed to Merridale Ciderworks from Cobble Hill BC.  I had never tried a hard cider – not being much of a cooler gal– I opted for Scrumpy their ‘famous rough farmhouse cider with a rich tannic body’.  This drink is tart, sharp and flat, which I apparently quite like in a cider.  The taste is something like a crab apple wine, challenging but satisfying to sip.  Interesting start to my day…note to future self do not begin with a 12% beer…and the fest was a nice amount of busy with just the right mix of costumed characters.

Taking a sharp left, figuratively and perhaps literally, I journeyed back to beer land with the Swans ‘Brewcifer IPA’ and ‘Coconut Porter’.  The Brewcifer is a piquant ale brewed with jalapeno, lime and black pepper, which despite initial concerns for the welfare of my taste buds surprised the heck out of me –in a good way.  The beer had an amazing jalapeno nose and it was easy to drink peppery with subtle amounts of lime and a lingering heat that emerged long after you swallow.  It was Mexican beer all heat and citrus and yummy.  Before I continue I should provide a caveat to my next review, I do not like coconut, the very thought of a Pina Colada or Malibu make me a little nauseous, but I was lovin’ Swans coconut porter.  This porter looked dark almost like a stout but it goes down like a lager; it had a crisp freshness and the coconut was a really authentic taste, not at all like the sickly sweet aforementioned coconut concoctions.  The cold is becoming somewhat noticeable and the need for sustenance weighs heavily on my brain; off to the samosas.

Continuing on with my tour I headed to Steamworks where they threw down the gauntlet with their Great Pumpkin Ale (sorry Howe Sound Brewing) an almost unanimous favourite amongst our entourage.  There are many pumpkin ales out there and when one takes a chance and cracks a bottle they immediately conjure up the sights, tastes and smells of their favourite pumpkin pie before even taking that first sip.  I do not know if the cold biting weather played a role but this beer met and exceeded all my expectations.  Dark amber/orange in my sipper glass this brew had an incredible spicy nose and just the right amount of effervescence.  It was slightly sweet with a strong ginger flavour; it was so good that we circled back at the end of our day to finish off with another taster.  The proportional relationship between a good beer and a good mood is critical in situations where respite is port-a-potties that are rapidly deteriorating in quality and quantity -even the men’s communal is filling at an alarming rate!

It is always hard to follow an amazing taste experience so I may be a little ‘bitchy’ in my review of Russell Brewing Lemon Ale, which was a tepid, light ale strong on lemon taste with nutty overtones.  This beer had no carbonation and may have been much better on a sweltering day but today it just didn’t it.  Unfortunately I followed one disappointment with another when I sampled Three Skulls Ales Blood Orange Wit.  Another tepid, light beer that was seriously lacking in the tastes that make a wit so enjoyable and sadly I could not discern any blood orange flavour.  Down but not out I broke my own rules and headed to R&B Brewing to drown my sorrows in the limited edition Brent’s Black Raspberry Lambic.  If there are foodie equivalents in the beer world (beeries?) then that’s me with regards to lambic beers; in other words I have a very particular taste that I enjoy cultivated through extensive research (tasting).  This lambic was good not great, lacking somewhat in the liveliness of a traditional bacteria filled brew but with a beautiful berry colour and good balance between the sweet and the tart.  Okay so three mediocre samples equates to a heightened perception of mud, cold and drunken university boys with an unfortunate spell of what they colloquially labelled the ‘beer farts’…sigh.

I began to wind down the day when as I sauntered over to Bravo Beers to try Sara Silenrieux’s brother Jospeh Silenrieux.  This offering was really great, bubbly and crisp, the perfect amount of head, and subtle fruit overtones that did not detract from the Belgian wheat lager at its heart.  This may have been the perfect festival opener just lightly awakening the palette and cleansing it for the heavy hitting flavours yet to come.  Another nice middle of the roader was Barley Mill Brewpub’s Red Clover Honey Ale a mildly hopped beer that was tempered with the sweetness of the honey and fruit infusions.  A dry ale that was clean drinking and would be fantastic on a warm summer evening.  Cheered immensely by an infusion of bubbles and despite being the subject of an impromptu beer shower I headed back to the token booth for one round.  Last token firmly in hand I decided to try one of my perennial favourites Upright Brewing. Like an old friend that is reliable, familiar and consistent I have yet to be let down by you guys plus you’re from Portland…truly you rock.  For this my penultimate sample I tried Six a dark rye beer, which was tart and sweet at the same time.  Caramel came through as did cherry; flavours that supported the strength of the rye base.  A gorgeous mahogany colour, strong and warming what can I say but loved it.

*Sincere regrets to Lighthouse Brewing’s Espresso Vodka Infused Imperial Stout and Vancouver Island Brewery’s Black Rock Chipotle Rauchbier, I wanted to drink you, I really did but alas you went and got yourselves sold-out…sigh.

Out of a possible five I would give this event a 5.0+ can’t wait til next year

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