Tag Archives: Salt Spring Island Ales

Great Canadian Beer Fest 2013

Smart advertising from Fernie

Smart advertising from Fernie

Well another Great Canadian Beer Festival has came and went and this year saw the participation of craft breweries from the east, the coming out party of some new local breweries, the increase in after-party events and the introduction of some new-to-us American craft beers into the Canadian market.

The GCBF has become a bona fide craft beer destination and it is exciting to see all the breweries, brew pubs and just craft beer culture in general flourishing here in Victoria, which is beginning to rival Vancouver for the mantle of Beervana North.

Beer from Powell Street

Beer from Powell Street

Chatting up 33 Acres

Chatting at 33 Acres

Now I have been to GCBF when it was too cold and I have been to GCBF when it was too hot but this year the beer gods chose to smile on us geeks and the weather was just right, a little cloudy to start off Friday’s festivities and perhaps a titch soggy but then the sun came out to shine over the remainder of the festival.

As usual there were sell-out crowds and long line-ups but things seemed to move more stream-lined than in years past. There was the traditional smattering of buskers, creatively dressed patrons and music to keep the crowds engaged as well as food tents to keep us all carb-loaded so we could fit in more beer.

Moon Under Water tapping the keg

Moon Under Water tapping the keg



For the first time at GCBF I came in early to join the media tour, which was a great way to check out the breweries’ set-ups and to hear from some of the new kids on the block like 33 Acres Brewing Company from Vancouver BC, Sound Brewery from Poulsbo WA and Powell Street Craft Brewery from Vancouver BC from before the flood gates opened (we even got to sneak in a few samples).

Being a bit of a marketing nerd I enjoyed the opportunity to check out everyone’s displays and to see what kind of swag the breweries were offering – never underestimate the drawing power of free beer mats and stick-on tattoos!

Saltspring's lovely set-up

Saltspring’s lovely set-up

As always I was prepped and ready with my beer list highlighting my must-haves and like every year I selected too many for one person to possible consume and like every year I forgot about following my list after about five samples in.

A couple missed opportunities for beers that never arrived, errant brewers and kegs that just refused to be tapped kept an element of spontaneity to my sampling selection.

No explanations needed...

No explanations needed…

Pouring at Muskoka

Pouring at Muskoka

Nonetheless I did manage to hit up quite a number of booths and here are some of my (and my entourages) beer highlights in no particular order:

Sound Brewing Humulo Nimbus Dbl IPA

Wolf Brewing Rannoch Scotch Ale

33 Acres of Life

Double Trouble Vanilla Bean Espresso Imperial Stout

Powell Street Old Jalopy Pale Ale

Hopworks Urban Brewery Survival Seven Grain Stout (a surprise but welcome appearance)

Whistler Brewing Mint Julep

Red Racer

Red Racer

Of course we tried many beers that in retrospect may have been good or may have been not so good but honestly by the end of a beer festival you are just happy if you can distinguish between flavours.

At the end of the day for those who had not quite got their fill, an added bonus was after-parties hosted by Beerthirst for the launch of New Belgium Brewing in BC and hosted by Copper & Theory for the Upright Brewing and Ninkasi tap take-overs .

Oddly enough for me, the highlight of the festival may have been the opportunity to sample the four stellar Lips of Faith beers from New Belgium at the Irish Times pub.

Driftwood swag

Driftwood swag


Back on the Chain Gang

For the second time in my beer drinking career I tried my hand at the other end of the keg serving up casked ales at Central City Brewing Company’s Summer Cask Fest held on June 30th. While it may have been ‘summer’ only in the mindset of local beer enthusiasts, thirty-one cask creations ensured that no one was too sad to spend their Saturday indoors.



This time around I opted to volunteer for the morning shift so I could ensure I had the afternoon open to sample all must must-tries before they were tapped out. Beer geeks are not what you might consider morning people so once the doors opened at 11:00am we weren’t exactly swamped with thirsty customers but luckily the pace picked up quickly and some live blues music from Brandon Issak got the fest into full swing. To fill the lull times my station co-volunteer nicely offered me information on everything beer and brewing in case I was not quite up to snuff on my geek speak.

I was in charge of the Pale Ales, not the most popular station I’ll admit, but busy enough to get some socializing in and to afford me enough free time to try my hand at serving at a couple of the other stations (here I learned the hard way that not all kegs pour the same way and spilled beer is quite alarming to the masses). The brews at my station were Dead Frog’s Dry Hopped French Oaked Pale Ale, Howe Sound Green Tea Pale Ale and Lighthouse Tasman Ale. For educational purposes I had to sample all three so I could converse with token bearers. See the line-up section below for some brief tasting notes.


Looking back on the day as a volunteer, I enjoyed the morning shift for many reasons not the least was the fact that the majority of patrons were still lucid and the kegs were still pouring well –insert quasi-disastrous images of people ‘volunteering’ to tip near-empty kegs to drain the last drops of beer, which nicely encapsulates my experiences during the Winter Cask Festival as an afternoon drone. After my shift, my afternoon was happily spent ticking off all the beers I wanted to try and sampling from the menu. For the record I want to say that Central City treats its volunteers real nice (I even got an extra token from brew maestro Gary Lohin after my shift!) offering us five free tokens, Red Racer gear, food and an after-fest party so the remaining kegs did not go to waste! If you have never taken the time to volunteer at a craft beer event I highly recommend it.


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The Full Line-up

Alameda Yellow Wolf IPA

Big River Dry Hopped ESB

Cannery Oak Aged Port Porter – A nice surprise; rich and sweet but light in body.

Canoe Summer Chocolate Honey Wheat Ale – Far too light bodied with a watery chocolate flavour and honeyed finish.

Central City Brewing Citra Dry Hopped ESB – Well-balanced bitter with lots of citra hop on the nose and in the flavour. Clean drinking with a bitter finish.

Central City Brewing Hibiscus Cherry Ale – Too sweet for me but the hibiscus adds a nice tepid quality. Summery.

Coal Harbour Imperial Smoke Ale

Crannog Mead – Very mild and flat with fruit and honey notes. Seems like it could benefit from additional aging.

Dead Frog Dry Hopped French Oaked Pale Ale – Similar to the one they bottle in the 650ml, a little sweet and a bit more of a hop bite. Did not inspire much in the way of feedback (at least to the pourer).

Elysian Brewing Splitshot Coffee Milk Stout – Sold Out during the morning shift : (

Granville Island GI Bitter

Howe Sound Green Tea Pale Ale – Nice palate cleanser with that tepid green tea flavour. Mixed feedback from my customers on this one though.

Lighthouse Tasman Ale – Interesting with the citrus forward Tasman (New Zealand) hop profile. Lots of good feedback on this one.

Longwood Port Alberni’s Brewers Gold Dry Hopped IPA – A lot of citrus elements on the nose and in the flavour, almost like a touch of tang in your beer. Light bodied and very still.

Odin Brewing Thor’s Oakuinox – Sold Out during the morning shift : (

Parallel 49 Brewing Dry Hopped Ruby Tears – A flat, hoppy bitter but not one of my fest favourites.

Port Townsend IPA

R&B Smoked Hop IPA

Russell Graetzer Polish Smoked Wheat Ale

Salt Spring Brewing Dry Hopped ESB

Spinnakers Spicy Mandarin Hefeweizen – Orange notes on the nose, light bodied and typical hefe mix of citrus and spice.

Steamworks Ginger Beer – Told this one was for ginger lovers but I found it pretty mild.

Storm Raspberry ESB – Lots of raspberry flavour playing off the hoppy bitterness; so not too sweet. One of my favourites!

Storm (Daniel Knibbs) Ginger Rye Saison – A mild saison, light on the barnyard, but nice hints of ginger and spice.

Swans Dry Hopped ESB – A nicely balanced bitter with some extra hop kick from the regular 650ml.

Taylor’s Crossing Manhattan Brew – Strong candied cherry notes and heavy on the liquor taste. One of my favourites!

Tin Whistle Dry Hopped Scorpion Double IPA

Tofino Brewing Sitka Spruce Tip IPA – Resiny hop taste with a bit of sweetness. Seems to be taking a run at the Big Dog Pliny and a respectable effort. One of my favourites!

Vancouver Island Hopfenweisse

Whistler Brewhouse Oaked Amarillo Dry Hopped IPA

The Dark Side of B.C. Beers

Still committed to my 100 mile (ish) beer diet, I am continuing to sample brews from my own backyard. This time around I tried three beers from the darker end of the spectrum, you know, the best end of the beer spectrum, sampling Dark Matter from Hoyne Brewing Co., Dark Chocolate Porter from Lighthouse Brewing Co., and the Extra Special Bitter From Salt Spring Island Ales.

Just to qualify my obvious bias for dark beers, in all fairness all the really cool flavours hang out on this end of the continuum; you never see light beers with descriptors like coffee, chocolate, molasses, dried fruit, bourbon, whisky, oatmeal, licorice, caramel, treacle etc. so in my defence I really have no choice but to embrace the dark side.

Dark Matter: Pours clear, deep reddish black and with a quickly diminishing caramel coloured head. Sweet caramel notes and roast coffee on the nose. Quite bitter in the mouthfeel, light to medium in body and a ton of roasted malt. The finish is slightly reminiscent of burnt coffee. Great interplay of sweet and bitter elements, which makes the beer highly drinkable. Love the label and reference to the Hadron Collider. Overall a 4/5


Dark Chocolate Porter: Deep brown/black in colour with ton of stiff ivory head and good clarity. Really nice roasted elements and chocolate on the nose. Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate at first taste but this beer mellows a bit too much as it warms losing the bitter edge that played so well off the sweet flavours. Label is a bit wanting in creativity. Overall 3.5/5



Extra Special Bitter: Pours a partly hazy amber with monumental white head. Floral hops on the nose with a bit of resin. Very hoppy for a bitter but sadly also a little off-flavour with an out-of-place medicinal taste. I can’t properly review this bottle but be assured it happens to the best of us. One of the hazards of drinking craft beer; however, I wouldn’t have it any other way  …doesn’t get any more “real”  ale than this.

Behind the Keg …A New Angle on the Beer Fest

My Kegs

Hi, my name is Sara, long-time patron, first time volunteer. Yesterday I attended Central  City Brewing’s Winter Cask Festival and for the first time ever I took up post behind the keg as a volunteer server. My partner and I headed over to Central City a bit early to sample a few of the casks before our shifts started. Nice turnout of local, BC and Washington State brewers with casks coming from Central City (of course), Storm, Tofino Brewing, Parallel 49, Cannery, Salt Spring Brewing, Spinnakers, Port Townsend and Boundary Bay just to name a few. Central City was packed to rafters with every conceivable inch of space taken up by a beer geek, a table of beer geeks or a row of kegs and a server. Beers were mapped out by style in small stations circling the pub.

The Scotch Ales

One of the great things about beer fests is they afford brewers a chance to try something really creative in a relatively small sample; for instance, Parallel 49 offered a Campfire Smores Stout, Spinnakers had a Peppercorn Saison and Canoe an Asian Fusion Pale Ale. As a patron it is fun to try some of these more challenging flavour combinations in a small pour instead of committing to a whole pint or god-forbid an entire six pack. Often these out-there beers are something I would only want in a small sample as they probably wouldn’t make their way into my regular rotation. Some of the stand-outs for me were Tofino Brewing’s Bourbon Coffee Porter, Russell’s JD Barrel Aged Scotch Ale, Canoe’s Asian Fusion Pale Ale (think ginger and pear), Lighthouse Houblonic Plague and for something clean and easy on the palate Steamworks Pilsner.

ESB's and IPA's

So will I be offering up my skills as a beer server at another beer fest? Absolutely. It was so much fun being behind the scenes chatting with brewers, servers and fellow beer geeks. The volunteers were treated very well by the folks at Central City, we were fed, given t-shirts, admission and tokens. Everybody seemed to be having a really good time, which made the 3.5 hour shift fly by in no time. Working the keg allowed me to gleam invaluable on-fly-assessments of the different beers as well as being to privy to opinions on everything from the best place to shop for beer cross-border, how to open a new brewery, fashion advice and everything in between. In the same way that brewing your own beer only heightens your appreciation for the craft, I would highly recommend that every beer enthusiast tries their hand at working the taps at least once it really does give you an entirely different perspective on how beer fests are organized and run. Cheers to the folks at Central City for a great event!

The Assorted Room

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!

A Beer Nerd’s Guide to Surviving the GCBF

This is my second year attending the Great Canadian Beer Festival (GCBF) in Victoria, BC and I think that qualifies me to dispense some sage advice on how to get the best out of your beer fest experience. First up it is a super quick walk to Royal Athletic Park from downtown Victoria and many hotels offer beer fest rates so check-in early, have a pre-beer fest pint at one of Victoria’s many great brew pubs (Spinnakers, Swans, Moon Under Water, Sticky Wicket, Canoe Club etc.) and meander your way to the gates early, I am mean really early. We got to the festival about a half hour before the gates opened and the line was down the block and around the corner. This meant by the time the line started moving and we got through the admin stuff it was almost quarter to four; we lost nearly 45min of quality drinking time! The masses behind us probably lost upwards of an hour to and hour and a half. I am not sure why the GCBF organizers do not let the crowds in early and just not start pouring drinks until the festival start time? This would allow patrons to walk around the grounds, scope out bathrooms, buy beer swag and check out the food options. Speaking of food, you can’t bring any food or drink with you AND the food selection is pretty tragic. If you are a veg like me be prepared to eat some falafel that has been parked under a heat lamp for most of its natural life. I saw some intrepid beer lovers wearing pretzel necklaces, which seems like a great idea and unlikely to get confiscated if you keep it tucked under your shirt on the way in. If you are a big geek like me pre-plan your beer route, if you an even bigger geek re-order the beer list numerically (GCBF has it alphabetically) that way you can make a big beer loop while minimizing your walking distances.

Once you actually get onto the grounds prioritize, prioritize, prioritize; many brewers run out of their more unique offerings so if you want something that is made for the festival or one of the casked ales go get it first. It really sucks to wait until the end of the day and realized the beer you want ran out an hour ago. On the other hand be aware of the ominous ‘Saturday Only’ or ‘Friday Only’ tags and have a back-up planned in case the beer you want is a no-show (ahem, Fig Saison). Don’t start the beer festival with something super strong or crazy flavoured it will skew your sense of taste for the rest of the day; on that same note don’t expect to taste much of anything by the end of the day. No matter how often you tell yourself you will pace the samples there are just too many great beers not to take advantage. Make use of super warm water randomly dispersed throughout the grounds you need to keep hydrated and cleanse the palate between samples. The brewer line-ups are long and they only get longer throughout the day so enjoy your sample while you get in line for another otherwise your glass will get all sad and empty. Try not to overbuy tokens; many people were stuck with leftovers at the end and once the air horn sounded at eight the beer stopped flowing -instantly. The bathrooms get real scary real quickly so go use the ones at the entrance as the day wears on it you want to avoid overspray. Take some time to people watch; I saw a leprechaun, Darth Vader playing the violin, living statues, a large man with a coconut bra, Duff Man, a ton of clever beer shirts, lederhosen clad freshmen and various other characters. Take advantage of the free beer swag you can never have too many coasters, stickers and temporary tattoos –my partner looked like a Nascar by the end of the day he had so many decals on his shirt. Most of all enjoy yourself, interact with the brewers, servers, entertainers and other festival patrons everyone is in great spirits -it gets loud and silly but never rowdy.

Now a bit about the beer. In all fairness I can’t really give a proper review to the samples since they were small pours, I was mixing across all kinds of styles and if truth be told I was pretty darn loaded by the end of the day; however, I would still like to offer some thoughts on my samplings and you can take them for what you will. I started with Cool Grand from Hopworks cask conditioned ale brewed with North West malt and local Oregon hops. A nice festival starter, quite balanced, a hoppy nose with a sweet finish. Yoda’s Green Tea Golden Ale from Port Townsend Brewing a very still beer with a strong green tea flavour (more than any other tea beer I have tried). Bourbon aged breakfast stout from the new kid on the block Coal Harbour Brewing; this one struck me more like a porter than a stout lacking somewhat in heft, a cold coffee taste with a hint of sweetness. Kolsch from Double Mountain Brewery (my first Kolsch!!!) light, effervescent ale with a dry fruit element that was light and crisp. Steamworks Brewing Great Pumpkin Ale (x2) just the best pumpkin beer EVER; honourable mentions to their equally stellar Grand Espresso Stout and regrets to their sold-out Frambozen = (. Three Skulls Blood Orange Wit mild wheat ale with a far too subtle orange element. Salt Spring Island Golden Ale and Heatherdale Ale; the former a nutty ale that was really crisp and the latter a dry ale with elements of honey and an almost floral like quality –both were really great and served quite cold. Moon Under Water Blue Moon Bitter a nice darker ale with a hoppy aftertaste and Tranquility IPA a middle of the road example of the style; not bad, not stellar. Sound Brewing Monks Indiscretion and Tripel Entendre. These Belgians were two of the beer fest stand-outs for me; strong and flavourful yet immensely drinkable. Pike Brewery’s Naughty Nellie, which I think was pretty good but things were getting a little fuzzy at this point. Stone Brewing Arrogant Bastard Ale, one of the longest lines at the festival and one of the most fun beers to order, this is the Stone signature drink aggressive hoppy ale with a bitter aftertaste that is really great. Yukon Brewing Red Amber Ale, which again I think was a pretty good red with a creamy mouthfeel and a bit of spice. I know there were others and I tried to keep track, I really did, but I am not sure what they were so I don’t want to do anyone a disservice by making a guess. A good selection of beers but I wish it was a little more distinct from last year since there were many repeats. Also, I did not feel like there were as many unusual flavours/styles represented; the piquant ales were there last year as were the numerous pumpkins but not many brewers had something highly distinctive.

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