Tag Archives: Steamworks Brewing Company

The Great Pumpkin Beer Wrap-Up

Well I did it (self congratulatory pat on the back) I tried nineteen different pumpkin beers  leading up to Hallowe’en and I am happy to not have to see or drink another pumpkin beer until next year. In honour of this feat I thought I would put together a little wrap-up by ranking the pumpkin brews 1 through 19 to give my readers a better sense of my favourite and not so favourite beers.



Starting at the top of the gourd pile we have…

1. Southern Tier Pumking

2. Elysian Night Owl

3. Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

4. Parallel 49 Schadenfreude

5. Granville Island Pumpkin Ale

6. St. Ambroise Citrouille (Pumpkin)

7. Parallel 49 Lost Souls

8. Tree Jumpin Jack

9. Elysian Dark O’ the Moon

10. Elysian Hansel and Gretel

11. Steamworks Pumpkin Ale

12. Epic Brewing Imperial Pumpkin Porter

13. Fernie Pumpkin Head

14. Red Racer Pumpkin Ale

15. Howe Sound Pumpkineater

16. Two Beers Pumpkin Spice Ale

17. Pike Harlot’s Harvest

18. Lighthouse Pumpkin Ale

19. Phillips Crooked Tooth


Now onto the Great Christmas Beer Countdown, 55 beers in 55 days …just kidding!


Pumpkin Beer Two, A Brew I Thought I Knew

The second beer on my pumpkin quest is Steamworks Brewing Co. Pumpkin Ale.

Steamworks Pumpkin Ale is not new to me, in fact I have been known to espouse the wonders of this beer from time to time on this very blog BUT this is my first time trying it in the bottle so I will temper my bias when I get to the review segment of the show.



Steamworks Pumpkin Ale pours a deep amber red colour with good clarity. There is a decent amount of cream coloured head that lingers for sometime. Initially there is very little on the nose but as it warms a subtle spiciness comes through. Flavour wise this beer is akin to a good brown ale but the pumpkin element seems somewhat lacking. Raising the temperature helps but I find the pumpkin flavours far too mild. Oddly this beer gets a bit of banana on the nose as it warms up. It is pretty light bodied all in all and the finish has some maltiness to it but nothing lasting. I also tried Steamworks Pumpkin Ale in a growler this year and I prefer the draught form to the bottled version, though the bottle is really cool looking.



Overall I give this one six candy corns out of a possible ten.

A Pumpkin (Beer) a Day Keeps the Doctor Away


Hallowe’en is one of my favourite holidays – dressing up as someone or something else, eating too much candy corn, watching cheesy horror movies and, of course, the arrival of pumpkin beers!

To honour this holiday in the best beer geek fashion I am going to do a series of blogs reviewing a different pumpkin beer everyday until Hallowe’en.

I have a pretty decent selection in the fridge but I will need some recommendations to meet my goal so feel free to add your favourites to the comments section…


Pumpkin Beers on Deck

Phillips Crooked Tooth Pumpkin Ale

Tree Brewing Co. Jumpin Jack Pumpkin Ale

Parallel 49 Lost Souls Chocolate Pumpkin Porter

Steamworks Pumpkin Ale

Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale

Fernie Brewing Co. Pumpkin Head Pumpkin Brown Ale

Parallel 49 Schadenfreude Pumpkin Oktoberfest

St. Ambroise The Great Pumpkin Ale

Epic Brewing Fermentation without Representation Imperial Pumpkin Porter

Two Beers Brewing Co. Pumpkin Spice Ale

Elysian Dark O’ the Moon Pumpkin Stout

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

Pike Brewing Co. Harlot’s Harvest Pike Pumpkin Ale

Southern Tier Pumking Ale

Do you like Hoses? I mean really like Hoses?

Last Thursday I got to live out every beer geek’s dream of being a brewmaster for the day. In actuality sub-assistant brew lackey might be a more accurate descriptor of the utilization of my talents but this does not mean I did not have a great time helping out at Steamworks Brewing Co. on a brew day!



The Brewpub, the Brewery and the Beer

Steamworks Brewing Co. is located in historic Gastown Vancouver, BC. The brewery derives its’ name from the steam heating system running through the building. According to their website, Steamworks is the only steam generated brewery in Canada.



The brewpub, liqour store and brewery are all located in one beautiful old building. For those of you who have not ventured beyond the pub the brewery, located downstairs, is a mostly open concept layout where patrons can watch (and take pictures of) the beer masters in action. There are a total of five bars within the facility.

In order to keep up with demand, and the new bottling production, some  Steamworks beer (pilsner and pale ale) is brewed off-site by Deadfrog Brewery and brought in for consumption; Deadfrog is currently handling the bottling operations but plans are underway to open a Steamworks off-site brewing and bottling facility.



Steamworks is a little more mainstream and a little less beer geek than some of Vancouver’s downtown beer sites. Much of the beer production focuses on accessible brews like lager and pale ale, which sell well in a tourist heavy location. At the same time, Steamworks has a much-deserved reputation for a stellar seasonal line-up from their Frambozen to their Pumpkin to their JJ Bean Espresso Stout. Within the standard beer line-up the brewers like to mix things up trying different hop in the IPA or different coffee beans in the stout so batch-to-batch you are not always getting the exact same beer.

Food-wise there is not too much remarkable here, pub basics really, but the helpful staff did create an impromptu vegan pizza so I could keep up my keg-hauling strength.



The Beer Guys

Conrad is the head brewer for Steamworks and he has been working at the brewery since 1996. Initially Conrad was studying to be an architect before taking that fateful turn towards beer geekery. Beer wise Conrad is a Belgian and Saison kind of guy.

Tak is the assistant brewer and he has been with Steamworks for seven months. Tak was (and still is!) and avid home brewer who came to the job via a recommendation from Parallel 49 head brewer Graham With. Tak’s beers of choice lean towards sessional brews and Bitters.



Both guys tell me how lucky they are to do what they love for a living, which to me is the greatest compliment one can ever bestow upon their chosen career path.

As some of you may have heard Conrad will be leaving Steamworks soon to open Vancouver’s newest brewery, Brass Tacks, with Nigel from Alibi Room. This new brewery will be located near The Whip on Main Street and will be offering growler fill-up. This should be a great collaboration and I can’t wait to try them out when they open.



The 9 to 5 of being of Brewer

Much like a “regular” person’s work day the brew day got underway around 9:00am. I was pleasantly surprised to find out I was not going to be relegated to the side-lines when I was handed my uniform of safety goggles, rubber gloves and galoshes. Literally I was able to watch or participate in every stage of the brewing process from adding milled grains to the mash tun to sparging to adding hops to the kettle to pitching the yeast.



We began by transferring beer and cleaning equipment in preparation to brew Steamworks Nut Brown Ale. As my blog title suggests navigating around hoses, attaching and detaching hoses, spraying water and any other reasons you can think of for needing a hose pretty much define your day. Overall I was surprised by how routine the day actually was. For some reason I expected more unpredictability in the brewing process but things ran like clock-work.



The fun(?) happens when life outside the brewing process seeps into your day. When I got to Steamworks Tak mentioned they had received a pallet of Parallel 49’s brewing supplies in error so part of my time was spent moving product through the service corridors so it could get back to the proper brewery. Also, Thursday night was the official launch of Steamworks new bottles so I assisted with carting around kegs to the various tasting stations for the evening’s attendees.

Other tough aspects of the job including sampling beer with lunch, and after lunch, to ensure the best possible quality control levels. Based on my expert analysis, it looks like a great year for the espresso stout and the pumpkin ale both of which are coming on tap soon.


A great big thanks to Conrad and Tak for allowing me to be a part of their day!


Raspberry vs Blackberry – It’s Gonna Get Fruity in Beer

Steamworks Brewing Company Frambozen

Steamworks? In Bottles? Oh yes, you read that correctly. For those days when you just don’t want to haul your growler to Gastown for a refill, you can now pop into your favourite craft beer retailer and pick up a 650ml.


Here is a bit of information from the press release:

“Available for purchase August 27, 2012, Steamworks Pale Ale and the Steamworks Pilsner aim to bring the brewpub experience home with their refreshing and crisp craft brews. On a seasonal basis, Steamworks Brewing Company will also be releasing limited edition beers in 650mL bottles, including popular Frambozen, Wheat Ale, Heroica Oatmeal Stout and its highly coveted Pumpkin Ale.”



As any review of Steamworks new bottled brews would be amiss if it did not give recognition to their incredible label (or no-label) design work, here is a bit more from the press release:

“Adding to the excitement, Steamworks Brewing Company also enters the market as the first beer to feature the design of esteemed creative team, Laurie Millotte and Bernie Hadley-Beauregard of Brandever, one of the country’s most irreverent and popular wine label designers. Brandever’s work includes designs for Blasted Church winery, Monster Vineyards and Laughing Stock. In stores this week, Steamworks bottles feature whimsical and stylized Steampunk inspired images combined with Vancouver landmarks, brewery nuances and of course, steam.”

As an aside, I think I am going to make these bottles into Christmas lights -they are just that cool!



Oh yeah and there is beer in the bottles as well so let’s get our fruit on…

Frambozen pours a brilliant red colour with golden tones and very little head, which quickly departs. It is all about the berry on the nose, it is very light bodied, clean to drink with just the slightest hint of bitterness on the finish. Like the nose, raspberry really dominates everything else palate wise. I wish there had been more body to this beer and some tartness from the berries. Somehow the raspberry takes on an almost artificial quality, like raspberry flavour instead of real berry taste, but that’s an issue I have with lots of fruit beers. I had tried Frambozen at the Great Canadian Beer Festival and I really liked it so I assumed I would still enjoy it but somehow the bottled experience did not quite live up to the freshly tapped keg. Overall not a bad beer, a good summer sipper, but I would probably try it on draught over bottle.


Townsite Brewing Blackberry Festivale

So what is the new brewer on the block bringing to the table? A Blackberry Wheat Beer called Blackberry Festivale.

For those of you in self-imposed beer exile, Townsite Brewing Inc. is located in a historic building in the beautiful town of Powell River, British Columbia. The inaugural keg tapped on March of this year. They have four core beers in their line-up a Porter, a Wheat, an IPA and a Golden Blonde with seasonal offerings like the Blackberry reviewed below. According to their (fantastic) website the people behind Townsite are committed to:

1. Brew world-class beers
2. Promote beer culture and the responsible enjoyment of beer
3. Use sustainable business practices
4. Promote local economy and regional self-reliance
5. Support environmental stewardship and social responsibility
6. Kindle social, environmental and cultural change



First up, I have to give Townsite kudos for their vintage, art nouveau-esque label that incorporates lots of fun elements, nice fonts and an image of the historic building where the brewery is located. I love that all the newbies popping up throughout BC have made an effort to brew great beer and package it in great bottles. For me, this berry rumble almost became a battle of bottle aesthetics but I am easily distracted by pretty colours.

Blackberry Festivale comes in a 650ml and weighs in at 5.5% ABV. It is a wheat beer at heart. Festivale pours a cloudy amber gold with tons of white head (and I mean REALLY white head, like unearthly, glow-in-the-dark, Hollywood actress teeth white) that never really wants to leave. You get the requisite wheat beer nose with lots of yeast and spicy notes. Flavour wise you still are pretty much solidly in the wheat beer realm with this cloying sweetness that must be the blackberry influence; however, my entourage all agreed that this is a ‘barely berry’ beer. By this I mean unless I saw the raining blackberries on the label I might have missed the fact it was a fruit beer and I definitely could not discern blackberry as the fruit involved. Yeasty on the finish. Not bad as a wheat beer but I am not feeling this ‘just add fruit’ mantra since I find the wheat character often overpowers other elements.


Ding, ding, ding, our winner is…

If you feel the need to go berry, I have to give my recommendation to Steamworks Frambozen.

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 Greatest of Expectations

I have been counting down the days until Steamworks Brewing Company’s Great Pumpkin Ale was finally on tap. Much like Linus I was going out at night looking up at the sky and asking where are you Great Pumpkin (Ale)? Steamworks’ fall seasonal was my favourite beer two years running at the Great Canadian Beer Fest. I loved that it actually tasted like pumpkin pie, the spices were just right, the sweetness bang on and somehow it managed to be a great beer at the foundation of it all. After GCBF 2010 I just missed the last of the pumpkin ale at Steamworks and I was pretty bummed out. This year I vowed to myself and the beer saints (yup all of them …Gambrinus, Arnold, Brigid you name em’ and I invoked them) that I would not make the same mistake twice.

Making good on my idle promises, yesterday I headed to Gastown to pick up my growler and I was good to go or so I thought… Here is the issue, I have been looking forward to this beer for so long that when I finally got it home and poured myself a pint I was a little underwhelmed. Naturally this got the left side of my brain thinking about all the reasons a beer may not live up to my expectations. There are many variables that can affect your drinking experience including beer temperature, glassware, food pairings, pour size, environment, company, state of mind etc. Psychology also obviously comes into play in the sense we often remember things as being better than they actually were; anticipation can be hard to live up to. So what follows are two reviews of the beer, one on Saturday and one on Sunday, in my attempt to account for some of the variables that enter into the drinking experience.

Beer Day 1: Steamworks Great Pumpkin Ale pours an autumnal reddish brown with minimal head. It is very clear and still. I had my pint very cold; the beer elements (hops, malt) immediately come to the forefront but I felt like the spiciness was somewhat lacking. The nose is malty but not overpowering. There is a bit of strength to the ale, not sure of the ABV, which makes it a nice choice a fall seasonal. I tried the ale immediately after a meal, and spicy dessert, and I drank it pretty much in one sitting. Overall a really nice red ale but I am not sure it is remarkable as a flavoured beer. I feel somewhat let down by the lack of complexity.

Re-visiting the Beer Day 2: After thinking too much about all of the reasons the beer was not quite as I remembered I thought I’d give it another go today to see if my opinion had changed. This afternoon I tried a couple more pints of the Great Pumpkin Ale and I have to admit it is starting to win its way back into my heart. I tried the ale on its own, no food accompaniments, and I left it out to warm up (just a bit) on the counter. This definitely helped bring out the pumpkin pie spices and improved the creamy mouthfeel. I drank it intermittently while doing a gazillion other Sunday-type things. As I sit here draining the bottom of my glass, and the end of my growler, I think I am firmly back in the ‘I love Great Pumpkin Ale’ camp but perhaps I am not the fervent right-wing lover I once was.

Overall I would give Steamworks Great Pumpkin Ale 4.5 out of 5

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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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With visions of Pumpkins…











Continuing right along with my seasonal tastings I sampled Jolly Pumpkin’s la Parcela No. 1 Pumpkin Ale –finally the brewery with pumpkin in their name brings out a pumpkin beer (ha ha) I am sure they have never heard that one.  No. 1 Pumpkin pours a deep golden colour; it has a strong lingering head and is opaque in the glass with lots of sediment settling to the bottom.  This beer is quite strong and heavy on the spice element.  I would say there is almost a Saison quality to it.  The finish has a subtle sweetness and the taste of cloves comes through.  In the 750ml size this beer made a great sharer but I am not sure I could finish a bottle on my own.  Overall this ale was a unique take on the pumpkin theme.

Out of a possible five I would give this ale a 4.0

Nothing marks the turn of the seasons like the arrival of fall and winter seasonals at the beer store; pumpkin, spice, chocolate and vanilla flavours abound in bottles adorned with deep coloured labels signalling the onset of cold weather and fire places.  Feeling somewhat autumnal –but not Christmasal- I decided to try out Granville Island’s limited edition Pumpkin Ale.  This beer pours a cloudy orange with very little head that quickly dissipates.  There is also little to no lacing on the sides of the glass.  I found this ale to have a somewhat sour quality on first tasting, not like a lambic or a Flemish, but something I couldn’t quite place perhaps the ‘earthy undertone’ described on the label.  In the same vein, I found the spiciness to be somewhat lacklustre.  Overall this really just tasted like somewhat tart, somewhat strong ale with nothing to set it apart as pumpkin per se (short of the label of course).  I expect pumpkin ales to have strong distinct notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves coupled with a discernable pumpkin taste; basically pureed pumpkin pie lovingly tempered with strong ale.  Disappointingly this will definitely not be a repeat for purchase me…I await Lions Winter Ale with bated breath.

Out of a possible five I would give this ale a 2.5

Update: Liking this pumpkin offering but not loving it I tried out a few other Autumn inspired brews. Elysian, much like Granville Island, suffered from that all too common shortcoming of flavoured beers by having too little of the featured ingredient to make an impact. A nice spiced ale in it’s own right but not memorable. What was memorable was Steamworks pumpkin ale. Seriously this was like drinking pumpkin pie in a glass; it was sweet with cinnamon and hot with clove and nutmeg elements. Fantastic!

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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