Tag Archives: Swans Brewery

Summertime and the Drinking is Easy

Last year at this time I wrote an ode to the humble lager, long-time ball park staple and ubiquitous summer brew of choice for those wanting something thirst quenching, ice-cold and somewhat embodying sunshine in a glass. But as all good beer geeks know there are many other options at the lighter end of the spectrum that make equally good summer drinking.


Tuff Lite Lime


Putting the obvious IPA aside, when it is a hot humid dog-dangling kind of afternoon and your thoughts turn to the beer fridge think pilsner, kolsch, hefeweizen, fruit beer, porters or sour beer for something just a little outside the box. Each of these choices retaining a lighter bodied quality that makes them hot weather compatible while at the same time offering something just a little bit more than your basic lager.

Some of my summer stock includes Mill Street Brewing’s Lemon Tea Beer, Anchor Brewing Liberty Ale, Unibroue Ephemere Cerise, Tofino Brewing Tuff Lite Lime and Swans Brewing Company Coconut Porter.


Ephemere Cerise


Mill Street Lemon Tea Beer 

A light almost tepid beer that tastes somewhere between ice tea and a summer ale. Very refreshing and simple, I think this makes an excellent starter beer for your BBQ or for sipping under your patio lanterns. Hoping they bring this one out in six-packs in the BC area.

Anchor Liberty Ale

A malt forward ale that also has a decent amount of hoppiness. A bit more body than some of my other summer selections, Liberty Ale is a  great example of the style. No frills, no fruits, no weird flavour combinations; it is what it is and what it is is a really good beer.

Unibroue Ephemere Cerise

Ephemere apple is one of my favourite summer beers so I was quite excited to see a cherry version on the shelves this summer. Unibroue never disappoints on the Belgian beer style but the addition of cherry was a bit of a miss for me. While the apple adds a tartness the cherry flavour just seemed artificial, like cherry candy or cough syrup, and the beer had an almost chalky taste.

Tofino Tuff Lite Lime

Putting a Simpsons’ style label on this beer meant I was going to buy it no matter what, throw in the cheeky wordplay on the nefarious Bud Light with Lime and I may just have to purchase stock options. This may be one of the lightest bodied beers I have had in a long time; clean drinking with a hint of lime this beer it exactly what it claims to be. Another great starter beer when you want something easy.

Swans Coconut Porter

For those who just cannot part ways with their beloved dark beers coconut porter is a great summer option. Lighter bodied but still retaining some roasted malt character the sweetness of the coconut literally makes this beer scream summer, sunscreen and sipping. Also, if everyone else around you breaks out the pina coladas you’ll have you very own beery version.


Liberty Ale


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

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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Forays into IPA’s: Hopping my way through unchartered ales

IPA Night eh!

Lately I feel like my beer palate has been changing (evolving? de-evolving?) and I have found myself wanting to challenge my taste buds and get out of my comfort zone.  My mantra for a recent trip to the GCBF was not to pony up a token for anything a) I could readily get in a beer store and b) I would normally choose -hence the jalapeno and coconut taste trips.  Anyway an area of beer that I have tended to shy away from is the India Pale Ale.  When I first began to drink beer there was a taste I did not like but could not articulate and only later on found out that this taste was floral and the culprit was the pretty looking clusters known as hops.  Many people expound the wonders of the hop, and beers here on the NWC seem to have cultivated an unofficial cold war by continuously escalating the amount of hops per bottle yet I cannot say I understood what all the fuss was about.  Yet as my most wise mother asked if all your friends jumped off a cliff would you too and the answer is yes since I would be sad and lonely otherwise…duh.  So bring on the hops!

Coming chivalrously to my aid a generous friend offered me the opportunity to ‘jump off’ by arranging an IPA tasting.  During the evening we sampled Brasserie Dieu du Ciel Corne du Diable IPA, Dogfish 60min IPA, Swans Extra IPA, Lagunitas IPA Maximus Ale, Dogfish 90min IPA, Tree Hop Head and Green Flash Brewing Co. West Coast IPA.  Corne du Diable (Horn of the Devil) was dark reddish brown ale that left a nice web of lacing on the side of the glass.  Initially I got a nutty flavour with the hop taste following later.  This was a nice IPA intro with the hops not overpowering the other tastes in the beer.  Next we sampled Dogfish 60min a lighter IPA with a rich amber colour and balanced taste.  This beer was lighter in colour, taste and hops, and there was crispness to the ale that would lend it to food pairings.  The Swans Extra IPA was a tough swallow at first sip, hence the extra I guess, as the hop nose was strong with a definite grapefruit element.  This ale poured golden amber with little head.  I actually found this beer improved as you drank it and became accustomed to the complexities of a stronger hop.  Lagunitas was clear and golden with a real peppery bite.  I got a distinct floral soap taste at the first sip, which was somewhat off-putting but like a trooper I carried on.  So what else could I do but head back to Dogfish this time upping the ante to 90min.  This IPA was the best of the bunch for me; nicely balanced, the flower:soap ratio skewed to an appropriate level, and for the first time in the evening I could locate the malt taste despite the strength of the hops.  Now to Tree IPA with it’s predominate ‘hop head’ and distinct spicy element.  This beer was a clear reddish gold with minimal head.  It was a little overwhelming and I found it tougher to drink than the 90min.  We wrapped up our evening with Green Flash whose IPA was quite different in appearance; heavy on the sediment and cloudy (or maybe I was just at the bottom of the bottle end of the evening and all).  This ale was real hoppy and I had a tough time getting through a glass.  So what did I learn?  I like my hops tempered with other elements, I need my IPA’s to be balanced and smooth, I like flowers for smelling but not drinking, I like soap for washing but not drinking, I still do not like grapefruit (it’s genetic you know) and I do not think the more hops you cram into a bottle the better your IPA will taste.

Out of a possible five I would give India Pale Ales a 3.5; not my favourite beer style but not without its charms.

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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