Driftwood Brewery

Recently, I came to the realization that I had tried just about everything a local brewery had to offer, and yet I’d never given them a complete review! This seems to be a pattern with me, but rarely does it happen with a brewery in my own backyard. I am of course referring to the Driftwood Brewery, located right here in beautiful Victoria BC! Oft times I have praised an individual beer of theirs, and even used them as the meter stick when I needed to compare another beer to something. And after a recent visit to one of my favorite dispensaries, I realized that I tried their entire regular lineup. Not quite all their specialty, but dammit, they just make so many! Still, it’s high time I put all my thoughts on this establishment into one place. So here goes…

First off, a note on the brewery itself. Established back in 2008 by Jason Meyer and Kevin Hearsum, this brewery is a recent addition to craft brewing here on the island. However, in just four short years, these guys turned a start-up with a simple but popular selection into a powerhouse of microbrewing with a six beer lineup and a growing line of specialty beers. And they’ve got a memorable and geographically appropriate name to boot, so its easy to see why they’ve done well. Operating out of a former warehouse in Victoria’s Gorge area, they are joined by breweries like Hoyne, Spinnakers, Swans, and Moon Under Water.

Yeah, I’m thinking these guys aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. As for the beer, well…

Regular Lineup:
Driftwood Ale: A balanced and drinkable beer and a fitting example of a West Coast Pale Ale. Rich malt flavors are complimented by a good bite that has notes of grapefruit. This is due to the addition of (what I assume are) Cascade hops, which comes through in the finish. Good on its own, but also well paired with just about anything spicy, meaty, or saucy. 4/5

Farmhand Ale: A Belgian style farmhouse ale, which refers to the tradition of farm-based cottage breweries common to the Wallonia province in Belgium. Also known as “saison” beers, these are typically summer ales that are noted for being light, refreshing, and best when enjoyed in warm weather. Driftwood’s own is a faithful adaptation, relying on sour mash and pepper to accomplish a beer that is distinctly Belgian in flavor, has a light sour malt taste, and a mild hop finish that contains notes of pepper. 4/5 

White Bark Ale: A traditional wheat, as the name implies, which has the expected notes of citrus and coriander. However, this beer was remarkably light, even for a wheat beer, which was kind of disappointing. In many ways, I was reminded of Hoegaarden, another light take on the Belgian wheat. However, this isn’t to say that this beer isn’t both enjoyable and summery, like a good wheat should be! Best enjoyed with heavier fare like game, rich or spicy cuisine, its light taste not taking away from the complexity of its flavors. 3.5/5

Crooked Coast Amber Ale: An Altbier, or “old beer” – which refers to the Rhineland tradition of using top-fermenting yeast – this style predates lagers, but has evolved to include warm-temperature fermentation and cold temperature “lagering”. In keeping with traditional recipes, this beer also combines German noble hops and Munich malts. The end result is a beer that combines aspects of both pale ales and lagers, boasting complex flavors with a crisp, clean finish. Tawny, smooth notes gives way to a dry hop finish and refreshing clean aftertaste. A good candidate for my “go-to” list! 4/5

Fat Tug IPA: You ever wonder if a beer was made just for you? Well, I kind of wondered if someone over at the Driftwood Brewery had a direct line to my hop tooth the moment I tasted this beer! One of the best IPA’s I’ve had in recent years, and a proud entry to my “Best IPA’s” of all time list. Much like the Driftwood Ale, this beer boasts a dose of Cascadia and other varieties of hops, but in doses that make the notes of grapefruit especially fragrant and powerful! The malts are lighter, allowing the hops to really come through and linger long after the last sip. At 7% alc/vol and 80 IBU (international bitterness units) this beer is also a true example of a Northwestern IPA. 5/5

Seasonals:
Bird of Prey Flanders Red: Ordinarily, I’m not a huge fan of sour ales. In fact, I’ve had a few at this point and found them generally disappointing. However, that changed BIG TIME when I sampled this beer for the first time last November. As a historian and lover of all things pertaining to Canada’s involvement in WWI and II, I could not turn down a beer that boasted the name Flanders! I assumed (and still do) that it was a seasonal ale brewed in honor of Flanders Fields. But as if that wasn’t enough, the taste brought me back to it several times over! Brewed in the traditional Flanders style, this beer is a Belgian red that is made using special strands of yeast and then aged in oak barrels for up to a year. Ultimately, what comes out of this is a beer that is reddish in hue and has a complex, sour flavor and rich aroma that is reminiscent of sour cherries, plums and apricots – a true delight for the senses. Oh, how I lamented its disappearance when fall gave way to winter! 5/5!

Old Cellar Dweller: I recall reviewing this one back in December of 2010, during my “Month of Doppelbock” series. And I can recall with some fondness when I first found this beer on the shelf and learned that it was a Driftwood product. Faithful to the tradition of Barley Wine, this beer is dark, sugary, and very powerful – at 12% alc/vol, it isn’t pulling any punches! However, its intense strength and sweetness can be a little overwhelming at times, which is why I highly recommend that this beer be served in a snifter and enjoyed sparingly. Under those conditions, its tawny finish and strong notes of molasses, brown sugar and light hop bite can be appreciated fully. 4/5

Son of the Morning: The most recent Driftwood beer to grace my table. When I first set my eyes on it, I knew instantly that it and I would get along just fine! The label said strong golden ale, and the details emphasized that it was a Belgian-style ale. Man, these guys love their Belgians; but then again, so do I! We get along fine. And, much like their Belgian predecessors, this strong ale is made using coriander and sugar to intensify the flavor and alcohol content. The end is result is what I would describe as a cross between La Fin Du Monde and Duvel, two shining examples of Belgian-style beer-making. In addition to its obvious strength (10% alc/vol) the beer is also distinctly Belgian, spicey, viscous, and finishes with a coarse bite. Not for anyone who’s into light beer, but definitely for fans of true Belgian brewing! 4/5

And like I said before, these guys put out a lot of special beers! In fact, I do believe their signature creations outnumber their regular lineup by a wide margin. As it turns out, I have tried some of the ones which are below, but at the moment they are unavailable to me and I can’t for the life of me remember what they were like. Not enough to give them a full and just review. So let me list them off as those I have yet to try and will get to later:

Blackstone Porter

Cuvee D’Hiver
Naughty Hildegard ESB
Singularity Stout
Spring Rite
Twenty Pounder Double IPA

Quite the list, but then again, these guys have been busy! Kudos Driftwood. You keep making em, I’ll keep drinking em!

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Month of IPA’s (continued)

November 2010, the month that was dedicated to India Pale Ale’s. Here was my second post for that month, encompassing all the beers I managed to find, sample, and review. It was a perfect cross-section of the obscure (at least to me), the new, and the enduringly famous. So here they are, in sequential order from least to most appealing:

Thunderhead IPA:(3/5) By Pyramid Brewing, from California, this IPA is pretty light by Canadian standards. While the overall alcohol and hop content is consistent with a regular IPA, it is smooth in a way that is typical of many west-coast US beers. This can be a good or bad, depending on your preference. For those who love hoppy beers, it can be a bit of a letdown, but it makes for a more accessible, drinkable beer.

Shipwrecked IPA: (4/5) By Lighthouse Brewery, made here in Victoria, this beer is part of their Small Brewery-Big Flavour line. At 10 percent alcohol, it is truly strong, even for an IPA, and only for those who are already familiar with this type of brew. Much like a true IPA, it combines strength with heavy malts and a floral, even piney, aftertaste taste that lingers quiet nicely. I recommend it, but only for people looking to sample outside the mainstream of IPA’s, or the experimentally minded.

Brutal IPA: (4/5) By Rogue Breweries, from Oregon, this is yet another big hit by Rogue who are known for their signature microbrews and are committed to excellence in everything they do! As you might guess, I’m a big fan and found this beer very enjoyable. It lives up to the name, being both strong and very hoppy. With floral notes and a strong, crisp taste, its very much in keeping with the tradition of IPA’s. Keep in mind that the name is no idle boast. It is strong to the point of brutality and should only be enjoyed by those who know (and love) their IPA’s!

90 Minute IPA: (4.5/5) By Dogfish Head, located in Denver, this brew was declared by Esquire magazine as being “possibly the best IPA in America.” Having tried it more than once, I can honestly say they may very well be right. Crisp, clean, hoppy and strong, this beer lives up both to the IPA tradition and the high standard set by Dogfish Head. Much like Rogue, they are a brewery that can do little wrong in my eyes and I’m always interested to see what they’ll make next.

Fat Tug IPA: (5/5) As they say, save the best for last! This customer, brewed by Driftwood Brewery right here in Victoria, is the best IPA I’ve had in awhile. It is a true IPA, bringing both strength and a powerful, fruity palate to the table. The result is a crisp, clean taste that both smells and tastes like grapefruit and melon. I was pleased not only with the beer itself but also to find out that this new release is now a permanent part of their repertoire! Challenging, not for everyone, but that’s the point of IPA. Much like the Lord, it hates a coward!

(Dis)honourable Mention: Alexander Keith’s IPA. (1/5) Okay, I know knocking this beer is like knocking a proud Canadian tradition, not to mention the beer of choice for millions of undergrad students, but I got to speak my mind here! For years, I have sat idly by in bars and pubs and watched people order this beer, thinking they were sampling an actual IPA. But they weren’t! From the moment I tried Scotch-Irish’s Sergeant Major, I knew something had to be said. While Keith’s may have started out as a true IPA, brewed in the Maritimes for export to British Troops in India, it has since evolved (or devolved) into its current form.

While it is drinkable and certainly inoffensive, it doesn’t constitute an IPA by any stretch of the imagination or even the definition. IPA’s are supposed to be offensive! They are by their very nature brews that are tough to handle and should only be enjoyed by people who know their stuff! It is not a beer that was ever intended for mass production or accessibility. And quite frankly, if “inoffensive” or “drinkable” are the best things you can say about a beer, then you know there’s something wrong! It generally means that the beer is tasteless, being brewed in mass quantities for consumption by people who don’t care about quality and taste, just getting drunk. “Get’s the job done” is another indicator of quality-less beer, which usually translates to “cheap and easy-drinking” (aka. gets you drunk!)