Vancouver Island Surfrider Bohemian Pilsner Vancouver Island Brewing, Victoria, BC
Style: Pilsner
Alc/Vol: 5%

Description: As a Benefit Brew, the Surfrider Pilsner is brewed in support of the Surfrider Vancouver Island Foundation. The brewery donates 25¢ from the sale of each bottle to aid in their earth-conscious initiatives. The beer is fashioned from a combination of what appears to be Munich and Vienna malts and flavored using Saaz hops.

Tasting Notes: As Bohemian lagers go, this beer is a pretty faithful example and is quite a refreshing summer brew. True to form, it has a grainy flavor that is slightly sweet and crisp, has a bitter finish, and is all around well-balanced and clean.

Appearance: Golden, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich, slightly sweet malt, spicy, crisp hops
Taste: Grainy, crisp malt, slight tang and hop bitterness, touch of sweetness
Aftertaste: Lingering malt bitterness, lemony hop bite
Overall: 8/10

More Summer Beer Additions!

summer-beerOnce in awhile, I find myself coming back from the beer store with a number of similar selections from different breweries. These I generally buy because they are limited releases, share a common theme, or are beers I simply haven’t tried yet. A few weeks ago, I made such a selection, recorded my observations, but then forgot to share them! Alas, I discovered my error and am now correcting that, and bringing to you some summer beers that are sure to still be available.

They are VIB’s Vicfest and Granville Islands Cloak and Dagger, both of which I found while rummaging around the Cook St. Liquor Store. Every time I go in there, I feel like a kid in a candy store and cant seem to make a decision of what to boy. But since VIB and Granville Island have a few things in common – large-scale breweries that are located here in BC, but who are committed to their craft brewing roots – these two limited releases seems like a good buy. And here is what I thought…

Vancouver Island Brewery Vicfest Festival Ale:
Vicfest-650-Bottle-Mock-FLATInteresting case of timing here, since Vicfest is just a week away. However, VIB and the people of Vicfest teamed awhile back and begin brewing this beer well in advance for this summer’s Vancouver Island Cultural Festival. According to a statement released by the brewery, they were going for something that captured the light, rhythmic sense of the island festival and the people who regularly attend. Or as they put it:

This festival ale is brewed in celebration of the amazing art, music and culture here on Vancouver Island. We’re proud to support local cultural events like VIC Fest that strengthen our island’s unique collection of bouncing souls and kindred spirits. Brewed with a rhythmic blend of malts and lightly riffed hops this beer is a thirst quenching and sensory expanding experience. Turn it up and enjoy.

And I’d say that’s what they wound up with as an end result. Though an west coast ale, the light, crisp and clean quality of the beer is more reminiscent of a lager or altbier. And as such, its quite consistent with warm weather, the outdoors, and summery evenings.

Appearance: Light gold, clear, mild foam and good carbonation
Nose: Light malts, mild hops, lager-like
Taste: Crisp, mild malts, Munich-style hops, trace minerality
Aftertaste: Clean finish, mild hops
Overall: 8/10

Almost as good was sample number two, otherwise known as …

Granville Island Cloak & Dagger Cascadian Dark Ale:
cloak&dagger_cascdarkHere we have a limited released that was produced by the folks at Granville Island Brewing as past of their Black Note Book Series. And as has been increasingly the fashion with GIB of late, they’ve been getting in on the craft brewing train with a long lineup of small batch beers, all of which appear to be consistent with the latest Northwest trends. This Cascadian Dark Ale, which combines aspects of a stout, IPA, is no exception, being a rather popular style of late.

And for the most part, I found this one enjoyable and flavorful, though it was slightly on the light side. With a malt profile of a stout or dark ale and the hoppiness of an IPA, one expects a bit more challenge and flavor. However, the Cloak and Dagger remains a very pleasant spring beer and I hope to see it again.

Appearance: Black, opaque, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Dark toasted malts, bitter citrus hops
Taste: Immediate burst of bitter hops, mild tang, relatively light, smooth malts
Aftertaste: Mild and lingering bitterness, otherwise clean aftertaste
Overall: 7.5/10

That’s all for now. Soon enough, I will be back with more seasonal brews, strictly summer one this time! And given the sheer supply of breweries and styles that are in vogue this season, I’m not sure what to expect. But that’s part of the fun of beer shopping, the selection!

VIB Storm Watcher Winter Lager

Storm-WatcherTo be honest and fair with my followers, this beer is one I’ve really taken my time to sample. In fact, I can recall seeing it in arriving in the beer store well over a year ago, greeting the winter drinking season of 2011/2012 with promise. And I must admit, it caught my eye and I was eager to see how it stacked up to other winter beers, most notably Granville Island’s, Tree’s, and Dead Frog’s. And yet I did nothing…

Until now. And since it’s still winter and the seasonal beers keep coming, I thought it was high time to strike this one off my list. And, once again in the spirit of honesty and fairness, this beer did not stack up extremely well, at least when compared to its brethren. Much like the aforementioned winter seasonals, it boasted a dark character, sweet malts, and notes of vanilla. However, unlike the others, it was a rather light lager, which kind of detracted from the overall experience. Though still pleasant and drinkable, the famous winter flavor kind of falls flat amidst its crisp, clean-tasting body.

Appearance: Dark brown-amber, transparent and mild foam retention
Nose: Sweet malts, caramel, vanilla
Taste: Immediate hint of vanilla, mild caramel and honey malts
Aftertaste: Lingering vanilla taste, malts, very clean
Overall: 7.5/10

Yes, this beer was by no means a slouch, but it was a little light and clean for my taste. Personally, I do wonder why they went with a lager instead of ale for this installment in their lineup. But then again its entirely possible they were looking to build on the success of their Hermann’s Dark Lager. But in this case I’d say it was a marriage which, though done well, could have been done better.

Of the Rise in Craft Brewing

A long time ago, I did an article for this site addressing what I saw as a criminal trend in the brewing industry. Not just any crime mind you, but a crime against nature itself, as far as I was concerned! I was referring to the expansion of major brand names and how it seemed to be leading to an overall dip in quality.

To illustrate, I referred to how some of my favorite craft brewers from over the years had been altering their recipes, mainly so they could achieve mass appeal and expand their sales. Others, also personal favorites of mine, had closed down instead, unable to compete in a mass market dominated by major names and low standards. Not a happy article. But if I’ve realized anything in the past two years, it is that this trend has swung sharply in the other direction.

Yes, craft brewing is becoming more and more popular, and may I say that it’s about bloody time! Whether its an upsurge in the number of micro-breweries or the adoption of a craft beer line by major breweries, the trend seems consistent. Granted this is all based on my own anecdotal experience, but when you notice it happening everywhere, you have to assume you’re onto something!

First, as I said, is the expansion in craft brewing. Of all the micro breweries that I’ve discovered since moving to BC, few seem to have opened their doors before the year 2000. For those that did, you’d be hard pressed to find one that’s been in operation since before the late 90’s. This is true of the Driftwood Brewery, the Cannery Brewery, Moon Under Water, Phillips, Old Yale, Hoyne, Dead Frog, Surgenor, Longwood, Swan’s, Spinnakers, and a host of others that I’ve sampled over the years. Back in Ontario, this is similarly true. It was only in the late 90’s and early millennium that the spectacular operations of McAuslan’s, Creemore, Scotch-Irish, Mill St., Heritage, Cameron’s, Muskoka, and a slew of others were established. And their ongoing success is a testament to fact that the popularity of craft brewing is on the rise.

As for the adoption of special, small-batch product lines adopted by larger operations, I am satisfied to say that this trend seems to be catching on, particularly with breweries that I noticed were watering down the wares. In recent years, the Vancouver Island Brewery, Granville Island Brewery, the Lighthouse Brewery have all began releasing signature or limited release beers that are not part of their regular lineups, and take advantage of the small batch production methods that ensure better quality.

This is also true of such giants as Keith’s, which has expanded its lineup by incorporating a white, an amber and a dark ale. This began in recent years, and represents a complete 180 from what they’ve been doing for the generations now – producing a single, watery ale that bears no resemblance to a real IPA. And Sleeman’s, a major operation in its own right, has even expanded its repertoire by introducing an IPA and a Porter to their lineup.

Granted, brewery ownership is still concentrated in the hands of a few major multinationals, and the vast majority of beer consumed today consists of mass produced, flat and flavorless numbers. Still, the trend towards authenticity and flavor seems to be clear. Consumers are demanding beer that is made locally, in small batches, and in accordance with traditional standards. And for beer snobs, who insist on authenticity over accessibility, this can only be seen as great news. Great news indeed!

So when you’re out next weekend, find yourself a local microbrew, a brewpub, and drink up! And be sure to tip your barmaid. Cheers!

Phillips Electric Unicorn

The other day, I made a promise that I would be reviewing Phillips Dr. Funk. Yeah, its seems I lied. Turns out Phillips has released yet another specialty brew. Known as Electric Unicorn, this beer is a Belgian IPA, merging the disparate styles of Witbier with an India Pale Ale. This might sound the slightest bit familiar, seeing as how Vancouver Island Brewing released something very similar in there White Tanker White IPA. Guess the style is catching on…

In any case, when it comes right down to it, these two beers were actually quite different. In merging a Belgian-style wheat beer with a generous dose of Northwestern hops, the Belgian wheat clearly came out on top. Though a hop presence was discernible, the smooth wheat malts and notes of fruit and spices were the most noticeable elements.

Appearance: Deep yellow, cloudy and translucent, mild head
Nose: Clove spice, slight traces of citrusy hops
Taste: Smooth wheat malt taste, mild touch of cloves
Aftertaste: Slight bitterness, mild herbal flavors and hint of pine
Overall: 7.5/10

Smooth and enjoyable, I was kind of left wondering what the point of this merger was. In the end, it was far more of a wheat than an IPA, to the point where the IPA characteristics were barely noticeable. Still, a good beer and I hope it does well on its short run. Phillips loves these temporary releases, I hear! Speaking of which, expect my review of Phillips Dr. Funk and The 11th Hour very soon!

Beachcomber Summer Ale

In honor of the fast-approaching summer season, I decided to pick up a case of Vancouver Island’s Beachcomber! This, as it turns out, is the breweries latest release and a seasonal summer ale. In addition, it seems to be part of growing lineup of traditional craft beers produced by the good folks at VIB.

Yes, much like many their competitors over at Lighthouse, and Granville Island Brewery (both of which are major BC breweries) VIB seems to be getting back into the craft brewing groove after years in the wilderness! And, as with these other breweries, it seems that seasonal and specialty beers are the means through which they intend to express this creative impulse. Smart, considering that occasional beers can and must be made in smaller quantities, affording attention to detail and more exacting standards. But I digress. Onto the beer!

Appearance: Golden orange and opaque, unfiltered
Nose: strong wheat malts, citrus notes, pineapple and/or passion fruit
Taste: slightly coarse, touch of orange peel, cloves and slightly bitter hop bite
relatively clean finish, lingering taste of foamy malts and hop bitterness
Total: 8/10

Overall, I found myself being reminded of Blanche de Chambly, another winner when it comes to the heffeweizen circuit! Much like its predecessor, it is a fitting summer ale that is well paired with bbq, corn on the cob and just about any other summery food, or enjoyed on its own while sitting on a shady patio! Put away your rain coats and snow suits, people! Summer’s here!

Of Crappy Beers and Other Crimes Against Nature!

Here is a final post for the month of December, 2010. In it, I pretty much summarized my feelings as a beer snob and some of the experiences that brought me to that place. My apologies if I offend, but really, low standards make me ANGRY, as anyone who read the title line is no doubt aware.

After reviewing Alexander Keith’s IPA, and precisely what is wrong with that title (not an IPA, dammit!), I began to feel that special attention needed to be given to a subject that I have long felt strongly about. For years I have noticed a trend in brewing that runs contrary to the reemergence of craft brewing and is an insult to the tradition of microbrewing. I am, of course, referring to the “dumbing down” of beers, the reducing of hop content and the elimination of flavour in the hopes of making them more “accessible” to the mass market. Like so many other things, the beer industry, which many years ago began to see a resurgence thanks to the rise of new, local, and traditionally-oriented beer-making, has since seen a decline in quality because it seems to believe that higher standards means less in the way of sales. This may very well be true, but it is nonetheless upsetting, especially to people like myself who thrive on genuine beer! Some examples…

Granville Island Brewery: One of the first to spearhead micro-brewing here on the West Coast, this brewery once offered good, hoppy pale ales and crisp, clean lagers. Then, something happened… I’m not entirely sure when the transition occurred, but I can tell you as someone who regularly traveled to BC in the old days and sampled the beers when I got here, that the flavour began to change. The English Bay Pale Ale ceased to be hoppy and became strangely sweet and even a bit skunky. The same could be said of their Lager, their Gastown Amber and their Cypress Honey. They all ceased tasting like they once did, namely like they were made with clean BC mountain water and rich hops, and became odd tasting, what I can only describe as malty with an unpleasant aftertaste.

Vancouver Island Brewery: One of my favorite breweries of all time! I can’t tell you how many Piper’s Pale Ales or Hermann’s Dark’s I enjoyed back in my day! At one time, it was even a huge treat for myself and friends of mine to bring these babies back from the West Coast for parties since we couldn’t get any in Ontario. However, it wasn’t long before the Pipers ceased to be crisp and hoppy and became rather bland with a touch of sweet aftertaste. The Hermann’s was much the same, ceasing to combine in a perfect balance a tawny, hoppy flavour with a lingering aftertaste. Now the best I can say about it is that it remains pleasantly tawny, but has lost the bite and substituted it with – you guessed it! – a sweet aftertaste. Their lager’s are much the same, being still refreshing and crisp, but not as tasty as they used to be. Their Islander Lager, while I have been known to appreciate its clean taste after a hot workout, is one of the most flavourless beers I have ever had!

Hart Brewery: The little brewery that couldn’t! Located in Carleton Place, just outside of Ottawa, this little brewery was once my all-time favorite purveyor of beers! It was during a Nortel co-op tour, where I had the honour of taking part with a bunch of engineering friends, that I came to be introduced to their beers. I learned a great deal about beer and beer making from the brew master before sampling their extensive line of products. A moment to review them…

First, there was their Hart Amber Ale which won the gold medal at 1992 Food, Wine and Beer Show’s beer competition in Toronto. It was a delicious, hoppy and complex ale, not what you’d expect from a amber which are usually light, smooth, and tawny, with very little bitterness or complexity to them. Then there was their Festive Brown Ale, which was similarly hoppy, deep, rich and tawny with a lingering hop finish. The Dragons Breath’s Ale is none too bad either, combining a strong hop profile with a clean, crisp taste. It was my first real IPA, though I didn’t know it at the time! How painfully fitting, that this beer, like the brewery, never got the credit it deserved! (sniff, sniff) Then there was the Pumpkin Ale, the very first of its kind for me! Much like all the Pumpkin Ales that have followed Hart’s lead (Again, could be wrong in saying that they were the first) it was unique, like pumpkin pie in a glass, only with suds and nice hop bite! They had many others, most of which I cannot do justice too since it was such a long time ago, but remember as being really good!

So where are they now? GONE! The brewery closed shop, was bought out, and now puts out only two beers, the Amber and a Lager, both of which suck since the retirement of the brew master and the hiring of some hacks who went as far as to bring in a priest to bless the equipment because they couldn’t get it to work right (no joke!) Sad, sad, sad! A true great that received plenty of critical acclaim but not nearly enough commercial success. I salute you, Mr. Lorne Hart! What little honour I can bestow through my meager blog cannot hope to do you or your beer justice! But I will try!

To be fair, I cannot say the same for Sleeman’s Brewery. While their rise to national prominence did coincide with the rise of micro-turned-national breweries like Granville and Vancouver Island, their beers still taste pretty much the same as they always did. However, this is probably because their beers were never particularly challenging. Their Silver Creek, Honey Brown, Dark Lager and the like have always been accessible. While I do enjoy them here in BC, it largely because of their drinkability, which is due in no small part to the fact that BC water makes for great beer! In Ontario, where operations are centered in Guelph, the end result can only be described as skunky! Why anyone would want to use Guelph water to make anything is beyond me! I can only guess that the many breweries in the region get it piped in from somewhere clean!

In short, the beers I once knew and loved changed and I was obviously disappointed. The sudden change was something I was at a loss to explain until two things became clear to me. One, these breweries had exploded in popularity, and two, most people don’t appreciate beers that are hoppy. It therefore seemed likely that the brew-masters had decided to make changes in order to broaden their appeal and make them more accessible to the general public. And in a country where Coors Light is the number one seller (don’t even mention the C word to me!), and major establishments can be counted on to have zero micro-brews on tap (the closest they can manage seems to be Sleeman’s), dumming down the beer must seem like the only option.

Tragic! I say this for two reasons. First of all, the rise in craft brewing was supposed to be a reversal of this growing trend of crappy beer making. While popular, Coors, Labatts’, Molson, Keiths, Budweiser and the like make beers that are of low quality, have little flavour, and generally suck when compared to craft brews that are made in small batches with attention to detail. Whereas the 20th century seemed dominated by the monopolization of the beer industry, all by a few giants who made beers that all pretty much tasted alike, the late 80’s and early 90’s saw the move away from this trend. It would suck to see this end before it even had a chance!

Second, it sucks because it seems to confirm the rule that small operations are destined to compromise on their high standards if they are to be successful, at least highly so. Their are countless breweries along the West Coast that have been around for some time and enjoyed moderate to great success without compromising on their quality, such as Rogue and Dogfish, but are they the exceptions? Or are they holdouts? Will they too sell out in order to expand, or will they live on to say “I told you so” when those who have sold out fade into the background along with the other brewing giants? When the general public once again demands something different, something with flavor? Something that isn’t bland and same as all the rest?

While it may sound snobbish or elitist of me to say so, I truly believe that when it comes to beer, accessibility is the enemy of quality. As I said before, If “inoffensive” is the nicest thing you can say about a beer, then you know something is wrong, and you can quote me on that. Please, PLEASE quote me on that!