While Spring is making its way slowly to most parts of our dear country, it seems exceptionally slow in Saskatchewan, where they have received record amounts of snowfall, the snow dumps are all full, so 4 foot drifts dominate the residential landscape. On a recent trip, I made sure to visit some good beer bars that offer down home cooking to ward off the chill. One of the best of these is long time Regina brewpub Bushwakkers. The place was packed, as is usual it seems for this popular spot, but it wasn’t long before they found us a table. There are up to 28 taps generally available, ranging from light to dark, easy drinking lager to full bodied stout, something for everyone, all made on site. I decided to try a couple of seasonals just on: the Baron Bock (6%) and their Classic Vienna Lager (5.5%). The Classic Vienna is surprisingly darker than you would expect, but this style is so hard to find these days, many brewers who do make it have some leeway. Still, crisp and clean, with a strong white head, it leans deep brown with perhaps some ruby hues. Rich malt hits the palate quite smoothly, underpinned by balancing noble hops, drawing out this long and delicious brew to a dry finish. Hard to resist the Saskatchewan Hot Plate to go with this: their chef’s own cabbage rolls, smoked sausage, perogies, saurkraut and beer bread! This is the definition of comfort food! The Baron Bock is richer, darker and more scrumptious than the Vienna. Almost the same colour, deep ruby brown, with a thick head lacing all the way to the bottom of the glass. On display is a big malt nose, with some subtle fruitiness that leads to a smooth malt sweetness, spun with crisp hops to balance. This medium bodied brew lights up the tastebuds in anticipation of more malt in the long, lingering finish. Also exceptional is Bushwakker’s Bombaby IPA (6.8%). Not ringing any bells with 55 IBUs, but such a beautifully crafted and well balanced brew. A dark copper colour, an herbal hop nose and a big frothy head greet the hophead, then comes the fruitiness, caramel malts and the deep insistent bitterness that takes this brew elsewhere. Complex, crisp but with subtle swirling hops right through to the finish, which is long and dry.
The next day we visit Beer Bros. Gastro Pub in an historic building right downtown on Scarth Street. They serve a wide range of beers on their 24 rotating taps, from local to international, offering just about any style your palate desires. They also have a very impressive bottle list with almost 100 selections from Belgian & German specialties to great many of Canadian craft brews from coast to coast! And the food is fabulous too! I had their Beerogies, stuffed with smoked chicken and deep fried like Japanese goyza – and they are different every day! In fact their menu offers many delights made with beer from the delicious cheddar & ale soup and salt-n-pepper stout wings to a variety of beery vinaigrettes for salads, infused condiments, rubs and sauces for meat dishes, the list goes on. All menu items have suggested beer pairings too, just in case you can’t quite make up your mind. I started with a Little Scrapper IPA from Half Pints in Winnipeg, one of my prairie favourites, a bold hop presence elevates this deep golden brew, toasted malty architecture and complex flavours: caramel, dried fruit, crisp bitterness, ending in a long, dry lingering finish. 606 IPA from Paddock Wood in Saskatoon was also on tap, comparable in many ways, perhaps lighter in colour, but certainly with a different array of hops, more of an English IPA, lower carbonation, smooth and more-ish! And Dieu de Ciel Penombre Black IPA from Quebec! Needless to say, I was back here a couple of times before the trip was over. A very popular spot, get there early!
O’Hanlon’s Irish Pub is just up Scarth Street and quite the labyrinth of a place, catering to live music and famous for their pizzas. They have a good number of beers on tap, but what interested me was their own house made brews only recently available. The Moustache Stout was quite yummy, velvety head, creamy palate, dark and roasty yet smooth and balanced. Better yet was their Psychopath Ale, deep copper in colour, floral nose, good bitterness on the palate, thin head, but a well balanced brew, malt carrying its load to a dry but slightly sweet tinged finish. Some strength here, but quenching and definitely more-ish. I finished with their latest and greatest, according to some, but no one is quite sure of the name of this brew (Derailed IPA?). Let it be said that whatever its called, it is very good! An amber/gold brew, white low head, some herbal aromatics, good initial bitterness, smooth middle, balanced to a dry finish. Delicious! Went quite well with the array of spicy, meaty pizzas we ordered and shared. Conversation got difficult as the band stated playing, but it was getting late anyway. So, there you go, three places to hide out in when you find yourself longing for Spring in Regina.
A month or so earlier I found myself with the same conundrum whilst in Saskatoon. Easy fix here, the largest room with the widest selection is Winston’s English Pub on 21st Street E. right downtown. 60 brews on tap in this traditional English style pub, plus a unique selection available in bottles as well, for the more adventurous. Still, they offer British, Irish, American, German and Belgian specialties along side great craft beers from right across Canada & US: Howe Sound, Tree, Half Pints, Mill Street, Rogue and Anchor Steam to name a few. They even had a brew from Birrificio Del Ducato in Italy. They offer a large and decent menu, as well as daily food and beer specials. Make no mistake, this place is the place to go on weekends and week nights can get busy too. No problem finding something interesting here, but oddly missing in my mind, was the truly local, as in the Paddock Wood Brewing Co. located right here in Saskatoon.
One has to walk up the street, around the corner and onto 2nd Avenue N. to find Paddock Wood‘s fairly new tap room, The Woods Ale House. This is where all of the Paddock Wood line of beers are on display, 10 of their own on tap, as well as one rotating guest tap. They also have a nice selection in bottles from around the world – Belgium, US, Germany, etc – over 50 different beers, plus 8 of their own bottled varieties, seasonals and specialties. It was a quiet afternoon when I first visited, but the staff were friendly and knowledgeable and eager to chat about the house brews. There was much to sample.
West Country Bitter (4.5%) a very British style bitter, a pale gold, some hop aromatics, but understated on the palate and lightly carbonated, a very good session ale I am sure. More-ish! Red Hammer (6%) a clean, malty deep amber/red ale, neutral nose, but some fruitiness hinted at, well balanced, smooth, some crystal notes, sweet malt edges yet robust and long.
Loki Double IPA (8.7%) a seductively smooth bomb of hops (85 IBUs) with a good malty architecture, big herbal hop nose, tight white head, dark amber, big body, smooth mouth feel with a love lovingly dry finish. Watch out for this one, it sneaks up on you!
Winter Ale (8%) a deep mahogany Belgian style Dubbel, some residual sweetness, but balanced & long on the palate. A subtle complexity reveals hop bitterness, raisins, toffee, dried fruit, all culminating in a long and lovely finish.
60 Shilling Scotch Ale (4.5%) a light bodied, deep amber/brown brew, not overly carbonated, but malt accented, hops hovering underneath, a smooth deep middle, light mouth feel leading to a slightly sweet finish.
606 IPA (5.4%) the flagship brew, sometimes offered, I’m told, in cask form on Friday cask night. A nice light bitterness a la Britain, deep amber, some floral hop notes, smooth and well balanced against its malty base. I was lucky enough to make it back on Friday night for the aforementioned cask, extra dry hopped no less. Absolutely lovely! The natural carbonation adds an element of creaminess, the head laces lightly down the pint glass, light fruitiness adds to the malt complexity. The extra hop starts in the nose and takes you right through the balanced palate to the dry finish. There is no fresher beer in Saskatoon than one of these on a cask Friday night.