This summer we have been the envy of the country, weather wise at least. While storms, floods, heat and humidity had their way with everyone east of the Rockies, we here on the west coast have enjoyed many more patio days than anyone else. Not a drop of rain in July and extremely nice weather for the month of June had many of us sampling the host of great summer beers available at Vancouver and BC watering holes. Almost every brewery puts out a summer seasonal or two and the liquor store shelves are full of them. Such choice! From wit beers to pilsners to saisons, many a warm afternoon has been spent shyly hiding in the shadow of an umbrella while cooling the palate with some of these delicious session beers.
If you find yourself in the Osoyoos-Oliver area of the South Okanagan, famous for its wines, be sure to find your way to the Firehall Brewery, right on the main drag in Oliver, below the Firehall Bistro. Though difficult to find open, I’m told a quick phone call can sometimes get your growlers filled, otherwise you have to wait for Friday, the one day they are open to the public for retail purposes. Still, their beers are available in the Bistro upstairs. My favourite was certainly the Holy Smoked Stout (4.4%) a well roasted and malty brew using smoked malt, infusing a delectable smokiness into this coffee and chocolate accented brew. This beer won the Gold Medal in its category at the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale early this year. The Stoked Ember Ale (4.8%) is their British style ale, offering a balance of caramel sweetness on the malt side underpinned by citric hops (to the tune of 31 IBUs), resulting in a complex and more-ish brew. The light and sessionable Backdraft Blonde Ale (4.9%) would be great to serve from growlers with friends while you break out the bocce balls or light the barbecue. http://www.firehallbrewery.com
My son Nick was in town on holidays recently and turned me on to his new fave summer treat, Steigl Grapefruit Radler (2.5%). Now, a ‘radler’ is common thirst-quenching summer mix of beer and lemonade that has been quite popular in Germany and Austria for many years. Steigl, one of Austria’s beer giants is marketing its new version for the first time in North America with some success. Purchase them in 500 ml. tall cans or go for a tall unique glass of the stuff at your local. It’s cloudy with a citric nose that quickly leads to the tart grapefruit punch, but a tight effervescence and low alcohol allows this brew to dance on your tongue, very refreshing, very flavourful, fruity and zesty! To add another element, Nick will sometimes drop a shot of bourbon in the glass first, then fill with the radler. This changes this summer refresher into a very cool and stiff evening cocktail. Not sure what he calls it, but it’s worth a try. http://www.stiegl.at
It’s great to receive beer as gifts, isn’t it? I have often been the lucky recipient of beer from far away lands, and this summer was no different. While visiting the Calgary Stampede, the biggest rodeo in the world, and one dominated by Budweiser, it’s sometimes hard to find other options. But friends from Edmonton brought down a number of bottles of Wold Top Scarborough Fair IPA (6%) a delicious triple hopped brew from Yorkshire. Orange/pale amber in colour, it exhibits a delicate nose of herbal and malty notes leading to a fruity and complex palate, smooth, well balanced, hops reigned in but flavourful, with spicy and lemongrass highlights. The big malt base is toasted with caramel tones supporting the triple hop bill and medium carbonation helps deliver the wonderful flavour characteristics of this Yorkshire brew, a classic India Pale Ale, aromatic, more-ish with a long, dry finish. http://www.woldtopbrewery.co.uk
From another island, this one in the Pacific, comes Wailua Ale (5.4%) from the Kona Brewing Company on Hawaii’s big island. In business since 1998, Kona has done well as one of only four craft brewers in Hawaii. This is from their ‘Aloha Series’, an ale made with passion fruit. It pours bright yellow/gold with a tight, white head, crisp nose of tropical fruit, has a slightly fruity palate, is effervescent and light on the tongue, the passion fruit in complete balance with the malt and subtle hop qualities rounding out this truly thirst quenching brew.
Sticking with our island theme here, a couple of wheat beers came my way from the Lovina Beach Brewery in Singaraja, Bali, Indonesia. Stark Wheat and Stark Dark Wheat are both 5% abv, unfiltered, naturally carbonated and pour with a big rocky head. The Wheat was pale and cloudy offering a lemony, yeasty aroma, tart palate with hints of clove and vanilla. Surprisingly thirst quenching and easy to drink.
The Dark Wheat appealed to me a little more, dark reddish-brown with a nose of dried tropical fruit and raisin leading to a complex palate of roasted malt, toffee, figs and some underlying tones of banana, maybe even a little bubblegum. This is surprisingly accurate dunkelweizen, tart and full bodied, with a long and flavourful finish.
Now something a little closer to home, a beast from the east. Flying Monkey’s Smashbomb Atomic IPA (6%) . At 70 IBUs, this is no slouch of an IPA. Though it may not be as over-the-top hop-wise as some West Coast beer geeks might like, it does deliver a full bodied, Citra hop dominated punch, dry and complex with a big malty architecture. Deep, dark copper with a thick white head, citric aromatics, notes of caramel on first sip, then the malt falls away to a wash of hops: piney, citric, earthy, herbal. But all is held in balance, not an explosion as the name suggests, but not to be dismissed either. Long, lingering, dry finish, this beer could be a summer session IPA for me. Unfortunately, we can’t buy it here in BC. This beer came to me from Ontario, by way of Alberta. http://theflyingmonkeys.ca
We can only hope some day our provincial politicians will strike down archaic protectionist barriers to trade between provinces, especially in this era of international free trade and we’ll all then be able to enjoy the many fruits of labour from coast to coast across this great land of ours!
Of course, there were many summery treats to be found at the many Tasting Rooms popping up around Vancouver. Parellel 49 served up a wonderfully creamy Nitro-ESB. The extra special bitter was delicately balanced, full malty characteristics at play with swirling hop accents, a steady bitterness adding to the nitrogen induced mouthfeel. Their Watermelon Wit is of course a summer fave, especially on tap. Light and easy to drink, mellow fruit on a witty palate, beautiful patio brew. The Banana Hammock Hefe-Weizen was also a success, but sold out and was gone much too quickly. Also on tap and in bottles right now is Lil’ Red (4.4%), their sour cherry Berliner Weisse. There is some fruit and funk in the nose of this very pink brew, and definite cherry in the flavour profile, but no real acidic sourness that one would expect from a Berliner Weisse. It is light and pleasant enough, well carbonated, easy to drink, especially cold on a hot day, but without the lacto-acidic qualities, the tiny resident funkiness just tastes a little off to me. Maybe it just needs more time. http://parallel49brewing.com
33 Acres Brewing Company opened it’s doors for business in Vancouver this past week, presenting two curiously named beers:
33 Acres of Life, a California Common beer and 33 Acres of Ocean, a pale ale. Life is 4.8% and deep amber in colour. It is described as a full bodied lager/ale hybrid, think Anchor Steam as the example in this style, though this brew is darker, hoppier and more complex. A very sessionable brew, quickly dissipating white head, earthy aromatics, balanced and easy to drink, 30 IBUs enough to present a dry finish. Ocean is also deep amber in colour, a well balanced west coast pale ale, 40 IBUs so a nice hop bitterness permeates the stronger palate, smooth malt holds up the 5.3% abv. Floral nose first, another sessionable brew follows, some soft caramel notes, good carbonation, dry finish. Definately take a growler of these beers to your next barbecue, you’ll surprise a few people.
Of course, I would be remiss to not mention my go-to beer this summer, Driftwood’s Fat Tug. I don’t quite know what it is, but I do know there is no better way to quench your thirst on a hot day than a tall glass of this IPA fresh on tap, pulled from a cask or a whole bomber bottle poured properly into a 700 ml glass. Priceless!
On a sadder note, Dan Small passed away last week. He was Dan of Dan’s Homebrewing Supplies, simply the best place to buy homebrewing equipment and ingredients in Vancouver. I first met Dan in the late 90’s when I started traveling to Vancouver from Calgary. There was never a trip I didn’t stop in to his location on Commercial Drive, on the corner next to Storm Brewing. Beer brewing supplies were hard to find in Calgary in those days. I remember once looking for some smoked malt to make a rauchbier. Dan simply went to a little window that opened to the brewery in back. He asked for the malt and a few minutes later a hand appeared with the small bag of grain. Dan always had everything I needed. He would help me load up my car with sacks of grain, coolers of liquid yeast and bags of hops for my trip back to Alberta. It goes without saying that when I moved to Vancouver, there was no where else I would go to get my supplies.
My heart goes out to his family and friends, coworkers and customers and everyone else who knew him. He will be missed.