So you think you’re not a beer drinker

So you think you’re not a beer drinker

New brews and flavours feature herbs, spices and fruit

  • Feb. 28, 2020 1:05 p.m.

– Story by Jane Zatlyny Photography by Don Denton

I like beer — sometimes. When it comes to beverages, it’s hard to beat the refreshing taste of an ice-cold ale alongside a dozen fresh-shucked oysters, or a dark, chocolate-brown stout with grilled baby back ribs. Still, my natural inclination when dining out has always been to reach for the wine list.

But lately, as I walk by the banks of fridges devoted to craft beer at my local liquor store, I can’t help but wonder: am I missing something? For answers, I asked Joe Wiebe, author of Craft Beer Revolution: The Insider’s Guide to BC Breweries and all-round BC beer enthusiast, to lead me through a beer tasting.

As we settle in at a back table at Victoria’s Refuge Tap Room, Joe orders a flight of beer for us to sample. We talk about how Victoria, with its long-established brewpubs like Spinnakers and Swans, has always been at the epicentre of the Canadian craft beer movement.

“I like to say Victoria is the cradle of the revolution,” Joe says, noting that changes to liquor legislation in 2013 allowed breweries in BC to operate tasting rooms, much like wineries, further propelling the popularity of craft beer here.

Like alchemists, craft brewers today experiment with herbs, spices and fruits. They express themselves through the hops they use and through new interpretations of traditional brewing techniques.

“They’re producing some incredibly exciting flavours,” says Joe. “Beer has really evolved in the last decade or so. It’s a tasting culture now.”

It’s these more eclectic brews that I’m most interested in tasting, beginning with our first beer, Strawberry Hibiscus Milkshake IPA from Vancouver’s Russell Brewing (6 per cent alcohol). The name is intriguing, but how good can a strawberry-flavoured, milky beer taste?

Surprisingly good, it turns out: this is no ordinary milkshake. “Milkshake” actually refers to the use of lactose by the brewer, an unfermentable sugar that retains sweetness in the beer. It’s the perfect complement to the star ingredient: ripe strawberries. The first taste reminds me of spring’s first strawberry, greedily plucked in the field, while Joe likens it to strawberry ice cream.

Next up? A Beets by Sinden sour beer from Electric Bicycle Brewing (5.5 per cent). Deep pink in colour, this beer is unusual for two reasons, says Joe. One, it’s made with beets, and two, it’s part of a category of beers known as sours.

“They’ve erupted in the last few years as their own category of beer,” he explains. Traditional sour beers have a three-year aging process, but modern craft brewers figured out how to accelerate the aging process by heating the beer in the brewing kettle. Sour beers then became more practical to produce and more affordable for consumers.

Sour beers are often the “gateway” beer for people who don’t think they like beer, says Joe: “They’re very sour, and there’s a certain type of person who just loves them. They’ll taste one and say, ‘Oh! I didn’t know beer could taste like that!’”

Raising the glass of peony-coloured beer to my nose, I really can smell the beets, or at least a very earthy suggestion of beets. The beer is sour, but pleasantly so and very refreshing. If I didn’t know better, I would have said this was a cider.

“This beer is proof of how far the craft beer industry has come,” laughs Joe as he drains his tiny glass. “Here I am, a big bearded guy in a flannel shirt, drinking a pink beer.”

The third beer in our flight was another sour — the Corvus Lingonberry Lime Gose from Ravens Brewery in Abbotsford. Joe says that this salty sour beer won Gold at the World Beer Cup — quite an honour for a fledgling BC brewery.

As I peer into the cloudy, pinkish glass of wheat beer, I can’t really distinguish the smell of red lingonberries. But I can taste the tartness of lime and the salinity of the Himalayan salt in my first sip.

“This beer would taste great with seafood or a big bowl of mussels,” I mention to Joe.

“Beer works really well with food in general,” he says. “It’s much more versatile than wine, and the carbonation is great for cleaning the palate between courses.”

Interesting point. I’d never thought of that.

Leaving sours behind for now, Joe introduces me to another sub-category of beer — the very popular hazy IPA. The Humans IPA from Parkside Brewing in Port Moody (6.3 per cent) is like lemon meringue pie in a glass: it’s golden-coloured with a pleasant froth and a sweet, lemon-drop scent.

“Brewers have started to experiment with adding hops later in the process, so you get more of the fruity sweet characteristics of the hops and less of the bitterness,” Joe explains. “That’s what gives us that huge burst of lemon aroma.” The beer’s flavour is just as fruity but not sugary. It reminds me of tropical mango, pineapple and peach.

It’s time for our second flight (I should mention at this juncture that neither of us are driving and we’re sharing six-ounce glasses). This time, we’re turning to nut brown, dark and stout beers, beginning with the Silk Road Chai Nut Brown Ale (5.2 per cent) from Spinnakers Brewpub in Victoria. You’d have to like the scent and flavour of chai tea spices to enjoy this amber-coloured brew, a classic nut brown ale made with loose tea from Victoria’s Silk Road Tea. Fortunately, I do.

“Here you have something with definite spices,” says Joe. “It reminds me of some sort of baked Christmas treat.”

I agree: “There’s a molasses flavour coming through, like the sticky goodness of a fruit cake on the bottom of the pan.” Again, I can imagine a great food pairing, perhaps a crème brûlée.

Coriander, cloves, orange zest, Belgian candi sugar and local plums flavour our next beer, Saison Noel (6 per cent) from Howl Brewing in North Saanich.

“This small brewery produces some incredible craft beers,” says Joe. “They make the candi sugar themselves in the brew kettle.”

The Belgian-style dark beer tastes well-rounded, sweet, but not cloyingly so, with a slight tannin aftertaste. Don’t tell Joe, but for this wine lover, Saison Noel is reminiscent of a rich Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our last beer is a stout, and it does not disappoint. The Mole Stout (6 per cent) from Deep Cove Brewing in North Vancouver is crafted in the style of the famous Oaxacan dish, and brewed with poblano and jalapeno spices. Like a true mole, its flavour profile is complex. “Some beers with peppers are incredibly hot,” says Joe. This stout is not. The peppers add depth without the searing heat; cocoa nibs, chocolate malt and fresh Mexican spices balance the full, rich flavour of this delicious stout.

As we finished our last drops of beer, I admit to Joe that I was truly surprised at what I’d just experienced — so much so that I may no longer automatically reach for the wine list. Joe nods. He’s heard all of this before.

“Whether you’re a high-level beer geek or someone who doesn’t know a lot about beer, order a flight of beers, and you’re sure to find something there you like,” he says.

INFO

7th Annual Victoria Beer Week, March 6-14

Learn more about BC craft beers at the 7th annual Victoria Beer Week.

Check out these events to try some new and unique brews:

• Lift Off! The opening night event will feature all-new beers from a variety of BC breweries

• Pucker Up Sample all of the sour beers on tap at the Garrick’s Head & Churchill Pubs

• Saturday Night Casks More than 20 cask-conditioned beers showcase brewmakers’ creativity, often using highly unusual ingredients

victoriabeerweek.com/schedule

BC Ale Trail

Make craft breweries a highlight of your next B.C. staycation by checking out this province-wide ale trail. bcaletrail.ca

Craft Beer Revolution: The Insider’s Guide to BC Breweries

Paperback, 2nd edition, by Joe Wiebe.

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

BC Craft beerBeerCraft beer

Just Posted

Mandarin Garden in Abbotsford had two event tents set up for outdoor dining. One of the tents, valued at more than $5,000, was stolen early Friday morning (May 14). (Submitted photo)
Theft of dining tent hits Abbotsford restaurant hard during pandemic struggles

Owner says cost to replace the rented event tent will be more than $5,000

Chilliwack prolific offender Brian Stephan was wanted in late April 2021, but was arrested and charged after allegedly stealing a vehicle in Mission on May 5 and resisting arrest in Chilliwack. (RCMP file)
Wanted Chilliwack prolific offender arrested yet again

Brian Stephan allegedly stole a vehicle in Mission, committed a B&E, resisted arrest in Chilliwack on May 5

Trina Hunt's remains were found in the Hope area on March 29. Her family is asking the public to think back to the weekend prior to when she went missing. (Photo courtesy of IHIT.)
Cousin of missing woman found in Hope says she won’t have closure until death is solved

Trina Hunt’s family urges Hope residents to check dashcam, photos to help find her killer

The new emergency department at Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre is slated to open June 8. (Screenshot from Province of BC video)
Expanded emergency department slated to open in June at Abbotsford Regional Hospital

Project cost $15 million with an additional $1.25 million donated for equipment

Gordon Cook caught a calm moment at Kawkawa Lake on April 21, 2021. (Gordon Cook)
Hope RCMP stepping up summer patrols at Kawkawa Lake

Police have noted a spike in bad behaviour in the summer months of previous years

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

Bradley Priestap in an undated photo provided to the media some time in 2012 by the London Police Service.
Serial prowler acquitted of duct tape possession in B.C. provincial court

Ontario sex offender on long-term supervision order was found with one of many ‘rape kit’ items

Rich Coleman, who was responsible for the gaming file off and on from 2001 to 2013, was recalled after his initial testimony to the Cullen Commission last month. (Screenshot)
Coleman questioned over $460K transaction at River Rock during B.C. casinos inquiry

The longtime former Langley MLA was asked about 2011 interview on BC Almanac program

Steven Shearer, <em>Untitled. </em>(Dennis Ha/Courtesy of Steven Shearer)
Vancouver photographer’s billboards taken down after complaints about being ‘disturbing’

‘Context is everything’ when it comes to understanding these images, says visual art professor Catherine Heard

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Restrictions will lift once 75% of Canadians get 1 shot and 20% are fully immunized, feds say

Federal health officials are laying out their vision of what life could look like after most Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19

Mike Farnworth, pre-pandemic. (File photo)
Surrey Police recruitment not distracting cops from shootings, Farnworth says

‘That’s simply not the case,’ Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth told the Now-Leader on Friday

Police are at Ecole Mount Prevost Elementary but the students have been evacuated. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Gardener finds buried explosives, sparking evacuation of Cowichan school

Students removed from school in an ‘abundance of caution’

RCMP officers stand near a body covered with a tarp in the parking lot of a shopping complex after one person was killed and two others were injured during a shooting in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Man, 23, killed in latest Lower Mainland shooting had gang ties: IHIT

Jaskeert Kalkat was one of the three people hit by gunfire at Market Crossing mall at around 8:30 p.m.

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read