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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
Abbotsford mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

Mission Fire Rescue Service holding a training session in 2016. Bob Friesen photo.
Firefighter’s human-rights complaint against District of Mission dismissed

District had just reason for firing man for insubordination, B.C. Human Rights Tribunal found

The annual Toys for Tots event in Abbotsford normally includes a free breakfast for anyone who drops off a toy or cash donation. This year’s event was to be held as a drive-thru, but that has also been cancelled. (File photo)
Toys for Tots drive-thru event cancelled in Abbotsford

Public encouraged to donate cash or bring toys to drop-off locations

Abbotsford Panthers star Haidyn Vermeulen (right) celebrates his signing with the Alberta Golden Bears football program along with his mother Niki Vermeulen and father Dan Vermeulen back in September.
Abbotsford’s Haidyn Vermeulen named to CFC Prospect Game

Abbotsford Senior Secondary School student one of 14 from B.C. to earn recognition

Shane Goodvin had just bought a house with wife Laura Major when he started experiencing severe back pain. That led to a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and the father of five children is now in rough shape. (Submitted photos)
GoFundMe set up for Chilliwack man fighting pancreatic cancer

Shane Goodvin has five children and a loving wife, and he’s worried about their future

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

File photo
Surrey RCMP investigating death threat against Surrey councillor

‘On Monday morning I received a threat on messenger that basically said to put a bullet in me,’ Councillor Jack Hundial told the Now-Leader

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

Barrels pictured outside Oliver winery, Quinta Ferreira, in May. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
B.C. Master of Wine reflects on industry’s teetering economic state

Pandemic, for some wine makers, has been a blessing in disguise. For others, not so much.

Most Read