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

Skeena Bulkley-Valley MP Taylor Bachrach has been working across party lines to have rail safety issues addressed. An April 27, 2020 train derailment blocked five intersecting tracks on the CN rail line in Prince Rupert close to the waterfront on Bill Murray Drive. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Bachrach pushes for rail safety and wants NW voices to be heard

Residents and community leaders are concerned about safety and preparedness in the NW

Over 8000 BC Hydro customers have been affected by the power outage. (BC Hydro outage map)
Power outage affects 8000 BC Hydro customers in Prince Rupert area

BC Hydro has assigned crews to restore power

Josie Pottle rocks out to placing painted rocks by more than 14 different Prince Rupert childcare organization staff and tots for rock gardens around the city to mark May as Childcare Awareness month. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Childcare month is rocking it in Prince Rupert

More than 14 local childcare organizations participated in making rock gardens

Volunteers at the AFFNO drive-in movie theatre night at the Jim Ciccone Centre on May 8, directed traffic and braved the rain before the movies started. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
It was lights, camera, action for AFFNO’s drive-in movie night

Volunteers and moviegoers watched a double feature in both official languages

Pembina Prince Rupert Terminal has entered into a one-year agreement with Mitsui & Co. for the majority of its production for supply to the Asian markets, Pembina announced on May 6th. (Photo: Supplied
Prince Rupert Terminal highlighted in Pembina first quarter

Pembina announced one-year agreement with Mitsui & Co. to supply Asian market

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Thompson Rivers University campus is in Kamloops, B.C. (KTW file photo)
Thompson Rivers the 1st B.C. university to supply free menstrual products

The university will offer the products this September

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

The site of Sunfest, Laketown Ranch, will be open for camping this summer. (Citizen file)
Sunfest country music bash won’t be shining on B.C. in 2021

Annual Vancouver Island Festival cancelled due to COVID-19, along with Laketown Shakedown

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation elected chief councillor Moses Martin, who was also Chantel Moore’s grandfather, speaks to media in Port Alberni on Aug. 16, 2020, during a visit from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh following the police shooting of Chantel Moore. (Elena Rardon photo)
Mother of 2 shot by police in critical condition, says B.C. First Nation chief

Community ‘devastated’ by third member of 1,150-person Vancouver Island nation shot in less than a year

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham promotes the government’s BuyBC food program in 2019. (B.C. government)
Money running out for fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in B.C. schools

‘Looking at ways to support this type of program,’ minister says

(Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Experts now predict 33.6% rise in B.C. home sales for 2021

BCREA economists also predict home prices to increase by 14.3%

B.C. Auditor General Michael Pickup in 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. didn’t effectively manage conservation lands program: auditor general

Michael Pickup says staff had limited approaches to resolving the unauthorized use of the most at-risk conservation lands

Most Read