We’re well in to the new year now, and the Christmas/ New Years stress has subsided. This has allowed a little bit of time for perusing tasting notes from this past year, and sorting out some thoughts regarding British Columbia craft beers. And let me assure you, 2011 was a banner year in B.C. As mentioned in my last article,the bar has been raised for our local craft brewers. What follow is a fairly random assortment of beers that I felt stood out amidst a strong selection of B.C. offerings.
Forget about the bountiful fruits and grains produced out here, 2011 was the year of the pumpkin. The big orange squash showed up all over the place this year. Possibly due to the success of Phillips, Howe Sound and Red Racer pumpkin ales in previous years, or maybe based on a bumper crop of pumpkins, everybody threw some in the mash tun. While those are some fantastic beer, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of newcomers. Fernie Brewing had a great pumpkin ale (Pumpkin Head) based on their popular brown ale recipe, a true session brew with just a hint of pumpkin. Kelowna’s Tree Brewing created a great sipper in more of a winter ale style with Jumpin’ Jack Pumpkin Ale.
On second thought, let’s not forget about ALL the grains. Let us remember that wheat can be a powerfully tasty addition to the brewing process. Throw in a little Curacao orange, some coriander, and you’ve got yourself a beer!
In a strange twist, my favorite wheat beers this past year have been somewhat non-traditional. Howe Sound made quite an impression with their “imperialised” King Heffy. It contains all the elements that I like in a wheat beer, concentrated. Bigger alcohol, bigger flavor, bigger bottle. A great take on a German style. The other favorite (yet again) is Cannery Brewing Apricot Wheat Ale. It may be because I was raised in the Okanagan, but the smell and taste of apricots always makes me think of August on the lake. A crisp, refreshing beer with just the right splash of apricots gets my whole-hearted endorsement.
It has been mentioned before, but it bears repeating: I am easy for stouts and porters. Put some dark roasted malts in a beer and you have my attention. Driftwood Brewing’s Blackstone Porter, Crannog’s Back Hand of God Stout, Vancouver Island’s Hermannator, Coal Harbour Breakfast Stout-I could go on and on. If you’re a fan of the style there were numerous great examples to choose from. But for me this year, the best stout/ porter that I had to have been Swans Buckerfield’s Coconut Porter. So right on every level (and apparently available again RIGHT NOW).
For those with a bit of a hop addiction 2011 was an absolutely classic year. There was a flood of outstanding IPAs and bitters on the market. Red Racer IPA, Mt. Begbie’s Nasty Habit, Russell Brewing Blood Alley Bitter, Phillip’s gave us Amnesiac Double IPA and
Hoperation Triplecross, and Tree Brewing offered up Hophead, Double Hophead and Hophead Black. But all took a back seat to Driftwood Brewing. The people who brought you Sartori Harvest fresh-hopped IPA and the Twenty Pounder IPA took it to the next level with Fat Tug IPA. I could wax philosophical about it at this point, but what do you need to know other than it was awarded Beer of the Year at the Canadian Brewing Awards. Huge hops, perfect balance. It embodies the Pacific Northwest style of India Pale Ale perfectly.
As it turns out, not all beer needs to be serious. There is a time for, and a benefit to, having session beers. And darned if the local brewing community didn’t come to the plate on that matter as well. At various times throughout the year, Cannery’s Naramata Nut Brown, Howe Sound’s Lager, Fernie’s Buck Wild Ale and Mt. Begbie’s High Country Kolsch have lubricated social situations for me, and done so admirably. It’s important to have a “higher volume” beer and any of the ones named have worked out well for me.
The beers discussed here are by no means a complete or comprehensive list. You don’t have to look too hard to find tasty offerings being brewed up in B.C.- it seems that every time I turn around there is something new to try. However, in my opinion, the listed items would be an excellent place to start. As mentioned in the beginning of this article, it would appear that 2011 was an impressive year for the craft brewers of our fair province. And 2012 is starting to look real good as well.