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  • Hopping Mad

    Your intrepid liquor report is hopping mad this week. No, gentle reader, not in the occupy city hall in a tent kind of hopping mad, but mad for the fabulous hoppy taste of a new beer in Calgary!

    Faithful readers may recall tales of dragging my lady friend along to brewery tours across the country this past summer, including the Phillips Brewery in Victoria, BC.

    Phillips Brewing was started on a shoestring back in 2001, and has since won countless awards for their finely crafted beers. A decade later, we are finally getting the delicious brews here in Alberta.

    For the past several years, their entire production capacity was immediately snapped up by the boozers on Vancouver Island, so they never exported outside of BC until just a few weeks ago. It was a much-needed brewery expansion that finally gave Phillips the capacity to service the Alberta market, and your ever-eager liquor reporter is doing his best to make the expansion a successful venture.

    The origin of the brewery sounds like it was made for a television documentary. After diligently working through the ranks of assorted microbreweries across western Canada, Matt Phillips decided to start his own brewery.

    Having trouble with those tight-fisted bankers, he was unable to secure financing for his business plan, so he did what any other starry-eyed entrepreneur would do; he applied for every credit card under the sun, and built the brewery on plastic.

    The first few years were pretty lean, but the brewery really took off in 2004, and has been growing steadily since. There have been two moves since then, with the current facility conveniently located right in downtown Victoria, making it easy to slip in a visit to the brewery on the sly while your lady friend thinks you have taken her to the coast for a romantic weekend getaway.

    There are usually a dozen or so different beers in the brewery rotation, with a few more seasonal brews available only for limited times throughout the year.

    Faithful readers may recall that your intrepid liquor reporter is a bit of a hop-head, enjoying the sharp and hoppy flavour of an India Pale Ale. This is indeed a good time to be a hop-head, as Phillips has released the Hop Box, a 12-pack containing four different styles of IPA. Oh hoppy day!

    The unwashed masses who prefer their beer to taste like fizzy yellow water will not be appreciative of the Hop Box, but beer nerds throughout Alberta are rejoicing!

    Containing 3 bottles each of the cheekily named GrowHop, Skookum Cascadian, Hop Circle, and Krypton RyePA, your humble narrator felt like Augustus Gloop set free in the chocolate factory, with a magical variety of new tastes and aromas to enjoy.

    Ignoring the fake IPA macrobrews like Alexander Keith’s, the overwhelming flavour in any authentic IPA will be of hop bitterness, which is carefully tracked by beer nerds on the IBU (International Bitterness Unit) scale.

    So, the beers in the Hop Box will be more alike than different, but it is the differences that make each brew so exciting. The GrowHop uses freshly picked wet hops instead of the more traditional dry hops to provide a richer fruit overtone to balance the hop bitterness.

    The Skookum Cascadian, named for the Cascade breed of hops that are native to North America, uses a darker malt to diminish the foreground hop bitterness with a rich malty mouthfeel, making it more like an English Ale than the others. Consider this a session beer for chugging all night.

    The Krypton RyePA uses rye malt instead of barley, which provides a spicier malt base than the others. This beer is excellent for pairing with a hot pepper steak or some Thai food.
The Hop Circle is the most traditional of the offerings, closely matching the classic flavour profile of the Pacific Northwest style of IPA, with a light crystal malt making for the lightest colouring in the box.

    Even if you are not a fan of the bitter and hoppy beers like your intrepid liquor reporter, Phillips produces a dozen other beers across all the common styles, so they have a beer for every palate.

    I found a wide variety of Phillips products in the Co-op Wines & Spirits in Strathmore, but they can be found at most well-stocked booze merchants. Pick up a case and see for yourself!