Your globetrotting liquor reporter jetted off to Vancouver for a few days last week for a bachelor party, and made sure to check out the local craft beer scene while the rest of the bachelor party was busy re-enacting scenes from The Hangover movies.
The west coast has always been at the forefront of the craft beer movement in Canada. With nearly 20 craft breweries opening in Vancouver over the past year, this trend shows no sign of abating.
Your humble narrator regularly makes sacrifices to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of beer, hoping for such craftiness to alight on our fair province of Alberta, but alas, my prayers have yet to be answered. Perhaps next year!
This is a particularly special time of year for craft brewers in BC, as the annual hop harvest was just completed, so there are a plethora of fresh-hopped small-batch beers available where the beer nerds tend to congregate.
Most beers are made with dried and compressed hop pellets, which are easier to store and transport. However, the annual harvest is the one time of year that fresh hops can be had for the adventurous brewmaster. The taste of fresh hops adds a floral spiciness to the brew, with an aftertaste reminiscent of freshly cut grass after a rain.
Many of the craft beers available in Vancouver are from small producers that find their entire production capacity consumed by thirsty locals, so the chances of finding these fine brews in Alberta range from slim to none.
To avoid disappointing you, the faithful reader, I shall limit my extolments to beers that can be found on this side of the rockies.
Parallel 49 Brewing opened its doors in East Vancouver last summer, and rapidly expanded into the Alberta market. Started as the brainchild of the owners of a local pub frequented by beer nerds, they decided to cut out the middleman and make their own beer, which has met with great success.
Their brews are available in a variety six-pack at your local well-stocked booze merchant, each containing two bottles of their 3 flagship beers.
The Hoparazzi is a west-coast IPA, a hoppy golden ale with sharp pine and citrus aromas. At 6% ABV, it is quite reasonable for an IPA, and is a solid beer for those who enjoy hops.
Old Boy is a classic English stout, with plenty of dark malts providing flavours of toffee and chocolate. Dark beer lovers can’t get enough of this one.
The most approachable of the lot is the Gypsy Tears Ruby Ale, with caramel malts providing a firm structure to balance the dry-hopped finish. This beer is simultaneously welcoming to the novice beer drinker that has been raised on a steady diet of Coors Lite, while also loved by the beer cognoscenti for its full flavour and well-balanced hop bitterness. This is a truly a session beer for drinking all night.
Central City Brewing is another Vancouver success story, winning Canadian Brewery of the Year in 2010 and 2012. Their most recognizable beer is the Red Racer IPA, portraying the saucy image of a 50s pinup girl on an old-timey bicycle with her garters showing.
Yes, yes, your long-suffering liquor reporter sometimes has to endure vintage cheesecake photos along with his beer, but it is a burden I endure gladly to bring the news to you, the faithful reader.
The Red Racer IPA pours an orangey-amber into the glass, with citrusy hop aromas that are balanced with rich fruit and spicy currant. The malty body is understated, with caramel malts providing a sweet foil to the hop bitterness, but not going so far as to detract from the traditional character of an IPA.
The Red Racer IPA is their flagship beer, and is certainly the most widely available in Alberta, but there are many others in the Red Racer series of brews.
A particularly drinkable example is the Red Racer ESB (Extra Special Bitter) is made in the style of an English Bitter, which despite the name, really isn’t that bitter. Pouring a medium amber into the glass, there is a biscuity malt aroma that is balanced with grapefruit-like citrus flavours from the hops.
Parallel 49 Brewing and Central City Brewing are just two examples of many from the metro Vancouver area, but both are widely available in Alberta. Pick up a six-pack to see what our western neighbours have to offer!