Friday, February 11, 2011

Battle Royale No. 4: S'Macro Smackdown

One of the great joys about being a beer snob is finding yourself in line at the liquor store behind somebody carrying a cube of Labbatt Blue or similar and thinking to yourself, "I'm better than that person." Thus, you hoist your three bombers of dry-hopped, stone-fired, barrel-aged, lambic, trappist tripel on to the counter with a thump like that of a silverback gorilla beating its chest, fix their supermarket suds with a baleful look and exchange meaningful glances with the knowledgeable private-store clerk (what, shop at a BCLDB store? With the rest of the proletariat? I think Not.).

Then, when the huddled mass has shuffled off with their lump of corporate swill, you can bask in the glory of being asked, "Oh I didn't know we had this in yet, is it any good?" and respond with a three-part treatise on the sub-atomic nuances of bottle-conditioning. It's like heading out to a foreign film festival and seeing all the dullards lined up for the latest Twilight dreck. Endlessly satisfying.

The only problem with this state of affairs is that, at some point, you will be tempted to Offer A Suggestion to random bystanders. I have done so twice, and both times were spectacular failures. You know the setup: you're striding towards the beer-wall with purpose, seeking out the latest hop-filled delight that the local brewery's just tweeted about; they're standing there, slack-jawed and glazen of eye, overwhelmed by sheer variety. All quite innocent, up until you're seized by the impulse to swoop in and rescue the gape-mouthed peasantry with a brilliant display of Expertise.

The first time this happened to me, I accosted a pleasant-looking young couple who were filling a basket with a variety of singles, just as the girl was reaching for a bottle of Czechvar. "Oh, you'll find that a bit boring," I opined, "It's basically like Budweiser."

*GLARE* (uh-oh)

The young lady rounded on me like she was a Gorgon and I just had suggested she might have a snake or two in her hair. "I know!" she huffed, "That's my country's national beer, and it's my very favourite!" Whoopsie. mumble-mumble-mumble exit-stage-left

After a while I forgot that little incident and, naturally, the same sort of thing happened again. This time I overheard another couple looking for Lighthouse Keeper's Stout, which wasn't available. I bumbled in with "You could try the Okanagan Springs Porter," and received a frosty look and an "I don't like porters." Like a fly repeatedly smacking its head against a window, I persevered. "Well, what about [Nelson Brewing's] Blackheart Oatmeal Stout?" Response: "I don't like oatmeal." Um, ohhh-kay. After a while, they wandered off with some Guinness.

So here's a valuable lesson to all my fellow beer snobs. Just like I now do, keep your fat, stupid, self-important gob firmly shut.

Here's the second lesson: while it's lovely to drink Winkle's Very Old Peculier with silt and twigs and white-tail-deer turds floating in it, not everybody else likes crazy beers, which is why you can't always find them outside specialty stores and pubs. So what do you do when you find yourself rubbing shoulders with the riff-raff, with NASCAR on the telly and Nickelback on the stereo? Why, you seek refuge in an offering from a micro that's nearly a macro: the small macro-brewery. Or the big micro-brewery. Whatever.

So I headed down to the BCLDB (ewww) like the rest of you anarcho-syndicalist-commune types and spent a good half hour wandering around trying to select two challengers, finally settling on Okanagan Springs 1516 Lager and Granville Island's Island Lager. Island's Island? I mean GIB's Island Lager. Moving on.

I know there will be much tooth-gnashing about my selections and definitions of micro/macro, but blame @sticklebract for the suggestion. Dean actually also suggested something from Pacific Western, but I found myself physically incapable of reaching for a six-pack of Cariboo. I still have that damned Keith's IPA cluttering up the fridge, and I don't need to add five cans of crappy seven-dollar beer to the crisper.

Granville Island Brewing Island Lager vs. Okanagan Springs 1516 Lager

Round One: Fight!

First problem: I don't really drink lager. I mean, I'm aware there's a type of beer called lager and it's supposedly the pinnacle of the brewer's art and requires a great deal of precision and technical know-how and wearing of black turtlenecks and listening to Kraftwerk to make it, but I prefer my beer to be a bit simple and a bit heavy. Like me.

Yes, I know anyone with a sack of grain and a moderately dirty bathtub can make an ale, but I really get tired of all the lager commercials that repeat the words "crisp" and "clean" so many times, you'd think they were advertising an iceberg-lettuce-based furniture polish.

However, before I turn into even more of wretched snob: it's yellow, it's got bubbles in it, ergo it's beer. Let's have a peek and a sniff.

The 1516 smells like nothing. I mean, it's a bit beery, but there's very little there. The Island Lager is very very slightly more malty, like if a mashtun just off-gassed 400 miles away. It's also slightly more yellow, but it's like choosing between beige and taupe, or deciding who's more orange, Siegfried or Roy.

Round Two: Fight!

I kind of feel that since the Post-It sou'wester, there's a general expectation that I'll always wear entertaining headgear. Not sure what would be appropriate here. Probably a flat-billed baseball hat. Either way, sorry to disappoint.

The Okanagan 1516 is clean and crisp. God damn it.

Well, it is. There's really no other better descriptor. A quick malty fizz, a little bitterness on the palate, and then it's gone, leaving nothing but a general refreshed feeling. If I came inside on a summer's day after mowing the lawn or working on the car or just reading a book in the hammock to find one of these little beauties in the fridge, well, I'd have little to complain about. Not that I wouldn't try.

Now the Granville Island.
What the hell? They're completely different!

The Granville Island tastes bizarre with the 1516 still fresh on the palate. It's almost like a pale ale, or if not a pale ale, then what a really mainstream brewery would produce and slap a label on saying "pale ale". That's not a shot at GIB, you understand, it's just noticeably sweeter, fuller and maltier than the 1516. Is that a good thing? I'm not sure...

Round Three: Fight!

This is a toughie.

On one hand, we've got the Sapporo-owned Okanagan Springs, and much like the bitterly cold karaoke juice that their Nipponese parent company are best known for, their brew is somehow crisper in finish, and if you're a lager-head, isn't that what you'd go for?

But on the other hand, shouldn't a craft-brew have a bit more body than the commercial guys? Or is it less about a fuller body than about the package as a whole? Certainly, both these beers are as smooth as a Grover Washington Jr. track.

Ummmm.... I pick..... that one.


Okanagan Springs wins by eenie-meenie-minie-moe.

Post-Battle Review

I gotta say, what a great province we live in when this is what passes for mainstream. To think some people call these beers bland. Smooth like butta, as drinkable as prosecco in a heat wave, cheap as Molson, available everywhere: quite frankly, I'm stoked for a summertime bbq with either one of these beers floating around these ice chest.

Two left, I'm picking the 1516, but you'll be happy with either.

Okanagan Springs 1516 Lager
Recommended if:
-it's hot outside
-you can spell "reinheitsgebot" without googling it
-you've just invented Crispy Pledge

Not Recommended if:
-you've never been to the BCLDB
-you only drink beers with twigs in it
-you're afraid of Ogopogo

GIB's Island Lager
Recommended if:
-you've just picked up some finocchiona at Oyama
-you prefer a slightly sweeter finish
-it's hot outside

Not recommended if:
-you're that Kokanee ranger
-you're looking for the beer equivalent of barley soup
-you've only got seven bucks in your pocket


  1. Not to be overly critical, however Labatt has only one "b" and their Blue comes in a suitcase, not a cube such as Coors Light and Molson Canadian does.

    Cheers, Mike

  2. If someone corrected me about the name of a bieber tune, I would have the same reaction: ignorance of some things is bliss!

  3. Very entertaining topic for a battle. Not sure why you said Czechvar was like budweiser, you kind of deserved to be mocked. Just because an american swill steals your name doesn't really make it related. I do relate to the sense of superiority though, and know that its a deplorable but unavoidable personality trait.

  4. I know, I know. I'm not a beer expert, I just play one on TV.

    I'm going to try to introduce my boss to a craft brew. Thinking an ESB might be mild enough.

  5. Dude, this is the first time I've been disappointed whilst perusing your blog. Reason: Czech beer is really good and Czechvar is a fine example of it (though not the bestest, I'll agree). The Pilsner style is not *extreme* like most Pacific Northwest beers are, but when done right, as it is in the birthplace of Pilsner, it is extremely good!