Thursday, May 26, 2011

Damnbeerblogger Doesn't Live Here Anymore

It is with mixed feelings that I sit down to write this post, very likely my last one from Victoria, and certainly the last one I'll write from this apartment. Over the past few months, certain things have come together that are resulting in a move back to the mainland, specifically, North Vancouver.

It's a move from mostly-sunny to mostly-rainy. From the home of the cricketers to the home of the Canucks. From a place where people drive like they've had a stroke to where they drive like they're having an aneurysm.

I'm having mixed feelings about it.

On the one hand, missing the entirety of VCBW because work commitments meant the four+ hours of ferry travel back and forth were unworkable have sort of highlighted the drawbacks of Island Life. Certainly, it is with a great deal of anticipation that I look forward to being able to attend some of the fourteen trillion cask events CAMRA Vancouver seems to put on every month. Plus, we've bought a house with a basement, and that means homebrewing. I look forward to having you all over for blind taste tests, and by that, I meant taste-testing that may result in blindness. You can't spell "IPA" without "Antifreeze".

But Victoria's been very good to me. I've a great deal of fondness for both the brewing community here and the enthusiasts who spread the gospel. Probably nowhere else in Canada will you find such a huge amount of support for pub culture, and such camaraderie among the blogging community.

So, if you've been looking to me for information on local brews, then you'll need to start looking somewhere else. Actually, If you've been looking to me for information, then you clearly have a few other, more serious, problems. At best, I provide a blend of information and entertainment.

I call it, "entermation".

Even if you're not local, you should be reading these guys: Dan's Small Beer blog is what got me into this whole blogging thing: it's often got big-picture stuff you won't find elsewhere. Ian's left4beer brings a serious bent to things: if you're looking for a review that, y'know, actually describes what the beer tastes like, then it's the place to go. Dave is the guy to go to if you want poutine. Actually, he's probably the most active at keeping Beer On The Rock current and happening: it's a sort of beery Superfriends site that combines the efforts of all of them.

There's others too. Obviously you need to keep an eye on CAMRA Victoria as there's a sea-change coming there that's going to see an increased social media presence along with continued excellence in getting premium draft guest speakers in to spread the gospel. Brewery-wise, I expect to see great things from Vancouver Island Brewing and Lighthouse as well as continued excellence from Driftwood. I'll sure miss the growlers full of Phillips and the craic at Swan's and Spinnakers.

YADBB rolled over 10,000 page hits earlier today. As such, I've got something special I've been saving for just such an occasion: Brewdog's Tokio.

I'd like to use it to raise a toast to the Island, all who live on here, all who brew here and all who drink craft beer here.

Sláinte, my Island friends. You better believe I'll be visiting.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Getting Canned

It's the May long weekend, and already on my Twitter stream, folks are asking, "What's a good craft beer to drink... that comes in cans?" Good question.

Take a peek at this:
This is the best craft beer in Hawaii, as I discovered on my recent trip there. You know what? It only comes in cans. You know why? Well, this is ripped right off Maui Brewing's website:

...cans don't break like glass bottles do and it is particularly important for us to do whatever we can to keep our 120 miles of coastline, 30 miles of beaches, and other public areas free of broken glass! Cans can be recycled, are virtually unbreakable, and are lighter to carry and easier to chill than bottles. Also, key to the purity of our beers: cans eliminate light damage and the risk of oxidation. This will ensure that our canned microbrews will be flavorful, brisk, and satisfying.

The Myth of the Metallic Taste:
Bottles have long been considered the best packaging for good beer. This is no longer the case with modern aluminum cans because they are lined with an internal coating. This lining prevents the beer from ever making contact with the aluminum and ensures no metallic aftertaste.

This isn't just marketing, folks, there's a whole website devoted to the superiority of aluminum cans as a way to package beer. Personally, my favourite type of beer packaging is me, but I do confess a certain preference for cans over bottles, particularly when it comes time to return the empties.
So, suggestions.
Immediately, Central City Brewing's Red Racer lineup presents its cans like I was wearing a Sharks jersey and sitting in a penalty box. Before I got annoyingly serious about fly-fishing, there always used to be a sixer of their IPA under the seat in the canoe, and we'd crack 'em every time we hooked something. Even when it was just weeds. Or my hat.
Granville Island Brewing does nearly all their beers in can form. My fav is probably the Brockton as it won't smack you around as much as the RR IPA, but it's super refreshing for a hop-head. Honourable mention to Kitsilano Maple.

Howe Sound Brewing also now provides its lager in cans. It's getting near the temp where this'd be the perfect beer to suff in the bottom of the backpack for a good hike-in camping trip. This beer belongs wedged in some ice-cold creek, with a smoky campfire for ambience and the sounds of the BC wild for dinner music.
Oft-overlooked is Tree Brewing's canned beer. Unfortunately, none of their award-winning Hop-Head makes the leap to aluminum, and that's a special shame because Tree uses tall-boys, which are just about the greatest thing ever. Nothing is more satisfying than a perfectly filled pint-glass, and I've got my fingers crossed that Hop-Head joins Thirsty Beaver, Kelowna Pils and Cutthroat in 500ml form.
More Craft Beers from the Interior: Fernie Brewing (First Trax) and the aptly-named Cannery Brewing: Anarchy Amber or the Naramata Nut-Brown are the way to go here. Also worth a try are some of Nelson Brewing's beers. I like the Faceplant, but have heard good things about their new Hemp Ale.
For us Island-types, Race-Rocks and Lighthouse Lager would probably be my go-to summer canned beers. A lament for the Keeper's Stout in cans, but with the sadly limited appeal of darker beers, I can understand the move to only provide this delicious Irish-style stout in bottle format.

So there you go. Canada: you can't spell it without "can". Also "nada", but let's just overlook that, shall we?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hot Damn of the Week: Spring Rite is here

Spring is sprung
De grass is riz
I wonder where
De boidies is?

Yes folks, after what has been an interminable, wet, cold and over-all miserable first half of the year, it's finally Spring. Birds are singing, worms are wriggling, even the bloody cabbage is blossoming.

Who knew cabbage could be pretty? Certainly not me. It's like sending some wizened babushka with a face like a dried apple off to the spa and having her come back looking like Irina Sheik.

Anyway, spring is a time of growth and harmony and all that other claptrap, so it's time for a new beer from Driftwood! Another Belgian-style ale made with local ingredients from Saanich Peninsula maltster Mike Doehnel, Spring Rite follows in the footsteps of the guy with the giant rake from Cuvee D' Hiver.

This is a lovely dry beer. Granted, the number of things I don't know about Belgian beers could be collected into a large and weighty tome of a size suitable for tortoise-smashing, but I'd have to say it was most similar in style to Orval. I guess you'd call it Orval-tine: hoppy, but not floral; bitter, but not biting; smooth and balanced. Fingers crossed it shows up on cask at Tres Fantastico to pair with a little al fresco charcuterie.

Driftwood's Spring Rite Local Malt Abbey Ale
Recommended if:
-you're happy to finally see that big shiny yellow thing in the sky
-it's a day for outside beer
-you appreciate a well-crafted beer made from local ingredients

Not Recommended if
-you're a groundhog and you've just seen Bill Murray's shadow
-you don't like rakes
-you're looking for a big tripel/dubbel

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Seven Reasons Beer is Better Than Wine

Note: I do like wine too. It's a nice accompaniment to a big bloody steak (sorry vegans) or a cheese plate and some deep conversation. However, most of the time I'd rather have a beer. Here's why.

1.] Cheap Beer is still good, Inexpensive Wine is just cheap
Am I a beer snob? Probably. Am I a beer prick? Well, not quite yet. Not everything I imbibe has to be ten bucks a bomber and have been dry-hopped, barrelled, cellared and generally fiddled about with more than Heidi Montag's frontal topography. No, from time to time, I just want a beer: Lighthouse Lager, Double Decker, even an Okanagan Springs' Porter.

The best part? As I've pointed out before, the price difference between something like Central City's Red Racer IPA and -scourge of the Earth- Alexander Keith's Yellow Fizzy Insipid-ale is like a buck a six-pack. If that. Here in BC, drinking good beer doesn't break the bank.

Wine though? Different story. You can get a pretty good South American wine for around ten bucks, but it will inevitably contain more sulphites than the tailings from a copper mine and be more acidic than a grapefruit dunked in battery acid. Not that you can't get one or two good ones with a little research, but grab at random and rue the day.

Try to stay local, and it gets worse. I don't think you can get a good wine in BC for less than twenty bucks; certainly not a red. Stateside, things are different. Up here, we pay too much and get too little.

2.] Wine is for Parties, Beer is for Par-tays.
I want you to imagine two separate gatherings, identical except for one thing. At both, intelligent people are milling around in semi-casual attire: nibblies close at hand, gentle music in the background, the murmur of erudite conversation. Now give Control Group A a number of bottles of wine and Control Group B a coupla casks.

In about fifteen minutes, Control Group A will have drifted into little cliques where various individuals will be relating their views on the world while everyone else is standing around not listening, but rather reloading anecdotes that highlight their own importance. The conversation will be philosophical, nebulous, fatuous and more than a little back-stabby.

Over at Control Group B, somebody just kicked on the Beastie Boys. Time-travelling dance off!

3.] Beer hangovers don't last as long
After fairly exhaustive research, I've come to the conclusion that beer will still love you in the morning. Oh sure, after excessive consumption you may arise cotton-mouthed, fuzzy-headed and smelling like a phoenix that just emerged from an infected mashtun, but the day's not over. A good strong jolt of coffee, perhaps a brisk walk and a pail of Adam's Ale, and away you go. Not so with beer's vinious cousin.

Drinking too much wine (aside from the sleepy-time problem) is going to leave your frontal cortex in the same condition as the Mojave after repeated lightning strikes: scorched earth. All those unpleasant little long-chain polyphenols have set up shop and are going to be clomping around in your fore-brain all day, tripping over neurons and stomping on your synapses with great big hob-nailed boots. You may have waxed philosophical the night before, but I can assure you that sweet F-A is getting accomplished come daylight.

4.] Beer is for hockey, Wine is for Grey's Anatomy
I say hockey, but I really mean any sport up to and including figure skating. You don't sit down with a white wine spritzer to watch Kessler carve up the opposing defence like a Sawzall vs. the Christmas Turkey. Aside from competing yourself, the great appeal of sport is the unifying camaraderie of watching the home team win or lose.

Beer is all about camaraderie and bonhomie. It's a social drink in the best sense, and has nothing to do with inward-looking emotional narcissism. Plus, Scrubs was better.

5.] You can pay for things with beer
I got a flat the other day: some idiot must be driving around Victoria with an open sack-full of wood screws hanging out the back of his pickup, dislodging a cloud of tire-puncturing metal with every jolting pothole. New tire? $150, plus I'd have to do all four, Subaru's AWD system being fussy about that sort of thing. Not a problem; I had it plugged and repaired for a six pack.

Now, had I offered my mechanic a nice Merlot, he'd probably have plugged me instead. Yes, you bring a bottle of wine when you're arriving at your bosses' house as a guest (unless your boss is cool and you can bring a Singularity instead), but beer is currency and it gets cars fixed, boxes moved and ditches dug.

6.] Hammer, chisel, tape measure, socket wrench, Beer
I've got an enormous collection of tools. They're called the San Jose Sharks. Only joking.

I don't actually own the team.

But I do have a giant toolbox filled with every conceivable manner of wrench and socket and plier and spirit level: everything one might want to be piled on top of the one tiny screwdriver you actually need and will now spend four hours trying to find. The most important tool in the box? Beer.

It's well documented that beer is more effective at auto repair and DIY home-improvements than any other tool. yes, you can use beer to pay for things, but it's also a nice way to pay yourself a salary for a job well done. Also, nothing soothes skinned knuckles like an ice-cold can.

7.] Beer makes Friends, Wine makes Frenemies
Like I've mentioned twice already, beer is a social lubricant. Want to insinuate yourself into a new workplace? Go out for pints on Friday. "Hey, let's go for beers!" is very different from, "Hey, let's go for wines!" In fact, I don't think the latter's ever been said.

If this was a wine blog, I would expect that people would be reading these posts in a very different mindset. "Aha!" they'd cry, and then would come the rattling tap-tap-tap of keystrokes as other bloggers raced to correct me on my usage of terroir or to inform me than the seasonal variation on the 2003 vintage was not due wholly to the three-week early cold snap, but was also the byproduct of four cloudy days on consecutive Wednesdays and the mass eructation of a herd of passing Holsteins during a temporarily Easterly prevailing wind of 4.7 knots combined with a light pattering of guano from a lesser-reticulated sparrow named Harold.

Instead, I started this blog with no other aim than to have a little fun and drink some beer, and as a result have met brewers and bloggers, enthusiasts and experts, people passionate about the brewing industry and punters who just like a good pint. From time to time there's some good-natured joshing, but mostly we just get together to drink good beer and enjoy it. There's no chivvying about being right or wrong or exactingly correct about terminology: it's just beer, and that's the beauty of it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

What's In a Damn Label?

Another Canucks victory, another King Heffy purchase. Coincidence?

But I digress.

This weekend was quite busy for Mrs. Damnbeerblogger and me. Right after work on Saturday we headed out for a spot of camping in Goldstream which involved a little Begbie Nasty Habit, a smoky campfire and the discovery that my sleeping bag was as useful at retaining warmth as damp single-ply Kirkland toilet paper. It. Was. Cold.

In the morning, with my testicles retracted up to somewhere in the region of my pancreas, we had a big feed of fish-tomato-curry (better than it sounds) and went for a long run.

Two things happened on this run which were surprising. Firstly, I was slightly faster than the Missus (which is like Notorious B.I.G.'s corpse outrunning Hussein Bolt) and, secondly, I experienced my first "runner's high". Basically, this phenomenon is caused by a release of endorphins when the body undergoes muscular distress. Alternatively, you could just have a nice beer, and your legs don't hurt the next day.

Post-run, I always feel like I've earned a beer or two. Or, like, lots. My first selection was based off a recent review over at left4beer.

It provides me with endless mirth to think that Ian and I are lumped into the same category as "beer reviewers". The difference, as I see it, is akin to that between the theatre critic who's seen every major broadway production and is friends with all the great directors, and the guy who shouts, "Look behind you Mr. Caesar!" while spilling his large popcorn in all directions. Which one do you think I am?

Anyway, Ian took on a porter from Wolf brewing up in Nanaimo and he liked it, and when he likes something, it's like Mikey from the Life cereal commercials liking something. As such, I thought I'd give another brew from Wolf the oul' going-over: their Red Brick IPA.

First off, this is not a new beer. As you may or may not be aware, Fat Cat Brewing has been bought out and the new owners are re-branding their beers, while keeping the recipes largely the same.

As you can see, it's the difference between Snagglepuss and the one of hearaldic crests from HBO's Game of Thrones. So we go from Chester Cheetah to mechanized infantry flag, and I'm of two minds about it.

On the one hand, the Fat Cat labelling was dangerously cheezy, but at least it was light-hearted and semi-interesting. Wolf seems pretty generic: oh look, the bottles come in different colours. But it's a bit too serius bizness for me. So how's the beer?
Pretty good actually. No surprises here: it's a pretty solid West-Coast IPA without being overly floral. Think apricot and coppery malts. Certainly worth a try.

For dessert though, I'm going to need something bigger. After all, we haven't advanced to the third round since the Winnipeg Jets were still around. Time for something from my favourite 'Murican brewery: Southern Tier.

But first, a word. If you don't already follow the Penny Farthing Liquor Store on twitter, I highly suggest you do so.

This is a great little store, with a nice selection of beers. Seeing as it's in Oak Bay, fully 7/8ths of the store is dedicated to sherry and Blue Nun, but the beer section is great: lots of Rogue, full Howe Sound lineup, Choklat, Baird, you name it. There were even two fairly forlorn-looking bottles of Anchor Brewing's Christmas Ale.

I got this.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Lighthouse Goes Only A Bit Overboard.

Happy visual pun day, everyone.
Let me just put this out there: in about five minutes, I'm headed down to The Beagle, where I will drink heroic amounts of Race Rocks and watch millionaires with bad haircuts either win victoriously a la Gladiator: Blood and Sand, or soil the bedsheets like mad George III after a feed of mushy peas. I like Lighthouse. I like Dean. I think they've got an established fanbase, a passionate new brewer, and a great product lineup.


An Imperial Pilsner?

Let me just frame this for you: I've harped on time and again about how great everything Imperial is. Imperial Pint? Better than the short-bus regular pint. Imperial Tie Fighter? Better than the X-Wing, and apparently environmentally-sensitive as it doesn't have any engines. Imperial measurement system? My car gets forty rods to the hogshead, and that's the way I like it.

So too with Imperial beers... up to a point.

Obviously an Imperial Stout is a fun playground for barrel-aging and the like, and an Imperial IPA (if done right) can be a standout of the brewer's artifice. Even Howe Sound's King Heffy Imperial Hefeweizen bumps up the banana-clove esters to monkey-aphrodisiac levels, and that's pretty delicious.


And yes, I love experimentation and despise half-hearted crossover Xerox beers as much as Adem Tepedelen does. And yes, I'm first in line to taste the newest brew, and yes, everybody up to and including Samuel Adams and Brewdog do an Imperial Pilsner...


This is a good beer. It's hoppy and drinkable, packing a wallop without alcohol-heavy smarminess. It ain't no Fubar-style shotgun special, and will certainly appeal to those who enjoy ze German-style heavyweights.

For me, it's just not a seek-out beer. The up-coming Barnacle Wheat IPA? That, I'm going to track down. That sounds crazy and intriguing. That sounds like an experimental beer that blazes a trail nobody else has done before.

Lighthouse, (and apologies for the pun) you need a beacon. I see no reason why a company that's already got a steady income steam from its mainline brews shouldn't be further out in left field for the experimental stuff. Overboard is a good beer. Navigator was a pretty good beer. Deckhand was a great beer. Next one? Turn it up to eleven.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

An Extra Special Bitter Rivalry: YADBB's Election

Bedad it's early. Tell the truth, I'm a bit fuzzy today after sampling a dozen beers last night with the lads and --c'mere 'til I tell you something funny-- I had this crazy dream where despite repeated abuses of power and enviro-trashing, we elected the Lego-haired robo-Steve to a thundering majority. Crazy, right?



Well, it's post-election hangover time (figuratively and literally) and as I sit wool-gathering with a cuppa of Bushell's, it's also time to dissect the beer pairing for last night's electoral frivolities: a sampling of every last Bitter in BC!

That I could find.

Last Wednesday.

A last minute delivery came by float-plane thanks to @GingerLiz, but other than that, the lineup of beers that faced off on Monday night are all readily available given a modicum of footwork. Notable absences include Big River Brewing's ESB (mentioned by @janteweats as being among the best) and Granville Island Brewing's Bitter, which is receiving high praise so far. Why're they missing? Well, both are only available at the brewery, and while that's not a disqualification (Blue Moon hem-hem) it just made it impossible to get our hands on them for an on-Island tasting. But first, let's set the bar.
As it turns out, we're setting the bar rather low. Fuller's ESB is a old favourite of mine, but when I did a little research to determine how it sat in the ESB lineup, I discovered that the judging guidelines contra-indicate for comparing other bitters against the Fuller's floral, malty profile. Wait, "judging guidelines?" Like I'm going to pay attention to those. It's time to stack the Supreme Court.

Opinion was mixed, but the Fuller's tastes like an old friend. Hum. that sounds unnecessarily dirty. It's true though: this is a very familiar, English-y beer, and will appeal to fans of Wychwood, Black Sheep and the like. Light fruit, bread and toffee tones: tastes like eating the world's blandest fruitcake.

Our first BC brew to take a bow is from Spinnaker's: Mitchell's ESB. Frankly, much like the election, I'm braced for faint disappointment. Nothing against Spinnaker's as an establishment, but their Blue Bridge Double IPA resembles other single IPAs in the same way that the structure from which it takes its name resembles the Golden Gate Bridge. I'm expecting it to be thin and vapid and, unfortunately, this isn't Canada's Next Top Model.

But the Mitchell's surprises by being... not bad! A bit too fizzy, but fairly true to the style, and I bet it'd be nice in-cask. Verdict: worth a try if you're at the pub itself.

Next up is Swan's ESB. I tend to forget about Swan's a bit. Sometimes you can get their bombers everywhere, sometimes you have to go right to the source. I'm curious to see whether the cask they're running at Tres Fantastico helps spread the word and gets them to step up their game a little, although their Coconut Porter is an excellent beer that nobody else does. Would you also seek out their ESB?

Well, maybe. It's nicer than the Mitchell's, that's for sure, but it's still very mild. Makes for a nice pint on a hot day, but I don't know whether I'd ride all the way into town to track it down. Verdict: best at the pub, or on-cask.

Russell's Blood Alley comes as a bit of a surprise. Frankly, my first whiff let me know that I'd buggered up the tasting order. Big hop aroma after the other three, more of a west-coast-style ESB. It's dry-hopped, natch, and there's some big pungencies from the Columbus here.

Overall, well-received, but the baby-IPA-style IBUs may have smashed our palate for the next contestant...

But it hasn't. Howe Sound Brewing's Baldwin and Cooper has some big shoes to fill, and I remember their Bailout as being quite light-drinking. This ESB isn't.

It's got the hops and the earthy, near-acrid finish you expect from West-Siiide stylings, but without the pungency, and with big malts adding a smooth brown bass line. Very drinkable in style. Nuttier than a certain political party. Front-runner for sure.

I thought I had taken a better picture. Oh well; if you aren't already familiar with Central City's unvarying artwork, then you must be living in a cave. In which case, ask a SEAL to describe it.

This beer got shafted. By that I mean that we should have had it about 3rd in rotation. Leaving it until after the Russell and the Baldwin just makes it look kind of half-hearted, when it's actually a very nice beer. Not really sure it's a true ESB, so much as the Red Racer IPA Training Wheels Edition, but it's certainly worth grabbing a six.

Recent champ at CAMRA's spring Fest-of-Ale, Moon Under Water's Blue Moon Bitter is a favourite after-work wind-down. Others, who'd been lucky enough to sample a few early editions preferred the old original, but I like the new tweaked brew.

Problem is, in bomber form, it loses a bit of that fresh hop tastiness. We were lucky enough to have a fresh-drawn growler for comparison, and you could tell the bottled beer had been blunted somewhat. Still very good.
Ah, Hildegard. Probably the best thing about this whole tasting was a better appreciation for what Driftwood has done with the Naughty Nun.

My initial impressions on Hildegard's initial release were, frankly, tinged with pining for the piney perfection of last year's model. That beer wasn't an ESB, but it was Extra Special.

Having gone through the lineup though, this year's Hildegard shows her strengths. It's a very nice west-coast ESB, and oh-so-bitter. Lip-smacking for sure.

But we weren't done yet. Ian showed up with an Elysian ESB (the Wise) which surprised and delighted all, especially Dan, who had some rather unpleasant things to say about their IPAs, and we also managed to cram in a couple of Propeller ESBs. East Coasters, how does Keith's survive with this stuff readily available? It's all about supply and command.

Lastly, I'm happy to report that Lighthouse's Overboard Imperial Pilsner isn't fubar. And I think we liked the Serendipity No. 3 that Dave brought.

But for the next four years of bitterness, there's only one beer for me. If you're at the brewpubs from whence they came, stick with the Spinnaker's, the Swan's and the MUW's. Try to at least sample the Blood Alley and the Hildegard before they disappear.

Baldwin and Cooper's though, that's the must-have.