BEER TREK 2012: New Adventures in the Beer-o-Sphere

The continuing saga of Michael 'fezz' Nazarec at large in the world of beer, hunting down new and varied species of the fermented ambrosia in its natural habitat: breweries, brewpubs, beer bars, restaurants, train stations, airports and beer festivals.
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Current Posts: fezz's picks: the Top 12 of 2012; Back to Brussels, London Calling; Get Lost in Maastricht; Amsterdam and Beyond; In Bruges and Ghent; Mussels in Brussels; Brussels Beer Weekend #14; Further Adventures in the Beer-o-Sphere; Calgary's Best & Wurst; A Wee Peak at Vancouver Craft Beer Week 2012; A night out in Denver; Drinking Beer in L.A.

A Week of Beer

VCBW 2012
Well, I can't say I'm really reporting on this year's festival, as I didn't get out to as many events as I would have liked. Hoppapalooza III was sold out (again this year) before I could buy tickets, as were a number of other things. Work got in the way of some things and a beautiful long weekend on Quadra Island, which took me out of town for the VCBW first few days, could not be beat.
That said, I returned to the city on Monday with tickets for the Russell Brewery cask event at Doolins. I must admit to having never been in Doolins before this, though a landmark on Granville at Nelson, yet I did know they were not considered to be a 'good beer bar'. Nonetheless, posse in tow, we showed up at the stated time, proceeded to the back of the room (the dance floor?) where the 3 casks were set up. After checking in, we got our first glass and all went for the VCBW 2012 Official Beer, the collaboration brew, a Cascadian Dark IPA. Quite aromatic, it pours dark brown with a light tan, with quickly dissipating head. Delicious and rich, with a wonderful complexity of malts and hops, sweetness contained by bitterness, smooth with hints of chocolate, hops starting in the nose, torpedoing right through to a dry finish. Truly a full bodied west coast inspired style. Russell was the host for the collaborative effort this year, so this was an exclusive cask.
Next up was Doolins Ale, a light ale brewed for Doolins by Russell, but added to the cask was a full bottle of 10 year old Talisker single malt whiskey. Surprisingly subtle, the palate is not overwhelmed by whiskey, instead a delicate play of flavours are on display. There is a hint of smokiness in the aroma that sneaks all the way into the finish, no real hop presence, but no malt sweetness either, a dry finish. Quite lovely and smooth.
Last but not least is Rick August's Russian Imperial Stout. Rick won the Grand Prize for Best in Show in the 2011 Vanbrewers Golden Stag Homebrewing Awards. Part of his prize was to have Russell Brewing duplicate his recipe on a larger scale. This is a wonderfully massive brew! Deep, dark and delicious yes, but with such a malty complexity! Oil black, full bodied, velvety, with notes and hints of caramel, chocolate, licorice, dark malt, dried fruit, warming alcohol and at the Czar-ish strength of 10% abv. This beer won not just our hearts this night, but our souls as well.
Though the beers were stellar, not much else was. 'Beautifully presented canap├ęs' were promised - we might of each got three small crackers, that were tasty, but not enough to actually enjoy with the beers. It didn't seem long before this sports bar switched back to hockey mode, loud blaring music chasing beer geeks out the door. And we only got one glass of each of the casks for our $25 ticket. We were asked to pay $7 for another glass of our fave brew, but after buying tickets for this from the burly, surly and rude bartender, we decided to finish the night a Subeez's a few blocks away, enjoying Crannog Insurrection IPA, some lovely mussels and good conversation.

Oregon Comes to Vancouver
 A new beer bar opened on Main Street during the 2012 Vancouver Craft Beer Week. Portland Craft, specializing in the beers of Oregon, and even a few other states too. The room seems to be unchanged from its previous incarnation as the Copper Tank, which features a nice big open space, long wood tables and lots of light. What has changed, however, is what is on tap. Portland Craft features 16 taps and a few specialty bottles all from south of the border. With line ups out the door and up the street on opening night, they hit the ground running during VCBW. On night two, we watched waves of patrons come and go, enjoying the selection (half of them IPAs) and the tasty items on the food menu. Our party sampled tasty clams, spicy wings, good burgers, as well as half the taps.
The Gigantic Saison (7.7%) was a surprise, being a dark version, inserting a dark, nutty maltiness where you might expect a spicy dryness. Deschutes Inversion IPA (6.8%) was well liked by the hopheads in our group at 80 IBUs, as was the Gigantic IPA (7.3%) at 85 IBUs, the Hopworks Urban Brwery IPA (6.6%) at 75 IBU, Alameda El Toreo IPA (5.5%) at 70 IBUs and our IPA favourite of the night: Alameda Yellow Wolf IPA (8.2%) at a puckering 103 IBUs.
There was also the lovely Two Beers Trailhead ISA (India Session Ale) 4.8%,  an light, session IPA you might say, Lagunitas Lucky 13 (8.3%) a hoppy little number from California, a full bodied Elysian Dragonstooth Stout (7.45%) an imperial oatmeal version, and the uniquely spicy Rogue Chipotle Ale. 
Marie-Helene enjoys a Lucky 13

The staff seem to be learning about about the beers as the customers are, but the service is good and friendly, so I am sure it won't take long. Also, prices are reasonable from small appy plates to entres and the beers too. Being that Portland Craft is actually one of my locals, I can see myself visiting this great new addition to Main Street with regularity, just to see how the taps rotate.

The Real Festival Floor
 After all of the tastings and pairings, the sipping and slurping, pub-hopping and session searching it comes down to this: 47 tables representing more than 56 breweries serving hundreds of beers from BC, the US and Europe all presented in the historical Salt Building in the Olympic Village. Built around 1930 to refine salt on False Creek, it became a paper cycling plant in the 1980's before being redone completely for the 2010 Olympic Games. This heritage  building is now a great rental hall for a variety of events, and perfect for this festival. There really was an overwhelming choice available for beer geeks and novices alike. Just about any style you could think of, you could find plus a number of unique creations and several cask conditioned ales as well. But where to start?

Two rough rules of thumb. I always look for new breweries or new brews from fave breweries to start, then go for whatever looks interesting on cask. You cannot beat unfiltered, cask conditioned fresh ale in my book!
Spinnaker's of Victoria was actually serving only cask ales,  one being their East Kent Goldings laced IPA, one of my favourites - aromatic, full flavoured and perhaps a little strong, as my tasting partner Scott seemed to detect hints if tequila! The Cannery Brewery also had an interesting cask on: their Naramata Nut Brown infused with espresso and molasses: big, wonderfully warm & bitter coffee hit right out the gate, but smooth in the middle, leaving an understated sweetness floating through your palate.

A number of new breweries were in attendance, some brand new, and few others still fairly new to the festival. East Vancouver's newest brewery, Parallel 49, just opened for business during the week of the festival. They presented 4 of their beers, the hoppy Hoparazzi IPA and the Gypsy Tears Ruby Ale were both tasty and inviting. Townsite Brewing Co. from Powell River had some interesting brews on hand, the most impressive being their Belgian Triple, a hefty beautiful blonde brew of considerable gravity, but smooth, seductive and at 8.6%, very warming. There were lots of hoppy beers: Oregon's Ninkasi Brewery with Total Domination IPA, 'balanced perfection'; San Diego's Green Flash Brewing served up a very grapefruit dominated West Coast IPA, a stunning Imperial IPA (9.2%) and the seriously delicious Le Freak, a Belgian tripel meets IPA, a style many are now trying to emulate. Nasty Habits Pale Ale from Revelstoke's Mt. Begbie Brewery was Scott's fave go-to hoppy brew of the afternoon, but also good was Victoria's new kid on the block, Hoyne Brewing Co. with their Down Easy Pale Ale, hoppy, but with enough fruitiness to make this a smooth session brew. Their Devil's Dream IPA was also distinctive, with a good hop-malt balance and a lingering give-me-more-ness, as was Dark Matter, a malty brown brew.
There were a number of great Europeans brews on hand as well. The German participants, including Maisel Weisse serving their dunkel & hefe, and Hacker Pschorr were the wheat beer kings. The Belgians were very evident, Delerium Tremens being one of our group's faves, a classic pale & strong Belgian ale. Big names like Duvel, Liefman's, L'Achouffe, Chimay, and Dupont poured their classic brews too. The you-either-love-it-or-not Duchesse de Bourgogne  from Brouwerij Verhaegheis is a superlative sour Flanders Red, not for the light of palate. It displays a profound sour fruitiness and complex character that that one on an historical journey. Chapleau represented the Lambic region with a tangy Apricot and a Kriek, Satan poured their Ambree and Gold, both 8%.
Fuller's from the UK served their delicious London Porter and St. Peter's had a lovely IPA and the questionable Honey Porter, a sickly sweet and cloying entry that no one seemed to like.

Local brewers are making some great and unique brews too. Storm, long an innovator on Vancouver craft beer scene, had an amazing Imperial Flanders Red, sour and provocative, complex and silently strong. Even Yaletown is getting in on the sour beer craze, their Oud Bruin exhibiting enough Brettanomyces to pucker your palate. Oh, by the way, another stand out from Storm, their Basil IPA. This unique herbal brew would go great with any number of dishes, the basil leaf flavour dominating the hop component in a very seductive way.
Yes, there were some old favourites, to name a few: Tin Whistle ESB, rebranded again with a new label, but with the same balanced goodness; Driftwood's Fat Tug, a perennial go-to brew for Victoria hopheads; Big River ESB for the Richmond crowd; and Chilliwack's Old Yale Pale Ale, also rebranded but still carrying on. Central City from Surrey, Hopworks Urban Brwery & Upright from Oregon, Fernie, Lighthouse, Howe Sound, Phillips, Russell, all strongly represented and enjoyed by the sold out crowd. In fact, it was a very comfortable room, the event not being over-sold, there was lots of space for wandering and talking, tasting and comparing. What was missing, I thought though, was something more in the way of food. There was only one food stand, Beer Brats, selling tasty beer-infused sausage on the small patio. With all of the wonderful and strong brews available, you'd think there might be other vendors offering tid-bits of this or that, just help the beers go down and perhaps cleanse the palate for more adventurous brews.
Thanks to Adam from Raincity for the de Ranke & de Glazen Toren. All in all, a wonderful afternoon and a great ending to another fabulous week of beer!

Night Out in Denver

Denver, Colorado is a well known mecca in the beer universe, home to many great breweries, brewpubs and beer bars. As luck would have it, work brought me to Denver this Spring. My friend  Raj and I had a chance to sample a few local brews on offer at a number of places, all within walking distance of our downtown hotel. There is a free public bus that will take you the length of 16th Street, but there is much to see on the Mall itself for the adventurous who like to walk.

Our first stop is the Cheeky Monk Belgian Beer Cafe is a great wood-lined pub/restaurant a few blocks from the 16th Street Mall.  They serve a large selection of 'old world' Belgian beers on tap, as well as well known US craft beers. I enjoyed a taster tray of American heavy hitters: Dog Fish Head Tweason Ale 6%, Avery Collaboration Not Litigation Ale 8.7%, Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine 12%, and Funkwerks Caspercot (apricot Saison). Raj enjoyed a quadruple sampling of some of the classic Belgian ales available: Affligem Blond 6.8%, LaTrappe Dubbel 7%, Chimay White 8% and LaTrappe Quadruple 10%.

The frites were excellent, especially Belgian served with a couple of different dipping sauces, as well as mayo. Our server was friendly and very knowledgeable, making great recommendations and telling us about other geat beer bars in the downtown area.
I also immensely enjoyed a big chalice of Russian River Sanctification (a Bretted golden ale), quite an exceptional brew, dry and funky, aromatic, hints of sweetness, ambrosia in a glass.

Next we shuttled back towards our hotel and headed to the Great Divide Brewery. It has a busy taproom pouring 16 different beers made on premises. And the premises are big, for beer making that is. It was standing room only as we arrived, happy hour just winding down, but we did manage to find a couple of stools overlooking the brewery itself. Raj tells me they used to serve great steaks at one time, but the brewery has expanded to swallow up that space. Instead, patrons are encourage to buy pizza from the mobile pizza van parked out on the street. There is also a small patio on the street.
 Raj ordered us up a Yeti Imperial Espresso Stout that was to die for. Delicious chocolatey/coffee aroma, it bursts upon your taste buds suggesting a mocha ice cream float in a giant shot of strong espresso! Amazingly full bodied, well balanced with roasted malt notes, chocolate cake finish. We also enjoyed their famous Denver Pale Ale and a nice and hoppy Titan IPA. Will have to come back for more. Passing on pizza, we decided to find something more substantial.

So, we ended the night at Freshcraft, a lovely casual little beer bar/resto on Blake Street, a block off the main 16th Street strip. I went for the fish tacos, well Raj supped on a fine stew, the food was very good in this narrow, but deep diner.  I ordered an Oskar Blues G’night Imperial Red Ale 8.7%, a big, bossy brew, with malty highlights and a smooth finish. It went well with my late dinner and seemed an appropriate night cap. Raj went for the Left Hand Milk Stout 5.3%, rich and delicious, with a delicate sweetness.

We, of course, barely scratched the surface of the Denver beer scene. I was especially disappointed we lost track of time and didn't make it to the Falling Rock Taphouse, just a few blocks the other way up Blake Street, boasting 75 beers on tap and over 130 different bottles. Next time. It's just so easy to find great places to drink the wonderful beers of Colorado and beyond. Cheers!