October is Craft Beer Month in British Columbia.
The province will be buzzing with beer related events and activities, including the release of limited edition, multibrewery collaboration beers, and the issuing of awards for the province's best brews.
Craft Beer Month takes place at the same time as the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival, now in its 33rd year of operation.
The simultaneous unfolding of these two events is, for me, symbolic of an emerging tension in my own life: the reluctant transition from die-hard wine guy to open-minded beer guy. You see, for many years, as a restaurant manager and sommelier I shamelessly vaunted and romanticized the properties of wine. Wine is one of humankind's oldest beverages, after all. It is produced on every continent where grapes can grow and has been an integral companion to the greatest celebrations and defeats of our species. It is notorious for its contributions to both privation and excess, and in myth and legend it has bridged the vast divide between humans and the gods. You see? There I go again.
But for a couple of years now, it seems, everywhere I go I encounter B.C. craft beer. These beers come from small breweries that span the province. The products are often given quirky names to reflect the character of both the beer and the beer makers; names like Quick Wit Wheat Ale, Pothole Filler Imperial Stout, or Devil's Dream IPA. Each beer has its own unique character and B.C.'s brewers seem particularly adept at resurrecting mothballed beer styles and practices, finding new audiences for oncepopular varieties. I have tried many of these beers and have been undeniably impressed with their craftsmanship and complexity.
The slowly retreating wine snob in me was dealt a critical blow one recent Friday evening when I visited Bridge Brewing Company, B.C.'s only nano-brewery, located in an industrial park on Dollarton Highway. It was there that I sampled the brewery's small lineup of limited production craft beers with Bridge's assistant brewer, Rachel Riggs.
Riggs spoke passionately about Bridge beers, revealing a goal that seems to be shared by much of the craft beer industry: to show consumers the quality and artisanal care that goes into small batch brewing and wean them off the massproduced beers that have dominated the market for decades. Listening to her speak of malting styles and IBUs (the measure of bitterness in a beer) the poetic vernacular of the wine world seemed to me somehow mawkish and stuffy.
A tasting at Bridge is a fascinating experience. You feel like you're at the forefront of something that is about to go big, sort of like knowing that geeky musician in high school who turns out to be a rock star. The brewery draws a steady flow of beer enthusiasts to its small tasting bar where products are available for sampling, including limited release seasonal offerings and an exceptionally limited production beer that is revealed every Friday. On my visit, the Friday beer was a cask-style ale made with bourbon-soaked oak chips that imparted complex toast and caramel flavours. I also sampled a crisp and clean pale ale, and a Cascadian dark ale, a pleasingly hoppy and malty beer the colour of stout. Beers are available for purchase in 650-millilitre bomber bottles or 1.89-litre growlers.
Almost across the road from Bridge is Deep Cove Brewers, a brand new addition to the North Shore's craft beer scene. Deep Cove Brewers seems like the rich cousin to Bridge's humble garage operation, featuring a sleek and spacious tasting room with glass and stainless steel tables, a wall of wooden casks, and distillery relics like a polished copper still.
For all of its flare, however, at the core of Deep Cove Brewers is some very good beer. On the menu when I visited were four house-made craft beers: a tea saison (a traditional farmhouse beer infused with green and rooibos teas), a Belgian wheat ale flavoured with orange peel and coriander, a pale ale, and a pre-prohibition era style lager. These beers were presented as part of a $6 tasting board that featured four-ounce pours of each beer served in small taster glasses lining a wooden board. This offering is a great way to sample the brewery's creations and, at 16 ounces, represents really good value. I'd highly recommend the Deep Cove Brewers' tasting board as an entry point into the world of craft beer for anyone not acquainted with it. Maybe it was the beer muddling my wineleaning brain, but I finished my brewery visits feeling genuinely proud that these companies are located right here on the North Shore.
And until someone plants a vineyard of pinot noir in, say, Lynn Valley, I'll be sure to include Bridge Brewery and Deep Cove Brewers among my favourite destinations for a weekend tipple.
Red Truck Beer, another North Shore craft brewery, is in the process of building a new facility in Vancouver, expected to open in 2014. For now, however, the brewery operates from the old Taylor's Crossing site on Marine Drive. While Red Truck does not host an on-premise tasting room, their beer is offered on tap in more than 100 venues throughout Vancouver. Bridge Brewery: 115-2433 Dollarton Highway. Deep Cove Brewers: 170-2270 Dollarton Highway.
Chris Dagenais served as a manager for several restaurants downtown and on the North Shore. A self-described wine fanatic, he earned his sommelier diploma in 2001. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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