Although Vancouver Island Brewery is one of BC’s oldest microbreweries—it was the first to open in Victoria back in 1984 and shares its birth year with Granville Island Brewing in Vancouver—it hasn’t exactly been a darling of the booming craft beer scene over the past, well, couple of decades. Their beers have been fine forever, but apart from their Hermannator Ice Bock, an annual winter seasonal, there hasn’t been much of anything in their line-up that would make the average beer geek’s heart flutter. Well, that all just changed with the launch of VIB’s new Brewer’s Batch series of special releases in bombers (650-ml bottles), starting with this brew which features an illustration of a Martin Mars water bomber (based in Port Alberni) on the attractive label. But does the beer inside live up to the hype? And for that matter, what exactly is a White IPA?
There isn’t really a rule for what a White IPA should look like, but this one looked like a Belgian Wit, which seemed about right. While I prefer IPAs to have an orange tone to them, this was very pale yellow in appearance, with a very bubbly, pristine white head of foam that quickly settled down but didn’t disappear after the pour.
The spicy, peppery aroma made me think of a saison first and foremost. Not a bad thing since I love that style of beer. There were also some citrus fruit notes, but it was hard to say if that was from the hops or the yeast/wheat malt combination. One of my favourite aspects of a good IPA is the distinct northwest hop aroma and that wasn’t really evident here.
I’ll admit I was disappointed at first. After my first mouthful, my reaction was “Oh. That’s it?” But it got better as my palate started to figure out what was happening in my mouth. Here’s the evolution: first swallow or two, I couldn’t taste much of anything beyond a sort of bitter zing that didn’t resolve itself into any specific malt or hop flavours. Because the body of the beer is lighter (thanks to the wheat malts used in combination with barley), it lacked the semi-sweet backbone that a good, solid IPA usually offers as a foundation to the hops. However, as I drank through the glass, I noticed more and more nuance within that bitter zing. It became somewhat peppery, and then I found some citrus and tartness in there, too. By the end of my first glass, I was more than ready to refill it with what remained in the tall bottle. However, I can’t give it a high score here because by that time, I’d pinpointed a flavour style in my mind, and it wasn’t anything in the IPA vein. Instead, it tasted very specifically like Moinette Blonde from Dupont, which isn’t exactly a saison but does have some similar characteristics. Moinette is one of my favourite beers, so I’m not saying I don’t like this. I just don’t know if it can accurately be described as an IPA of any sort.
There’s a strange dichotomy here: the thin body of the wheat beer didn’t really support the zingy bitterness generated by the yeast and hops. It just didn’t “feel” right, although again, as the bottle emptied, I grew more and more comfortable with it.
It’s tough to be critical of this beer just because it didn’t really live up to expectations on the IPA side of things. I really like it and will buy it again, I’m sure. Maybe if it had been called a West Coast Saison I wouldn’t be so critical of that aspect, but I worry about the hopheads out there seeing IPA on the label and then being disappointed or overly critical. That said, I give Flying Tanker a bonus for being inexpensive ($4.99) and available in the government liquor stores. Too many of the big-bottle specialty brews on the market are priced in the $8-$9 range (which translates into a $25 six-pack! Even this one, which seems cheap, works out to $15 for a typical six-pack). OK, the lesson in beer economics is over now. And I give a big thumbs-up to Vancouver Island Brewery for making this big leap with such an adventurous brew! Now, if only they’d be just as daring and actually call their new Beachcomber Summer Ale a Hefeweizen, of which it is a fine example. Just sayin’ …
Total Score: 18/25