Based in Squamish, Howe Sound Brewing is one of BC’s premier craft brewers. It’s astonishing how much beer they manage to brew in their small facility, initially built just to support their brewpub, and they also do a great job of quality control. All of their beers are bottled in their custom-made, one-litre “potstopper” bottles that come with a re-closable snap top. I know many a homebrewer who loves those bottles because of the convenience they represent, but I also like them because one litre is a great size to share in an evening. Heck, I’ll admit I’ve even been known to drink that litre on my own. (Gasp!)
Howe Sound brews some of my favourite BC beers, including the incomparable King Heffy Imperial Hefeweizen and my nominee for best beer name: Total Eclipse of the Hop Imperial IPA (it also tastes great). If you haven’t visited their brewpub/inn, I highly recommend it as an overnight getaway from Vancouver or as a stopover on the way to or from Whistler. They have a great restaurant in addition to their brewpub, and you can work off all that beer you’ll drink in some outdoor activity in the forests, rivers and mountains nearby.
La Brew Ha Ha is a seasonal beer Howe Sound brews for just one month each year to celebrate St. Jean Baptiste on June 25. A Belgian Golden Strong Ale running at 7.7% ABV, this will definitely help loosen your tongue—before you know it, you’ll be speaking French with the best of them. It is available in private liquor stores in the Lower Mainland and Victoria, and on tap at the Alibi Room, St. Augustine’s and the Diamond Room.
Je ne sais quoi. Right after the pour, this beer is very attractive. It is slightly hazy, dark amber in colour, with very small, busy bubbles generating a creamy, white head. However, that foam disappears very quickly and doesn’t return even after some serious swirling. And as I drink the glass down, it doesn’t leave any lace on the sides. Just to be sure, I try a different glass the second time (easy with a 1-litre bottle!) in case the first one was greasy or soapy, but it makes no difference. The style guidelines for Belgian Golden Strong Ale say it should possess a “massive, long-lasting, rocky, often beady, white head resulting in characteristic ‘Belgian lace’ on the glass as it fades,” just as I thought, so this beer is seriously lacking in this aspect.
Oh là là! The first sniff is all spice but after a couple more tries, I start noticing a fruitiness in the background that evolves from peach to apple—not green apple, but rather stewed or dried apples. Combined with the spice it’s a very appetizing scent that really makes my mouth water.
À la vôtre! The spice and fruit aroma is reflected in the taste of this beer, perfectly balanced against a creamy, malty backbone. There is a definite apple taste, as well as pear. After a few sips, I really begin to notice the warmth of the above-average alcohol content, even though it doesn’t taste that strong (which could be dangerous at 7.7% ABV). It’s quite agreeable: evocative of mulled apple cider. There is also a peppery finish that encourages more sipping. Whatever the “unique Belgian yeast” they’re using is, it produces some great flavour attributes in this beer.
Ah bon? After an initial stinging crispness the beer feels very creamy thanks to the tiny, champagne-like bubbles. That is followed by a pleasant alcohol warmth. Unfortunately, the fizziness seems to peter out rather quickly (probably the same issue as the head retention problems) resulting in a somewhat flat beer with a bit of an oily/greasy feeling. Not great when there’s a whole litre to drink.
Eh bien. This strong Belgian golden ale begins with great promise, but unfortunately fades as it sits in the glass. I don’t know enough about brewing to say what the problem is, but I have had many other strong and fizzy Belgian beers that stayed thick and well-carbonated all the way through to the last sip. Shared out in small glasses to a big group of people, c’est merveilleux, but if you plan on enjoying this big litre jug by yourself or with just une autre, then you may be a little disappointed.
Total Score: 18/25