October is BC Craft Beer Month
For the second year running, October has been designated as Craft Beer Month in BC. It’s a little different from Vancouver Craft Beer Week, which takes place every May, as there are no official craft beer month events, except perhaps for the BC Beer Awards, which were announced in conjunction with the CAMRA Vancouver Harvest Cask Festival last Saturday. Rather, individual restaurants, bars, brewpubs, beer distributors, etc. host their own events. The website is well constructed, with a map of the province and an event search engine that you can narrow down to your specifications. There are events occurring all around the province, so do check it out to see if there is something close to where you live.
Harrison Beer Festival
One of the biggest events taking place this month is the first annual Harrison Beer Festival, which is scheduled for October 26 and 27 in Harrison Hot Springs. It’s a great opportunity for a craft beer getaway from Vancouver, Victoria, or elsewhere in the province. Several local hotels are offering weekend packages in conjunction with the beer festival. I’m planning on checking out the Friday night event, which is a cask night featuring casks from Parallel 49 Brewing and Mission Springs brewpub. British pub-style food will be served, including Irish stew, Cornish pasties, beer-battered cod, and bangers and mash. Tickets for Friday night are $15 and include a tasting mug and two beer tokens. Additional tokens are $1.25 (a full glass of beer costs four tokens or $5).
On Saturday, the main event takes place: a beer festival from 1:00pm to 6:00pm featuring 15 BC microbreweries. The ticket price of $20 includes a beer mug and two tasting tokens with extra tokens sold for $1.25. Festival goers will be able to vote on their favourite beer. Saturday night is an Oktoberfest dance with traditional music by the Black Forest Boys and a prize for best costume (lederhosen or otherwise as it is close to Hallowe’en). Tickets for the dance, which starts at 8:30 pm, cost $25 and include one beer token. Or you can pay $50 for all three events and save $10 off the individual prices.
BC Beer Awards
The BC Beer Awards (full list here) offered up some interesting stories on the province’s burgeoning craft beer industry. The biggest one, right up front, has to be the fact that the winner of the Best Beer award went to Steamworks Brewpub’s outgoing brewmaster Conrad Gmoser for his Pilsner for the second year in a row (Gmoser is leaving Steamworks to open the BrassNeck Brewery with the Alibi Room’s Nigel Springthorpe). Last year, I participated in the judging, and I remember how it came down to Steamworks’ Pilsner versus a beer at the absolute opposite end of the spectrum. All the judges agreed that these beers were both fundamentally about as perfect within their styles as they could get, but in the end we formed a consensus that Conrad’s Pilsner was just a touch more impressive, partially because it is such an underrated and underappreciated style. It felt exhilarating to pick a Pilsner as the best beer in a market dominated by west coast IPAs, but it should also be noted that last year a Best Not in Show award was also given to Central City’s Imperial IPA because that beer was accidentally not included in the judging. It’s possible that we may have picked that beer to win if it had been available on judging.
The fact that this year’s panel of judges (which I was not part of since I couldn’t make it over from Victoria for the judging weekend) once again selected Conrad’s Pilsner is remarkable—especially considering that Gary Lohin’s Imperial IPA didn’t win in the IPA category and Driftwood’s Singularity bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stout placed third in the stout category. Those results make it very clear that the judging was indeed blind since these are beers that are generally regarded as the best in BC by most beer geeks (me included).
Since IPAs are the flagship brand of the craft beer movement, at least on the west coast, many consider that category to be the most important, at least symbolically, so seeing the (Whistler) BrewHouse’s 5 Rings IPA win over Central City’s two powerhouses—the Imperial IPA and the Red Racer IPA—was shocking, even more so considering Driftwood’s Fat Tug IPA didn’t even place in the category. Most hopheads I know point to Fat Tug as their top pick, and personally I see Fat Tug and Red Racer as 1A and 1B in no particular order. I have tasted and really enjoyed the 5 Rings IPA, which is only available in Whistler, and I will give brewer Derrick Franche full props for making a great IPA, but I wouldn’t have included it in my own top three. Personally, I think the beer awards should probably split Imperial/Double IPAs into their own category, since there are certainly enough now brewed in BC to merit consideration. Granville Island, Howe Sound, Phillips, Tree, Tin Whistle, Spinnakers, the Noble Pig and others all brew Imperial IPAs; Nelson will be releasing one early next year; and I’m sure Parallel 49 will, too, once brewmaster Graham With gets his hands on the right hops.
Speaking of categories, considering the huge interest in fresh-hopped and pumpkin beers (see below for more on that), I wonder if the BC Beer Awards could somehow include categories for those styles. Organizers would probably have to push the awards announcement back to the end of October since those styles not usually released before early October (and, in fact, Phillips’ fresh-hopped IPA won’t come out until next week—look for my review here then), but with more than a dozen pumpkin beers and eight or nine fresh-hopped beers out this year, it might be worth considering. Of course, I know the BC Beer Awards organizers want to keep the category list short because there is a tendency for awards to be given out in far too many categories at some of the other major beer awards.
The other great story that came out of this year’s awards announcement is the fact that it represented a real cross-section of BC’s brewers, from Vancouver Island in the west (Vancouver Island Brewery won one category, Lighthouse won two and Phillips won one) all the way out to Mt. Begbie Brewing (Revelstoke) and Fernie Brewing in the west. Even more exciting is how some of the province’s newest breweries fared: Powell River’s Townsite Brewing won in two categories and Coal Harbour Brewing won one. If that’s not an indicator of how healthy our beer scene is, I don’t know what is.
Speaking of awards, take some time to vote online for your favourite breweries in the Northwest Brewing News Readers Choice awards. Last year, Driftwood’s Fat Tug IPA won in the IPA category over some big hitters from south of the border. It would be great to see some more BC beer and breweries on the list this year, especially since it looks like the awards reception will be held in Vancouver in December or January. I will publish more details on that when the date and venue is set.
Autumn Style Explosion
Between pumpkin-infused and fresh-hopped beers, there have been at least 20 separate seasonal releases from BC brewers this fall. And what an assortment of interesting beers. Leading the fresh-hopped pack, of course, was Driftwood’s annual hop-bomb, Sartori Harvest IPA (which I reviewed here), but several other fresh-hopped beers also showcased BC’s exciting hop-growing scene, including: Townsite Brewing’s Time Warp (which has one of the best labels ever), Hoyne Brewing’s Wolf Vine, Granville Island Brewing’s Fresh Hop ESB, Spinnakers’ fresh-hopped Saison (using hops they grew in Sooke) and Salt Spring Island Ales’ Fresh Hopped Whale Tale Ale (using hops they grew on a farm about a mile away from the brewery). It’s interesting that all of those were not IPAs, like Sartori, although Phillips’ fresh-hopped take which comes out next week is one: it’s called Green Reaper IPA. The Moon Under Water released a fresh-hopped IPA in September called Hop Harvest.
Pumpkin-wise, there are actually too many releases out there right now for me to list here, but a couple of local bloggers are doing a good job of reviewing them all (Parting Glass and Contrast Studio). I like pumpkin beer, but I prefer versions that are rich and malty with a complementary roasted pumpkin flavour, rather than lighter beers that, to me, just seem to be overwhelmed by a cloyingly sweet pumpkin pie spiciness. That’s just my preference. My favourites this year are Howe Sound’s Pumpkineater, Parallel 49’s Chocolate Pumpkin Porter, Spinnakers’ Pumpkin Porter, and Tree’s Jumping Jack, but there are still a few I haven’t had the chance to try yet. I find it interesting how different people’s opinions can be when it comes to pumpkin beers—if you read some of those blogs I mention above, they will disagree with me radically about some of the ones I love. But hey, that’s the great thing about beer in BC—there is enough to go around for everyone and we are all entitled to our own opinions.
Until next month, quench your thirst at www.thirstywriter.com. Follow along on twitter @thirstywriter and @craftbeerrevolu.