Warning! I am about do some serious name-dropping. I apologize if this offends anyone’s sensibilities but I have my reasons.
Yesterday, brewers from across Canada—from Tofino to Halifax and up to Whitehorse—converged on Victoria for the Canadian Brewing Awards, which are being held here this weekend. There will be a series of seminars and events today and tomorrow culminating in the awards reception on Saturday night. Last night, I attended the welcome reception at the Vancouver Island Brewery and the Central City Tap Takeover at the Moon Under Water brewpub.
Here’s where the name-dropping comes in. I chatted with Central City’s brewmaster, Gary Lohin, who was co-hosting the event with the Moon’s owner/brewer, Clay Potter, about the delicious Mosaic-hopped cask of Red Racer IPA he’d brought with him from Surrey (so good). In line at the bar, I bumped into Vern Lambourne, the brewmaster at Granville Island Brewing. At my table, I was sitting with Franco Corno from Howe Sound Brewing, and on another foray to the bar, I stopped to talk to Kevin Hearsum from Driftwood Brewery.
What draws all these names together in my mind—apart from the fact that they are all great B.C. craft brewers—is that they each brew excellent Imperial IPAs. If done well, it’s a style I love because of the balance between the higher-gravity malt body and the bushels of fragrant hops that seem to be stuffed into each glass. Central City’s Imperial IPA, Granville Island’s Imperial IPA, Howe Sound Total Eclipse of the Hop and Driftwood’s Twenty Pounder Double IPA (which kicked butt this year after a shakier version came out a couple years ago) are all great examples of the style done to perfection.
And now there is another great Imperial IPA to add to that list—a new release from a brewery with a long history in B.C., and a brewer, Mike Kelly, who has been in the game for as long as any of those other guys I just mentioned. And the Full Nelson Imperial Ale (which might just challenge Total Eclipse of the Hop in the Best Name category) stands slightly apart from those others because of its unique hop profile.
Full Nelson Imperial IPA
8.2% ABV | 650 mL
Availability: Throughout B.C.
8.2% ABV / 650 ml
Full Nelson features a special type of southern hemisphere hops called, coincidentally, Nelson Sauvin. They are so-named because of the prominent Sauvignon grape-like character they feature. (See this review of Elysian Idiot Sauvin for more background.) Used alongside Citra, one of the big, citrusy West Coast hops that you often find in IPAs, the result is a mouth-watering, tastebud-tantalizing aroma that flashed me back to childhood trips to the candy store: specifically the one with a candy stick that you dipped into pouches of powder (Fun Dips? Lik-A-Stix?).
That grape candy sweetness doesn’t show up in the flavour, which is a good thing, but there is a delicious grape tinge to the tropical grapefruit flavours of the Citra hops, which stand out prominently against some noticeable background bitterness. All of those big hop flavours are stacked on top of a solid foundation of malts. The beer is copper-coloured and creamy, with great lacing as you drink through the glass. And those hop aromas never dissipate—they were there right through to the final sip and I could still taste the grape flavour on my lips long after I finished the bomber.
Brewer Mike Kelly told me he uses three separate dry hop additions to achieve the big aromas in this beer. And the fact that he is doing it with all-organic hops—all of Nelson’s beers have been organic since 2006—is impressive since many brewers refuse to use organic hops because they feel they just don’t meet the high standards required by top-of-the-line West Coast IPAs. All I can say is this is proof positive that it is possible.
Rating (out of 5 mugs):