By HAYDON DEWES
When you’re a brewery located at the heart of one of Canada’s true national treasures, you want to celebrate the sesquicentennial in style. Even if that style hasn’t been seen for 50 years.
Jasper Brewing Company, a small microbrewery nestled in its namesake town in the heart of Jasper National Park (the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies and part of UNESCO’s Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site don’t you know…) is about to launch a truly iconic beer to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.
And it may well be the single-best craft beer version of what people would usually describe as “Canadian beer”.
July 1 sees the launch of the Crisp Pils. It (very) vaguely resembles Canada’s best-selling beer – the American Lager style made “famous” by the big boys like Budweiser, Miller, Molson and Coors and a shipload of other yellow, fizzy mass-produced American lager sold by every big brewery in North America – but actually has a great depth flavour and nuance. It has been given a true craft beer twist with a rich malt character (Superior Pils and Canada Malting’s smooth Copeland pale malt, all from the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, were used) and judicious use of German and Czech hops.
To my tastebuds, it’s closest in style to a German Pilsner, a very crisp, dry lager with robust noble hop bitterness (this one weighs in at 34 IBU). But there is a nice twist waiting for you…
While the spiciness of the Czech Saaz hops are apparent, the real star is the Hallertau Blanc hops that harmonize with the Saaz hops to add a tropical white wine fruitiness, akin to a good new world Riesling. It’s subtle; enough to stamp a North American-like hoppy mark on this German classic without taking away from the classical style that has graced beer beers around the globe for hundreds of years.
The beer was born in Jasper, and everything about the branding, from the advertisements to the can design and merchandise is aligned. The packaging is a kick up the 60s and 70s, with splashes of yellow and brown. It is an homage to classic summer National Park ads and signage from the era that promised short shorts, faded sun and honest good times in the world’s most beautiful surroundings. If you have ever hiked in National Parks and have seen signs indicating a trail or a campground, this branding will make you feel all the warm feels.
While it was born in Jasper, it has been adopted by parent company Bear Hill Brewing other breweries – Wood Buffalo in Fort McMurray, Banff Ave in Banff and Last Best in Calgary – as their own. And Calgary’s own Big Rock Brewery played a huge part too; Bear Hill’s four breweries are only set up to brew small batches of beer. Big Rock’s gargantuan brewhouse and fermenters were utilized in order to make enough of the beer to put in cans and spread all around the province.
On to the beer. It pours a brilliantly clear gold, with a loose white head that slowly drops away. If you sniff it straight away after pouring, you get a hint of sulphur from the Bohemian lager yeast which quickly blows off (excuse the pun). That’s normal with this type of yeast – don’t get a fright.
Other big hits to the nose include lightly toasted, cracker-like graininess, and a grassy and spicy hop aroma. As described earlier, the light fruitiness coming through from the Hallertau Blanc follows up the initial hops. It has a medium to full mouthfeel, with a really smooth finish with not a hint of astringency. That assertive bitterness builds as you take sip after sip, and finishes with a good level of when-you-belch-you-can-taste-hops tanginess. This is a really well-balanced German-style pilsner. It is bitter – but also has some incredible malty complexity.
If it sells well – and with branding and flavour like that, I think it will – this beer will be on the market for the entire year. That’s quite the birthday present for Canada.
It’ll go amazingly with some stronger summer salads – throw some goat cheese and bacon at this, and its crispness and bitterness will cut right through and let the grainy malt shine. Go give ‘er!