Coming from the deadline-driven world of daily journalism, I’ve often rolled my eyes when I read a blog post that begins with an apology from the writer for being away so long.
Well, karma has come for me: my annual list of personal favourites from the Okanagan Fest of Ale in Penticton is long overdue — thanks mainly to a wicked flu that knocked me out for a week and kept my palate out of action a bit longer due to a lingering cold that followed. (The usual mix of work and life commitments came after that, but no sense boring you with the details.)
As in past years, this is a list of B.C. beauties that made an impression on me during a weekend of sampling at the Fest of Ale, both as one of the nine competition judges and as someone who wandered the festival floor. Consequently, there’s a mix of official winners and well-made beers I simply enjoyed. Here is the list of B.C. beers to look for when you’re there, as well as a couple that are available here in Alberta.
Until Brauerei Fahr set up in these parts last year, this offering was the gold standard of Canadian-made hefes for me. Some of the world’s best come to Alberta from Germany (thinking particularly of Weihenstephaner) — but they’re often not fresh.
When you get a hefeweizen that’s solid and fresh, it’s a wonderful thing. This is Hefeweizen delivers on all these counts: it’s popping with spicy cloves, fruity banana esters and a light grainy finish. The mouthfeel is bang-on; round and satisfying.
Moon Under Water is focused on putting its stamp on traditional European styles — but This is Hefeweizen is a straightforward interpretation that checks all the boxes. This brewery/brewpub is definitely worth a visit among the many that merit consideration in Victoria.
Like hefeweizen, this has been an under-represented style in Alberta. I’m going to break ranks with the local-is-always-best zealots — again — and say that the few that are brewed in Alberta (Calgary’s Village Wit and The White Wit from Something Brewing in Red Deer), while not flawed, don’t inspire me either.
If I’m reaching for a witbier, it’s usually the incomparable — but expensive — St. Bernardus Wit from Belgium or Blanche de Chambly from Unibroue in Quebec (Yes, yes, it’s now owned by Sapporo. I know. And Blanche de Chambly is still a decent wit.)
So I was happy to encounter Jongleur Wit from Vancouver’s Strange Fellows Brewing. Of the elements you expect in a wit, the coriander spiciness registers high compared to the orange-citrus component, but it’s still pleasant and the beer is definitely tasty and to style. It’s a bit geeky, but I was probably most impressed by the mouthfeel: a lot of not-so-good wits are a bit soapy and thin: Jongleur has a nice round mouthfeel.
Strange Fellows beers are available mainly in the Lower Mainland, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised to come across them in Revelstoke and it looks like they’re available in a few other Interior towns, like Nelson.
Unfiltered New England-style IPAs have arrived on the West Coast and a lot of breweries are nailing the style with offerings that are loaded with hops — but not with bitterness.
Street Legal is bursting with orange and citrus traits that come from copious amounts of Falconers Flight and Simcoe hops added during maturation. Dry-hopping, as the many know, bumps up flavour and aroma without imparting the same level of bitterness that comes from adding hops during the boil.
To some purists, there’s a heretical quality to New England-style IPAs, but there’s no denying they’ve opened up IPAs to people who were turned off the style as breweries engaged in an arms race to create ever more bitter ones.
Street Legal is the first full-time IPA made by Twin Sails, which so far hasn’t made its way to Alberta. Just about everything I’ve sampled from Twin Sails has been outstanding, so here’s hoping they do.
This is another New England IPA (apologies to faithful Daily Beer reader Papa Bambam, who’s not a a fan of the style.
Part of the reason I picked Hop Chowdah is that it’s available in Alberta — but that’s hardly the only reason it’s worth mentioning. It’s bursting with pineapple and mango flavour and low bitterness that makes it eminently drinkable in a way more traditional IPAs aren’t.
Many New England-style IPAs are also made with oats, which give them a silky mouthfeel. So if you’re already adulterating IPAs with adjuncts, what’s one more, right? Hop Chowdah uses wheat malt, which, to me, brightens and softens the finish in addtition to what the tropical and citric hops are doing.
Cannery’s beers have been available in Calgary for several years and the brewery has been getting more ambitious — and better — in recent years. The taproom in Penticton is worth a visit, with a bright, sunny patio in the summer.
Confession: I was part of a subcommittee of three judges assigned to do the Dark Lager category and I wasn’t excited about it. I appreciate many traditional European styles, but I find not a lot breweries do dark lagers justice — you get a lot of one-dimensional roasty, bitter concoctions and not much subtlety.
I can’t speak for all nine competition judges, but for me, Steel & Oak’s Dark Lager was the surprise of the show and one of the most technically well-made beers I had all weekend.
The dark malts give this beer the requisite coffee roast, but it’s not acrid: there’s a nice semi-sweet chocolate note there, too. And it finishes clean and smooth, like a lager should.