The tipping point

Upon arrival in Victoria, we needed a beer. All that time on the ferry staring at nature and having the sun shine down-I’m sure you can imagine how necessary a beer was at this point. Fortunately, the Swans Hotel was just down the street, serving Buckerfield‘s ales. From my limited time there, it seemed as though the brewery was attached to the hotel itself, which makes me think that the next time I visit Victoria, I should just stay there.

I might never leave, which has its own pluses and minuses. Sure, I’d miss the glory that is Victoria, but I’d get to become a brief fixture at a great pub, sipping gently on well crafted beers all day.

Note to self: do this someday.

I started off with the Arctic Ale, which was the seasonal; it was crisp, light and with a fruit essence to it–my notes suggest cherry.  Finally, some yeast experimentation! Sure the malts had the overriding flavors, with a biscuity taste that didn’t stay around long enough to be welcomed, but I knew that I was on the right track.

Next, I had their IPA, which was a different animal; there was a definite floral push, and I’d go so far as to say even a rosy  quality to it. There was some actual hop bitterness to the beer, but again it didn’t linger to become unwelcome. This beer felt really balanced and very drinkable.

Next, it was down to the Canoe brewpub for their Beaver Brown ale, which had a dense mouthfeel for a brown. There was a hint of orange to it, before coffee rises up near the end to keep the beer from getting cloying. Delicious! I don’t know why, but my luck at finding interesting brews had definitely turned.

Still learning.

When I met Alastair Hook, he made the point of being willing to give a beer the time it needs to develop. Meantime’s IPA takes months, not weeks, and the effort shows.

I replied: That kind of patience is something I’m just starting to learn.

Or am I?

I woke up this morning to drop the 1056 yeast in the beer. Thermostat read 74 degrees fahrenheit. And a fine layer of foam on the top, while the airlock bubbled away.

Sigh.  Well, I already had the new packet of yeast ready to go (apparently 6 hours in the basement works out to about 3 hours in a room of normal temperatures) so I added it in. Not so bad I suppose but still, I wish I’d given that beer more time to get going. Or maybe just more faith in myself that I’d taken and stored the yeast from the pale correctly in the first place.

Because if anything is true in this instance, it’s that I was not confident in my own ability to follow instructions, which lead to me not wanting to see how things worked out, but to take action. Which is weird, since I’ve been on a pretty good roll lately, making beers that were at the very least, drinkable.

So there are a few lessons to learn here.

Vancouver part two

It was on the third day that I finally wised up. In a dark lunchtime pub, I daringly tried Russell’s Lemon Wheat Ale. I did so not expecting much, but very pleased with the results. This was a wonderful mix of lager malts and lemon tang, that after a day of riding a bike around Stanley Park was perfect.

But where to go next? How am I going to find other pubs with interesting beer selections?

It’s simpler, of course, than I’m making it out to be. Our bartender Billy, with silghtly bulldog cheeks and a salt and pepper grizzle and moustache was happy to tell me where to go next: the Black Frog, Irish Heather, and Malone’s. None of these pubs were brewpubs, but they were havens in a city were I was having trouble finding selections beyond lagers.

It was at the Black Frog I had Big Rock’s Traditional Ale. I had no idea what the heck I was getting when I’d ordered it; I got it because another bartender had suggested it to me, but he couldn’t tell me what the style was. I was treated to a pleasant nut brown ale in a bar that everything from a Melvin’s 45 to a monkey doll riding a T-rex. Also a doll; I doubt I would’ve been able to enjoy a beer with an actual Rex around.

Walking in to the Irish Heather for a moment I felt that the pretension there would drive me out. It felt disturbingly modern, with huge windows in the front, no seats at the bar, quotes from Samuel Becket etched into the glass of the door leading to the bathroom. Fortunately, the waitress was disarmingly charming, and easily set a relaxed tone for the place. I had Tin Whistle’s Killer Bee-which was another honey ale, and wasn’t very distinctive. I selected it because I’d had so many of the beers they offered, but that wasn’t the pub’s fault; I just drink lots. After that, I had Whistler’s Pale Ale, and like so many pales I had, it tasted more like an amber than like a pale. It’s not an easy distinction I know; the line between amber and IPA, but with all the beers I as drinking heading toward the malt sweetness instead of the bitterness of the hops, I was getting a bit worn out.

This was also my problem with Steamworks‘ IPA; it tasted like a decent pale ale, but couldn’t be called an IPA except by stretching. The hop bitterness just wasn’t present, not in the nose, nor flavor. I know I’m from a part of the country that really, really likes their hops, but I can still appreciate an IPA that’s in style. Now if they’d just make one….

Vancouver, BC and the quest for beer

With local brewing making a comeback in the US, (even if it’s just for another lager) I wasn’t sure if similar things would be happening up North. From my childhood I remembered my Dad going on ‘Moosehead trips’ with his buddies. These were basically excursions to Canada to go camping and drink in a time honored tradition going as far back as I can remember. The beer was better there, or so I’d been told, so why not go enjoy some sometime?

To my surprise, I had difficulty finding the range and quality of beers in Vancouver that I have found in Seattle or Portland. I realize that it may be a bit of a fallacy to presume that things would be the same, but for some reason I’d gotten it in my head that Vancouver would be a bit like Portland and because of the broader cultural range and numbers of people this would mean a great variety of beer, and moreover, that it would be easy to find.

But for the first couple days, what I saw were lagers and pilsners, frequently honey lagers or ales, and the abomination of a beer that Alexander Keith’s called an IPA. I swear, I thought that the wrong beer had been served when I first saw it; yellow of hue and crystal clear, it had to be the wrong beer, right? And then I drank it; tasted like a lager to me. Maybe slightly more piney in the nose, but nothing distinctive. Had to be the wrong beer, because it bears no resemblance to any IPA I’ve had.

But no. We shall speak no more of this.

The limited varitey of beer may have been due to the strong influence of Asian culture in the city.  Stouts and ales generally don’t pair with sushi and duck. Not that they can’t, but generally I find much lighter beers served with Chinese or Japanese food.

It wasn’t until late in the day on the second day of vacation that I saw some variety, and this was at Yaletown, which seemed like the Rock Bottom of Canada. Here I drank an amber ale that was passable and a brown ale that was quite creamy and delicious.

At this point though I was noticing a trend: ever since leaving Seattle, I was getting beers that concentrated on malts. Ambers, scotches, and the smatterings of porters, along with lagers. And way too many honey beers. Yeast and hops were apparently not interesting once you went far enough North.

But would malts be enough to sustain me for eight days?

Foam Scraper

While I write up posts on my trip to Canada, I have some filler from my trip to Seattle…

I’m sitting in the Pike Street alehouse, waiting for a server to quit looking at the trouncing UW is getting from U of O and notice me, thinking about the decades that have seen people like me coming to Pike street in various conditions and looking for who knows what to fill their dreams. But since I’m by myself I begin to relish my own memories of times spent in this neighborhood. Of course, the previous dreamers didn’t have access to the ales of Pike Ale, and even when they did, they had to put up with things like this:

As someone who has destroyed my fair share of foam on beers (using my pinky finger) I almost understand what’s going on here.

Almost. See; I was ruining my beer to get more beer in there. They were just ruining beer.

Makes me glad to live in more civilized times.

Boundary Bay Brewing

As I head North, things gently seem to shift. My last US beer stop is the Boundary Bay Brewing pub in Bellingham, which seems to be a refurbished warehouse, now brewpub. It’s got that mishmash of style made from scarred floors, refabricated walls leading to awkward bathroom hallways and a balcony which most certainly housed a dour, sweaty forman once, that says: I’m an old building that has seen some years. Please relax and enjoy me.

So I got a scotch ale and my girlfriend the sampler, which I steal sips from. There are photos, but I am unable to upload them now…perhaps there will be a big picture post in the near future. We agree on the ESB and the Oatmeal Stout is a standout for me, while she enjoys the IPA, which I thought was too bitter. The scotch ale I have is very tasty, and goes well with my lamb burger and chips-though I order a pilsner to finish off the meal. But what I notice is that there is a lot of malt here; perhaps milder beers chosen to pair with their grub? I do not know.

Canada awaits!