Sour coffee to start the day!

Spontankoppi!

Spontankoppi!

So you know when you go to a beer festival and get a little inebriated and buy a t-shirt? Yeah I ended up leaving the Copenhagen Beer Celebration with a t-shirt of a beer I hadn’t actually ever tried, Spontankoppi, based on the fact that the picture was pretty cute and the assumption that I could buy a bottle at the Mikkeller bottle shop. Unfortunately I hadn’t actually figured out that the hundreds of other beer freaks from around the world who had come for the festival would also be looking to pick up a bottle or two to take home so the shop was pretty much ransacked by the time I got there and all the Spontankoppi had gone. Thankfully, I managed to pick some up back in the UK at my lovely local beer emporium, Bitter Virtue.

The Spontan series is Mikkeller’s series of lambics which are ‘spontaneously fermented’ using wild yeast and includes lychee, blueberry and strawberry variations. Fruit lambics…so far so good but coffee!? Doesn’t coffee traditionally go into stouts and porters? Not any more! As far as I am aware, this is the only coffee lambic in existence but let me know if you hear otherwise. As regular readers may have noticed, I prefer to enjoy my coffee beers on weekend train journeys as a little kick-start to the day. Unfortunately, since I hadn’t brought a glass, I swigged this one straight from the bottle (poor form I know) which meant I couldn’t really get a good whiff at the aroma so I was completely unprepared for the flavor! Having tried several from this series, I should have known what to expect but the shocking sourness hits me every time and I end up contorting my face like a lunatic with the first sip. To be fair I was drinking just before 11am so maybe I was still waking up. Getting past the extreme geuze-like super-sour hit at the front, the coffee tasted fresh and green – my first thought was that unroasted beans had been used but apparently the beans were roasted but unwashed when they went in. The bright but bitter super-carbonated-ness really brought out the acidity of the coffee in a unique way and the dry slightly sour-grape finish reminded me of a lively champagne. I’m pretty confident that this is my favorite of the Spontan series so far – a superbly refreshing way to take your morning coffee!

 

What was your Alibi tonight?

Spoilt for choice!

As you can probably tell by now, Vancouver is pretty spoilt for choice when it comes to beer and also cool places to drink. The Alibi Room was one of the bars I would say belongs on everybody’s ‘must do’ list if they are planning a trip. The bar is adorned with 50, yes 50, taps of local and imported beer! It’s so pretty – the taps aren’t the generic uniform taps we are used to in the UK with a pump-clip on the front. Each brewery seems to have its own tap handle design and some even have a special handle for individual beers.They’re like quirky little works of art! Thankfully, the bar made it easy to try many beers at once by offering ‘flights’ which are four small glasses slotted into a wooden paddle.

The first one that jumped out from the menu was the Storm Imperial Sour Flanders Red (11%ABV) since the sour cherry we had tried at the BC Beer Awards was so impressive. It was such a lovely dark, cloudy ruby orange but the aroma was almost like cider vinegar and the taste… jeeez I felt like my face would implode every time I

Soouuurrrr!!!

took a sip. I really am trying to learn to love sour and the OH said I should toughen up if I want to come to Brussels with him to try the ones there. It really was just sour, sour sour, braying and snarling right on the edge of the vinegar abyss.

After that little shocker, it was definitely a good time to go for the girliest-looking beer on the flight. The Unibroue Ephemere (5.5%ABV) Belgian ale with apple intrigued me because it’s apple, but it’s beer and not cider. It actually looked like cider with the same cloudy yellow which was sightly confusing. The aroma was more like candy and it tasted like candy too, but so fresh there was almost a touch of minty candy cane to start followed by gorgeously dry apple. It was almost alco-pop sweet but refreshingly well-done. I had been wondering about using  apple in beer only a few days before but it would seem these Canadians got there before me!

Where will your flight take you?

The OH’s rather awesome parents had actually recommended the next beer which had impressed his mother on a previous trip to Canada. North Coast Old Rasputin Nitro Pour Imperial Stout (9%ABV).was a proper Irish style stout with a really big, tight, light tan head .It was so satisfyingly thick with real dark roasted malt aroma and flavour and a creamy lingering bitter cacao. A real rainy-day winter warmer of a stout.

The final beer I picked for my flight was the JJ Bean Imperial Espresso Stout (7%ABV) by Conrad Gmoser (of Steamworks) which used coffee from a much-loved local chain. The gorgeous colour was black coffee but I was slightly suspicious since it appeared so thin and there was no head. However, even though there wasn’t the big mouth-feel of a lot of coffee stouts, the coffee aroma was knock-your-head-off strong and it tasted crisp enough to crunch. Clean, pure coffee bean with the tiniest touch of vanilla.

Four down, only another 46 more on the bar to try… Lucky for me I was able to share with the long-suffering boyfriend and there was always time for another visit…

And the winner is…

Armed with tasting notes, I get stuck in!

It was just my luck that the third annual British Columbia Beer Awards & The CAMRA Harvest Cask Festival happened to fall on Saturday October 18th my first full day in Vancouver. We were quick enough to purchase a pair of the much sought-after tickets over the marvellous internet (what did we do before it!). Prior to this I had no idea that CAMRA had distant, younger, trendier cousins in such far-flung and exotic locations as British Columbia. Chapel Arts was the venue for this illustrious shindig which had the atmosphere of a lively but very friendly house party. Walking in, we were greeted with the usual beer list, commemorative glass and starter tokens (plus bonus tokens for our food donations for the harvest festival!). However, there wasn’t the usual line-up of pint or half. These glasses were teeny 4oz tasting glasses which were ideal for sampling all the beer one could hope to try without hitting the floor too early. I’ve always been fond of the ‘tiny glass = more beers’ approach to festivals and I was glad that throughout our stay we discovered this was a common feature in craft beer pubs across Vancouver.

The chill-out-and-eat-pulled-pork room

The crowd was a far cry from the stereotypical beer festival crowd one is probably all too familiar with. These were young, fashionable people all interested in beer, discussing home-brew and their favourite pubs in excited tones. It’s the very first beer festival I’ve been to which made me feel slightly old! Rather than the familiar setup of casks all racked together, the BC folk set up a table for each brewery and it was fun to meet some of the brewers who were happy to chat about their creations to anybody who came along. As a young woman who is often patronised at CAMRA festivals (GBBF being one of the worst sadly), it was nice to not have to negotiate with narrow-minded old men to try the beer I like and it was encouraging to see female brewers at some of the stands. In fact, the brewers were really the stars of the show and were recognised in the awards and their names appeared alongside their beers in the tasting notes. No attempt was made to separate cask and keg either – refreshingly both were listed and shown together.  CAMRA had the usual recruitment table and as a special treat for their members they had an exclusive ale for card-carrying members only. Thankfully, they were kind enough to accept my UK CAMRA card so I was allowed to sample a glass of Driftwood’s crisp and refreshing Sartori Harvest IPA and I also managed to blag a sticker and a pin badge for being such a dedicated CAMRA member.

The coveted awards

The awards ceremony was the highlight of the day. Beer-loving star of film and television, Jonathan Lloyd Walker who I believe is best known for his role in sci-fi show Continuum but has also appeared in the film Red and the Flash Gordon TV series amongst others, was a very charming and funny host. A beer awards bash is probably the best event to get in to at the start of a trip to an unfamiliar country. Although I recognised a few of the names from a previous trip to Vancouver, it was a great way to find out about the beers and breweries to watch out for. The judges came from a host of backgrounds, from qualified beer judges to sommeliers to ordinary bloggers and foodies and sat down to the gruelling task of tasting prior to the awards. The sleek tap handle trophies were awarded to the top three beers in 12 distinct categories in addition to the Homebrew award and ‘Best in Show’ which, to my surprise, went to a Pilsner from Steamworks. Of course Steamworks do make fabulous beers. You can see a full list of the winners here.

So what did Bierebelle spend her precious beer tokens on?

Big Ridge Brewing – Tariq’s ESB (5.9%ABV) by Tariq Kahn

Lovely clear amber red with more of an IPA than ESB character. Pink grapefruit citrus thirst-quencher with lots of carbonation. Part of the MJG family of brew pubs along with Flying Beaver, Whistler Brewhouse and Yaletown. Normally only brew for consumption on-premises so nice to see them at a festival!

Dead Frog Brewing – Hop Forward IPA (7%ABV) by Timmy Brown

Big bitter hop assault. The lemon sharpness takes a hold on the taste buds and doesn’t let go through the warmingly alcoholic bitter finish.

Driftwood Brewing – Sartori Harvest IPA (7%ABV) by Jason Meyers

CAMRA Exclusive! Very overtly hopped with a lot of citrus in the aroma. Refreshing, crisp and clean lemony liveliness.

Howe Sound Brewing – Imperial Pumpkin Stout (6.5%ABV) by Franco Corno

Heavy burnt treacle on the nose with almost a hint of tobacco. Really thick mouthfeel with pumpkin pie spices, burnt sugar and rounded out with earthy cacao nibs.

Lighthouse Brewing Company – Belgian Quice IPA (8%ABV) by Dean Mcleod

All I knew about quinces before is that posh TV chefs like to put them in jelly but it turns out over in British Columbia they have an even more totally righteous use for them! This easily won the People’s Choice award of the festival. A sharp candy aroma intensified by a fistful of hops, this pale and cloudy wonder had a remarkable combination of cranberry and rhubarb yumminess with a long bitter finish.

Parallel 49 – Chocolate Pumpkin Porter (6.5%ABV) by Graham With

Interestingly slightly sharp dark malt aroma. Very dark opaque brown with quite a bit of carbonation. Really bitter dark chocolate and a little touch of the vegetable,.

R&B Brewing – Cucumber Mint IPA (6.5%ABV) by Todd Graham

Imagine Thornbridge Wye, but add a trace of subtle mint and a more sturdy, robust citrus hoppiness. It’s a very cloudy yellow amber which is almost like a saison in appearance. The initial feeling is a big juicy bite of beery cucumber with a tingly mintiness at the end, exaggerated if you stick your tongue out (which was pretty fun). This was probably second only to the Quince IPA in my view.

R&B Brewing – Seasonal Squash Ale (5%ABV) by Todd Graham

Another cloudy one but a beautiful dark tan colour. I found this one rather zingy for a squash ale and not much spice was evident but there was still a lovely earthiness imparted by the squash. Interestingly it also shared characteristics with a cream ale.

Steamworks – Espresso Stout (9%ABV) by Tak Guenette

Mmmm… a real espresso stout with bitter coffee and a lactose sweetness at the end, although interestingly the OH was not too fond of the high acidity in the flavour. I thought it reminded me a lot of Titanic or Dark Star.

Storm Brewing – Imperial Sour Cherry Stout (11%ABV) by James Walton

I loved Storm and especially this one – they excel at pushing sour beyond the brink. James is pretty much the rock star of the BC brewing scene with crazy bleached spikes and awesome punky style. The aroma on this one was almost eye-wateringly sour cherry and citrus and the flavour was unbelievably sharp with a candy aftertaste that leaves your mouth feeling like you’ve been eating sour laces.

Townsite Brewing – Porter (5.5%ABV) by Cedric Dauchot

Wow this took me back to Ireland! Very carbonated with a massive head and properly bitter.

Tree Brewing – Jumping Jack Pumpkin Ale (6.4%ABV) – Stephan Buhl

This very dark golden amber ale was initially slightly disappointing with not much aroma but it was definitely a grower. More heavily hopped than others of this style, initially there was not much spice but this developed further down the glass and complimented the delicate pumpkin flavours.

The beautiful beer-loving crowd

Somebody had to…

Conrad Gmoser of Steamworks

Every beer festival needs pulled pork sandwiches