Monday, August 29, 2016

Your Guide to Extreme Beers at the Great Canadian Beer Fest

For BC craft beer drinkers, the Great Canadian Beer Festival is THEE craft beer event of the year. I've been attending for at least a decade—doing a preview post for three years—and every year I look forward to these two days in September when I can immerse myself in the ever-evolving world of Canadian craft beer. This is when brewers from across Canada can show their best stuff. Or not.

I've griped about it in the past, but it's ridiculous in 2016 that so many breweries are trotting out the same tried and true beers that are on tap everywhere, that anyone who has ever had a pint of craft beer in this province has tried. Why bother? So, in addition to my extreme beer picks listed below, I have included the first annual "Why Bother?" awards for the worst offenders who have chosen to be predictable, stay the course, and bring the same stuff they bring every year—beers that we all know too well. Yawn.

So, for my extreme beer suggestions, I want to celebrate the breweries that are at least making some semblance of an effort to bring something new/interesting/different to the GCBF. It doesn't even have to be extreme, it just needs to demonstrate that they want to engage, tantalize and maybe even create a buzz this year. The breweries I remembered from last year were the ones that offered something new, maybe even unexpected. The breweries I didn't even bother visiting were the ones that only poured beers you can find at any BC liquor store.

These French Canadians are obsessed with saisons, and this unfiltered "specialty grain blanche/saison hybrid brewed with rye, wheat and oats and a small amount of fall honey," sounds like another winner.

Sour #2 Cherry 
A lot of breweries are doing kettle sours these days, but for a sour beer with depth and complexity, you need some barrel aging. This is a "red Kriek infused with cherries, aged for two years in oak barrels." Two years. That'll be good.

Deep Cove's Kriek didn't spend as much time in oak as Central City's, but it should still have some good character and depth from the "house blend of wild yeasts and bacteria," as well as the oak barrel contact.

Driftwood (Booth 58)
Latus Flanders Red
If you missed out on Latus when it was bottled in the spring, or you just want more, then this is a good opportunity to taste a Belgian-style sour red ale that was aged in oak wine barrels for a year.

Field House (Booth 52)
Salted Black Porter 
This new brewery is putting its best foot forward with a beer that had me at "salted." This porter is brewed with "traditional Dutch dropsies (salted black licorice)," and sounds like a big, yummy mouthful of umami goodness. 

Le Trou du Diable (Booth 9)
Dulcis Succubus Saison
Here's something I'm going to say multiple time in this post: why aren't more breweries using wild yeast (brettanomyces)? This amazing saison is aged for twelve months in Californian white oak barrels and is bottle conditioned with brett for incredible complexity. Do. Not. Miss. This. 

Lighthouse (Booth 34)
Kamaraj (cask)
An India Pale Ale with toasted coconut and Madras curry powder? Sold! I'm already planning to go back for seconds.  

Sang de Merle Sour (cask)
Moon has shown remarkable versatility in the many styles it successfully brews—from perfect traditional German beers to forward-thinking Brett IPAs. The sours have been a welcome surprise in the last couple of years. You've gotta love this blackberry port barrel-aged sour with blackcurrant addition that's cask conditioned. Mouth watering.

Parallel 49 (Booth 27)
Dumb Funk Brett IPA
Why aren't more breweries using wild yeast??? This was my favourite beer at Hopoxia. The brett plays well with the fruity hop notes, making this an easy entry-level beer for the wild yeast-curious. Another silly name from Parallel 49, but this is a beautifully balanced beer.

Phillips (Booth 46)
Longboat Porter with Sorachi Ace (cask)
I'm only begrudgingly including Phillips here due to their insistence on pouring Blue Buck (and Blue Buck with Citra, really?), but I just have to know what Longboat with Sorachi Ace (a hop variety with strong lemon notes) tastes like. 

Red Truck (Booth 8)
IPA with Ataufo Mango Habanero (cask)
While I'm not generally a fan of all these newfangled IPA "radlers"—IPAs with fruit added—but I like the idea of a "mango salsa" IPA with some heat. 

Salt Spring Island Ales (Booth 64)
Red Cedar Kelp Ale (cask)
Jalapeno Raspberry Wheat Ale (cask)
This is a brewery that has a very hit and miss record throughout its existence. But there's reason for optimism thanks to some recent changes. I like the fact that they are pushing the envelope with their cask offerings this year. They may be swings and misses, but I can honestly say that I have never had a beer with the words: red cedar and kelp in the name. Talk about a local brew. 

Strange Fellows (Booth 45)
Coup de Foudre Sour
I left GCBF 2015 last year thinking that Strange Fellows was one of BC's best new breweries. I think I tasted everything they brought and loved it all. Brewer/co-owner Iain Hill knows sours and this fouder (big oak barrel) fermented should be funky and sour. 

Swan’s (Booth 61)
Bourbon Kelp Scotch Ale (cask)
Thanks to some recent management changes at Swans, brewer Andrew Tessier has been given the green light to let his freak flag fly, which has resulted in some impressive new releases. I don't know what this beer is all about, but I want to taste it. 

Three Ranges (Booth 3)
Canadian Peso (cask)
This is good in so many ways. A pilsner spiced with cumin and locally grown jalapeños and cilantro. Yes. And the name? Perfect.

Scurvy Dog Spruce Ale
Smokehouse Kolsch
Divide Ride Red Ale
Northern Forest Berry Saison (cask)
Talk about swinging for the fences (both proverbial and literal, since GCBF is in the HarbourCats ballpark), this upstart brewery is unleashing four beers that totally qualify as extreme! Spruce ale? Smoked kölsch? Cedar aged red ale? Saison with four kinds of West Coast berries? Yes, yes, yes and yes!

Ginger Lime Gose
Gose is a light, tart German style traditionally brewed with salt and coriander. But ginger and lime sound good, too. Especially if the weather is warm.

WHY BOTHER? AWARDS - Nothing to see here...
Steel & Oak

Adem Tepedelen is the Victoria-based author of The Brewtal Truth Guide to Extreme Beers: An All-Excess Pass to Brewing's Outer LimitsAutographed copies are available locally at Cook St Liquor (230 Cook St).


Anonymous said...

You forgot Steamwhistle in the "Why bother" category. I can't believe the festival wastes a whole tent on a brewery with one beer that you can get everywhere.

Bob Shoemaker said...

As an invader from the US the Vancouver Beer Week and this festival are about the only time I get to try a huge variety of Canadian (mostly BC) craft beer. There is nothing there I am tired of. In fact I look forward to getting another chance to drink some of my favorites from years before. This will be only my sixth GCBF. It seems as though from your excellent article that there will be plenty of new, adventurous brews to be had. See you there.

Brewtal Truth said...

@Anonymous: Steamwhistle seemed too obvious. But, yeah, you're right.

Brewtal Truth said...

@Bob Shoemaker Thanks for leaving a comment. It's good to hear from a US perspective. I can see how you would be looking forward to drinking some beers you don't get to try year-round. Unfortunately, most people who attend are Canadians from BC and we know the majority of these beers very well.

Ian Lloyd said...

You missed a couple of beers buddy.

It was sad to see the breweries with the shortest traveling distance, bringing the most boring selections. That is except for Lighthouse. I can never understand why people line up to get beers they can find anywhere, when new and exciting brews are at the empty tent next door.

Brewtal Truth said...

@Ian Agreed on all points. Almost. I have my picks, you have yours. Never the 'twain shall meet...completely. See you there, pal.

Anonymous said...

GCBF actually selects the beers. So it's not up to the breweries on what they get to bring. Breweries give a list of every beer they have available and then GCBF chooses what they'd like.

Brewtal Truth said...

@Anonymous If that's true, I'm guessing that all breweries have the option of putting beers on their list that are outside of their usual assortment, right? Clearly the breweries that are showing up with *only* their core brands didn't put anything beyond those on their list.

Adrian Nyland said...

Thanks for the great list! I have added most of these to my list as well!

Brewtal Truth said...

@Adrian Thanks for taking the time to read it. Enjoy the festival!