Written by Tony Montague for straight.com
Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of a Cascadian Dark Ale. The style—a strong, well-hopped, and robust Brown Ale—is a new one, created in the Pacific Northwest. A group of B.C. brewmasters got together to produce a unique local recipe for the official bevy of the second annual Vancouver Craft Beer Week.
The celebration of artisanal, high-quality beer takes place in dozens of pubs, bars, restaurants, and other venues around town from May 6 to 14, with events from a wacky pub crawl to a tasting festival that incorporates the B.C. Beer Awards. Iain Hill, who helms the pipes and kettles at Yaletown Brewing Company, won three top prizes last year’s VCBW. All three of his champion beers are on the menu at the Yaletown Gold Medal Brewmaster’s Dinner on May 12—a highlight of the nine-day event and one of several food-and-beer pairing events.
“The Hefeweizen Special Wheat is probably the most difficult beer I make,” says Hill, perched on a bar stool in the brewpub, sampler glass in hand. “It’s very perishable and the yeast is very fussy and finicky, and sometimes won’t make the flavours you want, or enough of them. It’s the yeast that gives the fruity character.”
Hill’s hop-loaded Brick and Beam India Pale Ale is a superb example of a style that’s grown enormously in popularity around town as of late. It may be a steeper climb, though, for the Oud Bruin, an ale from Flemish Belgium that Hill calls his “pièce de resistance”. “To make this style of brew it takes four different yeast cultures and two bacterial cultures,” says Hill. “It’s sour and a little bit sweet, not in the least hoppy. Part of it is aged in oak barrels and then blended to the rest. To me it’s got a bit of a cherry flavour and an earthy taste—a bit gross and funky!” he adds with a laugh. Oud Bruin is a great beer for cooking, and a key ingredient in both the bangers and mash and the steamed mussels at the five-course dinner.
If the event sells out, you can also find Oud Bruin on tap at the Alibi Room, which is also participating in VCBW. The pub is considered the mecca of beer culture in Vancouver with its incredibly varied and adventurous list of beers on draft and in bottles.
So what accounts for the upswing of interest in Vancouver for craft beer and unusual brews?
“It’s a perfect storm,” says Chris Bjerrisgaard, marketing director for VCBW, interviewed at the Whip Restaurant Gallery. “People are more and more concerned about the environment and buying fresh local products. The economy means they have less disposable income for things like the better wines, and young people are bored of being told what to drink by mainstream marketers and want more choices.”
There’s no lack of opportunities during VCBW to challenge and enlighten your palate. The official Cascadian Dark Ale will be available at many venues—and you can sample dozens of other beer styles at some of the signature events.
The Dead Famous Pub Crawl on May 7 is the nearest VCBW comes to having a carnival parade. Participants dress up as figures from history or daisy-pushing celebrities, gathering at the New Oxford pub in Yaletown in three staggered groups of 50 people. After the first libations, they wend down the slope to the Yaletown Brewing Company, then over the water to the Backstage Lounge and the Dockside Brewing Company on Granville Island, where dozens of welcoming pints are waiting to restore them to life. If the event sells out, put together your own crawl with the same stops on another day.
Things come to a frothy head with the Brewery Creek Beer Festival on May 13 and 14 at an intriguing and very convenient venue—the Beatty Street Drill Hall (620 Beatty Street) by the Stadium SkyTrain station. On the 13th, over 20 U.S. craft breweries will be featured for tastings, from familiar favourites like Rogue and Deschutes to new names such as Shipyard, Uncommon, and Alltech’s Lexington. On the 14th, B.C. breweries showcase their finest. You can swallow a Dead Frog or knock back a Tree while cheering this year’s B.C. Beer Awards winners, which will be chosen by a panel of judges earlier and revealed at this event.
“Our ultimate goal is to get these beers into every bar, pub, and restaurant in town,” says Bjerrisgaard, quaffing an Extra Special Bitter made by Surrey’s Central City. “That doesn’t mean 40 taps, but we want to have at least one option everywhere so we don’t have to exclude places just because the beer is crap. The choices for high-quality beers in Vancouver have never been better.”
For information and tickets for VCBW events, visit the Vancouver Craft Beer Week website.