Granville Island Fun

Hello again all…

After the rip-roaring success of my last post, here’s a follow-up on our local microbrewery. The Granville Island Brewing Company was founded in 1984 by a gentleman named Mitch Taylor, making it Canada’s first microbrewery. Originally based on Granville Island in Vancouver, the main hub of operations has now moved to Kelowna, in the Okanagan Valley area of B.C. Some beers are still brewed in the original (fairly tiny) premises, which can also be hired for functions, handy if you want to prove that you can indeed organise a piss-up in a brewery. The company was bought by Andres Wines in 2005.

Right, that’s the boring stuff out of the way – what about the beers? I’ll be sampling 4 out of the 5 standard brews in this blog – they also do seasonal brews and I believe they even do a Scottish Ale in the winter. I’ll get hold of some of that when the time comes. Anyway, the 4 lucky contenders are –

1. Granville Island Lager – The original brew.
2. English Bay Pale Ale – First brewed in 1987, and Gold Medal winner at the 2006 World Beer Championships.
3. Kitsilano Maple Cream Ale – A more recent brew, first unleashed in 2003.
4. Cypress Honey Lager- I couldn’t find any pithy facts about this one.

My Vietnamese partner in crime will also be on hand to add some non-beer-drinker analysis.

1. Granville Island Lager 4.7%.

This is the original beer, first brewed in 1984. According to the brewers it has “a clean, refreshing taste that even the most demanding beer fans in the world can appreciate”. I don’t consider myself that demanding when it comes to beer, and I can appreciate this one but don’t think its a great beer. Clean and light certainly, but not a great depth of flavour. Its not a really fizzy lager though, which is good in my book, and a definite step up from the generic fizzy rubbish that usually passes for lager in North America. Slightly underwhelming though. 6/10

Lan’s verdict – “It tastes like beer.”

2. English Bay Pale Ale 5.0%.

This is a good beer – malty but not sweet, smooth with a caramel aftertaste. It’s not a ‘real’ pale ale of course, more one of the half a lager/half an ale arrangements that I mentioned in my last post. Still, very nice. 8/10

Lan’s verdict – “It tastes like beer.”

3. Kitsilano Maple Cream Ale 5.0%.

Named after a particularly pleasant area of Vancouver with a lovely beach, the brewers have “taken a bold step forward with this one and added a hint of pure Canadian maple syrup for a creamy taste that is smooth, not sweet”. I was pretty disappointed by this actually, its very similar to the English Bay, but with less flavour. The maple doesn’t seem to make any difference and it’s certainly not creamy. Stick with the English Bay version. 6/10

Lan’s verdict – “……….”

4. Cypress Honey Lager 4.7%.

I really like this one, they use real honey in the brewing process and it adds a pleasant extra element, leaving a slightly sweet aftertaste as well as a rich golden colour. Very smooth, and genuinely different from other lagers that i’ve tried. A quality tipple. 8/10

Lan’s verdict – Umm, I think she’s lost interest.

And thats it – 4 of Granville Islands finest. I’d recommend the English Bay Pale Ale as the best, but the Honey Lager was top as well. I got to sample these by buying a ‘Summer Mingler’ which comes in packs of 12 with various brews. Theres also a ‘Winter Mingler’ that i’ll get hold of when the time comes. Incidentally, I sampled some of the above while watching Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Alphaville’. Never let it be said that we’re not highbrow on this blog.

I’ll return next month with some more of Canada’s finest microbrews.


Captain George Vancouver

Hello all,

This is my first foray into the world of blogging so apologies if this is a shoddy affair. Thought i’d do a special entry from Vancouver on an interesting beer I came across today. First though, I must agree with Craig AS about the standard of Canadian beers. Having only tried Molson and Labatts I had blithely assumed that all Canuck beer was bobbins, but how wrong I was. We have a fine selection of microbreweries here in BC, including Vancouver’s own Granville Island Brewery, as well as a number of brewpubs that serve their own speciality beers – a great idea that I would like to see more of in the UK.

Anyway, for those who don’t know, today is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Captain George Vancouver, who lent his name to this fair city. He was born in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, and the nearby Elgood and Sons brewery has issued a limited edition beer to celebrate this occasion – Captain Vancouver’s 250th Anniversary Ale. So – to the tasting!

I suspect this has actually been brewed with the North American market in mind, as it tastes like a Canadian brown ale, with a malty taste and a dryer, hoppy finish. Not a classic, but a pleasant tipple none the less. I’m not always sure what to think of these beers as they tend to be somewhere between a lager and an ale (in the British sense). It’s almost impossible to find a ‘real’ ale here – I think people would freak out if they were served warm beer that smells a bit farty. Still, I look forward to a proper ale when I eventually return to the UK.

My next post will hopefully come from Victoria, which is something of a hub for microbreweries in Western Canada – happy drinking!

Sacre Bleu! – Montreal Beer Festival 2007

One of the enduring perceptions of North America is that it is a Budweiser-soaked desert when it comes to good beer. This is a tad unfair on our Colonial brethren and certainly not the case in Francophone Canada. Every June, the Mondial de la Biere rolls into Montreal’s Gare Windsor like a hops-laden locomotive, the inebriated engineer slumped over the controls…

If you like beer, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. If you don’t… then it’s only a couple of weeks until the Comedy Festival… or the Grand Prix… or the Jazz Festival…

The first thing you notice about beer in Canada is that they sell it according to its colour. No confusion here over labels like “ale” or “bitter.” The first time I asked for a beer in Montreal, the guy behind the bar simply said “brown?” Sure, I replied, wondering what colour beer usually was in the New World… The rainbow of beers available include: Noire (stouts), Brune and Rousse (bitters), Dorée and Ambrée (ales), and Blanche (wheat beers). No system is perfect, but this one certainly helps the consumer to know what they’re getting.

Last year, I was a newbie to North American beer and spent an enjoyable, if painful, weekend running around trying all the beers I could (even the sh*t ones). This year, I could be a bit more selective with my coupons, so skirting neatly around the Coors and Molson stalls, with their plethora of local tarts (I believe the North American term is “skanks”), I made a beeline to the stall of a Québec brewery that I hadn’t heard of: L’Alchemiste. At the forefront of my mind was the fact that I had to write a column for my chums in Scotland, so I tried the Scotch Ale, Ecossaise, which turned out to be a most pleasant experience indeed. This dark ale has a caramel flavour to it, a hint of something burnt, and a liquorice aftertaste.

By far my favourite Canadian brewer, Unibroue (now owned by Japan’s Sapporo), produce a range of interesting, original beers for the connoisseur. I’ve tried most of them before, my favourites being Cap d’Espoir and Fin du Monde (although I think they took a misstep on the treacley, dandelion-and-burdock-tinged Raftman). I took the opportunity to try Ephémére. This fruit beer comes in two varieties, raspberry and apple. I tried the apple, prejudiced by the fact that every berry-flavoured beer I have tried has tasted of beer that has been adulterated with Ribena. Ephémére proved… appley. Not too surprising, but far too easy to get pissed on, I suspect.

A haven for truth-in-advertising, when you ask for a ginger beer in Québec, you don’t get a soft drink, you get a beer that tastes of ginger, which is the way life should be. Many microbreweries produce their own Gingembre beer and the majority of them are to be recommended, especially Microbrasserie du Lièvre’s franglais-named La Ginger Beer Epice.

Dieu du ciel brew pub on west Laurier ave, Montreal, produces a range of beers that can only fairly be described as ‘interesting.’ Their Rosée d’Hibiscus as you can probably guess, is flavoured with hibiscus and Le trou du diable (the Devil’s hole) tastes so sulphurous and farty I’m not sure I want to guess which hole the Devil got it from.

In addition to being fairly sunburnt and dehydrated, by this point I was obviously too pissed, because I spent 4 coupons (a princely sum) on a beer cocktail called a Broujito. This mixture of a Mojito – rum, soda, mint, lime – and Dorée beer worked surprisingly well and perfectly fitted both my mood and the bright sunshine bathing the Gare Windsor.

My good lady wife helped me home where I slept like only a mildly drunk and partially suburnt Brit can.

A bientot mes amis!

BeerCast #1 – Count the Shillings

Question 1. 3×80=…?

Each beer-producing country has peculiar quirks that serve to make it’s brewing unique. It could be the water, the type of hops, the variety of barley used. Scotland has large variations in these without doubt – but it’s history that counts around here. Beer was first produced in the chilly Highlands 5000yrs ago, using heather and herbs in place of the as yet un-imported hops. As far back as 1509, Aberdeen had over 150 brewers (all female – the original alewives). After the Act of Union in 1707 there was reduced tax on beer in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK, and no tax at all on malt.

As a result, the 18th Century was a boom time in Scottish brewing. The different strengths of beer were classified based on the amount charged per barrel, in shillings. Originally a 3.5%abv beer would cost 60 shillings per barrel, a 4%abv ale 70 shillings, and so-on. To some extent England did this too, but it’s north of the border that the system stuck. Shillings passed into history long ago, but beers here are still produced in those categories, and 80/- are the most common. So for the debut BeerCast podcast, our (somewhat reduced) panel tested three local 80’s, all from within 40 miles of BeerCast HQ.

1. William Wallace Ale (4.5%abv)
Traditional Scottish Ales Ltd, Bridge of Allan.
500ml glass bottle

Traditional Scottish Ales have two main brewery sites in central Scotland, an original site in Stirling, and a second acquired in 2006 after a merger with the Bridge of Allan brewery. The latter was founded in 1997 in the Victorian spa town outside the campus of Stirling University, where many of the BeerCast panellists received an early education in the merits (and pitfalls) of beer drinking. The area was first settled to take advantage of natural copper deposits in the area, and these minerals give the local water a distinctive taste. As befits their name, Traditional Scottish Ales’s brews have patriotic names – none moreso than William Wallace Ale, named after the iconic Highland hero who, as summed up by Shovels, “gave it to the English, or something”.

What They Say“This full-bodied malty ale is rich ruby in colour with a satisfying crisp dry aftertaste. Hand brewed in the heart of Scotland with only the finest malted barley, choicest hops, yeast and pure Scottish water.” [Traditional Scottish Ales]

What We Say
Richard – Strongly sweet ale, I prefer McEwans 80/- to this 4
Shovels – Caramel aftertaste that is quite unpleasant

2. St Andrew’s Ale (4.6%abv)
Belhaven Brewery, Dunbar.
500ml glass bottle

Belhaven was the oldest independent brewery in Scotland, having started production in 1719, until taken over by the Suffolk giant Greene King in 2005 in a deal worth £187million. According to the 2007 Good Beer Guide Belhaven has 275 tied pubs in Scotland. They produce four domestic beers, Best, Best Extra Cold (is nothing sacred?), 80 Shilling, and St Andrews Ale, which the panel sampled today. Belhaven are sited in Dunbar, a coastal town of 6300 people, 30 miles east of Edinburgh. First settled in the 7th Century as part of Northumberland, it was destroyed in the 9th Century by the Picts, and within a hundred years was part of Scotland. According to the Met Office it receives more hours of direct sunshine and less rainfall than anywhere else in Scotland, due to it’s easterly coastal location. The locals call it ‘Sunny Dunny’.

What They Say“A bittersweet beer with lots of body. The malt, fruit and roast mingle throughout with hints of hop and caramel.” [The Good Beer Guide]; “A rare modern phenomenon – a beer that tastes like beer. A smooth, full bodied, malty flavour and fruity palate, St Andrews Ale is the perfect mellow way to wind down.” [Belhaven Brewery]

What We Say
Richard – Similar to the William Wallace, but not quite as tacky 5
Shovels – More refreshing and less sweet than the first one 5

3. Golden Promise (4.5%abv)
Caledonian Brewery, Edinburgh.
500ml glass bottle

The Caley opened in 1869, and is the only remaining brewery in Edinburgh. In the mid 19th Century it was one of over forty, producing such a malty stench the city was nicknamed ‘Old Reekie’. The brewery’s two founders were in their early twenties, and were drinking buddies at the Golf Tavern on Bruntsfield Links. In 2004, they signed an agreement with Scottish & Newcastle (who had just closed the second last brewery in Edinburgh, at Fountainbridge) to brew their products under license. The Caledonian Brewing Company is an independent company, and brews the famous and multi award-winning Deuchars IPA – one of the greatest Scottish beers. Golden Promise is one of it’s lesser-known brands, and is named after the variety of malting barley used in it’s manufacture.

What They Say“The first organically-brewed beer in Britain, Golden Promise is a five time winner at the organic food awards, and won a silver medal at the 2005 International Brewing Awards. It has a delightfully rounded sweet malt flavour, reminiscent of Ovaltine. It’s aromas are spicy, with a hint of dusty cinnamon and vanilla.” [Caldeonian Brewery Ltd]

What We Say
Richard – Nice golden hue, it’s the best thing we’ve drunk today 7
Shovels – More subtle flavours to it, which is a good thing 7

BeerCast panel verdict

Golden Promise – 14/20
St Andrew’s Ale – 10/20
William Wallace Ale – 7½/20

Panellists – (from left) Shovels, Richard

Site news
In the latest of a long line of promises and missed deadlines, we are on the final stretch of getting the podcast out. Currently we’re tracking down a file host for our RSS feed, and when we do our freshly completed and polished debut BeerCast will be available on iTunes – obviously, we’ll let you know how and where to subscribe the moment it goes live.

Secondly, this week sees a flurry of excitement for the panel, as festival season grips the blog. Our full complement of Edinburgh-based BeerCasters will be attending the Scottish Traditional Ale Festival, notebooks and tasting glasses at the ready. Meanwhile over the Atlantic, our South American correspondant Hopmeister has been dispatched to Ecuador to discover the secrets of Galapagos lager*, and our Quebec-based panellist Craig AS (Phd) attended the recent Montreal beer festival. He filed a report, which will be published in due course. So look out for another BeerCast first – three posts in a week. Crikey.

Oh, and while we’re here, hearty congratulations on the latest addition to the panel – Edd celebrated the birth of a baby daughter this week. We’ll be raising a glass to little Abby (and Mrs Edd) in due course…

* Surprisingly, this is actually true.


Second Update (Andy, Dec 2008):

Hello i’m moving the site over from blogger to and through the magic of television i can now wholeheatedly insert the original collectors item BeerCast No. 1 right here: