Despite arriving at our Best Western in the Yaletown District of Vancouver exhausted and perplexed by the number of time zones we’d just flown across, we knew sleep was not an option – our honeymoon had just stepped up a gear. It was 5pm Pacific Coast time and the Downtown was calling us, so we headed into the cool of the evening light seeking food and most importantly, beer!
Whilst searching for the historical steam clock located in Gastown it seems fitting that we were drawn into Steam Works Brewing Co. Impressed as I was in their vibrant brew pub I also noted that they are the only brewery in Canada to utilise steam power to brew their beers and have done since 1995.
Decor and history admired, now for the truest test… What’s their IPA like? Empress (5% abv) is a fine low strength example and brewed with UK East Kent Golding and US Hood Mount hops, giving it a crisp, tropical twang matched with earthy debonair.
Their Pilsner (5%) and Wheat Ale (7%) outshine the slightly shy Heroica Red Ale (5.6%) but my pick of the bunch is their seasonal Frambozen (7%), which crashes over my palate with youthful exuberance matched by a super dry finish. Pure refreshment!
The following day was welcomed a little too prematurely after about 5 hours sleep (yeah, thanks jet jag) but was shaken off with a monumental sea wall walk around the picturesque Stanley Park. After walking about 12km of the total 22km we disembarked and headed towards Granville Island for a liquid trophy, or two.
The charming peninsula boasts a University, an abundance of craft boutiques and art galleries plus its own glassblowing studio. After a peek around the tourist-swelled but captivating Public Market we proceed to the bright and airy Granville Island Brewing and order a 6 taster flight. Plenty of great beer on show here too… The deliciously hop-forward Amber Swing Span (5.6%) and Kitsilano Maple Cream Ale (5%) – which like it’s name is syrupy sweet and lusciously soft – both gain a nod of approval but it’s their Thirsty Famer Saison (6.2%) that has the wow factor! It just wants to lay you down in the tall grass and let it do it’s stuff. Spicy, citrus sharp and palate cleansing.
Driven by our stomachs we’re lured into Tony’s Fish and Oyster Cafe where we order the Seafood Platter for two. Deep fried calamari rings, battered baby octopus and king size prawns provide a salty and hearty feast – oh and their tartar sauce was superb too. The beer list is small but supplies Granville Island’s Lager and English Bay Pale Pale (5%) and to cut through the saltiness I opt for the latter. The fruitiness hits the batter between the eyes and the caramel malt weighs in perfectly with the chewy disposition of our deep sea friends.
We then go next door (literally) to Whet, a dimly lit but intimate bar and kitchen who pride themselves on having a superb beer list to match their seafood-forward menu. No need for grub after our previous haul so we order a flight of 4, each, and sampling from one another’s pallets there are some notable eyebrow-raisers. Driftwood Brewery’s Fat Tug IPA (7%) docks with a huge 80 IBUs of exotic pulp and Howe Sound’s Rail Ale Nut Brown (5%) offers a soft nutty aroma which gives way to a subtle roasted slump in your favourite liquorice recliner. However the victor of the night goes to the small but mighty Sasquatch Stout (5%) by Old Yale Brewing. Having been awarded Canada’s Beer of the Year just a month prior, it’s not hard to see why. For such a low ABV it leaves a big foot stomp on the palate. Robust body with a sensuous mouthfeel, offset by the deep roast and coffee bitterness. The chocolate creeps in at the end offering a warm hug along with that firm handshake.
So Vancouver treated us so well we were sad to be leaving the next day. However the spiritual home of grunge, coffee and Fraiser Crane beckoned – so we weren’t sad for too long…
Sampled from a tin, this beer poured an opaque honey-amber colour with a generous white head. The head had good retention before fading into a cap and leaving some lacing. The nose was typical of a hefe with lots of clove, bready wheat and banana esters. There is also a subtle lemony citrus and peppery notes. There was not as much banana as I expected on the palette. Bready wheat, lemon and orange citrus are pronounced with sweet notes of pear and apple, clove and coriander are also present. The beer is light bodied, even a little watery at times, with average carbonation and a crisp off dry finish. Very refreshing, mild enough to have at breakfast, but nothing outstanding.
Scotch ales, for some reason or another, are one of those brews that I feel like I haven’t tried enough. I’ve had a few, but they’re always in the back of my mind, waiting for me to stumble upon. As luck would have it, two new additions to the list recently appeared for my drinking pleasure and I am always up for a good side-by-side beer style comparison.
First up, Granville Island Brewing’s Auld School Scottish Ale coasts in with a much lighter mouthfeel than I would normally expect from a beer of this style, even tasting a little tart (something I’ve been noticing lately with GIB’s craft beer). Even as this one gets a little syrupy near the end, I found it needing some extra depth of flavour.
Next, Founder’s Dirty Bastard Scotch Style Ale, which immediately hugs your mouth with creamy smoothness, while the malt, earthy peat and warm booze are as pleasantly complex as one could hope for. Sitting at 50 IBU, the hops give some nice extra bite and balance out the weight of this brew, which made the single bottle I was drinking more than enough to satisfy my cravings.
Lions Winter Ale is Granville Island’s award winning brew taking silver at the World Beer Championships in 2011. It is only seasonally available (October to March). Sampled form a tin, the beer pours a filtered dark red colour with
a creamy head, and lots of effervescent bubbles. The aroma is malty with tons of caramel, chocolate, vanilla, and a candied fruit, which reminds me of Christmas, baked goods. The beer is bursting with bold flavours that mimic the smell, with the addition of a slight hop bitterness at the end. The hops are not enough to cut the sweetness of the beer. Very tasty but sweet – would pair well with sharp cheeses or a dessert. It has a creamy smooth mouth feel with medium carbonation. A good winter warmer, I can see purchasing several more tins for cold nights.
Granville Island Brewing was established in Vancouver in 1984. It is one of the oldest craft breweries in Canada. Beers are named primarily after locations in Vancouver.
Entry 068: Hops Headlock featuring Shipload of Hops (Granville Island Brewing) and Hoptimus Prime (Ruckus Brewing Co.)
Granville Island Brewing’s Shipload of Hops Imperial IPA (100 IBU, 8.7% ABV) introduces itself nicely with a thin foamy head and a deep golden amber color. The first sip immediately hits your palette with sharp earthy notes, with the taste of grapefruit being pushed front and centre, followed by a pleasant boozy finish that tickles the nose and warms the back of the throat.
To compare, the Ruckus Hoptimus Prime Double IPA (92 IBU, 9% ABV) is one massive mouthful of a beer. Pouring out with healthy tan foam head, this truly is a citrus bomb, leaning more towards oranges and limes, with less of a grapefruit bite. Drinking both of these brews prompted me to come up with the description “hops headlock” and damned if it doesn’t fit!
Tana previously redesigned the new look of Granville Island Brewing packaging to commemorate the brand’s 25th anniversary. Created to be a representation of GIB’s tagline — ‘It’s good to be here‘ — the new packaging features photo collages of iconic Vancouver scenes. Thanks in part to its new look, GIB sales during the relaunch increased 10 percent over the same period in the previous year (normally, sales of completely redesigned liquor packages drop during their relaunch period.)