Experts at Brassneck Brewery, CAMRA, and more reveal their fall craft-beer picks
As the days shrink, temperatures drop, and the rains sweep in, the lure of good-quality beers quaffed in good company becomes irresistible for many Vancouverites. Thanks to the ongoing boom in craft brewing, this fall there’s a greater range of styles and brews available locally than ever before. The Straight met up with some of the city’s beer experts and aficionados to get their tips on what to check out, plus a few ideas on food pairings.
For Monica Frost, communications director for the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) Vancouver, the most exciting taste of autumn is beer made with fresh hops. “It’s something that’s become really popular in recent years,” she says. “My pick is the Sartori Harvest IPA by Driftwood. They pick the hops off the bine in the morning and put it into the brew later that day, then bottle it. It’s got a lovely, fragrant aroma and would be great with curries or anything spicy. And Hoyne Brewing from Victoria has an excellent pale ale called Wolf Vine. But if you can find any fresh hopped beers—especially ones on cask—they’re all going to be spectacular.”
“I’m picking the Steamworks Brewery’s pumpkin seasonal ale,” says Amanda Barry, CAMRA Vancouver’s events coordinator. “It’s really hearty, full-tasting, and well balanced—not cloyingly sweet—with vanilla, clove, and nutmeg flavours. Imagine this with an ice cream float! And I like Hermann’s Dark Lager from the Vancouver Island Brewery. It’s malty, with a clean finish, and makes a nice complement to pork dishes or a steak. I’d also recommend some of the B.C. dry stouts, which have a beautiful roastiness and a lot of lingering depth. Persephone Brewing from Gibsons is one of the newest kids on the block and has a great stout that’s on tap now at the Alibi Room.”
Brewmaster Conrad Gmoser was stirring the mash in a gleaming new tub when the Straight arrived at the just-opened Brassneck Brewery (2148 Main Street), which he cofounded with the Alibi’s Nigel Springthorpe. “Brown ales, ESBs [Extra Special Bitters], porters, and stouts are the classic beers to return to in the fall,” he says, interviewed in Brassneck’s tasting room. “I suggest trying our own Imperial Stout, a strong style that’s become popular up and down the West Coast and has a long history. I’m delighted with how ours has turned out. There’s a lot of bitter chocolate flavouring, and you can chew on it for quite a while.
“The seasonal [Mad Dash] Fresh Hop ESB from Vern Lambourne at Granville Island Brewing has a really nice spicy hop character,” Gmoser continues. “There’s a return to farming hops on a small scale in B.C. now, and drinking brews made with fresh hops is a fun way to celebrate the harvest. Another beer to try at this time is Parallel 49’s Schadenfreude Pumpkin Oktoberfest. It’s a lovely amber lager with lots of spices and goes down really smoothly.”
One of the most keenly awaited events for beer lovers is the launch set for early November of the spacious Craft Beer Market restaurant and bar, in the red clapboard Salt Building on Olympic Village Square. Co-owners Scott Frank and PJ L’Heureux are offering a cornucopia of draft brews—140 on tap, some 55 from B.C.—as well as a menu of casual cuisine. “An excellent choice for the fall would be Howe Sound Brewing’s Rail Ale Nut Brown,” Frank says. “It has a toasty, nutty flavour and is very rich, and goes well with a spicy burger to cut through all that richness. Another great beer is Central City Brewing’s Red Racer ESB, a classic English bitter that’s full-bodied and packed with hops from the U.K. It almost drinks like an IPA and is the closest bitter to the traditional Fuller’s ESB brewed in London.”
L’Heureux ranges further afield for his selection. “The McAuslan Brewery’s St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, from Montreal, is rated one of the top beers in Canada. It’s surprisingly light but rich and has a very long and satisfying aftertaste. We’ll have it all year round, but it’s a great beer for fall and pairs with just about any dessert. I also recommend the Ayinger Celebrator, a doppelbock from Bavaria that’s a benchmark for that style. It’s dark and malty, and pairs well with a slow-roasted brisket.”
With bar and brewery openings, and the annual B.C. Beer Awards and Beer Festival on October 19, there’s a buzz around Vancouver’s fast-growing community of craft-beer enthusiasts this autumn, and for the adventurous drinker a world of new seasonal tastes to savour.