Vancouver Craft Beer Week, starting May 29, is just around the corner, and while there are plenty of events I’m looking forward to attending, the one that has me most excited is the grand tasting event at the PNE Centre Grounds on June 6 and 7, where over 100 craft breweries will be pouring up to 400 beers. Now the largest craft-beer festival in Canada, Vancouver Craft Beer Week is a fantastic opportunity to revisit old favourites and discover new ones, and to take a chance on some unfamiliar styles.
This time of year, I like to encourage those who think of themselves more as “wine people” to use the occasion to see what all the craft-beer fuss is about. Here are some recommendations of beers that wine lovers should try, based on grape varieties they know and love that share similar traits. While I’ve offered general beer categories as examples, my specific bottle recommendations can be purchased brewery-direct or in private liquor stores. (Availability can be limited due to the natural small-batch ebb and flow of the craft-beer industry.) Look for them being poured at the festival, too.
This one can be made bone-dry, super-sweet, and all styles in between, but for the purpose of this exercise, think dry and crisp. If you like Riesling with soaring acidity, abundant citrus notes, and expressive with lively minerality, look toward hefeweizens or witbiers. Traditionally, they’re top-fermented with a minimum of 50 percent wheat malt. They’re often brewed with citrus peel. It’s not uncommon to see coriander added in the process as well, the latter mimicking the mineral component commonly found in Rieslings. Central City’s Red Racer Belgian-Style Wheat Ale is a textbook example of the style.
This can be a polarizing grape. The citrus and herbal aromatics of Sauvignon Blanc are sometimes quite intense; they rarely make for shy wines. Hoppy beers can be just as divisive, but they certainly have a strong following these days among those who like that citrus-y, dry, and almost bitter character to be loud. A few months back, I did a little side-by-side tasting of the (damn delicious) Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc out of Marlborough, New Zealand ($26.59, B.C. Liquor Stores), with Vancouver Island’s Phillips Hop Circle IPA, and I must say, even right up alongside, the beer came across very “Sauvignon Blanc–y”.
It comes in all shapes and sizes, so let’s go middle-of-the-road, thinking of Chardonnays that have a balanced amount of well-integrated oak, along with orchard-fruit flavours like apple, pear, and peach. If that’s your thing, a well-built lager should be right up your alley. Ontario’s Muskoka Brewery has a Craft Lager that’s nice and malty, with hints of vanilla and honey—things that oak fermenting or aging lend to a wine.
So you like your wine to be refreshing, with fruit-forward berry notes? We can get pretty literal here and go with a beer that’s actually brewed with berries or fruit. Just as pink wines can be made quite dry, beers can too, so you needn’t worry about being drenched with sweetness. Try Raspberry Lemon Zest Hefe from Railtown’s Postmark Brewing, or for an extra dose of summery fun, Parallel 49 Brewing Company’s Seedspitter Watermelon Wit has been a personal favourite of mine for years.
I like my Pinot Noirs to drink a bit Old World, or terroir-driven, in style. Yeah, I enjoy plummy character along with cherries, blackberries, and the like—but when there’s a good lashing of earthiness along with a funky wild-mushroom or truffle undercurrent, that’s what puts a grin on my face. Something that can bring that funk to wine is Brettanomyces, a genus of yeast whose spores can naturally end up in a wine, coming from them simply existing in a vineyard, in the air of a winery, or on winery equipment. Even though many winemakers try to keep their wines clear of it, many people like a hint of “brett”, feeling it adds extra dimension or layers to a wine’s profile. A lot of brewers like the stuff and purposely ferment their beers with it. If you feel like getting a little funky, give something like Four Winds Brewing’s Juxtapose Brett IPA a whirl.
Go big or go home, right? If you like chewy wines that stain your teeth after the first sip, such as big South Okanagan Merlots or California Cabernets, then look for bigger strong ales or chocolate stouts. Granville Island Brewing’s Cloak & Dagger Cascadian Dark Ale is packed with bold chocolate and roasted espresso notes.