From "milkshake" IPAs to mint-infused wheat beers, fresh spins on old faves are tapping at Vancouver breweries

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      Brewmasters at Vancouver’s newest breweries are making their mark on the city’s craft-beer scene with delightfully different takes on traditional styles.

      The Straight reached out to them to find out what Vancouverites have developed a taste for and to learn what each brewer plans on bringing to the table as we look forward to peak beer-drinking season.

      The eldest of the newbies, Strathcona Beer Company (895 East Hastings Street), opened in July, and Brewmaster Michael “Fezz” Nazarec says it’s been interesting to see how local imbibers react to different offerings.

      “Of our three flagship beers, the British IPA is at the top at this point in time, but our premium pilsner and Belgian Gold are very close behind,” Nazarec says. “Local IPAs are usually very forward, sharp, and hop-heavy, but the British IPA we’ve made is a lot more balanced, and for people that don’t always like that sharpness, they really seem to like it.”

      Michael "Fezz" Nazarec says Strathcona Beer Company's IPA is a top pick among customers because of its low bitterness.
      Strathcona Beer Company

      Looking ahead, Nazarec notes that while kettle sours seemed to take over in the summer of 2016, he expects local brewers to start experimenting with how sour beers are fermented: think wine barrels and foudres, large oak vats that originated in France’s Rhone Valley.

      “I think we’ll also see more beers using brettanomyces and hybrid yeasts, trying different things with yeasts for a certain flavour,” he adds.

      His latest style, a rye ESB, is currently fermenting and should be offered in cans this spring.

      Over at Faculty Brewing Co. (1830 Ontario Street), co-owner and brewmaster Mauricio Lozano says he’s “hit a home run” with a unique style that customers can’t get enough of.

      “Our Mineweizen is booming like crazy,” Lozano says. He adds that the popular peppermint-tea-infused hefeweizen is being featured on tap at more establishments every week, including a guest spot at Postmark Brewing.

      Faculty Brewing Co. brewmaster Mauricio Lozano has a hit with his peppermint-tea-infused hefeweizen. 
      Alison Page

      For Lozano, who worked as a food engineer before opening Faculty, the idea of playing with different yeast strains is appealing—especially strains that he might not have on hand.

      Thankfully, local brewmasters like to share, and Lozano hopes to brew a Belgian Trappist or tripel style in the coming months.

      As brewers like Nazarec create new renditions of the IPA, Lozano sees breweries moving away from the bitter iterations that once characterized the West Coast toward something more palatable.

      “We’re going past the really strong taste for more round, full flavours,” he says. “We’ve had the hoppiest and the darkest, but now we’re going for what’s most balanced.”

      For Ryan Parfitt, part owner and head brewer at Luppolo Brewing Co. (1123 Venables Street), which opened at the end of October, all things IPA round out the brewery’s list of most popular picks. Given that its name comes from the Italian word for hops, it makes sense.

      “Our IPAs, including our regular and double IPA, are definitely our top sellers, next to our pale ale,” says Parfitt.

      He says the hops used in both IPAs lend themselves to tropical and citrus notes, and like Nazarec and Lozano before him, Parfitt acknowledges that the style isn’t what it used to be.

      Luppolo's Double and standard IPAs have been crowd favourites since the brewery opened in October 2016.
      Lucy Lau

      “What’s interesting to me is how much the IPA has changed over the years. The popular ones over the last decade have been more bitter and more hoppy, where now, there’s a focus on low bitterness and hops that are more juicy,” he explains.

      Without a doubt, Parfitt says this new “milkshake” IPA (also referred to as the East Coast or “muddy” IPA) will be the beer of 2017.

      Inside Vancouver’s newest taproom, Andina Brewing Company (1507 Powell Street), head brewer Andrew Powers works with owners to develop uniquely South American takes on different styles.

      Powers explains that, as at Strathcona and Faculty, one of Andina’s most popular brews is also its most distinct.

      “Our Passion Fruit Black IPA is a favourite, and I think people seem to like it because it’s very different from any other beer using passion fruit. It’s a really sessionable beer,” he says. “We are bringing the passion fruit in from Colombia, and I found that it was a bit resinous, with some slight pine characteristics, so I thought it might pair nicely with something hoppier.”

      Clockwise from left, Andina Brewing's Totuma Kolsch, Ay Ay Ay pale ale, Melcocha mild ale, and Mapalé milk stout.
      Lucy Lau

      On the way, Powers says he’s working on final batches of an orange-infused seasonal that may end up as a Gose. He’s also looking at bringing on an imperial red, “for contrast, and to offer something on the other end of the spectrum”.

      He thinks 2017 will likely see a continuation of the sour trend, but he’s also noticed that customers are taking a liking to anything crushable.

      “People seem to be looking for more session ales, and they’re really excited when they find stuff that they can have multiple of,” he says. “I’m not sure if it’s a trend or part of the market, but it’s obvious that people want something they’ve never tried before.”