[Sampling a Spinnaker Pale Ale at Joe Wiebe's Craft Beer Seminar]
The Second Annual Whistler Village Beer Festival has grown by leaps and bounds compared to last year’s inaugural one-day event. Held in Whistler Village over the past four days, both beer lovers and sunshine worshippers were out in full force to attend the events, many of which sold out long ahead of the festival.
From beer seminars to dinner pairings, leading up to Saturday’s big event at the Whistler Olympic Plaza, there was ample choice of beer-related activities for all tastes and budgets. We began our adventures on Friday afternoon with Joe Wiebe’s Craft Beer Revolution seminar held at the Westin Whistler’s Mountain Room.
Since 2008, Joe’s been exploring our province in search of quality craft beer. He recalls a memorable media trip to the Sonoma County wine region, surrounded by scenic landscapes, vineyards, and wine writers. By the second night of the trip, the other writers performed an intervention, collectively suggesting that Joe write about beer (as he seemed to enjoy discussing its merits). The idea stuck and in a timely way too: at the birth of BC’s craft beer explosion.
Attendees were shown the proper way to savour a beer in hand:
Look – Take note of the beer’s colour and opacity
Smell – Is it strong? Hoppy? Fruity?
Taste – How bitter and/or sweet is the beer? How does it feel in the mouth?
Don’t Spit – This isn’t wine. Beer has to be swallowed for true appreciation (no argument there).
Repeat! – Self-explanatory
John Mitchell (often referred to as the grandfather of craft beer) moved from England in the 1950’s, having worked in the beer industry, and used to cask-conditioned beer delivered from the cellar. He became a bar manager, later witnessing beer strikes in the 1970’s; during that time, the only beer available in BC was from Olympia, Washington. Through frustration and limited beer choices, he decided to open his own brewery in 1980. Back in the day, there were no brewing manufacturers. John would develop his own brew, load seven kegs into his little Datsun truck each morning, needing to sell two kegs daily to break even. Each and every day he’d sell out of supply.
[Joe Wiebe's Craft Beer Revolution]
Mitchell later helped to set up Howe Sound Brewery. Around that time, Island Pacific Brewing and Granville Island Brewery both opened, as did Spinnaker’s Brewpub in Victoria (their pub had four beers on tap). Fast-forward to 2003, when Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) was founded. Suddenly, cask-conditioned beer nights began to arrive on the scene. Soon after, Cascadian (Washington, Oregon, California) craft beers, Belgian, and German-style beers made their way up to BC, with more unique offerings on our liquor store shelves.
Tap houses were next. The Alibi Room kicked off in 2006, starting as as restaurant, its owners researching breweries, eventually installing 50 tap lines, creating a mecca for craft beer lovers in Vancouver. By 2008, there were over 35 craft breweries in BC, capturing 6.5% of the niche market. In 2012, 50 new breweries opened, the percentage now up to 18%—a $175-million-dollar industry. By next year, Wiebe predicts that we’ll top 100 craft breweries in our province! Compare this with Oregon (200, 50 in Portland alone), Washington (200), and Colorado (300).
What we sampled:
Spinnakers Original Pale Ale
Granville Island Brewing Hey Day Hefeweizen
Driftwood Brewing Fat Tug IPA
Old Yale Brewing Sasquatch Stout (this year’s Beer of the Year at the Canadian Brewing Awards)
Four Winds Brewing Juxtapose Red IPA
We then headed over to Grill and Vine for Deep Cove Craft Brewers and Distillers’ Barley & The Beast five-course beer pairing dinner. Held al fresco with a view of the setting sun striking the mountains, our group of 20 beer lovers and brewers gathered at a long table to enjoy a menu curated by Chef Scott Robertson and Sous Chef Charlie Wilson for the evening.
Part of Grill and Vine’s Beer @ The Vine series, this dinner was arranged to coincide with the Whistler Village Beer Festival. Deep Cove also distills vodkas, a couple of speciality gins, and an absinthe at their Dollarton Highway facility in North Van.
We started with a flatbread, gruyere cheese, and butternut squash plate, paired with Trapper John Lager, a nice, German-style lager, citrusy and light on the palate to kick off the meal.
The organic Pemberton greens went down nicely with our evening’s favourite discovery, Star Struck Rye IPA. The greens were heaped with candied walnuts and an aged cheddar crisp, in an orange-basil dressing, perfect to highlight their IPA’s tropical aromas and citrus-induced bitterness.
The rye adds a sort of biscuit quality, enhancing the aged cheddar flavour, in turn bringing out some of the rye on the palate.
Next up, we had a small portion of curried Red Snapper, served with almonds, mango chutney, and Sun Kissed Tea Ale, a fruit-forward beer steeped with rooibos tea. It’s a nice beer to compliment the spice in Asian dishes, and we agreed its taste reminiscent of ‘summer in a glass’.
A much more generous portion of braised beef short ribs, with Blue Clair cheesy potatoes, broccolini, and Morel mushrooms followed, paired with Deep Cove’s Loud Mouth Pale Ale. Think big malt, caramel, bold flavour, both on the malt and on the hop sides. This was a wonderful pairing with the short ribs, adding a rich texture onto my palate.
How to follow a delicious, beautifully-paired dinner such as this? How about a plate with panna cotta, coffee milk semifreddo, and a vanilla float with Smooth Criminal Nitro Stout. This one boasts oats and hop all the way through, with obvious chocolate notes derived from the malt. What a luscious ending to this meal, complete with conversation, lots of toasting, and smiles all around.
A big thanks to Deep Cove Craft, Grill and Vine, and especially to the Westin Whistler for hosting us during the Whistler Village Beer Festival. The hotel is very handy for walks into the village, features the Heavenly Bed sleep (which I’ve enjoyed on numerous occasions from Halifax to San Francisco), and a kitchenette, perfect for a morning cup of tea or light meal in between beer sampling!
The Westin Whistler is located at 4090 Whistler Way in Whistler, BC.