Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Day in Vancouver, BC

I had the opportunity to spend an entire day in Vancouver, BC without any obligations other than those invented for myself. Therefore, I invented the task of finding great beer in what I have heard is a great city.

I took the “Canada Line” from the Vancouver airport to Waterfront station. Paying $8.75 for a 2-zone pass gets you downtown. This seems somewhat pricy as it is not round trip. And for the first time ever riding public transit I actually had my ticket checked, so buy a pass for your ride.

My first stop for lunch and a pint was Steamworks Brewing Co. off of Seymore and Cordova St. I walked in because I was hungry and looking for a tasty ale. Thankfully I found the answer to both.

First up was their Empress IPA which presents itself nicely with bold hop character. Though not like you'd expect from a Seattle brewery with their citrus and grapefruit hop profile. Steamworks brews up a nicely bitter IPA with noble hop aroma and flavor with medium to high bitterness. This is a nice IPA, definitely a worthy example of the style, which is good because while I had high hopes of finding good beer in Canada I had low expectations. Generally everything I've tried from the Canucks has been light and bland. While Steamworks could put a little more caramel malt character in their IPA this example plays well on the palate and nose with a surprising but subtle vanilla aroma lingering.

Next up is the Heroica (pronounced Her-o-IKA) Oatmeal Stout served on Nitro. Nutty aroma dominates the nose with some hints of sweet chocolate as well. While it's served as an Oatmeal Stout the dryness and roasted bitterness of the beer seem to closely resemble a Dry Irish Stout, even if you don't consider the Nitro pour. Oat character is subtle on this one, though I must admit I've never been partial to Oatmeal Stouts. Served on nitrogen the palate is treated gently with creamy texture and tingling carbonation. Bitterness comes off well in the finish as well as more roasted malt bite. Call this one a Robust Irish Stout and I would review it better. As an Oatmeal, it misses the mark on flavor and body.

I spent some time talking to Ben the Brewer at Steamworks and learned that they tap off the city steam line to power their mash tun and brew kettle. This allows them to boil their 15HL (approx 12.6 BBL) Copper Clad brewhouse almost instantly.

I left Steamworks with some time to kill before The Alibi House opened so I took a walk along the waterfront where there were throngs of people seeing the touristy sights of Vancouver, and I was one of them. I watched the sea planes of WestCoast Air take off to presumably give tours of the city. And I saw the site where the Olympic Torch burned during the recent Winter Olympic Games.

I walked past several cigar shops selling Cuban cigars. While I was temped to try this forbidden fruit of the US, I resisted as I thought it would spoil my palate for my upcoming Alibi Room visit.

The Alibi opened at 5 and I promptly ordered a Symcoe Porter on Cask from Swans Brewing. The landlord pulled a fresh pint and described the beer as a "rule breaker" for a porter. With a creamy tan head that holds to the edge of the glass like steamed milk, this beer came off the cask extremely smooth with but a hit of natural carbonation. Flavor is light nutty with subtle chocolate sweetness. Low to mild hops on the nose but very low bitterness. A pleasant and easy drinking porter. I always love a nice cask ale but as far as a 'rule breaker' I think the only rule being broken here is the lack of hop bitterness or chocolate and roasted malt that I look for in a porter.

The Alibi Room is without question one of Vancouver's great beer geek bars. It filled up very quickly and I was happy to have procured a spot at the bar, as there wouldn't have been a seat in the house for me an hour after opening. And this was on a Thursday night. Looking around the pub I watch Canadian's enjoying a wide variety of locally brewed craft ales. With 3 beer engines and 25 taps, the Alibi offers the widest selection of craft beer I have seen during my travels North of the border.

I ordered a Red Racer IPA because I had read about the controversy associated with this beer and, dare I say, it's American counterpart. Red Racer pours a brushed hazy copper with a full white head that quickly fades to a ring with good lacing. Aroma is light citrus hops with some biscuit malt coming through. Generally light aroma overall. I was pleasantly surprised to find a rich hop bite in the flavor with grapefruit rind and some earthly tones as well. While you won't feel this beer is a West Coast IPA from Seattle or Portland, it's not under-hopped by any regard nor does it lack character. What it does lack is aroma. I want to smell my hops, as well as feel them burn and taste their bite.

While Canadian beers may not always suit my palate for the chewy malt character and grapefruit-with-teeth hop bitterness, I can still appreciate what is being done here by some of the more daring Canadian breweries such as Tree Brewing, Red Racer, and Steamworks Brew Pub.

Finally there came the cask conditioned dry-hopped pale ale from Yaletown Brewing. I somewhat coaxed the landlord to pull this cask ale, as he wasn't quite sure if it was ready to put on.

Caramel nose upfront with slight earthy hop presence and some pleasing yeast phenolics winding their way in. Out of the beer engine this pulled a translucent wheat with a thin white head. Low but persistent retention and lovely cream stickiness along the side of the glass. Flavor comes off earthy bitterness upfront with a bready yeast presence joining in. The yeast clouds the palate somewhat but generally this beer brings forth crisp base/bready malt flavor and rich hop bitterness. Natural carbonation in the cask presents itself with lively tingling on the tongue. An excellent cask, and I'm happy to see cask ale served at the proper temperature. Often times it seems I'm being served cask ale at a temperature I would expect from kegged beer. The Alibi Room is not afraid to serve their cask ales at approximately 55 degrees F.

If you find yourself in Vancouver and are searching for a good pint of true craft beer by every respect stop by either or both Steamworks Brewing Co and The Alibi Room. I assure you that you won’t be disappointed.

Cheers eh!

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Beer enthusiast and advocate. Recognized beer judge and traveler of west coast beer destinations.