beer column

in case you missed me on the radio last night
here are my notes from my "spring beers" chat with stephen quinn:

The warmer weather makes you want to drink a lighter beer, to start putting aside those stouts and porters in favour of beers with crisper finishes and flavours that dance on the tongue. This is traditionally the time of year when lagers come to the forefront of beer consumption. I think the word of the season moves from "comforting" or "warming" to "refreshing"

There are two traditional beer styles that are associated with Spring.  Maibock, or May bock, which is brewed specifically for springtime consumption and Saisons which, before the invention of refrigeration, were brewed in the Spring to be consumed over the summer when weather got too hot to support brewing.

Maibocks are light in color with that refreshing lager crispness, but they have a heavier body and generally higher alcohol content than other light colored beer styles like Pilsner.  You’ll be hard pressed to find many Maibocks about, it isn’t a style we see brewed a lot on the West Coast.  Phillips brewed one back in 2010… If you really want to try one, Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale is an example of the style.

Saisons on the other hand, those you can find all over.  Saison used to be considered a dying style, but it has seen a huge resurgence in the past few years and saisons are now easy to find – both imported versions and locally brewed ones.

Originating in the farmhouse breweries of Wallonia, the French area of Belgium, saisons are a very versatile style - including blond and brown coloured ales, heavily bittered or refreshingly tart, well-hopped or gently spiced.  Each farmhouse had its own recipe and flavour twist, which has carried over into the saisons on offer today, so you’re going to want to try more than one to see if this is a style for you!  The highest rated imported saison is Saison Dupont, which you can find at private liquor stores.  Locally, some fine examples are Lighthouse’s Deckhand Belgian Saison and Driftwood’s Farmhouse Saison.
Other styles that have become associated with Spring are:

Kolsch, which is a light beer, sort of a cross between a pilsner and a lager, with a little spice character and a significant but not overwhelming bitter backbone.  Freya’s Gold from Odin Brewing in Seattle is on tap at St. Augustine’s right now.

Spiced Beer:  Wit beers from Belgium are spiced with coriander and orange peel, making them light and refreshing while still full of flavour, like Driftwood's White Bark. Also ginger beers are zesty and refreshing, like Phillips Ginger beer. 

Fruit Beer:  Many breweries release seasonal fruit beers in the springtime, often based on wheat beer recipes, offering flavors from raspberry to peach to mango. When picking a fruit beer remember the fresher the better so pick one that was brewed nearby or, even better, fresh on tab at your local brewpub, like Granville Island's Raspberry Wheat.

White IPA:  A new kid on the style block, this is a blending of two styles: belgian wit with india pale ale. The white ipa is perfect for spring drinking as it tangy from all of those belgian spice characteristics, balanced out with ipa bitterness. Kind of like spring weather that's sunny one day, cold and rainy the next, its a little bit of everything. A good example of this emerging style is the Deschutes Chainbreaker IPA.

Dopplebock:  which played an important role in one spring-time ritual - Lent. The story is that the monks of St. Francis of Paula of Munich originally brewed the chunky beer known as Salvator to provide them sustenance while they observed Lent by fasting. When the beer found its way to the general population it became known as double bock.  Again, not such a popular style in the Northwest and will be hard to find locally.

Several local breweries deliver their Spring seasonals to the usual craft beer establishments like the Alibi Room and St. Augustine's, so you can go try them side by side in a taster flight, or commit to a whole pint of something extra refreshing.

CAMRA Vancouver also has a Spring Sessional event at the Portside Pub on May 4th that will feature many of the local breweries showing off their "sessionable" beers. Sessionability being measured by the beers being 4.5% abv and under. There are still tickets available for this event, but they are going quickly so if you want to attend, I'd buy those tickets asap! You can get more details about that

Also on the horizon is Vancouver Craft Beer Week - May 31 through June 8. Tickets go on sale on April 22nd. I'll be talking about all the events on my next column in two weeks' time

Some Spring beers that I love are:  Conrad, formerly of Steamworks', ginger beer, so I hope that Steamworks will be brewing that again this Spring even though Conrad has moved on to Brassworks; and Iain Hill of Yaletown Brewpub's raspberry wheat ale. That one is usually available in the summer though, and Iain assures me that if he can find the black raspberries for the ale, he'll be brewing it again this year.

I am also looking forward to trying Tree Brewing’s new “Character” 12 can pack – it has two new brews that sound perfect for Spring drinking:  Groove Session Ale and Wild Ruby Raspberry Ale, alongside the established Beach Blonde Lager and Thirsty Beaver Amber Ale.  That launches this month so be on the lookout for it.

Beer Picks:

Moving on now to my beer picks, here are some spring beers that are currently available:

Parallel 49's Hay Fever saison is on tap at several places around town, as well as in bombers available at the brewery and liquor stores.

Ninkasi Spring Reign Ale is often on tap at Portland Craft, and available in bombers at private liquor stores

Deschutes River Ale - on tap at St. Augustine's



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