Sunday, July 17, 2011

Vancouver Island Beer Championship

So three weeks ago, I visited Victoria, B.C. for four days and during that time, I tasted 61 different beers in pursuit of the very best that Vancouver Island had to offer in terms of local beer.

Keep in mind that this competition should be taken with a grain of salt for many reasons, including:

1) Some beers were tasted on site and others were tasted using market samples, and often in differing packages

2) Beers tasted were in different sample sizes, glasses, and temperatures.

3) Only beers good enough to be identified as finalists were revisited later

4) I don't normally taste very much craft beer, but I know what I like.

That said, here are the competitors:

Canoe Brewpub, Marina & Restaurant

Beaver Brown Ale

Red Canoe Lager

River Rock Bitter

Siren's Song Pale Ale

Summer Honey Wheat Ale

Driftwood Brewery

Crooked Coast Amber Ale

Driftwood Ale

Farmhand Ale

Fat Tug IPA

White Bark Ale

Gulf Islands Brewing

Salt Spring Island Heatherdale Ale

Lighthouse Brewing Company

Beacon IPA

Lighthouse Lager

Race Rocks Amber Ale

Riptide Pale Ale

Phillips Brewing Company

Amnesiac Double IPA

Blue Buck

Centennial IPA

HopCircle IPA

Hoperation Tripel Cross Belgian IPA

Instigator 2010 Doppelbock

Krypton Rye PA

Longboat Chocolate Porter

Raspberry Wheat

Service 1904

Skookum Cascadian Brown Ale

Slipstream Cream Ale

Wheatking Hefeweizen

Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub

Blue Bridge Double Pale Ale

Casked Nut Brown Ale

Discovery Ale

Extra Special Bitter

India Pale Ale

Jameson's Scottish Ale

Lion's Head Cascadia Dark Ale

Northwest Ale

Peach Hefeweizen

Summer Ale

Tsarist Imperial Stout


Appleton Brown Ale

Arctic Ale

Buckerfield's Extra Special Bitter

Extra IPA

Oatmeal Stout

Old Towne Lager

Pandora Pale Ale

Raspberry Ale

Riley's Scotch Ale


The Moon Under Water

Lunar Pale Ale

Moonlight Blonde Ale

Summer Ale

Tranquility IPA

Vancouver Island Brewing

Double Decker IPA

Hermann's Dark Lager

Honey Ale

Phoenix Lager

Piper's Pale Ale

Sea Dog Amber Ale

Spyhopper Honey Brown

Vancouver Islander

Fortunately, there was no beer in that list which was bad enough to be singled out as undrinkable, but there can only be one winner. Here are the finalists:

3rd Place:

Summer Ale - The Moon Under Water Brewpub

This one has only been out for a few weeks. I come never to expect greatness from a seasonal beer, but this one is different. You can never go wrong with Saaz hops, they have a place in any beer. It's a bit wheaty at first, but that goes away after the third or fourth sip. It's also just a little mouthcoating and the bitterness lingers a bit more than I would expect from something which is supposed to be a light beer. However, with a 4.2% ABV, you'd have no problem putting away 3 or 4 during the summer. The unfortunate bit about The Moon Under Water is that it's a bit out of the way and closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but the food and the beers are both good.

2nd Place:

Driftwood Ale - Driftwood Brewery

Driftwood is a place that's serious about its beer. It's a lot smaller in scale than its more established neighbours over at Vancouver Island Brewing and Phillips Brewing, and it seems they don't do as many tours either. But Kevin and Tim over there were nice enough to show us around, even though it looked like there was a lot going on at the time. Their flagship brand, Driftwood Ale, has a nice aroma of fruity hops and good quality bitterness that lingers slightly on aftertaste. Aside from that, it's fairly clean, clears quickly, and pretty dry. Something that's refreshing and easy to drink.

1st Place:

Farmhand Ale - Driftwood Brewery

Honestly, I've never had a bad Belgian ale. I'm convinced that the secret to this gem is good yeast. It reminded me of Unibroue's La Fin Du Monde at doesn't kick your ass, take your name, and get you drunk like La Fin Du Monde, but it is still a little stronger than most at 5.5% ABV. You'll get oranges/coriander and cloves/spice on the nose which might convince some of you amateurs that it's closer to Rickard's White or Hoegaarden. It's more grainy/more wheaty than those two and clears more quickly as well. Maybe a little heavy for the style, but I think it works for them. Very slightly drying on the finish. I think this one will satisfy the trendy beer drinker who enjoys all the weird fruit-infused shit that passes for craft beer these days, and the beer snob/Bavarian purist of 1516 at the same time. That means this one's a winner.

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