Over a barrel

You can tell it's spring because there's a possibility of natural lighting in these photos now.

You can tell it’s spring because there’s a possibility of natural lighting in these photos now.

The Specs: Phillips Brewing Co. (Victoria, BC), Puzzler Barrel-Aged Belgian Black IPA
7.3 per cent ABV, 650mL

So, let’s talk about barrel-aging. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. This is awkward, because if you throw a rock in your average craft-beer-fancying liquor store right now there’s a pretty high chance you’re going to hit at least one bottle that boasts some time in old wood (and a small chance you’ll instead hit a liquor store employee. Don’t throw rocks in liquor stores.)

I’m not exactly opposed to the taste barrel-aging seems to impart — a sort of rich, funky-fruity warmth that reminds me a bit of those super high-alcohol styles like tripel — but the second I notice that tone in a bottle, odds are good I’m going to lose the ability to taste anything else going on.

Which brings me to the barrel-aged version of Philips Puzzler, where I really, really wanted to taste something else.

The first couple sips of this beer were exactly what I was hoping for from something with the words “black IPA” on its label — a broad swath of hoppy bitterness traversing a more classic dark beer full of toasted grains and just a whiff of coffee. Mild sweetness, thick head, nice, dense mouthfeel a bit beyond the usual IPA. All-around, a fantastic beer I was intensely excited to drink.

And then the barrel aging kicked in around sip five and I lost all sense of the hops… and everything else besides.

To be fair, Philips does prime you for this a bit on its website, where the special aged Puzzler’s hop character is described as “a more subtle presence” than that of the non-aged garden-variety stuff. From my experience so far, I’m guessing the original is more my line. If I can track a bottle down somewhere in Kamloops, I’ll report back.

Moral of this story, I guess, is don’t buy barrelled beer unless you mean it. While I’m sure there’s a place for it that I enjoy, it’s going to take some more tasting for me to figure out just when that is.

(An aside that’s not really here nor there: It’s interesting how the flavours of barrel-aging really change your perception of a beer. After a pint of this, I was sure it must be about an 8 or 9 per cent, but it’s a relatively mild 7.3. That bourbon-y wood really amps up the boozy flavour, if not the ABV.)

Best of 2014 — Beer edition

By all accounts 2014 was a huge year for craft beer in B.C. According to a December report from The Province, 17 new breweries launched in 2014, enough to put the total number in British Columbia alone at more than 80. And with more in the works, it looks like the province is on track to crack 100 breweries in 2015.

Here at Bad Rider, your faithful reviewer discovered a number of new faves, took her first stabs at hop appreciation, and drank more fucking pumpkin beer than anyone should ever be required to imbibe. Talking about myself in third person aside, it was a heck of a lot of fun.

But, with only four months of reviews to fall back on, and a local government election which interrupted beer-side scheduling, any real look back at my favourite brews of 2014 has to go outside the parameters of this blog. Consider it bonus content.

For me, a best-of beer isn’t just tasty in the moment. It’s the sort of beer you want to purchase again and again, even as weird and fascinating new releases crowd  into the best spots at your local liquor emporium. They’re the beers you text message friends and co-workers to recommend while half cut, or drag everyone you know out to sample first-hand.

Not all of them are flashy, but all of them are definitely worth the time.


It’s the sort of thing I’d never even considered reviewing for this blog, but man did Phillip’s Blue Buck ever turn into my craft brew of choice on non-review nights. With its pleasantly hoppy but not overly bitter finish and medium body, it’s such a solid choice when you want a beer that can deliver some interest without requiring too much of your attention. I fished a lot of these out of sampler packs during after work hangouts, and it was my go-to choice for meeting friends for strictly one (OK, maybe two) pints on weeknights.

Hon. Mention: Red Racer’s Pilsner, which graced every picnic this summer that was too highbrow for PBR.


I bought six bottles of Goose Island’s Sofie this year, which is more than any other bomber in my life, probably. But, because it hails from Phoebe’s country, it never merited a full review. Bright yellow, bubbly, a bit fruity and a little sweet, it works well with veggie-heavy cuisine (more important than usual, when the reviewer is vegetarian) and the champagne-style bottle is great for presentation.


While I’ll always love Whistler Grapefruit, Cannery Brewing’s Blackberry Porter was one of my best finds of the year. Jammy, smooth and full of flavour, it’s completely unlike most of the fruit beers I tasted this summer, and one of the small number of brews where the fruit seemed less stunt and more an obvious enhancement.


I need to buy more of Lighthouse Brewing’s Seaport Vanilla Stout. The beer — smooth, packed with pure vanilla bean, but not too sweet — is like the best beer milkshake without the heaviness (or lactose) of dairy. It’s been on my mind constantly since I reviewed it.


Red Collar Brewing’s Trippel, a light-coloured but syrupy 9 per cent-er, taught me and many of my co-workers a valuable lesson about the value of pacing oneself and knowing the alcohol content of your drink before you swig. I don’t actually think it’s my favourite Red Collar beer — that may be the Doppelbock going on tap in February, or the Mild, which I haven’t yet imbibed enough times to call with certainty — but it’s a brew I’ve gone back for multiple times and had a few interesting evenings out of as a result. And what more can you ask, really?


Less pumpkin, more anything else at all seriously never again what were you thinking Andrea.

Pumpkindrome: The Finals

What? You try finding 18 glasses in an office.

What? You try finding 18 glasses in an office.

The Challengers: Phillips Crooked ToothHowe Sound Brewing Co.’s PumpkineaterRed Racer Spiced Pumpkin Ale


After way, way too much tasting, it all comes down to this.

Over the past weeks I’ve gotten a little too close to these beers, developed some personal prejudices and a few too many opinions. So, for our Pumpkindrome finale I decided it was time to call in the big guns, to assemble a crack team of —

OK. I just asked my co-workers if they wanted to drink beer on a Friday.

Together, six of us sipped our way through a sorta-kinda blind taste test of our top three beers. The results were near unanimous. Let’s count ’em down.

3. When faced with solid competition, none of us could figure out how Red Racer had made it so far in the challenge. The hoppiest of the three beers, it garnered a less than enthused reaction in a room filled with IPA-deniers (my people, truly). This particular bottle seemed to have a slightly grassy finish as well, which didn’t sit well with the pumpkin. “Not my style of beer” was about the nicest comment, with several panellists saying they didn’t enjoy the beer at all.

2. Howe Sound performed valiantly in Pumpkindrome, winning praise from me all the way along for its complex spices. But, at the end of the day it wasn’t able to capture the hearts of most of my co-workers. “I like the way it tastes,” said one. “But I would get sick of it so fast.”

Only my editor staunchly defended Howe Sound as a number one pick, calling it smoother, creamier and richer than everyone else’s number one choice, “with a sweet kick that reminds me of a good honey brown.”

1. I had a feeling Phillips was going all the way the first time I tasted it. It’s bright, light qualities seemed to hook my co-workers (sans editor) too. “It’s a slam dunk,” said one, with another calling it the best-balanced between pumpkin and beer.

While I’ve complained about the difficulties of innovating with pumpkin beer, Phillips is a bit of a different breed — light and not as sweet than many of its competitors while still maintaining both pumpkin and spice flavours. If you do prefer something darker, however, you won’t go wrong with Howe Sound.

Personally, I knew where the win had to go as I was sneaking another glass while my co-workers made their tasting notes. The Crooked Tooth was gone before we’d finished tabulating the results.


Your winner: Phillips Crooked Tooth

Your winner: Phillips Crooked Tooth

Red Racer vs. Shock Top

Redemption round (for me, I mean) — Red Racer vs. Shock Top

Redemption round (for me, I mean) — Red Racer vs. Shock Top

It’s the semifinals of Bad Rider’s pumpkin battle, and it’s time to explain the rules for our next section.

Since I never did track down the right number of beers for an even bracket (Kamloops was experiencing some weird beer stockage issues for much of early October, but that’s another, much whinier post), we’re headed into round two with five beers on the block.

Thus, I’ve decided my favourite of the competition thus far gets a bye.

So congratulations Phillip’s Crooked Tooth! You move to round three. Phillips was our first week winner and impressed me with its balanced mix of spices and pumpkin. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a tough one to beat when we reach final three.

As to the rest of our brews, best wishes and spices.

The Challengers: Shock Top Pumpkin and Red Racer’s Spiced Pumpkin Ale 
(Click through to see the original matchups that brought these two to our semifinals.)

I’ll be honest, this was over in a sip.

As I mentioned last time, Shock Top is not my bag. Too thin, too chemical, way too sweet, it’s here in Round Two by the virtue of another beer’s failure.

If you’re in the mood for a pumpkin beer and you have the choice between these two contenders? For the love of Good and beer, pick Red Racer.

The craft option is only medium-sweet with a darker, more caramel edge to its sugar. It’s mild on the spices, as is Shock Top, and the pumpkin is a little one-dimensional compared to some beers in its class, but it’s a thoroughly solid pumpkin offering. I’d recommend it on mouthfeel alone, over Shock Top.

Will it stand up to our other two finalists? That’s a question that’ll have to wait for the finals.

Shallow Drinker Failure


Even the magic of the Christmas mug couldn’t save this guy.

The Specs: Phillips Brewing Co. (Victoria, B.C.) Electric Unicorn White IPA
6.5 per cent ABV, 650 mL, seasonal

It’s a rare, rare day when a truly undrinkable beer passes my lips. You know, the kind of beer where the only proper response is a dismayed face and resolve to get through at least one damn glass of the stuff. For research.

That the first truly bad beer on this blog is coming from Phillips is a shock to me. Phillips’ Blue Buck is one of my go-to craft beers. While I don’t love everything in their lineup equally, nothing has ever led me to believe they’d be capable of… of…

Let me put it this way:

The entire time I was grimacing my way through a glass of Electric Unicorn White IPA, all I could think was, ‘what’s the weird fruity note I can taste alongside all that grass?’

I’m not sure exactly how an electric unicorn differs from the regular type — laser beam eyes, if the bottle label is to be believed — but this IPA tastes exactly like what I’d want to feed to a horse with a horn on its head and undefined magic lightening powers.

What I originally thought might be a grapefruit aftertaste turned solidly pineapple juice after a couple sips. The grassy note, meanwhile, resolved itself into a taste I remember from rolling around in the hayloft of my grandparents’ barn.

Pineapple and hay.

If this sounds better to you than it has to anyone I’ve described it to so far, congrats! Apparently you’re the target audience for this beer.

You and the unicorns.

It probably serves me right for picking a beer simply because its label looked like something that one guy on every university campus who’s still really into Grateful Dead would use decorate his dorm room.

I never have had much time for The Dead.

I should have taken it for the warning it was.