The Sour Sessions

Not only tasty, but totally on point with your life jacket.

Not only tasty, but totally on point with your life jacket.

There are good beers, there are OK beers, and then there are the beers that are so interesting, so different, so jolt-your-tastebuds that you’re wandering around a barbecue at 6 p.m., shoving your pint under everyone’s nose, demanding “try this.”

Right now, Parallel 49 Brewing Co.‘s sour beer lineup manages to encompass all three.

Even in the variable world of craft beer, sours are strange beasts.

Usually fermented with wild yeasts and special bacteria, and sometimes aged for a year or more to develop flavours, these brews can push the limit on what even a reasonable widely-drunk craft beer fan might have encountered in the liquor stores and pubs of Kamloops.

Depending on the beer, a sour can offer the same lip-smacking sensation sour mix brings to a cocktail — minus the heavy sugar and dish-soap fake lemon.

Parallel 49, out of Victoria, is going heavy on the sours this sumer. So far, I’ve picked up three locally. And, to play into all the beer snob cliches, they seem to get better the more specialized and limited they are.

Apricotopus (6.3 per cent ABV) describes itself as a sour saison with apricots, and that’s kind of what it tastes like — in that it’s kind of fruity, kind of wheat-y and kind of tart. While it’s crisp and refreshing thanks to souring bacteria, it’s the least memorable.

More interesting is the Sour White Ale (7.5 per cent ABV) out of the brewery’s barrel-aged series, which seems like the perfect beer to buy the avowed wine drinker in your life.

Aged in Chardonnay barrels, this wild-yeasted beer’s got the richer mouthfeel of wine, a bit of oak and a note of not-quite-ripe pear.

There’s a funkiness here you won’t find in wine (something that’s apparently common with sours), not to mention more carbonation, but drinking it felt like crossing the line into sommelier territory.

Different still from both of these is the brewery’s third anniversary offering, Lil Redemption (6.7 per cent ABV), a sour cherry beer that lives up to its description.

This beer pours nearly opaque red, with inches of lacing on the glass. It’s got a taste to match, pulpy with the flavour of sour cherries and with a gorgeous earthiness courtesy of its wild yeast. Yet, a good amount of carbonation kept it from feeling overwhelmingly heavy.

According to Parallel 49, this one spent two years in Cabernet barrels before the cherries were blended in. While I didn’t pick that up at all in drinking (I’m really not a wine person), the sheer amount of care and time paid off in one of the most complex, interesting sips of the summer.

One night only woes

photo 1photo 2
(L to R: Moon Under Water’s Berliner Weisse and This is Hefeweizen. Also my knitting bag because that’s how I roll.)

If there’s any style of beer that is a total quality crapshoot in North America, it’s the hefeweizen.

For the past couple months I’ve been drinking every heffe I can get my hands on — from an alright Columbus, Ohio offering to a Seattle brew that asked the question: who puts ginger in a hefeweizen? (A: someone who apparently hates the actual taste of hefeweizens, but likes those Lipton nighttime teas a whole bunch).  For the most part, I’ve been disappointed.

Which is why I’ve been dying to try Moon Under Water’s This is Hefeweizen (5.5 per cent ABV). If there’s a heffe with hype behind it in B.C., it’s this one.

So, when my favourite local hipster watering hole Red Beard announced a Moon Underwater tap takeover this past Friday I was there, and This is Hefeweizen was first on my list of beers to drink.

Now I’m almost regretting attending, because this is Hefeweizen blew so much of what I’ve been stuck with out of the water and I’m not sure I can go back.

Like Russell Brewing’s White Rabbit, my other fave so far this year, this beer actually features those notes of clove and banana all lesser hefeweizens only promise. Moon is more mellow and traditional, with a banana flavour that stays clean and true all the way through the sip, rounded out at the end by those spice notes. It’s much less sweet than a lot of heffe pretenders, and more consistent. Where other versions seem to go a bit of kilter the more time you spend with them, the complex, hazy flavour stayed with me until the tail end of the tasting session — when I ordered an appetizer with arugula and garlic and messed up my taste buds hard for about half an hour.

Worth a note as well is Moon’s Berliner Weisse (3.2 per cent ABV), a nice lower-alcohol sour option that reminded me of my Tom Collins and whiskey sour drinking days. It’s got a super-light profile and made late-evening patio drinking bearable even in the Kamloops heat.

Light Side of the Moon and Hip as Funk, were good as well, though both are less engineered to my own personal tastes.

But, here’s the dilemma: Now that I’ve started to fall for this Victoria-based brewery, I have no idea where to find any of what I liked again. While I’ve seen Moon’s stuff for sale locally, it’s only the IPA (whatever) and the dunkel (not a summer option in my books). Kamloops, take pity on a humble beer blogger and stock this stuff outside of one-night events.

Watermelon win

Not quite a full glass per bottle, but there's a lot of 'em.

Not quite a full glass per bottle, but there’s a lot of ’em.

The Specs: Parallel 49 Brewing Co. (Victoria, B.C.) Seed Spitter Watermelon Wit
5 per cent ABV, 6-packs


I was skeptical, I’ll admit it. A good beer that really tastes of watermelon didn’t seem possible to me.

But, it is and Seed Spitter’s it. This stuff is really nice as Kamloops creeps into the 30s and I start spending my time in front of the fan whenever I’m in my apartment.

The beer gets a bit of natural sweetness from the watermelon, but mostly captures the slight sharpness of the fruit as you take those last bites closer to the rind, as well as the juicy, refreshing quality of the melon. There’s a bit of wheat to finish it off, which plays nicely with what comes first, and then you’re done. Wham, bam, simple and super light and very summery.

I tend to hold off on buying six packs because a) who has time to dedicate to six of one beer when there’s so much craft out there and b) a lot of craft’s just get to be too much after a couple bottles.

This probably won’t last past Monday — at the latest.

Rhubarb Fields Forever

Table saison, meet table cloth.

Table saison, meet table cloth.

The Specs: Lighthouse Brewing Co. (Victoria, B.C.), Jackline Rhubarb Grisette
5.5 per cent ABV, 650mL

Table saisons (a.k.a. grisettes) are popping up fairly consistently this spring. Parallel 49’s excellent Brews Brothers 12 pack offered not one but two takes on the style, and now here’s another Victoria brewery with an offering.

From what I understand, a table saison is meant to fill a place similar to that of a session ale — light, eminently quaffable, and made to be put away in large volumes. With a little more flavour than their session counterparts, I’m all for a table saison craze. Please, brewers of B.C., I will take as many of these as you throw my way.

(Of course, only in the craft brewing industry would a beer with this much alcohol be considered a “table” style, which Google informs me ought to clock in at less than two per cent ABV. Then again, would you put down your hard-earned dollars on classy near beer? Yeah, me either.)

Lighthouse’s offering is the second rhubarb-based beer I’ve tried from the company, and compared to last year’s Rhubie Rhubarb Ale, a big step up.

Where Rhubie required a certain amount of straining to find the main ingredient, Jackline is up front. The beer captures both the tartness and bitterness particular to fresh rhubarb, rounding them out with some sweet wheat. Unlike some saisons I’ve tried (Central City’s excellent Detective Saison springs to mind), this one doesn’t go in for spicy notes, but the rhubarb consistently interesting on its own, giving the beer an almost citrus, almost sour quality all its own. Add in plenty of bubbles and a good, clean finish, and you’ve got an entirely refreshing brew.

Really, you’ve got to give Lighthouse the nod for innovation in the field of rhubarb beer if nothing else. These guys are pretty much blazing the trail alone, and our pints are better for it.


We’re putting the band back together

For most of the last week, I’ve been feeling too guilty to review the thing I’ve been drinking. After all, how much do you want to listen to me rave about something you probably can’t get?

Yep, that’s right, I’m on the Brews Bros. train.

Parallell 49 and 12 other breweries have teamed up for a Blues Bros.-inspired 12 pack, and I’m in love. For the past week and weekend, I’ve been super excited every night to pick my one or two beers out of this box and sample some new flavours. Even the beers I wasn’t super excited about (I would have liked to have seen a few of the IPAs swapped for other styles — maybe a porter or another pilsner or pale ale?) were elevated by the anticipation, the surprise and, I’ll admit it, the size.

Committing to a full bomber of a beer you’re not stoked on can be a lot to ask, but less than 350mL is a breeze. In many cases I was left wanting more.

Standouts were a Basil IPA collab with Storm Brewing (basil oil and mellow hops felt like an echo of pizza and beer in the best way, and since basil and grapefruit pair awfully well there’s more sense here than you might expect) as well as a tripel with Moon Under Water and a saison with Dageraad. The nitrogenated smoked brown ale produced with Persephone I’m drinking right now is also way better than I’d expected from something that was not my preferred style at all — the mouthfeel really is wonderful, even if I can’t pour this puppy for shit.

If you’re in Kamloops, alas, I’m not sure if this is available. From what I heard this was a single order for a few of the stores in town — though if you have an excuse to visit the coast, Parallel 49 is stocking bottles at its tasting room. Fingers crossed that I’m wrong about availability, because this a lot of fun as a venture, and absolutely worth your time and tastebuds.

The OK beers

The bubbles!

The bubbles!

The Specs: Four Mile Golden Ale/Lighthouse Brewing Barque Strong Golden Belgian Ale (both hailing from Victoria, B.C.)
4.6/8.2 per cent ABV, 650mL


So I’m a lying liar who lies because neither of these are wheat beers. And maybe that’s why I’m not as excited by either of them as I could be.

Four Mile’s offering is a really gorgeous colour — very dark, honey gold — and described as “crispy” and “tart” on the bottle copy. It’s certainly got an acid kick, but there’s nothing particularly standout about it. Like a lot of ale bottles I buy at random, it’s more upscale, cleaner-tasting Alexander Keiths than anything. It’s not a particular letdown, and I think this beer could do do you pretty well on the summer cookout circuit, but it doesn’t exactly lead to an overflow of words.

This also works as a by-comparison of the light in my kitchen at noon and 7 p.m.

This also works as a by-comparison of the light in my kitchen at noon and 7 p.m.

Since I’ve got a bit left (yay, day drinking), I think I might take Four Mile up on its suggestion to beer cocktail this stuff. I think a little grapefruit juice might give this some bitter bass notes that would round it out nicely.

Lighthouse’s offering I liked a bit more, but I think I was just hoping for something it’s not — a Canadian answer to Goose Island’s amazing Sofie.

Like Sofie, Barque is bright gold and bubbly, but its fruitiness is sweeter and less bright. Think pineapple and banana, with a bit of grains. I found it had a pretty decent heft and body, but it’s not very boozy tasting for the style or the ABV. This one’s probably worth giving another go with my expectations set in a more accurate place.

Season of the Wit

Spring foliage.

Spring foliage.

The Specs: Driftwood Brewery’s White Bark Witbier
5 per cent ABV, 650mL, regular series


Sunlight? Daylight savings time? Bah. You can tell it’s spring because all I want to do is drink wheat-based beers.

Driftwood’s offering actually felt like something my cider-drinking partner in reviewing might enjoy (if she didn’t hate all beer) — or at least, like something a very occasional cider drinker could almost mistake for same.

Light, quite dry and with a tartness that’s more Granny Smith apple than traditional orange to my tastebuds, White Bark’s not a particularly loud offering in this beer style. The coriander here is fairly subdued, and while there’s brightness and sharpness here like I said, it doesn’t remind me of orange, particularly. It’s also a very short sip, if you know what I mean — while some beers linger on your tongue long after you’ve taken a drink, White Bark is content to get gone pretty quickly.

The plus here is it’s easy to drink this stuff without feeling weighed down by the taste — something that can be a plus in a warm-weather beer, and I might like more when it’s really scorching in the summer — but compared to the other Driftwood offerings I’ve tasted  this one seemed a little subdued. I mean, Fat Tug’s basically a two-pint guitar solo. White Bark is more backyard barbecue playlist. Not bad, certainly, but not quite what I expected.

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.)

On that one IPA (you know which one)

Wow, I really short-poured myself on this mug, didn't I?

Wow, I really short-poured myself on this mug, didn’t I?

The Specs: Driftwood Brewery (Victoria, B.C.), Fat Tug IPA
7 per cent ABV, 650mL, regular series

Turns out, there’s a down side to becoming less of a dumb baby beer fan running around the liquor store grabbing bottles at random. At some point, it becomes impossible to ignore The Consensus — you know, those opinions of more seasoned craft drinkers repeated in so many Untappd reviews, blog posts, and friendly conversations that one can’t help but accept them as gospel.

And when it comes to Fat Tug, The Consensus is pretty darn devoted. Chances are, if you’re a seasoned beer drinker who likes IPAs, you already have an opinion on this one, and it’s probably fairly positive

I’ve had it described to me as B.C.’s best IPA, and a cursory Google turns up rapt reviews from across the country.

In the face of such praise I did the only natural thing — develop an intense paranoia that I would hate this beer.

Longtime blog readers already know about my deep-seated hops ambivalence. That I’m even drinking and sort of enjoying some IPAs these days is a shock, after years of thinking your average India Pale tasted like a pine cone, and not in a good way.

Fat Tug pours a pretty gold and smells mostly of grapefruit off the top. And, after a couple sips, I breathed a sigh of relief, because this beer does exactly what it promises to.

There’s a very juicy, grapefruit start, which slowly levels off into a lingering bitterness. Driftwood claims mango and melon flavours as well, but it’s really grapefruit’s show. I appreciate how controlled the bitterness is here, never overwhelming your palate to the point where you miss the upfront flavours.

It’s an IPA, but it’s an IPA I might conceivably drink again, under the right circumstances. For this style, that’s a victory.

(I’ll also note for the record I like this stuff a heck of a lot more than another of Driftwood’s hoppy offerings, New Growth Pale Ale, which I attempted to review back in January but just couldn’t work up the momentum to write about. Objectively it’s a pretty good beer, but I shouldn’t have to talk myself into appreciating something, you know?)

And now for something completely different

In the chocolate vs. vanilla wars, I'm siding with Seaport.

In the chocolate vs. vanilla wars, I’m siding with Seaport.

I know you’re all wondering about the Pumpkindrome, but my expert panel (well, “expert”) has yet to convene. So, in the meantime, here’s something else I’ve been enjoying when I get sick of squash.

The Specs: Lighthouse Brewing Co. (Victoria, B.C.) Seaport Vanilla Stout
5.5 per cent ABV, 650mL, limited release


Actually, speaking of sick, this is a beer I was fully expecting to be irritated with by the end of my first pint.

If no one had told me what the special ingredient in Lighthouse’s special edition stout was, I feel fairly confident I’d have figured it out on my own. With a strong whiff of pure vanilla on the nose (think extract, not candy) and an equally strong vanilla finish, it’s hard to miss.

But my first impression of Seaport was less “pure Madagascar vanilla beans” and more chocolate bar. With its notes of coffee and mild chocolate combining with the vanilla finish, Seaport tastes like nothing so much as a Crispy Crunch-Coffee Crisp hybrid. (Americans, I believe you call such items ‘candy bars’ and do not experience the joys of Coffee Crisp. For this I can offer only my apologies.)

Given these are among my favourite chocolate choices, I was predisposed to enjoy this beer, but I figured after about half a glass I’d start to get irritated. As I’ve mentioned in past, really sweet beer is decidedly not my thing.

But, here’s what I noticed on further sipping — Seaport isn’t a particularly sweet beer. The vanilla is deceptive, offering the illusion of sugar where there is none and acting in the same way citrus notes do in other varieties of beer. With vanilla to cut the usual heaviness of stout, this beer doesn’t get heavy and stays light on the tongue.

When I reached the end of the glass, it was disappointment I felt, not relief. Lighthouse has done something a little different and decidedly tasty here.