Saturday, October 20, 2012

Analysis: Three Pumpkin Beers II

In October of 2010, I reviewed three seasonal pumpkin beers. A few years ago, I sampled the Howe Sound Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Brooklyn Brewing's Post Road Pumpkin Ale, and Granville Island Pumpkin Ale. Of these three, I liked the Howe Sound Ale for its rich nutmeg flavour and warming 8% abv. Last week, I tried three different pumpkin beers to ring in the fall season. I tried these with my girlfriend and family, and we sampled them through a blind taste test. Let's just say we easily reached a consensus.

1) Tree Brewing - Jumpin Jack Pumpkin Ale    
From bottles of their Mad Cap White Ale to tallboys of their Thirsty Beaver Amber, I have never enjoyed the beer made by Kelowna-based Tree Brewing. I just don't like anything about them: I hate Kelowna, their branding is tacky, it tastes like they use adjuncts, and their beers are flabby and one-dimensional. Having said this, pumpkin ale is definitely one of my favourite flavoured beers, so I was eager to try Tree's Jumpin Jack. This beer is highly carbonated and super sweet. The nose is dominated by brown sugar and cinnamon, and there is very little evidence of pumpkin being the bouquet or the flavour. There was zero lacing on our glasses and the beer was a nondescript amber colour. If a Tree fell in Kelowna, would anyone give a care?

2) Phillips Brewing - Crooked Tooth Pumpkin Ale 
Smooth and more pumpkiny than spicy, this is yet another stellar beer by Phillips. This is my favourite BC brewer, and I'm always excited to try their seasonals. Unlike many autumn and pumpkin ales, Crooked Tooth is only 5% abv which makes it really easy to enjoy one (or two) of the 650ml bottles without getting squashed. It pours a hazy light orange and the yeast used results in a moderate, creamy head. There is little evidence of hops in the finish, yet this comforting ale finishes clean. A

3) Steamworks Brewing - The Great Pumpkin Ale
Recently available in liquor stores, Steamworks beer is equally tasty in bottles as it is straight from the vats in their downtown Vancouver brewpub. This beer has a similar profile to Tree's Jumpin Jack - the copper/amber colour, the small head, the emphasis on spice rather than pumpkin - but Steamworks actually knows how to make a well-balanced beverage. Despite the brewery adding "100 lbs of pumpkin directly to the mash", nutmeg and cloves dominate the palate with this brew. This is pleasant though because the malt and squash cut the spice and provide the beer with a biscuity taste. Not amazing, but well made. B-

Keywords: "BC pumpkin beer", "Alex Dawkins", "Phillips Crooked Tooth"

Monday, October 8, 2012

Tap & Barrel

My experience at Vancouver's Tap & Barrel was like going up and down that first big hill on a roller coaster: the entrance was inviting (...ascending), the set-up of the beer and wine taps along the bar was overwhelming (...nearing the top), the seating was ample and comfortable (...rolling over the peak), but the food and service were complete failures (...the steep, scary descent). People I have complained to always come back with how money the patio is, but what will this place fall back on when the clouds roll in for Vancouver’s annual nine months of grey? I am not exaggerating when I say that our waitress provided the worst service I have experienced in Vancouver for several years. She was ridiculously slow, she screwed up a drink order for our table, she ignored attention-grabbing gestures, and she took for-ev-er to deliver the bill. The management must be partly to blame for this since it didn’t look like the other servers were doing much better. The food at Tap & Barrel is as sub-par as the service. There are some safe standards - such as burgers and salads - but the less conventional items - such as the sticky yam fries and the cast iron chicken - were literally a mess. Oh ya, I should mention that the impressive selection of craft beers they have will cost you $7.00 a glass, to start. If you are looking for a sweet patio in False Creek, I strongly encourage you to try The Wicklow or the Backstage Lounge.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Bellingham's Elizabeth Station

There is only one thing preventing me from moving to Bellingham in order to patronize this outstanding business on a daily basis. Well, two things, because I have an incredible girlfriend who is currently studying in Vancouver...but Elizabeth Station seriously needs espresso-based drinks! They have everything else I love in the world: obscure beers on tap, a cereal bar, a broad range of candy, and one of the largest canned and bottled craft beer selections in the Pacific Northwest. However, they only serve filtered coffee, which is a bummer. Before I was lucky enough to explore Elizabeth Station myself, a friend from Bellingham had difficulty describing the store to me: “It’s essentially a convenience store, except the proprietor has dedicated 80% of his inventory to delicious, rare beers and meads from the West Coast. Like, you have to look hard for things like milk and bread because there is so much friggin’ beer everywhere.” He actually did a good job of describing it, but it is hard to understand how amazing this place is until you experience it for yourself. 

The last time I visited Elizabeth Station, I bought two beers that I would highly recommend. You may be able to find them in a specialty beer shop, if you live in the Pacific Northwest. The first was New Belgium Brewing's Tart Lychee Ale. Dominated by lychee and cinnamon flavours, the sweetness of this complex brew is counteracted by the yeasts that the brewers have used, which provide the beverage with a puckering dryness. It's a perfect balance of sweet and sour, and the 7.5% abv really ties the room together. The second spectacular beer I bought was Sound Brewery's Humulo Nimbus Double IPA. One can't help but be intimidated by the title "Double IPA" but Sound's take on this Northwest-specific brew is totally approachable. With IBUs under 80 and tropical-tasting hops, this is a bold yet drinkable India Pale. It is mildly carbonated and slightly amber in colour, which also sets it apart from many bottled IPAs made in Washington and Oregon.