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Craft brewers spoil appetite for beer water

Friends visiting from Saskatchewan this summer made a curious observation on arrival: Opening a case of Bud Light, they lamented how hard it was to find "normal" beer in Victoria. They then handed me a Bud as though it were a restorative tonic.

Friends visiting from Saskatchewan this summer made a curious observation on arrival: Opening a case of Bud Light, they lamented how hard it was to find "normal" beer in Victoria. They then handed me a Bud as though it were a restorative tonic.

Reluctantly, I cracked the can and sipped what can only be described as water with beer flavouring. I tried feigning refreshment, but my forced smile spoke volumes. Certainly, Bud Light puts the Kraft in craft beer.

Settle down, displaced Prairie folk. Before emailing diatribes about my pretentious ways, bear in mind that my birth certificate was issued by the province of Saskatchewan, I spent many years in that trapezoid province, and I still don my 'Riders T-shirt on game day. But for all that is great about Saskatchewan, it isn't exactly leading the craft-beer movement.

Does this make me an "elitist wanker," as one aggrieved reader so eloquently put it? Perhaps.

Still, blame should be shouldered, in part, by Victoria's local brewing companies, which have long pampered me with exotic beers in a range of styles. Several have released new products this fall that will continue to surprise and spoil.

PHILLIPS BREWING CO.

Phillips has outdone itself with the release of three new products:

Eric Jourdan's Northwest Amber Ale

650mL 6.2 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV)

Eric Jourdan, winner of the amber ale category in this year's Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) Amateur Brewing Competition, was invited into the Phillips brewhouse to work with their team on this product.

While "homebrew" might deter some, it is fair to say there is nothing amateur about this ale.

Fresh and lively, it pours gleaming copper in the glass with a nice head.

Fresh hop fragrance translates into piney resin in the mouth, with a pleasant malt profile hovering in the background.

Puzzler Black Belgian IPA

650mL 9.1 per cent ABV

Sharing the wealth all round, Phillips also collaborated with Great Lakes Brewing Co. in Toronto. The result is a Belgian IPA combining lots of black malt and Pacific Northwest Hops with Belgian yeast strains to create a full-bodied beer that is more hoppy than yeasty. I would have liked more funky yeast, but others will prefer this hoppy New World take.

Warning: at 9.1 per cent it packs a punch; pair it with a couch or La-Z-Boy recliner.

Green Reaper Fresh Hop IPA 650mL 6.5 per cent ABV

As the name suggests, the Green Reaper is all about fresh green hops in a typical Pacific Northwest style. Hop-heads will rejoice in yet another bitter-delicious IPA coming to market, but at the risk of committing heresy, one has to wonder if the holy grail of hopped-up IPAs is getting too much play. Time for a new religion?

DRIFTWOOD BREWING CO.

Mad Bruin Sour Brown Ale 650mL 7.0 per cent ABV

As the story goes, a cooper's hawk flew into the Driftwood Brewery one day and took up residence in the rafters for 24 hours. The guys below took it as a good omen, and so started Driftwood's Bird of Prey series.

Mad Bruin is the second release in the BoP series and it is like nothing else produced in town. A Belgian style Oud Bruin (Old Brown) employing different yeasts, this ale has been aged in oak barrels for 16 months before blending with fresh ale.

The result is a vivacious and complex beer with myriad flavour profiles, ranging from sour cherry and dried fruit, to sweet malt and oak.

The pronounced sourness is not for everyone, but those who appreciate acquired tastes will gladly pucker up.

VANCOUVER ISLAND BREWING CO.

Storm Watcher Winter Lager

341 mL 5.5 per cent ABV

Once I develop an opinion about a particular brewery it tends to stick. Until recently, I regarded most VIB brews as pleasant, but not inspiring.

My tectonic attitude shifted this summer with the release of their Beachcomber Summer Ale. Following on that success is their new Winter Lager, which displays inspiration and novel characteristics of vanilla, toffee and caramel. Fruity and malty in the mouth, the taste lingers in a long, pleasant aftertaste.

HOYNE BREWING CO.

Voltage Espresso Stout

650 mL 5.6 per cent ABV

Collaborating with Habit Coffee, Sean Hoyne has added "abundant shots of hand-pulled espresso" to this beer, creating a stout that smells and tastes of roasted coffee, combined with a sweet, malty profile that tempers the bitterness of the espresso.

But good luck trying to find it outside of Hoyne's retail store in Rock Bay.

I tried four private stores before snagging the last bottle at 6 Mile Liquor. Note to Hoyne: stop being a tease and pull more shots.

garthe@shaw.ca