Life is pretty good here in Lotusland. There are many obvious attractions, such as mountains, ocean, wilderness, a mild climate and the benefit of looking down our noses at the rest of the country.
Now add one more thing to the list: craft breweries.
Notwithstanding our relatively small population, Victoria is blessed with several independent brewers who produce some remarkable and sophisticated beers. What's more, they aren't shy about experimenting and sticking their necks out with new products.
Granted, sometimes our hometown brewers strike out with new beers; other times they knock it out of the park. The following are six new beers that follow both paths in varying degrees.
CUVEÃ D'HIVER LOCAL MALT FARMHOUSE ALE
Driftwood Brewery 6.5 per cent alcohol, 650 ml
Driftwood is one of my favourite local breweries and so I had high expectations for their new CuveÃ© D'Hiver Local Malt Farmhouse Ale, made with only locally grown barley from the Saanich Peninsula. Fortunately, they didn't disappoint. In the glass CuveÃ© D'Hiver is a luminescent gold, with a nice head of froth. The distinctive sour dough smell of Belgian yeast wafts up with floral and citrus aromas. On the palate it is crisp and refreshing, with pleasing notes of orange, honey and malt. Despite the light colour, it is full of flavour that is beautifully balanced and doesn't overpower -an outstanding beer that showcases the local terroir.
In terms of pairings, the delicate complexity of this farmhouse ale would shine with soft and semi-soft cheeses, such as Morbier or Chaubier.
DECKHAND BELGIAN SAISON
Lighthouse Brewing Company 8.0 per cent alcohol, 650 ml
This Belgian-style seasonal beer is unfiltered for greater flavour, but the cloudiness might put off those who prefer their beverages clear. Still, if you get your head around the opacity you are rewarded with complex aromas, ranging from citrus, honey and floral, to dried apricot, honeysuckle and orange blossom. On the palate this saison is sweet and fruity, with a distinct tang and a hint of tart hops. The result is a beer that blends Belgian traditions with New World influences. With warmer weather approaching, this would be a fantastic companion to barbecued sausage.
Unfortunately, this highbrow beer comes in a lowbrow package. Unlike Driftwood and Phillips, who label their bottles with works of art, the boys at Lighthouse -and surely only boys would do this -have opted for a puerile cartoon of a busty coquette in a sailor's uniform. Surely, no woman or self-respecting male over the age of 30, is going to be inclined to order this bottle in public.
Phillips Brewing Company 5.0 per cent alcohol, 650 ml
Phillips has taken a chance with Ginger Beer. I have to give them credit for willingness to experiment, but sometimes fusion creates confusion: I couldn't get my head around the pronounced smell and taste of candied ginger, which obliterates all other influences. That said, if you like ginger -and I do -this is a refreshing novelty beer that would pair well with sushi.
HOPERATION TRIPEL CROSS BELGIAN IPA
Phillips Brewing Company 8.0 per cent alcohol, 650 ml
Like many hop-happy brewers in the Pacific Northwest, the wags at Phillips have developed their own ultra-hopped beer with this new offering.
Slightly opaque and gold in the glass, it's full of herbaceous hop aroma and maltiness that doesn't cancel notes of orange, lemon and pine.
Fresh and zingy on the palate, it has plenty of tart hoppiness, but not so much as to be ridiculous. Consider pairing with Indian curry or spicy Thai dishes.
RATTENBURY'S RED ALE
Buckerfields' Brewery (Swans) 6.5 per cent alcohol, 650 ml
Copper in colour with a light head, Rattenbury's Red Ale is slightly tart with delicate strawberry and raspberry on the nose, and pronounced notes of vanilla and caramel. The red fruit is delicate and doesn't cloy, balancing with sweet maltiness in a long, fruity finish. Unfortunately, the caramel dominates a bit too much.
Still, this red ale would pair well with cheddar cheese, pizza or a pulled-pork sandwich.
ÃBER BLONDE STRONG BELGIAN STYLE ALE
Spinnakers 8.2 per cent alcohol, 650 ml
Spinnakers makes some great beers, but this is not one of them. Visually impressive, the Ãber Blonde has great effervescence and a golden amber colour with a nice frothy head that subsides a bit too quickly.
On the nose there is sweet maltiness, citrus notes, refreshing hops and a distinctive hint of Belgian yeast.
Unfortunately, it disappoints on the palate, with a lack of structure and a tinny, almost soapy, finish that lingers too long.
One expects more from one of the pioneer craft brewers in the Pacific Northwest.