Sunday, March 24, 2013

Big River:Beer&Bowl in B.C.

     A couple of days ago I motored over the border into Canada to check out another Lower Mainland brewery: Big River Brewpub in Richmond.  I had read that this was next to a bowling alley, but was not prepared for how cheek-by-jowl the two were.  Here is a view of the brite tanks room, imagine the sound of tenpins falling:

I met the brewmaster, Michael Stewart, a third-generation brewer who learned the craft from father and grandfather and started out at a brewery in Vancouver, about fifteen miles north of this spot. He showed me his copper clad brew kettle, heart of the 10-hectoliter (oops, metric up here, call that about seven of our beer barrels) system.
Besides kegs,, they fill 650-ml (our 22-oz) bottles.  They had not previously created their own growlers but Michael was happy to report that the first Big River growlers should be delivered next week.  The name of the business refers to the Fraser River just outside the door, the Fraser being B.C.'s equivalent of the Columbia. The company was also in the process of renaming their ales and lagers to reflect the river's history: Sidewheeler Blonde, Logger Lager, River Pilot ESB.  I had a pint of the pilsner, soon to be known as Dragon Dance Pilsner, together with a tasty burger.
Here was the best part:  a pint and a burger were only $10 Canadian (par with our dollar).  Was that every Thursday, I asked?  No, it's every day the Vancouver Canucks play an NHL game and they were playing the Coyotes down in Phoenix that night.
That wasn't the only deal.  Across the street is a big cineplex--IMAX screen, the whole works--and every Thursday evening they do a dinner and a movie package for $18.  You get a gift certificate good for the price of a regular film; pay extra if you choose a 3D or IMAX version.
Good beer, too.  Next time I'll try the taster tray.
(Visited 3/21/13)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tacoma: Wingman Brewers

   Down in Tacoma, across the street from the Dome, Wingman Brewers is livening up the scene with evocations of WWII airplanes.  They tell their story on their Facebook page, about how Ken Thoburn and three friends started home-brewing in college and now, just a few years after graduation, went commercial and are going on two years as a brewery.  Ken's grandfather painted nose cone art on WW II bombers and inspired the names and logos of most of their brews.  Here are two that they put out in cans:
   Production is limited, with a one-barrel system and self-distributing, so the cans go no farther north than Federal Way, about twelve miles up the road.  But, a seven-barrel system and more fermenters are in the works, so sometime this year Wingman may be making ripples in bigger ponds.  For now, sales right here are the biggest revenue stream, and they make those sales just three afternoons and evenings a week.
    The cans are filled by a mobile canning service, but Wingman does some bottling itself.  I got to take a pic of the two bottled options, keeping in mind that these labels have not been approved by the feds and have been resubmitted with minor changes.
     White Betty sounded interesting.  Ken said he makes his basic Tripel recipe (on tap as Miss-B-Haven) and adds some Semillon grapes toward the end of the boil.  Tripels always give off fruity esters anyway, and I wondered what a wine grape would do to the overall effect.  One of my favorite Tripels is Pike's Monks Uncle and I wanted to run a comparison at home.  Tyler, the barman, sold me an unlabeled bottle of White Betty and I picked up the Pike on the way back to Bellingham.
     I put the contestants on the table and poured a bit of each into my two favorite tulip glasses.
Each ale weighs in at 9.0% alcohol by volume; Pike lists its bitterness as 34-38 IBUs while I didn't have those numbers for Wingman.  Aroma was the first check. Pike has a yeasty nose while Wingman sniffs with a   real tang, putting the grapes out in front.  Tip of the tongue: Wingman is sending reminders of apples here.  Pike is disclosing a blend of spices, not listed so I am guessing: coriander, clove, maybe mint.  Full mouth test:  a bit more bitterness for Wingman.  Ken said he used some bitter orange peel.  Pike: Rich, still spicy, reminding me of a raisin cake, which would bring nutmeg, maybe cinnamon into the mix. Some of this comes out in the long aftertaste.  Either one is a fine Tripel.  Cheers to Wingman, wishing them prosperity and a wider distribution in the future.
(Visited 2/28/13)