Monday, April 21, 2014

Victoria Beer Week: Spinnakers and a bunch more

   Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, is only about 25 miles from Bellingham as the crow--or should it be the gull?--flies, but we can't get their beers unless we go there. nor can they get ours.  This spring a range of breweries, among the very first in the craft beer renaissance, celebrate 30th anniversaries, and two of them are in Victoria, which was good enough to throw a craft beer week the first week of March.
    Spinnakers is special because of all the fine breweries in that class of '84 (Pyramid, Widmer Bros., Bridgeport on our side of the line, Granville Island and Vancouver Island Brewing on theirs) it is probably the least changed.  What would you change when you have a million dollar view of Victoria's Inner Harbor, and a beautifully furnished building with a posh restaurant downstairs and a casual pub above.
In Joe Wiebe's Craft Beer Revolution, a guide to B.C. breweries with the best format I've yet seen for books of this type, he describes a walking tour around Victoria's harbor, a mile-plus route that enables the beer tourist to see more than a half-dozen places cranking out the suds. Joe's route ended at Spinnakers, for this post I'll start out there.  With a pint of Jameson Scottish Ale.  Nothing to do with Irish whiskey, Jameson was the maiden name of the wife of founder-owner Paul Hadfield.
   A few blocks walk on a sunny afternoon takes one to Moon Under Water,also a working brewery with a food-serving pub.  Here, I stopped for lunch, appetizers and a pint of Creepy Uncle Dunkel.
At the Moon, my server referred my questions to the brewer and owner, Clay Potter, an enthusiastic young guy who was happy to give me a tour of the works in the back of the pub.  The heart of the system is an 8-barrel brew kettle with mash and lauter tuns, built in Germany for a new brewery going up in South Korea.  The Germans came, got the system up and running and went home after six months.  The Koreans could never turn out good German beer after that and the system ended up on the used goods market.
Multiple batches end up in one of six 20 barrel fermenters (Canadian brewers talk hectoliters, but Clay translated the capacity for me) and one flat-bottomed
open-top fermenter he is using for those Belgian recipes that slurp up yeast from
the atmosphere.  His four core beers are the dunkel I had, a pilsner, a weizen (Clay interned at Bitburger, the big German brewer) and the inevitable IPA.  One seasonal, a hefeweizen in March, rounded out the Moon's own taps.  The other five taps included one rare bird, a "Biere de Vie", described as a smoked salted sour ale, from Cologne and made by the Freigeist Bierkultur brewers there.  Clay's brother is studying the craft in Germany now, hence the unusual import.  I had a taste and it was truly distinctive.

A couple of blocks up from the Moon brings on to two production breweries, almost side by side.  Hoyne Brewing and Driftwood Brewing are so close, in this industrial district, that they share a parking lot.  And over the parking lot runs a pipe that was used in perhaps the most collaborative brewing project ever undertaken.  As Joe Wiebe reported in the latest NW Brewing News, each house brewed a batch of baltic porter with the same ingredients except for the yeast.  Driftwood used an ale yeast and Hoyne a lager yeast. Using the pipe, Hoyne sent its batch across the parking lot to be combined with the ale yeast version in a big tank at Driftwood and kegged off as Rock Bay Mash Up Baltic Porter.
These production breweries fill growlers, and do a fairly brisk business that way, in very limited hours.  Two or three hours on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday afternoons was the case at Hoyne.  No tastes allowed.  You could buy bottles at some of them, and I took a bottle of Hoyne's Bohemian pilsner home to compare with the new Bohemian pilsner Chuckanut just brought out.  Tasting notes to be published soon.

   Several more blocks of walking in this industrial part of town takes one to Vancouver Island Brewing, another one of the class of '84 celebrating thirty years of making beer.  This, too, is a production brewery with limited growler filling hours, but it is large.  I failed to record the capacity but it has to be in the hectoliter equivalent of a 50-barrel plant. The look is modern, built in the mid-90s as it outgrew the original plant.
VIB offers tours on Friday and Saturday afternoons which evidently end by the growler station where tastes may be poured.

The balance of my day was spent at two downtown brewpubs and a public event held as part of the first beer week in Victoria.  That will be covered in my next post.  These notes are getting old!

(Visited 03/06/14)

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