Central City just announced their fourth cask festival in two years (two summer, two winter), establishing them as the de facto best, or at least most consistent, cask festival in the lower mainland. I went to the last summer cask festival held at Central City and it was excellent. The upcoming winter edition is going to be on Saturday January 26th from 11am to 6pm at the Central City brewpub in Surrey (right by the Surrey Central skytrain station). Your $30 admission gets you in, a tasting glass, and three beer tokens, where additional tokens are $1 each (a steal of a deal). Best call to book your tickets now, these cask festivals sell out fast.
What can you expect? Well, besides getting a bit day drunk (seriously, why do these always start so early?), you can expect some really strong winter beer. A version or two of Thor’s Hammer barley wine will surely be available, as will many other ~10% ABV beers. You’ll probably see a lot of winter spice on hand too, cinnamon, nutmeg and the like. Expect a few one off magical beers too (à la Tofino Spruce Tip IPA last time). See you there!
Thor’s Hammer by Central City brewmaster Gary Lohin was the first barley wine I ever tasted. It was five years ago at the Central City brewpub in Surrey and it was one of the first times a beer every blew me away. I’ve tasted similarly good or better barley wines since, but I’ll never forget that first sip of the golden nectar of the gods.
If you don’t know, barley wine is very strong beer that is often very sweet and aged a long time to both add flavour and subdue the high alcohol content. Barley wines usually come out around Christmas time and are warming, festive drinks, perfect for dulling the harshness of relatives.
You used to only be able to get Thor’s Hammer at special beer events or in the Central City Brewpub (or at Sailor Hagars before that). This past summer Central City released a limited collection that included Oak Aged Thor’s Hammer and now, for the first time, they are releasing a bottled run at the appropriate time of year. Thor’s Hammer jostles with Driftwood Old Cellar Dweller for the title of best barley wine in BC and is a must buy for BC beer nerds.
It should hit stores in Vancoucer this week or next, likely on a Thursday. If you don’t want to miss out (only 99 cases made), I suggest you like Brewery Creek or Legacy on Facebook to get their notifications.
Driftwood’s Old Cellar Dweller Barley Wine is one of my favorite seasonal release BC beers and definitely my favorite barley wine. It’s an American style barley wine that uses three times the grain and five times the hops than you’d use to make a normal beer. If you aren’t a hophead you needn’t worry; the higher levels of malt, and the resulting higher alcohol content (12% ABV), balance out the hops nicely.
Last year was the first year Driftwood made their barley wine, coincidentally it was also the first year they existed. I bought two bottles, drank one, and put the other in the cellar. When the 2009 version came out this year I thought it would be cool to try the 2008 version aged a year in the cellar and compare it with the fresh 2009 version. As far as I know, the recipe didn’t change at all.
I recalled the 2008 version, consumed fresh last year, as having a wonderful hoppy aroma of citrus and floral notes. The same aroma was only faintly present in the aged version. We found the aged version to be much more subdued than we recalled. All of its younger and harsher characteristics had mellowed over time. The bite of the alcohol and the sweetness of the malt had blended into a deeper caramel and molasses like richness. We liked the aged beer, but we were reminded of why we loved this beer last year when we tried the fresh 2009 vintage. Powerful aromas, potent hops on the tonggue right after a sip, then a lingering and complex sweetness for the finish.
While our experiment was fun, we learned that Old Cellar Dweller, despite its name, doesn’t belong in the cellar. The hops in this barley wine make drinking it relatively young an experience you can’t pass up.
As the seasons change, so does the availability of craft beer. I, for one, am thankful for this, especially as I regard the changing of the current season as going from bad to worse. What better way to cheer yourself up in this dreary weather than to sip a winter warmer from one of BC’s great breweries? I can think of a few things, but none so simple and effective as grabbing a winter ale (or a few) and watching the healing Canucks thrash Colorado.
Many BC breweries have already released their winter beers and a few still have barley wines on the way. Joy to the world! Here are a few BC winter brews you might consider trying:
Also, some other fine non BC breweries have produced tasty winter ales:
If the rain, darkness, and cold displease you as much as they do me, I suggest one of the above as a temporary and enjoyable remedy.
The Whistler Brewhouse is an establishment that I love. I’ve been going there for many years, long before I’d even fully discovered my love of beer. Some friends and I stumbled upon it during a ski trip one winter and have been going back ever since. We found the fresh beer and food to be excellent and the atmosphere to be delightfully cozy after a day on the slopes. The Whistler Brewhouse was also where I first enjoyed many lesser known beer styles, including a cherry ale, barley wine, and dunkelweizen that I can recall. When I found out that the Whistler Brewhouse would be hosting a beer festival this year, my interest was piqued.
I heard about the festival via the CAMRA Vancouver email newsletter, but haven’t been able to find very many details online besides the image included in this post and a Facebook event. The festival is said to be happening on Saturday June 27th from 12PM to 6PM and over twenty unknown microbreweries will be on hand. Tickets are $25 ($20 for CAMRA members) and are on sale at the Brewhouse and at Dix in Vancouver. Despite the lack of official details, the mere mention of a beer festival at the Whistler Brewhouse is enough for me. Erirk and I will be heading to Whistler that weekend for the wives for what will surely be an excellent time. To all my friends who expressed interest in previous beer festivals and were less than impressed when I didn’t invite them, please feel encouraged to join us at this one. It is going to be fun.