I admit it, I’m a beerist. Not quite so harsh a thing as being a nihilist or a sexist, but I have high expectations for the beer I drink – beer snob, maybe.
I recently ordered the “Mystery Can” on the beer menu at a barbecue joint in Vancouver’s Gastown. I was encouraged by the server; besides, the prospect of a new flavour explosion, a veritable malt shower in the back of my throat, was too tantalizing to pass up.
The brew presented itself in a neon orange can and called itself Main Street pilsner. The flavour explosion would not be forthcoming – most lagers are good cooling agents in mid-summer, but when you’ve spent an intimate evening with an imperial stout or a barleywine, your lips demand much more.
As it turns out, the pilsner wasn’t really a pilsner, or even a lager for that matter. (All pilsners are lagers but only some lagers are pilsners.) The subtle fruity aroma and flavour of an ale were undeniable.
This is not an uncommon phenomenon – not as uncommon as, say, the Mongolian death worm, or being drugged and having your kidney surgically removed in a back alley.
It is a little-known secret that many microbreweries use the same yeast for their lagers and ales, but tweak their recipes to make the beer more lager-like or more ale-like. This is not a shameful practice. It just doesn’t get advertised.
There is a lot of beer confusion out there. A little skepticism is a healthy thing and will allow you to wade through some of the unfounded claims of brewing companies.
I would wager that Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale (IPA) is actually a lager. It has a sulphurous aroma, light and crisp body and low bitterness more akin to a lager than an ale, much less a true IPA.
However, if you e-mail the company – yes, I did – they will tell you they have been brewing Keith’s IPA with the original recipe since 1820. Ahem.
The beer confusion stems not only from the major brewing companies (Alexander Keith’s is now owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewing company), but also from the smaller microbreweries.
Nestled among the multitude of macro-brewed beer taps (think Budweiser) at the Rogers Centre in Vancouver are the taps of Stanley Park Brewery. The beer claims to be a Belgian-style amber.
I have been reacquainting myself with all things Belgian these days: Tintin, lambic beers fermented with wild yeast, those tiny little cabbages that seem to be everywhere at Christmas time…
This beer, although a decent ale, bears no resemblance to the ales of Belgium (okay, at least the hundreds I have had the pleasure of enjoying).
Traditional Belgian ale yeast strains create byproducts that give their beers prominent spicy notes. (Try some of the excellent Unibroue beers from Quebec, such as Trois Pistoles, and you’ll get the idea.)
This Stanley Park amber is pretty mild stuff, perfect hockey arena fare. If you’re curious to try it, the Whitehorse liquor store is currently stocking it. I imagine it won’t be fading away soon, since it was chosen as the official beer of Vancouver’s 125th anniversary celebration.
It’s nice to see the status was actually bestowed upon a small, local, independent brewery.
The microbrewery revolution has opened the floodgates of different beer styles. No longer does one sidle up to the bar and just ask for a beer.
Big breweries are breaking into the craft brewing market with their own knock-offs of popular styles. Fifteen years ago, I never dreamed I would be drinking a Belgian-style wit beer spiced with orange peel and coriander seed made by Molson (Rickard’s White).
Of course, to the beer snob in me, it smells and tastes like creamed corn cooked in a sweaty airstream trailer, but maybe that’s what Molson was going for.
In the end, don’t believe everything you read or hear about beer. Trust your taste buds, even if they are telling you that Coors Light is the most delicious beer you’ve ever had.