By Kathleen Rake
Some six or seven years ago, I told fellow wine lovers Sean Calder and Shea Coulson, who were each drinking a cold brew after a lengthy wine-tasting event, “I don’t really like beer.”
Their unrehearsed response came quickly and at the same time, “That’s because you’ve never tasted a good one.”
Fast forward to 2015, and I can tell you they were right.
So, what is good beer, really?
I am not an expert, but I have taken to practising (by tasting) in order to work my way to becoming one.
It started with participating at the beer presentations in between my wine seminars at the Fraser Valley Food Show, where I was told plainly that “beer tasters don’t spit.” (I haven’t yet found spittoons at any beer-tasting events or venues.) I followed that by getting advice from people in the wine world whose palates I trusted, and applying my wine-tasting experience to the pint glass.
When I drink a beer, I want something that is refreshing, pleases my palate, has some complexity, and makes me want to take another sip.
Makes sense, right?
And, since I rarely drink beer without food to go along with it, I want a beer with a flavour profile that will enhance the whole experience, not overpower it or get beat up by it.
Just my luck that here in the Fraser Valley I have easy access to a number of craft beer breweries.
In Abbotsford, for instance, you will find Old Abbey Ales, Ravens Brewing Company, and, expected to open in December this year, Fieldhouse Brewing Co.
Photo courtesy Ravens Brewing Comapny
When Ravens had its grand opening, I went in to say hello to owner (and fellow wine lover) Paul Sweeting, wish him well in his new venture and taste the beer made under the expert eye of head brewer Nick Fengler, another Fraser Valley local.
It was an interesting flight, with a number of glasses calling me to taste again. But the one I liked most, the one that suited my palate best, with its citrus, spice and light-but-lingering bitterness, was the Farmers Ale. “That’s funny,” said Sweeting, “It’s the one we made with wine drinkers in mind.”
At the inaugural BC Hop Fest in October at Dwayne and Diane Stewart’s hop farm in Abbotsford, I was able to taste several more craft beers, this time made with fresh instead of dried hops. “It’s called wet-hopped beer,” explained event producer Donna Dixson. “The hops have to get from the bine¹ to the tank in 24 hours.”
Photos courtesy BC Hop Company Ltd.
A number of people compare fresh or wet-hopped beer, which can be produced only at harvest, to Beaujolais Nouveau that sees release on the third Thursday of November. I hesitate to make the same comparison, but I understand the general message they are trying to send—it’s fresh and comes just once a year.
This year’s BC Hop Fest was blessed by the weather gods. And people got to taste the fresh beer while standing practically between the hop bines. Each vendor was excited to talk about his or her particular wet-hopped beer, and those who used the host farm's hops could even tell you from which row their hops came.
BC Hop Fest was a perfect opportunity to taste and learn more about craft beer. Mark your calendar for next year’s event: Oct. 1, 2016.
¹The upwardly growing stem upon which the hops grow is called a bine, not a vine.
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Copyright © 2015 Kathleen Rake. All rights reserved.