There have been some big changes at Bench Creek Brewing lately — most notably, the introduction of two new beers to its year-round line-up: a Bohemian (Czech-style) pilsner and a Czech amber lager.
The changes are part of a larger rebranding that saw Bench Creek expand the Apex Predator name — used up until now for its popular seasonal double IPA — to a line of year-round releases that includes the two new beers, as well as the existing porter (no longer called Black Spruce), session ale (the former Flint and Steel) and red ale (RIP, Northern Grace). Bench Creek also killed off the Naked Woodsman name for its pale ale and rechristened it Dead Woodsman. White Raven IPA is still White Raven. Got all that?
I’ve heard some grumbling about the name changes being confusing and/or arbitrary, but my own reaction is: “So what?” It’s not that branding isn’t important: woe betide any company that tries to get away with tasteless marketing in this day and age — and rightly so. Nor would it be smart to use names or imagery that make your product seem unappealing, particularly if you’re selling something you want people to eat or drink. “Tailings Pond Stout” is probably not a good name for a beer, no matter how good it is. Considering Bench Creek’s rebranding doesn’t cross either of those lines, what we’re left with is a subjective debate about personal preference. Tomayto, tomahto. The guy who owns Bench Creek, Andrew Kulynych, decided it was time for a change — and that’s, quite literally, his business.
Thanks to that little rant, I’ve gone and buried the lead, which is Apex Predator Bohemian Pilsner is a first-class beer. My many years as a reporter, a job where offering opinions was usually verboten, have left me averse to using absolutes or superlatives so I don’t mean it lightly when I say I think it’s among the best Czech-style pilsners made in Canada, right up there with Steamworks Pilsner from Vancouver.
The problem with a lot of mediocre and subpar pilsners is that many are just golden lagers in disguise, lacking the spicy noble hop punch that sets pilsners apart. Apex Predator is all pilsner, from the minute you open it: it’s an appealing straw colour and pours with a smooth white head. The noble hops are there on the nose, with a spicy and slightly herbal aroma that mingles nicely with some bready malt. The flavour combines the same elements, but it accomplishes that neat trick of being complex and drinkable at the same time. Start with bready malt and a bit of grain husk, followed by some spicy, slightly bitter hops and a touch of honey sweetness. Back to bready malt and moderate bitterness. All in one sip.
Apex Predator finishes crisp and clean like a well-made lager should. It’s tasty, balanced and refreshing — and I mean that as high praise. In an age when barrel-aged, high-alcohol and out-there beers get the lion’s share of attention from fanboys and fangirls it’s easy to take a straightforward quality like drinkability for granted. It’s ironic, if not a little unfair, because beer nerds, of all people, should know how difficult it is to achieve the kind of subtlety and balance that make a great pilsner. Apex Predator has it.
I’m a big fan of hitting the road to visit the many craft breweries scattered throughout Alberta. Such is my belief in the province’s rural beer bounty, that I devoted an article to the subject in the feature coverage of the Alberta Beer Awards I wrote for the Edmonton and Calgary editions of Avenue magazine earlier this year.
A couple of weeks ago, I was extolling the virtues of small-town breweries during a segment on the Palgary Almanac, a show on Calgary’s campus radio station, CJSW, when it struck me: it had been awhile since I’d visited a brewery outside Calgary or Edmonton.
Because it’s our first year living full-time in Edmonton, my wife Lea and I decided to largely stick around this summer to get to know our new city and its environs. With some time off for the both of us last week, we decided to visit Lacombe and Blindman Brewing.
If you’re a craft beer drinker in Alberta, you’ve likely heard of Blindman and you’re familiar with its beer. But visiting a brewery offers so much more: it’s not only a chance to spend an enjoyable day exploring new places, it’s an opportunity to learn a bit more about the beer you’re drinking and the people who make it. A couple of the owners, Hans Doef and Shane Groendahl, were at the brewery the day we visited and both were happy to take a few minutes from their work to chat about what’s been going on. Now, I’ve met both guys on several occasions and Hans saw me come in, but my experience is you don’t have to be a beer writer to experience this kind of hospitality. I make a point of visiting taprooms anonymously and/or unannounced, as a paying customer, and I’ve received the same kind of warm welcome just about every time. Beer people are passionate about what they do and they’re often eager to talk to people who share that passion.
Berliner weisse (left) and strawberry-basil kombucha. My wife Lea doesn’t drink beer so we always appreciate taprooms that offer a variety of alternatives.
The more obvious attraction, of course, is the beer. While it’s always rewarding to try familiar beers fresh and straight from the source, it’s also an opportunity to try small-batch beers that are either exclusive to the brewery or packaged in limited amounts. During our visit, Blindman’s taproom had all four seasonal variations of Saison Lacombe on tap, as well as a Berliner weisse — a tart, low-alcohol wheat beer that’s a great choice for the summer. Fruit additions are common in Berliners, either by putting it in the beer itself or via a flavoured syrup at serving time. Blindman is offering its Berliner with raspberry and passionfruit flavouring. I opted for passionfruit: it complemented the style’s characteristic tartness and mild acidity (which comes from the addition of lactobacillus bacteria to the wort) but the overall impression was bright and refreshing.
Speaking of summer, Blindman’s taproom has not one, but two, patios for enjoying your beer al fresco: one adjacent to the parking lot out front, and a recently-opened deck accessed from a second-floor mezzanine inside.
Salut, Jean! Y’a tu d’la bière icitte?
Keep an eye on Blindman as it expands its work with sour beers, wild yeast strains and various microbiota that go into making complex and unique beers. The brewery recently bought two oaken foeders used to age cognac, which the guys call Jean and Pierre, after a French cooper named Jean-Pierre who repurposed the vessels for making beer. Blindman is also starting to experiment with a koelschip, a traditional broad, shallow vessel that promotes spontaneous fermentation by allowing wild, airborne yeast strains to inoculate the beer as it cools off. (I have more about Blindman’s koelschip program, as well as other breweries working on sour beers in the August issue of Avenue Edmonton. Read it here, or pick up a copy of the magazine at various locations around the city.)
I’m fortunate to have old friends who enjoy beer almost as much as I do. Although they’re not strictly craft beer drinkers, they’re open-minded about trying new things. When we get together, they usually ask me to make a few recommendations and seem to enjoy it when I talk them through what we’re tasting (or, at the very least, they humour me).
During a recent trip back to Toronto, I brought some beers from Alberta to try — including Neon Nightmare from Outcast Brewing in Calgary, described on the can as a “double dry-hopped New England Double IPA.” I’ll dive into precisely what that means a bit later: Outcast’s brewer, Patrick Schnarr, doesn’t pay much attention to established styles, but suffice to say he has a thing for making hop-forward beers that are intensely aromatic and flavourful. I thought Neon Nightmare would be a good candidate for introducing my pals to sensory evaluation and teaching them to appreciate how qualities like aroma matter, in addition to flavour.
After pouring everyone a glass, I had them hold the beer a good arm’s length from their noses and instructed them to inhale. Even at that distance, everyone picked up all kinds of hop aroma: in my case, mango, apricot and tangerine. They concurred that taking a few seconds to smell the beer, and picking up such a pleasant aroma, added to the experience and made the beer more inviting.
While aroma shouldn’t be overlooked, it isn’t everything. Fortunately, Neon Nightmare’s flavour delivers on the aroma’s promise. There’s lots of mango and passionfruit and a bit of piney, resinous hops. It’s all nicely balanced with some soft, biscuity malt. “Double dry-hopped New England Double IPA” isn’t any kind of formal style, but Neon Nightmare fits that description when you break it down. Dry hopping — adding hops during the maturation process — punches up their flavour and aroma, but it doesn’t impart the same level of bitterness that comes from adding hops during the boil. And one of the key distinctions between New England-style IPAs and their old-school northwest counterparts is their low bitterness relative to the older style.
At 7.8 per cent ABV, Neon Nightmare certainly fits the “double” part of double IPA. The alcohol is well-hidden and this beer has the potential to go down dangerously easy if you don’t know any better. (I do, thanks in part to my advanced age.) I have only one stylistic quibble: New England IPAs get a soft mouthfeel from the inclusion of oats in the grain bill, and I found Neon Nightmare’s carbonation a bit prickly for the style. As I said, it’s a quibble.
I’ve known Patrick for a few years, and we shared many a beer prior to him starting Outcast with his wife, Krysten, two years ago. We don’t see each other as often since I moved to Edmonton, but it’s not unusual for us to exchange the occasional text message — usually about a beer we’re currently enjoying.
I wasn’t worried at all about how Patrick would receive a bit of constructive criticism. After all, the industry is relatively small and I know a lot of the people behind the breweries I write about here and elsewhere. As I’ve said, all I can do is be fair and honest.
Oddly enough, I was hesitant about dwelling too much on his reputation for aromatic and hoppy beers. During one of our conversations, I made an offhand remark that he’s good at making beers that are “aromatic AF.” That’s a little less professional than I like to be when I’m writing, but it seemed fine for a casual conversation — in addition to being totally accurate, considering he recently won silver at the Canadian Brewing Awards in the category for American-style IPAs. I don’t want to give anyone the impression Patrick didn’t accept the compliment graciously, because he did. But he was also quick to remind me that he’s made a couple of stouts, too.
Looking back, I can see why Patrick may have been a bit uneasy with the compliment: it can be a fine line between becoming known for doing something well and getting pigeonholed. In Hollywood, actors who are too good at one thing can end up hopelessly typecast.
I grew up in Toronto, where I witnessed the birth of the Blue Jays and their progression from a collection of likeable journeymen (Doug Ault, Alan Ashby, Otto Velez) into contenders (1985 AL East champs with George Bell, Lloyd Moseby and Jesse Barfield in the outfield) and finally, World Series champs in 1992 and 1993. I watched Joe Carter’s series-winning walk-off homer in 1993 by myself, at my then-girlfriend’s place on Concord Ave., while she was at work. I couldn’t wait for her to come in the door as the celebrations erupted outside, so I ran onto Bloor Street and high-fived stranger after stranger as I went to meet her at Ossington subway station. I was there for it all, often freezing in the metal bleachers of Exhibition Stadium (the Mistake by the Lake) and then joining the throngs that flocked to see the SkyDome and its retractable roof when the building opened in 1989.
Then came the strike of 1994, when my equally beloved Expos seemed destined for a date with the New York Yankees in the World Series, until a players’ strike scuttled the season. (This was before regular season interleague play, so it was easy to cheer for a National League team without risking divided loyalties.) By the time the strike was over, the Expos had lost many of their stars to free agency and ownership was no longer interested in fielding a contender. The team’s slide in the standings sparked a decline in fan interest that eventually led to the team packing up for Washington, D.C. in 2005.
Between watching the slow death of the Expos and ascendance of surly and thoroughly unlikable giant-headed steroid freaks, I’d had enough. I stopped paying attention to baseball. And that’s why this blog has no baseball equivalent of my Hops and Hockey Cards feature. Baseball simply doesn’t hold the same place in my heart as hockey.
Nevertheless, during my 20 years in Alberta, I’ve felt flickers of the old fondness come back. I’ve enjoyed hot summer afternoons at Seaman Stadium, home of the Okotoks Dawgs of the Western Major Baseball League. It’s a charming ballpark where just a few bucks gets you a seat where you can hear the crack of the bat up close and smell the fresh-cut grass on the field.
So, when Alberta Dugout Stories approached me about reviewing the beer available at WMBL parks in Alberta, it was an easy sell. WMBL clubs, like craft breweries, are local ventures that enrich our communities — and many teams serve local beer at home games. There are a few that don’t, but I think it’s important to point out here that these are grassroots organizations doing their best with what they can. It’s not fair to beat up on minor league ball clubs made up of college kids for getting the best possible deal on beer, regardless of who made it.
Q. What’s wrong with this photo? A. Nothing.
The Edmonton Prospects are one of the WMBL teams that don’t offer craft beer at the ballpark. Although I would have preferred to have one during my recent outing at Re/Max Field, I can tell you that the absence of craft beer had absolutely no negative effect on my enjoyment of the game: it was a mild, sunny evening with a spectacular view of the river valley beyond the left field fence and I had a primo seat on the first base line for the princely sum of $18. It was also the night Okotoks Dawgs head coach Mitch Schmidt lost his mind over an ump’s call and threw a bunch of chairs onto the field after getting tossed out of the game. That, alone, was worth the price of admission.
Launch parties have been customary for each new issue of the guide since it debuted in 2016, but they’ve always been held in Calgary or Edmonton. With so many new breweries popping up all over the province – and featured in the guide — editor Erica Francis said the time is right to take the show on the road.
“There’s so much more to Alberta than the two major centres,” she said.
There will be rural events to launch future issues of the guide, but if you live in Calgary or Edmonton, don’t despair: there will continue to be launch parties in the city, too. Blind Enthusiasm Brewing in Edmonton is hosting a launch party for Summer 2018 issue on June 6, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The Summer 2018 edition encourages readers, too, to hit the road. There’s a “Tour-ery Passport” page to collect stamps by visiting breweries around the provinces. Participants can email photos of their stamped passport to the guide to enter a special draw for a beer-related prize package. There’s also a profile of Ribstone Creek Brewery and an article by beer writer and educator David Nuttall on the importance — and benefits — of having local breweries.
The guide is available throughout the province, in places where you find Alberta craft beer.
When Cabin Brewing opens its taproom in southeast Calgary’s Barley Belt district later this year, expect to find an American pale ale, a northwest IPA and plenty of hygge.
You expect to find beer at a brewery — but the third offering, hygge, is something different: it’s a Scandinavian word that describes a feeling of comfort and coziness. And that, along with the beer, will be a significant part of Cabin Brewing’s identity.
“You don’t see a lot of breweries naming themselves after the taproom,” says Jonas Hurtig, Cabin’s head brewer and one of three founding partners, along with Haydon Dewes and Darrin Sayers.
“Hygge” wasn’t a word that came up during my recent interview with Jonas and Haydon, but I’d heard about the concept before and it’s what immediately came to mind when Haydon explained the thinking behind the brewery’s name.
“It’s creating that feeling of making your own space and feeling you’re comfortable and switching off. It’s more about the emotional kind of feel,” he says.
The taproom is the metaphorical cabin in the brewery’s name, but it will not be a literal one — and in this part of the world, where log construction and reclaimed barn wood have become a clichéd shorthand for “Western” or “rustic,” I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
“It’s won’t be like walking into a lodge. We like clean, modern design with a cozy touch. It’s going to be comfortable, with a bit of that nostalgic touch,” Haydon says.
“It’s that place you go, with the people you like, to do the things you want to do.”
And if you’re visiting a brewery, you want to drink beer. Atmosphere may be an important selling point to Cabin’s founders, but beer is the main attraction. The Cabin team has put a lot of thought into its approach to beer and brings a wealth of expertise to the venture.
Haydon is likely best known in Alberta beer circles as a regular beer columnist for the Calgary Eyeopener on CBC Radio and as the creator of The Daily Beer, a blog he started in 2015. Like me, Haydon is a former journalist who decided to combine his passion for writing and craft beer after he left a career in newspapers to work in communications. It’s no surprise, then, that we became fast friends and I was a regular contributor for The Daily Beer before I moved to Edmonton. (Alberta’s beer community is relatively small and it’s probably common knowledge that I wrote for The Daily Beer, but consider this my “full disclosure” statement if not.)
Haydon is also an award-winning homebrewer and a member of the Cowtown Yeast Wranglers club. Like many accomplished homebrewers, Haydon began wondering if he had what it takes to go pro and start his own brewery.
“The more I met people and got to know about the industry, I thought, ‘This could be pretty cool,'” he says.
Haydon and his wife, Jill, talked it over and began formulating a plan in mid-2016. At one point — maybe from watching legions of other Alberta homebrewers turn pro with varying degrees of success and/or aggravation — they decided it would be a better idea to get some other experienced hands involved. Haydon first approached Jonas Hurtig, a friend and fellow Yeast Wrangler who was brewing professionally at Wild Rose Brewery. Jonas politely declined, saying he was already working on his own brewery venture with someone else.
Undeterred, Haydon approached another Yeast Wrangler buddy, Darrin Sayers, with his idea. Darrin, too, said no. He was planning to open a brewery with somebody else. What were the odds?
Cabin builders: Haydon Dewes, Darrin Sayers and Jonas Hurtig. (Photo courtesy Cabin Brewing.)
Haydon later found out that Jonas and Darrin weren’t involved in separate ventures but were, in fact, going into business with each other. The three of them sat down in the fall of 2016 and talked about joining forces. Things clicked, and Cabin Brewing was formally incorporated on April 1, 2017.
“With these guys, everything felt right. We all liked each other,” Jonas says.
“I really liked the diversity of our skill sets.”
Despite all three partners having solid homebrew chops, Jonas’ experience in a full-scale production brewery made him the logical choice for head brewer. Haydon’s track record in media and communications landed him a role as Cabin’s marketing guru, while Darrin’s skills as a trained mechanic earned him the job of running operations and logistics.
The partners may have a varied skill set, but they have similar taste in beer.
“We’re all big hopheads,” Jonas says.
The two mainstays will come with big hop flavour and aromatics, but Jonas says it won’t come at the expense of balance and drinkability.
“I don’t like when anything is too much in one direction,” he says.
The pale ale is derived from a recipe of Jonas’ that has won more than 30 medals in homebrew competitions.
“It’s an easy-drinking American pale ale with nice aromatics,” says Jonas.
The IPA will be a departure from the current trend toward low-bitterness, citrus- and tropical fruit-forward New England IPAs: a West Coast-style IPA with more pine and citric bitterness and a dry finish. West Coast IPAs may not be all the rage like NEIPAs currently are, but they’ve hardly gone out of style.
And the rest? Cabin will brew a steady stream of rotating releases. “It’ll be, ‘What do we want to brew?'” Jonas says. While that strategy may appeal to their sense of creativity, it’s also smart from a marketing perspective: many craft drinkers are equally whimsical, choosing their beer according to mood, season or meal pairing.
Speaking of food: the taproom will serve snacks, though the concept is still being worked out. The taproom will also be kid-friendly, which makes sense. It’s not much of a cozy cabin if the whole family can’t be together, is it?
When it opens later this year, the taproom will also be the primary place to get Cabin’s beer. Initially, the focus will be on selling from the taproom and a small number of draft accounts around Calgary.
“We want to be careful and treat our accounts well,” says Jonas.
In addition to allowing the brewery to focus on quality, starting small is also a way of keeping expenses in line and remaining nimble in an increasingly crowded marketplace. How to stand out in a city where the number of breweries is closing in on 30 is a question Haydon says he wrestles with “every night.”
“It’s competitive — we know it’s not going to be easy.”
Cabin’s space at 505 36 Ave. S.E. is about half the size of what they were originally looking for, but Haydon says they’re happy with the turn of events. Citing the example of Calgary’s Dandy Brewing, Haydon says small breweries can be mighty, using their small capacity to make a steady stream of creative, small-batch beers.
In 2016, Dandy made an audacious pledge to release 40 different beers that year. Not only did Dandy deliver the promised quantity, the exercise cemented its reputation as one of Alberta’s most adventurous and well-regarded breweries — a brewery that recently expanded with a spacious new taproom and restaurant that opened in April.
As inspirations go, Cabin could hardly have chosen better.
As time ticked down on the last game in the seven-year history of the World Hockey Association (WHA), fans who packed the Winnipeg Arena that night had a lot to celebrate.
Not only were the hometown Jets about to capture the 1979 AVCO Cup with an easy 7-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers, a merger deal between the WHA and rival NHL had been struck. In a few months, the WHA champs would compete in the NHL. The Jets, and Winnipeg, were about to enter the big leagues.
The Jets were probably one of the best teams of the era, in any league. They had won three of the last four AVCO Cups. In 1978, they beat the fearsome Soviet national squad in an exhibition — the first and only club team to ever do so. As impressive as those achievements were, the Jets were untested against the NHL’s best. With Winnipeg, Edmonton, Quebec and Hartford set to join the NHL the following season, the Jets were about to get their chance to prove themselves.
Alas, it was never to be. During the seven-year war between the WHA and the NHL, the rebel league had been able to poach some of hockey’s most talented names. With the WHA on its last legs, the NHL dictated the terms of union — and the price was steep. The NHL allowed its teams to reclaim players from the surviving WHA teams without compensation. The WHA clubs were placed at the end of the draft order and were allowed to protect only two skaters and two goaltenders. The high-flying Jets of the WHA were grounded and struggled for years during their first years in the NHL.
The 1979 dismantling of the Jets was only the first in a a long line of injustices and misfortunes foisted upon fans in Winnipeg. The team eventually got better, thanks to stars like Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne (aka the Finnish Flash), but they never made it out of their division because one of the greatest teams of all time, the Gretzky-era Edmonton Oilers, always stood in their way. (Ironically, this article quotes legendary Oilers coach-GM Glen Sather saying he modelled his team after the WHA Jets.)
And then, 1996. Fans in Winnipeg got robbed again, when the NHL allowed the team to move to Phoenix. It’s true the Jets were playing in a small, obsolete area in an era when the low Canadian dollar was pummelling even financial powerhouses like the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. But the NHL was quick to pull the plug. As we’ve seen in recent years, the original Jets — now the Arizona Coyotes — have been allowed to struggle indefinitely in their new home, with the NHL actively shielding them from relocation.
Winnipeg got its Jets back through the struggles of another American Sunbelt team, the Atlanta Thrashers, which moved to the Manitoba capital in 2011 after 12 forgettable seasons in the U.S. South. Rather than hailing this righting of a historical wrong, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was petulant while announcing the Jets’ return, threatening fans that the team would suffer the same fate as the original Jets if they didn’t sell out the arena every night.
Seven years later, the patience and loyalty of Jets fans has been rewarded with a thrilling playoff run and a berth in the conference finals against the Vegas Golden Knights — a first-year franchise gifted a head start with favourable expansion terms that the Jets and others never had.
To recognize this momentous occasion and to raise a beer to the long-suffering fans of Winnipeg, I’ve chosen the Jets team checklist from the 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee card set, which marks the team’s entry to the NHL. May this be the year that Winnipeg no longer looks back wistfully at what was lost and what could have been.
I’ve paired the Jets card with White Raven IPA from Bench Creek Brewing. This coppery beauty bursts with orange and mango hop aroma. This is a citrus-forward IPA, for sure, but there’s some old-skool northwest IPA in it, with some pine aroma and flavour. What puts White Raven in the top tier of Alberta IPAs is its complexity and balance. Each sip brings a different combination of citric and tropical flavors that deliver the kind of bitterness you expect from an IPA, followed in perfect proportion with some caramel malt. This is a hoppy beer, not an overly bitter one — and that’s an important distinction.
White Raven is made in a brewery off the beaten track on a rural range road outside of Edson. It’s proof that size doesn’t always matter, that great things can come from small places when people have passion, pride and a commitment to quality. Kind of like a hockey team from Winnipeg.
(* For this installment, I’ve changed “Hops and Hockey Cards” to “Hopps” as a nod to my pal Brett Hopper, who, in addition to being Bench Creek’s southern Alberta sales rep, is also a Winnipeg boy and huge Jets fan. Go Jets go!)
When it comes to trains, we know reliability is the ultimate virtue — making sure people arrive on time. But what about beer? Even if it’s a train-themed beer, is calling it “reliable” a backhanded compliment when there are so many more effusive things one can say? I hope not, because that’s the conclusion I reached after sampling Ten-Wheeler IPA from Siding 14 Brewing in Ponoka — and I don’t think it’s a bad thing.
For most of us mortals, a stateroom on a luxury train is a bucket list kind of thing. The rest of the time, we’re usually riding in coach and simply content to arrive at our destination with no unpleasant surprises along the way. That’s the experience Ten-Wheeler delivers: it’s a straightforward IPA that ticks most of the stylistic boxes with no identifiable flaws.
Lest I sound like I’m damning with faint praise, I enjoyed Ten-Wheeler and I particularly liked its balance: caramel and biscuity malt that stands up well to a hop profile with nice depth. Citra, Glacier and Columbus hops give the beer some orange-citrus traits backstopped by a piney quality that delivers some satisfying bitterness and a bit of stickiness on the palate.
What surprised me was that the beer had next to no hop aroma. I don’t make this observation lightly: I drank a six-pack over the course of a week and each time I poured a can, I stuck my nose into the glass and inhaled deeply. When the beer warmed up, I smelled it again. Every time, I got a lot of caramel malt, but just a faint whiff of pine.
I debated whether harping on aroma is too nerdy, but I don’t think so. Think back to any meal that you would put on your personal “best of” list: it was likely so memorable because it appealed to the entire range of senses, not just taste. And so it should be with beer, too. Top-flight Alberta IPAs like Bench Creek’s White Raven and Banded Peak’s Southern Aspect deliver a fuller sensory experience — they’re bursting with aroma, in addition to being just plain delicious.
Ten-Wheeler isn’t in that heady company, but it could be within tweaking distance. Siding 14 is on the right track.
It seems unnecessary to say Hops and Hockey Cards is a new feature here at Original Levity, considering just about everything around here is new. It’s maybe more apropos to introduce this as the first installment in what I hope will be a running series bringing together two of my favourite things: beer and hockey.
Although my love of hockey has endured through the years, I don’t have the same affection for today’s game as the old-time hockey I grew up with. While today’s athletes are literally and metaphorically head and shoulders above the players I watched as a kid, I have a hard time bonding emotionally with an NHL that has teams in the desert but none in Quebec City or Hartford. It’s probably not all that unusual for people to draw some of their fondest memories from childhood. In my case, thinking about hockey, that means helmetless players, Fu Manchu moustaches, brown leather goalie pads, Cold War matchups, fly-by-night franchises and blue pucks.
I can remember Saturday nights during my early childhood gathered with my family around the basement TV (an old Zenith model in a wooden cabinet) watching the hockey game. As I got a bit older, I began collecting hockey cards — the old-school kind, printed on low-grade cardboard with a stick of gum in the pack. I’ve held onto my hockey cards, and over the years I’ve replaced dog-eared and wrinkled ones with specimens I’ve bought at collector shows or hunted down on eBay — though the majority of my collection survived childhood in good condition. I never played games with them or put them in my bicycle spokes.
Is bringing together two of my interests, craft beer and vintage hockey cards, a self-indulgent nostalgia trip? Sure, a bit. (But it’s my blog, and I can be self-indulgent if I damn well want to.) But I think there’s a logical connection there, too. Craft beer and hockey cards are art forms in their own right. Both, when done well, are worthy of consideration.
Hops and Hockey Cards, as I see it going forward, could be a reminiscence about a player depicted on a card, an appreciation of a particularly cool card, or both. I realize this may be a obscure concept, so I’ve picked a rather obvious pairing to start the series: Patrick Roy and Arrogant Bastard Ale.
Patrick Roy, the hall of fame goalie and four-time Stanley Cup winner, is an arrogant bastard. His playing days with the Montreal Canadiens ended with a public tantrum after being left between the pipes during a nine-goal run by the Detroit Red Wings in 1995. Then-coach Mario Tremblay did it to humiliate Roy and put his outsize ego in its place, but the goalie’s reaction was unprecedented for a team as rooted in honour and tradition as the Canadiens. When he finally got pulled, Roy mouthed off to club president Ronald Corey, who sat behind the players’ bench, as 18,000 fans in the Montreal Forum and a national TV audience looked on. While walking to his seat at the end of the bench, he stopped and said, “I’ve just played my last game with the Canadiens,” as he went past Corey. The Habs traded Roy to the Colorado Avalanche a few days later, and he went on to win two more cups in Denver. In retirement, Roy had some success as the Avalanche’s coach and VP of hockey operations, but left in a huff with a surprise resignation in 2016. He’s also been accused of domestic violence — though the charges were dropped — and as coach of the junior Quebec Remparts in 2008, he incited his son Jonathan, the team’s goalie, to pummel the opposing netminder during a line brawl.
Roy is a thoroughly unlikable character, but his success is undeniable. As a lifelong Habs fan who bleeds bleu, blanc et rouge, I’m grateful for his role in Montreal’s Stanley Cup victories in 1986 and 1993 — neither of which would have happened without him. But he’s a jerk. That’s why I choose his rookie card for this feature: I prefer to remember him as the shy, gangly rookie who came out of nowhere to help the Habs win the cup in 1986.
Like Roy, Arrogant Bastard is a success story — but not necessarily easy to like. When Stone Brewing debuted the beer in 1997, its 7.2 per cent alcohol content and bitterness made it pretty “out there” by the standards of the day. Brewers today are making bigger and weirder beers, but Arrogant Bastard still deserves a place in the annals of craft beer greatness. It’s a complex mix of big caramel malts, a hint of dark chocolate and a drying, bitter finish that grows as you go. There’s no denying it’s a well put together beer, but I’m partial to red and amber ales that are maltier and sweeter as opposed to hoppy ones. I guess you could say I’m caught between acknowledging Arrogant Bastard’s greatness while not necessarily being a fan — a sentiment not unlike my feelings toward “Saint” Patrick Roy.
That’s a wrap on the 23rd Okanagan Fest of Ale. I had the privilege of being part of the nine-member jury that judged 122 beers entered in 12 categories at this year’s festival. Here are the winners we chose: