This is the first in a nine-part story chronicling Dageraad brewer Ben Coli’s exploration of two questions he had to answer before taking the gamble of his life in starting a brewery: What is Belgian beer? And, can it be brewed here?
by Ben Coli | On any sunny day, the Dageraadplaats, a square on the east side of Antwerp, is full of people. Kids ride laps around the square on their bikes, form impromptu gangs and generally run wild, while parents sit and chat with friends and neighbours while enjoying the sun and watching passersby.
The square contains no monuments and no public buildings of note. If it appears in any tourist guide to Antwerp, it’s as a footnote, not a destination. The Dageraadplaats isn’t a ceremonial space; it’s just a pleasant place for the community to gather. There’s a basketball court and picnic tables under the trees in the middle of the square, and the edges are lined with café patios.
At any of the cafés, from the Moeskop to the Zeezicht, you can buy incredible beers like Orval, Duvel and Westmalle Dubbel at very reasonable prices. These beers are simply a part of life in Belgium. It is not uncommon to see a couple of retirees drinking Tripel Karmeliet at a café at ten on a Tuesday morning. What else is retirement for?
By mid-afternoon, the café tables begin to accumulate a wide variety of beers, each served in its own particular glass. There is Rochefort’s graceful goblet, Mort Subite’s fluted tumbler, Duvel’s iconic tulip bulb, and Kwak’s ridiculous flask and wooden stand. More often than any of these, you’ll see the bolleke – an upward-sweeping footed goblet full of copper-coloured beer from Antwerp’s own De Koninck brewery. So much variety, so many different flavours, so much beer culture, all from one tiny country.
I love Belgium. I love the people – the Flemish and Walloons both. I love Antwerp and the Ardennes. And I really love the beer. But I don’t live in Belgium, I live here in Vancouver. I love our beer, too, our IPAs and our imperial stouts. But when I’m not in Belgium, I miss Belgian beer. I miss its diversity and complexity, its depth and surprises.
Can we have that beer here? Not just occasionally as an expensive, imported bottle, but as a standard, locally-brewed beer? Can we drink an authentic-tasting Belgian-style beer from the other side of the city, instead of the other side of the world?
Dageraad means “daybreak” or “sunrise” in Flemish. Vancouver is already experiencing the dawn of a new beer culture, and Dageraad Brewing will be part of it.
I’ve been visiting friends in Antwerp for about a decade now, and over the years I’ve had a slow, smouldering love affair with Belgian beer. It started off as a dalliance, a summer fling, but it gradually grew into a passion.
A year and a half ago I made a commitment: I went to brewing school and took two beer sabbaticals to Belgium. I brought along the other love of my life, my wife, journalist Erin Millar — or she brought me along, it’s hard to tell. We visited breweries and were often welcomed by brewers who recognized us as fellow aficionados. It was an amazing opportunity to learn about Belgian beer and ask brewers for their secrets.
It has been my experience that most brewers are incredibly generous with their time and knowledge when they meet a kindred spirit. In the following eight posts, published here over the next few weeks, I’ll recount what I’ve learned about Belgian beer, in part to pay forward the hospitality I received from brewers in Belgium, and in part to announce my new brewery.
I’m opening a brewery.
It’s called Dageraad Brewing. It’s named after a square in Antwerp. It’s also named after what that square is named for: daybreak or dawn, that period of time when the sky is brightening but the sun has yet to rise, when there are still stars in the western sky and the pale moon is just starting to fade into the pale blue sky.
The beers aren’t going to be Belgian. Belgian beers come from Belgium. My beers are going to come from a little industrial unit in Burnaby, BC, Canada, so they’ll be Canadian or British Columbian or Burnabarian, which is a word I made up that I like very much. But the beers will be Belgian-inspired, because those are the beers I like best.
Can you brew authentic Belgian-style beers in Canada? What does Belgian-style even mean? In coming posts I’m going to explain what Belgian-style means to me and argue that yes, you can brew those beers here. And then I’m going to prove it.
Photos: Goffe Struiksma | Map illustration: Eli Horn
Ben Coli is owner and brewer of Dageraad Brewing, British Columbia’s first brewery specializing in Belgian-style ales. An award-winning home brewer, Ben formalized his brewing knowledge at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts and at Brewlab in the United Kingdom, earning a certificate from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. Before his beer obsession took over, Ben was a writer of books, magazine articles and marketing content. He is currently writing a book titled “How to Love Beer.”
by Chuck Hallett | We lead a charmed life here in BC, at least as far as good beverages are concerned. Entire swathes of the beer-drinking world are still stuck under the oppressive thumb of Big Beer, knowing naught of the delightful, hand-crafted products that the rest of us take for granted, never even suspecting that beer can be more than something to get drunk on before a football game.
But the isolation knife cuts both ways. Us spoiled BC-types have a tendency to get complacent. We forget that while we do generally have pretty great beer, in the grand scheme of things most of our craft beer is fairly average. Beer releases in BC that are truly world-class come along only on very rare occasions.
This is one of those occasions. Four Winds Brewing of Delta have proudly declared their membership in the upper echelon of BC breweries by throwing down a Brettyanomyces-fermented and corked whopper of a Saison, titled simply “Saison Brett.”
Before winding up in your mouth, this beer spent six months fermenting away inside six used wine barrels from BC’s own Burrowing Owl and Stag’s Hollow wineries. During that time the beer absorbed depths of character from the oak and bubbling Brettanomyces dried it out while adding a funky, straw/barn-like complexity to an already exceptional beer.
Reviews have generally been of the “frothing-at-the-mouth amazeballs” variety and, frankly, I agree 100%. This is an outstanding beer that can either be eagerly drunk this instant and or cellared (marvellously) for up to two or three years. I’m not kidding when I say that this is the best beer to be produced in BC in a very long time. As per usual with beers of this quality, only a very limited quantity was released, so get some sooner rather later or you’ll probably regret it.
Find yours at select private liquor stores (my full list) for $12 to $15.00 per 750ml bottle. Note that only 136 cases were made and even less were distributed, so you best move now.
by Chuck Hallett | Like many Vancouverites, chances are that you’ve been cautiously following the recent craft beer boom from afar. Good for you! Maybe you’ve picked up some of the beers featured on Drink This Beer before, but it’s rather more likely that you saw a few bottles/brands at the store and vaguely recognized them before proceeding to the till with your regular beer purchases, what ever they might be.
Well, it’s time for you to jump straight into the bleeding edge heart of Vancouver Craft Beer, because there really is no better time than now. Stouts are an increasingly popular feature on local craft beer menus recently. Maybe it’s the flavour (malty, coffee-like in both taste and appearance), or the low carbonation, or even the sub-5% alcohol levels that makes tipping multiple pints of stout so easy an exercise. Likely, it’s all three, so dive in there.
The new Brassneck on Main St. has just released its Fall Back, a session-stout that is about as perfect an after-work refresher as anyone could hope for. Perhaps you’ve canned salmon all day and need something to take the edge off before going home to your delightful family. Or maybe, like me, you’ve spent all day typing at a desk and need a gentle point of entry before moving on to that 7% hop bomb of an IPA. Either way, this beer needs you to drink it.
Between this beer and Persephone Brewing’s Dry Irish Stout, the gauntlet for a fine pint of the black has been thrown down in BC, and I’m loving every second of it. Is it the perfect stout? No, but it does garner that highest of praise from me, which is to say that it tastes like another pint.
You can only find it at Brassneck (drink in + growlers) at 6th and Main. The price is $11 for a 1.9 litre fill. Brassneck has already established the habit of selling out quickly, so go. Now.
by Chuck Hallett | The start of the winter cellaring beer release season is upon us. How can I tell? Vancouver Island Brewing has dropped the 2013 version of their famous Eisbock, aka Hermannator. Now in its 26th year, this dark and strong bugger comes out mere weeks before the rest of the winter heavies, giving us beer geeks time enough to clear out a shelf or two in our cellars.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at it, but an Eisbock is actually a lager; a pitch black, strong (9.5%!) lager that, upon tasting, you’d be forgiven for confusing with a rich ale, what with all the chocolate, caramel and brown sugar that comes through on the palate. And is that some raisin I taste in there, too? Yes it is. This is a brilliant beer to sip out of a snifter on those cold winter evenings (drink it from the bottle and I will break into your condo, hurt you, and take it away like a cruel sort of reverse Santa Claus).
And don’t just take my word on it. Hermannator was recently awarded the coveted Best Of Show Award at the 2013 BC Beer Awards, which is some serious beer geek cred. In addition to being almost universally acclaimed as awesome, Hermannator is a great starting beer for those interested in cellaring. Properly stored, this beer will age and slowly improve for five or more years.
If you’re keen on cellaring, look for the limited edition waxed dipped 650ml bomber with the 2013 vintage stamped into the wax-dipped top at private stores in Victoria, and at select private stores in Vancouver (VIB will announce who gets the goods via Twitter).
Where to get it: The LDB carries the six packs. Private stores in Victoria will get access to the waxed 650ml bombers.
How much is it: $13.75 for six 335ml bottles.
When to get it: Hermannator six packs stick around for a few months, but generally are gone by February.
by Chuck Hallett | For their fifth anniversary, Victoria’s Driftwood Brewing has dropped a surprise on the BC Craft Beer scene: Lustrum. This cassis-heavy beer was brewed with local wild yeast harvested from near the brewery and aged in French oak for a year before bottling. In short, they swung for the fence with this one and, while they don’t quite make it all the way, it should be good for a triple.
As soon as you pour this guy you know you’re in for something special. The colour is a deep red/purple and, if it weren’t for a lighter red head, you’d be forgiven for thinking this to be an old Merlot. And speaking of wine, that’s the kind of glass you should use here.
The cassis dominates up front with an almost-vinous richness, but slowly the sour funk of the yeast builds up before giving way to a subtle vanilla/oak finish. The only flaw here is a too-strong bitter astringency, but that should age out with some cellaring. By any definition, though, this is an intensely interesting beer worthy of your attention.
Where to get it: Most private beer stores, but especially Vita, Legacy, Firefly and Brewery Creek.
How much is it: $12-14 per 650ml bottle.
When to get it: Like all Driftwood limited releases, this will go fast, so hurry.
The GOODS from Cannery Brewing Company
Everywhere, BC | Cannery Brewing is pleased to partner with the BC Craft Brewers Guild and a number of other BC Craft Brewers in the launch of two collection packs. Cannery Brewing’s Naramata Nut Brown Ale will be featured in the Natural Selection Can Package.
The BC Craft Brewers Guild has released two different 12 craft packs of natural, flavourful BC Craft Beers for BC beer lovers to discover and enjoy. “As the days get shorter and evenings colder, what would be better than a hand picked Fall selection of BC craft beers to enjoy?” said Ken Beattie, Executive Director of the BC Craft Beer Guild. “With two different mixes available, and six beers in each craft pack, you can savour some long?time favourites and discover something new to please your palate while supporting Craft Brewing throughout BC.”
The BC Craft Brewers Guild has assembled a selection of some of the best Craft Beers our BC brewers create in Natural Selection twelve packs of cans and bottles. The bottle pack and can pack feature a different selection of six BC Craft Beers brewed with passion and dedication for Fall throughout the province. This limited release is available at selected BC Liquor Stores and private stores throughout BC at $24.50/pack. Partial proceeds fund the BC Craft Brewers Guild. Read more
by Chuck Hallett | Hoyne Brewing is a fairly new outfit in Victoria. Started in late 2011 by Sean Hoyne, formerly of the Canoe Brewpub, their focus is on what I like to call “Table Beer”: inexpensive, moderate alcohol, solidly brewed beers meant to be consumed regularly, or to pair with dinner. Their regular line-up includes a meaty Pilsner, a balanced Pale Ale, and a subtle IPA.
You can find most of their beer at your local government liquor store for the low, low price of $5.25 per 650ml bottle. However, today I’m not talking about their regular line-up. Today I’m talking about their fresh hopped seasonal: Wolf Vine Pale Ale.
Fresh-hopped beers are exactly what they sound like; instead of using regular dried hops to brew the beer, fresh-hopped ales grab the little green bitter bombs straight from the ground and plunge them into the brew whole. As hops are harvested in September, these are fairly rare beers with limited availability. Ask your local private store about this guy, buy it, and drink it soon (fresh is best). You can save thanking me for later.
by Chuck Hallett | When Nigel Springthorpe and Conrad Gmoser decided to start Brassneck Brewery at 2148 Main Street, they also decided to start growing out their beards as living emblems of their common endeavour. What initially seemed like a bit of a lark turned into well over a year’s worth of untrimmed facial hair as delays and setbacks repeatedly pushed the opening date ever into the future. Thus the gag evolved from a joke into a symbol of their struggle, commitment and perseverance.
Well, the wait is almost over. Only two inspections remain (fire and health), and then Brassneck will be open for business. Nigel and Conrad’s promise of a dozen or so beers on tap likely won’t be realized on day one, as it takes quite a bit of time to fill thirteen cellar tanks, not to mention to work out all the kinks and quirks of a brand new brewing system.
However, there will be a few options to try out, all holding a bit of a view into future brews from Brewmaster Gmoser. Rumour has it that some or all of the following might be on the opening day menu: A straight up single-hopped pale (“Brassneck Ale”), a low ABV session lager (“No Brainer”), a Falconer’s Flight dry-hopped pale (“Passive Aggressive”), an orange-hued 5 grain weisse beer (“Multiweizen”), a White IPA w/ Galaxy hops, and an unnamed Russian Imperial Stout. The good looking bottles/growlers see straight-forward minimalist branding treatments from the young team at Post Projects (see also Revolver Coffee) with darling brew-specific motifs by local ceramicist Maggie Boyd, the same artist who made the cool plates at Bestie.
The first brews will all be small batch experiments, as the brewing team tries to learn what each fermenter can bring to the party. Unlike pretty much every other brewery in Vancouver, Brassneck will have five different types of systems on which to brew beer. What fails in one system might work beautifully in another. Figuring this out takes time, experimentation, and tasting, and boy am I willing to help out with that last part!
Don’t expect a big announcement or a launch party. Nigel wants to avoid the first day crush experienced recently by other breweries. When the beers are ready (but not before), he will quietly take down the paper covering the windows, open the door, and welcome his first customer. No fanfare, no lineups (at least at first); just great beer and his vision of what a brewery tasting room should be. We can expect 45-50 seats altogether in a room that is enlivened by 100 year old wooden framing planks reclaimed (Craigslisted!) from a Vancouver mill.
I suppose the only question that remains is whether or not Conrad and Nigel will shave their beards for opening day. [ed. note: they've promised]
Chuck Hallett lives and works in downtown Vancouver. His passionate obsession with craft beer borders on insanity. When not attempting to single-handedly financially support the local brewing industry through personal consumption, he spouts off on his award-winning beer-themed blog: BarleyMowat.com. If you’re in a good beer bar reading this, odds are he’s sitting next to you. Be polite and say hi.
The GOODS from Cannery Brewing Company
Penticton, BC | Join the craft beer revolution at the Kettle Valley Station Pub in Penticton and have a beer with Joe Wiebe, author of the bestselling book, Craft Beer Revolution: The Insider’s Guide to B.C. Breweries (Douglas & McIntyre). Guests are invited to drop by on Wednesday, July 3 between 6pm to 9pm to meet Joe and check out his new book. Hooked on Books will be at the event selling copies for $19.95, which includes a pint of beer and some appetizers.
In Craft Beer Revolution, Wiebe documents the fascinating craft beer movement in B.C., profiling its history, the breweries themselves, the people behind the kegs and casks, and the colourful stories. The book is filled to the brim with recommendations for beer tasting tours around the province, lists of the best brews that B.C. has to offer, and entertaining trivia that will make beer geeks salivate.
To write this book, Joe Wiebe undertook what he called his “Craft Beer Odyssey”—a road trip around the bottom half of the province visiting as many craft beer hubs as possible. On this trip, he found that British Columbians are embracing craft beer like never before. It may, in part, be wrapped up in an ever-growing movement to consume high-quality, local products. However, there is more to craft beer than its superb ingredients. Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, writes that “craft brewing universally involves boldly flavoured beers coupled with a defiantly independent spirit.” In Craft Beer Revolution, Wiebe celebrates this independent spirit that has overwhelmingly soaked into B.C.’s brewing scene—one that is embraced by the three Okanagan breweries who have come together to create a special, exclusive, cask-conditioned beer for the event.
This revolutionary “Collabor-ale” from Oliver’s Firehall Brewery and Penticton-based Cannery Brewing and Tin Whistle Brewing is called “The 3-Brewers Plot.” Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? It is a Belgian Wit-style beer that takes on a secondary fermentation with Valencia oranges soaked in Cointreau, peppercorns and dark honey. It is finished off with Amarillo hops. This unique beer marks the first time these three Okanagan breweries have worked together on a collaboration ale. Read more
News from Scout supporter Whistler Brewing Co.
Whistler, BC | Whistler Brewing Co’s Brewmaster, Joe Goetz, first brewed the Winter Dunkel in November 2010 for a small group of key restaurants and specialty beer cafes. The recipe was so unique and such a hit that production for 2011 has been expanded and includes a limited release of 650ml bottles for take home as well draft beer for the hospitality trade. Following the sell-out successes of the prior limited release beers (Paradise Valley Grapefruit Ale and Valley Trail Chestnut Ale), the Winter Dunkel is expected to sell quickly in both retail stores and restaurants and bars. Read more
Whistler Brewing Company is now a proud member supporter of Scout. We will be publishing their news and press releases on our front page and hosting a page for them in our list of local breweries and wineries. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank them for their support of our little website. Click ahead to read on or jump directly to their Scout page… Read more