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For me, a beer (or three) is a necessary component of enjoying our brief but glorious summer.
Even at the beach, I endeavour to get the most out of my beer. It’s easy: start by putting it in a glass. To really get a nose for what you’re drinking, you need an opening that’s more than 2.5 inches wide. Pouring a beer and letting the head rise opens up the aromas, both malt and hop. As long as it’s in a bottle, you can’t see or smell it, which means that you’re missing out on two-thirds of the experience. While there’s considerable debate over beer glasses, for the beach, there are really just three criteria: they should be clear, durable, and have a wide opening. Plastic stemless wine glasses work rather nicely.
The clear glass allows you to appreciate your beverage. The aesthetic experience provides important clues as to a beer’s ingredients. Is it blonde, copper, brown? How does that correspond to what you’re tasting? It’s easy to think that dark beers have stronger flavour, but a blonde ale can be full of malty notes, while a dark lager can be easy on the tongue.
Last weekend, some friends and I picked up a couple beers we thought would compliment the sand and sun. The first was a Phillips Surly Blonde – a Belgian-style triple (or tripel), originally brewed by Dutch and Belgian Trappist monks. The style is a strong golden ale, that derives its name from the amount of malt used: three times the standard. This produces an exceptionally strong beer, with up to 10% alcohol. Done properly, the sweet finish and light body mask its strength. The Belgian tripel is both strong and light because of the addition of Belgian candy sugar – a fermentable sugar that doesn’t change the body of the beer. The nose is slightly spicy, as a result of the liberal use of hops. The continental hop varieties are subtler than the Northwestern hops found in our local IPAs, which tend towards citrus and pine aromas. Belgian yeast strains produce fruity esters, which should be present in a tripel, and contribute to both the aroma and the flavour.
Phillips Surly Blonde is a solid BC interpretation of a Belgian classic. Coming in a 650mL bottle and weighing in at 9.1%, the flavour is bold without being overwhelming. Colour-wise it’s very appealing, with a golden-blonde hue that seems a perfect shade for a warm afternoon. With a slightly spicy aroma, this beer emphasizes malt over hops. The nose also offers fruity notes, though they’re definitely subtle. With a light base, the smell and taste offer caramel malt notes, and a biscuity flavour. The bittering hops come through more prominently on the tongue, offering a nice balance to the strong malt flavours. The finish is sweet, (honestly a little too sweet for my liking), though it fits well with the category standard. As a showcase of what Matt Phillips is doing to expand beyond Northwestern ales this beer is great. As a beach beer, though, it’s a little heavy, unless you’re splitting it with friends.
Our second choice was the St. Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale. There are no rules for brewing fruit beers, and many brewers have jumped on board in hopes of expanding their market shares by making an easy-drinking beer that appeals to non-beer drinkers. Consequently, there are many bad fruit beers. I credit this to the use of fruit extract, rather than fresh fruit in the brewing process, which results in a sweeter finish that doesn’t do justice for the fruit or the beer.
The St. Ambroise is a welcome exception. While dubbed a wheat ale, it bears little resemblance to a witbier or hefeweizen. The St. Ambroise pours a beautiful bronze – a shade or two darker than the Surly Blonde. The nose is dominated by apricot, though it isn’t overbearing. The slight caramel body is balanced, and while the apricot flavour is noticeable, it’s complementary and doesn’t contribute any residual sweetness or syrup that is to be loathed in a bad brew. It’s made for the beach. It’s light, summery and well-designed – sweet, while leaving plenty of room to taste the beer itself.
With so many excellent summer options provided by our local brewers there’s no need to hump another six-pack of Lucky down the Wreck Beach steps.
Enjoy the beach, and your local beer!