The thirsty crowd was 100 strong by the time Mayor Gregor Robertson arrived to tap the ceremonial first cask for the inaugural Vancouver Craft Beer Week. To start, VCBW co-founder Rick Green suggested that now is the time for us to celebrate our craft beer as much as we do our flourishing wine industry, while Mayor Robertson added some words on how craft beer fits in with the modern approach to eating and drinking local. Then with Robertson’s strike of the ceremonial mallet, the first cask was tapped and VCBW was officially underway.
In many ways the Alibi Room is the perfect place to open the first-ever Vancouver Craft Beer Week. Since 2006 the Alibi Room has been Vancouver’s best room for craft beer, currently boasting 26 taps, all craft beers, and many craft bottles as well. With no televisions and lots of communal seating, the Alibi is a space that encourages conversation, and usually that conversation will drift towards the Alibi’s fascinating and rewarding beer list. If the beer list is sometimes a bit daunting, proprietor Nigel Springthorpe will offer suggestions. These aren’t beers to knock back, these are beers to explore and appreciate.
The theme for the event, chosen by Nigel, was hop-forward beers. Hoppy beers have long been a favourite of Nigel’s, who labels the beers on his menu with one, two, three or four stars to indicate the level of hoppiness. Hops are an ingredient in most beers, added to provide a bitterness to offset the sweetness of the malts. Hops also act as a preservative. The style most associated with big hop flavours is the India Pale Ale. The legend of the IPA is that extra hops were added to help the beers survive the long ocean-going trips to India in the 18th century, but with the added preservative qualities came added bitterness. British soldiers returned to the UK having developed a taste for these bitter beers. Big, aggressive hops are now considered one of the trademarks of west coast craft beer, especially our IPAs (the bitterness of real IPAs can come as something of a shock to those familiar only with Alexander Kieth’s IPA, which is a lager and not actually an IPA at all). The bitter flavours can take the form of citrus notes; orange peel, lemon zest or grapefruit, or herb notes such as pine or rosemary. For some, these hoppy beers are an acquired taste, but they are to many beer geeks what big, tannic reds are to wine drinkers.
At close to 200 people the room was buzzing. With 25 beers spread out over two floors there was much to try. Vancouver blues guitarist, Rich Hope provided live music while Alibi chef Greg Armstrong provided hot bowls of his Two Rivers bison chili. My favourite beers on the night included Central City’s Roachapalooza and Deschute’s HopHenge Experimental IPA, both intense, hoppy beers. Rogue Brewing’s John John Juniper, aged in a gin barrel, was a polarizing beer on the night – I found it complex and elegant, some found it a bit medicinal. Derrick’s (of Dix Brewpub) Blood Orange Zest Grand Cru offered a lovely, sweeter beer, perfect for winding down at the end of the night. Iain’s (of Yaletown Brew Pub) Brick & Beam IPA was perhaps my favourite on the night, nicely bitter yet delicate and balanced – a wonderful beer.
All in all, Vancouver Craft Beer Week got off to a rousing start. It was an incredible beer list. Among the crowd was a “Who’s Who” of BC’s craft beer industry. And for those who missed this event, many of the beers will be on the Alibi’s tap list until they run out. And as always, the Alibi Room remains one of the best places to sample craft beer in Vancouver, worth a visit any night.