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7 Iconic, Game-Changing Beers of Vancouver Island

7 Iconic, Game-Changing Beers of Vancouver Island

Craft Beer has a long history on Vancouver Island. This is where Canada’s first brewpub opened (Spinnakers), it’s home to Canada’s oldest independently-owned production craft brewery (Vancouver Island Brewing) and the country’s oldest craft beer festival (Great Canadian Beer Festival). Needless to say, craft beer is part of the cultural fabric of Island life. And while it’s easy to get distracted by the latest hazy-dry-hopped-sour-milkshake-whatever, what about the beers that got us here? Let’s take a look at some of the game-changing beers that have been brewed on the Island and the impact they’ve had.

Mitchell’s ESB, Spinnakers Brewpub

Mitchell’s ESB is still brewed to the original recipe developed by Spinnakers co-founder and craft beer pioneer John Mitchell. Biscuity, nutty, earthy and smooth, it’s everything a classic English ESB should be—so why mess with perfection? It’s also likely the first craft beer an entire generation of craft beer lovers ever tried. For the full experience, make sure you order it from the cask, as John would have intended.

Hermannator, Vancouver Island Brewing

In 1987, Vancouver Island Brewing brewmaster Hermann Hoerterer brewed the first batch of Hermannator as a special Christmas gift for his close friends, thus creating B.C.’s first seasonal craft beer release. Thirty-two years later, Hermannator is a true Vancouver Island legend, racking up countless awards, including a gold medal at the recent 2019 B.C. Beer Awards. This dangerously smooth ice bock features notes of toffee, dark fruit and chocolate and is the surest sign that the holiday season is rapidly approaching.

Dark Matter, Hoyne Brewing Co.

It’s not a stout and it’s not a porter. Maybe it’s a dark ale? Or a brown ale? In the end, it doesn’t matter, because what does matter is that Dark Matter is the juggernaut of dark beers, and features on just about every bar and restaurant menu on the Island—and across the province. Flavourful and roasty, yet light and dry, it pairs well with just about anything.

Steam Punk by Longwood Brewing

Few Canadians had ever heard of a dunkelweizen before Longwood released its now iconic Steam Punk in those massive 568 ML tall cans back in 2013. The German dark wheat ale was obscure to the point of being extinct, but Longwood’s choice to revive it helped establish the Nanaimo brewery some serious craft cred (along with its Russian imperial stout, Stoutnik). It’s malt-forward with flavours of wheat, caramel and coffee, yet dry and refreshing.

Race Rocks by Lighthouse Brewing

This well-balanced dark amber ale was Lighthouse’s flagship beer right from the get-go in 1998 and was met with near universal acclaim as it quickly popped up on draft lists across the Island. Another generational beer that is responsible for sending many down the craft rabbit hole, Race Rocks was a ubiquitous sight for many years, and its presence in someone’s fridge meant you were in good company. Best served in dimpled mug, in your favourite pub, with your very best friends.

Blue Buck, Phillips Brewing and Malting Co.

We can’t talk about game-changing beers without mentioning Blue Buck. Originally called “Blue Truck,” after the brewery’s old delivery truck, it was rebranded as Blue Buck in 2007 after Vancouver’s Red Truck threatened to sue. Like a lot of beers on this list, it defies categorization. It’s not a pale ale, because it’s not pale. It’s not an amber, because it’s assertively hopped. What it is, is an ideal gateway beer to introduce people to flavourful beers with malt and hop character without scaring them off—hence it’s massive popularity. 

Fat Tug by Driftwood Brewery

You may have noticed something about the beers on this list so far: they’re largely malt-forward. That has a lot to do with the fact that Vancouver Island craft beer scene was so far ahead of the curve that many of these beers predate our modern fascination with hops. But when it comes to beers that turned the tide in favour of big, beautiful hoppy beers, look no further than the one and only Fat Tug IPA. At a deceptively smooth 7.0% ABV, this 80+ IBU beast of a beer has consistently set the bar for what an IPA should be. Many a hoppy love affair have been sparked by this delicious hop bomb—as have many unintended hangovers. The impact of Fat Tug on the B.C. beer scene cannot be understated, and its appreciation continues to this day: Fat Tug won Best IPA in The Growler’s 2018 B.C. Craft Beer Readers’ Choice Awards.

Thirsty? Check out Rob’s picks for six Vancouver Island beers to drink this fall.

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