Earlier this week, EatinginVancouver was invited by Vancouver Food Tour to try their Craft Beer ‘n Bites package out in Gastown. Having never been on a food or beer tour before, I was especially curious about a few things ie. 1) What kind of beers we would be trying 2) What food would be paired with these beers and 3) What exactly a food tour guide did. I am happy to report all my questions and much more were answered and overall, the experience was extremely enjoyable.
Before we delve into the actual tour, I wanted to make a quick note about our culinary tour guide Nicole Coetzee. As VFT’s resident beer expert, Nicole was exceedingly knowledgeable about all things beer. To be quite honest, I have never actually met somebody that knew as much about beer as her! Having recently completed the prestigious Cicerone certification exam, it was very apparent how passionate she was which really made the tour that much more enjoyable. It is so true that excitement is infectious and Nicole’s intrinsic love for all things ‘hoppy’ definitely lent a sincerity to the evening that I thoroughly enjoyed.
A quick note about this article, we were kindly requested not to mention the name of the venues so we will simply refer to them as Venue A, B and C. Part of the enjoyment of the tour is not knowing where you are going until you arrive so EatinginVancouver will be respecting the request for a little mystery. Meeting up downtown, Nicole first chatted to us briefly about the concept behind this tour. Instead of simply bringing guests to the “best” beer joints in Vancouver, this particular tour intends to showcase 3 very different venues with very comprehensive beer lists. The first venue we visited or Venue A was the most ‘restaurant-y’ of the three. In addition to a fantastic food menu was a very extensive beer and cocktail menu. As you will see in the photos below, we were served three different beers at each of the three venues for a total of 9. Each of the three beers were paired very specifically with a dish or dishes to either compliment or more fully realize the respective beers.
1) Phoenix Gold Lager (Phillip’s Brewery) paired with a Lobster Mac N Cheese
2) Seed Spitter Watermelon Wit (Parallel 49) paired with Banh Mi
3) Fat Tug IPA (Driftwood Brewery) paired with Chilli
After our food and beers were served, I started with the Lobster Mac N Cheese and the Phoenix Gold Lager. First impressions: The NA lager was smooth, dry and not that hoppy. Overall, very light and crisp with moderate bubbles and a slightly sweet aftertaste. I think pairing a light lager with the very rich lobster meat and cheesy macaroni was a good decision. The inherent sweetness of the lobster meat went well with the relatively strong grassy malt taste of the lager. My favourite food/beer pairing of the venue, I will definitely be going back to Venue A for this specific pairing.
The middle pairing of the Watermelon Wit and Banh Mi was ambitious and one of the most interesting pairings of the entire evening. I have never had a fruit incensed beer before and was pleasantly surprised at the strong current of watermelon and lemony citrus overtones. Very refreshing draft, poured very clean and went down smoothly. In a way, this offering by Parallel 49 almost reminded me of a cider rather than a beer. The fruity sweetness of the Seed Spitter went well with the doughy sandwich, washing down the bread and meat down nicely with a bit of tartness. The actual watermelon/fruit taste does not persist on the palate for long and almost vanishes immediately after the swallow.
The third and last pairing was the bowl of Chilli with Driftwood’s Fat Tug IPA. The amusing name aside, this pale ale was very satisfying. The chilli was not overwhelmingly spicy but definitely had a kick to it so those with very gentle palates will definitely appreciate the IPA close at hand. The Fat Tug was very hoppy and is apparently quite well regarded as a beer pairing for spicy Asian and Mexican foods. At 7% alc/vol, a very easy beer to drink with food containing gentle hints of grapefruit, mango, melon and passion fruit. Again, a very well thought out pairing, leveraging this light Driftwood IPA well against a dish with a little bit of fire.
1) Great White (Lost Coast) paired with a Scotch Egg
2) White Bark Ale (Driftwood Brewery) paired with Mayo
3) Back Hand of God Stout (Crannóg Ales) paired with Devils on Horseback
Arriving at Venue B, I started with the Great White and Scotch Egg pairing. The Scotch Egg was delicious, a half boiled egg wrapped in house-made fennel sausage, patted down with panko batter and then deep fried. Definitely a trucker’s lunch item which went very well with the mild Witbier. The Great White was fairly tame to be honest which complimented the Scotch Egg so well. Supporting the very strong flavours of the egg and sausage, this beer could not be strong or it would have clashed with the food sampling too much. With very gentle hints of spice and lemon, I liked the reserved nature of the Great White. Although the name infers some type of voracious oceanic predator, the actual beer was very light and subtle. Traces of wheat and spice round out this quite simple and straight forward Wit.
The next beer I tried was the White Bark by Driftwood. I kind of messed up and ate the Scotch Egg right away with the mayo so I didn’t really have a food pairing for this ale but it didn’t matter. First impressions, fantastic wheat aroma. I took in a few strong breaths of the aroma and fell in love with it. Quite strongly carbonated and viscous, I liked the traces of fruit and malt post swallow. There is a strong floral aroma to this ale that I appreciated which came together very balanced with the equal parts malt and hops. Very smooth and very refreshing, I would have loved to have enjoyed this offering with some fresh bread and cheese.
The last pairing was a very heavy combination of a Crannóg Stout and a generous bacon dish. First off, the Devils on Horseback were delicious. Greer cheese stuffed prunes wrapped in bacon, this was a very rich, luxurious food sampling that definitely needed something heavy to balance it. Lagers or ales would have been far too light so I am happy that VFT chose to go with a solid stout in the Back Hand of God. Very powerful in flavour, dark and rich. I tasted hints of chocolate, coffee, nuts etc. which lent it a smoky taste. Very pleasing finish especially pairing directly with the bacon which went together exceedingly well. Our guide Nicole even recommended we ‘dunk’ one of our bacon wrapped prunes INTO the beer which one or two guests did. Unfortunately I had already cleaned my plate before this gem of advice which only means I will have to make a return visit and try.
1) Stumpy coffee porter
2) Cascadian Brown Ale (VCBW 2012 collaboration)
3) Switchback IPA (Lighthouse Brewery)
At our third and final venue, all three beers were paired with flour-less cake with walnut and raspberry compote. This was definitely the dessert round of the evening and a great end to a fantastic tour. Of the three beers we were served, I started with the coffee porter. Similar to the Watermelon Wit from Venue A, I have never had beer before infused with such a clear flavour of another item. The coffee flavour in the Stumpy is strong and very prevalent throughout the first few swallows. Not heavy per se but I felt the body was definitely mid to high in terms of volume and impact. I told another blogger across from me that this was probably THE beer to order with any type of dark cocoa based cake i.e. blackforest cake, etc. An excellent beer pairing in a somewhat unconventional setting. I have never, ever paired beer with the dessert course but this coffee porter definitely opened my eyes and palate to some exciting future combinations. Finishing off the last few spoonfuls of delicious cake with the two ales, I thought it was a very good move to serve a dessert that was not overly sweet. Not enjoying the same advantages as say an ice wine or dessert wine, the coffee porter and two ales were still able to hold their own quite well alongside the walnut and raspberry compote. With a sweeter dessert like say cheesecake, I do not think any beer would fare that well but for milder desserts like a quarter sweet pound cake or banana cake, I think these beers would do very well.
Final thoughts on my first food tour? The food and beer alone were worth it and having a knowledgeable guide with us the whole way was just bonus. Having now experienced a Vancouver Food Tour in person, I can genuinely relay to others that you are not so much paying for a meal as you are a food experience. Chatting with the guide, laughing with the others on the tour, trying great food and drinks etc. is all part of what I believe is a fantastic social-culinary excursion. For the more hardcore foodies, I believe you will be quite impressed not only in the beer selections but how the food items compliment/accentuate the respective ales, lagers, stouts etc. Even as a local Vancouverite for over 20 years, I learned so much about Gastown and Vancouver’s history from Nicole which was a pleasant but much appreciated surprise. Overall, I had a lot of fun on this outing and would like to thank Melody and her entire amazing team at Vancouver Food Tour for bringing EatinginVancouver along for a wonderful night!
Interested in experiencing a Vancouver Food Tour? Use the code eatinginvan to receive 10% off when you register here!