Last night the Alibi opened its doors and welcomed about 120 beer geeks inside from the cold and rain to celebrate Hoppapalooza III, a celebration of all things hoppy (and by “all things” we mean “beer”). I was one of those lucky 120, so I went down to see Nigel and experience my very first taste of what has become a Vancouver beer scene legend.
As is his style, Nigel went a bit overboard on this one: the beer lineup featured over 50 different beers, including 21 IPAs and 5 bitters/hop forward ales. To go with this was bottomless beef, pork or veggie chilli, which is a classic IPA pairing. And, let’s face it, when you’re pairing food with the final product of the entire 2012 hop crop, keeping it simple is a Good Thing. Chilli was the perfect companion to this event.
Despite those numbers above, I was very surprised by the sheer number of non-IPAs. In fact, there were more non-hoppy beers than hoppy beers. By the numbers: 7 Saisons, 1 Red Ale, 2 Barley Wines, 5 Lagers/Pilsners, 2 Wheat Ale, 5 Stouts, 2 Sour Ales, 3 Misc Flavoured Beers. Sure, I could complain that some taps weren’t IPA or even bitter at an event with “Hop” right in its name, but even a curmudgeon like me would look askance at that. 21 IPAs is more than enough for anyone, especially when you look into the details.
Numbers are all fine and well, but the quality/rarity of some of these beers really drove home how far Nigel went to put all his cards on the table. Here are the highlights from my point of view (organized by brewery):
- Upright — First time (I’m aware of) that all four Upright ales have been on tap together in Canada. Heck, even the Upright tasting room rarely pulls this off.
- Gigantic — Not just a new brewery, but also a brewery that elected to serve their beer first in BC (although I believe Belmont Station beat the Alibi by a day in getting this into glassware). Imagine this, and let it sink in a bit: A brand new Portland brewery opens up and thinks “I’d love to premier our beer at the Alibi Room in Vancouver… BC.”
- Deschutes — The Abyss is probably one of the 10 best beers I’ve ever had, and I’ve never even heard of it being on tap. Yet there it is.
- Odin — Another brewery’s BC launch premiering at The Alibi. Sure, the official launch was at the Hogshack in Steveston, but Nigel served the first pint in BC.
- Central City — Aged Thor’s Hammer? Imperial Roach? Yes, please.
- Parallel 49 — Another launch beer (Hopparazzi). I’m starting to think The Alibi is just where good beer is born.
And yes, that is a list of good & interesting beer where a cask of the excellent 2012 Driftwood Naughty Hildegard did not even merit mention. Well played, Mr Springthorpe, well played.
But now to get down to real business: who wins the Hoppapalooza III Barley Mowat Best In Show? No surprise here, the winner is Tofino Brewing’s Spruce Tip IPA, brewed with real trees (I shit you not). This beer combined fantastic conception with near perfect execution and was the solid show favourite of everyone I talked to. The crew out in Tofino keeps on trying new things, and just absolutely nails every one.
The only fault is that there was only 1 cask made of this, and their absolutely tiny brew kit means bottling in any sizeable quantity is a ways off. Seriously, that thing is like 5 hectolitres max. We should start a kick-starter for them to upgrade into the 100+ hl world, and buy a bottling line (and maybe a shipment contract to my door).
The runner up was Gigantic Brewing’s Black Saison; their IPA is pretty regular, but the saison is amazingly unique and worthy of repeat consumption. Look out for this beer to start appearing at your local LRS, and buy it. Buy all of it. Then drink it.
Overall, though, last night gets an A+ from me. Not just for the atmosphere, or the great blues by Rich Hope, or the chance to meet new and friendly brewers, or for the beer geek satisfaction of incredibly rare and delicious beer, but also on value. After all was said and done, last night ran me $60, and included all the beer I could drink and all the food I could eat, a souvenir menu by Perrin (to go with my 100, 200, and 300 tap list menus), and a handy tasting glass.
The tasting glass is an important note, because its small 4oz size actually served to keep the audience relatively sober. Larger pints were available, but for a fiver. This little trick worked out well, and nicely avoided the very real risk of dozens of people getting messy drunk on the almost exclusively high-ABV beer list. Again, well played guys.
If I had to complain about any one detail (and, let’s face it, I do–It’s sorta my schtick), it would have to be the price. At $49 (before tax/service charge) it’s just… too… low. Yup, too low. At $49 a head, The Alibi very likely barely broke even on this event (or maybe even had a small loss). Personally, I would love for Hoppapalooza to have been a massive profit, because then we’d see another one next week instead of next year. But again, that’s about the only thing I can think of to complain about.