Crisp, cold, and flavorful are some of the must-have characteristics of a good beer. But how about what is added to the beer, and where it’s made? Until recently, it was not often questioned where food came from, or even what was in it. Dinner was just dinner, fashioned up from whatever the cook was craving. Now with a large portion of the consumer population “going green” people are getting inspired to buy organic, buy local, and learn more about what’s in their food. Yet when someone picks up a six pack do they think of where it came from, or what’s in it aside from the alcohol they’re paying for? The Canoe Brewpub is one of Victoria’s most renowned brewers, and on November 4th a crew of enthusiastic Environmental Studies students set out to learn what it means to drink—locally.
Interior lighting soaked into The Canoe’s brick walls and wooded ceiling. Soft and ambient, the chandeliers cast a classy yet cozy feel over the space. Sliding into our seats by the bar, we each got a taster of their Amber Lager to entice our palates. Next, three jugs of their signature beer: Red Canoe Lager, Siren’s Song Pale Ale, and Beaver Brown Ale. The Beaver Brown was the favourite amongst the group—its full-bodied flavour and lingering malty taste was a swish.
After sampling the beers and snacking on fries, edamame, and a quite delicious flatbread, we were led into The Canoe’s back-room brewery. Seven 12ft tall silver brewing vessels rose nearly to the ceiling, each with its own label and graph. Vince, our server and tour guide, explained that each vessel contained a different brew. One of the beers currently in the brewing process is Winter Gale, the most anticipated Canoe beer. This specialty beer boasts malty sweetness and ginger, cinnamon, and clove spice with a hint of brandy. It is asked for year round by a chain of thirsty come-back customers, but because it is seasonal it can only be enjoyed during winter months.
Along with serving up fantastic alcoholic drinks, the water used for all of the Canoe’s speciality beer goes through a triple filtration system, and is the same water served to guests in the restaurant. The beer is unfiltered, and also naturally carbonated. This means the combination of yeast and sugar naturally releases alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). Vince noted that macro breweries fill their tanks to capacity in order to make the most product in the least amount of time, and then artificially add CO2. In contrast, The Canoe allows room in its seven silver silos for the CO2 to naturally form.
Macro breweries also add chemicals to reduce the ‘head’ of their beer, and to provide a longer shelf life. Unlike labels on most cans of food, brewers are not required to list extra additives. So what exactly are we drinking? Two common additives are betaglucanase and propylene glycol alginate, and though these are considered safe to ingest, it is believed that harmful chemicals are added for preservation. The Canoe only uses natural preservatives like hops and alcohol. Because of this eco-approach, the specialty crafted beers they sell have a shelf life of 1-3 months.
When I asked our guide why The Canoe continues to stay small, local, and eco, he replied, “Victoria’s into it, so it just makes sense for us to continue.” And it’s true—this lively little pub won a Canadian Brewing Awards Gold Medal, and was the region’s best pub three years running.
On a student budget it’s not always an option to buy organic, or to buy speciality beer. It’s often easier to pick up what’s on sale, or choose the cheapest beer possible to really stretch ten bucks. Lucky Lager is a guilty pleasure of mine, and has been my go-to beer for years. The fancy beers available Swans, Spinnakers, and The Canoe were usually only for special occasions. But since I’ve been working on “going green” in my attempts to buy produce at farmers markets and eat less McDonald’s breakfasts, why not apply that eco-energy to beer? The beer available at The Canoe and the other Victoria micros is pricier, but it’s also local and natural. So if you’re thinking about eating environmentally, check out our capital’s local breweries and enjoy drinking sustainably.