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The endless creativity of independent brewing

B.C.s craft brewers get wild and crazy

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By now it's no secret: B.C.'s craft beer industry has exploded in recent years.

According to Ken Beattie, chair of the BC Craft Brewers Guild, the guild has now burgeoned to 33 members — effectively doubling its membership in less than a year.

And that's just the members. Beattie estimates there to be more than 70 independent breweries now bubbling across the province.

And with more independence has come more creativity.

Free from the shackles of marketing departments and corporate offices, brewmasters across the province are pursuing their wildest fantasies, with fascinating results.

"James Walton at Storm (Brewing, based out of Vancouver) is a magician. He really makes a lot of interesting beers," Beattie said, in a conversation ahead of the second annual Whistler Beer Festival.

"He made a black forest cake beer where he melted Belgian chocolate and whiskey and a sour cherry beer and blended it all together, and it came out tasting like black forest cake."

Colour me intrigued.

But that's just the tip of the foamy, frothy iceberg.

At the Tofino Brewing Co. you can try six per cent Kelp Stout (made with, you guessed it, seaweed), or the newly released Spruce Tree Ale.

"A couple of breweries use spruce tips — they're the ends of the actual spruce tree, and they grow only a certain time of the year," Beattie said.

"You pick them, and you can put them into the boil and they kind of give this tropical kind of flavour... for me it was like a tropical fruit almost like a cantaloupe flavor to it.

"But it smelled like a Christmas tree. It was wild."

Beattie said that there's a good chance you'll find some Spruce Tip beer at the Whistler Beer Festival, so keep your eyes open.

Independent breweries are more open to experimentation, Beattie said, which means that on any given day a new and exciting beer could be fermenting somewhere in the province.

"You have a lot more creativity, to be honest, because you can make it in small batches (and) you can do it one time."

If it works, great. If not, no harm done. That's the beauty of the craft beer revolution.

"They brew beers that they want to drink, for the most part, where a foreign-owned brewery is brewing beers they think you want to drink, or that you have been drinking," Beattie said.

But the independents, they play by their own rules.

"It's not about marketing, it's not about, 'What's the demographic we're looking for?'" Beattie said.

"It's about flavour."

The variety of crazy, unique types of beer that can be brewed is really only limited by the imagination of the brewmaster.

"The possibilities are endless," Beattie said.

"The brewers are like chefs, right? They can just create. Whatever is taking their whim on that day, they give it a try."

And as 62 different breweries converge on Whistler this weekend carrying some of their best offerings, who knows what kind of visionary treats you'll discover?

"That's the great thing about the festival," Beattie said.

"The discovery."

Ken Beattie will be offering educational courses at the Whistler Beer Festival.

On Thursday, Sept. 11 it's Beer 101, and on Friday, Sept. 12 you can join him to learn about the History of Beer.

For tickets to either event, visit www.wvbf.ca/events.

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