The Beer Blog
As everyone knows, fall in the Bulkley Valley is hard-core steelhead season, and our families and significant others know not to expect to see very much of us. What you probably don’t know is that our family time on the Skeena system takes place in May and June. This is because it is bar fishing season. Bar fishing is the technical term for bank fishing with a fixed line (basically a system designed to let a fisherman drink beer).
Bar fishermen even go so far as to put a bell on the rod, so they literally don’t have to pay attention for even a second while fishing. Most sandbars on the Skeena begin to look like Swiss Family Robinson with kids playing, hot dogs and marshmallows simmering, and big giant coolers filled with beer. On the East Coast kids get into fishing with worms and bobbers, but in Northern BC it is bar fishing that truly turns on the next generation to the wonders of fishing. Adults with kids literally have a duty to get out there and bar fish. Is the fishing epic? Absolutely not—but the beer drinking certainly is.
Because the fishing side of bar fishing isn’t particularly exciting, we like to focus on the beer sommelier side of things. Big beer companies are quickly changing with the times and tastes before they become the Blockbuster Video of the suds world—no beer lover ever craves a Labatt’s Blue. The behemoth beer companies are buying up small micro-breweries and giving them huge distribution to stay in the game. For beer lovers in Canada, this is a good thing. In the past, distribution was difficult for many microbreweries here. If you didn’t live near the city center, you were pretty much stuck drinking swill like Canadian, Budweiser, or Kokanee.
The best beers now in Canada are due to the fact that big beer companies bought out the microbreweries—Sleeman bought Railside Beer, Corona bought Ballast Point and Budweiser bought Goose Island. These are all great IPA microbreweries, and their beers are now distributed everywhere.
Of course IPA is the trendy equivalent to Malbec right now—and for good reason. IPA is incredible when done right. If you are new to IPAs and want to figure out your style, you only need to know how hoppy you like yours to taste. This is determined by the IBU scale (international bitterness units). Mind you, real beer connoisseurs will tell you IBU isn’t particularly accurate, but for all intents and purposes, it is good enough for us beer chuggers. The bigger, the bolder the taste the bigger the IBU. The only thing to keep in mind is that the human palate can only distinguish up to 110 IBU, so the inflated numbers are often due to marketing. If you see a 2000 IBU beer, it is just like buying SPF 2000 sun protection. In general, the IBU scale is a good start, but always take that number with a grain of salt.
It is typically a challenge for us to get good beer, but in Canada liquor licensing is finally loosening up, so we may have better days ahead. Most of our drinking habits have been dictated by the BC liquor stores for most of our lives.
If you are traveling to steelhead country, keep reading to check out our comprehensive guide to beer. Okay, maybe it’s just a few fishing guides telling you what they like to get drunk drinking, but still—heed our advice and try our personal favs. All of these are sold at any BC liquor store in the province, so you know you can easily pick them up for your next fishing trip.
Derek Botchford: Top 3 Beers
My top three beers will help you comfortably drink beer throughout the day while bar fishing. For me, if I decide to crack my first beer of the day around noon, it isn’t going to be a heavy malty beer or a bitter IPA. Its needs to be a nice light, refreshing day drinking beer. For this I like Rolling Rock. Rolling Rock was originally brewed in 1893 by one of the largest breweries in the United States. It was purchased by Labatt’s in the 1980s, and then Bud bought the beer in 2006. It has been around forever and for good reason. At 4.5% alcohol, you can comfortably drink them throughout the day and still fulfill your family duties such as grilling, rigging rods, and netting fish.
After your day drinking beer, you want to slowly increase your flavor around 5 pm. Time to shift to Jerkface 9000. East Vancouver’s Parallel 49 Brewing Company has quickly become one of my favourite Canadian breweries since forming in 2012. Jerkface 9000 is subtle and moderate filled with a refreshing flavor. Rather than shoving double IPA hops in your face, it has a 37 IBU and 5% alcohol. Jerkface 9000 pours a light yellow colour with a crisp white head that lasts for the entire beer. It’s an awesome crisp, fresh wheat beer that you can drink without it ever feeling too heavy.
At around 7 pm, it is time to switch to a hoppy IPA with dinner. I have been hooked on IPAs from the first one I ever tried, and Deshutes’ Fresh-Squeezed IPA is all about the hops. This brewery makes some of the best West Coast beer you will find anywhere, and it’s as perfect as it gets. It is a beer to enjoy with dinner or one to savor while BBQing a fresh salmon, and it is absolutely perfect for a hot day. It actually doesn’t have any fruit in it, but it does have a citrusy hop flavor. For years, I would drink Phillips Brewery IPAs, as they are by far the best in Canada, but this Deshutes’ version is a great change of pace if you love hop-centric styles. This beer is incredibly expensive in Canada, so it is not something us fishing bums can have on a regular basis. It is, however, a special treat worth bringing to your favorite river trips.
Steve Morrow Top 3 Beers
For those days on the bar when you have things to do like answer phone calls and emails, nothing beats light beer. LIGHT????!!?!?!! Whoa, whoa…hear me out. When I tell people I have things to do but would love that 10 am beer (let’s be honest: 9 am), they say maybe today isn’t the best day. I know—they sound crazy to me, too! This is when it’s entirely appropriate to reach for a Sleemans Clear. Clears are like the fancy equivalent of Coors or Bud Light. They are a slightly better-tasting beverage that distantly resembles the stuff of far more alcohol. The real advantage is that you can windmill them back while retaining a solid 70% of your cognitive skills.
My absolutely favorite beer is Fat Tug. It’s an IPA brewed on Vancouver Island by Driftwood Brewery and is available only in 650 ml. It’s one of those beers that goes great throughout the day, and it’s impossible to have only one glass…I mean there’s two glasses in each bottle, so your hand is forced. The flavor is fairly hoppy, but any harsh bitterness is drowned in citrus notes. It is an IPA, however, and quite heavy, so it’s not an all-day all-the-time beer—but, as I’ve proven extensively, it is an everyday beer.
So I’ve leaned back in my gravity chair for the morning with some Sleemans’ Clears watching the bar rods and even swinging at one reluctant chinook, made burgers (or watched Derek make burgers) over a shockingly cold Fat Tug IPA and knocked out a few calls and bunch of emails—yeah, there’s service on the gravel bar. We are sitting there in anticipation of the bite we claim to have down to science. This is when the Okanagan Spring 1516 excels. This beer recipe dates back to a Bavarian law from 1516, which states that only four ingredients could be used in the creation of beer: barley, hops, yeast, and water. It has a dense caramel completion, and, as the recipe suggests, it feels simple. Served extremely cold, however, it is an easy drinking beer with a crisp bite and bitter finish to even out the night and send you into the next morning if need be.
Disclaimer: We are not sponsored by any of the companies above…but we would love to be and are easily bought.