My First Beer Potluck: Critiquing 2014’s Winter Seasonals in a Cramped Apartment

Between working for a food magazine and being around bikes for way too long, I’ve drank a lot of beer. My education in the nectar began sometime in high school university along with my discovery of the made-famous-by-Fubar beer, pilsner. To this day, the taste reminds me of tight jeans, animal shirts, headbands and piercings: my youth was a strange time. 

But I digress—the point is, my beer palate has developed significantly since then. Okay, I admit, I still probably only know so much about it, but I know a few things: 1) I know what I like; 2) I know that I secretly just don’t like IPAs much (a Pacific Northwest taboo, I know); 3) I’m picky as hell about seasonals; 4) I know that, along with this craft beer boom, it’s impossible to try everything.

So there you have it, my credentials. On that note: it’s winter seasonal… season. Clunky wording, fine, but the point is, the rather drab (at least for me) September/October months of, ugh, pumpkin beers are over. So, while October for me might be “sober October,” November and December are joyous, merry times of beer bounty. I set about reviewing a few top-drawer hits for 2014 but, given how many damn beers there are to drink in the world, I knew I couldn’t do it alone…

So I had a beer potluck. My apartment is small and without much furniture, but people still came because, beer. Here then, are a few of our choice selections for 2014.

We had a smattering of beers from (mostly) local brewers including Driftwood, Philips, Hoyne, and Tofino (among many others). There were some truly excellent selections, so be sure to check out what I’ve listed here in the coming weeks. Think I missed something key? Tweet (@jonolafjohnson) or Instagram me (@jonjohns) (or @eatmagazine – twitter, @eatmag – instagram) to let me know how I could have possibly missed such fundamentals. Without further ado, some top rate selections for 2014.



Ninkasi Sleigh’r Dark Doüble Alt Ale


The name alone makes this one worth checking out, but it’s a beer that works pretty well, too. At 7.2%, it’s a rich, dark, intense offering, but not undrinkable by any means. Malty with plenty of really dark chocolaty tones, someone (I can’t remember who) exclaimed that it has just a bit of a “rugged aftertaste.” It’s definitely on the bitter side, but with Altbiers that’s within the spectrum. That said, it’s a pretty nuanced and surprisingly subtle brew for such a heavy beast of a beer. Sessionable for some, but not for myself. Regardless, it’s worth checking out.



Hoyne Voltage Espresso Stout


I’ve had this beer more than a few times, and it really is great. A limited release, you can find it right now courtesy of liquor merchants across Victoria. Made with genuine Habit espresso, it does taste like its made with beautifully drawn espresso. A dark pour, definitely, but it’s an insanely smooth beer that’s at once belly-warming and refreshing, and that bit of espresso gave everyone a much-needed bit of boost midway through the beer potluck. Espresso stouts are a little run-of-the-mill (not a bad thing), but the Voltage is pretty well-executed. That said, the espresso borders on being the defining characteristic of the brew; that is, the beer risks being just a bit one dimensional. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—I still really enjoy this beer, and it’s really drinkable and smooth—but it’s not a nuanced thing. Someone out-there-in-the-world should do an “Espresso Stout” roundup but, given that I thought of that just now, it hasn’t happened yet. Editor’s Note: Check out the great video Hoyne did with Habit when they introduced the beer.

Idea: this beer would make a great six-pack.



Driftwood Entangled Hopfenweisse


The folks at Driftwood on Hillside Street in the depths of Victoria’s industrial district have been busy. Not only have they revamped their labels, they’ve also re-released their Driftwood Pale Ale with 100% BC hops (it’s now called the New Growth Pale Ale), and they’ve just come out with a limited release, the Entangled Hopfenweisse. While not really a seasonal (The excellent Blackstone Porter is Driftwood’s seasonal treat), the Entangled is nonetheless “limited,” so grab it quickly if interested. Thoughts? Insanely refreshing, and totally unlike any of the other beers we sampled over the course of the evening. “Fat Tug light” was a phrase that immediately came to mind — this is a crazy citrusy beer, and ridiculously aromatic (in a really good way). There were some murmurings that it was clean—maybe just a bit too [italics] clean—but, honestly, I think that was largely because, in contrast to the other beers tackled that evening, this was a much lighter, more refreshing, and summery affair. Truly sessionable, refreshing as hell, and nicely aromatic, this is a really nice take on the Hopfenweisse thing. If I’m getting picky, I found the finish to be just a bit lacking, but not so much as it make it bland or uninteresting.

Phillips Cherry Hieter


Here’s a curious brew that, at the time of this writing, might not be available in stores. Still, this is an interesting beer that is worth talking about.  With a surprisingly light colour, this is a really malty offering, but what really stands out is that smokiness. The beer is refreshing, definitely, but how that’s so is perplexing; the smoked cherry doesn’t really stand out and, weirdly (but not unenjoyably), this is a very savory beer tasting more along the lines of fatty chorizo than cherry. It’s kind of fascinating, and totally unique, but we all got the sense that maybe Phillips missed the mark just a bit. Still, if you can find a bottle, it’s worth checking out; this is an interesting, experimental beer that, with a little refinement, could be a real winner.


Tofino Kelp Stout


The Kelp Stout, almost unanimously, was deemed the highlight of the evening. This is a truly fascinating, unique, and delicious beer that, truth be told, is kind of unlike any other beer I’ve had. Featuring locally harvested kelp (seriously), this is a truly deep, dark, and full-bodied offering that rewards careful, slow drinking. Tones of chocolate are great in a porter, but can get just a bit repetitive. Instead of chocolate, the Kelp Stout’s sweetness comes from a nicely executed taste of molasses—intense, but rewarding. The beer is extremely smooth and, yep, there’s a distinct taste of kelp, a distinct brininess to the whole affair. I have nothing to compare it to, but it’s truly great. As Parker noted, there is a saltiness to the beer, an aftertaste, but it’s less of a taste and more of a salty feel. In short: Fascinating! Delicious! Rewarding! Kelpy! Drink this.

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Originally from Calgary, Alberta, Jonathan Johnson reached the silvery West Coast in 2009. In 2014 he completed his MA in English at the University of Victoria, and is a contributor for EAT Magazine. In addition to his publishing ...

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