Notice I did not put “aboot” or “eh” in that title. Attempting to avoid cliché and stereotype. Anyway, since I have had a few weeks to collect my thoughts about my two weeks in Canada I thought I would do a quick bluffers guide on what I encountered. As always I was only there a short time, and only in Alberta and British Columbia so do not take this as a definitive guide.
Most obvious thing I saw? Beer serving sizes vary wildly. When offered a “pint” this could be 16 fluid ounce, 20 fluid ounce, or in one case oddly 18 fluid ounce. So 473ml, 591ml, and 532ml respectively – assuming US fluid ounces. Also I saw .40L and .45L offered. So, yeah expecting standardised measures is waaay out. I always heard Canada was inclusive and they seem to take that to mean they should include every measure under the sun. Not a big deal, but worth being aware of. Incidentally, for reference a Brit pint is 568ml.
Vancouver definitely had the most booming beer scene, but in my entire time I didn’t stay somewhere without a Brewpub nearby – for those of you who like to drink local there will generally be something to find. In most places they kept a good range of beers, but nothing too experimental, though this did change in Vancouver where sours and odd infusions broke out. Also definitely tended towards the lighter coloured beers, far more places had their own lager than I am used to in the UK, also lots of love for the hefeweizen, especially fruit variants, but less love for the darker beers. In fact tart fruit additions to the lighter beer seems to be one of the twists that is popular no matter where you go, and is one of the experimentations that is seen often outside of Vancouver. Though this could be because I visited when it was stupidly hot.
ABV seemed pretty tight around the 5% mark for the most part, I was amused by session beers coming in at a whopping 0.5% abv lighter. The exception to this was IPAs which stood at robust six to seven percent for the most part, as they should be – and in that put a lot of UK IPAs to shame. Speaking of UK comparisons, while keg taps were the standard, the old traditional hand pull was not exactly absent – with one or two hand pull taps poking out being seen at about half the brewpubs I visited. I am ashamed to say I didn’t try any of those, so I cannot speak to the quality. maybe next time. What is nice, and was near everywhere, was a vast quantity of information on the beer you were about to drink. ABV, IBU, OG, hop usage, some times even malt usage. The UK, and frankly most beer scenes could do well to learn from this – an informed beer drinker is often a happier beer drinker with their pint – of whatever size that may be.
Also, I am starting to wonder if Britain is the only place where people go to the pub and don’t generally, intend to have food. Maybe we just really like getting drunk. that may say bad things about us as a culture. Most places I went were offering food, and seemed about as busy as restaurants as they were as pubs. The food was bloody good for the most part as well, standard expected items – pizza, mac and cheese, poutine, steak, burgers, etc – but done incredibly well in most places I hit.
Where Canada did seem behind the UK, was in bottle shops. I did a bit of hunting, and found a few good bottle shops, but they seemed less common, and generally had a smaller selection that I was used to. When you did find a good one they usually had a quality, but not overly large selection. Also, the habit of selling stuff in six packs seemed common here as well as the USA. Not bad for locals I guess, but as a beer traveller it did mean I couldn’t experiment as much as I am used to. You also rely on specialist shops a lot more, I didn’t really see much bottled or canned beer being sold outside of specialist stores, though in what I did see canning seemed the more popular route. If you want to try a good range of Canadian beer you will be relying on the tap houses more than in most places.
What really stood out, in both the beer scene and general, was the friendliness – as a sometimes solo drinker, being plonked sat at the bar can often be a tad awkward- but here there was always some beer friend willing to strike up a random conversation. Always cool. The friendliness comes behind the bar as well, samples are often offered and generous in proportion, tabs are often started up automatically with a level of trust unseen in most UK pubs. In fact, they come with a modesty that actually caused problems some times – I was raring to try the local Canadian beers and the staff kept recommending me the USA stuff as awesome. Still, when it comes to the end of the night, remember that friendliness and tip. 15% is standard (before taxes) and with a good exchange rate the beers are not bad value. When looking at prices I kept thinking they were a bit steep but not insanely so, then realising I hadn’t converted them into pounds. So pretty ok value. Food especially.
Overall, well, this write up may seem slightly more restrained than most of my world trip guides, and I think it is because the Canadian beer scene is equally balanced. It seems to have elements from many different beer cultures, and a gentle polite delivery of its own. Nothing too out there, but welcoming. It doesn’t have any items that makes it a must visit beer scene, like for example Belgium, but there are many other reasons to visit Canada, and while you are there – the beers will not disappoint. As always this was from a short visit, locals and regular visitors feel free to correct me or let me know what the rest of Canada is like. Heck if the rest of Canada is much different I may have to visit again, ya know, just to check. It is a hard life.
Oh, and GO LEAFS!