This year, the Fresh to Death wet hop beer festival moved from the shared backyard of Driftwood and Hoyne breweries to the more centralized location of Centennial Square in downtown Victoria. While more convenient, I feel the event had a better atmosphere at the old location.

One huge improvement this year was the weather. Last year we caught the tail-end of a hurricane and were bombarded by strong winds and pouring rain.

There was a pretty great selection of beers on offer at this year’s event, with lots of returning favorites and several newcomers.

There were 20 different beers available at the show and I felt it was my civic duty to try them all for you. Here’s my top 5.

imag0189#1 Driftwood Brewery – Sartori Harvest IPA: This year’s batch was the best I’ve ever tasted. The Sartori hops came in late this year and I guess that gave them even more flavour than usual. It was so tart and floral and it makes my mouth water just to think of it! There were several other breweries using Sartori hops at the event, but none of them came even close! I went back twice!

#2 Phillips Brewing – Green Reaper IPA: Green Reaper got a bit of a makeover this year. In previous years Phillips had elected to use Sartori hops, and while it was great there was little to distinguish it from the Driftwood brew. This year they sourced their hops locally from the Saanich peninsula, which is a risky move as new-growth hops typically don’t taste as good as old-growth. The risk paid off, though, as this is the best they’ve ever made. It was so popular that they were the first to sell out of beer. Luckily I had four bottle in the fridge at home!

#3 Dageraad – Wet-Hopped Blonde: Departing from the norm of IPAs, ISA, pale ales, and whatever a double pale is, Burnaby’s Dageraad decided to make a Belgian Blonde. The hops came from Sartori and the refreshing spiciness of the wheat and belgian yeast made a welcome change from all of the hop-heavy beers I’d been drinking that day. That being said, it could have gone a little further to showcase the fresh hops.

#4 Yellow Dog – Alpha Dog Fresh Hopped Pale Ale: There were a lot of pale ales on offer this year, but the Alpha Dog was the standout. This beer really showcased the floral character of the hops without being as “in your face” as a fresh-hopped IPA.

#5 Dogwood – Fresh-Hopped Organic ESB: Another brewery taking a risk this year was Dogwood. While they are seeing a bit of a comeback, ESBs still have something of a stigma attached to them. I wasn’t really expecting to taste the benefit of the fresh hops in this, but the hops were just expressed in a different way—the bitterness of the ale taste more upfront and intense than with dry hopping. This is not your dad’s ESB!

Noteworthy:

imag0183Four Mile – Wet Coast Pale Ale: This is Four Mile’s first attempt to make a wet-hopped beer and it’s an admirable attempt. The hops are present, but balance well with the malt. The main taste was of caramel, though. Hopefully their next attempt brings the hops to the forefront more.

Moody Ales – BC Fresh-Hopped Red Ale: While I’m all for deviating from the norm, this red ale was delicious but a little too malty. It could have done with double the amount of hops.

Most Disappointing:

Hoyne – Wolf Vine Pale Ale: Last year’s Wolf Vine was heavily criticized for using young hops from the gulf islands. People seemed to think it tasted like onion. I actually quite liked it. This year, Sean Hoyne sourced hops from Hope Bay and the result is… bland. This tastes like a standard pale ale with very little hop character.

Spinnakers – Fresh-Hopped ISA: Spinnakers have been around for decades, but these days they seem to take very few risks. This fresh-hopped ISA was utterly unremarkable.