B.C.'s booming craft-beer sector dominated the 2016 Canadian Brewing Awards, and a pair of Sea to Sky breweries was among those honoured. No stranger to industry accolades, Howe Sound Brewing out of Squamish took home two pieces of hardware this past weekend: a gold medal in the English Bitters category for its Baldwin & Cooper Best Bitter, and a silver for its Wooly Bugger Barley Wine in the English Barley Wine-Style Ale category.
"It's always good to have the accolades from your peers and the public and in this case it's our peers from across Canada," said brewery manager Patrick Moore. The awards were decided by a panel of 40 certified judges, who considered five criteria: aroma, appearance, flavour, mouth-feel, and overall impression.
Howe Sound's Balwin & Cooper brew is considered an Extra Special Bitter (ESB) with "a good pronounced balance of malt and hops," Moore noted. Amber in colour and made entirely from English hops, it truly personifies the best bitter style.
The Wooly Bugger Barley Wine is painstakingly made in small batches once a year. Aged for eight to 12 months, it's another English-style ale with "a big, rich malty flavour with lots of prunes and raisin notes to it," said Moore. "It's something you'd really enjoy up in Whistler around a fire after a day of skiing."
The Whistler Brewing Company also joined the fray with its own medal, a bronze in the American Belgo-Style Ale category for its special-edition Snow White IPA. Part of its Unique Brewing Series, this once-off bitter ale brings subtle floral notes with hints of clove, and is a refreshing departure from your average IPA.
With new breweries regularly popping up in Whistler and Squamish, Moore said the future looks bright for the Sea to Sky's craft-beer scene.
"I think it's fantastic," he said. "We've got two, maybe three (breweries) opening up here in Squamish, and I've always been a big (believer) that a rising tide lifts all ships. The more the merrier as far as I'm concerned."
With nearly a third of the medals handed out to B.C. breweries, it's clear to see just how influential the province is on Canada's wider craft-beer industry.
"I think we just got an early start. The B.C. craft-brewing scene goes back to John Mitchell (who opened Horseshoe Bay Brewing) just down the street from us in 1982," Moore explained. "That was the epicentre of the craft brewing revolution in Canada, so it was from there that it poured out to a bunch of other breweries in the mid- to late-'80s and early '90s in Vancouver and around B.C. We certainly had a head start on everyone and we've always been progressive and a little bit ahead of the curve compared to other breweries in Canada."
Howe Sound Brewing is celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer, and is teaming up with Ontario's Muskoka Brewery to release a special-edition beer to mark the occasion. Moore said the brew will be released to the public in July.
For the full list of Canadian Brewing Award winners, visit www.canadianbrewingawards.com/winners/2016-winner-list.
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