Brew it and they will come 

Whistler's inaugural craft beer festival storms out of the gate

click to flip through (10) PHOTO BY VINCE SHULEY. - Brewmaster Derrick Franche has been steering the Brewhouse for the last two years. His 5 Rings IPA won best IPA at last year's B.C. Beer Awards.
  • Photo by Vince Shuley.
  • Brewmaster Derrick Franche has been steering the Brewhouse for the last two years. His 5 Rings IPA won best IPA at last year's B.C. Beer Awards.

Derrick Franche remembers the exact second when his palate changed. An instance he describes as a "eureka moment."

"It happened back in Alberta in the early 90s when I was drinking a regular six pack of North American lager," he recalls, nursing a pint of a raspberry witbier — his own creation.

"My girlfriend at the time, her dad gave me a bottle of Traditional Ale by Bigrock (a craft brewery in Calgary). It clicked in me that day. I never went back to drinking an insipid lager after that, it was all about the flavour."

He hovers his nose over his glass before taking another sip. He's pleased with this batch.

Franche is the brewmaster at Whistler's Brewhouse, where he alone develops his recipes and chooses his ingredients. The beer made in the tanks upstairs flows nowhere but into the pint glasses of customers downstairs, there's no kegging or off-site sales. Unlike a lot of the larger craft breweries, Franche doesn't need to justify his methods as being as cost effective. This gives him absolute creative control over the beer that flows through the taps in this building.

"This batch had $400 worth of fresh Squamish raspberries added to it," he says, pointing to the glass in front of him. The colour is deceptively light for the fruity aroma it exudes.

"I could have cut the corner with syrup or frozen berries, but $400 over 1,600 litres is really not that bad. It works out to like five cents (extra) per pint. For a bigger brewery that may eat into their margins. But this is craft beer and people are willing to pay a wee bit more for it."

At this weekend's inaugural Whistler Village Beer Festival (WVBF) Franche will be showcasing his award winning 5 Rings IPA (India Pale Ale for those not versed in beer jargon) at the High Mountain Brewing Company booth. Last year his beer caused a bit of upset at the B.C. Beer Awards when Franche managed to edge out both Driftwood's Fat Tug IPA and Central City Brewing's Red Racer IPA through a blind tasting by an expert panel.

"IPAs are all about balance," he says, the enthusiasm in his voice picks up now that we're back on the technical subject of brewing beer.

"Balancing out residual sweetness with a big schwack of hops. A lot of the best IPAs are nice big, strong beers. You want a big punch of hops upfront, you really need a fair amount of residual sweetness left and you can't get that when you make a light alcohol beer."

Franche's 5 Rings IPA weighs in at seven per cent Alcohol by Volume (ABV), considered to be a double IPA by most brewers' standards. The hoppiness of this brew hits you like a punch to the guts, and it takes an acquired palate to make your way through an entire pint. It's a beer for true IPA aficionados, but not one that Franche expects to win the WVBF attendee judged "Best in Fest." There are 104 other beers that folks can sample, and many of them will be considerably "easier" to drink.

But brewer's bravado aside, Franche couldn't be happier with Whistler's first craft beer festival taking place just metres from his workplace at the Brewhouse.

"Since we're playing on our home field here I'm pretty excited to see the attendance that we are going to have. Younger Whistler people are definitely interested in drinking, but we're here to showcase that it doesn't have to be all about quantity, it can be about quality as well. They don't have to be mutually exclusive."

Taste over consumption. A phase shift in the culture of beer drinking indeed.

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