Granville Island turns 30 years old this year. Much like other craft breweries of a similar age, Canada’s first craft microbrewery developed its reputation years ago but has been surpassed by younger entrants in more recent times. Granville Island was purchased a few years ago by Molson and is now part of its Six Pints arm.
However, in an effort to spruce up its image, it has just launched a new brand line. They are calling it the Under the Bridge Series and it consists of a handful of more assertive and/or stylistically classic beer, all of which began life as small batch seasonal varieties.
The first release is Swing Span Amber Ale, and I will readily admit it surprised me. Upon looking at it, I assumed it would be a standard amber, brownish ale akin to Trad or Thirsty Beaver. This style can be enjoyable, but it hardly swings for the fences. However, I quickly discovered just how wrong I was. This is no ordinary amber ale. It caught me off guard enough that I actually arranged for a quick interview with Granville Island brewmaster, Vern Lambourne, to find out the thinking behind it.
“We designed it as an American amber, a balance of hop and malt” Lambourne says. “We used Mosaic and Cascade hop to accent a nice fruitiness and citrus character.”
So, this is no ordinary amber ale. Drawing upon the more assertive traditions of northwest American craft breweries, hops takes a key role in this beer. The Under the Bridge Series is aimed to give new focus to beer that previously played a minor role in their portfolio.
“Future additions will include a bock, an IPA and the promotion of our Robson’s Street Hefeweizen to a permanent offering,” Lambourne adds.
As I said, not your standard amber ale. The aroma starts with soft caramel, biscuit and fruit but then opens up to a noted citrus and piney hop character. The beer is more dark copper than full-out amber, giving it more of a full pale-ale look.
The flavour offers a soft, gentle toffee sweetness at first, rounded by some stone fruit accents. The body starts quite gentle while the hop character builds slowly, both in bitterness and flavour. Citrus and tropical fruit is noticeable, but not the puckering of grapefruit. It is softer, more like a mango or a passion fruit. The finish is more directly hoppy, offering a nice grassy, piney linger and a pleasant, rounded bitterness.
What I like about this beer is how it combines the subtle touches of amber maltiness with a forceful hop character that does not overpower. A nicely balanced beer, but one that still leans toward hop, which is why I was so pleasantly surprised. V
Jason Foster is the creator of onbeer.org, a website devoted to news and views on beer from the prairies and beyond.
Swing Span Amber Ale
Granville Island Brewing, Vancouver, BC
$15.70 for six pack