Seasonal drinking, Vancouver Island style

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Sept. 30 marked my first taste of Vancouver Island Brewery’s (VIB) Iron Plow Harvest Märzen. I had a head cold and feared I might miss out on some of the brew’s flavour, but if I did miss out, I couldn’t tell. This beer is delicious — even with a face full of congestion.

Each beer VIB brews represents some facet of Vancouver Island life. I spoke with Rob Ringma, sales and marketing manager of VIB, about the inspiration behind this seasonal, which was officially launched on Sept. 11. 

“The local community is what’s really important to us and our company,” Ringma said. While one of their previous seasonals, the Flying Tanker White IPA, paid homage to the water bombers, the Iron Plow gives a nod to those working the land. “It just so happened one of our owners, Barry Fisher, he actually owns a farm in Cobble Hill,” said Ringma, “and we were looking for another Island-relevant kind of symbol.” With September being a harvest month, the timeline made sense.

Moving from purpose to process, Ringma explained how the combination of Munich malt and dark malt gives the beer a deep gold colour. He suggested that, since the Märzen is a traditional German-style lager, it’s intended to be paired with traditional German fare. “Typically with beers like that, they pair well with types of meat like a German sausage or even just a soft pretzel,” said Ringma. “But it’s really good just right out of the bottle on its own.”

I followed Ringma’s advice and drank the beer on its own, first pouring some into a glass so that my eyes might feast on its golden bounty. The creamy nectar frothed a thin, white crown atop the bright liquid.

Ringma explained how originally the Märzen (German word for March) would be brewed in the month for which it’s named and stored in caves throughout the summer to keep the batch cool. The old brewers “would just draw from it all summer long, and then when October hit [and it wasn’t so hot out], they could start brewing again.”

Fortunately for the palates of Vancouver Island beer drinkers, technology has evolved to the point where the VIB crew can not only brew this Märzen during the summer, but can also have it on shelves within six weeks. “We launch typical lagers after four to five weeks,” said Ringma. “We aged [the Iron Plow] about a couple weeks longer.”

The extra time seems to make a difference. The first thing that struck me was how the light, lager-like body contrasts the rich, malty flavour, like a robust, aromatic ale on wings. For all the taste bud stimulation, I expected a swift and sudden belly-bloating, but it never came. The complete contents of the 650 ml bottle went down with little more than a burp or two. And that’s even with the beer’s 5.8 per cent alcohol content. 

A couple of times a year, the folks at VIB pack their try-something-new lunchboxes, put on their time-to-experiment hardhats and hit the tanks. “What we try to do is a couple of six-pack seasonals,” said Ringma, noting the Beachcomber Summer Ale that was around during summer and the Storm Watcher Winter Lager set for release later this month. “We try to flip between winter and summer seasonals, and with the 650 ml bottle [the series to which the Iron Plow belongs], it’s just an opportunity for us to have some fun, do some seasonal, relevant beers, and try some kinds of crazy beers that we want to brew.”

The Iron Plow will only be available for purchase until the batch runs out, likely within a couple more weeks. It can be purchased for $5.60 (after deposit and tax) at both the Vancouver Island Brewery (2330 Government Street) and B.C. Liquor stores. Expect to pay approximately 50 cents more at private liquor stores. 

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