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Mount Baker Experience

Burgers and brew

A tale of two gastropubs

By Carissa Wright

On a recent Friday afternoon, I loaded up and headed north, watching Mt. Baker disappear over my shoulder as I crossed the border. My goal: hit up at least one of the B.C. brewpubs I’d heard of but never visited.

Lucky for me, I ended up at Central City Brewing in Surrey – named the best brewery in Canada in the 2010 Canadian Brewing Awards.

Located at 13450 102nd Avenue, Central City bills itself as a gastropub, a term I’m familiar with, as an avid fan of both the Seattle Sounders and good beer.

I felt right at home in Central City Brewing, taking a seat at the bar and chatting with Eugene, the bar manager. I noticed at least one difference, though – the sport of choice on that day was curling.

“There’s a movement toward respecting the craft” of beer in the region, Eugene said. Central City has been around for about seven years, and craft brews have really taken off in that time. For Central City, the movement has been a huge boost.

The pub, with its Red Racer beer label, is breaking ground shortly on a new $22 million brewing facility that should be finished within a year.

In addition to the usual suspects (more about them in a minute), Central City offered four seasonal Red Racer brews: a winter ale, a saison, a barleywine and a Scotch “wee heavy.”

Such a variety of seasonals, in addition to the brewery’s regular lineup of half a dozen or more, is rare. Especially when you consider the breadth of beer represented.

A barleywine is a high alcohol, generally thick, dark beer that is definitely an acquired taste. It is not a taste I’ve acquired yet. Though I’m a sucker for resiny, boozy, imperial IPAs, the often fruity, almost sour taste of most barleywines turns me off. However, you should be sure to give it a try – ask the barkeep for a splash and judge for yourself. And if the style sounds interesting, be sure to try Red Racers – brewer Dominic called it the brewery’s masterpiece.

“Every brewery should have their masterpiece,” he said during an after-dinner tour of the operation. The barleywine takes the longest to produce of the brewery’s offerings, mostly due to its high alcohol content. The barleywine currently on tap aged two months in the tank and another 10 months in the keg.

My two favorites of the evening were the wee heavy and the saison. A “wee heavy” beer is a strong ale, generally higher in alcohol content and low in hoppy flavor. The color is generally dark brown, and Central City’s had a nice tan head that dissipated quickly. It was a perfect complement to the beer-braised short ribs (with pickled grilled zucchini – I know, I was initially skeptical too) I ordered for dinner.

My other dinner options sounded equally as delicious, by the way – from a variety of burgers and pizzas to homemade pasta dishes and many options made with Red Racer beers.

The saison was so good I decided to add to my growler collection in order to bring some home. This beer was Dominic’s pet project, he said, and the one of which he was most proud. Saison beers don’t have a strict set of style guidelines, but they are generally light, cloudy ales made with pale or pilsner malts. Red Racer uses 100 percent French malts, and the slightly yeasty aroma gives it a depth often lacking in light ales.

Really, any trip north of the 49th parallel should include a stop at Central City Brewing. The food is phenomenal, with emphasis placed on ingredients made in-house or sourced locally, and the beer is solid, no matter what you prefer. From the palest white ale to the darkest barleywine, Red Racer has you covered.

Heading south, if you’re Bellingham-bound, and you’ve already hit the local breweries, it’s time to try The Copper Hog. Its rotating taps offer a breadth of beer just one brewery can’t match, and the menu is varied and ever-changing. Located at 1327 North State Street, The Copper Hog is one of the city’s major gathering places for lovers of both futbol and craft brews.

Though it doesn’t yet brew its own beer, the pub is working with Odin Brewing to develop a house brand of its own. A gastropub as well, The Copper Hog offers an ever-changing variety of beers from around the world and a menu to match.

Including such varied options as gnocchi with braised rabbit, a burger “royale,” schweinschnitzel, and bangers and mash, The Copper Hog’s dinner menu will offer something to please almost anyone.

But The Copper Hog’s biggest strength is in its kegs. The pub regularly hosts regional brewers’ nights, featuring primarily Washington and Oregon brewing operations. The Hog recently had Oregon’s

Deschutes Brewery in for an evening, bringing along the sought-after seasonal, The Abyss. The Abyss is a stunningly dark Russian imperial stout you don’t want to finish quickly (not least because of its 11 percent ABV).

But if deep, complex stouts aren’t your thing, you can try The Copper Hog Red (brewed exclusively for the Hog by Whidbey Island’s Flyers Brewery), Sierra Nevada’s limited-release rye IPA, Kilkenny’s Irish cream ale (served on nitro for an extra creamy boost), or any number of other beers the pub might have gotten a hold of that week. When a keg blows at The Copper Hog another is always waiting to take its place, and the only guarantee is that you won’t find exactly the same lineup twice.

Well, that’s not quite true. You’re also guaranteed to find a selection of stellar beers. X

Visit the gastropubs

Central City Brewing
13450 102nd Avenue, Surrey, B.C.

The Copper Hog
1327 North State Street, Bellingham, WA