Anyone in Nanaimo who has ever had one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-that moments might smack their forehead at their first sight, or taste, of Vancouver Island Brewing’s Nanaimo Bar Imperial Porter.
The Victoria-based brewery released its batch of the dark brown brew, all 72 hectolitres of it, to pubs and private liquor stores in mid February, and local beer connoisseurs will have to move fast to snag a four-pack before supplies run dry.
According to Chris Bjerrisgaard, Vancouver Island Brewing’s marketing director, the Nanaimo Bar porter is part of the brewery’s Tidal Series beers, one-shot brews released to the market that, if they prove successful, are brought back seasonally, but are not part of regular production.
“Tidal Series, for us, is like our innovation pipeline where we get to play a little. A brewery on a larger scale doesn’t get to innovate that often. We’re usually too worried about making sure, you know, we’re making our lager the best we possibly can or our everyday IPA,” Bjerrisgaard said. “This one was a one-shot effort in terms of execution, but in terms of concepting and developing, I would say, we worked on the developing the idea for probably a good three or four months.”
Bringing a beer to market goes beyond coming up with the recipe. Labels must be designed, regulations and red tape hurdled and, hopefully, consumers like it when it hits store shelves, Bjerrisgaard said.
“The interesting thing is it all got pre-sold before we even packed it,” he said. “All of the liquor stores and pubs that wanted it have bought it, so actually, we ran out of it even in our own building. Needless to say, it’s one of the most popular beers we’ve released in a very long time in terms of getting that buzz and hype around it.”
Debbie Wagner, general manager of Lucky’s Liquor store in Country Club Centre, said her store’s stock has sold through so quickly she and her staff didn’t even get a chance to sample it.
“We’ve had a lot of people ask for it. It’s sold fairly well. I’m down to two packs. That’s it,” Wagner said. “It’s basically come and gone.”
Bjerrisgaard said dessert beers – the brewing industry jokingly refers to them as pastry stouts – with strong flavours of chocolate and vanilla and treated with bourbon barrel aging are currently enjoying strong popularity.
“You’ll go out and you’ll see someone will do a Black Forest cake beer, sort of thing, and well, if we’re going to come out and do one of these things, we’re Vancouver Island Brewing, what the heck pastry should we do and it was a no-brainer. We’ve got to represent the home base here and do a Nanaimo bar porter,” he said.
But does it really taste like a Nanaimo bar? That, Bjerrisgaard said, depends on who made the Nanaimo bar, but the recipe does include graham crackers in the mash, vanilla, coconut and other ingredients one might find in a Nanaimo bar recipe.
Curious connoisseurs who miss out on retailers supplies can find out at the Coast Bastion Hotel’s Minnoz Restaurant and Lounge in March after the restaurant switches from its current winter season beer, said Dave Fraser, the hotel’s food and beverage director.
“The next one we have [on tap] is the Nanaimo Bar porter, so it’s coming … we have a Nanaimo bar cheesecake, so that is going to go with our dessert … probably in the beginning of March it will be on tap,” Fraser said.
Bjerrisgaard said the porter pairs well with Nanaimo bars.