“Quaintest thoughts, queerest fancies come to life and fade away. What care I how time advances; I am drinking ale today.”
Edgar Allan Po
This week my friends and I are off to Surrey for a tour of Central City Brewers + Distillers. In case you don't recognize the name, they're the microbrewery that makes the popular Red Racer beer brand. They started in 2003 as Central City Craft Brewpub, built beside a university and were very successful (imagine that) and have been expanding ever since, starting to can and sell their beer in liquor stores in 2005 and recently expanding into their current 65,000 sq ft. premises. Their beer has won plenty of international, national and local awards, including the Best Local BrewPub and Best BC BrewPub awards from CAMRA in 2013 and gold in the Canadian Brewing Awards 2013 for their Red Racer Extra Special Bitter, Imperial IPA and Bourbon Barrel Imperial Porter beers. You can see a full list of their awards on their website at www.centralcitybrewing.com.
The ladies and I meet up at the train station and hop on the train from Waterfront out to Scott Road. From Scott Road Station it's a 5 minute cab ride over to Central City. We could walk it but we're hoping to make the 1pm tour and it's 12:45 now. Pulling up to Central City, Raeanne pays the cabby and we head in. The lobby/gift shop is stylish and inviting. We learn that the tour is running a bit late so we have time for a quick mini beer first! I opt for an Imperial IPA, which is deliciously grapefruit-y and I can taste every one of its 90 IBUs; which is a rather high level of bitterness.
At 1:15 it's tour time and we gather in the centre of the room around a large metallic sculpture, who's likeness we learn will go on Central City's new craft distillery products (coming any day now), which will include a single malt whiskey, rye, gin and vodka. Coral mentions that the sculpture, named Seraph, reminds her of Astar, the play safe, war amps robot. I have to agree, it's an uncanny likeness. (A photo of the statue can be seen on the awards page of their website.)
The tour takes us outside first to see the silos at the front of the building which hold the various grains needed to make different styles of beer. We head inside to where they grind the grains to make malt and we sample some toasted barley (crunchy and yummy).
Next we're on to the tanks where the ingredients are all stewed together. We learn that while the beers they produce have pretty strict recipes, the brewmasters need to be able to constantly adjust for the fact that these organic ingredients don't always interact in the same way and so adjustments will need to be made.
We get to see all kinds of machinery as we make our way around the warehouse, but I'm a little disappointed the tour guide doesn't give us more of an overview of the brewing process (as I learned in the brewing class I took earlier this year) to orient us as to what we're looking at. But I guess this tour is just showing a different side of beer making, less about chemistry and more about equipment.
We move on to the fermentation tanks where the beer will sit for a few weeks until it's ready for bottling. One of the fermentation tanks has had too much yeast added and yeasty froth is bubbling out a venting pipe on the side, spilling out onto the concrete floor. Traditionally, beer was made in a tank with an open top but it could be quite dangerous as the process of fermentation caused high levels of CO2 to collect at the top of the tank and the brewmasters assistant would sometimes pass out due to lack of oxygen and fall into – and sometimes drown in – the brewing beer. They've since found better ways to vent the fermenting beer.
Farther into the warehouse we arrive at the canning line, which is quite impressive. It's German built machinery and requires German technicians to be flown in for adjustments. Beer is stacked along the far walls of the warehouse and the whole premises is very clean and orderly.
As the tour wraps up, our group heads to the tasting room where we sample 3 beers of our choice. The ladies and I decide on an ISA to start (light, fruity and hoppy – not bad), then the Stout (dark, creamy and delicious) and finally Thor's Hammer Barley Wine (sour and strange but that shit grows on you).
Soon enough the room empties out and it's time to grab a souvenir and head home. I pick up a bottle of Maiden Voyage (a cedar aged, extra pale ale) to share with Emrys. It's a collaboration with Four Winds Brewery and turns out to be deliciously refreshing with a nice hint of cedar. As we get on the train and wind our way back into the downtown core, we all agree its been a great day with some delicious beers.