Fresh Hop Showdown. Driftwood Sartori Harvest IPA vs. Hoyne Wolf Vine Pale Ale

The competitors
The competitors

As I sit in front of a retina scorching monitor there’s a 3 year old waging physiological warfare on me from the top of the stairs. It’s bedtime, or at least it’s supposed to be bedtime. My little “princess” has become quite a manipulator when it comes to going to sleep every night and try as I might I can’t seem to crack the code of getting her to agree with me. I’ve run into a similar situation while comparing 2 fresh hopped, limited run beers from a couple of fantastic Vancouver Island breweries. One is an IPA, it is wildly popular and causes good people to do bad things to obtain it upon its release every year. The other is a Pale Ale that is from a less “popular” brewery and doesn’t generate anywhere near the buzz that the IPA does and it puzzles me. I’m going to make some of you mad with this post, I don’t care.

Sartori Harvest IPA
Sartori Harvest IPA

Driftwood Brewing‘s Sartori Harvest is the darling of the BC craft beer scene. Its name alone sends shivers down the spine of hop heads all over the south west corner of our little country. It is a fantastic beer, this is a fact I can attest to having sampled it for the past 3 years upon its release. It has changed from year to year and in my ever so humble opinion it was at its best in 2011. This year it was slightly better than last year but not by much. Here’s the thing, is Sartori Harvest a better IPA than Driftwood’s Fat Tug? I know a lot of you will point to ratebeer.com and say “Scott, you idiot, look at the numbers!” Well, the thing with ratebeer.com and any other site like it is that the ratings are user generated and thus not a true representation of a beers true value/rating. A once a year limited run beer like Sartori Harvest is bound to get glowing reviews because it’s in demand and supply is short, simple math.

Wolf Vine Wet Hopped Pale Ale
Wolf Vine Wet Hopped Pale Ale

Hoyne Brewing‘s Wolf Vine Wet Hopped Pale Ale is the red headed stepchild of the fresh hop season. Often being given poor ratings and receiving it’s fair share of negative backlash in the craft beer community. Is it deserved? No effing way, this beer is fantastic. BC has a major beer boner for IPA’s and Wolf Vine is not an IPA, it’s a Pale Ale which is a very different style of beer. When I read what some so called “beer experts” have to say about this beer it makes me want to scream. I hear the word “diacetyl” thrown around a lot when it comes to this beer and quite frankly I think you’re all a little over your heads trying to say that you can recognize an organic compound used to produce a buttery flavour over the proper use of malts in a proper pale ale. What cicerone course did you attend? Oh right, the same one as everyone else, none at all. Wolf Vine is NOT AN IPA, I really think a lot of you to read that a few times and let it sink in.

So here’s my verdict. Sartori Harvest is a fantastic beer, a true west coast IPA that makes great use of the fresh hops available during hop harvest season. However, it is not the best IPA in town and Driftwood’s own Fat Tug is proof of that (along with a few others but it really is splitting hairs on a few of them). In this showdown it makes the most pronounced use of these wonderful hops and I will be very sad when my last bottle is gone.

Wolf Vine is a stellar Pale Ale with a more subtle use of fresh hops but they add a certain delicate balance to this beer that’s very addictive. This year’s Wolf Vine is a marked improvement over last years and if the trend continues into next year this beer will be truly legendary. The strong caramel malt backbone and the fresh hops are a magic combination that elevates this humble pale ale to the status of David as he slays Goliath, a true giant killer.

Wolf Vine takes the 2013 WFLBC Fresh Hop Showdown Crown. I’ll be keeping an eye out for fresh hop releases from other local breweries and I plan on comparing them as well.  I await the hoards of sheep that like to follow the heard to tell me how wrong I am.

Scott.

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19 thoughts on “Fresh Hop Showdown. Driftwood Sartori Harvest IPA vs. Hoyne Wolf Vine Pale Ale

  1. I have not had the wolf vine this year but it was amazing last year. I have only had the Sartori this year and last and I disagree and say it was better last year. I found other fresh hopped beer better than Sartori last year though.

  2. For the first time in history, Driftwood has competition for best wet hopped ale; India or otherwise. Hoyne does not make the grade for IPA status due to lack of ABV and malt backbone. But wow, the late addition Centennial awesomeness. Sartori was great and all but our PNW collective palates are getting accustomed to hop bombs. I’m not certain how anyone could detect diacetyl through these massive hop bombs. The DIPA from Tofino is another story. But there are still two more contenders upcoming for supreme wet pale ale ranking. We shall await the verdict.

  3. It’s not your opinion on Wolf Vine that I hate; I haven’t tasted it yet. What I hate is you calling “you all” out on our ability to taste diacetyl. We’re all over our heads, are we? Nobody can recognize that organic compound? It’s actually really not that hard to recognize, especially if you’ve had some taste training, and a lot of us have had taste training.

    But I guess we all get a little cocky at the keyboard after we’ve polished off a couple of bombers.

  4. I detected Diacetyl as well as malt. Your assertion that no one can detect it because of hop content or it’s too close to the malt aroma is hilarious, and well, subjective. I find MANY beers (including massive hopbombs) in this city that have diacetyl flavours as well as DMS, Lactic Acid (where there shouldn’t be) and so on. It’s all part and parcel of being a growing craft brewing region. With the number of inexperienced (albeit passionate and driven) brewmasters and their crews, these sorts of flaws are bound to happen. However, Malt doesn’t give off a distinct butter popcorn smell. Mutated yeast, pediococcus, improper conditioning, etc. are often common causes.

    I also happen to know one a Cicerone cannot detect Diacetyl. sooo… there’s that.

  5. Diacetyl is an intermediate compound produced by beer yeast (and bread yeast), its presence is beer varies based on yeast strain, and fermentation conditions. I have not sampled the Wolf Vine yet, but it was great last year, and I did not pickup any diacetyl. With a fresh hop beer, time is of the essence, so its not unreasonable to expect a shorter time in the tank. Getting rid of diacetyl is typically a matter of increasing fermentation temperature near the end of fermentation to 20C for a few days.

    Diacetyl can also be caused by a bacterial infection in the beer. This is a possibility if the beer was “dry hopped” with wet hops, but it would take quite a bit of time. I sampled a 2012 Sartori in august, and it was tasting a lot like a young lambic!

    There are quite a few of us in Vancouver who have the training to detect Diacetyl, and you can sometimes detect it based on mouthfeel alone, even in hoppy beers. Most of us who know what we are talking about are members of VanBrewers, Vancouver’s first homebrewing club. I myself am a prospective BJCP judge, (I haven’t taken the final test yet) but I have tasted alongside seasoned judges and once you taste some of the common off flavours they are seared into your brain!

  6. While I don’t dispute your opinion, I do wonder why, when evaluating two beers where aroma is especially significant to the evaluation, you chose to drink them out of shaker glasses? No beer style benefits from this glass and it dissipates the aroma extremely rapidly.

    This, more than any of your comments in the review, makes me question your credibility.

    • To be honest I find the notion of glassware having a significant impact on flavor/aroma to be a bit pretentious. Also my credibility should be questioned, I’m just a blogger.

      • If glassware is not important, why not just drink them from the bottle? 🙂 At least the two beers were consumed from similar glassware, which makes your evaluation fair.

        I find that glassware makes a difference to aroma. I don’t get all worked up with the wrong glass, but if I have something appropriate to the style, then I usually try to go with that.

        Here is a blind experiment done by listeners of Basic Brewing Radio and BYO magazine: http://traffic.libsyn.com/basicbrewing/bbr05-26-11glassware2.mp3

      • Even an uneducated blogger with questionable credibility knows better than to drink it from the bottle 🙂

      • Well, ideally you should taste both beers out of an ISO tasting glass: http://www.winetasting-demystified.com/images/glass-iso.gif

        A shaker’s not ideal, but realistically, it’s the way this beer would be served in practically any bar in Vancouver. They’re in a glass and they’re in the same glass, so you’re most of the way there.

        And Chuck’s right: on the weekend I and about 25 other nerds tasted most of the beers brewed in BC out of little plastic cups for the BC beer awards. I helped judge both of the categories these two beers were in, but we were blinded so I can’t say for sure whether I tasted either of them. Let’s just say that both the IPA and English Pale Ale categories had more than one beer with detectable amounts of diacetyl. And DMS. And acetaldehyde.

    • Whoa, that’s a bit harsh no? He’s just comparing two beers on equal footing and putting his thoughts online, which takes a certain amount of guts to start with.

      Sure, I’ll agree that a shaker isn’t the best option for Sartori, but it’s not a horrible one for a pale ale like Wolf Vine. Honestly, though, so long as both beers are in glasses in the first place and more importantly in the same glass the comparison is fair. Keep in mind that BCJP competitions generally use small plastic samplers of very similar shape to a shaker.

      A tulip, while preferable, might actually even unfairly favour the IPA due to the higher concentration of aromatics.

  7. Any with all three? There should be a contest for “beer with most defects”

    On another note, a fun experiment is to do a double blind tasting but put your beers into different glasses (and track it). Even better if you don’t tell folk the glass is a variable (“Sorry, I just don’t have enough similar glasses”)

    I did this once and absolutely confirmed a strong correlation between glass shape and perceived quality of beer. And yes, tulip won.

    • Just a wee little technical point on diacetyl, Chris M is not entirely correct as diacetyl is not an intermediate compound in yeast metabolism. Alpha acetolactate is, it comes about during the synthesis of the amino acid valine, and it can ‘leak’ out of the yeast cell. This pre-curser will undergo a process of oxidative decarboxilation to 2,3-butanedione (diacetyl). Yeast has a strong affinity with diacetyl and will take it up toward the end of fermentation, where it is reduced to its corresponding diol. Can generally be managed below sensory threshold with good brewing technique, unless you pick up microbial contamination that has diacetyl as a metabolic end point (eg some lactics such as Pediococcus sp.).

      • Dean, thanks for the correction. After I wrote it I wasn’t so sure anymore. Thanks for the explanation!

  8. Pingback: Fresh Hop Showdown at Barley Mowat

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