Beer: it’s not just for breakfast anymore

Well, actually, Monday Morning Espresso Dunkelweizen is

Chris Graham collects water to begin the brew.

Well, actually, Monday Morning espresso dunkelweizen is

To commemorate our beer issue, Monday’s resident beer bloggers teamed up with Vancouver Island Brewery for Victoria’s first “breakfast” ale Monday Morning Espresso Dunkelweizen.

The burgeoning craft beer movement has done many wonderful things for beer drinkers in this country, including an explosion in microbrews, local brewers churning out exotic beer styles, and a growing grassroots interest in beer and brewing culture. But one achievement stands above all others and gives cause for much rejoicing: the return to respectability of the beer-based breakfast!

Beer used to be a staple brunch in pre-1800 Britain when clean drinking water was rare. The Victorian era succeeded in sanitizing not only the water supply, but also the moral fibre of working class Brits. Drinking round the clock went the way of gin houses as the temperance movement dug in its heels. Consequently, the sole option for those seeking pre-noon “enhanced refreshment” remains, in most restaurants, the insipid mimosa.

Craft brewers reawakened to early-bird beer in the 1980s, and many now offer variations on the traditional breakfast stout — a richly fortifying dark beer often bolstered with oat malts and coffee. For the more adventurous, stouts brewed with milk, bacon and even eggs are also available. The trend is so established that Founders Breakfast Stout and Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Brunch Imperial Stout are among the most revered beers in the world.

But it is the promise of brewing our own unique breakfast ale that brings us to Vancouver Island Brewery on a drizzly Sunday morning in May. Instead of an unctuous, filling stout, we have decided to give another dark beer — the zestier dunkelweizen — a breakfast makeover with the help of some choice local coffee.

Chris Graham ushers us into a high-tech brewery that houses several vast tanks used to brew established island favourites such as Hermann’s Dark Lager and Piper’s Pale Ale. In recent years VIB have responded to a growing thirst for variety, producing experimental batches of bold beers to much acclaim. Should it turn out well, our Espresso Dunkelweizen will join the pantheon of Graham’s best creations — like his rhubarb Berliner wheat beer and rosemary-infused golden ale.

Your humble beer bloggers may have come up with the idea for the beer style, but creative credit goes to Graham, whose recipe is a carefully crafted combination of five types of grain including wheat, crystal and British chocolate malts. Graham explains how his choice of grain was influenced by his experiences on a recent research trip to Germany, the home of the dunkelweizen style:

“Before touring Bavaria, I had only tried North American dunkelweizens, far too many of which are basically porters with extra wheat malt. While pleasing in itself, the roasted flavour of porter can overwhelm the subtle banana, clove and citrus notes characteristic of wheat beers. During my tour, I tried several great dunkelweizens brewed with medium-coloured specialty malts like Munich and light crystal malt, which produce richer malt flavours and more subtle roasted notes than their American counterparts.”

With the manner of a parent supervising two three-year-olds baking cookies, Graham gamely lets us add some of the brewing ingredients ourselves. We derive an alchemical glee in the plumes of herbal steam that rise when hops are added, and fidget impatiently while the grain infused brewing liquor (“wort”) cools to a temperature suitable for adding yeast. As a finishing touch, the brew is infused with a hearty slug of Discovery Coffee’s freshly-milled espresso coffee and eased into a cask to mature.

After three weeks maturation, the cask is ready to be tapped in VIB’s hospitality room located in the brewery. Graham’s Bavarian insights have served him well: the beer is everything we imagined. Pouring a russet brown with characteristic wheat haze, the dunkelweizen oozes smoke, chocolate and lip-smacking citrus overtones. In breakfast beer terms, this is less of a hearty fry-up than a refined eggs benny with smoked paprika hollandaise.

As the cask runs low, we thank Chris Graham for realizing (and somewhat blurring) our vision. A sense of sadness hangs in the air as we nurse the last of our glasses. Right on cue Graham lowers his glass and says, “I’m really pleased with this, but I think with another yeast strain and one or two adjustments we could really coax the banana flavours out.”

Spying an opportunity, we quickly commission another batch. Tuesday Morning, anyone? M

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