Sunday, February 6, 2011

Review - Vancouver Island Double Decker IPA

I can remember the days when Vancouver Island Brewery ruled the Island. Feel like something dark and refreshing? Have a Hermann's Dark Lager. Want something with a bit of kick? Try a Wolf's Scottish Cream Ale. Don't know what you want? A Piper's Pale Ale is good anytime. But those days are long gone. With the emergence of more innovative local breweries, VIB has not adapted but has instead depended on its earlier successes, producing the same beers for the same customers of 2 decades ago. That is one of the reasons I was skeptical when I read they were producing a new IPA.

Double Decker is a "British Style" IPA, a style that is almost non-existent in the UK, but meaning one that has more of a malt emphasis than most highly-hopped North American IPA's. When I read that they were using Cascade hops, the quintessential North American hop, I was somewhat confused. If you're making a British IPA why not use world-renowned British hops such as Goldings, Brewer's Gold, or Northern Brewer? All these are easily available in North America. Was this whole "British IPA" claim merely a front to explain why this beer would be another dull offering, not having the superb hop character of modern IPA's? I put these concerns aside as I sat down to try the Double Decker. Prejudging beers is something I want to avoid so I gave this beer the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this could be the first great offering from VIB in years, something to bring their old fans back into the fold with a new take on the IPA that was actually a vision of IPA's of the past. As I opened the bottle I was ready to like this beer.

The Double Decker pours an attractive golden amber with a white head that immediately fades. On the back of the bottle it states "we hope you enjoy its assertive hop aroma" so I was surprised when there seemed to be virtually no hop bouquet. The aroma had some fermentation character, but almost no hops. The emphasis on this beer is definitely on the malt, it has that same malt flavour that seems common to all VIB beers. But any IPA should have some hop character and this beer has almost none. There are virtually no front-end, or flavouring hops detectable at all. It does have a mildly bitter finish, and this is really the only thing that sets it apart from pretty much every other VIB beer on the market. If I had to pick two words to sum up this beer the first one would be drinkable. The second one would be boring.
Rating: Drinkable


  1. Oh dear. I rather feared this might happen. A corporate decision to grab a piece of the "real craft" market, and a high gravity example as well. But they daren't push the boat out too far or someone might make a face and say "but it's bitter!". I'll buy a six pack this week regardless. Granville Island had a similar plan with Brockton IPA, which I found quite drinkable (haven't had it in a while tho).

  2. Vancouver Island Brewery was undeniably a pioneer of the early years of the micro-brew movement. I have a lot of respect for their early efforts and how they paved the way for other local breweries. That being said however, this beer, or any beer they have released for years utterly fails to do anything new or interesting. I recently went on a tour of their brewery and when it came time to sample their beers I couldn't believe how similar to each other they were. The Spyhopper had a bit of a honey taste, the Sea Dog was a bit more malty and the Double Decker was a bit more bitter but other than that they were all virtually identical. I would guess that it must come from using very similar grain bills and the same yeast strain in all their beers, but now I'm verging on beer geek territory so I'll stop. I don't want to rip VIB to shreds but if they want to bring more customers into their fold they need to do something more interesting than this.

  3. Bought a six pack tonight, am halfway through my second beer and I'm quite disappointed. No aroma, no head, alcohol on the tongue, some bitterness and warmth from the 6.5% in the finish. Completely uninspiring - I don't see this pleasing either VIB's middle of the road clientele or the more crafty beer consumers. If Phillips hadn't closed for the night I'd be after a growler of Hop Circle about now.

  4. Ya, dissapointed is a good word here, I think. This could have really been something interesting but ended up painfully mediocre. Life's too short for beer like this.