For over five years now, Nico and Karri Schuermann have been transforming the northern most block of Beatty Street with their culinary passions and energies. It was in 2004 that Chambar, anchored their reputation for flair both at the bar and in a Belgian-Congolese inspired menu. Day service followed night three years later, right next door at Medina Cafe where an expanded kitchen and private dining room linked the two rooms. Most recently, together with former Chambar sous-chef David Robertson, they opened the doors to The Dirty Apron cooking school just a few steps down the block and celebrated their fifth anniversary.
Now, they have the perfect beer for raising a toast to their accomplishments – Chambar Ale. As with all of their endeavours, it goes beyond the ordinary. With subtle hints of moroccan spices and a Belgian pedigree, it’s base recipe also combines locally sourced organic malt and severial variations of yeast strains.
Crafted by brewmaster Mark Simpson of the Artisan Group, it is a ale that offers both an education and an excellent pairing with the spicier accents for which Chambar’s lamb and mussels are renown. It is as artful an ale as might be expected from one such as Simpson with international experience in both brewing and winemaking – including nine years as brewmaster at Granville Island Brewing Company.
In keeping with Belgian tradition, it is an ale with strong character and requires the same of its imbiber – and creator.
Simpson and the Schuermann’s have gathered some of the city’s top tongues not to gather praises – allow they are ample and deserved – but to collect critique from some practised palates.
Simpson grins when queried during a special tasting by Rick Green, president of Vancouver’s Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) as to whether the beer might be a touch too hoppy, obscuring the fruitier notes associated with Belgian beers. Green also wonders if double fermentation might yield a more effervescent ale akin to Belgium’s champagne-corked bottles.
As they discuss the distinction between the purity-rooted formula of German beers (barley, malt, hops, yeast and water) and the comparatively esoteric experimentalism of the Belgian brewmasters, Simpson submits to Green’s first point. Its tough to think of Hoegarden without its infusion of cardamon and orange rind, a witt beer without a hint of banana, or a Krieke without its cherry. Chambar Ale will change as soon as the original 25 kegs and 6,000 bottles are cleared. The hops will happily remain albeit humbly giving way to more fruit-favoured finish.
As is the beauty of brewing in small batches, Simpson and the Schuermann’s are able to adjust the mix to match their customer feedback. As might be expected in a room already known for the talents behind the bar, where Wendy McGuinness holds court with supreme aplomb, sales of Chambar Ale currently account for 60 per cent of the beer sold. The cocktails remain as popular as ever, as do the open ears behind the hands and smiles. The official verdict: Chambar Ale is a great beer and with a few minor adjustments…even better the second time.
It had this GFD on the second sip.
Toffee touches the tongue first, followed by a bite of spice and a wash of caramel. Amber-hued and ample-bodied, it is an ale that cries for a bold cheese: a crag of aged white cheddar, the creamy chalk of a good blue. The hops are heady and finish with a palate cleansing bitterness that is unfamiliar to some and set to be toned down in the next limited production of kegs and bottles.
Those looking to taste this original batch of beautiful Belgian-styled ale should get into Chambar soon and keep their eyes peeled for a limited release in the specialty stores for the bottles.
As to whether or not a bottle ferment or additional styles of Chambar brew might emerge in the future, Simpson and the Schuermann’s are thinking of a witt beer, but not jumping the fences to get started yet. For now, there is reason enough to celebrate, contemplate and craft anew.
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