Joe Wiebe on Central City Red Racer IPA

Central City Red Racer IPA

Northwest IPA
First Brewed
Malt Varieties
Canadian Pale, Carastan Crystal
Hop Varieties
German Magnum, Centennial, Amarillo, Simcoe
Wyeast 1968
Beef, burgers, spicy foods, or on its own as an appetizer.
Joe Wiebe on Central City Red Racer IPA

I have a distinct memory of the first time I tasted Red Racer IPA, even though it was more than a decade ago now. It was the summer of 2008, and I was living in Vancouver at the time. It had just come out in cans, so I picked up a six-pack to take to a barbecue at a friend’s house, and when I cracked that first can, my nose immediately caught a whiff of the pungent hop aroma that I now know as a trademark of this excellent IPA.

“Holy —,” I swore, honestly startled by how strong the smell was, especially since I hadn’t even poured it into a glass yet. I held the can out to my buddy, Shawn, who was standing by his hot barbecue. “Take a whiff of this.” He waved it under his nose and smiled back at me, as impressed as I was. My first sip led to another profane pronouncement, this time an attempt to describe its flavour, and on that warm summer evening, I became a full-fledged hophead. Sure, I’d enjoyed hoppy beers before that, but I’d never given myself over to hops, body and soul, before that night.

I might be exaggerating, a little — it likely wasn’t quite the religious experience I just described. But the arrival of Red Racer IPA – known stateside as Red Betty for legal reasons – in its distinctive green can that summer marked a turning point in British Columbia’s craft beer evolution.

It was then that Vancouver finally seemed to wake up to craft beer after a long, lazy stretch when nothing much happened to advance the cause. Well, some good things did happen, I suppose, including cask festivals put on by the very active local chapter of CAMRA and the evolution of the Alibi Room into British Columbia’s first true craft beer tap house, but the fact is that no new breweries opened in Vancouver between 1998 and 2012, and that says something.

Since then, I am happy to report, two dozen new breweries have opened in the city itself, and just as many have launched in suburban communities less than an hour away. The sheer quantity of breweries sets Vancouver up as a prime North American beer destination, but the variety of approaches taken in their tasting rooms, and the quality of the beer in general, is what really puts the city over the top. Even though I live in Victoria now, which is itself one of Canada’s top craft beer centres, I can’t deny that if you are visiting BC and only have time to visit one destination, I’d suggest Vancouver, hands down. Let’s see: why don’t we meet at Brassneck and then wander over to Strange Fellows, Luppolo and Callister before planning our next three days of beer-soaked perambulations. Yes, please!

But I digress. And I should also acknowledge the fact that even though I’m singing Vancouver’s praises, Red Racer IPA is not actually brewed in Vancouver, but rather in Surrey, one of the nearby suburbs. It was created by Gary Lohin at Central City Brewpub, which despite its small brewhouse carried a lot of weight in the BC beer scene because of Lohin’s reputation for excellence in almost any beer style he essayed. Back then, it was a common activity among Vancouver-based beer lovers to ride the SkyTrain out to the second to last stop for a sampling session at Central City.

Joe Wiebe.

Red Racer IPA wasn’t the first hoppy IPA brewed in BC, although it was probably one of the first that was dry-hopped in the modern fashion – which created the amazing aromas that shocked me at Shawn’s barbecue before I’d even tasted it. The fact that it was in a can was important, too. Today, nearly every brewery in BC packages at least some of its beer in cans, and the best liquor stores display giant walls of single tall cans with their gorgeous, multi-coloured, wraparound labels appearing like mosaics of old. Sometimes I like to just stand back and take them all in…until I grow thirsty.

Since then, Central City has grown considerably. In 2013, Lohin and his partners opened a big new production facility where they seem to make everything: hop-fueled ales, barrel-aged barley wines, traditional sour beers, world-class whisky, you name it. And all of it, arguably, grew out of that green can I first swore about back in 2008.

Beautifully crafted with the perfect balance of malt and hops, Red Racer IPA still stands up despite the current shift towards every other type of IPA imaginable. It is a highly quaffable beer that will knock you on your butt if you follow the impulse to quaff it. In other words, I recommend pouring a can of it into a good glass and taking the time to savour each sip — ideally at a summer barbecue with your best friend. I swear you’ll love it, too.

Joe Wiebe is the author of Craft Beer Revolution: The Insider’s Guide to B.C. Breweries, the definitive guidebook to British Columbia’s burgeoning craft beer industry. He a co-founder and co-producer of Victoria Beer Week and the BC Ale Trail project, and a regular beer columnist on CBC Radio He also hosts seminars, tastings and panel discussions about craft beer.

Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.

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