The BC Beer Awards occurred last Saturday. As awards ceremonies go, it was a decent one. Organizers requested that folks dress up to give the event a sense of occasion, and about 50% of the audience complied.
Even with 1 in 2 attendees wearing t-shirts and jeans, the effort did give the evening a bit more class, and I approve of the approach. As well, breweries were requested to brew a cask of Purl for a day-of award, and the “multiple-breweries-tackling-the-same-style” type competition is one of my favourites in craft beer.
Plus, my beer won first in the category. Any awards evening that hands me something shiny is clearly a well thought out, perfectly executed event.
What I’d really like to talk about, though, are the awards themselves. I walked out of the event that evening promising both myself and one of the organizers that I wouldn’t write it up because, well, everyone else would beat me to the punch and my story wouldn’t add anything.
And yup, everyone else did beat me to the punch. No less than four articles have been posted, but they all just linked to the list of winners. It’s as if they’re taking the list as-is and not giving it any thought. Let me be clear; I don’t have issues with any of the winners, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t interested stories behind the list that should be told.
So, shall we?
The back story is up first. Last year there were about 300 entries. This year that number swelled to 500. On the surface that seems great, and it certainly is indicative of the swelling local craft beer scene. However, more than one event judge commented to me that the number of truly awful beers being submitted also swelled proportionately. More craft beer is being made in BC than ever before, but just because a beer is craft doesn’t mean it’s any good.
Now for the winners, which presumably are good.
Light Lager — 22 Beers Entered
1. Turning Point Brewing — Stanley Park Noble Pilsner
2. Okanagan Spring — 1516 Bavarian Lager
3. Hoyne Brewing Company — Helios Dortmunder Golden Lager
I have comments on all three of these. First, Helios largely flew under the radar when it was released earlier this year, but more than a few beer geeks tried it and noted how frankly excellent this beer was. It’s another hit from Sean Hoyne’s brewery, and underscores his ability to produce quality lagers—a beer style most breweries don’t give much thought.
Okanagan Spring wins, again, for 1516. Craft Beer is here to stay, and arguably OK Spring is on the outside looking in vis-a-vis that scene, but somehow 1516 keeps getting awards. It’s like they know how to brew a light lager or something.
Turning Point placed for their Pilsner. It’s not a bad beer, but seeing a Pilsner in the Light Lager section is a bit confusing. Oh well, I guess there just wasn’t a dedicated Pilsner category.
Pilsner — 22 Beers
1. Steamworks Brewing Company — Steamsworks Pilsner
2. Barley Station Brew Pub — Canoe Creek Pilsner
3. Russell Brewing Company — Lager
Speaking of breweries that Just. Keep. Winning. Steamworks Pilsner pulls down another gold. Good to know that their move to the massive production facility in Burnaby hasn’t hurt their lager production capabilities. Also, Russell makes a lager? Huh.
Special Lager — 17 Beers
1. Tree Brewing Company — Captivator Doppelbock
2. Pacific Western Brewing — Pacific Schwarzbock
3. Persephone Brewing Company — Black Lager
Whoa. Tree wins gold? I thought we’d left Tree in the ditch of the craft beer highway, but here they are pulling down a prize for the always difficult-to-perfect Doppelbock style. Are they back? Have they quietly been making excellent beer this whole time? I’ll have to investigate.
And speaking of breweries pushing past their reputation! Pac West pulls off a showing with their Schwarzbock! Holy crap! Looks like the makers of Cariboo can actually crank out something decent if they try.
Hybrids — 37 Beers
1. Steamworks Brewing Company — Steamworks Brewpub Kolsch
2. Phillips Brewing Company — Slipstream Ale
3. R&B Brewing Company — Sun God Wheat Ale
This list is a bit of a mishmash for me, mostly being comprised of beers I’m fairly familiar with but frankly don’t care for. I’m curious about how these beers tasted on the day of (R&B notably tastes pretty good when fresh), but also what the other 34 beers were. Judging beer is hard work, and I think this category would have been one of the hardest/most interesting of the day.
German Wheat / Rye — 10 Beers
1. Moon Under Water Brewery — This is Hefeweizen
2. Moon Under Water Brewery — Moon Berliner Style Weisse
3. Big Ridge Brewing Company — Big Ridge Dunkleweizen
Moon dominating the German Wheat category should come as no surprise here. Hefeweizens in BC have largely broken into two categories: Big crafty beers that are sugar forward and popular with the masses, and actual hefeweizens brewed by The Moon.
UK Ales — 40 Beers
1. Tin Whistle Brewing Company — Stag Apple Scotch Ale
2. Bowen Island Brewing — Snug Cove ESB
3. Moon Under Water Brewery — Wee Woody
The story here, for me at least, is Bowen Island landing a medal. Bowen isn’t a real brewery; rather, they’re the down-market brand of Northam Group, whose better known up-market brand Whistler Brewing Company notably didn’t place. Bowen Beer comes in cans and generally tastes freaking awful. Maybe it’s time to try their ESB again?
North American Ales — 48 Beers
1. Main Street Brewing Company — Main Street Sessional IPA
2. Phillips Brewing Company — Coulrophobia IRA
3. Rossland Beer Company — Paydirt Pale Ale
And here come the new breweries. Sure, it’s a kitchen junk-drawer of a category (basically all the leftovers that didn’t have enough competition to make their own style-based category), but that makes rising to the top even harder. A subtle beer like Main Street’s low-ABV Sessional isn’t usually a favourite to win such a mass grouping, but there you are.
Porter / Brown Ales — 30 Beers
1. Yellow Dog Brewing Company — Shake a Paw Smoked Brown Porter
2. Powell Street Brewing Company — Dive Bomb Porter
3. Lighthouse Brewing Company — Road Trip Fresh Hopped Dark Ale
Now Yellow Dog shows up, and not for their amazing IPA. Showing that the boys from PoMo can solve beer problems with more options than “add more hops” this is a balanced, nigh perfect Porter. Also of note here is Lighthouse with the only fresh hopped beer to place, and even in a not massively hop-forward category. Maybe the 2014 hops crops weren’t as good as 2013?
Belgian / French — 45 Beers
1. Driftwood Brewing Company — White Bark Witbier
2. Dageraad Brewing — de Witte
3. Four Winds Brewing Company — Juxtapose Brett IPA
I’m surprised by this category, to be honest. White Bark is a nice light wit, but I feel there are better options out there, and those better options are also contained in a notable absence on this short list: Dageraad Blonde. Also, Juxtapose didn’t feature over in the Specialty category, which I find odd.
Vegetable / Spice Beer — 27 Beers
1. Parallel 49 Brewing Company — Lost Souls
2. Howe Sound Brewing — Pumpkineater Imperial Pumpkin Ale
3. Fuggles & Warlock Craftwerks — Bean Me Up Espresso Milk Stout
I guess Howe Sound’s Pumpkineater is back on form then, after spending a year in the “distressing, chemical aftertaste” wasteland. That’s good news. Also, Fuggles & Warlock being able to crack the medal lineup after producing a series of beers I found distressingly homebrewy shows either an improvement in brewing capabilities or random luck. Check back next year for the answer to that query.
Stout — 24 Beers
1. Persephone Brewing Company — Dry Irish Stout
2. Dead Frog Brewing Company — Commander Imperial Stout (2013)
3. Dead Frog Brewing Company — Commander Imperial Stout (2014)
Persephone makes a fine stout, and I feel it could very well be the best in BC. Dead Frog also makes a fine imperial, and Commander was a standout for me when I sampled it. No real complaints here, but I will make mention that for 2015, for some random reason, the BCBA will not allow multiple vintages of the same beer to be submitted. Strange.
North American IPA — 44 Beers
1. High Mountain Brewing Company — 5 Rings IPA
2. Four Winds Brewing Company — Four Winds IPA
3. Central City Brewers and Distillers — Red Racer IPA
Okay. Welcome to The Show. IPAs are the most popular style of beer in North America, and the NA variant is the most popular sub-style of those. Needless to say, pretty much every brewery has an IPA simply due to market demand.
Again, I have no issues with this result. High Mountain is one of those breweries where, when you’re in Whistler, you drink the beer, think “damned that’s great” and then promptly forget all about it the second you blow past Function Junction. Four Winds, on a good day, is deserving of a medal and Central City has frankly been killing it in their new brewery.
For the Tug Heads out there, the absence of Driftwood from this list is likely due to the massive variability that has crept into Fat Tug in recent months. Hopefully Jason figures it out, and restores BC’s King of IPAs to its former glory.
Imperial IPA — 14 Beers
1. Brassneck Brewery — One Trick Pony
2. Central City Brewers and Distillers — Red Racer Imperial IPA
3. Bomber Brewing Company — SuperPest
For a province that loves IPAs as much as we do, we sure suck at DIPAs. There are the occasional great offerings (like Persephone DIPA Batch 1 or One Trick Pony) but usually we’re stuck with the likes of CC or Bomber which, while certainly fine beers, are not as good as you’d hope. For the naysayers, go to the US and grab five DIPAs from the grocery store at random, then report back.
Fruit / Sour — 24 Beers
1. Driftwood Brewing Company — Bird of Prey Flanders Red
2. Parallel 49 — Schwarzwald
3. Brassneck Brewery — Peach Changling
No complaints again (see a theme?) but I’m more excited about imagining what this category will look like next year. Driftwood throwing out the odd sour and Brassneck’s inconsistent Changling series offer some relief for the hard core sour addicts out there, but everyone with a product or interest in this category is quietly biding their time while looking towards Clark and Terminal for the imminent opening of Strange Fellows Brewing. No pressure, Iain.
Strong — 16 Beers
1. Steamworks Brewery — Steamworks Blitzen
2. Townsite Brewing Company — Biere d’Hiver
3. Howe Sound Brewing — Wooly Bugger Barley Wine
So, uh, why aren’t Blitzen and d’Hiver in the Belgian category? As a tripel and dubbel respectively that’s where you think you’d find them. Wooly Bugger? UK style Barley Wine. Sure, it’s based on where the brewers submitted their beers, but maybe that system is flawed?
Specialty — 29 Beers
1. Granville Island Brewing x Barley Mowat — Lost in the Barrels
2. Moon Under Water Brewery — Year 2
3. Parallel 49 — Salty Scot
Smoke / Wood — 16 Beers
1. Central City Brewers and Distillers — Thor’s Hammer Barrel Aged
2. Parallel 49 Brewing Company — Braggot
3. Brassneck Brewery — Inertia II
Am I the only one that looks at this list and thinks “Wait! They made the Braggot again?” P49’s Braggot was amazing, and continues to improve. Alas, hopes be darned, this doesn’t indicate an impending batch two. This was an old bottle submitted for judging since it missed the deadline last year. Sigh.
Best in Show — Yellow Dog Smoked Porter
This is the most telling result. Think about it for a second: an upstart brewery out in the wilds of Port Moody, barely two months old, has produced a Best in Show-class beer. They haven’t even dialled in their brewing system yet. Sorry, Steel & Oak, you’re no long the Hot Shit New Brewery. Hope you enjoyed your four months at the top.
Note: People’s Choice, Homebrew, and Purl Cask awards omitted due to lack of snarky commentary.
Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of an urban snob. At least I came upon this trait honestly, though. You see, I grew up on the island, and I’m not talking Victoria. Nope, I’m talking “The Island” as in thinking “let’s all drive our trucks into the woods, build a giant bonfire, and chug Lucky Lager until we pass out” to be the height of societal discourse.
You see, I’ve had to discover and appreciate urban culture for myself rather than have it handed to me as my birthrate like some bloody hipster. Heck, if I hadn’t come to Vancouver for school just in time for the craft beer revolution, I’d likely still be there today. Maybe even with a bigger truck. Definitely with a bigger gun.
So when we start talking about beer what’s made in small towns, I get a bit skeptical as to quality. If the general populace of that small town don’t know shit about good booze (as I certainly didn’t way back when), then they’ll buy whatever crap is brewed locally and talk a good streak about how awesome it is.
In short, small town brewers have a tendency to put out mediocre beer and never know better, because no one knows enough to tell them. Eventually, they get big enough to ship a few bottles down to Vancouver, then they get panned, and subsequently go out of business, leaving Smithers brewery-less again… uh… you know, in general. I’m not talking about anyone specific here.
Thus, when I spied a screen-printed bottle of Barkerville Brewing’s 18 Karat Pale Ale in the local LDB a few months back, I reluctantly bought it expecting it to be bottled shit, or something even worse, like DMS-laden shit. Even though the brewery isn’t actually located in Barkerville, calling Quesnel home doesn’t exact get you big city cred.
Imagine my surprise, then, when the beer turned out to be pretty damned good. No, not just good, great. Now double the surprise you’re imagining when I stumbled over a bottle of their 52 Foot Stout and found it equally great. Well, crap, there just might be something here.
So I set out to get the rest of their beers into my mouths. The chaps up in Quesnel were nice enough to send along their Golden and Brown ales, and luckily my local Rogue Wetbar had a keg of their Wandering Camel IPA on tap.
Five beers brewed; five beers consumed. Are they all great? Nope, but they are much better than anything I’d expect to come out of Quesnel, and honestly better than about half the beer us Lower Mainland beer snobs are drinking on a daily basis. Are they worth driving to Quesnel for? Fuck that; nothing’s worth that. However, they are worth making some poor schmuck drive a delivery truck from Quesnel to Vancouver for. Heck, if I hadn’t moved to the city, that schmuck might be me.
Prospector’s Peril Golden Ale
Clear as a bell golden colour. Likely highly filtered.
Thin cara malt (some Pilsner?). Simple light hops.
Smooth round mouthfeel, some diacetyl, gives way to a tad too heavy hopping.
5.4% ABV / 24 IBU / Blonde Ale
Meh. There are better local Blondes around.
3.5/5.0 (Above Average)
Hound of Barkerville Brown Ale
Rich, beautiful, opaque, auburn; tight off-white head.
Light nose, some caramel/rye? Pepper.
Sweet malt, with metallic finish and slightly chemically hops.
5.9% ABV / 17 IBU / Brown Ale
Decent example of a brown, a style lacking popularity. So sure, buy it.
3.5/5.0 (Above Average)
Wandering Camel IPA
Light aromatic hops. Citrus, light pine.
Pours cloudy orange/yellow. Thin tight head. Long persisting.
Little bit watery but good hops integration. Nice jackfruit citrus freshness. Creamy mouthfeel.
6.5% ABV / 48 IBU / English IPA
If fresh, yes. This guy goes over a serious cliff after about a month.
3.5/5.0 (Above Average)
18 Karat Pale Ale
Light caramel. Some slight c-hops.
Pretty much perfect bitter/pale body with a tight persistent head.
Bam. Great slight roast malt. Well matched hops. Good finish. Great stuff.
5.0% ABV / 33 IBU / American Pale Ale
Some bottle variation, but I’ve had some killer samples.
52 Foot Stout
I find myself increasingly defending how I review beers to people at bars, at after-bar-parties, in the betting circle at underground early morning monkey knife fights, and even in police holding cells while awaiting arraignment for some sort of trumped up animal cruelty charge.
I’ll say something like “Oh Beer X. Yeah I liked that one; it’s a good beer” to which my aghast audience will proclaim “But you only gave it 3/5 on Untappd!” Exactly. I liked it. It was a good beer, aka an average craft beer.
It wasn’t Excellent (4/5) or World Class (5/5) but neither was it Mediocre (2/5) or Fucking Awful (1/5). You see, unlike the vast majority of people who review things on the Internet, I like to use the full range of review options available to me.
Some folks, even some folks in the local beer industry, are hesitant to give something a 3/5 and never, ever dip into the 1s or 2s. You can generally tell how much you can trust someone’s opinion on beer by checking out their past reviews. If they only ever give beer a 4 or higher then whatever they say is suspect. They’re either giving everything an artificially high rating to curry favour with local breweries, or they’re skipping the bad beers for… well, the same reason.
I don’t do that. I use the full range. If I were given a random selection of local beers, I would expect them to follow a normal distribution with “Quality” as the x-axis, and in general I find this to be the case. BC is not a magical alcohol kingdom that only produces amazing beers. Rather, we’re quite average, if not slightly below average.
So, to clear up confusion, here is how I rate beers. I use Untappd’s 5 star system, allowing for half stars and a range from 0.5 to 5.0. When you see my ratings, here is what they mean.
Seriously freaking bad, as in milk. This beer is a mistake and should never have been released. Perhaps the brewery spilt some wort into the mop bucket and didn’t notice for a week and then decided to release it as “Janitor’s Wild Ale”? Drinking this beer may actually harm you.
Seriously flawed. Yeah, I know it says “Porter” on the label, but why is it red coloured, incredibly bitter, but still manages to taste strongly of both buttermilk and bandaids?
Major flaw/multiple minor flaws. Slightly oxidized AND infected? Wow that takes either malicious effort or incompetence. Or both.
Well made macro, or poorly made craft. Brewed it with rice and left all residual flavour in the filters? You get two stars. Brewed a rich, flavourful IPA but didn’t understand what hops to use, or when to add them? 2 stars. Yeah, that’s the same as Molson. Deal with it.
Excellent macro, below average craft. Ever had a beer and thought “meh”? Those go here. Sure, it’s pretty much on style but there are few things in there that are keeping it from being great. Maybe the grains don’t really give it the right body. Maybe the hops in this stout seem like they’re borrowed from an IPA.
Well made craft. The vast majority of beers I review get 3 stars, basically by definition. These are competently made craft-quality brews that’d I’d be happy to keep drinking if it weren’t for all the other competently made craft-quality brews out there vying for my limited attention.
Above-average craft beer. Ever had a beer and thought “Huh. This is GOOD”? Sure, you’re not going to get up right now to go back to the store to buy more, but you know what, this is pretty freaking tasty. No faults evident and something about this beer shows an uncommon flair for brewing.
Excellent. Okay, now you’re eyeing up the hours for the store where you bought this beer. Maybe it’s a complicated style like a sour or an imperial stout that’s well made. Maybe it’s just an uncommonly well made session beer. This is a delicious beer that is obviously better than other, similar beers.
Excellent-er. Bordering on uniquely amazing, but something is holding this guy back. Maybe it’s a subtle fault like poor hops integration, or maybe the carbonation takes away from the mouthfeel a bit. Maybe you’ve had a better beer somewhere, sometime, and know that further improvement is possible. It’s a subtle barrier that keeps this beer from being perfect.
World class. This is a rarity. It belongs to that unique class of beer that, when put in your mouth, makes you stop and pay attention to what your taste buds are telling you. Very, very few beers should ever be graced with a five star rating. In short, this beer is perfect.
Okay, so what about my Seals of Approval? Just to keep things simple, those have nothing to do with the five star ratings. They are highly personal and, indeed, are exactly what they claim to be: me, Chuck Hallett, slapping my seal on something to basically say “Chuck-Approved.” The criteria for each grade is surprisingly simplistic because, well, I’m surprisingly simplistic. You see, it’s all based on my personal desire to go to a store and buy this beer.
To put that in perspective consider a few things about me. First, I drink less beer than you might imagine, instead of the raving, barely functional hard core alcoholic of popular imagination, I am more of a “beer-a-day-but-two-on-weekends” sort of low burn rummy. Heck, I might even make it to 50 on my first liver. Second, I get sent lots of beer to review by breweries, and even though I dump a lot of the shitty ones down my drain, they do eat up the vast majority of my beer-a-day budget. Third, being a beer geek, I’d much rather try a new beer than buy a boring old stupid beer I’ve had before.
Combine all that together, and should I be willing to purchase a beer that I’ve had before at the store, that means it’s gotta be a pretty good beer, or I like it for some other reason (my picture on the label might do it… anyone? Please?). So, here’s how those seals break down:
No seal: Chuck would not drink again.
Bronze: Chuck would buy this beer if he needed beer.
Silver: Chuck would buy this beer even if he didn’t need beer.
Gold: Chuck will compulsively buy this beer in great volumes, and react aggressively should you get between the him and the beer. Seriously, just put the beer down, don’t make eye contact, and back away slowly.
So there you have it: your extremely long winded and unnecessarily detailed explanation of what goes on in my head when I use my soapbox to tell the world about a beer I just drank. Take it for what you will.