Barley Mowat 

I Found The Golden Ticket

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So, I got a tour of a brewery yesterday. I get offered brewery tours all the time, and usually I go and skip the actual tour part and just talk shop with the brewers, because let’s face it, if you’ve seen one brewery you’ve seen them all.

Yesterday was a bit different, though, because I brought along some folk from my dayjob who’ve never seen the inside of the brewery, and so we couldn’t just skip out all the mundane details as per usual. Thus, things like “So, uh, yeah, that’s the lab” turned into a full rundown of what’s in a lab, what the lab does in a brewery, and why that’s important.

And you know what? I liked it. It was like I was seeing a brewery for the first time ever, though the eyes of my rookie companions. Which brewery was this? It was Parallel 49 and our intrepid tour-leader was none-other than the brewmaster himself, Graham With.

Now, for this blog I will skip all the mundane details and go straight to what I found very interesting about this tour, and about Parallel 49 in general. As such, there will be a few gaps in my brewery story, but please fill those gaps in with your own experiences at other breweries. No, and not with the canola-oil twister party. That never happened; I don’t want to have to tell you again.

First off, the soft story: P49 is best represented in the person of Graham With. Graham is, for lack of better words, a big kid who’s been given the keys to the chocolate factory. He is almost giddy with the excitement of making beer, and solving all the myriad production problems that come with operating a brewery (he is an engineer, after all, iron ring and all).

Take that aforementioned QA lab, for instance. Rather than just doing mundane quality control and cell counts, Graham is using the lab to help maintain a different strain of yeast for each of their beers. This might seem odd until you realize just how much character and flavour in a brew is created by the yeast. P49 wants to avoid that common curse of less science-y breweries: having all their beers taste the same due to being all fermented with the same yeast strain.

Or all fermented with the same shitty corn.

His enthusiasm is as infectious as it is obvious. Every detail of running a brewery fascinates him in an almost ADHD-like fashion. From the design and purpose of the tasting room, through the details of the QA Lab, right through tinkering with the C02 system to improve efficiency. Get him going for a second, and he’ll happily tell you about the lot of used bourbon oak barrels he’s ordered (look for an imperial stout… uh… sometime after they arrive?). Or about planned trips to Okanagan vineyards to take infected barrels off their hands, and yes, about the sour beer program that ultimately that leads to. (When asked about the 2-3 year lead time for a good sour, he just says “Well, that’s why we’re getting on it now!”)

Now, the hard story: Parallel 49 is swinging for the fence. Given the raw facts, I came into this expecting a brewery somewhere in size between Storm Brewing and my storage closet. P49 only started producing their first beer this year, and are only available on tap at select locations around Vancouver. Bottles? Only delivered to LRSs, and only in the past few weeks. Obviously this is a small brewery start-up.

Wrong. Parallel 49 is a huge brewery start-up. The first thing you notice upon entering the brewery is the giant tasting room (which is still being built). Sure, it’s not where you brew beer, but if you have enough space for this kind of tasting room, one can only imagine the cavernous space in which you produce the actual product.

And cavernous it is. The current equipment roster for P49 includes 315hl of fermentation space. That’s a lot for a new brewery, but that giant row of fermenters doesn’t even come close to filling up the production half of the brewery. Turning that over every 4 weeks yields about 4,100 hl per year of production. That’s a fairly abstract number, but it boils down to 150 kegs per week, or 22 kegs a day in terms of brewing capacity. With 16 tap accounts thus far, it’s safe to say they have a bit of room to grow.

And that room gets bigger when the new order shows up. Oh, did I forget to mention more fermenters are coming? Yeah, another 300 hl of production capacity are currently being shipped from China. I wonder if Graham’s refreshing the Fedex page like I did when my iPad was coming via the same route?

This excess capacity brings home my main concern for this business: where is all this beer going? Those 16 tap accounts sure as hell aren’t drinking it. And that bottling line, as shiny and new as it is, sure isn’t running the 30 hours a day it’d need to be to bottle it all. Of course, you don’t need to actually use all your capacity, but if you aren’t using it all why double it with a new order?

And that’s my puzzler. Obviously, an LDB listing is coming, and there’s talk of shipping product to Alberta and other places further east, but ultimately I think there’s a risk of a lot of good beer sitting around while the local craft beererati try our best to pound through it before it goes off. Trust me, as great as unlimited good beer sounds, there is such a thing as too much.

Kind of like how 1/2 way through a giant pile of heroin you never want to do horse again… oh wait… So yeah, pretty much the opposite of smack, then, I guess.

But that’s it? No negative rants from Chuck on P49 aside from “they produce too much good beer… maybe”? Well… yes, I have one complaint. Graham admitted to filtering their beers, and even showed me their filter. Filtering beer is an open argument, with some folk saying you can’t get really great clarity without it and some folk (like me, and other sane people) saying it robs a beer of all the yeast character that makes beer so interesting. Considering how much time and effort P49 puts into brewing beer with distinct yeasts in the first place, filtering it just seems wrong.

Luckily, Graham quasi-agrees with me, and is currently attempting to convince the owners to invest in a centrifuge to allow them to get both the startling clarity and the yeasty funk that makes great beer great. Mike & Anthony? Please please give him the shiny new toy. Just think how happy he’ll be. How can you say no to that face?

Written by chuck

June 15th, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Posted in Breweries

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  1. […] world. That brewery, of course, is Parallel 49. Just over a year later they’ve proven all my early concerns about over-production to be bunk, and are producing hit after hit after hit, all of which are […]

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