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Archive for December, 2012

Craft vs Crafty

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A lot of attention has been paid recently to the ongoing debate between “true” Craft Breweries and the big macros creating a shadow brand and marketing it as craft. The US-based Brewers Association (BA) is responsible for the latest salvo in the ongoing debate, recently issuing a press release on the topic as well as a rather blunt list of breweries they consider non-craft.

Before we start pointing fingers at non-Craft Brewers and saying all sorts of libellous things about them, we should first try and figure out what, exactly, a Craft Brewery is. For this purpose, we’ll borrow the Brewer’s Association’s own definition (see it here) because there is no accepted definition of the term in Canada.

Craft Breweries, according to the BA, have to meet three criteria, and I have issues with all of them. Read on:

1. Small
This is defined as an annual production of less than six million barrels, which is 7,200,000hl in non-yankee speak. Nothing about this volume is “small”–in fact, a brewery that makes 7,200,000hl would be colossal by pretty much any standard. OK Spring, BC’s biggest brewery by production, makes ~360,000hl across all their brands, for instance. Only the truest giantest macro breweries would produce more, and that’s what this number is all about.

As well, it has to be noted that this number keeps changing and growing as the former “small” breweries raise their production. Before “Craft Beer” was a broadly used marketing term, you’d hear about “Microbreweries” but that term became harder and harder to justify as these former small producers started brewing beer by the mega-barrel. Hence how we now have “Craft Beer” and it’s ever escalating production cap.

If this trick sounds familiar, it should.

2. Independent

Your craft brewery must not be more than 25% owned by an entity that, itself, is not a craft brewery (however if they are a craft brewery, bring it on!). So I guess selling out is okay, just not to The Man? No mention is given to banks, which likely hold the largest stake in all operating breweries. In the end, it doesn’t matter how great your beer is so long as the guy paying the bills makes macro beer (or his boss does, or that guys’ boss’ boss, etc, all the way up).

This requirement is the subject of the latest battle in the War on Macro Beer. It turns out the majors have been creating shadow brands and selling beer under those brands. The beer isn’t great, but it sure isn’t macro swill. Should Coors have to say they brewed Blue Moon on the bottle? I’m split on this, as the issue is more complex than you’d think. Does GIB have to say “brewed by Molson” on their main beers? Maybe. What about on Vern’s micro-produced one-offs, brewed by Vern on his tiny 10hl brewkit, which is about as micro as mirco gets? See? Not so easy to figure out, and I sure don’t have an answer. In the end, though, shadow branding and contract brewing upset me far less than bad beer.

3. Traditional

Your flagship beer (the one you sell the most of) must be an all malt beer, or a beer that only uses non-malt adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavour. If this seems a bit convoluted to you, you’re with me. Basically this rule exists to rule out breweries selling lots of corn-augmented Pale Lager, but they had to modify it a bit to allow for fruit beers becoming popular.

So where does all this leave us? Basically all three rules are structured in such a way as to effectively say “you’re craft beer if your name isn’t SABMiller, Sapporo, MolsonCoors, or Anheuser-Busch InBev” (and a few others). Why they didn’t save us a bunch of time and just list those companies by name and call it a day, I’ll never know.

But they didn’t, and now we’re stuck with three rules that are harder to apply than they might seem. Think about this:

1. Small: Let’s say that Lighthouse’s Small Brewery, Big Flavour series becomes wildly successful, and everyone across the country just keeps buying it, but the second they brew the 6,000,001st barrel it should be shunned by geeks? Why?

Shut ‘er down, Dean, the third from the right is now shit.

2. Independent: You’re Goose Island. AB-InBev buys you (this isn’t hypothetical). I guess your (previously excellent) beer is now awful?

3. Traditional: You’re making a nice, light, refreshing wheat ale that’s well balanced and very popular. Sorry, you’re not craft because you’re using wheat for it’s crisp lightness.

It seems to me that all this is just dancing around the core issue: Good Beer versus Bad Beer. It’s possible to meet every single one of those criteria and still produce a macro-esque swill that will make Coors Light seem full bodied and complex by comparison, and it’s just as equally possible to miss on all three marks and make a lineup of amazing beers (and 1 pale lager made with corn).

Personally, I don’t care who made this excellent ale in front of me; all I care about is the fact that it’s excellent, and perhaps I might also be concerned about where I might find another. If it was made locally by someone I can go thank personally for making good beer, then that has a certain nice appeal to it, but if it was made in a giant vat by Molson I might be surprised, but I won’t suddenly like it less.

Let’s worry about the beer, and not who makes it. Yes, that might lead us to a world where the big macro producers are making barley wines and call them “Craft Beer” but you know what, they’d be right to do so. “Craft Beer” as defined by the terms above is an entirely artificial concept. If we take it by the more popular definition of “Good Beer” then why can’t Molson also play this game? If the macros have to resort to producing “Good Beer” to stay in business, then that’s the kind of world I want to live in.

Written by chuck

December 19th, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Two Seasonals From Townsite

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Ah, December release madness. You think you’ve got it all covered, so you take a day off to relax then Bam! there’s like six more beers to review. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

This round features two interesting seasonals from Townsite Brewing, who are just up-coast in Powell River. Townsite busted onto the BC Brewing scene earlier this year and released a lineup of beers that were quickly met with… acclaim?… nope, that’s not it. Not criticism, either… more like “meh”-ism.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with their beers, but in a brewing market that has become increasingly upscale and snobbish in recent years, about the most charitable thing I could come up with was that they were “making the best beer Powell River’s seen in some time.”

While the beers were decently crafted examples of their style, Townsite wasn’t exactly wowing us beer geeks in quite the same way as Tofino or Parallel 49.

So how do their two most recent releases rank with the biggest bearded beer geek of all (by mass)? Well, both are great beers. While neither is going to be celebrated as best-in-class any time soon, they do represent a step up for the brewing game of Townsite, and indicate that we can expect more great beers to come. Of course, the sword cuts both ways, as now our expectations have been raised accordingly.

And no, our ego is not so inflated that we’re referring to ourselves in the majestic plural. Rather, it’s a medical condition we have and we’d appreciate your tact in this matter.

Tasting notes:

Biere D’hiver (Winter Ale): Nose is light caramel a bit of toffee thrown in because hey, why not?. Sip this back and whoa, we’re talking roasted malt. Heavily roasted, almost burnt malt. This yields an unexpected dark roast coffee flavour, which seems to amp up the dry bittering hops far beyond their stated 27 IBUs.

A few more sips and that roasty-malty flavour blends in with the alcohol to do what any good winter warmer should: make you feel all fuzzy inside.

Shiny Penny (Belgian IPA): Nose is strong Belgian yeast, barnyard funk and straw. On tasting, the dryness from the yeast slows yields to a lingering dry bitterness from the hops. The yeast is very dry and funky here, almost Brett-like, and the body round robust and sweet: a very pleasant, almost ideal combination.

After a few sips the hops fade into the background as your palate adjusts, making the nuances of the yeast more apparent.

Coles notes:

Brewery Townsite
From Powell River
Name Biere D’hiver Shiny Penny
Style Winter Warmer Belgian IPA
SOA Now None awarded Bronze
SOA Potential n/a; table beer
Drink Now
My suggestion for Townsite’s next style Russian Imperial Stout. Can’t have enough RISs. You can even call it “Chuck”.
Availability Limited LRS, and selling fast
Cost $6.00+ per 650ml bomber
Similar Beers Hoyne Gratitude, R&B Auld Nick, Howe Sound Father John’s Lighthouse Uncharted, Phillips Hoperation
Chuck says Simultaneously intriguingly and disconcertingly coffee-like A solid Belgian IPA that I’d drink again in a heartbeat

Like you expected anything else.

Written by chuck

December 17th, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Beers

Tagged with

Barley Wine Time

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Barley Wine season marches on. You already know to buy Driftwood’s dual release, and lots of it (perhaps more OCD than OBD though), but what about the other bottled barley wines? There are four other members of this elite style of beer vying for your attention (that I’m aware of), and three of them are out right now. What says Chuck?

Central City Thor’s Hammer

It’s good, buy it. What? You want more details? How about the fact that the NW Brewing News Readers’ Awards just named it the best Barley Wine… not in BC, but in all of Alaska, BC, Washington, Northern California and Oregon. That swath covers a good chunk of the best breweries on the planet. Sure, I’m not a fan of populist polls, but I do trust readers of NWB to be a little more beer-savvy than readers of the Straight.

What? My opinion? Okay, fine. This is a thinner, sweeter and spicier cellaring beer compared to Driftwood’s OCD, and frankly I don’t think it will improve as much but, you know what, it’s better right now so it all comes out in the wash.

Phillips Trainwreck

It’s not great. Don’t buy it… unless you like burnt nuts and toffee. Now, to be clear, this is not an awful beer (few Barley Wines are), but so far it’s the loser of the 2012 release cycle. That toffee is accompanied by a diffuse maple syrupy sweetness and, dare I say it, tones of bubblegum… in a beer. As a side note, does anyone else wonder how Phillips keeps slipping beer names past the LDB that basically promise extreme intoxication? Amnesiac, Instigator, Trainwreck? Is anyone even paying attention over there anymore?

Howe Sound Woolly Bugger

It’s great. Buy it. It’s not one of these massive, hoppy new world barley wines like Thor’s Hammer and Old Cellar Dweller, no, this is a throwback to the high malt, chocolatey English style, and it’s an absolute delight. Massive malt tone and depth give this a smooth, creamy almost velvety body, rich with chocolate. Balancing out all that sugar is subtle old world hops. Take a sip and guess at the IBUs. You, too, will be shocked to learn this has 75 of the things, and that tells you just how balanced and deep this beer is.

If you see it, buy some, as I have no idea what the production run on this was, since the bottles are not helpfully numbered as they have been in previous years.

Coles notes:

Brewery Central City Phillips Howe Sound
From Surrey Victoria Squamish
Name Thor’s Hammer Trainwreak Woolly Bugger
Style American Barley Wine American Barley Wine English Barley Wine
SOA Now Silver None Silver
SOA Potential Silver None Silver
Drink Now to 2014 Don’t Now to late 2013
Best feature Unusual spicey-ness Name implying this beer will fuck your shit up Consumption-friendly bottle size
Availability Very Limited LRS Widespread LRS Limited LRS
Cost $15.00 per 650ml $5.50-$7.00 per 650ml $4.00-$5.50 per 341ml
Similar Beers (you can buy) Driftwood Old Cellar Dweller, Old Barrel Dweller
Chuck says Stock up Skip Stock up

Written by chuck

December 13th, 2012 at 4:22 pm