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Archive for May, 2013

More on Craft Beer Market

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Is everyone all tingly with excitment yet? Vancouver Craft Beer Week, that most wonderful week of the year, is nearly upon us. It all kicks off tomorrow night with the Opening Gala at the Roundhouse. The main focus of the night will be all the new breweries in BC, but alas, they’re so new that only a handful will be able to actually, you know, bring beer. Oh well, the notably beer-less breweries will make up for it with their awesome beards.


These guys could easily sub-in for the villain in an old timey-western. Please don’t hurt me.

This celebration of all things beer and face-follicle-related is brought to you by none other than Craft Beer Market, the mega-taphouse coming to the Olympic Village in the not-so-distant future. I’ve written about them before, but I recently had a chance to sit down and actually talk to Rob Swiderski, the man behind the dream.

From this talk I gleened some insights into both Rob and Craft Beer Market, and it would be remiss of me to not share these with you guys.

At first glance, Rob seems like the kind of guy who you could easily picture shotgunning some Canadian then crushing the can against his head. He’s tan, well built and–get this–completely beardless. I’ll admit it; I was worried. When he opens his mouth, though, the fa├žade falls away and you realize you’re talking to someone with a serious interest in craft beer.

Heck, in some ways, Rob has more beer geek cred than I do. Here is a list of things Rob does that I don’t:

  1. He homebrews
  2. He’s a member of his local homebrew club (Cowtown Yeast Wranglers)
  3. He’s a certified BCJP judge
  4. He’s a certified Cicerone Beer Server
  5. He’s intends to become a full Cicerone

He also talks a good talk. His goal with CBM is to focus on what’s good and local, building a restaurant from the kitchen on out. I lost track of how many times he said the word local while describing his final product, but I was definitely left with the impression that the food being served there will not be coming out of a can.


Nope, it’s free range spamalopes only.

What about the beer, though? Rob’s approach here is practical rather than passionate. If I were to run a restaurant, I doubt I’d make the following choices, but I also wouldn’t be opening a 300 seat mega-bar. Here are some highlights of our talk.

  1. Macros. Yes, there will be macros. More than one, in fact. The reasoning is that these are “entrapment” beers, designed to lure in your average macro lager drinker and make them feel comfortable. Once they’re served their shitty horse piss in a glass, though, the staff will begin making suggestions to move them up the beer-addiction ladder. I don’t even mind this approach. Think about the first beer you drank; I’ll bet it wasn’t Driftwood.
  2. 140 taps, but only ~20 rotating taps. Have you ever trained the staff in a 300 seat restaurant on 140 beers? Would you like to do it every week for the rest of your life? Maybe if you had good, passionate people this might not be too hard (think Alibi Room), but in a restaurant this size your staff turnover will guarantee a steady influx of clueless newbies. While I can’t help but agree that training them would be hard, I still feel limiting the rotating list to so few taps will be a mistake. Seasonal beers and one-offs are the life-blood of craft beer in BC. If I want a regular production beer (eg Fat Tug), I can go to the shitty bar down the street.
  3. Lines on the ceiling. Yup, they’re doing this. It’s not as bad as you think, though, as these will be glycol-sleeved, insulated lines of unusual thinness. The beer in here won’t go bad any time soon. Sure, it virtually guarantees that imperial stout will be poured too cold, but at least it… uh… looks cool, I guess? Oh wait, it’s also inefficient, so it has that going for it too.
  4. Line maintenance. The goal is to clean the lines at least once every two weeks, and preferably every week. This means that, on any given day, 10-20 lines will be fresh and squeaky clean. This is a good thing.
  5. Custom imports. When you buy a lot of beer, you can do some interesting things, and Rob wants to do just that, via importing beer that’s new to BC, but has been featured in his Calgary bar. Sure, he hasn’t tangled with the LCLB on the issue yet, so he still has hope. Let’s not take that from him just yet.

In the end, Rob is a savvy businessman with a solid vision of what his bar will look like. Is it the perfect bar that we’d like to see in the Salt Building? No, but I honestly think that perfect bar would go out of business pretty darned fast. Considering what else could have been there, I think we lucked out that Rob signed that lease.

This isn’t a bar for the high end beer geek, and it’s not trying to be a bar for the high end beer geek. Rob is, however, engaged. He wants suggestions, and seems willing to adapt his model to better fit Vancouver. So, on that front, if you see something you don’t like, let CBM know; I suspect they’ll accomidate us. You don’t get the mega-taphouse you want, you get the mega-taphouse you deserve.

Will I go there often? Sure. It’s got a nice patio, is in a gorgeous building, and will have at least a dozen solidly awesome beers on tap. Will I repeatedly joke about breaking-in on Twitter to gain illicit access to incredibly awesome and rare beer lists? Nope, I’ll save that stale joke for the Alibi.

I hope to see everyone there for the grand opening which, according to Rob, is in August. However, having seen the place just recently, I wouldn’t hold my breath.


Sorry, Rob, but a building that looks like this on May 9th does not turn into a 300 seat restaurant by August.

Written by chuck

May 30th, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Posted in Bars

Tagged with

Parallel 49 Humphrey BdG, VCBW Altbier, Black Hops

with 3 comments

Yeah, that’s three beers up in the title. Sure, Hopnotist got its own post, but it’s one of the most outstanding beers produced in BC in the past twelve months (name another? Okay, Lighthouse Siren; not what you expected, eh?).

Now, I’m not saying these three beers aren’t good beers. They all are, to varying degrees, but I only have so much review bandwidth these days, and thus all three get crammed into a single review. Seriously, folks, my beer closet has an actual, physical queue of beers waiting for me to taste them. This job sucks.

Tasting notes:

Humphrey Bière de Garde

If you asked me a month ago to peg P49’s next release, I absolutely would not have gone with a traditional old-world style like a Bière de Garde. Black Hops (bottom) would have been more like my best guess: a weird West Coast take on a non-mainstream style. Colour me stupid, then, for Parallel 49 went and released both.

In short, Humphrey is a subtle Canadian variation of a malt-forward old world strong ale. I do like this beer, but ultimately it falls a bit short of its potential because of the malt used (a bit too new world grainy for my tastes). Better malt would yield a better product, but alas there just aren’t that many high quality, small batch malts available… yet.

In any event, by the time you’re done the bottle, the pleasant liquor burn (7% ABV) and balanced hops do much to make you forgot your longing for better grain. There is some ageing potential here, but honestly this beer is drinking just fine right now.

APPEARANCE Auburn/amber with very low carbonation.
NOSE Very subtle farmhouse aromatics and grainy malt.
TASTE Caramel, grain, and a great spice from the hops. Subtle flavours build over course of the glass.
SHOULD I BUY IT? As a rare example of a malt-forward ale in this hop-crazy world, you definitely should.

VCBW Altbier

Okay, sure, Parallel 49 isn’t strictly the only chef in the kitchen on this one (as usual, the list includes pretty much every brewer in the province), but it was brewed there, and that means Graham With had much more control over the final product than the designed-by-committee style hints at on the label.

The previous two VCBW collaboration brews were hop-dominant beers (a Cascadian Dark and a Cascadian Brown to be specific), so the third beer in the series represents a 180 on the hops usage, all the way back to Malt Town. It’s almost likely another recently released Parallel 49 beer used up all the hops or something.

This beer is a near-flawless execution of the style, which is a subtley malty brew with a crisp hoppy finish. It’s a great session beer, and if you give it some time there are some interesting, more subtle flavours to be discovered.

APPEARANCE Translucent amber with a persistent off-cream head.
NOSE Caramel malt, some subtler grains. Just a whiff of the hops.
TASTE More of the nose, but with some interesting subtle subtexts (fruit esters, earthiness). Balanced hop crispness.
SHOULD I BUY IT? Do you like any of the 30-odd breweries on the label? Do you want to hurt their feelings? Then buy it already.

Black Hops Cascadian Dark Lager

I had a preview of this beer about a month ago, on cask at the Whip. I liked it. I like it so much, in fact, that I drank four pints of it. Then I drank another two. That cask was a smooth, mildly hoppy and flavourful low ABV beer (at least, low ABV compared to other hoppy beers).

Now that it’s in bottles, and on tap around town, its lost something. It’s still a fine brew, but I’m not going to rave about this beer to the beererati like I did the cask version. Take a beer off the yeast and it changes, folks.

APPEARANCE Black with a thin, quickly dissipating beige head.
NOSE Hops dominate the nose, but are not overpowering. Roasted malt comes through at the end.
TASTE Roasted malt plus a bite-y citrus-y hops finish. Both flavours are muted, though.
SHOULD I BUY IT? Maybe it’s just me, but I’d prefer a proper IPA or CDA. Buy one and see what you think.

Coles notes:

Brewery Parallel 49
From Vancouver
Name Humprhey VCBW Collaboration Black Hops
Style Bière de Garde Altbier Cascadian Dark Lager (or Schwarzbier)
SOA Now Bronze n/a n/a
SOA Potential Bronze n/a n/a
Drink Now-2014 Now Now
Pirate friendly? Yaaaar! Avast!
Availability Most LRSs, some LDB
Cost $6-9 per 650ml bomber
Similar Beers (you can buy) Maybe Driftwood Clodhopper? Driftwood Crooked Coast None


Add in some great barley
and these beers get seriously better.

Written by chuck

May 24th, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Posted in Beers

Tagged with

Focus on the LDB VII

with 2 comments

If you haven’t been over to the LDB’s website recently, you might have missed their full site redesign, which was quietly rolled out recently. The new site is slicker and sports a more minimalist design that I actually prefer to the old. However, that’s not all. There are also new features, including an easy-to-access list of recommended products (sure, it’s full of crap right now, but give it time), and the ability for the plebs (that’s you guys) to rank their inventory from 1 to 5 stars.

That last feature made the rounds of the local Molson marketing group shortly after the launch of the site, as the entire Molson catalogue was quickly marked up to 5/5 stars, including sub brands such as Granville Island and the lesser known Black Loon. Subtle, guys. Things eventually balanced out, but a few hundred beer geeks going through the beer section would be even better than the general public (hint hint… link).

So, did a new website lead to a new advertising strategy? Not even a little. Well, I guess the new site now has nine prominent advertising slots with which to ignore beer instead of the old seven, which is sort of a change. Our new total gives us:

Wine: +5
Liquor: +2
Beer: +0
Corporate: +1

One of those links goes to the now-permanent Savvy Shopper feature, which is basically “what’s cheap and still gets you there.” Seriously, pretty much anything you see here is best paired with big hair, stained t-shirts and cars on blocks; they might as well sort these listings by ounces of alcohol per dollar. In any event beer does make a small showing in the 31 discounted booze products, even if it’s mostly Bud.

Wine: 15
Beer: 4
Liquor: 12 (lumped the “coolers” in here. Seriously, though, what IS Palm Bay?)


I mean, aside from being the
drink of choice of these people.

In addition to those, the Spring Edition of Taste Magazine has been released. Weighing in at a hefty 180 pages, it contains ads for 185 products, and 6 of those are for beer! In fact, not only are there six more featured beers than last issue, and not only are these pretty decent beers, there’s a whole article about beer by none other than Joe Wiebe! Rock on, Joe!

Sure, Taste is still a meandering, wine-myopic tome (153/185 featured products are wine), and I’m reasonably sure some wines have now been featured multiple times over the past year, but progress is progress. If this rate of increased features keeps up, beer will contribute as much to the pages of Taste as it does to the LDB’s sales figures by, oh, 2017 or so.


Much more likely, though, is the all-Franzia Special Edition.

Taking all that into consideration we wind up with:

Wine: 33 (+6)
Beer: 3 (+1; rounded waaaay up)
Liquor: 12 (+2)
Corporate: 13 (+1)

Lastly, here are three great beers currently on the LDB website that they could have chosen to feature instead of laundry lists of wine that have been featured several times already (The Show, anyone?). Sure, Joe picked six interesting Vancouver-based brews in his article, but those are buried a bit deep for web-consumption.

Beer 1: Phillips Bottle Rocket ISA

Classic LDB attention to beer. They get the name right but neglect to tell you who brewed it. The brewery in this case is Phillips, and this is their new(ish) and impressive Bottle Rocket India Session Ale. It’s a milder, lower-ABV take on the now-common IPA style.

Listing: http://bcliquorstores.com/product/200303
Price: $11.85 for 6x355ml cans
Availability: Very low; likely just starting to be stocked

Beer 2: Central City Pilsner

Need a nice lager to go with the warming weather? Try Central City’s new Pilsner. It’s a superb hoppy Pilsner that’s a near perfect example of the style. Crisp, light with subtle hops.

Listing: http://bcliquorstores.com/product/255943
Price: $12.40 for 6x355ml cans
Availability: Widely available.

Beer 3: Townsite Said the Ale

Need a beer with an awesome storyline? Not too long ago CBC Radio 3 threw out an idea for beers named after bands. Everyone loved the idea, and it took off. The result? Several BC Breweries borrowed the CBC graphics and brewed actual beers that pay tribute to awesome indie bands. This guy is a play on “Said the Whale.” Indie music and craft beer: my two favourite things in the world together at last.

Listing: http://bcliquorstores.com/product/760900
Price: $5.96 for 650ml of indie awesomeness
Availability: Select stores; might have to ask them to ship it to your store.

Written by chuck

May 21st, 2013 at 2:50 pm