Barley Mowat 

Archive for July, 2013

Beer Fight: East vs West

with 10 comments

Here’s a fun idea: pick two craft brewing regions, and elect three beers from each to compete in a battle royale for the coveted Most Awesome Beer Place title. To keep it varied, pick a category for each brew (otherwise you’ll wind up wading through nothing but Imperial Stouts), say categories of Barley, Hops and Yeast.

Sounds fun, right? Well, I’m doing exactly that this weekend. My buddy Jer is coming back to BC for a week of family-themed relaxation and, for reasons that honestly elude me, I’m invited. As part of this beachside orgy of sun, bocce and venison-consumption we’ll pit West Coast vs East Coast in a battle of breweries from states/provinces that border the ocean. Here is simultaneously both my and Jer’s take.


This should be a bloodbath, right? Well, just because the West has some rather famous beers doesn’t mean I can magically conjure up a bottle of said beer. Pliny the Elder? Yeah, right. Also, even with the raw lower number of highly acclaimed East Coast breweries, there are still some great freaking beers to be found out there. The competition will be stiff, and I’d best bring my A-game.

Luckily, though, I did just come back from a trip to Portland so I’m not limited to just the Great White North and what friendly US breweries deem fit to import. What with my desire to not dive into my unfairly huge cellar, I am handicapped somewhat, but hopefully not too much.

Hair of the Dog Adam (Batch 88)
Traditional Ale – 10.0%
Ratebeer: 100;100

This is my hands-down most favourite beer on the planet, from my most favourite brewery on said same. Batch 88 is the latest, so this is a fresh and un-oaked version, but it’s a legend for a reason. Sure, I could have pulled some Singularity out of the cellar (well, I’m doing that anyways), but when honour is on the line you just gotta go HotD.

Cascade Barrel House Vlad the Imp-Aler (2011)
Sour/Wild Ale – 10.6%
Ratebeer: 99;97

This is a beer that is for sale in Portland, Oregon for $30 a bottle. Thirty freaking dollars per bottle. This is the same Portland, Oregon, where Hair of the Dog (a mere 1 kilometre away) retails at $15 a bottle. Yet people buy this beer. They but a lot of it, and come back for more. Think about that for a second.

Parallel 49 Hopnotist
Imperial IPA – 8.5%
Ratebeer: 88;41

I’m not going to a beer fight on the BC coast without a BC beer. Don’t let that low RateBeer score fool you; this is a massive, amazing IPA. RB scores take time to get up high, and with only 13 reviews to its name so far, Hopnotist is being weighted down artificially. I’ve had both Hopnotist and Pliny the Elder, and I’ll take Hopnotist.


I’ll be honest: challenging Chuck to a East vs. West Coast beer war was just an excuse to get a picture of him drinking a beer out of a can. Then disaster struck, and my road trip to Vermont was cancelled, so I was stuck trying to assemble a competitive lineup from second-stringers. No Heady Topper, no Hill Farmstead… what’s an East-Coaster to do?. Chuck insisted on a strict ‘states on the Eastern seaboard’ rule, so the KSB and Bourbon County I’m bringing with me weren’t allowed to be on the roster. I’m not going to give him any, just out of spite.

I think I managed to field a decent trio of beers, but I’ll admit I’m the underdog. With that in mind, I tried for interesting over obvious.

Evil Twin Even More Jesus
Imperial Stout – 9.8%
Ratebeer: 100;98

This beer is called Even More Jesus. I figure Chuck can’t possibly vote against a beer with that name. Plus, Evil Twin is a great brewery, and this is a big, complex, punch-you-in-the face imperial. If you’re thinking Evil Twin is in Denmark, you’re wrong. They’re a Denmark/Brooklyn brewery – and this one was brewed in very coastal South Carolina.

Captain Lawrence Rosso e Marrone
Flanders Oud Brouin – 10%
Ratebeer: 100;99

I wanted to pick at least one beer from New York State, and this one is pretty special. An American Sour, fermented with grapes & Brett and aged in wine barrels. Captain Lawrence is a fairly big brewery, but they made just 250 cases of this. I haven’t had this batch, and it’s still young, but it feels like a good wildcard for the funky category.

Maine Brewing MO
American Pale Ale – 8.64%
Ratebeer: 99;100

I eyed up some doubles and Imperials, but I thought trying to fight IPA with IPA would be a losing battle with the Cascadians. So here’s an American Pale from Maine Brewing Company. MBC is hovering right on the border of brewing fame right now, and I’ve been very impressed by what I’ve had. This one is a nice hoppy pale, brewed with Warrior, Falconer’s Flight, and Simcoe. I also have a bottle or two of Zoe, on hand for a taste comparison.

Sweet mudda of Gord those are some high quality freaking beers. This will be an epic weekend, for sure.

Written by chuck

July 25th, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Stand Up or Sit Down

with 13 comments

If you want to turn a friendly cask beer fest into a no-holds-barred free-for-all in which bearded pacifists make glass shivs out of 4oz taster glasses, then leap into the fray, all you have to do is bring up one of the more contentious debates in beer geekology. No, I’m not talking about glass-vs-can, or even bottle-vs-can. I’m talking about cellaring beer on its side versus cellaring it standing upright.

The level of contention here is evident by the fact that about 90% of people reading this blog just thought “That’s an issue? You clearly store them XXX.” Those 90% were likely split about 75% to “upright” and 15% to “however you want” and 10% to “laying down.”

Conventional wisdom holds that beers should be cellared upright. However, conventional wisdom also provides us with such gems as “going outside with wet hair will make you sick”, “swallowed gum stays in your stomach for seven years” and “dogs can’t look up.” The only thing conventional about conventional wisdom that it’s only believed by idiots. I want facts, dammit.

The cellaring-upright crowd do attempt to make some points to back-up their claim. These are generally only sensible to folk with little to no background in physics or chemistry, but I’ll repeat them here for shits ‘n giggles anyway:

1/ Lying beer down increases the surface area of the beer in contact with the air, which increases oxidation. Oxidation is bad. QED.

Sounds fairly logical, doesn’t it? I’m certainly not going to argue with the premise that oxidation in beer is generally a Bad Thing. However, this argument misses a couple pretty major facts. First, the gas in a bottle of beer is not oxygen. It’s carbon dioxide, as any bottling line worth its salt flushes the bottles with CO2 prior to filling. Second, it doesn’t matter if the whole thing was pure, pressurized oxygen, anyway. On cellaring timelines, all the oxygen in the head space will have all the time it needs to interact with the beer, surface area be damned.

Does fact that I did not get this image of the surface area of human skin off a taxidermist website make it more or less creepy?

2/ Lying beer down means that if the cap/cork fails, all the beer runs out!

Well, yeah, it sorta does mean that. However, if the cap/cork fails and the beer stays inside, I will pay you a tidy sum to drink the infected mess that results. Beer keeps the nasties at bay via two methods: first, a cap or cork provides a physical barrier to the beer-ruining outside world. A cap/cork then also serves to keep in the CO2 pressure of the beer, which plays much the same role, only at a microscopic level. Any tiny pathway between the inside and outside (and they do exist) is not transit-able by bacteria because the positive pressure keeps them out. Take away that barrier and you have an infected mess. Storing upright might help with cleanup, though, but honestly cap/cork failure is so rare it shouldn’t seriously play into your cellaring plans.

3/ Corked beers should be stored lying down to prevent the cork from drying out

Dried out corks is a function of cellar humidity more than anything else. If your cellar has proper humidity (~60%), the cork will not dry out. Second, the gas on the inside of your bottle is at 100% humidity. Putting liquid against the cork doesn’t help with that. If your cellar is dry enough that corks are falling out of bottle necks, you have bigger issues than deciding which way to store your bottles.

4/ Corked beers should be stored lying down because cork is permeable to air, and it will let in oxygen

Cork is permeable to air; it’s true. So is glass. It’s all a matter of how permeable. This point is one of the main reasons you lie wine down, because the liquid slows the rate at which oxygen enters the bottle through the cork (or more accurately, around the relatively loose wine cork). This would make sense for beer if beer wasn’t carbonated, but it is. Carbonation provides a positive pressure inside the bottle (and requires a much tighter cork), which serves to dramatically lower the oxygen exchange rate. Curiously, this is the exact reason it’s okay to cellar champagne bottles standing up.

It’s also okay to drink champagne bottles standing up.
What’s that? It’s not? Huh. Learn something new every day.

5/ Lying beer down will rust away the cap

This would be an issue if the gas in your beer was oxygen which, as we discovered above, it isn’t. The air outside your bottle very definitely should be at least partially oxygen. No matter how straight you keep your bottles upright, though, they won’t get reach an altitude with lower oxygen. Beer caps are typically made from steel, which will oxidise over enough time. They’re coated to prevent this, though, and some beers are wax dipped to further prevent this. If your beers are oxidizing over a short period of time, something is likely wrong with them. Additionally, all caps have a plastic seal inside the cap to prevent this.

6/ Lying beer down will dissolve the plastic seal inside the cap

Sigh. Okay, there’s no hard data on this one. The fine folks who make these caps, though, say there’s no concern of breakdown if the material is kept in a dark, cool place. Kinda like a cellar. Only time will tell. Side note: modern plastic seals are made of a complex stack of various materials, with the outer one (facing the beer) designed to pro-actively react with any free oxygen remaining in the bottle to prevent it from oxidizing your beer.

7/ Lying beer down will free the trapped oxygen in the cap

Oh, fuck off. You just came up with that one now, didn’t you?

8/ Yes

Thought so. Anything else?

9/ Um… it will leave a yeast ring on the side of the bottle

Saved the best for last, did ya? Yup, cellaring bottle-conditioned beers can, over a long enough time, leave an unsightly yeast ring on the edge of the bottle. As well, yeast that has collected to the side of the bottle will pop right back into suspension when you start pouring. If you like yeast, this isn’t an issue, but honestly none of this affects the beer past presentation.

For the record, I cellar my beers standing up because I like to see the labels when I open the door. Space concerns, though, have me eyeing up horizontal storage. To evaluate the risks, I’m currently cellaring a sample of Old Cellar Dweller and Old Barrel Dweller both upright and laying down. Side-by-side tests next year will hopefully put all this to rest.

Written by chuck

July 23rd, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Beer and You

July Beer of the Month: GIB Uncle Monty’s

with one comment

Well, it’s official. We now live in a world where someone can have a sip of a 6% ABV Hefeweizen and think “Huh, that’s a nice low-ABV alternative to that 7.7% ABV Hefeweizen I’d rather be drinking.” How did this happen? How did “low ABV” manage to be used in the same sentence as “6”?

To answer this question is to acknowledge a dirty secret in the craft beer community: just as much as there is a very public hops-arms race going on, there is also a much less talked about alcohol arms race keeping pace. If you look closely, though, you can see evidence of a lower-ABV past. BCJP styles, for instance, despite only being 5 years old, consistently show an ABV range below modern examples. Take my two hefs, for example, the BCJP style caps out at 5.6%, meaning both are officially off style.

This escalating booziness is not without merit. High ABV brews are the result of higher sugar recipes and longer fermentation times, which can translate to more intense and complex flavours. These boozy monsters can invariably be found sitting atop the awesome beer scoresheet, mocking their less ethanol-y brethren below. However, just because I do like an occasional 15%ABV Barley Wine sipper, that doesn’t mean I want to drink more than a small glassful.

For sitting down with a proper pint, a lower ABV style is required. Sadly, even “normal” beers are increasingly in the 6%+ range. The sub-4% ABV sessional style is all but lost to memory. Sure, CAMRA has a Spring Sessional festival once in a while, and everyone gets momentarily obsessed with low alcohol sessionals, but then a whooper of a Saison comes out and we decide to stop talking about it.

Not Granville Island Brewing, though. GIB has brought their low ABV (3.6%) Uncle Monty’s Best Bitter from this year’s festival to market. This is a beer you can go into a store today and buy. Heck, buy two, because it’s possible to drink a whole bottle of this and not regret it.

I also like the new labels about 10x more than the old.

Sure, it’s not the best beer from the Spring Sessional (that honour belonged to the nascent Bomber Brewing Company, and their take on a Bitter). It is, though, something that’s being bottled, and bottling an unpopular style like this takes balls.

Those balls make GIB Uncle Monty’s Best Bitter my (somewhat belated) July Beer of the Month. I only wish more breweries would follow suit, especially Bomber when they open up.

Tasting notes:

APPEARANCE Transparent amber body with a semi-persistent white head
NOSE Malt prevails, with a slight hoppy finish
TASTE Light, and a bit watery; good hops character, though, which builds over the glass (as does the grain); low carb doesn’t get in the way of the subtle flavours
SHOULD I BUY IT? Do you like having more than one beer in an evening? Same question.

Coles notes:

Brewery Granville Island (TapHouse)
From Vancouver
Name Uncle Monty’s
Style Best Bitter
SOA Now n/a
SOA Potential n/a; table beer
Drink Right now, and again in 15 minutes
Will anyone else brew a beer like this? I doubt it, but want to be surprised
Availability 600 cases, limited LRS
Cost $5.50-7.00 per 650ml bottle.
Similar BC Beers None. Only example of low-ABV style.

Written by chuck

July 15th, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Posted in Beers

Tagged with ,