Barley Mowat 

Archive for October, 2013

Seasonal Variation

with 9 comments

Consistency in general is hard. Consistency in brewing beer is even harder. This is why seasonal releases often have separate entries for each vintage on review sites. Sure, the brewers sometimes tweak the recipe a bit year to year, but even those that don’t can run afoul of a million different variables that influence the end result beyond recipe.

Sometimes the reason is simple (brew something enough times and you’ll screw up eventually), but often it’s nuanced, complex, and far beyond the brewer’s control. Here are just some things that can make the 2013 version of that 2012 beer a completely different animal.

Weather affects the quality of barley and hops

This affects single malt or single hopped beers the most, since there’s no blending going on to hide crops that are not as great. Sure, malting companies often produce a blended product made of many different types of barley to try and get around this, but even this approach lets subtle changes through. Additionally, brewers are increasingly ordering single varietal malts and choosing to blend themselves (or doing a simple grain bill and letting the barley speak for itself).

Changing production volumes changes how you brew the beer

It’s hard to make the jump from homebrewing to commercial brewing because, quite simply, brewing 5 gallons on your stove at home is not in the same league as running 10 hectolitres through a commercial system. Heck, it’s not even the same sport. Likewise, scaling up from 10 hL to 25 hL or more because your brewery expanded is also difficult. Also, simply brewing two batches on your 10 hL system instead of one means more chances for something to go wrong.


Similar to how scaling up your macro lager production
requires a whole lot more goats.

Differences in brewery time tables means a longer/short time for cellaring

Brewing beer is more like a factory production line than you’d like to think. Beer doesn’t just get sprinkled with yeast and then moved straight off to the bottle. Rather, it makes its way through a series of specialized containers in the brewery, the last of these being conditioning tanks in the cellar for ageing. If a brewery is brewing up a storm, odds are there is another beer coming down the pipeline that needs to be in that conditioning tank, and schedule pressure might push a beer out into bottles sooner than last year (not before it’s ready, mind you, just sooner). The result is a different product.

Brewery equipment changes year to year, and can affect the quality

Sounds similar to the volume argument doesn’t it? Well, this is slightly different. Bottling last year and canning this year? That means the beer is now going through the canning line instead. Maybe last year you only sold 50 cases and bottled by hand while this year you’re producing 500 cases and have an automated bottling line. Each bit of kit that touches the beer along the way to retail has its own, small impact on the final product.


Some recent studies even suggest that showering immediately
before swimming in the wort will affect the final product.

Weather affects how the beer brews

What? Rain isn’t just content fucking with my hops, but how it wants to get after my yeast? I built a roof over my brewery for a reason, damnit! Well, that’s the trick, some breweries use open fermenters which allows minor variables like humidity and pressure affect how the yeast lives, breathes and carbonates the beer. Open fermenters also allow outside yeast to interact with the beer, and that produces another layer of variability. The more common closed fermenters dramatically reduce these issues, but this sort of interesting variability is precisely why brewers use open fermenters in the first place.

~

Okay, so now I’m done talking about the whys and hows of a beer being different from year to year. How about some examples? Sure, I’ll give you one example each of a beer that is a) Much worse than last year b) Slightly worse than last year c) Slightly better than last year and d) Much better than last year. I wasn’t there when these beers were brewed, so I don’t know for sure why they’re different, just that they are.

There will be some surprises and potentially controversy here, so let’s start with the best.

Much Better than Last Year: Hoyne Wolf Vine.
Sean dialled this one in for 2013, and the result is a much smoother, rounder, all-around better product. The core ingredient (fresh hops) is also slightly better. (My best guess as to what changed: recipe + ingredients + time table)

Slightly Better than Last Year: Driftwood Sartori.
I think this is all about the hops, personally. The beer is largely the same as last year, but the freshness and quality of the hops has improved just that little bit extra. (My best guess as to what changed: ingredients)

Slight Worse than Last Year: Lighthouse Siren.
Last year, this beer was balls-out freaking awesome. I raved and raved about it. This year, in the new packaging, it’s merely a very good imperial red ale. I have no idea what changed, and please don’t start about cans tinting the flavour of the beer. (My best guess as to what changed: ingredients (see LH Brewmaster Dean’s comment below))

Much Worse than Last Year: Howe Sound Pumpkineater.
Yup, I’ll say it. This beer has been my favourite BC pumpkin ale for about six years running, but this time around it just tastes like strong pumpkin-flavoured chemicals. I tried it from two separate tap sources and in a bottle, and it isn’t merely not great, it’s downright bad. (My best guess as to what changed: recipe + ingredients)

Written by chuck

October 8th, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Posted in Beer and You

BC Breweries by Production 2013

with 10 comments

The LDB just released their 2013 payment numbers, which includes payouts to anyone they owed money to. Since all breweries in the province must by law technically sell their product to the LDB instead of to customers (even if the LDB never physically touches the money or the beer), these numbers act as a rough approximation of brewery production size.

I sat down and did all the math on this last year based on some inside info from a couple of breweries. Looking back, though, I feel those numbers weren’t quite right. I’ve adjusted my dollars to hectolitre conversion slightly, reflecting the improvement in my knowledge of how beer is sold in BC over the past 12 months. Below, I’ve put the 2013 numbers alongside the revised 2012 numbers, along with a percentage change.

As always, the hectolitre numbers are not directly derived from simple math. For instance, if Joe’s Brewery does $2,125,894 in sales, I divide that by 400 (on average, beer sells for 3.75-4.25 per litre) to get 5,314.735 hL. That’s an absurdly precise number for such a generalization. I take that number, and add into it my knowledge that Joe sells his beer mostly on draft (draft beer is more like $3.25 per litre; packaged varies but can be $6.00 or more). So I round Joe’s number up a bit because he had to sell more beer to make his numbers. Let’s say 5,500.

Seriously, that’s how I did this. It goes without saying that these are not precise numbers. If any brewery reading this wants to give me more accurate numbers for their production from March 2012 to March 2013 I’ll be happy to update.

Some fun tidbits:

  • Driftwood has slowed their unbelievable growth, and have only increased 50% since last year instead of doubling as they did every year previously.
  • I have no idea why the numbers for Red Truck dropped off a cliff. Maybe they’re focusing on building a brewery instead of brewing beer?
  • Yes, those numbers for Prohibition / Big Surf are correct. I checked twice.
  • Rock on, Sean Hoyne! Hoyne’s numbers were based off an estimate last year, so that might impact the growth number, but even so making that much beer in a 10hL family run brewery shows major demand for product. Congrats!
  • R&B is down more than I’d like. Everyone go have an East Side Bitter.

Disclaimers (repeated from 2012):

  • The value that seems to best translate dollars to hectolitres for my control breweries is $400. Obviously this is a very rough guess. Draught-only producers will have their production adjusted higher, while bottle-focused producers will be lower.
  • Yes, the final production numbers smell like ass because that’s precisely where I got them from.
  • Because of the craziness of shadow brands and contract brewing, it’s hard to split out some of these numbers. OK Spring, in particular, also produces Sleeman locally, and those sales are blended in.
  • Some breweries are missing, including: Coal Harbour, Steamworks amoung others. I have no idea why. They are likely running under either a numbered company or a name I don’t recognize.
  • I have excluded Labatt’s (Kokanee) simply because it would be impossible to separate out beer produced in-province from imports.
  • Likewise, I have skipped Mark Anthony Group (Turning Point/Stanley Park) because most of their money comes from wine (Mission Hill)
  • Breweries with no distribution to speak of (mostly brewpubs) have been dropped from the list.


Click headers to sort

Brewery 2012 Income 2012 Production (hl) 2013 Income 2013 Production (hl) Growth
Arrowhead* 167716 400
Red Truck 985213 2500 353808 850 -64%
Bridge* 78141 200
Cannery 1238733 3000 1391236 3500 12%
Central City 2508961 6000 2717936 6500 8%
Crannog 332799 850 367742 950 10%
Dead Frog 1680211 4200 1893880 4700 13%
Driftwood 2653713 6700 4049056 10500 53%
Fernie 1134768 2750 1468056 3600 29%
Tree 5415175 13250 5391621 13250 -0%
Granville Island 24732615 62500 23597424 60000 -5%
Gulf Islands 308883 700 494823 1200 60%
Howe Sound 1924350 4800 2371393 6000 23%
Hoyne 391032 950 1204082 3000 208%
Lighthouse 4684083 12000 5156097 13000 10%
Longwood 250872 625
Molson 57240081 150000 55402987 140000 -3%
Moon Under Water 67124 175 97534 250 45%
Mt Begbie 1484419 3700 1701101 4300 15%
Nelson 2383267 6000 2444327 6100 3%
Northram 10469291 26000 12412210 31000 19%
OK Spring 93446929 233000 100826104 250000 8%
Old Yale 178992 450
Pacific Western 32725605 80000 37038122 92000 13%
Parallel 49 1452960 3600
Phillips 12142566 30000 14527143 35000 20%
Plan B 107520 250 111483 275 4%
Prohibition / Big Surf 276261 650 2212115 5500 701%
R&B Brewing 1428113 3600 1218933 3000 -15%
Russell Brewing 3682097 9200 4162692 10500 13%
Spinnakers 179447 450 386987 950 116%
Storm Brewing 375628 950 353287 900 -6%
Tin Whistle 472565 1150 449938 1100 -5%
Tofino 360314 950 532850 1350 48%
Townsite 561253 1400
Vancouver Island 7689047 19000 8663020 21500 13%
Wolf Brewing 217347 550 200198 500 -8%

* Arrowhead and Bridge numbers are adjusted to approximate annual production, as they were not open for the entirety of the reporting period.

Written by chuck

October 3rd, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Fresh Hop Showdown

with 6 comments

Scott over at WFLBC stirred the pot a bit yesterday by doing a side-by-each comparison between Driftwood Sartori and Hoyne Wolf Vine. The comparison itself wasn’t the controversy, and neither was the result (he liked Wolf Vine slightly more) but rather his views on the detection of diacetyl and the nuances around that caused more than a few comments.

Now, I agree that Scott took a provocative, abrasive approach to this whole topic. Let’s just say that I’m a fan of this more in-your-face style. I also think a lot of people overreacted. Dude has his own blog. He can post his opinion, even if we don’t agree with it. Heck, he could be posting nothing but pictures of his ass all day and I’d still cheer him on.


Although, I bet if he shaved it he’d get more hits.

In any event, the core issue is three fold. First, is the hype around Sartori justified? Second, is Wolf Vine actually better than Sartori? And third, does Wolf Vine have diacetyl, a buttered-popcorn off-flavour? Let me give you my opinion about all three. If you’re good, my opinion might be more than just three pictures of my ass.

Hype

Driftwood Sartori is probably the most anticipated seasonal beer release in BC. No other beer causes the local craft beer fans to, en masse, walk out of their day jobs and sprint from store to store buying their fill the second Twitter has a hint of availability (or sending non-craft beer husbands/wives clutching an order sheet and the kids, as I’ve seen more than a few times). Is this hype good or bad for craft beer in general? I’m firmly on the “good” side.

Demand creates excitement which creates interest. An independent observer noticing a bearded blogger stabbing a house husband in the neck to get the last case of a particular beer can’t help but wonder what all the fuss is about. Someone is this excited by a BEER? How can that be? Even if Sartori is gone, the newly curious might ask around and find themselves going home with a similar beer to try out. That’s a good thing. Personally, I think we should build the hype further next year and alert the media. A couple segments on the news would be great for local craft beer.


I briefly considered a Thunderdome-style competition for Sartori, but “Two beer geeks enter, both realize the stupidity of their situation and agree to share the bottle!” doesn’t have a catchy ring to it.

Is the frantic demand for Sartori justified? In 2009, Driftwood unleashed the first wet-hopped ale BC had ever seen. It blew our minds with its fantastic awesomeness. Since then it hasn’t been quite as mind-fuckingly-astonishing, perhaps because there are now wet-hopped beers everywhere, or maybe because it just isn’t as good.

Does the 2013 version change this? Is this beer worth the three hours of scrubbing blood off my hands? Nope. It’s freaking good, and a rarity, but this beer alone doesn’t live up to the huge build-up. Of course, we didn’t know that last Monday. We dropped everything and raced to our local LRS for the beer that could have been, not the one we got.

Wolf Vine vs Sartori

Okay, problem two. If Sartori isn’t all it’s built up to be, and Wolf Vine is better than its sales suggest, is Wolf Vine better than Sartori? WFLBC felt that it edged Sartori just slightly, and a look at review sites indicate the crowd is mixed. What about me? What does Chuck think? I compared them last year and declared Sartori better and Wolf Vine a “decent wet-hopped beer that has the advantage of your actually being able to buy it.”

I did a side-by-each comparison of the 2013 versions of Sartori & Wolf Vine last night. This just reinforced the consensus that comparing these beers is difficult. They are very different. WV is a Pale Ale; Sartori is an IPA. There are those that consider IPAs to be superior to Pale Ales by default, so how could this be fair? In short, it can’t, but I did try:

Hoyne Wolf Vine Fresh-hopped Pale Ale
STATS 5.8% ABV
APPEARANCE Quickly dissipating loose head over a hazy copper body
NOSE Biscuit/caramel malt dominated by fresh hops (lemon, grass, slight resins)
TASTE Solid biscuit malt sweetness that’s matched well to the fresh hops. The final result is a sweeter beer than you might anticipate given the prevalence of the west coast pseudo IPA “pale ale”
SHOULD I BUY IT? Fuck yeah.

Driftwood Sartori Harvest IPA
STATS 7.0% ABV
APPEARANCE Light amber, almost yellow gold with tight long lasting white head
NOSE Fresh PNW hops dominate here. Flowery, fresh, slight bitter citrus (grapefruit)
TASTE Builds off the nose. Beautiful hop freshness with a weaker-than-I’d-like-but-not-bad body. Smile-inducing Hop freshness builds over the course of the bottle
SHOULD I BUY IT? If you see it, buy it.

Who wins? Sartori wins. Head to head I prefer Sartori by a fair bit. However, Wolf Vine is unquestionably great and again has the distinct advantage of being a beer you can walk out of an LRS with today (although, notably, there is less supply than at this time last year).


Don’t look at me like that. I was here first.

Diacetyl

Diacetyl is a dirty word to a lot of people, and one that has been associated with Sean Hoyne’s beers since day one. However, it’s not the cut and dry defect that a lot of people seem to think it is. Sure, too much can make your beer or wine taste like buttered movie popcorn, and while I’m fairly sure my buddy Craig might like that, most folk would prefer a slightly more beer-y flavour.

In limited quantities, though, dread diacetyl can actually improve certain styles of beer by imparting a round, full bodied mouthfeel to otherwise thin beers. This is why a low level of the chemical is even considered on-style for some Pilsners.

Enough dancing around the bushes. Does Wolf Vine have any detectable diacetyl? I’m going to say yes, it has a little. I detected small amounts of diacetyl on both the nose and the mouthfeel. It should be noted that Leo from BeerThirst points out that certain malts have diacetyl-like properties, and lacking a chemistry kit, I was unable to determine if I was picking up the real thing or a pretender. Also note that just because I detected it doesn’t mean you will. Other experienced tasters did not detect it, and there is a real chance there might be some inter-batch variability with one bottle having none and the next having a bit.

In the end, though, I don’t care. The levels are not unpleasant, and the effect is very much the positive one I described above. Sure it’s not on-style, but the style was developed to describe more traditional Pale Ales, so screw the style.

And that is all I have to say about that. Ah, who am I kidding? You know I’ll never shut up about anything.

Written by chuck

October 1st, 2013 at 12:22 pm