Barley Mowat 

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Steamworks Imperial Red Ale

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We’ve all been there: you have a blog on which you talk about beer, and you feel like featuring the odd interesting and noteworthy brew once a month because, well, you want to. Then “once a month” becomes “once in a whenever” then lots of heady talk happens around doing better and being more consistent. Fast forward a couple of months, and your Beer of the Month dates from December and is pretty much sold out everywhere.

Well, screw that. I’m ditching the Beer of the Month and just full-on embracing my sporadic updates as a purposeful feature. Henceforth the BOTM shall be known as the Barley Mowat Feature Beer. I figure if I remove any reference to a timeframe I’m safe to leave that bastard up there until my site’s finally taken down for non-payment of hosting fees.


Actually, who am I kidding, it’ll be shuttered by court order.

So, to kick off this new feature I thought that I’d do something unexpected. What beer is out there right now that is interesting, good, and deserving of more attention? Hint: it’s not from Driftwood (although Bird of Prey is great).

Nope, this beer is from Steamworks. Steamworks gets a bad rap from the local beererati, and there is some reason for the ill will. Ever since busting out of their Water Street on-premises brewing facility like some sort of brew pub Hulk, the produced product has wavered in quality.

The finger of blame can be squarely aimed at Dead Frog, who was not only responsible for both brewing a sub-standard batch of Steamworks’ award-winning Pilsner under contract, but for also releasing that same batch. Even though Dead Frog has since brought their production quality and consistency back up to craft standards (or perhaps higher), the damage was done. Steamworks’ brand was affected.

Throw on to that fire their focus on the mid-scale market, where the more boring, old-school styles of Pilsner, Pale Ale, and Stout dominate, and you wind up with quite a few people who’ve only had either bad or boring beers from SW. Not encouraging.


The frenetic, busy graphics on the bottles don’t help. Hint: if you could throw “Much Beer. So Hop. Wow.” randomly on your bottle and it wouldn’t look worse, you’re doing it wrong.

Then there was that whole ruckus last year wherein a local nuisance blogger pointed out Steamworks’ myriad trademark battles and you were left with a brewery that puts a bad taste in your mouth before you even took that first sip of (likely questionable quality) beer.

Well, it might be time to revisit the (IMHO) ugliest beer bottles in BC. SW has come to the Imperial Red party started by Lighthouse Siren, and shit just got real. Steamwork’s blogger-infuriatingly unnamed Imperial Red is about 10x better than you’d fear, after finally resigning yourself to trying some because talking about beer in BC is your job. You know, as one does.

In fact, it’s even better than Siren which, despite never quite recovering its ambrosia-like pinnacle evident on first release, is still no slouch by any measure. SW Impy Red is no contender against Parallel 49’s recently released Robo Ruby, but it’ll also likely be around a bit longer as well. That’s because this isn’t being brewed on that tiny copper system on Water Street. Nope, it hails from Steamworks’ gleaming new Burnaby brewery, headed by an equally gleaming new Caolan Vaughan. The Burnaby facility will have no problems keeping the thirsty hoards satiated.

APPEARANCE Deep hazy red/brown. Long lasting, thick head.
NOSE Big tropical hops, with a hint of the caramel sugar bomb body in back.
TASTE Balance, with an appropriately tin-y high-malt finish. Booze definitely present, but accentuates malt.
STATS 8.5% ABV / 75 IBU / Imperial Red Ale
SHOULD I BUY IT? Absolutely. You’re hard pressed to get more beer for your $6.25
CHECK IN

Brewery Steamworks
From Burnaby
Name Imperial Red
Style Red IPA/IIRA
SOA Now Bronze
SOA Potential n/a
Drink Now
Better Steamworks Beers None.
Availability LDB
Cost $6.25 per bomber (LDB)
Similar Beers Parallel 49 Robo Ruby (slightly better), Lighthouse Siren (slightly worse)

 


A Bronze medal for a metallic tasting Bronze beer. Writing these is hard. Does anyone even read this?

Written by chuck

February 11th, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Posted in Beers

Tagged with

A Brewer is Me

with 2 comments

Last Tuesday, I had the singular pleasure of being invited down to Granville Island Brewing to create a beer of my own deviant concoction. Why would GIB, or anyone really, do such a thing? To be honest, GIB’s hoping to score some free publicity from me. You see, they’ve recently installed a growler station down on the island, and it’s not getting all the traffic they’d hope. Throw an impending Brewery Lounge Endorsement on the deal, and the thinking is that having ole Chuck along will get folk talking about things.

Sure, there’s a chance that I might see through the ruse and keep mum on the topic, but let’s face it: I’m me, and I have a huge ego. Any external validation of that ego is going to be splashed all over the internet as fast as possible.


Exhibit A.

When GIB approached me about doing a collaboration brew I was, to be honest, confused. Collaborations are typically done between breweries or restaurants, and upon brief reflection I discovered that I was neither of those things. Imagine my shock when, after informing GIB of that sad discovery, they were will still interested.

I sat down with GIB’s brewmaster Vern Lambourne in early November to discuss some ideas. I went in with several ideas queued up because I fully expected any sane commercial brewer like Vern to refuse to pursue my primary concept. It’s everything a profit-focused company like GIB should want to avoid in a beer: a strange style, expensive to make in terms of both time and materials, involves potential brewery-infecting Brettanomyces, and above all, this beer is more prone than usual to going sideways and turning out virtually undrinkable.

However, Vern loved the idea, and a Barley Mowat original was born. The beer in question is a malt-forward golden/pale ale, aged on Brettanomyces in used wine barrels. That noise you heard was every beer geek around you quivering in expectant glee, then awkwardly skulking towards the bathroom. I’m not full of myself here: this style of beer could be mouth-wateringly amazing, if it comes out right. The “if” is the trick: thousands of competing variables will all conspire to make my beer into rancid swill. Choosing this style of beer is risky, but if you somehow luck yourself into an at-bat in MLB, you don’t freaking bunt.


Likewise, if you’re handed the controls of a fireworks display, you logically mash all the buttons at once.

Let’s talk about making the beer. I started writing this section as a blow-by-blow account of how my beer was made. I abandoned this effort when I had the double realization that my beer was made just like every other beer on the planet, and that describing it had resulted in the most boring blog post this site has ever seen, even including that one where I got really baked and just talked about my hands for 5000 words.

Screw that. Select all, delete, problem solved. If you want to know how beer is made, there are a million better stories online, some even with cool videos. Better you go read/watch those then listen to some half-wit who literally brewed his first beer ever 48 hours ago.

Instead of the similarities, let’s focus on what makes my beer different, and let’s start with the recipe. For those of you following along at home with your own 10bbl brewhouse, the grain bill is: 2-row Pale Malt (207.1 kg), Munich 10 (24.2kg) and Cara 20 (10.9kg). All the grain was sourced from Gambrinus, and all the grain was heavy.


Luckily there was a gormless idiot at the brewery willing to lift it into the mill.

I wanted to keep the hop profile low on this guy, so two German hops were chosen in modest volumes. For bittering we picked Magnum (400g), and Perle got the nod for aroma (1500g). As a side note, every time you see “we” or “I” in this article please convert that into “Vern, because Chuck knows nothing about brewing.” I use we/I more for shorthand and convenience than anything else.


Bittering hop addition.
Needless to say, this isn’t an IPA.

All in all, things went fairly well, and I had more fun that I figured possible when participating as manual labour in what is, after all, an industrial manufacturing process. I also found the tips and tricks of the actual brewing process as executed by Vern at Granville Island to be insightful and enlightening. It’s all well and good to know that lautering involves straining the spent grain from the wort, but it’s another thing entirely to actually see the process executed in front of you.


And to also execute the removal of 550lbs of spent grain.

As you read this, the wort is slowly being converted into beer by the healthy culture of scotch ale yeast that now calls unitank #3 home. Once fermentation is complete (and after a suitable pause in a bright tank), the proto-beer will be racked to four barrels of used wine barrels from Red Rooster.

Into the barrels will be pitched two varieties of Brettanomyces (two barrels per strain). B. clausenii and B. lambicus get the nod here. The hope is that B. clausenii will add fruity esters and aroma while leaving the heavy lifting of getting Da Funk on to its loutish cousin B. lambicus.

Each barrel will produce a cask, giving some potential for big variation for Chuck’s Beer a la cask. The tap version, though, will be the result of all of the above blended.

So there you go, that’s my beer in a nut shell. All it needs is a name (although I do like this rendering on Twitter as an early front runner). I’ll post updates on Twitter, and maybe even a bigger update here when I have enough info. For now, though, I’ll leave you with this shot of my precious being oxygenated en route to primary.


Sometimes O2 in a beer is a good thing.

Written by chuck

January 30th, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with ,

Beer Fest is Best (in Surrey)

with 8 comments

You know what? I hate beer festivals. I really do. I mean, what’s there to like? Think of it from my perspective: I pay $20 to get in the door to an overpacked, sweltering municipal hall somewhere, and then I wander around in search of good beer only to discover that I’ve had every single one of the 100-or-so regular beers on tap already. I buy some extra tickets, discover that there are no seats to be had anywhere, and eventually give up and leave after the two or three casks run out.

By the time I’m back outdoors, the damage is around $30-$40 for approximately two proper pints of beer in what can only charitably be called the worst bar on the planet, and to think that people get mad when pint-equivalent prices approach $10 for rare beer at The Alibi.


Fat Tug Standard, amended. I think @knightafter just had a stroke.

All in all, a miserable time, except for those casks. Weren’t those neat? Well, now, what if you take that same beer festival, and replace all the regular production beers with one-off casks? Sweet! Just as surely as a regular beer fest is a waste of time, an all-cask one is brilliant. I’ll happily pay $40 to try 40oz of crazy, one-off ales, even if the event was in hell. As luck would have it, this weekend features pretty much exactly that.

This Saturday will bring 30-odd casks to Central City Brewing in Surrey, and as surely as your milkshake brings all the boys to the yard, 30-odd casks bring all the Chucks to Surrey.


All joking aside, Surrey is great. It really is. Please don’t murder me. (Aside: why are these stock photo thugs wearing Google-coloured ski masks? Is Google now shaking people down for search results?)

Casks are a chance for brewers to screw around a bit and have some fun. While I can’t speak for every brewer out there, I’m going to guess that most of them didn’t start making beer with a dream of brewing the same damned beer every day for the rest of their lives. Like it or not, but that’s the job that stares down most commercial brewers when they come into the office in the morning.

Sure, head brewers frequently brew something small on the brewery’s test system, but these are more often than not for piloting new production beers or, even more depressing, recipe tweaks to existing mainstream offerings. Want to try fermenting some pineapple to make a fruity stout? Leave it for the casks.

That’s what I expect to see this Saturday: really freaking weird beer that was produced in tiny, tiny batches by talented brewers who might just be a little bored with their day jobs. This is fun. Brewing this beer is fun. Serving this beer is fun and, most importantly, drinking it is fun. Sure, that pineapple stout might taste like horrid, sweaty ass, but the fact it turned out horribly isn’t as important as the fact that someone tried to make it. With each sip, we learn a bit more about what works and what doesn’t, and beer in BC gets better as a result. That’s why I love a good cask fest: if you pay close attention, you can see the future of beer before it happens.

With the good comes the bad, though. Some breweries seem to miss the point and just phone it in to these events. Take note, breweries, I’ll be watching and judging you silently*. Got an IPA that you’ve fermented in a giant pumpkin called Gourd-on Lighthop? Gold star, my friend, gold star. Pale Ale dry-hopped with Citra? Boring, predictable, and very disappointing. Decided “Aw, fuck it” and you’re pouring your main production beers from a draught system? Watch out.

* Seriously, I make literally no noise when composing profanity-laced, libellous, diatribes for this blog.

Written by chuck

January 23rd, 2014 at 11:56 am

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with