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Brassneck Preview

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As I did previously with 33 Acres, I’m running a dual preview of Brassneck Brewing. Over on Scout (link) there’s a short summary and an awesome picture gallery, while below is Nigel’s unabridged response to my standard list o’ New Brewery Questions. That I have a need for a standard list o’ New Brewery Questions itself makes me giddy with glee. Yes, like a schoolgirl. Deal with that image.


Likely the last view many of us will have of daylight

Questions

1. Why did you decide to start a brewery?
Seems like so long ago now, we’ve almost forgotten why. Certainly in the past few months, through all the heartache and the escalating price tag, we’ve been asking ourselves this question, except with a couple of choice expletives thrown into the sentence with some emphasis on certain words: “Why the fuck DID we decide to start a fuckin’ brewery???”

However, as construction draws to a close we are reminded of the reasons we started down the path in the first place. For Conrad, after 17 years with the same brew pub, he decided he was ready to go it alone and turn the page on a new chapter in his brewing career. Brassneck represents a chance to combine his tried and true brewing skills with some pent up brewing angst and a healthy desire to try out some really interesting new styles.

For myself (Nigel), it’s kind of a similar story. I’ve been involved with the Alibi in one capacity or another for many years now (and still will be once Brassneck opens!). A small brewery is the next evolutionary step for the existing business that I and my family have been building for the past seven years.

Both of us are thoroughly immersed in the BC brewing scene. It has become a huge part of our lives, not just professionally, but socially too. Owning a brewery (once its open for Christ’s sake!!) is the realization of a dream for both of us.

2. How big is your brewkit?
You may want to re-phrase that question to “Just how small is your brew kit”? We have a two tiered system:

A true nano system with:

  • 4 x 350 litre conical fermenters
  • 2 x 350 litre specially designed open fermenters
  • 8 x Stackable 350 litre conditioning tanks

Then our “big” system:

  • 1 x 20 hec fermenter
  • 2 x 10 hec fermenter (conical)
  • 1 x 10 hec specially designed open fermenter
  • 13 x 10 hec cellar tanks

Chuck: It’s also shiny. So… very… shiny… must… drink… Brassneck beer…

3. How many/what types of beers will you launch with?
While not giving too much away, we are hoping to have at least 6 beers when we open, building to 12+ once things get rolling (barrel programs take a while, certain beers take lots of ageing/conditioning). It’s going to be tough to have any lager beers when we open just because of the extra time required in the fermenter.

Conrad has been working on some great test batches, but we hope people understand that things will take a while to dial in. It’s a new system for Conrad to work on, so we’ll be chasing our tails just to get the doors open in the beginning. We think the first few beers will be nothing too risky, but they will certainly be without flaws and well thought out.

4. What sets you apart from the flotilla of other breweries opening this year?
Well, I guess you could say experience. As one of Vancouver’s brewing veterans, Conrad has a very strong repertoire of beers under his belt. You could also say we have an understanding of the product and the market on a very intimate level. Although I’m sure we all think we’ve got it all figured out!

We are in the unique position, via the Alibi Room, of having a very close relationship with the constantly evolving and complicated beer drinker. As such, we’ve gone for a “brewkit” that allows us product “breadth” rather than “depth”. What do we mean by that? Well, most breweries brew a few products in relatively large batches. This allows them to put out 2-3, maybe 4, beers and have a good supply of these products.

At Brassneck we’re looking forward to doing things the hard way, by trying to brew lots of different beers in very small batches. This, in theory, will keep our line up constantly rotating. This may be as simple as brewing a base beer, splitting it in two, and changing the dry hopping, to more complex ways of keeping things interesting.

We are right on Main Street, a highly visible artery into the city. We’ve put a great deal of thought into the physical layout of the brewery and how it relates to the public areas such as our retail store and tasting room. In the beginning, we will be focused entirely on our 3 different sizes of growlers. This will be our only packaged product.

This is an experiment! We understand it may not work out. It is, after all, asking a great deal of people but we love the idea of creating some culture around the beer. Asking people to slow down a little, take some time for themselves, have some tasters, relax. Then get some beer to go!

We’ll be one of the first breweries to open with a functioning “brewery lounge”. A huge part of our plan was to have visiting customers feel like they are part of the whole process. To have customers feel as though they are deep within the heart of our brewery when they are sitting enjoying some tasters was very important to us.

5. Where do you foresee yourself taking the brewery once you’re established? eg: barrel-ageing, sours, or just sticking to table beers, or flowing with the current?
We may end up doing some bottling, especially for beers we see as seriously benefiting from being bottle conditioned, of which there are many! A barrel program is an absolute must for us.

As far as flowing with the current, I think we’ll mostly be brewing beers we see a need for and not worrying too much about what anybody else is doing.

6. When can we expect to see your beers in public?
We would like to have a few draft accounts, but at this stage we are just not sure of our production capabilities vs. onsite demand, so we are not entirely sure how that side of things will go.

When the beer will be available is still a moving target, but we anticipate being READY to brew in the next three-four weeks (early to mid July). Whether or not a whole parade of form filler-outer-ers think we are ready is a whole other story.

7. What BC brewery do you admire the most, and why?
This is hard. We can’t name just one. We respect all of our peers for different reasons. To be honest, we are just going to be absolutely overjoyed to finally be part of a local scene FULL of excellent breweries.

We cant wait to get those doors open.


Seeing as how these awesome growlers are still empty, neither can I.

Written by chuck

June 12th, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Breweries

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June Beer of the Month

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Another month, another beer to feature. This month’s beer is special for a few reasons, but perhaps most of all because it was brewed by my friend Dave Shea. Yup, I have no qualms promoting my cronies via this here blog. That Nautical Disaster is worthy of consideration for at least five other reasons doesn’t matter. I’d still be singing its praise if it was complete and utter dreck. So what else is interesting? Well, it’s:

  • A Barley Wine released in June, instead of December
  • Brewed at Russell Brewing as a prize for winning a homebrew competition
  • Has an awesome label created by Dave Shea himself
  • Is named after a Tragically Hip song
  • By having a name, avoids the name confusion of the last homebrew winning beer

In addition to all those great reasons, Russell has gone to the effort of putting together a big ‘ole list of places where you can find this beer should you want some. I mean, in addition to Dave’s closet. What more could I ask for in a beer?


Okay fine, flavour and alcohol would be nice, too.

Overall, this is a nice hybrid Barley Wine–somewhere between the sweet English style and its hoppier American cousin. I suspect the bitter finish will mellow out with some time in the cellar, but right now it’s drinking very similar to Central City Thor’s Hammer, and damn if that isn’t a compliment. With a bit of time, though, it should start moving towards Howe Sound Woolly Bugger: a big, complex, malty bastard of a beer. I’m not guessing on this one, Dave has been kind enough to periodically update ND’s Uptappd page with tasting notes tracking the declining hops.

Tasting notes:

APPEARANCE Murky dark caramel brown
NOSE Sweet, malty caramel with hints of more complex sugars. Did I get some light red fruit/cotton candy?
TASTE Young barley wine; lots of subtle red fruit esters and earthy yeast sub-tones; needs a few more months to mellow and blend. A bit bitter on the finish.
SHOULD I BUY IT? Do you like Dave? Then buy one to drink and more to age. If you don’t like Dave, then I don’t like you.

Coles notes:

Brewery Russell x Dave Shea
From Surrey
Name Nautical Disaster
Style Barley Wine
SOA Now Bronze
SOA Potential Silver
Drink Late 2013 to mid 2014
Should Dave keep brewing commercially? Yes. How about a run of your double IPA please?
Availability Widely available at LRS (list)
Cost $7-10 per 650ml bottle.
Similar BC Beers Central City Thor’s Hammer, Howe Sound Woolly Bugger


It’ll get there.

Written by chuck

June 4th, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Posted in Beers

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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 façade 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

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