Barley Mowat 

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CAMRA Sessional Cask Fest

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One of my all time favourite CAMRA events was the Spring Sessional Fest of Ale of two years past (review here). Sure, it wasn’t perfect (few things are), but it was a great way to spend an afternoon. The company was entertaining, the crowd was friendly, and the sun was shining in through the London Pub’s windows (remember when pubs were required to have darkened glass? WTF was with that?) Adding to this general mood of happiness was the beer itself.

The past decade or so has seen two forms of arms race in the craft brewing world. First, there’s the “how many hops can we cram in this beer without actually turning it green” race, which has slowly morphed into the “so what, it’s green, wanna make something of it?” race. Running parallel to this is the “let’s jack up the booze” trend. A long time ago a 6% ABV IPA would have been considered quite the strong ale. These days, table IPAs regularly top 7 or 8%, with the higher Imperials reaching for (and sometimes exceeding) 10%.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t make these high ABV monsters. They high alcohol helps blend together/take the edge off some of the stronger malt/hops flavours that come with the big beer crowd. Additionally, high ABV beers tend to cellar better, and man am I ever a sucker for a cellaring ale. Plus, there are other, less subtle benefits.


Like making baseball tolerable. You thought I was going with pictures of drunk co-eds doing regrettable things, didn’t you? Shame on you; I’ve matured since my early days.

It’s just that I feel we’ve lost something by moving away from our humble end-of-the-workday table beer roots. Remember how awesome it felt to be able to crack open a bottle of beer on a Tuesday and finish it with no fear of impeded performance on Wednesday? Me neither, but my diary reports the feeling to be awesome. We’ve left those days behind, and now find ourselves in The Time of 8% ABV Saisons. (Aside: I like both beers, especially Deckhand, but Saisons were originally low ABV refreshers for the end of a long day’s manual labour)

That leads us to CAMRA’s latest event: the 2013 Spring Sessional. Sessional’s are low-ABV beers that don’t skimp on flavour. Sure, they might not punch in you in the face like their bigger brethren, but how often do you find yourself thinking “Man, I could go for a full pint of Singularity right about now.”

The goal with sessionals is to create a beer that can be enjoyed 20 ounces at a time, without fear of waking up in the bathroom stall at the Alibi Room, under a blanket, with a note to let yourself out pinned to your chest (note: not actually a thing that happened. I swear. It was a poncho). To accomplish this, they focus on more subtle flavours that build up in your mouth over the course of a pint but don’t wear you out. As I like to say with great sessionals: “This beer tastes like another pint.”

The focus of the event has slipped a bit from 3.5% ABV to 4.5% ABV, and the tasting glasses have shrunk from 10oz to 6oz, but the spirit is still the same. As well, since low-ABV beers are not exactly hugely popular, or even produced by most breweries, we are virtually guaranteed that the entrants will be interesting, novel experiments, which is what I most love about casks. Throw onto that pile of awesome-sounding-beer-event CAMRA President Adam acting as “cask police” and things get even better: many “casks” served locally are really just beer in a cask-shaped vessel–Adam will ensure that is not the case here.

Am I going? Damned straight. And you’d best too, if you know what’s good for you. I heard this AM that there are tickets still available, and for an event of this calibre, that’s been on sale over a month, that is a bloody crime. Shame on you, beer public. You call yourself beer geeks and you allow THIS to happen? Go buy tickets. Buy them all. Buy one for your dog, if you have to, he likes beer.


Okay fine. Here you go. Happy now?

Written by chuck

April 26th, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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Whistler Lost Lake IPA

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As you may recall, I’ve had some history with Whistler Brewing’s beers on this blog. As a result of that, I’m surprised that Whistler hasn’t posted pictures of me at every LDB in the province with instructions to not sell their product to me.

If they did, it didn’t work. The Groucho Marx glasses might’ve helped, I guess. In any event, I recently found myself staring down a bottle of their new Lost Lake Unfiltered IPA. I could feel my bad beer hormones getting all stirred up just looking at it.

Then I tasted it. What a let down. Not only was this beer not awful, it actually was flirting with being… good. I mean, it’s not great, but it’s not bad either. Yet, even though I liked it, I still have a big issue with this beer’s label.


And I don’t just mean that the label is missing Lost Lake’s bikini-clad sunbathers… um… what was my point again?

You see, it says “unfiltered” right there on the bottle. I’ve been semi-outspoken on this point before, but let me subtlety say it again here so I’m on record: BEER SHOULD NOT BE FILTERED. Leave the yeast in, folks. Think of it this way: have you ever had unfiltered or bottle conditioned beer and thought “this would be so much better if there wasn’t any yeast here”? How about the other way around?

Putting “unfiltered” right in the title of a beer might seem like a step in the right direction, and I guess it is a bit, but what I see when I read that is “all our beers are filtered. Except this one” or maybe even “not filtering beer is so weird that we just had to put it on the label. Aren’t we kooky?”

Anyway, the beer. This isn’t a big IPA like Driftwood’s Fat Tug, but it is a nice take on the milder English style. There’s lots to keep you interested: the hops are floral and fruity, the yeast holds the body together, and the sugars aren’t over done.

Overall, hands down the best beer from Whistler Brewing I’ve ever had: a solid “okay.”

Tasting notes:

NOSE Mild hop nose consisting of tropical fruit tones (grapefruit/passion fruit)
APPEARANCE Slightly hazy, but still quite a clear, orangey, amber. Thick persistent head.
TASTE Strong bittering hops, but overall a good tasting IPA. Yeast character is balanced and quite nice.
SHOULD I BUY IT? Yes. It’s cheap, it’s good, and buying it will encourage another mediocre brewery to brew better beer.

Coles notes:

Brewery Northam (Whistler)
From Whistler
Name Lost Lake
Style Unfiltered IPA
SOA Now None Awarded
SOA Potential Not a cellaring ale
Drink Lots. It’s not quite medal-worthy, but it’s still good.
Puzzler Where does all that yeast go when they filter? Down the drain?
Availability Widely available at LDB
Cost $5.84 per 650ml bottle.
Similar BC Beers Howe Sound Devil’s Elbow, Coal Harbour Powell

Written by chuck

April 24th, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Posted in Beers

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Blink and You Miss It (VCBW Preview)

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Vancouver Craft Beer Week, that annual celebration of all things awesome and right with this city, is coming back for yet another year. To that end, they launched their website, event listings, and ticket sales all in one fell swoop. Notably improved from last year was both the ticketing partner (Eventbrite) and the timing (noon vs midnight) of the launch.

Ticketing was so vastly improved, in fact, that Hoppapolooza sold out in thirty minutes instead of three hours. Yup, sorry, it’s all gone now. Yes, I got tickets. Thanks for asking! Don’t worry about the other events–they won’t sell out for some time yet. If you’re stuck with too much money and no Hoppapolooza tickets, what should you do? Here’s my guide for VCBW 2013:

1. Hoppapolooza IV. Yeah, I know both sessions sold out, but I have to rub it in a bit more. This is probably the single best beer event in BC. Imagine Nigel Springthorpe (Alibi Room) calling in every favour owed him to put together the most amazing beer list any BC geek has ever seen. That’s Hoppapolooza. Pro Tip: If you didn’t get tickets, try lining up the next day at 5pm to sample the leftovers. Usually Nigel goes a bit nuts, and even the most dedicated crowd of beer geeks can drink all of the awesomeness in one go. Or wait for tickets to show up on Craigslist at a 300% markup.

2. Cicerone vs Sommelier. I always contend that beer can trump wine for food pairings. Not everyone agrees with me, but even most of the naysayers admit it’s close. Wine v Beer dinners are always lots of fun, and this should be no exception.

3. PDX Beer Week. This one won’t be special so much for the awesome beer on hand (perhaps mostly because Portland Craft ALWAYS has awesome PDX beer on tap), but more for the people. The brewmasters of Gigantic (Ben Love), Ninkasi (Jamie Floyd), Upright (Alex Ganum), The Commons (Mike Wright), Alameda (Carston Haney), and Occidental (Ben Engler) will be there. When you cram this much US brewing talent in a small space, I virtually guarantee some Canuck brewers will also turn up.

The rest is your standard mix of festivals, dinners, and general beer-love. While I’m jaded enough to look at the master list and find it a bit boring, 99.9% of the beer drinking public is not me. No matter what tickets you pick up, you’ll find yourself in a room surrounded by beer geeks. You’ll have a great evening, make some new friends, and then want to take a shower to get all that beard hair off. Cuz eewwww.

Written by chuck

April 22nd, 2013 at 2:35 pm