Archive for the ‘Bars’ Category
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.
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:
- He homebrews
- He’s a member of his local homebrew club (Cowtown Yeast Wranglers)
- He’s a certified BCJP judge
- He’s a certified Cicerone Beer Server
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
My hosting provider might call me over this one, but it’s worth it. Okay everyone, here are all the menus for the Alibi Room’s 100, 200, 300 and 400th Beer List Celebrations! These thumbnails click through to very high resolution PDFs so you can print out your very own copy if you’d like, or perhaps just browse online and remember the good times (or forensically reconstruct the good times which you only vaguely recall). Cheers!
Twitter’s been a-buzz about a new mega-taphouse franchise from Calgary moving into the Salt Building in the Olympic Village. While the public consensus has been generally positive, the local beererati have been somewhat less taken with our new Albertan friends.
While “new taphouse” is a phrase to get any real beergeek’s attention, there are some warning flags that we also pay attention to, and boy-howdy is this place full of them. There are so many warning signs that I’ll do my usual thing and talk about each separately.
The Number Of Taps
They’re making all sorts of promises about bringing in lots of beer. 150 taps of beer, in fact. When a taphouse wants to talk about numbers before breweries, you know that the thing they care about isn’t the quality of the beer on a given tap, just that it’s a bit different from the tap next to it. Truth be told, Vancouver isn’t Portland, and keeping 150 taps full of high quality beer will be very difficult.
Now, both the Alibi Room and St Augustine’s boast large numbers of taps (50ish and 40ish respectively), but they didn’t pick a number and fill them, they looked at the beers available, figured out how many they could serve without compromising quality, and set that number. In the case of the Alibi, the opening number was less than 20, and it has slowly grown as Nigel decided he wasn’t offering all the possibilities his clients wanted. That’s a lot different from picking a nice round (and huge) number out of thin air, cracking open the catalogue, and ordering at random until you’re full.
Length of Draft Lines
3km is an impressive number, isn’t it? Sure sounds like they’ve got a high-tech operation there to be able to handle that. Of course, this reaction misses the point that long draft lines are bad, and that any decent taphouse will attempt to make them as short as possible, usually by running them under the floor to a taproom immediately below the bar.
Look at this picture. See how their tap lines are proudly displayed on the roof? That’s a very bad sign. And see how they’re not clustered together for cooling efficiency? Another worry.
While it does sound like a lot, 3k works out to only 20m per line. That means about 2/3 of a pint will be sitting in the line at any given time, slowly going bad. Still, not horrible if someone’s clearing the line by frequently ordering the beer. At 150 taps, you have to wonder when the last time someone ordered your particular beer was.
The Little Things
Go and seriously look at their beer menu. While they do have a few very interesting beers on tap, there are lots of little things that caught my eye. Specifically:
- There is a category named “Anomalies”. “One-offs” I could see, even “Uncategorized” but “Anomalies”?
- In that category is a saison. A SAISON. A craft beer focused taphouse with 100 freaking beers considers A SAISON weird? What’s going on here?
- Every sub-category has a single page listing a few beers. Except Pale Lagers. Two Pages. Twelve beers.
- Light Beer. That is all.
- They spelt “trappist” wrong.
- Several beers are improperly spelt or listed. Look at Russell/Blood Alley for instance
- Just in case you were sidetracked by the beer, go look at the food menu and read about “Fast Food Sushi.” I won’t spoil the surprise for you.
Okay, maybe this one is just me, I’m a bit weird about beer, but I figure the best way to predict what they’ll do here is to go see what they’ve done in Calgary. Their Calgary location only has 100 taps, but I think that’s a pretty good indication of their approach. Given the large number of beers, I decided to analyse this situation with math! Here’s a breakdown of some key stats from CBM’s CGY location versus our very own St Augustine’s.
Much of my math was done via RateBeer. While RateBeer is not perfect, it does provide a decent overall gauge of how good a beer is. Every 90+ point beer is not guaranteed to be great, but most of them are pretty damned awesome. As well, the warning level is around the 30 point level, as below that we’re looking at misfired craft beer and macro lager.
|2||Pale/Light Lager (%)||18%||3% (1)|
|3||IPA (%)||7%||24% (9)|
|4||>90 pts (%)||21||21% (8)|
|5||<30 pts (%)||31%||5% (2)|
|6||Macro (%)||30%||3% (1)|
|8||Best Beer(s)||Diel de Ciel Aphrodisiaque (100pts)
St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout (100pts)
Ayinger Celebrator (100pts)
|North Coast Old Rasputin (100pts)|
|9||Worst Beer(s)||Budweiser (0pts)
Bud Light (0pts)
|Phillips Raspberry Wheat (19pts)|
|12||Unranked Beers (%)||3%||24% (9)|
(No counts given for CBM because they have ONE HUNDRED taps. How dumb are you?)
- Ciders have been excluded. Lousy apple-lovers.
- These products are not craft beer. They are anti-craft beer. Including more than 1 or 2 on your menu is incredibly worrisome.
- IPA is representative of a beer-nerd preferred style, and should be one of your biggest categories of beer if you want to be taken seriously. On a menu with 100 entries, 7 is all but ignoring the style.
- >90: Both pull through equally here, but CBM offers greater variety due to more taps.
- <30: Uh oh. 31 beers scoring lower than 30 is again, a very bad sign.
- As is 30% of your beers coming from macros. While some macros do produce good product, in general it serves as a warning sign when InBev is making the thing you’re cramming down your beer hole. And yes, the St Augustine’s Macro is GIB Taphouse, and not technically a macro, but if I’m counting Ommegang at CBM I’m counting GIB Taphouse at St Augustine’s.
- Commitment to local breweries is key for a great taphouse, and you can really see St Augustine’s focus here. Yes, Alberta doesn’t have as many breweries as BC, but they have more than 17 local beers (or which 4 are Big Rock).
- CBM comes through here. When you have 150 beers on tap, you are going to get some good ones. If your day involves tasting three of the highest rated beers in the world, and on tap at that, then go to CBM.
- And if you want to sample the worst of the worst, CBM is where you go as well.
- This is the most worrying. The idea behind RateBeer is that the score is compared to all other beers, and that the mean score of all beers on the planet will be 50. Thus, if you were to grab 100 beers at random, with no thought as to quality of beer, their average score would be… 50. CBM isn’t far off that mark. St Augustines really shines here, indicating that their list was carefully and thoughtfully put together.
- The median score is what you would expect if you ordered a beer at random from each list. The closest matching beer in this case is: Newcastle Brown Ale (CBM) and Storm Imperial Flanders (SA).
- Beers only get ranked on RB if enough reviews have been submitted to be statistically significant. An unranked beer is generally a newer beer, or a one off. SA’s much higher performance here is a result of working with local producers to bring in new releases. CBM’s performance is a result of no one drinking their house lager.
It doesn’t look good folks, but I’m willing to be wrong. I want to be wrong. Stocking a 150 tap bar in Vancouver with good beer will be incredibly hard but you know what? It’s possible. Imagine having nearly the whole lineup from every BC brewery in one place, or the 150 best beers available for purchase in the BC, or a month where every IPA in Cascadia is on tap. With CBMs money and infrastructure, these things are all possible.
As well, the Salt Building is a fantastic venue, and it features a cool damp natural cellar that is just begging for a few barrels of beer. Custom aged one-off releases? Yes please! I want Craft Beer Market to come into that place and do amazing things.
Vancouver is a finicky market where well meaning, competition-winning chefs from the middle provinces go to lose their shirts. Our beer market is the most mature in Canada, and we’re willing to reward a quality product with giant heaping wheelbarrows full of cash. Piss off our fickle nature, though, and you will suffer a slow bleeding death.
To CBM: Do us proud. Before you plan out your menu, go to The Alibi Room and sit at the bar. Watch how the best beer bar in town is run, and realize that this is what you have to do. Not just match, mind you, but exceed. See how the bartenders QC every new keg? See the knowledgeable staff answer questions about the beer, the brewery and the way it was produced? See the custom brewed beer that can only be bought there? See the rare kegs driven 250 miles to the Alibi Room by the brewers themselves because they want their product presented in a respectful way to knowledgeable consumers? See the proper glassware? See how it fills up 10 minutes after opening?
This is what it takes to succeed in this market. I’ll be happy to sit with you and point all these things out and more, because you have a chance to make CBM-Vancouver the single best beer bar the country has ever known.
Don’t fuck up.