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A Quick Word on the Vancouver Island Brewing Sale

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Today Vancouver Island Brewing announced that they were being sold. Not to AB-InBev or Molson, nope, but to Bob MacDonald, who also owns Muskoka Brewing. Bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you?

Slipped in near the bottom of this Press Release was also the announcement that Tim Barnes, until today VP of Sales and Marketing at Central City, will be taking over as President of VIB.

I think this has the potential to be a very positive move for VIB. Read on for why.

As an islander, I know how fiercely loyal to Island-based brands us backwards, woods-dwelling, cousin-marrying, yokels can be. Heck, Lucky Lager still sells by the gallon-lot on the island because people still think it’s produced there. We all know it tastes like slightly-worse Molson, but it’s an island beer (in reality, it was bought by Labatt and production moved to the mainland in 1982—they have contemplated axing it several times, but keep it around because islanders have been reluctant to switch to Labatt other properties).

For islanders demanding something slightly better than Lucky, there was always Vancouver Island Brewing. And boy howdy did we drink it. 12 packs of Piper’s were a staple growing up, and still are the main tenant of any island fridge.

However, that’s slowly been changing. Despite an initial reluctance to accept craft brewing north of Victoria, lonely Tofino Brewing has in recent years been joined by a sudden rash of small scale craft breweries. In particular, the area around Courtenay has seen a huge boom in decent beer, but Nanaimo and Duncan have also seen openings.

This trend indicates islanders are slowly, reluctantly, releasing their iron grip on VIB’s brews in favour of tastier, upscale products that also happen to be produced on the the island. VIB’s sales have suffered hugely in consequence: down 11% year-over-year from 2014 to 2015 (latest numbers available from the LDB).

Tim Barnes is a marketing and sales guy first, and a beer enthusiast second. Even so, he’s very familiar with how the market reacts to a superior product: he witnessed Central City’s explosive growth firsthand, and that cannot but had an impact on how he views beer markets.

The number one job in front of the new ownership and new management at VIB will be to reverse that downwards trend in sales, and given their market I think that can only spell good things for the future of Vancouver Island Brewing.

Time will tell, though.

Written by chuck

June 15th, 2016 at 5:12 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Cellar Chronicles Part III: You Put Your Beer In There

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It’s been a while since I blogged about my cellar. Despite plenty of historical precedent this was not actually due to my extreme laziness. Rather, the schedule villain in this scenario was contractor availability and racking orders.

When planning out your cozy booze cave, it’s important to be very certain about how much room you have to build shelves and bottle racks. So much so that instead of taking a rough estimate of the finished interior space I had to work with, I elected to wait until I had the real thing to measure. When your wiggle room is less than half an inch, you bloody well want to be sure that your measurements are accurate.

If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

So you do math, lots of math. It turns out that this step is pretty common when planning out a cellar, so all the shelving units come with reasonably accurate dimensions, which allows you to model out how awkward it’ll be to take that third imperial stout of the evening off the shelf. For reference, I elected to go with VK Redwood racking from WineCellarDepot.com.

In addition to lots of measurements, most popular wine racking systems are available in the Google SketchUp 3D model warehouse. That means I could model this stuff in 3D to see how it looks. Sure, it took me a few hours and was somewhat niggly, but it allowed me to procure that all-important spousal approval prior to commencing construction.

This is a perfectly reasonable thing to spend three hours modelling.

In additional to the dedicated wine (and corked beer) racks, I also went out and ordered a whole bunch of Ikea Ivar modular shelving. These will be home to my upright beer bottles, pickles, and earthquake supplies (because hey, if that 9.0 strikes, what better place to camp out than a small, cramped room in my garage with a floor absolutely covered in broken bottles and stale beer?). These things are cheap and come in a variety of sizes/configurations. Pro tip: check to make sure each piece has the prerequisite pins before buying or, since they give out the pins for free in the customer service area and the pins are a bitch to pry out of the packaging, just grab a handful or two on your way out while you’re eating those terrible-yet-strangely-compelling 75 cent hot dogs.

The beer half of the cellar had a bit more wiggle room, and cost a tiny fraction of the price, so I didn’t bother modelling it out as carefully as the wine half. This was a decision that in no way came back to haunt me later, when I discovered that the Ivar legs were two inches too tall for the ceiling moulding I had installed, or that one of the Ivar legs perfectly covered up an electrical outlet. No siree, that didn’t suck at all.

Here is my shame, for all the world to see.

So, uh, yeah, measure everything, you fools. Access to electrical is critically important, as your cellar is cool and dark to start with, and only gets more so as you add in bottle after bottle of delicious barley sauce.

Last pro tip: check the weight limits of your Ikea Ivar shelving and compare that to your beer which, shocker, is surprisingly heavy. No, I didn’t suffer a massive calamity, but let’s just say that those corner shelves will need a bit of reinforcing prior to being completely filled up with wobbly pops.

That’s about it, folks. The cellar is now up and running: my cheap space heater is heating, and the cooling unit eagerly awaits its chance to take part come spring. As a parting gift, here is a panoramic shot of my lovely, with most of the Ikea shelves installed.

Ooooooo yeaaahhhhhh….

Written by chuck

January 15th, 2016 at 2:26 pm

Posted in Beer and You

2015 Beerdies

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I had a great New Year’s Eve. I got to spend time with some friends I haven’t seen in a while, see my buddy Tim sabre a champagne bottle right in freaking half, and then go home to spend some quality time amongst my lovelies in my newly finished cellar. Yup, not a bad evening.

The only way to cap such an evening is to play arrogant beer geek and hand out my annual awards. So, without further adieu, I present the 2015 Annual Barley Mowat Excellence in Beer Awards, aka the legendary Beerdies.

A quick reminder of the rules: I make them up as I go along, and I break them when it pleases me. There are no votes. There is no popular consensus; I will spend the next thousand words telling you what to like and not like and, honestly, isn’t that how you prefer it?

I’m the good beer dom to your
bad beer sub, is what I’m saying.

So let’s get to it!

Brewery What Took Most Of My Money: Yellow Dog (brewmaster Liam Murphy)

Last year 33 Acres zeroed in on my weakness for eating lunch by launching a sandwich program, simply importing sandwiches from Gastown’s excellent Nelson the Seagull. This year they upped the quality by making the sandwiches in-house, from scratch. This also made them take 20 minutes to prepare instead of 5, and I ain’t got all day, dammit.

Combine this disappointment with the restoration of Chuck’s Beer Fridge of Awesomeness at my day job (pictured here) and we have a recipe for a new king. When you administer a tap of local draught beer for consumption by your beer-knowledgeable coworkers, it gets very hard not to just keep ordering Yellow Dog IPA, and that’s pretty much what I did all year. Damn me, that’s some good hops right there.

Hottest Brewery Accessory: Not Beer

Call me weird, but the increasingly diverse–and delicious–food and not-beer offerings at various breweries blurs the line between brewery and pub even more, and I loves me a good pub. Heck, you can even get wine, or beer brewed at a different brewery, at many local ale factories.

Best Seasonal Lineup: Four Winds (Brewmaster: Brent Mills)

Last year, no body got this bad boy. This year, Four Winds dialled in their seasonal release program, and keep producing hit after hit after hit. General rule: if it’s from Four Winds, and it has a cork, sell your mother’s remaining kidney to score an extra case.

Honourable Mention: Parallel 49 (Brewmaster Graham With). P49’s L’il Red Redemption showed us that Graham has more than just a few dozen barrels of vinegar stashed away across the alley, and their Sour White was an exquisitely polished beer of exceptional quality.

So, can we stop bugging P49 about this? No, no we can’t. Not yet. Not ever.
Best New Trend: Sours

All that oak from last year is starting to pump out sours, and this summer’s superb Farmhouse Festival gave breweries a platform to showcase their speciality treats. Whereas 5 years ago it would be insane to start a brewery without an IPA, it’s increasingly hard to be taken seriously while lacking a solid Berliner Weisse. It’s a good time to drink beer in BC.

Best Nigel Springthorpe: Not awarded

I’m taking a break from this one for 2015, as both Nigel and last year’s recipient (Aaron from Strange Fellows) have been too busy running their respective businesses to lend a helping hand to other startups.

Most Improved Brewery: Bridge Brewing (brewmaster Jeremy Taylor)

Bridge Brewing’s main purpose in life was to provide a much needed oasis of not-terrible beer in the off-flavour swamp that is the brewing scene on the North Shore. You’d saddle up to their cool tasting bar, have a few beers, and think “huh, these aren’t great, but they’re pretty well brewed” and, if you sampled enough, you’d fine one or two you actually liked very much.

In short, they were your standard young brewery: still finding their way. With their new facility, though, came a much higher quality standard. Their beers are now solidly okay, with the odd very good standout. Keep up the good work, guys.

Best New Brewery: Strange Fellows (brewmaster Iain Hill)

This one was easy. Even though SF technically opened at the end of 2014, they hadn’t been cranking out beer long enough to be considered. Now that they’re a year old, they can come collect their well-deserved Beerdie for being the best of the new crop, and on their way to one of BC’s top flight breweries.

Honourable Mention: Hearthstone (Brewmasters Darren Hollett and George Woods). Hearthstone jumped into the deep end of the craft beer startup scene by acquiring Red Truck’s old, sizeable, facility in North Vancouver. Their beers are all very competently brewed, but the standout of the current lineup is their IPA–I look forward to seeing how their lineup progresses.

And now, the grand prize of the 2014 Beerdies (aka the Golden Beerdie):

Best Beard in BC Beer: Not awarded

Yup. I’m skipping this one for 2015. I, personally, grew a beard so rich and luscious that I was mistaken for a homeless binner while taking out the recycling one evening. Other folks in BC’s craft brewing scene, though, did not their their beardly responsibilities quite so serious. Some even, gasp, *shaved* their beards this year.

What. The. Fuck. It’s not that hard, guys. Just don’t shave! Or, maybe, shave your head to make your small beard look longer. I’ve heard that works.

Written by chuck

January 2nd, 2016 at 6:07 pm

Posted in Beer and You