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Cellar Chronicles Part II: Fill Your Hole

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When we last checked in on my cellar it was but a twinkle in the brewmaster’s eye. A lot has happened since then: walls have been framed, insulation sourced, electrical wiring diagrams… diagrammed, etc.

However, let’s step back a bit and talk about why all those steps are required. Ultimately, a cellar is an unnatural thermal and humidity gradient and, as the saying goes, nature abhors a cozy booze cave.

I think it’s in the bible, towards the back somewhere.

Once you’ve measured the proposed walls of your tentative cellar, the next step is to calculate the volume of space we’re dealing with here and then shop around for an adequate cooling unit. Measure from 1/2 way into your walls, floors and ceiling, then multiply all three together to get the cubic feet you’re enclosing.

In my case, the lucky number was 864 cubic feet. Take your number and head over to and peruse their various cooling units, check out the prices, and then serious reconsider if you really need that much space.

For me, the two full sized, upright, stand-alone cellars I hope to replace with this little project total just shy of 40 cubic feet, so while the thought of enclosing a volume fully 22 times that amount was appealing, I couldn’t really justify it. Add to that the $1500 required to cool it, and I was quickly back at the graph paper adjusting some walls. Yeah, 520 cubic feet is juuuuuust fine.

Yup. I’m old. If you don’t get this reference, it’s probably best to just ignore it and move along.

Picking your cooling unit is the next step. There are lots of options, and each has it’s own merits. Being a cheap bastard, I went for the cheapest possible unit, the KoolR. These are not very serviceable, so if it breaks I’ll have to replace it, but at 1/3rd the cost of the next comparable unit I get two do-overs before breakeven.

Next up is wall construction. Most people just figure they can throw their beer in a dark room, stick an A/C unit in there and call it a day. Hells no. A proper cellar requires proper construction, and that means insulating it like a house, installing a vapour barrier, and venting your walls so any trapped moisture has an exit path. That might sound intimidating, but it’s really as simple as stapling plastic on your studs and cramming your gaps full of pink things.

In my case, since I was additionally building this on a raw concrete slab, I built up a floor above the concrete and insulated that sucker. Having my flooring directly on the concrete without any insulation would mean that the giant heat sink what is my garage’s foundation would greedily suck up all my cooling and heating energy, and make any sort of temperature control efforts moot. For the same reason, I built an entirely new wall in front of the exposed foundation lip in my cellar.

Yes, I insulated my floor.

Lastly, don’t forget about heating. Lots of attention is paid to cooling cellars down to 55F, but the reality of the matter is that the average annual temperature in Vancouver is around 52F, which means that heating your cellar will be your worry most of the year. Luckily, keeping a small, well insulated space warmish isn’t too hard, the only trick is finding a space heater whose built-in thermostat can go as low as 50 or 55F… which I have yet to do. Failing that, something like this bastard coupled with a cheap space heater should do the trick.

Next time: racking! This is when my cellar starts looking more like a cellar, and less like the dark hole in which I torture railcard hobos to death.

Written by chuck

November 27th, 2015 at 2:33 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Cellar Chronicles Part I: Find Your Hole

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One day, in early October, I rolled out of bed, had a shower, ate some breakfast, and then bought a house. Shortly thereafter, I began scouring over floorpans of my new house, looking for a room in an out of way corner that I could turn into a walk-in cellar without Sharon noticing. Sharon, wise to this plan, suggested that I could take our new two car garage and turn it into a 1 car, 2000 bottle garage. Challenge Accepted!

Building a walk-in cellar, unlike buying a house, is not something you simply wake up and decide to do on a whim. It takes many hours of research and detailed planning. You have to balance thermal and humidity control with killer interior design that screams out “Look at me! I’m a rich twat!” Getting that balance just right is pretty hard.

The guy who built this, for instance, must be a huge asshole. Well played, good sir.

Seriously, if you Google “wine cellar” you’ll quickly find a steady stream of glassed in, brightly lit, wealth-brags cleverly disguised as rooms in which to age grape juice. The reality of aging wine and beer, though, is that all the things that makes a cellar photograph well are the exact same things that are bad for your boozey fluids.

Wine and beer age best in dark places, far from the vibrations caused by people walking, held at a very consistent temperature and humidity. If you’ve ever seen someone with a big open wine rack built on top of their kitchen cabinets, for instance, then you’ve been in the kitchen of an idiot who drinks a lot of spoiled wine. Heat from cooking rises to also cook the beer/wine, light from the ceiling fixtures accelerates undesirable chemical breakdowns, and the constant vibration from opening/closing kitchen cabinets never lets sediment settle out.

“Above your cabinets” is probably the single worst place you could possibly store significant quantities of booze, yet if you search for “kitchen wine storage” instead of a single result saying “don’t, you fucking moron” you get page after page of “stunning renovations.”

Sure, it looks badass, but it’s the booze storage equivalent of leaving your Lamborghini unattended on the streets of Surrey for 15 minutes.

Spending a lot of money to build a massive wall rack in your kitchen or dining room, and then walling it in behind glass, isn’t much better. Sure, you now have an enclosed space that you can apply cooling to, but your wine and beer are still very far from being comfortable. Of course, building a cellar in your basement doesn’t show off your very expensive booze in the same way, but with a kitchen cellar all you’re really showing off is your desire to slowly ruin perfectly good wine in front of your friends. In short, you’re an asshole.

So, where should the non-asshole store his beer and wine? Every house will have its own secret booze hutch, just waiting for your discovery. Some might have a below-grade, unused basement bedroom. Other’s might have an actual honest-to-god root cellar. Still others might have a dry well that, until recently, was only used for storing your lotion.

Poke around. Leave a digital thermometer in your potential spots for a few days and look for places in out-of-the-way corners with as little temperature variation as possible. Keep in mind that you will not be building a glorious temple to liquid happiness. Instead, you’re looking to create a dark, semi-humid, hole that you will cram full of booze to age comfortably and undisturbed. Once you’ve picked a spot, we can move on to Part 2: Planning Your Build.

The back left corner of this unfinished carhole is where my actual cellar will be built.

Written by chuck

November 6th, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Beer and You

BC Beer Awards Hits and Misses

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UPDATE: I’ve since been provided evidence that Driftwood did, indeed, enter at least 1 beer into this year’s BCBA (Fat Tug). So, uh, yeah… there you have it.

Alright, let’s get to this: my takedown of the BC Beer Awards. Last year, the fest took a sharp turn towards credibility by handing a gold to a beer that I brewed (or more accurately, that Vern Lambourne at GIB brewed while I did all the physical labour). How do this year’s results stack up? Will Chuck rant? Read on to see. I’m not going to provide feedback on every category (because, oddly, I agree with most of it), but I will call out a few items.

Disclaimer: Yes, I know how beers are judged, aka by a group of experienced, certified testers working their way through a mountain of entries, blind, and not by a bearded beer geek in his basement, who’s not even wearing pants. Still, this is my take on the results, and what I might have done differently had BC Beer Awards come to their senses and just let me pick the winners singlehanded.

North American Light Beer

1. Tofino Brewing Company: Tofino Blonde Ale
2. High Mountain Brewing: Lifty Lager
3. Granville Island Brewing: Island Lager

Ugh. Why are we rewarding breweries for making beers in this category? It’s kind of like handing out an award for Best Keanu Reeves movie. Sure, they’re sometimes tolerable based on their own unique subset of merits but, ultimately, wouldn’t you want to be watching something else?

Light European Bier

1. Parallel 49 Brewing Company: Craft Lager
2. Central City Brewers and Distillers: Mayor Kolsch
3. Russell Brewing Company: Eastern Promises

Just because it’s from Europe, it’s better right? Well, actually, it sort of is. I don’t agree with placing P49’s Craft Lager at the top of this list. Sure, I haven’t had the most recent iteration (what is it, P49 Lager #5, 6, now?) but the first handful were refining a low-taste, bland recipe that was intended to keep the Surrey residents happy at St Augustines.

Second and third, though, are hard to argue with. I would have moved Russell’s excellent Eastern Promises higher in the list. Lastly, “Bier”? Really, guys?

UK Pale Ale

1. Big Ridge Brewing: Big Ridge Clover Ale
2. Forbidden Brewing Co.: Forbidden Pale Ale
3. Bomber Brewing: Bomber ESB

Amber/Dark Lagers

1. Steel & Oak Brewing Co.: Dark Lager
2. Persephone Brewing Company: Oktoberfest
3. Tree Brewing Co. Captivator: Doppelbock

♬ One of these things is not like the other ones… ♬

UK Red/Brown Ale

1. Whistler Brewing Company: Black Tusk
2. Lighthouse Brewing Company: Race Rocks
3. Parallel 49 Brewing Company: Old Boy

Not quite sure what to make of this category. My gut emotional reaction is that I’m not a huge fan of any of these beers but my brain get’s all logic-y and asks which ones I’d rather see in here.

North American Pale Ale

1. Howe Sound Brewing Co. Sky Pilot Northwest Pale Ale
2. Persephone Brewing Company Pale Ale
3. Russell Brewing Company Hop Therapy ISA

This is interesting: Howe Sound beats out Persephone and Russell. HS’s Sky Pilot was quite good when it was released, so it’s interesting to see this additional validation.

North American Amber/Brown Ale

1. Big Rock Urban Brewery: Hollow Tree
2. Russell Brewing Company: Cream Ale
3. Brassneck Brewery: Brassneck Ale

Hollow Tree? Really? It was not a great beer when I tested it in May (despite being one of BR’s best), but it wasn’t awful. However, I would not expect “you know, not awful” to take gold.

German/Belgian Wheat

1. Barkerville Brewing Co.: White Gold
2. Big Rock Urban Brewery: Dunkelwiezen
3. Granville Island Brewing: Hey Day Hefeweizen

How many entrants were there? I ask because this list starts off at “pretty good” then slides downhill to “what the fuck is IN this bottle” pretty freaking fast.


1. Stanley Park Brewing: SunSetter
2. Tree Brewing Co.: Mellow Moon Pineapple Hefeweizen
3. Strange Fellows Brewing: Framboise Noir

I’ll be honest: it’s not a great category to start with. SF’s Framboise Noir was a pretty decent fruit beer, but it derived much of that appeal by tasting very little like a fruit beer.


1. Tofino Brewing Company: Spruce Tree Ale
2. Stanley Park Brewing: Icebreaker
3. Tofino Brewing Company: Kelp Stout

Oh man, loves me some spruce. Also, interesting to note Stanley Park/Turning Point’s success in the “let’s cram some shit in our mediocre beer and hope it sells” categories.


1. Brassneck Brewery: No Brainer Pre Prohibition Lager
2. Bridge Brewing Company: Wee Tipsy Peated Scotch Ale
3. Steamworks Brewing Co.: Steamworks Gose

I’m not sure if I could come up with three examples of more diverse beer styles if I tried. Sure, I know that is what this category is literally for, but still this is somewhat comically extreme.


1. Doan’s Craft Brewing Company: American Rye Stout
2. Barkerville Brewing Co.: 52 Foot Stout
3. Mission Springs Brewing Co.: Fat Guy Oatmeal Stout

Wood/Barrel Aged

1. Bridge Brewing Company: Imperial White IPA
2. Four Winds Brewing Co.: Pequeno Cabo Tequila Barrel Aged Berliner Weisse
3. Parallel 49 Brewing Company: Barrel Aged Vow Of Silence

This is an interesting, significant win for Bridge. Gold is always nice, but both of the other entries in this list were absolutely excellent. Bridge seems to be putting out better and better beer in their new facility, so we should keep an eye on them for next year.

North American IPA

1. Central City Brewers and Distillers: Red Racer IPA
2. Red Truck Beer: Red Truck IPA
3. Hearthstone Brewing: Hearthstone IPA

Before you freak out: Driftwood did not enter. Okay fine, you can still freak out. I’m surprised to see Red Truck on this list, as while there is nothing off about their IPA, it’s not exceptional either. Hearthstone, though, is no surprise to me.

Specialty IPA

1. Bridge Brewing Company: Black Rye IPA
2. Moon Under Water Brewery: Hip As Funk
3. Bomber Brewing: Blood From A Stone Red Rye IPA

Another interesting win from Bridge… colour me intrigued.

Belgian/French Farmhouse

1. Persephone Brewing Company: Multigrain Saison
2. Dageraad Brewing: Randonneur Saison
3. Ravens Brewing Company: Farmers Ale

Very happy to see the top two here (haven’t had a chance to try #3). Persephone’s was a favourite of mine when it came out, and pretty much everything Dageraad makes should have gold hung around it.

Strong Ale

1. Swans Brewpub: Legacy Ale
2. R&B Brewing Co.: Auld Nick Winter Ale
3. Swans Brewpub: Swans Scotch Ale

Belgian Abbey Ale

1. Dageraad Brewing: Blonde
2. Tree Brewing Co.: Trappist Artist Belgian Dubbel
3. Old Abbey Ales: Belgian Quad

Dageraad tops this category with their Blonde. All is well in the world.

Imperial IPA

1. Brassneck Brewery: One Trick Pony
2. Parallel 49 Brewing Company: 187 On An Undercover Hop
3. Parallel 49 Brewing Company: Hopnitist

Oh great, thanks, world. Now I have a strong desire to down these beers one after another to compare them.

Sours/Wild Ale

1. Four Winds Brewing Co.: Juxtapose Wild IPA
2. Strange Fellows Brewing: Roxanne
3. Dageraad Brewing: De Witte

I’ll admit it: I read the “specialty IPA” category above and just immediately assumed that Four Winds didn’t submit Juxtapose this year.

BEST IN SHOW: Brassneck Brewery One Trick Pony

My only complaint about this result is that OTP is not a single beer. It’s a series of interesting beers that range from “hey this is pretty good” to “shut up, I’m drinking” levels of attention-grabbing awesomeness. I would assume that the BCBA entry was from the current batch: a beer so good that, upon sipping it, you immediately lose the ability to assess other people by any factor beyond their likelihood to limit your access to more of this delicious ambrosia.

Well done, Conrad and Nigel.

Last words: Where was Yellow Dog? I simply cannot believe that YD entered their full lineup and struck out in every category…

Written by chuck

October 28th, 2015 at 4:50 pm

Posted in Beer and You