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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

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 winecellardepot.com and peruse their various cooling units, check out the prices, and then seriously 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 railyard hobos to death.

Written by chuck

November 27th, 2015 at 2:33 pm

Posted in Beer and You