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Alcohol in Craft Beer

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Stunning revelation time: beer has alcohol in it. I’m sure that you’re shocked to learn this, as I am. To be fair, though, we couldn’t be expected to know this, as it’s not like anyone in the industry goes out of their way to fess up. Bottle descriptions will tell you what types of hops are in the beer, and where they were grown. Some will list the grain bill. Most will talk about yeast and give you tasting notes, but none direct your attention to the small number at the bottom.

So I’ll do it. Beer has alcohol in it. Booze. Grog. Happy juice. Enabling fluid. Whatever you want to call it, it’s in beer, and every time you drink beer, you’re drinking alcohol. A lot of alcohol. In craft beer circles, no one wants to talk about this. It has become the elephant in the room.

And the elephant is drunk.
Seriously, though, how fucked is this train schedule?

Okay, fine. Maybe you’re smart and already knew this. Maybe you’re even are aware that, as fun as alcohol can be, it can be dangerous in large quantities. Perhaps you even know that Health Canada recommends drinking less than 15 beers a week, and you abide by that rule. (10 for women–for simplicity’s sake I’ll focus on men in this article, sorry ladies, but the numbers for women are 2/3 those of men)

Those 15 beers are divided nicely into 3 beers a day. What’s that? 3 beers a day means 21 a week? Well, folks, Health Canada recommends, gasp, not drinking every day. In fact, at least two days a week should be alcohol free, and you should definitely avoid downing more than 4 in a sitting.

4 while standing, though is just fine.
(The top one is for ballast)

“Okay, okay, fine,” you say, “I rarely drink five pints in a night anyways. For the sake of health, I guess I’ll skip Sunday and Wednesday, but every other day I’ll stop off at the bar and have my three pints of Fat Tug, call it a day, and go home to continue my newly healthy, long life.” Not so fast, skippy.

Here’s the kicker: Those 15 beers up there are cans of 5% ABV macro lager. Craft beer is a different beast entirely, and as the ABV wars have escalated the average alcohol content slowly over the years, craft beer drinkers have decidedly not adapted their drinking habits. Judging by the constant stream of Untappd checkins from people I follow, the craft beererati seem to be consuming about the same volumes of beer as their macro drinking counter-parts, and often even more.

Mostly because our six packs have bigger bottles.
Buy this cool holder on etsy

Fat Tug, served in pints, breaks those guidelines in two important ways. First, a proper pint is a lot bigger than a can (67% bigger, in fact), and it’s a lot boozier as well (+40%). Factor those two things in and that 20oz pint of Fat Tug you’re sipping on becomes 2.3 standard drinks. Those three pints you were going to have? 6.9 drinks, or over a six pack of regular beer. That means you can only have one pint, my friend.

Some of you just scoffed at this. “Sure, but those guidelines are for wimps.” Maybe. Maybe not; consider this: compare “I’ll stop by the pub for a few pints” with “I’m gonna slam a six pack with a whiskey chaser.” One is the sort of thing said by a craft beer aficionado, and the other by a smelly skid row alcoholic on welfare Wednesday. Both people, though, are drinking the same amount of alcohol.

Let me say it again: those three pints of IPA are the booze equivalent of seven beers. Seven. Unless you’re 20 and it’s Friday, seven beers is not the best idea. Do it every day after work and you’re seriously flirting with alcoholism. Add a pint at lunch and you’re suddenly on Betty Ford’s Christmas card list. This doesn’t even include pulling a shift at your favourite pub on Friday and Saturday nights.

And that’s Fat Tug, which at 7% ABV is hardly the reigning heavy weight of local brews. Other IPAs are 8% or more, and non-IPA styles like Belgian Strongs are frequently in the 9%+ range. Local Imperial Stouts crest 10% and one example clocks in at a whopping 14.6%. That 14.6% stout, sold in a 650ml bomber, contains 5.7 standard drinks: more than a whole bottle of most wines. Health Canada recommends keeping any single evening to 4 drinks or under, meaning that drinking a bottle of Imperial Stout by yourself would make a doctor frown–opening a second one afterwards is right out.

Unless you share. Then it’s cool; doctors are notorious drunks.

So what is a standard drink? It’s about 17ml of pure alcohol. Since that’s not super helpful by itself, I’ve done the math for you, for a few local brews.

Beer ABV Package Size Drinks in Package Appropriate Serving
Driftwood Fat Tug 7% 650ml 2.7 270ml (9.5oz)
Howe Sound Woolly Bugger 11% 341ml 2.2 155ml (5.5oz)
Phillips Hoperation 8% 650ml 3.0 213ml (7.5oz)
CC Imperial IPA 9% 650ml 3.4 191ml (6.7oz)
Driftwood Singularity 14.6% 650ml 5.7 115ml (4.0oz)

Well, crap. What do we do about this? Demand that beer be sold in tiny, tiny bottles? Nope. We just need to be more aware of the amount of alcohol we’re consistently cramming down our pie holes. When you walk into a bar you need to realize that in the vast majority of cases a pint is not an appropriate serving size for craft beer, unless you plan on making it your only drink of the evening.

And no cheating with the definition of “pint” ya rummy. It’s 20oz or nothing.

Be aware of what you’re consuming, and what’s in it. Try higher ABV beers in smaller sizes (the Alibi has both 10oz or 6oz sizes for just such a reason, in addition to reducing the size of their “large” glass for high ABV beers). At home, exercise some restraint and don’t drink the whole bottle. Crazy, I know, but open beer will last until tomorrow if you cap it (I’ll do some research on this and report back later).

Treat the higher ABV beers with the respect they deserve. These are painstakingly produced and deserve to be sipped and savoured. You should drink them on a timeline closer to a glass of wine than a can of shit lager, letting the flavours open up as the fluid warms and interacts with the air.

As well, if you want more than one pint of beer, try more of the increasingly popular sessional releases that are coming out from local breweries. These guys typically come in below 5%, meaning you can have more than one, or have the same amount and consume less booze. Phillips and Central City have India Session Ales, and sessional beers are increasingly on the menu at Brassneck (although, note that a 20oz pint of 4% session beer still is about 1.3 standard drinks).

Monitor how much and how often you drink. This one might seem a bit extreme on first reading, but no one consciously chooses to become an alcoholic. They just wake up that way one day. What’s worse is that it’s usually a few years later that they actually realize it, and a few more before they admit it to others.

In short, be an adult, and remember that while the drink in your hand is lovingly made in small batches, using quality ingredients, and costs a lot to buy, it’s still a drink.

Written by chuck

February 26th, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Posted in Beer and You

2013 CAMRA Beer Awards

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The CAMRA Vancouver Member Awards were this weekend past, and since I knew ahead of time I was on the award-ee list, I decided to go, because I like external validation.

Much to my surprise, though, the awards were not just a 3-hour gala dedicated to yours truly, but instead I had to share the stage with some other “deserving” folks. Oh well, in the sake of at least seeming interested in things other than myself, I guess I’ll re-post the results here.

Okay, enough of the faux self-absorbed beer blogger persona. In all honesty, congrats to the winners. These rewards represent some serious beer-geek cred. The CAMRA Vancouver membership represents perhaps the crustiest top tier of beer snobs in Vancouver, which is the beer capital of BC and, by extension, Canada. Sorry Victoria, I know you have both Driftwood and a higher brewery-to-populace ratio, but how many new breweries did you open last year? Thought so.

Amongst the just-over 1400 CAMRA card-carrying beererati are a large number of professional brewmasters, retail store owners, restauranteurs and actual professional beer reviewers (remember, I’m just an amateur). Impressing this lot is not an easy task.

Overwhelmingly I agree with the results. Perhaps my only complaint would be that Four Winds Saison Brett didn’t make the Best Seasonal cut, but so little of that was produced that likely not enough voters had tried it. (Also, Howe Sound coming in first for Best BC BrewPub yet only placing third for Best Local BrewPub is a bit odd, but maybe too many folks didn’t consider it local despite the explicit note that Squamish was in-area)

So, without further adieu, here is the full list of CAMRA Member Award Winners. I’ll include their Twitter handles so you can give them a follow or two. Please do so.

Best Beer Blogger or Writer:
Bronze: Jan Zeschky (@JanTweats)
Silver: Joe Wiebe (@ThirstyWriter)
Gold: Chuck Hallett (@Barley_Mowat)

Best Beer Name (Gold only):
Gold: Toques of Hazzard (@Parallel49Beer)

Best Beer Artwork (Gold only):
Gold: Craft Beer Month Collaboration Spruce Tip Stout (@CraftBeerMonth)

Best Local Beer Event:
Bronze: BC Beer Awards (BCBeerAwards)
Silver: Hopapalooza (@AlibiRoom / @VCBW)
Gold: Vancouver Craft Beer Week (@VCBW)

Best BC Beer (Non-Seasonal):
Bronze: Parallel 49 Gypsy Tears (@Parallel49Beer)
Silver: Central City Red Racer IPA (@CentralCityBrew)
Gold: Driftwood Fat Tug (@DriftwoodBeer)

Best BC Beer (Seasonal):
Bronze: Driftwood Singularity (@DriftwoodBeer)
Silver: Driftwood Lustrum (@DriftwoodBeer)
Gold: Driftwood Sartori Harvest (@DriftwoodBeer)

Best Local Beer Server/Bartender:
Bronze: Nicole Coetzee (Alibi/Brassneck) (@XGingerBeerX)
Silver: Alex Wilson (Alibi/Brassneck) (@A_P_Wilson)
Gold: Nigel Springthorpe (Alibi/Brassneck) (@AlibiRoom)

Best Local Beer Establishment:
Bronze: BierCraft (@BierCraft)
Silver: St Augustine’s (@StAugustinesVan)
Gold: Alibi Room (@AlibiRoom)

Best Local Private LIquor Store:
Bronze: Central City Liquor Store (@CentralCityLRS)
Silver: Legacy Liquor Store (@LegacyLiquor)
Gold: Brewery Creek Liquor Store (@BreweryCreek)

Best Local Cask Night:
Bronze: The Railway Club — Tuesday (@RailwayClub)
Silver: St Augustine’s — Monday (@StAugustinesVan)
Gold: The Whip — Sunday (@WhipRestaurant)

Best Local Brewpub:
Bronze (tie): Howe Sound Inn & Brewpub (@HoweSoundBeer)
Bronze (tie): Yaletown Brewing Company (@YBC_Brewing)
Silver: Steamworks (@SteamworksPub)
Gold: Central City Brewpub (@CentralCityPub)

Best BC Brewpub:
Bronze: Spinnakers (@Spinnakers)
Silver: Central City (@CentralCityPub)
Gold: Howe Sound (@HoweSoundBeer)

Best BC Brewery:
Bronze: Four Winds (@FourWindsBrewCo)
Silver: Parallel 49 (@Parallel49Beer)
Gold: Driftwood (@DriftwoodBeer)

Special, Lifetime Achievement Award: John Mitchell (no Twitter)

That’s it, folks. No smarmy trash talk, no funny pictures. This list is about handing praise over to deserving folks, so please go do that now. Tell them you love them, buy their beer, go to their pubs. If you’re really into learning more, do some Googling on this “John Mitchell” character above.

I’ll resume my self-indulgent navel gazing in another post.

Written by chuck

February 17th, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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A Brewer is Me

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Last Tuesday, I had the singular pleasure of being invited down to Granville Island Brewing to create a beer of my own deviant concoction. Why would GIB, or anyone really, do such a thing? To be honest, GIB’s hoping to score some free publicity from me. You see, they’ve recently installed a growler station down on the island, and it’s not getting all the traffic they’d hope. Throw an impending Brewery Lounge Endorsement on the deal, and the thinking is that having ole Chuck along will get folk talking about things.

Sure, there’s a chance that I might see through the ruse and keep mum on the topic, but let’s face it: I’m me, and I have a huge ego. Any external validation of that ego is going to be splashed all over the internet as fast as possible.

Exhibit A.

When GIB approached me about doing a collaboration brew I was, to be honest, confused. Collaborations are typically done between breweries or restaurants, and upon brief reflection I discovered that I was neither of those things. Imagine my shock when, after informing GIB of that sad discovery, they were will still interested.

I sat down with GIB’s brewmaster Vern Lambourne in early November to discuss some ideas. I went in with several ideas queued up because I fully expected any sane commercial brewer like Vern to refuse to pursue my primary concept. It’s everything a profit-focused company like GIB should want to avoid in a beer: a strange style, expensive to make in terms of both time and materials, involves potential brewery-infecting Brettanomyces, and above all, this beer is more prone than usual to going sideways and turning out virtually undrinkable.

However, Vern loved the idea, and a Barley Mowat original was born. The beer in question is a malt-forward golden/pale ale, aged on Brettanomyces in used wine barrels. That noise you heard was every beer geek around you quivering in expectant glee, then awkwardly skulking towards the bathroom. I’m not full of myself here: this style of beer could be mouth-wateringly amazing, if it comes out right. The “if” is the trick: thousands of competing variables will all conspire to make my beer into rancid swill. Choosing this style of beer is risky, but if you somehow luck yourself into an at-bat in MLB, you don’t freaking bunt.

Likewise, if you’re handed the controls of a fireworks display, you logically mash all the buttons at once.

Let’s talk about making the beer. I started writing this section as a blow-by-blow account of how my beer was made. I abandoned this effort when I had the double realization that my beer was made just like every other beer on the planet, and that describing it had resulted in the most boring blog post this site has ever seen, even including that one where I got really baked and just talked about my hands for 5000 words.

Screw that. Select all, delete, problem solved. If you want to know how beer is made, there are a million better stories online, some even with cool videos. Better you go read/watch those then listen to some half-wit who literally brewed his first beer ever 48 hours ago.

Instead of the similarities, let’s focus on what makes my beer different, and let’s start with the recipe. For those of you following along at home with your own 10bbl brewhouse, the grain bill is: 2-row Pale Malt (207.1 kg), Munich 10 (24.2kg) and Cara 20 (10.9kg). All the grain was sourced from Gambrinus, and all the grain was heavy.

Luckily there was a gormless idiot at the brewery willing to lift it into the mill.

I wanted to keep the hop profile low on this guy, so two German hops were chosen in modest volumes. For bittering we picked Magnum (400g), and Perle got the nod for aroma (1500g). As a side note, every time you see “we” or “I” in this article please convert that into “Vern, because Chuck knows nothing about brewing.” I use we/I more for shorthand and convenience than anything else.

Bittering hop addition.
Needless to say, this isn’t an IPA.

All in all, things went fairly well, and I had more fun that I figured possible when participating as manual labour in what is, after all, an industrial manufacturing process. I also found the tips and tricks of the actual brewing process as executed by Vern at Granville Island to be insightful and enlightening. It’s all well and good to know that lautering involves straining the spent grain from the wort, but it’s another thing entirely to actually see the process executed in front of you.

And to also execute the removal of 550lbs of spent grain.

As you read this, the wort is slowly being converted into beer by the healthy culture of scotch ale yeast that now calls unitank #3 home. Once fermentation is complete (and after a suitable pause in a bright tank), the proto-beer will be racked to four barrels of used wine barrels from Red Rooster.

Into the barrels will be pitched two varieties of Brettanomyces (two barrels per strain). B. clausenii and B. lambicus get the nod here. The hope is that B. clausenii will add fruity esters and aroma while leaving the heavy lifting of getting Da Funk on to its loutish cousin B. lambicus.

Each barrel will produce a cask, giving some potential for big variation for Chuck’s Beer a la cask. The tap version, though, will be the result of all of the above blended.

So there you go, that’s my beer in a nut shell. All it needs is a name (although I do like this rendering on Twitter as an early front runner). I’ll post updates on Twitter, and maybe even a bigger update here when I have enough info. For now, though, I’ll leave you with this shot of my precious being oxygenated en route to primary.

Sometimes O2 in a beer is a good thing.

Written by chuck

January 30th, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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