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Beer Fest is Best (in Surrey)

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You know what? I hate beer festivals. I really do. I mean, what’s there to like? Think of it from my perspective: I pay $20 to get in the door to an overpacked, sweltering municipal hall somewhere, and then I wander around in search of good beer only to discover that I’ve had every single one of the 100-or-so regular beers on tap already. I buy some extra tickets, discover that there are no seats to be had anywhere, and eventually give up and leave after the two or three casks run out.

By the time I’m back outdoors, the damage is around $30-$40 for approximately two proper pints of beer in what can only charitably be called the worst bar on the planet, and to think that people get mad when pint-equivalent prices approach $10 for rare beer at The Alibi.

Fat Tug Standard, amended. I think @knightafter just had a stroke.

All in all, a miserable time, except for those casks. Weren’t those neat? Well, now, what if you take that same beer festival, and replace all the regular production beers with one-off casks? Sweet! Just as surely as a regular beer fest is a waste of time, an all-cask one is brilliant. I’ll happily pay $40 to try 40oz of crazy, one-off ales, even if the event was in hell. As luck would have it, this weekend features pretty much exactly that.

This Saturday will bring 30-odd casks to Central City Brewing in Surrey, and as surely as your milkshake brings all the boys to the yard, 30-odd casks bring all the Chucks to Surrey.

All joking aside, Surrey is great. It really is. Please don’t murder me. (Aside: why are these stock photo thugs wearing Google-coloured ski masks? Is Google now shaking people down for search results?)

Casks are a chance for brewers to screw around a bit and have some fun. While I can’t speak for every brewer out there, I’m going to guess that most of them didn’t start making beer with a dream of brewing the same damned beer every day for the rest of their lives. Like it or not, but that’s the job that stares down most commercial brewers when they come into the office in the morning.

Sure, head brewers frequently brew something small on the brewery’s test system, but these are more often than not for piloting new production beers or, even more depressing, recipe tweaks to existing mainstream offerings. Want to try fermenting some pineapple to make a fruity stout? Leave it for the casks.

That’s what I expect to see this Saturday: really freaking weird beer that was produced in tiny, tiny batches by talented brewers who might just be a little bored with their day jobs. This is fun. Brewing this beer is fun. Serving this beer is fun and, most importantly, drinking it is fun. Sure, that pineapple stout might taste like horrid, sweaty ass, but the fact it turned out horribly isn’t as important as the fact that someone tried to make it. With each sip, we learn a bit more about what works and what doesn’t, and beer in BC gets better as a result. That’s why I love a good cask fest: if you pay close attention, you can see the future of beer before it happens.

With the good comes the bad, though. Some breweries seem to miss the point and just phone it in to these events. Take note, breweries, I’ll be watching and judging you silently*. Got an IPA that you’ve fermented in a giant pumpkin called Gourd-on Lighthop? Gold star, my friend, gold star. Pale Ale dry-hopped with Citra? Boring, predictable, and very disappointing. Decided “Aw, fuck it” and you’re pouring your main production beers from a draught system? Watch out.

* Seriously, I make literally no noise when composing profanity-laced, libellous, diatribes for this blog.

Written by chuck

January 23rd, 2014 at 11:56 am

Posted in Beer and You

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Parallel 49 Robo Ruby, Granville Island Auld Skool

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Nothing like a couple of big, malt-heavy beers to battle it out for my winter booze budget. It seems like only yesterday that I was pining for the return of thicker beers to the market and here I am reviewing two of them. Sure, this might have something to do with it being winter, but I’m dumb like that, and haven’t yet pinned down a season-to-beer-style correlation. Instead I’ll just choose to believe that my asking for big malt beers last summer has directly caused those same beers to appear this winter.

Speaking of which,
where are all the light refreshing lagers at?

Parallel 49 Robo Ruby

First up, yet another seasonal issue from Parallel 49’s never-sleeping one-off brew crew. Somehow they find time to take breaks from brewing Hoparazzi, Old Boy and Gypsy Tears 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to crank out a never-ending stream of unique bombers. There’s honestly no better way to tweak the two-sizes too-small heart of your local curmudgeonly beer geek than to constantly flood the market with interesting beer. Sure, not every release they’ve put out has been an amazing success, but that’s to be expected from the shotgun approach to beer styles: try a few dozen, see what works, refine, reiterate.

The bottle says “Red IPA” but I’ll call this an Imperial Red Ale, if only so I can compare it to Lighthouse Siren. Why would I do that? Quite simple: to have an excuse to purchase both of these excellent ales and drink them side by side in the name of science.

That I would even bother performing such an experiment means I’m unsure which is better, and now that I have done so I’m no further enlightened. Both are absolutely great beers, and deserving of some shelf space in your fridge. Siren is the maltier, boozier* of the pair, while Robo comes through with a complex hop profile to scratch that Humulus itch. (* Boozier in taste, not ABV)

Sure, the current canned Siren hasn’t quite lived up to how great I recall the original release being, but of course very few things are as good as we remember them. For instance, I recall early dial-up BBSs being perfection embodied: pure, simplistic delight at the thought of a connection to the outside work. Frankly, the modern internet simply cannot hold a candle to those early days.

Oh wait, yes it can

APPEARANCE Deep amber red/auburn. Long lasting, thick head.
NOSE Caramel malt with a giant double fist of big sweet hops. Cantaloupe, kiwi, jackfruit. Wow.
TASTE Wow again. Seriously impressive sugar complexity that plays very well with the sweet fruitiness of the hops. Alcohol definitely present, but only serves to intensify rather than distract.
STATS 9.3% ABV / 60 IBU / Red DIPA
SHOULD I BUY IT? Hells yes. This might be in the top ten of P49’s one-offs thus far.

Granville Island Auld Skool

I’m an unabashed fan of the work being done down on Granville Island by Vern Lambourne. Perhaps this is because of the fact that I will be there next week to brew some Barley Mowat Official Unnamed Beer, or maybe the reasoning is vice versa. In any event, I don’t lose my bashfulness for a brewery without reason.

The reason, in this case, is excellent beer. Vern has always taken pride in running an interesting one-off program from his modest 10 hl brewhouse under the bridge (which is, admittedly, a show-brewery for tourists that has as little to do with GIB’s normal beers as flavour does). However, is it just me or has Vern seriously upped his game in recent months?

Starting around mid-summer with Pucker Meister, the beers produced there have gone from “competently brewed, overlooked and underrated” to “seriously good and WHY IS NO ONE TALKING ABOUT THIS??!”

Stacked on top of those releases is this year’s GIB Scotch Ale, rechristened under their new naming/branding scheme as “Auld Skool.” This is, quite simply, one of the best Scotch Ale’s produced in BC. The colour is perfect, the carbonation is perfect, the mouthfeel and spicy finish? You guessed it, perfect. Perhaps some more pronounced smokiness would enhance things a wee bit more, but then again, maybe I should leave the recipes to the brewmaster.

APPEARANCE Dark brown, almost black. Thin persistent off-tan head.
NOSE Caramel malt with a spicy end-note.
TASTE Complex sugar caramel with a spicy finish. Lovely.
STATS 6.5% ABV / 20 IBU
SHOULD I BUY IT? Yup. Track this guy down and give the friendly clerk your money.

Coles notes:

Brewery Parallel 49 Granville Island Taphouse
From Vancouver Vancouver
Name Robo Ruby Auld Skool
Style Imperial Red Ale Scottish Strong Ale
SOA Now Silver Bronze
SOA Potential n/a n/a
Drink Now Now
Availability Most LRSs, some LDBs and at the brewery
Cost ~$7 / 650ml ~$6/ 650ml
Similar Beers Lighthouse Siren Russell Wee Heavy Scotch (ish)

Gonna need a new run of Silver SOAs at this rate

Written by chuck

January 21st, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Bomber Brewing Sneak Peak

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Quiz time: there’s a part of town that’s anchored by an original YVR craft brewery (opened in the 90s) but has also recently seen the addition of two new award-winning breweries (one backed by the owner of an acclaimed Vancouver craft beer bar), and three more are under construction. Where am I talking about? Surely it’s Brewery Creek, right? Bzzzzt. Wrong answer.

Brewery Creek is great; I love it there, and go there every day (mostly because I work there, but the beer is also a major draw). However, it’s not the only brewing district in town. There’s another part of town that can boast just as many breweries, all anchored by an even older and more revered craft ale producer. The only difference is the lack of a snazzy name. “That area north of first, east of Clark, and west of Victoria, except Parallel 49” just doesn’t roll off the tongue. Even without a name, though, they somehow find a way to crank out great beer. As of right now, there are only three breweries worth visiting in the area (Storm, Parallel 49 and Powell Street), but that’s about to change, and change fast.

Woodbeer? Southport? Malton? Seriously, what should we call this?

The parallels are intriguing: Veteran Craft Brewery (Storm vs R&B), craft beer bar-cum-brewer (Parallel 49 vs Brassneck), and two breweries that I can’t find a commonality for (Powell Street vs 33 Acres), all within walking distance of each other. As well, the next brewery to open in each area will both be backed by restauranteurs. In Brewery Creek it’s Main Street (backed by Nigel Pike of the Cascade Room, preview here) while over in… uh… that other place it’s Bomber Brewing (backed by Don Farion of Biercraft).

In addition to all that, there are two more breweries coming down the pipe in each area (Red Truck & Steel Toad in Brewery Creek, and two as-of-yet unnamed entries over yonder). However, today it’s Bomber that I’d like to talk about.

Primarily because it’s the only brewery I could easily find wandering around the area

I popped by for a quick guided tour with Director of Operations Rachaal Steele. The first thing that jumped out at me is that this brewery is moments away from opening, in brewery timeline-terms (so, like 1-2 months on the normal calendar). Seriously, about all they need to do is take down the scaffolding, vacuum up the dust, and turn on the neon sign. What? They also need to brew beer? Well, okay, fine, I guess that’s important, if you’re a perfectionist.

Get in the taps, beer!

Somewhat unusual for Vancouver breweries, Bomber’s tasting room will never let you forget that you’re in a fully functional brewery. Glass walls replace the more common concrete or wood, with the end result being that the fermentation vessels stare you down from behind the bar. And what a bar! The whole thing is a single solid piece of wood, fronted by a wall of river rock.

“Hi there, how ya doin’?”
Don’t worry, it’s a friendly 3 tonne hunk of steel.

Once those vessels are full of beer, Bomber will begin producing their standard lineup of a Pilsner, ESB and IPA, all in cans. Going straight to canning their beer is a bit unusual as well, due mostly to the expense of setting up canning line, but as Rachaal was quick to point out, canning does arguably present the product in the best possible way. Cans are lighter, more transportable, impermeable to skunk-tastic UV, and less prone to seal failures than bottles.

Plus, you can shotgun them.

Once those three products are established, we can expect a seasonal program to follow, with an aim of 6 or so releases a year (these will come out in more cellaring-friendly bombers). Contributing to that seasonal program will be the barrel room, already packed with used barrels of varying flavours of both wine and whiskey. A Barley Wine will have the privilege of being the first joyful occupant of said barrels, where it will live until a December release date.

Nothing bad could come from these. Well, sure, I guess botulism could come from them, and that’s technically bad, but somehow I don’t think that’ll happen.

As the final touches are made, the opening date for Bomber will become known. When a firm date is known, I’ll let you know when you, too, can go bask under the watchful gaze of this sweet deer. Keep an eye out on Bomber’s Twitter and Facebook feeds for an opening date (as well as here).

I remain unconvinced of its friendliness after 5 beers.

Written by chuck

January 9th, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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