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If I Were Judge

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Another year, another BC Beer Awards, another list of results that I can rant about. Sure, I know many of the judges and trust their beer opinions, and I understand that the judging process itself is not perfect but I just wouldn’t be Chuck unless I nitpicked until someone was insulted. So let’s get going.

First up is the Best in Show: Vancouver Island Hermannator. Big surprise: I have no qualms with this beer winning. It’s a gorgeous beer that is a complete outlier compared to the rest of the decidedly down-market beers VIB produces (aka “dreck”).

Now on to specific categories, where I will provide some insights, agree with some awards, shake my head at others, and suggest beers that seem to be missing. Note that the BC Beer Awards did not release the complete list of entrants, or the categories that the brewers put their beers in, so I’m very much ranting in the dark here, as per usual. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but horribly misinformed diatribes are sorta my thing. Notably both Tofino and Storm seem to have decided to sit this one out, but they aren’t the only ones.

Session Lager
Ugh. Really? This category is scarily close to the US’ “American Style Light Lager” in that it’s worded to only include awful beers, then award them a medal. This section’s appearance in 2013 is worrying. To indicate my disdain, I will avoid discussing any of the three awful beers that won.

Although, I wouldn’t object to a “Best Beer Marketed via Body Paint” category, but only because I’m a horrible person with no morals.

Nod: CC Pilsner (1st) – Damned straight this won. Fantastic beer.
Shake: Four Winds – Special Mention? Does this mean a judge wouldn’t shut up about it until they caved an added it as fourth? If so, bravo on you good sir (or madam). Four Winds Pilsner should have been second.

Special Lager
Nod: VIB Hermannator – No qualms here, or with the Best in Show nod. I love this beer, and am cellaring many bottles.
Missing: Parallel 49 Hop-a-fucking-razzi. Thank you.
Missing: 33 Acres Stärke, 33 Acres of Life (I would call both these “Session Lagers” but somehow I do not think this is what that category is for)

Session Ale
I guess the criteria here is “a beer you can drink a lot of”? Not sure this should be a full category, but sure, let’s play the game.
Shake: Nelson Wild Honey – The fuck? I’ve had this beer. It’s awful. Nelson has many other, much better beers.
Shake: Phillips Slipstream – At least the order is right. This is even worse than Nelson Honey.
Missing: Tofino Tuff? Oh yeah, Tofino didn’t enter. Why guys, why?

English Ale
Is anyone else sensing an issue here? Four beers in four styles? With only 14 entries I guess some lumping had to happen, but it’s not fair putting an English IPA up against an English Pale blind. I will assume we’re looking at BCJP Styles 8 (Bitter, Best Bitter, ESB) and 11 (Mild Brown, Southern Brown, Northern Brown) plus English IPAs (14A) but who knows?

Nod: OK Spring showing up here as a Special Mention is curious, but arguably their sugary-sweet Pale Ale is more of a traditional English Ale than any of the actual winners.
Missing: Howe Sound Devil’s Elbow
Missing: R&B East Side Bitter. I think this is the best bitter in the province. There, I said it.

American Ale
At least here’s there’s a BCJP style associated with the category (Style 10), even it’s very broad. 28 entries means there was a lot of variation going on here, although I can’t really argue with the three chosen results.
Nod: Old Yale’s Pale impressed me the last time I had it
Nod: And CC’s Pale disappointed–Still award-worthy, but not the gold magnet of previous years.

Shake: Deep Cove Quick Wit – I have tried both Batch 1 and Batch 2 of Deep Cove’s Quick Wit. Batch 1 was a hot mess of a beer, unless of course you like band-aids in your beverage. Batch 2 improved dramatically, but to swing all the way to gold? No way. Unless this is Batch 3, and it improved a likewise amount over Batch 2…

Fruit Beer
No huge issues here. While I’m not a fan of Fernie’s What the Huck, I’m also not a fan of fruit beers in general.
Missing: Howe Sound’s Bumbleberry Ale is rather tasty, but I haven’t seen it in bottles ever, so maybe it didn’t get submitted.

Vegetable / Spice Beer
Ah, the much vaunted pumpkin-beer category. The fact that only 1 such beer placed says something about this year’s crop of pumpkin ales which, I have to admit, I found lacking in general. Maybe it was the pumpkins?
Missing: Parallel 49 Schadenfreude

Special Beer
Nothing like a grab-all category for those misfits that don’t fit in else where. Sure, Special Beer is an official BCJP Category, but it’s the “everything else” category. Somewhat shockingly, I have no issues with the winners here.

Scottish / Irish
Okay, I have issues with the winners here. Dean, I loves ya, but I don’t loves Race Rocks, and I wouldn’t have given it this medal… as a Scottish Ale… seriously, WTF? There is so much wrong with this category that I can’t seriously rule out a misprint.
Missing: Storm Highland Scottish, GIB Irish Red, Russell Wee Heavy or, you know, SCOTTISH AND/OR IRISH BEERS!

Seriously, not one bad kilt pun in the lot?

Brown / Porter
Argh. I cannot stand Philips’ Choco Porter. I find the sweet–almost fake–chocolate confusing in a style that I revere for its roasted, malty bitterness.
Nod: Townsite PowTown. This beer was an early highlight before Townsite dialed-in their brewing process and started making generally great beer. It’s only gotten better.
Missing: Powell Street Dive Bomb, a fantastic beer that has only just now seen serious competition (from Brassneck)

Nod: Persephone Stout-off. I only had Persephone’s Stout after reading that they won gold. Wow, well deserved guys, that’s a great stout. (Your red ale stinks, though)
Shake: Longwood Stoutnik
Missing: Howe Sound Pothole Filler, Driftwood Singularity

Belgian / Sour Beer
Seriously, could we just break Sour off to its own category and call it the “YBC Oud Bruin v Storm Flanders Red” category? It would save some confusion.
Nod: All three. All three are wonderful beers.
Missing: Storm Flanders Red, Lighthouse Uncharted, Lighthouse Deckhand

Here we are; welcome to The Show. 34 Entries, more than any other category.
Nod: Can’t argue with anything here, although I have to wonder how fresh that Sartori was.
Missing: High Mountain Five Rings, Lighthouse Switchback, CC IPA

Imperial IPA
Nod: All three are good beers.
Shake: Hopnotist deserved first, but alas they have to judge the beers as presented, and not as they were when released (aka freaking awesome). This beer was best fresh, and has declined ever since.

Beers that get you there. Barley Wines, Belgian Strongs, and beers that are just generally high ABV and sweet. Not Russian Imperial Stouts or Imperial IPAs though.
Nod: Thor’s Hammer – Had a 2011 last night. Awesome.
Shake: P49 Vow of Silence – Not a bad beer, but not a silver medal. Only 8 entries, though, makes me think of the less common beers weren’t entered.
Missing: Howe Sound Woolly Bugger, Lighthouse Belgian Black

Overall, I think the awards accurately reflected the evolving landscape of BC Craft Beer. Some old stalwarts hung in, Fat Tug won gold, and some newbies took home some bling. As I’m fond of saying, it has never been a better time to be a craft beer fan in Vancouver, and it just keeps getting better.

Written by chuck

October 21st, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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Growing Hops for Homebrew

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What follows is the first article from’s new east coast American correspondent: Blake. Blake’s articles will, much like my own, focus on whatever the hell Blake feels like talking about. Today it’s growing hops for homebrew, a topic I briefly touched upon two years ago before giving up, letting Sharon do all the hard work, and never talking about the subject again. Blake seems slightly more competent, so he should add a welcome dose of “not insane advice” to this blog.



If you’re looking to make homebrewing a little more interesting, why not consider growing your own hops? Not only will the characteristics be unique to your growing conditions, putting a more personal stamp on your beer, but you will become that much more in touch with the whole beer-making process. That’s what I decided to do, starting small, with one little hop plant in my backyard.

Three years ago I spent $4 on a Perle hop rhizome because it’s known to be a great dual purpose hop with mild bittering qualities and a clean spicy aroma. The root system of most hop varieties is well-established after three years, so I’m excited to say I got a pretty solid yield (just under 1lb) off my plant this year. Since it will take a few years to pay off, I’m thinking of planting one or two new varieties in the spring.

So how do you grow hops? Once you’ve decided what variety (or varieties) you want to grow there are just a few basic steps you need to follow:

1. Pick a location.

You’ll want a spot with maximum exposure to the sun, with room to grow both upwards and outward.

2. Assess your soil.

Hops need the right soil conditions to grow properly. In the spring, they need more nitrogen to feed the roots, and towards the middle of summer they will need more potassium to feed the flowers. I bought a cheap soil testing kit from my local hardware store and found out my soil was deficient in nitrogen. I read up on fertilizers and found a good 20/20/20 mix (like Miracle Gro) will work just fine to help out a mildly deficient soil. I also found out that my local garden shop expert loves to talk fertilizer – if you have really poor soil they’ll have a solution for you.

3. Plan your infrastructure.

I looked at how the big boys do it, and they all use a trellis system that is about 20’ high for maximum yield. If you’ll be planting more than one of the same variety, they should be spaced 3-4’ apart. Each plant also needs its own dedicated coir, or twine, to be trained upon. If you don’t have room to build a trellis, hops can be grown in pots, but the root system will thrive much better in the ground.

ed: Also, you get to confuse the hell out of your non-craft beer neighbours.

4. Plant.

If you buy a rhizome, like I did, it will come with one or more buds that are pointing up toward the sky. Plant the rhizome with the buds facing upward, and cover it with about 1” of soil. Hop roots don’t like a lot of moisture and benefit from having good drainage, so I created a mound, or “hill”, above each rhizome to allow excess rainwater to run off. Rhizomes are fairly widely available online, but in particular check out MidWest Supplies in the US and Left Fields up in the Great White North.

5. Watch them grow.

After your hop plants get to be about 3’ tall, you’ll want to train them. For the first year, take as many hop shoots that are showing pointy tips, or “leaders” as you can, and wind them clockwise around the coir. After the first year, only train two or three of the stronger, dominant shoots. Prune the rest and make something tasty. This will encourage stronger growth among those dominant shoots and will result in a better yield when harvest time rolls around.

ed: Once they start, they seem to fly up that twine. Don’t leave anything valuable near hop bines or you’ll find yourself cutting it out the next day.

6. Harvest.

I start to watch my hops in late August for signs of browning on the tips (just a little browning – hops will start to turn yellow at the end of their season, and at that point it’s too late). Some hops will be ready earlier and some later; all the hop supply stores have information about growing seasons in their hop guides. Taking some hops and squeeze testing them for a papery feel and sound will give you a good idea, too.

Knowing when your hops are ready takes a little bit of a science, but luckily there are some good harvest moisture calculators out there to help you out.

7. Brew.

Fresh hops right off the bine should be used within 24 hours of harvesting, and can be added at the 15 minute mark for flavoring, or at the end of your boil for aroma. If you want to dry your hops, you can find some awesome hops drying calculators online. I dried some of my hops using a box with a screen bottom, and a fan underneath. It should take a day or two to reach the right moisture content, and I vacuum seal various sized packages to save in the freezer. Keep in mind there is a pretty big difference in weight between fresh and dry hops.

ed: Also, this setup makes your house smell AWESOME.

I’ll try using them in various bittering, flavor, and aroma combinations, utilizing the single-malt-single-hop, or SMaSH method. Making a few different test batches is easy if you pick up a 1-gallon size brew kit and you might as well treat yourself to some other beer-related goodies while you’re at it.

8. Enjoy!

After fermentation is complete, all that’s left to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. It’s always interesting to compare the final brews and see how changing something as simple as the timing of your hop additions can have such a huge impact on the final product.

Written by Blake

October 10th, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Seasonal Variation

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Consistency in general is hard. Consistency in brewing beer is even harder. This is why seasonal releases often have separate entries for each vintage on review sites. Sure, the brewers sometimes tweak the recipe a bit year to year, but even those that don’t can run afoul of a million different variables that influence the end result beyond recipe.

Sometimes the reason is simple (brew something enough times and you’ll screw up eventually), but often it’s nuanced, complex, and far beyond the brewer’s control. Here are just some things that can make the 2013 version of that 2012 beer a completely different animal.

Weather affects the quality of barley and hops

This affects single malt or single hopped beers the most, since there’s no blending going on to hide crops that are not as great. Sure, malting companies often produce a blended product made of many different types of barley to try and get around this, but even this approach lets subtle changes through. Additionally, brewers are increasingly ordering single varietal malts and choosing to blend themselves (or doing a simple grain bill and letting the barley speak for itself).

Changing production volumes changes how you brew the beer

It’s hard to make the jump from homebrewing to commercial brewing because, quite simply, brewing 5 gallons on your stove at home is not in the same league as running 10 hectolitres through a commercial system. Heck, it’s not even the same sport. Likewise, scaling up from 10 hL to 25 hL or more because your brewery expanded is also difficult. Also, simply brewing two batches on your 10 hL system instead of one means more chances for something to go wrong.

Similar to how scaling up your macro lager production
requires a whole lot more goats.

Differences in brewery time tables means a longer/short time for cellaring

Brewing beer is more like a factory production line than you’d like to think. Beer doesn’t just get sprinkled with yeast and then moved straight off to the bottle. Rather, it makes its way through a series of specialized containers in the brewery, the last of these being conditioning tanks in the cellar for ageing. If a brewery is brewing up a storm, odds are there is another beer coming down the pipeline that needs to be in that conditioning tank, and schedule pressure might push a beer out into bottles sooner than last year (not before it’s ready, mind you, just sooner). The result is a different product.

Brewery equipment changes year to year, and can affect the quality

Sounds similar to the volume argument doesn’t it? Well, this is slightly different. Bottling last year and canning this year? That means the beer is now going through the canning line instead. Maybe last year you only sold 50 cases and bottled by hand while this year you’re producing 500 cases and have an automated bottling line. Each bit of kit that touches the beer along the way to retail has its own, small impact on the final product.

Some recent studies even suggest that showering immediately
before swimming in the wort will affect the final product.

Weather affects how the beer brews

What? Rain isn’t just content fucking with my hops, but how it wants to get after my yeast? I built a roof over my brewery for a reason, damnit! Well, that’s the trick, some breweries use open fermenters which allows minor variables like humidity and pressure affect how the yeast lives, breathes and carbonates the beer. Open fermenters also allow outside yeast to interact with the beer, and that produces another layer of variability. The more common closed fermenters dramatically reduce these issues, but this sort of interesting variability is precisely why brewers use open fermenters in the first place.


Okay, so now I’m done talking about the whys and hows of a beer being different from year to year. How about some examples? Sure, I’ll give you one example each of a beer that is a) Much worse than last year b) Slightly worse than last year c) Slightly better than last year and d) Much better than last year. I wasn’t there when these beers were brewed, so I don’t know for sure why they’re different, just that they are.

There will be some surprises and potentially controversy here, so let’s start with the best.

Much Better than Last Year: Hoyne Wolf Vine.
Sean dialled this one in for 2013, and the result is a much smoother, rounder, all-around better product. The core ingredient (fresh hops) is also slightly better. (My best guess as to what changed: recipe + ingredients + time table)

Slightly Better than Last Year: Driftwood Sartori.
I think this is all about the hops, personally. The beer is largely the same as last year, but the freshness and quality of the hops has improved just that little bit extra. (My best guess as to what changed: ingredients)

Slight Worse than Last Year: Lighthouse Siren.
Last year, this beer was balls-out freaking awesome. I raved and raved about it. This year, in the new packaging, it’s merely a very good imperial red ale. I have no idea what changed, and please don’t start about cans tinting the flavour of the beer. (My best guess as to what changed: ingredients (see LH Brewmaster Dean’s comment below))

Much Worse than Last Year: Howe Sound Pumpkineater.
Yup, I’ll say it. This beer has been my favourite BC pumpkin ale for about six years running, but this time around it just tastes like strong pumpkin-flavoured chemicals. I tried it from two separate tap sources and in a bottle, and it isn’t merely not great, it’s downright bad. (My best guess as to what changed: recipe + ingredients)

Written by chuck

October 8th, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Posted in Beer and You