Barley Mowat 

Archive for the ‘Beer and You’ Category

Liquor Policy Review

with 4 comments

I guess you want my opinion on the whole liquor review thing, eh? For those not in the know, the BC Government has finally admitted what we’ve been screaming at it for decades: our provincial liquor policy is outdated and draconian. Rules that might have made sense in the period immediately post-prohibition just no longer apply almost a century later.

And frankly the dumping of infused vodka in False Creek
and tommy-gunning restaurateurs who allow BYO Beer was a bit extreme*

* Yes – Restaurants infusing their own spirits or allowing customers to bring in their own beer are illegal under current legislation

I like this initiative, and think it’s long overdue. The whole “host a website to solicit public feedback” thing is pretty nifty too. So you, being a beer-blog-reading type of person, are likely the sort of folk that might actually provide some feedback. So, what should you say?

First, you might as well delete that email you’ve already half-written about selling liquor in grocery and convenience stores. Yes, we all want that. It’s already been asked enough to be on the government’s RADAR, and they’ve already written a post on their website about it.

That reads almost like a “no way” response. Of course, it has to be phrased as an open discussion since that’s how the government is positioning this whole thing, but I can’t help but notice Mr Yap didn’t go straight to the “but… but… health!” argument when talking about selling liquor at farmer’s markets (which, btw, would be cool. Please do this).

I also expect that discussion around the government getting out of liquor retail will be off the board as well. The retail arm does generate around $900 million a year and once you get addicted to that level of cash flow it’s hard to give it up. So, this review won’t be revolutionary. It won’t lead to the balls-out awesomeness I’ve called for before. What WILL it be, then?

Yeah, no. Not even a chance. Sorry about that.
(This is a growler station in a grocery store)

Well, it will be evolutionary, and there will be at least some movement towards modernity. To even perform this whole process in the first place shows some budging from the LCLB’s long-held stance of “everything we do is perfectly reasonable and justifiable” to a semi-more sane position of “you know what, it IS weird that you can’t have a bottle of wine at a picnic, isn’t it?”

Yup, you heard that right, drinking of at least some liquor in at least some forms of public spaces (parks/beaches) is being considered, but all these things will be dropped unless you the public chimes in (although the only way to do so appears to be via comments on blog topics chosen by Mr Yap).

Individual consumers aren’t the only ones that can speak out. CAMRA had a meeting with Yap recently, and you can read their requests here. In general I agree with most things they’ve asked for, although I’d like to see pubs and retail stores be able to sell growler fills in addition to producers (and arguing for enforcement of current policy re:pint sizes should be a separate conversation from a review/revision of policy in general).

Heck, even the Campaign for Culture has chimed in here with a not-unreasonable list of suggestions, backed by some pretty solid research.

In the end, this is a move in the right direction, and the folks being granted face-to-face meetings with Mr Yap are doing the smart thing: pushing for minor adjustments to the existing policy, which are more likely to get passed than wholesale change.

However, keep in mind that these interest groups are not always as aligned with consumer goals as the CFC and CAMRA, who are two consumer-focused organizations. Restaurant groups will want changes that allow them to make more money, whereas MADD and health officers know that liquor can be bad and want it controlled.

Ultimately, the only way to make sure that your voice is heard is to join the conversation. You can do that on the website, or by emailing

Written by chuck

September 26th, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Timing of Pumpkin Ales

with 11 comments

I’ve often toyed with answering user questions via letters, but there have always been a few roadblocks to my taking this idea seriously. These roadblocks are comprised of, but not limited to:

  • Not having any readers who are either engaged or literate enough to ask questions
  • I already get enough spam and hate mail
  • Further raising the chance of coming home to find a bag of faeces crammed through my letter slot with “answer this, asshat” scrawled on it in block letters
  • I kinda don’t wanna

Although, honestly, I would kill to answer questions like this weekly.

However, all that changed this week when this showed up in my inbox:

Dear Chuck,

<Salutations, excessive praise, and platitudes omitted for brevity>

A few of us were having a discussion on this down at St. Augustine’s, and wanted your take on it. This year it seems like the pumpkin beers are coming out much earlier than in past years. I always understood that the timing of pumpkin ales (and other beers) coincided with the end of the pumpkin harvest, when pumpkin was ripe, plentiful, and cheap. Do you think brewers are using some sort of artificial flavouring, an extract, or canned pumpkin? Or am I wrong that the pumpkin beers seem early this year?

Also, you are very handsome and generally awesome*.

Ryan M, Burnaby
* Edited for clarity**.
**Okay, fine, that last line wasn’t in the original.

Well, being easily distracted by beer-related queries, I took my eyes off of the road in front of my gasoline-laden tanker truck for a brief moment to tap out a reply, school zone be damned:

Dear Ryan,

You’re not wrong. There’ve been a few articles in the media about it, eg this one; pumpkin beers are definitely early this year. Heck, Howe Sound and Parallel 49 both have theirs out already. HS’s was out in August, fer Chris’ sake.

The trick here is that pumpkin ales are one of the key predictable seasonal beers, and often the only craft beer that some folk drink. As a result, craft beer sales are higher in the fall compared to the rest of the year. Pumpkin beer is, quite simply, massively profitable and a great gateway product to expose your brand to new consumers.

Brewers–especially the big craft ones–want to capture that temporarily expanded market. Being the only pumpkin beer on the shelf just makes it that much easier to sell more. Thus a calendar game of chicken was born: when is too early to release you fall beer lineup? Apparently not August.

What? You thought this happened because brewers just really like pumpkin beer? Oh you silly, naïve git.

Regarding ingredients, if you had visions of freshly harvested pumpkins being hollowed out by a slaving brewmaster, then dumped in the beer, I’m afraid you’re about to be disappointed. There are virtually no breweries that make beer with fresh pumpkins, even in BC. Now, they’re generally not stooping to extracts or artificial flavours, but they’re also not buying out local Farmer Joe, even though a cask-conditioned ale in a giant, hollow pumpkin would be about 300 kinds of awesome. (Side Note: Graham from Parallel 49 indicates he’s going to try this. Somehow, I knew he would.)

Nope, it’s all canned pumpkin and/or pumpkin pureé. Virtually every flavoured beer uses canned fruits and vegetables. Those cherry berliner weisses? Canned cherries. Many-fruited-ales? Pureé. Blackberry? You see where I’m going with this. Canned goods are easier to work with, easier to order, and let you produce your flavoured beer whenever you want, not just when the ingredients are in season. Plus, you can absolutely get high quality canned ingredients so why not?

While pulled over to power-wash what appeared to be partially liquefied kindergarteners off my truck’s grill, it occurred to me that I had effectively just written an article. Not wanting to let an opportunity to turn random internet correspondence into a lazily slapped together blog post, I decided to go for it.

You know what? It didn’t turn out half awful, so if you have any other beer related questions, feel free to contact me. I’ll do my best to string together enough half-truths and plain old incorrect facts to turn your honest query into pageviews for me. Ain’t I just the best?

Written by chuck

September 5th, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Posted in Beer and You

A Tale of Two Books

with one comment

I’ll be honest, my plan was to review two beer books that would make awesome hammock fodder for this upcoming long weekend, but the weather report just shat a steaming load of crushed dreams all over that idea. So here are two books you could read, um, on your couch I guess. While the rain pours down outside. Seriously, when did summer end, and why did no one tell me?

Book 1: Craft Beer Revolution by Joe Wiebe

Want to know something about Craft Beer in BC as of Summer 2013? Look in this book. Joe’s all encompassing compendium of BC Craft Beer doesn’t miss much of anything. Want a history of the early days of BC Craft Beer? It’s here. Want a rundown of the newest kids on the block? Bam, you’re covered.

However, where Joe’s book falls a bit short is, well, as a book. This is not a cohesive cover-to-cover read. It is a guide to the current state of beer in BC, with a few anecdotes sprinkled through for flavour.

The writing frequently repeats itself, declaring a new tidbit as a novel fact when it was actually discussed just two pages prior. This is to be expected for a book that was, no doubt, based in part off of Joe’s extensive and authoritative writings on BC Craft Beer over the past few years. Read it in short bits for best effect–I’m not saying it’s a bathroom reader, but that might just be the perfect application for it, aside from a reference.

Does any of that mean I don’t like Joe’s book? Nope. I’ll leave futher criticism of Joe’s approach until I have my own damned book on the market to point to (spoiler: I’m not writing one). Instead of pointing out what it isn’t, I should be spending more time pointing out what it is: a complete, up-to-date compendium of everything to do with Awesome Beer in BC, backed 100% by in-depth personal research by Joe himself (aka Joe went to a lot of breweries and drank a lot of beer… well played, Joe).

For a person just getting into local beer, or even someone with a bit more experience, this would be an invaluable resource. Even a huge beer snob like myself found some tidbits I didn’t know. I expect that many copies of this book will wind up under trees come December.

In short, is it worth a damn? Yes.

Also, the cover is cool, which is the most important part of a book.

Buy it now: Amazon $14.40 ($9.99 Kindle), iBooks: n/a, Chapters: $14.40 (n/a for Kobo)

Book 2: The Audacity of Hops by Tom Acitelli

The Audacity of Hops is everything that Joe’s Craft Beer Revolution is not. CBR is about BC, AoH is about the USA (BC gets about 1/2 a page). CBR is a guide to the current state of beer with some history for context, AoH is about the history of the craft beer movement with some current state of affairs for filler. CBR is fairly well written and easy to digest. Oh snap!

The Audacity of Hops attempts to string a narrative through the sprawling history and origins of Craft Beer in the United States. This history fits well when the book is talking about the start of the movement in 1960’s California, but author Tom Acitelli’s desire to present a cohesive, linear view of a history that is–in reality–fragmented, regional and random just doesn’t work, especially in later chapters as the breweries begin to pop up faster than you can keep track of.

Add onto that mix his use of prose that left me reaching for a thesaurus on many occasions and we wind up with a book that spends most of its 416 pages feeling just a little bit out of reach–as if you’re being lectured to–and don’t we all love that feeling.

As a narrative it fails, but as an extensively researched broad overview of just about every important brewery in the United States it succeeds. Fritz Maytag, Steve Hindy, Garrett Oliver, Sam Calagione: they’re all here, complete with backstory and a brief glimpse into what makes them tick. Not an in-depth profile, mind you, as there’s just too many to go that deep–a bit of backstory, maybe an interview snippet, and we’re off to the next famous brewery down the line, and boy there are a lot of them.

In short, is it worth a damn? Yes.

Where did they get a picture of my living room?

Buy it now: Amazon: $15.85 ($9.02 Kindle), iBooks: $15.99,Chapters/Indigo: $15.85 ($12.95 Kobo)

Written by chuck

August 28th, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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