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August Beer of the Month

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I know what you’re thinking: good ole Chuck, lazily waiting until mid-month to update his Beer of the Month. However, that’s not the case! (this time) Nope, I was waiting for a worthy contender to step up to the plate, and boy was I patient.

Alas, none arrived. There were some decent beers, but ultimately nothing I felt really deserved a call out. So, the August Beer of the Month is: Nothing! Absolutely Nothing!

Stupid! You so stupid!

Sure, I could have gone the easy route and picked something like Parallel 49’s Li’l Red Sour, but I tend to pick beers that aren’t awful (sorry guys, it really isn’t any good). Maybe GIB’s Pucker Meister then? It’s a low-ABV style and I’m all about those, but honestly it’s not an amazing or highly unique beer, and I just singled out a low-ABV style by GIB last month. I don’t want to get repetitive or anything.

So, we’re stuck with nothing. Congratulations British Columbia Brewers, way to over-achieve.

Written by chuck

August 15th, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Posted in Beer and You

A Short Missive on the Price of Great Beer

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I’m off to Chambar tomorrow to celebrate Sharon’s birthday, and my reservation reminder email got me salivating like some Russian scientist’s pet. Sure, the food is amazing, and they do make a foie gras terrine so decadent that it likely would have been outlawed in the sexually repressed 1950s. However, the thing that really got me going was the beer I had there last time. Raise your hand if you’re surprised in any way by this.

The last time we were there, I enjoyed an extreme beer rarity: Westvleteren 12. This seldom-seen trappist is hailed by many as the “best beer in the world.” While I might not put it on such a lofty pedestal, it definitely is one of the better beers to ever pass my lips, and not to fluff my own pillow, but that means it’s pretty damned good.

Although I’m uncertain if the fact that my pillow
is also a beer helps or hinders my case.

I enjoyed this beer immensely for a number of reasons. First, it was served at the right temperature in an appropriate glass. Second, the atmosphere of Chambar is nigh perfect for a post dinner sipper of a big ale. Third, and I cannot stress this one enough, trying the Westy at Chambar meant not having to dip into my own small stash to monitor how my investment was progressing.

With such a memorable experience behind me, it’s fairly natural to remark about how great a time was had to friends, relatives, passers-by, and pretty much anyone who will listen. Imagine my shock when, instead of the intended jealously and interest, my story generated disapproval, centered solely around the question of price. I paid (IIRC) $27 for my 33cl bottle of Westvleteren 12–just over twice the ~$13 cost at retail, and therefore around the low-end of restaurant booze mark-ups. The reaction?

“How much? For beer!? *A* beer? I wouldn’t have paid that. You got ripped off.” Sure, some folk got it, and immediately went to Chambar for their own bottle, but others–even some craft beer fans–just couldn’t get over paying that much for a beer. Some even suggested that I could have saved money and drank beforehand. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t frequently pre-game fine dining.

I’m not saying it wouldn’t be awesome,
just that I personally don’t do it.

Think about this one for a second: $27 for 33cl is ~$82 for a litre, or ~$61 for 75cl. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? Here’s Chambar’s wine list. The price per bottle ranges from $38 (Bodegas Navarro Lopez ‘ROJO’ ’11 Tempranillo) to $525 (Chateau Palmer ’07 Margaux). $61 doesn’t even get you into the decent reds.

Drop $525 on a bottle of wine at a restaurant and people will think “wow, that must have been a great wine!” Drop $60 on a bottle of beer, and folk will think “what a rip-off.” The wine > beer mentality has been burnt into our sub-conscious by decades of cheap products from Big Beer and the advertising to back that up. It’s okay for wine to be expensive, but alas beer is not afforded such a luxury, no matter the quality.

Which would you prefer? The “best beer in the world,” or an okay Merlot from Washington State? (Charles Smith ‘The Velvet Devil’ $59). I know which one I’d go for, and I’d do it again in a second if Chambar hadn’t sold out already. While annoying for me, that fact is proof that some progress has been made, but until I can enjoy a high-end beer at a quality restaurant without derisive comment about what is frankly a low markup, we’re not quite done here.

Written by chuck

August 9th, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Posted in Bars,Beer and You

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Gotta Admit It’s Getting Better

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The BC Liquor Distribution Branch, being a public body, periodically releases a bunch of numbers about the state of liquor consumption in British Columbia. These reports are generally slipped onto their website with little to no fanfare in the hopes that no one’s paying attention, but I am.

Such an attitude is to be expected, though, from an organization assigned the schizophrenic task of selling as much liquor as possible to maximize profits while simultaneously being required to hold the world-view that booze, and therefore rising sales thereof, are bad. When you think about the LDB through this lens so very many of their actions begin to make sense.

Especially store interiors that
make you feel like a rummy getting your medicine.

Enough with the psychology, already. What goodies can be found in our latest set of numbers? The LDB’s 4-times-annually market statistics publication, imaginatively named the ‘Quarterly Market Review’ contains all sorts of fun stats. Here’s my glossy overview, but definitely feel free to read the thing yourself.

People in BC are spending about the same money on booze as they did last year. It’s down a bit, but not significantly. If we wanted to characterize the BC market in a sweeping generalization (and really, who doesn’t?) things can be boiled down thusly:

Beer down slightly (although up for domestic brands), Ciders/Coolers up a lot, Spirits down, Wine down slightly

Screw the 10,000 metre view, though, I want to know how craft beer is doing! Well, folks, it’s doing well. Awesome, in fact. Of course, sales statistics aren’t reported by the LDB into “craft” and “shiite” so we have to do some interpreting. The stats we do have are based on three categories of volume: >160,000HL, >15,000 but <160,000HL and <15,000HL. The small guys are safely craft, the middle group includes some from both ends of the spectrum (GIB, Lighthouse, Phillips, and rather famously Pacific Western, etc) and the upper end is safely macro. So how do things look for your made-in-BC beer scene? (Year over Year numbers, Domestic Beer, by volume) Macro Volumes: Down 1.33% Middle Volumes: Up 9.74% Craft Volumes: Up 35.57% Yay us. Don't pop the bottle conditioned Belgian ales just yet, though. Time for a healthy dose of perspective. That 1.45% that the macros lost? That's 2,481,897 litres of beer. That's an abstract number until you realize it's about the same production volume as for all the breweries under 15,000HL combined. Not the increase, mind you, but the total annual production. The macros didn't earn their name for no reason.

Pictured: Business-ending disaster for a craft brewery; 2 hours of inconvenient insurance paperwork for a macro.

Overall, though, the trend is clear. In 2009 the macros accounted for ~91% of all domesticly produced beer sold in BC. That number has changed slowly over the years since: 89% (2010), 85% (2011), 83% (2012) and now 81%. In that time, sales of both the middle guys and the small guys have doubled. In short, the likes of MolsonCoors and AB-InBev are bleeding out, slowly.

Taking up the middle ground are a mix of the almost macros (Pac West, OK Springs, and Granville Island), but also a healthy dose of brand new and expanding true craft breweries. The domestic tiny-brewery market went up by ~29,000hl in the past twelve months. In the big scheme of things, it’s less beer than the macros could produce in a week, but on more down-to-earth scales it’s almost 100 Bridge Breweries, or 2 Parallel 49s.

And that’s just the beer we SOLD. Chronic shortages at the new breweries show that demand is exceeding supply. Want to buy some Powell Street Old Jalopy? Good luck with that. Growth in the little-guy market is large and growing: 16% (2010), 6% (2011), 11% (2012) and 36% (2013). Keep in mind that as the more successful breweries cross that magic 15,000HL boundary they stop counting on the bottom end. Even with the occasional 15,000HL hit to the bottom line, the smallest breweries just keep selling ever-larger quantities of great beer.

In short, it’s never been a better time to be a craft brewery or a craft beer drinker in BC.

Written by chuck

August 6th, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Posted in Beer and You