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Introducing the Beerdies

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It’s the first day of the New Year: a time for reflection on days gone past, pontification on days yet to come, and perhaps most importantly, a time for reading whatever random crap you can find on the Internet with the hopes of dulling even just a little of the pain inside your head. Seriously, what the fuck did you drink last night? Last thing you remember was opening that bottle of Old Barrel Dweller and grabbing a straw… did… did you make out with your cousin? No not that cousin, the ugly one, cuz ew.

So let’s take our minds off the myriad horrors of braces for a second and talk about 2012 and all the great awesomeness that we saw. In order to frame this discussion, I will now introduce the “Annual Barley Mowat Excellence in Beer Awards”, aka The Beerdies. Other, better blogs and organizations have end-of-year awards focusing on actual merit (eg Best Beer or Best Brewery), so I’ll take up the slack and focus on the state of BC Beerdom from the point of view of the bearded beer geek (aka me).


I haven’t built a trophy yet, but I figure this plus a can of gold spray paint and we should be good.

To avoid repetition, I didn’t actually insert “According to Chuck” at the end of these category titles–just read it in there as you go. Or “In bed”–either works equally well.

Best New Brewery: Parallel 49 (brewmaster Graham With)

I was initially somewhat wary of P49’s potential. After all, here was a brewery focusing on session ales, of all things, and with a near-rookie brewmaster. Didn’t they know that Barley Wines and Imperial Stouts are where it’s at? Well, shows what I know. All their beers are great, and the special release program is bringing interesting and unique brews to the masses. Well played guys (and yes, an Impy Stout is on the way, just to cover all the bases).

Brewery What Took Most Of My Money: Driftwood (brewmaster Jason Meyer)

For the third year in a row, Driftwood woed me with both giant cellarable releases (Singularity, Old Cellar Dweller, Old Barrel Dweller, Mad Bruin) and an excellent on-tap and table beer line-up (Fat Tug in particular). However, the times, they are a-changing. It wasn’t just Driftwood taking up new slots in my cellar this year, Central City, Howe Sound and Granville Island all earned shelf space, and that list is set to grow with Parallel 49’s RIS about to come out.

Hottest Brewery Accessory: Barrels

Driftwood and Central City have been playing around with barrel ageing for a while, but in 2012 this niche concept went mainstream. How mainstream? Here’s the list of breweries that now have barrel programs: Phillips, Driftwood, Russell, Central City, Parallel 49, Granville Island (Taphouse), and more are added every day. P49 is building a dedicated barrel house, they like it so much. While we don’t quite have a Cascade Brewing Barrel House up here just yet, we’re on our way.

Best Seasonal Lineup: Lighthouse “Small Brewery, Big Flavour” (brewmaster Dean McLeod)

Let me list some beers: Belgian Black, Belgian White, Overboard, Siren, Uncharted. All those came from one brewery: Lighthouse. Sure, the small release program from Lighthouse didn’t always hit them out of the park (Choco Porter, sorry Dean), but by and large these weren’t just great beers, they were excellent beers.

Best New Trend: Growlers (in Vancouver)
Honourable Mention: Names Not The Owner/Location (eg: Brassneck, Four Winds, Bomber)

Victoria has been blessed with a growler culture for a few years now, making running a brewery without a growler bar an odd proposition. In Vancouver, though, growlers have been limited to brewpubs. Until now, that is. We’re just getting going, but with two new growler-friendly breweries this year and at least three more in the works, things are getting interesting.

Best Nigel Springthorpe: Nigel Springthorpe

No surprises here, right? A Chuck-based award system that didn’t set one aside for the reigning King of BC Beer wouldn’t make sense. Sure, it’s not fair to all the non-Nigels out there, but this isn’t about fair. It’s about good beer, and so is Nigel.

Most Improved Brewery: Dead Frog (brewmasters Tony Dewald & Tim Brown)

There are so very many things wrong with Dead Frog Brewing that Love Good Beer dedicated an entire post to it, and this is AFTER they released Fearless IPA. I agree; they’re not out of the deep end yet, but Fearless is a step in the right direction. There’s a lot more to running a successful brewery than making good beer, but it definitely helps. Keep up the good work, Dead Frog, and I look forward to what you make next.

And now, the grand prize of the 2012 Beerdies (aka the Golden Beerdie):

Best Beard in BC Beer: Conrad Gmoser

Look at it… it’s just so… glorious. Don’t you just want to touch it? To stroke it? To have it?

I might as well have named this trophy The Conrad, but unlike The Nigel above, this will be available to anyone with follicles, brewing instinct, lots of time and the kind of job that involves both obsessing over a complex process and little to no outside contact. Yup, a brewing hermit is basically a shoe-in.

And that’s all for now! Back to bed.

UPDATE: @GingerLiz corrects me on the mint content of Deans choco porter. Turns out I get confused by leafs on packaging easily.

Written by chuck

January 1st, 2013 at 11:53 am

Craft vs Crafty

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A lot of attention has been paid recently to the ongoing debate between “true” Craft Breweries and the big macros creating a shadow brand and marketing it as craft. The US-based Brewers Association (BA) is responsible for the latest salvo in the ongoing debate, recently issuing a press release on the topic as well as a rather blunt list of breweries they consider non-craft.

Before we start pointing fingers at non-Craft Brewers and saying all sorts of libellous things about them, we should first try and figure out what, exactly, a Craft Brewery is. For this purpose, we’ll borrow the Brewer’s Association’s own definition (see it here) because there is no accepted definition of the term in Canada.

Craft Breweries, according to the BA, have to meet three criteria, and I have issues with all of them. Read on:

1. Small
This is defined as an annual production of less than six million barrels, which is 7,200,000hl in non-yankee speak. Nothing about this volume is “small”–in fact, a brewery that makes 7,200,000hl would be colossal by pretty much any standard. OK Spring, BC’s biggest brewery by production, makes ~360,000hl across all their brands, for instance. Only the truest giantest macro breweries would produce more, and that’s what this number is all about.

As well, it has to be noted that this number keeps changing and growing as the former “small” breweries raise their production. Before “Craft Beer” was a broadly used marketing term, you’d hear about “Microbreweries” but that term became harder and harder to justify as these former small producers started brewing beer by the mega-barrel. Hence how we now have “Craft Beer” and it’s ever escalating production cap.


If this trick sounds familiar, it should.

2. Independent

Your craft brewery must not be more than 25% owned by an entity that, itself, is not a craft brewery (however if they are a craft brewery, bring it on!). So I guess selling out is okay, just not to The Man? No mention is given to banks, which likely hold the largest stake in all operating breweries. In the end, it doesn’t matter how great your beer is so long as the guy paying the bills makes macro beer (or his boss does, or that guys’ boss’ boss, etc, all the way up).

Aside:
This requirement is the subject of the latest battle in the War on Macro Beer. It turns out the majors have been creating shadow brands and selling beer under those brands. The beer isn’t great, but it sure isn’t macro swill. Should Coors have to say they brewed Blue Moon on the bottle? I’m split on this, as the issue is more complex than you’d think. Does GIB have to say “brewed by Molson” on their main beers? Maybe. What about on Vern’s micro-produced one-offs, brewed by Vern on his tiny 10hl brewkit, which is about as micro as mirco gets? See? Not so easy to figure out, and I sure don’t have an answer. In the end, though, shadow branding and contract brewing upset me far less than bad beer.

3. Traditional

Your flagship beer (the one you sell the most of) must be an all malt beer, or a beer that only uses non-malt adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavour. If this seems a bit convoluted to you, you’re with me. Basically this rule exists to rule out breweries selling lots of corn-augmented Pale Lager, but they had to modify it a bit to allow for fruit beers becoming popular.

So where does all this leave us? Basically all three rules are structured in such a way as to effectively say “you’re craft beer if your name isn’t SABMiller, Sapporo, MolsonCoors, or Anheuser-Busch InBev” (and a few others). Why they didn’t save us a bunch of time and just list those companies by name and call it a day, I’ll never know.

But they didn’t, and now we’re stuck with three rules that are harder to apply than they might seem. Think about this:

1. Small: Let’s say that Lighthouse’s Small Brewery, Big Flavour series becomes wildly successful, and everyone across the country just keeps buying it, but the second they brew the 6,000,001st barrel it should be shunned by geeks? Why?


Shut ‘er down, Dean, the third from the right is now shit.

2. Independent: You’re Goose Island. AB-InBev buys you (this isn’t hypothetical). I guess your (previously excellent) beer is now awful?

3. Traditional: You’re making a nice, light, refreshing wheat ale that’s well balanced and very popular. Sorry, you’re not craft because you’re using wheat for it’s crisp lightness.

It seems to me that all this is just dancing around the core issue: Good Beer versus Bad Beer. It’s possible to meet every single one of those criteria and still produce a macro-esque swill that will make Coors Light seem full bodied and complex by comparison, and it’s just as equally possible to miss on all three marks and make a lineup of amazing beers (and 1 pale lager made with corn).

Personally, I don’t care who made this excellent ale in front of me; all I care about is the fact that it’s excellent, and perhaps I might also be concerned about where I might find another. If it was made locally by someone I can go thank personally for making good beer, then that has a certain nice appeal to it, but if it was made in a giant vat by Molson I might be surprised, but I won’t suddenly like it less.

Let’s worry about the beer, and not who makes it. Yes, that might lead us to a world where the big macro producers are making barley wines and call them “Craft Beer” but you know what, they’d be right to do so. “Craft Beer” as defined by the terms above is an entirely artificial concept. If we take it by the more popular definition of “Good Beer” then why can’t Molson also play this game? If the macros have to resort to producing “Good Beer” to stay in business, then that’s the kind of world I want to live in.

Written by chuck

December 19th, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Xmas Buying Guide

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It’s gift giving time again, and no matter how strongly folk feel about their non-Christian religious denomination, no one seems to complain too much when the gift in question is beer. Do you have a bearded beer geek in your life? Want to know what sort of hard core or exotic gifts will make even the most cynical BC beer snob quiver in joy? Well, look no further, it’s Barley Mowat’s 2012 Xmas Gift Guide for Beer Geeks*!

Driftwood Old Cellar Dweller Vertical

Hillside Liquor in Victoria is offering up a five-year vertical of OCD. For those keeping track, that’s… all of them. They’ve likely sold out by now, but for those with keen eyes there are the odd 2011 and even 2010 vintages just hanging out on LRS shelves, if you know where to look.

Barley Wine Horizontal

Can’t make it over to Victoria? How about a horizontal of all the current BC Barley Wines? Driftwood has two out, CC released a limited number of Thor’s Hammer, Phillips pushed out Trainwreck, and both GIB and Howe Sound have their own product coming out in the near future. While obviously not as rare as the full vertical of OCD, this sampling of the current state of the BC Barley Wine World is a solid runner up. Just don’t give in to temptation and drink them all in one night.


Or leave them all out for Santa.

CAMRA Membership

No aspiring beer geek should be walking around without a CAMRA card. Not only does membership show your support for local craft beer, it also saves you gobs of cash through discounts at fine CAMRA-friendly establishments and at participating Liquor Retail Stores. I renew every January and usually make my fee back within days (it is no coincidence that Singularity is released shortly thereafter).

Central City Winter Cask Festival Tickets

While your run-of-the-mill beer fests are great and all, hardcore beer geeks like myself are somewhat less enthused. Regular beer fests are often just breweries pouring their production ales for people to sample and try for the first time. The issue is that any good member of the beererati has already had all those beers a few times over so, ultimately, the novelty factor is somewhat lessened.

What about a festival where most every beer is custom brewed just for the occasion? Sold! The leading provider of such festivals is Central City Brewing who, despite being an awesome brewery in their own right, invites everyone over twice a year for a party.

Tickets to this winter’s cask fest are only $30, and can be bought with plenty of time to spare for getting them wrapped and under the tree.

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All these are solid suggestions but, let’s face it: the people reading this blog ARE the beer geeks–not the people buying presents FOR beer geeks. So, in a hat tip to reality, let’s wrap up with a couple great BC non-beer suggestions for our tolerant and enabling significant others. You didn’t complain when we converted your walk-in closet to a beer cellar, and you happily let yourself be dragged along to all kinds of crazy cask festivals. So here’s some Not Beer for you (yes, I do wine too).

Painted Rock 2009 Syrah

A wine of rare quality that you can enjoy right now but which will also improve with a bit of ageing. I suggest you buy a case and age it alongside your Barley Wine, so you can justify the inevitable Beer Cellar expansion into the master ensuite. See also, Painted Rock Red Icon, for a slightly pricer but even more ageing-friendly beast.

Osoyoss Larose Le Grand Vin Vertical

The LDB site only lists the ’07 or ’08 as being available, but if you look carefully you can find some as old as the ’06 and as new as the ’09 (and as big as the six litre!). Of course, there’s no telling how these bottles have been kept by the LDB, who seem hell-bent on destroying as much good wine as possible with heat and light. As an added bonus, though, the Larose Le Grand Vin comes in cool 6 bottle wooden crates, which are perfect for wrapping up (and for storing beer in).

UPDATE: Central City Cask Festival link now goes to something that isn’t 12 months out of date!

* Sure, I realized I missed few things, like the recently released Westvleteren 12 gift pack, but I’m staying on theme here, folks: BC. If I didn’t limit this hobby to just BC I’d be drunk far more often, and I’m already drunk all the time, so I’m not sure how that’d play out.

Written by chuck

December 11th, 2012 at 12:40 pm