Barley Mowat 

Archive for the ‘Beer and You’ Category

No, YOU Drink It

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One of the scarier aspects of homebrewing is that eventually you have to drink the damned stuff. Even worse, there’s often so much of it that you must force it upon your friends, who will either claim its great while silently judging you with their eyes, or immediately keel over dead, depending on how thouroughly you cleaned the equipment.

A quick rinse and we’re good to go! What do you mean, no?

You see, not everyone is an award-winning homebrewer like Rick August or Dave Shea, whose beers are only distinguishable from professional brews by the very real chance that they are actually better. The vast majority of homebrewers are incompetent fuck-ups who are either too cheap to buy real beer, or who think that cramming perfectly drinkable beer into tiny oak barrels for a month is a grand idea.

That leads us to me, to today. My beer has now been out of the oak barrels for about two weeks. It’s mellowing in a number of sanitised and repurposed Howe Sound Brewing bottles, being kept cosy by a strong helping hand of champagne yeast and raw dextrose sugar. The yeast and sugar was added during bottling for two very distinct purposes.

First, the champagne yeast will ferment the sugar in the bottle, and produce carbon dioxide, which will then carbonate the beer because the bottles are capped and the C02 cannot escape. Second, it lets me say that my beer is “finished with champagne yeast” with elegant airs–a phrase that pleases me as much in the saying as it makes those around me want to punch me in the face.

Or, at least that’s the hope. My champagne+dextrose combination was bubbling away merrily when I put it in the bottles, but since then the results have varied by the beer it was paired with. The Whitebark continues to carb up, while the Pothole Filler just kinda… went flat.

However, all that is solidly in the past now, and there ain’t a damned thing I can do about it. Two weeks should be sufficient time for champagne yeast to at least begin doing its thing to make with the bubbly bubbly, and thus I’m now stuck with the task of busting this stuff out and seeing exactly how blind I go.

I’m guessing pretty blind.

To aid in this procedure I have stowed away bottles of the original, unaltered beers for comparison, and to also make me very sad when I realize exactly the level of crime I have commited here. I’ll sample this weekend and report back next week, assuming I manage to stay out of the hospital.

For the record, here are my tasting notes just prior to bottling:

HS Pothole Filler + Bourbon Oak: Tasty, but sure needs some carbonation… any carbonation

Whitebark + Grapes + Brett + Lacto: Whoa. This went from awful to decent to great. A nice sour beer with all sorts of wine and oak characteristics. Very amateur and thin, though, but better than I’d expected for my first try.

HS 4-Way Fruit + Nothing: Decent, but the oak is a bit strong for this brew. Also detected traces of oxidation, which is odd considering the extreme lengths I went to keep deadly oxygen away from this beer. Time in the bottle should mellow the oak.

Written by chuck

June 22nd, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Splitting Bitter, Resin-coated Hairs

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I recently posted something on Twitter that garnered a bit of questioning from people who know me. I said that Tofino Spruce Tip IPA is the Best IPA In The World. That’s quite a bold claim, especially from a guy that claims to hate rating beer. I don’t give praise lightly, thus you know I sat down and thought about this before saying it, so what’s my reasoning?

Well, let’s start with a bit of background on India Pale Ales. I won’t bore you with the history of IPAs in general. As someone who can tolerate reading my blog I will just assume you already know this most basic of beer legends for regaling other, lesser, beer nerds at parties.

In recent years, the IPA genre has, much like pretty much all genres, split into English-style and American-style varieties. English-style, as usual, is the more traditional variety and reflects this by being more conservative. These are refreshing, light-to-medium bodied beers with classic bitter hop aroma/flavour and a moderate alcohol level (typically 5.5-6.0%). Want to know what I mean? Try Howe Sound’s IPA. That’s a great example.

American-style means what you’d think: bigger and (therefore?) better. What made English IPA so unique? Hops you say? Well fuck those limeys, we’ll use even more hops! Yeah! U S A! U S A! 6.0% booze? How about, oh I dunno, MORE than 6.0% booze! YEAH! Let’s get fucked up in a parking lot, watch some football and then go bomb some brown people! AMERICA!

Since that first split, though, both styles have further fragmented. Try an IPA in New England and you’ll find it to be fairly close to the English style, but an IPA in California will be heavier bodied with much stronger bittering hops and a tonne more alcohol. Go up the coast a bit to Oregon/Washington and that same IPA becomes even bigger bodied, hoppier and now has a closed-fist punch of aroma-hops. As well, now the mouthfeel becomes a fantastic creamy texture to back up the heavy sugar and bitterness of the brew, bringing the whole thing into final, perfect, balance.

There’s also the “shitty, watery east coast Canada style”.

In fact, the Californian and Pacific Northwest styles are different enough from regular IPAs that they are usually indicated as such on the bottle. This is more commonly done with PNW IPAs, which are sometimes also referred to as Cascadian IPAs. That’s a term I love, so I’ll use it.

Enough background. All that was a complete setup to being able to do this: English < American < New England < Californian < Cascadian. I'm not saying an IPA of English-Style is bad. Quite the opposite, they can be just lovely, but if you're going balls to the wall to make the best IPA you possibly can, you just gotta go Cascadian. Of course, popular beer rating sites like RateBeer and BeerAdvocate disagree. They put the Californian style on the top. Go look at their top IPA list and you'll see lots of Californian breweries: Ballast Point, Stone, Russian River, Alesmith. This is mostly due to a stylistic difference between what the population believes to be a great IPA and what experts (OK, me) believe to be a great IPA. But, it is also because those sites partially rank beers based on popularity (lots of high votes count more than a few very high votes). More people have had the Californian beers because, simply, there are more people in California. However, I've had most of those beers. They are wonderful beers. In fact they are fantastic, even stonking great beers. They are, though, not as good as Cascadian IPAs, such as the ones from Green Flash, Deschutes, Driftwood, Central City, Lighthouse and, yes, Tofino. They lack the big body and creamy mouthfeel that (in my opinion) make an IPA the nigh perfect cumulation of all that is brewing. So, now when I say that Tofino has one-upped that whole mess by seamlessly merging the natural aroma and bitterness of spruce tips into an already fantastic IPA, resulting in the best IPA in BC, you understand how I can extend that acclaim to "Best in the World." This beer is like drinking the rainforest, and how can that be bad?

It’s also a much better result than my last attempt at combining beer with logging.

Alas, the Spruce Tip IPA is a casked ale, and that means it was only produced in very limited quantities. Tofino’s regular Hoppin’ Cretin IPA also features Spruce Tips, but just not in the vast quantities of the cask. Perhaps expense is keeping the sprucey-goodness to a cask, or perhaps it’s the fact that spruce tips only reliably grow in the spring. I don’t know.

What I do know, though, is that this beer is currently on one of the beer engines at the Alibi Room and will disappear fast. So go down there early tonight to drink it before it’s gone and the reigning IPA crown goes back to Driftwood Fat Tug.

Written by chuck

June 8th, 2012 at 10:08 am

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with ,

Members with Benefits

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A CAMRA card isn’t just a form of elitist ID that gains you access to the very upper echelons of society. Oh no, it also gets you special treatment at any number of high end establishments all around town. And by “special” I mean “the same as everyone else, only slightly cheaper.” It’s true, have a look.

And that list isn’t even complete. There are a few liquor stores missing (like Viti), and definitely a few establishments (like Sharkey’s), although I expect the PHP error barfed in the middle of the page might have something to do with that. But, whatever, PHP is hard and the site admins have drinking to do!

A cat sys admin is a lot less cute when you realize the cat has been pissed since, like, 8am.

Usually when I show people that list I get a confused look back, and then the question: “Wait… you get 10% off BEER? At a liquor store?” They get the restaurant discount (sorta), but the discount on booze at LRSs flummoxes them completely. It took me a while to get used to the idea myself, but happily yes, several stores that carry good beer have decided the exposure they get via CAMRA is worth 10%, in addition to deciding that CAMRA is an organization worthy of their support.

Also, it should be noted that a CAMRA buyer is an educated and high value buyer. This is not a person who will give your store the shaft to save $2 on a 12-er of Corona. That guy is a jerk. In addition to buying elsewhere based on price alone, he doesn’t even have enough common decency to buy a high margin beer. The margin on Corona is less than 10% precisely because these guys are so price sensitive. But our CAMRA guy isn’t.

No siree, a CAMRA buyer is a person that will purchase 6 bottles of high-end beer at $10-$20 per bottle, and then come back next week to do it again. You want this person in your store as often as possible, even if you have to give them 10% off.

Sure, you’re not making as much on that bottle of Central City Double IPA from the CAMRA guy as you do from the next bastard buying that same bottle, but the CAMRA guy also bought 5 more bottles. Even if the profit on the bottle is lower, the profit per transaction is higher. And so long as your product keeps moving out the door you don’t have to worry too much about inventory. Also, Mr CAMRA might have grabbed some of that $30 Deschutes Stoic you’ve been having trouble moving.

So, it’s all good, right? The store gets more profit and can stock more interesting beer without worrying about it stealing shelf space, and our fictional bearded CAMRA guy can buy lots of interesting beer and write about it on his blog. Win/win.

Well, it’s fine and good until Corona-guy stands behind Mr CAMRA and sees him getting 10% off his beer purchase. Next week when SeƱor Corona buys his shitty beer and a bag of skunk-reducing limes, he’s brandishing a brand new CAMRA card and asking for that sub-10% profit margin on his awful alco-pop to be dropped straight into loss territory.

And then this happens.

The first time I saw this sign at Viti I thought it was a bit of a joke until manager Ralf told me that this is exactly what has been happening*. I was shocked to hear this had been happening, but ultimately not very surprised when I thought about it. To be clear: I 100% support Viti limiting the discount to craft beer. Heck, I even suggested that they confiscate offenders’ membership cards.

The trick, though, is what IS craft beer? Yeah, we can all agree that those brands are not craft, but what about other very large brewers? What about Guinness? Leffe? Chimay? Granville Island? Some of those are pretty big breweries producing mass market beers.

Each store can come up with their own list, and we could decide if the store had gone too far by voting with our wallets, but perhaps CAMRA should create an exception list for membership discounts? Because let’s face it, if you’re buying Molson you probably shouldn’t have the card in the first place.

* Aside from the margin numbers. Those smell like ass because that’s where I pulled the numbers out of. Well, they’re not entirely made up; they are a decent guestimate based off my experience with importer and LRS pricing.

Written by chuck

June 6th, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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