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A Word on Beer Awards

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If you were up late last night you no doubt saw the early results coming out of San Diego for the 2012 World Beer Cup. Central City walked away with two awards while Russell picked up one. Good on you guys.

Now the rest of you are likely wondering when the swearing will start. It’s rant time, right? Well, it isn’t. While beer competitions are of dubious merit overall, and some can even equate to a paid endorsement, the World Beer Cup is not one of these. Sure, it’s not perfect, and certainly not how I’d run a beer competition, but it ain’t bad. Here’s what they do right:

  • Entry fees are low ($150 per style)
  • They proactively help you ship product over international boundaries, by arranging pick-up points for you to drop off cases of beer for a set price
  • A very low percentage of all entrants wins a prize (~7.2% this year). Some competitions have that up around 90%.
  • Their sponsor list contains not a single producer of beer, or any affiliated brand
  • While they do generally award Gold, Silver and Bronze, their judges are not required to do so. If all the beer in category X sucks, then no one takes home The Shiny

Sounds pretty good, right? Now for the downside. Beer is very hard to categorize. It’s constantly changing, and so are the styles that people throw awards at. For instance, this year the WBC recognized 95 styles of beer–that’s up from 90 two years ago. More categories means more awards, so that means people go home happier, but it also devalues winning.

What’s more, the sheer number of categories often means certain categories are reserved for awful beer. Take, for example, American-Style Lager, Light Lager, or Premium Lager. Yup, three categories featuring repeat winners like Miller and Anheuser-Busch. Take a stand guys, admit that no matter what happens, Michelob Ultra does not deserve recognition, and winning “Best American-Style Lager” doesn’t mean your beer is any good.


Much like how “most graceful car egress after 40oz of tequila” might not be the spotlight on exemplary gymnastics that you’d expect

Next, you can’t win if you don’t enter. While this seems like a no brainer, it does leave the WBC rather under-represented. Missing from BC are Driftwood, Tofino, Lighthouse, Phillips, etc. In fact, only 8 of BC’s 50-odd breweries bothered to send in beer.

The other dark beer competition secret is that the judges just aren’t that good. Sure, they’re often critics or beer geeks, but very rarely are they trained tasters. Us beer geeks are a selective crowd who really honestly do know our beer, but put 30 different beers in front of us (the # judged per person at WBC), and it all begins to blend together a bit.

These people know beer, and can especially pick out bad beer, but the subtle details that make a single great beer great will get lost by the time your palate is on round 10, let alone 30. Interesting use of hops? No luck. Smoked your malt in a BBQ instead of using liquid smoke? Sorry, didn’t notice. Good colour? Oooo… I can still see! Plus marks!

The end result of all this is that beer awards, even the WBC, are a bit of a crap shoot. Generally shitty beer doesn’t get far (unless you’re in the shitty beer category… you usually tell because it’s won by Coors Light, no really), but the good beers are more or less picked at random.

What does stand out, though, are trends. Look for a single beer consistently winning awards year after year, or a single brewery winning many awards in one year. These are signs to pay attention to. Sure, getting a Bronze in English-Style IPA means that your beer was put in front of a whack of beer geeks and they all thought it was good. That’s about all. But getting Silver for the same beer in the same category two years later? That means something.

So congrats to Russell. Well earned, guys.

Find the full list of awards here.

Written by chuck

May 6th, 2012 at 11:02 am

It Begins

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Well, my barrels arrived, and thanks to a friendly border agent they were tax free. Along with the no tax came a mild surprise: they’re American Oak, and not Hungarian Oak as I’d previously suspected. American is… better, somehow, I guess. I’m not quite sure on the details, but it’s what wine snobs seem to prefer when French Oak is not available, so I guess that’s something.

The general plan of attack here will be to get these tiny bad boys into production ready status ASAP, and the suggested way to do that is to prime them with water. Water will make the oak planks expand, which will seal the barrels good and tight for when you put the good stuff in. But this isn’t some podunk beer blog out in shit-nowhere USA. This is Barley Mowat, and fuck water. It’s over there all smug because it supports civilization as we know it, but t’aint no water going in MY barrels. No siree, I’m priming these guys with whiskey and cheap–nigh undrinkable–red wine.


Which, let’s face it, is mostly water. Fuck.

You see, when the beer eventually gets into these suckers the bourbon and red wine will seap back into the beer adding, we hope, depth and complexity, but more realistically adding a slight hint of botulism.

Seriously, though, contamination is a real risk in this endeavour and will be my main enemy. In order to keep the chances of contamination to a minimum I have cleverly devised a method to avoid my precious beer from ever contacting the air, and the horrible oxygen that air contains.

Since I already have a keg fridge and supporting gas cylinder, I went to Home Depot and picked up an air nozzle for my line. First I filled the barrel with water, which very notably is not air, then I crammed my air nozzle in the barrel’s bung hole (heh. Bung hole) and forced the water out with compressed CO2. The net result is a barrel full of CO2, not deadly anti-beer oxygen.


This looks like more fun than it was. Actually, scratch that, a CO2 powered oak barrel water rocket is pretty fun.

Next was the task of getting the liquid into the barrel. I’m less concerned with air touching the wine I’m using to prime the oak, but this seemed like a great chance to try out my crazy device. Effectively what I’ve done is hollow out a cork enough for a tube, and then used the basketball fitting for my air gun to penetrate said cork (heh. Penetrate). The increased pressure of the CO2 inside the wine bottle will cause the wine to travel up through the tube and into the barrel. Again, not really required for wine used to prime a barrel, but it’s always good to do a dry run incase your plan isn’t quite airtight and you need some minor adjustments.


Pictured: Minor Adjustments.

The process was repeated for a bottle of mid-range bourbon (Bulleit). Hopefully these liquids will give my barrels a unique flavour over the next few weeks, and perhaps even vice versa. Although I must admit that I did just, in all probability, make a virtually flavourless red wine slightly better and ruin a perfectly good bourbon. Time will tell.

Next up will be harvesting some brettanomyces from a bottle of Green Flash Rayon Vert, then tasting various locally available beers with fruits to plot out my plan of attack. I’m thinking perhaps something lighter in the wine barrel (Driftwood Whitebark or Howesound White Cap) and something darker (R&B Raven, or maybe Hoyne Dark Matter) in the bourbon barrel. Those beers plus fruit plus brett plus time equals… I don’t know, really. I honestly have no idea, but that’s half the fun.

Written by chuck

April 29th, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Be The Change

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Finally, the Rio won. Last week the provincial booze czar, Rich Coleman, announced that the government was caving to common sense, and that movie theatres in general could go about applying for liquor licenses. Soon, you won’t have to sneak that beer in illicitly (well, maybe. The ruling says nothing about “Craft Beer” or “Affordable Beer”).

I kinda like this Coleman guy. He was parachuted into this job when the previous government crony Shirley Bond was putting up far too much of a red tape fuss over the Rio wanting a liquor license. Sure, the Rio didn’t exactly go about the whole thing in the best way, but the end result was a big old shining light on BC’s inept liquor laws. Something so stupid can only benefit from being brought out into the open where everyone can gasp about how obviously horrible it is, and talk about how something dearly needs to be done.. like homeopathy–yes, I did just compare our liquor laws to homeopathy. The laws are that bad. This line applies equally to both: the only way you can support it is if no one has ever really explained it to you.


Much like discount blood transfusions.

A few scant months later and we have booze in theatres. Yay us! Not only that, but rumour now has it that a “review of liquor policy in the province” is currently underway. What, exactly, is under review? I have no idea. Nor does anyone else, but don’t let that stop us from sending in our useful suggestions. Paddy, the stalwart president of CAMRA Vancouver, has offered to collect all our crackpot ideas together and forward them on to anyone in government who will listen. See Paddy’s appeal about half way down the page here.

Mail Paddy at: pres@camravancouver.ca

So what would I like to see changed? Oh boy do I have ideas! I’ve ranted about this before, but no harm in rehashing it a bit. For now, I’ll leave my ideas about import/warehousing change aside.

Chuck’s Big List Of Liquor Law Changes

  • No specific liquor license for restaurants or pubs
    • No Liquor primary/food primary distinction. Want to sell food? Have at it. Don’t? Cool.
    • No licensed/unlicensed businesses. Anyone can sell booze if they’d like
  • Liquor sold by any business anywhere, and consumed by anyone anywhere. This includes:
    • Drinking in Public
    • Bring Your Own Booze for restaurants
    • Booze in grocery stores, 7-11s, food carts (how cool would that be?)
    • Take-home Growler fills at the pub
  • Return of Happy Hour
  • Allow retailers of liquor to augment it (house flavoured spirits, cask conditioned ales, or even re-fermented beers)
  • Allow tied houses (Parallel 49 cannot be sold at St Augustine’s due to the owners involvement in both–think about that for a second)
  • Allow offsite aging/barreling for brewers (lets brewers rent cheaper warehouse space for long term aging)
  • All the dumb shit, like allowing patrons to stand with their drink, or letting a band have a beer on stage

Very likely a few of you are shaking your heads and thinking “Wow that Chuck guy is extreme.” But I’m not. There are places in this world where every single one of those recommendations are in effect, and very few places where none of them are.

Written by chuck

April 19th, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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