Barley Mowat 

Archive for the ‘Beer and You’ Category

Everything In This Blog Is A Lie… Including This

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I know it’s hard to believe, but sometimes I go out to house parties. And sometimes, at these parties, my friends show up with mediocre beer. Not bad beer, mind you; they’ve all learnt not to poke the dragon. Regardless of their views on Molson, they’ve come to understand it’s just not worth the resulting lecture to drink it in my presence. Or really to even mention the brand name without an appropriate sneer.

Nah, we’re talking just “meh” beer here. Like Stanley Park Amber, for instance. It’s pretty insipid beer, but you know what? If you threw a dart in the LDB you’d likely come away with something worse (although that does raise an interesting trivia point… what IS the 50th percentile SKU in terms of quality at the LDB? I’ll look into it.)

As a milder form of my Molson/Stella/Heineken punishment, I am fond of playing a little game with the Stanley Park box that I like to call “Count the Implied Lies.” Why “Implied”? Because Mark Anthony Group (the fine folk behind this particular brew) are no dummies. They have lawyers, lots of lawyers. Heck, they might even be lawyers. In fact they have so many lawyers this article might be my last. And their lawyers have helped them craft what is just an absolutely fantastic piece of marketing that approaches, plays with–nay flirts with–nay spends all night buying drinks for, but never actually calls back the next day-with, but does not actually cross the line of false advertising. The package implies lots of facts, but never actually claims something outright that isn’t true.

Pictured: Exhibit “A”
Click to embiggen.

So let’s play a game, shall we? Count the number of implied lies on this great slice of packaging, and let’s compare notes. Please let me know if I’ve missed something.

  1. Brewery Location The brewery is, alas, not in Stanley Park… or close to it. The brewery is not even in Vancouver. It’s on Annacis Island. In Delta. You know, by the sewage treatment plant?
  2. Brewery Name Sadly, this beer is not brewed by Stanley Park Brewing. There is, in fact, no such brewery. Instead, we can thank Turning Point Brewing for this one. And Hell’s Gate Lager. Yum! At least they’ve taken the trouble to make a completely misleading website for us. Note the complete lack of references to any of: “Turning Point”, “Annacis Island” or even “Down by the sewage treatment plant.” But hey! Look at all these fancy pictures of the Sea Wall and nature!
  3. Brewery Founding Date Turning Point began operations in 2010 which a bit of research has informed me, occured sometime after the 1897 so proudly splashed out on their label. Oddly, the first Stanley Park Brewing actually started up in 1896, but perhaps that year didn’t test as well in marketing?
  4. Brewery History Turning Point has no relation whatsoever to the original Stanley Park Brewery. Why would they? That brewery folded over 100 years ago so there’s no trademark to acquire.
  5. Wind Powered Yup, they’ve got a wind turbine. “A” as in “one.” If you believe that’s running the boilers in a ~100 hectolitre brewery I’ve got a wind turbine to sell you. I’d be impressed if that thing powers the lights. As a side note, does anyone else find it odd that it rotates even when there’s no wind?
  6. Sustainable Brewery* Sorry, they’re not a sustainable brewery, in that they use more resources than they put back into the environment, in terms of electricty alone. They also order hops and malt from a catalogue, meaning that their supply chain is also almost certainly similarly un-sustainable. They’re better than most, but still not 100% sustainable.
  7. First Sustainable Brewery Ok, so they’re not perfect (and who is, right?) but at least they’re the first. Uh… nope. Other breweries have tried to be sustainable, most notably Crannog Brewing, who make a point of using solar power where possible, and growing their own hops & barley.
  8. Most Advanced Brewery Actually, I think they have this one. Every source I can find just completely raves about their awesome setup. “Most Advanced” is even less define-able than “sustainable” but at least there’s a few ways in which this one is demonstrably true.
  9. Belgian Amber This one is arguable, but I didn’t taste anything Belgian in terms of flavour. This is a straight up pale amber ale, nice n simple n bland. If there ever was any Belgian funk in that bottle, it was left behind in the filters.

* Sustainable is a very hard thing to define. Heck, the wiki entry on it starts with this notion. However, even the most liberal use of the word generally means a net-zero use of energy and resources, and they just aren’t there. This doesn’t mean they aren’t trying. My opinions on the quality of the end product aside, TP is doing lots of things right when it comes to reducing the environmental footprint of a product that is, afterall, very energy intensive to produce. Things like:
– Recycling spent grain (most places throw it out)
– Reducing water loss during brewing
– By reducing water loss, they also reduce energy costs (steam is lost heat)
– Hybrid delivery vehicles
– And yes, that damned windmill. Even though it doesn’t run the place, it does provide at least SOME engery, and that’s better than the magic electricity hole in the wall

However, despite all this, saying that they’re fully sustainable is misleading at best.

Written by chuck

March 5th, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Posted in Beer and You,Breweries

Tagged with

Where Does Good Beer Come From?

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As everyone knows, we all live in the best beer-producing region on the planet. Yes, I’m talking about Cascadia. Oh, I mean, sure, Belgium has some nice beers and all, and as jealous as I am of all their monks and giant caves for cellaring and whatnot, they’re just a bit too… traditional for me. Let’s just say that brewing with a slightly different strain of yeast is big freaking news over there.

Cascadia, however… now there’s some brewing innovation. Sure, a lot of that innovation is around the idea of hops, more hops, “how can I over saturate this beer with hops” and perhaps a little bit of “is cramming the bottle full of hops too far? I didn’t think so.” But there’s also plenty of toying around with malty ales, sour ales, barrel aged monsters, and even belgian ales. Yeah, we play that game, too. Also, we play the hops game, did I mention that?

Has anyone thought of making the GLASS out of hops?

The only problem with Cascadia, though, is that some thoughtless fucker drew a gord-damned international border right through the middle of the thing. I mean, really, W.T.F.? That’s a whole lot of wire fence, barbed wire, and generally impolite german shepards between us and the other half of our unlimited great beer collection. Sure, we can physically go there, buy some, and bring it back, and that sorta works, but imagine if you had to personally go to Thailand every time you needed a fix of China White. It’s good in principle, but it just doesn’t work three times a day. Luckily some nice folks are willing to mule your horse to the alley behind the Carnegie Centre. And likewise, some nice folk will go to the US and get (some) good beer for us, and deliver it to places like Viti, Firefly and Brewery Creek.

And now we come to the meat of this article. How does good beer show up on those shelves? Well, I’ll give you a hint: the LDB sure-as-fuck isn’t ordering it because it isn’t wine (aside: Seriously, can we get Deschutes to rebrand their beer as a wine just so the LDB will show some interest in importing it en masse?)

The reality of the matter is that the vast majority of good beer you buy at LRSs is imported by one of three companies who make bringing in the goods their full time jobs:

  • RainCity Brands, responsible for Upright, Boundary Bay, Uncommon and Pretty Things
  • BeerThirst, who do: Anderson Valley, Bear Republic, Eel River, Elysian, Green Flash, North Coast and Tenaya Creek
  • AFIC Group, who bring forth Ballast Point, Brooklyn, Deschutes, Dogfish Head (or rather, used to), Flying Dog, HopWorks, Lagunitas, Lakefront, Lost Coast, Pike, Pyramid, Rogue and Sierra Nevada

These fine folks go forth, make the deals with the breweries, arrange for shipments, and then list the thing through the LDB because, well, they have to by law. They can set that price as high as they want, though (not as low, because the LDB thinks we couldn’t control ourselves with cheap beer). People like to complain a whole lot about import pricing on beer, but honestly it’s really not that bad… if the importer can work out a deal to make it not that bad.

Take Upright Five, for instance. This is one of my favourite US-based beers. It’s available in the US for about $8 to $10, depending on where you find it. Transport it 350 miles north, change hands a few times, slap on some import tariffs, and suddenly, on the cold side of that giant fence, it becomes… $9.79 at the LDB. Whoa! Really? Screw the fence! The system works!

Just kidding. The system totally doesn’t work.

Hold on, grasshopper, let’s take another example. How about Deschutes Stoic? That puppy is $12 in Portland. Haul it to the Great White North and you’d expect it to be, what, $13? $14? Wrong answer. Try $27.

We can play this game for a while. Elysian Immortal: $7.29 US, $5.99 CA. Brooklyn Sorachi Ace: $8.99 US, $20 CA. It’s a fun game (actually, no, it’s not. It’s very boring, and wastes computer time that could better be spent on porn), but time and time again you wind up with some beers being about the same (or cheaper) here, and some being 2-3x the price, and there’s no pattern. Or is there? I’ll save you the time: All the beers with the high prices in Canada are imported by AFIC (but conversely, not all beers imported by AFIC have high prices).

Sometimes they’re even both. That Sorachi Ace I mentioned earlier might have pricked some ears, as it sure started off at $20 (more like $27 by the time LRS markup was in place), but it just as surely wound up at $9.99 at your local LDB. That got my attention, as the LRSs who bought a few cases of product at the original price were surely not terribly pleased by AFIC turning around and listing it at the LDB for less than half price. Curious, I asked around for an opinion about what was going on.

Oh, if only I could bottle the pure, unadulterated rage coming from the LRS employees. It’d make a great cologne. Or elk musk. The difference is subtle. Basically, they feel as if AFIC has screwed them into the ground on this one. And then they ranted at the LDB for even selling a SPEC product to the public. And then something about the Illuminati and how 9/11 was an inside job. Let’s just say I wasn’t convinced of the quality of information I was receiving, so I decided to back away very, very slowly, and then go against my long-standing rule against actual journalism and ask the source.

Yup, I emailed AFIC and asked them for their view. Somewhat shockingly, they got back to me pretty much straight away… with a promise to answer my question the next day. Time came and went. No answer, so I pinged them again. Again, a fast response with a promise of an answer “today.” Again crickets. Again an email from me, only this time no answer. So let’s just say “AFIC declined to comment.”

You’re all expecting a massive, profanity-laden blast of vitriol from me now, aren’t you? I mean, the ebil corporation refused to even attempt to explain themselves. And they screwed over the LRSs! Let’s give it to them? Well, here’s a surprise for you: I don’t think that’s the case. AFIC likely got tied up, or just didn’t put a lot of stock into explaining accounting to someone who’s internet persona can’t go half an article without swearing. Shit.

There’s a couple bits of info I learned way back at the start of this whole thing that lead me to this conclusion. First, the high-priced beers are all limited production, high-demand brews. Second, any importer can totally steal clients from another one. If AFIC really was screwing us by setting the price arbitrarily high for these products and keeping the cash, then why wouldn’t BeerThirst swoop in, promise Deschutes to triple their high-end sales in BC, and steal what is, after all, a very large and lucrative contract?

The only answer I could come up with is that the other companies can’t better the deal, and Deschutes is happy with the amount of product they’re shipping to the border. Shipping to another country is HARD. So hard, in fact, that most breweries flat out refuse to do it. Perhaps Deschutes is so happy with the current arrangement, in fact, that they aren’t even giving AFIC wholesale prices on the specialty beers, which makes selling them at a lower price an even harder proposition.

Without an answer from AFIC, though, my nice answer is just speculation, so feel free to pour on the hate.

Written by chuck

February 27th, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with ,

What’s In The Box?

with 3 comments

Let me help you out. You’re reading the Sun, and you find an article about privatizing some aspect of the LDB, so you decide to send it over to your favourite beer blogger.

Please don’t. I’ve read it already (thanks to the eagle-eyed Sharon, who beat everyone else by a solid day).

If you have no idea what I’m talking about here, this is the article in question.

Now you know why I hadn’t mentioned this before now. They aren’t talking about privatizing anything of note, just the warehouse. The LDB will still select what beer to carry, order it, give it to the new warehouse operator, and pick it up when it’s time to ship it to retail.

Yeah, that’s right. They’re outsourcing the box they store the beer in before they sell it.

I mean, I’m intrigued by the box and all, but it’s not really what we want, is it?

Yes, this is a step in the right direction, in that the government is giving up some minor aspect of their near-complete control over liquor distribution. However, don’t expect this to change, well, anything really.

In theory, it might make the storage cost a bit cheaper, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Along with the warehouse will come all sorts of longterm union contracts and a virtual guarantee of business from the LDB for the foreseeable future. High costs and a complete lack of competition usually don’t spell discounts.

Even assuming a miracle DID happen, and the warehouse found some corners to cut, what do you think the odds are the LDB would look at those savings and elect to pass them along? It’s not like they have to worry about their competition doing it. And there’s the problem.

If anything, prices might go up as new owners and management struggle to learn and adjust to the existing business. And that change I guarantee you we’ll see at retail.

Written by chuck

February 23rd, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Posted in Beer and You