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CAMRA Spring Sessional Fest of Ale Summary

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This past Saturday saw my shadow at the London Pub on Main for the above-titled event. For a good general review of the event, plus lots of pics and even an interview with Lighthouse’s Dean Mcleod, go over to for Leo’s summary. For a embittered, profanity strewn, alcohol-blurred rough summary of things that most likely didn’t even happen that day, read on.

First off, let’s talk about the idea as a whole. An event to showcase a style of beer which is not exactly popular with the public? Fuck yeah, now THIS is what I’m talking about. Sub 4.0% brews are getting harder and harder to find these days, and while I absolutely am in favour of the higher octane productions like Driftwood’s Singularity, I would also like the option of being able to finish a bottle of beer after work and not get into a fight with the dog. (He was looking at me funny. All smug and superior. Like he’s saying “Look how I can lick my balls! You can’t do this, but you want to!” Fuck you, dog. C’m ‘ere. I’m a-gonna teach you to lick yer ballsh….. WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME?!?)

CAMRA took this notion and made it even harder, with a 3.5% ABV limit for judging consideration (higher ABV ales could still show up, but couldn’t win any titles). So yeah, an afternoon to showcase the lighter side of beer absolutely gets my support.

Second, execution. Even a hard-nosed, perfectionist bastard like me has to strain to find anything seriously wrong with how this one was pulled off. Cheap entry? Check. Awesome mini-nonic glassware? Check. Large sample size (a 1/2 pint!)? You’d better fucking believe that gets a check. Even the refill price of $2.50 seems great when you realize it’s not the usual 5oz glass but twice that. About my only gripe is that the “wall of casks,” while admittedly something we’d all like in our living rooms, made for a confusing refill procedure. Too often the patrons and even the servers were unsure of which beer was where, and things slowed down resulting in a massive queue. I noticed a few folks getting a beer then simply walking to the back of the line in order to arrive at the counter just as they ran out.

Now for the beers themselves. There were 18 in total, ranging from fantastic to foul. The restrictions in place lend themselves primarily to ordinary and best bitters, a style that is not popular here in Vancouver. Four brewers tried for it, and wound up with four very different beers. This is the kind of shit I love about beer festivals. Anyways, here are my highlights:

  • Barley Station — Damon’s Mild Ale
    My choice for best in show, a delightful beer with plenty o’ flavour.
  • Big Ridge — Tariq’s Pale Bitter
    Damned good, and an alternate for best in show.
  • Big River — Claire’s Northern English Brown Ale
    A solid mild dark with enough flavour to stay interesting over several pints.
  • Whistler BrewHouse — Dave’s Berliner Weisse
    A swing and a miss, my friend. Downright astringent and nigh undrinkable unless in curiosity sizes.
  • Coal Harbour — Daniel’s Saison
    OK, I get it. New brewery and first batch. You want to take part in the fest. I admire that. But please finish your beer before showing up. I know it was rushed, but not everyone will pick up on that, and now they hate your beers.
  • Granville Island Taphouse — Vern’s Ordinary Bitter
    I think I found the source of the hop shortage. I liked this beer, but it is a bit inaccessible, and definitely out of whack for the style.
  • Lighthouse — Dean’s Light American Wheat Ale
    Sorry Dean. Too light. I got in line for another beer before I was done because I’d confused drinking this beer with breathing.
  • Moon Under Water — Ron & Don’s Best Bitter
    Solid best bitter, and my first taste of Moon Under Water’s ales. I am coming to Victoria because of this beer. Now you guys have really fucked up.
  • Noble Pig — David’s Honey Badger Pale Ale
    I HATE beers with honey in them. But not this beer, for some reason. In fact, it’s really quite good. This confuses and intrigues me. And makes me horny. Is that wrong?
  • R&B — Brent’s Blood Orange Berliner Weisse
    Shine on you crazy diamonds. I love insane beers, and this absolutely was one. Insane doesn’t mean good, or honestly even sufferably bad, but I still loved this beer.
  • Russell — Anders & Jack’s Ordinary Bitter
    My alternate for best in show. A fantastic session bitter. Please make this again.
  • Russell — Session Brett Pale Ale
    Please don’t make this again, or at least take the “Brett” out of the title so as to not get my hopes up.

Not mentioned: Cannery, Central City, Steamworks, Taylor’s Crossing, Tin Whistle, YBC. As best I could tell, these were just normal production ales from each of the breweries poured into a cask-shaped vessel and then served. No effort equals no reward, my friends. Bzzzt. End of game. Thanks for playing.

And yes, I know Iain from YBC at least dry-hopped his Pale Ale with some Sorachi Ace he had lying around. There is no other way to say this, and everyone else seems too polite to do this, so it falls to me.

Iain: Stop bloody dry-hopping your ales and calling it a day. Yes, dry-hopped in-cask ales can be nice, but you know what else can go in a cask? ANYTHING ELSE. I’ve had virtually every single one of your beers dry-hopped with virtually every single strain of hops known to man. Please please please please branch out a bit. You’re a super nice guy, and you can brew really quite good beers. Remember the CAMRA awards from VCBW last year? Makes us proud again.

I know producing a cask every week can get tiresome, and sometimes it’s Wednesday night, you’re tired, and have to be up early to take the kids to soccer practice, but RESIST the temptation to just draw down whatever is in the conditioning tank at that moment, toss in some left-over hops, and call it a day. Conditioning with brett? YES, DO MORE OF THAT, but also mix it up. Throw some fruit in there and re-pitch it, how about oak chips, peat, seaweed? I dunno, even try PEEING in the fucking thing. ANYTHING.

Phew. I’m out of breath.

Lastly, ever wonder what my beer tasting notes would look like if I was on ecstasy for the whole festival? No? Well screw you, here it is anyway. It’s not me, but my friend Jenn, and I swear to gord she’s like this ALL THE TIME.

Click for all the insanity.
Yes, all of it.

Written by chuck

April 20th, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Molson and Me – Part One

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The most popular question asked of me at this weekend’s excellent CAMRA Spring Fest of Ale was not what my favourite beer was, or what I thought of that weird blood orange concoction from R&B, but rather if I’d gone ahead and sampled the Molson M that magically appeared on my doorstop last week. This perturbed me somewhat because, here we were surrounded by oodles of delicious light ales brewed specifically for our enjoyment, and everyone wanted to talk macro to me. (This is not like talking dirty, not even close)

So I figured I’d just get down to business and say it. Yes. Yes, I did sample the Molson M. And the Canadian, and a local craft lager (Central City’s), all side by each. I performed this subjective review, as promised, during a hockey game on Friday. Here are my impressions.

Wow. Molson M is quite possibly the easiest drinking, smoothest tasting lager I have ever had. It’s astonishing how many years of my life I have wasted in pursuit of darker, more flavourful ales, when beer nirvana was just $2 away at the local LDB. I don’t want to take away from Canadian, though, as it does have its place when you want to slow down and enjoy things, but for quick refreshment and a no-questions-asked finish, M is the place to be. I love this… hang on, Ted from accounting just popped in. What’s that? Bounced? You sure? The whole thing, eh. What about the briefcase of cash? Not actually money, you say? Yeah, I know that was just regular paper with my picture on it, but it just seemed so… natural.

Well fine, if you want to bribe me to praise your product, you better make good with the Bordens. So, back to the review, now without sudden and shockingly excessive income influencing my opinion.

Molson Canadian and M are terrible. Just ungordly awful. I paused after my second sip of each and pondered what exactly I had done wrong in my life to wind up here, now, drinking this schlock. These beers are not just pale, insipid, hollow ghosts of what a beer might once have aspired to. No, they are just plain dreadful.

They start with a faint nose of slightly-off straw, which can only be described as “barn-like” in quality, or perhaps even more accurately “used barn-like.” Too vague? Ok, piss. It smells like goat piss on wet hay. Perhaps, the piss is why the hay is wet and mildewing. I’m not really going to invest too much thought on this one, but I’ve spent enough time in petting zoos to confirm this comparison is apt.

Gotta admit, not sure how this could help the smell,
but also not sure what would make it worse.

The body is virtually non-existant, although some of the M did have a slight tinge of unfermented malt (not all, though, making me think their quality control isn’t where Canadian’s is). The finish is like being physically assaulted by a bad, off-beer taste. When I say this beer is bad, I do not mean “not good.” I mean “bad as in milk.” In fact, the most repeated first comment after a sip was not “Ugh”, “This is bad” or “Yuck.” No, the first comment was universally a gag reflex. I am not making this up. This beer is so bad your body confuses it with poison and wants you to stop drinking it right-the-fuck-now. After that, you’re stuck with a off-putting chemical taste on the palate that only another sip can seemingly cure, even if temporarily.

But that’s not what we’re here to evaluate. The job is to determine if M is better, or easier drinking than Canadian, which is about a relative evaluation rather than an absolute. Are they even different beers? Well, I have to admit these are two very slightly different beers, perhaps by as much as one or two percent overall. When you take a sip of one, and concentrate very very hard for 10 seconds or so, you can determine an ever-so-slight difference in the second, but this difference is so slight that it could honestly just be because the second sip is of beer which has now been open 10 seconds longer.

Is M better? No. M and Canadian are practically indistinguishable. In fact, we had to abandon the first trial part way through because it was no longer clear which product was which, and repeated samplings did nothing to address the situation. After that one glass was flagged to allow us to keep track. The microcarbonation process, which Molson refuses to talk about, did not inject tiny little pixies into the glass, nor did it somehow magically violate physical law to make nitrogen-like CO2 bubbles appear when you opened the bottle. In fact, the carbonation level of each beer appeared nearly identical, although I have not yet precisely measured it.

How did it compare to a local lager, brewed by Central City? Perhaps all lagers are flat and taste vaguely uric? I’m not a huge fan of the CC Lager. I find it quite boring and honestly not that good. However, after the Molsons, I easily could have confused it with a light hefeweizen. Yeast aromas popped out of the glass, and the crisp clean finish made it practically beg me to have another sip.

So, I guess Molson M does have a use in the real world: making mediocre craft beer seem absolutely awesome.

Kinda like Ben Affleck and Matt Damon,
although I’m unsure which is which in this analogy.

But I’m not done yet. Next up is a double blind taste test where random people will be asked to sample a variety of fluids and rank them in a variety of categories. Does anyone have a goat I can borrow for a few hours?

Update: The epic concludes in part 4. (Or go back to Part 2)

Written by chuck

April 18th, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Beers

Tagged with

Vancouver Craft Beer Week

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Tickets for the general events of VCBW go on sale today, and if last year is anything to go by, expect them to sell out faster than hot cakes. Or crack. Or hotcakes full of crack. Ok, faster than just crack… which is on sale… just go with it, ok? They’ll go. Fast.

Sadly, this year will see me in far off Cuba during the festivities. Which is also during the second round of the playoffs… hmm… perhaps better planning is required on my part for future travels. But don’t let my misfortune grow into yours. Just because I won’t be able to make to any of these events, and therefore they will obviously suffer for my absence, doesn’t mean you should get all depressed and just stay home. Go. To as many as possible.

Before you look at the prices and decide “but it’s so expensive” remember that most event prices include tax AND gratuity. I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember the last time I ever left a bar full of food, good beer and good times for prices like this.

Some highlights:

Dead Famous Dead Guy Crawl : Yes, this is your chance to dress up as a zombie version of a celebrity, stagger around downtown and drink good beer. I missed this event last year (when it was just a funeral for Dix), and have regretted it ever since.

Legacy Liquor Store Cellaring Seminar : Chris knows his cellaring, and any aspiring beer geek would do well to heed his advice. I know I’ve written about cellaring before (and likely will again, on, say… Tuesday), but there’s just something about learning in person that beats reading some egomaniac’s barely literate scrawlings on the ‘tubes.

Upright x Driftwood Brewmaster’s Dinner : Two of my favourite brewers together in one spot? Sweet mother of all that’s holy, I might fly back from Cuba for one night to go to this.

Driftwood Beer Dinner at Hapa Umi : The Driftwood Hapa Izakaya meal last year was supposed to be fantastic (I was off doing something else beer-related) so this is bound to be great.

Red Truck Brewmaster Dinner and Cheese Tasting : I think there might be cheese at this one.

The Whip’s Firkin Fetish Night with Storm Brewing : Storm Casks, good food and nigh-naked people? Yes please! James, please keep your pants (mostly) on.

Alibi Room Presents, Brothers in Hop Featuring: Red Racer Beer x Ninkasi Brewing x Hopworks Urban Brewing : Ninkasi has never been in BC (aside from kegs) before, so I’m excited to see if these VCBW appearances are the start of a product launch (a la Upright last year).

Lastly, VCBW also created a video to advertise the week, and it’s been floating around the web since late last night. Since I’ve already been asked a couple of times, I’ll just point out straight away that No, this is not me. My leotard is purple, and this one is quite obviously teal. In fact, not only is this Not Me, but I had absolutely nothing to do with the conception, planning, execution or production of this fine fine example of post-modern beer-themed art. Shocking, I know. So shocking, in fact, that even I’m a bit wary to believe this disclaimer because, let’s face it, if you gave me a lot of money, a camcorder, and two furry outfits, this is likely what I’d make, beer week to advertise or no.

Not Me, but seriously… Woof!

Finally, it wouldn’t be a blog by Chuck without me taking exception to something. In this case it is VCBW whoring out to accept sponsorship funding from The Charles Bar. Guys, do you seriously need money so badly that you’re willing to take it from someone who’s idea of Craft Beer is Whistler Brewing? Yeah, I get it, they have Phillips in bottles, but anyone even remotely interested in good beer would have something better on tap than Whistler Dreck Light, Whistler Dreck Dark, Pilsner, Rickard’s, Heineken and Guinness.

This is a serious shot to your credibility. Wise up.

/PS Holy shit! The Backstage Lounge has good beer! When did this happen? Anyone up for a Sunny Saturday Patio Excursion sometime before my departure on April 29th?

Written by chuck

April 8th, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Bars,Beer and You,Breweries

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