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Beer of the… Quarter?

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It’s been a while since I’ve picked a beer of theā€¦ let’s just call it quarter. However, this holiday season there’s one very interesting brew out there that I figure everyone should buy and try.

Beers make it into my acclaimed Box What Is On The Right Of The Blog for a few reasons. Sometimes they’re stonking great, but often they’re just interesting or unique for any one of a dozen reasons. Maybe the brewery is stepping up their game, maybe the packing is interesting, or maybe the beer itself is excellent. This mon–er, quarter, all three are true.

The beer in question is Howe Sound’s Woolly Bugger 2013. In past years, this has been one of the few BC Brewed, English-style Barley Wines on the market and I’ve loved it for that. This year, though, they change things up a bit and went for more of a hybrid form: a strong malt base with a slightly bitter finish. The result is an outstanding step up from previous years, and a beer that is eminently drinkable now but will definitely cellar well for 2-3 years. Right now you’ll get subtle chocolate behind balanced hops, but over time the smooth malt tones will mingle and come forward.

But I said something about packaging, right? Sure did. Check this bad boy out.

Ooooooooo, yeah.

This is a dramatic departure from previous HS bottlings, but also from prior Woolly Buggers. Frankly, I love every little bit of this bottle. To generate this beauty, Howe Sound teamed up with Tom Pedriks from Resonance Branding and, gosh darn it, they did well. In addition to a flat out awesome 19th century pharmaceutical look and feel on a bottle that basically contains medicine, the format of the bottle should not be overlooked.

It’s a 375ml demi bottle. Most local Barley Wines come in 650ml bombers, which can make the commitment involved in cracking one open to drink somewhat daunting. For reference, here is the one I had last night, with the entirety of its contents poured into my glass.

“Drinkable” in beer doesn’t usually means “something you can physically drink in one sitting” but what the hell, I’ll call this one Drinkable.

So, go forth and buy a few bottles of this sweet boozy concoction, and enjoy yourself a cool snifter in front of a roaring fire. It’s what this beer was made for.

APPEARANCE Deep, opaque auburn with quickly dissipating thin head.
NOSE Caramel, chocolate and a hint of backing hops.
TASTE Sharp, but not overwhelming, hops followed by a smooth malt body. Subtle chocolate intertwines with strong caramel.
STATS 10.5% ABV / 75 IBU / 25 Degrees Plato
SHOULD I BUY IT? Absolutely. Buy at least two: one for now and one to drink alongside next year’s version.

Brewery Howe Sound
From Squamish
Name Woolly Bugger
Style Barley Wine (Hybrid American/English)
SOA Now Bronze
SOA Potential Silver
Drink Now-2016
Thing that could improve label Two gloved hands pointing at the name
Availability Most LRS’s have some
Cost ~$5-7 per 375ml demo
Similar Beers All the other Barley Wines out there right now


Time will make it better. Trust me.

Written by chuck

December 24th, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Posted in Beers

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Sneak Peak of Main Street Brewing

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Brewery Creek saw a good year, with two highly regarded breweries opening their doors. Locals, thirsty for a decent pint, flocked to jam-pack first 33 Acres then Brassneck. The clean white interior of 33 Acres couldn’t contrast more with the warm woodiness of Brassneck, but us beer drinkers didn’t care. The liquid on offer was good, so we came–in large numbers. And, as anyone who’s tried to get into Brassneck after 5:30pm on a Friday can attest, we continue to do so to this day.

Meanwhile, not quite two blocks from the bustling, frenetic energy of Brassneck, another brewery is slowly but steadily marching towards opening. That outfit is Main Street, who started out (and currently still run) as a contract brewery compliments of Russell Brewing. They aim to change that status by bringing all the fermentation in-house, and soon. I had a chance to do a brief tour of their current state of affairs this week, and while opening day is still clearly some weeks away, the dream is finally beginning to materialize.

As per usual, the dream involves lots of beer.

These are some teaser shots of what they’re working on. While 33 Acres borrows heavily from a minimalist Scandinavian aesthetic, and Brassneck could perhaps be most accurately described as the ultimate man cave, Main Street will be playing up the aged bricks and beams and soaring ceilings of the aptly named Vancouver Brewery Garage to create something totally different.

If you had a spot like this in your house, you’d turn it into a tasting room, too.

I’d like to say that I’m only sharing three shots because I’m all secretive and stuff, but the reality is that I’m a lousy photographer and the rest came out blurry. I’ll head back in a few weeks’ time with a proper camera (and Sharon to operate it) for an uptime–all the pieces should be coming together by then. Based on my dead reckoning, expect Main Street Brewing to open in February or March of 2014.

Unless that rugged, old roof caves in.

Written by chuck

December 19th, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Posted in Breweries

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Zombie Frog

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It’s an awkward situation. When do you step in and say something to a friend that obviously has a problem? “I swear I’m better” they’ll say, or maybe throw down “it was just that one time” as if the promise to not do it again somehow excuses projectile vomiting over the interior of your new Audi.

Remove “friend” from that example and sub in “brewery you kinda don’t like” and you have a good idea of the situation now presenting itself with a certain up-valley brewery. Dead Frog–long the laughing stock of the BC craft beer industry for their curious insistence on producing beers that somehow manage to mock themselves–has had an epiphany.

Holy shit! This beer’s awful.
Why didn’t anyone tell us before we drank it?

The management and brewing staff woke up one day, presumably partially dressed in a cold alley downtown, and saw the wreckage of their poor decisions in the cold, harsh and sober light of day. First their eyes fell upon a case of Mandarin Orange Amber, and they felt regret.

Kicking the offending ale to the side only revealed an unsold palette of Pepper Lime Lager behind it. As the enormity of taking beer style queues from freaking Budweiser sank in, they slumped in a depressed heap upon the only nearby soft surface: a shipment of hoodies emblazoned with “Do it froggy style” and “Nothing goes down like a cold, dead frog.”

Strangely, the “Slippery as a swarm of frogs!” shirts sold out.

Only then did the seriousness of their predicament, and the reality of what they’d become, finally set in. When did they become the brewery that sold awful beer to frat boys? Where did they go wrong? How could they fix it?

Or, at least, that’s how I like to imagine how it went down, but I drink a lot (don’t worry, though, it was just that one time–and I’ll clean your car, Jenn). What I do know about Dead Frog, though, is that they have axed all the items I just mentioned, and have pledged to do better from now on.

Doesn’t that sound familiar, though? Wait, yes, it sorta does. Dead Frog even won a coveted Beerdie last year for “most improved brewery.” When I handed out that award, I expected that a year later we’d have seriously good beer flowing out of Abbotsford, and maybe even something barrelled. The barrels didn’t materialize, but something happened recently that got my attention.

That something was Rick Green’s decision to join Dead Frog. Rick Green joining something lends that something enough beer-geek credibility that I suddenly find myself curious. Rich Green also offering to send me a sample of every beer produced by that something changes that curiosity to downright interest.

If beer can make baseball interesting,
imagine what it can do for a brewery!

In short, a brewery can claim to be reformed all they want, but the beer is where the rubber meets the road (or where the ale meets my mouth, I guess). So here’s the goods: a short review of all of Dead Frog’s beers. Every. Single. One (except their summer season, what with it being winter and all). I’ve even sorted them from worst to best.

Winter Beeracle
Just kill this sickly sweet gong show of a beer, already. Don’t reformat it again. Don’t brew it again. Just let it die.

The Festive Winter Saison
I’ve yet to find a black saison that does it for me, and this mangled mess of flavour isn’t going to be the one that changes my mind. The spices confuse the saison yeast to produce something analogous to mixing all the pop flavours at 7-11.

The Classic Nut Brown
One of Dead Frog’s oldest beers, and one of their most boring. A completely meh nut brown that fails to impress with its malt character–the primary thing a nut brown should be impressing you with.

Colin Jack Memorial Antidisestablishmentarism Amber Ale
Sure, I get it. Colin liked rum. Too bad beer doesn’t (or, at least, this particular beer doesn’t). The rum ended up confusing an okay amber base.

Super Fearless Imperial IPA
I loved Fearless when it came out, mostly because it was a seriously good beer from the Dead Frog of yester-year. Super Fearless, despite its name, is not super. It’s not even that good, but merely okay. Okay might have gotten the old Dead Frog rave reviews, but I expect more from you guys now.

Commander Imperial Stout
Decent Impy, but not great. I suspect a bit of cellaring time might improve this, but no one will ever find out since there’re so very many better Impys out there in BC.

Valiant Belgian IPA
A decent Belgian IPA, but nothing amazing. Think “Hoperation” instead of “Le Freak”

Fearless IPA
My opinion of this beer has declined somewhat since last year, but I firmly believe the beer has not. If I was blown away that DF could produce a beer like this in 2012 I’m disappointed that they haven’t done a lot better in 2013. This is a good IPA in a province full of amazing IPAs.

The Bold Belgian Pale Ale
Okay, maybe they have done better. I believe I’ve had this beer before, but I don’t recall it tasting as great at this guy. Good balance between the Belgian esters and the malt. Not too overwhelming, but that’s why it’s in a six pack.

Immaculate India Golden Ale
A decent, sessionable ale with good hops bite and a little citric brightness for something different. Definitely would pick this up again, once the weather warms up a bit.

The Session Vienna Lager
Oh yeah, I did that. I called out a lager as their best brew. In short, this is a fantastic lager, displaying excellent malt character and a nice hoppy finish. There’s even some smokiness present.

Wait, you’re saying that I shouldn’t have sorted them dark to light and drunk them all in one sitting?

If that doesn’t sound like a glowing endorsement, well, it’s not. They aren’t there yet, but they are trying. What can DF do better? First, pick a naming style and stick with it. Are all your beers The Something or just Something? I’m confused at the best of times, and when I’m buying beer even more so.

Second, drop the slogans. I know Rick told me that the slogans are “no longer a focus” but you need to just get rid of them. Branding designed to sell lime lagers to idiots by the case-lot cannot be reused to sell belgian IPAs to beer snobs in single bombers.

Third, keep up with the honest and open recipes. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but DF puts all their ingredients and specs online (including malt and hops varieties plus IBU).

Forth, simplify your branding. Labels with annoying gits on them staring back at me do little to inspire confidence in the beer inside the bottle. Likewise, a deceased amphibian is not a great thing to find adorning a food product. I know y’all want to keep the Dead Frog branding, but abstract that shit.

Fifth, keep trying. Your efforts have been noticed (by me, at least), and I want you guys to make great beer as much as you do.

Written by chuck

December 11th, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Posted in Breweries

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