Barley Mowat 

Steel & Oak

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Well, that didn’t take long. Not quite a week since the last brewery threw open its doors to make the world slightly more awesome, the new New Hot Thing is crouched at the starting line, ready to burst onto the scene in a haze of hoppy glory.

If you’re keen on ticking off yet another “Brewery Opening” on your list of Things To Do, though, get ready for a bit of a trip. Steel & Oak Brewing, the wort wizards in question, are all the way out there in New Westminster. Like, waaaay past the Gulf of Andurien.

The Balrog guarding The Skytrain Fare Paid Zone killed my elf.

I took the plunge and sat on the Skytrain for five hours (okay fine, twenty minutes), to trek out there last week for a bit of a preview so you don’t have to. Well, fine plan that was. They’re good enough that you really, honestly should head out tomorrow (Tuesday June 23rd at noon) to see for yourself.

Before we get on to the part of the brewery preview where I attempt to make yet another wood-clad tasting room sound original and inspiring, let’s take a second and review how you should actually go to S&O. Google might tell you to walk along Stewardson after leaving the weird mall/Skytrain stop that is New West Station. Don’t. Despite diesel particulate’s rumoured effectiveness as an aphrodisiac you might be better off with a short detour over to the boardwalk along the Fraser. Click here for a map.

Alright. Now you’re there. What should you expect? Co-owners Jorden Foss and Jamie Garbutt have put together a fine micro-brewery that, astonishingly, has some space left to grow. Plans are already in play for a barrel aging program and German-trained Brewmaster Peter Schulz is already concocting recipes in that precise, analytical brewing mind of his.

For opening day, S&O will have up to four beers ready to slip past your hipster moustache, and they’re all good. Damned good. Very damned good. So good that I wonder if the Fraser River is the common bond between great breweries because the last place to open of this calibre was Four Winds, downstream in Delta.

In addition to the quality of the product in the tap, the balance of the brewery outside the tap is similarly fancy.

Yes, I did just compare S&O to the best brewery in BC. Now get ready for this: I think they could eventually be better. Sure, Four Winds is better right this instant, but they have a full year under their belt (happy anniversary, Mills’s!). When they first opened my reaction was “yeah, that’s a decent beer.” S&O beats that. Here are their beers:

Red Pilsner :- Pretty much a perfect Pilsner nose, but a rich body that keeps on giving. I’m not a Pilsner guy, but I sorta love this beer. Start here.

Smoked Heff :- Just the right balance of smoke. Not overpowering nor invisible. I’ve heard rumours of a bourbon barrel aged version, and I think it’ll slay.

English Pale :- Tad young when I tried it, but had the start of a malty, chewy light pale ale that tastes exactly like Another Pint.

West Coast ESB :- Also young when I tried it. Big tropical hop nose on this guy, but a bit unbalanced on the bittering. I suspect this is brewed more as a salve for the local hopheads than through any strong passion.

Coles notes:
Steel & Oak Brewing
1319 Third Ave, New Westminster
Hours: 12pm-8pm Daily (10pm Thurs-Sat), Closed Mondays
Growlers: 32oz ($6), 64oz ($11.50)
Bottles: 650ml, coming in the fall
Barrels: Yes (not yet, though)

Look ma! I took an artsy picture of a stamp!

Written by chuck

June 23rd, 2014 at 3:18 pm

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Feature Beer: Dageraad Blonde

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From Burnaby comes a new Feature Beer. Ben Coli’s new Dageraad Brewery caught some local beererati attention with the release of Beta, an aborted batch of their Belgian Amber that was too good to throw out. For the outcome of an “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit” moment it was a pretty good beer. Heck, even if it was the outcome of a carefully measured and executed brewing process it would still be considered a pretty good beer.

Beta, alas, has come and gone, never to return. Replacing it are the first of Dageraad’s permanent lineup: Blonde and Amber. Amber isn’t quite as good as Beta was–frankly it could use a bit of dialling in–but that’s not the beer I want to talk about today. Today I’m talking about Blonde.

Oh right. That’s what happens when you Google “Blonde Beer.”
There actually is a beer in there somewhere, I’m told.

And ho boy is this a good Belgian beer. I should know; I was just in Belgium, and honestly this beer could slide into a Bruges café and no one would be the wiser. It’s not perfect, but its faults are subtle.

In addition to just being a lovely beer, I picked Dageraad Blonde as a Feature Beer for two additional reasons. First, the brewery is a true micro. Ben, Mitch and Erin are literally the whole show, and Erin’s only working part time. Second, this is the first honest-to-Gord Belgian brewery in BC.

Sure, others have flirted with Belgian-style beers here and there, but mostly via buying a vat of Belgian yeast from Wyeast and then cramming the kettle full of hops. Sure, I like a hoppy Belgian, but they’re not exactly authentic, now are they?

Enter Dageraad and their balanced, round Blonde. Buy some, drink some, and cellar some. This beer will improve with time, much like its Old World ancestors.

APPEARANCE Pours bright cloudy yellow with a thin, persistent white head.
NOSE Standard Belgian yeast esters: banana, lots of clove
TASTE Good mouthfeel. Sweet start and a balanced dry end, some citrus/lemon. Perhaps every so slightly overhopped on the finish, but really splitting hairs here.
STATS 7.5% ABV / <20? IBU / Belgian Blonde
SHOULD I BUY IT? Yes. Absolutely. Ignore the lumpy label and buy the damned thing.

Brewery Dageraad
From Burnaby
Name Blonde
Style Belgian Blonde
SOA Now Silver
SOA Potential Silver
Drink Now-2017
Bottles of this you could buy instead of a ticket to Belgium 156
Availability Most LRSs
Cost ~$8-10+ per 650ml
Similar Beers None locally


Seriously, let’s all go to Bruges and do a blind taste test… then just go drink Quads until we’re blind.

Written by chuck

June 20th, 2014 at 3:12 pm

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Postmark Brewing

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It’s been about three weeks since Main Street Brewing opened their doors and claimed the title of “newest brewery in Vancouver” so it’s high time they stopped hogging all the attention, stepped off the podium, and let someone else bask in the limelight.

Enter Postmark Brewing. Postmark is the final puzzle piece of the destination resort of alcohol known as The Settlement Building (55 Dunlevy, at Alexander). Housed within its approximately 15,000 square foot interior you will find a fully operational brewery (Postmark), winery (Roaring Twenties) and restaurant (Belgard Kitchen). If they had rooms for rent some folk would never leave.

Pic shamelessly ripped off from Scout Magazine

The space features soaring ceilings, stacks of barrels (for wine, sorry folks), skylights, a giant (yet non functional) fire place, and the mother of all bars practically bristling with steel-headed taps. From those taps flow all sorts of both rotten grain and grapes, as closely aligned with all these establishments is former Settlement occupant freshTAP, whose business plan of simply pumping wine out of barrels and into kegs and calling it a day has proven fabulously successful.

So, are they worth a damn? Should you spend all that effort walking down Alexander Street only to keep walking past The Alibi Room? Sure. Go once. The space is great, and the novelty of the combined services are definitely worth a visit.

If you’re looking for great beer, though, you aren’t going to find it at Postmark. Much like the wine, the oat soda here is definitely downmarket. We’re not talking macro swill by any stretch of the imagination, but neither will it set the beererati reaching for their phones to rate it 5/5 on Untappd.

Oh, let’s face it, they’ll check in anything at any time

The two beers I sampled yesterday were… okay? I guess? Probably the better of the two was their Saison. Don’t get all excited by the style, though. While some Saisons can be fruity, estery, flavourful glasses of sunshine; this guy was fizzy, yellow, fluid. Sure, it’s technically a Saison and, if handed it blind I would likely identify it as such. However, if other Saisons can turn the flavour knob up to 11 this one is solidly stuck at 3. The dry balanced finish was the highlight of this beer, but again it was very restrained.

At least it was better than the Red IPA. To be honest, I’m not sure what they were aiming for with this beer; it almost tastes under attenuated. Lots of sugar almost obscures the chewy malt, but the heavy handed bittering leads to a roller coaster on the palate: “too sweet, too syrupy” yields to “whoa! bitter! bitter!” Low aromatics means the bitterness just sits on your tongue and leaves your nose wondering what all the fuss is about.

The beers didn’t blow me away, but that’s not what Postmark is aiming to do. They’ve put their sights squarely on the newly craft-curious macro drinking public. With that in mind, a dialled down Saison and a sweet IPA might be exactly the sort of beer Postmark should be making. The upcoming Pilsner, still conditioning during my preview, was described as “half way between a mainstream lager and a craft Pilsner.”

So yeah, they have that going for them. The question, though, is this: “Is this a good business model? Can they make a go of it?” I’m going to come out and say “Yes” here. Sure, it’s basically blasphemy to me for a brewery to deliberately brew boring beer, but that doesn’t mean it won’t sell. The thing about craft-curious macro drinkers is that they’re real, they’re tired of the Same Old Stuff, and holy shit man, there are a lot of them. Also, they drink a LOT of beer.

Like, I mean a LOT.

Granted, if someone branches out a bit and tries a Postmark “Not Quite Canadian” Pilsner and likes it they’re much more likely to try a different craft lager for the next six pack, and that different lager will be even better. This eventually will lead our craft-curious beer drinker to drop the “curious,” become a full-on hophead, and leave Postmark behind as they discover the several dozen other breweries producing good beer in BC.

This might sound like a flighty, temporary client base to build a business upon until you realize that just as the first wave is completing the transition to/from Postmark, the second wave will be just starting. And–if current trends in macro beer are to be believed–the second wave will be bigger than the first. And the third than the second. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Eventually the macro-drinking public will have exhausted its craft-curious supply and Postmark’s client base will dry up. That day is a long way away, though. Should that glorious future ever arrive, luckily they could always just brew better beer.

Coles notes:

Postmark Brewing
55 Dunlevy Street, Vancouver
Hours: 11am-11pm daily.
Growlers: 32oz ($5.50-6.50), 64oz ($10-12)

Written by chuck

June 18th, 2014 at 1:24 pm

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