Wow. So that happened. I, for one, didn’t see it coming; not even a little. But, rather than getting all picky about who killed whom, let’s just all take a deep breath and learn our lesson. When someone shows up at a party with a frothy container of liquid, it’s very important to not just assume the liquid is barely fermented ale. It’s important to consider that maybe, just maybe, it’s actually an ungodly amount of ayahuasca. That’s a Barley Mowat Pro Tip, right there.
Right, moving on. It’s that time of year again. Time to reflect upon the year that was, and hand out recognition to the few, the proud, the bearded. Yup, it’s time for the 2014 Annual Barley Mowat Excellence in Beer Awards, aka the Beerdies.
Unlike some other blogs out there, I don’t hand out annual awards based on popular votes. No siree. You see, people are fucking morons. Run a poll on your blog for a few weeks and you’ll wind up handing Granville Island Brewing a Gold Medal for the liquid vanilla-in-a-bottle what is Lions Winter Ale. This is proof that democracy just plain doesn’t work.
What we have over here at BarleyMowat.com is a classic, functional dictatorship. I try all the beers, tell you about them, then you go buy them, and then you agree with me by telling me how awesome I am. That’s our relationship and frankly I think it’s working for us. So, without further adieu, let’s get to it!
Finally someone pushes Driftwood from their reign of terror over my beer expenses. What change did Josh and Dave implement to tip the scales? Sandwiches. Yeah, I know. That’s pretty sad, but it’s the truth. If you want Chuck to consistently wander into your brewery and slap down money, don’t brew good beer. Instead, offer up tasty (and reasonably healthy) sandwiches in a convenient location forty feet from his day job. Damn I loves me some sandwiches.
I don’t mean “hot” as in great. I mean “hot” as in every brewery has one these days. Even recently opened Strange Fellows is getting hard to get into these days, and you might as well forget about Brassneck (I encountered a lineup there at 4pm on a weekday). Where did all these craft beer nerds come from? Half of them don’t even have beards! (edit: I have since been informed that these are “women”)
With all the new breweries opening, the local focus has been on establishing solidly brewed main beer lineups, not seasonals. The few breweries that do have steady seasonal lineups have either stagnated innovation-wise (Driftwood, Granville Island, Four Winds), failed to really hit a winner (Dead Frog), or shat the bed quality-wise (Parallel 49). With the landscape being what it is, I’m taking my ball and going home.
You can’t start a brewery these days without a barrel program, end of story. Walk into any of the newer facilities and what do you see? Barrel stacks, and I don’t mean one or two barrels here or there, I mean massive stacks of oak all lined up to make awesome beer. In a couple of years we’ll be wading in sours, people!
I’m going to break from tradition here and not just automatically hand this one out to Nigel. Sure, Nigel’s still the best, but his trophy cabinet is pretty full and I don’t want him to have to buy a new one. That’s floor space he could use for another foeder.
Instead, I’m going to give the nod here to Aaron Jonckheere. He’s half the team behind the just-opened Strange Fellows, but I’ve been talking to Aaron for over a year about his trials, concerns, and hopes. He hasn’t limited his sharing to me but, rather, has engaged everyone he could find as well as sharing his story on his own blog: I’m Starting A Craft Brewery. Sure, there’s a bit of clever marketing going on there, but also a genuine desire to make starting a brewery in BC easier. That’s very Nigel of you, Aaron.
When you’re lying on your back in a ditch, all you can see is stars. What the folks who wrote that aspirational quote failed to mention is that, 99 times out of 100, instead of reaching for the stars you just go out and re-do whatever it was that put you in the ditch in the first place.
Turning Point, on the other hand, has taken that first step towards crawling out of said ditch. They’re wet, sick and covered in composting garbage but, hey, they can almost see the road.
Okay, enough tortured metaphor. What I’m saying is that their beer used to be undrinkably insipid but now it’s almost not bad. Between Wind Storm and their Wit, the beer has improved drastically and the marketing, while still the target of a good chunk of my beer nerd rage, has at least toned down the absurd not-quite-lies that spoke to unscrupulous profit-driven motivations.
Well this one was easy. Not only is Yellow Dog hands-down the best new brewery of 2014, but they’re making a serious run at best brewery in BC, period. Their smoked porter won Best in Show at the BC Beer Awards, and frankly I think their IPA is health-destroyingly great. Combine that with targeted taunts about an upcoming sour and I get all tingly feeling.
Add to that mix what is probably the best tasting room experience in the province and you have a winning combination. Congrats, guys!
And now, the grand prize of the 2014 Beerdies (aka the Golden Beerdie):
I was rightly chided for missing Dave during last year’s awards but, let’s face facts: I don’t get over to the island very often and I could be forgiven for forgetting about Dave. Well, Dave met me half way this year. Seriously, his beer now extends most of the way across the straight.
Way to grow hair, Dave!
Ever wonder how big the breweries in BC really are? We all like to talk a good talk about huge year over year growth, but how fast are our favourite brands getting big?
Sadly, no one really talks size or growth, as most breweries are privately owned and not required to share any of those embarrassing financial tidbits. Luckily for us, the LDB is required to post their annual finances, and since all beer in BC must first be sold to the LDB this report acts as a sort of proxy for brewery size.
Below I’ve tabulated the 2014 financials for each brewery that I can identify in the report, along with their 2013 numbers, and an approximate guess for beer production in hectolitres. Previously I’d used numbers ranging from $375 to $450 per hectolitre calculation, but this year I changed it up and went with $300. This is primarily because this year I learnt a bit more about how breweries are taxed, and that these financial statements are post-tax.
The degree to which these hectolitre calculations should be trusted is reflected by how easily I just changed them out: don’t trust them. These are very approximate numbers only, and should only be used for rough relative comparisons. A major brewery like Pacific Western will be lower, and a brewery that solely sells draught and growler products like Brassneck might be higher.
All columns are sortable. Just click.
- For the first time, several breweries appear to be in serious trouble. Tin Whistle, Wolf, Craig Street, and R&B are all hurting big time. If this keeps up, expect some cheap equipment to go up for sale soon.
- Mid-sizes breweries are broadly down as a trend. Russell, Big Rock, Granville Island, OK Spring, etc are all hurting.
- HUGE years for Hoyne, Driftwood, Parallel 49 and Central City, but especially Hoyne. Great work, Sean!
- The shift in strategy for some of the smaller breweries is evident: Longwood, Moon Under Water and Spinnakers bottling efforts are definitely paying dividends.
- Pacific Western was doing great up until this year. They’re somewhat up market from Molson, so I figured that was due to adventurous drinkers trying something different. Their ~10% drop this year is likely due to adventurous drinks moving down the shelf a bit more to actual good beer.
- Holy shit. Check out Brassneck’s numbers, and then realize they weren’t even open for HALF OF THE PERIOD OF THIS REPORT. Wowza.
- I included Big Rock here, too. They’re building a brewery in Vancouver so, uh, welcome to BC guys.
- The various Mark James properties have been broken out individually. I think this has something to do with Red Truck’s massive production capacity increase and taxes.
Disclaimers (repeated from 2013):
- Because of the craziness of shadow brands and contract brewing, it’s hard to split out some of these numbers. OK Spring, in particular, also produces Sleeman locally, and those sales are blended in.
- Some breweries are missing, including Coal Harbour and others. I have no idea why. They are likely running under either a numbered company or a name I don’t recognize.
- I have excluded Labatt’s (Kokanee) simply because it would be impossible to separate out beer produced in-province from imports.
- Likewise, I have skipped Mark Anthony Group (Turning Point/Stanley Park) because most of their money comes from wine (Mission Hill)
Click headers to sort
|Brewery||2013 Income||2014 Income||alias/aka||2014 Production (hl)||Growth|
|Sleeman Breweries Ltd||100826104||97421073||Sleeman / OK Spring||324736||-3.4%|
|Pacific Western Brewing Company||37038122||33563099||111876||-9.4%|
|Granville Island Brewing Company||23597424||22831746||76105||-3.2%|
|Phillips Brewing Co||14527143||17209987||57366||18.5%|
|Northam Brewery Lp||12412210||14093947||Whistler / Bowen||46979||13.5%|
|Vancouver Island Brewing Company||8663020||8082863||26942||-6.7%|
|Big Rock Brewery Inc||6487218||5349530||17831||-17.5%|
|Fireweed Brewing Corp||5391621||5328876||Tree||17762||-1.2%|
|Lighthouse Brewing Company Inc||5156097||4962174||16540||-3.8%|
|Parallel 49 Brewing Company Ltd||1452960||4699953||15666||223.5%|
|Central City Brewing Co||2717936||4043560||13478||48.8%|
|Russell Brewing Co Limited||4162692||3917373||13057||-5.9%|
|Allen Brands Inc||2212115||2926208||Big Surf / Prohibition||9754||32.3%|
|Howe Sound Brewing||2371393||2560623||8535||8.0%|
|Nelson Brewing Company||2444327||2405093||8016||-1.6%|
|Hoyne Brewing Company Ltd||1204082||2384445||7948||98.0%|
|Dead Frog Brewery||1893880||2065463||6884||9.1%|
|Mt Begbie Brewing Company Limited||1701101||1874282||6247||10.2%|
|Fernie Brewing Co||1468056||1670146||5567||13.8%|
|Cannery Brewing Co||1391236||1338593||4461||-3.8%|
|R&B Brewing Inc||1218933||1047154||3490||-14.1%|
|Tuff City Brewing Ltd||532850||956717||Tofino||3189||79.5%|
|Townsite Brewing Inc.||561253||799821||2666||42.5%|
|Steamworks Brewing Company Ltd||788268||2627||100%|
|Gulf Islands Brewery Limited||494823||656752||2189||32.7%|
|Spinnakers Brew Pub Inc||386987||611865||2039||58.1%|
|Salsbury Drive Holdings Ltd||514694||Brassneck||1715||100%|
|Longwood Brew Pub Limited||250872||495047||1650||97.3%|
|Crannog Ales Limited||367742||399852||1332||8.7%|
|Four Winds Brewing Company Ltd||365473||1218||100%|
|Bridge Brewing Corp||58606||354781||1182||505.4%|
|33 Acres Brewing Company Inc||341586||1138||100%|
|Storm Brewing Limited||353287||336433||1121||-4.8%|
|Moon Under Water Brewery Ltd||97534||310847||1036||218.7%|
|Arrowhead Brewing Company||69882||301396||1004||331.3%|
|Old Yale Brewing Co Limited||178992||248412||828||38.8%|
|Persephone Brewing Company Inc||247804||826||100%|
|Powell Street Craft Brewery Inc||137405||458||100%|
|Mission Springs Developements Limited||39391||114057||380||189.6%|
|Tin Whistle Brewing Co||449938||100515||335||-77.7%|
|Wolf Brewing Company||200198||100045||333||-50.0%|
|Big River Brewing Company||46422||76883||256||65.6%|
|Bomber Brewing Corporation||69503||231||100%|
|Deep Cove Brewers And Distillers Inc||68699||228||100%|
|Green Leaf Brewing Corporation||66654||222||100%|
|Shuswap Lake Brewing Company||52840||62931||Barley Station Brewpub||209||19.1%|
|Yaletown Brewing Co||44347||147||100%|
|Craig Street Brewing Co Ltd||63910||43137||143||-32.5%|
|Patricia Hotel Vancouver||38787||40202||134||3.6%|
|RDO Brewing Ventures Ltd||36046||Barkerville||120||100%|
|Big Ridge Brewing Company||32591||31508||105||-3.3%|
|Three Ranges Brewing Company Ltd||28436||94||100%|
|Freddy’s Brew Pub||26466||88||100%|
|Barley Mill Brewpub||27327||0.0||0||-100.0%|
|Plan B Brewing Co||111483||0.0||0||-100.0%|
|Avalon Brewing Co||353808||0.0||Old Red Truck Location||0||-100.0%|
* Arrowhead and Bridge numbers are adjusted to approximate annual production, as they were not open for the entirety of the reporting period.
I’ll admit that I’ve been a lazy ass, and have been sitting on this review for a while—a few months, even. However, sitting inside while the wind is blowing through Vancouver seems like the perfect time to write this sucker up. Beats the tar out of going outside, at least.
So… another Stanley Park brew, eh? What does Chuck think? Well, before we can talk about what’s inside the can, let’s spend a bit of time talking about what’s outside the can.
Turning Point Brewing (the actual brewery behind the Stanley Park brand) has elected to reinforce their completely fictional relationship with the park whose name they’ve appropriated by releasing a hoppy pale ale to commemorate what is one of the worst tragedies to ever strike Stanley Park.
For those new to the city, in December 2006 a series of massive storms touting winds as high as 120 km/hr tore through the iconic Vancouver park, and uprooted over ten thousand trees. The damage was wide spread and jaw-dropping. Entire acres of wooded rainforest were laid bare, turned into chaotic clear cuts. The emotional toll of this event on Vancouver natives was tremendous. People were literally brought to tears by the footage.
So now, eight years later, to have a brewery commercialize this tragedy for profit is… well, let’s just say it takes a certain insensitivity to think this is a good idea. However, Turning Point rampant desire to build any sort of association themselves with their namesake trumps any sort of good will.
Not to say there isn’t actual good will here. Turning Point is donating 25 cents per can (or per pint of draught) to the Stanley Park Ecology Society and, while 25 cents doesn’t sound like a lot when you consider that the can in question cost you $2.50 at the LDB, believe me it’s eating a pretty hefty hole in their bottom line (although, don’t get me wrong, this beer is still very profitable).
Perhaps I’m being too harsh? Maybe they can pull this one off and treat this touchy topic with all the decorum and sensitivity it demands? Let’s go watch this promo video to learn more.
Well fuck. Seriously, guys? In addition to all-but-implying that the brewery has any sort of actual relationship to a wind storm that occurred a four full years before they opened shop, that video lays down a sentence of marketing copy downright laden with wind-theme adjectives: “An unexpected storm of tropical fruit and earthy pine-hop character that bends to a gust of citrus on the palate and a rewarding bitterness that finishes clean.” That is verbatim from this video, and is printed on the side of their cans.
You can do a benefit ale. That’s a thing you can do. Central City has done several versions of their IPA whereby profits are donated to Autism research. However, the beer is simply called “IPA for Autism” and they donate $2 per 650ml bomber compared to Stanley Park’s $0.25 per 500ml can (approximately 6x Turning Point’s offering). If you go read the description of the beer here you’ll see that CC has avoided using tie-in words. Imagine how horrible it would be if they described their beer as having “strong aromatics that can look you in the eye.”
Unimaginably horrible and tasteless, that’s how it would be. And yes, a wind storm in Stanley Park is not even remotely the same thing as a child with Autism, but they’re two tragedies that two breweries have responded to with two benefit beers, and the two different approaches couldn’t say more about each of those businesses.
Nothing more clearly demonstrates Turning Point’s true feelings about Stanley Park than this beer. Stanley Park is not a treasured gem or a source of civic pride to Turning Point. Nope, it’s a marketing opportunity, pure and simple. It was that in 2010 when they created the Stanley Park Brewing brand and it still is today. If they were serious about rebuilding the park, they would have released a tastefully marketed brew and donated 100% of the profits, not 25 measly cents.
What about the beer itself? Yeah, it’s okay. Actually, the nose on this thing is amazing. You should have a sniff. Don’t actually drink the beer, though, as it’s not that great, but merely good. Even so, it might be the best beer Stanley Park has ever produced, but until they change their marketing game I’m going to spend most of my time talking about the packaging.
Oh, and to save you time: skip their winter ale too. It’s frankly bad.