I’ll admit it: I like Spruce Ales. In much the same way that I’m not partial to White IPAs, I am partial to Spruce Ales. So, you should take this review with a grain of salt. Maybe I’m just gaga over anything with tree bits in it, or maybe I hold Spruce Beers to an even higher standard because of how much I lust after them. I honestly have no idea.
Dead Frog is continuing to try and convince the world that they’ve given up their Lime Lager ways, and the Big Stump Spruce Golden Ale is the next in their “no really, it’s good beer, we swear!” series. Okay, fine, the series doesn’t actually have a name but that’s how they’re coming across. And, while the Lime Lager Days definitely are behind DF, their debt to craft beer in general hasn’t quite been paid off yet.
The press material for this beer is frankly incomplete, only hinting at the origin of Spruce Tip Ale with a frustratingly vague reference to Captain Cook’s NorthWest voyage. Spruce Beer was indeed brewed by Captain Cook, who’s on-board brewery mixed spruce tips in with their ale to combat scurvy. While the exact origins of the practice are not known, it is certainly at least several centuries older than Captain Cook. You can learn more on WikiPedia.
Secondly, and minorly, the presser mentions that Dead Frog draws their water from the Fraser River. I will chalk this one up as poetic license, for if they’re pulling that brown “liquid” into their brewery we should all get tested for any number of water born illnesses immediately, but I digress.
How is the beer behind the label? Not bad at all. It’s not an amazing Spruce Ale, but it’s fairly competently done, and a great example of an all-too-rare style. Combine that with a beer that frankly pours an attractive glass, and you have a strong contender for your weekend patio pints.
|Style||Golden Ale (Spruce)|
|Does it compare to the first Tofino Spruce Tip IPA?||Sigh. No. Nothing ever could.|
|Cost||$5.50-$7.50 per 650ml|
|Similar Beers||Tofino Spruce Ale|
About a month ago, a local pseudo-brewery sent out a request on Twitter for people to review their new beer. Whistler Brewing (actually a subsidiary brand of the larger NorthAm Group out of Kamloops, which also brews the piss-in-a-can known as Bowen Island Beer) had released a new California Common, titled Big Sky, and wanted local beer snobs to know about it.
It didn’t take long for the kind folk of Twitter land to suggest that perhaps they should send a sample off to me for review. Strangely, no sample arrived. Perhaps they forgot. Or, perhaps they’re even passingly familiar with my blog and/or previous reviews of their “beer”.
Whistler could be forgiven for thinking that I have it out for them, but then again I did rather like their Lost Lake Unfiltered IPA. So, you see Whistler Brewing, it’s your beer I dislike intensely, not you. If you brew better beer, I tend to give it good reviews.
See how that works? Weird, right? I know, I know, it truly would be so much easier if I was the kind of beer snob who would hand out praising reviews simply because you’re giving me free beer. Alas, that’s not the case. Also alas, it’s what gives the following review some clout.
First up, the style. I’ve always suspected that the marketers ran the show at NorthAm, and calling this beer an “Uncommon Lager” just reinforces that. The label rambles on providing a decently accurate description of the California Common style, although they completely fail to mention anything about California, or the actually interesting history behind that style.
Why would they invent a style, though? I can’t profess to know, but I suspect their target market might be confused by the California Common term, and its nasty trait of not having the word “Lager” crammed right in it. Perhaps unsophisticated beer drinkers of the sort what comprise Whistler’s demographic like lagers, and generally can’t be counted on to be patient or literate enough to bother reading the beer description. Sure, that’s rampant speculation, but I’m running with it.
Is it any damned good, though? Meh. It’s an okay, if not great, Cali Common. When I drink a Cali, I’m looking for a smooth malt body and complex finish. This beer falls short of the mark. Cereal properly comes through up front on the palate, but the finish is dominated by bitter hops without any of the firm, toasted grain backbone typical of the style. If you want a Cali Common, go drink 33 Acres of Life, which is drinking particularly well right now.
pale red, filtered. Thick tight persistent white head.
Hints of pilsner malt. Cereal and strong grain. About right.
Like a strongly hopped light ale. Lacks lager crispness and round mouthfeel, yet despite all this is actually very sweet. Long unpleasant bitter finish.
5.0% ABV / 36 IBU / California Common
Do you like boring, over hopped beer?
|Best use||Making 33 Acres Life taste even better|
|Cost||$4.75-$6.00 per 650ml|
|Similar Beers||33 Acres of Life, Anchor Steam|
So, the BC Government is moving down their checklist of recommendations from the Liquor Policy Review, finding new and innovative ways to technically give the public what they want while simultaneously screwing us over with policy gotchas preventing any actual enjoyment of said changes.
Let’s review how we got here.
Policy Recommendation #19 specified that “The Province should develop and implement a retail model that meets consumer demands for more convenience by permitting the sale of liquor in grocery stores.”
That seems perfectly reasonable until you realize it came with three caveats. The first maintains the existing cap on total number of Liquor Retail Store licenses in the province, which has been maxed out for many years. Basically, a grocery store can only sell liquor by shutting down an existing LRS.
The second gotcha specified that the minimum spacing of 1km between LRSs should be maintained. The third specifies that any grocery store that gets through the first two then have to build a “store within a store” to hold the booze, complete with separate tills and a no-minors rule. Thanks, guys.
Take those three elements together and we have a model that:
– Does not actually increase the number of locations in the province where one can buy liquor
– Prevents most grocery stores from even being able to sell liquor due to the 1km rule (all but 2 stores, in the entire province, are inhibited by this rule)
– Makes the cost to a store of actually selling liquor prohibitive, both in acquiring the license to sell, and in the required renovations to basically pick up an existing LRS and transport it into the store
Okay, fine. They screwed that one up massively. Next up was Happy Hour, how could they possibly mess up “Allow drinks to be cheaper for a few hours?” For reference, here is the actual wording:
Policy Recommendation # 16: “Permit licensees to offer time-limited drink specials (e.g., happy hours),
provided the price is not below a prescribed minimum consistent with those supported by health advocates.”
Seems reasonable, right? Alas, the new minimums were so infamously high that many pubs had to raise, not lower, their prices. Dammmmn. Either they’re woefully incompetent, or they’re taking very mischievous delight in screwing BC liquor consumers over with a serious of “deal with the devil” style policy changes.
So now, when I get a PDF of a government survey being circulated about the next recommendation under consideration, I somewhat understandably start reading between the lines to see what they could possibly fuck up this time.
Here’s the full text of Policy Recommendation #69: “Allow private and public retail liquor stores to sell growlers (refillable bottles) and operate refilling stations.”
Before we start dusting off our growler collections in anticipation of getting fills of fine imported beers, I want to draw your attention to two questions the government feels the need to ask as part of this survey. There’s nothing firm here, but the same people who have crippled our Grocery Store Grog and Happy Hours are openly wondering about:
Does the size/volume of the growler bottle need to be restricted?
Do you have concerns about the labelling of growlers, particularly whether a brewery, manufacturer, or liquor store can refill a growler with a competitor’s label?
You don’t seed the conversation in a survey like this by randomly asking questions on topics you, yourself, don’t hold opinions on. The first question should end with “because we sure as hell do” and the second with “otherwise children might drink beer thinking it was merely Draino! Won’t someone PLEASE think of the children?!”
So yes, growler fills in LRSs are likely coming to BC sometime soon, but please be prepared for a government mandate restricting the size of those growlers to one arbitrary size, and another mandate making it illegal for all growler fillers everywhere to put their beer in someone else’s growler, basically ruining one of the really cool things about the very concept of growlers.
I want to be wrong; I want to be worried for nothing but, burn me once, shame on you; burn me twice, shame on me; burn me thrice, you must be the BC LCLB.