I find myself increasingly defending how I review beers to people at bars, at after-bar-parties, in the betting circle at underground early morning monkey knife fights, and even in police holding cells while awaiting arraignment for some sort of trumped up animal cruelty charge.
I’ll say something like “Oh Beer X. Yeah I liked that one; it’s a good beer” to which my aghast audience will proclaim “But you only gave it 3/5 on Untappd!” Exactly. I liked it. It was a good beer, aka an average craft beer.
It wasn’t Excellent (4/5) or World Class (5/5) but neither was it Mediocre (2/5) or Fucking Awful (1/5). You see, unlike the vast majority of people who review things on the Internet, I like to use the full range of review options available to me.
Some folks, even some folks in the local beer industry, are hesitant to give something a 3/5 and never, ever dip into the 1s or 2s. You can generally tell how much you can trust someone’s opinion on beer by checking out their past reviews. If they only ever give beer a 4 or higher then whatever they say is suspect. They’re either giving everything an artificially high rating to curry favour with local breweries, or they’re skipping the bad beers for… well, the same reason.
I don’t do that. I use the full range. If I were given a random selection of local beers, I would expect them to follow a normal distribution with “Quality” as the x-axis, and in general I find this to be the case. BC is not a magical alcohol kingdom that only produces amazing beers. Rather, we’re quite average, if not slightly below average.
So, to clear up confusion, here is how I rate beers. I use Untappd’s 5 star system, allowing for half stars and a range from 0.5 to 5.0. When you see my ratings, here is what they mean.
Seriously freaking bad, as in milk. This beer is a mistake and should never have been released. Perhaps the brewery spilt some wort into the mop bucket and didn’t notice for a week and then decided to release it as “Janitor’s Wild Ale”? Drinking this beer may actually harm you.
Seriously flawed. Yeah, I know it says “Porter” on the label, but why is it red coloured, incredibly bitter, but still manages to taste strongly of both buttermilk and bandaids?
Major flaw/multiple minor flaws. Slightly oxidized AND infected? Wow that takes either malicious effort or incompetence. Or both.
Well made macro, or poorly made craft. Brewed it with rice and left all residual flavour in the filters? You get two stars. Brewed a rich, flavourful IPA but didn’t understand what hops to use, or when to add them? 2 stars. Yeah, that’s the same as Molson. Deal with it.
Excellent macro, below average craft. Ever had a beer and thought “meh”? Those go here. Sure, it’s pretty much on style but there are few things in there that are keeping it from being great. Maybe the grains don’t really give it the right body. Maybe the hops in this stout seem like they’re borrowed from an IPA.
Well made craft. The vast majority of beers I review get 3 stars, basically by definition. These are competently made craft-quality brews that’d I’d be happy to keep drinking if it weren’t for all the other competently made craft-quality brews out there vying for my limited attention.
Above-average craft beer. Ever had a beer and thought “Huh. This is GOOD”? Sure, you’re not going to get up right now to go back to the store to buy more, but you know what, this is pretty freaking tasty. No faults evident and something about this beer shows an uncommon flair for brewing.
Excellent. Okay, now you’re eyeing up the hours for the store where you bought this beer. Maybe it’s a complicated style like a sour or an imperial stout that’s well made. Maybe it’s just an uncommonly well made session beer. This is a delicious beer that is obviously better than other, similar beers.
Excellent-er. Bordering on uniquely amazing, but something is holding this guy back. Maybe it’s a subtle fault like poor hops integration, or maybe the carbonation takes away from the mouthfeel a bit. Maybe you’ve had a better beer somewhere, sometime, and know that further improvement is possible. It’s a subtle barrier that keeps this beer from being perfect.
World class. This is a rarity. It belongs to that unique class of beer that, when put in your mouth, makes you stop and pay attention to what your taste buds are telling you. Very, very few beers should ever be graced with a five star rating. In short, this beer is perfect.
Okay, so what about my Seals of Approval? Just to keep things simple, those have nothing to do with the five star ratings. They are highly personal and, indeed, are exactly what they claim to be: me, Chuck Hallett, slapping my seal on something to basically say “Chuck-Approved.” The criteria for each grade is surprisingly simplistic because, well, I’m surprisingly simplistic. You see, it’s all based on my personal desire to go to a store and buy this beer.
To put that in perspective consider a few things about me. First, I drink less beer than you might imagine, instead of the raving, barely functional hard core alcoholic of popular imagination, I am more of a “beer-a-day-but-two-on-weekends” sort of low burn rummy. Heck, I might even make it to 50 on my first liver. Second, I get sent lots of beer to review by breweries, and even though I dump a lot of the shitty ones down my drain, they do eat up the vast majority of my beer-a-day budget. Third, being a beer geek, I’d much rather try a new beer than buy a boring old stupid beer I’ve had before.
Combine all that together, and should I be willing to purchase a beer that I’ve had before at the store, that means it’s gotta be a pretty good beer, or I like it for some other reason (my picture on the label might do it… anyone? Please?). So, here’s how those seals break down:
No seal: Chuck would not drink again.
Bronze: Chuck would buy this beer if he needed beer.
Silver: Chuck would buy this beer even if he didn’t need beer.
Gold: Chuck will compulsively buy this beer in great volumes, and react aggressively should you get between the him and the beer. Seriously, just put the beer down, don’t make eye contact, and back away slowly.
So there you have it: your extremely long winded and unnecessarily detailed explanation of what goes on in my head when I use my soapbox to tell the world about a beer I just drank. Take it for what you will.
Apologies if the following contains a bit more beer nerd rage and swearing than usual. I usually try and keep it a bit more civil arou–ah, who am I kidding, this kind of shit is what you people come here for.
It’s been an interesting week for local media and craft beer ignorance. First, the Georgia Straight handed out an award to Craft Beer Market for Third Place in the coveted Best Brewpub category. This is quite an accomplishment for a barely 1 year old establishment and doubly so considering they AREN’T A FUCKING BREWPUB.
Sure, I know the Georgia Straight Best in Vancouver is a write-in award but c’mon guys, do at least some basic fact-checking before printing and framing the results. Shit like this is why your awards have basically no meaning. Maybe next year I’ll run a write-in campaign for “Best 100 Foot Golden Statue.”
However, that pales in comparison to a recent beauty by Vancouver Is Awesome. VIA went out with the aim to call attention to the best craft breweries in town, and came up with a list that just boggles the mind. There are at least five major errors on this list, which is a pretty good batting average for crap considering only 14 entries were published. Let’s go through them, shall we?
1/ Postmark Brewing leads off the piece. Postmark is, without a doubt, the worst brewery within the borders of the City of Vancouver. Their insipid quasi-macro swill might tempt curious Molson drinkers (which is exactly what it is designed to do), but the mere notion of purposefully brewing bad beer is anathema to any craft beer aficionado. Postmark’s deep marketing pockets plus their pole position on this piece cause me to openly wonder if this whole exercise isn’t simply a paid ad on their behalf, with other breweries hastily filled in for some astroturfed legitimacy.
2/ Go down the list a bit and we soon encounter Coal Harbour Brewing. CHB is a curious inclusion on a list designed to direct Vancouverites to the best breweries for “growler fills (and) tastings” considering that they offer neither at their production facility across from Parallel 49. Worry not, though, for the hoards of VIA readers won’t bother the brewers of the pond water that is 311 Lager. You see, VIA helpfully directs people to 1385 W 8th — a simple mistake that the author could have avoided had, you know, HE EVER BEEN TO THE BREWERIES HE WAS RECOMMENDING.
Update: Looks like I miscounted. There are only 12 entries on that list. I am bad at math. Oh well, at least I admit my mistakes. Not like VIA, whoever, who quietly updated their copy to reflect the lack of tastings/fillings at Coal Harbour, and then moved their pin to the correct location.
3/ Where is Storm Brewing? Did you seriously just put together a list of Vancouver breweries and leave out the just-celebrating-their-twentieth-anniversary institution of personified awesome that is Storm Motherfucking Brewing? Seriously, are you an idiot? Do you even drink beer? Do you know anything about it?
4/ I guess we can give them a pass for skipping the latest hotshots of Dageraad, Four Winds, Steel & Oak and Yellow Dog since they’re strictly limiting the entrants to Vancouver breweri—what? Central City made the list? Fuuuuuuck. Sure, CC makes okay beer, but if we’re going to go past that magic city border we can get way, way better beer without having to go all the way to fucking Surrey.
5/ Powell Street isn’t even open yet. I love David and I love David’s beer, and I’m very excited about the new brewery, but to have two addresses on your list of 14 that are incapable of actually serving beer is inexcusable.
You add all that up, and you have a beer list that tells us a lot of its author. They don’t know good beer when they drink it, and they don’t bother actually going to a place before recommending it. That’s some crack journalism there, Bob.
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|