Barley Mowat 

Parallel 49 Robo Ruby, Granville Island Auld Skool

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Nothing like a couple of big, malt-heavy beers to battle it out for my winter booze budget. It seems like only yesterday that I was pining for the return of thicker beers to the market and here I am reviewing two of them. Sure, this might have something to do with it being winter, but I’m dumb like that, and haven’t yet pinned down a season-to-beer-style correlation. Instead I’ll just choose to believe that my asking for big malt beers last summer has directly caused those same beers to appear this winter.


Speaking of which,
where are all the light refreshing lagers at?

Parallel 49 Robo Ruby

First up, yet another seasonal issue from Parallel 49’s never-sleeping one-off brew crew. Somehow they find time to take breaks from brewing Hoparazzi, Old Boy and Gypsy Tears 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to crank out a never-ending stream of unique bombers. There’s honestly no better way to tweak the two-sizes too-small heart of your local curmudgeonly beer geek than to constantly flood the market with interesting beer. Sure, not every release they’ve put out has been an amazing success, but that’s to be expected from the shotgun approach to beer styles: try a few dozen, see what works, refine, reiterate.

The bottle says “Red IPA” but I’ll call this an Imperial Red Ale, if only so I can compare it to Lighthouse Siren. Why would I do that? Quite simple: to have an excuse to purchase both of these excellent ales and drink them side by side in the name of science.

That I would even bother performing such an experiment means I’m unsure which is better, and now that I have done so I’m no further enlightened. Both are absolutely great beers, and deserving of some shelf space in your fridge. Siren is the maltier, boozier* of the pair, while Robo comes through with a complex hop profile to scratch that Humulus itch. (* Boozier in taste, not ABV)

Sure, the current canned Siren hasn’t quite lived up to how great I recall the original release being, but of course very few things are as good as we remember them. For instance, I recall early dial-up BBSs being perfection embodied: pure, simplistic delight at the thought of a connection to the outside work. Frankly, the modern internet simply cannot hold a candle to those early days.


Oh wait, yes it can

APPEARANCE Deep amber red/auburn. Long lasting, thick head.
NOSE Caramel malt with a giant double fist of big sweet hops. Cantaloupe, kiwi, jackfruit. Wow.
TASTE Wow again. Seriously impressive sugar complexity that plays very well with the sweet fruitiness of the hops. Alcohol definitely present, but only serves to intensify rather than distract.
STATS 9.3% ABV / 60 IBU / Red DIPA
SHOULD I BUY IT? Hells yes. This might be in the top ten of P49’s one-offs thus far.
CHECK IN

Granville Island Auld Skool

I’m an unabashed fan of the work being done down on Granville Island by Vern Lambourne. Perhaps this is because of the fact that I will be there next week to brew some Barley Mowat Official Unnamed Beer, or maybe the reasoning is vice versa. In any event, I don’t lose my bashfulness for a brewery without reason.

The reason, in this case, is excellent beer. Vern has always taken pride in running an interesting one-off program from his modest 10 hl brewhouse under the bridge (which is, admittedly, a show-brewery for tourists that has as little to do with GIB’s normal beers as flavour does). However, is it just me or has Vern seriously upped his game in recent months?

Starting around mid-summer with Pucker Meister, the beers produced there have gone from “competently brewed, overlooked and underrated” to “seriously good and WHY IS NO ONE TALKING ABOUT THIS??!”

Stacked on top of those releases is this year’s GIB Scotch Ale, rechristened under their new naming/branding scheme as “Auld Skool.” This is, quite simply, one of the best Scotch Ale’s produced in BC. The colour is perfect, the carbonation is perfect, the mouthfeel and spicy finish? You guessed it, perfect. Perhaps some more pronounced smokiness would enhance things a wee bit more, but then again, maybe I should leave the recipes to the brewmaster.

APPEARANCE Dark brown, almost black. Thin persistent off-tan head.
NOSE Caramel malt with a spicy end-note.
TASTE Complex sugar caramel with a spicy finish. Lovely.
STATS 6.5% ABV / 20 IBU
SHOULD I BUY IT? Yup. Track this guy down and give the friendly clerk your money.
CHECK IN

Coles notes:

Brewery Parallel 49 Granville Island Taphouse
From Vancouver Vancouver
Name Robo Ruby Auld Skool
Style Imperial Red Ale Scottish Strong Ale
SOA Now Silver Bronze
SOA Potential n/a n/a
Drink Now Now
Availability Most LRSs, some LDBs and at the brewery
Cost ~$7 / 650ml ~$6/ 650ml
Similar Beers Lighthouse Siren Russell Wee Heavy Scotch (ish)


Gonna need a new run of Silver SOAs at this rate

Written by chuck

January 21st, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Big Rock Comes Out West

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Craft Beer in BC is booming. Sure, Craft Beer is up pretty much everywhere in Canada, but BC takes the cake. No matter how you do the math (number of breweries, beer produced, beer imported, beer exported, beer sold locally, etc), it all boils down to one core fact: us BC-ites just can’t get enough of that amber nectar.

Thus it comes as no surprise that a largish brewery in Alberta might cast envious glances over the Rockies and lament their lousy geographical location (to be fair, Alberta is also on the uptick CB-wise, but think of it more along the lines of BC in 1998… with less people… and more cowboy hats… same number of actual cowboys, though).

Such is the position that Calgary’s own Big Rock Brewing finds themselves in. Big Rock has exported product into BC for years, but have recently developed ambitions of brewing a more local BC product. In the pioneer days of craft beer, back in the early 90s, Big Rock was right up there with more local offerings from still-independent locals like Ok Spring, Granville Island, Shaftebury, and Bowen Island.

(Aside: Yes, all those were indie craft breweries at one point, and they produced some decent beers. Heck, Bowen Island was downright great.)

In fact, it could be said that I cut my craft beer teeth on massive quantities of Big Rock Traditional Ale in Elwood’s on Broadway. Also that, as a result, I don’t recall very much of my university years, which seriously brings into question the quality of my degree in… something science-y, I think, but I digress.


I’m feeling like there was a lab. Am I chemist?

So, what happened? Well, all those independents stopped being so… independent. Except Big Rock, that is. They held out solo and are basically the same brewery, brewing the same beers that my younger self tried so hard to kill my current self with so many years ago. And that, in quick summary, is the problem: one does not make a mint in 2014 selling a lineup of beers invented in 1985.

Thus, when rumours started swirling of Big Rock bringing their iconic big cock out west in the form of a new brewery up-valley, I was skeptical at best. I mean, this is the same brewery whose product offerings vacillate between “meh” and “gack! p-tew!” on Rate Beer.

The rumours, though, they are true. This was confirmed personally to me by Big Rock’s Digital Communications Director, Bryce Bowman. A rockin’ big brewery is indeed slated for BC, with plans to produce both their current lineup, and a whole new lineup of beers focused on the more sophisticated BC beer palate (okay, fine, they didn’t say “more sophisticated” but c’mon, that’s what they meant).

To show just how far they’d come, Bryce even offered to send me a few of their more recent beers for sampling. Since I’ve never understood the phrase “quit while you’re ahead,” I accepted. In return, I received a samples of: their Lumberjack Pack (a six-pack with 2 samples each of three “Strong Ales”), Anthea Wet Hop Ale (in a reassuring bomber), and more recently bottle #13 of Cuvée Bru, a very limited-run corked 750ml bottle of a white wine/beer hybrid. The relative increase in complexity from sample to sample means that I now expect a tiny oak cask with a straw next.

Where to start? How about at the beginning: the Lumberjack Pack. The three samples included are Spruce Goose (Strong Ale brewed with spruce tips), Hibernation (Strong Ale brewed with wild berries) and Twisted Antler (Strong Dark Ale brewed with… um… barley malt, I guess). There’s a lot of material to address here, so let’s pace ourselves.


With correct pacing and a little luck, you won’t just ruin your night, you’ll ruin your whole life.

First, the marketing copy. Attention Big Rock: Please do NOT let your second year English Composition Intern write your marketing copy, because that is clearly what you have done here. I receive a lot of press material on new beers, and these universally fulfill their roles with quiet competence: acting as a reference for me when I need to look up ingredients, brewing procedure, ABV, etc. Yours were, on the other hand, the very first that I read out loud to everyone nearby to rancorous laughter.

The Lumberjack PRs are the most overwritten pieces of awful copy that I have ever encountered. I will include the full, unedited versions below, but here are some choice bits: “encapsulate the vibrant quintessence of our splendorous wilderness”, “knuckle-cracking shadows of chiaroscuro lighting”, and my personal favourite: “treating your mouth to the most marvellously motley mixture of mayhem.” Why do I picture a be-speckled, skinny jeans-wearing hipster writing that, standing up, yelling “Yeeeeah! That’s alliteration, bitch!” before holding their pencil out at chest level, letting it go, and strutting out the door?


Remember: just because you excel at something specific doesn’t mean you’re good at things generally.

Enough on the press materials. What about the actual beer inside the bottles? Um, yeah, it’s awful. These are sugar bombs with a bit of miscellaneous flavouring thrown in for dreck-amplification purposes. There is no balance to be found here: no hops or high ABV to cut the sweetness, no yeast complexity to add interest, no anything-but-boring-sugar. In fact, they taste just like Traditional… without the hops… and added sugar.

Check ins: Spruce Tip: Twisted Antler: Hibernation:

Well, that’s a bad start then. What about Anthea, their wet hopped IPA? Again, we have to start with the press release, although this time it’s because of the content and not the writing. Wet Hopped ales are, on the surface, about freshness of ingredients. However, if you look even a tiny bit below that surface at the subtext, they’re about more than that. They’re about locality: about supporting local hop farms, about sustainability, and about using local ingredients, which as an added bonus are the freshest ingredients you can get.

Remember the first Driftwood Sartori? We loved that beer, but a good chunk of that love was because they were going out of their way to support a local hop farm (Sartori Cedar Ranch), and used a beer to draw attention to the reemergence of BC’s hops industry. Kind of gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling, doesn’t it?


There’s a pill for that, btw

Now replace that ground-level understanding of the industry and the currents within it with a boardroom-level decision to “get on that whole fresh hops thing” and you wind up with Anthea. Anthea is about freshness to the exclusion of all else. And by “freshness” we mean “minimizing the time between picking of the hops and their use in beer via all means possible, even at the expense of the environment and flavour.”

Get this: hops were picked straight from the bine in Washington, frozen on dry ice, and then LOADED ON A JET to be flown to Calgary. They started brewing the beer while the hops were in the air, but since the cones were already frozen this is entirely a marketing move. Heck, so’s the jet. If you’re freezing the hops anyways, why not spare the environment and ship them via truck? Oh right, speed is key. Speed is sexy.


Although, curiously, Googling “speed” results in lots of people who are most definitely not sexy.

Why dry ice? Why not pack them in water to preserve the freshness a la Driftwood, then? Water’s heavy, which would rule out a sexy jet and require a boring truck, which is also slow. Slow, as we have learned, is not sexy. Sure, the product would almost certainly be better, but this isn’t about brewing a beer that tastes good; it’s about marketing a beer that sounds good.

Curiously, the beer inside the bottle was a solid “okay” as far as fresh-hopped IPAs go, but it didn’t quite crack into “I would drink this again” territory, especially in the face of so many other, better examples of the style.

Check in: Anthea

Okay. Go big or go home. Maybe one Hail Mary of an aggressive beer style can save them, and maybe that beer is Cuvée Br–aw, who am I kidding, you already know it’s not.


Also, a Hail Mary generally only works when the score is close. Otherwise it’s a bit of an ass play.

Cuvée Bru is a white wine/beer hybrid, made with grapes from BC’s Therapy Vineyards. This is not an entirely new style to North America: think Dogfish Head Noble Rot or Evil Twin Disco. In fact, stop thinking and just drink those two beers. They’re both great.

Cuvée Bru is not great. In fact, it tastes like a mild english ale with white grape juice dumped in it. You get some of the aspects of each ingredient, but when you think about what a beer like this could be, nay should be, you can’t help but be disappointed.

Check in: Cuvée Bru

Where does all this leave me? To be honest, I’m not sure. All these beers sound great on paper, but frankly suck in execution. Are they being crafted by someone vaguely familiar with the craft beer scene but produced by an incompetent production team? Is the Big Rock brewing department so locked into their Traditional and Grasshopper ways that they have forgotten how to brew real beer? Maybe.

Maybe Big Rock Marketing has decided that all beer, even craft beer, is all about image and that actual quality simply doesn’t matter. I can’t say for sure, although I’d bet it’s a combination of all of the above.

What I can say, though, is that–on the surface–they are at least attempting to produce interesting beer. Sure, they’re failing horribly, but trying has to be better than not trying; practise makes perfect, after all, the trick is to not give up when you can’t sell out even your modest limited runs.


However, like most things in life, you only get a few chances to practise before you horribly maim yourself in a tragic chainsaw accident.

Marketing Materials in Full

~ Hibernation Strong Ale ~

Presser: Hibernation Strong Ale contains a unique blend of juniper berries, elderberries and fresh wild strawberries to produce a nectarous blend which is punctuated with the woodsy swoon of birch bark and the contemplative essence of dandelion root. While you forage through the flavours you may also detect hints of maple sugar, rose petals and the comforting warmth of honey.

Spec Sheet: In centuries of brewing history, no Canadian brewery has found a way to truly encapsulate the vibrant quintessence of our splendorous wilderness. Until now. This delectable blend represents the foraging hunger of the savage bear–ingredients which have been elevated into an agrestal beverage to quell your savage thirst. Big Rock’s Hibernation Strong Ale is the True North, blended and bottled and brought to life as the beverage our country does best–an honest, uncompromising beer.

~ Twisted Antler Strong Dark Ale ~

Presser: Twisted Antler Strong Dark Ale was crafted by Big Rock’s Brewmaster, Paul Gautreau with the intention of treating your mouth to the most marvellously motley mixture of mayhem to find itself peering from the inside of a beer bottle. With four distinct malts and a tempestuous swirl of coffee and cool liquorice, Twisted Antler is a dark ale with a voice of its own.

Spec Sheet: The corridors of a true dark ale are smoky and mysterious, cut by the knuckle-cracking shadows of chiaroscuro lighting and atmospheric perplexity. This is a beer that inspires its own resplendent pause. Each sip will reveal another fragment of the mystery, another bubbly snippet of the puzzle. Like the velvety thorns of a moose’s Medusa-like rack, Big Rock’s Twisted Dark Ale will swirl its rich and elaborate flavors (sic) in surprising and inspiring directions.

~ Spruce Goose Strong Ale ~

Presser: Spruce Goose Strong Ale features the tips of Colorado and Engelmann spruce trees, plucked at their most citrusy and flavourful early-spring peak. This makes for a beer that is deliciously satisfying. Utilizing three malts and elevated by a hint of fresh honey this brew is beautifully balanced with its spruce counterpart.

Spec Sheet: For centuries, the fresh, citrusy smack of luxuriant spruce needles was prized as a substitute for hops in crafting a superlative beer. Jacques Cartier coaxed the vitamin-rich lifeblood of the Eastern White Cedar to fend off scurvy and other ailments. Two hundred years later, Captain Cook did the same with regional spruce, fermenting it into an ambrosial beer his men would eagerly shoot back. Brewmaster Paul Gautreau sought out the freshest tips of Colorado and Engelmann spruce trees. Spruce Goose Ale is the culmination of nature’s inherent invigoration and Big Rock’s penchant for innovation.

Written by chuck

January 14th, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Posted in Beers

Tagged with

Bomber Brewing Sneak Peak

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Quiz time: there’s a part of town that’s anchored by an original YVR craft brewery (opened in the 90s) but has also recently seen the addition of two new award-winning breweries (one backed by the owner of an acclaimed Vancouver craft beer bar), and three more are under construction. Where am I talking about? Surely it’s Brewery Creek, right? Bzzzzt. Wrong answer.

Brewery Creek is great; I love it there, and go there every day (mostly because I work there, but the beer is also a major draw). However, it’s not the only brewing district in town. There’s another part of town that can boast just as many breweries, all anchored by an even older and more revered craft ale producer. The only difference is the lack of a snazzy name. “That area north of first, east of Clark, and west of Victoria, except Parallel 49” just doesn’t roll off the tongue. Even without a name, though, they somehow find a way to crank out great beer. As of right now, there are only three breweries worth visiting in the area (Storm, Parallel 49 and Powell Street), but that’s about to change, and change fast.


Woodbeer? Southport? Malton? Seriously, what should we call this?

The parallels are intriguing: Veteran Craft Brewery (Storm vs R&B), craft beer bar-cum-brewer (Parallel 49 vs Brassneck), and two breweries that I can’t find a commonality for (Powell Street vs 33 Acres), all within walking distance of each other. As well, the next brewery to open in each area will both be backed by restauranteurs. In Brewery Creek it’s Main Street (backed by Nigel Pike of the Cascade Room, preview here) while over in… uh… that other place it’s Bomber Brewing (backed by Don Farion of Biercraft).

In addition to all that, there are two more breweries coming down the pipe in each area (Red Truck & Steel Toad in Brewery Creek, and two as-of-yet unnamed entries over yonder). However, today it’s Bomber that I’d like to talk about.


Primarily because it’s the only brewery I could easily find wandering around the area

I popped by for a quick guided tour with Director of Operations Rachaal Steele. The first thing that jumped out at me is that this brewery is moments away from opening, in brewery timeline-terms (so, like 1-2 months on the normal calendar). Seriously, about all they need to do is take down the scaffolding, vacuum up the dust, and turn on the neon sign. What? They also need to brew beer? Well, okay, fine, I guess that’s important, if you’re a perfectionist.


Get in the taps, beer!

Somewhat unusual for Vancouver breweries, Bomber’s tasting room will never let you forget that you’re in a fully functional brewery. Glass walls replace the more common concrete or wood, with the end result being that the fermentation vessels stare you down from behind the bar. And what a bar! The whole thing is a single solid piece of wood, fronted by a wall of river rock.


“Hi there, how ya doin’?”
Don’t worry, it’s a friendly 3 tonne hunk of steel.

Once those vessels are full of beer, Bomber will begin producing their standard lineup of a Pilsner, ESB and IPA, all in cans. Going straight to canning their beer is a bit unusual as well, due mostly to the expense of setting up canning line, but as Rachaal was quick to point out, canning does arguably present the product in the best possible way. Cans are lighter, more transportable, impermeable to skunk-tastic UV, and less prone to seal failures than bottles.


Plus, you can shotgun them.

Once those three products are established, we can expect a seasonal program to follow, with an aim of 6 or so releases a year (these will come out in more cellaring-friendly bombers). Contributing to that seasonal program will be the barrel room, already packed with used barrels of varying flavours of both wine and whiskey. A Barley Wine will have the privilege of being the first joyful occupant of said barrels, where it will live until a December release date.


Nothing bad could come from these. Well, sure, I guess botulism could come from them, and that’s technically bad, but somehow I don’t think that’ll happen.

As the final touches are made, the opening date for Bomber will become known. When a firm date is known, I’ll let you know when you, too, can go bask under the watchful gaze of this sweet deer. Keep an eye out on Bomber’s Twitter and Facebook feeds for an opening date (as well as here).


I remain unconvinced of its friendliness after 5 beers.

Written by chuck

January 9th, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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