I had a great New Year’s Eve. I got to spend time with some friends I haven’t seen in a while, see my buddy Tim sabre a champagne bottle right in freaking half, and then go home to spend some quality time amongst my lovelies in my newly finished cellar. Yup, not a bad evening.
The only way to cap such an evening is to play arrogant beer geek and hand out my annual awards. So, without further adieu, I present the 2015 Annual Barley Mowat Excellence in Beer Awards, aka the legendary Beerdies.
A quick reminder of the rules: I make them up as I go along, and I break them when it pleases me. There are no votes. There is no popular consensus; I will spend the next thousand words telling you what to like and not like and, honestly, isn’t that how you prefer it?
So let’s get to it!
Last year 33 Acres zeroed in on my weakness for eating lunch by launching a sandwich program, simply importing sandwiches from Gastown’s excellent Nelson the Seagull. This year they upped the quality by making the sandwiches in-house, from scratch. This also made them take 20 minutes to prepare instead of 5, and I ain’t got all day, dammit.
Combine this disappointment with the restoration of Chuck’s Beer Fridge of Awesomeness at my day job (pictured here) and we have a recipe for a new king. When you administer a tap of local draught beer for consumption by your beer-knowledgeable coworkers, it gets very hard not to just keep ordering Yellow Dog IPA, and that’s pretty much what I did all year. Damn me, that’s some good hops right there.
Call me weird, but the increasingly diverse–and delicious–food and not-beer offerings at various breweries blurs the line between brewery and pub even more, and I loves me a good pub. Heck, you can even get wine, or beer brewed at a different brewery, at many local ale factories.
Last year, no body got this bad boy. This year, Four Winds dialled in their seasonal release program, and keep producing hit after hit after hit. General rule: if it’s from Four Winds, and it has a cork, sell your mother’s remaining kidney to score an extra case.
Honourable Mention: Parallel 49 (Brewmaster Graham With). P49’s L’il Red Redemption showed us that Graham has more than just a few dozen barrels of vinegar stashed away across the alley, and their Sour White was an exquisitely polished beer of exceptional quality.
All that oak from last year is starting to pump out sours, and this summer’s superb Farmhouse Festival gave breweries a platform to showcase their speciality treats. Whereas 5 years ago it would be insane to start a brewery without an IPA, it’s increasingly hard to be taken seriously while lacking a solid Berliner Weisse. It’s a good time to drink beer in BC.
I’m taking a break from this one for 2015, as both Nigel and last year’s recipient (Aaron from Strange Fellows) have been too busy running their respective businesses to lend a helping hand to other startups.
Bridge Brewing’s main purpose in life was to provide a much needed oasis of not-terrible beer in the off-flavour swamp that is the brewing scene on the North Shore. You’d saddle up to their cool tasting bar, have a few beers, and think “huh, these aren’t great, but they’re pretty well brewed” and, if you sampled enough, you’d fine one or two you actually liked very much.
In short, they were your standard young brewery: still finding their way. With their new facility, though, came a much higher quality standard. Their beers are now solidly okay, with the odd very good standout. Keep up the good work, guys.
This one was easy. Even though SF technically opened at the end of 2014, they hadn’t been cranking out beer long enough to be considered. Now that they’re a year old, they can come collect their well-deserved Beerdie for being the best of the new crop, and on their way to one of BC’s top flight breweries.
Honourable Mention: Hearthstone (Brewmasters Darren Hollett and George Woods). Hearthstone jumped into the deep end of the craft beer startup scene by acquiring Red Truck’s old, sizeable, facility in North Vancouver. Their beers are all very competently brewed, but the standout of the current lineup is their IPA–I look forward to seeing how their lineup progresses.
And now, the grand prize of the 2014 Beerdies (aka the Golden Beerdie):
Yup. I’m skipping this one for 2015. I, personally, grew a beard so rich and luscious that I was mistaken for a homeless binner while taking out the recycling one evening. Other folks in BC’s craft brewing scene, though, did not their their beardly responsibilities quite so serious. Some even, gasp, *shaved* their beards this year.
What. The. Fuck. It’s not that hard, guys. Just don’t shave! Or, maybe, shave your head to make your small beard look longer. I’ve heard that works.
When we last checked in on my cellar it was but a twinkle in the brewmaster’s eye. A lot has happened since then: walls have been framed, insulation sourced, electrical wiring diagrams… diagrammed, etc.
However, let’s step back a bit and talk about why all those steps are required. Ultimately, a cellar is an unnatural thermal and humidity gradient and, as the saying goes, nature abhors a cozy booze cave.
Once you’ve measured the proposed walls of your tentative cellar, the next step is to calculate the volume of space we’re dealing with here and then shop around for an adequate cooling unit. Measure from 1/2 way into your walls, floors and ceiling, then multiply all three together to get the cubic feet you’re enclosing.
In my case, the lucky number was 864 cubic feet. Take your number and head over to winecellardepot.com and peruse their various cooling units, check out the prices, and then seriously reconsider if you really need that much space.
For me, the two full sized, upright, stand-alone cellars I hope to replace with this little project total just shy of 40 cubic feet, so while the thought of enclosing a volume fully 22 times that amount was appealing, I couldn’t really justify it. Add to that the $1500 required to cool it, and I was quickly back at the graph paper adjusting some walls. Yeah, 520 cubic feet is juuuuuust fine.
Picking your cooling unit is the next step. There are lots of options, and each has it’s own merits. Being a cheap bastard, I went for the cheapest possible unit, the KoolR. These are not very serviceable, so if it breaks I’ll have to replace it, but at 1/3rd the cost of the next comparable unit I get two do-overs before breakeven.
Next up is wall construction. Most people just figure they can throw their beer in a dark room, stick an A/C unit in there and call it a day. Hells no. A proper cellar requires proper construction, and that means insulating it like a house, installing a vapour barrier, and venting your walls so any trapped moisture has an exit path. That might sound intimidating, but it’s really as simple as stapling plastic on your studs and cramming your gaps full of pink things.
In my case, since I was additionally building this on a raw concrete slab, I built up a floor above the concrete and insulated that sucker. Having my flooring directly on the concrete without any insulation would mean that the giant heat sink what is my garage’s foundation would greedily suck up all my cooling and heating energy, and make any sort of temperature control efforts moot. For the same reason, I built an entirely new wall in front of the exposed foundation lip in my cellar.
Lastly, don’t forget about heating. Lots of attention is paid to cooling cellars down to 55F, but the reality of the matter is that the average annual temperature in Vancouver is around 52F, which means that heating your cellar will be your worry most of the year. Luckily, keeping a small, well insulated space warmish isn’t too hard, the only trick is finding a space heater whose built-in thermostat can go as low as 50 or 55F… which I have yet to do. Failing that, something like this bastard coupled with a cheap space heater should do the trick.
Next time: racking! This is when my cellar starts looking more like a cellar, and less like the dark hole in which I torture railyard hobos to death.
One day, in early October, I rolled out of bed, had a shower, ate some breakfast, and then bought a house. Shortly thereafter, I began scouring over floorpans of my new house, looking for a room in an out of way corner that I could turn into a walk-in cellar without Sharon noticing. Sharon, wise to this plan, suggested that I could take our new two car garage and turn it into a 1 car, 2000 bottle garage. Challenge Accepted!
Building a walk-in cellar, unlike buying a house, is not something you simply wake up and decide to do on a whim. It takes many hours of research and detailed planning. You have to balance thermal and humidity control with killer interior design that screams out “Look at me! I’m a rich twat!” Getting that balance just right is pretty hard.
Seriously, if you Google “wine cellar” you’ll quickly find a steady stream of glassed in, brightly lit, wealth-brags cleverly disguised as rooms in which to age grape juice. The reality of aging wine and beer, though, is that all the things that makes a cellar photograph well are the exact same things that are bad for your boozey fluids.
Wine and beer age best in dark places, far from the vibrations caused by people walking, held at a very consistent temperature and humidity. If you’ve ever seen someone with a big open wine rack built on top of their kitchen cabinets, for instance, then you’ve been in the kitchen of an idiot who drinks a lot of spoiled wine. Heat from cooking rises to also cook the beer/wine, light from the ceiling fixtures accelerates undesirable chemical breakdowns, and the constant vibration from opening/closing kitchen cabinets never lets sediment settle out.
“Above your cabinets” is probably the single worst place you could possibly store significant quantities of booze, yet if you search for “kitchen wine storage” instead of a single result saying “don’t, you fucking moron” you get page after page of “stunning renovations.”
Spending a lot of money to build a massive wall rack in your kitchen or dining room, and then walling it in behind glass, isn’t much better. Sure, you now have an enclosed space that you can apply cooling to, but your wine and beer are still very far from being comfortable. Of course, building a cellar in your basement doesn’t show off your very expensive booze in the same way, but with a kitchen cellar all you’re really showing off is your desire to slowly ruin perfectly good wine in front of your friends. In short, you’re an asshole.
So, where should the non-asshole store his beer and wine? Every house will have its own secret booze hutch, just waiting for your discovery. Some might have a below-grade, unused basement bedroom. Other’s might have an actual honest-to-god root cellar. Still others might have a dry well that, until recently, was only used for storing your lotion.
Poke around. Leave a digital thermometer in your potential spots for a few days and look for places in out-of-the-way corners with as little temperature variation as possible. Keep in mind that you will not be building a glorious temple to liquid happiness. Instead, you’re looking to create a dark, semi-humid, hole that you will cram full of booze to age comfortably and undisturbed. Once you’ve picked a spot, we can move on to Part 2: Planning Your Build.