Barley Mowat 

Gotta Admit It’s Getting Better

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The BC Liquor Distribution Branch, being a public body, periodically releases a bunch of numbers about the state of liquor consumption in British Columbia. These reports are generally slipped onto their website with little to no fanfare in the hopes that no one’s paying attention, but I am.

Such an attitude is to be expected, though, from an organization assigned the schizophrenic task of selling as much liquor as possible to maximize profits while simultaneously being required to hold the world-view that booze, and therefore rising sales thereof, are bad. When you think about the LDB through this lens so very many of their actions begin to make sense.

Especially store interiors that
make you feel like a rummy getting your medicine.

Enough with the psychology, already. What goodies can be found in our latest set of numbers? The LDB’s 4-times-annually market statistics publication, imaginatively named the ‘Quarterly Market Review’ contains all sorts of fun stats. Here’s my glossy overview, but definitely feel free to read the thing yourself.

People in BC are spending about the same money on booze as they did last year. It’s down a bit, but not significantly. If we wanted to characterize the BC market in a sweeping generalization (and really, who doesn’t?) things can be boiled down thusly:

Beer down slightly (although up for domestic brands), Ciders/Coolers up a lot, Spirits down, Wine down slightly

Screw the 10,000 metre view, though, I want to know how craft beer is doing! Well, folks, it’s doing well. Awesome, in fact. Of course, sales statistics aren’t reported by the LDB into “craft” and “shiite” so we have to do some interpreting. The stats we do have are based on three categories of volume: >160,000HL, >15,000 but <160,000HL and <15,000HL. The small guys are safely craft, the middle group includes some from both ends of the spectrum (GIB, Lighthouse, Phillips, and rather famously Pacific Western, etc) and the upper end is safely macro. So how do things look for your made-in-BC beer scene? (Year over Year numbers, Domestic Beer, by volume) Macro Volumes: Down 1.33% Middle Volumes: Up 9.74% Craft Volumes: Up 35.57% Yay us. Don't pop the bottle conditioned Belgian ales just yet, though. Time for a healthy dose of perspective. That 1.45% that the macros lost? That's 2,481,897 litres of beer. That's an abstract number until you realize it's about the same production volume as for all the breweries under 15,000HL combined. Not the increase, mind you, but the total annual production. The macros didn't earn their name for no reason.

Pictured: Business-ending disaster for a craft brewery; 2 hours of inconvenient insurance paperwork for a macro.

Overall, though, the trend is clear. In 2009 the macros accounted for ~91% of all domesticly produced beer sold in BC. That number has changed slowly over the years since: 89% (2010), 85% (2011), 83% (2012) and now 81%. In that time, sales of both the middle guys and the small guys have doubled. In short, the likes of MolsonCoors and AB-InBev are bleeding out, slowly.

Taking up the middle ground are a mix of the almost macros (Pac West, OK Springs, and Granville Island), but also a healthy dose of brand new and expanding true craft breweries. The domestic tiny-brewery market went up by ~29,000hl in the past twelve months. In the big scheme of things, it’s less beer than the macros could produce in a week, but on more down-to-earth scales it’s almost 100 Bridge Breweries, or 2 Parallel 49s.

And that’s just the beer we SOLD. Chronic shortages at the new breweries show that demand is exceeding supply. Want to buy some Powell Street Old Jalopy? Good luck with that. Growth in the little-guy market is large and growing: 16% (2010), 6% (2011), 11% (2012) and 36% (2013). Keep in mind that as the more successful breweries cross that magic 15,000HL boundary they stop counting on the bottom end. Even with the occasional 15,000HL hit to the bottom line, the smallest breweries just keep selling ever-larger quantities of great beer.

In short, it’s never been a better time to be a craft brewery or a craft beer drinker in BC.

Written by chuck

August 6th, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Posted in Beer and You

East Beats West

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Have you ever felt so confident of yourself going into a test, or an interview, or a parole hearing, that you almost felt the whole thing to be a pointless waste of your valuable time? Let’s just rubber stamp this thing and get me into a half-way house! Then suddenly, and shockingly, the judge doesn’t believe your story about Jake the Snake accidentally falling on your shiv in the shower and bam!: 2 more years.

What?! This is CLEARLY a toothpick!

You feel shock. You feel confusion. You feel regret, and–above all–you definitely feel like cutting Jake open belly-button to throat. Fucking squealer.

I felt this way last weekend. The dominance of my West vs East showdown was all but assured. Sure, Hopnotist was not quite the Pliny the Elder or Ballast Point Sculpin I was hoping for, but damn that beer is still great. It was a moot point, though, because the battle would be over before we even stripped the 3D glasses off the bottle to inspect the only slightly-3D label.

It was not to be. East won. Not only did East win, but East beat my sure thing. East took down Cascade Vlad the Impaler, and I was left stunned. Oh well, better luck next time, I suppose.

Here’s the winners, round by round, and my take on each of the East Coast beers. For my take on the West Coast contenders, or Jer’s original take on the East-siders, check out my intro post.

Round 1 Yeast
East Beer Captain Lawrence Rosso e Marrone
West Beer Cascade Vlad the Imp Aler 2011
Decision 3-1 vote for Captain Lawrence
Chuck Says Make no mistake, Cpt Lawrence is about the best Oud Bruin I’ve ever had. Smooth complexity breaks through to a mild astringency with a leathery finish on the palate. Low carb adds to the finish. The grapes add a further depth and vinous quality that makes this guy world class.

Is it better than Vlad? No way. Vlad has a million bright fruit and sour flavours rushing at you at the speed of awesome. The high carb takes those flavours and jabs you in the eyes with them until your blinded by funky tastes but you just don’t care. Democracy sucks.

Round 2 Barley
East Beer Evil Twin Even More Jesus
West Beer Hair of the Dog Adam Batch 88
Decision 4-0 vote for Hair of the Dog
Chuck Says I liked Even More Jesus. Not a bad Impy Stout at all, but also not one of the best I’ve ever had. Heck, Singularity 2011 at the next night’s Driftwood vertical was better, IMHO. Adam, on the other hand, was described by more than one person as “perfect.” No contest.
Round 3 Hops
East Beer Maine Brew Company MO
West Beer Parallel 49 Hopnotist
Decision 4-0 vote for Maine
Chuck Says Speaking of no contest… Hopnotist wasn’t my first choice and Maine wasn’t Jer’s first choice. I don’t know why this is the case, though, because this beer was astoundingly good. This isn’t a Pale Ale like it says on the bottle. This is a big, floral, massive hop bomb that somehow still manages to bring a great malt character to the party. Wow. Colour me impressed.

For its part, the Hopnotist had lost much of the hops aroma that I loved about it at first. If it were fully intact, though, the Maine still would have won.

And there you have. That’s how the West… lost? Fuck. On the upside, though, at least I got to drink six really awesome beers… after drinking ten awesome beers… and then twelve more… it was an interesting weekend, to say the least.

Pictured: Best Coast Trophy before I accidentally dropped it in the fire. Oh yeah? I frankly don’t care that you don’t believe me.

Written by chuck

August 1st, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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Beer Fight: East vs West

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Here’s a fun idea: pick two craft brewing regions, and elect three beers from each to compete in a battle royale for the coveted Most Awesome Beer Place title. To keep it varied, pick a category for each brew (otherwise you’ll wind up wading through nothing but Imperial Stouts), say categories of Barley, Hops and Yeast.

Sounds fun, right? Well, I’m doing exactly that this weekend. My buddy Jer is coming back to BC for a week of family-themed relaxation and, for reasons that honestly elude me, I’m invited. As part of this beachside orgy of sun, bocce and venison-consumption we’ll pit West Coast vs East Coast in a battle of breweries from states/provinces that border the ocean. Here is simultaneously both my and Jer’s take.


This should be a bloodbath, right? Well, just because the West has some rather famous beers doesn’t mean I can magically conjure up a bottle of said beer. Pliny the Elder? Yeah, right. Also, even with the raw lower number of highly acclaimed East Coast breweries, there are still some great freaking beers to be found out there. The competition will be stiff, and I’d best bring my A-game.

Luckily, though, I did just come back from a trip to Portland so I’m not limited to just the Great White North and what friendly US breweries deem fit to import. What with my desire to not dive into my unfairly huge cellar, I am handicapped somewhat, but hopefully not too much.

Hair of the Dog Adam (Batch 88)
Traditional Ale – 10.0%
Ratebeer: 100;100

This is my hands-down most favourite beer on the planet, from my most favourite brewery on said same. Batch 88 is the latest, so this is a fresh and un-oaked version, but it’s a legend for a reason. Sure, I could have pulled some Singularity out of the cellar (well, I’m doing that anyways), but when honour is on the line you just gotta go HotD.

Cascade Barrel House Vlad the Imp-Aler (2011)
Sour/Wild Ale – 10.6%
Ratebeer: 99;97

This is a beer that is for sale in Portland, Oregon for $30 a bottle. Thirty freaking dollars per bottle. This is the same Portland, Oregon, where Hair of the Dog (a mere 1 kilometre away) retails at $15 a bottle. Yet people buy this beer. They but a lot of it, and come back for more. Think about that for a second.

Parallel 49 Hopnotist
Imperial IPA – 8.5%
Ratebeer: 88;41

I’m not going to a beer fight on the BC coast without a BC beer. Don’t let that low RateBeer score fool you; this is a massive, amazing IPA. RB scores take time to get up high, and with only 13 reviews to its name so far, Hopnotist is being weighted down artificially. I’ve had both Hopnotist and Pliny the Elder, and I’ll take Hopnotist.


I’ll be honest: challenging Chuck to a East vs. West Coast beer war was just an excuse to get a picture of him drinking a beer out of a can. Then disaster struck, and my road trip to Vermont was cancelled, so I was stuck trying to assemble a competitive lineup from second-stringers. No Heady Topper, no Hill Farmstead… what’s an East-Coaster to do?. Chuck insisted on a strict ‘states on the Eastern seaboard’ rule, so the KSB and Bourbon County I’m bringing with me weren’t allowed to be on the roster. I’m not going to give him any, just out of spite.

I think I managed to field a decent trio of beers, but I’ll admit I’m the underdog. With that in mind, I tried for interesting over obvious.

Evil Twin Even More Jesus
Imperial Stout – 9.8%
Ratebeer: 100;98

This beer is called Even More Jesus. I figure Chuck can’t possibly vote against a beer with that name. Plus, Evil Twin is a great brewery, and this is a big, complex, punch-you-in-the face imperial. If you’re thinking Evil Twin is in Denmark, you’re wrong. They’re a Denmark/Brooklyn brewery – and this one was brewed in very coastal South Carolina.

Captain Lawrence Rosso e Marrone
Flanders Oud Brouin – 10%
Ratebeer: 100;99

I wanted to pick at least one beer from New York State, and this one is pretty special. An American Sour, fermented with grapes & Brett and aged in wine barrels. Captain Lawrence is a fairly big brewery, but they made just 250 cases of this. I haven’t had this batch, and it’s still young, but it feels like a good wildcard for the funky category.

Maine Brewing MO
American Pale Ale – 8.64%
Ratebeer: 99;100

I eyed up some doubles and Imperials, but I thought trying to fight IPA with IPA would be a losing battle with the Cascadians. So here’s an American Pale from Maine Brewing Company. MBC is hovering right on the border of brewing fame right now, and I’ve been very impressed by what I’ve had. This one is a nice hoppy pale, brewed with Warrior, Falconer’s Flight, and Simcoe. I also have a bottle or two of Zoe, on hand for a taste comparison.

Sweet mudda of Gord those are some high quality freaking beers. This will be an epic weekend, for sure.

Written by chuck

July 25th, 2013 at 4:05 pm