Barley Mowat 

Stand Up or Sit Down

with 13 comments

If you want to turn a friendly cask beer fest into a no-holds-barred free-for-all in which bearded pacifists make glass shivs out of 4oz taster glasses, then leap into the fray, all you have to do is bring up one of the more contentious debates in beer geekology. No, I’m not talking about glass-vs-can, or even bottle-vs-can. I’m talking about cellaring beer on its side versus cellaring it standing upright.

The level of contention here is evident by the fact that about 90% of people reading this blog just thought “That’s an issue? You clearly store them XXX.” Those 90% were likely split about 75% to “upright” and 15% to “however you want” and 10% to “laying down.”

Conventional wisdom holds that beers should be cellared upright. However, conventional wisdom also provides us with such gems as “going outside with wet hair will make you sick”, “swallowed gum stays in your stomach for seven years” and “dogs can’t look up.” The only thing conventional about conventional wisdom that it’s only believed by idiots. I want facts, dammit.

The cellaring-upright crowd do attempt to make some points to back-up their claim. These are generally only sensible to folk with little to no background in physics or chemistry, but I’ll repeat them here for shits ‘n giggles anyway:

1/ Lying beer down increases the surface area of the beer in contact with the air, which increases oxidation. Oxidation is bad. QED.

Sounds fairly logical, doesn’t it? I’m certainly not going to argue with the premise that oxidation in beer is generally a Bad Thing. However, this argument misses a couple pretty major facts. First, the gas in a bottle of beer is not oxygen. It’s carbon dioxide, as any bottling line worth its salt flushes the bottles with CO2 prior to filling. Second, it doesn’t matter if the whole thing was pure, pressurized oxygen, anyway. On cellaring timelines, all the oxygen in the head space will have all the time it needs to interact with the beer, surface area be damned.

Does fact that I did not get this image of the surface area of human skin off a taxidermist website make it more or less creepy?

2/ Lying beer down means that if the cap/cork fails, all the beer runs out!

Well, yeah, it sorta does mean that. However, if the cap/cork fails and the beer stays inside, I will pay you a tidy sum to drink the infected mess that results. Beer keeps the nasties at bay via two methods: first, a cap or cork provides a physical barrier to the beer-ruining outside world. A cap/cork then also serves to keep in the CO2 pressure of the beer, which plays much the same role, only at a microscopic level. Any tiny pathway between the inside and outside (and they do exist) is not transit-able by bacteria because the positive pressure keeps them out. Take away that barrier and you have an infected mess. Storing upright might help with cleanup, though, but honestly cap/cork failure is so rare it shouldn’t seriously play into your cellaring plans.

3/ Corked beers should be stored lying down to prevent the cork from drying out

Dried out corks is a function of cellar humidity more than anything else. If your cellar has proper humidity (~60%), the cork will not dry out. Second, the gas on the inside of your bottle is at 100% humidity. Putting liquid against the cork doesn’t help with that. If your cellar is dry enough that corks are falling out of bottle necks, you have bigger issues than deciding which way to store your bottles.

4/ Corked beers should be stored lying down because cork is permeable to air, and it will let in oxygen

Cork is permeable to air; it’s true. So is glass. It’s all a matter of how permeable. This point is one of the main reasons you lie wine down, because the liquid slows the rate at which oxygen enters the bottle through the cork (or more accurately, around the relatively loose wine cork). This would make sense for beer if beer wasn’t carbonated, but it is. Carbonation provides a positive pressure inside the bottle (and requires a much tighter cork), which serves to dramatically lower the oxygen exchange rate. Curiously, this is the exact reason it’s okay to cellar champagne bottles standing up.

It’s also okay to drink champagne bottles standing up.
What’s that? It’s not? Huh. Learn something new every day.

5/ Lying beer down will rust away the cap

This would be an issue if the gas in your beer was oxygen which, as we discovered above, it isn’t. The air outside your bottle very definitely should be at least partially oxygen. No matter how straight you keep your bottles upright, though, they won’t get reach an altitude with lower oxygen. Beer caps are typically made from steel, which will oxidise over enough time. They’re coated to prevent this, though, and some beers are wax dipped to further prevent this. If your beers are oxidizing over a short period of time, something is likely wrong with them. Additionally, all caps have a plastic seal inside the cap to prevent this.

6/ Lying beer down will dissolve the plastic seal inside the cap

Sigh. Okay, there’s no hard data on this one. The fine folks who make these caps, though, say there’s no concern of breakdown if the material is kept in a dark, cool place. Kinda like a cellar. Only time will tell. Side note: modern plastic seals are made of a complex stack of various materials, with the outer one (facing the beer) designed to pro-actively react with any free oxygen remaining in the bottle to prevent it from oxidizing your beer.

7/ Lying beer down will free the trapped oxygen in the cap

Oh, fuck off. You just came up with that one now, didn’t you?

8/ Yes

Thought so. Anything else?

9/ Um… it will leave a yeast ring on the side of the bottle

Saved the best for last, did ya? Yup, cellaring bottle-conditioned beers can, over a long enough time, leave an unsightly yeast ring on the edge of the bottle. As well, yeast that has collected to the side of the bottle will pop right back into suspension when you start pouring. If you like yeast, this isn’t an issue, but honestly none of this affects the beer past presentation.

For the record, I cellar my beers standing up because I like to see the labels when I open the door. Space concerns, though, have me eyeing up horizontal storage. To evaluate the risks, I’m currently cellaring a sample of Old Cellar Dweller and Old Barrel Dweller both upright and laying down. Side-by-side tests next year will hopefully put all this to rest.

Written by chuck

July 23rd, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Beer and You

July Beer of the Month: GIB Uncle Monty’s

with one comment

Well, it’s official. We now live in a world where someone can have a sip of a 6% ABV Hefeweizen and think “Huh, that’s a nice low-ABV alternative to that 7.7% ABV Hefeweizen I’d rather be drinking.” How did this happen? How did “low ABV” manage to be used in the same sentence as “6”?

To answer this question is to acknowledge a dirty secret in the craft beer community: just as much as there is a very public hops-arms race going on, there is also a much less talked about alcohol arms race keeping pace. If you look closely, though, you can see evidence of a lower-ABV past. BCJP styles, for instance, despite only being 5 years old, consistently show an ABV range below modern examples. Take my two hefs, for example, the BCJP style caps out at 5.6%, meaning both are officially off style.

This escalating booziness is not without merit. High ABV brews are the result of higher sugar recipes and longer fermentation times, which can translate to more intense and complex flavours. These boozy monsters can invariably be found sitting atop the awesome beer scoresheet, mocking their less ethanol-y brethren below. However, just because I do like an occasional 15%ABV Barley Wine sipper, that doesn’t mean I want to drink more than a small glassful.

For sitting down with a proper pint, a lower ABV style is required. Sadly, even “normal” beers are increasingly in the 6%+ range. The sub-4% ABV sessional style is all but lost to memory. Sure, CAMRA has a Spring Sessional festival once in a while, and everyone gets momentarily obsessed with low alcohol sessionals, but then a whooper of a Saison comes out and we decide to stop talking about it.

Not Granville Island Brewing, though. GIB has brought their low ABV (3.6%) Uncle Monty’s Best Bitter from this year’s festival to market. This is a beer you can go into a store today and buy. Heck, buy two, because it’s possible to drink a whole bottle of this and not regret it.

I also like the new labels about 10x more than the old.

Sure, it’s not the best beer from the Spring Sessional (that honour belonged to the nascent Bomber Brewing Company, and their take on a Bitter). It is, though, something that’s being bottled, and bottling an unpopular style like this takes balls.

Those balls make GIB Uncle Monty’s Best Bitter my (somewhat belated) July Beer of the Month. I only wish more breweries would follow suit, especially Bomber when they open up.

Tasting notes:

APPEARANCE Transparent amber body with a semi-persistent white head
NOSE Malt prevails, with a slight hoppy finish
TASTE Light, and a bit watery; good hops character, though, which builds over the glass (as does the grain); low carb doesn’t get in the way of the subtle flavours
SHOULD I BUY IT? Do you like having more than one beer in an evening? Same question.

Coles notes:

Brewery Granville Island (TapHouse)
From Vancouver
Name Uncle Monty’s
Style Best Bitter
SOA Now n/a
SOA Potential n/a; table beer
Drink Right now, and again in 15 minutes
Will anyone else brew a beer like this? I doubt it, but want to be surprised
Availability 600 cases, limited LRS
Cost $5.50-7.00 per 650ml bottle.
Similar BC Beers None. Only example of low-ABV style.

Written by chuck

July 15th, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Posted in Beers

Tagged with ,

Known Shadow Brands

with 11 comments

Crap, this is hard. The concept of shadow brands is, as I alluded to in my intro post, no where near cut and dry. Trying to present this information in a format that even approaches readable is basically impossible, so I’m just going to barf it all out here and let the Intertubes deal with it.

Before we get going, though, I should at least attempt to explain my reasoning. I considered a few key sources of evidence when compiling this. Those sources, in no particular order, are:

  • Which breweries are owned by whom, usually determined via Wikipedia or Ratebeer
  • What breweries are licensed to produce beer, according to the LCLB
  • Who the LDB is paying for said produced beer
  • My ass. Yup, pulled some of this out of there by dead reckoning. What, you expected journalistic integrity? Have we met?

So, if your label claims to be made by a brewery that isn’t licensed to make beer and certainly isn’t selling beer to the LDB, odds are you’re on this list.

Anyway, here goes. Here are the obvious beers in BC where who it says, or implies, brews the beer on the can (and it usually IS a can) is different from who actually brews it. In some cases, like Red Racer, you’ll notice the word “brewery” isn’t in the title anywhere, although “Central City” sure is tiny on the back. In others, like most of the Pacific Western brands, there IS brewery in the title but at least they acknowledge who brews it somewhere on the can. Others, like the various Allen brands and Turning Point, try to create the impression of a whole new, craft brewery that simply doesn’t exist.

I’ve left off some of the “purer” brands, like Cantebury for instance, just because they’re not trying to fool you and honestly I don’t want to write “Cantebury” more than twice in my life, and frankly they’re mostly Pacific Western anyways. Red Racer is here just because I like their cans.

Damnit! Gams! I meant gams! Sexist slang is HARD!

Beers where the can claims/infers being brewed by someone other than who actually brews it
(Click header to sort)

Brand Brewed By (on can) Who actually Brews it Brand Type
Big Surf Big Surf Beer Prohibition Shadow
Black Loon Black Loon Granville Island Shadow
Bone Beer Bone Beer Prohibition Shadow
Bowen Island Bowen Island Northam Historic
Red Racer Central City Central City Brand
Hell’s Gate Hell’s Gate Turning Point Shadow
Stanley Park Stanley Park Turning Point Shadow
Steamworks Steamworks Dead Frog Contract
Main Street Main Street Russell Contract
Granville Island (12oz) Granville Island Molson Contract
Hops & Robbers Double Trouble Dead Frog Contract
Scandal Scandal Pacific Western Shadow
Shaftebury Shafebury Okanagan Historic
Cariboo Cariboo Pacific Western Historic
Red Truck Not Packaged Red Truck Brand
Sailor Hagars Sailor Hagars Howe Sound Contract

Who owns which breweries
(Click header to sort)

Now let’s talk ownership. Some of those brewers up there might have brick and mortar breweries, but they sure don’t own them. This is a list of all breweries in BC that are owned upright by another entity. That parent might be a bonafide brewery themselves (like GIB/Molson) or they might be a holding company (like Prohibition/Allen). My head hurts.

Also, some of these subsidiaries are quasi-independant, in that they have their own staff, own brewery, and then set their own direction independently of their fiscal overlords. In some cases (like GIB), the LDB even pays them out as a separate company.

Brewery Is owned By Parent Brews Quasi Independent
Prohibition Allen Brands No No
Granville Island MolsonCoors Yes Yes
Columbia Labatts (AB-InBev) Yes No
Okanagan Sleeman (Sapporo) Yes Yes
Whistler Northam Yes (as Bowen) No
Red Truck Mark James No No
Turning Point Mark Anthony Yes (not just beer) No

So there you have it. I probably missed a whole bunch, so swear at me below.

Written by chuck

July 11th, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Posted in Beer and You