Barley Mowat 

Plan B Idiot Rock

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Some of you might have never heard of Plan B Brewing. They’re a newish micro-brewery bringing craft beer to the locals of Smithers, BC. Now that’s what I call fighting the good fight. It’s a great story, and you can just imagine all the anecdotes about these guys convincing bar and hotel owners to take a chance with local beer in the middle of a region of the province firmly in the grasp of the big macros.

So when the intrepid owners of Brewery Creek decided to bring in a crate of Plan B Brewing for BC Beer Month I was excited to finally get my hands on a sample of the Good Work that owner/brewer Mark Gillis is doing way up yonder. Add to that the fact that these bottles having some pretty neat graphics and I was down right excited to pop one open and have a go.

Okay, the colour’s about right for an IPA, but I don’t care about that. And the nose is… huh… uninteresting, I guess. But it’s all about the flavour, right? So here goes.

I’d like to think I’ve developed a semi-decent palate when it comes to beer. I can generally pick out off flavours, and I now count myself amoungst that obnoxious segment of beer geeks who can tell you what region of the world the hops came from. But there is something… not quite right… about this beer. Some off flavour that I haven’t encountered yet.

Leave it to Dave Shea (he of local homebrewing award fame) to put his BCJP-in-training finger on it: Chlorides. This beer is stacked to the rafters with chlorides. Go to MEC, pick up some water purification/chlorine tablets, and then cram them in your next IPA to get a very very good approximation of what this beer tastes like.

Is this flavour on purpose? I would hope not, but there seems to be enough commentary online to rule out a single bad batch. I mean, they get Lighthouse Switchback up at the Smithers LDB, so we know they have a great IPA to set the bar by. How do you set out to brew an IPA and wind up with this? Or more importantly, wind up with this and then shrug your shoulders and say “Fuck it, it’ll do” then transfer it over to the bottling line?

I won’t bother continuing the tasting notes on this guy, because frankly there is no getting past that giant wall of chemicals that simply shouldn’t be there. All chance of this beer impressing me disappeared the second I found a commonality between it and the stuff I clean my toilet with.

Sorry, Mark, I wanted to like this just for the romance, but Try Harder. I guess I should have listened to my internal Spidy-Sense when the clerk at Brewery Creek described it as “Not bad for a first try.”

Drain pour.

Coles notes:

Brewery Plan B Brewing
From Smithers, BC
Name Idiot Rock
Style American IPA
SOA Now No seal awarded
SOA Potential No seal awarded
Drink Not now, but give them a second chance in a year or so.
Best non-beer use Disinfecting your brew kit.
Availability Brewery Creek LRS
Cost $7.00 per 650ml bottle? (I can’t remember)
Similar Beers Any IPA with a chlorine tablet in it.
Chuck says Ugh. I tried to wash the flavour out with Hermannator but couldn’t. Think about that for a second.

Written by chuck

November 13th, 2012 at 3:35 pm

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Breweries are changing rapidly these days. In the 1980s the first brewpubs in North America opened, inspired by the ancient watering holes of old Europe. Shortly thereafter, the first commercial-scale craft brewers started putting out beer with actual flavour instead of just cans of slight bitter booze-water.

From there, the brewers started experimenting with styles and ingredients. They adopted increasing amounts of the newer hop varieties to create the IPA explosion of the late 90s/early 00s. They even began experimenting with barrel-aged beers, and souring beers in said barrels.

Recently, though, the trend is towards single-origin hops and barley. Notably Russian River and Rogue Brewing in the States are selling beers created from single-farm ingredients. If you’re interested, the beers in question are Russian River’s Row 2 Hill 56, and Rogue’s Chatoe Rogue series. Along with single-origin beers came actual, honest discussions about terroir in beer without anyone snickering or asking a condescending “are you serious?”

From there, it’s only a matter of time before someone joins the complete package and creates estate breweries. Don’t believe me? It’s already starting: “The Farmery” is a new estate brewery breaking ground in Manitoba as we speak, and undoubtedly more are in the works.

Once I cover the guest bedroom floor
with dirt this will be epic!

Breweries are starting the move from run-down industrial parts of town back out into the country where they grew up. But which part of the country are they moving to? Location is everything when it comes to wine, and you sure don’t see a lot of estate cideries up in the Yukon, so where’s the best place to grow both the barley and hops required for good beer?

Barley likes areas with a low or no frost, and lots of nitrogen in the soil. Hops also hate frost, but like lots of sunshine in warm–but not hot–climates, preferably in areas with a slightly low soil pH. Using the handy-dandy maps Environment Canada makes available for such things you quickly discover there are two major areas that have all the ingredients. One is in South West Manitoba, right where our friends above are setting up.

The other? The Gulf Islands of BC. Yup, Saltspring, Pender, Galiano, etc. Those are all premium estate brewery locations. Notably Gulf Islands Brewing is already operating in the area, and they do grow their own hops. Estate Barley, though, is not planned at this moment (but maybe after reading this article they might change their minds?)

We can only hope that the next major phase of craft beer will result in a cluster of awesome breweries just a short ferry ride away. I look forward to plotting my multi-day trip through the Islands, with many stops to visit and taste barrel-aged, malt-forward estate ales within a stones throw of all the ingredients in the glass.

Sure, a multi-year barrel-aged beer such as the once I just spent five minutes fantasizing about is expensive (what can I say, I have weird fantasies. Oh like your fantasies are sooooo normal?), but it’s not bank breaking. Running some back-of-the napkin numbers based on barley & hop yields, bottle and barrel prices, brewery equipment and labour costs, I figure a small 2-3 hectare brewery and barrel room could operate profitably with a once-a-year release priced at only 15-20 bucks a bottle. Even less if they produce non-aged beer the rest of the year… or charge for tours.

So, who wants to start a brewery with me?

UPDATE: Oops. Replace “Saskatchewan” with “Manitoba” in that article (I’ve already updated it), for both the location of the Farmery and prime estate brewery territory. More than 2 hours sleep is recommended before fact-checking your own work.

Written by chuck

November 12th, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Lighthouse Uncharted

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Belgian IPAs are growing in popularity (especially amongst friends named “Edan”) but still remain a niche style in the shadow of both their progenitors (Belgian Ales and IPAs). Luckily, year round we can get two decent Belgian IPAs in BC: Phillips Hoperation and Green Flash Le Freak. Hoperation is great and affordable while Le Freak is a better take on the style, but costs almost twice as much.

For a few short weeks in the fall, though, a third option is available. Lighthouse Brewing’s recent focus on Belgian beers (think Deckhand, White and Black) and IPAs (Switchback, duh) should give you some inkling that a Belgian IPA is something they can pull off.

I mean, if the base case is dumping a vat of Deckhand into Switchback and calling it a day, then a purpose brewed release should be great, right? And it is. The 2012 release of Uncharted is a solid Belgian IPA, and takes it’s rightful place right between Hoperation and Le Freak on the continuity of Goodness (and price).

Tasting notes are pretty much what you’d expect: a solid Belgian funk over a tangy rich New Zealand hoppiness. Mouthfeel is thick and creamy, as one would hope for from a Belgian abbey ale. Despite the label’s claims about the lack of filters and general cloudiness, the beer pours a crisp clear light amber with absolutely no trace of residual yeasts. I’m not saying it’s filtered, but I am saying that getting an unfiltered Belgian this clear and clean is a pretty slick technological feat.

A big bodied Belgian Abbey Ale like the base of this guy should age well, but the second you add those NZ hops you’re asking for disappointment if you put these down. So buy ’em and drink ’em, but not all at once. At 7.5% ABV a couple bottles of this will get you into trouble.

Coles notes:

Brewery Lighthouse Brewing
From Victoria, BC
Name Uncharted
Style Belgian IPA
SOA Now Bronze
SOA Potential Bronze. The Belgian part might age, but the IPA part won’t. They’ll meet in the middle, says I.
Drink Now.
Odds that someone, somewhere, has the label as a tattoo Better than 30%
Availability Broad LRS and rumours of LDB
Cost $5.50-$7.00 per 650ml bomber
Similar Beers Phillips Hoperation, Green Flash Le Freak
Chuck says Might as well pick up a few, in case Edan comes over.

It might age, but I’m not the guy to do it.

Written by chuck

November 11th, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Posted in Beers