Barley Mowat 

Brewpub in a Bottle

with 3 comments

Not too long ago in BC (as recently as 10 years), the only way a bona fide barley-phile could get their fix on was to wander into a local brewpub and have some delicious, locally made, old-world style ale. Actual craft breweries were still few and far between (eg Storm or R&B), and most of their product was not bottled.

Sure, you could search out the good samaritan pub-owners that put those products on tap, but those places were also not great in number, and not guaranteed to have any actual beer because of the production issues inherent in small breweries. Even if they did have something on offer, it would very likely only be a single tap squeezed in between different sub-brands of Molson.

But the brewpubs were guaranteed to have the goods, and usually more than one kind, if only because it was the only beer they could sell. Thus the BC Brewpub became a sort of quasi-destination resort for what passed for the local craft beererati in those days.

Yup, that’s a beer resort. I’ll let that image really sink in for a few seconds. There we go.

We’d rent a van, book a ferry, and head off to have three meals at Spinnakers without getting up because, fuck me, they have six kinds of craft beer on tap. And you know what? They’re all pretty freaking good. Then you’d buy a few cases of off-sales (if they had any), pack up, and head home, sad for the fact that your next visit would be many months away at best.

The recent revolution in bottled brewpub beer changed all that, and I honestly haven’t pulled a shift at a brewpub in at least five years. You see, it wasn’t just the fact that I could get Spinnakers at home that stopped me from getting on the ferry. It was also the fact that I could get Driftwood in bottles, and Driftwood is better than Spinnakers.

When you remove the ambiance and food, all that’s left to stand is the beer by itself, and with that realization came an unpleasant fact that no one really wanted to talk about: traditional brewpub ale is boring. Yes, it’s brewed from the best ingredients by people who know what they’re doing, but c’mon, a straight Nut Brown? English IPA? Pale Ale? Pilsner? What is this, 2005?

I was going to insert a funny, dated movie reference here, but frankly all our movies have the same titles today, just with more roman numerals at the end. We kinda suck.

It’s not the beer; it’s us. BC’s craft beer market has matured rapidly in the past five years, and while a fantastic traditionally brewed English-style pub ale will always have it’s place in my brew lineup, it’s just not enough to seriously compete in the market any more.

That brings us to the present, and to Steamworks’ recent announcement that they’re going to market in bottles. Despite being invited, I was unable to make the fancy launch party, but I was able to taste some of the product myself. You know what? It’s fine. All that worry about it not being brewed by Steamworks’, but instead under contract up the valley using excess capacity at Dead Frog came to naught. The beer is just fine.

But the beer is also boring. It’s a Pilsner and a Pale Ale in six packs, and a Wheat, Frambozen and Pumpkin in bombers. I might buy the Pumpkin and maybe even the Frambozen, but the others are going to compete in a fairly crowded market, and honestly they’re far too pedestrian versions of those styles to stand out from the crowd enough to get worked up over.

So where does that leave us? Well, by my count we now have no less than seven brewpubs cramming their amber gold into bottles or cans in this province. Some have learnt their lesson while others just keep on keeping on. Here are my thoughts on each. I’ll be comparing them to Spinnakers a lot because, hey, they were first.

Steamworks; Bronze Seal of Approval

Despite the “fineness” of the Pilsner and Pale Ale, the seasonals hold some promise. Great Pumpkin has always been one of the better BC pumpkin ales, and the Steamworks seasonal stouts are probably the best thing they make. Bottle those, guys, and I’ll buy them by the caselot.

Spinnakers; Bronze Seal of Approval

Spinnakers will always have a soft spot in my heart because of that overly long story above. While their mainline ales are still the same as when I first walked into the pub all those many years ago, they’re trying a few (slightly) new things and yeah, I’ll buy em.

Swan’s; Sealless

So you’re just like Spinnakers but without the slight innovation? Aside from the occasional Coconut Porter at the Alibi, I just plain never buy this stuff if there’s any alternative.

Howe Sound; Silver Seal of Approval

Much like Spinnakers, HS’s main line of ales hasn’t really changed, and is quite boring. It’s made somewhat more tolerable by being better than Spinnakers, though. Add to that a fantastic seasonal release program that is constantly trying to innovate (usually through making imperials), and I find myself regularly going home with those wicked flip-tops.

Canoe; Sealless

Not only is it mediocre, it’s incredibly hard to find. If you stumble into an LRS that, for some reason, has this on the shelf, it’s a good sign that you’re in Victoria. That means the bottle right next to this one is almost certainly much, much better.

Moon Under Water; Bronze Seal of Approval

MUW has decided to focus on low ABV session ales. While this is absolutely an old-world style, it’s not boring because no one else does it. I’ve long gone on record saying that this is a far too ignored field, and I mean it. Only bottling a few varieties and being hard to find keeps my purchases down, though. As well, a recent ownership change has MUW’s future uncertain.

Central City; Silver Seal of Approval

You want to know why BC has lots of good beer? Blame Gary Lohin. Gary decided to make proper PNW-style (or Cascadian style, if you will) ales, and to can them all. CC IPA is still considered by many to be the best beer in BC (not by me… cough… Tofino… cough), and their Pale Ale is a great adaptation of a fairly boring style. Throw into that mix seasonal releases in bomber form (including the very rare Thor’s Hammer), and man oh man we’re cooking with gas.

Written by chuck

October 11th, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Posted in Beers,Breweries

Tagged with

Low Hanging Fruit

with 6 comments

Alright, so now that I have some amateurish Seal of Approvals to slap on things, I guess I’d better start using them, eh? Before we get into the more interesting reviews, let’s spend a few moments today and get the easy and obvious ones out of the way.

Before we get going, please do remember that I have no interest in ranking these businesses objectively. I am solely interested in sharing my incredbily beer-skewed version of reality with anyone who will listen. The criteria for making this list is quite straight forward: do I want to go there, or would I rather go somewhere else?

Bronze is a place I’ll happily pop in for a pint if I’m in the neighbourhood (eg Yeah, sure, why not?). Silver is a place that I will go out of my way to pop into (eg Sweet! Let’s go!). And Gold is, well, to be honest, Gold is reserved for The Alibi and St Augustines (eg Fuck yeah!).

For those wondering why your favourite pub is missing from this list, it’s likely either because it’s not in Vancouver (I’m a Vancouver snob, sorry), or that I’ve simply not heard of it (or plum forgot, I drink a lot).

For those wondering why your favourite pub has been considered but tossed aside, please remember what I just said above, but also consider that even Bronze is a pretty freaking good rating for a pub. This is a tough list to make, and just because I didn’t feel the need to put my good name (and anthropomorphic seal caricature) on your beloved establishment doesn’t mean it’s no good. It just means I’m likely not going back.

So, without further adieu, here are the businesses that have earned the coveted(?) Barley Mowat Seal of Approval (for pubs).


The Whip
Once one of the stalwards of the craft beer movement, The Whip has been eclipsed by newer establishments. Brewery Creek’s resurgence in the craft beer scene leaves it posed to reclaim its former greatness, though.

Probably the best local brewpub, but the nearness and awesomeness of Rogue’s taplist begs the question: why bother?

Railway Club
I love the Rail, but they need more great beer, and they need to change it up once in a while.

Food: decent but pricey. Beer: interesting but not great. Patio? Top three in town.

The Bimini
A great oasis in the beer desert of the Kits strip. Too bad it turns into a nightclub around nine.

An interesting twist to the beer-focused restaurant scene, and a fantastic bottle list. Shame it’s five minutes from the Alibi.

Second Door (Malone’s)
I used to absolutely fear coming here, now I’m only kinda scared. It remains to be seen how long the Second Door will stick to its craft beer guns.

Brick & Barley (Incendio Pizza)
A tight tap list and decent pizza make this a decent backup for when the Alibi is full.

New Oxford (aka Hooker’s Green)
Great Yaletown patio, but the beer list definitely needs some work.

Biercraft Commercial
A little too focused on the more popular Belgians, and a little too close to St Augustine’s to seriously tempt me.

London Pub
While effectively a Russell tied-house, that isn’t always a bad thing. Throw in casks on Fridays and good proximity to the best Italian cheese shop in town, and I’m down.

Library Square
Great patio, decent food, and okay tap list. Just be sure to leave before the douchbag avalanche shows up in the evenings.

Exact same comment as Library Square. You’d think the Donnelly Group had a formula or something?


Portland Craft
Truly a special place, with a rapidly rotating list of unusual PNW beers. Almost gold, guys. Keep it up.

Tap & Barrel
PATIO. PATIO PATIO PATIO. (stupid glassware, slow service, blah food, okay tap list) PATIO PATIO!

Darby’s Pub
I know, I almost don’t believe myself, but look at that tap list, and look at that patio. The attached beerstore only makes it even better.

Biercraft Cambie
See what getting away from St Augustines does for you? I just like this location better.

Rogue Waterfront
Combine the great food with the good patio and awesome beer list, and it’s almost enough to dissuade me from walking all the way to Main St. Almost.


St. Augustines
Top flight beer list, but mostly ordered from a catalogue. I love the online beer menu, though.

Alibi Room
I cannot count the number of one-off or unique beers that have been produced just for the Alibi. That should tell you something.

Notable Absentees (not yet reviewed, but I’ll get to them):
Rogue Broadway
Parallel 49 Tasting Room
Cascade Room
Sunset Grill

Reviewed but not approved:
The Manchester — I get the feeling that the one good beer on tap isn’t ordered very often
Cinema — Proof that the Donelly Forumla is not universally applied
Irish Heather — Just not quite good enough to make the cut
Yaletown Brewing Company — Drink Boring Beer. Sorry guys, but change it up will ya?
Granville Island Taproom — Sure, Vern’s nice one offs are featured here, but it’s also crammed pack with tourists and has a 12oz serving limit. Go to the Alibi instead.

Written by chuck

October 9th, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Posted in Bars,Beer and You

Introducing the Seal of Approval!

with 9 comments

It could be said that I am somewhat passionate about beer. I think about beer constantly. I view rooms in my house by how easily they can be converted into a beer cellars, and when I meet a new person I often gauge my initial respect for them by what beer they drink. Sure, this does occasionally lead to my loudly professing more respect for the homeless alcoholic outside than the skinny-jeans wearing hipster inside, but hey, it’s a system and it (sorta) works.

Toothless Jim? Yeah, quality guy.

I’m a bit more broad spectrum when it comes to gauging restaurants, where I consider other factors such as: Beer Selection (on tap), Beer Selection (bottled), Quality of (beer) Service, Quality of Food (to eat with beer), and Awesomeness of Patios (on which to enjoy beer). So yeah, lots of things being weighed and compared besides beer there.

Being an opinionated loudmouth, I’d love to share these views, but how can I boil such a comprehensive view of the world into something simple and easy for the mouth-breathing masses to understand? Why, create faux medals, of course!

So I now introduce the Barley Mowat Seal of Approval(tm), which will be proudly awarded to fine establishments, fine brews, and fine what-ever-else-I-damned-well-please-s. There are three levels of my fancy Seal, and an implied fourth (no seal means no good). In order to qualify, I must have actually tried out the establishment or beverage at some point in the past twelve months and cared enough to whip out my iPhone and write down my opinions.

Here are the grades, and what they mean:

Bronze: Barely meets my (very tough) standards. I’ll drink this beer or go to this bar without complaint.
Silver: Hey! This isn’t half bad! They’re actually trying.
Gold: World class. I really only blog to get free stuff at these bars, or more of this beer.

And what use would a three grade ranking system be without gimmicky badges, designed by my sometimes co-tweeter, the lovely and talented (?) Miss Jennifer Gardy!

Okay, fine, they’re drawn on the back of a brown paper bag. What else did you expect? Competence? Do you even KNOW me?

I’ll be rolling out the first batch of awards later this week, so stay tuned.

Written by chuck

October 7th, 2012 at 11:28 am

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with