Barley Mowat 

I Found The Golden Ticket

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So, I got a tour of a brewery yesterday. I get offered brewery tours all the time, and usually I go and skip the actual tour part and just talk shop with the brewers, because let’s face it, if you’ve seen one brewery you’ve seen them all.

Yesterday was a bit different, though, because I brought along some folk from my dayjob who’ve never seen the inside of the brewery, and so we couldn’t just skip out all the mundane details as per usual. Thus, things like “So, uh, yeah, that’s the lab” turned into a full rundown of what’s in a lab, what the lab does in a brewery, and why that’s important.

And you know what? I liked it. It was like I was seeing a brewery for the first time ever, though the eyes of my rookie companions. Which brewery was this? It was Parallel 49 and our intrepid tour-leader was none-other than the brewmaster himself, Graham With.

Now, for this blog I will skip all the mundane details and go straight to what I found very interesting about this tour, and about Parallel 49 in general. As such, there will be a few gaps in my brewery story, but please fill those gaps in with your own experiences at other breweries. No, and not with the canola-oil twister party. That never happened; I don’t want to have to tell you again.

First off, the soft story: P49 is best represented in the person of Graham With. Graham is, for lack of better words, a big kid who’s been given the keys to the chocolate factory. He is almost giddy with the excitement of making beer, and solving all the myriad production problems that come with operating a brewery (he is an engineer, after all, iron ring and all).

Take that aforementioned QA lab, for instance. Rather than just doing mundane quality control and cell counts, Graham is using the lab to help maintain a different strain of yeast for each of their beers. This might seem odd until you realize just how much character and flavour in a brew is created by the yeast. P49 wants to avoid that common curse of less science-y breweries: having all their beers taste the same due to being all fermented with the same yeast strain.

Or all fermented with the same shitty corn.

His enthusiasm is as infectious as it is obvious. Every detail of running a brewery fascinates him in an almost ADHD-like fashion. From the design and purpose of the tasting room, through the details of the QA Lab, right through tinkering with the C02 system to improve efficiency. Get him going for a second, and he’ll happily tell you about the lot of used bourbon oak barrels he’s ordered (look for an imperial stout… uh… sometime after they arrive?). Or about planned trips to Okanagan vineyards to take infected barrels off their hands, and yes, about the sour beer program that ultimately that leads to. (When asked about the 2-3 year lead time for a good sour, he just says “Well, that’s why we’re getting on it now!”)

Now, the hard story: Parallel 49 is swinging for the fence. Given the raw facts, I came into this expecting a brewery somewhere in size between Storm Brewing and my storage closet. P49 only started producing their first beer this year, and are only available on tap at select locations around Vancouver. Bottles? Only delivered to LRSs, and only in the past few weeks. Obviously this is a small brewery start-up.

Wrong. Parallel 49 is a huge brewery start-up. The first thing you notice upon entering the brewery is the giant tasting room (which is still being built). Sure, it’s not where you brew beer, but if you have enough space for this kind of tasting room, one can only imagine the cavernous space in which you produce the actual product.

And cavernous it is. The current equipment roster for P49 includes 315hl of fermentation space. That’s a lot for a new brewery, but that giant row of fermenters doesn’t even come close to filling up the production half of the brewery. Turning that over every 4 weeks yields about 4,100 hl per year of production. That’s a fairly abstract number, but it boils down to 150 kegs per week, or 22 kegs a day in terms of brewing capacity. With 16 tap accounts thus far, it’s safe to say they have a bit of room to grow.

And that room gets bigger when the new order shows up. Oh, did I forget to mention more fermenters are coming? Yeah, another 300 hl of production capacity are currently being shipped from China. I wonder if Graham’s refreshing the Fedex page like I did when my iPad was coming via the same route?

This excess capacity brings home my main concern for this business: where is all this beer going? Those 16 tap accounts sure as hell aren’t drinking it. And that bottling line, as shiny and new as it is, sure isn’t running the 30 hours a day it’d need to be to bottle it all. Of course, you don’t need to actually use all your capacity, but if you aren’t using it all why double it with a new order?

And that’s my puzzler. Obviously, an LDB listing is coming, and there’s talk of shipping product to Alberta and other places further east, but ultimately I think there’s a risk of a lot of good beer sitting around while the local craft beererati try our best to pound through it before it goes off. Trust me, as great as unlimited good beer sounds, there is such a thing as too much.

Kind of like how 1/2 way through a giant pile of heroin you never want to do horse again… oh wait… So yeah, pretty much the opposite of smack, then, I guess.

But that’s it? No negative rants from Chuck on P49 aside from “they produce too much good beer… maybe”? Well… yes, I have one complaint. Graham admitted to filtering their beers, and even showed me their filter. Filtering beer is an open argument, with some folk saying you can’t get really great clarity without it and some folk (like me, and other sane people) saying it robs a beer of all the yeast character that makes beer so interesting. Considering how much time and effort P49 puts into brewing beer with distinct yeasts in the first place, filtering it just seems wrong.

Luckily, Graham quasi-agrees with me, and is currently attempting to convince the owners to invest in a centrifuge to allow them to get both the startling clarity and the yeasty funk that makes great beer great. Mike & Anthony? Please please give him the shiny new toy. Just think how happy he’ll be. How can you say no to that face?

Written by chuck

June 15th, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Posted in Breweries

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Splitting Bitter, Resin-coated Hairs

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I recently posted something on Twitter that garnered a bit of questioning from people who know me. I said that Tofino Spruce Tip IPA is the Best IPA In The World. That’s quite a bold claim, especially from a guy that claims to hate rating beer. I don’t give praise lightly, thus you know I sat down and thought about this before saying it, so what’s my reasoning?

Well, let’s start with a bit of background on India Pale Ales. I won’t bore you with the history of IPAs in general. As someone who can tolerate reading my blog I will just assume you already know this most basic of beer legends for regaling other, lesser, beer nerds at parties.

In recent years, the IPA genre has, much like pretty much all genres, split into English-style and American-style varieties. English-style, as usual, is the more traditional variety and reflects this by being more conservative. These are refreshing, light-to-medium bodied beers with classic bitter hop aroma/flavour and a moderate alcohol level (typically 5.5-6.0%). Want to know what I mean? Try Howe Sound’s IPA. That’s a great example.

American-style means what you’d think: bigger and (therefore?) better. What made English IPA so unique? Hops you say? Well fuck those limeys, we’ll use even more hops! Yeah! U S A! U S A! 6.0% booze? How about, oh I dunno, MORE than 6.0% booze! YEAH! Let’s get fucked up in a parking lot, watch some football and then go bomb some brown people! AMERICA!

Since that first split, though, both styles have further fragmented. Try an IPA in New England and you’ll find it to be fairly close to the English style, but an IPA in California will be heavier bodied with much stronger bittering hops and a tonne more alcohol. Go up the coast a bit to Oregon/Washington and that same IPA becomes even bigger bodied, hoppier and now has a closed-fist punch of aroma-hops. As well, now the mouthfeel becomes a fantastic creamy texture to back up the heavy sugar and bitterness of the brew, bringing the whole thing into final, perfect, balance.

There’s also the “shitty, watery east coast Canada style”.

In fact, the Californian and Pacific Northwest styles are different enough from regular IPAs that they are usually indicated as such on the bottle. This is more commonly done with PNW IPAs, which are sometimes also referred to as Cascadian IPAs. That’s a term I love, so I’ll use it.

Enough background. All that was a complete setup to being able to do this: English < American < New England < Californian < Cascadian. I'm not saying an IPA of English-Style is bad. Quite the opposite, they can be just lovely, but if you're going balls to the wall to make the best IPA you possibly can, you just gotta go Cascadian. Of course, popular beer rating sites like RateBeer and BeerAdvocate disagree. They put the Californian style on the top. Go look at their top IPA list and you'll see lots of Californian breweries: Ballast Point, Stone, Russian River, Alesmith. This is mostly due to a stylistic difference between what the population believes to be a great IPA and what experts (OK, me) believe to be a great IPA. But, it is also because those sites partially rank beers based on popularity (lots of high votes count more than a few very high votes). More people have had the Californian beers because, simply, there are more people in California. However, I've had most of those beers. They are wonderful beers. In fact they are fantastic, even stonking great beers. They are, though, not as good as Cascadian IPAs, such as the ones from Green Flash, Deschutes, Driftwood, Central City, Lighthouse and, yes, Tofino. They lack the big body and creamy mouthfeel that (in my opinion) make an IPA the nigh perfect cumulation of all that is brewing. So, now when I say that Tofino has one-upped that whole mess by seamlessly merging the natural aroma and bitterness of spruce tips into an already fantastic IPA, resulting in the best IPA in BC, you understand how I can extend that acclaim to "Best in the World." This beer is like drinking the rainforest, and how can that be bad?

It’s also a much better result than my last attempt at combining beer with logging.

Alas, the Spruce Tip IPA is a casked ale, and that means it was only produced in very limited quantities. Tofino’s regular Hoppin’ Cretin IPA also features Spruce Tips, but just not in the vast quantities of the cask. Perhaps expense is keeping the sprucey-goodness to a cask, or perhaps it’s the fact that spruce tips only reliably grow in the spring. I don’t know.

What I do know, though, is that this beer is currently on one of the beer engines at the Alibi Room and will disappear fast. So go down there early tonight to drink it before it’s gone and the reigning IPA crown goes back to Driftwood Fat Tug.

Written by chuck

June 8th, 2012 at 10:08 am

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with ,

Members with Benefits

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A CAMRA card isn’t just a form of elitist ID that gains you access to the very upper echelons of society. Oh no, it also gets you special treatment at any number of high end establishments all around town. And by “special” I mean “the same as everyone else, only slightly cheaper.” It’s true, have a look.

And that list isn’t even complete. There are a few liquor stores missing (like Viti), and definitely a few establishments (like Sharkey’s), although I expect the PHP error barfed in the middle of the page might have something to do with that. But, whatever, PHP is hard and the site admins have drinking to do!

A cat sys admin is a lot less cute when you realize the cat has been pissed since, like, 8am.

Usually when I show people that list I get a confused look back, and then the question: “Wait… you get 10% off BEER? At a liquor store?” They get the restaurant discount (sorta), but the discount on booze at LRSs flummoxes them completely. It took me a while to get used to the idea myself, but happily yes, several stores that carry good beer have decided the exposure they get via CAMRA is worth 10%, in addition to deciding that CAMRA is an organization worthy of their support.

Also, it should be noted that a CAMRA buyer is an educated and high value buyer. This is not a person who will give your store the shaft to save $2 on a 12-er of Corona. That guy is a jerk. In addition to buying elsewhere based on price alone, he doesn’t even have enough common decency to buy a high margin beer. The margin on Corona is less than 10% precisely because these guys are so price sensitive. But our CAMRA guy isn’t.

No siree, a CAMRA buyer is a person that will purchase 6 bottles of high-end beer at $10-$20 per bottle, and then come back next week to do it again. You want this person in your store as often as possible, even if you have to give them 10% off.

Sure, you’re not making as much on that bottle of Central City Double IPA from the CAMRA guy as you do from the next bastard buying that same bottle, but the CAMRA guy also bought 5 more bottles. Even if the profit on the bottle is lower, the profit per transaction is higher. And so long as your product keeps moving out the door you don’t have to worry too much about inventory. Also, Mr CAMRA might have grabbed some of that $30 Deschutes Stoic you’ve been having trouble moving.

So, it’s all good, right? The store gets more profit and can stock more interesting beer without worrying about it stealing shelf space, and our fictional bearded CAMRA guy can buy lots of interesting beer and write about it on his blog. Win/win.

Well, it’s fine and good until Corona-guy stands behind Mr CAMRA and sees him getting 10% off his beer purchase. Next week when SeƱor Corona buys his shitty beer and a bag of skunk-reducing limes, he’s brandishing a brand new CAMRA card and asking for that sub-10% profit margin on his awful alco-pop to be dropped straight into loss territory.

And then this happens.

The first time I saw this sign at Viti I thought it was a bit of a joke until manager Ralf told me that this is exactly what has been happening*. I was shocked to hear this had been happening, but ultimately not very surprised when I thought about it. To be clear: I 100% support Viti limiting the discount to craft beer. Heck, I even suggested that they confiscate offenders’ membership cards.

The trick, though, is what IS craft beer? Yeah, we can all agree that those brands are not craft, but what about other very large brewers? What about Guinness? Leffe? Chimay? Granville Island? Some of those are pretty big breweries producing mass market beers.

Each store can come up with their own list, and we could decide if the store had gone too far by voting with our wallets, but perhaps CAMRA should create an exception list for membership discounts? Because let’s face it, if you’re buying Molson you probably shouldn’t have the card in the first place.

* Aside from the margin numbers. Those smell like ass because that’s where I pulled the numbers out of. Well, they’re not entirely made up; they are a decent guestimate based off my experience with importer and LRS pricing.

Written by chuck

June 6th, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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