Barley Mowat 

Value On, Liquor. Value On.

with 7 comments

New Liquor Retail Stores are cropping up left right and centre in this town, making me think that I’m not the only one getting a bit disenfranchised with the whole LDB monopoly thing. While it is true that the selection of good beer at the LDB is increasing, it’s really only because existing LDB brands (notably Lighthouse) have started producing better beer.

However, if your good beer desires stretch beyond the 4 or 5 reliable brands carried by the LDB, or if you want to interact with staff who actually give a crap about good beer, you have to haul your lazy ass over to an LRS. And over at that LRS you will generally find much better selection, a staff as snooty as you are, and prices that can sometimes verge on bankruptcy inducing.

Say what you want about the attitude you get for not buying Molson at the LDB, but that bomber of Driftwood Fat Tug sure is $5.50. That same bottle is >$7 at many LRSs, and even more at Viti, who annually win both the citation for Highest Prices in Town and that other award for Closest LRS to Chuck’s House.

It’s a cash prize.

At Value On Liquor, though, that bottle of sweet, delicious liquid hops rings true at $5.50. Yup, Value On offers LDB price matching, which is a Good Thing. Of course, as someone who lives downtown, it’s also a Moot Thing, as I most certainly didn’t drive past three or four perfectly good LDBs to buy the same schlock for the same price, only further away. I’m here precisely because the LDB doesn’t have good beer.

And sadly, Value On doesn’t have a lot of good beer either. Sure, they’ve got the standard mix of Deschutes, Lagunitas and Green Flash, and even some of the odder Canuck ales like Garrison, but where are the Uprights or Belgians? The store is still new, and there are lots of empty slots on those shelves, so perhaps they’re still stocking up, but somehow I don’t think so.

You see, in order to get to those above mentioned brands, you have to walk past their massive Wall of Beer (the back wall is all glass fronted coolers). And the first thing you’ll notice is that this Wall of Beer is comprised of Bud. And Coors. And Labatts. Lots and lots of it. For comparison, go to Viti, Legacy, Brewery Creek or Firefly and try to find the pyramid of Bud.

Much like Tall Food, stacking beer does nothing to make it taste any better.

It’s very clear that the big name brands are where Value On expect to make their money, and I get the feeling that the relatively small section of craft beer is only because a rep at AFIC or BeerThrist was able to convince them to try just the tip, just for a bit, just to see how it feels. RainCity, notably, is completely absent, so don’t go here hoping to grab an Upright or Glazen Toren.

Their wine selection is significantly better, though, and the price matching guarantee stole Sharon from my side for an extended period of time. I could always figure out where she was in the store by the muted “clinks” that came from her ever-increasingly-burdened basket every few minutes, but alas I’m a beer guy first and I was nowhere near as excited.

And while the price matching is a nice benefit, it goes right out the window for beers not offered at the LDB. Deschutes Mirror Pond? $15, same as the LDB (roughly twice the $7 it is in Oregon). Deschutes Inversion IPA, which is $8 in Oregon and not available at the LDB? $21. Throw on to that price the fact there is no 10% discount for CAMRA members and their beer is starting to look a bit pricey… at a store that obviously is positioning itself on price.

And on an First Nations burial ground. Next to an old strip bar. (Haunted strip bar?)

Perhaps this place might be a good middle ground for beer-loving geeks and their wine-loving girlfriends, but I’m not going out of my way to come back. Could I walk in en route to a party and find some beer that I would have no shame consuming? Absolutely. Is there anything here to geek out about? Not really.

Sure, it’s a giant step up for people that live in the area, but a store as large and as ambitious as Value On needs to be much, much more than that. It needs to be good enough to give me a reason to come back other than when I’m en route to get drunk watching the planes land at YVR.

UPDATE: I would be remiss if I did not at least mention that the famous Lundy Dale (of CAMRA BC and Firefly fame) will be involved with Value On Liquor. Lundy is sure to bring good things to the 3 or 4 craft beer coolers available to her, and maybe might even begin a program of annexation of the macro displays. I have no doubts that she’d like to, but what management wants to do might be another thing altogether.

Written by chuck

April 16th, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Posted in Beer and You

A Very VCBW Rant

with 10 comments

I’m tired. Very tired. I’m sure many of you are tired as well. We’re all in this state because of Vancouver Craft Beer Week. Our fatigue could be caused by VCBW being such a completely awesome event that it is reaching backwards through time to affect us now, fully a month before it starts. That’s a thing that happens, right?

Sadly, this is not the case. I, like you, stayed up way past both the muppets and bedtime in the hopes of snagging some VCBW tickets the second they went on sale. VCBW elected midnight as a launch time because… um… not sure why. Build buzz, I guess? Perhaps to ensure their staff were all fatigued, and their ticket processor had the C-crew on call?

In any event, this would have been Not Bad had I logged in a midnight, got the tickets I wanted (or even not gotten them), and then logged off at 12:15 to go to bed. That’s the price I accepted paying when I decided to stay up. Heck, even 12:30 would have been ok. 1:00 less so. 1:30 really not cool. 2:00 is right out. And 2:15, the time at which Sharon (who, it should be noted, is the best person on the planet) managed to get through and book tickets, is downright shameful. There’s no other word for it.

VCBW is a premium event. Go to their website and have a look. Look at the quality and variety of events. Look at the explicit city endorsement. Watch that awesome video. Imagine, now, organizing all this. The restaurants, the bars, the breweries, the venues. What you’re looking at is thousands of hours of work put together by a dedicated crew solidly commited to the cause of craft beer.

A VCBW Signature Event is such a huge item that restaurants are willing to pay $1000 for the privilege of hosting one. You might think “Whoa, $1000 is a lot!” but it really isn’t. First, it’s about the same as the license to show a single Canucks regular season game. Second, the exposure granted to your event–and the types of people it will attract–is easily worth that sum. If it wasn’t then the bars and restaurants would not be lining up to pay it, but they are.

So, we’ve painted a picture of a quality event run by quality people being sold out to both the industry (and the public) at quality prices. So why, oh why, would you then take the ticketing for these events and contract that out to the lowest bidder–a bidder that proved last year they had no business playing in your league.

Ticketing is the first interaction your actual customers have with your event. Lots of people pursue your website, and view your promo videos, but to become paying customers they have to go through ticketing. It’s about as vital as a service can be to an organization. Quick, convenient, and (most importantly) accurate ticketing is a must. Cheap is nice, but not a must.

Eztix, the ticketing contractor selected by VCBW, is cheap. That’s about all it has going for it. They only charge ~3.5% to sell tickets, and often just charge that to the buyer instead of the seller. It is not quick, convenient, nor accurate. I think you see my point with quick and convenient, but accurate requires some extra ranting: during the checkout process, Sharon was repeatedly assured that the only extra charge was tax (aka no service charge), and that the whole amount was fully refundable. The bill arrives and bam, ~9.5% service charge… and it’s non-refundable.

Where your VCBW money goes on top.
What I see on bottom.

Now, I work in software. I have built, from the ground up, systems that do EXACTLY what eztix does. VCBW has 17 ticketed events. Those events likely have less than 200 tickets each. Those will sell in about 100 transactions. These numbers give us: 3400 tickets & 1700 transactions. Each sale generates about 3-4 look-i-lous who cancel out. That’s 8500 requests. These are not large numbers. These are not even medium numbers.

The system I built could easily handle this load, and clear the tickets in about 10-15 minutes, all without going down if there was a spike. I am not a genius, nor really that great at my job. It ran on two servers. So when I see claims like “we added four servers this year” someone is either lying, incompetent or both.

I cannot believe that the ticketing decision was made at VCBW without someone in the room pointing out how horrifically eztix failed last year, and about how they’re basically incompetent and their promises to make it all better were likely worthless. That is a conversation that must have happened. Yet the ultimate answer to the question of “How best do I represent my quality brand to the people paying for it?” was “The lowest bidder.” Again.

How can they make this better? Well, they can’t for now. The contracts are signed and lots of tickets have been sold. Next year, though, things will be better. Of course, that’s what they said last year. Own your mistake guys, and make this event as flawlessly awesome as you know it should be.

Written by chuck

April 13th, 2012 at 11:45 am

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with

Barrels of Fun

with 4 comments

The local beer scene has improved vastly even since I started writing this blog. A few short years ago the realm of Good Beer was left to a relatively small number of startups, while the big boys kept on keeping on producing middling to mediocre ale. That has recently changed, and the variety of decent beer available is increasing daily.

The one sub-category of great beer I’d like to see more of, though, is barrel-aged bottle-conditioned beers. Yeah, it’s a tiny, hyper-specialized sub-market of beer, but what else did you expect from me? I’m such a massive beer snob that even this tiny niche will only be exclusive enough for at most a couple of years.

My porn fetishism is even weirder.
It’s not the furries that do it for me, though.

The only problem with such a niche desire is that it’s very hard to fulfill it. Let’s say you like IPAs, well you’re in luck because pretty much every brewery in BC makes those. Imperial Stouts? About 5. Sour Reds? 2. Barrel-aged bottle-conditioned beer? Zero. Yup, zero.

This means I have to go to the US to get my kink on. While this is generally a great deal of fun and involves my getting drunk on the train then playing a rousing game of Cow Not Cow, it is not a great way to satiate a hardcore substance abuse habit. I tried a few alternates to manual import, like leaving barrels of corks on Driftwood’s loading dock, but no dice.

So, like any junky going through hardcore withdrawal I did a bit of googling and came up with a solution to make it myself (to stay in character, I stole the computer first and sold it for $10 after). Yup, I’m going to make my fix in my apartment, and the internet has taught me how.

To be honest, though, I’m
not quite sure where the barrel goes.

I’m about to place an order for internet oak barrels, and like anything you order online it’s cheap, of undetermined quality, and very likely mail ordered from Russia. Here’s my supplier: Oak Barrels LTD. I have selected them for two main reasons: First, they are cheap cheap cheap, and Second, their barrels come in desktop-friendly sizes like 1, 2 and 5 litres. Even if all I produce is mold-infused botulism in a wooden container, these barrels are worth buying just to look at.

Sure, I realize that these anonymous barrels are almost certainly Hungarian Oak, as opposed to French, American or even Canadian Oak. And yes, Hungarian is supposed to be slightly less snooty. It’s also slightly less-than $200 per barrel. Seriously, those things are like $30. I could light one on fire the second it gets here and still be ahead.

The idea here is to use an existing beer as a start, cram it in a barrel, throw in some brettanomyces lifted off a bottle of something belgium, cram in some sort of fruit, and see what happens. I might also fiddle around with lactobacillus just to increase the number of variables that can go horribly horribly wrong. I’m of course open to suggestions, as it should be noted that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing here.

Before I start, though, I’ll need to order the damned things. And then, when they arrive, I’ll need to prime them with something in the hopes of imparting some extra flavour into my frankenbeer. Cheap wine or whiskey is an easy guess, but again I’m open to new ideas.

20 minutes on Google and not one scantily clad coed in a barrel. So here, have some kittens.

Written by chuck

April 10th, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Posted in Beer and You