Barley Mowat 

Where Does Good Beer Come From?

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As everyone knows, we all live in the best beer-producing region on the planet. Yes, I’m talking about Cascadia. Oh, I mean, sure, Belgium has some nice beers and all, and as jealous as I am of all their monks and giant caves for cellaring and whatnot, they’re just a bit too… traditional for me. Let’s just say that brewing with a slightly different strain of yeast is big freaking news over there.

Cascadia, however… now there’s some brewing innovation. Sure, a lot of that innovation is around the idea of hops, more hops, “how can I over saturate this beer with hops” and perhaps a little bit of “is cramming the bottle full of hops too far? I didn’t think so.” But there’s also plenty of toying around with malty ales, sour ales, barrel aged monsters, and even belgian ales. Yeah, we play that game, too. Also, we play the hops game, did I mention that?

Has anyone thought of making the GLASS out of hops?

The only problem with Cascadia, though, is that some thoughtless fucker drew a gord-damned international border right through the middle of the thing. I mean, really, W.T.F.? That’s a whole lot of wire fence, barbed wire, and generally impolite german shepards between us and the other half of our unlimited great beer collection. Sure, we can physically go there, buy some, and bring it back, and that sorta works, but imagine if you had to personally go to Thailand every time you needed a fix of China White. It’s good in principle, but it just doesn’t work three times a day. Luckily some nice folks are willing to mule your horse to the alley behind the Carnegie Centre. And likewise, some nice folk will go to the US and get (some) good beer for us, and deliver it to places like Viti, Firefly and Brewery Creek.

And now we come to the meat of this article. How does good beer show up on those shelves? Well, I’ll give you a hint: the LDB sure-as-fuck isn’t ordering it because it isn’t wine (aside: Seriously, can we get Deschutes to rebrand their beer as a wine just so the LDB will show some interest in importing it en masse?)

The reality of the matter is that the vast majority of good beer you buy at LRSs is imported by one of three companies who make bringing in the goods their full time jobs:

  • RainCity Brands, responsible for Upright, Boundary Bay, Uncommon and Pretty Things
  • BeerThirst, who do: Anderson Valley, Bear Republic, Eel River, Elysian, Green Flash, North Coast and Tenaya Creek
  • AFIC Group, who bring forth Ballast Point, Brooklyn, Deschutes, Dogfish Head (or rather, used to), Flying Dog, HopWorks, Lagunitas, Lakefront, Lost Coast, Pike, Pyramid, Rogue and Sierra Nevada

These fine folks go forth, make the deals with the breweries, arrange for shipments, and then list the thing through the LDB because, well, they have to by law. They can set that price as high as they want, though (not as low, because the LDB thinks we couldn’t control ourselves with cheap beer). People like to complain a whole lot about import pricing on beer, but honestly it’s really not that bad… if the importer can work out a deal to make it not that bad.

Take Upright Five, for instance. This is one of my favourite US-based beers. It’s available in the US for about $8 to $10, depending on where you find it. Transport it 350 miles north, change hands a few times, slap on some import tariffs, and suddenly, on the cold side of that giant fence, it becomes… $9.79 at the LDB. Whoa! Really? Screw the fence! The system works!

Just kidding. The system totally doesn’t work.

Hold on, grasshopper, let’s take another example. How about Deschutes Stoic? That puppy is $12 in Portland. Haul it to the Great White North and you’d expect it to be, what, $13? $14? Wrong answer. Try $27.

We can play this game for a while. Elysian Immortal: $7.29 US, $5.99 CA. Brooklyn Sorachi Ace: $8.99 US, $20 CA. It’s a fun game (actually, no, it’s not. It’s very boring, and wastes computer time that could better be spent on porn), but time and time again you wind up with some beers being about the same (or cheaper) here, and some being 2-3x the price, and there’s no pattern. Or is there? I’ll save you the time: All the beers with the high prices in Canada are imported by AFIC (but conversely, not all beers imported by AFIC have high prices).

Sometimes they’re even both. That Sorachi Ace I mentioned earlier might have pricked some ears, as it sure started off at $20 (more like $27 by the time LRS markup was in place), but it just as surely wound up at $9.99 at your local LDB. That got my attention, as the LRSs who bought a few cases of product at the original price were surely not terribly pleased by AFIC turning around and listing it at the LDB for less than half price. Curious, I asked around for an opinion about what was going on.

Oh, if only I could bottle the pure, unadulterated rage coming from the LRS employees. It’d make a great cologne. Or elk musk. The difference is subtle. Basically, they feel as if AFIC has screwed them into the ground on this one. And then they ranted at the LDB for even selling a SPEC product to the public. And then something about the Illuminati and how 9/11 was an inside job. Let’s just say I wasn’t convinced of the quality of information I was receiving, so I decided to back away very, very slowly, and then go against my long-standing rule against actual journalism and ask the source.

Yup, I emailed AFIC and asked them for their view. Somewhat shockingly, they got back to me pretty much straight away… with a promise to answer my question the next day. Time came and went. No answer, so I pinged them again. Again, a fast response with a promise of an answer “today.” Again crickets. Again an email from me, only this time no answer. So let’s just say “AFIC declined to comment.”

You’re all expecting a massive, profanity-laden blast of vitriol from me now, aren’t you? I mean, the ebil corporation refused to even attempt to explain themselves. And they screwed over the LRSs! Let’s give it to them? Well, here’s a surprise for you: I don’t think that’s the case. AFIC likely got tied up, or just didn’t put a lot of stock into explaining accounting to someone who’s internet persona can’t go half an article without swearing. Shit.

There’s a couple bits of info I learned way back at the start of this whole thing that lead me to this conclusion. First, the high-priced beers are all limited production, high-demand brews. Second, any importer can totally steal clients from another one. If AFIC really was screwing us by setting the price arbitrarily high for these products and keeping the cash, then why wouldn’t BeerThirst swoop in, promise Deschutes to triple their high-end sales in BC, and steal what is, after all, a very large and lucrative contract?

The only answer I could come up with is that the other companies can’t better the deal, and Deschutes is happy with the amount of product they’re shipping to the border. Shipping to another country is HARD. So hard, in fact, that most breweries flat out refuse to do it. Perhaps Deschutes is so happy with the current arrangement, in fact, that they aren’t even giving AFIC wholesale prices on the specialty beers, which makes selling them at a lower price an even harder proposition.

Without an answer from AFIC, though, my nice answer is just speculation, so feel free to pour on the hate.

Written by chuck

February 27th, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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What’s In The Box?

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Let me help you out. You’re reading the Sun, and you find an article about privatizing some aspect of the LDB, so you decide to send it over to your favourite beer blogger.

Please don’t. I’ve read it already (thanks to the eagle-eyed Sharon, who beat everyone else by a solid day).

If you have no idea what I’m talking about here, this is the article in question.

Now you know why I hadn’t mentioned this before now. They aren’t talking about privatizing anything of note, just the warehouse. The LDB will still select what beer to carry, order it, give it to the new warehouse operator, and pick it up when it’s time to ship it to retail.

Yeah, that’s right. They’re outsourcing the box they store the beer in before they sell it.

I mean, I’m intrigued by the box and all, but it’s not really what we want, is it?

Yes, this is a step in the right direction, in that the government is giving up some minor aspect of their near-complete control over liquor distribution. However, don’t expect this to change, well, anything really.

In theory, it might make the storage cost a bit cheaper, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Along with the warehouse will come all sorts of longterm union contracts and a virtual guarantee of business from the LDB for the foreseeable future. High costs and a complete lack of competition usually don’t spell discounts.

Even assuming a miracle DID happen, and the warehouse found some corners to cut, what do you think the odds are the LDB would look at those savings and elect to pass them along? It’s not like they have to worry about their competition doing it. And there’s the problem.

If anything, prices might go up as new owners and management struggle to learn and adjust to the existing business. And that change I guarantee you we’ll see at retail.

Written by chuck

February 23rd, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Credit Where Credit Is Due (YBC Cask)

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I’ve been a bit critical of YBC’s cask nights in the past, pointing out that they’re essentially taking the lazy route out and just dry hopping whatever ale they have lying around and calling it a day. For months and months their cask lineup switched between Pale Ale and IPA dry-hopped with a constant march of hops, with the odd stout thrown in for fun.

Thus, it’d be highly remiss of me to not mention today’s YBC cask, which breaks from that trend and is an honest-to-goodness interesting cask. The cask before us is a Pilsner dry-hopped with Spalt.

I know, I know, it’s not on the surface different from what I was just complaining about. But let me ask you this. Have you ever had a dry-hopped lager? Or a cask-conditioned lager?

Now take it to the extra bit of interesting, where that same beer will be re-dry-hopped with different strains for the next two weeks. Sad YBC couldn’t do all three at once for comparison, but the approach is still nice.

This could be very interesting. Plus, there’s a dynamite hockey game up on the big screen tonight, so YBC might be The Place To Be this afternoon.

Footnote: I should also note the other cask tonight: A chai tea infused winter ale from Central City at Cafe Barney on Main Street. That sounds deliciously insane, but YBC gets my cask vote. No, this has nothing to do with my living four blocks away and behind oh so lazy. Shut up. No. I think YOU’RE lying.

Written by chuck

February 23rd, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Bars,Breweries

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