Barley Mowat 

Coming to Victoria!

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Where does a beer geek go when they have beer tourism on their brain pan, but not enough time to make it to Portland and back? Victoria! It’s a like a closer, mini-er version of Portland! Minus the awesome train to and from it… And the Whole Foods crammed to the rafters with good US beer… And the street cars… And the ubiquitous great street grub… And with more taxes… on top of higher prices… Sigh.

Actually, Victoria IS great, and boasts one of Canada’s few honest-to-goodness brewery districts. Don’t believe me? Well, what if I were to tell you that a single square kilometre of Viccy-land contains four breweries and three brewpubs? That’s equal to all of Vancouver, and it’s crammed within easy stumbling distance. That’s a density that matches the best Portland has to offer.

For those not in the know, the area is Rock Bay (roughly), and the breweries are Driftwood, Hoyne, Phillips and Vancouver Island. The brewpubs are Moon Under Water, Canoe and Swan’s. Ok, ok. Vancouver technically has six breweries and four brewpubs, but Parallel 49 isn’t up and running yet, and are we really counting Molson & Pat’s Pub? Really? Is Pat’s even still making that swill they call pilsner?

And those establishments are scattered all over the city. A mere 1.6km separates Swan’s and Driftwood, the two most distant contributors to this area’s awesomeness. And 1-2km over the bridge to the west are Spinnaker’s and Lighthouse, making a slight excursion worth while. You could easily walk to more of these hit locations than your liver would like you to. In Vancouver, you’d definitely need a cab. Or five. And good luck with that.

So, where am I going on my expedited two day skip-n-jump through barley-land? I’ve made a short list, but not being native to the rock (well, that part of the rock at least) I’ve likely missed out on some stuff. But here it is:


Hoyne — I definitely have to check out BC’s latest craft brewery. They’re just starting to crank out beer, and the early reviews are good. Sean Hoyne learnt his craft over at Swan’s, and those are some serious good beer credentials. Also, they have a slick website and some great bottle art. I love shit like that. I’ll be cruising by during their regular hours Saturday to take in a flight of the goods and likely buy a growler.

Phillips — Phillips also maintains regular Saturday hours with a growler bar. While I’m not a huge fan of many of their regular beers, they have a habit of making some nice smaller run ales (thinking of Hoperation, Krypton, etc).

Lighthouse — These guys, though, do not normally open the doors on the weekends. And that’s where being an internationally renowned beer blogger comes in handy. Dean McLeod himself will be coming out to give me a mini tour, which I can only hope will involve his being distracted long enough for me to sample all the current Small Brewery, Big Flavour beers in production.

Driftwood — What trip to Victoria would be complete without at least hugging the outside of Driftwood Brewing? Luckily, I can get all up inside that biatch, as Jason Meyer will be meeting me on Sunday to let the fox into the henhouse. As Gord as my witness, I swear my intentions are not to club Jason unconscious and load all the 2012 Singularity into the back of my truck. This is absolutely not a thing that will ever happen. (Just kidding Jason; I’m perfectly harmless–unless you count the smell)

Totally unrelated: these are now only $9.99 via mail-order!


Spinnakers — This is where, many years ago, I had my first sip of truly great beer. I can’t go to Victoria without stopping by to have a pint and watch the bay go by.

Swan’s — Believe it or not, I have actually never had a pint here. This will be remedied; I intend to sit on the patio and people watch over a pint of good bitter, just like all those backpackers.

Canoe — Again with the brewpubs I haven’t been to! It’s even sadder in this case, as Canoe’s beers are much harder to come by on the mainland versus Swan’s.

Moon Under Water — The Moon brews a style of beer that is sadly lacking in general availability: low ABV session ales. To be honest, I fully expect most of my take-back allotment to Vancouver to be comprised of MUB ales. And yes, there is an allotment. There’s no border I need to cross, but there is a trunk that needs to not drag on the pavement.

I will also aim to visit the Cook St Liquor Store and The Beagle, but honestly these 48 hours are starting to sound a bit packed. Have I missed any awesome beer-themed spot that only the locales know about?

Written by chuck

January 16th, 2012 at 10:59 am

Open Letter to the BC Liquor Distribution Branch

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Dear BC LDB,

Hi there. I’m Chuck. Although you might remember me better as the guy who occasionally comes in to your stores and buys a big bag of local craft beer. I also sometimes hang out in the beer section and give advice to other curious beer purchasers when your staff shrugs off their requests for help. As well, the folks at the customer service desk might know me as the stubborn bastard that insists upon putting in custom orders for cases of Oregon beer, even though it costs ten dollars a bottle. Ten dollars! Imagine all the Molson I could get for that! (And yes, this is a conversation I have had with a CSR at the LDB).

So now that we’re past the introductions and pleasantries, let’s get to the real meat of this here letter: What gives with your attitude towards beer? No, really? What’s the fucking deal? Why do your CSRs try and talk me out of my purchase, or act like I’m insane when I talk to other clients about beer aged in oak barrels? Why does your website spend the vast majority of its time promoting new wines, exotic wines, and wine/food pairings, and basically ignore beer (8/8 current promotions are for wine)? Why is your current product consultant staff count 44, each with a nice bio about how much they love wine and how they can help you love wine, and only 1 of those 44 even felt it appropriate to mention the word “beer” (and even then only in the vaguest terms)?

I’ve been buying beer in this province for twenty years now, from around three dozen different stores, and the attitude towards beer has always been the same: beer is a bulk commodity sold to uninformed, un-savvy, low-class consumers. After all, if those that buy beer knew anything at all they’d be buying wine, amiright or amiright? Recently I’ve decided to push this perception a little further and even go so far as to ask store staff to recommend a beer for a spicy Thai dinner I was purportedly having that night. This type of recommendation should be Beer Basics 101. I’ve only done this four times, so the results are as preliminary as they are discouraging: two recommended quite literally the closest beer to us (both macros), one recommended Alexander Keith’s (which, as an IPA, is at least in the right direction). The fourth? She recommended wine, presumably because beer pairs with idiots and football, not food.

Truth be told, though, it’s an absolute BITCH to do this with wine bottles.

Now, let me get this straight, each of those folks about were kind, nice, and patient. And I do believe that they honestly tried to help to the best of their abilities. The trick is that they had no abilities due to having had no training.

I could understand this wine-myopia if perhaps it was where all your business was. But that’s just not the case. By your own numbers your business is quite obviously primarily about selling beer. Beer is responsible for 71% of the product going out the door by volume, and 40% of the cash coming in said door*. Yes, a lot of that is for macro beer, but macros saw a year over year drop in popularity while local craft brewers increased 19% in the same period. In a market where booze sales in general are hurting, craft beer is consistently increasing. Don’t believe me? Look at the past few quarters on that page. Pretty much every other liquor is flat or going up slightly at best. Local craft beer is +18% at worst and +40% at best.

Again, let me stress this: In a market where it’s getting to be harder and harder to compete for consumer dollars, you have one retail segment that is showing persistent, strong gains and interest from your clients. So why do you not only completely ignore that segment, but seemingly actively strive to hurt it? Why can’t you work with your dedicated sub-industry of craft beer importers to bring something interesting to your shelves? Oh yeah, I forgot: beer has to be cheap in order to sell to the unwashed masses, and have you seen that Upright stuff? It’s like $15 a bottle. You could get a bottle of WINE for that! Sure, it’s cheap, horrible wine, but at least it’s not beer!

I mean, it’s OK for every other alcohol product to be expensive. Just not beer. Because it won’t sell. Or something. This attitude persists despite the huge, booming craft beer store industry who seemingly stock nothing BUT $15/bottle product. Or at least they’d love to, if they could keep it on the shelves. But yeah, that shit won’t fly at the LDB because… um… uh… aliens, I guess?

Take a close look at the maximum price you can pay for each of the LDB’s three product categories, and you see where you’ve slotted beer in your lineup:

Spirits: $23333 per litre ($17500 for 750ml of Highland Park 50y)
Wine: $5800 per litre ($4350 for 750ml of Chateau Lafite Rothschild ’08)
Beer: $12.25 per litre ($7.95 for 650ml of Tree Double Hop Head)

So yeah, the LDB’s position appears to actually be that someone is more likely to spend $17500 for a bottle of (what is no doubt very nice) scotch rather than spend over $8 for a bottle of beer. Despite that exact thing happening thousands of times every day at dozens of stores all over the province. How long have you guys had that single bottle of Highland Park in stock for, again?

Ok, I’m done (for now at least). However, don’t just take this as a one way dialogue. I’m legitimately curious about the LDB’s strategy here. You guys no doubt have dozens of savvy admen and marketing types with a much better understanding of the retail space than I have. So what’s the story here? Is handing the craft beer market over to the LRSs wholesale an actual strategy?


Chuck (the guy that has poured literally THOUSANDS of dollars into your competitors’ pockets)

* Yes, that’s gross income, not profit. So perhaps beer isn’t profitable? Without the LDB giving us the numbers it’s very hard to tell.

Written by chuck

January 10th, 2012 at 11:59 am

Posted in Beer and You

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January Beer of the Month

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Yup, it’s a new year already. You can tell because people are hauling their groggy asses off of the floors of their apartments before noon for the first time in a few weeks. Another good tip-off that a calendar rollover of some sort has recently occured is that I’m taking a whole post to laud praise on whatever seasonal release Driftwood is throwing our way this month.

Now, I didn’t get into the blogging business to be a credible journalist. In fact, those of you that know me probably spit up your coffee a bit at that sentence (or threw up a bit in your mouth, it’s really a matter of how well you know me). And, as such, I’m not overly interested in being considered an objective eye on the beer scene. However, my near-ubiquitous and nigh-constant shovelling of acclaim at a certain brewery in Victoria has even gotten me suspicious of my own motives.

But what’s a beer geek to do? They keep producing good beer, and I keep liking it. So here goes. The January Beer of the Month is, of course, Driftwood Old Cellar Dweller 2011.

But this is the 2009 label. Yeah, I’m just that lazy.

This is a great barley wine, and one that will improve for years to come. I recently did a vertical tasting of the 2009, 2010 and 2011 OCDs, and the ’09 came out on top and provided a great preview of what the ’11 might be in two years time. (The ’10, which still a great beer, just couldn’t keep up)

And the best part is that Driftwood made giant freaking buckets of this stuff, so it’s not hard to find like their other seasonals, and it doesn’t sell out very fast, if at all. Get out there, buy it, and drink it folks.

Now, as a personal favour, Driftwood, if you’re listening, could you guys produce something completely horrible, just so I can sound more balanced? I dunno, perhaps decant a single 650ml of Fat Tug just after the boil and call it the “Barley Mowat Journalistic Integrity Special Release” or something.

Written by chuck

January 4th, 2012 at 11:26 am

Posted in Beers

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