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BC Beer Awards — My Take

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The BC Beer Awards occurred last Saturday. As awards ceremonies go, it was a decent one. Organizers requested that folks dress up to give the event a sense of occasion, and about 50% of the audience complied.

Even with 1 in 2 attendees wearing t-shirts and jeans, the effort did give the evening a bit more class, and I approve of the approach. As well, breweries were requested to brew a cask of Purl for a day-of award, and the “multiple-breweries-tackling-the-same-style” type competition is one of my favourites in craft beer.

Plus, my beer won first in the category. Any awards evening that hands me something shiny is clearly a well thought out, perfectly executed event.

What I’d really like to talk about, though, are the awards themselves. I walked out of the event that evening promising both myself and one of the organizers that I wouldn’t write it up because, well, everyone else would beat me to the punch and my story wouldn’t add anything.


Similarly, I could do play by play for this scene, but it wouldn’t make it more awesome.

And yup, everyone else did beat me to the punch. No less than four articles have been posted, but they all just linked to the list of winners. It’s as if they’re taking the list as-is and not giving it any thought. Let me be clear; I don’t have issues with any of the winners, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t interested stories behind the list that should be told.

So, shall we?

The back story is up first. Last year there were about 300 entries. This year that number swelled to 500. On the surface that seems great, and it certainly is indicative of the swelling local craft beer scene. However, more than one event judge commented to me that the number of truly awful beers being submitted also swelled proportionately. More craft beer is being made in BC than ever before, but just because a beer is craft doesn’t mean it’s any good.

Now for the winners, which presumably are good.

Light Lager — 22 Beers Entered
1. Turning Point Brewing — Stanley Park Noble Pilsner
2. Okanagan Spring — 1516 Bavarian Lager
3. Hoyne Brewing Company — Helios Dortmunder Golden Lager

I have comments on all three of these. First, Helios largely flew under the radar when it was released earlier this year, but more than a few beer geeks tried it and noted how frankly excellent this beer was. It’s another hit from Sean Hoyne’s brewery, and underscores his ability to produce quality lagers—a beer style most breweries don’t give much thought.

Okanagan Spring wins, again, for 1516. Craft Beer is here to stay, and arguably OK Spring is on the outside looking in vis-a-vis that scene, but somehow 1516 keeps getting awards. It’s like they know how to brew a light lager or something.

Turning Point placed for their Pilsner. It’s not a bad beer, but seeing a Pilsner in the Light Lager section is a bit confusing. Oh well, I guess there just wasn’t a dedicated Pilsner category.

Pilsner — 22 Beers
1. Steamworks Brewing Company — Steamsworks Pilsner
2. Barley Station Brew Pub — Canoe Creek Pilsner
3. Russell Brewing Company — Lager

Speaking of breweries that Just. Keep. Winning. Steamworks Pilsner pulls down another gold. Good to know that their move to the massive production facility in Burnaby hasn’t hurt their lager production capabilities. Also, Russell makes a lager? Huh.

Special Lager — 17 Beers
1. Tree Brewing Company — Captivator Doppelbock
2. Pacific Western Brewing — Pacific Schwarzbock
3. Persephone Brewing Company — Black Lager

Whoa. Tree wins gold? I thought we’d left Tree in the ditch of the craft beer highway, but here they are pulling down a prize for the always difficult-to-perfect Doppelbock style. Are they back? Have they quietly been making excellent beer this whole time? I’ll have to investigate.

And speaking of breweries pushing past their reputation! Pac West pulls off a showing with their Schwarzbock! Holy crap! Looks like the makers of Cariboo can actually crank out something decent if they try.

Hybrids — 37 Beers
1. Steamworks Brewing Company — Steamworks Brewpub Kolsch
2. Phillips Brewing Company — Slipstream Ale
3. R&B Brewing Company — Sun God Wheat Ale

This list is a bit of a mishmash for me, mostly being comprised of beers I’m fairly familiar with but frankly don’t care for. I’m curious about how these beers tasted on the day of (R&B notably tastes pretty good when fresh), but also what the other 34 beers were. Judging beer is hard work, and I think this category would have been one of the hardest/most interesting of the day.

German Wheat / Rye — 10 Beers
1. Moon Under Water Brewery — This is Hefeweizen
2. Moon Under Water Brewery — Moon Berliner Style Weisse
3. Big Ridge Brewing Company — Big Ridge Dunkleweizen

Moon dominating the German Wheat category should come as no surprise here. Hefeweizens in BC have largely broken into two categories: Big crafty beers that are sugar forward and popular with the masses, and actual hefeweizens brewed by The Moon.

UK Ales — 40 Beers
1. Tin Whistle Brewing Company — Stag Apple Scotch Ale
2. Bowen Island Brewing — Snug Cove ESB
3. Moon Under Water Brewery — Wee Woody

The story here, for me at least, is Bowen Island landing a medal. Bowen isn’t a real brewery; rather, they’re the down-market brand of Northam Group, whose better known up-market brand Whistler Brewing Company notably didn’t place. Bowen Beer comes in cans and generally tastes freaking awful. Maybe it’s time to try their ESB again?

North American Ales — 48 Beers
1. Main Street Brewing Company — Main Street Sessional IPA
2. Phillips Brewing Company — Coulrophobia IRA
3. Rossland Beer Company — Paydirt Pale Ale

And here come the new breweries. Sure, it’s a kitchen junk-drawer of a category (basically all the leftovers that didn’t have enough competition to make their own style-based category), but that makes rising to the top even harder. A subtle beer like Main Street’s low-ABV Sessional isn’t usually a favourite to win such a mass grouping, but there you are.

Porter / Brown Ales — 30 Beers
1. Yellow Dog Brewing Company — Shake a Paw Smoked Brown Porter
2. Powell Street Brewing Company — Dive Bomb Porter
3. Lighthouse Brewing Company — Road Trip Fresh Hopped Dark Ale

Now Yellow Dog shows up, and not for their amazing IPA. Showing that the boys from PoMo can solve beer problems with more options than “add more hops” this is a balanced, nigh perfect Porter. Also of note here is Lighthouse with the only fresh hopped beer to place, and even in a not massively hop-forward category. Maybe the 2014 hops crops weren’t as good as 2013?

Belgian / French — 45 Beers
1. Driftwood Brewing Company — White Bark Witbier
2. Dageraad Brewing — de Witte
3. Four Winds Brewing Company — Juxtapose Brett IPA

I’m surprised by this category, to be honest. White Bark is a nice light wit, but I feel there are better options out there, and those better options are also contained in a notable absence on this short list: Dageraad Blonde. Also, Juxtapose didn’t feature over in the Specialty category, which I find odd.

Vegetable / Spice Beer — 27 Beers
1. Parallel 49 Brewing Company — Lost Souls
2. Howe Sound Brewing — Pumpkineater Imperial Pumpkin Ale
3. Fuggles & Warlock Craftwerks — Bean Me Up Espresso Milk Stout

I guess Howe Sound’s Pumpkineater is back on form then, after spending a year in the “distressing, chemical aftertaste” wasteland. That’s good news. Also, Fuggles & Warlock being able to crack the medal lineup after producing a series of beers I found distressingly homebrewy shows either an improvement in brewing capabilities or random luck. Check back next year for the answer to that query.

Stout — 24 Beers
1. Persephone Brewing Company — Dry Irish Stout
2. Dead Frog Brewing Company — Commander Imperial Stout (2013)
3. Dead Frog Brewing Company — Commander Imperial Stout (2014)

Persephone makes a fine stout, and I feel it could very well be the best in BC. Dead Frog also makes a fine imperial, and Commander was a standout for me when I sampled it. No real complaints here, but I will make mention that for 2015, for some random reason, the BCBA will not allow multiple vintages of the same beer to be submitted. Strange.

North American IPA — 44 Beers
1. High Mountain Brewing Company — 5 Rings IPA
2. Four Winds Brewing Company — Four Winds IPA
3. Central City Brewers and Distillers — Red Racer IPA

Okay. Welcome to The Show. IPAs are the most popular style of beer in North America, and the NA variant is the most popular sub-style of those. Needless to say, pretty much every brewery has an IPA simply due to market demand.

Again, I have no issues with this result. High Mountain is one of those breweries where, when you’re in Whistler, you drink the beer, think “damned that’s great” and then promptly forget all about it the second you blow past Function Junction. Four Winds, on a good day, is deserving of a medal and Central City has frankly been killing it in their new brewery.

For the Tug Heads out there, the absence of Driftwood from this list is likely due to the massive variability that has crept into Fat Tug in recent months. Hopefully Jason figures it out, and restores BC’s King of IPAs to its former glory.

Imperial IPA — 14 Beers
1. Brassneck Brewery — One Trick Pony
2. Central City Brewers and Distillers — Red Racer Imperial IPA
3. Bomber Brewing Company — SuperPest

For a province that loves IPAs as much as we do, we sure suck at DIPAs. There are the occasional great offerings (like Persephone DIPA Batch 1 or One Trick Pony) but usually we’re stuck with the likes of CC or Bomber which, while certainly fine beers, are not as good as you’d hope. For the naysayers, go to the US and grab five DIPAs from the grocery store at random, then report back.

Fruit / Sour — 24 Beers
1. Driftwood Brewing Company — Bird of Prey Flanders Red
2. Parallel 49 — Schwarzwald
3. Brassneck Brewery — Peach Changling

No complaints again (see a theme?) but I’m more excited about imagining what this category will look like next year. Driftwood throwing out the odd sour and Brassneck’s inconsistent Changling series offer some relief for the hard core sour addicts out there, but everyone with a product or interest in this category is quietly biding their time while looking towards Clark and Terminal for the imminent opening of Strange Fellows Brewing. No pressure, Iain.

Strong — 16 Beers
1. Steamworks Brewery — Steamworks Blitzen
2. Townsite Brewing Company — Biere d’Hiver
3. Howe Sound Brewing — Wooly Bugger Barley Wine

So, uh, why aren’t Blitzen and d’Hiver in the Belgian category? As a tripel and dubbel respectively that’s where you think you’d find them. Wooly Bugger? UK style Barley Wine. Sure, it’s based on where the brewers submitted their beers, but maybe that system is flawed?

Specialty — 29 Beers
1. Granville Island Brewing x Barley Mowat — Lost in the Barrels
2. Moon Under Water Brewery — Year 2
3. Parallel 49 — Salty Scot

No comment.

Smoke / Wood — 16 Beers
1. Central City Brewers and Distillers — Thor’s Hammer Barrel Aged
2. Parallel 49 Brewing Company — Braggot
3. Brassneck Brewery — Inertia II

Am I the only one that looks at this list and thinks “Wait! They made the Braggot again?” P49’s Braggot was amazing, and continues to improve. Alas, hopes be darned, this doesn’t indicate an impending batch two. This was an old bottle submitted for judging since it missed the deadline last year. Sigh.

Best in Show — Yellow Dog Smoked Porter

This is the most telling result. Think about it for a second: an upstart brewery out in the wilds of Port Moody, barely two months old, has produced a Best in Show-class beer. They haven’t even dialled in their brewing system yet. Sorry, Steel & Oak, you’re no long the Hot Shit New Brewery. Hope you enjoyed your four months at the top.

Note: People’s Choice, Homebrew, and Purl Cask awards omitted due to lack of snarky commentary.

Written by chuck

October 30th, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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If I Were Judge

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Another year, another BC Beer Awards, another list of results that I can rant about. Sure, I know many of the judges and trust their beer opinions, and I understand that the judging process itself is not perfect but I just wouldn’t be Chuck unless I nitpicked until someone was insulted. So let’s get going.

First up is the Best in Show: Vancouver Island Hermannator. Big surprise: I have no qualms with this beer winning. It’s a gorgeous beer that is a complete outlier compared to the rest of the decidedly down-market beers VIB produces (aka “dreck”).

Now on to specific categories, where I will provide some insights, agree with some awards, shake my head at others, and suggest beers that seem to be missing. Note that the BC Beer Awards did not release the complete list of entrants, or the categories that the brewers put their beers in, so I’m very much ranting in the dark here, as per usual. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but horribly misinformed diatribes are sorta my thing. Notably both Tofino and Storm seem to have decided to sit this one out, but they aren’t the only ones.

Session Lager
Ugh. Really? This category is scarily close to the US’ “American Style Light Lager” in that it’s worded to only include awful beers, then award them a medal. This section’s appearance in 2013 is worrying. To indicate my disdain, I will avoid discussing any of the three awful beers that won.


Although, I wouldn’t object to a “Best Beer Marketed via Body Paint” category, but only because I’m a horrible person with no morals.

Pilsner
Nod: CC Pilsner (1st) – Damned straight this won. Fantastic beer.
Shake: Four Winds – Special Mention? Does this mean a judge wouldn’t shut up about it until they caved an added it as fourth? If so, bravo on you good sir (or madam). Four Winds Pilsner should have been second.

Special Lager
Nod: VIB Hermannator – No qualms here, or with the Best in Show nod. I love this beer, and am cellaring many bottles.
Missing: Parallel 49 Hop-a-fucking-razzi. Thank you.
Missing: 33 Acres Stärke, 33 Acres of Life (I would call both these “Session Lagers” but somehow I do not think this is what that category is for)

Session Ale
I guess the criteria here is “a beer you can drink a lot of”? Not sure this should be a full category, but sure, let’s play the game.
Shake: Nelson Wild Honey – The fuck? I’ve had this beer. It’s awful. Nelson has many other, much better beers.
Shake: Phillips Slipstream – At least the order is right. This is even worse than Nelson Honey.
Missing: Tofino Tuff? Oh yeah, Tofino didn’t enter. Why guys, why?

English Ale
Is anyone else sensing an issue here? Four beers in four styles? With only 14 entries I guess some lumping had to happen, but it’s not fair putting an English IPA up against an English Pale blind. I will assume we’re looking at BCJP Styles 8 (Bitter, Best Bitter, ESB) and 11 (Mild Brown, Southern Brown, Northern Brown) plus English IPAs (14A) but who knows?

Nod: OK Spring showing up here as a Special Mention is curious, but arguably their sugary-sweet Pale Ale is more of a traditional English Ale than any of the actual winners.
Missing: Howe Sound Devil’s Elbow
Missing: R&B East Side Bitter. I think this is the best bitter in the province. There, I said it.

American Ale
At least here’s there’s a BCJP style associated with the category (Style 10), even it’s very broad. 28 entries means there was a lot of variation going on here, although I can’t really argue with the three chosen results.
Nod: Old Yale’s Pale impressed me the last time I had it
Nod: And CC’s Pale disappointed–Still award-worthy, but not the gold magnet of previous years.

Wheat
Shake: Deep Cove Quick Wit – I have tried both Batch 1 and Batch 2 of Deep Cove’s Quick Wit. Batch 1 was a hot mess of a beer, unless of course you like band-aids in your beverage. Batch 2 improved dramatically, but to swing all the way to gold? No way. Unless this is Batch 3, and it improved a likewise amount over Batch 2…

Fruit Beer
No huge issues here. While I’m not a fan of Fernie’s What the Huck, I’m also not a fan of fruit beers in general.
Missing: Howe Sound’s Bumbleberry Ale is rather tasty, but I haven’t seen it in bottles ever, so maybe it didn’t get submitted.

Vegetable / Spice Beer
Ah, the much vaunted pumpkin-beer category. The fact that only 1 such beer placed says something about this year’s crop of pumpkin ales which, I have to admit, I found lacking in general. Maybe it was the pumpkins?
Missing: Parallel 49 Schadenfreude

Special Beer
Nothing like a grab-all category for those misfits that don’t fit in else where. Sure, Special Beer is an official BCJP Category, but it’s the “everything else” category. Somewhat shockingly, I have no issues with the winners here.

Scottish / Irish
Okay, I have issues with the winners here. Dean, I loves ya, but I don’t loves Race Rocks, and I wouldn’t have given it this medal… as a Scottish Ale… seriously, WTF? There is so much wrong with this category that I can’t seriously rule out a misprint.
Missing: Storm Highland Scottish, GIB Irish Red, Russell Wee Heavy or, you know, SCOTTISH AND/OR IRISH BEERS!


Seriously, not one bad kilt pun in the lot?

Brown / Porter
Argh. I cannot stand Philips’ Choco Porter. I find the sweet–almost fake–chocolate confusing in a style that I revere for its roasted, malty bitterness.
Nod: Townsite PowTown. This beer was an early highlight before Townsite dialed-in their brewing process and started making generally great beer. It’s only gotten better.
Missing: Powell Street Dive Bomb, a fantastic beer that has only just now seen serious competition (from Brassneck)

Stout
Nod: Persephone Stout-off. I only had Persephone’s Stout after reading that they won gold. Wow, well deserved guys, that’s a great stout. (Your red ale stinks, though)
Shake: Longwood Stoutnik
Missing: Howe Sound Pothole Filler, Driftwood Singularity

Belgian / Sour Beer
Seriously, could we just break Sour off to its own category and call it the “YBC Oud Bruin v Storm Flanders Red” category? It would save some confusion.
Nod: All three. All three are wonderful beers.
Missing: Storm Flanders Red, Lighthouse Uncharted, Lighthouse Deckhand

IPA
Here we are; welcome to The Show. 34 Entries, more than any other category.
Nod: Can’t argue with anything here, although I have to wonder how fresh that Sartori was.
Missing: High Mountain Five Rings, Lighthouse Switchback, CC IPA

Imperial IPA
I LOVE THAT THIS IS ITS OWN CATEGORY!
Nod: All three are good beers.
Shake: Hopnotist deserved first, but alas they have to judge the beers as presented, and not as they were when released (aka freaking awesome). This beer was best fresh, and has declined ever since.

Strong
Beers that get you there. Barley Wines, Belgian Strongs, and beers that are just generally high ABV and sweet. Not Russian Imperial Stouts or Imperial IPAs though.
Nod: Thor’s Hammer – Had a 2011 last night. Awesome.
Shake: P49 Vow of Silence – Not a bad beer, but not a silver medal. Only 8 entries, though, makes me think of the less common beers weren’t entered.
Missing: Howe Sound Woolly Bugger, Lighthouse Belgian Black

Overall, I think the awards accurately reflected the evolving landscape of BC Craft Beer. Some old stalwarts hung in, Fat Tug won gold, and some newbies took home some bling. As I’m fond of saying, it has never been a better time to be a craft beer fan in Vancouver, and it just keeps getting better.

Written by chuck

October 21st, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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