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CAMRA Spring Sessional Fest of Ale Summary

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This past Saturday saw my shadow at the London Pub on Main for the above-titled event. For a good general review of the event, plus lots of pics and even an interview with Lighthouse’s Dean Mcleod, go over to www.vancouverbeerblog.com for Leo’s summary. For a embittered, profanity strewn, alcohol-blurred rough summary of things that most likely didn’t even happen that day, read on.

First off, let’s talk about the idea as a whole. An event to showcase a style of beer which is not exactly popular with the public? Fuck yeah, now THIS is what I’m talking about. Sub 4.0% brews are getting harder and harder to find these days, and while I absolutely am in favour of the higher octane productions like Driftwood’s Singularity, I would also like the option of being able to finish a bottle of beer after work and not get into a fight with the dog. (He was looking at me funny. All smug and superior. Like he’s saying “Look how I can lick my balls! You can’t do this, but you want to!” Fuck you, dog. C’m ‘ere. I’m a-gonna teach you to lick yer ballsh….. WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME?!?)

CAMRA took this notion and made it even harder, with a 3.5% ABV limit for judging consideration (higher ABV ales could still show up, but couldn’t win any titles). So yeah, an afternoon to showcase the lighter side of beer absolutely gets my support.

Second, execution. Even a hard-nosed, perfectionist bastard like me has to strain to find anything seriously wrong with how this one was pulled off. Cheap entry? Check. Awesome mini-nonic glassware? Check. Large sample size (a 1/2 pint!)? You’d better fucking believe that gets a check. Even the refill price of $2.50 seems great when you realize it’s not the usual 5oz glass but twice that. About my only gripe is that the “wall of casks,” while admittedly something we’d all like in our living rooms, made for a confusing refill procedure. Too often the patrons and even the servers were unsure of which beer was where, and things slowed down resulting in a massive queue. I noticed a few folks getting a beer then simply walking to the back of the line in order to arrive at the counter just as they ran out.

Now for the beers themselves. There were 18 in total, ranging from fantastic to foul. The restrictions in place lend themselves primarily to ordinary and best bitters, a style that is not popular here in Vancouver. Four brewers tried for it, and wound up with four very different beers. This is the kind of shit I love about beer festivals. Anyways, here are my highlights:

  • Barley Station — Damon’s Mild Ale
    My choice for best in show, a delightful beer with plenty o’ flavour.
  • Big Ridge — Tariq’s Pale Bitter
    Damned good, and an alternate for best in show.
  • Big River — Claire’s Northern English Brown Ale
    A solid mild dark with enough flavour to stay interesting over several pints.
  • Whistler BrewHouse — Dave’s Berliner Weisse
    A swing and a miss, my friend. Downright astringent and nigh undrinkable unless in curiosity sizes.
  • Coal Harbour — Daniel’s Saison
    OK, I get it. New brewery and first batch. You want to take part in the fest. I admire that. But please finish your beer before showing up. I know it was rushed, but not everyone will pick up on that, and now they hate your beers.
  • Granville Island Taphouse — Vern’s Ordinary Bitter
    I think I found the source of the hop shortage. I liked this beer, but it is a bit inaccessible, and definitely out of whack for the style.
  • Lighthouse — Dean’s Light American Wheat Ale
    Sorry Dean. Too light. I got in line for another beer before I was done because I’d confused drinking this beer with breathing.
  • Moon Under Water — Ron & Don’s Best Bitter
    Solid best bitter, and my first taste of Moon Under Water’s ales. I am coming to Victoria because of this beer. Now you guys have really fucked up.
  • Noble Pig — David’s Honey Badger Pale Ale
    I HATE beers with honey in them. But not this beer, for some reason. In fact, it’s really quite good. This confuses and intrigues me. And makes me horny. Is that wrong?
  • R&B — Brent’s Blood Orange Berliner Weisse
    Shine on you crazy diamonds. I love insane beers, and this absolutely was one. Insane doesn’t mean good, or honestly even sufferably bad, but I still loved this beer.
  • Russell — Anders & Jack’s Ordinary Bitter
    My alternate for best in show. A fantastic session bitter. Please make this again.
  • Russell — Session Brett Pale Ale
    Please don’t make this again, or at least take the “Brett” out of the title so as to not get my hopes up.

Not mentioned: Cannery, Central City, Steamworks, Taylor’s Crossing, Tin Whistle, YBC. As best I could tell, these were just normal production ales from each of the breweries poured into a cask-shaped vessel and then served. No effort equals no reward, my friends. Bzzzt. End of game. Thanks for playing.

And yes, I know Iain from YBC at least dry-hopped his Pale Ale with some Sorachi Ace he had lying around. There is no other way to say this, and everyone else seems too polite to do this, so it falls to me.

Iain: Stop bloody dry-hopping your ales and calling it a day. Yes, dry-hopped in-cask ales can be nice, but you know what else can go in a cask? ANYTHING ELSE. I’ve had virtually every single one of your beers dry-hopped with virtually every single strain of hops known to man. Please please please please branch out a bit. You’re a super nice guy, and you can brew really quite good beers. Remember the CAMRA awards from VCBW last year? Makes us proud again.

I know producing a cask every week can get tiresome, and sometimes it’s Wednesday night, you’re tired, and have to be up early to take the kids to soccer practice, but RESIST the temptation to just draw down whatever is in the conditioning tank at that moment, toss in some left-over hops, and call it a day. Conditioning with brett? YES, DO MORE OF THAT, but also mix it up. Throw some fruit in there and re-pitch it, how about oak chips, peat, seaweed? I dunno, even try PEEING in the fucking thing. ANYTHING.

Phew. I’m out of breath.

Lastly, ever wonder what my beer tasting notes would look like if I was on ecstasy for the whole festival? No? Well screw you, here it is anyway. It’s not me, but my friend Jenn, and I swear to gord she’s like this ALL THE TIME.


Click for all the insanity.
Yes, all of it.

Written by chuck

April 20th, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Beer Fest is Best

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CAMRA has finally posted pricing and details for the Spring Sessional Fest of Ale. You can find the deets here. Yes, I said deets. Live with it. Deets.

The general breakdown is as follows:

Date: April 16th
Venue: London Pub
Time: 11/12 until the beer runs out
Price: $10?!?! Sweet Jebus that’s cheap!
Price incls: Tasting glass, 1 ticket
Refills: $2.50 each

The split start time reflects a desire to let the first 100 pre-sale tickets in a bit early to enjoy all the beer without all the crowds. However, 100 people + The London Pub = crowd. And don’t pretend this won’t sell out and that you’ll be able to walk up at noon, buy a ticket and get in. These things are as popular as the Bubonic Plague and only getting more so (yeah, I know that people don’t like the plague, but popular doesn’t always mean that you like it–look it up).

Not all breweries have been announced, but those that are on the list look good, including my chance to expand my BC Beer experience by two BrewPubs I have yet to visit: Moon Under Water and Noble Pig.

So get on over there and buy yourself a ticket. Right away! Schnell! Hell, at $10 each I’m tempted to buy 50 or so to actually create the type of quiet beer enjoyment & reflection from 11 to 12 hinted at by CAMRA.

Written by chuck

March 23rd, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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CAMRA Spring Fest of Ale

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The craft beer movement has brought us a slew of excellent beers and some entirely new styles, but virtually all these new beers are heavy, high alcohol numbers. I suspect this is an instinctive reflex away from the low alcohol light beers so favoured by the shit beer fans. And rightly so. If you claim something sucks, then logically something you like will be rather different, right?

Well, not always so. Light alcohol beers absolutely have a place in the craft beer aficionado’s stable of fine ales. Please note, though, that I said “light alcohol” and not “light flavour” or even “light calorie” (although a lot of beer’s caloric hit is from the booze itself).

In fact, many of the more familiar beer styles these days have their origin in post-work, low-alochol versions more aimed at refreshment than starting fistfights. Styles such as the Irish Stout, Saison and English Bitter all could typically be found with sub 4% booze content, to enable one to have a pint or two after work and still be able to find your way home.

These styles have all been augmented recently to up both the flavour and alcohol away from “refreshing” and more into the “rocket fuel” territory. For instance, I have recently had a 8% beer (Lighthouse Deckhand) that was still called a regular “Saison” (as opposed to Imperial or Double), and there are similar examples for all of the above (and other original low-alochol styles not mentioned).

Where am I going with this? Well, it’s been a while since I’ve pimped for CAMRA, so here we go. CAMRA is putting together their Spring Fest of Ale, and to make things interesting they’ve made the focus light alcohol (sub 3.5%) “session ales.” This is a style of beer that I’ve been searching for in vain for quite some time, so it will absolutely be interesting to see what the local brewers can conjure up for our consumption.

With the low ABV theme, it might even be possible to sample all the entrants and remain reasonably objective!

The event kicks off on April 16th at CAMRA’s standard Friday haunt (The London Pub). Pricing, breweries, and hours have yet to be announced, but there have been a few murmurs on twitter about beers being prepped.

See y’all there.

Written by chuck

March 8th, 2011 at 10:18 am

Posted in Beer and You

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