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Feature Beer: GIB Swing Span

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With the recent management changeover at Granville Island Brewing comes an even more recent change in marketing direction. Instead of keeping up tradition by producing large volumes of dreck in small bottles, and small volumes of great beer in large bottles, they’ve decided to mix things up by making okay beer in small bottles.

In fact, GIB’s first entry in the new “Under the Bridge” series, Swing Span Amber, isn’t just “okay.” It actually borders on “quite good.” A good beer from Molson in a 12oz bottle? Quelle surprise. For the newbies out there, that “Molson” back there isn’t a typo.

Not only is GIB owned by Creemore Springs who is, in turn, owned by Molson, but this beer was brewed in that giant building at First and Burrard with “MOLSON” written across the side of it. It was also brewed by Molson brewers, in massive 300 hectolitre tanks, between batches of Canadian. That’s pretty much makes it Molson beer.

Up until now that’s been a recipe for disaster, but not this time. This batch of Swing Span is a hoppy rich red ale that places a bulls-eye squarely on Parallel 49’s number one seller Gypsy Tears. P49’s beer is a superior offering, but Swing Span is not too far behind.

In fact, this beer is good enough that I will even forgo extensively raking Molson over the coals for the disingenuous title of the series. This beer was no more brewed “Under the Bridge” than Turning Point’s beer was brewed in “Stanley Park.” In fact, the style is also a lie. There’s nothing Amber Ale about this beer. It’s a full on Cascadian Red Ale… which is better, so I guess that one’s okay.

Why feature it, though, if it’s not even the best Cascadian Red Ale out there? Well, it shows that Molson, of all people, is capable of producing pretty darn good beer. After years of taking great recipes from GIB’s microbrewery on Granville Island and turning them into the insipid booze-water GIB became famous for, they finally did something right.

This could be a game changing beer, folks, especially if it sells well. Pay close attention to this one, because you know Molson is. Shit’s about to get real.

APPEARANCE Deep red/brown. High carb, long lasting thing head.
NOSE Rich malt, lots of hops. Some minerality.
TASTE Aggressively hopped up front with a chewy mid. Ends with a harsh minerality/metalicness
STATS 5.6% ABV / 45 IBU / Cascadian Red Ale
SHOULD I BUY IT? You know what? Yeah. You should. I’m as surprised by that recommendation as you are, frankly.
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Brewery Granville Island
From Vancouver
Name Swing Span
Style Red Ale
SOA Now Bronze
SOA Potential n/a
Drink Now
Wait, GIB makes good beer now? Well, this one.
Availability Widespread
Cost $12.25+ per 6x12oz
Similar Beers Parallel 49 Gypsy Tears, Lighthouse Siren

 


Wait a second… did I just give an SOA to Molson? What’s going on here?
Is this backwards world? Will Four Winds release a riced-up, watered down light lager next?

Written by chuck

May 22nd, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with

A Brewer is Me

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Last Tuesday, I had the singular pleasure of being invited down to Granville Island Brewing to create a beer of my own deviant concoction. Why would GIB, or anyone really, do such a thing? To be honest, GIB’s hoping to score some free publicity from me. You see, they’ve recently installed a growler station down on the island, and it’s not getting all the traffic they’d hope. Throw an impending Brewery Lounge Endorsement on the deal, and the thinking is that having ole Chuck along will get folk talking about things.

Sure, there’s a chance that I might see through the ruse and keep mum on the topic, but let’s face it: I’m me, and I have a huge ego. Any external validation of that ego is going to be splashed all over the internet as fast as possible.


Exhibit A.

When GIB approached me about doing a collaboration brew I was, to be honest, confused. Collaborations are typically done between breweries or restaurants, and upon brief reflection I discovered that I was neither of those things. Imagine my shock when, after informing GIB of that sad discovery, they were will still interested.

I sat down with GIB’s brewmaster Vern Lambourne in early November to discuss some ideas. I went in with several ideas queued up because I fully expected any sane commercial brewer like Vern to refuse to pursue my primary concept. It’s everything a profit-focused company like GIB should want to avoid in a beer: a strange style, expensive to make in terms of both time and materials, involves potential brewery-infecting Brettanomyces, and above all, this beer is more prone than usual to going sideways and turning out virtually undrinkable.

However, Vern loved the idea, and a Barley Mowat original was born. The beer in question is a malt-forward golden/pale ale, aged on Brettanomyces in used wine barrels. That noise you heard was every beer geek around you quivering in expectant glee, then awkwardly skulking towards the bathroom. I’m not full of myself here: this style of beer could be mouth-wateringly amazing, if it comes out right. The “if” is the trick: thousands of competing variables will all conspire to make my beer into rancid swill. Choosing this style of beer is risky, but if you somehow luck yourself into an at-bat in MLB, you don’t freaking bunt.


Likewise, if you’re handed the controls of a fireworks display, you logically mash all the buttons at once.

Let’s talk about making the beer. I started writing this section as a blow-by-blow account of how my beer was made. I abandoned this effort when I had the double realization that my beer was made just like every other beer on the planet, and that describing it had resulted in the most boring blog post this site has ever seen, even including that one where I got really baked and just talked about my hands for 5000 words.

Screw that. Select all, delete, problem solved. If you want to know how beer is made, there are a million better stories online, some even with cool videos. Better you go read/watch those then listen to some half-wit who literally brewed his first beer ever 48 hours ago.

Instead of the similarities, let’s focus on what makes my beer different, and let’s start with the recipe. For those of you following along at home with your own 10bbl brewhouse, the grain bill is: 2-row Pale Malt (207.1 kg), Munich 10 (24.2kg) and Cara 20 (10.9kg). All the grain was sourced from Gambrinus, and all the grain was heavy.


Luckily there was a gormless idiot at the brewery willing to lift it into the mill.

I wanted to keep the hop profile low on this guy, so two German hops were chosen in modest volumes. For bittering we picked Magnum (400g), and Perle got the nod for aroma (1500g). As a side note, every time you see “we” or “I” in this article please convert that into “Vern, because Chuck knows nothing about brewing.” I use we/I more for shorthand and convenience than anything else.


Bittering hop addition.
Needless to say, this isn’t an IPA.

All in all, things went fairly well, and I had more fun that I figured possible when participating as manual labour in what is, after all, an industrial manufacturing process. I also found the tips and tricks of the actual brewing process as executed by Vern at Granville Island to be insightful and enlightening. It’s all well and good to know that lautering involves straining the spent grain from the wort, but it’s another thing entirely to actually see the process executed in front of you.


And to also execute the removal of 550lbs of spent grain.

As you read this, the wort is slowly being converted into beer by the healthy culture of scotch ale yeast that now calls unitank #3 home. Once fermentation is complete (and after a suitable pause in a bright tank), the proto-beer will be racked to four barrels of used wine barrels from Red Rooster.

Into the barrels will be pitched two varieties of Brettanomyces (two barrels per strain). B. clausenii and B. lambicus get the nod here. The hope is that B. clausenii will add fruity esters and aroma while leaving the heavy lifting of getting Da Funk on to its loutish cousin B. lambicus.

Each barrel will produce a cask, giving some potential for big variation for Chuck’s Beer a la cask. The tap version, though, will be the result of all of the above blended.

So there you go, that’s my beer in a nut shell. All it needs is a name (although I do like this rendering on Twitter as an early front runner). I’ll post updates on Twitter, and maybe even a bigger update here when I have enough info. For now, though, I’ll leave you with this shot of my precious being oxygenated en route to primary.


Sometimes O2 in a beer is a good thing.

Written by chuck

January 30th, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with ,

Parallel 49 Robo Ruby, Granville Island Auld Skool

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Nothing like a couple of big, malt-heavy beers to battle it out for my winter booze budget. It seems like only yesterday that I was pining for the return of thicker beers to the market and here I am reviewing two of them. Sure, this might have something to do with it being winter, but I’m dumb like that, and haven’t yet pinned down a season-to-beer-style correlation. Instead I’ll just choose to believe that my asking for big malt beers last summer has directly caused those same beers to appear this winter.


Speaking of which,
where are all the light refreshing lagers at?

Parallel 49 Robo Ruby

First up, yet another seasonal issue from Parallel 49’s never-sleeping one-off brew crew. Somehow they find time to take breaks from brewing Hoparazzi, Old Boy and Gypsy Tears 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to crank out a never-ending stream of unique bombers. There’s honestly no better way to tweak the two-sizes too-small heart of your local curmudgeonly beer geek than to constantly flood the market with interesting beer. Sure, not every release they’ve put out has been an amazing success, but that’s to be expected from the shotgun approach to beer styles: try a few dozen, see what works, refine, reiterate.

The bottle says “Red IPA” but I’ll call this an Imperial Red Ale, if only so I can compare it to Lighthouse Siren. Why would I do that? Quite simple: to have an excuse to purchase both of these excellent ales and drink them side by side in the name of science.

That I would even bother performing such an experiment means I’m unsure which is better, and now that I have done so I’m no further enlightened. Both are absolutely great beers, and deserving of some shelf space in your fridge. Siren is the maltier, boozier* of the pair, while Robo comes through with a complex hop profile to scratch that Humulus itch. (* Boozier in taste, not ABV)

Sure, the current canned Siren hasn’t quite lived up to how great I recall the original release being, but of course very few things are as good as we remember them. For instance, I recall early dial-up BBSs being perfection embodied: pure, simplistic delight at the thought of a connection to the outside work. Frankly, the modern internet simply cannot hold a candle to those early days.


Oh wait, yes it can

APPEARANCE Deep amber red/auburn. Long lasting, thick head.
NOSE Caramel malt with a giant double fist of big sweet hops. Cantaloupe, kiwi, jackfruit. Wow.
TASTE Wow again. Seriously impressive sugar complexity that plays very well with the sweet fruitiness of the hops. Alcohol definitely present, but only serves to intensify rather than distract.
STATS 9.3% ABV / 60 IBU / Red DIPA
SHOULD I BUY IT? Hells yes. This might be in the top ten of P49’s one-offs thus far.
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Granville Island Auld Skool

I’m an unabashed fan of the work being done down on Granville Island by Vern Lambourne. Perhaps this is because of the fact that I will be there next week to brew some Barley Mowat Official Unnamed Beer, or maybe the reasoning is vice versa. In any event, I don’t lose my bashfulness for a brewery without reason.

The reason, in this case, is excellent beer. Vern has always taken pride in running an interesting one-off program from his modest 10 hl brewhouse under the bridge (which is, admittedly, a show-brewery for tourists that has as little to do with GIB’s normal beers as flavour does). However, is it just me or has Vern seriously upped his game in recent months?

Starting around mid-summer with Pucker Meister, the beers produced there have gone from “competently brewed, overlooked and underrated” to “seriously good and WHY IS NO ONE TALKING ABOUT THIS??!”

Stacked on top of those releases is this year’s GIB Scotch Ale, rechristened under their new naming/branding scheme as “Auld Skool.” This is, quite simply, one of the best Scotch Ale’s produced in BC. The colour is perfect, the carbonation is perfect, the mouthfeel and spicy finish? You guessed it, perfect. Perhaps some more pronounced smokiness would enhance things a wee bit more, but then again, maybe I should leave the recipes to the brewmaster.

APPEARANCE Dark brown, almost black. Thin persistent off-tan head.
NOSE Caramel malt with a spicy end-note.
TASTE Complex sugar caramel with a spicy finish. Lovely.
STATS 6.5% ABV / 20 IBU
SHOULD I BUY IT? Yup. Track this guy down and give the friendly clerk your money.
CHECK IN

Coles notes:

Brewery Parallel 49 Granville Island Taphouse
From Vancouver Vancouver
Name Robo Ruby Auld Skool
Style Imperial Red Ale Scottish Strong Ale
SOA Now Silver Bronze
SOA Potential n/a n/a
Drink Now Now
Availability Most LRSs, some LDBs and at the brewery
Cost ~$7 / 650ml ~$6/ 650ml
Similar Beers Lighthouse Siren Russell Wee Heavy Scotch (ish)


Gonna need a new run of Silver SOAs at this rate

Written by chuck

January 21st, 2014 at 3:15 pm