Barley Mowat 

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Victoria – Full of Beer

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Here in Vancouver we’re sadly a bit removed from the actual amber ambrosia we like to consume so readily. Sure, we have two fully functional local craft breweries in R&B and Storm, but honestly folks, what percentage of your BC beer diet is by those guys? I rarely pick up R&B products in quantities less than 50 litres (aside from East Side), and Storm doesn’t bottle at all.

Take a look in your fridge, or on the shelves of your local LRS, and you’ll see that the majority of what we consider good local beer is actually produced in Victoria. Hence my decision to go there and have a look around.

Before we get into the details, here are my general observations for those not inclined to reading my War-and-Peace length ramble about this trip.

1/ As always, brewers and the people in the brewery industry are the happiest, friendliest people you’ll ever meet. I guess it makes sense, since very few people get into brewing if they don’t like beer. And beer makes you happy (it’s a fact!).

2/ Two of the breweries I visited were started when employees of another local brewer up and left to do their own thing. This is a good thing: a younger generation learns the trade and then goes out on its own to create their own take on things, and then hire on employees who learn the trade and go out on their own… The net result is that the speed of new breweries opening is only accelerating.

3/ Everyone is expanding. Both Lighthouse and Driftwood are eagerly eying up neighbours with expiring leases, and Hoyne is the result of the industry expanding itself. This is the result of craft beer sales growing at a much faster rate than breweries can scale up. There’s room for everyone!

4/ Growlers are everywhere in Victoria. In my short time at Phillips I’d estimate that easily two dozen growlers went out the door. Hoyne shipped less actual growlers, but more if you take into account the difference in brewery size. With the number of good breweries in Vancouver recently doubling, I wonder if we’ll see something similar soon?

5/ Driftwood is thinking of getting on the growler/tasting room bandwagon. Some of that expansion space referenced above may (*may*) go towards a storefront, but maybe that thought is because Jason hasn’t opened the latest issue of Used Wine Barrels Monthly and gone on a buying spree.

6/ I’d said that I somehow manage to miss Swan’s every time I’m over there, and sadly this visit was no different. Sorry guys.

7/ Rumour has it that Driftwood and Hoyne might team up to host a GCBF after party in their shared parking lot. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

8/ Also noted on the Phillips tour: a shiny new canner. Look for Phillips’ lesser beers to start showing up in cans soon.

Okay, summary over. Now for the details. I had about one and a half days to be a beer geek on holiday, and here’s how I spent that time.

Stop One: Spinnakers — Oh, it’s been too long. I was a bit worried about this one, as I’d read recently that the food and service might have gone downhill a bit. Utter tosh, I tells ya. Both food and service was excellent, the beer was as I remember it (good) and it turns out the view of the bay was still there. The prices are a bit higher than I remember, but I thought it was worth every penny. The beer market might be moving more towards specialty beers, but I believe Spinnakers will continuing selling good british pub ales until the world ends.

Stop Two: Lighthouse — A private tour of a brewery? Okay! Dean McLeod met me on Saturday to give me a quick look, and I think he was more excited to show off his babies than I was to taste them. Sadly, all but one bottle of Belgian Black had already left the building by the time I arrived, but luckily that one bottle was for me.

Dean also shared a sample of a one-off project straight from the conditioning tank, and talked at length about his hopes for the Small Brewery, Big Flavour series. The idea is to start using New Zealand hops more and more (and man there were NZ hops everywhere), with the goal of establishing their unique flavour as Lighthouse’s calling card. When asked what was next, Dean indicated that Lighthouse will be expanding into a neighbouring space and hopefully starting a barrel program. I hope you guys do, too.


Sure, it’s insipid beer, but it keeps Dean in hops and barrels.

Stop Three: Hoyne — The new guys on the block. How new? They have only just managed to start shipping out bottled product, and one of their beers isn’t even ready for market yet. I know because Sean Hoyne let me try it straight from the conditioning tank (but in another few weeks it’ll be great).

When I was leaving Lighthouse I pulled Dean aside and frankly asked: “Hoyne is next. Are they worth a damn?” Dean had yet to try their beer and thus tactfully declined to answer, so let me answer that question: Yes, they are.

The beer market in BC is maturing, and with that comes a trend towards more specialty beers (think Double Imperials, Sours, Lambics, etc). This is a good thing, and I love it, but where do you go if you want a nice lager with dinner? Or a simple pale ale? These table beers are being left behind as the market matures, and into this space comes Hoyne Brewing.

Are their products the best Pilsner, Pale Ale or IPA I’ve ever tasted? No. Not even close (although their Pils really is quite good). Is it good beer at a reasonable price that you don’t feel guilty about knocking back over pasta? Yes, yes they are. I’ll be buying lots of beer from Sean, and so is everyone else; while I was there the front did a decent growler business, and Vintage Spirits stopped by to top off their stock–only a few days after receiving the first shipment.

The only problem I foresee here is expansion. Sure, they only just opened up, but Sean’s fermenters and conditioning tanks so massively outclass his brewing kit (3 brews to the fermenter) that it will prove to be a major choke point. If they are as popular as I think they’ll be, look for supply to be spotty until this is cleared up.


Neither do I, Sean. Neither do I.

Stop Four: Phillips — I have to admit, I thought Lighthouse was a bit small compared to how big I had imagined it in my head. This was not the case at Phillips. Phillips is a huge brewery, brewing vast quantities of frankly mediocre beer (how vast? I’d estimate they easily push out more beer than all the other breweries on this tour combined).

However, they’ve recently completed an interesting collaboration brew with Garrison, and some of their smaller runs beers are honestly decent (Hoperation in particular), so I was happy to stop by and have a look-see. I was given a behind-the-scenes tour by the equally happy Bill (a man with a beard–and therefore beer geek credentials–that made me envious).

The production floor here is cram-packed with huge fermenters and conditioning tanks, plus there’s a row out back of colossal bastards that wouldn’t even fit in the door. This is a big, big brewery. Breweries essentially all look the same on the inside minus one detail: the bottling line. Small breweries have hand-bottlers that do four or eight bottles at a time, but bigger breweries have a massive room-filling line like you’ve seen in Strange Brew. That’s what Phillips has.


They also have a painted wall like you’ve seen in Strange Brew.

Stop Four: Moon Under Water — They were closed until the 25th. Arrrrrgggggghhhhhhh. As I mentioned during last spring’s CAMRA Spring Sessional, MUW was one of my main reasons for coming over. Sigh. Instead, I hit up:

Stop Five: The Beagle — A decent pub with honestly great food (some of the best wings I’ve ever crammed into my wing hole), but the tap list is only alright. Much as I do when I’m stuck in a meh pub in Vancouver, I was forced into drinking Fat Tug all night. Not sure why The Beagle keeps showing up on the Victoria beer geek twitter feed with this in mind.

Stop Six: Driftwood Brewing — Jason Meyer was kind enough to meet me early in the morning (before noon is early for me, man. I barely made it) and give me a tour around their operation. If Phillips was much bigger than I had pictured, Driftwood is much smaller. In fact, they’re smaller than R&B. Despite it being so early, Jason and I had a great beer geek chat about where the brewery is, what they’d like to do in the future, and the BC beer scene in general.

My impression was of a man that takes making quality beer seriously. Perhaps this was because he said as much about a dozen times, but the pile of whiskey barrels looming behind him gave this claim some credibility. The barrels of kriek fermenting in the corner under a blanket also didn’t hurt. Or the desire to become the “Russian River of the North.”

This “inspired by the US” feel was only enhanced when a look inside their cold room revealed (aside from beer, hops and groceries) Cascade Apricot, Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary and Block 15 Pappy’s dark amongst others. This is the beer fridge of a serious beer geek.


Mmmm…. barrel-y.

After Driftwood I would have liked to head over to Swan’s, but the weather conspired against me so a mad dash to the ferries was in order. Good thing, too, because otherwise I wouldn’t have had the chance to sit in a line for 6 hours and then spend the night in Sidney. But hey, at least it was cold and rainy.

Written by chuck

January 26th, 2012 at 3:36 pm

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:

Breweries



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!

Brewpubs



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