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VIB Absolute Darkness

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This will be my last BC Beer Review for a few weeks. Adventure calls, and this time it takes the form of South America. I might live-blog about crappy Bolivian beer from a dirty La Paz warehouse during some downtime after being kidnapped, but I’ll likely save it all up for one big complaint post when I get back.

In the meantime, though, I stumbled upon some VIB Absolute Darkness this weekend and decided to give this more recent entrant in the growing BC CDA category a go. Sure, the label says “India Dark Ale” but “India Dark Ale” and its cousin “Black IPA” are just code words for the more contested “Cascadian Dark Ale.”

However, expect things to get significantly less confusing from here on out since Steamworks has graciously agreed to let everyone use “Cascadian” in a beer’s style name so long as they don’t use it as the name of the beer. Seems fair to me, and hat-tip to Steamworks for doing the right thing. Had the labels for this beer been printed last month instead of in December, it likely would have been properly labelled.

Anyways, enough political background. This is a beer review, and review beer I shall. VIB’s bomber series has had a few hits (Flying Tanker, Iron Plow) and a few misses (Dough head), so where does this guy fit in? Hit or miss? Well, slots in solidly in the miss column.

Slap “CDA” on a bottle and you expect certain things from the beer. Like hops, hops would be nice. Sure, there are some hops there, but not the big PNW aromatics or structured bitterness one expects from this style. The roasted malt of a CDA is also not quite there, as instead of a satisfying toasted oat flavour we get burnt molasses with a solid chemical punch.

Okay, fine, but surely that thick high sugar body that defines a CDA has to be there, for all that roasted molasses to be present? Nope. Somehow they got all that malt into there and still created a thin watery body.

If you ignore the label, and really love burnt malt, then you might enjoy this as a slightly strong (6.5% ABV) stout, but other than that its just a mess. Pick up a Howe Sound Gathering Storm instead. I’m disappointed, but at least VIB seems to be trying. If you don’t produce an off beer once in a while you’re not challenging your brewing team hard enough. Keep trying guys.

Tasting notes:

NOSE Burnt molasses, tobacco and a bit of leather. Capped off with an unpleasant chemically finish.
APPEARANCE Opaque black with a thin, quickly dissipating tan head. (Textbook CDA)
TASTE Roasted, nay burnt, malt. Body is watery and thing. Hops are there, but hidden behind the ash/charcoal of the malt, with no aroma or lingering bitterness to attest to them. Mmm… ash.
SHOULD I BUY IT? Nope. Lots of better CDAs, stouts, or just other beers out there.

Coles notes:

Brewery Vancouver Island
From Victoria
Name Absolute Darkness
Style Cascadian Dark Ale
SOA Now None Awarded
SOA Potential Not a cellaring ale
Drink Don’t.
VIB Bomber Batting Average 0.500 (2/4). Good enough to try #5 on sight.
Availability Widely available at LDB
Cost $5.50 per 650ml bottle.
Similar BC Beers Howe Sound Gathering Storm (out now), GIB Ltd Release CDA (out this summer)

Written by chuck

March 18th, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Beers

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Trademark Storm’s A-Brewing

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Here’s something I’ve been pondering recently: what with all the questions around brewery trademarks in the past year, it looks like we might be on a collision course for another round. Two new breweries are opening in BC this year, and both are rather curiously appropriating the names of existing beers produced by other breweries.

The two breweries (and their similarly named beers) are:

1. Beachcomber Brewing, in Gibsons, similar to Vancouver Island Beachcomber Blonde Ale
2. Deep Cove Brewing, in North Vancouver, similar to Bridge Brewing’s Deep Cove IPA (brewed just down the street)

In both cases the new breweries have a bit of an uphill battle, as the established guys have done their homework and registered their trademarks here and here.

To recap, I am absolutely for registering trademarks on brewery and beer names. It’s a little bit of bother that can save you a lot of headache down the line. That we might be seeing a fight between two craft breweries is unfortunate, but it just as easily could have been MolsonCoors coming to town with bright ideas on changing the beer game.


Pictured: Bright idea on changing the beer game. Seriously, it’s shit like this that makes you guys so easy to hate.

What do I think? For starters, this isn’t like that other famous beer trademark case (Cascadia) where the term was no longer used by the TM holder and, what’s more, had come to be widely used in the brewing industry to denote a generic style of beer instead of a specific brand. Both these new terms are very specific to the TM-holding breweries, and are not commonly used in the brewing industry at all.

So here’s my (completely ignorant, lay-person) thoughts on each:

Beachcomber. There are lots of old trademarks for this term in the database, including an abandoned application for a beer name by a now defunct brewery that I only just heard of this instant (Gibson’s Landing Brewing). Curiously, there aren’t any TV related TMs, but maybe the CBC wanted us to use the term for ourselves.

So what do I think of this situation? Does Mark Brand (of Save On Meats, Diamond, Boneta & Portside fame) have a case? I think not. Beachcomber is a broadly produced brand that VIB has used effectively in their product line for almost a year now. Maybe VIB might hand over the name to a start-up but I don’t see why they should have to give up all that investment in artwork and advertising just because a new guy didn’t do his homework–homework that someone like Mark Brand should KNOW to do.


Aside: How awesome would
Relic Brewing be?

Deep Cove. Okay, but what about Deep Cove? In general, I don’t like the too-common practice of using placenames for breweries or beers, since they’re not unique to you or yours. Bridge Brewing isn’t even in Deep Cove, so their claim might be a bit looser should a new brewery open up actually in said town. Luckily for them, this isn’t what happened. Deep Cove Brewing has reportedly secured some space on Dollarton Highway, just down the street from Bridge Brewing, if anything a bit further from Deep Cove than Bridge. If a new guy actually started up in Deep Cove then yeah, I’d have liked to see Bridge hand over the name in a gesture of goodwill but in this case, keep it.

I know what you’re muttering under your breath right now: “Why can’t they just live and let live?” Right? Why can’t both breweries use the name in the friendly spirit of craft brewing? Problem is, trademarks don’t work that way. Should VIB reach a “gentlemen’s agreement” with Beachcomber to “let this one slide” another brewery could use the existence of that agreement to (validly) argue that the TM is defunct and that, therefore, THEY should be able to use the term, and with the TM thrown aside this new guy doesn’t have to play nice and respect VIB’s branding.

Sure, we like to villainize the big guys in these cases (and not without cause), but if you were a small startup why bother building up a brand when you can just use this well-known one VIB has kindly made available free of charge? Sure would save having to run ads of your own. Basically, by allowing anyone else to use the term VIB would be voluntarily giving the TM up and they have no incentive to do so, and lots of incentive to not let that happen.

So what we’re left with is the reality that these two pairs of breweries will need to sit down and have a frank talk sometime soon (assuming they haven’t already) because the trademarks absolutely force them to do so. I just hope it all ends well, and without involving suits.

Psst: Seriously, though: RELIC BREWING! You know you want to!

Written by chuck

March 12th, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Vancouver Island Hermannator 2012

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BC’s original cellaring beer is back for another year. Sure, VIB tends to push out a main production line of beers that bounces between awful (Sea Dog) and… okay? I guess? (Double Decker), they have always managed to release a single edition of a solidly awesome Ice Bock, and that Ice Bock is Hermannator.

This year mark’s the 25th such release. Yup, long before most of today’s batch of beer geeks were even born, a brewmaster on the island named Herman looked at the pale insipid mess that was local beer, said “Fuck it” and made a freaking Ice Bock. For context, this would be the beer-equivalent of whipping out an iPhone in 1989. I’m surprised he wasn’t burnt at the stake as a witch.

Hermannator is a beer built for the cellar, but each year has its own personality. While 2010 is still drinking strong today, 2011 gave up the ghost a few months ago. So where does 2012 find us? Let’s just say VIB’s recent expansion into craft beer (think Flying Tanker and Iron Plow) has paid some dividends. The 2012 Hermannator is a solid Ice Bock that is enjoyable now, but will cellar well for years to come.

The beer pours black with virtually no carbonation. This is a great beer to drink in front of non-beer geeks, as you can invariably spark some discussion when you explain that, yes, this is actually a lager. Nose is virtually non-existant, but will likely develop with some time.

How does it taste? How about great? Palate is dense sweet fruits of the sort that spell cellaring potential. Think raisins, cherries, dates, and plums, all minced together with a big double fist punch of boooooooooooze. Yup, you definitely notice the 9.5% on this puppy. Maybe not straight away, but after a half glass you develop the sort of boozey warmth that makes the rain outside seem less import, maybe even cheerful.

All is not perfect, though, as I’ve detected some subtle variations even in the few bottles I’ve sampled so far. One was fruitier, while the next had a more noticeable hops character. Considering that they were from the same six pack, the blend was likely identical, so that’s not it. Frankly, I’m at a loss to explain this difference, but I have to mention it in the sense of thoroughness.

Don’t trust me on this, though, Hermannator is widely available, and attractively priced for a beer of such quality. Buy a six pack and try it yourself, then put a few down as a low cost intro to cellaring.

Coles notes:

Brewery Vancouver Island Brewery
From Victoria, BC
Name Hermannator
Style Ice Bock
SOA Now Silver
SOA Potential Gold. Yes, Gold. There, I said it.
Drink Now through 2015, maybe longer.
Risk of Chuck buying it all like he does for Singularity Zero. They made a fucktonne of this.
Availability Widespread LRS & LDB
Cost $13.50-$16.00 per 6x341ml pack
Similar Beers None.
Chuck says Buy a few flats and pull one out every month or so to see how it goes.


If only the rest of VIB’s beers were this good.

Written by chuck

November 3rd, 2012 at 3:45 pm

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