But that’s OK, I write to start conversations and lists and rankings start conversations. So here we go.
A little about the rankings… This is about QUALITY of beer… nothing more nothing less. A bad beer diminishes overall quality in my eyes. That said this is my Monolithic view of the quality of beer coming from a brewery… no math.
Breweries within tiers are equal in my eyes.
Not all Breweries are listed, but rest assured I would never say no to a brewery that is listed, as for the others…
These are my personal opinions, they won’t match yours, feel free to be angry anyways
Tier 4 (Solid Lagers & Ales)
Doan’s Craft Brewing
The Beer Farmers
Coast Mountain Brewing
Howe Sound Brewing
Trading Post Brewing
Central City Brewing
R and B Brewing
Coal Harbour Brewing
Main Street Brewing
33 Acres Brewing
Tier 3 (Breweries who I can count on to crush it often)
The Parkside Brewing
Field house Brewing
Silver Valley Brewing
Demi-God Tier (breweries I’ll always make a point of visiting)
Occasionally I am offered free beer. It’s a nice gesture and its always appreciated. Often times it is informal and comes after I have already written something or have in the past made it clear it’s a product I enjoy. More rarely I get an e-mail offering me beer with an implied coverage exchange. I’ve said yes in the past, but this time I said “no”.
The first reason is basic, I already have enough beer. I know the beer geeks out there will say there is never “enough”, but there is. I have trouble getting through all the amazing beer I have, and I often have to force myself to drink things before they go bad.
There is a feeling of obligation to provide some sort of positive coverage when given the free beer. This is basic human nature and in most cases a good thing… a little reciprocity never hurt anyone. Even so, in the last few years since I changed the focus of this blog I’ve realized what I really enjoy is pulling back the curtain on the beer industry just a little bit, and telling people when I think stuff isn’t great. There are so many great blogs out there telling people all the good things about beer, and I can’t out do them at that, I might as well do what I can do and get a little meta on the beer scene here and there. I know I can’t do that when I accept free beer in formal exchange(just look at this article I wrote about Big Rock Beer years ago).
So, if you want my honest opinion on beer follow or continue to follow my instagram.
Finally, I don’t rate beer. I’ve explained why before but the gist of it is the experiential gap between me trying a beer and you trying a beer wherever is just too large to bridge well through a blog, beer is experiential I can’t tell you how to feel about it.
So what did I do? I recommended some great blogger friends who could help. I’m not lying when I said I appreciate what the brewery in question did when they offered me some beer. So much buzz is built through influencers (not so much me but the bigger blogs and instagrammers) it’s great to see a brewery trying to reward and get ahead of the curve.
Before I go further can I qualify the title as being purposely hyperbolic? There has been a trend in the recent year or so for people to describe my writing as view seeking, and purposely controversial… IT IS! My goal is to start a discussion, and if that happens because you strongly disagree so be it. So the above is not intended to single anyone person or brewery out but simply to start a discussion… the more voices the better.
Marketing in Craft beer is hard, breweries are, at the end of the day, small businesses with little money for any sort of commercial advertising. They are also in competition with large breweries with multi-national marketing campaigns.
Craft Breweries often rely on influencers, people with large followings who are seen to be able to influence others. Think big bloggers and people with massive Instagram followings. Yes I am in this group too (although not to the same extent as some). In most cases influencers promote independently because they enjoy the craft.
Sometimes small brewers, realizing the value of influencers, will offer the influencers a product with no expectation of favourable promotion. I would say this is the most common form of influence peddling.
Sometimes breweries will offer free products in exchange for coverage, this is often the case for beer festivals, (I am currently covering the Coquitlam craft beer festival in exchange for attendance). I would guess that 90% of influencers only accept these arrangements when they believe in the product.
Sometimes influencers will attempt to sell their influence too. For the record I have no problem with this as long as it is reasonably clear that some sort of exchange has taken place.
Sometimes Crafty beer companies owned by multi-million dollar corporations attempt influence influencers with a six pack…
I recently became privy to such an arrangement and I’d like to share of the broad strokeds of the arrangement with you my loyal readers.
So what does an influencer get for a 6 – pack of crafty seasonal ale? A bunch of headaches and 20 hours of unpaid work.
Crafty Beer companies are happy to give you six seasonal ales if:
You consider their values:
Make sure you read all about their branding and keep it in mind as you work like an unpaid intern all weekend. Don’t forget to have people in your totally candid un-candid photo and make sure you include lifestyle too. Lifestyle is a big deal and they want as much lifestyle as humanly possible, because their brand is really about lifestyle.
You follow the rules like, no filters (gets in the way of the lifestyle), the brand (which is lifestyle) is front and centre, not overly posed (they want authentic lifestyle), Beer is unopened, Glasses are full, one beer per person… it goes on and on.
by the way you MUST NOT SHOW ANY DRINKING… because drinking is not part of the lifestyle they wish to portray (ok I’m pretty sure this is a law thing but whatever).
So you do all of this for a multi-national corporation worth millions… and you get 12 bucks worth of mediocre beer. More than anything I think we are under valuing ourselves.
What I enjoy about craft beer, among any other things, is that so much of it is sold by word of mouth. A friend or friend of friend whose taste you are just in sync with, a beer that blows up on Instagram, a name or label so infamous you just have to know… Craft Beer remains authentic in our hyper commercial society, but this style of inauthentic blatantly posing as authentic is a step too far from me… I wasn’t asked but i won’t participate.
“Also, gratuitous cleavage, which might account for her huge following.”
So, this may come off as a salty reply to not being featured in the Growler’s Guide to BC Beer Bloggers of Instagram (despite being recommended for the piece my fair share might I add), But I’m really more salty about how my close personal friend Banny was described in the short piece.
I want to begin by saying I don’t think the Growler ever intended any ill will by what they said, and would like to further point out that there is obviously great benefit to being featured in a great Craft Beer Media format, but I would also like to point out good intentions can have ill effects. These issues are worth talking about in depth and that is what I intend to do.
Not everyone knows Banny like I do. I was there before there was BrewsBabesBanny and I hope I am there after. Banny is ardent advocate for refugees, Banny is a serious champion of women’s rights, and Banny loves craft beer. BrewsBabesBanny, her online persona, Is the good times, the evenings out, the newest release, but BrewsBabesBanny is still Banny.
That is why it is so frustrating for me to read Banny’s description in the Growler:
“Banny’s photos usually feature new B.C. releases and craft beer classics from across the continent. Also, gratuitous cleavage, which might account for her huge following.”
Yea, Banny seeks out the best craft beer the world over, and if we are keeping tabs she’s one of the best in BC. It’s the second sentence that really irks me here, because, she has cleavage. All women have cleavage. We don’t Say Malcolm of Sea to Sky Beer Guy (my personal favourite blog at the moment) has a gratuitous amount of height which may account for his social media following… the guy is tall. So then why can we so easily, fall in the trap of accounting for Banny’s success in Craft Beer media, through male-projected-sexualization of her body? This statement, all one sentence of it, does so many shitty things at once:
It cheapens Banny’s Success,
It sexualizes and affirms objectification of women’s bodies,
and finally, sorry boys, it’s lazy writing.
When Banny first got into Craft Beer Media she told me she just wanted to give a women’s perspective on craft beer, I wish people could view it that way.
Note – The article has since been changed, but i feel this needs to be said.
Factory Brewing is the contract brewing arm of Direct Tap located in their legitimizing East Van space just off Clarke. This Brewery does not brew their own beer rather they brew beer for others… like who?
Well have you seen a lot more Doan’s beer available? That because most of the Doan’s beer is brewed out of Factory Brewing.
Its a fairly simple system Doan’s develops a recipe, they hand it over to Factory, Factory’s brewer with the guidance and oversight of one of the several Doans brews the beer and package it. Ok sounds pretty good… more Doans right?
Who else, well there was talk of some of the larger American craft producers producing some of their beer at factory to skirt tax and import duties just like a branch plant you remember learning about in grade 10 social studies, y’know prior to NAFTA when Canada could put duties on cars imported to Canada so American car manufactures opened up plants in Oshawa and Windsor and gave a generation of high school graduates good paying jobs that pay for homes they would use in their twilight years to lament the laziness of those damn millenials? REMEMBER THOSE? Anyways I haven’t seen anything of that sort yet…
What we have got in spades is Craft Beer brands. Craft Beer made without a home brewery or craft beer companies producing beer on contract basis with another brewery.
Have you heard of Two Wolves? They are all over the place blasting e-mails and facebook announcement anytime another bottle shop takes them on… well they don’t have an actual brewery.
Ever heard of Smugglers’ Trail Caskworks? Nope, no one has they are really bad at social media, and well any media generally… Again no Brewery.
So is this a big deal? Well yea a little. The person executing your recipes isn’t beholden to you, he doesn’t care about your ridiculously named fantasy brewery (Smugglers’ Trail Caskworks? did you just pick 3 alcohol related words from a list and then tack on “works” at the end?) So lets put it to the test and give these a go shall we?
First up Two Wolves Great Plains Brown Ale
Dark with good body, and fairly rich. Not especially interesting but a fine example of the style!
So not too long ago I took a hard stance on beer awards in the article“Beer Awards are Dumb and You Should Stop Caring About Them” . Surprisingly people cared what i said for once and agreed and disagreed to varying levels. One person said i was writing the article for views… which was true, I’ve never heard of writer not wanting people to read their work. The crux of the article was that Beer Awards don’t act as many people might imagine. Beer awards are not a critics favourite beer but rather the beer that is closest to a pre-described style as laid out in the Beer Judge Certification Program style guide lines.
So, here comes the 2017 BC Beer Awards (sold out by the way) and I attempt to get media Accreditation. Can you guess what happened? If you guessed they told me to take a hike, you are surprisingly wrong. No the people behind the BC Beer Awards are actually very open minded kind people and they invited me to check out the judging process at the Direct Tap Headquarters.
I was able to view the incredible process that is the judging for the BC Craft Beer awards. Kudos to the Volunteers and Organizers who really put in some labour and do it for the love of beer. The best part of the experience was to pick the Brain of one of the long time judges, and all around Vancouver Craft beer great Chester Carey.
I paraphrasing here but I did take notes during our conversation, and Chester was able to answer or speak to many of my concerns regarding Beer awards generally in relation to the BC Craft Beer Awards specifically.
Any Beer brewed in BC can compete. This is really a non-issue but its interesting to know that brands like Cariboo are in the thick of things with crafty beers like Stanley Park and Granville Island, and ultra craft orientated like Strange Fellows.
The brewery picks which category their beer will be judged in. To me this is a positive and a negative. A positive in that breweries can decide where their brews should be, but I was also told the story of a beer that was under consideration for winning a category but lost out because it used a wild yeast which was considered an off flavour for the style.
BJCP is a starting point and baseline… not an overarching framework. BJCP guidelines are a way of objectifying when the need arises. An example given was when two beers are fighting it out for top spot. The most enjoyable beer in a Category is still going to win according to Chester – that I can get behind.
Yes there are more categories for Lager and basic Ale than there are for IPA despite the later driving the craft market…
….But the system is imperfect… I can buy that, its impossible to totally objectify a thing such as beer so we do our best and realize the limitations… that’s fair, if not unfortunate.
They aren’t concerned about driving the market. Winning beer awards is big business for small breweries andean lead to great success (see Powell Brewery winning Canadian Beer of the Year a few years back). Even so, Judges and organizers try not to be aware. I see this as a Catch 22 impartiality is a lofty goal, but I would like to see awards push for creativity and innovation.
So as I revisit beer awards knowing what I know now of specifically the BC Craft Beer Awards I am more forgiving. Is it a perfect system? No, personally i would love to see the awards become fully subjective, a simple “which beer do I enjoy most”. That said, I am confident that despite loose adherence to the BJCP guidelines that 99 times out of 100 the beer that wins is subjectively the most enjoyable, furthermore I laud the organization of BC Craft Beer Awards for having some pretty even keeled thinking in the world of beer awards. More to that point the BC Beer awards is introducing awards based simply on what people think are the best, including BEST BREWERY. I really enjoy these sorts of things and this will be a personal highlight for me on the evening.
Now lets see who wins on Oct 21.
-Special Thanks to Monica Frost who set everything up!
There was a time when I would excitedly wait for the results of beer awards, reading the pages and assigning power rankings in my head to beer and breweries alike. It was a fun way to bring beer into the world of sport… but it was stupid.
See, I learned early on that beers and Breweries were not awarded for the subjective best beer in each category but rather for closest to style guidelines… Some of you are probably saying “what the hell does that mean?” Well in most beer competitions beers are rated on their ability to meet style guidelines like this:
Who came up with this guidelines? Beer dorks many years go (not to say I’m not a beer dork myself, but when they came up with this stuff I was a Power Rangers Dork). So, to continue on my sports analogy that would be like awarding the Stanley Cup not to the team who won in subjective circumstances (the playoffs) but to the team that best resembled a hockey team according to Toe Blake. That’s stupid…
Moreover ,it also means that innovation is rendered insignificant until some beer dork decides it is worth create a new box around the new style (Style Guide).
Of course some will say the brewers are not beholden to these style guide lines and can brew what they want. Sure, but winning an award such as brewery of the year or best in show or for some stupid reason European Style Amber to Dark Lager (actual stupid category at the Canadian Beer awards) often means sales to the breweries. This means there is an incentive for breweries to brew boring similar beers. This is the same logic that got us to MACRO LAGERS. Furthermore, the depth of awards for different lame versions of German lagers and English ales and the contrasting dearth of awards for sours and new styles of IPAs (y’know the shit people actually drink) again incentivizes brewing boring beer.
Now, I’ll pause for a moment because I’m sure you might recognize many flaws in my argument, foremost that no one is forced to brew anything. But i’ll stop you there because my argument is simple – “Brewing boring beer is lame, and beer awards that incentivize boring beer are lame.”
I reject all your objections to this opinion because my opinion is not objective, its subjective just like tasting beer is. It is imperfect and impossible to replicate, and to do so would be foolhardy (dumb). So if you are going to award a beer do it because you like it not because it totally hits those SRM guidelines (SRM is the colour of the beer… THE COLOUR).
My Case Study- Mount Begbie Brewing out of Invermere. A small brewery who’s stuff I’ve had I’ve generally liked, good beer. Mount Begbie won awards for:
German Style Kölsch
Gold: Mt. Begbie Brewing Company, High Country Kolsch
Bronze: Mt. Begbie Brewing Company, Brave Liver Scotch Ale
Gold: Mt. Begbie Brewing Company, Begbie Cream Ale
Brewery of the Year
Hold Up! you won brewery of the year hot on the heals for Gold medals for your Kolsch and Cream Ale!? Can you imagine bringing those beers to a bottle share down in Bellingham? or New Westminster even? You’d get laughed out of town. Kolsch, Scotch Ale, and Cream Ale are figuratively the old white guys of craft beer they literally are consumer examples of fucking colonialism – but hey Canada, this is the best god damn beer we make! Don’t be bothered by a Hill Farmstead beer or a hazy Monkish IPA, oh no, you come take a seat on the beach in your pantaloons and sip on a fucking scotch ale, like fuck, when did you turn 124?…
Chock full of the latest releases from the USA, Hazy IPAs Barrel aged Stouts et al.
The thing is you don’t want to mess with high shipping cost and fear of breaking cross border shipping laws, well here is the solution if you live in the Lower Mainland…
First of all you need an instagram page… like mine:
2. Start following some cool breweries, Like Monkish, Trillium and Treehouse and decide what you are looking for.
3. Also follow local breweries especially the photos of new releases.
4. THIS IS KEY, scour the comments sections for three important letters “ISO”. ISO stands for “in search of” and indicates someone is looking for your local beers.
5. Next take a look through this person’s profile and see if they have access to beers you are interested in. If so contact them politely and see if they are willing to trade.
NOTE: There are several different ways to trade, most often I trade can for can, but its not unheard of to trade dollar for dollar or to trade many beers for one beer etc. IT IS ILLEGAL TO SELL BEER. FINALLY throw is a can or two of your favourites, everyone does this and its great to try unknowns too!
6. Once you have decided on a trade pack a box there is an art and respect aspect to this so try this link http://homebrewacademy.com/how-to-ship-beer/
7. This is where the magic happens. After you have boxed your beer DO NOT SEAL THE BOX. You will drive the box over to the border and tell the Border guard what you are doing if it is your primary reason for going over the border. It is legal to bring the beer over the border and it is legal to ship beer with UPS, FEDEX etc. but NOT USPS. They may ask some questions don’t lie and be ready to answer truthfully.
8. Once you are across head to a shipping store like UPS in Blaine or Bellingham. Go ahead and ship the box, if they ask what it is I say salsa just because it keeps the process moving faster. You will pay significantly less shipping from the states.
9. to receive your beer set up an account with a service that receives packages just over the border like Pic It Up in Sumas. http://picitupinsumas.com
They have a flat 3 buck Canadian fee to pick up a package and good hours. When you head back over the border declare the beer you are bringing back. I have it on good authority that it is not worth the time of the guard to charge duty on anything less than 12 beers after a short stay in the US. Therefore do not bring back more than 12 beers.
NOTE: Make sure you have beer to trade that people actually want. Unfortunatley Canadian beer is really not a big deal in the States. They know little and want little of what we have. What they seem to like at the moment is Twin Sails Hazy beer program. outside of that they seem to care little. We can change this slowly by including other brewery’s beer as a “throw in” to expose them to more beers. I often throw in hazy beers from Yellow Dog, and Superflux. START BUILDING A TRADING INVENTORY:
Ok ok ok… I dont hate beer reviews, in fact I like knowing what people enjoy and I like people recommending beer to me. But there is a limit and we have hit that limit without a doubt. We clearly live in a world where pedanticness=credibility and that is just plain wrong. We also live in a world where a lot of people drink craft beer but don’t know much about it… and thats ok, as long as you don’t try to shove content down my throat telling me about how good that 3 month old pale ale with galaxy dry hops is (its not good, it tastes of little, and I don’t care what you think).
First lets start positive…
How to do it right:
Have an angle… Craft beer, especially in Canada, is very regional and in many cases is confined to a town. Which means it doesn’t matter how well you compare the malt profile to a specific biscuit from the the former Yugoslavia. It means sweet F all to anyone but those people living in that town, all 5 craft beer drinkers from 100 Mile house hanging out at Jackson’s Social Club And Brew House (I googled that because seriously no one has heard of it). Seriously it doesn’t matter if you are the Robert Frost of beer reviews, you are boring as hell.
That means how the beer tastes isn’t interesting enough on its own because I cannot get it. How do you make it more interesting?
Have an angle… and tell me what that angle is… Its not enough to have an angle, state it, or at the very least it should be clear what your angle is from your writing. What makes your blog about reviews interesting? Why do you happen to have an affinity for porters but hate all pale ales? If its not clear to me, I don’t care what you have to say…
Some People do this well… The Beer Rater for example clearly states his angle and I can situate his reviews in relation to myself, see here:
As you can see The Beer Rater has clearly defined what he is doing, now you have a point of reference from which to decide how seriously you can take their opinion.
A lot of people do this quite well, off the top of my head I would mention BarleyMowat.com who explains his rating system, Mikescraftbeer.com who simply gives you a quick run down of the flavour profile allowing you to decide if you like it or not and many others.
What not to do…
Talk about beer and expect everyone to be at the same level as you…
Here’s the thing a lot of beer writers and reviewers know about beer, but few know exactly the same amount about beer. They talk and talk and talk ad nauseum about noses, flavours, profiles and balance but they don’t think about their readers and viewers. They don’t realize that people aren’t coming to know what the beer tastes like:
“Because if you know anything about beer, you know a beer brewed in Port Moody and consumed a month later in Edmonton tastes a helluva a lot different than one consumed in Kelowna from the discount bin 8 months after brewing.”
Not to mention, y’know, everyones palates are different and have biases. Rather than give interesting angles or perspective many reviewers these days simply try to cover up the lack of interest with slick production values which is cool, i guess, if you like video production…
These guys seem like nice people they have a lot of cool videos that i check out regularly and recommend you do to, but beer reviews, man they are hard to do in an interesting way… For example, he goes back and forth on calling an ESB an Extra STRONG Bitter and an Extra SPECIAL Bitter (its the latter). Then he goes onto say he doesn’t know much about styles, and then for some reason he expects the viewer to take him seriously? I mean what is the angle here? How is the video adding interest? It might be interesting if he said I know little about this beer and I recommend it to people in the same boat. But nah, … My favourite part is how he says he likes Arrowhead beer because they brew with the local water… as if brewers are importing water or using Dasani or something… C’mon.
That said cool beer wall, nice video production… solid beard. I’m sorry for being a jerk and hope we can be friends in the future. Check out these guys other videos, like this one: