VCBW is Upon Us and It’s Time To Take Stock.

I am a big fan of Vancouver Craft Beer Week. It’s fun and it brings the whole community together.

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With nearly all the Lower Mainland Region breweries in one place it is  a really great opportunity to consider the Craft Beer trends moving forward. Of course this can’t really be done in advance of VCBW. Even so it is fun to project or guess what the trends will be, and I’ve always thought that the VCBW beer gives us a hint of what is to come.

Two years ago Brewers brought us a Hazy Pale ale which to me announced to the community that Hazy beer was a major part of the industry and here to stay. Secondarily it might have also signalled the success of the suburban and regional Craft beer communities.

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Last year, we had the Sea to Sky breweries affirm the rising prominence of regional craft beer communities, and perhaps surprisingly they made a Lager. To me this signalled that our craft beer industry was ready to move past the anti-establishment roots and include all beer drinkers.

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This year, the 10th anniversary of VCBW we have Four Winds, in collaboration with Powell Beer and Dageraad brewing brewing a dry-hopped table saison.

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I typed that beer style in lower case, because to my mind it is an understated style in the often violently reactionary world of craft beer.

What I take from this, and what I would predict as a major trend in the Vancouver and wider region is a push for higher quality.

It is no secret that I have been fairly vocal about beers that don’t mean my expectations but after the proliferation of craft breweries throughout the lower mainland comes a more competitive period where brewers are selling to an inclusive mature consumer base who are able to tell the difference between OK and great craft.

I believe the choice of three of the Lower Mainland’s 3 most respected breweries in Four Winds, Dageraad, and Powell beer and their choice of a simple yet dynamic style signals to the community at large that things are about to get more competitive. If you are a brewery who wants to stick around you better commit to quality.

With more breweries comes more competition, and since the backbone has of craft has always been its improved quality over macro the competition amongst Craft Brewers will hopefully yield ever high plateaus of quality.

We might also look at the expansion of high quality production in the region to consider the arms race in quality.

-Twin Sails sour program intentionally does not include Kettle Sours. committing to higher labour and cost methods of souring.

-Whole breweries committed to specific styles like Bakery, House of Funk, and Temporal.

-The commitment to high quality Lagers including Foudre and barrel aged versions like those created by Four Winds and Strange Fellows.

We might also consider the results of mistakes

-Riot Brewing on the brink of closing as sales don’t add up

Clearly all of this is guess work and conjecture bused on anecdotal evidence, but if i was forced to hazard a guess… I’d expect your average beer to rise in quality this year.

 

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I Was Offered Free Beer, I said “Yes”

A while ago I wrote an article explaining why I had said no to a brewery’s offer of free beer.

It came off as high and mighty, it wasn’t my intention but it did. Well, since then I have been offered beer a few more times and said no thank you a few more times.

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How I felt publishing that article

Recently, I said yes.  So how did I fall off my high horse? Well its simple really. I don’t have as much beer as I once did.
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Whereas, before my main reason for saying “no” was that I simply had too much beer and there was no point in taking beer that I might not be completely interested while other beer rots in my fridge. Its just not cool.

The fact is I’m getting married this summer and although I have wonder family helping my income is being stretched and I cannot afford to consume as much beer as I have in the past.

Craft Breweries are trying to make a living and offering beer to bloggers and the like is one of the great ways they can keep the beer-intelligensia writing.

So I have swallowed my pride, said “yes, thank you”, and you can probably expect to see it on my instagram.

That said you can also expect to see my honest opinion too.

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Believing the Hype is OK… Usually, well sometimes… Definitely Not Never

The Growler recently published a great article by Dageraad Brewer/Owner/Professional Cool Guy – Ben Coli, where Ben makes a great argument for Mainstays being better than the flavour of the week.

While I appreciate the article and agree in large part I noticed many friends and colleagues applying the argument against Hazy beers en masse. Well as avowed Hazy apologist I have yet another article no one asked for.

Concern 1

Dead on Arrival

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Ben makes a great point to start, many one off beers are ill-conceived. He’s right. There are quite a few beers that should have been aborted long before the ever reach your local’s shelves.

That said a lot of main stays make it to shelves when they shouldn’t. Many breweries including some of your favourites have let main stay beer hit the shelves that has been clearly flawed. So, while main stays have had time to be perfected, they don’t always hit the shelves in their perfect state.

Concern 2

No time to test batch

Here’s the thing… You think Sierra Nevada Pale ale or for that matter Even Steamworks Flagship’s recipe hasn’t changed since its initial sale? Beer recipes often change incrementally, its experimenting in the search of improvement. This happens with Hazy beer too…

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Most breweries have a few go-to basic Hazy recipes, and they tweak for each release. A hop variety here, a different grain there, and an extra hopping addition every so often. It’s not unlike how people incrementally changed their pale ales back in the day, the major difference is whereas in the past the label would never change, these days each release is a new piece of art from a graphic designer whose work spaced is littered with succulents.

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Why? Well the craft market is super crowded and craft brewers don’t have the money to advertise to you and me like the bug guys. Where they can punch above their weight is on the shelf where brewers can quickly pivot their branding to catch the latest craft punter (you)>

I gotta ask, what is the harm in that? More work for artists, more excitement for you and I, and more competition for macro-beer.

Concern 3

If it was any good you’d keep making it.

Early into Twin Sail’s pivot to their White Can Series (following their all german beginnings) they released Space Armadillo. This beer sent shock waves through the community and for some reason it wasn’t released again for nearly a year.

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Don’t you think Twin Sail’s would have loved to follow that rich sales vein? The fact is new breweries can struggle to get consistent supplies for brewing and are often forced into the spot markets. Whereas more established brewers can sign contracts with producers to ensure steady shipments of special hops or adjuncts, new brewers must use spot markets for one time sales.

The fact is Twin couldn’t secure the supplies they needed to make Space Armadillo a core beer.

 

So while by and large I agree in the merit of breweries main stay beers, I think we can agree that one offs serve a purpose and can be great.

Tiering the Breweries of Vancouver and Sea to Sky

I am going to get shit on for this…

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

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Tier 4 (Solid Lagers & Ales)

Doan’s Craft Brewing

The Beer Farmers

Strathcona Brewing

Coast Mountain Brewing

Howe Sound Brewing

Trading Post Brewing

Central City Brewing

Ravens Brewing

Storm Brewing

R and B Brewing

Hearthstone Brewing

Coal Harbour Brewing

Brewhall

Main Street Brewing

33 Acres Brewing

Britannia Brewing

Bomber Brewing

Bridge Brewing

Callister Brewing

Tier 3 (Breweries who I can count on to crush it often)

Parallel 49

The Parkside Brewing

Steamworks Brewing

Taylight Brewing

Northpaw Brewing

Field house Brewing

Silver Valley Brewing

Demi-God Tier (breweries I’ll always make a point of visiting)

Dageraad

Beere Brewing

Strange Fellows

Steel and Oak

Brassneck Brewing

Yellow Dog Brewing

Luppolo Brewing

God Tier (Breweries I get stoked to go to)

Twin Sails Brewing

Boombox Brewing

Superflux

Backcountry Brewing

Temporal Brewing

Four Winds

 

 

More News on the Third PoCo Brewery

I’m going to let the Tri-City news take this one away, the article does a great job of breaking down the whole business plan. Their Plan has some really cool parts and some I’m concerned about and will break down at a later date… Until then the Tri-City News Presents:

PATINA BREWING

2018 Breward Inlet Awards

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A crack team of influencers got together to give you the goods on the Tri-city beer scene… heres how things shook out!

Beer of the Year – Tri-Cities (PoCo, Port Moody, Coquitlam)

This category had a great Variety of responses but usually lead back to one brewery – Twin Sails.
Heavy Weight Champ is the Champ here!

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Best Tasting Room

The Parkside repeats as the best place to craft beer and chill..

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Best Branding

Another repeat but can you argue with this branding Kaleidoscope?

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Coolest Personality in brewing (Brewer, Blogger, Beer-tender, instagrammer… etc)

Man, Myth and Legend Sea to Sky Beer Guy isn’t even of this region… But he sure has made an impact on it!

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Best New Brewery

There were a few new kids on the block (and more to come), but PoCo Brewers North Paw take the “W” here.

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Brewery of the Year

There can be only one…

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Thanks to these fine people:
@beerpunkbc
@hopperazi
@ls_karl
@lifeisabeerexpedition
@thebeerdshow
@crafttourist
@theflyingbeergirl
@thirstyexplorersclub
@pacificbeerchat
@thebeerrater
@brewsbabeabanny
@Vancity_beergirl
@seatoskybeerguy
@RedArmyNic

Craft Beer is going Pop-Punk

Before we get started pretend this page opened like myspace and you are now listening to “Ohio is for Lovers” by Hawthorne Heights… the colour scheme is black and red too… Alright lets do this, this article is not gonna be backed up by stats and references, no for this one I’m gonna ramble until I feel done.

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That’s not how Venn Diagrams work at all!

Years ago (this blog has been going on for years! that’s crazy) I wrote a blog about craft beer being Punk Rock, its one of my favourite things I’ve ever written, but it was years ago.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 6.18.21 PM           “As I mentioned craft beer is part of a punk rock diy counter culture, it represents a tangible way to reject corporatism, and it is a tangible affordable way to consume art and culture. So sit back and accept some learning.”

Whats the Deal with Craft Beer?

 

Well, just like Punk Rock found a market for their authentisism, and someone else found a way to mass produce it while maximizing profit… we now have the TAKING BACK SUNDAY of Craft Beer.

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Could there be a more timeless hair style?

It shouldn’t get to me but it does! I’ve spent a lot of time learning about the difference between Pilsner and Lager, and how Black Pilsner is not really a style of beer. I’ve enjoyed learning and realized there is more I don’t know about Craft beer than I will ever know. To be honest when new breweries show up with more money than sense I get kind of choked.

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Black Pilsner? https://www.bjcp.org/2008styles/style02.php

Now before some redditor on R/Vancouvercraftbeer tells me to shut up and “talk about a beer I like” or something chill.

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Wow, cuts deep.

I like some pop punk… Seriously, Fall Out Boy’s “DANCE, DANCE” is a banger, and I freakin’ love the early 90’s Simpson’s reference… just don’t mention that when I finally make it to see NOFX. I also like the beer these guys put out with a decent level of consistency.

Its just weird to me when I live in a world where both Storm brewing and 33 exp exist…

33 acres, its beer, not Star Trek The Next Generation’s First season.

 

its like wait… you know I really used to like D.O.A. but do I also like the Postal Service… wait is the Postal service better…?

The bottom line is who cares? Me, evidently, I think… Drink beer you like and pour one down for the 2nd wave of Craft beer in Vancouver (the first wave was blues or something in this metaphor).

Is Inauthenticity coming to the Tri-City Craft Beer scene?

I’ll argue ’til the cows come home that the appeal of craft beer is built in large part due to consumer fatigue for consumerism itself, that we are willing to pay more for a product just because we know the profits are going to a neighbour and community member rather than a faceless multi-national. But big business is aware of this too. Hell, small business people who want to become big business people know this. In fact the creation of faux-community or faux-place is big business in marketing.

This commercial really makes it seem like Blue Moon is an independent brewer with an independent founder but its always been owned by Coors, proof:

“Blue Moon Belgian White (branded as Belgian Moon in Canada) is a Belgian-style witbier brewed by MillerCoors under the name the Blue Moon Brewing Co. It was launched in 1995, and was originally brewed in Golden, Colorado.

Originally called Bellyslide Belgian White, the beer was created by Keith Villa, a brewer at the Sandlot Brewery at Coors FieldDenver, Colorado (owned by the Molson Coors Brewing Company). Blue Moon brewed at the Molson Brewery in Montreal, Quebec, Canada is sold in the USA, as well as exported to Europe.[2] Blue Moon Brewing Co. is an entity of Tenth and Blake Beer Company, the craft and import division of MillerCoors.” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Moon_(beer)

So to spell it out for you this is common practice in beer… if you want local examples think Stanley Park, Bowen Island, Sneaky Weasel (oh snap the last two are the same brewery).

Anyways, I fear this might be happening locally. A new brewery is setting up in PoCo calling themselves Rec Room brewing (cause people often drink beer in rec rooms! well not if you are of age…)

Here comes the Analysis:

Take a look at the Brew Master posting for Rec Room, https://beermebc.com/job/head-brewmaster-new-brewery-in-poco/

      There is more in the online description but holy crap, there is enough HR speak in here for a fortune 500. Brewers in a new brewery spend most of their time simply making sure beer is brewed successfully in a clean environment. Unless this brewery plans to employ 3 other brewers I find it unlikely that their “Brew Master”, a designation earned through training and apprenticeship, not occupation, will be doing anything else but cleaning and brewing.
Job Description (full description here)
  • Utilize skills to craft creative recipes and produce the best, most exciting beers possible
  • Select and maintain quality ingredients
  • Maintains all equipment to “like new” standards 

Maintaining the equipment to “like new” standards often requires a mechanic especially if your equipment comes from China. 

  • Create lasting relationships with vendors and customers 

Maintaining relationships with anyone is tough when you are cleaning and brewing all day.

  • Initial and ongoing training of all management and service staff 
Training management and customers should really be the job of the owners/front end staff… if you are paying a brewer to do this you are wasting resources and don’t know enough yourself to open a brewery  
  • Cultivate a positive work environment for all staff
  • Consistently strive to produce new innovative beverage items to fit concept
  • Takes lead role in developing concept with regards to training material 

Brewers aren’t creating training material! They are too busy brewing, cleaning, and ordering brewing supplies… especially in the early going.

  • Continually train, develop and motivate quality employees 

When you have one, maybe two brewers, beneath you this is little more than marketing speak.

  • Ensure high quality of beverage presentation/preparation 

This one is fair.

  • Consistently increase profitability 

How? Profitability in my estimation generally decreases when breweries increase in production… Your highest margins are in beer sold from tasting room and they decrease when you package and distribute. In the city of Port Coquitlam where tasting rooms are maxed out at 35 seats packaging and distribution is key! Thus, profit margins are reduced and reduced until if and when it becomes feasible to purchase a canning room and integrate distribution vertically may 3-5 years in at best. Breweries at this level are few and far between… P49, Central City, Phillips…

Thus, the only way to increase profitability in the short to medium term is to sell more quickly or reduce the cost of established recipes… this in nearly all cases means sacrificing quality.

  • Accurate reporting of all costs
  • Meet or exceed all budgets 

Yea shit happens in a brewery, sometimes your hops don’t give the right flavours, and you need another dry hop addition, sometimes your fermentation get stuck, sometimes you need to dump beer because it taste bad… Also “exceed all budgets” just reads really poorly.

  • Ensures all accounts are up to date with no “past due” bills
  • Conduct profit analysis where needed 

Nope, that’s your production manager/owner/founders job… yea your brewer should be able to give you some number but their background is biology not business.

  • Write schedules within budget 

Do you guys mean brew schedules?

  • Monthly P&L review with ownership group
If you need monthly P&L review with ownership group it leads me to believe that ownership is not involved with the day to day… that will lead to disaster in its own right.
      In short this whole “Brew Master” Job description reeks of guys with business degrees who enjoy after work beers at Steel Toad reading about the growth of craft beer and hoping to cash in.
     I’m not saying that owners of this upcoming brewery aren’t independents but the way their job description reads it sounds like small time entrepreneurs trying to make big bucks in a growing market using Faux-Good Will for Craft Beer generally, and I get that’s a harsh assessment…
BUT,
     There is a real heavy emphasis on profitability throughout that job description… you could just chalk that up to industry standards, but then compare it to the more standard brewer job descriptions listed here.
     So yes, I am stirring the pot once again. There is also a better than small chance I’m wrong too (that’s fine, I’m often wrong). Even so, I thing it’s worth a mull, if not in the case of Rec Room then definitely in the case of Blue Moon, Stanley Park Brewing, Sneaky Weasel Brewing and Bowen Island Brewing. Then again you might think that all entrepreneurs are using marketing to sell beer and make money and this is just a logical extension of that train of thought and that’s a totally valid opinion too.
POST SCRIPT:
I’m really conflicted about posting this article, but i think the topic is valid and worth a discussion. That said, I pledge to post any response from Rec Room should they respond because they deserve a chance to respond.

PoCo Breweries

Name: Northpaw Brew Co.

Location: Port Coquitlam’s Fremont Village industrial space behind Wal-Mart

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Style: Contemporary

Tasting Area: 35 seat tasting area and adjacent growler room.

Core Beers: Jamaican Pale Ale and likely more to come.

After a long gestation period North Paw’s Physical brewery has finally been born into life. With it come a tasting room in a prior to underserved area of the Tri-Cities. North Paw is ps proving to be very popular with locals and may just be an instant classic.

 

Name: Taylight Brewing

Location: 402 – 1485 Coast Meridian Rd, Port Coquitlam, BC V3C 5P1

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Style: Contemporary

Tasting Area: The PoCo Standard 35 seater

Core Beers: Too soon to tell but the beers have come from across the spectrum and are well executed. The Hazy Pale Ale is a personal favourite

PoCo’s second brewery has ales crafted for the time being by the brewer formerly of Hearthstone brewing in North Vancouver. It seems Taylight are in the market for a brewer to take their fledgling business into the future.

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UPCOMING – Several New Breweries

See the new breweries page for more info.

 

 

 

VCBW and the Leading EDGE… Or “Why I’m Not So Sure Craft Can Do Lager but We Should all Enjoy VCBW Anyways…

Alright, So VCBW is quickly approaching! What is VCBW? It’s the best beer bash in Vancouver, or really BC! Just take a look at some of the offerings:

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VCBW 2018 Festival Highlights 

  • 100 + breweries and cideries pouring more than 300 beers and ciders
  • Festivalgoers can create a list of must-try breweries and favourite standout beers in advance through the VCBW website
  • More food trucks
  • BC Ale Trail-er pouring 8 or more craft breweries from the furthest reaches of B.C.’s Ale Trail
  • Craft Beer Market lounge and games area
  • BC Farm Crafted Cider Association’s cider row featuring 10 cideries pouring 16 different ciders
  • United States Brewers Association has chosen the VCBW as their exclusive Canadian festival partner three years in a row. They are crossing the border to pour 30+ beers, many of which have never been poured in Canada
  • Live interactive painting with Vancouver Mural Festival 
  • Floral leis and crown-making from the Leis de Buds solar powered flower bus
  • Dedicated Evo valet parking
  • Live music lineup includes DJ Hebegebe, Dakota Pearl, the Prettys, Youngblood, Mark Woodyard & Friends, the Great Speckled Fritillary, the Spillionaires, Tanglers and GI Blunt

 

VCBW 2018 Festival 

  • Saturday, June 2 from 2p.m. to 7p.m., and Sunday, June 3 from 12p.m. to 5p.m. at the PNE Fairgrounds, Vancouver. Single day, weekend passes and VIP tickets available now at VancouverCraftBeerWeek.comstarting at $39.

 

Why do I love it so much? Because with so many Breweries in one spot you really begin to see where the leading Edge is in Vancouver Beer, you can taste the trends, ride the flavour wave, and vive en vogue (I don’t speak French so I really went out an limb with that one).

For example, Hazy beer really made a splash at the event last year, not only were several breweries pouring the stuff, The VCBW beer (A collab amongst Brewers Row) was a delicious Hazy pale ale with passion fruit and guava.

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This year I’ve heard over and over this is the year of the Lager… I’ve heard this before too, but people are saying it again so lets address it.

Craft breweries have started putting out a lot of Lagers lately, lets list some: Slow Hand Pilsner, Haus Lager, Good Company Lager, Sneaky Weasel, P49 Lager, Back to Basics X 2, there is some older one’s too like Pixel Pils and various Granville Island offerings. Hey Even the next VCBW Collab Beer is a Lager (which I honestly can’t wait to crush at the Opening Night Crusher.)

(Respective instagrams: @goodcompanylager, @slowhandbeer and @haus.beer)

       Even so a lot of releases a trend does not make, here is why:

  • People need to actually want it.

Yes everyone who drinks craft beer wants to convert all their friends to craft beer. We all think that finding just the right transition beer is gonna be the trick, except why would it? If I’m trying to get my friend to enjoy a bison burger instead of Mcdonalds, does it make sense to take out all of the flavour from that bison burger, and make it really thin? Nah because what makes that bison delicious and what makes craft beer delicious is the flavour. If they don’t want it, they don’t want it.

  • Macro Beer is probably better at making Lagers.

Yea so here is the crazy thing about making craft beer, craft beer brewers have no comparative advantage relative to Macro Brewers in terms of production. Macro Brewers are much more efficient, or in other words make beer much more cheaply. The reason we love craft beer isn’t because its cheaper but because its of higher quality… I know you all know this. But Macro Brewers can probably make better lagers, here is why:

  1. Lagers need to be aged (or lagered) much longer than ales. Usually around 6 weeks… That is often double what a craft brewery does with ales and thus makes it much more expensive to produce, so often lager is released young by craft brewers.
  2. Lagers have nothing to cover up flaws and thus really need to be flawless to be good. Craft brewers are great but not perfect, often times those ales we all love have minute problems overcome by hopping or malt or more emphasized flavours. This cannot happen the same way with a Lager, and most craft breweries don’t have nearly the same depth of knowledge to get it just right.
  3. Macro Brewers have a lot of resources in order to get it right. Macro breweries have huge teams to ensure quality (relative term) and consistency. They have sensory analysts, bacterial scientists, and they can afford to dump a tank (something few craft brewers will do).

So am I saying go grab a Coors or Bud Light? No (but some of Vancouver’s best brewers would happily enjoy a Coors), But do check out Pilsner Urquell and Czechvar if you are interested in High Quality Lagers. Unlike American Macro’s who use substandard ingredients (rice) these European behemoths still seem somewhat committed to the craft… maybe I’ll explain why someday (communism and stuff… maybe another live video?)

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GREAT PEOPLE: @Seatoskybeerguy and @andinabrewingco, photo by @bcbeerguy

To end this thing I will say Hopped lagers have a chance. The hops may cover some imperfections and make them more flavourful to new drinkers. The key will be imbibing at the right time, maybe 6-12 weeks. In any case I’ll be first in line for the VCBW hoppy Lager.