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

The PoMo Brew Scene Grows Again

Hot off the heels of the 5th Brewers Row Brewery (Moody Ales side Project Bakery Brewing) and former Callister Brew Team Light Heart Brewing setting up shop in Moody Ales we have another Brick and Mortar starting up.

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Fraser Mills Fermentation, the brain child of many of the group behind the successful Tri-Cities Cask Festival has selected a spot on St. John street in Port Moody.

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The Location is just two doors down from the current Beyond the Grape Location in the former Yamaha Marine building.

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If you aren’t from Port Moody that is a 15 minute walk from the Twin Sails/Yellow Dog hub and 3 minute walk from the skytrain station.

The Brewery will be as eclectic as any brewery in the city, housing not only a 10 hl brewhouse with eleven 10 hl fermentors, 5 brites (where the beer is carbed) and Thirteen 5 hl serving tanks, but a home brew business too. You willbe able to have a beer and then buy the supplies to try and replicate it at home.

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Did I mention that beer isn’t the only thing on the menu? Cider, mead and wine may also be produced on site.

Although exciting, this brewery isn’t quite a sure thing, Michael Druce, current Beyond the Grape and Fraser Mills owner pointed out:

“…we will be going before the Port Moody council sometime in March for approval of a temporary use permit to allow us to do liquor manufacturing in a commercial zoning.”

“…we will need public support for a Temporary Use Permit for the location…”

Public support may come in the form of letters to Port Moody Council or Vocal support at a public hearing. If you would like to show Port Moody Public Council your support for another business in Port Moody please send an e-mail to council@portmoody.ca

 

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

Blended and Wild Ale is the Next Big Thing in Craft beer

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A bottle share with some blends

Yes I truly believe the next explosion in Beer will be blended, Wild ales and Wild-ish ales. No, I do not mean that I believe Blended and Wild-ish ales will come to dominate the industry like Hazy IPAs have. I do think Blended and Wild-ish ales will come to form a small fraction of the market to become a small but significant portion of the market though. Before I go any further lets get some Vocab down

Blended Ales “involve[s] a brewer sampling multiple beers and then determining (with specific measurements and careful sensory analysis) the right combination of flavors. In barrel-aged beers, this involves pulling nails from the front of aging barrels and sampling the liquid therein.”

https://www.allagash.com/blog/why-blend-beer/?ao_confirm

Wild Yeast Yeast actually is present in the air and wind. Exposing beer to the open air and wind will often lead to fermentation. The problem with this method is the yeast strains are often very localized and can be very different,  giving what many might consider “off flavours”. Some regions and areas (even buildings) are well known for having very desirable local strains. The most beloved strains are often found in Belgium where a few brewers still consistently wild ferment.

Wild Ale “Wild Ales aren’t necessarily Sour Ales, and Sour Ales aren’t necessarily Wild Ales. What makes a Wild Ale a Wild Ale is just that – the presence of a wild yeast or some other kind of uncontrolled or atypical microflora (“bugs,” if you will). These microflora are used in addition to (or wholly in place of) traditional brewer’s yeast (Saccharomyces Cerevisiae). It isn’t necessarily a requirement that the “wild” fermenting strain be derived from the actual wild – it also can come from a pure culture of some particular bug like Lactobacillus (Lacto), Pediococcus (Pedio) or Brettanomyces (Brett).”

https://beerconnoisseur.com/articles/difference-between-sour-and-wild-ale

Wild-ish Ale I made up this term to describe beers that are made from lab curated wild strains, so they may taste like true wild ales but they are brewed in a more modern way. 

Its important to note that there are no hard-fast rules about these beers and Breweries play with the labeling and naming often. For example it is my understanding that Yellow Dog’s recent Blended Reality release used Barrel-Aged Wild-ish beer BLENDED with  a kettle sour. Is that a Wild Blended Ale in a specific sense? No. But, in the broader sense it is Blended and thus a Blended ale, for the purpose of this article I mean Blended Wild Ales in the broader sense.

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Why are Blended Ales about to explode (in relative terms)?

Quality

Unlike other beers which after fully fermenting and conditioning do not change, blended beers are able to be blended to brewers taste. For example a brewer may brew 1000 litres of beer and put the beer into 3 100 litre oaked barrels, 3 100 litre oaked barrels with raspberries, and the rest in a steel conditioning vessel. When it is time to package the brewer can try each vessel. Each vessel WILL have slight to large differences in flavour body etc. The brewer can taste and blend to intended taste ensuring (to a a much larger degree than a conventional brew) that the beer tastes as she or he intends. In short blending allows for greater quality… and yes some beer is often left on the cutting room floor.

 

-Barreling at Coalesce and Temporal Artisan Ales

Cost

Lets make no bones about it when done well the quality of a blended ale should be very high, but what is also intriguing in the low start up cost of these breweries. Whereas conventional breweries really need stainless steel fermenting tanks which cost  in the 10s of thousands of dollars Barrels can be had in the mid hundreds. That is not to say when scaling to larger sizes that the costs of a blended ale brewery aren’t similar to a conventional brewery but rather that in certain circumstances such as a small start up brewery in 1000-3000 sq feet the start up costs can be significantly lower. An example of this is Deep Dark Woods Brewing in Whitehorse Yukon Territory. Another way this happens is when an employee of an existing brewery buys 10-50 barrels, leases space and time on the brewhouse from the brewery and they start a brand, as was the case (or something similar) in Coalesce Brewing and Temporal Brewing.

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Small scale brewing at Deep Dark Woods Brewing, pictured here is the Barrel Mash Tun

If you are looking to give these beers a go locally start with both Temporal Artisan Ales and the coming soon Bakery Brewing on Brewers Row  . Slightly further a field Deep Dark Woods Brewing in the Yukon Territory. Internationally I recommend Drie Fonteinen, Brasserie Tilquin, and Cantillon!

Speaking Out Against a Murray Street (Brewers Row) Entertainment District

I finished watching recorded debates for the Port Moody Election and most of it met my expectations. One specific mention by Steve Milani and Hunter Madsen did scare me though. 

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What concerns me is the idea of creating a “entertainment district” on Murray street. The creation of an “entertainment district” on Murray Street with restaurants and other spaces would necessitate a rezoning of the area to include commercial and other non-industrial zoning. Commercial zoning is very likely to increase the relative values of leasing any and all properties on Murray street.  

Our Breweries have been very successful and have created great brands for themselves as Brewers Row. However, their leases often 5+5 years, are coming to the end of their initial lifespan in the next 5 years or so. If lease costs rise too high they will move. Breweries change location all over BC it has happened in other places, it can happen here..

Even if they decide to stay in order to keep the brand going in Port Moody it is very unlikely they will expand or even keep current level of production at their leased buildings. Imagine a Brewers Row where several brewers have left and the rest really are just pubs, with production moving to Delta or Langley and their living wage jobs with them. 

There is a social aspect to this too. There is great concern about losing the community aspect of Port Moody through development. In fact, SFU studies have spoken to fact that region is rapidly losing community. Our breweries are our community Rec Rooms, inviting old, young, new friends and old. Brewery Lounges are one of the few successful stories in creating community. To change the character of the street to incorporate commercial and other non-industrial spaces we will effectively inauthenticate the currently authentic experience of Brewers Row, we will force the brewery’s to artificially change their nature, without a doubt decreasing their community building aspect, and we will meddle in an organic success. Moreover, we will also push out the low-capital mom and pop Food Truck experiences, who are well known for their culinary prowess 

By creating an “entertainment district” in Port Moody you stand to suck out the soul of our community, I do not support any “entertainment district” in Port Moody.
I do not endorse Hunter Madsen or Steve Milani.

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.