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

 

 

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

 

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.