Sometimes, changing a culture feels like trying to move a mountain. You put all your strength into it and it doesn’t budge. Of course, being that lone wacko on the fringe is like battling windmills with a toothbrush, you can easily be dismissed. Having acquaintances with earth moving equipment, though, begins to lessen the odds.
In BC’s craft beer scene, we witnessed a slight tremor in the mountain in 2009. Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub inaugurated their first cask ale festival on March 14, which quickly sold out. They followed with another fest on November 21. Both days of Penticton’s Okanagan Fest-of-Ale on April 3 & 4 were completely subscribed. Summer Caskival at Dix Barbecue and Brewery in Vancouver garnered a full house. The Great Canadian Beer Festival always sees full attendance on both days. CAMRA Vancouver’s Oktoberfest celebration at the Granville Island Tap Room sold out. X-mas X-treme at Dix on December 5 had to close its doors less than two hours into the event because of reaching capacity. Now we find that the third annual Feast of Five Firkins at Vancouver’s The Whip Restaurant & Gallery sold out in a day!
This can be a bit of a problem for CAMRA members and their circle who have supported many of these events from the beginning. Venues are at capacity when you visit, or events are sold out with even a day’s delay. What’s a poor beer aficionado to do? Well, it indicates an expansion of capacity is necessary. Events may have to grow or become more frequent. More establishments will have to be persuaded to part with their slavish 10 taps of crap and begin offering a rotating selection from other parts of the beer spectrum. Pioneers have to venture out to tame the frontier, bringing living colour to the glasses of macro-lagerdom.
Consumers and the hospitality industry need to be actively educated so that they can venture forth in confidence, knowing the path they will take—while there may be a few bumps in the road—will ultimately be fruitful. A culture doesn’t just change itself. Fortunately for establishments in the Lower Mainland, education is now available via Chester Carey’s Serious Beer School at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. This is long overdue as properly serving draught beer is a lot more difficult than pouring a bottle of wine.
There was promising movement on the Real Ale front over the past 12 months. Last January, Spinnakers upped their weekly cask offering to every weekday. On March 3, the Alibi Room introduced three beer engines for the second establishment in Vancouver to have cask-conditioned ale available continuously, after the Irish Heather installed their R&B beer engine on August 14, 2008. Yaletown Brewing began hosting a weekly Thursday cask night on June 11, and St. Augustine’s introduced their Monday cask nights to The Drive on September 28. The first regular cask night outside of Vancouver and Victoria will be featured at Surrey’s Amber Jack’s Tap House in the Compass Point Inn. Their monthly Cask Night in the ‘Burbs kicks off on January 15 at 7:30pm with a firkin of Russell Oaked Porter.
The BC craft brewing industry is recognizing the growing appreciation for local craft beer and is responding to demand by offering the public more options. Not only have breweries and brewpubs been buying more firkins to meet the growing popularity of Real Ale, more breweries have decided to enter the field. Lighthouse, Russell, Tree, and Vancouver Island had cask offerings for the first time in 2009. Others are studying it; as they well should. It offers a low-risk opportunity to experiment and market test in order to find a new beer that may be successfully added to a brewery’s portfolio. Offering different casks also generates news which helps with publicity. Media is always looking for stories.
Last year also saw the release of a plethora of new beers with an emphasis on more flavour: Cannery Apricot Wheat, Wildfire IPA; Driftwood Brother Bart’s Belgian Brown, Crooked Coast Amber, Sartori Harvest IPA; Granville Island Brockton IPA, Pumpkin; Howe Sound Pumpkineater, Total Eclipse of the Hop; Lighthouse Riptide Pale, Winter; Mt. Begbie Bad Habit IPA; Red Racer Pumpkin; Phillips Blackberry Heiferbison, Crazy 8s, Double Barrel Scotch, Gentleman Jim’s Real Ginger Ale, Hudson Light; Tree Black Tree Dark Ale, Hop Head 45, Spiced Reserve, Weizen Bock; and Vancouver Island Spyhopper.
Finally, we also saw craft beer’s beach head in BC expand with the launching of three new microbreweries and a beer destination in the Kootenays. Surgenor Brewing opened its doors in Comox on March 21, while Smithers got a reason to drink local with the grand opening of Plan B Brewing on September 26. Whistler Brewing invited the public to see its new brewery in Function Junction on December 11. This means they are a lot closer to their water source than previously. Carly Hadfield and Troy Pyett began offering the Castlegar area quality barbecue and a dozen rotating taps from the likes of Cannery, Nelson, Okanagan Spring, Phillips, Spinnakers, and Tree when they re-opened the Lion’s Head Pub in Robson on August 29. Their plan is to eventually turn the Lion’s Head into a brewpub.
I’m confident 2010 is going to be a year that builds on these positive developments. Crannóg is celebrating its 10th anniversary with an open house on January 31. CAMRA Vancouver is hosting Vancouver Craft Beer Week for the first time from May 10-16. And Nelson Brewing Company will mark its 20th year of business this summer with a Bavarian block party and an organic celebration ale. Expect to see their Hemp Kölsch Ale, which was first offered at the Hume Hotel last year, released in kegs in the Nelson area within the next 12 months.