B.C. Beer Blog

The who, what, where, when, why, and how of B.C. craft beer

Posts Tagged ‘Caskival

The Next Wave in BC Craft Beer

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Patrons enjoying the Driftwood beer dinner at Hapa Umi.

It was just over three years ago when I started this blog out of frustration over the lack of craft beer coverage in the mainstream media – virtually none. In fact, they were reporting the decline of beer in favour of wine when I knew it was a generalization that completely overlooked the ferment that was happening in BC amongst the microbreweries and brewpubs. Clearly, the MSM had no idea, given their wine obsession. At the time, craft beer in Vancouver seemed like an underground subculture whose workings were known to a select few. I had started getting the word out through CAMRA Vancouver’s newsletter, but needed a means for discussing issues and covering events in more depth than e-mail. The B.C. Beer Blog was born.

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CAMRA Vancouver Recognizes Local Beer Excellence

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Central City brewer, Gary Lohin

Central City brewer, Gary Lohin.

The Vancouver chapter of the Campaign for Real Ale has announced the results of its annual members poll recognizing local and regional excellence in brewing and beer service. Surrey’s Central City Brewing was awarded Best Local Brewpub; the Alibi Room Best Local Beer Cafe, Pub, or Restaurant; and Brewery Creek Liquor Store, Best Local Liquor Store for beer selection. This is the second year both the Alibi Room and Brewery Creek were rated the best in their categories.

With the growing popularity of cask-conditioned ale (Real Ale) in Vancouver, more establishments have been adding this type of beer to their offerings. For this reason, CAMRA Vancouver added a Best Local Cask Night to its list of awards. In a nod to its pioneering role in popularizing Real Ale in the city, Dix Barbecue and Brewery won this category and won silver for its winter cask ale festival. The Whip is also acknowledged for its Real Ale Sundays with a different cask every week supplied by R&B Brewing.

Since last year, Amber Jack’s Tap House, St. Augustine’s Restaurant & Lounge, and Yaletown Brewing have each begun offering Real Ale on a weekly or monthly basis. The Alibi Room now offers a continuously changing selection of three cask ales nightly. They celebrated their 100th beer menu rotation on December 3. Read the rest of this entry »

Moving Mountains

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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.

Fun at the Fest-of-Ale

Modelling beerwear at the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale, Penticton - April 4, 2009.

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.

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Spinnakers Hosts First Cask Festival

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Speaking of culinary tourism, Spinnakers hosted their inaugural cask festival on March 14 from noon to 5:00pm. As they’ve been tapping a different cask every weekday since December, it was only a matter of time before they would have a festival. I got word that the planning was underway when two of their employees attended the X-mas X-treme Caskival at Dix on December 6 to take notes.

The timing of Spinnakers’ cask festival was somewhat unfortunate in that it coincided with Just Here for the Beer’s Wine & Beer Festival at the Plaza 500 Hotel in Vancouver. Forced to make a choice, I selected Real Ale and an excuse to get out of town. Even with a high chance of rain, a day spent indoors imbibing cask-conditioned ale from some of BC’s top breweries, in the company of brewers and the craft beer cognoscenti, is time well spent.

The event was held upstairs in Spinnakers’ pub, which meant a limited number of tickets were available. Demand seems to have greatly exceeded supply as they sold out rapidly. Perhaps for the next one they will consider a larger venue. However, I doubt they will close off the downstairs dining room as I’m sure they make a lot more money from regular diners than drinkers.

Nineteen beers were featured, so there was adequate space to stage the casks around the room. The lineup was:

Some of the brewers who contributed to the cask festival.

In comparison to the more freestyle nature seen at Dix Caskivals, these beers were fairly indicative of their respective styles. A little bit of experimentation was seen with Canoe’s stout, Granville Island’s Ginger Beer, Spinnakers’ Black Velvet, and Swans’ porter, but nothing as eccentric as Dave Varga’s Masala Pale Ale or Tariq Khan’s Chipotle Cream Ale that they brewed for Caskival. Canoe Habit Espresso Stout is a collaboration with a Victoria coffee roaster. I like both beverages; even better together! Granville Island Ginger Beer appeals to all those ginger lovers with plenty of Hawaiian ginger to spice things up — great food pairing beer. Spinnakers’ Black Velvet was a blend of Irish stout and sparkling white wine. This was my first taste of the fest and I found it tasty, light, and refreshing — somewhat reminiscent of Unibroue Chambly Noire. Swans Pod Porter was conditioned with organic Madagascar vanilla pods, giving it a nicely enhanced vanilla flavour that is a major contrast to Granville Island’s over-the-top, cloying Winter Ale. Lovers of the latter should compare the two in a side-by-side tasting.

Spinnakers Katie Zimmerman announces end of their inaugural cask festival.

Spinnakers Katie Zimmerman announces end of their inaugural cask festival.

Although Phillips did not bring a cask, they did do something out of the ordinary that I found most welcome, despite some people’s grumblings — they served their draught IPA through two randalls, one containing Cascade hops, the other Centennial. Basically, they were dry-hopping the IPA even more on the fly. Delicious!

This was the first opportunity I had to try the mysterious Lighthouse Riptide Pale Ale. It’s their first new beer in three years and I must say that it’s about time! Offering seasonal beers is a basic practice for improving marketing: at the very least, you have more to say to the public to get their attention. Naturally, I was curious to find out more about the Riptide — how is it different from all the other pale ales out there; what malt or hops did they use, etc. Unfortunately, they won’t tell me anything beyond their generic marketese: ‘choicest imported malts, mated with a unique hop blend…’ Doesn’t everyone say that? Actually, no. If you look at the festival programme, virtually all of the other brewers talk about the specific ingredients they used for their beer. No big trade secret. Without specific measurements and knowing the particular brewing techniques, it is highly unlikely a brewer will be able to exactly match another’s beer. There are too many variables. I find the secrecy rather silly. Riptide doesn’t have a je ne sais quoi that makes it truly unique. It’s just another pale ale aiming for broad drinkability.

Five hours of drinking means that you need to have something to eat. Spinnakers is a good place to be hungry. I ordered their pulled pork nachos and Highland Beef Burger. There was no need for dinner after! Nevertheless, as a lagniappe, complimentary handmade white chocolate saison truffles were served to sweeten the day’s experience.
I always find these festivals come to a reluctant end. There’s never enough time to talk in a lot of detail to all of the brewers and your craft beer comrades and still be able to taste all of the beers. Fortunately, if you wanted to stay around, Spinnakers honoured purchased tasting tickets and you could order pints of any of the remaining casks. I had a ferry to catch, so I made a hasty departure with my travelling companions, Spinnakers Barley Wine and India Pale Ale malt vinegars for souvenirs.

Spinnakers Boosts Victoria Real Ale

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Until recently, the hotbed of BC cask-conditioned ale — aka real ale — was Vancouver. As Real Ale has a distinctly British pedigree (as you might glean from having heard of the Campaign for Real Ale), this is somewhat surprising, given Victoria’s British heritage (royal this, that, and the other thing; high tea; double-decker buses, etc.). However, you could only find a cask served at Spinnakers every Friday. Whereas in Vancouver, aside from its three annual cask festivals, a cask is always on at the Irish Heather, is featured every week at Dix and The Whip, and is offered monthly at BigRidge and Taylor’s Crossing. Ironically, a greater number of Vancouver Island brewers were supplying Vancouver with cask ale than their own patrons.

To address this paradox, Spinnakers has aggressively ramped up their real ale production. Now, every weekday, they are tapping a different cask in the taproom at 4:00pm. These are not just cask versions of their regular beer. Brewer Rob Monk is taking advantage of the cask’s small size (40 L) to experiment with different, innovative recipes. For example, tomorrow will feature a Basil IPA, next Tuesday there will be a Maple Nut Brown Ale, and on January 22, it’s a French Oaked Belgian Blonde.

Although brewing real ale represents more work for the brewer, it offers them an enticing advantage. When creating esoteric or extreme beers, brewing, say, a 10 hectoliter batch exposes them to much greater financial risk. Most beer drinkers in BC are not that adventurous or even beer savvy, considering how much macro lager is sold here. It would be hard selling so much of an unconventional beer in such a small market (compared to the size of the US). Brewing 40 L, on the other hand, is a completely different proposition. Now the brewer can afford to be creative and may, cask by cask, gradually convert enough of the clientele to be able to brew a full batch of a beer they would not have previously accepted. This is what seems to be happening in Vancouver.

The vanguard of brewing in BC is mostly found in its brewpubs (except for Kelowna and Penticton). Typically, they will offer a range of beer styles from lager to stout, Hefeweizen to IPA. Real ale is the next frontier. Hopefully, Spinnakers will now do for Victoria what Dix and R&B have done for Vancouver. A regular supply of real ale is a good thing that every self-respecting pub should have. The further away we get from BC’s beer parlour tradition, the better.

Upcoming GCBF Highlights

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If you’re going to the GCBF and haven’t perused the brewers list on their Web site, you may want to make your way over there to plan ahead for what you definitely don’t want to miss out on.

For myself, I’m not interested so much in the exhibitors with bottles aka import agents and large producers. You can buy these in a liquor store. My first priority is breweries whose products I can’t get here. Of those, cask ale tops the list as they may be a one-off or at least of a regular style they brew but of unique character.

Non-B.C. breweries I’m looking forward to sample are Baron, Boundary Bay, Peaks, Silver City, Wild Rose, and Wildwood. Bushwakker from Regina, SK, is one coming the furthest to represent themselves and another I’ll be thoroughly evaluating. Paddock Wood from Saskatoon will be there too, but their products are available in Vancouver and they have exhibited only bottled product in the past.

Specific beers on my to do list: Anacortes IPA, Baron über-Weisse, Boundary Bay Imperial Oatmeal Stout & Scotch Ale, Peaks Dungeness Spit IPA, Pike IPA, Silver City Indianola Pale Ale & Imperial Stout, and Wild Rose Port-infused Oatmeal Stout

My second priority is B.C. brewers with a cask, a seasonal, or something new, followed by breweries whose beer I’ve never tried — Barley Mill Brewpub from Penticton and Hells Gate in Delta (I suspect this is the new Mark Anthony brewery).

B.C. beers I’m excited to try: Central City Imperial IPA; Crannóg Bansidhe, Bogtrotter Brown, Insurrection Pale Ale, and Pooka Cherry Ale; Howe Sound Pothole Filler & Total Eclipse of the Hop; Longwood Imperial Stout, IPA, Märzenbier; Nelson Paddywack; Spinnakers Hefeweizen; Steamworks Great Pumpkin Ale & Grand Espresso Stout (conditioning since last winter); Swans Scotch Ale; Tree Hophead; and at the Yaletown booth, Alchemy, Dix IPA, and Whistler Brewhouse Heart of Darkness.

Central City Thor’s Hammer is another standout. Brewer Gary Lohin used to make this when at Sailor Hagar’s. Sailor Hagar’s still have some of it from ten years ago and had a keg on draft last December — incredible! Word is they have one left, so keep an eye out for it later this year. In the meantime, you can try Thor’s Hammer the Younger in Victoria. If you’ve had Thor’s Hammer the Elder, you will recognize the progeny. Hopefully, Gary will put some away in a cool, dark corner and sit on it for a few years. Otherwise, bottle it so we can do so.

We’ve been expecting a Dead Frog cask in Vancouver from Tony Dewald (formerly of Dix) for a while, but he did not participate in the Surrey Summer Cask Festival, nor Caskival 5 at Dix — much of whose success is because of him. Now it looks like he’ll have a cask of their Nut Brown, so I’m anxious to sample it.

Dave Woodward’s Heart of Darkness from Whistler Brewhouse won best beer at the Central City’s Surrey Summer Cask Festival. An Imperial Stout aged on bourbon-soaked oak, it is a delightful mouthful that ought to be a staple Après-ski winter warmer in the Village.

If you stop by the Crannóg booth, one sample you should try to get Brian make up for you is a blend of 1/3 Pooka Cherry and 2/3 Back Hand of God. It makes a wonderful cherry stout.

On a final note, don’t overlook the wonderful cider from Merridale. Their cask Cyser is a must. It’s very popular, though, so I would recommend sampling it early. It also makes sense to do it before the big-flavoured, high gravity ales so you can fully appreciate it.

Caskival: The Coming Beer Culture

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Beer festivals in B.C. are typically male-dominated affairs that are tightly regulated by the Liquor Distribution Branch because of the assumed association between beer and bad behaviour (one that is not assumed to be with wine if you have ever dealt with the LDB in setting up an event). If the festival is more about raising money than the appreciation of good beer, you can bet that the quality of the experience will inevitably decline (e.g. Vancouver’s Autumn Brewmasters Festival). The GCBF, on the other hand, is a good example of a well-run, civilized event that, as a result, attracts a mixed clientele interested in the opportunity to taste many different beers, rather than an excuse to get drunk (a number who don’t get it still try, though).

Rae, Andy, and Lauren enjoying the cask ale offerings at Dix Summer Caskival.

Rae, Andy, and Lauren enjoying the cask ale offerings at Dix Summer Caskival.

At Saturday’s Summer Caskival (#5), I witnessed an interesting change at Dix from the previous affairs. There were more women in attendance.

I find this to be a noteworthy situation because it signals to me some positive developments:

  1. more women are discovering different styles of beer, beers they actually enjoy
  2. Caskival is a cultured enough event to make it worthwhile for women to attend
  3. the males are sufficiently well-mannered that women feel comfortable

We are starting to see the movement away from a drinking culture. More people are taking the time to contemplate and enjoy the creativity and skill of the brewers, socializing with similarly-motivated people, and enjoying food with their drink. I think beer has been on the decline as more Canadians choose wine because macro-brewers don’t fulfill this demand while micro-brewers don’t have the financial clout to reach a broad audience to inform them the option is available. Instead, the change is happening at the grass roots level through events like Caskival and word of mouth. I regularly come across people who are surprised by the quality of the beer and the ready availability of it if they know where to look. So many people say, “I never knew!”

For those that did and turned up “for the love of the bung,” there was a fine showing of creative casks this year. Fruit figured in half of them, including a medium-dry 5% ABV apple cider from Storm Brewing, kräusened with pear juice, that had aged nicely since last October. Whistler Brewhouse’s Dave Woodward provided a Belgian-style Mother Pucker Sour Cherry Wheat that was well-balanced, not cloyingly sweet, and had a taste of almonds (from the pits) in the finish. Dix’s Derrick Franche brought out the citrus with a Key Lime Yuzu Hefeweizen — no need for lemon or lime; it’s already in there.

There were classic casks, like Mission Springs Fat Guy Oatmeal Stout, a Simcoe dry-hopped Red Devil Pale Ale from R & B, and Crannög Three Finger Ale — a traditionally-made porter known as an “entire butt.” A special treat was Iain Hill’s Flemish Oud Bruin, which is developing much more character and depth as the months go by. I’m looking forward to when he releases it at Yaletown Brewing in the fall.

On the experimental side, the most unusual and ambitious was from Dave Varga at Taylor’s Crossing. Dave normally likes to brew to style and does a very good job of it. You would, therefore, expect him to be a conservative brewer; not when it comes to making a small batch for hardcore beer aficionados. How about a Masala Pale Ale? If you don’t like a full-on Indian curry, you wouldn’t have liked this beer; some poured it out. I do. Truth be told, however, I was skeptical. Cumin, coriander, fennel, star anise, cardamon, chillies, cinnamon, curry leaves, and palm sugar in beer? Yes! And amazingly good. It would be right at home served at Vij’s.

Tariq Khan of BigRidge in Surrey supplied a Chipotle Cream Ale. Chili beers mess with your head when you first try them. Like La Casa Gelato’s Spicy Mango ice cream, it is both hot and cool at the same time. How much heat you feel depends on your tolerance for chili. If you like spicy food, more of the smoky flavour from the chipotle will come out and some sweetness from the malt, a nice pairing with the barbecue at Dix. Otherwise, you will have mostly experienced the burn.

Dix usually tries to have food specials for each Caskival. This time there was an incredible Pork Loin Katsu Sandwich and Chef Zai’s very own Kimchi Smoked Striploin Beef Jerky with a yuzu honey glaze.

Caskival wrapped up with Derrick Franche announcing the brewers’ and drinkers’ choice awards. For the brewers, it was Iain Hill’s Oud Bruin. For the drinkers, it was Dave Woodward’s 7% ABV, 60 IBU, Whistler Brewhouse IPA, made with Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, and Horizon hops and Chico yeast. That said, I think we were all winners.

For more pictures of the event, check out my friend Raj’s Urban Mixer blog.

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