B.C. Beer Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Howe Sound

The Next Wave: Darby’s Pub

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Darby's Pub taster glass with Red Racer LagerTransforming an established neighbourhood pub is not an easy thing to do. In fact, if serving up the old formula brings in enough bums on seats throughout the week to make a bit of a profit (because the real money is in the attached cold beer & wine store), then why change? Change may upset the apple cart, annoying your macro-drinking staff and alienating your bread and butter – the regulars whose habits the staff know well enough that they automatically deliver what is wanted. Why take a risk by throwing a monkey wrench in that well-honed machine that has taken a lot of time and money to develop?

You know you’ve walked into one of these places when you have a déjà vu experience that teleports you back to the eighties, only there is no shine on the brass, the floor coverings are looking well-worn, the furniture has stains and nicks, the walls have tape residue from old posters, and there’s a certain stale smell that seems to follow around post-50-year-old blue collar bachelors. You may see a number of the latter who have made the establishment their surrogate living room because it offers the basic things they seek to satisfy them – cheap beer, fried food, women to serve them without complaining, sports on the TV, and companions to argue over sports and politics with. And if the establishment truly does function as a neighbourhood pub, they will turn to look at you, wondering what sort of force you represent to their social oasis.

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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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Another Milestone: The Alibi Room 200th

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Nigel Springthorpe spoofs Michael JacksonI remember there was a time when a new change-up in the Alibi Room’s draught lineup was newsworthy of being posted on this blog. Those then became such a regular occurrence that even Nigel couldn’t keep up with posting copies of his new draught menu to his own Web site. Now we are lucky to get the occasional tweet, warning us of the odd noteworthy beer going on tap.

On December 3, 2009, the Alibi Room celebrated its 100th tap list with a party that has become legend amongst local craft beer nerds and brewers alike, not least of which was Nigel’s souvenir the beer geek’s guide to the Alibi’s 100th beer list. A shade over a year later, and three and a half years after this ball got rolling, it’s time to toast the 200th:

The Alibi’s 200th Beer List
December 22, 2010, 5:00pm
157 Alexander Street, Vancouver

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Beer Wars: The Battle Rages Every Day

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CAMRA Vancouver is screening the beer industry documentary, Beer Wars, at 4:00pm on Sunday, January 31. Greg Koch of San Diego’s Stone Brewing will be in attendance, and entertainment will be provided by local muscians, Sun Wizard. Central City, Driftwood, Granville Island, Howe Sound, R&B, Red Truck, Steamworks, Swans, and Yaletown brewing will be serving BC craft beer.

This is an ideal event for a person looking to find out more about beer and the craft brewing scene in BC. Where else can you have a good brew and watch a movie at the same time, except at home!


Beer Wars is not a stupid, drunken, frat-boy romp, filled to the brim with crude humor and bad taste. It’s a film that looks behind the scenes of the American beer industry (also relevant to Canada), where corporate behemoths are being challenged by small, independent brewers shunning the status quo, and creating innovative new beers. The story is told through two of these entrepreneurs — Sam and Rhonda — battling the might and tactics of Corporate America. Interviews with numerous industry players fill in the big picture.

Beer Wars is also not a flick that was made for the beer geek. Filmmaker, Anat Baron (UBC alumnus), set out to make an accessible movie that would give the average, mass-market beer drinker a better understanding of how their beer is made, where it comes from, and how it gets to them.

Beer Wars Movie

Date: Sunday, January 31
Time: 4:00 – 8:00pm
Venue: District 319, 319 Main Street, Vancouver, BC
Cost: $30.00, $25.00 CAMRA members (includes entry & all beer)
Tickets: only 150; advanced purchase only

  • online at CAMRA Vancouver
  • Alibi Room: see Rick Green on Jan. 28 from 6:00 – 8:00pm
  • Dix: see Monica Frost at the bar on Jan. 28 from 6:00 – 9:00pm
  • Firefly Fine Wines and Ales: see Lundy Wed. & Thurs., 3:00 – 11:00pm; Fri. & Sat., 10:00am – 6:00pm
Beer Wars movie poster

District 319 is an exclusive venue that is only available for private functions. It was an abandoned Asian movie house that has been renovated into a stylish, state-of-the-art multimedia facility.

Postscript

As of February 1, Beer Wars is now available on demand, as a download, or on DVD.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

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A Vancouver Sun article yesterday about a Statistics Canada report on the sale of alcoholic beverages in Canada talked about beer being the top choice of Canadians, albeit with a declining market share, while red wine sales have doubled since 2000 (article had a photo of a blonde drinking white wine!). This, however, doesn’t tell the whole story of beer consumption in BC because only generalized statistics categorizing beer into domestic and import are being reported.

One gets a more complete picture from sales figures reported by the BC Liquor Distribution Board. From April 2008 to September 2008, bottled beer sales in BC increased by 4.16% overall. Figures for the different sales categories are:

Large: 1.24% +
Regional: 2.06% +
Cottage: 32.49% +
Import: 13.2% +

So while mass market beer sales are rather flat, craft (cottage) beer sales in BC are growing much more than all other segments. Gerry Erith, manager of Brewer Creek Liquor Store in Vancouver, sees a divergence in the beer market: the price conscious and the quality conscious. Those looking for cheap beer will be attracted to products from Pacific Western Brewing, Bowen Island, Shaftebury, Molson, and Labatt. Those more interested in flavour & variety will opt for Cannery, Howe Sound, Phillips, R&B, Tree, etc. They are willing to pay more for a better beer, but don’t need to drink as much to be satisfied. Hence, as more people buy craft beer, I expect per capita beer consumption to go down, which is what has been happening. The difficult segment to be in is mid-market as those products are more than what the price conscious are usually willing to pay but not interesting or flavourful enough for the aficionados.

Could craft beer do better in the market? Aside from the perceived health benefits of red wine, I think there are a couple other factors that explain why beer is losing market share to wine — knowledge and marketing.

There is a lot more coverage of wine in the mainstream media than beer. The major newspapers have weekly wine columns; not one has a beer column (not that there is a lack of anything going on in the craft beer world). As an example of how slim the coverage of BC beer is, a new brewery opened in Comox recently. While it was covered in the town’s local paper and in this blog, there was not a word of it in the Victoria Times Colonist, The Province, or The Vancouver Sun. This is no piddly brewery either. With an investment of $2 million dollars, they aim to sell their beer throughout BC. It also is a good story of an entrepreneur finding a way out of the forest industry sinking boat without laying off all his workers. I doubt the opening of a new winery would escape notice.

So with the average person getting next to no information about their own craft breweries, beer styles, beer & food pairing, and the industry’s movers & shakers, how could one become interested in the possibilities of beer, never mind even knowing that there are any?

And of the information widely available, the majority of it is industrial beer advertising. Is it any surprise, then, that BC’s top-selling brands closely correlate with those most heavily advertised? And what is the substance of the majority of that messaging? Beer, sports, and men. What a great way to limit the appeal of your product, especially if the imagery is blatantly sexist. This doesn’t appeal to a large number of women, so they will choose something that has a more sophisticated, inclusive image. That’s a shame because it isn’t as if women don’t like beer. Many think they don’t, but actually haven’t gone beyond the beer that they didn’t like to find one that they do. That’s typically a fruit beer, wheat beer, or chocolatey stout to start off with. (I actually had a woman kiss me after trying an Old Yale Sasquatch Stout for the first time.)

Given people’s growing interest in gastronomy and the hospitality industry’s efforts to put BC on the global culinary map, it’s no surprise our wine industry has progressed so tremendously over the last two decades. We’ve seen the same with an evolving coffee culture and, recently, a nascent cocktail revival. Therefore, it makes sense people have a growing interest in BC craft beer. Given the myriad of styles available beyond American lager and pale ale, there’s a lot of scope for discovery. Let’s hope our media start catching on and get people excited about what our local brewers are doing. This is an opportunity being missed.

Instead of Cheap Wine, Drink Great Beer

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Anthony Gismondi writes in Saturday’s Vancouver Sun that in these times, it pays to become a more savvy wine drinker. What he means by that is not so much being more knowledgeable about wine itself, but looking for the best-valued wines rather than resorting to buying cheap wine to save money. Of course, you may have to drink less to stay within your shrunken budget.

Fortunately, drinking great beer presents few such restrictions and takes far less effort. How much money will you have to spend trying to find a wine in that crapshoot $10-$20 price range before you find something better than so-so or worse? Will that wine be just as good next year? Find a single bottle of beer in that price range, and you can be confident that the majority will be good to excellent. Most BC craft beer, on the other hand, is less than $5.00 per 650ml bottle. So for every bottle of wine you drink, you can try at least three different kinds of beer, if not more.

Would switching over to drinking more beer represent much of a sacrifice for wine drinkers? If you are sticking strictly to BC products, there certainly aren’t as many craft beers as there are wines. The BC wine industry has more money and government support than our brewers. Consequently, there are more of them. However, as you will glean from my earlier postings, there is no loss when it comes to food pairing. In fact, I would argue that given the flavour palette available with beer, there is a gain. Beer shines where pairings for wine are “tricky:” chocolate, oysters, sharp cheeses, and spicy foods.

Another thing that you will discover when you apply a connoisseur’s approach (kindly refrain from holding your nose up in the air) to beer is its seasonality — certain beer styles are suited to certain seasons. Jurgen Gothe, wine writer for the Georgia Straight , however, doesn’t seem to recognize that. His ‘Drink of the Week’ for December 30 was Tiger lager from Singapore. (Personally, I’m not too keen on drinking a generic macro lager from the other side of the world, especially after shoveling snow off the sidewalk. If I went to a Singaporean restaurant here, it would probably be the best choice available only because the proprietor likely knows nothing about beer except to stock what will sell and make the most money. In Singapore, though, you would be cheating yourself out of having a great beer if you kept only to Tiger.)

I’m not saying that you can’t drink a lager outside of summer; you can. But there are Bocks, Doppelbocks, and Eisbocks for this time of year that are more appropriate lagers than a Helles, Pils, or Vienna, both in terms of how they make us feel and in going with the hearty foods we eat to give us comfort. Barley wines, imperial stouts, old ales, Scotch ales, and Christmas/winter spiced beer often evolved from nature’s cycle. You wouldn’t normally drink these in summer. (With respect to wine, I can only think of young wines, like Beaujolais Nouveau, and mulled wine that are consumed during a particular time of year.) Therefore, in adopting the seasonality of beer, we become more in sync with Earth’s natural rhythm.

So to all wine drinkers, worry not. Find comfort in beer. And if your portfolio has taken a dive, seek shelter in a Bailout Bitter.

The Importance of Imports

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Some of the offerings at Brewery Creek Liquor Store in Vancouver (Photo © 2008 Rick Green).

Some of the offerings at Brewery Creek Liquor Store in Vancouver (Photo © 2008 Rick Green).

While I’m a strong proponent of “thinking global and drinking local,” Alan Moen makes an interesting point in the Oct/Nov 2008 issue of Northwest Brewing News: that without access to foreign brews, our own beer suffers. I have to agree.

We can see that fact with the emergence of craft brewing in BC in the mid-eighties. If you ask the pioneers why they started brewing, it’s typically because they wanted access to European ales that were unavailable here. Why was Fogg ‘N Suds so popular? Because, suddenly, a whole palette of beer was available when only homogenized macro lager was sold before. Those who had emigrated from, or travelled to, Europe could now satisfy their thirst for flavour.

When I returned from a decade’s absence in Hong Kong and San Francisco, I was surprised to see a decline in the availability of imported beer. The venerable Fogg ‘N Suds was closing restaurants and cutting back on their beer offerings. There seemed to be a stagnation in the local brewing scene. Coincidence?

Within the last 18 months, however, the import side has picked up due to the efforts of beer importers AFIC Group, Beerthirst, and Bravo Beer in conjunction with private beer & wine stores, such as Brewery Creek, Firefly, and Viti. The arrival of Brooklyn Lager seemed to be a catalyst that sparked a swell in imports, giving us the likes of Anderson Valley, Bear Republic, Binchoise, de Blaugies, Bosteels, Dogfish Head, Dupont, Flying Dog, Gordon Biersch, Green Flash, Hook Norton, Lost Coast, Mill Street, Moylan’s, North Coast, Oud Beersel, Pike, Pyramid, Rogue, and Van Steenberge, to name just a few.

In the meantime, the availability and variety of cask ale in Vancouver has been increasing. Dix and The Whip have been offering weekly casks. Now the new Irish Heather offers a cask daily, a first in Vancouver. We’ll see if Victoria catches up as the British brewing tradition is their trademark. We may see Spinnakers start pushing this in 2009.

We’ve also seen brewery expansions, either with capacity increases or moves into new facilities. This has been the case for Cannery, Central City, Dead Frog, Fernie, Howe Sound, Mt. Begbie, Phillips, and R & B. Taylor’s Crossing will be adding new capacity to meet the growing demand for the Mark James Group’s Red Truck Ale and Lager until they complete a dedicated production brewery for those two products on Terminal Avenue in Vancouver.

Consequently, we are also seeing the emergence of new beers. Howe Sound is exploring an Imperial IPA and and Imperial Stout, both of which were consumer tested at this Great Canadian Beer Festival. Fernie Brewing successfully released a Huckleberry wheat beer as a summer seasonal for the first time this year, while Phillips came out with a blackberry wheat in support of local farmland. Granville Island launched two new Limited Release beers—a Witbier and a Belgian-style blonde ale—and will drop their upcoming Merry Monks Doppelbock and Scotch Ale for two new styles. Yaletown Brewing’s Iain Hill will release an Oud Bruin next month.

Then there’s Driftwood Brewing, a completely new brewery in Victoria that aims to carve out a special niche. According to brewmaster, Jason Meyer, they plan on “providing an eclectic mix of high quality brews with a continuously changing selection and a decidedly Belgian slant. Expect to see everything from styles familiar to Northwest beer lovers (we love our “C” hops as much as anyone) to wild- and brettanomyces-fermented, wood-aged, sour mash, and other adventures in flavour.”

The hop shortage has also spurred innovation by forcing some brewers to come up with ways to maintain the flavour profile of their recipes or brew styles that use less hops. Taylor’s Crossing, for example, will focus their remaining seasonals on either unique flavours produced from yeast or from different adjuncts.

It’s an exciting time for brewers and beer drinkers in B.C. We just need to work on the government to remove some of the Byzantine barriers that prevent us from achieving what Belgium, Oregon, and Washington have.

On the Hunt for Great Beer in Vancouver

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I have an article in The Georgia Straight today about Vancouver’s best beer. Anticipating comments about why I didn’t include Crannóg, Howe Sound, Phillips, Spinnakers, etc.—it’s about Vancouver’s best beer, not Victoria’s, Squamish’s, or Sorrento’s.

I hope people don’t get too fixated on the examples I gave. Taste is a subjective thing. Different people like different things. The main message is that you need to find your own ‘best’ beer and I offer some ideas as to what you need to consider in that quest.

Bon voyage!

Written by BCbrews

September 18, 2008 at 9:31 am

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