B.C. Beer Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Yaletown Brewing

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.

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.

2009 Tarnished Plate Awards

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Love them or loathe them, the Georgia Straight‘s Golden Plate Awards are out. Either way, it would be foolish to ignore them. Consider them a gauge of The Straight‘s readers’ preferences. If, as a business, you are targeting that demographic, then the awards will give you an indication of how successful your efforts have been to date. From the perspective of CAMRA Vancouver, it tells us how much more work we still need to do.

On the beer front, this is an opportunity to measure progress since the Best of Vancouver 2008 awards. Although there were fewer categories offered than the Golden Plates, my accompanying article in that edition covered more ground. I was hoping, at least, it made a few people curious to try something other than what they’re constantly being bombarded with in advertisements. The results are mixed, but I see some progress being made.

In terms of beer, readers are clearly influenced by advertising. The Local Microbrew category certainly limits the choices (thankfully, there were no daft awards, such as Molson Canadian), but all the beers chosen are actually brewed in Kelowna. The Granville Island beers that are brewed in Vancouver are only their Limited Releases. The majority of people still need to discover R&B and Storm, it seems. Sorry, folks, per a previous post, Steamworks is not a microbrewery; they are a brewpub. Outside of this category, only one craft brewer made the cut — Phillips, which just reinforces what I said in my last post about the need for craft brewers to collaborate.

In the categories of B.C. Beer (brewed outside Vancouver) and Canadian Beer (not B.C.), people have a reading comprehension problem since a number of choices were breweries, not actual beers. I find the import category to be the most disappointing of all. Given all the beers available at the establishments chosen in the Imported Beer Selection category, you would think there would be more of a mixture of choices other than mass-market lager and mass-market Guinness. There is a much greater diversity available here that people are completely missing out on. A visit to Brewery Creek, Firefly, Libations, or Viti would quickly put that to rest.

On the pub front, I see more progress. All the pubs are actual pubs; all the brewpubs are pubs that brew beer for consumption on their own premises (Granville Island Tap House not being a pub). The majority of the chosen pubs also have good beer. I’m heartened by the fact that The Straight‘s readers do not equate ‘best’ with the Granville guzzling galleries. On the food side, I don’t think enough people have eaten at the Alibi Room. Their commitment to local and seasonal is deserving of attention. Chef Greg Armstrong formerly worked at Habit Lounge, so he’s no slouch.

Finally, I’m curious about the inclusion of Fogg N’ Suds. Are people voting for them based on reputation? Their beer selection today is nowhere near that of their halcyon days in the mid-eighties. For B.C. beer, no one in the entire province beats the Alibi Room for the quality of their selection — there is simply no crap on tap. For imported beer, I think Fogg N’ Suds has been succeeded by Six Acres, the Irish Heather, and Stella’s. I wouldn’t call Chambar‘s selection the best from a comprehensive point of view, but it is very good from the perspective of matching their beer with their food, which no one else in Vancouver has done. I’d like to see them replace their gueuze, though, with Oud Beersel. If we can get anyone to import Cantillon, its inclusion would be essential.

Finally, here are the beer results from the Best Drinks section of the 2009 Golden Plate Awards:

Local Microbrewery
1. Granville Island Brewing
2. R & B Brewing
3. Steamworks Brewing Company

Local Microbrew
1. Granville Island Lions Winter Ale
2. Granville Island English Bay Pale Ale
3. Granville Island Lager

B.C. Beer (brewed outside Vancouver)
1. Kokanee
2. Okanagan Spring
3. Phillips Brewing

Canadian Beer (not B.C.)
1. Sleeman
2. Alexander Keith’s
3. (tie) Molson Canadian
3. (tie) Moosehead

Imported Beer
1. Stella Artois
2. (tie) Corona
2. (tie) Guinness
3. Heineken

Best Pub
1. The Irish Heather
2. Yaletown Brewing Company
3. Steamworks

Brewpub
1. Yaletown Brewing Company
2. Steamworks
3. Dix BBQ & Brewery

Pub Food
1. The Irish Heather
2. Yaletown Brewing Company
3. Kingston Taphouse & Grille

B.C. Beer Selection
1. Fogg N’ Suds
2. Alibi Room
3. The Whip Restaurant Gallery

Imported Beer Selection
1. Stella’s Tap & Tapas Bar
2. Fogg N’ Suds
3. Chambar Belgian Restaurant

The Best of… Beer Confusion

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WE, the weekly formerly known as the West Ender, recently published its ‘The Best of the City’ readers choice awards. In their After Dark section, they had a couple of categories covering beer, so fewer issues for me to have than with the Georgia Straight‘s ‘Best of Vancouver‘ awards. Nevertheless, it is another canary in the coal mine to judge how beer-savvy their readers are. The verdict? Not terribly.

WE had two categories devoted to beer —Microbrewery and Brew Pub. What were the picks?

Microbrewery:

  1. Dockside Brewing Co.
  2. Steamworks Brewing Co.
  3. Granville Island Brewing

Brew Pub:

  1. Yaletown Brew Pub (sic)
  2. Steamworks Brewing Co.
  3. Dockside Restaurant & Brewing Co. (sic)

Problem? Dockside and Steamworks are not microbreweries They produce beer solely for sale on their premises, hence the term ‘brew pub.’ Microbreweries produce beer for sale outside of their premises. They’ve been allowed to have tap rooms to offer visitors a sample of their brews, but full pub service is not available.

So for next year’s ‘The Best of the City’ awards, let’s get what we’re voting on straight. In Vancouver proper, there are three microbreweries — Granville Island, R&B, and Storm — and four brew pubs — Coal Harbour, Dix, Dockside, Steamworks, Yaletown. If the boundary is actually Metro Vancouver, then the options extend from Lions Bay to Delta, Bowen Island to Abbotsford. That excludes Howe Sound Brewing, Whistler Brewhouse, Dead Frog, and Mission Springs. It also doesn’t include Whistler Brewing which doesn’t even brew in Whistler. Granville Island is a bit of an anomaly because the only beer they brew at the island is their seasonal releases. Anything that’s sold in a six-pack is made in Kelowna.

CAMRA Recognizes Vancouver’s Best in Beer

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Dustin Sepkowski, Morris Anh, Rose Weir of The Whip

Dustin Sepkowski, Morris Anh, and Rose Weir, photo courtesy Brian K. Smith Photography.

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. Dix BBQ & Brewery was awarded Best Local Brewpub; The Alibi Room is Best Local Beer Cafe, Pub, or Restaurant; and Brewery Creek, Best Local Liquor Store for beer selection.

“While it may seem curious that the best beer is in Surrey and the best brewery in Victoria, this year’s results reflect the growth in popularity of real ale in Vancouver,” explained CAMRA Vancouver President, Rick Green. “We are fortunate to have brewers throughout the province willing to meet the demand here.”

Dix BBQ & Brewery began the trend in 2002, featuring a cask-conditioned ale once a month. With the encouragement of CAMRA Vancouver, the following has grown. Now Dix features a weekly cask ale and hosts a semi-annual cask festival.

“We are very pleased to be awarded favourite brewpub in the Lower Mainland,” said Dix brewer, Derrick Franche. “On behalf of the Dix BBQ & Brewery staff, I’d like to thank CAMRA Vancouver for their support.”

Nigel Springthorpe, Alibi Room publican.

Nigel Springthorpe, photo courtesy Brian K. Smith Photography.

In January of 2007, The Whip Restaurant & Gallery partnered with local microbrewery, R&B Brewing, to offer a weekly cask from brewers all over BC. Last year, they inaugurated the annual Feast of Five Firkins, a special brewmasters’ dinner featuring five courses paired with five firkins from five brewers. Their success is reflected in the three rewards they received this year.

Real ale is also reaching the suburbs. Taylor’s Crossing brewpub in North Vancouver offers a monthly cask ale, as does Surrey’s BigRidge brewpub. Central City Brewing, also in Surrey, launched their annual cask festival last summer.

Not only is Gastown an evolving dining destination, it’s also a growing focal point for craft beer. Steamworks has been the standard bearer since 1995. Two years ago, the Alibi Room changed direction to become a true free house showcasing all of the province’s best beers. Publican, Nigel Springthorpe, noted:

“We went out on a limb to try something different. The build has been slow, but I really feel things are coming together. We pick up our own beer from the Island; we even have small breweries in the Interior carpooling their beer or getting visitors to throw kegs in their trunks to bring to us. Things are changing. Craft beer is becoming a bigger part of our culture here in BC.”

Last year, the Irish Heather moved across the street into a newly-renovated location. As part of their makeover, they became the first establishment in Vancouver to offer cask-conditioned ale daily, supplied by R&B. And with first-rate imports being sold through progressive retailers, such as Brewery Creek, we can expect the bar to be raised in Vancouver.

The results of the 2009 CAMRA Vancouver Awards are:

Best Local Brewpub
Gold: Dix BBQ & Brewery
Silver: Central City Brewing
Bronze: Yaletown Brewing

Best Local Beer Cafe, Pub, or Restaurant
Gold: The Alibi Room
Silver: The Whip Restaurant & Gallery
Bronze: The Wolf & Hound

Best Local Liquor Store
Gold: Brewery Creek Cold Beer & Wine Store
Silver: Firefly Fine Wines and Ales
Bronze: BCLS Signature Store (39th & Cambie)

Best Local Beer Event
Gold: The Whip Real Ale Sundays
Silver: CAMRA On a Mission to Mission; Feast of Five Firkins (tie)

Best BC Brewery
Gold: Phillips Brewing Co., Victoria
Silver: Storm Brewing Ltd., Vancouver
Bronze: Crannóg Ales, Sorrento; R&B Brewing, Vancouver (tie)

Best BC Beer
Gold: Central City Empire IPA
Silver: Storm Black Plague Stout
Bronze: Crannóg Back Hand of God Stout

Best BC Seasonal Beer
Gold: Yaletown Oud Bruin
Silver: Steamworks The Grand espresso stout
Bronze: Granville Island Winter Ale

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