B.C. Beer Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Alan Moen

Beer Festival in Wine Country

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Patrick Cumisky serving up some Central City Red Racer IPA.

You may be surprised to learn that it takes a lot of good beer to make a fine wine. That might explain why Penticton’s Cannery Brewing sells more beer in Naramata than all of Alberta and why Silverado Brewing operates a burgeoning brewpub on the grounds of a winery in Napa. It may also explain why the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale in Penticton has no problem still selling out in its fourteenth year.

This year was the first time I attended the OFOA. I had heard the festival was starting to get on the rowdy side in recent years (from the perspective of older beer geeks like myself). My suspicions were aroused when a half-dozen twenty-something males in the lineup in front of me started whooping and hollering even before the venue doors had opened! They were not already drunk. I guess the OFOA must be their biggest event of the year — combine drinking and two-dimensional food (pizza) with skirt-chasing and brawling et voilà, Christmas in April.

How about some Paddock Wood London Porter?

How about some Paddock Wood London Porter from Saskatoon?

I expected, therefore, to see plenty of young bucks drinking themselves into alcohol-induced belligerency, rather than taking the time to learn about and appreciate the beer. However, festival organizers seemed to have taken note of the downward trend and made some changes. Tickets were reduced by 1,000 for each of the festival’s two days, the cost was increased, and sales were strictly limited to before the event. It was also suggested that the music, for the most part, was chosen to coax a more mellow mood than feed the fire. These measures and vigilant security seemed to effectively keep a lid on things. A number of vendors expressed to me a resulting improvement.

On the tasting side, the majority of the festival was devoted to craft beer. There were 17 microbreweries directly represented, including four Washington breweries; two importers poured five beers from four foreign craft breweries; two mass-market beers squeaked in over the bar; and a smattering of alcopops and a macro-cider were there for the females who think they don’t like beer and will continue to think so until their menfolk graduate from drinking macro lager as their everyday beer.

Crannog brewmaster, Brian MacIsaac, accepts the Peoples Choice Award for his Back Hand of God Stout.

Crannog brewmaster, Brian MacIsaac, accepts the People's Choice Award for his Back Hand of God Stout.

Molson Canadian managed to weasel in a pseudo presence at the Boston Pizza booth, unofficial sponsor of unhealthy eating and, by extension, unhealthy drinking. Nevertheless, the food offering was actually better than the Washington Cask Beer Festival. The Barking Parrot took it for best value in my books. (How can you beat a cheeseburger for $1.00?) The Kettle Valley Station Pub offered a decent Louisiana Chicken Burger for $2.00. However, the best eating was easily from Salty’s Beach House — Thai Mini Meatballs, Scallops Remoulade, and fresh-shucked oysters. How civilized! The majority of festivalgoers seemed to agree too as Salty’s won the award for best food.

While there were seven hours on Saturday to make your way through the 60-odd beers worth trying; between drinking, chatting with brewers & fellow CAMRA members, eating, and taking in some of the entertainment, I didn’t manage tasting them all. Mind you, I’d had a number already. Things especially slowed down later in the day when the crowd got much thicker and lineups were ten deep in places. I mostly concentrated on trying what was new to me and found myself quite satisfied by the end.

The festival finale was the announcement of the Industry and People’s Choice awards. The people chose Crannóg’s Back Hand of God Stout as the festival’s best beer. A panel of judges, including my editor at Northwest Brewing News, Alan Moen, selected Pyramid Apricot Ale as the best macro beer, while Shuswap Lake’s (aka Barley Station) Sam McGuire’s Pale Ale was their choice for best micro beer. And that’s what I would call a successful conclusion.

For more OFOA photos, see my Flickr Beer Festivals Set. I also have some photos from my tour of Cannery Brewing the day before.

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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.