B.C. Beer Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Dix

The Coming BC Craft Beer Correction

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IMG_20150720_205116With the number of craft breweries in BC expected to reach at least 130 by the end of 2016, competition is growing to the point where I expect we’ll see an increasing number of business failures. That’s not because there’s a lack of room for growth. BC has a population and GDP similar to Oregon, yet they have double the number of breweries we have. It’s because there’s a shrinking margin of error, especially in outrageously expensive Vancouver.

Growth of the BC craft beer market alone hasn’t floated all boats. (Remember Plan B, DIX, Taylor’s Crossing, and Surlie?) Yet, that’s what many of the startups seem to be counting on without a much deeper consideration of to whom and how they will sell their beer. In fact, there are breweries that don’t even have a working marketing plan (not the same as a promotion plan), never mind a marketing budget (not the same as ad hoc spending). We’ll see how much longer they’ll last on passion after the next 30 breweries open their doors.

Thanks to Beer Me BC, we have a better idea of whom the typical BC craft beer drinker is and their consumption habits. According to the most recent self-selecting survey, they are predominantly males between the ages of 27 and 42 living in the Lower Mainland and Greater Victoria. They drink, in ranking order of preference, India pale ale, stout, pale ale, sour ale, or saison from a bomber 3-5 days per week, mostly at home. Their beer is chosen foremost for its style, then by brewery and reputation.

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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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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 »

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.

X-mas X-treme Strong Ale Festival

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One of Vancouver’s best beer tasting events is on tomorrow at Dix BBQ & Brewery. This is an annual event held every December to showcase a variety of strong ales that highlight the seasonality of beer. In the colder weather, you might be inclined to reach for a warming beer, as opposed to a refreshing beer that you would seek in summer.

Typical winter warmers are barley wines, Belgian strong ales, bocks, English strong ales, imperial stouts, Scotch ales, and spiced ales. Here’s this year’s lineup:

  • BigRidge IPA
  • Central City Spiced Winter Ale
  • Crannóg Old Puddin’ Head
  • DIX Saison Visceral
  • DIX Smoked Plum Porter
  • DIX India Red Truck Ale
  • DIX Rum-Candied Mandarin Orange & Organic Espresso cask-conditioned Imperial Stout
  • Dockside Winter Ale
  • Granville Island Jolly Abbot
  • Howe Sound Father John Christmas
  • Longwood Scotch Ale
  • Mission Springs Winter
  • R & B Auld Nick
  • Russell Cranberry Porter
  • Steamworks Blitzen
  • Storm Snakebite
  • Swans Scotch Ale
  • Taylor’s Crossing Dubbel
  • Tree cask-conditioned Double Hophead
  • Whistler Bear Arse Barleywine
  • Whistler Vanilla Bourbon Porter
  • Yaletown Le Nez Rouge
  • Yaletown Oud Bruin

Some of the brewers like to experiment a little, so you often get a one-off beer that you may never ever taste again. Many of the brewers also attend the event, which is a good opportunity to get to know your local brewer. In addition to the full food menu at Dix, there will be a special open-faced turkey sandwich with stuffing and gravy.

For some of the best beer in the province, make your way down to:
Dix Barbecue & Brewery
871 Beatty Street, Vancouver
Saturday, December 6, 2008, noon – 5:00pm
Cost: $20 entry ($10 CAMRA members); $1.00 per 4oz sample

Reaching Beer’s Outer Limits

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As I mentioned in a previous post about the importance of imports, an outside stimulus to the derriere is sometimes necessary to motivate one to reach beyond the rut or comfort of stasis. That swift kick may come in the form of competition from imports. It can also come from the introduction of new domestic products.

A kind reader referred me to an excellent article by Burkhard Bilger in The New Yorker on the search for “a better brew.” While also functioning as an interesting profile of Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione, the article points out two schools of thought on what Boston Beer Company founder, Jim Koch, coined as “extreme” beer. To Koch, “When you’re making an extreme beer, it’s like pushing beyond the sound barrier.” Brooklyn Brewing brewmaster, Garrett Oliver, on the other hand, thinks:

The whole idea of extreme beer is bad for craft brewing. It doesn’t expand the tent—it shrinks it. If I want someone to taste a beer, and I make it sound outlandish and crazy, there is a certain kind of person who will say, ‘Oh, let me try it.’ But that is a small audience. It’s one that you can build a beer on, but not a movement.

I think Oliver is right—you won’t build a movement on extreme beer, one that will get the macrobrew drinkers to switch over to craft beer. However, I don’t think that’s the point of these beers, nor is that what Calagione, for one, is intending for them to do. Broadening the diversity of beer does expand a corner of the craft beer tent; we just need to find a way to bring more people under the tent.

Look at Europe for contrast. The competitive landscape there is shrinking as breweries consolidate or are forced to close, reducing the amount of choice to consumers. Brewing there is increasingly about the bottom line, not the beer. That means Edward Scissor Hands is in the driver’s seat. This is why consumer organizations like CAMRA, PINT, and Zythos have circled the wagons to protect their brewing traditions from being destroyed by corporatism, just like Slow Food has done for cuisine.

In North America, on the other hand, the craft beer market is growing. This provides the competitive impetus for innovation. How does a brewer distinguish themselves but by coming out with something completely different, even original. American brewers have covered the common European beer styles quite thoroughly, even adding their own stamp to the degree that it has warranted creating American sub-categories. Now they are venturing into more esoteric styles, ones that are nearing extinction in the Old World—Gose, Kellerbier, Sahti, Steinbier, Wassail, Zwickelbier—and ones from the really old world that, until recently, have been gone for centuries and only revived through archaeology. Even traditional lambic is finding a dwindling audience.

With the U.S. being such a large market, there is room for ballsy brewers willing to push beer’s outer limits to succeed. The small market of B.C. makes it a lot harder unless you have some good financial backing and top notch marketing. Unfortunately, our breweries comfortably in the black are largely run by people in it for the business opportunity, not the beer. Don’t expect them to be raising the bar on creativity, much less release seasonal beers. To find the cutting edge in B.C., you’ll have to dig deeper and keep your ears open. What could be considered extreme beer here is often found at the cask ale festivals at Dix BBQ and Brewery in August and December. If you want more of a good thing, then you should make a point of attending and encourage the brewers willing to take a chance.

A curry pale ale, anyone?

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.

Hopscotch Hop Homogenization

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Vancouver’s upcoming Hopscotch Festival will be the 12th year it showcases Scotch, whisky, and beer. Unfortunately, unlike Victoria, the city continues to struggle in developing a festival that highlights a diversity of quality craft beer.

Part of the problem seems to be a money issue in that the craft brewers don’t have the marketing dollars the macros do to participate in these events. Therefore, organizers default to a beer lineup that would be familiar to the average mass-market beer consumer. In this case, Big Rock, Granville Island, Lighthouse, Molson (Rickard’s), Okanagan Spring, Pacific Western Brewing, Red Truck, Sleeman, Tree, and Unibroue. Lighthouse, Red Truck, Tree, and Unibroue are for the “more adventurous” punters, largely because they are less well-known and not because they are particularly challenging to drink.

The “exotic” beers are supplied by the importers, many of whom are wine agents with a token beer or two in their portfolio: Anchor, Dos Equis, Grolsch, Kirin, Krusovice, Kulmbacher, Palm, Pilsner Urquell, and Tiger. Most of these beers, however, are macro lagers in their respective countries that are available in the majority of liquor stores here. Ho hum.

The Autumn Brewmaster’s Festival at the Plaza of Nations was a step in the right direction; regretably, it expired. Now, the best that Vancouver can do is the cask ale festivals at Dix BBQ & Brewing and Central City in Surrey. Otherwise, when it comes to beer, you’ll find more interesting offerings at The Alibi Room, the Irish Heather, Six Acres or buying your own at Brewery Creek, Firefly, or Viti.

Hopefully, some day, we’ll have a respectable beer festival in Vancouver that doesn’t have mass-market brands (they already get plenty of exposure in the media) or needs to disguise the thinness of its offerings with alcopops and wine. It shouldn’t be a carbon copy of the GCBF either. I think Victoria has earned the right to its current format. Vancouver ought to come up with something else that distinguishes itself from others so as to present us with a greater opportunity for celebrating craft beer, not competing with others.

Postscript: in the fall of 2009, I gathered a team of friends & acquaintances to plan a “beer week” festival, after coming across San Francisco Beer Week on the Web. The following year, we hosted Vancouver Craft Beer Week, Canada’s first “beer week” festival. The City of Vancouver officially proclaimed May 10-16, “Vancouver Craft Beer Week”. Mayor Gregor Robertson opened the festival by tapping the first cask of VCBW Collaboration Ale at the Alibi Room.

Derrick’s Experiment: Smoked-Fruit Beer

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You may be aware of smoked beer made with smoked malt.  Many of you will be familiar with fruit beer (made with the addition of whole fruit, fruit purée, or fruit syrup, not fruited malt). How about smoked-fruit beer?

Derrick Franche, brewmaster at Vancouver’s Dix BBQ & Brewery, will be experimenting with peaches and plums smoked in-house by chef Zai Kitigawa. Franche intends to make smoked peach Hefeweizen & porter, smoked plum Oktoberfest & porter, and an IPA with both smoked peaches and plums.

It will be interesting to see how much smoke comes through in the beer, as well as how much fruit. Apparently, the fruit was lightly smoked, so it may not be that noticable.

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September 17, 2008 at 4:56 pm

GCBF Recap

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A place to get out of the sun, talk about the best finds, and recharge before the next sample (Photo © 2008 Rick Green).

A place to get out of the sun, talk about the best finds, and recharge before the next sample (Photo © 2008 Rick Green).

This year’s GCBF was blessed with perfect weather. Not surprisingly, both days were completely sold out. I booked early and enjoyed the comfort of Spinnakers for accommodations. After all that imbibing, there’s a lot to be said for having breakfast and a newspaper brought to you each morning. Alternatively, sitting on their deck for brunch with a view is also hard to beat.

This year was noteworthy for the presence of a number of American breweries whose Vancouver agents, AFIC EXIM and Beerthirst, have successfully negotiated B.C.’s bureaucratic hurdles to sell product here—Anderson Valley, Brooklyn, Deschutes, Gordon Biersch, Lost Coast, North Coast, Pyramid, and Rogue. While this may spur competition and innovation with local brewers, the preferred outcome would be to expand the market for craft beer.

A hallmark of the festival is sampling beer from brewers who don’t even sell here. They come to show their support, enjoy the atmosphere, and experience the Victoria beer scene. We can always count on a visit from our neighbors in Alberta (Wild Rose, WildWood) and Washington (Anacortes, Baron, Boundary Bay, Peaks, Silver City). It’s interesting to see if anyone comes from further afield. This year the ‘brews traveler’ award goes to Bushwakker of Regina and Paddock Wood from Saskatoon.

Dix brewer Derrick Franche, Christina Willis, Brewery Creek manager Gerry Erith, Adam and Gillian Gile (Photo © 2008 Rick Green).

Left to right: Dix brewer Derrick Franche, Christina Willis, Brewery Creek manager Gerry Erith, Adam and Gillian Gile (Photo © 2008 Rick Green).

The GCBF may also provide limited seasonal beers, special one-offs, or even test beers. This may be your only chance to ever try them.

Central City showcased an intense Maris Otter Imperial IPA and Gary Lohin’s latest iteration of Thor’s Hammer barley wine. Expect the latter to be enjoyed for years to come as Lohin plans to have vintage releases. Sailor Hagar’s is still pouring his Thor’s Hammer from 10 years ago. It has aged beautifully, although they may be serving the last keg of it this December.

Crannóg offered casks of Bansidhe Organic Fruit Ale—a base of Munich and Pale malts with a different combination of cherries, crabapples, currants, plums, and Saskatoon berries from their farm in each firkin. If you enjoy fruit beers, you would have wanted to go back to Crannóg’s booth for more than one Bansidhe; every cask was a whole new ballgame. Like Cannery’s Blackberry Porter, it was very popular and sold out early.

Howe Sound may add an imperial IPA and an imperial stout to their regular product line. The GCBF was the public’s first opportunity to sample their Total Eclipse of the Hop and Pothole Filler. Owner, Dave Fenn, said the reaction was very positive. Hopefully, then, we can expect to see them coming out in bottles this year. However, given their high octane, you won’t be drinking a 1 litre bottle by yourself.

The Vancouver cask ale scene was well-represented by a Mark James Group booth under the banner of Yaletown Brewing. Dix brought a cask of their signature Northwest IPA, Taylor’s Crossing offered an English golden ale that will be on draught at the brewpub, Yaletown had their lambic-inspired Framboise made with several bacterial and yeast cultures, and Whistler Brewhouse proffered their Heart of Darkness imperial stout aged on bourbon-soaked oak. Those who attended the Surrey Summer Cask Festival at Central City will not have forgotten the latter, which was voted the best of show.

The organizers should be praised for putting on a quality festival. People were festive without being rowdy, there were decent food options, and musical entertainment ensured a positive atmosphere. For more photos of the GCBF, see my  Beer Festivals set at Flickr.