B.C. Beer Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Hop Goblin’

Super Bowl Super Duds

with 9 comments

A Province article on February 1 explained how their sports department attempted to discover “the best refreshing brew to enjoy” while watching the Super Bowl. Naturally, given the sports orientation of the exercise, this year’s “ultimate Super Sud” was to be determined by a “knockout-style bracket.” The contenders? BC’s eight top-selling beer brands and eight “lesser-known but still tasty” ones. The tasting panel was comprised of six males and one female. (Do we detect a bias?) For the results, read on and weep.

The provincial top eight sellers are:
1. Corona
2. Molson Canadian
3. Kokanee
4. Budweiser
5. Coors
6. Stella Artois
7. Miller Genuine Draft
8. Alexander Keith’s

Notice that seven of the eight are mass-market lagers. All eight are heavily advertised — ergo, the power of media in brainwashing the public. Many would call these everyday beers for the working man, but think of what really is the working man’s brew. Is it beer’s equivalent of Wonder Bread, a product mass-produced by a large corporation to appeal to the lowest common denominator in order to maximize profits? These contenders strike me as the equivalent of trying to find the tastiest meal by comparing McDonald’s with Burger King, Wendy’s, Subway, KFC, Panago, Tim Horton’s, and Denny’s. Because the food can be had fast and cheap, notwithstanding the ultimate high price paid, people are persuaded they are, somehow, good.

The remaining eight were:
9. Sleeman’s  (sic) Honey Brown
10. Carlsberg
11. Grolsch
12. Innis and (sic) Gunn
13. Bowen Island Pale
14. Phoenix
15. St. Ambroise
16. Yanjing

“Phoenix” is actually Phillips Phoenix Gold Lager. St. Ambroise could be any one of eight beers produced by Montreal’s MacAuslan Brewing; in this case, it happens to be their Apricot Wheat Ale.

In the first round, the match-up was between Corona & Yanjing, Canadian & St. Ambroise, Kokanee & Phoenix Gold, Budweiser & Bowen Island, Coors versus Innis & Gunn, Stella & Grolsch, MGD & Carlsberg, and Keith’s & Sleeman. Going on to the next round were Yanjing, Canadian, Kokanee, Budweiser, Innis & Gunn, Grolsch, MGD, and Sleeman. Except for the I&G, all the remaining contenders are lagers.

In the Province article’s commentary, there were some interesting remarks. Corona was characterized as “bland” and “distinctly unimpressive.” So why is it the top-selling beer in BC? If you are what you eat/drink, what would that say about the people here? Of course, being the top-seller doesn’t necessarily mean that the majority of people here buy it. Those that like it may guzzle it a lot, but the rest of us may be justly satisfied with drinking less and drinking well.

Naturally, the St. Ambroise was deemed a girly beer (“This isn’t a Super Bowl beer…”), so the female panelist was rapidly slapped down. But Innis & Gunn proved Kevlar to the Silver Bullet, keeping her in the game as it was her clear favourite. Kokanee trumped Phoenix Gold because it’s “a good, standard, hoser beer.” That clearly deserves a replay. Budweiser dominated Bowen Island, but all of the latter’s tasters were polished off. Sound like the game was rigged? Next to Grolsch, Stella was exposed as “swill,” “rancid and awful.” Better beer does tend to do that. The Sleeman Honey Brown was mischaracterized as an ale. I guess the panel didn’t think a lager could have such flavour.

I was a Kokanee whore. Now I’m changing my ways.
– Rose Weir, The Whip Restaurant & Gallery

The second round pitted Sleeman against Yanjing, Canadian vs. MGD, Kokanee & Grolsch, and Budweiser vs. Innis & Gunn. Given the trend so far, one might expect Sleeman, Grolsch, and Innis & Gunn to get knocked out. Not so. Going on to the semi-finals were Sleeman, MGD, Kokanee, and Budweiser. Comically, Grolsch was characterized as a “Dutch ‘Budweiser.'” Nevertheless, the competition started getting serious. A former CFL player on the panel was reduced to cursing when Bud advanced.

Now at this point, even when you’re drinking swill, the beer can start going to your head. The panel’s choice of sustenance to keep moving the ball forward? Pizza and chips — two of America’s favourite food groups.

With the carbo loading out of the way, the taste of victory was in the mouths of the remaining competitors. Down to the five yard line? MGD and Sleeman! Who’s going to kick the winning field goal? The five times cold filtered contradiction (hint: draft means it isn’t in a bottle) or the beer of colour that’s actually a lager? Potential spoiler: the writer notes that Sleeman comes in clear bottles and “some have said that the taste can be affected by the exposure to light.” However, the panel didn’t seem to think so. I imagine it’s because their bottles weren’t light struck (thus, it’s conclusive this is a myth!). Ever wondered why beer bottles are mostly brown?

Despite the handicap, Sleeman Honey Brown is voted the Super Sud. Why? “…having slogged through so many lighter-tasting beers, they all began to taste the same. But not Sleeman’s.” Wow! A sports-centric group tiring of beer monoculture? We may be starting to get somewhere. But given the glacial rate of progress, I’m not quite prepared to hold my breath. Calling beer “suds” doesn’t indicate to me an appreciable degree of respect for the beverage. Would you catch a writer referring to wine as “plonk?” Only if it were meant to indicate derision.

The first problem with this competition is that the goal was to pick a single beer to imbibe for a whole eight hours. Why do you have to drink just one for the entire duration? What a bore! The other problem was the selection chosen to begin with. Twelve lagers out of 16 evaluated? That’s a distinct stylistic bias. The rabble have yet to discover bocks, porters, dubbels, tripels, quadrupels, saisons, lambics, alts, barley wine, bitters, milds, IPAs, Scotch ale, bière de garde, Rauchbier, Roggenbier, Koelsch, wood-aged ales, red ales, brown ales, Trappist ales, spiced ales, Russian Imperial stout, sahti, Berliner Weisse, Australian sparkling ale, etc. It’s kind of like the Titanic hitting an iceberg: the extent of what exists is not visible from what is merely in the surface.

I’m always puzzled by the strong association of light lager with American football, as epitomized by the Super Bowl beer commercials. If football is such a macho sport, then why do jocks think it is très cool to drink such wimpy, characterless beer? Something more fitting would be a chewy IPA or stout. When faced with the latter, however, the sport nuts are scared of the dark and want the light turned on. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate their image.

In the meantime, stay tuned for periodic beer evaluations from the Thinking Drinkers tasting panel. They will be more even-handed evaluations with an even split between male and female participants. For inspiration, my “first-down” this evening is going to be one of the last bottles of R&B’s Hop Goblin’, which will be replaced with a new brand: same IPA, different name. We can thank the litigious limeys at Wychwood for that.

Advertisements

Tree Goes Hop Head to Hop Head with Green Flash

with 18 comments

In yet another case of lupulin litigation — or the threat thereof — Kelowna’s Tree Brewing served notice on San Diego’s Green Flash Brewing Co. to cease using the name “Hop Head” in BC.  Since August 2008, Green Flash has been selling its Hop Head Red Ale in select private liquor stores, mostly in the Lower Mainland. Tree brews Hop Head India Pale Ale.

This is the fourth case in two years in which BC craft breweries have been involved in legal disputes over trademarks. In 2007, Vancouver’s Mark James Group demanded Victoria’s Phillips Brewing stop using the name Blue Truck because it was too similar to its Red Truck brand. Last year, England’s Wychwood Brewery threatened punitive action against Vancouver’s R&B Brewing as they felt the market would be confused between the latter’s Hop Goblin’ India Pale Ale and their Hobgoblin Ale. (Memo to Wychwood: we aren’t confused and are pissed off you think us to be that stupid.) Also last year, Sleeman took Aldergrove’s Dead Frog to task over use of clear bottles. Dead Frog isn’t backing down and will battle it out in the courts.

Lawyers Win, Drinkers Lose

Tree President, Tod Melnyk, said Tree was obligated to protect its trademark, otherwise they could lose it. He felt the onus was on Green Flash and its agents to perform due diligence before entering a market. Since he received no telephone call from anyone representing Green Flash, he instructed Tree’s lawyer to send notice to Green Flash. Green Flash, being a small brewery, will not contest this in court. British Columbia is a small market for them, therefore, they will discontinue shipping Hop Head Red Ale here.

While Melnyk is correct in wanting to protect his trademark and that Green Flash ought to have done their due diligence and contacted him, it doesn’t necessarily indicate any hostile intent on the part of Green Flash. A phone call might have straightened out any misunderstanding or oversight, and an agreement reached so that consumers could continue purchasing both beers. Unfortunately, we won’t know if this could have happened. Tree’s decision was to initiate communication through their lawyer, which is rarely conducive to friendly dialogue. Now we have one less award-winning craft beer to purchase in BC.

Craft Brewers’ Code

While one expects corporations to speak to small businesses through their lawyers, the cases of Mark James/Phillips and Tree/Green Flash are different. All four are craft brewers. And whenever they employ corporate tactics without attempting to speak directly to each other, we all lose.

In the case of the Red Truck/Blue Truck tiff, Phillips conceded to avoid costly legal expenses. However, this raised the ire of craft beer drinkers in southern Vancouver Island, spawning “Better Dead than Red” t-shirts. In the process, the publicity of the case raised the profile of Phillips and the experience prompted them to release a new beer, their Accusation Ale, to emphasize the pettiness of it all. Had Mark James employed a more co-operative approach with Phillips, they could have worked together to improve craft beer’s market share vis-a-vis industrial lager, but the opportunity is probably lost. Red Truck will likely face a higher barrier to entry across the strait if they ever decide to make a go of it.

One reason why craft beer has grown considerably in the US is because they have craft brewing guilds where the brewpubs and breweries support each other in the fight against the beer behemoths. Case in point: Collaboration not Litigation Ale. Avery Brewing and Russian River Brewing both brew Belgian-style ales called Salvation. Rather than square off against each other in the so-called halls of justice, their respective brewers sat down together and decided to collaborate by blending their two Salvations for a special annual seasonal release, CNLA. So instead of one company forcing both to contribute to the lawyers’ welfare fund, they profit from each other’s good will.

This is much less the case in BC. Some microbreweries are not above poaching another’s taps because it’s the low-hanging fruit. All this does is cannibalize the beachhead craft beer clings to in the province. From the perspective of the big boys, the divided will remain conquered and the multitude will continue to swig soulless swill. Guess who the winner is. Hint: it isn’t you.

Market Mayhem

As in the Mark James/Phillips case, being legally right doesn’t always mean coming out ahead. One needs to consider the market’s dynamics before going such a route.

With the current state of beer in BC, it’s the conglomerates that have a huge advantage. Their deep pockets mean they can afford to deliver a constant stream of brainwashing to the uninitiated and the oblivious, never mind being able to buy shelf space and tap handles. It’s impossible to compete head to head, therefore, a different approach is required.

For the craft brewing underdog, a more fruitful avenue is to focus on early adopters. If they enthusiastically embrace your product, they will evangelize it for free. It will then influence those around them because the message comes from a more objective authority, not a self-interested business entity. The more the message is verified and accepted, the wider the circle radiates from friend to friend. With today’s technology and the power of social media, this process can proceed very rapidly.

It also works the same for negative news, but even faster. The average BC beer drinker who doesn’t care for craft beer isn’t affected by the legal manoeuvres of matroyshka multinationals. The conglomerates will fight it out in court with their legal legions and their products will still be around at the end of the day. In the case of craft brewers, however, a legal loss may mean the demise of a beer or even the brewery. Deprive early adopters of a quality product, prepare to incur their displeasure and have that spread through their network. This is similar to what spawned CAMRA in the UK.

Another potential cost to Tree is if they ever intend to enter the US market. As part of the craft-brewing fraternity, they may have been able to count on the support of their American brethren to establish a foothold across the 49th parallel. Given the choice that was made, however, they may be treated as a hostile competitor and find the going much tougher.

I hope Canadian craft breweries will give more serious consideration to how they relate to each other and their neighbours in the future. We still have a long ways to go before we gain a share of the market for craft beer comparable to Oregon and Washington. We can only hope we’ll get there.

Indonesian Restaurant Reaches Beyond Lager

leave a comment »

When it comes to beer, most Asian restaurants typically offer little but lager because that is the dominant, if not only, style of beer brewed in their respective countries. For the lager loather, they may have Guinness, but that doesn’t mean it actually pairs well with any items on their menu. This is a shame because there are a number of beer styles that go very well with different Asian dishes. For example, every Indian restaurant should have an India Pale Ale (Alexander Keith’s not being an IPA), not only because the style was created for India but because it also happens to go well with many spicy Indian dishes.

Saison Dupont, Fernie First Trax, R & B Hop Goblin

From top left: saté lamb chop, krupuk (shrimp chips), coconut prawn & sambal mayonnaise, green beans & kecap manis, beef rendang (centre). The beer, from left: Saison Dupont, Fernie First Trax, R & B Hop Goblin'

A Vancouver restaurant is changing this stereotype. I hosted beer-tasting dinners on April 27 and November 8 at Saté Satu, an Indonesian restaurant in Cambie Village, to highlight pairing Asian food with ales (more photos on Picasa) . The menu was as follows:

Salads pair well with wheat beers. In this case, I chose a Belgian wit to go with the Gado Gado. Wheat beers also pair well with seafood. But to change things up a bit and showcase another style of beer, I chose to match the prawn with a saison, a very versatile and palate-cleansing food beer.

Darker beers typically pair well with dark meats. The trick is to discover which style. Depending on how it is prepared, lamb can have a strong flavour. In this case, the spices it is marinated in cut down on the gaminess, while grilling brings out some sweetness from caramelization. Therefore, I chose a brown ale that complements this, but won’t overwhelm the taste of the food with heavy body and full flavour.

One might be tempted to pair the beef rendang with a porter or stout. However, this one was spicy. If you aren’t able to handle a lot of chili heat, either of these styles will be completely inadequate to stand up to the spiciness. Therefore, I chose an India pale ale to dampen the heat. If you can find one, even better would be an India brown ale. The hop bitterness would counteract the chilis on the one hand, while the malt sweetness would be a better match for the beef.

How much spiciness you can handle in your food actually makes a difference as to what style of beer will pair best with your food. The less heat you can handle, the bigger a beer you need; the converse is also true.

Finally, the deep-fried banana has some options, depending on how it is presented. If there is any chocolate sauce, a chocolate or roasty imperial stout would work. In this case, however, it was plated with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and fruit. Consequently, I chose a wheat Eisbock because the caramel of the beer goes well with the carmelized batter of the banana. Also, the banana esters from the wheat beer yeast complement the dessert perfectly.

The owners of Saté Satu were very pleased with the outcome of the dinners, not only because their customers were satisfied with the experience but it gives them an opportunity to distinguish themselves from their competitors. Consequently, they modified their beer selection to include the ones above.

My next beer pairing dinner will be on November 19 at the House of Dosas (1391 Kingsway, Vancouver) with dishes from Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu.