B.C. Beer Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Howe Sound Brewing

The View from Bellingham

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Mark Biehl, a beer blogger and podcast personality in Bellingham, noticed a tweet of mine about contributing to the B.C. Beer Blog. He kindly offered this perspective on B.C. craft beer. I think we can appreciate the frustration he must feel being so near, yet so far away from enjoying what is everyday for us. Hark! The call of Cascadia beckons.

Ahhh, beer. I’m a beer blogger, so you know I drink a lot of beer. I drink beer from all over the world, but usually I like to stick close to home. There’s a lot of great beer here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s the best beer place in my book. Oh yeah, we also grow all the hops. That being said, there are some local beers that don’t come my way.

Howe Sound Brewing Bottling Line

Howe Sound is one of the few BC breweries exporting to the US.

Living in Bellingham, a town closer to Vancouver, BC, than Seattle, you would think we would see a lot of BC craft beer. We don’t. To be honest, the only Canadian craft beer that comes to my mind is Unibroue. But let’s talk about closer to home. As our neighbours to the north begin producing more and more craft beer, why isn’t it showing up in the grocery stores down here.

Many of us are very unfamiliar with BC craft beer. Howe Sound has made it’s way down here, and with a bang in my opinion. They have those awesome one litre bottles with the swing tops. I’ve been buying the beer just for the bottles, but the beer’s not bad at all!

So why is BC beer practically nowhere to be found only a few miles from the border? There are a couple of possible explanations. First, as Rick explained to me, many BC brewers are most concerned with their home market, as they should be. But is there more to it?

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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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Winter Games ≠ Winter Beer

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“Our time to shine.”

“Showcase Vancouver to the world.”

These are just two of the pithy slogans Olympics boosters have come up with to get us to embrace an event whose overall benefit to Vancouver and the province are rather dubious. What does the general public have to endure in order to ensure official sponsors get unimpeded access to assault us with their advertising? That IOC’s reputation is not impugned by those opposed to its methods or who question its goals? Plenty.

Some argue that this is acceptable, given how we’re all going to do well by the Games. That’s a rather facile way of looking at it. Ask yourself if some will benefit disproportionately to others? By how much? Ask yourself if all this money were invested in some other fashion, would it result in greater good for the whole? Is this the beginning of a slippery slope where respect for our fundamental freedoms becomes optional?

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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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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.

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

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.