B.C. Beer Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Mark James Group

The Business of Craft Beer

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BCB Business of Craft Beer EventAccording to Jan Zeschky’s reckoning, there will be 22 new craft breweries opening in British Columbia this year — that is, 22 he is aware of. This will bring the total number of BC craft breweries and brewpubs to 85.

So if we assume, on average, that each brewery will produce six beers annually (four core, two seasonals), that amounts to 510 BC craft beers. That is equal in number to 84% of all beers currently sold in the 197 BC government liquor stores, only you won’t find even close to that number of local craft beers actually sold there.

This makes for an increasingly competitive landscape, putting more pressure on startups to have a solid business plan. Read the rest of this entry »

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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.

Tree Goes Hop Head to Hop Head with Green Flash

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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.

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

B.C. Craft Brewers Expanding Production

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With the brewery expansions that have taken place in the last few months, it looks like B.C.’s craft brewers are making some headway in the market. I’m hoping that people are discovering there is a lot more to beer than just lager and pale ale; that fresh beer is made here and it’s full of flavour.

Mt. Begbie moved into a new brewery over the winter. Bart and Tracey Larson were struggling in a space that couldn’t even accommodate a forklift. Now, with their new premises in downtown Revelstoke, they have enough space for a small retail area and a tasting bar.

Fernie Brewing’s sales have been growing rapidly since introducing their Rocky Mountain Genuine Lager and attending last year’s GCBF; Vancouver Island sales have quadrupled in 12 months. To keep up with demand, they moved into a brand new facility on the Crowsnest Highway, just north of Fernie. The brewhouse has tripled in size and they’ve added new fermenters, along with a state-of-the-art water filtration system. Don Moore set up the brewery and acted as head brewer until they hired Warren Smith, formerly of Calgary’s Wild Rose, in the spring. They, too, have a retail area and offer tours.

In Penticton, Cannery Brewing took over more space in the Cannery Trade Centre to add two new 40-hectolitre fermenters, doubling their capacity. They’ve also expanded their retail space where you can purchase shirts, t-shirts, vests, hats, posters, glasses, steins, and mustards & soaps made with Cannery beer. On August 8, owners Ron & Patt Dyck and brewer Terry Schoffer celebrated the brewing of their 500th batch with an open house — tours, appetizers, beer, and a cake (did it pair with the Naramata Nut Brown?).

As reported earlier, Howe Sound Brewing recently added more fermenters to increase their capacity. They will need it to supply exports to Arizona and Washington that are starting up this month. An additional demand will be experimenting with new styles that may be released in the future as seasonals or, depending on popularity, as part of the regular lineup.

Dead Frog moved into a brand new brewery in Aldergrove this spring with a larger capacity and a new bottling line. At that time, brewer Jorge Lussio left for other pursuits. To bring the new facility up to speed for the launch of their first bottled product, Dead Frog hired Tony Dewald from the Mark James Group to replace Lussio. On June 18 they released their bottled Lager, Pale Ale, and Nut Brown to cold beer & wine stores in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island.

We should hear about two more B.C. brewery openings within the next two-three months. I think there’s more room, so long as they target a market that isn’t currently being served or is underserved. For example, there are slim pickings for good beer up north, as I discovered last year.