B.C. Beer Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Phillips

Vancouver Island Craft Beer News, November 8th, 2012

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Curious as to what’s new and happening on Vancouver Island in Craft Beer? There is special dinner and tasting events planned, A charitable vote, new releases from Vancouver Island Breweries, and new days to test your trivial knowledge. Read on to learn more.

Swans Brewmaster Dinner

Saturday November 10th at 630pm Swans is having a special Brewmasters Dinner. The five course meal will be paired with six Swans beers. Price is $49.95 and tickets are available at Swans: 250 361 3310 | www.swansbrewpub.com

Check my leapbeer blog later in the month for a breakdown of the nights nosh.

Winterbrau @ Canoe Brewpub

Canoe Brewpub has a special event planned for you on November the 17th. Starting at 1pm in the afternoon join them for a seasonal beer tasting and food sampling event. Your $45 (Advance ticket price) will gain you access to the event featuring beers from Phillips, Driftwood, Central City, Coal Harbour, Hoyne, Saltspring, Lighthouse, Moon Under Water, Spinnakers, Tofino, Craig Street, Howe Sound, Longwood, Wolf and Vancouver Island Breweries.

Advance tickets available at this site

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Vancouver Island Craft Beer News: September 24th, 2012

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It’s been a busy time in the brew houses since beer fest this year. Two of the Victoria breweries have new beers due for imminent release (if not already released) and three have some returning favorites, for a limited time. Without further adieu, here’s whats new for VI Craft.

Hoyne Brewing Company

Hoyne Brewing Company announced via twitter their new wet hopped beer, the Wolf Vine Wet Hopped Pale Ale

This very unique, single-batch seasonal offering was brewed using copious quantities of local, fresh, hand-picked (harvested on Wednesday, brewed on Thursday!) Centennial and Cascade hops. This limited edition amber colored Wet Hopped Pale Ale is delightfully fragrant and is proof of how fortunate we are to live in one of the great hop growing regions of the world. (via Facebook)

It is also of note that two other Victoria breweries are working on wet hopped beers. Driftwood Brewing Companies Sartori Harvest is covered next in this post, and Phillips Brewing Co is also working on one. (via facebook) Read the rest of this entry »

Craft Beer Culinary Tour Highlights Gastown

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Rogue Wetbar beer samples & food pairings.

Whenever I plan to visit a new city, if it isn’t in Saudi Arabia, I’m checking out the local craft beer scene online ahead of time  to ensure I enjoy some of the local flavour. I know I’m not alone in that regard because If you visit Rate Beer and Beer Advocate, you’ll notice each has a section set up for the brews traveller. And with the rapid growth of craft brewing in North America, beer tourism is also on the rise.

Beer festivals, like the Great Canadian Beer Festival in Victoria and the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale in Pentiction, are obvious tourism boosts to those cities. Penticton, however, isn’t known as a beer town. Victoria, on the other hand, is well-regarded in craft beer drinker circles for its high per capita number of breweries, pubs, and brewpubs. The fact that I don’t see much of Victoria outside of those when I visit is a testament to the quality experience our provincial capital offers.

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The Next Wave: Darby’s Pub

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Darby's Pub taster glass with Red Racer LagerTransforming an established neighbourhood pub is not an easy thing to do. In fact, if serving up the old formula brings in enough bums on seats throughout the week to make a bit of a profit (because the real money is in the attached cold beer & wine store), then why change? Change may upset the apple cart, annoying your macro-drinking staff and alienating your bread and butter – the regulars whose habits the staff know well enough that they automatically deliver what is wanted. Why take a risk by throwing a monkey wrench in that well-honed machine that has taken a lot of time and money to develop?

You know you’ve walked into one of these places when you have a déjà vu experience that teleports you back to the eighties, only there is no shine on the brass, the floor coverings are looking well-worn, the furniture has stains and nicks, the walls have tape residue from old posters, and there’s a certain stale smell that seems to follow around post-50-year-old blue collar bachelors. You may see a number of the latter who have made the establishment their surrogate living room because it offers the basic things they seek to satisfy them – cheap beer, fried food, women to serve them without complaining, sports on the TV, and companions to argue over sports and politics with. And if the establishment truly does function as a neighbourhood pub, they will turn to look at you, wondering what sort of force you represent to their social oasis.

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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 »

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

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A Vancouver Sun article yesterday about a Statistics Canada report on the sale of alcoholic beverages in Canada talked about beer being the top choice of Canadians, albeit with a declining market share, while red wine sales have doubled since 2000 (article had a photo of a blonde drinking white wine!). This, however, doesn’t tell the whole story of beer consumption in BC because only generalized statistics categorizing beer into domestic and import are being reported.

One gets a more complete picture from sales figures reported by the BC Liquor Distribution Board. From April 2008 to September 2008, bottled beer sales in BC increased by 4.16% overall. Figures for the different sales categories are:

Large: 1.24% +
Regional: 2.06% +
Cottage: 32.49% +
Import: 13.2% +

So while mass market beer sales are rather flat, craft (cottage) beer sales in BC are growing much more than all other segments. Gerry Erith, manager of Brewer Creek Liquor Store in Vancouver, sees a divergence in the beer market: the price conscious and the quality conscious. Those looking for cheap beer will be attracted to products from Pacific Western Brewing, Bowen Island, Shaftebury, Molson, and Labatt. Those more interested in flavour & variety will opt for Cannery, Howe Sound, Phillips, R&B, Tree, etc. They are willing to pay more for a better beer, but don’t need to drink as much to be satisfied. Hence, as more people buy craft beer, I expect per capita beer consumption to go down, which is what has been happening. The difficult segment to be in is mid-market as those products are more than what the price conscious are usually willing to pay but not interesting or flavourful enough for the aficionados.

Could craft beer do better in the market? Aside from the perceived health benefits of red wine, I think there are a couple other factors that explain why beer is losing market share to wine — knowledge and marketing.

There is a lot more coverage of wine in the mainstream media than beer. The major newspapers have weekly wine columns; not one has a beer column (not that there is a lack of anything going on in the craft beer world). As an example of how slim the coverage of BC beer is, a new brewery opened in Comox recently. While it was covered in the town’s local paper and in this blog, there was not a word of it in the Victoria Times Colonist, The Province, or The Vancouver Sun. This is no piddly brewery either. With an investment of $2 million dollars, they aim to sell their beer throughout BC. It also is a good story of an entrepreneur finding a way out of the forest industry sinking boat without laying off all his workers. I doubt the opening of a new winery would escape notice.

So with the average person getting next to no information about their own craft breweries, beer styles, beer & food pairing, and the industry’s movers & shakers, how could one become interested in the possibilities of beer, never mind even knowing that there are any?

And of the information widely available, the majority of it is industrial beer advertising. Is it any surprise, then, that BC’s top-selling brands closely correlate with those most heavily advertised? And what is the substance of the majority of that messaging? Beer, sports, and men. What a great way to limit the appeal of your product, especially if the imagery is blatantly sexist. This doesn’t appeal to a large number of women, so they will choose something that has a more sophisticated, inclusive image. That’s a shame because it isn’t as if women don’t like beer. Many think they don’t, but actually haven’t gone beyond the beer that they didn’t like to find one that they do. That’s typically a fruit beer, wheat beer, or chocolatey stout to start off with. (I actually had a woman kiss me after trying an Old Yale Sasquatch Stout for the first time.)

Given people’s growing interest in gastronomy and the hospitality industry’s efforts to put BC on the global culinary map, it’s no surprise our wine industry has progressed so tremendously over the last two decades. We’ve seen the same with an evolving coffee culture and, recently, a nascent cocktail revival. Therefore, it makes sense people have a growing interest in BC craft beer. Given the myriad of styles available beyond American lager and pale ale, there’s a lot of scope for discovery. Let’s hope our media start catching on and get people excited about what our local brewers are doing. This is an opportunity being missed.

Super Bowl Super Duds

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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.

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.

November is Moustache Month

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Actually, it’s prostate cancer awareness month and Phillips is supporting research by donating fifty cents from the sale of each six pack of Blue Buck to the Vancouver Island Prostate Cancer Foundation. Special packs of Blue Back have a fake moustache inside.

Prostate cancer is the leading form of cancer afflicting Canadian men. Some 24,700 are diagnosed with it each year. Of those, 4,300 will die of the disease.

In addition to drinking Blue Buck, you can raise money for prostate cancer research by joining the Republic of Movember, growing a moustache, and taking pledges from your family and friends.