B.C. Beer Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘R & B

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.

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Rick Green’s Dublin Steak Sandwich

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The colder weather has arrived. So here’s a recipe for some heartier fare with which you can better enjoy your stout.

  • 225g sirloin steak
  • 2 cups local stout, e.g. R & B Dark Star, Lighthouse Keepers Stout, plus more for drinking
  • 1 loaf French bread or 2 Terra Breads demi-loaves
  • 150g wedge Springbank Irish Guinness Cheddar cheese
  • 3 cups mixed salad greens tossed in Dijon vinaigrette (below)
  • small red onion, halved and sliced
  • mayonnaise

Cut the steak across the grain into 1/4″ slices. Cover in stout and marinate for at least four hours or overnight.

Remove steak from marinade and pat dry; lightly salt. Cook onions in remaining stout until it has been reduced completely. Meanwhile, prepare two sandwiches by cutting the bread in half horizontally. Lightly toast the bottom half, then spread with mayonnaise and cover with cheese slices.

Heat a dry iron skillet on high until it begins to lightly smoke, then add the steak, searing it on both sides until it is cooked to suit. Let rest a few minutes to return juices to the centre of the meat. Meanwhile set the bottom and top halves of the sandwich under a broiler until the cheese is melted on the bottom half and the top half is toasted.

To assemble the sandwich, place the steak on top of the bottom half, followed by the onions, and the salad greens. Spread mayonnaise on the remaining half and place on top. Cut in half and serve with a glass of stout.

Serves 2

Dijon Vinaigrette

  • 2 tbsp Modena Balsamico vinegar
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • pinch salt
  • pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup light extra virgin olive oil

Whisk together all ingredients, except the olive oil, until smooth. Whisk in olive oil, adding slowly in a thin stream.

Immortal Brewer to Visit Vancouver

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On September 28, renowned Seattle craft brewer, Dick Cantwell, will be visiting Vancouver at the invitation of R & B Brewing to attend a special session of The Whip’s Real Ale Sundays. Co-founder and head brewer of Elysian Brewing, Cantwell will be bringing a cask of his Immortal IPA and a cask of Hale’s Ales O’Brien’s Harvest Ale—a Silver Medal winner at Denver’s Great American Beer Festival.

Formerly a writer, Cantwell started as a homebrewer in Boston for 15 years before moving to Seattle in 1990 to take up professional brewing at Duwamps Café. After 18 months, he moved over to Pike Place Brewery, brewing there until 1994 when he took up residence at The Big Time Brewery. In 1996, he opened Elysian Brewing with partners Joe Bisacca and Dave Buhler.

Since that time, Cantwell has won numerous awards for his beer. He was also named Brewmaster of the Year, and Elysian, Large Brewpub of the Year, at the Great American Beer Festival in 1999, 2003, and 2004.

Meet a Northwest craft brewing legend at:
The Whip Real Ale Sunday
The Whip Restaurant & Gallery
209 East 6th Avenue, Vancouver
September 28 @ 4:00pm

The Straight Readers’ Best Vancouver Beer

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I’m always interested to see when readers of The Georgia Straight weigh in on what they consider to be the best of xyz. It serves as a useful gauge in terms of current popular taste and understanding.

In terms of beer, their Best of Vancouver 2008 includes three beer-related categories—B.C. Beer, Brew Pub, and Local Microbrewery. The winners for each category are, respectively, Granville Island Brewing, Yaletown Brewing Company, and Granville Island Brewing.

The listings under B.C. Beer were somewhat confusing as it refers to beer in the singular. Perhaps there were a variety of different answers that were synthesized into a general ‘Granville Island Brewing’ and ‘Okanagan Spring Brewery.’ The best answer, though, which the editors listed under the heading, was, “I can’t just pick one!” If you read my article, you’ll see why, if you don’t already know. Given the winners in the other two categories, it was disappointing to see that second place went to a mass-market lager.

For the final two categories, the listing of Granville Island Brewing is a bit problematic because it is neither a brewpub, nor a microbrewery. GIB is not a pub or restaurant that brews beer on its own premises and sells 25% or more of its beer on site. The Tap Room is strictly that, a brewery tap, and shouldn’t be confused with a brewpub.

GIB’s annual production is 60,000 hetcolitres when, according to the US Brewers Association, a microbrewery is a “brewery that produces less than 15,000 barrels (17,600 hectoliters) of beer per year.” In fact, GIB is a regional craft brewery. It also isn’t a local brewery, per se, because most of its production is in Kelowna. The only beer that is produced locally on Granville Island is its Limited Release beers (aka seasonals) brewed by Vern Lambourne. These are packaged only in 650ml bottles.

In the City of Vancouver, there are only two microbreweries—R & B and Storm. In Metro Vancouver, there are three, with the addition of Russell Brewing. Russell is on the verge of becoming a regional brewery as its current capacity is 16,000 hectolitres. However, their status, like Granville Island, may also be somewhat ambiguous because of their merger with Fort Garry Brewing of Winnipeg. Excess production capacity at Fort Garry is being used to fulfill Russell’s contract for BC Place Stadium. Therefore, actual production of Russell-branded product may, at some point, exceed 17,600 hectolitres, if it hasn’t already.

I hope The Georgia Straight readers will renew their search for Vancouver’s best beer. I look forward to seeing who the winners are next year.

Irish Heather Reborn

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I popped into the new Irish Heather on Friday to check out their new digs as the final touches were being rendered. I was very impressed with the clean lines of the interior which gave it a sense of modernity, while the brick and dark wood lent a warm, historic feel a la Gastown. (See Andrew Morrison’s video on urban diner.)

Most newsworthy for this column, however, is that they are the first establishment in Vancouver to offer cask ale daily. Red Devil Pale Ale, dry-hopped with Centennial, is being served from a traditional beer engine that R & B will be supplying continuously. I joined R & B’s Barry Benson, Rick Dellow, and Aly Tomlin in savouring the first pulled pints.

There’s no current plan to offer other styles of beer. However, customer demand could influence this — e.g. if enough people ask for cask-conditioned Auld Nick in winter, we may just get it. It’s also nice to see a couple of B.C. craft taps in addition to the Kronenbourg, Strongbow, and Irish imports — Howe Sound Rail Ale and Phillips Phoenix Gold.

Competition in the neighbourhood also seems to be having some effect. The Alibi Room, Six Acres, and Boneta have quality beer lists. Consequently, the Irish Heather’s bottle list has substantially improved:

Lager: Czechvar, Okanagan Spring 1516, Paddock Wood Czech Mate, Rogue Kell’s Irish Lager

Wheat: Mill Street Wit, Pyramid Apricot, Pyramid Crystal, Rogue Morimoto Soba

Ales: Fish Tale Organic Amber, Mill St. Tankhouse Ale, Newcastle Brown, Pike Kilt Lifter, Pike Naughty Nellie, Rogue Juniper, Sleeman Honey Brown, Tin Whistle Killer Bee

Bitters & IPA: Brooklyn IPA, Pyramid Thunderhead IPA, Rogue Brutal Bitter

Dark Beer & Stouts: Fish Tale Poseidon Imperial Stout, Paddock Wood Black Cat, Rogue Shakespeare Stout

Bottle Fermented: Brooklyn 1, Unibroue Ephemère

All beer can be ordered in the Irish Heather, Salt, and the Salty Tongue. As there is something for all tastes, hopefully it will encourage more people to try beer with their food. How successful they are will depend on whether or not the servers will take the time to educate the neophytes.

I’m looking forward to going back and trying the new menu. My only hesitation is in the execution of St. Patrick’s Day festivities. My experience at the last St. Paddy’s in their old location was of glacial service and substandard food. I think this will only improve if there is an adequate ratio of staff to guests — either limit the number of patrons or have more staff on.

Caskival: The Coming Beer Culture

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Beer festivals in B.C. are typically male-dominated affairs that are tightly regulated by the Liquor Distribution Branch because of the assumed association between beer and bad behaviour (one that is not assumed to be with wine if you have ever dealt with the LDB in setting up an event). If the festival is more about raising money than the appreciation of good beer, you can bet that the quality of the experience will inevitably decline (e.g. Vancouver’s Autumn Brewmasters Festival). The GCBF, on the other hand, is a good example of a well-run, civilized event that, as a result, attracts a mixed clientele interested in the opportunity to taste many different beers, rather than an excuse to get drunk (a number who don’t get it still try, though).

Rae, Andy, and Lauren enjoying the cask ale offerings at Dix Summer Caskival.

Rae, Andy, and Lauren enjoying the cask ale offerings at Dix Summer Caskival.

At Saturday’s Summer Caskival (#5), I witnessed an interesting change at Dix from the previous affairs. There were more women in attendance.

I find this to be a noteworthy situation because it signals to me some positive developments:

  1. more women are discovering different styles of beer, beers they actually enjoy
  2. Caskival is a cultured enough event to make it worthwhile for women to attend
  3. the males are sufficiently well-mannered that women feel comfortable

We are starting to see the movement away from a drinking culture. More people are taking the time to contemplate and enjoy the creativity and skill of the brewers, socializing with similarly-motivated people, and enjoying food with their drink. I think beer has been on the decline as more Canadians choose wine because macro-brewers don’t fulfill this demand while micro-brewers don’t have the financial clout to reach a broad audience to inform them the option is available. Instead, the change is happening at the grass roots level through events like Caskival and word of mouth. I regularly come across people who are surprised by the quality of the beer and the ready availability of it if they know where to look. So many people say, “I never knew!”

For those that did and turned up “for the love of the bung,” there was a fine showing of creative casks this year. Fruit figured in half of them, including a medium-dry 5% ABV apple cider from Storm Brewing, kräusened with pear juice, that had aged nicely since last October. Whistler Brewhouse’s Dave Woodward provided a Belgian-style Mother Pucker Sour Cherry Wheat that was well-balanced, not cloyingly sweet, and had a taste of almonds (from the pits) in the finish. Dix’s Derrick Franche brought out the citrus with a Key Lime Yuzu Hefeweizen — no need for lemon or lime; it’s already in there.

There were classic casks, like Mission Springs Fat Guy Oatmeal Stout, a Simcoe dry-hopped Red Devil Pale Ale from R & B, and Crannög Three Finger Ale — a traditionally-made porter known as an “entire butt.” A special treat was Iain Hill’s Flemish Oud Bruin, which is developing much more character and depth as the months go by. I’m looking forward to when he releases it at Yaletown Brewing in the fall.

On the experimental side, the most unusual and ambitious was from Dave Varga at Taylor’s Crossing. Dave normally likes to brew to style and does a very good job of it. You would, therefore, expect him to be a conservative brewer; not when it comes to making a small batch for hardcore beer aficionados. How about a Masala Pale Ale? If you don’t like a full-on Indian curry, you wouldn’t have liked this beer; some poured it out. I do. Truth be told, however, I was skeptical. Cumin, coriander, fennel, star anise, cardamon, chillies, cinnamon, curry leaves, and palm sugar in beer? Yes! And amazingly good. It would be right at home served at Vij’s.

Tariq Khan of BigRidge in Surrey supplied a Chipotle Cream Ale. Chili beers mess with your head when you first try them. Like La Casa Gelato’s Spicy Mango ice cream, it is both hot and cool at the same time. How much heat you feel depends on your tolerance for chili. If you like spicy food, more of the smoky flavour from the chipotle will come out and some sweetness from the malt, a nice pairing with the barbecue at Dix. Otherwise, you will have mostly experienced the burn.

Dix usually tries to have food specials for each Caskival. This time there was an incredible Pork Loin Katsu Sandwich and Chef Zai’s very own Kimchi Smoked Striploin Beef Jerky with a yuzu honey glaze.

Caskival wrapped up with Derrick Franche announcing the brewers’ and drinkers’ choice awards. For the brewers, it was Iain Hill’s Oud Bruin. For the drinkers, it was Dave Woodward’s 7% ABV, 60 IBU, Whistler Brewhouse IPA, made with Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, and Horizon hops and Chico yeast. That said, I think we were all winners.

For more pictures of the event, check out my friend Raj’s Urban Mixer blog.

This Week’s Vancouver Casks

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With the way Vancouver’s cask nights fall this month, we get to enjoy four firkins this week:

Wolf & Hound Kits Cask
July 30 @ 6:00pm
A winning combination when it comes to summer beer is berries and wheat. Tomorrow’s R & B cask is a Tayberry Sun God Wheat Ale with berries hand-harvested by the good folks at R & B (thanks Kim!). How’s that for a labour of love? This would be great with a creamy, fresh cheese or a green salad with a vinaigrette made with the beer. However, I think your best bet at the W&H, aside from sunshine on the patio, is dessert — vanilla ice cream, New York cheesecake, or anything chocolate.

DIX Cask Thursdays
July 31 @ 5:00pm
Unfortunately, if Derrick mentioned to me what cask he was putting on this week before leaving on vacation, I don’t have any recollection of it. I’m hoping to hear from someone beforehand and will post any updates here. Nevertheless, his Pissing Contest IPA is worth stopping by for if you haven’t tried it yet — 8.9% ABV and 101 IBU. Be careful that you don’t have too many of those on an empty stomach. It’s dangerously good.

Taylor’s Crossing Firkin Friday
August 1  @ 5:00pm
Compared to what Dave Varga is brewing up for Caskival, this month’s cask at TC is a paragon of tradition — Two Lions Pale Ale, dry-hopped with UK Kent Goldings. This is popular with the regular punters, so I would recommend stopping by early if you want to enjoy a classic English Pale Ale.

The Whip Real Ale Sundays
August 3 @ 4:00pm
More berries and wheat, this time from Granville Island. Vern Lambourne has a cask of Raspberry Wheat that will pair just as nicely with the food that goes well with R & B’s Tayberry Sun God above. (Note that The Whip has a new, abbreviated menu.) This should be as popular as Storm’s Raspberry Pils last week.