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

Posts Tagged ‘Taylor’s Crossing

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 »

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.

CAMRA Recognizes Vancouver’s Best in Beer

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Dustin Sepkowski, Morris Anh, Rose Weir of The Whip

Dustin Sepkowski, Morris Anh, and Rose Weir, photo courtesy Brian K. Smith Photography.

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. Dix BBQ & Brewery was awarded Best Local Brewpub; The Alibi Room is Best Local Beer Cafe, Pub, or Restaurant; and Brewery Creek, Best Local Liquor Store for beer selection.

“While it may seem curious that the best beer is in Surrey and the best brewery in Victoria, this year’s results reflect the growth in popularity of real ale in Vancouver,” explained CAMRA Vancouver President, Rick Green. “We are fortunate to have brewers throughout the province willing to meet the demand here.”

Dix BBQ & Brewery began the trend in 2002, featuring a cask-conditioned ale once a month. With the encouragement of CAMRA Vancouver, the following has grown. Now Dix features a weekly cask ale and hosts a semi-annual cask festival.

“We are very pleased to be awarded favourite brewpub in the Lower Mainland,” said Dix brewer, Derrick Franche. “On behalf of the Dix BBQ & Brewery staff, I’d like to thank CAMRA Vancouver for their support.”

Nigel Springthorpe, Alibi Room publican.

Nigel Springthorpe, photo courtesy Brian K. Smith Photography.

In January of 2007, The Whip Restaurant & Gallery partnered with local microbrewery, R&B Brewing, to offer a weekly cask from brewers all over BC. Last year, they inaugurated the annual Feast of Five Firkins, a special brewmasters’ dinner featuring five courses paired with five firkins from five brewers. Their success is reflected in the three rewards they received this year.

Real ale is also reaching the suburbs. Taylor’s Crossing brewpub in North Vancouver offers a monthly cask ale, as does Surrey’s BigRidge brewpub. Central City Brewing, also in Surrey, launched their annual cask festival last summer.

Not only is Gastown an evolving dining destination, it’s also a growing focal point for craft beer. Steamworks has been the standard bearer since 1995. Two years ago, the Alibi Room changed direction to become a true free house showcasing all of the province’s best beers. Publican, Nigel Springthorpe, noted:

“We went out on a limb to try something different. The build has been slow, but I really feel things are coming together. We pick up our own beer from the Island; we even have small breweries in the Interior carpooling their beer or getting visitors to throw kegs in their trunks to bring to us. Things are changing. Craft beer is becoming a bigger part of our culture here in BC.”

Last year, the Irish Heather moved across the street into a newly-renovated location. As part of their makeover, they became the first establishment in Vancouver to offer cask-conditioned ale daily, supplied by R&B. And with first-rate imports being sold through progressive retailers, such as Brewery Creek, we can expect the bar to be raised in Vancouver.

The results of the 2009 CAMRA Vancouver Awards are:

Best Local Brewpub
Gold: Dix BBQ & Brewery
Silver: Central City Brewing
Bronze: Yaletown Brewing

Best Local Beer Cafe, Pub, or Restaurant
Gold: The Alibi Room
Silver: The Whip Restaurant & Gallery
Bronze: The Wolf & Hound

Best Local Liquor Store
Gold: Brewery Creek Cold Beer & Wine Store
Silver: Firefly Fine Wines and Ales
Bronze: BCLS Signature Store (39th & Cambie)

Best Local Beer Event
Gold: The Whip Real Ale Sundays
Silver: CAMRA On a Mission to Mission; Feast of Five Firkins (tie)

Best BC Brewery
Gold: Phillips Brewing Co., Victoria
Silver: Storm Brewing Ltd., Vancouver
Bronze: Crannóg Ales, Sorrento; R&B Brewing, Vancouver (tie)

Best BC Beer
Gold: Central City Empire IPA
Silver: Storm Black Plague Stout
Bronze: Crannóg Back Hand of God Stout

Best BC Seasonal Beer
Gold: Yaletown Oud Bruin
Silver: Steamworks The Grand espresso stout
Bronze: Granville Island Winter Ale

Spinnakers Boosts Victoria Real Ale

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Until recently, the hotbed of BC cask-conditioned ale — aka real ale — was Vancouver. As Real Ale has a distinctly British pedigree (as you might glean from having heard of the Campaign for Real Ale), this is somewhat surprising, given Victoria’s British heritage (royal this, that, and the other thing; high tea; double-decker buses, etc.). However, you could only find a cask served at Spinnakers every Friday. Whereas in Vancouver, aside from its three annual cask festivals, a cask is always on at the Irish Heather, is featured every week at Dix and The Whip, and is offered monthly at BigRidge and Taylor’s Crossing. Ironically, a greater number of Vancouver Island brewers were supplying Vancouver with cask ale than their own patrons.

To address this paradox, Spinnakers has aggressively ramped up their real ale production. Now, every weekday, they are tapping a different cask in the taproom at 4:00pm. These are not just cask versions of their regular beer. Brewer Rob Monk is taking advantage of the cask’s small size (40 L) to experiment with different, innovative recipes. For example, tomorrow will feature a Basil IPA, next Tuesday there will be a Maple Nut Brown Ale, and on January 22, it’s a French Oaked Belgian Blonde.

Although brewing real ale represents more work for the brewer, it offers them an enticing advantage. When creating esoteric or extreme beers, brewing, say, a 10 hectoliter batch exposes them to much greater financial risk. Most beer drinkers in BC are not that adventurous or even beer savvy, considering how much macro lager is sold here. It would be hard selling so much of an unconventional beer in such a small market (compared to the size of the US). Brewing 40 L, on the other hand, is a completely different proposition. Now the brewer can afford to be creative and may, cask by cask, gradually convert enough of the clientele to be able to brew a full batch of a beer they would not have previously accepted. This is what seems to be happening in Vancouver.

The vanguard of brewing in BC is mostly found in its brewpubs (except for Kelowna and Penticton). Typically, they will offer a range of beer styles from lager to stout, Hefeweizen to IPA. Real ale is the next frontier. Hopefully, Spinnakers will now do for Victoria what Dix and R&B have done for Vancouver. A regular supply of real ale is a good thing that every self-respecting pub should have. The further away we get from BC’s beer parlour tradition, the better.

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

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.

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.