B.C. Beer Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Vancouver Sun

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.

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Tightening the Beer Belt?

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A refreshing Storm Hurricane IPA on a sunny day.

A refreshing Storm Hurricane IPA on a sunny day.

Pacific Western Brewing’s Cariboo “Genuine Draft” is flying off the shelves, according to an article in the Vancouver Sun. It’s because the lager is the cheapest six pack in the province. Given the likelihood that it doesn’t taste much different from BC’s top-selling diluted beer brands — Corona, Canadian, Kokanee, Budweiser, Coors, etc. — this isn’t much of a surprise. Why spend $10.75 on a six pack of Canadian when you can get Cariboo for $7.54? Do you really think paying $11.95 for a six pack of Corona means it’s that much better? Does spending an extra $4.00 for imported swill make one cool? When a six pack of locally-brewed Central City Red Racer Pale Ale costs $10.75, definitely not!

Unlike wine, beer is not so expensive that you have to make sacrifices, unless you drink lots of it. In that case, it doesn’t hurt to reconsider your drinking choices or drinking style, for that matter. If you drink a lot of mass-market light lager, maybe the reason is that its lack of flavour is not satisfying, so you keep drinking and drinking until you’re full or drunk. Try drinking an undiluted, unadulterated, unfiltered, unpasteurized craft beer instead. You might find that you are satisfied with drinking less. So in paying a bit more for a more flavourful beer, ironically, you may actually spend less on your overall consumption.

Picking up a growler from your local brewpub may be another option to save some money and, more importantly, the environment. You’ll have to buy the 2L bottle first. After that, just bring it back for a refill and pay the price of a couple of pints, but get 700ml more beer! Central City Brewing in Surrey, for example, normally charges $10 for a refill, but it’s just $8.50 on Sundays. This is cheaper than a six pack of Molson Canadian, but it produces less waste, doesn’t require recycling, and uses a lot less energy over the life of the container. It’s also the freshest beer you will ever get.

Taking this to a bigger scale, you may also be able to get 8.5L party pigs or 20L & 50L kegs from your local craft brewery or brewpub if you’re having a barbecue or throwing a party. It’s got the same advantages of a growler, only you spread the benefits to more people.

In Vancouver, an additional opportunity to reduce your beer expenses is by joining CAMRA Vancouver. Members receive a 10% discount at the Alibi Room, Brewery Creek, Firefly, Viti, and the Wolf & Hound.

Then there’s a more involved way to shrink your beer budget: home brewing. Pseudo-home brewing is using a brew-on-premises (BOP) shop, especially the kind where you don’t have much direct involvement in the actual brewing beyond choosing the style of beer you want and pitching the yeast. To actually get involved in brewing from start to finish, the easiest and cheapest way to get rolling is with a beer kit. Depending on how well-equipped your kitchen is, you may not have to get a lot of extra equipment. You certainly don’t need any fancy gear to brew good beer, nor really a lot of space if it’s just for your own consumption. It’s not that hard to brew beer; it just takes time. The challenge, however, is in making a great beer. Fortunately, there’s lots of help available in the form of books, videos, homebrewer groups, and your local hombrew supply store. Some home brewers I know still go to pubs and buy packaged beer from stores. Others swear by doing it yourself and bask in the savings.

Another option for the beer drinker is to look at some other expenses to see if you can reduce them instead of having to sacrifice enjoying a quality beer. Coffee is one item that most people will be able to reduce the cost of by simply making it themselves. If you typically buy two cups of coffee every day from a coffee shop, assuming you pay $1.50 per cup for drip coffee, that works out to $1,095.00 per year ($1,569.50 for a small Starbucks Americano, $1,825.00 for a medium). On the other hand, if you buy 1/2 a pound of fresh-roasted coffee from your local roaster every week for $8.00 and make it at home and/or at work, it will cost $416.00 and taste better. You save $679.00 (and a lot of waste if you can’t be bothered to use a travel mug when buying from a coffee shop).

While the economy may be forcing you to tighten your belt, you don’t have to go so far as to drink swill to afford drinking beer. It may just mean taking a different approach.

Chocolate and Dessert Wine, the Perfect Blend?

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With Valentine’s Day coming up, the subject of wining and dining takes centre stage. Chocolate is also a big part of this Hallmark holiday and our local vinophiles are only too happy to proffer up sophisticated beverage recommendations to have with your luscious dessert. The Vancouver Sun‘s resident vine scribe, Anthony Gismondi, can be verbose when it comes to pairing suggestions for a Mia Stainsby recipe. In the case of this week’s Chocolate Crème Brulée, he offers the brief: “Chocolate and Dessert Wine: The Perfect Blend.”

I don’t doubt that you can find a wine to pair with chocolate, but it’s not a simple thing to do. In fact, a port is often suggested. So why even venture down a path that may require the skills of a stunt person (aka sommelier) to perform? Is there not an easier option?

Consider the definition of “perfect” from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

1 a: being entirely without fault or defect : flawless <a perfect diamond> b: satisfying all requirements : accurate c: corresponding to an ideal standard or abstract concept <a perfect gentleman>…

When it comes to chocolate, the definition for me of a perfect match is with stout. Not all stouts pair with all chocolates, but you don’t have to venture far to find the ideal mate. It’s such a good match that brewers will actually add chocolate to their beerPhillips Longboat Double Chocolate Porter, Rogue Chocolate Stout, Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, etc. Dogfish Head‘s Sam Calagione says, “There is probably no pairing more perfect than a roasty stout and dark chocolate.” Brooklyn Brewing brewmaster, Garrett Oliver, wrote:

With desserts, strong roasty stouts can demonstrate true brilliance, perfectly matching chocolate and providing a wonderful contrast to ice cream and fruit desserts. Wine, being incapable of true roasted flavors, can’t even come close.

Chocolate raspberry torte with a Lindeman's Framboise is a delicious combination.

Chocolate raspberry torte with a Lindemans Framboise is a delicious combination.

Yes, stout can pair with fruit desserts, just as you would use chocolate with fruit. When it comes to beer, the reverse is also true. You can pair a fruit ale with a chocolate dessert — young, sweet fruit lambics such as kriek, framboise, and pêche; an apricot wheat ale with Sachertorte to enhance the apricot/chocolate combination already in the cake; a cherry stout with Black Forest cake will do the same.

So there you have it, folks. The ideal Valentine’s beverage is beer. And what dessert better epitomizes love than a Russian Imperial Stout Cheesecake? Gentlemen, if your quarry is beer averse, this will change her mind, especially if you made it. Ladies, finding it hard to get your man to drink what he scorns as a chick beer? This will send Cupid’s arrow through his heart unless a dislike of desserts covers it in chain mail. Ah, l’amour!

Instead of Cheap Wine, Drink Great Beer

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Anthony Gismondi writes in Saturday’s Vancouver Sun that in these times, it pays to become a more savvy wine drinker. What he means by that is not so much being more knowledgeable about wine itself, but looking for the best-valued wines rather than resorting to buying cheap wine to save money. Of course, you may have to drink less to stay within your shrunken budget.

Fortunately, drinking great beer presents few such restrictions and takes far less effort. How much money will you have to spend trying to find a wine in that crapshoot $10-$20 price range before you find something better than so-so or worse? Will that wine be just as good next year? Find a single bottle of beer in that price range, and you can be confident that the majority will be good to excellent. Most BC craft beer, on the other hand, is less than $5.00 per 650ml bottle. So for every bottle of wine you drink, you can try at least three different kinds of beer, if not more.

Would switching over to drinking more beer represent much of a sacrifice for wine drinkers? If you are sticking strictly to BC products, there certainly aren’t as many craft beers as there are wines. The BC wine industry has more money and government support than our brewers. Consequently, there are more of them. However, as you will glean from my earlier postings, there is no loss when it comes to food pairing. In fact, I would argue that given the flavour palette available with beer, there is a gain. Beer shines where pairings for wine are “tricky:” chocolate, oysters, sharp cheeses, and spicy foods.

Another thing that you will discover when you apply a connoisseur’s approach (kindly refrain from holding your nose up in the air) to beer is its seasonality — certain beer styles are suited to certain seasons. Jurgen Gothe, wine writer for the Georgia Straight , however, doesn’t seem to recognize that. His ‘Drink of the Week’ for December 30 was Tiger lager from Singapore. (Personally, I’m not too keen on drinking a generic macro lager from the other side of the world, especially after shoveling snow off the sidewalk. If I went to a Singaporean restaurant here, it would probably be the best choice available only because the proprietor likely knows nothing about beer except to stock what will sell and make the most money. In Singapore, though, you would be cheating yourself out of having a great beer if you kept only to Tiger.)

I’m not saying that you can’t drink a lager outside of summer; you can. But there are Bocks, Doppelbocks, and Eisbocks for this time of year that are more appropriate lagers than a Helles, Pils, or Vienna, both in terms of how they make us feel and in going with the hearty foods we eat to give us comfort. Barley wines, imperial stouts, old ales, Scotch ales, and Christmas/winter spiced beer often evolved from nature’s cycle. You wouldn’t normally drink these in summer. (With respect to wine, I can only think of young wines, like Beaujolais Nouveau, and mulled wine that are consumed during a particular time of year.) Therefore, in adopting the seasonality of beer, we become more in sync with Earth’s natural rhythm.

So to all wine drinkers, worry not. Find comfort in beer. And if your portfolio has taken a dive, seek shelter in a Bailout Bitter.

Cook with Beer but Drink Wine?

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Given the paucity of column-inches devoted to beer in the B.C. press, I’m always pleased when some space is allocated to it. A full article, like Joanne Sasvari’s recent piece in The Vancouver Sun, represents a small victory in the battle to get respect for real beer.

Nevertheless, craft beer virtually remains an underground subculture in the province — shunned by the working man and snubbed by the gourmand. I’ve had people talk to me in the various “House of Brews” I frequent and be astonished by my so-called pulling back of the curtain. It’s always a magic moment when in the presence of a beer epiphany, like with two Corona drinkers I converted at the Surrey Summer Cask Festival at Central City Brewing.

Given macro beer’s greater sales and a growing shift to wine, the influence of marketing and media seems pretty clear. Therefore, it is important to reach a wider audience with the information people need to better understand beer. Unfortunately, that audience also includes members of our media.

As an example, today’s Vancouver Sun included in its Arts & Life section a recipe for Beer-Showered Littleneck Clams. Great! A splendid opportunity for providing people with a beer cuisine lesson. But wait, the recipe calls for “1 cup beer (in spray bottle).” What kind of beer? Lager or ale? Barley wine, bitter, blonde, bock, brown? Will any one do? It doesn’t say.

These recipes come from the days when “beer” was synonymous with industrial lager. Some recipes have been updated with the caveat “not dark,” however, even that is not really specific enough with so many more styles of beer readily available today. Heavily-hopped Northwest-style IPAs are not necessarily dark, but will obliterate the taste of clams. Instead, you should choose a pilsner (e.g. Tree Brewing Kelowna Pilsner), Helles (e.g. Okanagan Spring Bavarian Helles), or Kölsch (e.g. Mt. Begbie High Country Kölsch).

Not specifying the style of beer in a recipe is a relatively minor error, although I doubt we would see a recipe in The Sun that called for “wine” without qualification. However, below the recipe, the article boldly declared: “USE BEER TO COOK AND WINE TO DRINK.” Very curious. You are cooking with beer. Wouldn’t it stand to reason you would drink that same beer with your clams? Apparently not.

According to Anthony Gismondi, he “could make this easy and suggest you just crack open your favourite beer, but then what would all the winos do?” Well, first of all, if your favourite beer was Phillips Amnesiac IPA, should you crack it? No. The simplest thing would be to pour a glass (don’t drink it out of the bottle!) of the beer you used to spray the clams. As for the winos, let’s think of it from the other way around. If one were writing about a recipe for Coq au Vin, wouldn’t is seem odd to say, “I could make this easy and suggest you just pop open your favourite wine, but then what would all the beer geeks do?” Right.

Just so that we’re clear, I’m not a beer pimp. I enjoy a good wine on many an occasion. I just think the media ought to be more even-handed when it comes to beer. I think wine madness has gotten a little out of control here, to the point that it is covered much like cars and real estate where the lines between advertising and editorial have become blurred or erased. There is a happy medium and that’s where I would like to see it go.

Written by BCbrews

July 26, 2008 at 8:24 pm