B.C. Beer Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘wine

BC Liquor Law Reform Post-Election: Where Do We Go From Here?

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by WanderingPaddy

The election hangover has long past. British Columbians who were excited about the possibility of the NDP taking charge and following through on their promise to reform our provincial liquor laws “one practical step at a time”, have come to grips with the reality that we have four more years ahead of us with the Liberals steering the political ship. Hopefully, not four more years of business as usual.

The provincial Liberals have made some positive changes to our liquor laws and policies over the past few years, but have not “overhauled” them as they claimed in a February press release. The Liberal approach has been haphazard, at best, and reactionary, described by the NDP as a “piecemeal approach to liquor policy,”not part of a systematic, comprehensive plan.

The NDP had made it loud and clear, both before and during the election, that they were committed to a full review of current BC liquor laws. This would have included a comprehensive consultation with the BC liquor industry to work out an effective strategy to modernize our liquor policies, which even the Liberals have described as archaic. They have, to this point, also been very open to listening to consumers. I have had meetings with several NDP MLAs where we discussed issues that negatively impact the craft beer-drinking public.

We will never know if the NDP would have been able to keep that election promise. But my sense is that the commitment is real, and that they are ready to continue to push the Liberals from the opposition side of the BC Legislature to start a full review.

So where do we go from here?
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Vancouver Restaurateur Insults Craft Brewers, Belgians, Beer Drinkers

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by WanderingPaddy

A few months back I met with someone from the wine camp. Over a few beers, we had an excellent discussion about issues common to both the BC wine and craft beer industries, successes the wine lobby had realized as a result of advocacy, and how craft beer consumers could better organize to help them realize similar successes. During this discussion, it was pointed out to me that craft beer advocates and the craft beer industry as a whole have a major problem. It has nothing to do with the quality of beer being brewed or the lack of industry organization. This is a problem that is playing a major role in the lack of support given to craft beer by the government and the hospitality industry.

“You (craft beer consumers/industry) have an image problem,” I was told. This was not news to me, and should not be for the majority involved with the craft beer scene in BC. It is a reality and a hangover from the Dark Ages of Beer. This was when, with few exceptions, the majority of beers available from coast to coast in Canada were generic, mass-produced lagers meant to be swilled for effect, not taste. During this Dark Age, beer had no place in the finer restaurants about town, did nothing to enhance or compliment food, and was considered a beverage almost exclusively downed by down-and-outs and working men. Thankfully, due to the explosion of the BC craft beer scene and the amazing beers being brewed locally, those days are long gone. Or are they?

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Why Grapes are Being Freed While Hops Remain Shackled

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by WanderingPaddy

Over the past month, BC wine consumers and the BC wine industry have had several reasons to pop champagne corks in celebration of changes to both federal and provincial laws which have benefited both groups. First Bill C-311, a Private Member’s Bill introduced into the House of Commons by Okanagan-Coquihalla MP, Dan Albas, prompted an amendment to the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act (IILA) of 1928. Federal law now allows wine, and wine only, to transported or shipped across provincial borders by consumers. Spirits and beer are still illegal to ship or transport across provincial boundaries, as they have been since the introduction of the IILA.

Next, the provincial Liberals got in on the act by allowing consumers to buy direct from Canadian wineries. As an added bonus, they do not have to pay the BC Liquor Distribution Branch’s (LDB) 123% mark-up! Even though the feds now allow cross-border wine shipments, it is the provincial governments that ultimately have control over what alcohol gets imported into their jurisdictions. So this move was critical to give Bill C-311 some meaning. Again, these allowances were made for wine only, leaving laws unchanged in regards to spirits and beer.

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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.

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

Fine Dining, Fine Drinking

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In my previous post I touched on why blue-collar beer drinkers shun craft beer. They aren’t the only ones. The white tablecloth troop in B.C. do so as well. It seems B.C.’s ideas of fine dining stem from the French and Italians, cultures without a strong beer tradition. (The Italians, however, are finally starting to come around.) If we had had more immigrants from Belgium, perhaps we wouldn’t be stuck on Madconomist’s Beer Myth #15 – Beer and Fine Dining Don’t Mix.

Beer is not simply lager and pale ale belted back in a bottle, mug, or pint glass and only consumed with burgers or pizza. There are a myriad of styles with which to pair with food. The Beer Judge Certification Program lists 23 different categories of beer; there will be at least one style to go with your meal. Not only that, beer shines in those “tricky” areas that challenge wine: barbecue (smoked beer), chocolate (sweet stout), oysters (Irish stout), and spicy foods (India Pale Ale).

Aside from stereotyping beer as the working man’s drink, perhaps the reluctance to consider beer in conjunction with fine dining is the view that beer is not complex or refined enough to go beyond “grub rinser” and into the realm of cuisine. Not so. (See Myth #9.)

There are many unidimensional wines that would not be found in any self-respecting restaurant. Yet, most beer consumed, unfortunately, falls into that category. Why wouldn’t one put some effort into creating a discriminating beer list as one would a wine list? As with a wine, you would look for a beer made with care and quality ingredients, not merely cleanliness of taste and consistency. There should be a selection of styles that work best with your food, not chosen strictly for their popularity or price.

Another handicap with beer in the context of cuisine is the optics. Are beer bottles and labels designed for eleganceTypically not. Furthermore, the ubiquitous mug or pint glass is designed for quantity drinking which is out of balance with a sophisticated meal. Presentation counts for a lot in fine dining. With the care one takes to serve wine or a cocktail, you can do the same with beer. Glassware is an important part of this. There are different glasses for different styles of beer that are designed to present a beer in its best light. This is not merely for show. There are practical components in glassware design, such as head retention and temperature control.

(BTW, if you want to enjoy your beer, you shouldn’t drink it out of a bottle. Smell is a major contributor to overall flavour. How much aroma are you going to get out of the top of a bottle? It’s like trying to enjoy a good meal with a head cold.)

B.C. is slowly starting to come around to the idea that there is a thing called beer cuisine. Spinnaker’s in Victoria, Canada’s first brewpub, has set the bar in the province so far. Owner Paul Hadfield wants Spinnaker’s to be an affordable Sooke Harbour House. They bake their own breads, make their own vinegars, and create their chocolates & desserts in-house. There is even a sommelier who will suggest both beer and wine pairings. The success of Spinnaker’s in emphasizing local ingredients is catching on. Canoe also has adopted that approach, as does the Alibi Room in Vancouver.

In the Vancouver fine dining pantheon, one typically thinks of Chambar for its Belgian beer and cuisine. Owner/chef Nico Schuerman crafts superb food and even incorporates beer into some of his dishes. Mark Brand created the beer list when bar manager at Chambar. He’s since opened up his own restaurant,Boneta, and maintains a respectable beer selection there. In August 2007, Boneta hosted renowned Brooklyn Brewing brewmaster and food-pairing author, Garrett Oliver, for a sumptuous beer dinner. Attendees were able to purchase autographed copies of Oliver’s book, The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food.

Since January 2008, FigMint has also gotten into the act hosting two elegant brewmasters dinners with Crannóg and Howe Sound. They are currently offering a beer and cheese pairing series at the bar, called “On the Wood.” Their forthcoming B.C. Day tasting on August 7 features Crannóg ales and B.C. artisan cheeses supplied by Mount Pleasant Cheese.

While The Vancouver Sun reported beer is on the decline as more Canadians choose wine, I think the real story here is that more Canadians are dropping mass-market lager for craft beer, imported beer, and wine. The increase in wine may be driven more by the fact that there is so much more information in our media about wine than beer, giving the mistaken impression that there is no dynamism or culture in beer. This is completely false.

I think for beer to get more respect in B.C., brewers need to do a better job of promoting beer culture instead of feeding a drinking culture. A lot of education will be required to undo the damage large brewers have done with their ubiquitous beer belting, frat-boy/sports-junkie imagery. This repels many women who associate beer with bad lager and juvenile behaviour. The cultivated imagery of wine seduces them away from discovering a beer that is more appealing to their palate and one that can be consumed in a mixed social context with fine food.

To get a better idea of what I mean, I recommend the following books:

Written by BCbrews

July 25, 2008 at 3:02 pm