Tag Archives: BC Breweries

Beer from the Rock

Growlers

Well as Murphy’s Law dictates if you plan to move at the end of any given month during the last week of said month a craft brewery will finally open within walking distance.

To further rub salt in the wound said brewery will be adjacent to your hairdresser so you will have been patiently biding your time, watching the slow progress as the brewery moved in equipment, put up a cryptic sign referencing beer, proceeded to paper all the windows all on your regular trips to the area while never knowing for sure when the doors would open.

White Rock Beach Beer Company

But enough whining on my end, the White Rock Beach Beer Company has finally opened its’ doors (door actually) and I paid them a first on their inaugural weekend.

The White Rock Beach Beer Company was started by a trio of fellows Rob Kwalheim (Brewmaster), Peter Adams and Bill Haddow (Marketing), a couple of whom were local teachers (can you think of any better motivator to lead you to beer?). While there is not a whole lot to describe about this tiny brewery, they do have some swag emblazoned with the brewery logo, growlers and half-growlers for fill, and a standing-room only tasting space. Personally, the brewery branding is not really my style I do like that they managed to incorporate that giant White Rock we are all so fond of …(cough, cough).

Beer on the Wall

One thing myself and my entourage noticed were the bricks in the wall, not in the anti-establishment kind of way but the tangible bricks bearing peoples names. Turns out when this brewery was a mere idea the proprietors shopped the concept around to people and got some of them to put their money where their mouth was so to speak and turn the dream of craft beer in White Rock into a reality. To honour those early supporters they get their names proudly displayed, swag AND they get dibs on some free growler fill-ups.

Oh, and  there are some interesting opening beers as well.

Menu

Menu

Currently there are three options on tap a pale ale, a nut brown ale and a porter, granted these are pretty safe choices but they are done well. I sampled all three at the brewery and me and the gang took a growler of the pale ale home for further dissection.

The East Beach Nut was in fact quite nutty, which sounds like I am being trite but in fact I often find the nut brown ales miss the mark by not keeping that nut flavour at the forefront. While I generally like this style for blending with other beers it is quite drinkable in its’ own right. The Border Porter was decent as well but I would really have needed a bigger pour to offer any fleshed out opinion.

The West Beach Fruit really surprised me because pale ales are so not my thing but I have to say I really enjoyed this beer. It was sessionable, well-balanced and like the nut brown kept the fruit character at the forefront. It was much more of a stone fruit taste and not an overt sweetness, there was a bit of hop character but nothing over-powering.

Beer Superfans

So if you find yourself at the Rock stop in for a growler before you hit the beach.

 

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New Brew Friday

Dawn Patrol

Dawn Patrol Coffee Porter from Tofino Brewing Company (6.5%)

A deep black brown porter that is opaque and still. This is very little mocha coloured head, which quickly dissipates leaving a light ring around the glass. Lots of cold coffee on the nose more on the roasted side than the bitter side of the coffee spectrum. Lots of coffee flavour but just the slightest hint of chocolate malts and not much in the way of sweetness. I get a slight astringent taste from this one as well. A light bodied beer that has a subtle dry bitter finish. I am not a coffee drinker but I enjoyed this one, which may mean its’ not potent enough for you coffee aficionados out there. Overall a somewhat middle-of-the-road porter, glad I tried it but not sure I’ll re-buy it.

 


Crowd Surfing at Brassneck Brewery

More beer

On my recent pilgrimage back to the city I stopped to try another new Vancouver beer hot spot Brassneck Brewery, which just happens to be the progeny of some serious local beer pedigree, Nigel Springthorpe (of The Alibi Room) and Conrad Gsomer (former brewer at Steamworks).

The Growler Wall

Brassneck Artwork

Brassneck is located on Main Street just north of many great food spots, quirky used book stores, trendy coffee shops and local clothing merchants, in other words in a pretty great neighbourhood.

The brewery, growler fill station and tasting room are housed in a rather nondescript building but it has a big glass front allowing people the chance to see the brewers in action and to see the depth of the line-up at the growler fill counter.

Barely open two weeks when I stopped by, the hubby and I just squeezed into the seating area under the max capacity allowance.

A View to the Room

Brassneck Entrance

Food Truck

Nice touch

The long narrow tasting room is, well, woody, which for some reason seems to be the decor choice of many a brewery. A giant communal table extends from the end of the bar and the other half of the room has equally cozy tables where drinking with your neighbour is somewhat unavoidable – the exception being one table tucked away at the back for secret meetings and brewery espionage (I presume). Little cutout windows afford patrons a view behind the scenes.

The aesthetic here seems to be studied quirkiness (very Main Street) with pen and ink sketches for the beer ‘labels’, underwear branded with the brewery name and, of course, a food truck parked in front – oh, and a grain sack for a garbage.

Behind the scenes it looks like most breweries lots of stainless steel, plastic bucks and an endless nest of hoses running here and there.

More behind the scenesBeer, Beer and more Beer

The Maze

Beer, beer, beer…

They have a lot on tap for a new brewery, ten beers in fact. Oddly though the taster flights come in fours so this begs the inevitable question what to leave out? I decided to let the guy pulling the taps make that decision for me so I would not discriminate uninformedly (not sure this is a real word).

One other thing that seemed like an ‘ironing out the kinks’ kind of issue is that there is no means to differentiate the beers in your flight other than the whirlwind recount from your server. So when you are forgetful like me (or you’ve had one too many beers) this lack of labelling makes it hard to remember what is what and I noticed more than one beer geek (myself included) with the beer order jotted down on a scrap of paper.

Flight of the Beer

Flight of the Beer part two

While we were at Brassneck we tried:

Small Wonder – A table saison meaning a light and accesible drink to be shared. Light pale gold gold in colour, just a little head and the tiniest bit of funkiness to remind you that this is indeed a saison style brew. A good starter beer.

Kingmaker – A clear golden coloured pils with a light skim of head. A slight yeasty nose and a bit of nutty flavour, which is pretty typical for the style. An okay beer but I wasn’t loving it.

Brassneck Ale – Moving along the colour chart we have a clear light amber ale. A little bit more flavour and depth that the first two beers. Some toasted elements, a hint of bitter and a bit of a coppery taste.

Blichmann’s Finger – We are now onto the golden ale, which in appearance is pretty close to the Brassneck, perhaps a bit darker in colour. Hoppy on the nose and in flavour with equal parts maltiness.

Old Bitch – Cloudy reddish-brown in appearance with very little head. A very tepid and thin beer lacking the malt flavour I expected. A bitter finish but overall really lacking in character.

Passive Aggressive – Bright cloudy orange pale ale with nice lacing. Big floral hop nose with some piney notes. Lots of sweet malt flavour and even more hoppiness as you drink -perhaps more IPA than pale ale. Dry bitter finish. This one is the best of the bunch so far.

Barn Burner – Dark black-brown with some mocha coloured head. This dark saison has a sweet and funky nose, nice roasted malt and leather flavours and a dry finish.

The Geezer – Last but not least the porter. A dark black-brown beer with mocha coloured head. Chocolate and roastiness on the nose, lots of roasted malt flavour. Chocolate is dominant, coffee notes very slight, making this porter not too bitter but it is quite thin. Dry finish.

What's on Tap


33 Acres Brewing Company

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This past weekend I paid my first visit to 33 Acres Brewing Company one of the many new breweries and tasting rooms popping up all over the Lower Mainland. 33 Acres is centrally located where east meets west on 8th Avenue in Vancouver.

33 Acres Brewing Company

The tasting room is housed in a somewhat spartan space that feels a bit like the people from a J.Crew catalogue met for a beer at a Restoration Hardware.

White everywhere, silver and wood accents and the occasional succulent dot the tasting room and, to be truthful, I felt just a little too old and a little too un-hipster to be drinking in this space but I did because I liked what I tried at the Great Canadian Beer Festival and what the hey, we are all beer geeks inside.

All in all it is not the most warm or inviting tasting room I have ever been in but at the same time the staff were informative and accommodating letting me take a peek behind the scenes and showing me their in-progress kitchen area and mentioning plans to have a rotation of food trucks available for patrons – waffle Sundays anyone?

Also, I have to say 33 Acres has really nice, if expensive, merchandising (ceramic growlers and surf boards) and clearly they have a cohesive vision for the aesthetic of their brewery.

33 Acres Bar

 

33 Acres Interior

33 Acres Merch

33 Acres Brewing Equip

But really I have been to tasting rooms that are little more than old garages and dingy basements so when it comes right down to it it is all about the beer you are pouring…

While I was there 33 Acres was serving 33 Acres of Life California Common and 33 Acres of Ocean West Coast Pale Ale both of which were available to GCBF patrons though word has it another seasonal is in the works (they had a seasonal called 33 Acres of Sunshine at the GCBF) but I could not get any more details than that.

33 Acres Samples

33 Acres of Life (4.8%) pours a bright copper penny colour with just a little white head and some lacing. Very good clarity and carbonation to this beer. You get a burnt sweetness on the nose and a rich caramel flavour as you drink with just the slightest bitterness. Fairly light in body. The finish is fairly sweet. Overall a very approachable beer though not terribly memorable.

33 Acres of Ocean (5.3%) pours a lighter amber/copper colour with a little white head, some lacing and very good clarity. In appearance remarkably similar to Life but just a lighter colour. One sniff of the nose tells you this is an entirely different beer. Sweet and piney hop-forward nose with an undercurrent of citrus. Light bodied, hoppy in flavour but not over-poweringly so and a clean finish. Overall a very nice pale ale that retains a West Coast character while not being a hop-bomb.

33 Acres Beer


The Art of the Beer Label – BC Edition

I have decided to revisit one of my favourite blog topics, the art of the beer label, this time with an eye to what the creative brewers in British Columbia have chosen to adorn their bottles.

Not surprisingly there is a huge range of styles and themes chosen to represent the beer within. So let’s take a look at just a few of the bottles from our beautiful province and see if we can discover what the labels tell us about the brewery.

 

Phillips Brewing Company

Phillips Brewing Company seems to employ every style under the sun and every colour in the spectrum when it comes to their beer labels.  One thing with the Phillips labels, though artistic, they do not always feel reflective of the beer you are about to drink – Train Wreck for instance, with its’ Deco imagery, feels like it would be more at home on the cover of an Ayn Rand novel than a barley wine. Always inventive, if busy, I tend to feel like I love em’ or hate em’ when it comes to Phillips labels.

Phillips Trainwreck Barley Wine

Phillips Pandamonium Label

Mass-Extinction-Label-Ice-Barley-wine-proof-2

 

 

Driftwood Brewery

Driftwood Brewery tends to mix-it-up now and then with their labels moving from the naturalistic palette and colours employed in their standard lbeer line-up to more cheeky or edgy takes on their seasonal beers. Driftwood does a really good job of reflecting the beer style in the label. Personally, I think the Sartori harvest label is one of the nicest labels around.

Driftwood Sartori Harvest

oldcellardweller-label-medium1

driftwood_naughtyhildegard

 

 

R&B Brewing Co.

R&B Brewing Co. is another brewer that seems to employ a ‘do what you feel’ kind of attitude when it comes to their labels arguably with mixed results. One of the tough things for me is the colours and style of the R&B logo always seem at odds with the rest of the graphics. That being said I really like their seasonal Auld Nick label.

iceholes_lager1

East Side Bitt R&B

aulp_nick

 

 

Howe Sound Brewing

I have to admit I usually do not get what Howe Sound is going for with their labels aesthetically. I mean, I get the literal interpretation of the beer name, i.e. scotch ale on a tartan background, but I feel like their choice of labels lacks an overarching vision. That being said I think the Mega Destroyer label really nailed the spirit of the beer within.

Howe Sound Mega Destroyer

howesound_weebeastie

Howe Sound High Tide

 

 

Parallel 49 Brewing Company

Okay so personal preference here but Parallel 49’s whole cartoon-ish Sailor Jerry carnival theme just does not work for me; however, I can appreciate that they have obviously put some serious thought into the aesthetic they want to present to consumers. It feels very lighthearted like you should never take the beer inside too seriously.

parallel49_uglysweater

Ruby Parallel 49

parallel49_lostsouls

 

 

Hoyne Brewing

Far and away my favourite beer labels come from Hoyne Brewing Co. Artistic and playful but never derivative, Hoyne manages to walk that elusive balance between too much of any one thing while maintaining a core imagery that still lets the consumer know this is a Hoyne beer. The tie to the beer is subtle but present. Great colours, great lay outs, great use of fonts, great job!

label-honey-hefe

label-dark-matter

Hoyne Devil's Dream

 

 

Vancouver Island Brewery

Vancouver Island Brewery has one of those label campaigns that feels a bit like we’ve been there and done that in terms of the graphics (a little bit Driftwood and a little bit Phillips). At the same time I do like their layouts, colour choices and the way they provide information on the beer inside. VIB always employs colours that embody the beer within i.e. Marzen with rich, fall tones. The Christmas label still creeps me out though.

vancouverisland_ironplow_label

vancouverisland_flyingtanker

vib_DoughHead2012

 

 

Russell Brewing Company

Russell Brewing Company has often opted for the no-label label with their specialty and/or beers in a way that I think works very, very well. In particular, the Blood Alley Bitter and the Russian Imperial Stout are a couple of the best bottles out there showing a great use of font, placement and negative space to create memorable bottles. I feel like the aesthetic choices they make really marry the beer styles within.

Russell Black Death Porter Russell Blood Alley Bitter Russell Russian Imperial Stout


Fame, Fortune and all the Beer you can Drink

Somewhere in the hearts and minds of craft beer geeks lay their version of the ‘American Dream’ and I want to postulate it goes a little something like this:

Beer geek tries craft beer and it is love at first sight. They begin to try all kinds of craft beer until they hone in on their style.  Beer geek gains knowledge on all things craft beer becoming a de facto expert. Friends, families and strangers are amazed and impressed by their wisdom. Beer Geek learns to home brew thinking they can improve upon their favourite beer by adding one more hop. They turn their kitchen/garage/attic into a makeshift brewery alarming neighbours who believe a meth lab is moving in next door. Despite this, beer geek makes beer and it is good. Said beer is taken out to allow others to experience the wonder of their creation. Beer Geek is discovered by a benevolent (and independently wealthy) benefactor devoted to the craft and together a brewery is launched. Success follows quickly. They spend their days dreaming up new and exciting beer flavours while Molson and Labatt drive up truckloads of money to buy out the brand. Beer geek is awash in the endless cycle of fame, fortune and bottomless beer whilst pursuing that ultra-glamorous lifestyle of a craft brewer.

Okay, okay perhaps this is just my guilty disillusionment so what is it really like being a brewer?

 

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Behind the Scenes at Big Ridge

To find out more I caught up with Tariq Khan, brewer for Big Ridge Brewing Company in Surrey, British Columbia, to get some insider information on the brewed realities.

 

The Brewpub…

Big Ridge Brewing Co. has been operating for 12years and Tariq has been brewing there for five. Big Ridge is a production brewery brewing beer for consumption on site. They opened at their original location in 1999 and moved across the road to their present location in 2010. Big Ridge also has an adjunct liquor store, located on the same block, that carries a pretty impressive selection of craft beer. The brewery is owned by the Mark James Group, which also operates Yaletown Brewing Co., Brewhouse in Whistler and Flying Beaver in Richmond.

 

The Brewer…

Like many of us, Tariq started out as a home brewer before receiving training at the Brewlab, a centre for beer excellence, situated in the United Kingdom. Here, Tariq tells me, he gained hands on experience in a very small class, and upon graduation he literally had the keys to a brewery thrust into his hands. Sink or swim is apparently an effective teaching tool for both brewers and swimmers.  As a brewer at Dark Star he gained familiarity with many classic UK beer styles. Tariq also spent some time in Montreal, Quebec not as a brewer per se, but as one of us regular folk soaking up the incredible craft beer community situated in la belle province.

I asked his opinion on the necessity of formal training for brewers and he pragmatically noted, in our local beer scene there is a healthy mix of schooled brewers and experienced (self-taught) brewers. When considering an investment in a brewing degree, the cost of the program and the potential salary at the end are realities that should be considered. Brewers at a production brewery like Big Ridge can make a living but you should probably temper dreams of a summer home in France. The being said there is a wide variant of earning potential depending on the size and scale of the brewery, if you own your own facility and the popularity of your beer, of course.

 

The Brewery…

When I went to visit I found Tariq in the small-ish brewing room at the back of the pub. It is solitary work, minus the window onto the bar area, so you are pretty much alone with your thoughts and your equipment. A couple of days a week are devoted to the act of brewing and the rest of your time is spent cleaning, transferring and general maintenance/monitoring. I always tended to equate beer, and by extension brewing, as a social activity but aside from the occasional brewery tour or annoying beer geek you are on your own with the business at hand. Luckily, Tariq mentioned there is a real camaraderie amongst the BC brewers who support one another’s efforts to grow the craft beer scene so you are never really alone.

We went over the various pieces of equipment and ingredients used so I could get a rough idea of how things function on a brewing day. For my fellow home brewers, just think of everything on a bigger scale with lots more toys to ensure things are working. Tariq ‘claims’ he has never lost a batch in his entire brewing career but that may be what they tell the groupies (just kidding).

Quality control, interestingly enough, is Tariq himself so knowing your beer styles and your off-flavours is a critical part of being a good brewer. This saddened me a bit since I had imagined a Willy Wonka-esque contraption where you insert a drop of beer and a printout emerges telling you if its’ good or bad.

 

The Beer…

I was also curious to know how much leeway the brewer has on deciding what beer will make it to the bar. Tariq notes, in a production brewery like Big Ridge, lager is the fastest moving brew so brewing the lager on a regular basis affords him the opportunity to try his hand at styles he personally enjoys like his cask conditioned IPA.

While I was visiting, Big Ridge had their lager, IPA, hefeweizen, porter and the casked IPA available – bonus for me was the chance to sample while I toured. Big Ridge also produces seasonal beers, which afford Tariq a chance to exercise his skills. Tariq also regularly send kegs down to the Alibi Room.

We chatted a bit about the ethical obligations of brewers to create beer that is suited to the brewery and its’ clientele and surroundings. For instance, I was curious if Tariq felt comfortable producing a high-alcohol beer in a suburban brewpub that is not on a major transit route. I think we both agreed that these realities temper how far someone is willing to experiment. Big Ridge also implemented a complimentary shuttle bus to address this issue.

 

Overall, I have to say Tariq gave me the impression he is very happy with his chosen profession and has no regrets about the path he has taken to get there.

 

A Vegan Aside

I would like to take a moment out here to reveal one of my ulterior motives for visiting Tariq …he is a vegan like me (I thought he was a Trekkie too with his ‘Wrath of Khan’ beer but turns out that name was not his idea -I forgive him though). As a vegan there are some ugly issues we have to contend with as beer drinkers namely what is being used to clarify the beer we’re drinking. I was very excited to learn Tariq brought his vegan ways into Big Ridge where he brews with something called Biofine instead of the traditional gelatin products or isinglass.

For those of you who may not know, isinglass is a substance obtained from the swim bladders of fish and used as a means to clarify the beer and wine. Isinglass is widely used in Britain and Canada but in the United States, particularly here on the West Coast, there is a growing awareness of alternative products largely due to consumer pressure to limit the use of unsustainable animal products. I really want to draw some attention to this since I hope other brewers and beer drinkers in British Columbia will take the time to ask more about the production of their favourite craft beer.

 

Final Thoughts

For a while now I have been toying with the idea of enrolling in a college course on brewery operations so I was grateful for the chance to chat with Tariq about the day-to-day realities of being a craft brewer. There are still many aspects of the work I find appealing but at the same time I think I garnered a better understanding of the nature and limitations of the work. I strongly encourage anyone considering beer as a career to spend some time with those in the field and benefit from their wisdom.

 

Tariq, thank-you so much for being so very generous with your time and knowledge (and thanks for the beer!).


Drinking My Way Around BC

I’ll admit I am often very unpatriotic in my beer drinking habits because more often than not I tend to fall back on my south-of-the-border or across-the-pond go to breweries when I am looking for something to restock the fridge. In order to remedy this deficit in my beer experience, I made it one of my new “beers” resolutions to try more beers from the Great White North. After all British Columbia is quickly becoming a craft beer destination, and boasting over fifty microbreweries and brewpubs there is no shortage of local beers to choose from.

Hoyne Brewing Company Big Bock Ale: The Big Bock pours amber and with unbelievable clarity. Nice amount of white head that lingers. Sweet malt on the nose. Very clean to drink with a medium to light body and subtle strength that is in no way overpowering. I am loving the beers coming from the Island and kudos for the inspired label.

Mission Springs Brewing Company’s The Strongman Ale: The Strongman Ale is copper-gold in colour with nice clarity. A ton of stiff head that hangs around for the majority of the pint. Subtle bitter hop on the nose and in the flavour. Decent amount of malt adds some balance. Lives up to its namesake in strength but it is not overwhelming for the 650ml size – just enough to get that warmth in your belly. Smooth to drink and relatively light in body with a bit of stickiness.

Russell Brewing Nectar of the Gods: Nectar of the Gods is described as wheat wine ale. It pours and amber-copper colour and like the other beers, has impressive head retention. A fair amount of sediment. Fermented fruit, currant and earthy wood dominate the nose. Tons of oaky whiskey flavours imparted from the casking, almost barley wine like in character but not quite. Tannin aftertaste. Hard to discern the wheat beer qualities with all the complex and dominant flavours going on.

As I was writing this post I googled ‘map of BC breweries’ but did not come up with anything, which is surprising to me. I use my Washington and Oregon Beer Guides so often they are in shambles, and they have proven an invaluable resource, source of inspiration and all-around guiding star on numerous occasions.

In the meantime I will continue drinking (and blogging) my way around BC.


My New “Beers” Resolutions

  1. Relax and enjoy the act of drinking craft beer i.e. take a break from diligent note taking and photographing in order to actually savour the experience.
  2. Learn more about the ‘craft’ aspect of craft beer.
  3. Visit more of our local BC Breweries and tap houses.
  4. Be discerning in my beer purchasing habits i.e. stop buying bottles with cool labels and start cultivating a means of selection.
  5. Go to the Great American Beer Festival.
  6. Drink more beers on tap.
  7. Get out of my comfort zone with home brewing.
  8. Become a certified beer judge (I see this as working in conjunction with resolution 1 since I would have a designated venue for critical drinking).
  9. Make myself a beer calendar so I can keep on top of my inventory.
  10. Find additional ways to bake with craft beer.
  11. Do more blogging (posting and reading) to get to know more people in this amazing family of craft beer enthusiasts.
  12. Help my cat cut back on his drinking problem…

Merlyn and his Rogue Double Mocha Porter


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