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April 27, 2011 / Brewtiful BC

Vancouver Craft Beer Week

So it’s kind of silly I didn’t post something like this long ago.  Even so, without further delay, here is my Vancouver Craft Beer Week post.

A few months ago I was hanging around on the internet looking for exciting jobs or internships and wasn’t finding anything.  So I decided to go on Facebook and see what was happening.  As usual nothing too exciting was going on there either, but I noticed that Vancouver Craft Beer Week posted something regarding this year’s upcoming event.  I decided to mix my job searching with my procrastination and sent them my resume.  Later that week I was their marketing intern.

Being an intern wasn’t really anything I was looking for ideally, but this gave me a position in an industry I would love to work in, and doing the sorts of things I went to school for.  Things marketing directors and presidents don’t want to do, like internet research, database management, and writing press releases are things I would be happy to do, and happy to get on my resume.

But not all that glitters is gold.  It is not all glory being the VCBW intern.  Although the work they feed me on paper appears manageable, when you are working under Beer Week conditions, you need to have an editor or at least a designated driver.  All jokes aside, there is a lot of work involved to put on such an event.  There are over 55 breweries at over 70 venues partnered with VCBW during the 9 days in May celebrating craft beer in Vancouver; 28 breweries collaborated to produce a Cascadian Dark Ale that will be featured at many of the events; and over 150 beers were entered in the Brewery Creek BC Beer awards.   It doesn’t organize itself.  A lot of work is put into this celebration of craft beer and I am happy to do my part.

Now I can finally defer all of the reoccurring questions to my own blog, which will pretty much redirect everybody to the official site.  It has an extensive list of all the events and I will be sure to post anything I know of that isn’t posted on there.

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April 27, 2011 / Brewtiful BC

BC Beer Judging

Volunteering feels good.

I have volunteered for many things in my life.  In high school I did some volunteer work for the Cancer Society around Christmas time, I volunteered my organs to those who need some after I die, and I even altruistically volunteered my labour for Vancouver Craft Beer Week as their marketing intern.  Most recently, I have donated my time to help with the VCBW BC Beer Awards.

It was my first time at a beer judging event so I didn’t really know what to expect. There were about 15 volunteers helping to label, pour and bus the beer up to the four tables of judges.  There were over 150 beers that were dived into seven categories.  Breweries involved include interior favorites such as Tree, Okanagan Spring, Tin Whistle, Cannery, and Mt. Begbie, Island staples like Driftwood, and Phillips, as well as Vancouver heavyweights Red Racer, Storm, and Deadfrog and GIB.  Lots of the beer I have seen before, but definitely a lot I haven’t.

As a rookie beer nerd, looking into the elite judging the beers was an experience.  I don’t know how I envisioned it, but it wasn’t like this.  I guess when I think of beer drinking I didn’t really picture taking 150 critical sips of beer, but this was extremely official, check out the BJCP and you will get an idea of what I’m talking about.  Upstairs where the judging was happening was very professionally done.

Downstairs with the volunteers, not so much.  We were granted the privilege to sample the remaining beer that wasn’t being judged.  So for a 650ml big bottle of beer, the remaining ½ litre that isn’t sampled goes to the volunteers to test.  The beer, or as I call it “volunteer fuel”, kept everybody happy and working hard all day.  The other volunteers were all over the map, the range included computer programmers, home brewers, students, journalists and unemployed beer fanatics.  All great people.

To the volunteer goes the spoils

Watching the judges was one of my favourite parts.  Of the celebrity judges on hand I recognized VCBW president and Urban Diner creator Paul Kamon, Matt executive from CAMRA Vancouver, Graham from VanBrewers, and Nigel from the Alibi Room.  There were others I probably should have recognized, but I’m still a rookie in the beer scene.  What I found funny about the whole situation was the ritual that the judges took when sampling the beer.  It was a lot like a basketball player taking a free throw or a pitcher about to take a pitch, the process had to be the same in order for the beer to be judged the fairly.  Like any ritual or routine, it can look funny to those who haven’t seen it before.  Some would exhale fully and then dive in nose first into the beer in an attempt to inhale the beer before sipping it.  Others would close their eyes and tilt their head back as if they just escaped the desert having their first sip of water in weeks.

Nonetheless it was a great experience to volunteer for the VCBW Brewery Creek BC Beer Awards, one of the many signature events happening during Vancouver Craft Beer Week.  The winners will be awarded on Saturday May 14 at the Beatty Street Drill Hall.  Click the link for tickets.

April 27, 2011 / Brewtiful BC

CAMRA Spring Sessional

After signing up for my CAMRA membership, I was pretty excited to attend my first CAMRA event.  17 brewers produced “Sessional Beer” casks, which means the beer will have a low percentage of alcohol.  Session is a British term that means you can drink a large volume of beer during an amount of time (“session”) without getting too wasted.

I was pretty suspect of the low % constraints, but with low alcohol came big flavours.   Traditionally the British Session beers are English bitters.  At the Spring Sessional, however, there were no style limitations only and ABV of 3.5%.  So the variety of beer covered pretty much everything.  There were bitters, brown ales, berliners, ales and saisons.

I would have loved to share my amateur opinions on the beers, but unfortunately I didn’t realise there was a handout listing all the beers with room to write taste comments.  Fortunately, I did steal somebody else’s as I left.  I don’t know who I took it from, what their background is, or what they planned on doing with these notes, but I can’t imagine it was much.  I think they were just making notes because they thought that’s what you were supposed to do.  Maybe they thought that they might run across one of these rare beers in the liquor store next week.  Any way, their comments were entertaining, “too hoppy”, “mouth full of tots going on”, “unique”, and “easy drinking” were the most insightful.  One of the beers that did stand out for me was the Noble Pig “Honey Badger Pale Ale”, but that was mostly due to its clever naming.  Click the link if you don’t know what I mean.

All in all it was a great event.   Got to experience a number of amazing beers, hang out with a number of interesting beer nerds, and was excused for being excited to drink beer at 11am.  Thanks a lot CAMRA and I cannot wait for your next event.

Cheers.

April 8, 2011 / Brewtiful BC

Storm Brewing

So if you have never been to Storm Brewing, let me paint you a mental picture.  Remember the Mel Gibson movie Mad Max, before he went completely off the deep end?  Well Storm would be the brewery in the Thunderdome.  Located on Commercial st just north of Hastings, you could easily walk by it assuming it is a welding shop.  Even inside, all of the tools it took to build the brewery on the left are available on the right.  Post apocalypse jokes aside; Storm is good people making good beer.

I stopped by the brewery this week to visit my friend and “Keg Monkey” Dieter who works there to enjoy the fruits of his labour.  I got there before he returned from deliveries so I had to hang out with brew master James Walton while he brewed their Highland Scottish Ale.  Things were running a bit behind on the brew that day, but I arrived then they had some time to kill, so we had a beer.

James was excited for me to have some of his Black Plague Stout, saying it was the best one he has made in a while.  Even though the gravity after mashing was a bit low, the yeast was more than efficient and brought the alcohol content back up to its usual 8%.   He followed this up with a quote that will stick in my mind every time my homebrew is a bit off, “Even with a giant brain and amazing skill, you are still at the mercy of fucking biological systems when brewing”.

Storm beer is available exclusively on tap or personal keg pick ups.  Tap list and keg ordering info is available on their website.

April 7, 2011 / Brewtiful BC

R & B Brewing

After having so much fun doing the tour at Howe Sound, I decided to test my luck by asking another brewery for a tour for some material for the blog.  Rick, one half of the letters from R&B Brewing co., was more than happy to show us around his brewery located in East Vancouver’s historic Brewery Creek district just off Main st.

R&B was founded in 1997 by Rick and Barry with a commitment to keeping things modest, independent, and unique.  After working years together for one of the larger, faceless, corporate companies making bland beer, they decided they could hand craft beer that would stand out from the tasteless world of big beer.One of these nuts needs lubrication

Their fermenting containers stood out because they are actually converted from dairy containers.  This gave their brewery and unique look and apparently saves the brewery a bit of money at no cost to the quality.

After the tour, Rick asked us a question which would end up altering our day, “Did you guys drive here? Okay good, then I will get the larger sampling cups.”  Almost immediately after pouring us our first pint sized sample of Red Devil Pale Ale, Rick had to take off for a while and left us under supervision of the other employees on site.

Amaxing small batch set up

The first thing they did was put us to work.  After failing to be able to open anything without a wrench they gave us our second beer.  Then our third…fouthr…fithfhh…. And I think even a few more after that.  As the work day neared its end, all of the workers gathered together to enjoy their favourite beers and some took their daily ration of a 2L bottle home.

One of the brewers, Kim, was nice enough to let us try her own wheat beer concoction.  R&B has their own small batch brew system that any home brewer would kill for.  Perfect for testing new brews and making casks.

Luckily we did not have to travel far to get to our destination couches after to fall asleep at a more than respectable hour of 7:30.

You can find R&B beer at most BC Liquor Stores and some cold beer and wine locations, but your best bet to find their full selection is at Brewery Creek Cold Beer and Wine, Fire Fly, and Legacy Liquor in the Olympic Village.



March 30, 2011 / Brewtiful BC

Howe Sound Brewery

On the way back from Whistler a few weeks back, I was lucky enough to stop at the Howe Sound Brew Pub in Squamish for a tour. Brewmaster Franco was happy to take some time out of his busy schedule and show us how things are done.

I was surprised to find that their brewery is three floors. Upstairs, in what looks like an attic, is the grain room. That’s where they keep their grains. I won’t bore you with any more details on that. The grain gets milled and dropped down to the main floor where the mashing, boiling and fermenting happens. Their beer then travels to the

The old capper

basement where it is held in the cooling tanks and then bottled.

Now Howe Sound Brewing is producing over 15,000 litres of beer annually with over 26 types of beer. When they were just getting started, however, their capping capability was much simpler.

This year they have started their “Ales for Change” series that will contribute a portion of beer sales’ profit from this special initiative to important non-profit causes. I tried the Rockfish Red Ale, which gives $1 from every bottle sold to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. I have never been such a sucker for charity.

After the tour Franco was kind enough to give me a bottle “Woolly Bugger” a specialty barley wine they made this winter. I left it on the counter as we sat and ate our delicious lunch. A funny thing happened then because there was a bus tour of CAMRA (Campaign For Real Ale) members were doing a tour after.

I admittedly am only a beer nerd in training and I have never been so humbled of this position as the full fledged beer fanatics swarmed around the bottle of barely wine with cat nip like affinity. All the CAMRA folk were fantastic to talk to. A true wealth of beer knowledge.

So if you are ever driving to or from Whislter or just have some time to kill in Squamish, I highly advise you to stop in and have a beer or three at the How Sound Brew Pub.

 

February 1, 2011 / Brewtiful BC

The importance of Home Brew

The importance of Home Brew

When I decided to start a blog a about BC craft beer I didn’t know where to start.  I had a few ideas brewing in my mind for the first entry: a review of a certain beer, commentary of the beer culture in BC, or maybe a recap of a beer event or restaurant. When I sat down to start writing, I quickly realized I knew more about drinking the beer than the actual beer itself. So, I took measures into my own hands decided to buy some books, read some other blogs, and of course, drink a lot more beer to widen my base knowledge.  These all helped, but none of it gave me a greater understanding of beer than my first experience home brewing.

Snapshot at our first brew

I had seen the process of brewing beer before.  I’ve walked through a number of breweries, done their tours, and listened to how they brewed beer.  I had also read a number of blogs explaining how to home brew or brew on a larger scale.  It made some sense to me, yet it was still a bit obscure.  If someone were to ask me how beer was made, I would be able to give a vague description with some confidence.  It’s like trying to give somebody directions having only been a passenger in a car, not driving there yourself.  If you really want to get a good understanding of what beer is and how it’s made I cannot give any better advice than to make it yourself.  So if you are up for the challenge, here are my instructions on how to homebrew.

Ingredients.

There are really only four ingredients to any type of beer.  Water, grain, hops and yeast.

Tools.

Although there are only four ingredients, making beer is quite a process and requires a lot of material to get the desired results.

  • Mash Ton
  • Thermometer
  • Spaghetti Strainer
  • Large Boiling Pot
  • Primary (Plastic 30L food safe container)
  • Secondary (Glass 23L carboy)
  • Air Lock
  • Bottles
  • Brewing Spoon
  • Rubber Tubing

Step 1: Choosing Your Beer

One of the great things about making your own beer is that you can make whatever kind you want.  You no longer have to settle for what is available in the stores.  If you want to be adventurous and make a chocolate mint stout or make a basic pale ale, the choice is yours.  Just go down to your local homebrew store, such as Dan’s Brewing on Hastings, and tell them what you want and they will set you up with the proper mix of grains and hops and send you on your way.

Step 2:  Tea

Steeping the wheat tea in the mash ton

Well not really tea, but close.  Once you have your grains, you need to extract all of the sugars from it.  To do this you need to add the grains to 80* Celsius water in the mash ton.  Be sure to add the water to the grains as you pour it in.  It’s important that there aren’t any dry spots in there.  Any grain that isn’t wet will not be producing any sugars for our beer.  Let the mixture steep for about 45 minutes keeping the temperature between 60* and 70*.   You can now drain the “tea” into your large pot.  The liquid that comes out from this is actually called “wort”.  After all of the wort is drained out, pour some more 80* water over the remaining grain to make sure that no sugars are left behind.  Take your time doing this.  You’ll want to make sure the water goes through slowly.  This should take you about an hour.

Step 3.  The Boil

Boiling of the mash

Once your entire wort is drained into your large pot, bring it too a boil.  The wort will begin to foam up just after the boil breaks.  You will need to stir or reduce heat for a bit to avoid any spill over.   Don’t worry it will all be over quickly.

Once you have passed your hot break, you can add your bittering hops.  Set a timer here for one hour.  While the wort is boiling there are two things that you need to do; (1) Think about how delicious and rewarding your beer is going to be and (2) Clean and sanitize everything that your beer is going to touch.  Sanitation is extremely important because once the boiling is over your beer is at high risk to become infected.  Bacteria love sugar and a warm environment aka, your beautiful boil of worts. A bacterial infection will spoil the taste of your beer and could result in an explosion of your bottles once the yeast is added.

When you are near the hour mark it is time to add the flavouring hops.  Keep them in the boil for about two minutes.

Step 4.  Putting the Fun Back in Fungus

It’s now time to take the pot off of the element and cool down the wort. Bacteria have a rapid growth rate and a tolerance to high temperatures and low pH conditions, making it important for you to cool the pot down as quickly as possible. The easiest way to do so is to have a tub or sink full of ice water ready to put the pot in.  You’ll want your wort to chill to about 20*.  Once you’ve reached that temperature its time to pour the wort into your primary.  Feel free to do this as roughly as you’d like.  It’s good to get some oxygen mixed into it.  Sprinkle your yeast packet onto the top of the wort and put the lid on with the air lock.

Prior to the yeast being added, all you had was delicious sugar water.  Adding the yeast, a single-celled fungus, is going to turn it into beer.  It does so through the process of fermentation. Yeast loves sugar and in exchange, it will produce both alcohol and carbon dioxide.  After a few minutes of adding it to the mixture you should see some bubbling coming out of your air lock.  This means that all of your hard work is going to be worth it.

Step 5.  The Waiting Game

Get ready for the longest few weeks of your life.  It will be about a week or so until the yeast is done in the primary.  You will know it is done when the bubbling comes to an end.  It is now time to transfer the beer, yes it is now beer and no longer wort, into the secondary.

Primary to the secondary

Doing this is a lot like stealing gas.  You will siphon it from one to the other using rubber tubing.  Lift the primary to a higher elevation, trying not to shake it up too much.  You will want all of the yeast and debris to stay near the bottom.  While siphoning, try to keep the beginning of the hose close to the top to avoid getting too much of the debris into the secondary.  Once you have gotten near the bottom pull the hose out.  Be sure to take a sample of the beer because the waiting game is not over.  Put the airlock onto the secondary and let the beer settle.

Step 6.  The Waiting Game:  Part Duex

Swingtops

It should take about another week to let the beer settle in the secondary.  You will know when it is about ready when the fogginess of the beer lowers to the bottom.  To keep you busy during these excruciating weeks there is something you can do to keep occupied:  make bottles.  The best bottles for home brew are those that have a swing top.  Swing tops free you from the need to buy a capper.  Two swing top options are widely available in BC, Grolsch and Howe Sound.  A 23L batch should give you either 48 Grolsch or about 23 Howe sounds.  They also give you a satisfying sound when you pop it open.

Transfering of the beer into the bottles

To get that satisfying popping sound we need to carbonate the beer. This is done by adding about ½ cup of dextrose, a type of sugar, in water into the primary.  Then add your flat beer back into the primary to mix with the sugar water.  This will reactivate the yeast and give your beer that much needed carbonation.  Once it is mixed it is time to siphon it into the bottles.

Step 7.  Enjoy!

Two to three weeks later your beer will ready to drink.  Not only will you be able to taste your masterpiece, but you now know what it takes to make beer and can educate your friends on the process.  When you now read a blog about a brewery or take a tour, you will have a greater understanding of what they are talking about and how one brewery or beer differentiates itself from another.

I hope this can help you on your first brewing or maybe inspire you to give it a try.  Enjoy!