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INTERSECTIONS: BRASSNECK BREWING & MAGGIE BOYD

Carlos Mendes

My latest piece for Scout is the second instalment of my INTERSECTIONS series, and explores the collaboration between Brassneck Brewing and Maggie Boyd.  Read the original here on on Scout.

With a focus on collaborations between Vancouver’s craft breweries and assorted creators, chefs, and artists, Intersections seeks to contextualize the everyday by exploring how people in two very different disciplines come together to create something awesome and unexpected.
 

I recently sat down with Nigel Springthorpe (NS), part-owner of Mount Pleasant’s venerable Brassneck Brewery, and Maggie Boyd (MB), the artist behind many of Brassneck’s brilliant growler designs and tasting room posters, to discuss how they came together, why their collaboration works so well, and how fragments of narrative in Maggie’s work enables viewers to create their own meanings and stories.

CSM: So, tell us who you are and how you both came together.

NS: My name is Nigel Springthorpe and I work at Brassneck and the Alibi Room.

MB: Some even might say he owns both of them.

NS: That’s about right.

MB: I’m Maggie Boyd, and about eight years ago I was this gross little skid working at Budgies Burritos. Nigel was a customer, and one day he offered me a job at the Alibi Room. He was like (doing a very respectable Nigel Springthorpe impression), “Look, I don’t wanna, like, poach you or anything, but like, you’re the only nice person who works at Budgies’s right now, so uh, wanna come work at the Alibi Room?” And I was like, “Suuuure.”

NS: You were a hostess when you first started.

MB: Yeah, that’s right.

NS: It’s funny, but we recently had our ten year anniversary at the Alibi, and the other day I was going through all the booklets that we’ve done up for the celebrations we have to mark every hundredth beer list, and it reminded me that Maggie did the cover for the 100th beer list celebration. I actually still have it in my office.

MB: I did the 400th too. I still do a lot of drawing, but back then I was always drawing, even when I was working – which were mostly gross, pervy pictures of people in their underwear.

NS: Mostly your co-workers if I remember right.

MB: And peeing dogs. Man, there were so many peeing dogs.

NS: There’s still a couple of those behind the bar at Alibi, all faded on receipt paper now.

MB: They were always on receipt paper, ’cause at the end of the night when everyone else would be doing their cash-out, I’d be like “This is what I imagine Nigel looks like naked”, or “Is this a good representation of your birth?”

CSM: So, I remember reading an interview a while back with Marco Simcic [of Simcic & Ubrich, the local architectural outfit that designed Brassneck] about the process of putting this space together, and one thing that really struck me was his remembrance of how much thought went into every small detail – despite having a very casual look and vibe. It made me think about all the thought that I’m sure has gone into the visual identity of your beers, despite the fact that they are not packaged or sold through the usual distribution channels. As a growler-focused brewery without packaged products, why is it important for your beers to have a strong visual identity?

NS: When I thought about the kind of identity I wanted Brassneck to have, I basically didn’t want it to be too ‘tight-ass’. A lot of thought went into how we could make the look and the branding not too ‘thoughtful’ and ‘self-conscious’, like so much branding can be. I was already familiar with Maggie’s work, and thought it would work really well, because it’s not just about picking an artist whose stuff you like; there was a connection between us that went back a lot of years. We also really like the juxtaposition between Maggie’s drawings and the straight, simple logo.

MB: Yin and yang.

CSM: It’s funny that you mention not wanting to be too contrived, because I’ve always felt that there is a blend of chaos and control to this space and your branding. The drawings are whimsical, irreverent and fun, but the Brassneck branding is firm, clean and strong.

NS: Yeah, I think that one of the reasons this place works is because of the little bit of chaos from Maggie, the little bit of chaos from my friend Joe who did the woodwork, and the clean design. Everyone’s ideas sort of smashing together.

MB: I also think that your titles have a real narrative element to them, and that these drawings are usually just fragments of a narrative too. When you look at them, they’re just kind of a part of a story, and I think they work really well with the titles.

NS: Very true. In terms of process, there are certain times when I’ll ask Maggie to draw something specific, but often she just comes up with something based on the name I give her.

MB: Like the king.

NS: And the iconic fox. That was one of the first ones. That wasn’t me asking Maggie for something in particular. What’s also really fun is when Maggie comes along and has a bunch of new drawings and I put them on the website and try to marry the beer name with the drawing.

MB: Pairing them makes a little bit of a narrative too even if they don’t fit together perfectly, which I love.

NS: I really enjoy that. It usually just ends up being so perfect.

MB: It’s like David Bowie’s cut-and-paste style of writing lyrics.

CSM: Right, like Burrows, or even Rauchenberg. Putting two different things together and creating something new…

NS: To me, that’s part of it not feeling too contrived either.

MB: Totally.

CSM: There’s a certain randomness and happenstance about it…

NS: I think one of the things about our process of working together is that you’ve got to be willing for things to happen organically.

MB: Yeah, I get thunderstorms of inspiration, and one day I’ll sit down and just be able to blast out all of these drawings.

CSM: So are there any posters that really stand out for you?

NS: I think the Fox has just become the Brassneck’s image. I like the Naked Yogi too.

MB: Yeah, he’s so creepy and so floppy. I really like the beach blanket sidewalk sale with the cellphone chargers and Big Shiny Tunes 2.

NS: And the troll too; don’t forget him.

CSM: So how did you react to the first time you saw someone carry a Brassneck growler or wearing a t-shirt with one of your designs?

MB: I was super excited.

NS: Have you seen the tattoos that people are getting with your designs?

MB: Yeah, some dude wrote me the other day and asked if he could get the fox.

NS: I’ve seen your Swiss Army knife too.

CSM: That’s super cool. So, as someone who primarily works in ceramics, how does your work for Brassneck fit into your wider body of work?

MB: For me, ceramics and drawing really aren’t that separate. I draw on my ceramics, and my ideas for ceramics start out as drawings, and sometimes even when the ceramics are made they translate into drawings. In terms of living and surviving as an artist, you can sell a cup a lot easier than you can sell something with a butter stain on it that’s made on receipt paper. I also really like being able to make a functional object. I love that I get to make things that people engage with daily.

CSM: There’s a real accessible element to it. That kind of ‘high-art, low-art’ dichotomy; art for the people. And ceramics are something that people are going to own, whether it’s fine china or it’s something they make themselves.

MB: Same with prints too. They are definitely on the ‘craft’ end of the spectrum, where they’re produced in multiples that are affordable and that people can own.

CSM: Like the posters which, as we were discussing, make this space more approachable, adding a kind storytelling element that people can engage with and project their own meaning onto. I really like that idea of the image randomly matched with a beer where the viewer can create their own story and make the connection themselves. It’s a super cool process.

NS: Yeah, for me, when I get the drawings from Maggie it’s a pretty fun process to match the names to the drawings. Sometimes it’s a pretty loose association, but sometimes it feels like it’s totally meant to be.

MB: Like free-jazz. When it comes together, it’s really on.

NS: Yeah, I remember when we first built the place and all of the woodwork and everything was done. It didn’t feel finished until the poster wall went up. And then I was like, “Oh, right, yeah, there it is. Now it feels ready”.

CSM: So do you ever give him beer name suggestions?

MB: Only ones that aren’t possible.

CSM: Too inappropriate?

MB: Basically.

NS: It’s ridiculous, but I’m always writing down beer names, and Conrad and me talk about beer names as well. They have to be universally approved by both of us, but most of the ones we end up using are from the ‘crazy beer name list’ that I have.

CSM: So Nigel, do you have a favourite artist?

MB: [in a whisper] Say me.

NS: Well, in addition to Maggie –

MB: – Thank you.

NS: I’d have to my friend Joe who did the woodwork for this room.

CSM: Maggie, a favourite beer?

NS: – Doesn’t have to be a Brassneck beer…

MB: Basically everything I know about beer started at the Alibi Room. Before then, I’d drink the cheapest beer possible, thank you very much. Nowadays, I really like sour beers. When I worked at the Alibi Room, I loved Storm’s Flanders Red so much. I really like the Changelings from here too. In terms of design, my absolute favourite is Saison Dupont. It’s the most beautiful design ever. It’s like a JD Sallinger novel. And then Bud Light Lime. You can throw that one in there too.

CSM: Anything specific that you two are working on right now?

NS: Well, yes and no. What’s happening these days at Brassneck is that we are kind of whittling down our selections. We’ve brewed a lot of different beers over the last few years, but we’ve got about 30 now that we rotate through, and so the brand new beers are a little bit less frequent. We just don’t need new drawings as often. That being said, I was actually thinking of Maggie the other day, ’cause we’ll probably do some new drawings soon, have a few things in the planning stages.

MB: Any time Nige, any time.

DRINKER | SIPPING WILD ALES AMONGST THE ORCHARDS AND VINES AT FARMHOUSE FEST

Carlos Mendes

I've been a little neglectful in updating this site with my latest work for Scout - here is my July 13, 2016 piece on Farmhouse Fest for DRINKER.  Read the original here on Scout. 

The second installment of Farmhouse Fest took place on June 18th out at UBC Farm, and with ample wellingtons and rain coats in tow, the shared experience of drinking amazing beer under a heavy sky managed to foster a real sense of togetherness and some pretty high spirits there amongst the apple trees and hop vines. (The fact that the event was held in the type of pastoral setting that can temporarily make you forget you’re just a short Car2go ride from home was also pretty amazing).

Driven by the same kind of passion that propels so many in our local craft beer industry to create the kind of brewery they think our fair city needs and deserves, the good people behind Farmhouse Fest managed to once again put on a unique, meticulously curated celebration of good beer that, in my humble opinion, is unrivalled in Canada. Food by Tacofino White Lightning, Via Tevere, and Pressure Box.  A three-piece folk outfit performing on a couple hay barrels under one of several spacious tents. And then, of course, all that phenomenal beer.

Select local breweries provided a handful of on-style offerings (many brewed specifically for the event), and having a Strange Fellows Reynard or a Brassneck Raspberry Changeling alongside rarer finds offered by import agencies like Copper & Theory, Beerthirst and UnTapped really highlighted how far our local brewing scene has come in recent years. Personal top picks included the legendary Geuze by Brussels Brasserie Cantillon – a gorgeous, spontaneously-fermented beer created by blending differently aged Lambics that go through a second fermentation in the bottle, and three phenomenal Belgian-style ales from la belle province: ‘Dulcis Succubus’, a barrel-aged wild ale from Shawnigan’s Trou De Diable; ‘Sanctuaire Brett’, a red wine barrel-aged brett trippel from Regaud’s Microbrasserie Le Castor; and ‘Assemblage No. 6’, a barrel-aged blended Raspberry/Cherry ale from Dunham’s Brasserie Dunham.

There are undoubtedly bigger beer festivals in BC that can offer more styles and feature more breweries, but to compare them to Farmhouse Fest is to miss the point. As a firm believer that good beer can be as complex and rewarding as the best Bordeaux and Islay Malt (rather than something to just ‘crush’; or ‘put back’), Farmhouse Fest is my kind of beer festival. Don’t get me wrong, enjoying the carnival atmosphere at one of BC’s bigger beer fests with a group of friends can be pretty awesome, but sampling rare Belgian Lambics (in proper glassware, I might add) that would set you back $30+ a bottle in a spacious, natural setting is a whole other story.

AWESOME THING WE DRANK #707 | DIGGIN' ON 'SIDE CUT' - BRIDGE BREWING CO.'S JUICY NORTH EAST IPA

Carlos Mendes

I've been a little neglectful in updating this site with my latest work for Scout - here is my June 7, 2016 piece for AWESOME THING WE DRANK on the first batch of 'Side Cut' - Bridge's North East IPA.  Read the original here on Scout.

From its humble origins in the twilight of 18th century London through to the early development of modern hop varietals at Oregon State University in the 70s and the recent proliferation of the style, the one constant thing about India Pale Ales is how much they have changed and evolved over time.

Ontario’s sweep of the American Style India Pale Ale category at the 2016 Canadian Beer Awards is a case in point. Having witnessed the announcement of the winners first hand, I can attest to a few surprised looks on the faces of the sizeable BC contingent in the room (if you didn’t already know, IPAs are kind of our thing). For me, the wins really highlight how different brewing histories and different beer cultures can foster different palates and different tastes (the CBA judges were all from Ontario – home to, in my humble opinion, far more muted takes on the style). So while I may prefer the IPAs being crafted in our neck of the woods, as we all know, taste can be a pretty subjective thing.

Characterized by a cloudy appearance, lower bitterness, and a juicy hop profile, the latest style of IPA making headlines is the “Vermont” or “North East” IPA (I place the styles in quotation marks because some folks in the industry take issue with this beer being categorized as its own style).

The first small batch of Bridge Brewing Company‘s awesome Side Cut North East IPA appeared a few months ago, and immediately created quite the stir in local craft beer circles. Luckily, I managed to grab a few of bottles and enjoyed more than my fair share on tap at Box Car before it ran out. For those of you that didn’t manage to try Side Cut the first time around, rest assured that despite the recent departure of Jeremy Taylor (Bridge’s first head brewer and all around Mr. Nice Guy), the second batch of Side Cut is tasting similarly delicious with Hamish MacRae – former head brewer at Red Truck Brewing Company and the lumberjack from last year’s awesome VCBW promotional video – now at the helm.

Pouring a hazy, golden amber colour, Side Cut exhibits some gorgeous ripe freshness on the nose, characterized by a real burst of juicy tropical fruit aromas (pineapple, passion fruit and guava are all prominent), along with faint hints of mandarin orange. To taste, subtle caramel notes and a solid, biscuitty malt base provide a really nice balance to a juicy hop profile that displays some lovely peach, mango and citrus flavours. With a full, well-rounded mouth feel and a resiny, grapefruity aftertaste, Side Cut makes a pretty strong impression, and is a brilliant intro to a relatively new (albeit disputed) “style” of IPA.

DRINKER | EXPLORING EAST VAN'S COLLABORATIVE BREWERY INCUBATOR - CALLISTER BREWING CO.

Carlos Mendes

I've been a little neglectful in updating this site with my latest work for Scout - here is my May 12, 2016 piece for DRINKER on Callister Brewing Co.  Read the original here on Scout.

‘Collaboration’ is a bit of a buzzword in the craft beer world – and for pretty good reason.

From a steady stream of collab beers, to endless stories of shared ingredients, shared knowledge, and shared equipment, BC’s craft beer boom is being driven by a collective desire to create the kind of industry and the kind of community that people want to be a part of.

There’s probably no brewery out there that epitomizes this spirit of collegiality and connectivity more than East Van’s Callister Brewing Co..

Named after Callister Park Stadium, a long-demolished facility on the site of present-day Callister Park in Hastings-Sunrise (where the grandfather of co-founder Chris Lay was live-in caretaker from 1949-1970), Callister Brewing Co. has become one of my absolute favourite local breweries since it opened its doors last summer.

A collaborative ‘brewery incubator’, Callister’s model is pretty unique, and sets it apart from every other brewery out there in Canada.

As co-founder Chris Lay told me, “When we first had the idea of the brewery, we were pretty involved with Van Brewers (the City’s biggest home brewers club). We were just so impressed by the amount of skill and knowledge that they had – here were a bunch of hobby brewers making some of the best beers we had ever tasted. It very quickly led to the idea of starting a brewery that could be a hub for multiple brewers. We had heard of a similar project in Houston, Texas where brewers were invited to come in on short-term contracts. We thought ‘wouldn’t it be amazing to access Vancouver’s great home-brew community, and allow them to build their skills and gain access to a wider audience’? After a lot of thought, (and a lot of back and forth with the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch), we ultimately ended up with a two-tier structure: first there’s Diana and me (Lay’s partner and co-founder Diana McKenzie makes Callister’s organic sodas), and then there’s our ‘associate brewers’ who sign up for one year terms and sell their beer under their own, unique brands. It’s really about bringing all of these people in to give them access to knowledge, equipment, and, of course, the public.”

And what a lineup Lay and McKenzie have put together in their first year at Callister.

First off, there’s ‘Machine Ales’. Consistent purveyors of some of BC’s finest IPAs, (sporting names like ‘Dank Williams’ and ‘Toucan Slam’), Machine is the handiwork of Adam Henderson and Matt Kohlen. Both award-winning home brewers, Henderson is the founder of Copper & Theory, an import agency that has really raised BC’s beer game by bringing in some of the best beer available in our province (think Brasserie Cantillon, Cascade Brewing, The Commons, and Gueuzerie Tilquin.). Machine’s ‘Happiness’ IPA has – quite deservedly – become legendary in some circles (mine included), and every new IPA that Henderson and Kohlen put out is eagerly anticipated.

Then we have ‘Brewery Creek’. An offshoot of Vancouver’s premier bottle shop, the man behind Brewery Creek’s beer is Chester Carey. Canada’s first cicerone, and a highly respected beer educator, Carey’s focus at Callister has been on Belgian-style table beers. His Brett IPA and his ‘Raspberry Tart’ kettle sour are both fantastic.

Next there’s ‘Real Cask’. As someone who loves proper, low ABV English cask ale, I’m a pretty big fan of what Adam Chatburn is doing with Real Cask. The former head brewer at an all-cask brewery in Blackburn, England, and a past president of CAMRA Vancouver, through producing delicious and honest English cask ale at Callister, Chatburn has filled a gaping void in BC’s beer landscape. If you haven’t tried his Blackburn Best Bitter or his Burnley Bastard Mild, you really should.

Then, of course, we have ‘Callister’ itself. In addition to helping create an industry training ground and an inclusive, community hub along with his partner McKenzie, Lay is also an incredibly versatile brewer, and has hit a number of high notes over the last year in a variety of styles. His award-winning Midnight Porter and his Dunkelweizen are both personal favourites. Diana’s array of delicious organic sodas are always popular with the assorted bambinos and half pints that frequent the tasting room on weekends (and are a thoughtful and much-appreciated option for the non-drinkers who find themselves at Callister with friends yet still want to sample some of the artisanal wares).

And while the beer and soda may be pretty delicious, what really sets Callister apart is its role as a ‘brewery incubator’ – a space where home brewers can learn the ins and outs of operating a brewery without putting up a million dollars in start-up costs. As Carey told me, being part of Callister has left him free to devote his time and attention to the craft of brewing “without being tied down by all the other aspects and costs of running a venture of this size.” For Henderson and Kohlen, the experience has similarly allowed them to bridge the gap between making great beer at home and making great beer that people will actually pay for – all without having to give up your day job. “The interesting thing about making the transition from being a home brewer to being a professional brewer,” Kohlen noted, “is that once people start having to pay for your beer, you realize how good of a brewer you actually are. It really makes you up your game, become more efficient, and understand what it takes to make brewing good beer a viable business.”

For Chatburn, Callister’s model has provided an opportunity that he doesn’t think he would have found anywhere else. “Partnering with Chris and Diana has been exceptional. Sharing knowledge and pitching in together to build a collaborative, community-focused brewery has been wonderful, but I think the biggest advantage for me is that this is the only way I could have done this style of brewery. My beers are pretty niche and hard to market, so if I had dropped a million dollars on my own place, I doubt I would have lasted more than a few weeks. The freedom to brew what I want, in the style I want, and served the way I want has been a dream come true. It has also been very validating to see how people have really taken to drinking classic British cask styles. I honestly had no idea if people would want Bitters and Milds served from a cask, but I knew I wanted to drink them myself! British beers aren’t as sexy as Belgian Lambics, or as popular as a West Coast IPAs, but those who know how great they can be have found a home with Real Cask at Callister.”

The benefits of Callister’s model to Lay and McKenzie are also pretty clear. As McKenzie told me, “We get to have four different brewers really focused on two or three different recipes that they’re really good at, instead of having one brewer trying to deliver on ten different things.” “From a business perspective,” Lay added, “having our associate brewers buy into this project is a really nice bit of help. Plus, the bar gets staffed with the brewers – who typically do a shift or two a week – so you get to talk to the person who made the beer you’re drinking. As a brewer, it’s also pretty amazing because help is always available, and we’re constantly learning from each other. I think that we’ve all become better brewers because of this model, and it’s made brewing a lot easier and a lot more fun. That collaborative spirit really permeates every aspect of Callister, and I think that’s what really sets us apart – no other businesses could ever be so collaborative at its core and yet allow all of its parts to be so expressive and so successful.”

In the end, it all comes back to collaboration. As Henderson aptly noted, “We’re all just trying to create an industry that we feel should exist – as opposed to just going along with what’s already out there. We want to make something else, something different, and something we can all be proud of. Through places like this, and the many amazing other things happening here in Vancouver, I think we’re making that happen.”

There’s probably no better way of summing up what’s happening at Callister and beyond, as the proliferation of neighbourhood craft breweries shows no immediate sign of abating in our city and our province. And while I’m saddened to report that both Machine Ales and Brewery Creek won’t be back for a second term as ‘associate brewers’ as of July 1st, I have some pretty good intel on the replacements that Lay and McKenzie have lined up, and if what I’ve tried from their brew masters in the past is anything to go by, Callister’s loyal customers will continue to be in good hands when the brewery’s first changing of the guards goes down in a few months’ time.

TOP 5 | PINTS, TULIPS, GOBLETS & FLIGHTS: VICTORIA'S BEST SPOTS TO DRINK AMAZING BEER

Carlos Mendes

I've been a little neglectful in updating this site with my latest work for Scout - here is my May 4, 2016 piece for Top 5 on Victoria's best spots to drink amazing beer. Read the original here on Scout.

While the lower mainland may be the epicentre of the recent explosion of BC’s craft beer industry, as any beer-loving Victorian would tell you, Victoria is the real craft beer capital of BC (and probably Canada for that matter). When most Vancouverites were happily pounding cans of Kokanee and Pacific Pils, the sophisticates across the Straight were sipping on pints of English ale at legendary brewpubs like Spinnakers and Swans. And while the range of top craft beer-focused pubs and eateries is a little more limited here compared to what you’ll find in Vancouver, with a few recent additions to the scene, Victoria now offers some really top spots. Here are my five favourites for your ranking consideration…

The Drake | 517 Pandora Avenue | drakeeatery.com
Considering the storied history of Victoria’s craft beer scene, The Drake is a relative newcomer, but man have they raised the bar! With a fantastic tap list featuring Breakside Wanderlust, Brassneck One Trick Pony, and Dieu de Ciel Peche Mortel, plus a warm room complete with exposed brick walls, high ceilings, and some great beer kitsch (think vintage bottles Cascade Pale Ale and Molson Canadian ads from the 50’s), the whole package is pretty awesome. Throw in some wicked snacks (the Two Rivers duck salami toasts and the kimchi and green apple grilled cheese are favourites), and The Drake is definitely my top room in Victoria; a perfect spot to while away the afternoon with a few flights or to settle into a solid evening.

The Guild | 1250 Wharf Street | theguildfreehouse.ca
Easily the most upscale, design-driven room on the list, this craft beer-focused eatery has a fantastic menu (the beer braised beef chuck with Belgian endive and Stilton gratin is brilliant, and the beer and cheese sausage with hazelnut brown butter and watercress mash could be the best beer/sausage combo I’ve ever had), but it’s The Guild’s beer list that really shines. Dageraad Sri Lanka, the Commons Urban Farmhouse Ale, and even Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck Kasteel Rouge are all on offer. A perfect spot for a few tulips and nibbles by the window or a long quiet dinner in a nook at the back.

Smiths Pub | 777 Courtney St, Victoria | thesmithspub.com
A cozy little room that manages to celebrate Victoria’s connection to dear old Albion without being too formulaic (the dated official portrait of a young Lizzy and bulldog statue are a nice touch), Smith’s has a modest but solid tap list featuring Four Winds’ Juxtapose Brett IPA, Townsite’s Little Red Sour, and Powell Street’s Old Jalopy Pale Ale. A great spot for some tasty pub food (the lamb burger gets top marks) and, as a bonus, it just so happens to be located underneath Argyle Attic, Victoria’s top whiskey bar.

The Garrick’s Head Pub |1140 Government St | garrickshead.com
Like its neighbour The Churchill, The Garrick’s Head has an extensive list of local offerings, with at least four from each of Phillips, Vancouver Island, Lighthouse, and Driftwood. The rotating tap offers some nice options from further afield (think Green Flash IPA, Maui Doppelbock, or Moody Ales IPA). Downside (or upside depending on how your tastes): lots of big TVs behind the bar. So definitely not the refuge you’ll find at some of the other names on this list, but a great place to watch the game and grab a pint or two. Pro tip: A table by the fireplace at the back of the room with a pint of Category 12 CDA is a great way to get a flavour of the pre-renovation vibe of this iconic pub.

The Churchill | 1140 Government St | thechurchill.ca
A dark narrow room, and a bit of a hidden refuge off of Bastion Square, the Churchill has an extensive list of local offerings, and a few choice picks from further field. For me, you can never go wrong with a pint of Herminator on a rainy afternoon, so I’ll gladly oblige. Some really nice whiskeys and bourbons, too (if you’re like me and boilermakers just happen to do the trick for you).

Honourable mentions go to Christies, where a weeknight pint of Crannog’s Back Hand of God Stout and a Yorkshire pudding are always a sure bet; to The Beagle, a bustling North American style English pub that’s a real neighbourhood hangout; and to The Bent Mast, a cavernous old Victorian house with some good local beer and (as the story goes) a few resident paranormal inhabitants. Oh, and Victoria’s plethora of brewpubs and taprooms – can’t forget those!

AWESOME THING WE DRANK # 705 | BC'S BEST - THE RYE STOUT BY DOAN'S CRAFT BREWING COMPANY

Carlos Mendes

I've been a little neglectful in updating this site with my latest work for Scout - here is my April 14, 2016 piece for AWESOME THING WE DRANK on the Rye Stout by Doan's Craft Brewing Company. Read the original here on Scout.

There’s a lot to like about the Doan brothers’ little family-run operation out at Powell and Victoria. First, there’s the focus on producing deliciously consistent, honest expressions of traditional Germanic styles like altbier and kolsh. Then there’s the inviting, family-friendly vibe of their quaint tasting room, complete with a vintage arcade game, a pile of old Mad Magazines, and a big box of Star Wars Lego. Throw in Ola Volo’s amazing artwork that graces their labels and adorns an entire wall of the room and you start to get a little taste of the spot’s charm. For me though, the history of the space itself is also pretty poignant, because in a way it’s kind of emblematic of both the phenomenal growth that our craft beer industry has experienced in the last few years, and the exceptional talents of our province’s craft brewers.

You see, not that long ago, 1830 Powell Street was the home of another small, family-run brewery. Opened in December 2012 by husband and wife team David Bowkett and Nicole Stefanopoulos, Powell Street Craft Breweryquickly shot to national attention when – a mere five months after the brewery opened its doors – their phenomenal ‘Old Jalopy’ Pale Ale was recognized as Canada’s best beer at the 2013 Canadian Beer Awards. Not surprisingly, when demand quickly outpaced supply, PSCB moved its operations a few blocks west to a much larger facility, and brew master Bowkett started producing a broad line-up of fantastic beers that are being distributed to appreciative customers all across the province.

Big shoes to fill, right? But somehow, shortly after one incredibly talented brewer (with no previous industry experience, I might add) moved out, two other incredibly talented brewers (who similarly had no previous industry experience) moved in. And while a national award didn’t invariably follow five months after Doan’s opened last July, a gold medal for their Rye Stout in the highly competitive ‘Best Stout or Porter’ category at the 2015 BC Beer Awards did, along with the ‘Rookie of the Year Award’ for BC’s best new brewery.

Now, while I’m definitely not one to give up on my dark, rich beers when the cherry blossoms begin to bloom and the nights start to get shorter, there’s something pretty amazing about a good pint of stout by the fire on a cold winter night. Doan’s Rye Stout, which is one of the brewery’s yearly offerings, was a real ‘go-to’ this past winter, and is definitely worth picking up the next time you pop by the tasting room or your local bottle shop.

Pouring an almost black, darkened mahogany color, the Rye Stout displays subtle notes of cocoa, freshly ground coffee, toasted rye and caramel on the nose. Semi-sweet chocolate and the earthiness of east African coffee varietals feature prominently in the first taste, and are soon balanced by a fantastic roasted character from the rye, and really subtle hints of sticky toffee pudding and vanilla bean. As these flavours dissipate, bittersweet chocolate emerges on the finish, subtly complimented by earthy, woody notes of cayenne and walnut. With a mouthfeel that similarly starts out supple and rich, only to be cut by a firm, dry finish, Doan’s rye stout is an inventive yet honest take on a classic style that is well-deserving of its recognition as BC’s best stout.

AWESOME THING WE DRANK # 703 | COMMON WINDS - AN EPIC COLLABORATION BETWEEN DELTA'S FOUR WINDS BREWING COMPANY AND PORTLAND'S THE COMMONS BREWING

Carlos Mendes

Here is my latest piece for Scout Magazine's AWESOME THING WE DRANK on 'Common Winds' - the apricot brett farmouse ale by Four Winds and The Commons. Read the original here on Scout.

Four Winds just can’t seem to do wrong if you ask me. Gifted with the Midas touch, their brew master Brent Mills has been consistently producing some of Canada’s best beer at his family’s small Delta brewery since they opened their doors in 2013 (and has correspondingly racked up some pretty impressive domestic and international awards – their recognition as Canada’s best brewery at the 2015 Canadian Beer Award surprised few in the industry). And although their core lineup is solid and dotted with awards, it’s Four Winds’ limited and seasonal releases that have really raised the bar on an industry that was already light years ahead of its counterparts across the country. Since the release of their phenomenal Saison Brett (now branded Operis Saison) in December 2013 (which was rightly acknowledged at the time as one of the best beers to ever come out of this little corner of the world), Four Winds has released a steady spate of complex, intriguing, and absolutely delicious beers that stand up to some of the very best beer being produced anywhere. Their Juxtapose Brett IPA and their Vexillum Imperial IPA from their Zephyrus series of West Coast ales (named after the Greek God of the West Wind) are two of my absolute favourite IPAs, and it doesn’t get much better than their Nectarous. As part of their Eurus Series of bottle-conditioned ales (named after the Greek God of the East Wind), this dry-hopped sour was considered by many to be the best beer brewed in BC last year.

Enter Portland’s The Commons Brewery. Opened in 2011, The Commons is a similarly small outfit, and like its counterpart north of the line, produces incredibly-well executed, nuanced beers that often utilize European yeast strains and – despite being brewed at a new facility in South East Portland – manage to evoke the distinctive character and terroir of the Belgian countryside. Regarded as one of Portland’s top breweries (quite rightly), which is saying something considering the impressive competition, its brew master Sean Burke produces a brilliant lineup of core offerings and seasonals that include a number of phenomenal farmhouse ales (their Urban Farmhouse Ale, a 2012 World Beer Cup winner and a personal favourite, is widely available at discerning Vancouver bottle shops). Visits to their quaint, original location (complete with a few sparse barrels for tables), were always the highlight of my trips to Portland, and since they moved last year to their current (and much larger) digs just a few blocks from Cascade Brewing Barrel House, The Commons’ tasting room has become an absolutely essential spot on any visit to PDX. (Did I mention that in addition to pouring around twelve or so incredible beers, the tasting room also happens to be equipped with an in-house artisanal cheese shop?)

So just imagine my delight when I heard that two of my favourite breweries were collaborating on a limited edition bottle-conditioned beer drawing on this shared attention to producing balanced, intriguing, evocative beers. ‘Common Winds’ – a Brettanomyces-fermented farmhouse ale conditioned with Keremeos apricots – had its genesis in a meeting between Burke and Mills some six years ago, and is a fitting by-product of such an epic collaboration.

For starters, the nose on this beer is absolutely stunning; it’s characterized by fresh, tree-ripened apricots along with hints of almond, green apple, and a nice touch of barnyard funk from the Brett. Once you get past the sensation of standing in an orchard on a warm summer morning and indulge in your first delicious sip, you’ll notice a rich mouth feel and a distinct tartness up front that lingers throughout and is balanced by some really nice, mid-palate notes of apricot, lemon, chardonnay, oak, and a little more barnyard funk (characterized by earthy and well-rounded ropey, hay-like flavours). Finishing with hints of pear, biscuit, a minerally tartness, and a really nice residual sweetness, this beer is gorgeous — a fantastic representation of what can happen when two of North America’s top breweries come together to create something unique and special.

Although nearly sold out, word is that a couple remaining bottles of this super limited edition beer are still out there. I’d grab whatever you can find because epic collabs like this one don’t come around too often.

Intersections: Doan's Craft Brewing & Ola Vola

Carlos Mendes

My latest piece for Scout is on the collaboration between Vancouver brewery Doan's Craft Brewing and artist Ola Vola.  Read the original here.

With a focus on collaborations between Vancouver’s craft breweries and assorted creators, chefs, and artists, Intersections seeks to contextualize the everyday by exploring how people in two very different disciplines come together to create something awesome and unexpected.

I recently sat down with the two brothers behind Doan’s Craft Brewing Company, Evan Doan (ED) and Mike Doan (MD), along with Ola Volo (OV), the artist who designed their labels and the mural in their tasting room, to discuss how they came together, why their collaboration works so well, and how storytelling is such an integral part of their shared project.

CM: Tell us who you are and how you came together.

ED: I’m Evan Doan, and I’m one of the two brothers behind Doan’s Craft Brewing Company.

OV: I’m Ola Volo, a local artist and illustrator.

MD: I’m Mike Doan, one of the Doan Brothers. Initially, we were looking for artwork for the bottles, or just a general brand, and a friend of mine had a contact who knew Ola.

ED: We decided to approach Ola at one of her shows in Chinatown, and so my lady and I went and saw her art first-hand. She had this huge line-up of people wanting to talk to her, and so I quickly explained that I was starting a brewery and that we were looking for someone to do our labels. She said she was really excited and liked the idea of working together. However, during our first meeting she started to really interview us and ask us questions like ‘what’s your story’, ‘what’s your past’, and ‘what are you looking for?’

MD: Yes, that was a cool process. She was really picking our brains to try and figure out what the project would actually be about, what we were about, and what would be a good fit.

OV: I feel like we got personal really quick. You were telling me your story and I was wondering about how I could represent you in a way that would be true to my style. I thought at the time that it was a lot of pressure to be responsible for a brand, and I knew I had to make sure it was the correct fit. I think that this is the only project that I’ve worked on that has evolved over time. It’s been kind of like telling a story. When we got to know each other it was like ‘what’s your family like’, ‘what’s your mum like’, ‘what are your personalities’ – all of this was really helpful to develop characters so I could properly represent you guys.

CM: So it was important for you to get to know who they were and what they were about – it’s really more about telling a story for you?

OV: Yes, absolutely.

ED: The process is just amazing. We have these conversations, she shows me her work, and I’m always so impressed – it just keeps getting better and better. When she sent us her idea for the Rye Stout label I thought it was incredible. She asked me ‘what do you think of having a woman in it’ and I thought “Yes, that’s perfect”.

MD: You made a stout romantic – which is very difficult to do!

OV: Well, I was thinking about how you both are – your girlfriends and your family – which are such big parts of your personality. Also, when I met you both, you talked about how much effort you put into opening a brewery before it even began. How it was always your dream, and how you saved your money. I know the struggle of starting something with an idea and following through. When I came here for the first time you were executing this whole dream, and being part of that process together with you has helped me get to know you both so much better.

CM: So tell me about the mural and the labels.

OV: We started off with the labels before we got into the mural because they didn’t have this space yet.

ED: It’s funny, but the initial plan was to use a different Vancouver artist for every label. But now it’s impossible not to ask Ola.

MD: I remember one of the first things we wanted was the label to be a piece of art showcasing the artwork on the front and then having the second label at the back. We knew that the art would draw the customer into the bottle, which it has, and as soon as they turned it around, they would see our information and the type of beer on the back. As soon as they picked up one bottle, they would forever know which bottles are Doan’s. The first time I saw Ola’s labels they had such an impact from a brand imaging perspective, and I knew that the style was going to really work – and it has. It’s unusual to have a brand that doesn’t have a ‘Doan’s’ or ‘Red truck’ etc. on the front, or doesn’t even say the style of beer on the front – but the difference here is the story.

OV: That’s my favourite part.

CM: So you were building a story, building a universe through consecutive labels?

OV: Yes, the ‘Doan’s world’. These labels are more about characters and about the personality of the people and of the whole family and you can see that in all the hidden details. The logo is also hidden in the pieces, so it’s a very smooth transition into branding.

MD: That wasn’t our original idea. We didn’t want to have our logo on the front, but maybe off to the side. We never thought of adding it as part of the image. Ola creatively incorporated the logo instead of just stamping it randomly on the image.

CM: So what’s happening in the mural?

OV: It’s party time – the concept was ‘let’s get everyone together and have a good time’. So it kind of sets the mood for the room. We were at three labels at that point, so we pulled bits from the labels and those characters and put them in the mural. I also really love accordions, and when I was planning the mural I thought about parties back in Kazakhstan when I was growing up – about accordions, people drinking beer, and having a good time.

ED: Ola was very into getting our family involved, including our brother John. In a sense, she really captured all three of our personas. John is very academic, knowledgeable and ponders a lot. With his pint glass there, he’s really enjoying the moment and thinking.

MD: Evan is more of the outgoing and social one.

ED: Then you have Mike – the sarcastic one, the pest – sort of outgoing but also the one with the closed eyes. It really is all three of us.

MD: Everyone seems to find something that they love about it. You could probably see yourself and your family in there – which again brings an element of tradition to it.

OV: With my work I like to merge cultures together, so although we might be focusing on traditional German houses and designs, I don’t think the labels have any kind of concrete representations of Germany or Canada in them. They have a multi-cultural feel that is also celebrated here in Vancouver, so I feel they can be more relatable to a bigger audience

CM: Mike & Evan – What do you think Ola’s work says about your brewery and the Doan’s brand identity – having this artwork being such a strong representation of your brewery?

ED: I think it’s got a ‘grass-rootsy, East Vancouver, family-oriented’ fun to it. There is not a single ounce of negativity in the images at all. I think that is very Doan’s. We are here to please, we are all super happy, thumbs-up kind of people, and we make sure we hire that type of person as well – and Ola’s work really captures that. People come in here, look at the mural and immediately have that feeling.

MD: They are excited before they sip the beer. It does create that atmosphere. Even if it’s just two people here, they are standing next to the mural snapping photos. They’re having a good time.

OV: It also has a bit of folklore to it which represents tradition, bringing people together and sharing stories.

CM: I’m glad that you mention that, because I know that folklore is really central to your work – how do you think your collaboration with Doan’s fits into your larger body of work?

OV: Well, I am from Kazakhstan. My mum is Polish and my dad is Russian, so there is a mix of cultures. After attending Emily Carr and studying abroad, I began to research more about my background which reminded me about folklore and traditions. Folklore became a very interesting way to guide the work into a modern state – combining Eastern European art with a Canadian influence. I always want to know the story about a piece of art. In some way, the art work has a little bit of my story in there too. I do a lot of public art work, murals for outside and inside businesses, festivals, editorials for magazines, and life drawing, but this project has been special. It’s been such a pleasure working with these guys – always brainstorming for what’s next. Working with you guys has been amazing, and I love talking about the process because it is one of the more unique processes I have had with any of my clients. Usually it’s a one-off project – you contribute to the place and then it’s finished. But this has been a storytelling process. There has been so much freedom to where I can take it. I also have gotten more comfortable talking about branding. Branding, packaging and art came together so nicely in this project and it’s a very big addition to the portfolio.

CM: So do you guys have a favourite artist (other than Ola)?

MD: My mum, she’s a fantastic artist and took us to galleries all over France when we were little.

ED: There are so many, but I do love Jackson Pollock. He was a crazy human being, but his art portrays something really original, especially for the time.

CM: Ola do you have a favourite beer?

OV: Doan’s (of course) and in particular the Kolsch. When I tried it, I just loved it. I’ve tried other beers from other breweries but they just don’t match up.

CM: So what is next?

ED: We have some exciting things coming up like our West Coast IPA. I think it’s going to be awesome, and Ola’s label is maybe my favourite – but it’s so hard to say that because I say it every time. It has a whole new realm to it, a whole new feel, and it’s enlighteningly bright. We have some great upcoming collaboration beers too with some awesome artwork, but we need to keep all of that a secret. All I can say is that it’s going to be really fun, and the labels will be awesome.

AWESOME THING WE DRANK # 702 | YELLOW DOG BREWING CO.'s PLAY DEAD IPA

Carlos Mendes

I've recently taken up the post of beer writer for Scout Magazine. I'll be writing a weekly article for Scout where I'll profile some of the fantastic beer coming out of BC right now and the awesome people who are making it.  Here is my latest piece for AWESOME THING WE DRANK on Yellow Dog's Play Dead IPA. Read it here on Scout.

There’s probably no style of beer more associated with the terroir of the Pacific Northwest than India Pale Ale. A single taste of a well-executed, balanced IPA can not only display a complex and seemingly contradictory array of flavours (they’re kind of like the liquid equivalent of good Thai curries – which, incidentally, they happen to pair exceptionally well with), but they can also evoke a strong sense of this little corner of the world that we all call home; things like dense rain forests, snow-capped mountains, and the crashing waves of the Pacific.

As the well-known story goes, IPAs were first brewed in and around London in the late 18th century to be exported to that jewel in the crown of the British Empire, India. Originally referred to as an ‘October Ale’, their high alcohol and hop content were an attempt by the man credited with inventing the style, George Hodgson, to brew a beer that could withstand the six month sea journey from England to India. The IPAs that most of us are now familiar with are more of a product of the last thirty or so years of brewing history, and specifically the development of American hop varietals. While English-style IPAs aren’t too hard to find in good bottle shops (and are currently experiencing a resurgence in popularity back in Albion), the North American take on the style has become, (rightly or wrongly), the flag bearer for the expansion of ‘craft beer’ in the last few decades from the shores of the ‘new world’ to places like England, Germany, and beyond.

With the importance of the style to the Pacific North West’s craft beer culture and heritage, it’s not too surprising that almost every brewery in BC puts out an IPA at some point. There are definitely a lot of fantastic IPAs being made in BC right now (the Vexillum Imperial IPA and Juxtapose Brett IPA by Delta’s Four Winds Brewing Company and just about every IPA being made right now by Vancouver’s Machine Ales come to mind), but there are also many that miss the mark. Yellow Dog’s Play Dead IPA, which is available year-round in BC, is one of the best.

Since opening in 2014, Port Moody’s Yellow Dog Brewing Co. has established itself as a perennial favourite amongst BC’s craft beer intelligentsia. Producing a consistently solid lineup of core offerings and some fantastic seasonals (their wet-hopped Play Dead IPA, released after the hop harvest in September, topped many critic’s lists as BC’s best wet-hopped IPA this year), Yellow Dog came to many peoples’ attention when their ‘Shake A Paw Smoked Porter’ won Best in Show at the BC Beer Awards only a few months after the brewery first opened.

Pouring a lovely honeyed amber colour, Play Dead IPA displays initial sweet, bready malt aromas on the nose, followed by hints of pine resin, caramel, and guava. With your first sip, you’ll notice a similar bready sweetness that is nicely complimented by well-rounded, juicy tropical notes of passion fruit, papaya and pineapple, together with hints of mandarin orange, pine and fresh cut grass. A mouth feel that isn’t too heavy or full is cut by some light carbonation, and a tangy, almost resiny stickiness on the tongue. Finishing with hints of biscuit, earthy minerals, and a lingering grapefruit bitterness, Yellow Dog’s Play Dead IPA is a rare gem – an incredibly balanced IPA that manages to combine the typical grassy, piney and tropical fruit characteristics of a ‘West Coast IPA’ without allowing the subtleties that make the style so rewarding to get lost in a slew of overt hoppiness and atomic IBUs.

It’s maybe not what George Hodgson had in mind when he filled his first barrels with October Ale destined for the Subcontinent, but it remains a perfectly executed expression of a modern style that can be so delicious when done well.

VANCOUVER WOULD BE COOLER IF # 263 | It Was Zoned To Allow For Neighborhood Pubs

Carlos Mendes

 

I've recently taken up the post of beer writer for Scout Magazine. I'll be writing a weekly article for Scout where I'll profile some of the fantastic beer coming out of BC right now and the awesome people who are making it.  Here is my latest article on the lack of proper community pubs in Vancouver and the role that they can play in neighborhood building and fostering a unique sense of place. Read it  here on Scout.

Zoning’s a funny thing. The expression or omission of a few, simple words in a city’s zoning bylaws can have an absolutely massive impact on how people interact with their neighbours and how they feel about their communities, and while a city’s zoning regime will usually jibe with the desires and expectations of its citizens, that’s not always the case.

Small, community pubs in residential neighbourhoods provide an interesting case-in-point. While current City of Vancouver zoning permits the operation of ‘neighbourhood public houses’ in areas zoned ‘commercial’, ‘mixed-use’, and ‘industrial’ (subject, at times, to a few qualifications), those large swathes of the city zoned as some form of ‘residential’ do not. The result is that Vancouver’s pubs, taprooms, and associated ‘watering holes’ are mostly located on major arterial streets and are concentrated in only a few neighbourhoods.

Of course it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.

 Consider the example of a little boozer’s paradise close to home and another city that you probably wouldn’t associate with a progressive approach to drinking and merriment: Portland and Toronto. I’ll start with Toronto. Situated on a quiet residential street lined with mature trees and gorgeous Victorian homes, the Victory Café in the city’s old Annex neighbourhood is an awesome example of what a community pub can be.

While the ground floor of the home that houses the ‘Vic’ is the ‘pub’ proper, offering a good assortment of local craft beer, the second floor is a performance space for music, theatre, and literary readings. Add a bunch of outdoor picnic tables, and you have the making of a pretty choice little spot.

Portland, of course, is chock full of brilliant little taprooms, cafes and pubs tucked away in residential neighbourhoods. Roadside Attraction, a cavernous curiosities museum masquerading as a dive bar, complete with an outdoor fire pit and $2 tall boys, is hidden from view behind a dilapidated fence just a short hop from my personal ‘holy trinity’ of Portland breweries (The Commons, Hair of the Dog, and Cascade). Early Black Sabbath, cheap mac n’ cheese, and surly bartenders are pretty much a given. If a serious taplist is your thing, APEX on SE Division is absolutely brilliant — one of my favourite taprooms in Portland. With a rotating list of 50 beers, a massive patio, and an ever-changing spate of food trucks, APEX is a fantastic little neighbourhood spot that I stumbled upon years ago and try to visit every time I’m in town.

As we’ve seen with the proliferation of brewery lounges in the city, small neighbourhood pubs can function as important community meeting places, bringing people and ideas together and creating a strong sense of community and localized, civic pride. They can also help foster a sense of ‘place’ – that intangible mix of the attachment that distinctive public spaces can elicit, and the meanings, both individual and shared, that we project on them. Currently restricted to industrial and mix-used zones, brewery lounges are the closest thing that we have in Vancouver to places like APEX and Victory Café, and in the few years since the first brewery lounge opened in Vancouver, I’ve seen an absolutely massive (and incredibly positive) change to my little corner of the city.

From changes to last call, to the ‘Greenest City Action Plan’, there appears to be some appetite at City Hall for people to drink and socialize locally by replicating the de-centralized, community-based model that Portlanders enjoy. Unfortunately, what Portland and Toronto have in common (and what Vancouver is lacking) is a specific, hybrid zoning category that permits liquor serving establishments in residential neighbourhoods. Amending zoning bylaws and re-zoning parts of the city would require public consultation and undoubtedly be subject to huge amounts of pushback from assorted residents and neighbourhood groups.

However, while a change like this would definitely be a challenge, with a focused pilot project that restricted size, hours of service, and the number of establishments in any given neighbourhood, this type of model could definitely work in Vancouver. Imagine seeing some of the great old retail spaces that were formerly inhabited by mom n’ pop grocery stores converted into small, neighbourhood pubs?

Until that happens, my neighbours and I will keep planning our next block party over pints at Doan’s, making play dates for the kids while we wait to fill growlers at Callister, and using Strange Fellows as a kind of neighbourhood living room. It’s just a shame that experiences like these are limited to a few, tiny pockets of this awesome city.

AWESOME THING WE DRANK # 700 | The Pride of Dageraad Brewing - The Stunning Blonde Ale

Carlos Mendes

I've recently taken up the post of beer writer for Scout Magazine. I'll be writing a weekly article for Scout where I'll profile some of the fantastic beer coming out of BC right now and the awesome people who are making it. For my first article I reviewed one of my personal favorites: Dageraad Blonde. Read it  here on Scout.

There’s a pretty good chance that if you’re reading this, you probably already know about the good things coming out of Burnaby’s Dageraad Brewing. Back in the spring of 2014, Dageraad’s owner and brewer, Ben Coli, penned an excellent nine-part series for Scout’s Brewer’s Blog where he sought to address two key questions: What is Belgian beer? And, can it be brewed here? (If you haven’t had a chance to read it and are curious about all the thought and dedication that go into making good beer, I’d highly recommend it).

While I’ll leave the nuances of what constitutes ‘Belgian beer’ to Mr. Coli, I’m happy to report that – as a number of awards and a growing legion of dedicated and appreciative customers will attest – Dageraad has shown that Belgian beer can indeed be brewed right here in BC. From their solid core lineup to a steady spate of excellent seasonal and limited releases (their recent Anno 2015, a strong golden ale brewed with Keremeous Pears and Indian Coriander, proved really popular with family and friends over the holidays), Dageraad is consistently producing complex, intriguing beers that evoke a strong and distinct sense of place.

 Described, with good reason, as the pride of the brewery, Dageraad Blonde is an absolutely stunning beer, and may well be my favourite beer brewed year-round in BC.

 It pours a gorgeous, hazy golden colour and displays an initial light biscuity malt aroma on the nose that is quickly complimented by notes of candied fruit, green apple and citrus. The prominence of biscuit and fruit carries through in the first sip and is balanced by a mild, nutty sweetness, subtle notes of clove and coriander, and a lingering peppery tartness.

 With a rich, supple mouth feel and a warming finish, Dageraad Blonde manages to balance all of its complexity while still maintaining its many unique, constituent elements. Not too shabby for something brewed right here in our own backyard and widely available year-round in private liquor stores and discerning taprooms and restaurants.

 Plus (as an added bonus), it pairs exceptionally well with old Thelonious Monk records by the fire on foggy January nights – if combining delicious Belgian beer with the musical equivalent of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning just happens to be your thing.

The BC Beer Awards Returns with the RBS Rookie of the Year Award

Carlos Mendes

With so many fantastic events out there, it can be hard to choose a favourite, but for me, the annual BC Beer Awards is always a real highlight of BC's 'craft beer calendar'.  Like GCBF, where our craft beer industry converges on Victoria for BC's oldest beer festival, the BCBAs are a great time to catch up with friends and clients in the industry, and to enjoy some well-known and some not so well-known beers from across the province.  I go to a fair number of beer events, and I'm consistently impressed by not only the organization and execution of the BCBAs, but also by how BC Craft Beer Month's signature event just keeps growing year after year, with new breweries, new submissions, and new highlights. 

One major highlight for me is this year's 'Brewer's Challenge'.  As you probably already know, 2015 has been dubbed the international 'year of the sour', so naturally that will be the focus for this year's challenge.  As a lover of all things wild and spontaneously fermented (who understands the bad rap that some kettle sours get, but who wouldn’t go as far as supporting the small but vocal anti-kettle sour movement), I'm excited to work my way through the various contestants tomorrow night (saving room for my perennial BCBA highlight - the bourbon barrel aged Thor's Hammer). 

A new feature for this year's festival is the inaugural 'Richards Buell Sutton Rookie of the Year Award'.  This is obviously near and dear to me, as my firm is the sponsor, and I had the pleasure of pitching this award to the fine people behind the BCBAs and working with them over the last few months. The award recognizes BC's best new brewery, and when you look at the competition, it's pretty impressive.  From 'yeast van' and the Island to the Fraser Valley, the Thompson-Okanogan and the Peace Country, a lot of fantastic new breweries have opened across our province in the last year.  As someone who assists breweries when they’re first starting up and when they’re operational, I know how much care, dedication, and hard work is required to be successful in this industry, so to rise to the top and be recognized is really exceptional.

The ‘Richards Buell Sutton LLP Rookie of the Year Award' was judged on numerous criteria - the most important of which was 2015 BCBA awards tally. In addition to bragging rights and recognition, the winner will be receiving a comprehensive package of free legal services from me and my firm.  Partnering with this year’s winner will be a lot of fun, and I look forward to helping them navigate the unexpected challenges and opportunities they face as they grow their exciting new brewery.   

See you tomorrow.

A Sign of The Times: BC Business Magazine Returns With A Full Day 'Business of Craft Beer' Event For 2015

Carlos Mendes

You really don’t have to look far to see signs of the unprecedented success that our craft beer industry is currently experiencing.  From the proliferation of new breweries across the province, to the growth of craft beer tourism and the ever-expanded lineups at festivals like Victoria Beer Week and Vancouver Craft Beer Week, the industry and the culture that surrounds it have grown in recent years to become an integral part of the fabric of our province.  On the back of this success has come a growing recognition from media, government and the larger business community of the important contributions that BC’s craft beer industry make to our cities, our culture and to our provincial economy.   

A great example of this recognition is the ‘Business of Craft Beer’, an event hosted by BC Business Magazine that is now in its second year.  After putting on a successful and well-attended half-day event at the Imperial last year, BC Business has returned with a full-day event at the Vancouver Convention Centre on May 28th.  Balancing topical discussions with the kind of personal insights from industry veterans that we enjoyed last year, the event will feature six different panels, including a ‘Liquor Laws’ panel moderated by the BC Craft Brewers Guild's Ken Beattie featuring the LDB’s Kim Giesbrecht, a ‘Pioneers’ panel featuring none other than John Mitchell, and a Water Conservation & Waste Management panel featuring representatives from Metro Vancouver and everyone’s favorite waste water engineer/P49 head brewer, Graham With.   It will also include a ‘Legal/Accounting’ panel featuring yours truly, and moderated by the fabulous Rebecca Whyman.  If the prospect of hearing me speak about the legal aspects of opening and operating a brewery weren’t enough of a motivation to rush out and buy tickets, the event will also include opening remarks from the Thirsty Writer himself, Joe Weibe, provide a great opportunity to connect and share stories, and (if last year’s event is anything to go by) include a fair amount of refreshments from some of BC’s top breweries.

A few tickets are still available and can be purchased here.

What better way to get ready for VCBW than an all-day craft beer conference? See you there!

Too Good To Be True? The BC Liquor Distribution Branch Provides Industry With First Details Of New Beer Mark-Up Rates

Carlos Mendes

Last week, during a series of meetings with industry associations and manufacturers, the BC Liquor Distribution Branch ("LDB") laid out the first concrete details of the new wholesale pricing model and beer markup rates announced on November 19th. Find a link to the LDB's power-point presentation to industry associations here.  Not surprisingly, while the changes to the LDB's wholesale pricing model have attracted a fair amount of attention, little notice has been paid to the LDB's new mark-up rates for beer.  Until now, that is.

As the government body responsible for the importation and distribution of liquor in BC, the LDB derives its annual revenues from a diverse number of sources, and the mark-up they apply to beer is one of them.  Based on a brewery's annual global production level, the LDB applies a variable mark-up rate to all beer sold in the province, regardless of the point of sale. Unfortunately, the current mark-up model imposes severe financial consequences as production increases, and as a result has effectively discouraged growth in our province's craft beer industry.  For example, the current mark-up rate for beer produced by manufacturers with an annual global production of 15,000 hl is just over $0.60/litre for draft and $1.00/litre for packaged product.  From there, rates stay flat until annual global  production hits 160,000 hl.  However, once that number is reached, mark-up rates jump to around $1.10/litre for draft and over $1.60/litre for packaged product.  Not only are these rates high compared to other jurisdictions, but the huge rate increase at 160,000 hl has created a 'financial cliff' that, in a number of instances I am aware of, has prevented BC breweries from expanding production.  Fortunately, as a cursory glance of the new mark-up schedule illustrates, effective April 1st rates will increase gradually as production grows, and will be significantly lower across the spectrum.  There will also no longer be a distinction between draft and packaged product.

I've spoken to a number of clients and friends in the industry about this change, and the majority are really excited about what it will mean to their operations and to the industry as a whole.  However, a handful share my concern that this all just looks too good to be true.  Call me a cynic, but although the Province claims that the new mark-up rates will not detrimentally impact government coffers, it's hard to see how that's possible, and I doubt that the Province is willing to accept decreased revenues solely to help the local craft beer industry grow.  Consequently, as with any high level government announcement or presentation, until specific details are communicated to industry and the mechanics of the transition process becomes clear, I'll remain cautiously optimistic about this change.   As they say, the devil is in the details, and  we're a little bit short on these right now.      

I first received word that a new, graduated mark-up schedule would be coming to BC when a client was alerted to this change last fall.  Looking for specifics, I reached out to the LDB, but at that time none of my contacts had any real details on either the new rates or on the mechanics and timeline of implementation.   Unfortunately, as anyone who attended the meeting with manufacturers will attest, there is still a fair amount of confusion surrounding this initiative on the part of industry.    

I'll be monitoring the implementation of this initiative closely, and am hopeful that not only will the new mark-up rates be as beneficial to our province's craft brewers as they appear to be, but also that lost government revenues won't be offset by the imposition of  new costs or charges on industry.  Indeed, from discussions I've had with the LDB and with several high-ranking Provincial officials, I know that there is a genuine desire in many quarters of government to help BC's craft beer industry grow and continue to create jobs and world class product in our province.  If the new mark-up rates turn out to be as good as they look, this initiative will go some way to helping these things happen. 

Celebrating Craft - Local Industry Seeks To Improve In-Store Marketing and Product Placement in Government Liquor Stores

Carlos Mendes

The recent amendment of the Liquor Control and Licensing Act (Act) signalled an important step in the modernization of BC’s antiquated liquor laws. With plans to table a new Act next spring, and ongoing discussions occurring between government and industry groups, it’s clear that the process started by the creation and release of the “BC Liquor Policy Review Final Report” (Report) is gaining momentum.  

Like the government’s pledge to work with industry and tourism associations to promote craft beer tourism, the Report contains a number of recommendations that can be implemented without legislative or regulatory changes. Improved product placement and in-store marketing for BC craft beer in Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) retail stores (Government Liquor Stores, or GLSs) is one of them. Specifically, recommendation # 23 provides that the LDB “should improve its marketing of BC liquor products in stores, developing new opportunities for product placement and innovative promotional and educational materials.”  

While licensee retail stores give BC’s craft brewers an excellent distribution channel for seasonal and other limited releases (and provide a great service to consumers for the same reason), the purchasing power and scope of the LDB make it a vital tool and a key ally as the industry continues to expand its market share. As Matt Phillips, Owner and Brewmaster of Victoria’s Phillips Brewing Co. recently told me, “From a distribution standpoint, the LDB does an amazing job of getting beer to all corners of the province in a very cost effective and efficient manner. From a retailing standpoint, the LDB is a great partner, is very dependable, [and] has huge reach.”  

Ironically, the impressive growth that our province’s craft beer industry has recently experienced (as evidenced in the June 2014 LDB Quarterly Market Review) has occurred without a strong and comprehensive LDB in-store marketing and product placement strategy for BC craft beer. As a quick walk through any GLS in our province will illustrate, there is currently a glaring discrepancy between the way that BC craft beer is sold and marketed and the way that BC wine is sold and marketed. While the wines produced by our province’s vintners are displayed in prominent store locations and are marketed as high-quality, local products, the work of our province’s craft brewers doesn’t typically benefit from similar marketing, and is predominantly placed on the crowded periphery of stores, alongside domestic and imported macro, cider, and coolers.  

For Gary Lindsay, Director of Marketing and Sales for Victoria’s Driftwood Brewery, the LDB’s current approach to in-store marketing predominantly “benefits larger vendors and those with bigger marketing budgets.” Product placement, he noted, “is very arbitrary and varies widely between stores.” The confusion that arbitrary product placement can foster is also a big issue for the industry. As Matt Phillips told me, “If someone is expecting to have a full flavoured beer, and they end up buying something with a less than 100% malt ingredient list just because it is next to other craft beer on the shelf, it may turn them off the category.” Indeed, as a high-quality, local product, craft beer has a strong appeal to the increasing number of consumers turning away from imported and mass-produced goods, and toward local food, spirits, and other artisanal wares. Unfortunately, the LDB’s marketing of BC craft beer has failed to capitalize on this angle, leading to missed opportunities for growth and lower revenues for both the LDB and BC’s craft brewers.

Could this all be about to change?

Along with several other initiatives that came out of the Report, there has already been some movement to implement Recommendation # 23. I recently spoke with several members of the LDB’s marketing department, including Tarina Palmer, Senior Communications Program Officer for the LDB,  who noted that, “When the Province accepted [Parliamentary Secretary John Yap’s] recommendations and released the Report in its entirety, this in itself was direction to the LDB to take action—and work began immediately. Aligning with Recommendation #23, the LDB will continue to look at innovative, unique ways to improve the marketing and promotion of BC products”. Importantly, Palmer noted that the LDB is working with our province’s craft brewers to bring new products to market and to promote the industry, “through in-store signage and displays—including October’s Craft Beer Month and August’s Buy Local month.”  

Ken Beattie, Executive Director of the BC Craft Brewers Guild (Guild), knows that while there is definite room for improvement, there have also been some positives in the LDB’s recent promotion of BC craft beer. Reflecting on several of the LDB’s marketing initiatives, from checkout displays and in-store tastings to features in Taste magazine, Beattie told me that, “The Guild is encouraged by the continued efforts of the LDB to promote and place new BC craft beer products in their stores.” However, Beattie also recognizes the hurdles facing the industry as it seeks increased opportunities for GLS sales. “The challenge faced by the LDB is the unprecedented growth of craft breweries now opened in BC and the amount of products these breweries want distributed, versus the available space allocated to beer in each GLS. [This beer is] competing against wine, spirits, cider, and refreshment beverage products for both floor space and marketing space.”

So what kinds of changes would our province’s craft brewers like to see to the LDB’s in-store marketing and placement of BC craft beer? A ‘Buy BC First’ approach is one idea that came up repeatedly in my discussions. As Gary Lindsay told me, “Always promote local first. If there is a BC option, use that first. Stop soliciting US and imports for business. That alone would be huge.” Matt Phillips agrees. “The LDB should have a mandate to promote BC craft beer, as it helps the province economically, creating jobs and investment, and keeps money in the province.”

This idea is central to the Guild. As Beattie told me, his organization “would like to increase [its] partnership with the LDB to create and promote a ‘Buy BC First’ program, [and] would like to see a section of each store dedicated to promoting BC craft beer, similar to the VQA [Vintners Quality Alliance] wine section in each store.” Continuing on this point, he noted, “The marketing and promotional support the LDB has provided to VQA wines has contributed greatly to the current success of the BC wine industry. We feel there is ample opportunity to substantially increase our in-store signage, our display space, and our marketing opportunities within the store system to better promote a ‘Buy BC First’ mentality.” Beattie also mentioned that the Guild would like to partner with the LDB on the following initiatives:

  • A dedicated monthly display
  • Continued support through various existing LDB marketing channels
  • Improved beer education for GLS employees
  • More regional representation at the store level for local breweries, with individual managers having discretion to bring in local products that may not be available throughout the LDB system but which have a strong connection to local communities

The benefits of the Guild’s approach are clear. Having a distinct, central area of GLSs that showcase BC craft beer would go a long way to broaden its market share, showcase its value as a local, high-quality product, and promote the work of an industry that is creating jobs and driving economic growth in nearly every corner of the province. 

I’m hopeful that, like the sale of craft beer at farmers markets, we will soon see another of the Report’s key recommendations adopted in BC. The value to consumers, industry, and the provincial economy is clear, and the Guild has certainly done a fantastic job of moving this initiative forward. It’s now up to the LDB to work with the Guild to create an in-store marketing and product placement strategy that showcases the fine work of our province’s craft brewers and provides some parity with BCs wine industry. If the experience of our province’s vintners is anything to go by, a few key changes by the LDB could have a massive impact on the fortunes of BC’s craft beer industry.

Craft Beer Comes Home to the Royal City: Steel & Oak Opens its Doors in New West

Carlos Mendes

It can sometimes be easy to forget that long before our provincial capital was located across the Straight in Victoria, it was situated on the north bank of the Fraser River in New Westminster.  As a bustling centre of trade, commerce and government, Western Canada’s oldest city was, not surprisingly, home to a number of BC ‘firsts’, including BC’s first brewery, which opened in 1879.  Over the years, the Sapperton Brewery changed hands, names and configurations a number of times, but when Labatt’s (which was located on the site of the original brewery) finally closed its doors in 2005, New West’s long brewing history went quiet. Until now.  After a whole lot of hard work, some excellent test batches, and an impressive social media campaign, Steel & Oak Brewing Co., the Royal City’s first new brewery in decades, opened its doors on June 24th. I had the pleasure of popping by that day to try a few of their offerings, have a peek at their brilliant new space, and catch up with one of their founders, Jorden Foss. Check out a picture of the tasting room here.  

I first met Jorden and his business partner, James Garbutt, early last winter when I stopped in on a  dark Friday afternoon to check out the progress of the brewery and sample the first test batch of their red pilsner.  At the time, the space was pretty bare, but as Jorden and James gave me a tour and shared their vision for Steel & Oak, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the project that they were building, their passion for the history, tradition and craft of making great beer, and their interest in the role that craft breweries can play in building community. Both Jorden and James are well aware of New West’s storied brewing history, and as proud local residents, they’re really excited to be a part of that history by creating something their community can share, enjoy and be proud of.  

The return of breweries to cities like New Westminster is part of a larger trend that is reshaping communities across our province and beyond.  When small businesses run by passionate entrepreneurs take a chance on out-of-the-way, neglected, or mixed-use/industrial neighbourhoods, people who want to live in the walkable, urban communities that these businesses help create will invariably follow.  In the beer context, this process has been referred to as ‘craft beer urbanism’, and it’s something that’s happening all over North America, bringing jobs, families, and civic pride back to countless cities and neighborhoods.  I’ve definitely seen it happen in my neighbourhood, and Steel & Oak looks to be part of the same movement in New West.  

As you can see in the picture above, Steel & Oak’s tasting room looks fantastic, and strikes a nice balance between the warm, reclaimed wood motif that you’ll find at Brassneck, and the clean, modern aesthetic at 33 Acres.  The splashes of red in the bar stools are a great touch, as is the record player in the tasting room, (which made me want to stick around a little longer to find out what was coming up next on the ‘hi-fi’).  In the back, Steel & Oak are running a 17 hectolitre brew system with four 34 hectolitre fermenters.  Like a few of BC’s other newest breweries, Jorden & James made sure to lease a space that would meet their needs for several years to come, so they gave themselves ample room to grow.  Anticipating the huge demand that has materialized since they opened their doors, they ordered two additional 51 hectolitre fermenters which are currently in transit.   Plans for bottling 650 ml bombers and for a barrel program are in the works, and Steel & Oak have already landed a number of accounts at pubs in New West (the Paddlewheeler & the Terminal Pub) and in Vancouver, including one of my locals, St. Augustine’s on Commercial Drive.  

The man behind the beer at Steel & Oak is Peter Schulz, a local brewmaster who apprenticed in Germany, where he also completed a master’s degree in brewing.  Not surprisingly, Steel & Oak have come out with a few excellent Germanic styles, including the aforementioned red pilsner, and a smoked hefferveisen (which was on many people’s ‘best in show’ lists at the VCBW closing festival - including mine).  On opening day, Steel & Oak were offering a west coast ESB, the hefferveisen, and the red pilsner, which could seriously become my beer of the summer.  

Steel & Oak’s red pilsner pours a brilliant copper and amber colour, and displays a fluffy white head that holds well and dissipates to leave some nice lacing on the glass.  It has a toasty, nutty maltiness on the nose, where it also displays mild, aromatic traces of spice and orange.  With a full, rich mouthfeel, and nice conditioning, the first impression on the palate is of caramel, butterscotch and cereal, followed by pronounced flavours of doughy, bready malts that are perfectly balanced with a bright, crisp, hoppy bitterness. Finishing with a mild tartness characterized by hints of grapefruit and pine, Steel & Oak’s red pilsner is an absolutely gorgeous beer, and based on their opening lineup, I think that the fine people of New Westminster are in very good hands, indeed.

For those of us who happen to live outside of the Royal City,  I’d say that it’s well worth the short SkyTrain ride out to the tasting room for a flight and a growler fill. I know that I’ll be back again this summer, and when I do I’ll be sure to bring a larger bag with me - my briefcase can only hold three growlers, and I have a feeling that the next time I pop by Steel & Oak, three just won’t be enough. 

 

Welcoming the World - The Government Pledges to Work With Industry to Promote Craft Beer Tourism in BC

Carlos Mendes

With the recent enactment of several amendments to the British Columbia Liquor Control and Licensing Act, the Province has taken an important first step towards implementing a number of the recommendations contained in the “BC Liquor Policy Review Final Report”.  While the Province continues to update the Act’s Regulations and prepare policy statements, it’s important to remember that not all of the Report’s recommendations will require legislative or policy changes before they can be put in place.  The government’s pledge to promote craft beer tourism is one notable example.

Recommendation # 24 of the Report provides that,  “Government should work with industry and tourism associations to develop promotional materials such as maps, apps and brochures on B.C. wineries, breweries and distilleries.” Like many industry observers and advocates, I was really pleased to see this recommendation in the Report.  The current disparity between the infrastructure that supports wine tourism in our province and the limited tools available to promote craft beer tourism is pretty significant, so any efforts by government to close this gap are definitely welcome.  As Don Farion, part owner of Vancouver’s BierCraft restaurants and Bomber Brewing recently told me, “Government at every level is perhaps the most important player in the growth of beer tourism. If provincial and municipal governments begin to see the possibilities and get behind the breweries with support and incentives, then the possibilities are endless.”

The inclusion of Recommendation # 24 in the Report also provides further evidence that the Province is finally beginning to notice the huge economic benefits that BC’s craft brewers bring to the provincial economy.  Indeed, the role that breweries play in driving economic growth was a key message that Ken Beattie, Executive Director of the BC Craft Brewers Guild, brought with him when he and his team met with John Yap, Parliamentary Secretary to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, during the liquor policy review process last fall.  Along with a number of other recommendations in the Report that could really benefit BC’s craft beer industry and its customers, Recommendation # 24 was originally proposed by the Guild, the industry organization which represents many of the province’s craft brewers.  As Beattie recently told me, “We, along with other industry stakeholders, met with Mr. Yap as part of the liquor [policy] review in September and presented our position on a number of key points that our membership felt needed [to be] addressed in the review. One of our key messages was the role that the BC craft brewing community plays in 34 communities in every corner of our province. The jobs created directly in these communities by a brewery opening have a tremendously positive effect in terms of job creation, spinoff industries and plain old community pride. The fact that this growth has really occurred on its own with no formal support makes the opportunities all the more exciting.”

Indeed, much like the growth of BC’s craft beer industry, despite a lack of government support or the availability of key tools like maps and brochures, the number of tourists visiting our province’s brewery lounges, tasting rooms and tap houses has really exploded over the last few years.  For Anthony Frustagli, part owner of Vancouver’s Parallel 49 Brewing Company and St. Augustine’s Craft Brew House & Kitchen, the steady increase in the number of tourists visiting his establishments has been really noticeable.  “It is definitely a regular occurrence now, and one that is becoming much more frequent” he told me. “The growth is especially evident when we analyze interactions through social media.  When we first opened up, everyone who checked in through the various social [media] sites was local.  Now we regularly see posts and ‘check-ins’ from people from all over Canada and the US, as well as a few from Europeans and South Americans.” The trend has also been noted by Farion in his restaurants and his brewery, which opened earlier this year and has been working hard to keep up with huge demand.  

However, despite the recent gains that craft beer tourism has experienced in our province, there’s still some pretty significant opportunity for improvement.  “Right now it is a fledgling industry which has developed organically without any marketing or formal organizational help,” noted Frustagli,  “There is HUGE potential for growth as evidenced by our Cascadian neighbours down south, especially Portland.” Beattie agrees, and similarly sees Portland as the example for BC’s craft brewers and tourism authorities to emulate, “The obvious example is the success Oregon has realized over the last 25 years, where the beer tourism industry is estimated to contribute over 2.2 billion dollars in revenues annually.  We have an abundance of opportunity to work with tourism boards to create more effective awareness programs. I believe all the [current available] information comes from bloggers and beer enthusiasts who have taken on the cause as a result of their passion for the BC craft brewing community”.  

Few people would have a better sense of the adequacy of the tools and awareness programs available to promote craft beer tourism in BC than Shelley Hayashi.  The National Secretary of Les Clefs d’Or Canada  (the hotel concierge society of Canada) and a concierge at the Pan Pacific hotel in Vancouver, Shelley is extremely active in the local hospitality sector and her opinions on Vancouver’s attractions are highly sought after, both by her hotel’s guests and by her numerous social media followers.   As she noted during our chat, “Craft beer tourism is definitely gaining popularity and we have been getting more and more enquiries from guests on where to go for great locally brewed beer.  We can certainly find our answers from the Internet, but it would be helpful to be able to access all the most current and accurate information on craft beer in one spot, via print or digital media.  For the visitors, I think they prefer to have something to hold and keep, so a map or brochure might be better than an app or a link to a website.” In addition to formal tools like maps and brochures, Hayashi also thinks there are a lot of great opportunities for the industry to work with the tourism and hospitality sector to promote their facilities as tourist destinations: “A hands-on experience would be the best way for any concierge to learn about a new attraction or product.  Perhaps invite the concierges to visit a brewery, learn about the process of beer making, a seminar on the variety and types of local beer, a walking tour of the local craft beer breweries, etc.”  

The need for cooperation between the craft beer industry and the larger tourism and hospitality sector is a reoccurring theme that came up in my discussions.  “Currently, I think that craft beer tourism in Vancouver is in its infancy, much like the majority of the breweries” noted Farion. “I think that as the breweries and lounges mature, so will the tourism market. If we as a group: breweries, distilleries, pubs, restaurants and the government continue to work together, we can grow the market as large as we can imagine.” As BC’s Minister of State for Tourism and Small Business, North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA Naomi Yamamoto recently told me, “Craft beer tourism is considered a niche market and one that is newly emerging in B.C. as a tourism driver.   It is a similar product to wine tourism, and culinary tourism - both of which have enjoyed great success in B.C. There is more work to be done by both government and the companies and associations that make up the craft brew sector so that we can continue to see it grow.  We think there is a natural fit between craft beer tourism and the many culinary and wine tourism campaigns that are already established in our province.   We expect that as the sector grows and matures that it will find further opportunities to partner with the culinary, wine and city-stay tourism experiences that are well established in the province.”  Although the Minister could not provide any specifics on the implementation of this initiative, she did draw my attention to some of the tools that the Province currently uses to promote craft beer tourism (such as HelloBC.com - which contains a few excellent articles by BC Craft Beer News’ own, Joe Wiebe).  

Like Minister Yamamoto, Ken Beattie also sees a lot of synergies between wine tourism and craft beer tourism, “Can you imagine the tourism potential and boost to the BC economy if the BC craft beer community and BC wineries co-promoted their businesses on equal footing in terms of a tourism infrastructure? The potential to have tourists visit one of 70 plus breweries and over 200 wineries in BC makes our province very attractive. The quality, innovation and creativity of the brewers and winemakers in BC is a story that needs to be told.”  

Like many in the industry, Beattie knows that for BC’s craft beer industry to continue its  impressive recent growth and market performance, the province’s craft brewers can’t lose sight of the thing that brought them all of their success in the first place: making great beer.  “No matter how far we have come in terms of impact in the BC beer market, when you look at the percentage of sales there is still ¾ of the population buying foreign owned beers in BC. This is the potential and the opportunity, and we are confident and focused on continuing to win over the beer drinkers of this province and the tourists with our quality, flavour and creativity.”  

Anthony Frustagli agrees, “I think the most important thing is for Vancouver breweries to continue to produce great beers.  All of the breweries that have opened in the past couple of years have, for the most part, been pumping out excellent, interesting, well-crafted beers in very diverse styles.  Existing breweries need to continue to capture market share, new breweries that will open need to maintain the quality bar that has been set, and everyone will need to push the envelope with their products. Growing and fostering craft beer tourism will help open up other markets to BC brewers.  When people visit the city and try the amazing beer we have to offer, they invariably want to find the beer in their local market when they get home. Having a base of dedicated fans in a new market is essential to success for craft breweries who don’t have the marketing budgets of the big boys, and having a strong craft beer tourism industry will most certainly help develop that.” 

It can be hard to pinpoint any single, determinative factor that has led to the impressive growth and associated economic benefits that craft beer tourism has experienced in cities like Portland and Denver.  Knowledgeable staff in the tourism and hospitality sectors equipped with the latest information and tools is clearly important, as is government support and a local industry committed to producing world-class products.  We all know what BC’s craft brewers are capable of, so I’m optimistic that with the continued momentum building around the Province’s liquor policy review and the lines of communication that it and other initiatives have opened, all of these key factors will soon start falling into place.  The benefits of increased craft beer tourism to the good people who make our beer and to the provincial economy are clear, and with every new brewery opening up across the province, the groundwork is being laid to make BC a craft beer tourism hotspot for many years to come.  

Find my article here on the cover of the July/August edition of BC Craft Beer News.

Craft Beer & Farmers Markets - Two Great Ways To Celebrate Summer in BC Are Finally Coming Together

Carlos Mendes

I don’t know about you, but spring has always been my favourite time of the year. There’s just something about those budding cherry blossoms, the promise of longer days, and the first, faint hints of summer that always get me excited after a dark, wet winter. Spring is also the time when the good folks who grow our food start preparing for the summer growing season, and if you’re a gardener like me, you may have already started turning the soil and setting your mind to the kinds of tomatoes and kale that you’ll be planting this year.     

I grew up in a household where we grew as much of the food that we ate as we could, so I’ve always had a real love of local food and a strong appreciation for all the hard work that goes into getting something on my plate. In my humble opinion, farmers markets really are the best way to appreciate the brilliant array of fresh, local products that BC’s farmers and artisans produce, as well as the amount of dedication, passion, and creativity that goes into the food we eat. You get to meet the people who grow your veggies and bake your bread, sample some fresh goods, and catch up with your neighbours while supporting  local businesses. Sound familiar? Well, if you’re reading this while you wait to fill a growler you’ll probably know where I’m going with this. For me, the parallels between brewery lounges and farmers markets are pretty clear. Both spaces help foster a sense of community by bringing like-minded people together, and both give small producers the chance to connect with their customers and neighbours in a way that’s too often been lost in an age of mass production and retail conglomerates. Indeed, the craft beer movement and the local food movement are both great examples of what can happen when people with a shared appreciation for the traditional relationship between craft, business, and community come together. It’s therefore pretty fitting that you’ll soon be able to start buying and sampling local craft beer at a farmers market near you. 

But just how did we find ourselves on the cusp of finally being allowed to grab a bomber of Persephone Double IPA or Powell Street Old Jalopy Pale Ale while we pick up our heirloom tomatoes and homemade kimchi? Well, if you visited one of Vancouver’s farmers markets last summer you may have noticed a table set up with an empty cask on it and a sign that read, “FREE SAMPLES: not available—ask me why”. The brainchild of the Vancouver Branch of CAMRA BC, the tables were part of their campaign to bring this initiative to the attention of the public and the provincial government. As Adam Chatburn, BC Craft Beer News contributor and president of CAMRA BC—Vancouver Branch recently told me, “We encouraged anyone to sign a letter in support [of liquor sales at farmers markets] which CAMRA BC then posted out individually in small batches over the whole summer. I think it was these letters that made the government realize CAMRA BC was a genuine stakeholder and maybe also helped them to realize that a [liquor law] review was sorely needed.” Adam and his team subsequently met with Parliamentary Secretary to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice John Yap during his stakeholder meetings and successfully made their case for craft beer sales at farmers markets. 

On March 6, following the January release of Yap’s report, the Province tabled its amendments to the Liquor Control and Licensing Act (Act). As far as this initiative is concerned, the pertinent sections are s. 53(3) and s. 86 to s. 91 of the Act. Specifically, s. 86 provides that manufacturers can apply to the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) for authorization to sell, serve, or offer samples of their products at ‘events,’ subject to certain conditions imposed by the LCLB, and subject to the Act’s regulations (the amendments to which have not been made public at the time of writing). The types of conditions that the LCLB can impose are set out in s. 91 of the Act, and range from limits on the type of alcohol that can be sold at ‘events,’ to establishing the areas of an ‘event site’ where alcohol sales will be permitted. Without the regulations, the exact look of this initiative is unclear, but it definitely appears that the Province is on the verge of allowing BC’s craft brewers to offer samples and sell their products at farmers markets for both on-site and off-site consumption. Municipal governments and health authorities will also have a big role to play in this initiative, and the final say on its implementation and overall look will be left to individual farmers market associations. 

I reached out to the good folks behind the Vancouver Farmers Market and New Westminster Royal City Farmers Market to get their feedback on this initiative, and I’m happy to report that both associations confirmed that they plan to have craft beer sales at their markets this summer. Currently, both associations are awaiting further details from the Province, and once these are received they’ll have a fair bit of work to sort out all of the logistics. However, the Vancouver Farmers Market did confirm that they anticipate having two to three alcohol vendors at each market, while the Royal City Farmers Market mentioned that they plan to set aside at least one space for craft beer sales at each market. Regulations permitting, both associations hope that their customers will be able to enjoy craft beer samples too. To this end, Kevin McConnell of the Royal City Farmers Market told me, “Our customers love samples from our local bread, cheese, and fruit vendors so we hope breweries can share with them as well!” Both markets will also allow any BC brewery to participate, and the folks I contacted were really excited that craft beer will soon be sold and sampled at their markets. As Roberta LaQuaglia, Operations Manager at Vancouver Farmers Markets noted, “We're excited at the prospect of welcoming new demographics of shoppers to the markets. Our recent addition of food trucks to the markets really helped to make shopping at the markets more of an experience. Rather than coming early, stocking up on groceries and leaving, more shoppers are making a day of their visit. We think the addition of local craft beers and, eventually, local wines, will only add to the shopping experience.”

As you’d expect, BC’s craft brewers are also pretty excited about the prospect of selling their products at farmers markets. As Dustin Sepkowski of Vancouver’s 33 Acres Brewing Co. told me, “I’m a big supporter of the Vancouver Farmers Market. I purchase as much of my groceries from local suppliers as possible [and] I see the idea of beer sales being added to this mix as a neat opportunity to showcase local beer and create a conversation with our community….[This initiative is] another avenue for us to reach our health conscious and community-oriented friends [and] will help to concentrate the focus of craft beer in the immediate community.” For Jorden Foss of New Westminster’s Steel & Oak Brewing Co. the advantages of participating in this initiative are obvious: “For our business it would mean increased exposure to our demographic. As much as we may sell some growlers (and maybe we'll sell more than I expect) for us it is about getting our name and face out to our community and encouraging them to come to our tasting room or pick our product up at a private liquor store….Community is what Steel & Oak is built upon, and being a part of the Royal City Farmers Market would allow us one more opportunity to meet our neighbours and connect with New West residents.” The benefits of this initiative to his fellow craft brewers are also clear to Foss: “It would mean increased sales and exposure for all breweries at an event that really coincides with the ‘craft’ philosophy. Farmers Markets are set up to encourage shopping local... and so are craft breweries like ours.  Not only will it boost sales slightly but it will let people know that they can not only shop local for their produce and meat products but for their beverages as well, which I think would only encourage more people to attend local markets.”

With the Vancouver Farmers Market and the Royal City Farmers Market scheduled to start up for the summer in May and June respectively, and 33 Acres and Steel & Oak both eager to come on board, I have a feeling that local craft beer will soon become a fixture at farmers markets across our province. 

As if we needed another thing to love about summer in BC.

Find my article here on page 10 of the May/June edition of BC Craft Beer News 

The Government’s Report on Liquor Law Reform & What Exactly is a ‘Beer Lawyer’?

Carlos Mendes

One of the things that always surprises students when they start law school is just how many kinds of law there are that people actually practice.  When most of us think of lawyers we think of the people we see on TV and in film—litigators who go to court and advocate on behalf of their clients. However, a lot of lawyers (like yours truly) are solicitors who never see the inside of a court room. Our job is to advise on everything from business transactions to dealing with government regulators; to negotiate, review and draft legal agreements, and to help our clients navigate the challenges and opportunities they encounter in running their businesses. Many of us focus our practices on specific industries, and so you have construction lawyers, forestry lawyers, entertainment lawyers, and yes, even beer lawyers. Beer lawyers? Well, believe it or not, there are actually lawyers who specialize in acting for clients in the beer industry, and I’m one of them.   

As most of our province’s craft brewers would attest, BC’s craft beer industry is regulated by a bizarre and antiquated set of rules and policies. From navigating the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch’s confusing application processes, to working with the archaic rules that govern the Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB), our province’s craft brewers operate within a uniquely challenging regulatory environment. However, while people in the industry do face a number of distinct legal challenges, they also deal with many of the same issues that confront all small and medium-sized businesses—things like leasing a space, borrowing money to finance growth, and contracting with other companies. That’s where I come into the picture. In addition to specializing in the laws and issues that are unique to BC’s craft brewers (a.k.a. ‘beer law’), I also have a general business law background. This allows me to assist my clients in the industry with a variety of issues at every stage of their growth and development, from leasing, business structuring, financing, and liquor licensing and distribution, to intellectual property and trademarks, employee and shareholder issues, and municipal permits and licensing. That friends, in a nutshell, is my ‘beer law’ practice.

As a craft beer drinker who loves being able to work with an industry that I feel so passionately about, I’m really pleased that the good people at BC Craft Beer News asked me to be a regular contributor, and I’m excited to be sharing these pages with so many great writers and craft beer advocates. Going forward, I’ll be writing about the numerous legal issues that affect our province’s craft brewers and the many people who benefit from their labours. From the stresses of opening a brewery to the challenges of meeting customer demand, my aim will be to shed some light on the legal and business environment in which our province’s craft beer industry operates.  

Undoubtedly, the biggest legal issue to come along for BC’s craft brewers in quite some time has been the Province’s first review of its antiquated liquor laws in over two decades. After holding 65 stakeholder meetings, and receiving 76,255 site visits and 3,587 emails over a six-week public consultation period, John Yap, Parliamentary Secretary to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, released his “BC Liquor Policy Review Final Report” on January 31. The Report contains a total of 73 recommendations that touch on everything from how alcohol is sold and purchased to how it’s licensed and distributed, and the Province has endorsed every one of them. In my upcoming articles for this paper I’ll be looking in greater detail at several of the recommendations I think will have the biggest impact on BC’s craft beer industry. These include the government’s plans to:

  • Work with industry and tourism authorities to create promotional materials to develop craft beer tourism
  • Improve BC craft beer marketing and product placement in government liquor stores
  • Discuss the establishment of a quality assurance program for BC craft beer, similar to the Vintners Quality Assurance program currently used by our vintners
  • Review the minimum requirements to obtain a brewery license and consider how these are regulated
  • Allow manufacturers to offer their products for sample and sale at temporary off-site locations like farmers’ markets
  • Permit growler sales at private and public liquor stores

So just what could these initiatives mean for BC’s craft beer industry? While I would have liked to see firmer commitments from the Province on several of them, I think that, if implemented, they could signal a real ‘sea change’ in the industry’s fortunes. With its market share growing from 9% of all LDB beer sales in 2009 to 19% in 2013, and sales showing 17% growth between 2012 and 2013, it’s hard not to be impressed by the industry’s recent market performance. However, to start achieving the kind of success that our province’s vintners enjoy, BC’s craft brewers need to start getting the same kind of treatment from government. This is why these recommendations are so important. By giving consumers more access to BC craft beer, more opportunities to connect with the people who make their beer, and more information about what distinguishes craft from macro, these recommendations could go a long way to help regain some of the market share that’s been lost to wine and spirits in recent years. Indeed, if we can remain engaged and make sure that the Province actually implements these recommendations, I think that we could be in for a golden age for craft beer in BC. With the recent openings of Black Kettle Brewing, Barkerville Brewing, Three Ranges Brewing and Bomber Brewing, things have never been better for BC craft beer drinkers, and as the winter seasonals start getting replaced by spring seasonals, we should all raise a glass to the many fine people who work tirelessly to make the beer we love and advocate on behalf of the industry that makes it all happen. We’re all better off thanks to their efforts.

Find my article here on page 10 of the March/April edition of BC Craft Beer News.

Welcome to East Van! Bomber Brewing Opens its Doors on Adanac Street

Carlos Mendes

If you’re like me and you follow @jantweats on twitter, you’ll know that craft beer is experiencing a bit of a boom these days in BC.  However, while those of us living in Vancouver can just hop on our bikes or walk down the street to fill up a growler at 33 Acres, Powell Street, or Storm, if you live outside of this fair city or maybe Victoria, filling up a growler with fresh, local beer often just hasn’t been possible.  Until now.  With a spate of new breweries opening up across the province from New West and Burnaby, to Terrace and Quesnel, pretty soon craft beer lovers across BC will be able to enjoy something that us spoiled Vancouverites may have already started taking for granted. 

So, of all the great new breweries opening up across the province, which one have I been most excited for? That, friends, would be none other than East Vancouver’s own, Bomber Brewing. Let me tell you why.

I first heard about Bomber through a good friend whose buddy plays for the same ‘beer league’ hockey team that Bomber is named after (the ‘Bombers’). I then had the pleasure of meeting Bomber’s owners during Vancouver Craft Beer Week, which was when I discovered where they were going to set up shop. As soon as I heard that Bomber was leasing the old Adanac Seafood building across from Woodland Park, I felt like a kid counting down to Christmas.  You see, I’m an avid cyclist, and every day I ride into work along the Adanac bike path.  For a craft beer loving cyclist (who usually has an empty growler in his pannier on the ride home), having a craft brewery right on my daily commute is about as good as it gets.  Sure, my reasons are purely selfish, and yes, the location is great, but let’s not underestimate the good things brewing on Adanac  Street. 

Even before I fell in love with their ESB during Vancouver Craft Beer Week, I had a feeling that Bomber would hit the ground running.  Like Parallel 49, Brassneck and Main Street, the people behind Bomber have an established vintage in the local food and beverage scene.  Co-owner’s Don Farion and Dean Mallel are the good folks who brought us BierCraft, Don is a Certified Cicerone, and brew master Blair Calibaba is a decorated home brewer and the former owner of West Van’s Ambleside Brewing.  In other words, they know a thing or two about good beer. 

Well, just after the BC Beer Awards last October, Bomber slapped its logo on the side of the brewery, and ever since I’ve been craning my head as I bike by, eagerly hoping to see an open sign or at least some signs of activity.  After some great press from Chuck Hallett in Scout Magazine, Bomber had its soft opening on Valentine’s Day, and I had the pleasure of popping by shortly after they opened their doors for the very first time. I’ve been back numerous times since, and after so much anticipation, I’m happy to report that Bomber’s managed to exceed my lofty expectations.

Every time I’ve dropped by, the tasting room has been full with the kind of eclectic mix of locals, cyclists and craft beer aficionados that I’d expected to see at Bomber.  The room contains a couple communal seating areas, and has a nice long bar that looks right onto the brewing floor.  The brewery itself is running on a 15-barrel brewing system with six 30 barrel fermenters and one 15 barrel fermenter,  and when I popped back for a look, I was happy to see a number of used wine barrels (which I’m told contain a brown ale souring with Rodenboch yeast).  Bomber’s current line-up consists of the aforementioned ESB, a pilsner, an IPA, a Belgian blonde, and their current seasonal, an oatmeal stout.  As I anticipated, Bomber has hit the ground running, and not only did they have their lounge license in place for their hard opening on February 17th, but cans of their ESB, IPA and pilsner are already being distributed by the LDB.  

Over the last two weeks, I’ve really been enjoying all of their offerings, but the stand out for me has been their ESB. Coming in at a sessionable 5.2% ABV, Bomber’s take on the classic English style seamlessly blends the hop-forward character of the Pacific Northwest with the sweet, bready malts and mild fruity bitterness that we’ve come to expect from a traditional English ESB.  Bomber’s ESB pours a clear mahogany with a light beige head, and has subtle notes of honey, malt and pine on the nose. With great body, low to medium carbonation, and a smooth mouth feel, it makes a strong first impression, delicately balancing flavours of bready and roasted malts with sweet toffee, caramel, and passion fruit.  It finishes with a pronounced bitterness characterized by lingering notes of citrus, and tapers off with subtle flavours of honey, biscuit and fresh, baked bread.  This is a very, very drinkable beer, and like Old Jalopy, Gypsy Tears and 33 Acres of Life, has already become one of my ‘go to’ local beers.  An absolutely brilliant first effort from one of BC’s newest breweries.

As I was enjoying a pint of their pilsner at home the other night with some friends, I couldn’t help but think about how great it’s going to be this summer to pick up a 6-pack or fill a growler on my way home from work to enjoy on the deck, down at the beach, or as I while away the evening with a game of ‘beer league’ softball at Woodland Park. I don’t know about you, but I have a feeling that my summer just got a whole lot better thanks to the good folks at Bomber Brewing.