Thursday, March 14, 2013

Drink Local Craft Beer... and only local?

There has been a lot of talk lately about drinking locally. That is, drink the craft beer that is brewed locally instead of import beers. So what constitutes a local brewery? Is it breweries within a 10 km radius of my home, beers in Vancouver/Victoria or BC beers? Beats me but here are my thoughts, which may not be popular with some.


First off, I do drink our local craft brews. Do I like them all? Nope, but I do like and love a lot of them. So much so that I rush to the liquor stores to pick up the new releases just like the rest of you beer geeks. We buy mostly bombers but when we do have 6-packs around, more often in the summer months, it’s usually Lighthouse Switchback and Red Racer ESB. I support local establishments and recommend our breweries and bars/pubs whenever I get an opportunity. I love the craft beer scene in BC and I am thrilled to see more BC breweries starting up. I buy beer at local private liquor stores, attend local beer events, cask festivals, long table dinners and I am a CAMRA member. I’d say I support our local and BC craft beer scene.

Currently, some of the styles of beer I love are brewed only by a small percentage of BC breweries – such as sours, imperial stouts, DIPA and Belgians. The breweries that do have these in their repertoire tend to brew them as seasonals or for special cask events and thus, they’re not always readily available. As these styles become more frequently brewed, and assuming they’re good beers, I will have less of a reason to purchase from other breweries.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t like to try other beers and yes, they’re imported. Either from other parts of Canada, the USA or internationally. I like variety when it comes to my beer and it’s exciting to try new styles. Since each brewery has their own take on a beer, I find it intriguing to see how they interpret the style. Do I like all the imports I try? Nope. But we do check RateBeer and other sources for ratings before we slap down some cash.

Something else to consider, as the Canadian craft beer scene grows, I expect to see more Canadian beers exported. I don’t mean the macro crap, but our good, craft beer. I’ve seen Driftwood and Howe Sound beers as far as Seattle and thus, they are penetrating the US/Export market. I assume the Ontario brewers are also starting to export. If I was a brewer, I’d want as many people as possible to try the beer that I poured my heart and soul into making. It must give brewers a warm, fuzzy feeling when people around the globe love their beer.
“Canada remained the largest export market for independent brewers, with volumes up 140% to 68,180 barrels, the survey revealed.”

According to the US Brewers Association, Canada is currently the largest importer of US craft beers bringing in 68,180 barrels in 2012. However, the biggest growth market for the USA was the Asia-Pacific region, up 162%. International sales had a record high increase of 72% and total sales of US$49.1M. That’s big business. I would assume that most breweries would look at expanding into the international or cross-border market, if they could meet the demand and capacity issues. Granted, not all businesses want to be huge money-making machines but if there is global demand and you can feed it, why not? It takes me back to people loving your beer. I relate brewers to artists. They’re gifted individuals who take their talent, turn it into a passion filled recipe and tweak it until they are happy with the outcome. Although artists can produce just for their own satisfaction, I suspect that the greatest joy comes from someone appreciating your creation and applauding you. And that is what we’re doing when we love the local and imported beers. Bravo, brewers, you amaze me.


I have twitter beer friends that want to try our BC beers. I suspect it stems from seeing our positive Untappd posts/comments and now they want to get their hands on it. Since most of our breweries don’t ship to other provinces or export to the US, they have no way of getting any…or do they? Because it’s not exactly legal to ship beer I may or may not have shipped some glorious BC beers recently to Indiana and Alberta. If I did, I may have heard that they loved them. Spreading the BC beer love, people. Well, if it actually happened.


Lastly, when we purchase imported beers in BC, who are we supporting? Well, it’s obvious that we’re supporting the foreign brewery but aside from that, we’re supporting our own local economy. The beers are brought in by BC companies with BC employees and we’re purchasing these beers at BC liquor stores (private and government), pubs, restaurants and bars. Does it take away from the local breweries’ sales? Probably, but this craft beer drinker wants variety and lots of it. I have my favourite local breweries who produce amazing beers but I don’t want to drink them exclusively. Sorry. This seems to be the model for a lot of craft beer drinkers and I think you’d be hard pressed to find one that doesn’t like to try new beers, regardless of their origin.

If you want to rap my knuckles, I do buy craft beer when we’re in the US thus, I’m not supporting my local economy in any way. Again, it’s for the variety. But before you get out your ruler, do you cross-border shop at all? Most of us that live close to a border do in fact vacation outside of Canada and purchase goods in other countries.

I love collaboration beers and my hope is that stupid liquor laws aside, we'll start to see some more US/Canada collaborations (like Gigantic Brewing and Parallel 49th From East Van With Love). The best of all worlds - both sides of the 49th parallel with their own specific styles and talents making a specialty beer. Let's make it happen.

It’s my opinion that there’s room for BC and imports in the BC craft beer scene and as we watch BC grow into one of the best provinces for beer, I hope to have a pint with all of you.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Vegas - 85 lbs of beer in the case...

It’s not a well-kept secret that I love Vegas and every trip is uniquely different depending on who you travel with. Our last two trips were with large groups and hence, you spend more time trying to coordinate where and when to meet and the personal time is limited. This trip was just me and my husband and we made this our beer trip. Big surprise, I’m sure.

We flew out of Bellingham with Alaska Air, which was cheaper than Allegiant Airlines who are notorious for being very late, charging for carry on, checked luggage, getting any assigned seat and for breathing. Alaska was on time and after grabbing a quick breakfast pint in the new airport pub, Scotty Browns (related to Browns Social House in BC), we were on our happy journey to the land of gambling, girls-direct-to-your-room-in-20-minutes, sunshine and as we were soon to find out, great craft beer.

Pro Tip: Rent a car. It was only $53, tax in, for the two day rental. A cab from/to the airport will run you at least $50 and since we had beer shopping to do, the car was a must. We took off straight from the car rental complex, which you get to via airport shuttle, to Whole Foods on Las Vegas Boulevard (near the airport). We knew we’d be hitting Elizabeth Station in Bellingham on our way home, and more about them later, so we only wanted to pick up what we didn’t remember seeing at Liz. Whole Foods has a decent selection of bombers, 6-packs and my favourite, making your own 6-pack. The Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast was only $10 so even though we’ve had this gorgeous beer a few times before, I couldn’t resist picking up another one. Other than the Mikkeller, everything we bought was new to us. A dozen beers down, many to go.

Next stop, because one beer store in Vegas is not enough, was Total Wine out in Summerlin/Boca Park. You could get away with taking a cab to Whole Foods but not to Total Wine. The drive is about 20 minutes and the cost would definitely eat into your gambling stash. As the name hints, Total Wine does have a lot of wine but they also cater to the beer scene. From there, we walked away with Clown Shoes, Dogfish Head, Nogne, Firestone Walker, Laughing Dog and others. Sixteen bottles later and wondering if we were going to need another suitcase, we were ready to depart for Tenaya Creek Brewery. Oh, and for you cigar aficionados, they have a room full of cigars. A temperature controlled room, people.

Just a few of the beers at Total Wine

Tenaya Creek Tour - Master Bottle Labeler!

Tenaya is about 10 minutes from Total Wine so again, a costly cab from the strip but if you have the opportunity, I highly recommend visiting. There is nothing better than fresh beer at the source. Our pal, Karl, arranged a tour with the head brewer Anthony. I polished off a Hauling Oats pre-tour and nursed a Hop Ride IPA while Anthony showed us the brewery. Tenaya opened in 1999 and operated as a full fine dining restaurant and brewery. In 2008, they decided to use the kitchen space to expand the brewery and do what they know best. Make delicious craft beer. The expanded space gave them the capacity to start selling their beer outside the brewery, throughout Las Vegas. In 2010, the bottling line came in and they now sell to Nevada, Ohio, Utah, Arizona and little ‘ol us in Vancouver, BC.

We’re lucky to have Beerthirst bring Tenaya’s products to Vancouver but we still found a couple we hadn’t tried including the Porter and Imperial Stout. I opted for the 9.3% imperial stout (like there was ever a doubt) and enjoyed it on the patio in 24°C temperatures with Karl and the Tenaya guys. It’s a gorgeous beer and I grabbed a $6 bottle to take home. If you’re lucky, I may share it with you…

Tenaya's Hop Ride Simcoe!

Karl and Anthony met us a few blocks away at Big Dog’s Draft House for dinner and, of course, more beer. The Big Dog beers are on tap but they also host a few guest taps including the New Belgium Cocoa Mole – which was fantastic. It has just the right amount of hot chili kick. My other beer of choice was the Dog Gone Saison. Yum.  Karl sent us home with some Lips of Faith and New Belgium beers that we will soon be enjoying. Thanks Karl!

Big Dog Brewery's Draft House

We finally made it to Planet Hollywood to check in and mother of god, is it ever a long walk from the parkade to the casino check in when you’re carrying a bunch of beer. Good thing for us Fat Tuesday’s is about half way. It’s mandatory whilst in Vegas to stop at Fat Tuesday’s for jello shots. Done. Oh look, Lobster Me next door has Goose Island Imperial IPA on tap. Well, we did need a break from carrying all that beer. Stop judging. Also, the ice buckets in the room are ridiculously small and don’t even hold two small bottles. Well that’s why garbage cans were invented, right? Bring on the ice.

We’d heard about Todd English pub at Aria/City Centre so after we dropped off the beer, we headed out. Sat at the bar, perused the draught list and saw it was all $12 pints. Seriously? The list didn’t have anything amazing on it, just good craft beer. Sorry, Todd, that’s a rip off. And you have other competition on the strip so see ya later. I’d include their web link but it appears to be disabled. Maybe they don’t want anyone to see their prices in advance. Not recommended.

Saturday, we checked out the Chuck Jones Experience (a la creator of Bugs Bunny et al) at Circus Circus because we had a two for one Groupon. Due to the long, arduous walk to get to Circus Circus, we stopped at The Venetian to check out their craft beer at the Public House. We sat at the bar and were promptly handed an iPad to check out the numerous taps and extensive bottle list. They even had one cask for the taking. Decent prices for a pint – mostly $8. My first beer was the Blue Bridge Coffee Stout by Coronodo. Next up, a flight. The Venetian’s beer list has pre-selected flights by style but we wanted to mix it up a bit. I guess I should have looked at the prices more closely since they were priced $15 - $20. Low and behold, our personal choice paddles cost a whopping $20 each – I had Speakeasy Witness, Joseph James Citra Rye, Firestone Union Jack IPA and Uinta Sea Legs. That’s a bit steep for tasters, Venice people. Overall, I’d recommend the Public House in your beer fueled travels. Their food menu isn’t the typical fare so if you’re a picky eater, check that out before you go.
Chilled Draught Lines...
...over your head and all the way to the wall!

Now on to cartoons. Spoiler alert – it’s not worth the money (or the long walk), even discounted (regular price is $20 for an adult). Sure, there are original sketches that are cool but I swear I read that you got to blow up Acme stuff on a blue screen. No Acme stuff, no blowing up. Well colour me disappointed. I WANTED TO BLOW STUFF UP and have a bubble next to me that said Kaboom and Splat. I didn’t even do my usual hot lap – we meandered through the tiny exhibit and were done in about 10 minutes. The gift shop has some cute stuff for kids, but you can go to the gift shop without paying for the “experience”.  I had to grab the Sylvester and Tweety t-shirt, because, cute. Mind you, where Tweety is perched is a bit opportunistic. Naughty birdie.

Next stop was The Pub at Monte Carlo for lunch. Another decent list of draught and bottled beers – my choices were Goose Island Sofie and Salt Lake Hop Rising. Of course the usual macro crap was in full force – some guys next to us had the Tower. This was a foaming giant test tube of Coors Lite piss. Our server was very excited to tell us that you get two free pints by ordering it as it’s cheaper than pitchers. Super fantastic. The beers we had were great, good food and over exuberant servers. The relief dude told us twice to have a blessed day. Huh? Who’s blessing me? and more importantly, why? Recommended stop on the Strip.

The sad part of this story – it’s time to leave Vegas in the morning. Shortest trip yet and we really needed the extra day or two to check out Aces & Ales and Freakin’ Frog. Both are cab rides away and require some devoted time. Next time, Vegas.

We brought bubble wrap and wrapped up our beers to take on the flight home. Ran out of bubbles but t-shirts and paper bags cushioned the remaining bottles. Our checked bags were searched but they all made it home in one piece. Yay! Hey’s carry-on bags work well – one bag was 40lbs and the other was 45lbs. So under the 50lb limit – although there’s a $20/bag checked luggage fee.

One of the perks of flying out of Bellingham is that we can stop at Elizabeth Station (Facebook link only, no web site) in the older part of Bellingham and browse through their craft beer selection. We found this little neighbourhood gem about a year ago and hit it every time we’re crossing the border. Eight more bottles purchased here including the coveted Cascade Vlad the Imp Aler 2011 Project. Did I mention you can shop whilst drinking a pint? Yes indeed. The Cascade Chocolate Oatmeal Stout graced my glass. Oh – and for only $2.99. Seriously. They’re currently expanding and have added more seating and soon, more coolers. I can’t wait to see what else they bring in.

Until next time, viva Las Vegas, baby.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Mongozo Pilsner - Gluten-Free Beer is Good!

I was approached by McClelland Premium Imports to sample their Mongozo Pilsner gluten free beer. I agreed to sample it but I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting too much. Then it occurred to me, how do I honestly review the beer and not offend McClelland and Mongozo if it's not good? I’m pleased to report that that this beer is good. That’s right, good. A pilsner isn’t high on my list of go-to beers, nor is anything with gluten-free in the label, but this one they nailed.

The head quickly dissipated upon pouring and has a straw/yellow colour. The beer is crisp, has a clean finish and is lightly carbonated.  This classic German pilsner is slightly sweet and has a light spice aroma.

To all you gluten free by choice or by sore tummies should try this beer. It's sad when gluten stops people from drinking beer and it's great to see some new, flavourfrul beers hit the market. This beer has a lot of flavour and is an enjoyable 5% beer - you really should seek it out. To boot, it’s fair trade and organic. Bonus points for the earth, baby.