Friday, June 14, 2013

Vancouver Craft Beer Week 2013

It’s here! The week a lot of us Vancouverites adore and our livers dread, it’s Vancouver Craft Beer Week! Nine days of gluttonous beer fun. Ticket sale day arrives, we all drop everything and check out the events and then purchase Hoppapalooza tickets at the Alibi Room. Once those are secured, we purchase other events.

So what tickets did I purchase?

Opening Night sponsored by Craft Beer MarketTotal Cost $51 (no additional cost for drink tokens)

Craft Beer Market is currently renovating the Salt Building in Olympic Village and they predict they’ll be open this summer. I hear, though, that the building hasn’t begun noticeable renovations yet so the quickly looming summer date may be a wee bit aggressive. We’ll see.

The opening night was chalked full of BC Breweries including seven new breweries (two that haven’t officially opened) and ten faithful favourites.

New Craft Breweries
  • 33 Acres Brewing (not yet open)
  • Bomber Brewing (not yet open)
  • Bridge Brewing
  • Deep Cove Brewers + Distillers
  • Four Winds Brewing
  • Main Street Brewing
  • Powell Street Craft Brewery

Faithful Favourites
  • Central City Brewers + Distillers
  • Driftwood Brewing
  • Hoyne Brewing
  • Lighthouse Brewing
  • Merridale Ciderworks
  • Parallel 49 Brewing
  • Red Truck Brewing
  • Spinnakers
  • Steamworks Brewing
  • Vancouver Island Brewing

Having the new breweries in attendance was the biggest draw for me. I love a number of the older kids on the block but frankly, spending fifty-one clams to drink the standard line up from these breweries is a bit expensive. But this event isn’t about pleasing the beer geek who has had everything on tap, it’s about the entire Vancouver scene and the place was packed. Every table had a modest line-up so they brought the right breweries to the event and it certainly pleased the masses. For lots of people in attendance, it was their first Lighthouse or Driftwood beer and now, they are part of the converted. Muwahahahaha

Nigel and Conrad from Brassneck & Don from Bomber tapping the cask

Central City brought their Red on Red collaboration with Flying Monkeys and damn it was good! I also had a number of beers from Spinnakers as that’s one brewery that I haven’t had the pleasure to sample before now – and they have great beers.

As for the new breweries, I didn’t try them all but the stand-outs to me were: Four Winds (Saison and IPA), Bomber (ESB and Pilsener), Bridge (Seymour White Ale) and Powell Street (Old Jalopy Pale Ale, Powell Porter). The Quick Wit from Deep Cove, I’m sorry to say, was not for me. Something seemed to be seriously off with that beer. Sorry Deep Cove, I’ll try another beer from you in the future and hope this was just a one-off.

We ran into a number of friends at the event and had a fabulous time. Great event!

Saturday, we took the day off from VCBW festivities. Well, sort of. We hosted a bottle share at our place and sixteen of us shared about forty-five bottles. I think we lost count and since someone is a label addict, the bottles weren’t all there in the morning to soberly count. The mess was still there, mind you… This was a non-sanctioned VCBW event but seemed to fit in well with the liver destruction for the week.

Hoppapalooza at the Alibi RoomTotal Cost $51 (no additional cost for drink tokens)
Sunday. Sunday morning. Early Sunday morning. Ok, a bottle share maybe wasn’t the brightest idea since we had the morning session of Hoppapalooza but with Gatorade in hand, we hopped back on that beer horse and were lined up at the Alibi by 10:45. This year, Nigel hosted two amazing sessions during the day in order to give more people the opportunity to attend.

The list included 22 casks (that’s right, I said 22), 41 taps and a special bottle list from Nigel’s cellar with bottles as old as 2008. Man, I wish I was a cellar rat as I’d crack open his beers and be one happy, yet drunk, rat. I digress. Four hours of four ounce samples seems like ample time to sample but sadly, there were so many more I wanted to try when we ran out of time. Another spectacular event at the Alibi Room with music, a big bowl of chili and a fantastic selection of beers. Thanks Nigel!

Monday – liver recovery.

The Commons at the Alibi Room
Tuesday night – not a VCBW event, but since Sean Burke the brewmaster from The Commons was in town, their importing agent Beerthirst saved some tables for anyone that wanted to pop in and meet Sean. Alibi had six taps dedicated to The Commons and I happily sampled all of the ones that haven’t been available to us until now. Alongside Sean was Carston Haney , the head brewer from Alameda (another one of my favourite Portland breweries) and Brent Mills from our local Four Winds Brewing also joined the table. A casual night with a full list of 50 taps for our enjoyment. An evening at the Alibi Room is always a great night even when you pack it in early, as I did.

Portland Craft Total Cost $51 (no additional cost for drink tokens)

Wednesday night. Sixteen Portand kegs. One girl. On a mission. I chose to accept said mission and had a four ounce taster of all sixteen beers. I started with the seven that I hadn’t had before and then polished off the list, one delicious beer at a time. It’s good to have goals, people.

Since VCBW co-founder and organizer Chris Bjerrisgaard baby is Portland Craft, you knew it would be a great event. Brewers were present from Alameda Brewing, The Commons, Gigantic and Ninkasi. Hearty appies were flowing from 5pm to 8pm. By 9:30, half an hour before the event finished, I’d accomplished my goal of all sixteen beers and we decided to head home. An hour commute and 5:45 am alarm doesn’t make the Canary a happy girl come morning.

Thursday and Friday – no events for us. Liver rest.

Finale at River Rock sponsored by Earl’s and the Donnelly Group Cost $40 for admission + 3 tasters, additional tasters $1.25 each

Fifty tables of craft beer, a warm spring day, DJ jazzy jeff and the fresh prince on the stage (dating myself here and no, it wasn’t them DJ’ing), food carts…. add in puppies and unicorns and that’s pretty close to a perfect Saturday, me thinks.

Breweries in attendance were local, USA to Belgium. 1,500 people in attendance, all moving within two large tents and an outside eating area in the parking lot. It was the perfect spot to have this as it was transit friendly (Bridgeport stop at the Canada Line) and a large area that you would be hard pressed to find in a building. My husband and I shared samples so double our pleasure, double our fun… as we got to try twice as many beers as the other suckers. Per usual, I headed for what was new to me and had some great beers from Elysian, Storm, Lighthouse, Bomber and Powell Street. I missed out on some beauties from Elysian, Four Winds and Bomber that either tapped out Friday night or before I got to their table on Saturday. Curses!

After the event, we headed to the Curve Lounge at River Rock and enjoyed the Elysian tap takeover for a couple of pints. When we left to feed the dogs, the party was just getting started including the volunteer/after party which, I understand, was a blast. No surprise there!

I was asked multiple times – what was your favourite event? That’s not an easy answer. Hoppapalooza was amazing, as always, and it’s always a signature event I don’t want to miss. However, the other events had their charm and were all fabulous in their own unique way. I think we picked the right amount of events to go to (and not be useless at work the next day) as well as the variety. Sure, we could have gone to more great events but that’s the beauty of nine days of VCBW – there’s something going on every day and every event sold out. Every event. Sold out.

That’s a lot of craft beer drinking love in Vancouver. So when people say that Vancouver is about to hit craft brewery overload, I say bullshit. We like variety and I may love your beer, but I’m not going to drink it every day. I say keep the new breweries and beers coming and I hope that the BC industry stays friendly. I’ve seen/sensed some less than friendly interactions recently. Collaborate, don’t compete. Please. There’s room for all of you and we will give you equal love. xoxo

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Serious Beer Course

A couple of years ago, I put my name in the hat for best wife of the year and bought my husband the Pacific Institute of Culinary Art’s Serious Beer Course. I think I won that wife thing. When I had a break from my MBA courses this year, I thought it was my turn to take the course.

So why did I take it? I’m pretty passionate about drinking craft beer but I wanted to learn more about the brewing process, history and the styles of beer I love so much. Sure, I could just read Randy Mosher’s book, Tasting Beer, as it is the text used for the course, but I felt I’d absorb a lot more with an instructor and a group of fellow beer geeks in the class.

Chester Carey teaches the course and is a graduate from PICA’s Culinary Arts program (2005). He has his Sommelier certification and is also a Certified Cicerone® - in fact, he was Canada’s first Certified Cicerone®. This guy teaches, judges beer, sells beer (at Brewery Creek Liquor Store) and is part of Re-Up BBQ – one of Vancouver’s popular food carts. Quite the slacker, I know…  Chester’s insight, culinary background and extensive knowledge of beer, tasting notes, food pairing, history etc. makes for a perfect instructor.

The course is eight weeks of serious beer education. It runs Wednesday evenings from 6:00 – 9:00pm at the PICA location on Granville Island. You literally have to walk through one of the kitchens to get to the classroom – good luck walking through and not wanting to graze on the yummy food the students are making. Side note, the culinary team serves inexpensive meals in their restaurant and has a catering division.

Our class of fifteen consisted of people like me who wanted to learn more and perhaps, take the Cicerone® exam one day, those in the industry (beer reps, liquor store sales, restaurants) and home brewers. One third of the class was women, which was awesome to see. We all had a passion for craft beer and other than the two (a couple) who mysteriously dropped out after the third lesson, we had a consistent group with good dialogue. About the couple who left, she was in the food and beverage industry and when he introduced himself he said that he liked beer and there was no way he was going to let his girlfriend know more about it than he did.  Stay classy, Neanderthal.

The class structure each week would start with a slide presentation on that lesson’s topic followed by discussion and then beer tastings! Each night, there were six beers to taste that would complement the lesson. At the end of every class, you were sent away with chapters to read. Here’s how it played out:

Lesson One – Beer Basics, History, Introduction to Beer Tasting

Guess which was used as a "base line" (no taste) beer?

Lesson Two – Brewing Process and we made a German Wheat beer!

Lesson Three – Belgian Beers

Lesson Four – German Beers

Lesson Five – Food Pairing and Off Flavours (beer was also bottled)
Sadly, I missed this lesson (to attend a sour dinner at Biercraft…) and I heard it was fantastic. The culinary students whipped up a beautiful meal that Chester paired with the beers. I’m going to try to sit in on this lesson when it’s held in the fall as I was truly disappointed to miss it. Not only the pairings, but I really wanted to learn more about the off flavours in beer. It’s one thing to read that Diacetyl is buttery but I want to experience the actual taste.

Lesson Six – British Beers

Lesson Seven – North American Beers

Lesson Eight – Final Exam!
Yup, there’s an exam and it covers everything we learned in the last eight weeks. Multiple choice, fill in the blank, short essay questions and a blind tasting where you need to identify the style, the actual name of the beer (if you can) and produce tasting notes. Chester has had over 150 students write this exam and up until now, only two students guessed two of the beer names/styles exactly. A twenty-one year old culinary student guessed all four of them. I bow to you, young grasshopper, what a palate!

There were two quizzes given with the grades not recorded, but it gave you a good sense of your knowledge of the material and what to study for the final. No spoiler alert on what classes had the quizzes...

The final exam is a pass/fail (70% +) and I’m happy to report, I passed!  I’m a Serious Beer graduate and I can’t wait for our weekly reunion parties. That’s happening, right Chester?

The cost of the course is $499.00 (tax deductible), so not a drop in the bucket, but it’s a great course and it definitely gives you a solid platform to build your beer knowledge on. Chester indicated that he plans on doing a Level Two of this course that would include building a draught line, writing beer recipes, making those recipes and working with the culinary team to put together a tasting menu. Those are the highlights I recall and I’d love to take it once time permits. I believe the first offering will be this fall and the perquisite will be noted – i.e. taking the Serious Beer Level One, Beer Industry Professional, Brewer etc. – as this course will assume you have a good knowledge of beer and brewing.

I had a great time in the course learning, tasting and meeting people who are passionate about their beers. So sign up, be a beer geek graduate, and watch the PICA site for the Level Two course!