Let’s call this my Craft Beer Manifesto.
Or my own little “I Have a Dream”. Not to compare myself to MLK by any stretch.
But I DO have a dream. It’s a dream of craft beer relevance for Canada, BC in particular.
As most, if not all of you know, I am originally from San Diego, one of the 4 or 5 most important regions in the world for craft beer innovation. San Diego gave birth to the “West Coast” IPA and the Double IPA. San Diego is home to close to 30 craft/microbreweries and brewpubs. San Diego, if it was a country, would rank in the top 5 award winning beer regions in the world! Stone, Ballast Point, Alesmith, Green Flash, the Pizza Port/Port Brewing/Lost Abbey family, Alpine Brewing, just to name a few. Vinny Cilurzo, head brewer at Russian River Brewing and one of the most innovative and influential brewers in the US, got his start in the San Diego area.
Aside from the big hoppy IPA’s and Double IPA’s, San Diego has been a huge contributor to the recent influx of barrel aged beers. While Firestone Walker in Paso Robles may be the one of the pioneers of barrel aging, the innovators in San Diego have taken it to new heights. Tomme Arthur at Lost Abbey/Port Brewing is one of those innovators. He has outgrown his original 30 foot by 30 foot barrel room (floor to ceiling) and has leased space in another building to hold the HUNDREDS of barrels he is practicing his brewing alchemy with. Stouts, porters, IPA’s, Barleywines, and the numerous Belgian/farmhouse ales go into various barrels for aging. Bourbon, Brandy, Chardonnay, Port, Sauterne, Scotch, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon are just a few of the many types of barrels he is experimenting with.
Chuck Silva at Green Flash has added a barrel room to the brewery, Alesmith has been barrel aging Speedway Stout and Old Numbskull for years. Most, if not all of the San Diego area brewers are using barrels or some form of oak treatment to their brews.
Many of the breweries are creating sour beer as well. Kriek and Lambic and Geueze and Flemish Sours highlight the list.
Belgian influenced beers; Dubbel and Tripel and Saison, Grand Cru and Farmhouse Ales, not to mention hybrid styles like Belgian IPA’s.
Black IPA’s, Hoppy Brown Ales, even a Black Pilsner have emanated from these brewmasters.
Another area where San Diego has been deeply involved is the collaboration beer. Lost Abbey and De Proef, Stone and everyone it seems (Nogne, Cambridge, Brewdog, Dogfish Head, Kona, and more). There have been so many collaborations with so many great breweries around the world, I can’t keep up.
I guess my point is not to brag about how great the San Diego brewing scene is, but to encourage the brewers of BC to jump on the innovation train before it passes by.
There are a handful of brewers here in BC who are thinking outside the box, but they are vastly outnumbered by the traditionalists. I have spoken to many of the brewers locally and I often think that they (or more specifically their bosses) greatly underestimate the palate and intellect of the Canadian beer drinker.
Yes, most Canadian beer drinkers drink mass produced swill. But then again, so do most beer drinkers in the US and Europe. The difference is that in the US there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of craft brewers and brewpubs committed to making world class beer. Over the past 5 years, craft beer has grown as a market segment by double digits anually. The big 3 (which used to be AB, Miller and Coors) have seen their mass produced, watered down excuse for beer lose market share every year. That is just one of the many reasons for all of the mergers and partnerships between the macro brewers in the past 2 years. (AB-Inbev, Molson-Coors, SAB-Miller, even Miller-Coors have a working relationship in North America)
Notice to BC brewers: Adding fruit to your hefeweizen is not innovative! For the past few months it seems like every craft brewer in BC rolled out a fruity wheat beer. I can think of at least 5 or 6 who were pouring/distributing a raspberry wheat beer at the same time! While not a bad concept, you would think that at least a few brewers would go against the grain and do something different. Even at the recent Caskival at Dix, 6 of the 24 beers served were fruit infused versions of established beers. That’s 25%!
Also, adding honey is not very innovative either. Honey Lager, Honey Brown Ale, Honey Pale Ale, the list goes on and on. Yes, honey is a wonderful adjunct and I have used it myself in my homebrewing, but slow down people! I am also aware that Maple Syrup is one of Canada’s flagship products, but there have to be more creative uses for maple syrup than Maple Cream Ale!
I am encouraged that some brewers are experimenting with various forms of tea in their brews. Daniel Knibbs at Dead Frog won the Peoples Choice Award at the recent Caskival for his Sahti Pale Ale. (See, Canadians do have discriminating tastes!) Yaletown’s Iain Hill is making great use of tea, as his Darjeeling Pale Ale is wonderful.
Look, I am by no means saying that BC brewers are not good brewers. Quite the contrary, I think there are some very good brewers locally. In addition to the brewers above, James Walton at Storm Brewing is brewing some great beers, including his barrel aged Geueze and Currant Lambic. Gary Lohin at Central City makes a world class IPA, R and B has a kick ass Bohemian Pilsner, Tree Brewing has an excellent IPA, Driftwood in Victoria has a wonderful Dubbel, Phillips Brewing has one of my personal favorites; the Black Toque India Dark Ale (although they just came out with a light beer, bowing to the masses).
Bottom line, I have yet to have a BAD beer here in BC. I have had the pleasure of sampling dozens of GOOD beers. None of these breweries and brewpubs would stay in business long if they served a bad product. It’s just that other than the few listed, I haven’t had many GREAT beers.
It seems that every brewery and brewpub has the same basic lineup of beer; A European (Mostly German) Lager, Wheat Beer (Wit or Hefeweizen), Pale Ale, English Style IPA, Cream Ale, Brown Ale or Porter, and a Irish/Dry Stout. Like I mentioned earlier, you get a few twists here and there, like all of the raspberry/blueberry variations of the wheat beers, the occasional Barleywine and sometimes an Oatmeal or Export Style Stout. Again, it’s not that these aren’t good beers, it’s just that they’re not GREAT beers. And honestly, they’re a bit boring after a while. What’s the inspiration to go to one brewpub over the other when you know they all serve basically the same beers?
The other thing BC (Vancouver in particular) is missing are many beer bar/tap houses. I mean, other than The Alibi Room and Amber Jacks in Surrey, who has more than 15 taps? Who has 150 bottles on their bottle list? Not to keep beating the same dead horse, but San Diego (similar in size to Vancouver) has at least 10-15 places that meet the criteria set above. Just a few hours south in Seattle, I would venture that there are at least a dozen places. There is one area of San Diego which boasts several places with 20-30 taps and 200-300 bottles, all within walking distance of each other!
And God forbid that you live in the suburbs like I do, there is NOTHING even close. I have to drive/travel 40+ minutes just to sit in a pub and have a good beer!
At least there are several bottle shops where I can go pick up interesting beer. Brewery Creek, Firefly and Viti come to mind. But once again, in the suburbs…NOTHING! (Although I hear that Firefly is opening a store in Maple Ridge).
But you see, I DO have a dream.
I dream of a Vancouver that elevates itself into a World Class beer destination, like San Diego, Denver, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco or even Boston.
I dream of a vibrant beer scene, where you have a local watering hole that serves world class beer (either a brewpub or tap house, doesn’t matter) within 20 minutes travel for everyone.
I dream of brewers who are not content to brew good beer, but aspire to make truly GREAT beer! (Again, this is not an indictment of the local brewers. I believe that every one if these local brewers is incredibly talented. I would give almost anything to be in their shoes! Many are simply held back by management.)
I dream of brewers collaborating to make interesting/experimental beer together.
I dream of more of these terrific brewers thinking outside the box.
I dream of an active brewers guild/association that truly bands together to promote BC Craft Beer.
I dream that maybe I could be a small part of this Craft Beer Revolution, either as a brewer, publican, or even just a proselytizer.
I dream of being somewhat of a Johnny Appleseed of Craft Beer, facilitating/galvanizing the collaboration of breweries, both here and in the States. (I am already working on a cross-border collaboration between Tree Brewing and Green Flash, cross your fingers!)
I dream of a real local beer festival (like the Canada Cup, only more focused on local and craft beer), where local brewers are inspired and incentivised to participate.
Now I guess the question is; How do I realize these dreams?
I have somewhat of a plan in place. In just a few weeks 2 of my 3 boys will be in school, which means my daycare costs will be manageable. It will also give me the time to get out and try make shit happen.
I plan on going out and meeting every brewer (those that I haven’t already met) in the GVA, both to beg for a job and to encourage them. I plan on badgering my local pubs and watering holes to carry more local beer. I plan on working with people like Norm Eng from Beer Thirst to get more amazing craft beer from the US and beyond here in BC. I plan on being more active in CAMRA. I plan on contacting the organizers of the Canada Cup to see how we can elevate it into a must attend event for beer fans.
Most of all, I plan on continuing to do what I do; proselytize about craft beer. Be as invloved as I can in the local scene. Tweet about it, write about it. Make the BC beer scene something people want to know about.
And I encourage every beer geek, beer fan, and casual drinker of craft beer to do the same:
Get out, drink local, encourage and thank your local brewer.
Participate in the local beer scene.
Seek out and attend local beer events, get to know your fellow beer fans.
If you tweet, tell people about the local beer. If you blog, tell people about the local beer.
It’s going to take more than 1 or 2 people to become a beer community.
Get out and plant those seeds!
Andy the Beerman