How I got more interested in Craft Beer

It all began in 1993 when I began at UBC. I was 18.75 years old and had 2 night classes. After my Thursday eve class I’d accompany my older classmates for some pool at the graduate lounge and we’d have the occasional beer or 2. What I had never been exposed to (having never been old enough to buy been in a bar) was Shaftebury Cream Ale. That was my gateway craft beer.

Flash forward to 2014 (just 21 years later) and I made the Telus Storyhive pitch to do a micro doc about craft beer.  Being totally not an expert, I required a sizeable amount of the grant funding to go towards research. Meeting the makers, the dreamers who were just building out their new breweries, and bringing my editor and “writer” out on frequent occasions to accompany me on my research trips.

What came out of that journey was my film Brew Love.

 

 

Getting the opportunity to chase the story and meet many of the new brewers was a lot of fun. Being that I had recently relocated to North Vancouver, I was a little North Van-heavy on my interviews (including Green Leaf Brewing, Black Kettle Brewing Company & Deep Cove Brewing), but I wasn’t exactly lazy. I even met with John Mitchell (who coincidentally lives in North Van) who co-founded B.C.’s 1st craft brewery Horseshoe Bay Brewing (with Frank Appleton). I also made it out the BC Beer Awards, met the crew from Strange Fellows who were still building their brewery, got down to Yaletown Brewing and caught Tariq’s interview just before he became a distiller, found time to grill notable beer enthusiast Dave Shea (who let me give him that title), met the Thirsty Writer Joe Wiebe (who had to summarize the history of the BC craft beer scene in under 60 seconds) and gathered a couple of cool members of the CAMRA Vancouver executive at the time. I also got into the guts of Craft Beer Market while it was being built to try and understand why someone was about to open a facility in Vancouver with 140 taps…I was doubtful at the time that it made sense, but I was clearly wrong.

Graham_WithWhat was really interesting was that Telus did not demand exclusivity, so the film was free to tour the film festival circuit. And it was just after I’d learned about a Vancouver-based easy submission platform called Film Freeway. It made festival submissions a snap, especially helping me find the free ones. And surprisingly enough the film got some serious play. Enough that I needed to make an English subtitled version and provide a timed transcript…because someone may want to show it in the Ukraine.

Dave Shea
Dave Shea speaks Russian. With the help of subtitles in a Planetarium in Ukraine.
The film played at 25 official film festivals, as well as pop-up screenings, beer festivals, and several of Joe Wiebe’s events, and even featured at a BC Business conference called The Business of Craft Beer.

The film’s continued success was satisfying – enough so that I thought we might be ready for a short piece on our local distilling scene (I had just discovered Sons of Vancouver), but traction was hard to get on that one.

Ultimately I got onto a lot of invites to really interesting craft beer events and met many more people in the scene…and it’s been hard for me to lose interest the more I learned.

So this blog, which is a pretty ego-centric concept, is my next craft beer project since I’m enamoured with the idea of bringing all these pretty bottles and cans to someplace to special.

 

 

Kool it with the Ks

Aug_Long-19

My Kölsch awakening moment came years ago at the mighty Black Frog in Gastown where they were pouring Mount Begbie‘s offering. Amazingly I’d never had an authentic German version first, so my understanding of how this beer should be was determined by that BC craft beer. And it was amazing – my gold standard. I learned that it’s a hybrid beer that uses a lager technique with ale yeast. And that can taste really good, or also really bad. When I found Begbie’s Kölsch, there weren’t many others on the market from B.C. In the last 24 months there have been many new arrivals, with mixed results. So when I found Red Arrow Brewing‘s offering on Vancouver Island, I figured it deserved a chance to be test driven in the Cariboo.

Being that my first experience with a Kölsch was on a Summer day in Vancouver, I figured it best to try it on a hot day to give it a real chance. And add in that feeling when there is no way anyone within 500 km has access to one of these bad boys and I was standing there holding the only bottle of this quaffable quart, a gentle feeling came over me. That sensation that no one has yet had this experience up here, and that as the first one to do so I am incredibly privileged. If it doesn’t suck.

And fortunately on many levels, it doesn’t suck. It was a little sweet, but still Cariboo-thirst quenching and went down easy. It had a slight maltiness that wasn’t familiar with this style in my experience, but it was interesting.

My only dislike was the name, using a K in place of a C on a word felt very American, or maybe it hearkens to Chopper culture of which I know nothing. But other than that, I kant komplain about it at all.

I’d like to be under the sea (Subaquatic domicle IPA)

subaquatic-2.jpg

It’s fortunate that I live only 1 km from Hearthstone Brewery in North Vancouver because I’m able to get some of the limited release craft beers that can sell out in a single day. These are the kinds of beer that I’d literally bet my life on that no one has taken to the Cariboo before. So it was with that completely unreasonable satisfaction that I decanted this beauty and propped the can on a post for later BB gun practice. It’s definitely a good looking beer, but because it only comes in short cans it doesn’t stick around long enough to get a photo of it in a glass. At 6% ABV it’s nearly sessionable, but you wouldn’t catch me trying to fire up the 1972 Mitsubishi tractor with a can of ether after drinking a couple of these, nor drink the can of ether and use these as a tractor starter.

And with the moniker Subaquatic Domicile IPA there is a certain irony of drinking it on a ranch. However just 5 minutes down the road, Nasa has actually been doing some deep water work (Kelly Lake is 700 feet deep), meaning that this beer could be highly relevant around Kelly and Pavillion Lakes. In fact should the Pavillion Lake Research Project start up again, I may need to ask Hearthstone to put these in tallboys because deep water exploration might need to rely upon efficient can size. And I like tallboys.

I can drink 4 Mile(s) and miles

4Mile-2a

While I wouldn’t walk 500 miles for any beer, I would stroll to one of my beer caches and collect something that’s never alighted in the Cariboo before. This particular beer, 4 mile Brewing‘s Cactus Grapefruit IPA has the unusual additive of cactus, which seems rather thematically related to the dry Cariboo region. It also has grapefruit in it, which isn’t at all a Cariboo thing. Like many of craft beers that I bring with me on my trips, this one is an India Pale Ale (IPA).

Flavour-wise I could not discern cactus to save my life. Likely because I have no idea what cactus juice tastes like. Also probably because the grapefruit is pretty potent (no idea how much of that is influenced by the hops). But on a warm night in British Columbia’s gold rush region, where you could not find a bottle of this beer anywhere to save your life, I was smugly sitting there and decanting this brew into my glass. Smug not just because most other beer in the region wears the moniker “America” on it’s can, moreso because not one person has got to enjoy this beverage before in the Cariboo. It’s amazing how context can affect taste, and in this instance I liked it that much more because I am the first person to ever drink this beer in the whole region.

This is blog post #4 and It’s amazing how I never tire of proclaiming to be the first person to drink a specific beer in the Cariboo.  And not one person yet has written/tweeted/phoned to contradict my claims, meaning that I’m surely right and the proof is online. Thanks for enjoying pictures of my craft beer conquests in my favourite place.

Don’t kramp my style

Krampus_Strange_Fellows.jpg

Is there ever a wrong time to drink a good craft beer? I fondly recall an era of ignorance while growing up where some loud guy at a party I was dragged to by one of my parents would pronounce what the “correct” wine was to pair with a specific dinner. Like all generations to follow, we’ve mostly disregarded if not laughed in the face of conventional wisdoms imparted to us by these older folks.

It was in that spirit while hunting in the root cellar of our Cariboo farmhouse (where I secret away a few choice bottles) that I chanced upon a bottle of Strangefellow’s Krampus. It was a July evening when I looked down at this promise of malty bliss, imagining the scorn of the small minded who might only drink this in the Wintertime, and carried it upstairs to share with a fellow weekend ranch-hand. I took a photo just as light was falling and we decanted it into a couple of 25¢ beer glasses that I’d purchased at the local thrift shop (always shop local). We both leaned back into our camping chairs and inhaled deeply. There was the promise of sweetness without the threat of burning alcohol – not bad considering its 8.5% abv. Sipping slowly at first and then not so slowly second, third and even fourth time, we both were enjoying this Belgian bomb of a beer. It was the antithesis to the usual IPA roulette we play when sharing beer and it was an excellent surprise. When the temperature has actually fallen 15 degrees, it might just be the perfect moment to crack a Christmasy craft brew, even if that means its still 15 degrees out.

And maybe more importantly since there are no verified cases of anyone ever taking down 750ml of this exceptional brew anywhere in the Cariboo at any time of year, I’m not just the first to ever have it here, but also the first to have it in the Summer. Double win, blog premise justified.

So the next time someone tells you what beer to have when or with what or even with whom, tell them to stuff it and drink what you wish when you wish.

Like pocket aces, I’m feeling overconfident about this one

 

Vic_Park-1

It’s not just NOT every day that you enjoy a pale ale from Prince Edward Island while firing up the BBQ in the Cariboo. It’s the kind of thing no one has ever done before. I mean, I haven’t exactly called the PEI Brewing Company and asked, but I’m feeling it’s a virtual guarantee that I’m the first person to ever drink this here. It might seem an inconsequential thing to you, but to me there is something pioneering about it. In the fun sense of pioneering, since likely nothing that was really pioneer-era would have been any fun. And drinking Vic Park pale ale is way more fun than clearing fields by hand or skinning goats.

Now about that beer – I’m a pale ale kind of guy. I judge a brewery by it’s pale ale. And my first introduction to this Atlantic-Canadian offering was well received.  There was something familiar about it – a citra-hops kind of familiarity, but it definitely differed from our West-Coast pale ales of British Columbia.

But more important than the malts that make it is the context in which it was enjoyed. A friend had stashed this in her luggage and flew this across Canada to me, where I in turn drove it 414 km to our little piece of paradise. I then added it to the beer fridge knowing I could grab it when it felt like the right moment. And that moment came at about 4:15pm on a milder day when the temperature had waned to about 23 degrees. I was charged with getting the bbq ready and feeding the kids. But before they were to come back from the lake I had the opportunity to sit and ponder with this pint in hand. And sitting in the Cariboo, surrounded by historic buildings and everything old and beautiful, is a good kind of place to drink a great craft beer. Some beer is great for conversation. This particular pint was good for pondering. I’m not saying that if you were to have this beer (if you could even get your hands on it) that you’d need to drink it alone. But for me, in this place, it was the right thing to do. And do it first. And to enjoy the monumental sense of “one small sip for man, one giant…”. Because no one in the history of the world has done this before.

Vic_Park-3

My Knotty Blonde Experience

Aug_Long-20

I was heading down to see why the 1972 25hp Mitsubishi tractor wasn’t turning over when I stopped by the roadhouse beer fridge (there are plenty of beer repositories on the ranch property – 3 fridges, a bar fridge, and the creek). Fishing amongst the bombers I pulled this answer to a hot day from Old Yale Brewing.

Blonde ales usually interest me and while I’ve been disappointed on many occasions, the times I’ve been completely satisfied have all outweighed the let downs. Which is partly why I took a chance on this one. The other reason is that it wasn’t until we’d reached Hope that I’d made the mental calculation that I wasn’t carrying enough beer for the weekend. Fortunately I know of a cold beer & wine shop that occasionally carries Old Yale products amongst their towers of unpalatable offerings. So that’s how this one came to be with me – partly out of lack of choice, partly out of interest.

So back to the tractor that I know nothing about. I know it takes flaming ether to get it going. And I know well enough not to play with ether or…fire. I also know that with it’s little lean-to shelter, that tractor is a mighty fine seat to take, looking out on pasture areas with elbow propped on the steering wheel, imagining all the years of work ranchers have done with this old rig. And with a stalk of hay lazily dangling from my teeth and a crisp, flavourful craft beer in hand, I get to have an amazing moment of appreciation. For the beer. For the setting. For the beer in that setting. And sensing that while I may be the 200th guy to sit in this old torn up seat, I’m also the first guy to quaff this brew in all of the Cariboo. And at 28 degrees out while I’m working up a sweat by just sitting still, it’s a hell of a good thirst quencher.

So if you are ever somewhere really hot and have an inoperable tractor to sit on and a place out of sight so your inlaws can’t see you shirking responsibilities, this is a great beer to have in that moment.

I drank pink beer and I liked it*

Spinnakers Raspberry

There are many cans of great beer out there that never see the light of day. Not that they go un-consumed, but rather it’s easy to just drink them straight from the can and miss the complete experience – aesthetic pleasure, aroma etc. Often with beer I’m familiar with, I skip the complete presentation aspect when I’m up here or if it’s just too dark to appreciate around the camp fire I don’t bother decanting. Spinnakers Raspberry Lager was one of my recent purchases where I wanted to know just how pink it would be. Knowing that all good craft brewers use pure ingredients and that this one would never use artificial colourants in their products, I figured I’d be able to tell by looking just how much raspberry would be in the beer. I like fruited beer when it’s subtle, but too much fruit and I feel you’ve ruined the beer. So it was with a little excitement and worry that I decanted my first tallboy of this offering and stood back to examine it.

Let’s back up a step and ask me why I bought pink beer in the first place. A 4.5% lager with some pink fruit additive. I’ve been spending time in the Cariboo for several years now, coming up in every season. And if there’s one thing you can count on up here it’s a pretty high, dry heat on the July long weekend. Like 35C on a hot one. It was 33.8C at the peak today, which was around 4pm. So down in North Vancouver at Toby’s Liquor Store, I was trying to imagine that perfect, early hot evening, thirst-quenching kind of beer when I chanced upon this 4-pack from Spinnakers. I knew I had several IPA iterations from Port Moody’s Twin Sails Brewing, a new IPA from Steel & Oak, and a whole mess of random bombers, some old stuff left over from New Years (the cellar at the ranch house keeps a uniform temperature year-round), but not much in the light/sessionable category.

So pulling a chilled can of raspberry lager at 4:45 PM and sitting some in shade at 29 degrees, this felt like the right 8 IBU hit at the right time in the right place. Because context is everything. It would not taste the same at -19C while I was stoking the wood stove.

The entire premise of this blog is staking claim to be the first person to enjoy a specific craft beer in British Columbia’s Cariboo region.  Partly because most of these beers are so hard to find and consumed so fast upon release, I doubt many ever travel far. And Partly because the liquor stores that I’ve come upon up in the Cariboo carry a lot of Bud and Kokanee. But mostly because it’s a fun claim to stake and until I’m proven wrong, I’m the first. So here it is – I’m the first guy to drink Spinnakers Raspberry Lager in the Cariboo. Live with it.