Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Tides of Change: Craft Beer is Booming

BEER IN LONDON WAS JUST OKAY

When I moved to London in early 2010 I thought I was going to a beer mecca.  I mean, what beer nerd doesn’t hold the English ale in high regard?  While London does have a fantastic social pub scene and numerous epic historic/cosy pubs, the beer itself wasn’t what I expected.  In Vancouver, we revere cask beer, but then the cask beer we get here is almost always incredibly fresh and of very high quality.  In an English pub, there are always at least three beer machines pumping cask ale, but how long has it been sitting there?  I’ve consumed enough stale english ale to last me a lifetime.

BUT THEN IT GOT REALLY GOOD

I did my best to find cool beer stuff in London, seeking out highly regarded pubs, hitting up GBBF, and otherwise searching for good beer (Uto Beer had the only good selection in town). Then BOOM! three new craft beer joints opened up within two miles of my place.  It just goes to show you that people are starting to demand craft beer, even in a place like London where lager is consumed by the bucket-full after work.  Craft, The Euston Tap, Brewdog, and The Kernel all started up in London after I got there, and these are epic places.

AND IT’S GOOD OTHER PLACES TOO

While in London I travelled to other places in Europe as much as I possibly could. I loved the traditional beer cultures of Germany and Belgium, but I also noticed that other countries are starting to forge their own craft brewing traditions.  I had an incredible time checking out awesome beer places in Amsterdam, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and even Rome, among others.  What’s interesting is that craft beer establishments all have something in common, they are very young.  The idea of craft brewing is relatively new and it’s spreading throughout the world.  We can trace the roots of craft beer back to the CAMRA movement in the UK during the seventies.  Strange though that the Americans really took craft and ran with it, showing us the way.  We on the west coast are lucky to be situated so near epic beer towns like Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco.  Even in these places, craft beer didn’t get going until the eighties.

BEER IS EXPLODING IN VANCOUVER

Now I’m back in Vancouver and BOOM! doesn’t do the local beer scene justice.  Beer has exploded all over the lower mainland.  It’s tough to find a restaurant worth eating at that doesn’t serve craft beer. My non beer nerd friends have impressive selections in their fridges.  The Big Ridge Liquor Store in Surrey has a selection that rivals Brewery Creek.  I went to a Belgian Beer pairing dinner at Uli’s in White Rock last night (in White Rock! that’s crazy). We have a Vancouver Craft Beer Week (coming soon, buy tickets now) and a BC Craft Beer Month.  There are all sorts of new BC breweries like Hoyne, Tofino, Parallel 49, Townsite, and Coal Harbour, not to mention beer bars sprouting up all over the place.  It’s not just the Alibi Room anymore, though it’s still the best in my opinion.  Then there are numerous cask nights and events listed every week in the CAMRA Vancouver newsletter (which you should subscribe to).  And when I left there were only a few local beer blogs kicking around, but now there are at least twenty.  There are too many cool things to list, but I think you get the idea.

Craft beer is becoming mainstream around these parts.

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?

I think there are quite a few reasons craft beer is taking off.  Most importantly, craft beer tastes better. It’s probably healthier too, though I can’t prove it.  Craft beer tends to be made with just the four key ingredients, whereas many macro lagers aren’t even vegetarian (so what else is in them?).  Craft beer is also relatively local in that it is brewed locally by locals and hops and water come from here (barley comes from the prairies).  After the financial crisis, I know I’d rather buy beer from that guy I saw at the pub than a giant international purveyor of piss water like AB InBev.  Vancouver is also lucky to be a laid back place where creativity flourishes.  The craft beer influence from nearby Seattle and Portland surely doesn’t hurt either.

What I like best about craft beer is the passion.  Erik summed up his passion for craft beer perfectly.  Making beer is hard work and not all that lucrative hereabouts.  To brew beer you haver to absolutely love it, and our brewers do.  This shines through in the local community and I think people appreciate it.  I sure do.

Brewdog in London, drinking beer is fun

Brewdog in London, drinking beer is tasty and fun

PERSPECTIVE

I’ve noticed some people getting really worked up about beer lately.  I think it’s important to remember that beer is an extracurricular activity in our culture.  It used to be food, but now it’s just fun.  When I saw CAMRA’s FUSS Campaign (which I do agree with in principle), I wondered why people care more about serving sizes than helping people who actually need help?  In the grand scheme of things, beer isn’t a real issue.  That being said, BC has the stupidest liquor laws on the planet. In Germany, everyone drinks in parks and it’s considered civilized.  I want that.

Cheers,

Chris

Australia: Beer in Sydney and Brisbane

I recently spent a few weeks in Australia, driving down the East coast from Cairns to Sydney.  Australia immediately reminded me a lot of Canada, just warmer and more tropical.  Australia also reminded me a lot of the UK and there’s a good reason for this.  Unlike Canada, immigration to Australia was almost exclusively from the UK and Ireland until the fifties.  As such, Australia boasts much more of a pub culture than Canada.  It’s possible they’ve taken drinking and partying to levels beyond those of the old countries.  People in Australia love to party. When you throw in some pretty nice beaches, you might say I enjoyed my time there.

You know what?  Nobody in Australia drinks Fosters, or at least I never once saw any. Australians do drink a lot of beer though, and I was mostly impressed with the selection.  The area between Cairns and North Brisbane is not densely populated.  We stayed in a few small towns along the way down and most decent bars and restaurants had a quaffable beer selection.  There were many macro lagers available, but also tasty pale ales from Coopers, James Squire, and Fat Yak.  We did encounter the odd craft beer as well, particularly at higher-end restaurants.  The most common craft brand we came across was Pretty Things, from Fremantle, Western Australia.  You can buy their beer at the better Vancouver beer stores.  One other note about beer in Australia, it’s very expensive, like $5 for a ~300ml ‘schooneer’ or $10 a pint, yikes.

Archive Beer Boutique bar in Brisbane

Archive Beer Boutique bar in Brisbane

It wasn’t until Brisbane that we found a truly fantastic beer bar.  The Archive Beer Boutique menu lists hundreds of Australian beers of all different styles.  I noticed that most of the breweries were located in the southern portion of the country, where the climate is more suited to brewing and drinking interesting beer.  I was disappointed that our beer was served in chilled glasses, no need for those if you want to actually taste beery goodness.  We had a Bridge Road IPA and a Holgate Chocolate Temptress.  Both were good, though not as impeccable as what can be found here on the west coast of North America.

Beers at Archive Beer Boutique in Brisbane

Beers at Archive Beer Boutique in Brisbane

In Sydney we visited the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel, which was established in 1841 making it the oldest active brewpub in Australia.  It’s highly recommended to stay there, though we didn’t.  The location is fantastic and the establishment is very atmospheric, like a classy English pub.  We tried each of their beers, preferring the Nelson’s Blood Porter and the Old Admiral Strong Ale.  The beers here were brewed in the English style and, while good, did not especially stand out.  I still recommend a visit here.

Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel in Sydney

Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel in Sydney

Rachel enjoying a schooner at Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel in Sydney

Rachel enjoying a schooner at Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel in Sydney

Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel in Sydney

Australia is too hot for me, can you tell?

We also visited the Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe in Sydney, an upscale brewpub.  I found the atmosphere to be very strange.  The downtown Central Business District location might have something to do with the overall stuffiness of the joint.  Not to worry, it’s all about the beer and they had a good many styles available.  We tried the Kolsch, Honey Ale, IPA, and Framboise Foment.  All were good, none were outstanding.  I can’t say I loved hanging out at this place; it lacked the cosiness I expect of a brewpub.  If you’re into beer, it’s still worth checking out if in Sydney, but don’t plan a day around it.

The bar at Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe in Sydney

The bar at Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe in Sydney

Beers with Rachel at Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe in Sydney

Beers with Rachel at Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe in Sydney

Framboise Foment and Kolsch at Redoak

Framboise Foment and Kolsch at Redoak

Australia was great, but it’s good to be back in BC.

Cheers,

Chris

Beer in Thailand and Cambodia

I recently spent some time in Thailand and Cambodia, which are very cool places that just happen to be far too hot. As ever on my travels, I made an effort to observe the beer scene.  You may be surprised to know that beer is the most commonly consumed alcoholic beverage in both of these countries.  There are a few reasons for this, those being that beer is relatively cheap, wine spoils in the climate, and beer can be served icy cold.  Those locals who can afford to drink, drink locally made beer.

There were many times when I felt like I absolutely needed a beer because I was so freaking hot.  In Canada, we beer nerds often lament marketing that promotes subzero beer temperatures, and for good reason.  In Southeast Asia, such advertisements are most appealing.  Many establishments often serve beer with ice in it, which might seem sacrilegious to us westerners, but is almost necessary in the tropics.  One downside is the health risk ice made with sketchy tap water poses.  I chanced my wellbeing on many occasions, if only to feel a few degrees cooler for a few moments.  I didn’t die once.

Drinking Chang on Khao San Road, so hot in Bangkok

Drinking Chang on Khao San Road, so hot in Bangkok

We mostly came across lager beer, as befitting the climate, but did see the occasional import ale from prominent beer drinking countries.  I never ordered one, considering that beer quickly warms up to above room temperature within minutes, practically spewing condensation all over the place.

Most of us are quite familiar with the few Thai beer brands because we frequently come across them in western Thai restaurants.  Change, Singha, and Leo rule the roost, mostly because the only competition comes from locally brewed Heineken, Tiger for India, or Beer Lao from Laos.  We started off ordering regular Chang because it was the cheapest and it was cold and it didn’t really matter what it tasted like.  We paid about $1 for a 330ml bottle and $2 for a 650ml bottle.  We quickly tired of regular Chang (terrible tasting adjunct lager) and switched to Singha and Chang Export, which are made with actual malt and taste much better!  We weren’t really saving much money drinking the cheaper Chang.  Chang and Chang Export are brewed by Thai Beverage Plc and Singha and Leo are brewed by Boon Rawd Brewery, both in Bangkok.  Nothing to write home about beer wise, though I’m doing it anyway.

Sweaty Singha in Koh Samui

Sweaty Singha in Koh Samui

In Cambodia, we mostly drank Angkor Lager, which is similar to Chang and would also cost about a $1 or less.  I was pleased to find that Angkor brews a very tasty Export Stout, which is a very high alcohol stout.  Many former British colonies brewed high alcohol stout (to prevent spoilage in the tropics, alcohol kills bacteria), but Cambodia was a French colony. I haven’t been able to figure out why Export Stout exists in Cambodia, does anyone know?  The other beer available in Cambodia is Kingdom Pilsner, which was also fairly generic.  Both Angkor and Kingdom breweries are located in Cambodia.

Angkor Lager in Phnom Penh

Angkor Lager in Phnom Penh

If you know nothing of Cambodia, educate yourself.  The Khmer Rouge regime killed more than 25% of the population and almost all modern Cambodians are missing family members.  Cambodia was a decent place before 1976 and is now one of the most corrupt and poor countries in the world.  Worse, the US aided the Khmer Rouge before they took power and recognized them as Cambodia’s official government well into the 90s. Most Cambodians have lived and still live a life of poverty and terror, with no help from the west.  As such, tourism is one of the biggest industries in Cambodia and Cambodians make most of the clothes you are wearing.  Despite all this, Cambodians are friendly happy people.  As a westerner, think about Cambodia the next time you hate your life because you’re stuck in traffic or because of something else trivial.  Above all, go visit Cambodia and do some good with your extra money.

Angkor Export Stout?  Horray!

Angkor Export Stout? Hooray!

Cheers,

Chris