Monthly Archives: August 2012

Russell Blood Alley Bitter

BloodThe Russell Brewing Company is a strange  dichotomy.  On one side, under the Brewmaster Series, Russell produces some of the best local beer available in British Columbia.  The popular Brewmaster Series includes IP’eh, Blood Alley Bitter, Black Death Porter, Angry Scotch Ale and a few other seasonal releases offered in 650 ml bomber bottles.  Opposite to the Brewmaster Series, is the substandard Session Series, where mild beer is sold in a standard six or twelve pack format.

When Russell Brewing first opened, all that was available was a relatively tame offering of Cream Ale, Pale Ale and Light Lager.  As the brewery grew a number of their original flagship products were placed under the Session Series category and have remained a Russell Brewing staple to this day.  Aside from the the Session Series’ timid nature, quality and consistency has been a common problem – off flavours, including soured or stale beer are standard complaints.  It has been a number of years since I last purchased anything from Russell’s Session Series, and I can’t say whether these problems have remained.

When Russell first released  650ml bottles of IPA, Porter and ESB, I was sceptical.  Having had a number of disappointing experiences with other Russell products, my expectations were low.  It turns out my scepticism was unwarranted – the Brewmaster Series has been a great success since its launch a number of years ago.  Consistancy has not been a large problem and the flavour profile across the entire series is excellent.

Having achieved enough success with Blood Alley Bitter to justify a larger scale offering, Russell began selling their near IPA strength ESB in standard 341ml bottles.  This is most likely a move to appeal to the much larger  six-pack beer drinking segment.  On my way home from the office this afternoon I picked up a six pack of the new Blood Alley Bitter.  Having recently opened the first bottle, I am  disappointed.  The aroma is minimal, and the beer tastes mildly oxidized with an unpleasant sour finish.  It is Friday, I’m tired from the work week, and perhaps I am just plain wrong, but I am quite certain the 341 ml offering is of a lower quality than the limited release bomber offering.  Anyone else have a similar experience?   It seems whoever is responsible for Russell’s larger scale brewing operations has not put the same level of work and care into the new large scale Blood Alley Bitter.

I’m hoping this is a rare one-off situation.  However, I would not be surprised if corners have been cut in order to make the new Blood Alley Bitter a more large scale friendly product – lets hope this is not the case.



European Craft Beer Pub Guide

I’ve done a lot of travelling in the past few years and I made an effort to seek out fine craft beer establishments wherever I went.  I was reminiscing with a friend the other day and I thought I might as well post a list of my favourite European craft beer drinking establishments.  Keep in mind that this is not an all encompassing list, but a list of places I visited and liked.  That being said, I truly believe these are the cream of the crop and that any beer enthusiast should seek them out.

Mikkeller – Copenhagen, Denmark
The impressive and cosy bar of the Danish craft beer geniuses.  What impresses me most about Mikkeller is their creativity and range.  They also server American and other European craft beers in their bar.

‘t Arendsnest – Amsterdam, Netherlands
You could argue there are better beer bars in Amsterdam, but this is this only one that serves only Dutch craft beer.  The bar itself is a beautiful wood paneled brown cafe located right on a ridiculously pretty canal.

Delirium Cafe – Brussels, Belgium
It’s grungy, smokey, crowded and you’ll never want to leave.  The quintessential Brussels beer bar is famous for it’s massive beer list featuring almost every Belgian beer available.  The staff are super knowledgeable and also rude.  I remember being scared to order, but it’s worth it in the end.

‘t Brugs Beertje – Bruges, Belgium
The classic Bruges brown cafe.  I highly recommend watching In Bruges then heading to this place for a gay beer or seven.  It might not be the best beer bar in Bruges, but it’s the classic and a must visit.

Akkurat –  Stockholm, Sweden
Surely the best beer bar in Sweden, featuring craft beer from around the world and from Sweden’s burgeoning craft beer scene.

Bir & Fud – Rome, Italy
Serving only Italian craft beer, this place is in the hip Trastavere neighbourhood of Rome. I didn’t know Italy had a craft beer scene until I visited this place, turns out craft is taking off in Italy.

Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà – Rome, Italy
Across the street from Bir & Fud, this place takes care of the rest of the world and serves top notch stuff from Northern Europe and America.

Craft – London, UK
Can you believe I lived just over a mile away from this place and I only went there twice? I should be punished.  Founded in the summer of 2011, this place immediately became the top beer bar in London.  They have the very best from all over the world; tons of Mikkeller, English and American stuff.

Brewdog – London, UK
The punks at Brewdog are on a pub opening tear in the UK.  The London joint opened in December and has been packed since.  Features tons of Brewdog one-off stuff, as well as quality craft from around the world.

Oktoberfest – Munich, Germany
Okay, not a pub, but an essential and amazing experience.  I found most German beer halls to be very similar, so why not enjoy them at their grandest scale.  I went twice and I’d go again at the drop of a hat.  Check out my experience.

't Arendsnest in Amsterdam

‘t Arendsnest in Amsterdam, loved it

Brewdog Camden

Us guys at Brewdog, I miss it so bad

Delirium Cafe Brussels

If you can’t have fun at Delirium Cafe, just suicide yourself now

I went to a lot of fantastic pubs in Europe, but these are the standouts from a beer perspective.  Let me know if you think there’s somewhere else I need to go, I only need an excuse…



Beer PR

We regularly receive press releases from brewers and PR companies.  Some releases come direct from the brewers themselves while others from sophisticated PR firms, but the message is almost always the same: We have something new (usually beer) and we think what we have created is pretty cool.  Would you like to share this news with your readers?

Sometimes beer companies send free beer (and a glut of coasters, glasses and other shwag) with a news release, which is appreciated.  Occasionally the beer is great, but usually not so much.  I still have a tall can of Great Western Original 16 (noticeably bad beer) sitting under my kitchen sink and despite my alcohol induced glass shattering habit, I still have three cupboards full of branded beer glasses.

The rules of the beer PR game are simple, yet many companies fail to get it right.

  1. Beer needs to taste good for people to care and talk about it.  A PR campaign will fail if the product it is supporting is sub-standard.  Make great beer, tell people about great beer.
  1. Just tell us about your company, your beer and what you are up to. Promotional campaigns succeed when the campaign is relevant to the beer. Schwag and gimmicky PR campaigns that have little to do with beer do not build awareness that sticks.  This does not mean anyone should communicate in a matter of fact or boring manner, but it does mean the message and the product need to be aligned. Humour can be a great tool, but it has to relate to beer in some way shape or form.
  1. With enough money, rules one and two do not apply.  Rule three is pretty much  reserved for the big brewers (unlike Budweiser, craft brewers cannot and should not sponsor professional driving events such as NASCAR).

I say all of this because I want craft brewers to succeed. The world of beer marketing is dominated by a few giant corporations with deep pockets, balanced by thousands of small brewers, which also happen to be growing quickly.  Too often craft beer PR fails, which in the end hurts the craft beer movement.  Make delicious beer, talk about it and repeat.




Liquor regulations in BC have changed.  British Colombians can now bring their own bottle of wine into select BC restaurants and enjoy a more affordable, potentially more palatable drink.  This could make drinking cheaper.  Society might just come apart as public drunkenness becomes an affordable luxury causing a plague of alcoholism, consumption and hysteria to sweep through Canada’s western most province. Will this be the end of us?   No.  A corkage fee anywhere from $5.00 – $60.00 will apply helping to ensure that getting drunk in a restaurant remains expensive.

To generalize, many North Americans share the opinion that alcohol is dangerous (it’s the devil’s water) and that we best protect ourselves from overindulgence and excess by heavily regulating the sale and consumption of all spirituous beverages.  I do not share this opinion.  I believe alcohol should be treated like everything else we eat.  Eat, Drink, Enjoy – too much and one will get fat, too little and life loses its luster.

I am happy to see liquor laws deregulated.  It is just alcohol after all.  We have been drinking the stuff since we stopped hunting and started farming.

Missing from the BYOB regulation change is bottled beer. Some beer fans are a bit upset about this, and rightly so. CAMRA is actively lobbying for craft beer to be including in the BYOB deregulation.  As a beer geek, I would like beer to be included in this movement and I wish CAMRA success in their efforts.  But with the current messaging, I think the odds are against CAMRA succeeding.   The CAMRA campaign is titled Bring Your Own Craft Beer or BYOCB for short.  The name in and of itself poses a problem; it is exclusive.  Most British Columbians don’t drink craft beer; they drink no-adjective-necessary beer. This campaign has effectively cut out the majority of BC beer drinkers and, as a result, CAMRA’s voice is small.

I enjoy helping people drink better beer and I am a strong supporter of better beer for the masses.  Food and drink is an important part of my everyday life. I believe by appreciating the small things, such as great beer, life becomes that much more enjoyable.  Including Beer in the BYOB movement would be great, but the quality of product and the size of the brewery have no merit with the BYOB movement.

BYOB – Bring Your Own Bottle, beer or wine.  Remove the C from BYOCB and the odds of success will increase.  Just my thoughts on the matter.