The Stanley Park Story

Craft beer is about more than just beer, it is a story about how David stood up to Goliath and won.

In the industrial era the primary purpose of a factory (brewery) was to keep capital equipment at full capacity and to realize economies of scale and scope, which when done right should make the factory owner rich. When the industrial revolution began, brewers got bigger and bigger, competition increased as did efficiency, but margins were squeezed and compromises were made, beer became nothing more than a widget in a macro economics model. This was not the high water mark for beer. Industrial beer did not taste good, but the story does not end here.

We fought back. We fought with our dollars, wallets in hand. With our fists defiantly raised skyward, we said no more to factory beer – we spent our hard earned cash on quality products, local products, a beer that was anti-corporate. Quality and flavour were the key drivers behind the craft beer movement. But there is more to the story than a fight for flavour – we also wanted to know who was brewing our beer, we wanted a relationship with people, with brewers, local businessmen making a difference in our communities, not corporations. Integrity before profits was as much a part of the movement as the beer itself.

Some craft brewers get the later part of the story all wrong. They hire talented brewers to make tasty beer, create a story that they are sure is going to impress, go to market and… Surprise! The people who they expected to be their biggest fans, are now their foes. What happened they ask? Why don’t you like me?

Small brewers, with little marketing budget, cannot create stories in the same way corporations do – they just don’t possess the fire power to sell a brand. All that the small guys have is authenticity – their people, and their product. The people who work hard to brew a beer that they love are the brand. The employees and owners who work at small craft breweries are part of the new food movement – this ever growing food revolution is about people who work hard to make the food we eat and the beer we drink, not corporations selling nutrition. Anyone who considers themselves to be part of this food revolution finds corporate rhetoric off-putting. We want our neighbours making our food, even if it means we pay more for it.

I was invited to a beer dinner at CRAFT last week featuring Stanley Park Brewing. The beer was good to okay, as were the pairings. But this is relatively standard in the world of beer dinners. In the past I have been very critical of Stanley Park’s smoke and mirrors approach to branding. I have been to Stanley Park and I have yet to find the brewery. I understand that in 1897 a Belgian immigrant made beer in Stanley Park, but I fail to see the connection between the two. Many beer drinkers saw what I saw, and we pointed our collective finger at this new brewery and said – you are one of them! No matter how good the beer was (it was just okay), Stanley Park was the bad guy. Consumers felt lied to, we were sold a story that lacked authenticity, which is exactly what the industrial brewers do. But if we let the story end here, we would be doing the beer community a disservice.

Stanley Park has hired a new Brewmaster – Todd. He is a good guy, same goes for all of the Stanley Park staffers who joined me for an evening of food and beer. Todd’s newest release, a mild aromatic Pale Ale (by West Coast standards), is a notable shift from the mild and slightly Belgian beers that have traditionally been on offer. The entire team at Stanley Park wants nothing more than to brew good beer – they could care less about 1897. They are locals, working hard to make something they are proud of. Sure, they haven’t done themselves any favours by building their brand on a false story. But we all make mistakes.

Stanley Park’s story is slowly changing, and they no longer claim a connection to the 1897 brewery. Stanley Park Brewing doesn’t aim to be the craftiest craft brewer, they just want to make good tasting beer that people enjoy drinking.

Is there a conclusion? Not really, but here goes. When in doubt tell the truth, and spend your time making something you are proud of. But most of all, don’t listen too much to the critics, they’ll just drag you down.



Beer at the World Cup in Brazil

I’ve just arrived in Brazil to take in the World Cup! As a soccer fan, this is one of those bucket list things I had to do. As a beer drinker, I did some advanced scouting to figure out what to expect down here. Turns out Brazil has a bit of a craft beer scene in the bigger cities like Rio and Sao Paulo; there’s even a Delirium Cafe related to the Brussels one in Rio. Also, a fair number of Germans migrated to Brazil over the years and the town of Blumenau has the second largest Oktoberfest in the world, after Munich.

So Brazilians do drink a fair amount of beer, and some quite good beer at that. However, they don’t drink at soccer/football games, because alcohol is banned at stadiums country wide. Not at the World Cup though, since Budweiser is a major FIFA sponsor. FIFA sent me a food and beverage guide for the stadiums ahead of time. Bud and Brahma will be available, so not great, but at least it’s relatively affordable by western stadium standings (R$2 ~= $1 CDN)? I do like that FIFA has added some local specialties to the menu, if not local beer.

Beer at the world cup in brazil

Who cares though? I’m in Brazil for the mother effing World Cup!



Finally, Beer on TV is good

Yesterday CTV featured local craft beer on their morning show, link here. This happens from time to time; local beer gets featured on TV, usually by somebody not quite in the know. What’s different this time? The beer they featured is all really good beer with serious beer nerd credibility! We’ve finally made it, craft beer is just regular beer in Vancouver now.

Craft beer on CTVThe beer they talked about:

  • Steamworks Pilsner
  • Four Winds Saison
  • Driftwood Fat Tug IPA
  • Central City Imperial Porter

That’s a lineup that I’d dive right into, and it was featured on regular mainstream TV. Happy Vancouver Craft Beer Week!



Double Morning Gold

It is a good day to be Canadian. We rose early this morning to watch our fellow countrymen systematically do what they do best, play hockey at an elite level. The weather was even onside – rare Vancouver snow fell to the ground in true Canadian fashion as our men took home the gold. Today is a day of Canadian stereotypes. We really do love hockey – a lot.

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Hockey Love!

The game started at 4:00 AM and ended less than three hours before the sun had a chance to rise. Needless to say, my day has had two mornings – an early hockey morning followed by the ‘sun has been up for hours post-nap’ morning. With victory in hand, what are we as a nation supposed to do with ourselves? Watch the sports media say good things about our countries’ favourite game, make a sandwich, and drink beer. But to keep the victorious stereotype alive, make it an all Canadian super sandwich.

Bacon, the maple kind of course, and smoked salmon BLT club with an egg – a nod to Canada’s hockey gold double-morning. A sandwich and morning friendly beer – Central City Brewing ISA – is a good choice.

Today is our day. Cheers Canada!


BC Barley Wine Throwdown!

Winter is barley wine season, so I went out and grabbed every annually released BC barley wine I could get my hands on. Trouble is, it’s tough to drink a whole bottle of barley wine on your own, what with the high alcohol content. It’s even tougher to drink five, so I had a few friends over for an epic barley wine THROWDOWN! What that really means is we drank a bit of each one, in full comparison mode.

bc barley wine

Our contenders

A few years back, a tasting like this wouldn’t have been possible. It’s only in the past three or so years that we’ve seen barley wines regularly released by BC’s top breweries. What with breweries popping up seemingly every month, I’m sure there will be even more to choose from next year. Note: I don’t count Russell’s one off Nautical Disaster or Scandal brewing’s offering as annual barley wines. I don’t even count Scandal as a real brewery, nice try Pacific Western, can’t fool me.

I’ll start from the top, so as to highlight BC’s finest examples.

1. Central City Thor’s Hammer 2011

Hand’s down the best, though we cheated on this one. Our bottle was a 2011, since no recent batches have been bottled, though you could get 2013 at their brewpub in January. This year’s Thor’s Hammer probably would have won anyway, since it’s always outstanding. A year in the cellar (2011 was actually released in bottle’s in late 2012) didn’t hurt though, this beer was incredibly smooth and had an amazing depth of flavour.

2. Howe Sound Woolly Bugger 2012

Another cheat, we had a bottle of 2012 kicking around, so we tossed it into the mix. Turns out aging barley wine is a good thing to do. Woolly Bugger 2012 smoked the pants off 2013. It was just so much richer and smoother to drink, dangerously couldn’t taste the alcohol at all.

3. Granville Island Barley Wine 2013

Note to everyone, you can still buy 2012/13 verticals of this beer at the better beer stores around Vancouver, so go buy some. This is a really solid barley wine, very fruity and malty. Despite drinking this guy fresh, the liquor was well hidden by the body of the beer. Another great seasonal from Vern at GI.

4. Driftwood Old Cellar Dweller 2013

A fantastic beer, but is it a barley wine? We didn’t rate this one very highly because it didn’t measure up to the other barley wines, mostly because it more closely resembled a super imperial IPA. There’s little to no malt character of fruitiness. It pours golden in colour and hops are very prominent. Amazing aroma, but just not a barley wine. It will be very interesting to see how this one ages.

5. Howe Sound Woolly Bugger 2013

Another solid barley wine, but it just didn’t compare favourably to 2012. You could taste the alcohol and this one was sharp, where 2013 was smooth. This is going to be a great beer in six months to a year.

6. Phillips Trainwreck 2013

Quite clearly the loser in our eyes, and the only one I don’t recommend trying. I’ve enjoyed this beer in the past, but 2013 had that metallic taste Phillips has become known for. Tasted hollow in comparison to the others.

What did I learn? I like barley wine a lot. Also, aging barley wine is a great thing to do.