Tag Archives: steamworks

Granville Island Cloak and Dagger Cascadian Dark Ale

I was informed today that Granville Island Brewing will soon be launching a new beer in their “small batch black notebook series”, which means brewed by Vern Lambourne on Granville Island.  This beer will be called Cloak and Dagger Cascadian Dark Ale, a name I was intrigued to learn of considering the past furor with Steamworks over the term Cascadia.

cloak and dagger cascadian dark ale

Since the whole cascadia affair blew up last year, I haven’t noticed any new beers coming out using cascadia in either the brand name or descriptor.  As we know, Steamworks has a trademark on Cascadia Cream Ale, which they feel means that no other brewery can use Cascadia as part of their beer brand name.  However, I spoke to Steamworks president Walter Cosman, who let me know that Steamworks had no problem with breweries using cascadian as a style descriptor.  He also indicated that the trademark and it’s protection had a lot to do with fending off the big boys, like Molson.

Interesting that now Molson backed Granville Island is the first brewery to come out and use the descriptor cascadian dark ale on the bottle.  As far as I know, this is cool with Steamworks, but then Molson is the big enemy.  It’ll be worth watching this situation to see if there’s any reaction from Steamworks; do they dare tangle with the legal might of Molson?

More importantly, I hope Cloak and Dagger is really good and that lots of people drink it.  Last year’s version was quite good.  Notably, it was just called Cascadian Dark Ale, whereas this year it has a brand name.

Cheers,

Chris

Change is in the works at Dead Frog

Dead Frog is a misunderstood brewery.  Over their seven year existence they have released many different beers, and have received significant PR, but they have never managed to break into BC’s craft beer scene.  Whether their inability to establish themselves as recognized beer artisans stems from their historically mediocre product line, or the fact that they produce a variant of much hated citrus forward macro lager, doesn’t matter all that much.  Unfortunately for Dead Frog, the craft beer community has never embraced them with open arms. But on the other hand, craft beer fanatics may also feel that Dead Frog has never fully embraced them.  But the past doesn’t matter when change is in the works.

I had a chance to sit down with Derrick Smith and Chris Landsman of Dead Frog Brewery this week. We chatted about what Dead Frog has been up to and what they have planned for the future. They were even generous enough to share some of the new brews that they’ve been working on. I gained a new perspective on Langley’s only brewery while chatting with Derrick and Chris. The team at Dead Frog know that craft beer drinkers love to hate light lime lager; they know their beer line up may not have been up to par in the past, and they are fully aware they have very little craft beer street cred these days. But the story doesn’t end there. Dead Frog is making some changes – they care about their beer, a lot, and they are working hard to re-invent themselves.

Here are a few things that many beer drinkers in BC may not know about Dead Frog:

  • They have a lot of new beers in the works, and some of their more recent seasonal releases have shown dramatic improvement.
  • Dead Frog has a rock star Brewmaster, literally (former drummer for Deja Voodoo), with an impressive pedigree including stints at Quebec’s famed Dieu du Çiel and Vancouver’s much loved Dix. Brewmaster Tony Dewald has been given carte blanche to create beer that he loves, and beer drinkers can expect a noticeable product improvement in the near future. An Imperial Stout, a Northwest Style Red Ale and possibly a Vienna lager will be hitting the market soon. I expect their riff on an imperial stout will be well received by many beer lovers – it is a well brewed beer.
  • They want to build a better relationship with the Vancouver craft beer community. Derrick and Chris know that this will take patience and hard work, but they seem to be embracing the challenge.
  • Dead Frog is going to ditch their clear bottles, opting for the much preferred brown bottle.

Their appearance on CBC’s The Big Decision certainly caused concern about the viability of their business, and the fact that they began contract brewing for Steamworks didn’t help ease this concern. But having chatted with ownership and management, it appears that their business is doing just fine. Keep in mind that reality TV is not objective. It is entertainment driven and sometimes the truth just isn’t exciting enough.

Dead Frog still has a long way to go. But having tasted some of their upcoming releases, which were noticeably better than previous offerings, and seeing their drive to improve first hand, I think they have a real chance at turning things around. So far they are doing the right things and I wish them great success.

Cheers,
Erik

A chat with Steamworks about Cascadia

Last week I wrote a post about the PR problem Steamworks currently has with the craft beer aficionados of BC.  I got into a discussion with Steamworks’ PR firm, who eventually put me in touch with Walter Cosman, President of Steamworks Brewing Company.

Let’s just set this straight right off the bat, I’m not trying to kick up another fuss over Cascadia.  This topic has already been well covered by three comprehensive posts over at Barley Mowat and I’m not intending a rehash (side note: I talked to Chuck last week and he was super helpful and informative in regards to this topic).  My angle is this, why is Steamworks doing (admittedly good) PR when there’s a massive other problem to deal with?  They gave me the opportunity to ask questions so I asked them, what do you plan to do next?

Walter Cosman, President

As I mentioned, Walter is the President of Steamworks Brewing Company.  He called me last Monday and we had a really good chat over twenty or so minutes.  My impressions of Walter are that he’s a really nice guy and that he really cares about craft beer.  He emphasized that he used to be on the board of the BC Craft Brewers Association.  All of my industry contacts echoed my impressions of Walter, though I couldn’t find anyone willing to say anything nice about Steamworks owner Eli Gershkovitch.  Throughout the conversation, I got the sense that Walter and Eli don’t completely agree on how to handle the Cascadia Trademark situation.  It should also be noted that Walter used to work for Molson and then for Granville Island Brewing (his tenure at GIB overlapped with the trademark dispute parent company Cascadia Brands had with Steamworks over Cascadia from 1999-2006).

Apologetic

Walter admitted that Steamworks didn’t handle the Cascadia-gate situation well, by deleting Facebook posts off their wall and not responding to the community right away.  He said their initial reaction was to do nothing and see what happened, which admittedly didn’t work out too well.

Cease and Desist

According to Walter, three breweries were actually contacted to stop using Cascadia in their beer names, those being Coal Harbour, Howe Sound, and Phillips.  Phillips was the only brewery to receive an actual cease and desist notification.  He said he wished they hadn’t sent a cease and desist to Phillips and wouldn’t have done so if it was his call.  Coal Harbour and Howe Sound received friendly calls and were allowed to use up their product, and I’ve heard that Granville Island also received a call, though he didn’t speak to this.

License for a dollar

Steamworks intends to offer a $1 lifetime license of the Cascadia trademark to any Canadian craft brewery, or American craft brewery wishing to sell in Canada, wanting to use the descriptor.  He hopes that this can be sorted out soon, at which point Steamworks will host a Free Cascadia party.  One brewery that will definitely not be offered the $1 license is GIB/Molson. The whole $1 lifetime license deal is dependant on how GIB/Molson reacts.  My question: reacts to what and by when?

Steamworks vs Molson

It sounds like Steamworks has a serious dislike and/or mistrust of GIB/Molson.  I’ve heard that Eli considered the recent GIB Cascadian Dark Ale a deliberate provocation, based on the previous trademark challenge, and that’s why he decided to get all litigious.  Walter definitely billed this as a little guy vs big guy fight, stating that he didn’t want Molson to water down or tarnish the term Cascadia.  He also mentioned that Steamworks wanted to defend the integrity of trademarks and preserve their brand.  As most beer lovers in Vancouver would say, what brand?

Cascadia Cream Ale

If you don’t know much about trademarks, have a read of this excellent post over at hoplog.  Basically, a trademark, when applied to something like beer, should be distinct and recognizable in a specific geographic area.  Meaning that if the Steamworks Cascadia trademark were to be defended, people like us in Vancouver should automatically think of Cascadia Cream Ale when Cascadia is talked about in terms of beer.  For me, and I think for most of us, this isn’t the case.  I was surprised when I found out Steamworks ever even brewed a Cascadia beer, thinking only of Cascadian Dark Ale or Cascadian hopped beers when the term is bandied about.

Looks like, if the beer rating websites are to be believed, Cascadia Cream Ale hasn’t been rated since May 2010.  Thing is, with a trademark, you have to use or lose it.  Funny thing, six weeks after this whole deal blew up, Steamworks Brewpub now has Cascadia Cream Ale on tap.  Turns out that’s just enough time to brew a beer.  Steamworks still hasn’t updated the hastily patched Cascadia Cream Ale entry on their website, which still describes a nut brown.

Craft over Brand

Walter actually said that the craft was more important than the brand, which is definitely contradictory to what’s been going on.  He told me that Steamworks has relented to the point that only beers containing Cascadia in the brand name are now infringing, which means beers using Cascadia as a descriptor are free and clear.  I asked him this directly, and he indicated that Howe Sound Gathering Storm and Phillips Skookum are now okay, whereas these breweries were previously warned to stop using Cascadia.  So there you have it, you can call your beer a Cascadian Dark Ale, or Cascadian whatever else, without worrying about legal action from Steamworks.  I’m guessing Steamworks relented here for two reasons, because of the reaction from the community and because they couldn’t legally stop anyone from using Cascadia as a descriptor.

The Community

I asked Walter what kind of relationship Steamworks now has with their fellow craft brewers.  He said things were initially pretty awkward, but that they’ve patched things up with Howe Sound, Phillips and others.  I also asked about Storm’s Cease and Desist CDA, apparently he’s all for it, and thinks it quite clever.

I reached out to a few brewers for comment and only heard back from Matt Phillips.  He did indicate that he’s now on better terms with Steamworks, but also offered up this poignant quote:

I hate all this trademark stuff, it is the kind of thing that tears apart beer communities, and while I understand the need to protect brands, it still sucks that this seems to be the new normal.

I hear that.  Note that Matt has previously had trouble with Red Truck over Blue Truck (now Blue Buck) and is now rumoured to have Labatt breathing down his neck over Blue.  Yikes, that can’t be fun for a small business owner to deal with.

The Bottom Line

When I asked Steamworks if this Cascadia affair had affected business it all, he said it hadn’t.  Their pub is still busy and their bottles are selling well.  Steamworks also recently hired a new brewmaster and are opening their own brewery, production from which will replace what’s currently contracted to Dead Frog.

What now?

Steamworks still hasn’t released details about their proposed license deal, but have assured me they are working on it.  Seems to me that Steamworks is relenting a bit as they are figuring things out.  I’m guessing they don’t want to get into any actual legal battles and are also finding out what they can and can’t legally protect, hence why style descriptors containing Cascadia are now apparently okay.

Personally, I don’t really care what a beer is called, as long as it tastes good.  I’d drink Driftwood Dog Rapist if it tasted like Fat Tug.

Do the right thing

What I don’t get, also why I wanted to talk to Walter in the first place, is how Steamworks plans to win this situation? They now have a community of brewers and craft beer fans who don’t look too kindly on them, who aren’t going to forget this for years.  Their biggest worry is Molson, who could probably crush them with legal strength.  And Cascadia Cream Ale isn’t even a very strong brand, so is it worth protecting?  What does victory look like for Steamworks?  I was hoping to figure this out when researching this post, but I still don’t see it.

If I was them, I’d give up the trademark right now and throw the Free Cascadia party.  Even doing that isn’t going to win the craft beer community back, but it’s really all they can do to limit damage.

Here’s hoping these sorts of legal actions don’t become the norm in craft beer.  Craft beer in Vancouver is booming and we don’t need this shit ruining the party.

Cheers,

Chris

Steamworks has a PR problem

Steamworks is actually doing some great PR work.  I was contacted by their PR firm in mid December.  They wanted to send me a bottle of their new winter seasonal Blitzen.  Sure enough, the next day a guy dressed as a reindeer showed up at my work to deliver a bottle.  Well played Steamworks, my coworkers were certainly amused by the reindeer guy and a bottle to sample is always appreciated.

steamworks blitzen reindeer

This happened to me at work, totally not embarrassing.

Blitzen itself is brewed in the style of a Belgian tripel, with candi sugar added during fermentation to add sweetness and get the ABV up over 9%.  It’s a pretty good beer, thought not as good when compared to the better tripels actually coming from Belgium.  Problem is, it doesn’t matter how good the beer is or how solid a PR move sending a guy around dressed as a reindeer is.  It all falls flat because of, you know, that whole Cascadia-gate thing.

It’s a known fact that Steamworks owner Eli Gershkovitch trademarked Cascadia and sent cease and desist letters to BC craft breweries using the term to describe their beer.  BC beer geeks consider “cascadian” an adjective to describe a beer given a heavy dose of west coast hops, not a brand to be trademarked.  If you’ve been following the saga, you’ll know that Eli has since agreed to license the term to breweries for $1.  The perception is, true or not, that Eli is a bully out to push around the little guys in the BC craft brewing industry.  Most beer geeks I know are now at one of two ends of the scale, either fervently boycotting Steamworks or ambivalent, neither are likely how Steamworks wants us to feel.

Naturally I asked their PR rep what she thought of the whole Cascaida thing, here’s how the conversation went:

Me:  “Just wondering if you were paying attention to the Cascadia furor regarding Steamworks that was going on a few weeks ago? What do you guys think about all this from a PR point of view? The whole cascadia trademark thing makes it hard for beer geeks like me to love Steamworks.  Best thing you guys could do PR-wise is give up the trademark and hold some sort of cascadian event with local small brewers.”

Steamworks PR: “I appreciate your position on Cascadia.  As you can imagine, I have insight into Steamworks’ side of things and know how supportive they are of independent craft breweries.  They’ve listened to the feedback the consumers had to offer and I think the option put forward by Eli will prove positive for the whole craft community going forward.”

Me: “Thanks for getting back to me on this contentious issue. I don’t actually believe that Steamworks is supportive of independent craft breweries, otherwise Eli probably wouldn’t have sent them cease and desist notifications in the first place. Also, does Steamworks have any plans to win back the craft beer community?  Most of the fervent beer geeks I know have sworn never to drink a Steamworks beer again and they are telling anyone who will listen.”

Steamworks PR:  “I’d be happy to connect you with Walter, President of Steamworks Brewing Company.  He’s a veteran of craft beer here in Vancouver and someone who would be happy to chat further with you on Cascadia… over a BC craft beer of course ;) Please let me know if you’d like to speak to him directly and I will put you in contact with him.”

Me (summarized): Yes, here’s my contact information.

I’m now eagerly awaiting my talk with Walter.  I’m really interested to know how this affair has affected Steamworks business and if Steamworks has any plans to get back in the good books of BC beer geeks.  Maybe they don’t care?  Maybe they don’t need beer geek support to run their business successfully? I’ll reserve judgement until I hear from them and I’ll publish what I learn here.

Cheers,

Chris

Where to drink beer in Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics?

Question:  Where are the best places to drink beer in Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympics?

Answer: The same places as always! Dix, Steamworks, Yaletown Brewing, and the Alibi Room.

Since the Olympics started last weekend I’ve been downtown quite a bit and I’ve had a lot of fun waiting in lines and not getting into stuff.  I never thought Vancouver could get this crazy and I didn’t think the Olympics would be this exciting.  I also never thought I’d feel as proud to be Canadian as I do right now; turns out we throw a good party.  I’m going to have a huge Olympic hangover come March for more reasons than one.

German Fan Fest Vancouver 2010 Olympics

German Fan Fest Vancouver 2010 Olympics

I’ve tried to get into both the Irish House and the German Fan Fest, two of the most popular temporary pavilions setup for the Olympics.  I opted not to wait in line for hours and hours for $10 beer night and I don’t regret my decision.  The atmosphere downtown is crazy enough (just walk Granville or Robson streets) and there are plenty of other reasonably priced places to visit. While I may try German Fan Fest one more time for their Köstritzer Schwarzbier, I’ve had much better luck at my usual haunts.  Both Dix and Steamworks have provided me with the Olympic atmosphere, TV’s to watch the events, tasty beer at reasonable prices, and, most importantly, a seat.  I’ve also heard that the Alibi Room has abandoned their no TV policy, bringing in some tubes to watch the events on downstairs.  I walked by Yaletown Brewing and it was packed out with a line forming outside.  If you are looking for a beer downtown in the next week or so, try the regular places for quality beer.

Good times at Quebec House

Other Olympic venues I’ve visited include LiveCity Yaletown and Downtown, neither of which serve beer, not even $10 cans of Canadian!  I found them a bit boring and, unless you are really into the musical performance going on, not really worth waiting in line for.  Quebec House was pretty cool.  I was excited to hear they had Quebec microbrews, but then disappointed to find it was Archibald Microbrasserie.  I hadn’t actually heard of them (neither had my French Canadian coworker), it was that the beer didn’t taste very good, especially not for $10.  What made Quebec House worth visiting was the 7 Fingers, who were like a little Cirque du Soleil.  I also got a kick out of Saskatchewan Pavillion, which appeared to me to be a big tent full of bored/drunk looking people dressed in Rider green.  The $8 Pilsner didn’t float my boat either.  Once place I’d really like to check out is Atlantic Canada House, who I hear have brought in top notch maritime brews by Propeller and Garrison.  I hear it’s a good time there too.

Skunky Pilsner and Rider Pride at Saskatchewan Pavillion

I hope to be able to provide further insight after another weekend of engaging in Olympicosity.  Go Canada go!

Cheers,

Chris