Tag Archives: storm brewing

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

Turns out I share an office with Chris of Truecask.com

Last Friday I was told we’d be having an afternoon wine tasting at work.  Being rather busy and not being able to drink much (what with the lengthy commute vast approaching), I wasn’t particularly enthused.  But what the heck, right?  Missing an hour or two of work on a Friday afternoon for some wine snobbery can’t be all bad.  The tasting was put on by our neighbors with whom we split an office.  We’d just moved in and I hadn’t met many people from the other company, save the pit bull who tries to bite my nuts off every time I go fill up my water bottle in the shared kitchen.  Turns out he’s a friendly dog once you get to know him, but he takes a while to warm up to developers.  The owner of said pit bull ended up being Chris Bjerrisgaard, fellow beer enthusiast and author of local blog Truecask.com.  What are the odds?  Pretty good actually.

Chris schools us in beer

Chris schools us in beer

Anyway, Chris brought some beer along to the wine tasting and schooled my colleagues in the finer points of beer.  He brought along Driftwood Farmhand Ale (a Belgian Saison in style) and Storm’s 12 year aged fruit lambic, two fine beers.  It was a pleasure to meet you in person Chris and thanks for sharing your goods!

Cheers,

Chris

Dix Winter Extreme Caskival 2009

The 2009 edition of the Dix Winter Extreme Caskival took place this past Saturday and was a rousing success.  There were twenty or so casks of delicious beer on hand, locally brewed and delivered fresh by our illustrious local brewers.  I do believe I enjoyed a 4oz tasting glass of each, but I can’t be sure because my memory of the latter hours of the event are now a bit difficult to grasp.  You see, most of the beers at Dix were higher in alcohol than your typical fair at an average of 8% ABV or so.  Consumption of each available beer resulted in the impairment of my mental faculties.  I apologize to those I may have bumped into or spilled beer on, my bad.  Although I’m hardly to blame for these transgressions considering that Dix was absolutely packed with craft beer lovers.  Future Caskivals may requires a larger venue, which is good news in my books.

Onto the beer, my favorite was the wildly creative Mole Poblano Ale from Storm.  It  was brewed with chipotle peppers, ancho peppers and chocolate!  I would never have thought to combine mole and beer, nor would I expect the combination to taste good.  However, Storm brewer James Walton managed to marry the two (both complicated and intensive concoctions in their own right) into a spicy, chocolaty winter brew.  I’ll admit that I didn’t find the Mole Poblano Ale to be the best tasting beer, but it got my vote for being the most interesting.  I was also very fond of the Taylor’s Crossing Christmas Cake, which did indeed taste like Christmas cake.  This beer won the brewers choice award with R&B‘s Auld Nick taking home the people’s choice.

I took this one crappy iPhone picture well into the event when I realized I wanted to blog but wouldn’t have any pictures.  Once again, I fail.

Dix Winter Extreme Caskival

Here is a list of the other beers that were at the event:

  • Central City: Imperial IPA
  • Crab Alley: Dead Pine IPA
  • Dead Frog: Oaked Winter Warmer
  • DIX: Barleywine
  • DIX: Imperial Stout
  • DIX: IPA
  • Driftwood: Blackstone Porter
  • Granville Island: Jolly Abbot Belgian-Style Tripel
  • Howe Sound: Father John’s Winter Ale
  • Longwood: Doppelbock (9.5%, Aged 8 months)
  • R&B: Auld Nick Winter Ale
  • Russell: Spiced Winter Warmer
  • Swans: Legacy Ale (a Barleywine. Aged on oak for the past year)
  • Spinnakers: IPA (charged with sweet wort and dry-hopped with Magnum hops)
  • Storm: Mole Poblano Ale (Chipotle and Ancho peppers with chocolate)
  • Taylor’s Crossing: Festbier (a strong Vienna lager spiced with Juniper berries)
  • Taylor’s Crossing: Christmas Cake (an amber ale flavoured with molasses, traditional brandied fruits, and Christmas spices)
  • Whistler Brewhouse: Dave’s Damn Dangerously Drinkable Double IPA (8.5%, 70 IBUs, Dry-Hopped with Cascades)
  • Yaletown: Le Nez Rouge (a Belgian-style tripel. Iain’s choice of yeast results in a spicy, clove-like character)
  • Yaletown: Oud Bruin (Iain’s pièce de résistance. A Flemish sour brown fermented with 6 cultures in total. Aged on oak since January!)

For more info and likely some post game recap (including non crappy pictures), check out the event’s Facebook page.  For those of you who didn’t attend, keep your eyes open for the next caskival (likely the summer version in August); this is the best beer festival Vancouver’s got.

Cheers,

Chris

Dix Summer Caskival

Erik and I attended the Dix Summer Caskival with the wives last Saturday and it was really fun.  It was by far the best beer event I have attended in Vancouver, thanks to the plethora of good beer on hand.  My only complaint was that, like most beer events in these parts, it started too early.  I understand that its tough to take over a restaurant on a money making Saturday night, but starting a beer event at noon means that drinking beer is all you are really going to do that day.  It was really good times nonetheless.

We arrived at Dix a bit before noon and queued up with the other eager beavers.  We’d heard that arriving early was a good idea to ensure no delicious cask beer went untasted.  We were not disappointed and had unobstructed access to the many creative brews available, which were:

  • BigRidge Brewery Creek Dry-Hopped Lager
  • Central City Red Racer Double Dry-Hopped Empire IPA
  • Dead Frog Raspberry Bulleit Bourbon Nut Brown
  • Dead Frog Sahti Pale Ale
  • Dix Double IPA
  • Dix Raspberry Blanche
  • Dix Oak Aged Barley Wine
  • Dix Dunkel
  • Dockside Pilsner
  • Driftwood Wit/Saison Blend
  • Howe Sound Blackberry Nut Brown
  • Longwood ESB
  • R&B Raspberry Sun God Wheat
  • Russell Blueberry Wheat
  • Russell IP’eh!
  • Spinnakers Cranberry-Orange Ale
  • Storm Rollicking Red Nose Raspberry Apple Cider
  • Storm ‘Root of All Evil’ Root Beer
  • Swans Oaked Scotch Ale
  • Taylor’s Crossing Oak Aged Mad Scow Stout
  • Taylor’s Crossing Dry-hopped Red Truck Lager
  • Yaletown Cider
  • Yaletown Oud Bruin
  • Whistler Brewhouse Woodward’s IPA

For the cost of $20 ($15 for us CAMRA members), we received admission to the Caskival, a nifty tasting glass and three tasting tickets.  We purchased quite a few more tasting tickets for $1 each and we didn’t want to waste any, which meant that we tried almost all of the casks on hand, save a few of the lagers.  My two favorite beers were both from Dead Frog, who represented the valley well with their two entries.  I find that tart/sweet fruit flavors go well with nut brown ales, which is why I liked the Howe Sound Blackberry Nut Brown as much as Dead Frog’s Raspberry Bourbon Nut Brown.  However, my particular favorite was the Dead Frog Sahti Pale Ale.  Sahti, a traditional Finnish beer made with unmalted grains including barley, wheat, rye and oats and flavored with juniper instead of hops, was a beer I’d never had before.  The Dead Frog version tasted strongly of pine, but in a good way.  Other particular favorites of mine were the Driftwood Wit/Saison blend and the R&B Rasberry Sun God Wheat, both because they were a little out of the ordinary.  There were ten other beers there that I really liked, but listing them all would simply mirror most of the above list.

In the end, I do believe that the Dead Frog Sahti Pale Ale won the Golden Spile award for brewer’s choice (a spile is a small wooden peg used to control the flow of carbon dioxide out of a cask).  Erik and I both voted for this one, which must mean we have exceptional taste.  The Golden Bung award for drinker’s choice went to Storm‘s ‘Root of All Evil’ Root Beer (a bung is like a cork for a cask).  I too enjoyed the Storm Root Beer, mostly for the novelty of drinking a beer resembling the common soft drink.  A worthy choice, but not my favorite.

We ended up leaving the Caskival a little early, but more than satisfied, to hunt down some pizza.  We were definitely feeling the effects of our tasting and were not particularly productive the rest of the day.  Still, I can’t wait for the Dix Winter Caskival, where I’ve heard the beer is twice as adventurous.  I did take a few crappy pictures of the event with my iPhone (forgot the camera, shoot), here they are:

The wait to get in, a tad early in the day...

The wait to get in, a tad early in the day...

Casks on the bar, before the crowd arrived

Casks on the bar, before the crowd arrived

More casks on the pool table, so much good beer.

More casks on the pool table, so much good beer.

Cheers,

Chris

Vij’s Restaurant and Vij’s Rangoli

As a present for her birthday, I bought my wife tickets to see Les Miserables, on Father’s Day, oops.  We managed to see our Father’s on different days and still take in Jean Valjean in all his glory.  We wanted to go out for a bite to eat after the show, and when looking for places nearby the Stanley Theatre, famed Vij’s seemed the logical choice. Our plans hit a snag when we found out that Vij’s doesn’t open until 5:30.  Our show was a matinee and ended at 4:45, so instead of waiting out front, we popped into the more casual Vij’s Rangoli next door.  Now I’d heard that people line up to get into Vij’s, but I had no idea how popular this place really seems to be.  Do people line up?  Do they ever!  By 5PM they were nearly fifty people lined up down the street, and not all of them made it in.  Some stayed to wait another hour or two for the first service to end, others joined us in Vij’s Rangoli.  I was impressed by the fanfare, but also feeling foolish at not seizing my chance to get in.  The food must be freaking good!

People Waiting in line at Vijs

People Waiting in line at Vij's

I wasn’t feeling too badly though, because Vij’s Rangoli was also quite good.  It is more of a deli style place, complete with market, than a restaurant.  The food was delicious, I had a lamb curry dish and Rachel had shredded pork, but I was particularly impressed with the beer menu.  Instead of the usual lineup of Canadian and American macro lagers, Vij’s Rangoli had Propeller ESB, Anchor Porter, Pilsner Urquell, and Rickards White.  These four beers are not similar and offer a variety of tastes, better suited to pairing with different dishes.  In this town, where beer is often overlooked, I was pleased to see they put some thought into the menu!  Checking online, I also note that Vij’s main restaurant has Storm Pilsner, IPA, and Scotch Ale on the menu, pretty solid.  What could be better than a well prepared curry dish paired with a well prepared IPA?  Not much, which is why I’ll be waiting in line next time.

Cheers,

Chris