How To Make A Simple Beer Advent Calendar – The Best Gift Ever for a Beer Fan

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Do you remember the pure bliss and joy of opening up an advent calendar as kid and enjoying a treat every day? Well you can recreate that for yourself, a beer loving friend or loved one by making them a homemade beer advent calendar. You may have seen some pre-assembled one’s from different breweries or even put together by stores, but making it yourself is another great way to personalize a gift. Before you is a simple guide to putting together an advent calendar full of beer for that special friend or family member in your life who simply loves to try all different kinds of beer. Reading this after December 1st? Don’t worry, you can simply recreate the best ever 12 Days of Christmas by halving it or put a few lower alcohol beers in the begging so it’s easy for the receiver to catch up quickly. Beyond picking up the beer, the whole process can be done in less than an hour, but will deliver 24 days of sudsy cheer leading up to Christmas day.


Step 1 – Get All The Beer & Supplies Together

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First and foremost, go out and get 24 (or 12) different beers. In this case, variety is the key component so don’t be afraid to take few chances with your selections, just be sure to keep it interesting and if possible at least partially geared towards the tastes of the individual you are making the calendar for. Is your friend a hop head? Be sure to load it up with lots of big IPA’s, if they like imperial stouts, go for big, dark, heavy beers and have fun with it. While out shopping, try to grab two equal sized beer or wine boxes that fit 12 bottles a piece or a big box that can fit up to 24 beers without the bottom falling out of it. Grab your boxes, your beers, scissors, some tape and some wrapping paper then you are ready to start making the calendar.


Step 2 – Wrap The Beer

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Perhaps the most challenging step for the wrapping challenged folks like myself is actually wrapping the beer! Thankfully, this is quite simple, just measure and pre-cut your wrapping paper in appropriate sizes to fully cover each bottle type. Wrap the paper around the bottle and secure it with tape, fold in the bottom and secure with tape, and finally at the very top create a small, flat fold over towards the spot where the paper line and fasten one more time with tape for a neat finish as pictured above. At the end of the day, just make sure it’s covered.


Step 3 – Remove Flaps & Tape Boxes Together

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The goal here is to create a super box by removing the top flaps and securing the boxes to each other along the widths. The top flaps are easy to cut off with scissors, but you’ll need to use lots of packaging tape to secure the boxes together, especially along the bottoms. Since the boxes are already strong enough to hold twelve large bottles of beer or wine you don’t need to worry too much about reinforcing them, however it never hurts to add a little extra protection just in case. The more tape the better to be honest and be sure to lift from the bottom to prevent any damage to the box or beer.


Step 4 – Wrap The Box & Put The Beers In Random Order

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Once the box is assembled, it’s best to remove the inside dividers and wrap the box with wrapping paper. Start with a very large piece of gift wrap and fold it over the ridges of the box to cover up the edges. Although it’s not pictured, I used my scissors to cut the paper to allow it to fit without scrunching up the paper too much. You may have to play around with it a little bit, but it’s pretty straightforward once you find a system that works for the paper and boxes you have. It also helps to put some paper or stuffing in the bottom of the slots for the smaller bottles to keep them fairly level with the taller ones when you put the beers in. Be sure to evenly distribute the various bottle sizes to in order to keep the weight balance fairly even.


Step 5 – Print Out Labels And Affix Them To The Beers

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I recommend printable mailing labels as they are super easy to print out and affix to the paper (they work great for homebrew labels too). All you need is 12 to 24 of them depending on the size of your calendar and you are good to go. Don’t have labels, us whatever you feel like using to label the beer, everything from a sharpie to masking tape works well enough to do the trick!


Other Helpful Tips Ideas & Warnings

  • Remember, these are super heavy, so lift from the bottom and lift with your legs (not your back). This calendar will likely weigh anywhere from 30 to 50 lbs depending on the size of the bottles you use and the last thing you want to give for Christmas (or receive) is a wrecked back or broken bones.
  • It’s tempting to have a beer while putting this together, but to avoid cutting yourself, breaking a beer bottle or injuring your body I recommend waiting until after you’ve completed the job.
  • Regarding bottle size, it’s good to mix it up, or at minimum pay close attention to the alcohol volume. Try to find smaller bottles for the bigger beers if possible, or move the big ones to the weekends. Many of us love big beers, but a 22 oz bottle of 12% abv Barleywine on a work night doesn’t make for the most productive morning or day after.
  • You can use tissue paper, brown bags, newspaper, or basically anything to wrap the bottles. At the end of the day, it won’t matter much as the liquid inside the bottle matters the most.
  • Don’t fret about getting it perfectly right, honestly the thought and the variety counts more than anything here, so have fun with it.
  • Finally, find some to exchange with next year. You can build it all year long by picking up cellar dwellers in the new year and the ‘consume fresher’ beers in the late fall.

Have you ever made a beer advent calendar for someone else? Or yourself? Leave a comment below and tell us about your experience!

BC Beer Awards 2015 – The Best of The West…For The Most Part Anyway

BC Beer Awards 2015 Title

Annually, one of the pinnacle events for brewery bragging rights and sampling beer in BC is the BC Beer Awards which are held every October. This year, 78 breweries entered over 500 beers in 20 different judging categories all hoping to medal and best each other in this Provincial competition. Sporting everything from a Rookie tent that featured a new beer and brewery every hour, to a beer can derby and a sour beer brewers challenge, the BC Beer Awards always seems to capture the essence of the BC beer scene in one evening of festivities.

This year, I felt that the judges did a decent job but still picked a few odd ball winners in some of the categories, while perfectly nailing many of the other ones. As always, with any subjective evaluation, when you examine the list of winners there’s going to be a bit of controversy with the results (even amongst the judges too). To see the full list of winners, click here, but for the purposes of this article I wanted to highlight some of the big wins (beers to look for) and a couple unusual results that I felt didn’t belong. At the end of the day, all judging is subject just like my own personal tastes, however beers are typically judged by how closely the represent a particular style and not necessarily which ones have the best flavour – but that’s a discussion for another day over a pint or three!

First off, the hardest award to argue with is the People’s Choice Award, which for the second year in a row went to Four Winds Brewery and is voted on by attendees. They decided to add some lime juice and a couple bottles of Bourbon to their already amazing Nectarous Dry Hopped Sour, essentially creating a beer inspired Whisky Sour. This was, I have to admit, one of the best things I have ever tasted at a beer fest (and I am attempting to recreate at home). The vanilla, oak and spices in the Bourbon melded perfectly with the sour ale and Galaxy hops, giving it a nice one-two punch of sweet and sourness with a rich savory vanilla booziness for an extra kick on the side. Their creativity never ceases to amaze me as they are by far my favourite brewery in BC for a reason, so I was thrilled that everyone agreed with me at the fest and voted for them to win again.

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Secondly, the standard setting and ever popular North America IPA category, once again saw the return of Central City’s Red Racer IPA to the top of the medal running’s. In fact, Central City walked away with two medals, something that the bigger craft breweries tend to struggle with. This was a big deal because with so many new breweries opening up in BC and so many different excellent IPA’s being produced, it’s nice to see a classic and long serving BC beer get recognized for what it truly is. Notably absent from this category were Yellow Dog Play Dead IPA and Driftwood  Fat Tug, two beers that always come into the “best IPA in BC” conversation, if not all of Canada.

Three notable breweries finally won Gold for beers that were a bit overdue for some higher level recognition. First off,  Dageraad, our local but traditional Belgian style brewery, thankfully got recognized with Gold for their amazing Belgian Blonde Ale in the Abbey Ale Category. I’ve had this side-by-side with many imports and it wins every time in my books. Secondly, Steel and Oak who is often regarded for making Lagers cool again, got rewarded Gold for their Dark Lager in the Amber/Dark Lager category. The head brewer is a German trained brewer who grew up locally and has really mastered the art of lagering, using smoked malts and being creative with malt forward styles of beer and they deserve to be recognized. Lastly, Four Winds Brewing finally got a Gold Medal for their Juxtapose Wild IPA in the Sour/Wild Ale category, this is a Sacc Trios yeast brewed IPA that is by far one of the more creative beers to hit the BC market in recent times and well deserving of gold, despite the odd category entry.

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Finally, the Rookie of the Year award and Best Stout winner went to Doan’s Craft Brewery, a brewery run by the little brother’s of one of my best friends through Elementary school. They took home best Stout with their Rye Stout and Rookie of the Year, which is very well deserved because they make excellent stuff. It’s nice to see them get recognized, they’d been trying to open a brewery for three years and finally did it in 2015 to much excitement and relief. I was glad to see an award like this, the new breweries need ways to get their names out, especially the ones that make the best beer.

So who maybe didn’t deserve to win? Well personally I wasn’t a fan of seeing Big Rock Brewery (an Alberta owned brewery who opened up shop in BC) win any awards. I mean they make so-so beer in their Vancouver brewery, but still managed to claim a couple of awards that I don’t think were particularly well deserved based on both location and product quality. If you’ve ever had their country wide offerings, you’ll know what I’m talking about overall. Also, Stanley Park Brewing, often makers of mediocre beer in my personal opinion, somehow managed to snag two awards for beers I wouldn’t willingly drink. Lastly, although a good beer, the Sour Challenge winner went to a pretty basic sour ale and ignored three outstanding sours from better breweries. But, alas, that’s just the way these things go sometimes and all the beers were blind tasted so any bias has been removed from the equation and I’ve since heard that their were some politics in the judging and the beer I thought should win actually had more votes, but from less influential and acclaimed judges so it lost out.

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What’s the point of all of this anyway? While other than putting on an amazing tasting festival, most of the awards went to some excellent beers that are truly approaching world class levels of quality and flavour. Our best IPA is distributed pretty much across the country and in much of the United States as Red Betty, not Red Racer. Our newer breweries are pretty much leading the market in terms of creativity and awards, and you can expect to see them grow and eventually make their way into other provinces over time. You’ve got some amazing stuff headed your way Canada, the beer from out West is just getting bigger and better and eventually we’ll stop drinking it all and send more to the East! Unfortunately, with some recent changes in AB beer laws, it’s unlikely that’ll we will see many Eastern Canadian beers out west. Thanks for spending some time reading the article, the opinions above are mine, but I’d love to hear yours in the comments section, including how you think your local events compare!

Limited Small Batch Release Beers, FOMO & The Joys of Waiting In Line For Beer

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Recently Four Winds Brewery in Delta, BC created a special beer specifically for a local Farmhouse Beer Festival. People were so excited for this beer, they apparently lined up for over 60 minutes during the six hour festival just try a 4 oz sample of it. Well, finally they decided to release their other barrel’s worth of the limited beer named Edna in a one day sale exclusively at the brewery. This release was limited to a maximum of 500 bottles and was advertised via a simple Facebook post and Tweet, which in turn became a viral calling for all of the local beer geeks in the area who clearly made plans to stop by the brewery that day in hopes of getting some. Bottle limits were set a two per person, so only the first 250 people would be able to grab it, a decision I respect and applaud as it allows avid fans a true chance at getting it. This was truly a great example of viral marketing, something I don’t even think the brewery intended to do, but inevitably happened anyway. Oh yeah, did I mention this was all for a Cranberry Crabapple Sour Farmhouse Ale, not exactly your run-of-the-mill high demand product, but definitely a unique offering.

I arrived an hour before they opened and was thankfully the eleventh person in line. Shortly after I got there small waves of people started to line up behind me and as the line grew, people were frantically messaging their best beer pals and telling them to get there quickly if they wanted a chance to buy this release. Meanwhile the brewery staff, who were seeing the line grow rapidly, smartly decided to organize their cases into pre-arranged bags of two 500mL bottles priced at $26 per pair to smooth out the purchasing process. If you didn’t get there by about 12:30 (thirty minutes after they opened the brewery) then you likely missed out and were stuck enviously gawking at all the social media check-ins and Instagram posts that followed, having to live this one vicariously through your online beer buddies instead of trying it yourself. An hour later, about five minutes after opening time I had my two bottles in front of me at the bar while I enjoyed a different beer with a friend and watched the organized chaos of a fairly large lineup of people trying to get their hands on this limited gem of a beer.

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To the victors go the spoils, this is what $26 worth of limited craft beer looks like!

On the way home from the release, I started to reflect on this experience and how certain happenings in the craft beer industry have lead up to the point where people will wait an hour or longer for a mere litre of unique beer on a chance that they might end up liking it. In fact the crazy revelation in my head was that, most likely anyway, all of us who waited and got the beer felt that this was a very valuable way to spend a few hours on a sunny Saturday afternoon. After pondering this epiphany, I have personally concluded that the driving forces behind this feeling are centered around three things: the fear of missing out (FOMO), the awesome feeling of being a part of something even remotely special, and finally the fact that pretty much anyone in that line was more than willing to spend an hour or two talking about craft beer!

Now FOMO is a real thing in life and is a huge driver of purchasing habits in the craft beer community. When your favourite brewery puts the words “limited” or “small batch” on a bottle, us beer geeks flip out and do almost everything we can to get a hold of at least one bottle before it inevitably sells out. Whether it be the enticing desire of another unique check-in (typically with a good “toast” ratio) or the general “gotta catch em all” attitude of almost any craft beer enthusiast out there these days, the fear of missing out on something special causes us to do pretty unusual things in life for a unique beer. Some people pay enormous prices online for hard to find beers just to be able to say they tried them, others wait 12 hours in line to get first Pliny The Younger at Russian River Brewery in California. Honestly it’s like any other hobby where the desire to complete the collection is rather compelling and if you’re not on top of your game you’ll probably miss something seemingly important. Craft beer FOMO is built up over scarcity, reputation of the brewer, quality of their limited releases and quite frankly what others say about the beer in advance – when your friends brag about something, you tend to want to get in on it too.

There’s also something fun about lining up at one of your favourite breweries with  a bunch of like minded people who are also waiting for same special release and frankly it’s kind of awesome to be a part of something like this. Very, very few people will ever get a change to try this beer and let’s face it, there’s an exclusivity factor that goes along with being one of those few people who got one. Comments of “lucky you” and “full of envy” on social media certainly help assert these feelings and like any other limited item, there is a cool factor associated with it because so few others got one too. For us beer geeks, it is the equivalent to seeing a movie on opening night at midnight, owning a rare piece or art, or getting front row seats for your favourite band at their next concert. As an enthusiastic fan this stuff just simply seems to matter.

Talking about beer with a couple hundred other folks who have a pretty solid beer knowledge base is always a fun thing to do. Each of us in line all had something in common, our prolific love for beer, so it was easy to get a conversation going while waiting in line and time went by pretty quickly in doing so. I had a blast comparing notes on recent releases with the guy in front of me and had some fun chatting with a couple behind me who were moving back to Vermont soon (bless their souls). We even came up with some fun ideas for the next limited release line, like brewing a batch of beer in the parking lot while waiting in line or maybe next time bringing some coffee or breakfast stout and making a little tailgate party out of it (with a designated driver of course). I almost felt like I was waiting in line at Disneyland, anticipating the cool thing at the end that would be totally worth the wait. The whole concept may sound a little odd, but waiting in line for a special beer is kind of a fun time or at least a lot more pleasant that it initially sounds like it might be. When in a crowd of people who doing the same thing that you are for similar reasons, it’s always an interesting experience that makes you feel connected in some way.

In conclusion, I felt that my experience exemplifies what craft beer is all about, chasing down those unique and interesting experiences with other like minded folks and having a great time doing so in almost any situation. Sometimes these experiences happen in a glass at home on your own, sometimes they happen with friends at the bar and sometimes they happen before you even open up that special bottle of beer. As I am writing this, I still haven’t tried the beer, but it is calling me from my refrigerator every day so that exciting moment will happen soon enough. Limited, small batch releases are for the super fans in the craft beer world and so far I’ve been pretty excited to be a part of that experience from time to time, making the most of it when it happens. Don’t worry if you feel like you missed out though, there’s always another awesome release just around the corner and a new beer or brewery just waiting to be discovered.

I’m curious, have you ever waited in line for a special release? How did it feel to you? Was it fun? Was it worth it? Please leave a comment or two below as I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The West Gone Wild, For Sour Beers

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The West Gone Wild, For Sour Beers Out in beautiful British Columbia, we have amazing outdoor activities in the wild and a rocking beer culture, evident by the 30% share of awards BC took at the 2015 Canadian Brewing Awards. The craft beer industry has really taken off here, doubling the amount of breweries in the last two and a half years with no sign of slowing down. What’s most interesting about this growth is that most new places aren’t opening up with just a basic line-up, rather it’s become almost a standard to open with a barrel aging and sour program from the get go. We’ve experienced a rapid rise of sour beers in the BC craft beer market thanks to some early success and a few hard core brewers who’ve been doing it for years and of course a tight knit beer community.

Now sour beers are new to some folks, but they’ve been around forever in Europe, including some styles like a Polish Gratzer which has been recently revived in North America thanks to creativity and the need to be different. There are many ways to sour a beer, some are quicker than others, but essentially it involves introducing some form of bacteria or wild yeast into the beer and letting it go to work. It often takes many months or years before a sour beer is ready to drink. Beer can be soured during the brewing process with Lactobacillus, it can be soured in barrels by spontaneous fermentation from wild yeasts, or the brewer can add a wild yeast type like Saccharomyces or Brettanomyces to give the beer some funky notes among other unique souring methods. What likely started out as an oops, has long since become a meticulous brewing process that can produce some amazing flavours in craft beer.

Out West, we’ve been privy to a huge influx of soured beers this year.  I can think of over 30 breweries that have released a sour type beer on the market in the past month or two, typically to a lot of fanfare and excitement. Some places are even releasing them within their first year or so of operation. They typically brew the beer soon after opening and let it sit for 9-12 months to let it develop in a barrel. Others are kettle souring beers and putting them out on the market regularly in limited releases or in some cases have built long term souring and blending programs to keep a consistent sour on tap and in the market. Honestly, it’s been crazy to watch as we have more sour beers on the market than double IPA’s in BC, a style ratio that’s quite rare for the rest of North America where double IPA’s are worshipped like gods and celebrities.

This is standard family summer BBQ beer in BC, also a Gold Medal winner at the CBA’s
This is standard family summer BBQ beer in BC, also a Gold Medal winner at the CBA’s

Sour beers aren’t new to BC brewing, Yaletown and Storm Brewing have brewed sour beers forever and Driftwood brewery, who is famous for Fat Tug IPA, has been releasing them since they opened. However, they’ve been part of a fairly niche market until 2015 where you can’t go into a liquor store now without seeing at least a solid selection of sour beer. Clearly the population out this way has adventurous palates and desire to try new things and the brewers are happy to oblige, encouraged by the evolution of the craft beer community in British Columbia.

To give a few examples, sour beers like Four Winds Nectarous (which is a dry hopped sour ale that will blow your mind) are here to stay and are actually becoming hard to get because of demand. More breweries are dreaming up new ways to entice the market into trying a sour beer, like Dageraad Brewing’s Passion Fruit De Witte Sour Ale, a citrusy sour special release that was so popular they were compelled to brew it again for a second summer release. Parallel finally released Lil Red Redemption, a third year anniversary special release as a comeback from their first sour nightmare (hey, they don’t all go so well, sours aren’t easy to make). Finally, breweries are even releasing Gose beers, one of the more ‘out there’ sour styles I can think of, often tasting like sweaty tart lemonade but pairs great with sushi just to stay relevant. I can’t recall other markets that have embraced this style of beer so quickly.

British Columbian beer drinkers have gotten a taste of the sour bugs (literally, those are bacteria after all) and we aren’t going to back away from them anytime soon. Even some of the insanely mouth furrowing sour Cascade Brewing beers are on the liquor store shelves now, each Cantillon release flies off the shelves before you can blink and the importers are clearly reacting to the market accordingly by bringing in more sour styles to choose from. Be it a mild Berliner Weise, a sour Red Lager, a Brett IPA, a Sour Wheat Ale from a Belgian trained brewer in Powell River or an Imperial Flanders Red from the weirdest brewery in town, if you’re looking for a sour beer experience there’s never been a better time out West than now to get it. We are wild for beer, and even wilder for sour ales! In British Columbia we are ready to pucker up for even more, cheers!