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

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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.