A short note about the current status of my beer adventures

If you know me personally, you’ll have already heard about this, but just for the record – I have moved. I’m in Toronto right now due to a job. I’ve taken up the post of National Bureau Chief with the Canadian University Press. This means I will be in Toronto for the next year, and unable to continue this project. So for the time being I’ll put this on hiatus. I may update something if the mood strikes and I have the time, but those will be random and unpredictable.
So, thanks for reading. If I move back to B.C. I look forward to taking up this blog again, especially since there are actually a lot of interesting things going on in the B.C. brewing industry right now. Hopefully I don’t miss it all.

Thanks for reading,
Brendan Kergin

Beer Review: Driftwood Farmhand Ale

While southern Vancouver Island may not be well known for it’s farms, there is a well known Farmhand. It’s the saison from Driftwood Brewery based out of Victoria. A saison is a pale ale, but is a separate style from what most of us know as pale ale. That’s because we mostly know the English genre and a saison is from Belgium.

Often in beer circles you hear about Belgian styles, this is because they have some distinct features when compared to English ales and German lagers. The tend to have more spice and fruit flavours and a cloudiness to them. The saison style comes was developed in Southern Belgium farmhouses (and therefore I’m making an educated guess that that’s why Driftwood’s version bears the name Farmhand).

I’ve had this beer before, and I find it’s identifiable from other local beers simply by it’s looks. It’s a cloudy copper colour with a noticeably frothy head which lasts quite awhile. While most other beers have a head which is bubbly, this is more a foam which floats on top. It’s not that different from what you might find on a stout, but this is a much lighter beer.

Flavour-wise this a much more complex pale ale. The brewers at Driftwood added black pepper to this and use a yeast strain from Belgium, so right away there’s some difference in the ingredients used (I’ll get into yeast at a later date if you want?). It’s got a noticeable variety of spiciness to it. For the record, when referring to spiciness in beer, it simply means it tastes as though spices have been added, it doesn’t refer to heat, like what chili peppers cause. There’s also the classic fruitiness associated with Belgian beers. If you’re someone who only drinks the big brands the Farmhand would be closest to Hoegaarden, but that’s akin to comparing Alexander Keiths to the Amnesiac. It’s the same genre, but on opposite ends. It’s the Bourne films compared the National Treasure series. Yes, ok, their going to be found on the same shelf, but anyone serious about that area is going to make the same choice every time. Basically, I’m trying not to insult the guys at Driftwood by comparing Farmhand saison to the Hoegaarden witbier, because there are a variety differences in type and style, but for novices, it’s an uncommon style, and the only corporate version I can think of is Hoegaarden.

Anyways, this Farmhand is an excellent summer beer (which is kinda why it was developed). A patio and a pint would be ideal for this sudsy sipper.

I had a 650 ml bottle poured into a pint glass. BeerAdvocate scores it at an 89 and RateBeer calls it in at 75 (the style rating brings it down).

Cask Nights

If you’re a regular of a brew pub or pub which carries a large number of micro-brewery beers you may notice the odd event called a “Cask Night.” And you may ask yourself; “What does that even mean?” Fair enough, it’s not a term that has really made the move from jargon to common vernacular.

I was recently at a cask night hosted by Parallel 49 out of Vancouver at the Canoe Club brewpub in Victoria. While there I talked to Lon Sheehan of Parallel 49 about why cask nights are done and what the bring to the table.

“The idea is to make a unique product,” he said. “You can have fun with it.”

Cask nights allow brewers to (usually) take one of their existing beers and put a twist into it. The IPA that Parallel 49 was sharing hadn’t been altered at all because it’s a new beer for them and they wanted to people to try the original before their were any twists in it, but more often than not the brewer adds something to make sort of sub-species beer.

“With a cask it’s a beer that hasn’t touched light yet, it’s not like a packaged product which has seen light.” Sheehan said. “This is supposed to have been completely unfiltered, which this particular beer was anyways. In this instance we didn’t actually do anything to it just because it’s a new beer, so we didn’t want to dry-hop it and then people go and buy it later and then go ‘Oh this tastes totally different than the one time I had it!’

“Next time we will definitely mess with it.”

These alterations are something unique to beer, it’s not really done with other alcoholic beverages – wine or spirits. Cocktails can, of course, be mixed differently, but it’s not quite the same idea as what these brewers are doing with beer.

“With something that’s cask conditioned as well, you don’t get a chance to taste it before hand. You literally take, say, your IPA, throw a whole bunch of hops into it and then when you tap it you tap it and hope that it doesn’t suck,” Sheehan said. “Daniel here at Canoe was nice enough to have a different cask from a different brewery each Friday this month [March] and Dean…the brewer from Lighthouse, always does wicked stuff with his cask. That’s why I like to attend them. As a beer consumer it’s fun to be able to have a beer that’s slightly tweeked or completely not based off anything.”

So if you see a cask night being advertised and feel a bit adventurous, that might be the pint for you. It’s not what’s in the bottle, it’ll be a new experience. Maybe it’ll be based on what you’ve had in a pub or out of a bottle before, maybe not. If nothing else it’d be an interesting pint and a good chance to meet other craft brew drinkers.

Someone did it Better

For me, a big part of this project is to help bridge the gap that seems to be growing between craft beer drinkers and people who like good beer. There seems to be a worrying growth in wine levels of snobbery, something I’ve always tried to avoid, though not always successfully (and I’m not that well versed in beer).

Well, I’m not the only one talking about this, so here’s another person with a similar opinion to mine. Nothing like having the choir preach for you.

The Coles Notes version of this is to say that there are some basic things that you should do and know to drink beer properly, but don’t be intimidated by people who list off reams of data and info, trying to prove how much they know. Beer is for one thing above all else; enjoyment.

The Real Beer Houses of Vancouver

Ok, this will be a shorter post, as I’m sharing something I found online. For those living in, or visiting, Vancouver, this is an excellent guide to what your city offers in addition to all the great brewpubs:

Props to the Vancouver Sun for more beer journalism!

Beer Review: Parallel 49 Ugly Sweater Milk Stout

In recent years a popular style of beer I’ve been seeing is the winter ale. This happens with beers, some trend over a couple seasons. Hefeweizens have done that, pumpkin ales are doing that, and so have winter ales. Parallel 49 did not follow this trend with their winter seasonal beer.

Backing into a piece is poor form in journalism, but I feel that it’s a good way to introduce the Ugly Sweater, Parallel 49’s milk stout that kept Vancouverites warm this winter. The brewery, only a couple years old, is starting to pick up it’s pace and on a recent trip back to the island I got to try a cask tasting of their new IPA and treated myself to a six-pack of 541 bottles of this stout. Traditionally I’m a stout and porter fan.

The Ugly Sweater is pretty unique in my experience. A lot of the stouts I’ve had in the past play off the fact that the barley used to make them are roasted longer and therefore have flavours related to “burnt.” Often coffee is suggested as well, and there are a number of espresso porters and the likes playing off this idea. The milk stout is a sweeter style, using unfermentable lactose sugars to counter the burnt flavours. They seem to be pretty rare, as I can’t recall trying one. So bear with me as I push my boundaries a little.

In the Ugly Sweater this sweet styled stout has, in my mind, created an intriguing mix I haven’t had before. It’s got some of the toffee and similar flavours of a stout, but it’s a lot sweeter than most beers in the same category and the sweetness isn’t the corn syrup type I find in some of the nut browns and browns. I’d like to describe it as friendly, which is sort of the direction Parallel 49 went with their tag:

A case of the winter warm and fuzzies requires two things: a sweater that only a grandma could love and this sweet, creamy, dark milk stout.

Therefore it may not appease your typical dark beer drinker, but it is an interesting alternate to those for those looking for a bit more exploration. It’s not a terribly complex drink, but it’s enjoyable, a mellow beer coming from a mellow city. The basic character is stout, but then it’s been worked in a different direction than we typically see.

It’s a 5 per cent alcohol by volume experience available by 6 x 541 or draft. BeerAdvocate scores it at 84 while RateBeer hasn’t got a number for it yet (it’s a pretty new beer, and a seasonal to boot).

RateBeer vs. BeerAdvocate

You may have noticed that along with my beer reviews I cite two sites, too. This is for a couple reasons; the biggest one is because I am, at best, a novice beer drinker.

WARNING, TANGENT AHEAD-> I enjoy good beer, but I am no expert. That’s part of the reason I want to write this blog, to help other novices learn while I learn as well. A lot of the beer blogs I try to read jump right into anecdotes or jokes about beer which require a lot of knowledge, and then I’m lost. Meanwhile, the few other resources out there are pretty cold (personality-wise). So I’m trying to balance the personality of a good beer blog with some more basic facts and information, which will help people bridge the gap from noobs to snobo (really, it’s all about rearranging letters) (tangent over).

So the reasoning for using BA and RB (both based in the USA) is to add in a bit of a general opinion. So who’s opinion is that, and why use both?

Well, both are essentially beer rating sites which work through social media, creating a web-based collective index of the brews of the world. In layman’s terms, they let whomever wants to rate the beer by certain metrics, and then average it out to a general score out of 100.

BeerAdvocate uses five characteristics.

Appearance = 5 per cent

The first step – note the beer’s colour, carbonation, head and its retention — not the label or appearance of the bottle.

Smell = 20 per cent

Now bring the beer to your nose. Note the beer’s aromatic qualities.

Taste = 45 per cent

Take a deep sip of the beer. Note any flavours, or interpretations of flavours, that you might discover. Do they fit the style?

Mouthfeel = 10 per cent

Take another sip. Note how the beer feels on the palate. Too light? Too heavy? Smooth? Coarse?

Overall = 20 per cent

Your overall impression of the beer.

RateBeer uses a similar five point system that includes aroma, appearance, taste, palate and overall. It then includes a more complicated mathematical formula to match all the different beer styles so they can be compared on a different level. This is part of the reason the ratings can vary so much between the two sites. This is how they explain the math:

We use the same true Bayesian estimate formula used by the Internet Movie Database for calculating average ratings.

weighted rank (WR) = (v / (v+m)) * R + (m / (v+m)) * C

R = average for the design (mean) = (Rating)
v = number of votes for the design = (Rate Count)
m = minimum votes required to be listed in the top beers list (varies according to average of ratecounts for top 50 beers)
C = the midpoint of the scale (2.75 in our case)

This formula normalizes scores, that is it pulls a particular score (R) to the mean (C) if the number of votes is not well above m. In other words, if a particular beer has only a few votes above the minimum required votes to be listed in top 50 (m), the average score is decreased a little if it is above the mean, or increased a little if it is below the mean in accordance with the normal distribution rule of statistics.

The idea is that the more the votes, the more representative the average rating is.

Both use the beer’s style/design as a way to rate, as well, which is why some beers can score high with individuals, but seem to come out lower. As far as beer rating sites go, they’re the best. As far as a measurement of beer they give a decent idea, though they can be misleading. They both have huge listings; the vast majority of beers I drink are on both of them. And they both have forums, which are probably best not to venture into, due to high amounts of snobbery.

While they may enlighten somewhat, these sites give the same sort of idea that the Internet Movie Database might give, an idea of what the masses might say, but individual tastes vary. For a better idea of some of the top beers, it might be better to see who has won a medal in one of the many beer competitions. Canada has a couple of these. In the mean time, for the beers that don’t make it to these competitions, I’ll keep using RB and BA.

One further note, RateBeer has a couple of useful sheets for use while tasting a beer, which I’m going to try to start to use. I won’t be posting the sheets, but hopefully it will help me be more exact in my reviewing.

Beer Review: Tree Brewing Cutthroat Pale Ale


Tree Brewing, based in Kelowna, is one of the larger of the craft brewers outside of the lower mainland/southern Vancouver Island region with a solid base built over the last 17 years. One of their “go to” styles is the pale ale, the style virtually every brewer in B.C. makes. Their flagship pale ale (the one they make year round) is the Cutthroat, which the brewery calls as a West Coast Pale Ale. West Coast Pale Ales aren’t really a defined style in my book, though a search of the web generally describes them as a classic pale ale variant on the darker/amber range with a more hoppy lean.

And if you’re looking for an example, Cutthroat fits that profile pretty good. It seems to sit between a pale ale and an Indian pale ale. For people who like hops, this is a good choice if you’re looking for something not as strong as a Driftwood Fat Tug or any of Phillips variants. For those not a fan of IPAs I’d still suggest letting this one pass. It’s probably still a little strong (flavour-wise) for those looking for an introduction to the flavours hops bring to the table. However, being a pale ale there are some malt flavours as well, adding a bit of sweetness. Neither flavour lingers and it finishes dry, kinda there and gone. This could be considered as a session ale maybe, for people who normally drink highly hopped beers.

Basic info: I had a regular bottle (part of a taster pack from Tree). Alcohol is 5 per cent.

RateBeer puts it in low at 64, but BeerAdvocate scores it higher at 84. My own two cents here is that it’s been around for awhile and is a fairly average brew. It’s going to have some fans where it’s right what they like, but it’s not got any spectacular characteristics. The 64 is a bit low, but understandable, given that it’s not scoring that low anywhere, but not great anywhere either.

Beer Review: Howe Sound Rail Ale Nut Brown

howesoundrailalewebHowe Sound Inn & Brewing Company has made a number of beers over it’s nearly 17 years of operation (it was started in 1996 by John Mitchell, a central figure in BC’s beer history). One of the more successful and long lasting styles of late is the Rail Ale Nut Brown. As the name would suggest it’s a nut brown ale.

The style’s characteristics are those typical of a brown ale, with a more nutty flavour. They’re generally similar to a pale ale though darker in colour, smoother with more malt than hops in the flavour department.

Howe Sound’s Rail Ale is named after the Squamish region’s strong ties to the railways. Luckily the name is the only characteristic the beer shares with trains. It pours a dark brown colour, in the chestnut or walnut range, if we’re keeping with the nut theme. From first sip the sweet, malty flavour is the most prominent characteristic. The malt in this case definitely leans to caramel, and personal opinion leads me to say, it’s a little too much.

While a decent beer, it’s too sweet and a little thin on other flavours. As time went on and it warmed up, the nuttiness came through more, but got boring. It lacked in complexity and refreshment, not that one would go to a nut brown for a refreshing beer. More of a fall style, if that can be a thing, where cooler temperatures mean drinkers aren’t looking for a patio beer, more something in a pub while it rains outside.

BeerAdvocate puts it at a 86, while RateBeer taps it out at 83. Just for knowledge, I had the 1L resealable bottle. It lands at 5 per cent abv.

The Growler tax

Hey guys,

I was just wondering if anyone who happened to puruse this blog happened to be involved with the growler tax discussion in B.C. right now. Anyone for it? Against it? Are you a consumer who may or may not be affected by it? If you’re willing to chat about it I can be reached at brendansbeeradventures@gmail.com