beer column

my notes from yesterday's cbc on the coast radio beer column:

The 15th Annual Canadian Brewing Awards were held in Ottawa on May 27th. As is becoming the norm, BC breweries shone on the medal podium! Our breweries won 51 of the available 164 medals – tying with Ontario for the most medals won. If you were at the Vancouver Craft Beer Week tasting festival at the PNE on the weekend, you no doubt saw many of the trophies on display at the brewery booths.

Mt. Begbie Brewing in Revelstoke was the big winner! They walked away with the coveted “Best Brewery in Canada” award, plus Gold medals for their High Country Kolsch and Cream Ale, and a Bronze medal for the Brave Liver Scotch Ale. Mt. Begbie began brewing in 1996, and just underwent an expansion to a new larger space with a tasting room and retail store. It’s great to see that expansion paying off for them in having their beers recognized country-wide.

British Columbia swept the medals in three style categories: English Style Pale Ale, American Style Black Ale and Flavoured Stout/Porter.

Notable local winners were Powell Brewing with a gold, two silvers and a bronze; Steamworks with two golds and a bronze; Off the Rail with a gold and two silvers, and their across-the-street-neighbours Bomber Brewing with a silver and two bronzes.

Congratulations to everyone who won medals!  (see below for a full list of the BC winners, and the Canadian Brewing Awards website for a complete list of winners)

2017 marked the first year that the criteria for entries was changed to require that breweries be 100% Canadian owned to be eligible. This new criteria probably doesn’t affect most of the small breweries as they tend to be locally owned. It does mean that the biggest of the big breweries are no longer eligible to enter the contest, and in effect makes the Canadian Brewing Awards the Canadian Craft Beer Awards. I can’t say that I’m upset by this rule change.

Of course the winners find winning useful for marketing purposes. The industry as a whole benefits too though. Having diverse breweries winning awards, as we have in BC with the 51 awards won distributed among 33 breweries across the province, both medium and small, established and new, shows the depth and quality of the beers being made.

When an industry takes off the way craft brewing has, there is always the worry that quality will suffer. Awards competitions help the breweries by having their beers judged by accredited judges who offer feedback. Winners know they’ve brewed good beers. Those who didn’t win can use the feedback offered to improve their beers.

For consumers, following the results can be useful too. If you’re new to beer you can take the list of winners as a to do list, tasting the local winners in each style category to gain an appreciation for the differences between, for example, Classic style India pale ales, and North American style IPAs, knowing you are trying very good examples of each style. Or if you’ve been wanting to branch out from your old familiar favourites, but felt overwhelmed at the liquor store or by lists with 40 tap offerings, using the winners list to help you narrow the choices can take the pressure off those tough decisions!

Of course there are drawbacks to competitions. Despite there being guidelines, blind tastings, and every effort to remain impartial, judging is still a subjective process. On any given day the results will vary from another day. There are checks and balances in place to minimize the effects of subjectivity, but until we get beer judging robots, it will always be there.

I’ve heard people complain about regional bias – if all the judges are from a particular region, the beers from that region tend to be judged more positively. This doesn’t happen through malevolent intentions on the part of the judges, they’re just unconsciously rewarding the familiar, which goes back to the impossibility of human judges being truly impartial.

One advantage to the subjectivity of beer judging, though, is the flexibility that comes with it. If judges were able to be 100% impartial, I don’t think we’d see innovative beers being rewarded, or the style boundaries being successfully pushed.

Finally, I think winning a brewing award means a lot to a small brewery - and not for marketing purposes because small breweries don’t even have marketing departments! A beer award is an acknowledgment that all of their hard work and the risks taken to enter an industry with lots of competition and small profit margins were worth it – they made a really great beer! And the industry, their peers and their faithful supporters recognize, and celebrate, that really great beer.

Beer Picks:

Let’s go with some gold medal winning beers:

Steamworks Brewing – Black Angel IPA – It’s a black ipa, also known as a Cascadian Dark Ale, which means it is as malty as it is hoppy. Although it is dark in colour, it has angelic citrus notes keeping it light. 7% abv. Available in 330ml bottles at liquor stores and the Steamworks tasting room.

Powell Street Brewing – Lazy D’haze IPA – It’s a Northeast style IPA, which makes it as hazy as the summer days are long. Lots of fruity goodness from Amarillo and Equinox hops, with intense aromas of grapefruit, orange, apricot, melon and berries. 7% abv. Available on tap at the tasting room.

Strathcona Brewing British IPA – It’s a classic English IPA, which means it is more balanced between hops and malts than a Pacific Northwest IPA. Lightly hopped with traditional English hops, it has subtle citrus flavour and a nice dry finish. 6% abv. Available in 355ml cans and on tap in the tasting room.

BC Winners

Axe & Barrel – Silver – Kolsch

Bad Tattoo – Silver – Los Muertos cerveza negra

[Big Rock – Gold – Pilsner; Silver – Grasshopper Kristalweisen - didn't count as BC medals]

Bomber Brewing – Silver – Absolute Horizon CDA; Bronze – Martzen; Bronze – Russian Imperial Stout

Bridge Brewing – Silver – Side Cut IPA

Cannery Brewing – Gold – Baltic Porter; Bronze – Thornless blackberry porter

Central City – Gold – Thor’s Hammer barleywine; Bronze - Red Racer doppelbock

Coal Harbour – Gold – Smoke & Mirrors

Dageraad – Silver – Burnabarbarian

Dead Frog – Silver – Reina de Fuego

Deep Cove – Silver – Dry Dock Double IPA

Fernie Brewing – Silver – Sap Sucker Maple Porter

Foamer’s Folly – Gold – Blacksnake Porter

Four Winds – Silver – Belgian tripel; Silver - Nectarous

Fuggles & Warlock – Bronze – Raiden Black Rye IPA

Gladstone – Bronze – Belgian single

Hastings Mill Brewing – gold – Griswold Winter Ale

Luppolo Brewing – Bronze – Wild Saison with pear

Moon Under Water – Gold – Pilsner

Mt. Begbie - Gold - Cream Ale; Gold - High Country Kolsch; Bronze - Brave Liver Scotch Ale

Off the Rail – Gold – Belt Up ESB; Silver - Classic Pale Ale; Silver – Crazy Train IPA

Phillips Brewing – silver – Electric Unicorn White IPA

Powell Street – gold – Lazy D’Haze IPA; Silver – old Jalopy Pale Ale; Silver – Ode to Wallflower; Bronze – Dive bomb

R&B – gold – Red Devil Pale Ale

Red Truck – Silver – Red Truck lager

Riot Brewing – Silver – Classical Pilsner

Steamworks – gold – Black Angel IPA; Bronze – Commonwealth Pale Ale

Strange Fellows – Bronze – Reynard sour

Strathcona – Gold – British IPA; Bronze – Belgian gold

Townsite – gold – Blueberry sour; Silver – Biere d’hiver

Trading Post – gold – smuggler’s trail rye amber ale

Tree Brewing – silver – red lager

Whistler Brewing – Gold – Chestnut Ale

Yaletown – Silver – Valley of the Monks Porter

Yellow Dog – Bronze – Shake a Paw Smoked Porter

Steamworks/Dageraad Collaboration – Gold – East of East Van Saison

Swept categories

English Style Pale Ale Category: R&B took god for the Red Devil pale ale, Off the Rail won silver for their Classic Pale Ale and Steamworks won Bronze for their commonwealth Pale Ale.

American-Style Black Ale: Steamworks won gold for the Black Angel IPA, Bomber took the Silver for Absolute Horizon Cascadian Dark Ale and Fuggles & Warlock won Bronze for their Raiden Black Rye IPA.

Flavoured Stout/Porter:  Hastings Mill Brewing Company (more commonly known as Pat's Pub) won gold for their Griswold Winter Ale, Deadfrog Brewery took the silver for Reina de Fuego and Cannery Brewing Co. won bronze for Thornless Blackberry Porter


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