beer column

my notes from tuesday's beer column on cbc radio one's on the coast with stephen quinn:

The pace of brewery openings appears to be slowing somewhat in Vancouver.  But there have been several brewery openings already this year across the province – among them Back Roads Brewing in Nelson, not to be confused with Back Country Brewing in Squamish!  And Highway 97 Brewing in Penticton, Gibsons Tapworks, and Twin City Brewing in Port Alberni also opened.

Existing breweries continue to expand as well, so the thirst for craft beer isn’t waning!  I think there is still room in Vancouver’s market for more craft breweries, and definitely there is a lot of room in many underserviced areas in the province.

So far most of the local breweries share a common model.  Some of the exceptions being Callister’s cooperative set-up, as mentioned a moment ago, Factory’s contract model and Howe Sound’s ownership of R&B Brewing, where they continue to make R&B brand beers, alongside Howe Sound brand beers. 

And with Vancouver only having a couple of areas appropriately zoned light industrial for breweries with tasting rooms, the breweries are mostly located in East Van and along Main Street.

What sets them apart from each other are their branding, the types of beers they are brewing, and how they are packaging their beer.  So long as they have a good business plan, and good beer of course, breweries are finding their niche and they are flourishing. 

But how do you find your niche?  When there were fewer breweries, it was easy to be different by choosing a different type of beer to focus on – like Dageraad’s focus on Belgian beers.  Two of the more recent additions to the Vancouver scene chose another country’s influence as their niche – Luppolo Brewing went Italian and Andina Brewing went South American.  Both offer food from their inspiring countries, and Andina even imports grains from Patagonia to use in their beers.  Both breweries have managed to fill their tasting rooms, despite being in close proximity to many other breweries.
Branding is the biggest way breweries differentiate themselves from each other.  I’m worried we’re running out of names though – Back Roads and Backcountry?  Big Rock, Big Ridge, Bridge – it can get quite confusing!  Branding becomes even more important the more breweries there are, especially ones with similar names.  If your labels stand out, that’s one way not to be confused with your neighbour.

We’re seeing a fair number of established breweries relaunch themselves with new branding.  Vancouver Island Brewing rebranded themselves recently after being purchased by a new owner, as did Bowen Island Brewing.  Driftwood Brewing redesigned their labels last year and Parallel 49 is in the middle of renovating their tasting room into a restaurant.  Craft beer may be a very friendly industry more interested in collaboration than competition, but it is still an industry and breweries are fighting to keep their customers as more and more breweries enter the market.  Shelf appeal is definitely part of that.  It’s easy to remember whose beer is whose when you’re at the tasting room; distinctive labels and branding are necessary to help people identify whose beer is whose on the liquor store shelf.

You know what I’d love to see someone put in a tasting room?  A swim-up bar!  I just can’t get enough of those!

Slightly more realistically though, I would love to see more craft beer patios!  And breweries opening up second locations – particularly breweries from outside of Vancouver.  There are lots of Vancouver neighbourhoods that are not zoned for brewery tasting rooms, and don’t have a craft beer bar – if breweries were to open up a pub or a restaurant, like Howe Sound Brewing did with Devil’s Elbow and Central City with their Beatty Street location, but instead of locating them downtown, chose a neighbourhood currently without a craft beer bar, I think whole new markets would open up.  I’m not suggesting it would be easy – liquor licences are very hard to come by, restaurants don’t have a track record as a safe investment, and I’m sure owning a brewery is already exhausting enough.  But I’d still love to see craft beer reaching into all the neighbourhoods in Vancouver.  I’m very fortunate to live in East Van, right in between a dozen wonderful breweries, so I’m well served by craft beer.  I want to see that for everyone.

As more breweries enter the market, eventually there will be a saturation point.  I think the breweries who are looking ahead to that time and coming up with ways to reach more beer drinkers will easily survive any market adjustment.  As a rising tide floats all boats, the more competition there is in craft beer, the higher the quality of the beer is going to be.  I think inferior product will be the first to fail, followed by those with a poor business plan.  But the breweries with quality beers and an eye on how to reach their customers, and make new ones, ought to be around for a very long time!  Which is a good thing, because I want to be able to drink good beer for the rest of my life.

Beer Picks:

Moody Ales Intrepid Lemon Matcha Saison – which we’re sampled on air!  This is their Spring seasonal, and it’s from a recipe homebrewer Steve Sheldon brought to Moody Ales.  Crisp, refreshing, earthy and spicy.  It begins its life as a traditional Belgian farmhouse ale, then takes a sharp turn into uniqueness with a dose of organic lemon matcha tea near the end of fermentation.  You can find the matcha saison at the tasting lounge, and in 650ml bottles at BC and private liquor stores.  6.9%.  It pairs well with seafood, sushi, fresh fruit and light pasta.

Luppolo Brewing’s Belgian Blonde ale – This newly released Belgian-style blonde ale is fruity, and of course, delicious!  Aromas of clove and banana lead to flavours of pear and subtle spice.  It's lightly hopped and fermented with Ardennes yeast.  Available at the tasting room in flights, glasses and growler fills.

Mt. Begbie Brewing’s Tail Whip Helles Lager – this spring seasonal is made with 100% BC ingredients, including barley from Armstrong, hops from Malakwa and water from Revelstoke.  It is a crisp, clear, refreshing lager.  5.2%.  Available in 650ml bottles at private liquor stores.


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