Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Playing Catchup - Summary Summery Brewery Encounters Part II

Summer brewery highlights, continued...

Jasper Brewing

I was fortunate enough to be invited to a legendary night of hospitality, smoked meat and endless tasty homebrew and commercial beer at my friend Neil's place in Calgary.  While there, another Calgary homebrewing friend Corey put me in email contact with the brewer at Jasper Brewing.  Dave Mozel took a good hour out of his busy day to chat, share a beer and show off the operation.

Lovely setting with views of historic Jasper train station and mountains

Ingredients and vital statistics posted for all beers

Grain room.  Yum.

Assistant brewer, Mrs. Hoplog and brewer Dave

Great beer and good people at Jasper brewing - a must-visit while in the park.  They also own Banff Avenue brewing in Banff.

Plan B Brewing

Even Smithers, BC has a brewery!  Plan B started off as a two-man operation, and is now a one-man show: Mark Gillis does it all.  How he still has time to play Ultimate and raise three kids with his wife, I'll never know.

Mark was very generous with his time, and poured sizable samples for Mrs. Hoplog and I to share.  I particularly enjoyed the Brown Ale and the Stout.  The IPA is on the sweet side, which apparently works well for many northern palettes (used to beer from Pacific Western Brewing, etc.) - I see it softening the hoppiness and bitterness of the IPA.

The sweet full-sized Blichmann brewing system, located about 8 feet from the tasting counter.  Very small for a commercial brewery, but a homebrewer's wet dream

Tasting bar

Plan B sells 1 litre swing tops, and is now bottling in 650 mL bottles as well.  The beers are available at various restaurants in Smithers, and along Highway 16 in northern BC, including as far away as Prince Rupert.

I always assumed that people drink local craft beer because it tastes better than macro light lagers, and that the "local" nature of a brewery was a nice-to-have for people in big cities.  However, Mark said that many people in Smithers come to the brewery saying, "well, I usually drink Canadian/Kokanee/etc, and I don't know if I'll like your beer, but you're local and I want to support people like you in my community so I'll buy some."  Nicely done Smithers, keep it real.

Plan B is small enough that plastic wine-style fermenters are used.  Despite their drawbacks, stainless steel would be prohibitively expensive at these volumes.

In the fermentation/conditioning room.  Only enough room (and temperature control) to do ales at the moment.

Kulshan Brewing

Kulshan is a new brewery in Bellingham, WA, just down the street from Trader Joe's in a largely residential neighbourhood.  It appears to be seeing excellent local support, despite not having a kitchen.  It is a brewery (not a brewpub) whose "tasting room" is pub-sized, with a large outdoor patio.  They provide beer, and food trucks park there most nights if you want a bite to eat.

An instantly-popular, family-friendly neighbourhood pub.  Do you see this, NIMBY Vancouver people?  It's not the Granville strip, it's a hub of community activity.

Port Townsend Brewing

Port Townsend, WA is a very charming Victorian town on the west side of Puget Sound, well worth a visit.  It also sports a small brewery down by the marina/shipyards.

Port Townsend Brewing has a beer garden at the back, and a nicely-appointed tasting room at the front.  A constant parade of locals marched through for growler refills; they seemed to be doing a brisk business.  The beer was decent, though service was clearly oriented towards locals and growler-fillers while touristy tasters (yours truly) seemed, well, tolerated.  (Might have been the server on duty that day.)  Growler-filling practices weren't the best (for that matter, neither were glass-filling techniques), but it was nice to taste the local flavour anyway.  I'd probably try to hit a day when there was a band playing in the beer garden, as the lack of interaction in the tasting room meant I spent my time mostly staring at the wall.

Port Angeles - Barhop Brewing and Peak Brewpub

I wanted Port Angeles, WA to be a pleasant surprise.  But it wasn't.  They're trying to get people to reverse-visit from Victoria, BC via the ferry, but aside from a couple of blocks of revitalized downtown, it's a pretty standard industry town lining the highway.  The crowd of people waving placards reading "Illegal Aliens Are Illegal" to all the cars entering town also didn't make this non-American feel all that warm and fuzzy.  (And since when is Port Angeles an epicenter of illegal immigration?)

However, it has at least two small breweries!  Well done for a small and relatively remote town.

Mrs. Hoplog and I first visited Barhop Brewing (middle of September, 2012).  The sign proclaiming Best Nano-Brewery 2011 (by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) was very promising - I've loved nanobreweries ever since visiting Hess in San Diego.

Even better, check out the below sign - I love homebrewers who make the leap to commercial production.  (Maybe they got their start running the homebrew shop just around the corner on the same block?)

The brewery only had three beers on tap that day, so we started with a taster - their three brews plus a Deschutes Twilight Summer Ale.  The room had a few people in it - moderately busy, a good sign.

Then I tasted the beers.  Oh God.  You've got to be kidding me.  I strongly encourage everyone to brew regardless of their skill level, and I especially like the small guys.  But you cannot charge people for beers in this condition.

Blonde: before even tasting, both Mrs. Hoplog and I could smell sourness.  There was an obvious, out-of-place sourness that does not belong in a blonde ale - this is a crossover beer that is supposed to help macro light lager drinkers get into your beer, and they would not appreciate such a "surprise" sour beer.  Likely a sanitation issue.  You might get away with serving this to smokers or people who don't taste what they're drinking, but it's a risk.

IPA: obvious yeast health and/or sanitation and/or premature serving issue.  Phenolic, slightly "green" struggling-yeast flavours mowed down most hop flavours.  This beer had major issues, did not taste good, and should not have been served.

Brown: light chestnut colour, but completely murky and opaque.  Very strong sick/struggling yeast flavours, lost of yeast taste and mouthfeel, almost certainly served very prematurely (before completion of fermentation) in addition to likely sanitation issues.  I just can't mince words - this beer was horrendous, and there is no way it should have been served.

Deschutes Twilight: just fine, as always.

There must be some brewing skill at Barhop, but whatever quality control practices they have - if any - failed miserably around the time of our visit.  I don't care what financial pressures you're under, or how rushed you are for new product, or whatever - you simply cannot serve severely flawed beer like that to the public.  You might get away with it for a while, serving to people who are used to turning off their tastebuds and swallowing whatever is in front of them, but I can't imagine how most people could get through more than a few sips of the IPA or the Brown as I tasted them.

Plus, reputation is everything when you're a small brewer.  What if the wrong people hit a couple of bad and/or premature batches that were served rather than thrown out?  I wouldn't think you could afford to serve the bad stuff, though admittedly I'm not a commercial brewer.

Given the 2011 award Barhop won, either they are the only nano brewery in NW Washington, or they normally don't have the quality control issues I ran into.  I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.  However, if I visit again, I'm going to make sure I get a free sample before actually committing to a purchase.

Next, we walked up the street to Peaks Brewpub.  It's a bar that installed a wee brewery several years ago, and has been serving their own brews along with some other craft beer and macro beers.

This little place is authentic.  Super blue-collar, dingy in a well-worn kind of way, off-colour jokes on the walls, a pool table and sports on the TVs.  However, they have many of their own beers on tap - an amazing treat in such a traditional bar.  And several middle-aged people hanging around the pool table were talking about homebrewing.  (They spoke with great authority about incorrect brewing techniques, but still, they were brewers, and good on them.  Let there be beer!)  The staff was friendly and efficient, even the new 21-year-old female bartender who tried to graciously fend off the suggestive taunts of the old-enough-to-be-her-grandfather guys at the bar.


Peaks had some interesting beers, including a very gingery spruce tip beer, and an Old Ale style brew.  The beers all tended to be a bit sweet, but maybe this is their "house character," or a side effect of the tiny brewing space/equipment at the rear of the bar.

Peak's wee brewing space

Peaks has room to grow and improve, but they're doing a good job with what they have, and are worth a visit if you find yourself in Port Angeles.  Their beers had no glaringly obvious fermentation or sanitation issues, which automatically meant it was a massive step up from our Barhop experience.

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