Monday, April 11, 2011

Reports & Ramblings From a Beer-Addled Mind #3

CAMRA YVR Advocacy & Policy Meeting 2 - CAMRA Soon to BEGIN New Campaign

CAMRA held their second Advocacy and Policy Meeting, Tuesday, April 5, at the Railway Club and although the turnout was substantially less than that of the first meeting a month ago, the desire to become an active and effective consumer advocacy group was still evident. Unfortunately some of the people who were tasked to do research on the issues and subjects CAMRA YVR and their membership had identified as priorities at the first meeting could not/did not show up so there was some disruption to the forward movement. In my opinion that may not be such a bad thing as my fear is that CAMRA and their membership, due to their enthusiasm and desire to become more active, may try to take on too much, too soon, spreading themselves too thin thereby rendering themselves ineffective. It seemed, after some discussion at the end of the meeting, CAMRA YVR may in fact concentrate their efforts in certain areas and move forward with a more deliberate focus, zeroing in on one or two issues, hoping to gain some notoriety and validity as a consumer advocacy group and some allies in the political realm.
The subjects of distribution and access to craft beer, taxation, tied houses/trade practices, inter-provincial trade and neighbourhood pubs were touched upon. More homework and research will be done in these areas and preliminary steps are being taken to formulate plans as to how best to attack these issues and who to target. It was widely agreed upon at the meeting that it is of the utmost importance to identify and try to gain access those who have the power to actually make changes to the rules, regulations and laws, be them under municipal, provincial or federal jurisdiction.
There seemed to be a greater focus on what to do, due in large part to what has happened south of the 49th parallel recently, in regards to homebrewers and their struggles to be recognized as the artisans and have their brews legitimized. The strong presence of members from the Vancouver Homebrewers Association at the CAMRA meetings, and their willingness to be vocal and active, volunteering to do the research and dirty work required to move their cause forward, has really helped keep these issues and concerns up-front and centre. There is a tangible desire by those heavily involved in the local homebrewing scene to bring their craft out of the dark basements and sheds of the city into the light of day so they can offer their creations at festivals, competitions and eventually as retail products without fear of legal repercussions. Many of us who aren't homebrewers seem to forget that homebrewing, when traditional methods are followed and traditional, fresh/natural ingredients used, is a craft and the brews produced are craft beers and real beers. The majority, if not all, of our craft brewers started out as homebrewers before moving on to the Central Cities of the world. I recently embarked on a bus trip where some beers were shared around and some of the homebrews I tasted were outstanding. Wouldn't it be great to able to enjoy a cask beer, supplied by the Vancouver Homebrewers Association, at the next CAMRA festival? Wouldn't it be a treat to be able to rock up to your local homebrewer's shop/house/store front and legitimately buy a bottle/case/keg of their delicious craft homebrew?

In addition to the homebrewers' commitment to begin wading through the bureaucracy that is responsible for keeping their beers from their adoring fans, it seems that CAMRA YVR is about to unveil their first actual campaign, aside from increasing membership, under the new executive! Recently, the federal government granted the beer industry an exemption from listing the ingredients on the labels of their products. Although most of the craft brewers I have spoken to are in favour of letting the general public know what is in their beer, they were quietly happy to see that the beer industry did receive this exemption due to the cost associated with changing labels on their packaging. From the discussions held at Tuesday's meeting, it appears CAMRA YVR is going to soon launch the "What's in Your Beer" campaign (at least that is the working title) that will have CAMRA YVR approaching local craft brewers and asking them to volunteer to list the ingredients for their beers on their websites. By listing the ingredients on their websites, there would be minimal costs attached to letting the public know what they are consuming and allow those curious to see what exactly is in their beer. My suggestion to CAMRA YVR, via President Martin Williams, was to have the participating breweries submit their ingredient lists to CAMRA YVR (or CAMRA BC if they want to get in on this campaign) so that CAMRA can put the info in one central place on their website. By doing this, CAMRA would provide a one-stop data base for consumers while encouraging brewers to participate in the program by taking the onus of responsibility away from the breweries for changing their websites. It may also expose CAMRA to a wider cross-section of the beer-drinking public who are curious about what is in their beers and who will come to the website to access the information. Let's face it, not everyone who drinks craft beer is a CAMRA member. Not even close. Those who belong to CAMRA are the minority in comparison to the numbers of people out there who enjoy craft beer and who are not members. The final details of the "What's in Your Beer" campaign are still being discussed by the CAMRA YVR exec, but look for it to become live sooner than later.

Although the numbers were down from the first meeting, the enthusiasm and desire to become a more member-driven group, who are trying to effect some change by making their voices heard, was still palpable at the meeting. A few new members showed up to join CAMRA and participate in the meeting and nearly everyone at the meeting became involved. My concern again is that the membership at large are not going to engage and that numbers at the meeting will dwindle. I certainly hope that the membership has heard President Martin Williams and his message of, what can the membership do for your CAMRA, not what can CAMRA do for the membership. The positive vibe seems to be growing, as is the membership, according to the CAMRA YVR exec, but there is still a very long way to go from being a small bunch, on the lunatic fringe, to a powerful, well-organized advocacy group.

Beer Quiz and Taste Test Challenge

So, you think you know your beers, do you? If so, you have a chance to prove it this week and if do in fact have sufficient beer knowledge and discerning taste buds you could walk away with some dosh to help stock up that beer cellar! Wednesday, April 13/11, Legacy Liquor Store is hosting  The Knock Down Drag Em Out Beer Quiz, between 7-9 PM. Legacy Beer Guru and former Storm Brewing Jack-of-all-Trades Chris Bonaille is hosting the event which will test contestants beer knowledge with 20 brain-teasing trivia & two skill-based questions followed by blind tasting of eight beers where contestants will be asked to identify the style of beer, country of origin and brand! Entry into the contest is $25 and the top beer geek will walk away with a $100 gift certificate for Legacy Liquor Store, located at 1633 Manitoba St, in the Olympic Village. If you haven't been to Legacy, it has an awesome collection of craft beers, wines & scotches. They also have many free tasting events, many involving craft beer.
A few weeks back I threw down a challenge to all Vancouver beer bloggers to join me and put their money where their mouths are. Thought it might be a laugh to get a few of us together to see what we actually do know but so far only one blogger has responded with a maybe, that being Leo, writer of the Vancouver Beer Blog. Blogger. Why not, come on down for a few hours of fun...we can always find a place to debrief after over a few pints of craft beer.
Tickets are available on the Legacy website...hope to see you there.

Feedback, Comments & Suggestions Related to VanEast Beer Blog Post
Cask Beer "Are We Getting the 'Real Beer' Deal" 

When I sat down and tapped out my thoughts about the local cask beer scene the other night I never really thought it would generate so much discussion and feedback. I seem to unwittingly hit a nerve in regards to the cask beer events here in Vancouver and it seems I am not the only one who has been thinking and talking about this subject. I have had much feedback via Facebook, Twitter, email and text messages and I wanted to share cross-section of these comments as I think some are very informative and bring up some very valid points about cask-conditioned beer. I am neither shy about offering my opinion nor am I hesitant about sharing criticism or feedback about what I write. I don't profess to be an expert on any of the subjects I write about but I do offer my opinions and observations in hopes of opening up dialogue and discussion and am just happy to finally have done that, even if only on a small scale. For those messages sent to me privately, via email and text, I have asked permission to repost what I received and for those sent via social media, I have just reposted as they were sent on a public forum to begin with.
Warning...the email portion of the feedback is long, but may be interesting to those who are interested in this subject.

Via Twitter
From: @howesoundbeer
1. Flat beer in cask 2. Add yeast sugar 3. Dry hop spices 4. 2nd ferment and vent 5. Cool 24hr sediment drops serve.

From @eskimodave
I've been secretly saying that no one does cask beer properly. Despite this I make most cask nights here, more for social

From @il_beerstardo
much of quality is dependent on handling...real ale contains live yeast  

Via Text Message     
From: Chris Bonaille, Legacy Liquor Beer Guru
One comment I would like to make is that part of the process of cask-conditioning beer is the job of the barman or the cellarman. The cask must be primed just after racking from the primary fermentor and then after arrival at the pub must be left to settle for 24 hours. Then it can be vented with a spire and tapped at which point it must settle for another 24 hours. It is then ready to be tested by the cellarman to judge, based on his knowledge and experience, as to whether its ready to be served. This all relies on the pub having a person in this position. No pub I know (in Canada) has one.

I did this job in England and I know there are brewers out there who have the skill and knowledge. My point is that the cask events here are not the real deal...

Via Email
From: Marc Smolinski,
Was great to chat (briefly) today at the Whip. Read your article on cask conditioned beer tonight and really enjoyed it. All great questions to reflect on at this point in time with the current explosion of cask nights. Liked the thorough and balanced approach. I feel much the same way as you conclude (good beer is good beer which is my biggest concern, but clear info about how a given "cask" was produced would be nice. (Especially for those for whom Real Ale is a near religion (though seem to be few of that type in B.C.))
The one part of the article I did want to discuss a bit more (and twitter an impossible forum for doing so) is your analogy that some of the current 'casks' are not cask conditioned or Real ale in the same way that your home brew is not real ale. I am pretty certain that your home brew is bona fide real ale and bottle conditioned. As for the casks, I'm not 100% sure how the suspect casks are being produced but IMO there is one key aspect which determines real ale vs. non real ale.
On the home brew side, (and also commercial beers that are bottle conditioned e.g. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale) your process results in legitimate real ale for the following reasons. The distinction between primary fermentation / secondary fermentation and what might be called tertiary fermentation is not significant with respect to real ale. Indeed, there are no real hard distinctions between them, just labels associated with conventional brewing process. Its all just fermentation. "Primary" fermentation results in a lot of sludge that drops out of suspension that can have some impact on beer flavour so conventionally we rack to carboy for 'secondary' fermentation. There is less active yeast at this point but it is still alive and working. When we bottle home brews, we fill the bottles with living beer, usually adding a small dose of fermentable sugar and seal the bottle. Fermentation does continue at this point. Unless your brewing method for bottled homebrew is unique - you are producing real ale which is truly bottle conditioned. There is yeast active alive and working in the bottle. Otherwise you get no CO2. I am sure that if you bottled then immediately pasteurized the bottles you would have flat beer. Any Co2 produced in primary and secondary fermentation has sublimated out since neither is a pressurized vessel. Crucial fermentation occurs in the bottle to carbonate the beer. This is the absolute key aspect of real ale / bottle conditioning / cask conditioning. The Co2 in the beer is a result of natural fermentation in a sealed vessel. The prohibition against pasteurizing is also important as you will have active/live yeast in the beer unless you kill it via pasteurization. Very old real ale might actually have ceased all fermentation and the yeast might actually be totally dormant or dead but I think it still qualifies as real ale. The prohibition on filtering is probably for the same reason but it also has a practical aspect in that filtering a carbonated beverage (eg after the bottle fermentation) would be tricky and you would lose some or all of the carbonation. Filtering before the bottle conditioning would, like pasteurizing result in flat beer as you would be removing the yeast and so no fermentation in bottle. CAMRA UK's dictum that the same vessel that the carbonation occurs in be the serving vessel is also probably a matter of practicality as you would lose carbonation if you rack after the natural carbonation occurs. Still IMO I completely consider that to still be real ale (natural carbonation has occurred, no pasteurization or filtering). At most you are racking off the sludge for better clarity. [Caveat that no artificial re-carbonation occurs after this point].
In truth, the amount of sludge in real ale is not that much. Most of my real ale bottles have just a small amount of sediment and are fully carbonated. I believe that a brewery who rack (but not filter) into casks after secondary fermentation, add sugar and seal the cask are creating 100% real ale / cask conditioned ale. CAMRA UK would agree. The carbonation is occurring naturally in the cask. If the filling of the cask is done properly there will be minimal sludge at the bottom as there is not much yeast still in suspension and not much remaining fermentation needed to provide carbonation. A competent brewmaster should be able to produce casks that are clear almost to the end if the cask is handled properly.
If on the other hand a brewery force carbonates their beer after secondary fermentation and then fills the cask with already carbonated beer (irrespective of filtering or pasteurizing) whether one month or one minute before delivering the cask - then 100% it is NOT REAL ALE, and NOT A CASK. Plain and simple its a keg of beer. Dry hopping does not change this. Adding flavourings does not change this. Lack of pasteurizing or filtration do not on their own make a real ale. If this is indeed the process that some brewers are following with the suspect 'clear casks' then they are misrepresenting and I want to ensure this does not happen. For example today. If it was a keg of Driftwood ESB we were drinking (e.g. carbonation occurred artificially), that's fine, its a good beer and I'd still come out to try the KEG - but its false advertising to call that a cask.
I agree the tilting of the cask like we saw today does make me wonder if its truly a cask conditioned ale, but the key question is that of whether the carbonation comes from natural fermentation in a closed vessel or force carbonation. My opinion, and I think its pretty close to the CAMRA view is that if its a natural fermentation from start to finish and no external CO2 its real ale irrespective of how clear or cloudy or how highly carbonated. In that case its real ale, cask conditioned. Otherwise, its just a keg dressed up as a cask.
I would like to chat a bit more about what you have learned about the process taken for some of the suspect 'clear' casks as from the article I cannot completely tell whether I consider them to be real ale or not. Sorry if this all sounds like a lecture and I realize I'm probably covering mostly what you already know - just wanted to be specific about my understanding of real ale. Thanks again for the article - its great to have dialogue about cask beers and the state of the local craft beer scene.


  1. Too hard to read black on dark blue. DNR

  2. Thanks...seems it presents differently on different computers. Have tried to address the problem.