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Oakes Weekly

December 23, 2004
Oakes Weekly December 23, 2004      
Written by Oakes

Vancouver, CANADA -

I am back on North American soil for the first time since early July. I have to admit it feels a little odd, since I’ve relocated to the West Coast. But my first night back I grabbed some stuff from the shelves of a local store and that always helps smooth things over.

I guess the first thing I should do is thank Dix BBQ & Brewery for hosting a cask ale festival three days after I arrived back in Vancouver. That’s not such a bad way to get re-introduced to the real world after traveling for 5 ½ months. I got a chance to hook up some of the brewpub seasonals, thus reducing the need for me to hit all the local brewpubs in the next couple of weeks before their Christmas beers run out. Now I can relax a bit and pace myself.

The fest was actually kind of weird. They used cornies instead of firkins…I admit I wondered where they were going to find 16 firkins in BC. The theme was “Extreme” so we got some eisbock, tripel, dubbel, IPA, weizenbock, and strong ales…nothing too edgy but this is Canada after all. The beers were presented in flights of four over the bar so no individual sampling and no chit-chat with the brewers. Strange indeed, but without a single amber or blonde it was better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick.

And it was certainly better than being forced to choke back another goddamn Singha. On first taste, Singha and Beer Lao don’t seem that much different. But it’s all in the details. Beer Lao has a wonderful bit of malt character while Singha’s malts seem poorly extracted. Further, Beer Lao has a moderate amount of alcohol and Singha is 6%. There is no need for a session beer to have so much alcohol. So my final word on Southeast Asia is that while those two beers may seem similar on first sip, Beer Lao grows on you the more you drink it, while the more Singha you drink, the less you want. I may never drink that stuff again, even if I go back to Thailand.

The scene in Vancouver is looking up right now. All the brewers seem comfortably established. Some are even taking a few chances, though it’s nothing quite like south of the border. The local government liquor monopoly stores have a solid variety for me. I was quite impressed to hit up a suburban store of average calibre and see four Flemish sours staring me down, including the Great One, Rodenbach Grand Cru. I haven’t seen this one in quite a while. With all the tinkering that Palm’s done with this beer, I’m glad the reports have it being close to what it was before. That the ratings show a slight downward trend still, however, gives me reason not to get too excited.

That little feature is a beauty. The stats feature on a beer’s page allows you access to the beer’s ratings over time. So for example, when Black Oak Winter Ale came out, I speculated that the beer probably would diminish fairly quickly over time. The ratings over the past year would seem to prove that theory, as they show a steady decline since the time of the beer’s release. Likewise, Bieropholie’s pilsner Na Zdravi saw some recipe-tinkering after the first batch and the results are clear when you look at the graph – a marked improvement. Speakings of marked improvements, judging by the chart for Festina Lente, it might actually be safe to dip my toes back in those waters. If anyone at Dogfish is listening, that translates as “I’m interested in a fresh bottle of this stuff but I don’t live out east anymore so feel free to hook me up.”

Of course, the results are more significant if the beer has a lot of ratings. Unibroue beers do. One of the big questions was how these beers would change when Sleeman bought the brewery. I said they wouldn’t, because Sleeman isn’t known for that type of ownership. A look at the major Unibroue brands reveals no alarming downward trend for Maudite and Fin du Monde, but the recent ratings for Trois-Pistoles, Blanche de Chambly, Eau Benite, Raftman and Don de Dieu do head slightly south. I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t other factors involved, but this is the finding of the Ratebeer community. I’ll grab a mixed 12-pack and levy my own judgments in good time. Incidentally, the Unibroue-initiated recipe change of Quelque Chose seems to be a bigger issue with our beer lovers, as the ratings have been much more volatile since they fiddled with this beer a couple of years ago.

Another brewer taken over not so long ago was Ommegang. Most of the beers don’t show much movement in terms of their graphs. Hennepin probably has the weakest graph of late, but Three Philosophers has recovered strongly in the past few months after a bit of a dip, so it pretty much evens out. Of course, such dips don’t necessary mean that much. Just for fun, I took a look at Budeweiser’s chart. This is a beer whose stability is the source of much admiration in the macrobrew business. It is also the second-most rated beer here. Yet, there is still volatility, including a recent plummet over several months. Corona has seen a similar fate at the hands of Ratebeer users.

Deep down, it’s all in good fun, but if you’re ever curious how that recipe change turned out, or what happened when the brewery was sold to a big multinational, it’s a neat tool to have.

As I mentioned, I’ve relocated to Vancouver, where I grew up. So far so good if you ask me. I have to pinch myself when I think about how many good beers are so close to me. The Pacific Northwest just drips beer. BC might be fairly average when all the states and provinces are weighed, but when I think of taking a weekend down to Seattle, it scares me. That three-hour drive could take all day, even more if I have to drive myself. And with Oregon within striking distance as well…like I said, it freaks me out. Of course, getting across the border isn’t quite as easy as it used to be, back in the days when I’d pop down to Archer Ale House in Bellingham, WA for a couple of pints. But that’s fine. I’ve learned since then how to make these things happen.

It’s admittedly been tough to get into the Christmas spirit for me. The whole jingle bells thing doesn’t work so much when you’re in Thailand and it’s 30C outside. Then when I get home I have to find a new job, having blown the last one off to go travelling. But I’ve got a few days now, and I’m sure you do, too. I’ve got some Abbaye des Rocs Speciale Noël, Binchoise Speciale Noël, my Flemish-sour pile and a few local items to keep me amused for the new week or so. So let’s all hoist a pint, or a snifter, to relaxation, family, food and festivities!



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start quote I guess the first thing I should do is thank Dix BBQ & Brewery for hosting a cask ale festival three days after I arrived back in Vancouver. end quote