Bamberg: It’s a German Spargle Party!

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This is what all of Bamberg looks like.

The European rail system takes a couple tries to grok–grok, that old hippy term for “I get it, but deeper”–and so we missed our train a second time. Remarkably, another train was leaving shortly. It whisked us at speeds up to 304 km/h (that’s about 180 mph) from Cologne to Bamberg. The agrarian landscape, spiked with windmills and scabby with solar arrays, whizzed by as I stood in the breezeway between cars. We did not make a reservation, and there was a small fracas involving a group of old women and a younger woman and who should sit where, so I relieved a seat of my bum to keep the peace.

Cologne, a city that runs in no small part on commercialism and one style of beer, is nearly the opposite of Bamberg, which wasn’t bombed during World War II and is well-kept, quaint the way a snow globe is quaint, and runs on several styles of beer.

We met our Airbnb host, Behn, a tall, jovial Canadian. His right arm was fully bandaged, and he had scabs on his forehead. With his smoky, confident voice he told us about the fight he’d been in the night before. A refugee, as he said, was harassing some women and he stepped in. Imposing as he is, the assailant brandished a broken bottle and got the better of him until the police came. Behn had gotten out of the hospital in time to meet us, and was probably on a fresh regimen of painkiller in addition to the can of Bacardi rum ‘n coke that occupied his left hand. We fist-bumped hello.

Our apartment was in the center of town, across the cobbled street from Mulligan’s on Obere Sandstrasse, where Behn worked part time, and just a minute’s walk from Schlenkerla, the historic rauchbier brewery. To get there from the Hauptbahnhof, we walked south through the market square, where veggie vendors were piled high with white asparagus. It was Sparglezeit! It was a German Spargle Party!

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Bamberg from above, a short walk from Spezial-Keller

The sun was shining and I was thirsty, so we set a-walkin’. Up the hill to the southeast to Spezial-Keller we strode, confident that Behn’s promise that “you will get lost” would come to pass. Indeed. But once we arrived, the gates were shut; we were early! After a brief nature walk and pleasant sit on a bench overlooking the city, we returned. An old man was leaning against an old car on the side of the road, and he said something as we approached. All I heard was “bier,” and he gestured in a different direction than we were walking. So we turned.

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Spezial-Keller

OK, the beer. Our first order was, naturally, the rauchbier. It is a deep amber lager with subdued smoke character from a portion of beechwood-smoked malt. It came to us in stoneware; thick, rustic, grey ceramic steins, and topped with a seafoamy froth that completely hid the beer beneath.

Needless to say (but I have to)– sitting under huge maples just leafing out at an old table along the fence of the vast biergarten, feeling the cool breeze and dapple while listening to the foam on my beer abate and children laughing in the field nearby, and being with my favorite person on our best honeymoon ever– needless to say, I was happy.

The rest of that day turned into a beer tour. We were invited by our friend Don, who was passing through Bamberg on his own European tour, to Cafe Abseits, which has another fantastic biergarten in the courtyard behind the pub and features a handful of beers on tap and lots of bottles. I enjoyed two on tap, a Monchsambacher Maibock (my first of the season!) and Huppendorfer Vollbier.

The end of the night found us outside of Schlenkerla brewery drinking uber-rauchy rauchbier on the street, admiring a group of sketchy dudes being loud and macho in another language, and possibly making public displays of affection. Honeymoon! Actually, we bore witness to numerous acts of PDA; public snogging and butt grabbing on both sides of the binary gender fence became familiar sights everywhere, to our pleasure and amusement.

The next day, I went and took a tour at the Weyermann Malting Company’s headquarters and specialty maltings. Weyermann was started in 1879 as a coffee and malt roaster, and gradually grew, with a big expansion in 1904. Its famous ketchup/mustard red and yellow theme colors represent the bricks of the buildings and the barley grain.

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The two smokestacks are from the building where Rauchmalz is made at Weyermann Malting

Thankfully, there was an English tour that day. Our group was led through the entire process, starting at the lab where every truckload (Weyermann works with 500 farms in Germany, Czech Republic, and Italy) is analyzed for bugs, plumpness, protein, and moisture. Trucks deposit the barley into underground storage. It is then piped up to a machine that tumbles and shakes to separate pieces of straw and small grains. Then, the grain is steeped in water and moved to a germination room, similar to an oast but without heat, in very large beds around 140cm deep. A machine with sprayers and augurs moves up and down the bed, keeping the grains moist and loose as they germinate.

Because the germination process doesn’t stop, chemical analysis is not really an option to determine whether or not the process is done, so the maltster comes and looks and feels and tastes the grain, and can tell by sheer practice when the green malt is ready to go. This job, this dude, is responsible for quite a bit of the flavor and effectiveness of malt that is distributed all around the world. He is deep in it.

At the Bamberg plant, which is the original location of the maltings and a historic site that cannot be expanded or torn down for modern facilities, only specialty malts are produced, including the Rauchmalz. So the green malt is either sent to the roasted directly to be caramelized (before drying, so the long-chain sugars in the grain cook inside), or kilned and then roasted in one of 6-ish large drum roasters.

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A sample of Pilsner at the Weyermann Malting taproom

There is a pilot brewery, I think 5 hectoliters, that produces a bunch of different beers that are sold in the shop there. We saw that, then went to the warehouse. There are four bays, including one for local breweries to pick up their own orders. Inside, it is modern and streamlined for efficient and accurate movement of orders; much like a big beer distribution warehouse, workers on forklifts and electric-motor pallet jacks whiz around wrapping and moving pallets. The bags of malt are dated using a code; T is 2018, and the number following is the Julian date (this meant something to me, as lots of breweries use the Julian date coding for their bottles; it helps to know if your malt is fresh too!).

The tour finished in the newly built tasting room, a large space with a very nice bar and glassware, and about a dozen Weyermann beers on tap. I tried a pilsner, a roggenbier, and a rauchbier, all fantastic, and took a bottle of a Bohemian pils for the walk back.

Later, we visited the breweries Fässla, Mahr’s, and Keesman for more mind-blowing lagers. I’d give the run down, but really… just go.

If you want to read about Bamberg twice, click here.

Why Kölsch Works

If you’ve known me around beer, you probably know about my relationship with Kölsch. I’ve got a reputation, actually, for my obsession, analysis, and excitement, be it fit or fantasy, over this beer style. I may or may not have tasted Reissdorf, the most common example available in Oregon, before I brewed my first batch around 2011; mine came out well enough that I continued. Then Dave at Flat Tail began producing one, and Trevor while at Claim 52. At that point, Kölsch started to be a thing, and I started getting annoyed.

Yesterday, I saw a photo that included a can of something called “Ballast Point Tart Peach Kölsch,” and retched. This is a criminal example of what I call, “not a fucking Kölsch!” Many others are not so blatant in their total disregard for taste (and flavor and appearance), and produce beer that visually resembles Kölsch and contains the same simple ingredients as Kölsch, but that misses the flavor, aroma, and texture that defines the style; these should be called American Blond Ales. You see how goddamn obsessed I am?

Well folks, I finally visited the Mothership. Cologne*, Germany is the birthplace and stronghold of Kölsch; it is kept in its own Rapunzel’s tower by the Kölsch Konvention, which dictates that no beer brewed outside the city walls can be called Kölsch. (That obviously doesn’t apply in the U.S..)

My hajj took place on my honeymoon (as will have the next few posts); Liz graciously consented to this first leg of the trip, on a fast train from Berlin to the Rhineland, and we met up with Michael and Brendan, old friends from the Stein now living in Freiburg to the south, and their friend Joey. We disembarked at the Hauptbahnhof (main station), checked into our hotel, and went immediately to Gaffel am Dom, the Gaffel brewery right next to the Kölner Dom cathedral, which, Brendan pointed out, looks photoshopped.

The place was packed, but we got a table quickly. The waiter came by hurriedly, and we ordered Kölsch all around. I tried to keep my cool. When the dude carrying the beer (called a Kobe), brought around the tray (Kranze), deposited five beer mats and five small rod-shaped glasses (Stanges), struck five hash marks on a beer mat, and walked away, I about had an aneurysm. It finally happened!

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On our second or third round at Gaffel, but not even a pint in!

The first sip, after the sacred ritual of Prost!, was… I can’t say the earth shook, but it jiggled a bit.

Part of my personal Kölsch mythology includes a German asking a beer nerd why he was sticking his nose in the glass. You really can’t stick your nose far into a Stange, it’s just not wide enough. And by the time you’ve taken three legitimate sips, it’s gone and about to be replaced by another. And so it goes.

Kölsch is an odd commodity. The indigenous ritual of drinking it is perpetuated by its appellation and by the breweries, which take full advantage of the lack of tied house laws to create anti-competitive relationships with bars and restaurants. Only one brand of Kölsch is served at any particular place, as far as I saw. Signs above the door and branded umbrellas outside indicate which Kölsch you’ll be drinking there. Other beers, like Paulaner, may be served as well. Some of the Kölsch breweries also produce different styles like Weizen or Bock, but I didn’t try them.

That’s how Kölsch works in Cologne, and is likely the reason there is so little craft beer there. I’m certainly not complaining; I didn’t go to Germany to drink American style beers, and only one Kölsch, Sion, is a subsidiary of a large brewing conglomerate (and easily the worst Kölsch I tried). So the scene is still “indie.” It has, in a way, protected its interests by setting up an economic wall around the city. Old school.

The Gaffel Kölsch was very clean and crisp, like a Helles or German Pils. Next we went to Früh (where we earned a moderate 18 hash marks on our coaster) and sat in the lower level of the ancient building. The beer was lighter and softer, with a very light fruitiness. Following that, we trundled over to Päffgen and were seated in a cozy, semi-indoor courtyard with a retractable roof.

This was fantastic beer. It felt dryer than the others due to a distinct mineral texture (Cologne water is pretty hard and tastes bad), and had a dash of noble hop character. I think it would be the best for pairing with food because of this extra, though still slight, nuance.

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Though one drinker succumbed to tea (due to a slight cold), much Päffgen was enjoyed.

The service of Kölsch in .2L glasses (~6.75 oz) means that a lot more glassware must be cleaned, filled, transported, and removed from tables. The bars often had one, maybe two guys hustling their asses off washing and filling hundreds of these delicate glasses. Though it doesn’t seem the most efficient, the beer never gets warm. The shape of the glass is a pleasure to drink from, and emphasizes the paleness and brilliant clarity of the beer (a suggestion of quality).

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Still jet-lagged but thrilled to be with friends drinking fresh Früh!

Since we’d had a few…dozen… Stanges of Kölsch by now, we set to walk a bit and wound up having one unfortunate glass at a Sion pub. It was full of bros, which should have been a tip-off. It had a green apple yeast flavor and was generally unpleasant to drink; by comparison, the others seemed all the better!

The next day I learned about walking on the street with beer, and how having to pee really bad can lead to drinking more beer because the bar you chose to sneak into was empty and you got questioned by the server. After our friends departed, Liz and I tried Reissdorf (super clean, tastes the same as in the U.S. but fresher) and Mühlen, which was excellent with the best presentation of yeast character– white wine and pear, beautiful counterpoint to the hops and malt. So delicate.

Kölsch is a drinking beer, not a thinking beer. If you (and by you I mean you, not me) have to fuss over it, it may not be a Kölsch.

*The city is called Cologne by everybody in Germany, not Köln (pronounced koeln). This is a sort of colloquialism not uncommon in Europe, which translates city names from their original/native language to a more phonetic pronunciation. Bad example: Baile Ath Cliath is Dublin. Good example: München is Munich. There you have it.

 

 

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One of these things is not like the other. Counterpoint of the Kölner Dom and modern buildings.

The Heartbeat of a Dead Ogre

The Maori language wasn’t written until New Zealand was colonized, so words are spelled phonetically, and pronounced with a slight roll of the r“Maori” is pronounced “MOW-dee.” Lake Wakatipu is a very large lake shaped like a lightning bolt, or a dogleg, or a mythical ogre who was burned while he slept by a heroic Maori. It is told that the ogre’s heart still beats. Perched on the knee of the dead ogre, in a crotch of the Southern Alps, Queenstown is pure travel. Its bustle is equally matched by its hustle. Every nook is packed with hawking signs, visual stimuli for the purebred tourist. Even the white-eyed terns want something from you. Despite its steroidal salesmanship, Queenstown can’t help its draw. The drolly named Remarkables mountain range peers over the lake from the east (do the mountains to the north, south, and west feel slighted, or do they poke fun?), and literally everything about the landscape is distractingly epic.

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A view from Queenstown

Going to Queenstown specifically for beer is just silly. You don’t go there for beer. You drink beer after your tramp (Glossary: Walk = Hike; Tramping = Backpacking; Track = Trail) and before your next outing. Sorry, beer. You are second fiddle. You are also extremely expensive, thanks to insane taxes. But will we pay $8.50 – $13 for a shaker pint of you? Yes. Bob’s your uncle. Speight’s Ale House, an indigenous chain, offers smooth, malty, English brews and well-portioned dishes in the same style. Stop number one.

A tramp on the Routeburn Track, 32 kilometers of alpine sure-footery, is best completed in three days, though it can be done in two (ask me how). It begins innocently enough, through damp jungle of southern beech, ferns, and the occasional waterfall along the Route Burn (river; it’s Scottish). The track is well maintained, not overworn or muddy. Tomtits and tiny, tailless riflemen peep and dart in the foliage, and inseparable pairs of paradise shelducks rattle and sigh (zeek! zonk…) as you approach them in the high wetlands of the Routeburn Flats, just at the edge of the bushline.

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Routeburn Flats

The first of four possible nights is at Routeburn Flats Hut 6.5 km in; there is also space to pitch a tent, though all require advance reservation and fee. Little waterfalls squirt from the mountainsides across the flats. It might rain on and off forever; “it’s New Zealand,” says the warden. It’s cold at night.

On your second and final day, you crazy person, the trail heads vertically to Harris Saddle. About halfway up, amid the moraine and hardy evergreen scrub, you begin to think about a beer. There are very few switchbacks. You pass Routeburn Falls Hut, scaffolded and stilted onto the mountainside, very luxurious for being nearly 9 km away from the trailhead. Don’t stop, your day has just begun. The alpine lakes shine like Cleopatra’s eyeliner, the streams gleam an Absinthe-like louche: glacial flour, powdered minerals; liquid jade. Stay hydrated, you sweaty crazy person.

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Looking back on Routeburn Flats
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Looking south from Harris Saddle. Forward, march!

At the saddle, where an uninviting emergency bunker sits like a lost Lego, it looks like all downhill from here. At 1,255 meters elevation, the bare mountain peaks and some glaciers are visible, as is a swamp harrier’s view of your footsteps. You rest for a bite in the cold wind that threatens to freeze your sweaty shirt, then move on; about 16 km to go.

Along the way, the terrain shifts. Watch out for wet rocks, keep those hiking poles nimble. Around a bend, you see Lake Mackenzie glowing butane blue way down below. Its nearness is deceptive. Your knees start to think about having a beer. Quiet, knees!

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Lake Mackenzie & Hut

Routeburn Track is a through-hike, and transport can be arranged at either end. Timing is key, as missing the bus at the end means you’ll be either hitching or pitching. The downhill gets downier until Lake Mackenzie, whereupon a surprising rise leads to Earland Falls, which dusts your ankles with its spray. It is well advised at this point to be “in the zone.” Heading downwards again, there are trees that, to an Oregonian, resemble madrone. With sloughing, scaly bark and dark ovate leaves, these are giant fuchsia! … Can you dry-hop a beer with fuchsia?

Down, down, down, the flames in your trail-rusty heels tell you it’s time to stop; don’t stop. Streams are more frequent on this side of the saddle. Thick moss and more ferns are welcome sights, though the trail has remained largely pebbled. The mountains loom once again as you retreat back to the land of organic material. Looking back and up is satisfying: “I was just there!” That’s the duality of trail-time; looking forward you see time stretched out, while it has tessellated like an accordion behind you.

Lake Harlow stinks something sulfur. Use the loo at the hut (you have been drinking water, right?), splash the sweat off your brow, and continue over the next steep hump and descend quickly to the end of the trail, The Divide. The Divide indicates just that: the separation of ranges to the east and west. At the northwest end of the road is Milford Sound and the Tasman Sea, as we will see later.

The transport arrives–you were an hour early, you silly sweaty crazy person–and brings you to Te Anau (tay AH-no), where you drop your gear at a hostel and walk to the strippy downtown along the lake and find a pizza joint, Naturally Fiordland (vegetarian flair with notable omission of cashews listed in its pesto salad dressing; pizza was fine for very hungry folks just off the trail). And, holy of holies you were worried, as today is Easter and April Fool’s Day, and there was the threat that restaurants would not sell beer on Easter, and you were not able to arrange for transport of beer along with your ride. But there is beer. Bottles of Monteith’s Lager and Pilsner whirlpool down your throat leading to satisfying tomato sauce burps.

The next day, you want to jump off a bridge…

(This is part of my New Zealand adventure, a fast week in the south of the South Island with my friend Scott, and a quick visit in Auckland with Sam and Annelies (and their two kiddos), whom Liz and I originally met as their Couchsurfing hosts in Eugene. We partied with them in The Hague in 2014, so perhaps another country in 2022.)

 

Size Matters

I had an interesting conversation with a brewery rep last night. It was the Eugene stop, the final stop, on Bigfoot Beverages’ trade show route. The Bier Stein had the fortuitous idea to host the after party, taking over the majority of its taps with Bigfoot breweries. For a guy who needs to be in touch with brewery folk in order to keep ticking, it was a feeding frenzy for yours truly (sorry, it sounds like I think of brewery reps as meat; that’s not the case. I was just hungry.).

I had this interesting conversation in the middle of the thrumming Stein, which is an inspirational place to begin with, where I should be writing more often, with a rep who works for a successful medium-sized brewery (around 20,000 barrels produced last year) in Oregon. His employer doesn’t have trouble selling its beer, he noted happily. The beer is basically sold before it hits the loading dock. He remarked that another, much larger brewery would often have stacks of full kegs waiting to be sold. At the same time, his brewery is struggling in the Bend market.

That’s no surprise; Bend is a statistical outlier. With enough breweries to supply at least two more of its population (not counting tourist traffic), a Boneyard tap in every bar, and the number 10 largest craft brewery in the country by volume: Deschutes. For an outside brewery to snag a tap handle in Bend, it really has to show up and go through the motions (grocery store tastings, face time with beer buyers) to occupy a nook of that besotted market.

The brewery with beer sitting around has much wider distribution (it is also on the top 50 list), and I noted that running out is not an option; an empty shelf slot or dry faucet will quickly be filled in, possibly by this rep’s beer (nature and beer drinkers abhor a vacuum, the saying goes. Just ask my kitchen floor. Ba-dum-ch!). Having some overstock that’s managed well is security in a fluctuating market.

At the same time, this brewery rep’s bosses are trying to grow 20% or more this year. 20%! Twenty percent! A bit alarming considering the retarded market growth. Not impossible, but a bold expectation. The movie version of this scenario involves a spreadsheet-addled young salesman pushed to extreme, vulgar, illicit lengths to meet the numbers, then taking the fall when it all comes crashing down. In the final scene he is contentedly serving food at a homeless shelter. Spoiler alert!

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An increase of around 5,000 barrels is, like, a million pints. With many breweries growing into bigger systems (Great Notion, Bend Brewing Co., and Migration come to mind) is there a divide between the market realities and the perception of available space on shelves, tap lists, and bellies? I would wager that starting a small brewpub is a better idea at this point than continuing a model of linear growth that goes against the current.

So yeah, size matters. Various conversations focus on quality issues, overhead, styles produced, but few (that I’ve read, at least) address the proportional size of breweries, output and geographic spread, and marketing issues. I’ve spoken with several brewers at smaller breweries who have named a modest maximum desired output. Their goal is to serve their communities first. Making waves in new markets and maintaining relevance there is less important.

I’d be interested to hear some other perspectives on this issue, either from beer industry folks, or any other production-sales-retail sector; the reality is that beer is special because it is the foundation of human civilization, not because it’s some unique widget.

What I Learned on Vancouver Island

I had the fortune to be invited, as both guest beer writer and chauffeur, to tour the southeastern coast of Vancouver Island. Along with Ezra, publican of The New School, the tour took five nights and covered Victoria to just north of Qualicum Beach, around 100 miles apart. This was my first ever media trip; lodging, car, and per diem were paid for by a tourism company in conjunction with the BC Ale Trail. In our rented Taurus with (thank heavens) GPS, we visited over a dozen breweries and beer bars and took some side jaunts to coffeeshops, beach parks, and a grand old train trestle.

Though the laws are slowly loosening, drinking beer in British Columbia is somewhat complicated, and expensive due to high taxes. Some taprooms only offer samples and beer to go, no full pours. Others sell flights and “sleeves,” or full pours (not always a pint; in fact, very rarely a pint it seemed). All of them filled growlers. It appeared that none were required to sell food. So whenever we walked into a new brewery, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect. Given our status as professional tourists, we always opted for flights in order to cover the most ground in the fewest sips. Touring this way can be tedious, as the palate eventually degrades into simple sensations.

The words “nascent,” “emerging,” and “burgeoning” are the most generic to describe a young and growing craft beer “scene,” just as the word “avid” is the most overused adjective to describe a homebrewer who goes pro. But the Vancouver Island beer industry is basically that. Though several breweries have been open for more than a decade, the majority are much younger than that. According to bartenders and brewers we spoke with, the reemergence of township breweries there is concurrent with that in the States. The collective beer-unconscious has produced a pox of small breweries in small towns; everybody had the same idea at the same time. This is the direct result of a legislative change in 2013 that allowed breweries to sell their beer on-premise in “lounges,” rather than being forced to sell it to the government and buy it back, or not make any retail margin at all.

The Island is lovely. Downtown Victoria has maintained much of its 19th century architecture, the beaches and harbors are photogenic and full of life, but also rocky and stark like the coast of Maine, or Alaska; life abounds in crevices. Fir, cedar, and madrone trees line roadways and trails. Though it snowed periodically through the week, it is generally temperate, with lower highs and higher lows than Oregon, at least on the coast. Mountain views are frequent, whether inland or across the Salish Sea to the mainland. Camping and backpacking here would be excellent (though we heard no reports on summer bugginess).

Victoria is a medium sized city, quite bigger than Eugene, but smaller than Portland. It has the most mature breweries, and several beer bars. We visited The Drake Eatery, a beer bar in downtown Victoria. The beer selection of around 30 taps was broad (i.e. did not lean heavily on hoppy beer) and carefully curated by the proprietor, Mike Spence. The experience there gave both of us, I think, a false sense of security about the beer we were to taste on the trip. It’s a really nice beer bar, and I would have liked to stay longer.

But Victoria was not our destination. The second day, we went to three breweries and a taphouse: Red Arrow, Craig Street, Riot, and Sawmill Taphouse & Grill. It’s difficult to write about the first two, especially Craig Street. The tourism company had given us an itinerary, but no times or appointments; communication with the breweries was spotty because very few expected us (that was not the case at Riot, which I’ll get to). We got into the brewery at Red Arrow for a couple minutes and looked around; yep, it’s a brewery. At Craig Street, we simply sat down with flights and a dish of poutine. Perhaps it’s best that nobody was there to meet us; the beer was not good, with buttery diacetyl in every one, even the seasonal Altbier. But it would have been nice to ask some questions, as the space is welcoming and well-adorned and seems reasonably popular.

The new breweries are all doing pretty much the same thing: blonde, pilsner, pale, IPA, porter or stout, and a seasonal make up the tap lists. Hardly any saison or other Belgian, no sour or wild ale. Not very adventurous. That goes for most of the food and coffee we experienced as well. This is likely because everything north of Victoria is basically the middle of nowhere. Nanaimo is the next largest city with about 100,000 people in the greater vicinity; only half the population of Eugene-Springfield. So really, the lack of urban culture shouldn’t have been surprising at all. We could have packed a bottle of Sriracha and called it good.

But it’s proven that beer quality has nothing to do with proximity to an urban center; there is plenty of shit beer in cities. Education and good brewery practices, however, are critical. Though we were unable to interview every brewer, it is clear that there is a collective dearth of good brewery practices; off flavors like diacetyl and acetaldehyde were common, appearing in at least one of every brewery’s beers. Attenuation issues, either over or under, were not uncommon either. Some beers were oxidized, presumably not having sold well; we only visited one brewery that had any real activity going on, which indicated at least a slow season, if not infrequent brewing.

The market is still growing; in the age of social media, it is easier to spread information about craft beer, and groups like the Nanaimo Craft Beer Society are doing a really good job. The ultimate event on our trip was called Crafternoon, and was the finale of Nanaimo Craft Beer Week, held at Longwood Brewpub. It was different from any beer fest I’d been to before, as it was held indoors at a brewpub and there were no tickets for beer and the food, brought around on trays by wait staff, was free. There were only 150 or so tickets sold, so the two floors of the pub weren’t jam packed; they probably could have sold 50 more tickets without issue; the event had sold out in December, anyhow. With 14 breweries from the Island and mainland serving two beers each, the selection was the broadest and the quality the highest we’d seen since The Drake. The community is strong, and part of the Society’s stated mission, as told to me by one of the members, is to improve the quality of the beer. They know it’s not all good; that’s a really big step! All too often, brewers think their shit smells great when in fact it smells like… so having a group like the NCBS will prove quite valuable.

I wrote a journal of the trip, which I might post here soon, along with more photos. Stay tuned!