Monday, July 8, 2013

Do You Want Brewery Lounges In Vancouver?

Vancouver City Council is voting tomorrow on a set of bylaw amendments that would allow small lounges on the premises of craft breweries in Vancouver.  Yes, that's right, presently they are not allowed!  Provincial laws have changed to allow brewery lounges, but Vancouver bylaws need to be amended as well.

This is an important step in developing a better craft beer culture and industry in Vancouver.

If you like craft beer, send a letter to Council before 4pm Tuesday, July 9, 2013.  It has already been written for you by Barley Mowat - all you have to do is click a link, then hit "send".

Or if you're an enthusiast like me, you can expand on the form letter - see the letter I sent (below) if you need inspiration.


My letter to mayorandcouncil @

I am writing in support of the proposed amendments to the above-noted Zoning and Development bylaw, allowing brewery- and distillery-attached lounges in Vancouver (the "Amendments").


First, I adopt the sentiments of many other craft beer-knowledgable Vancouver residents, which you have undoubtedly seen in similar form:

"The burgeoning craft brewing and distilling industry supports a key demand of local residents: to purchase merchandise from, and thereby support, local businesses.

Vancouver residents increasingly recognize and desire the high-quality products produced by local breweries and distilleries, but unfortunately have to retire to their homes to enjoy these products beyond a small sample. Allowing lounges will encourage a sense of community around these new businesses, and will support local producers with a much-needed revenue stream, encouraging further expansion of this popular and valuable industry.

Additionally, our rapidly increasing local brewery and distillery scene has drawn the attention of visiting tourists, many of whom are dismayed to learn that the extent of their sampling is limited to a single sample per day. Adopting an amendment that will will erase this restriction, and bring Vancouver breweries and distilleries more inline with businesses in other jurisdictions, will be extremely beneficial to local businesses and residents, as it has been in such other jurisdictions.

I trust that you will consider the interests of both local businesses and residents such as myself when you address this matter on July 9th, and vote in favour this amendment."

Further, craft breweries are often an important first step in the revitalization of urban industrial zones challenged by the perennial flight of businesses to less expensive lands in the suburbs and beyond.  Unlike wineries, which are invariably located in prime rural, bucolic farm country, craft breweries are often set up in the light industrial zones of urban areas (and I believe in Vancouver, are required to locate in such zones), and are often leaders in the revival of communities in such areas.  See, for example, the article at this link (the text is included at the end of this letter):

Despite what might be alleged by unrelated industry groups or overly-concerned residents, 1) brewery lounges do not (and cannot) pose a competitive threat to Vancouver's huge and well-funded liquor-primary mega-clubs, and 2) brewery lounges will not spread large numbers of intoxicated persons (creating noise and mischief) outside of the designated downtown mega-club area known as the Granville Strip and surroundings.  In fact, brewery lounges are the very antithesis of the drunkenness and disorderliness I often encounter in the Granville Strip region.  Such brewery lounges attract local residents and tourists alike who are interested in craft beer and related products and services - that is, beverages that are imbibed and appreciated for their complex and subtle flavours rather than purely for their alcohol content.  The personal, symbiotic relationship developed between a local brewer or distiller and his/her local and foreign clientele is one involving mutual admiration, pride of craftsmanship and support of local small business - never one of profit through drunkenness.  I cannot recall attending a craft beer-related brewery, lounge, pub, festival or conference where truly excessive drunkenness, noise or other mischief has been an issue whatsoever.

One has only to look south to the states of Washington, Oregon and California - and in particular Portland, OR - to see the unbridled success of urban and suburban breweries with attached lounges and few restrictions.  Residents see these as cultural and community hubs, as anchor businesses in their areas, and as truly valuable assets.  I strongly recommend that council look to other jurisdictions that have successfully implemented brewery lounges for guidance in this and related areas.  Again, starting with Portland, OR.

In addition, I urge council not to deny the proposed amendment on the basis that it is too restrictive, as I believe several members of the Campaign For Culture have suggested you do.  While I agree that the proposed limits on brewery lounges should be lessened, council should not delay the implementation of the Amendments and send them "back to the drawing board" at this late stage; new, small breweries are relying upon the Amendments to get themselves off the ground (e.g. 33 Acres Brewing and Brassneck Brewery), and any delay could harm or destroy their successful launches.  Changes to the program can take place in a subsequent amendment.

I would consider it a tragedy should a handful of vocal, ill-informed residents and competition-averse businesses were to derail this vital step towards Vancouver becoming a more friendly, welcoming and liveable community; encouraging local, sustainable small businesses; and in particular realizing the immense benefits of a healthy craft beer tourism and brewing industry.

Council, thank you for considering this material, and please pass the Amendments on July 9.

Yours very truly,


A Tale Of 6 Cities Craft Brewers Helped Transform
July 04, 2013   12:01 PM

In once rundown urban districts across the country, craft breweries have helped to transform the neighborhoods around them.

Small business owners tackled the hard work of transforming industrial buildings, many of which had sat empty as demographic changes pulled manufacturers and residents to the suburbs.

Small-time, independent brewers have been one of the beer market's growth drivers. The number of breweries in the U.S. catapulted from 92 in 1980 to 2,514 as of May 2013, according to craft beer trade group Brewers Association. Barrels shipped have more than doubled in the past decade, and craft beer now makes up nearly 7 percent of a U.S. beer market that is growing slowly overall, according to trade publication Beer Marketer's Insights.

As the breweries churned out beer, they drew visitors and eventually new, young residents — and more small businesses.

Here's a look at six breweries whose presence helped to change their surroundings:

DOWNTOWN DIGS: Boulevard Brewing opened in 1989 in its Kansas City, Mo. Westside neighborhood, creating a brewery out of a building that had been a railroad's laundry. While it probably would have been cheaper for the company to be in the suburbs, the brewery's managers are "committed urbanists" who like the idea of contributing to the vitality of the central city as opposed to building on undeveloped land in the suburbs, says Boulevard's CFO, Jeff Crum.

The building's renovation ranged from replacing pipes to cutting out a skylight to make room for tanks. And in order to grow, Boulevard had to buy the land around it from different owners, get approvals from neighbors and get the city to rezone the land around it.

The brewery, at first, struggled to attract visitors, but now draws about 50,000 people annually as the area around it picked up alongside a broader renewal in nearby downtown Kansas City.

"Not very many years ago this would be an area you'd stay the hell away from," says Danny O'Neill, who started a coffee roaster, the Roasterie, down the street from Boulevard in 1993. Boulevard helped him find his building, and nowadays the coffee factory and brewery host tours and weddings. "Somebody has to go in there first, and I think that's the role that Boulevard played," O'Neill says.

ON THE WATERFRONT: Harpoon Brewery opened on the South Boston waterfront in 1986, when it was surrounded by auto body shops and little else. Now the brewery draws more than 85,000 people a year from tours and tastings, and thousands more from festivals. These days, the city is focused on redeveloping the area. New apartment and office buildings, restaurants and a convention center sit nearby.

Harpoon recently negotiated a 50-year lease with the city. The rent will rise over time, but generally, long leases provide protection from spikes that can happen when an area becomes so popular that property values skyrocket.

RUST BELT REVAMP: Great Lakes opened in Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood in 1988. The downtown neighborhood was "perceived as dangerous and blighted" into the 1980s, says Eric Wobser. He works for Ohio City Inc., a nonprofit that promotes residential and commercial development while trying to preserve the neighborhood's older buildings.

Great Lakes built a brewery and a brewpub. Other breweries and businesses — a pasta maker, a bike shop, a tortilla factory, as well as restaurants and bars — followed. Newcomers flock to the neighborhood, even though Cleveland's overall population is still declining. The city repaved the quiet street next to the brewery, Market Ave., with cobblestones, and poured millions into renovating a nearby 19th-century market.

BREWERY BUBBLE: In the waterfront Ballard section of Seattle, home to fishing shops, shipyards and boat fueling facilities for decades, six breweries have sprung up in the past two years. They joined Hale's Ales and Maritime Pacific Brewing, which both opened in Ballard in the 1990s.

Hale's Ales in 1995 took over a facility that had housed an industrial hose manufacturer and before that a maker of engines.

The neighborhood has become "softer," says Hale's Ales manager Phil O'Brien. "What used to be fishing shops are little restaurants — what used to be hardware stores are now coffee shops."

While Ballard is still a hub of maritime industry, it has landed higher-income apartment buildings and has attracted restaurants and nightlife.

BROOKLYN BRANDS: When Brooklyn Brewery opened in the Williamsburg section of the New York City borough in 1996, its neighbors were mostly deserted warehouses and factories. Today, Brooklyn Brewery is surrounded by modern apartment buildings, trendy bars, shops and restaurants. There's still some graffiti, but that hasn't deterred the influx of new residents willing to spend a lot of money to live there. In the past decade, home values in the Brewery's neighborhood have more than doubled — up 145 percent, according to real estate appraiser Miller Samuel. Brooklyn Brewery and another local craft brewer, Kelso, worry that rising property values will eventually force them out of their current neighborhoods.

ACROSS THE BAY: The tech boom has made one brewpub's growth plans more complicated. In San Francisco, 21st Amendment brewery is two blocks from AT&T Park where baseball's Giants play. Along with the bustling technology sector, 21st Amendment helped to transform the city's SoMa neighborhood.

"People refer to use as the granddaddy of the neighborhood," says 21st Amendment founder Nico Freccia.

Now the company wants to build an 80,000-square-foot brewery — but property values are too high. The company has opened offices in the East Bay, and is scouting space there for the brewery, hoping to help revitalize an Oakland neighborhood.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Tokyo Craft Beer Bars

After two months travelling in the beer-wasteland known as southeast Asia, it was refreshing to hit Japan for a few days, where even the ubiquitous big-name rice lagers are a marked improvement.

After a bread-and-water diet, even a cheap cheeseburger is oh-so-satisfying

But Tokyo caters to everyone's interests, no matter how odd or unique, so there was no need to stick with the familiar.  With a little help from my friend the internet, I was able to visit a few very good craft beer bars.

Juice box sake! Stock up for your kids' lunches...

The Watering Hole (Shinjuku/Yoyogi)

Hello, friendly neighbourhood craft beer bar

Being craft beer keeners, Mrs. Hoplog and I arrived at at the Watering Hole at the 3:00pm opening time.  A few people drifted in and out, but it was certainly not crowded in the afternoon and early evening.

We decided to stick to Japanese beer exclusively, though many international taps were available, focusing largely on American craft brewers such as Rogue, Stone, Ballast Point, etc.  In fact, most of the craft beer bars we visited in Tokyo featured similar lists of American beer - likely the work of the same beer importer.

The walls were filled with American craft beer swag and signs.  Our server (at the end of the bar) was friendly and helpful, and spoke a few words of English (not guaranteed in non-touristed areas of Japan).  She and her fellow employees had visited the most recent GABF (Great American Beer Festival), combining it with a beer-themed road trip. The highlights were captured in two charming photo albums on the bar.

Brimmer Porter with smoked pork and grainy mustard

And wow, the beer was incredible, as were the small plates of food.  If more Japanese craft brewers get traction and start exporting more widely, they will be warmly welcomed in any locale.  They seem to have the same skill making beer that other Japanese companies have making cars, electronics and optics!  If I had to sum up Japanese craft beer in a word, it would be "balance."  You never get punched in the face by a Japanese beer - you simply enter a zen state that allows you to meditate on how pleasing and harmonious the beverage is.

We were big fans of the made-to-order sweet potato chips - simple, but delectable.

There's a single-person smoking cubicle covered by a curtain.  I'm not sure if it was a joke or legitimate.  (Japanese izakayas (food pubs) are hot-boxed by smoking salarymen in the evenings, but you can't smoke while walking down the street - you have to find a designated smoking area in order to smoke outdoors.  Smokers take note.)

Craft beer suits Mrs. Hoplog very well

Shelf features the classics by Daniels, Mosher, etc.

Beers sampled (all highly recommended):
Beer Buddy (Shizuoka): Chocolate Dark IPA, 6%
Brimmer Brewing (Kanagawa): Porter, 5.5%
Baird Brewing (Shizuoka): Suruga Bay Imperial IPA, 7.8%

Goodbeer Faucets (Shibuya)

A few minutes of walking from Sibuya Crossing brings you to the second-floor Goodbeer Faucets.  Take note: this should be your first stop on any craft beer tour of Tokyo.

Love Hotel Hill

Handily, Goodbeer Faucets is adjacent to Love Hotel Hill, featuring endless (often themed) hotels rentable overnight or by the hour.  You know, for when you need a place to crash after imbibing too much, or in case all that sexy craft beer has put you in the mood for a little - ahem - dessert.  (These aren't considered seedy like they would be in North America - if you have a tiny non-soundproofed apartment, or you share one with your parents, sometimes you just need some off-site privacy with your favourite person.)

Most seats provide pleasing low-level views of the endless numbers pedestrian shoppers.

Goodbeer is very proud of its draught system, featuring automated cleaning technology that purportedly keeps the beer sparkling fresh - which it was.

No half-empty bottles of bleach adjacent to this tap tower - the cleaning is all high-tech.

Both international and Japanese craft beers were well-represented.  Again, we stuck to the Japanese stuff.

Our server was fantastic, and beyond the great beer was the reason this place was our favourite in Tokyo.  Her English was quite good (she lived in Los Angeles for two years), she put in a great effort recommending beers that matched our preferences, and was consistently warm and friendly.

She even brought us copies of the "Japan Beer" periodical, available at most craft beer bars we visited.  It's essentially Japan's version of the Northwest Brewing News; be sure to pick up a copy when you're in Japan.

Beers sampled (all highly recommended):
Nide Beer (house beer brewed by Baird of Shizuoka): GBF Smoke Pump Stout (Real Ale), 6% (cask)
Nide Beer (house beer brewed by Baird of Shizuoka): Nide Cream Ale, 5.5%
Noboribetsu Jibeer Onidensetsu (Hokkaido): American Barley Wheat, 5.5%
Brimmer Brewing (Kanagawa): 1 Year Anniversary Ale, 5.8%

Devil Craft (Kanda)

When you think of Japanese cuisine, authentic Chicago-style deep dish pizza is probably not the first thing that leaps to mind.  But then again craft beer isn't the first beverage one thinks of either.  Happily, you can find both at Devil Craft.

Devil Craft inhabits several very cozy levels, each measuring only about 300 square feet (including stairs).  It's a popular place, so if you don't make a reservation you'll probably spend the first part of your evening at the stairwell table like we did.

Stools over kegs on the landing - and enough stair traffic that you  never feel lonely

Our friendly bartender was from Austin, Texas, and several of the beers were American as well. We again stuck to the many Japanese offerings and weren't disappointed.

The pizza was fantastic - fresh and flavourful.  I assume it was authentic, though I haven't tried pizza in Chicago yet.

The cask of Iwatekura Oyster Stout was particularly memorable - the most salty/mineral-y (and yes, oyster-y) example I've yet tasted.

For those not fond of oceanic influences in their beer, there were plenty of other brilliant options.

Devil Craft was a cool little island of pizza and craft beer; a cozy and tasty place to spend an evening.

Beers sampled (all highly recommended):
Aquila Brewery (Akita City): Akita Bijin no Beer, 5.0% (Helles brewed with Cascade)
SOC Brewing (Ebetsu City, Hokkaido): North Island Weizen, 5.0%
Iwatekura Brewery (Ichinoseki City): Iwatekura Oyster Stout, 7.0% (cask)

Craft Beer Market (Toranomon)

No, not the Canadian "Craft Beer Market" that is coming to Vancouver later this year.  An unrelated Tokyo pub (actually two of them now) that serves good craft beer at the lowest prices in Tokyo, along with exceptional food.

At lunchtime, the windows fold back and young business people flood into the small, airy space.

Arriving at 12:30 was an effective strategy, as many of the tables had begun to empty and seats opened up. There was still plenty of time to enjoy the food and drink before the 2:00pm afternoon closing time.

The food was exceptional.  Reasonably priced, yet very well-executed.  A highly recommended lunch stop.

Each meal starts with a crisp salad

I had the Asian-influenced curry

Mrs. Hoplog had a vegetarian pasta - one of the best I can recall tasting

After narrowly avoiding a local-hopped "India Snow Saison" that was not very passable, the beer was once again spot-on.  We would have stayed longer but for the mid-afternoon closing.

A sublime Japanese-made witbier

Baskets under your stools for keeping your handbag/briefcase clean and close by

Beers sampled (all highly recommended except for *):
Baeren (Iwate): Schwarz, 5.5%
Shigakogen Brewery (Nagano): IPA, 6.0%
*Johana (Toyama): India Snow Saison, 6.5% (made with local hops) (just a taster)
Coedo (Saitama): Shiro, 5.0%  (Belgian Wit)

Asahi Sky Room (Asakusa)

Next to one of Tokyo's many canals, adjacent to the Flamme d'Or sculpture (known locally as the "Golden Turd") and within strolling distance of the new Tokyo Skytree tower is the headquarters of Asahi, possibly Japan's best-known megabrewer.

The building that looks like a tall glass of golden beer with a rocky white head?  Asahi headquarters.  How can you not like it?

Upon taking the elevator to the top of the building (22nd floor, in the "beer head"), you can purchase a reasonably-priced Asahi beer and relax in a lounge with one of the best-value panoramas in Tokyo.

This view is Mrs. Hoplog-approved

The view over my pint

I was doubly happy because in addition to the view, the lounge had Asahi Black on tap.  My experience with Japanese megabrewer schwarzbiers/dunkels had been limited to a couple of very stale bottles in Canada.  But the fresh on-tap example did not disappoint - a refreshing, clean pint (despite being served in a frozen mug like all Japanese megabrews).  But I'd give the bottled "Dry Black" a miss.

Beers sampled:
Asahi: Black (dunkel-ish) (draught) [highly recommended]
Asahi: Dry Black (schwarzbier/dunkel-ish) (bottle) [not recommended]

Popeye (Ryogoku)

Walking several minutes south from the Asahi Sky Room, you pass the Ryogoku Kokugikan, the main Tokyo sumo wrestling stadium.

Sumo is interesting and all, but just past the Kokugikan is what one day might be a similarly historic place: Popeye, Tokyo's original craft beer bar.

Popeye started off as a fairly traditional izakaya until the owner, Tatsuo Aoki, became interested in craft beer.  Things started to take off when he began introducing Belgian and Japanese craft beer to the tap list in the mid-1990s.  There are now 40 taps and a couple of cask engines, and the seats are nearly full every night.

The pub retains its old-school charm with a busy collection of knick-knacks, bowtie-wearing waitstaff, and the signature yelled greetings, goodbyes and call-and-answer ordering of a traditional Japanese izakaya.

The owner Tatsuo is in attendance most nights, and is something of a legend in Japanese beer circles.

Photo of owner Tatsuo  and Michael Jackson

Clearly I needed my own photo with Tatsuo, seen here in his signature formal wear

The beer?  Excellent, as expected.  We again kept to Japanese craft beers, and were not disappointed in the slightest.

50 ml of wonderfully complex barleywine

Happy hour at Popeye does not involve discounts on beer, but it does provide a free plate of food with each glass of beer served, regardless of size (excluding the more "special" beers).  And it's proper, meal-worthy food!  Great value.

Free happy hour sausage plate

Free happy hour fresh ham salad plate

Popeye received a Ratebeer Best Beer Bars In The World Gold Medal in 2010 and 2011.  Other than an overcharging problem with our bill that was eventually corrected with the help of a friendly bilingual customer, our experience was good, cozy fun.

Beers sampled (all highly recommended):
Yo-ho Brewing (Karuizawa, Nagano): Tokyo Porter (cask)
Hinomaru Ale (Jumonji-Cho, Akita): Best Bitter, 4+% (cask) [amazing pair with the fried chicken]
Shigakougen Beer (Yamanouchi, Nagano): IPA
Baird Brewing, Divine Vamp Series (Shizuoka): Black Bitter, 4.5%
Baird Brewing, Divine Vamp Series (Shizuoka): III ("India Black Ale")
Nasu Kogen (Takakukoh, Nasu): Nine-Tailed Fox Barleywine, 12%

The Verdict

Go to Tokyo.  Drink Japanese craft beer.  Delight in its deliciousness and revel in the fact you were smart enough to visit.

Some Tokyo craft beer guides to get you started: