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Best of the 2019 Okanagan Fest of Ale

Another edition of the Okanagan Fest of Ale is in the books. Once again, it was a privilege — and a lot of fun — to take part in picking the winners of the Judges’ Choice awards at this year’s festival.

Judging took place Saturday morning, with 127 beers entered in 12 categories. With such a large field to evaluate, we were split into three panels of three people. Each team was responsible for judging four categories and picked a winner in each class via blind tasting. (Translation: we weren’t told the names of the beers.)

The 12 category winners advanced to a Best in Show competition involving all nine judges. We decided on the champion after another round of blind tasting and a lively discussion.

Judging beer isn’t “work” in the conventional sense, but that doesn’t mean it’s a frivolous pursuit. Brewers work hard to hone their craft, so their beer deserves fair consideration from judges who approach the task with knowledge, a finely-tuned palate and concentration. Cheers to my fellow judges, who brought all those qualities to the table: Lundy Dale (B.C. beer writer and ambassador), Wade Dhooge (Cask & Barrel Liquor Store), Mike Garson (Pacific Beer Chat), Michelle Gowing (Two Wolves Brewing), Aaron Johnson (Cascadian Beer Podcast), Rob Mangelsdorf (The Growler B.C.) Dave Smith (What’s Brewing B.C.), Joe Wiebe (aka The Thirsty Writer and author of Craft Beer Revolution).

Enough of my droning! Here are the winners we chose:

Best in Show: Would Crush — Twin Sails Brewing

Pilsner/golden lager/dark lager/Kolsch: Nightwatch Coffee Lager — Lighthouse Brewing

Pale ale: Squirrel Chaser — Yellow Dog Brewing

Wheat ale: Dim Wit — Parkside Brewery

ESB: English Subtitles — Kettle River Brewing

Amber/dark ale: Smoke & Mirrors Imperial Smoked Ale — Coal Harbour Brewing

IPA: Loop Line — Iron Road Brewing

Specialty IPA: Dreamboat Hazy IPA — Parkside Brewery

Stout/porter: Tennessee — BNA Brewing

Sour: Tart Wild Ale With Pineapple & Guava — Luppolo Brewing

Fruit beer: Would Crush — Twin Sails Brewing

Specialty beer: Beermosa — Bad Tattoo Brewing

Cider: Broken Ladder Rosé — B.C Tree Fruits Cider

Back with a vengeance healthy dose of indolence

If conventional wisdom dictates that blogging exists under a “publish or perish” imperative similar to academia — that you have to keep up a steady stream of content to keep people coming back — then I guess my unplanned five-month hiatus could be viewed as a mortal blow to Original Levity.

Luckily for me, I didn’t start Original Levity for the conventional reasons, like making money via advertising or clicks. While I certainly view the blog as a way of keeping my personal brand out there after leaving daily journalism a few years ago, my main purpose from the beginning was to create an outlet for my beer-related brain droppings outside of regular contributions to publications like Avenue Edmonton.

“Let’s take a relaxed attitude toward blogging and watch the baseball match.”

The simplest explanation for my absence is that life has been busy over the past few months. But on a deeper level, I was wrestling with my motivation and something more existential: I have spent my entire adult life writing for a living. Coming home from work to sit down in front of a screen and write some more was starting to feel, well, a lot like work. And I’ve been struggling with that.

I’ve recently started putting together a couple of new posts, but it didn’t feel right to come back after five months and act like I never went away. While mulling over what to say, I came across a blog post that articulated many of the things I had been feeling, titled The Modern Trap of Turning Hobbies Into Hustles.

Sometimes, being a good writer means stepping aside and recognizing when someone has said something better than you ever could — and that was the case when I read this passage: “It’s OK to love a hobby the same way you’d love a pet; for its ability to enrich your life without any expectation that it will help you pay the rent.”

What that doesn’t mean is that I’ll write for others for free — that’s not a hobby for me: I’m a professional writer, and I’ve earned the right to expect to be paid for my time and effort in the 25-plus years I’ve plied my trade in newspapers, broadcasting and, more recently, magazines.

This blog, on the other hand, is a hobby. I’ll gladly write for free when the person in charge is me. But as the old expression goes, “You get what you pay for.” Absent the prospect of a paycheque (or any need for one) my output will vary accordingly.

Now … if a five-month holiday from posting doesn’t kill a blog, telling people, “Don’t expect anything new here!” surely will. So let me say in no uncertain terms that’s not what I mean. Stick around (or maybe, more accurately, come back), because I have plans.

While I’ve never really cared about clicks, one thing I’ve always wanted with Original Levity is engagement. What the past few months have taught me is that different people engage in different ways. Rather than stubbornly expect everyone who’s interested in what I say about craft beer to come here, I’m going to talk to people where they’re most comfortable hanging out and engaging — whether that’s discussing an interesting beer article I share via Facebook or Twitter, checking out Untappd to see what I’ve been drinking lately, or following my beery travels on Instagram.

By no means does that spell an end to this blog. While I want to use different channels to reach people more frequently, to me this is still a valuable venue for storytelling, reviews and opinion. To that end, I recently visited Alley Kat Brewing here in Edmonton and had the privilege of sampling every vintage of its Olde Deuteronomy barley wine going back to 1995. Watch for that story in the coming weeks.

When I started this blog in April 2018, I invited people to join me for a beer and some interesting conversation. My invitation is just as sincere today: the only difference is, you may find me in a few different places. Please don’t let that throw you. I’m just as thirsty and chatty as I’ve always been.

Alberta Craft Beer Guide launches in Ponoka

The makers of the Alberta Craft Beer Guide hit the road on Sunday to launch the Summer 2018 edition at Siding 14 Brewery in Ponoka.

Launch parties have been customary for each new issue of the guide since it debuted in 2016, but they’ve always been held in Calgary or Edmonton. With so many new breweries popping up all over the province – and featured in the guide — editor Erica Francis said the time is right to take the show on the road.

“There’s so much more to Alberta than the two major centres,” she said.

There will be rural events to launch future issues of the guide, but if you live in Calgary or Edmonton, don’t despair: there will continue to be launch parties in the city, too. Blind Enthusiasm Brewing in Edmonton is hosting a launch party for Summer 2018 issue on June 6, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The Summer 2018 edition encourages readers, too, to hit the road. There’s a “Tour-ery Passport” page to collect stamps by visiting breweries around the provinces. Participants can email photos of their stamped passport to the guide to enter a special draw for a beer-related prize package. There’s also a profile of Ribstone Creek Brewery and an article by beer writer and educator David Nuttall on the importance — and benefits — of having local breweries.

The guide is available throughout the province, in places where you find Alberta craft beer.

Okanagan Fest of Ale judging results

That’s a wrap on the 23rd Okanagan Fest of Ale. I had the privilege of being part of the nine-member jury that judged 122 beers entered in 12 categories at this year’s festival. Here are the winners we chose:

Best in Show: Tart Wild Ale with Plum — Luppolo Brewing

Pilsner/golden lager/dark lager/Kolsch: Los Muertos Cerveza Negra — Bad Tattoo Brewing

Pale ale: Fashionably Late — Moon Under Water

Wheat ale: Sublime Pineapple Hefeweizen — Moody Ales

Saison: Pamela — BNA Brewing

Amber/dark ale: Cinders Red Rye — CrossRoads Brewing

IPA: Humans — Parkside Brewery

Specialty IPA: Hit the Deck Hazy IPA — Fernie Brewing

Stout/porter: Peché Mortel — Microbrasserie Dieu du Ciel

Sour: Tart Wild Ale with Plum — Luppolo Brewing

Fruit beer: Park Life Passion Fruit Ale — Bomber Brewing

Specialty beer: Nightwatch Coffee Lager Lighthouse Brewing

Cider: Dad Bod — B.C. Tree Fruits Cider

 

Welcome to Original Levity

Repeat after me: beer should be fun and bring people together.

It should be stating the obvious, considering folks have been gathering and drinking beer for centuries. It is truly a social lubricant, as they say. In many ways, the craft beer movement has only helped solidify beer as a drink everyone can enjoy: people who never liked pale mass-produced lagers can try a fruited Belgian lambic or an intensely citric and aromatic New England-style IPA and realize that they’re beer people, after all. They just didn’t know it.

But it seems every movement, as they expand, has that small minority that wants to keep it to themselves. Snobs. And craft beer has ’em, too. Don’t get me wrong: beer is wonderfully complex and diverse and should be respected and appreciated every bit as much as fine food and wine. Snobbery and exclusivity shouldn’t exist in food and wine (there’s a separate conversation to be had about that) — but it’s particularly antithetical to beer, considering its proletarian history.

I’ve always tried to keep this in mind when I write about beer, but occasional reminders are always welcome. I got one the other day, when I was at the grand opening of Red Bison Brewery in Calgary. I was chatting with a group of friends about some of the new breweries in Calgary and Edmonton when a woman sitting with hers at the end of the table (the brewery has communal seating) piped up, “Sorry to interrupt, but I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation and it sounds like you’re speaking my language.” We ended up talking about beer for a few a minutes before I went back to my friends and she returned to hers. I’d say it was a welcome intrusion — but it wasn’t an intrusion at all.

My recent encounter at Red Bison was a lot like how I envision this blog: a place where anyone with an abiding interest in craft beer or someone who’s just curious about it can drop in, join the conversation and not feel left out. My training as a journalist taught me to write for a wide audience and that’s my intention here. I also think being inclusive is the beery thing to do.

The values of honesty and transparency I learned as a journalist are also cornerstones of my relationship with you, the audience. My mission, in addition to hopefully entertaining people, is to write knowledgeably and engagingly about craft beer and point people to some good beers along the way. That means being independent. I’ll still have my opinions (what would a blog be without them?), but they won’t be influenced by any business relationships I have with anyone in the beer industry — because there aren’t any. If I’m a fan of a particular beer or brewery, I guarantee you my endorsement hasn’t been paid for. Fancy product shots may excite brewery marketing reps, but I’m not sure they tell a reader anything about whether a beer is good or not.

Before anyone grabs their popcorn waiting for the negative reviews to roll in, something to keep in mind: a byproduct of my independence is that I pay for the vast majority of beer I drink, and I tend to spend my money on beer I already like or on new releases from breweries with a proven (to me) track record. If you want to know more about my approach, check out my about page or my policy on beer samples.

Despite all the journalism talk — which is done, I promise — Original Levity isn’t a news site. Blogger burnout is a common phenomenon and I want to avoid it by starting sustainably: look for quick hits with my thoughts on the latest beer l’ve tried or some pics from a recent brewery visit. Really, that’s actually how blogging started and I think it’s a good place to take it again. That doesn’t mean there won’t be longer-form articles and profiles of Alberta beer folks when time permits or the story warrants it. That also doesn’t mean I won’t get serious if the topic calls for it. I guess Original Levity will be like a lot of conversations had over a beer: friendly, engaging and lively, but occasionally serious. Oh, and there will be hockey. Beer and hockey are a classic pairing and two of my loves. I definitely plan to work in some hockey talk.

Grab a beer and join me, won’t you?