Scotland: Paradox Islay #004, BrewDog, Aberdeenshire

bdpi1What a mess. I hadn’t realized the label was made of hard card stock stuck on with two-sided sticky tape. I might take it down to the lab and get James’ near teen DNA off of it. Bottle 131 of 200. By opening it, I probably just threw away the 100 bucks I could get from some guy in Kansas on eBay. Sent as a sample by the brewery when they were but boys a few years back. I decided to open it after watching a little Horatio Hornblower that was accompanied by a Bourbn County stout. No doubt you have known that moment, too.

As promised, it is all Islay on the nose, the beloved smoky low Islands Scots whisky. Land of my fathers. Because the stout sat in a barrel of the 1968. My mother’s cousin-in-law was a canny and, for the Clyde, stylish post-war whisky broker in the southwest so I am sure he would approve. He certainly would recognize it. Deep deep mahogany under mocha rim and froth. Aroma of the malt but in the mouth it is sharp. At first, a hammer of old Dutch man’s licorice with all the salt that goes along with seaweedy Islay – then something like a stout with something like a whisky. It isn’t really anything like “balanced” and I wonder, honestly, if it is more of an artifact than a beer. Dry and a little like something I would call harsh but on the lovely side of harsh. Descriptors like “whopping”, “foolish” and “two by four to the head” come to mind. Planky. Sae halp ma bob. That is all I can say.

One sole BAer went mad for this early Holy Grail like example of experimental 21st century UK brewing.

Are These Short Run Beers Actually “Rare”?

A pretty good story in the The Patriot News of the efforts some go to to get one time release beers and the lengths people go to get them… or even to be left disappointed.

The brewery planned to sell only 400 bottles to the public. Cochran, who came from Farmington, N.M., after hearing about Splinter Blue on the “Beer Advocate” website, got No. 401, a bottle originally reserved for one of the brewery’s sales representatives, who gave it up after hearing how far Cochran had come. Beer lovers began lining up outside the Paxton Street brewery shortly after midnight. By 5 a.m., there were close to 50 people in line. Sales were limited to two bottles per person. The brewery handed out bottle caps to the first 200 in line, similar to the wristbands used when concert tickets go on sale.

Quibble? Just that the newspaper chose to use the word “rare” to describe the 400 bottle release in question. I have no problem with special but shouldn’t “rare” be reserved for the uncommon? There are so many of these short run beers going around its well beyond hard to keep up with them – it’s hard not to run into them, trip over them, be pushed around by them. Frankly, there is so much brettanyomyces going around, I hear that Gold Bond is looking at putting out a new product.

“Rare” can’t really mean something that happens as often as short run brews any more than self-assigned connaisseur should be implied to be up there with completing a doctoral program. We all like our hobby. It’s nice to have a hobby – and this is a fun one – but just because you have the postage stamp the kid on the next block doesn’t, well, it doesn’t make it news.

Book Review: In Mixed Company, Julia Roberts

imc1Anyone interested in beer in Canada – or even colonial North America – really ought to have this book on the shelf. 2009’s In Mixed Company: Taverns and Public Life in Upper Canada is a series of essays on topics related to the structure, regulation and use of taverns in what later became Ontario but what was called Upper Canada during the era in question. Covering roughly 1790 to 1860, Roberts describes a certain sort of drinking and socializing experience, showing where the lines of class, race and gender existed and also showing how some of those lines were far fuzzier than we might presume.

Be warned: this is an academic text. There are 169 pages of essay and 48 pages of endnotes and bibliography. But like Hornsey or, say, Xhosa Beer Drinking Rituals, it would really do you all a bit of good to get some proper reading in. You’d learn things like the first wave of taverns built after the creation of the colony in 1791 were owned by the government, run by tenants as part of the necessary roads and communications infrastructure. Until the development of more exclusive principle taverns and then hotels in the larger centres, taverns provided space where different backgrounds met and interacted, where people in transit or transistion lived, where business and political debate was conducted. You’ll see how Upper Canadians saw themselves as different from what they called Yankees and, as the late Georgian became the early Victorian, how they developed internal divisions to distinguish themselves one from another

I have been fumbling around unsuccessfully for a reference from Nova Scotia confirming the meaning of “tavern” as a late 18th century offering wine, tea and other proper fare – a great change from my late 1900s use as a beer hall. As the author points out, during this era and in this place, the tavern was a licensed facility, regulated by law, providing civic purpose. It was subject to social and legal rules but offered a location for every thing from the holding of court to the holding of cockfighting. And, while there is no real focus on the drinks consumed, there is interesting information including how hard spirits appear to be quite popular including punches and what we would now see as simple cocktails, including gin slings.

Robert’s style is precise and dense but quite enjoyable – especially given the fairly brief length of the interrelated essays forming the seven chapters of the book. Her observations and conclusions are interesting and well supported both in terms of argument and endnote. The most interesting portions for me were the chapters focusing on diaries, one kept by a tavern keeper in what was then York around 1801 and another on excerpts from one kept a regular tavern goer in my city of Kingston in the early 1840s. The comparison of the earlier period when the colony had a population of 34,600 and 108 licensed taverns to the 1840s when there were over 400,000 more Upper Canadians and 1,446 taverns provides illustration of the growing complexity as well as development of peace in a colony that was born of and suffered threat of war from the south regularly until the mid-century.

This era covered in this book is largely just after the era I wrote about in my Ontario Craft week posts on Kingston and its roots in New York state. It is an important era given that it is when this newly formed part of than British North America distinguishes itself in its controlled settlement patterns from the rougher experience in the United States. By placing us in that era, illustrating its social and civic centres, Roberts provides us with a useful context for understanding even at this distance of years.

Pennsylvania, Flying Mouflan, Troegs, Harrisburg

Bought this at Kappy’s last week for $6.99 for the bomber. There was some statement that this beer blew away last year’s Nugget Nectar in terms of hops and lavished the discerning palate with a face filling bunch of other flavours. I was sold at the $6.99 myself given the sad lack of Troegs beer in my life.

Pretty nice stuff. It pours a swell chestnut with a mocha froth and rim. The aroma is booze, date and brown bread. A pretty thick beer on the swally with a lot of pine and white grapefruit hops going shoulder to shoulder with date, cocoa, milk chocolate, hazelnut. The brewer’s notes recommend the very four months this bottle waited from production to pour. Probably could be classified as a Dauphin County Brown Double IPA. That’s it. A DCBDIPA. Maybe the best I have ever had.

BAers have the love.

Why Do Names For This New Beer Style Kinda Suck?

Forget the question of whether styles are real and essential. Forget the question of whether beer styles have been accurately described and traced historically. The real issue is that the names of beer styles are a mess and cause consumer confusion. Andy raises the question of the name of one black hoppy brew and seeks resolution for this very good reason:

Well, I believe that styles are important, if for no other reason than consumers can have some reasonable understanding of what they might be getting when they select a certain beer. It is in the hopes of creating some logical détente that I humbly offer the following suggestions for resolving this seemingly intractable debate.

He then goes on to ask us to choose from a number of choices that have been bouncing around beer nerd circles like Black IPA, India Black Ale, and Cascadian Dark Ale. There is only one problem. They all suck as names. Let’s be clear. They aren’t related to India and they aren’t pale, as Andy notes, but also no one outside of the Pacific NW actually knows what “Cascadian” really means. Plus, while the picture of me from 1992 shows I have a great long love of the Vermont Pub and Brewery and the work of the late Greg Noonan, the idea of calling it “Noonan Black Ale” suffers from the same problem, needing to know some sort of back story. Also, there is a minor sort of beer – perhaps not a style at all – that you see from time to time called Dark Ale. What’s it taste like? Dark? That’s like something tasting ice cold.

We can do better. We can make sense. If the point of the name of the style is to inform let’s get to the point. The beer is black and it is bitter. Keep it simple. So call it Black Bitter. I might even try the stuff if it was called a name as swell as that.¹

¹Plus it already comes with its own 70s rock tune for the ad campaign. Just have to change the words a bit: “Whoa-oh Black Bitter! Bam-a-lam!!!” And, yes, I want credit.