You Friday Bullets For The Last Of September

I meant not to do this. I meant to ensure there was something between Friday posts. But the week did not let me. Too sad to mention baseball. Too occupied with the beer blog. It’s not every week a 920 page Oxford Companion to your favorite hobby shows up. These are not excuses. These are reasons. What would I write about? I could post about each episode of Doctor Who but this season, thankfully soon to be over, has been so badly managed that it’s hard to get the energy up. There’s a provincial election but I know people involved. So we have the bullets.

⇒ Morton is in first place With the Sox sucking and the Leafs about to suck, it’s a good time to be a fan of the Morton.

⇒ This is the under-reported story of the week. Had to run her off the land.

⇒ Excuse me but are those pants on fire?

⇒ This beer fest looks warm and inside. The one I am heading to is outside on a weekend that the weather lady just said would be “raw” – yikes.

Maybe more later. There’s a day ahead, a day to take on like the best last day of September as the season slips into a freezing damp cold patch ever. W.o.o.t.

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Book Review: The Oxford Companion To Beer

3014Well, I opened the package from Amazon about two hours ago, so I must be ready for a review, right? What the heck. That is what I say. First impressions are what they are so let’s have a look.

Some irritations first. There are a large number of empty cross references like this on page 557:

magazines See BEER WRITING

Exactly the same information appears in the index at page 910. There are enough of these, like three in a row on page 712, that it creates an impression that I am reading a late draft.¹ The same is true for some of the citations at the end of entries. What’s the logic? Not all entries have them. Where they do, especially where the citation relates to information on the internets, they are a mess and ripe for link rot. Hint: we have not had to have the “http://” included in a web reference for well over a decade.

Some of the entries are looser or less authoritative than others. The entry under “health” is an unbalanced argument that beer is some sort of wonder drug, offering any manner of health benefits. The one for “Franklin, Benjamin” mentions that he published a book by someone else that mentioned descriptions of barley, mentions that he did not say that saying he is often said to have said and also references that he likely liked beer. Not particularly vital information. There is something of a feel like people were told to send in entries they thought were important rather than being selected by a watchful editorial eye.

Which leads to the game a book like this leads to. As this is not “The Encyclopedia of Beer” or “The Dictionary of Beer” but only a companion, you start to argue with it. I ran upstairs just now to check one of Jay‘s facts in the Franklin entry. Phillie in 1787 was hot. So he probably did drink beer. And reading Josh Rubin‘s entry on “Canada” – an easy starting point I thought – I get chippy with page 212. Lagers did not come to Canada, as is stated, with the settling of the Canadian prairies by immigrants from central Europe. It came to what was known as Canada West, now Ontario, with German settlers as early as the 1860s if not earlier. The construction of the railway that led to the settlement of the west didn’t start until the 1880s.

GOTCHA! Gotcha? Really?? Is that how you would treat a companion? Hardly. The problem is not one of accuracy so much as the level of abstraction. With pages and pages of brief dense entries, there will inevitably be the sorts of condensations which should led you, if interested, to take on your own further and more detailed research. Sure, there are which could be cleaned up in a second edition like the odd use of both “Nouvelle-France” and “Nouvelle France” for what English speaking Canada refer to as New France, that former imperial presence that is not what is now Quebec but which stretched in an arc up from New Orleans through the Great Lakes to Cape Breton.

But that is just a quibble. The real news with the publication of The Oxford Companion to Beeris we now have 920 pages of serious beer writing each page of which alone will trigger any number of arguments, plenty of scurrying for further sources and the occasional drifting of the book across the room, hopefully missing the lamp. This is a very good thing.

¹Though the sad little empty entry for “Calagione, Sam” is just sweet.

Your Friday Bullety Links For Fall 2011

Glad that’s over. Summer? What was that all about? Reality is back baby and the stock market is falling along as the space hardware. [Remember. It’s wrong to wish on space hardware… even when it’s aimed at you.] Speaking of collapses, what about the Red Sox? For a fan like me, it’s a taste of the old days. To be fair, they sucked in April and in interleague play, too. so it is really a bit weird that they are still in the running. The Yankees have an opportunity to drive a wooden stake through the heart of their arch enemies this weekend – and at Yankee stadium, too. I say the Angels take the wild card. Ah, autumn. The time of tears.

⇒ One of the better kottke hat tips ever – but what now can I ever believe you are actually saying?

⇒ More old TV schedules from my life. On this Saturday when I was ten and a half I know I watched Joe 90 as well as Davey and Goliath. I can confirm that I do not own the complete DVD set of Davey and Goliath.

⇒ Once in a while the overrated Christie Blatchford writes a column actually worth attention.

⇒ Where will you be for the Ontario election leadership debate?

⇒ There’s no racist like a hockey fan racist from the boonies!

Well, really. You can’t want more than that. How much more could you need? There’s still a workday to get through, you know.

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What I Watched The First Saturday Of Grade Eight

God love the nerds who load information into the internet:

Saturday, Sept. 11, 1976 TV listings
CHSJ (CBAT) Channel 4 Saint John / Channel 7 Moncton (CBC)
12:30 Circle Square
1:00 Onedin Line
2:00 Space: 1999
3:00 Saturday Sports
5:00 Water Skiing
6:00 Klahanie
6:30 Pop! Goes the Country
7:00 Hawaii Five-O
8:00 Baseball – Montreal @ Pittsburgh
10:30 Horse Race – B.C. Derby
11:00 CBC News
11:15 News
11:25 Movie – Viva Maria (1965; Jeanne Moreau, Brigitte Bardot)

Space: 1999 and an Expos game!

Oh, For A Mug O’ Fern Ale To Keep Strangers Away

Ron got me thinking. He was making fun of something written by Horst Dornbusch today, the “man of a million unfounded claims,” when I noticed something about pale ale coming into being around 1800 when coke was first used. I knew that was wrong so I started digging around for references to straw dried pale malts. There is something about the lack of industrialization that makes for a lack of a record of things and I thought the Coke Makers Association of The English Midlands may well have diddled the books, created history around their own inventions. And there it was… sorta… in The London and Country Brewer from 1737:

Next to the Coak-dryed Malt, the Straw-dryed is the sweetest and best tasted: This I must own is sometimes well malted, where the Barley, Wheat, Straw, Conveniences, and the Maker’s Skill are good; but as the the fire of the Straw is not so regular as the Coak, the Malt is attended with more uncertainty in its making, because it is difficult to keep it to a moderate and equal Heat, and also exposes the Malt in some degree to the Taste of the smoak.

OK, the pro-coke lobby is firmly entrenched but the quotation is from 63 years before Horst so that is worth noting. But then I notice this comment further down page 14:

The Fern-dryed Malt is also attended with a rank disagreeable Taste from the smoak of this Vegetable, with which many Quarters of Malt are dryed, as appears by the great Quantities annually cut by Malsters on our Commons, for the two prevalent Reasons of cheapness and plenty.

Interesting. Commonly used and rank. The author likes his descriptors of bad tasting: “rank disagreeable Taste” is joined by “most unnatural” and, my favorite, “ill relish.” Yet there is it – fern beer. What was fern ale like? We spend so much time hybridizing a new hop or injecting a new chili pepper extract into our beers we have forgotten the humble fern, maker of widely consumed if rank ales. In 1758’s Volume 3 of A Compleat Body of Husbandry by Thomas Hale, a bit more hope is given to the prospects for the taste of a fern ale:

The amber may be straw dried, but ’tis not nearly so well. As to wood and fern they are used in some parts of the kingdom, and custom makes the people relish the beer brewed from such malt; but to a stranger there is a most nauseous taste of smoak in it.

At least the locals liked it.

Lord Goog in the end gave up what I was looking for. In an edition of A Way to Get Wealth by Gervase Markham from 1668, a book first published in 1615 or about 200 years before the start date picked by Horst, we have an opinion on the preference for straw… and not just any straw:

…our Maltster by all means must have an especial care with what fewel she dryeth the malt; for commonly, according to that it ever receiveth and keepeth the taste, if by some especial art in the Kiln that annoyance be not taken away. To speak then of fewels in general, there are of divers kinds according to the natures of soyls,and the accommodation of places-in which men live; yet the best and most principal fewel for the Kilns, (both tor sweetness, gentle heat and perfect drying) is either good Wheat-straw, Rye-straw, Barley-straw or Oaten-straw; and of these the Wheat-straw is the best, because it is most substantial, longest lasting, makes the sharpest fire, and yields the least flame…

Look at that. We are in a different world compared to both today as well as the mid-1700s. Back to an agricultural age. “She” is the maltster. And the specific qualities amongst four classes of straw are known and ranked. After these light grain straws come fen-rushes, then straws of peas, fetches, lupins and tares. Then beans, furs, gorse, whins and small brush-wood. Then bracken, ling and broom. Then wood of all sorts. Then and only then coal, turf and peat but only of the kiln is structured to keep the smoke out of the malt.

Why? The whiz kids at Wikipedia tell us that:

In 1603, Sir Henry Platt suggested that coal might be charred in a manner analogous to the way charcoal is produced from wood. This process was not put into practice until 1642, when coke was used for roasting malt in Derbyshire.

So, coking turns out an early industrial practice that only first considered halfway through the life of Gervase Markham who lived from 1568 to 1637 and only applied to malt after his death. Coke is used to perfect – but not create – pale malts.

Pale malts and pale ales would have been around for some time well before 1600 even if in the effort to make them some became, as Markham writes at page 166, “fire-fanged.” I am sure that a fern fire-fanged ale may well have been an ill relish. But what of those whose custom made them love them all the same? Right? It’s a style just waiting to be reborn. Right? Markham would have none of it. At page 181 he states:

To speak then of Beer, although there be divers kinds of tasts and strength thereof, according to the allowance of Malt, hops, and age given unto-the fame; yet indeed there can be truly said to be but two kinds thereof, namely, Ordinary beer and March beer, all other beers being derived from them.

Got it? Fern ale is not a kind of beer, just a taste. There are two kinds of beer, ordinary and March. Everything else is showing off.

Inventing New Words To Describe Beer And Things Beery

The other day I noticed I have been making up a few more words and phrases to describe what I have been observing in the beer world. Not expecting Websters to give me a call anytime soon but they are useful tools for discussion. Here are a few:

“fan pub” – a pub, tavern, bar that caters primarily to beer nerds. Judgement neutral term at least. Words of affection for best such as Bar Volo.
“scene” – what happens at a good fan pub or pubs. Can be part of a larger healthy diverse interesting community. Too focused to be community in itself.
“national craft” – makers of good beer who sell across USA or Canada and maybe UK. Rogue or Stone or Sam Adams in USA. Question of shark jumping and morph to kraphtt a continuing concern.
“regional craft” – makers of good beer who sell within a US region or Canadian province / region. Bell’s from Michigan or Creemore of Ontario. No requirement for the PR of personality that haunts national craft.
“local craft” – good beer of limited distribution. New Glarus from Wisconsin.
“kraphtt” – non-craft that looks like craft. Long standing new-ism and more and more triggered by beers like Shock Top and Blue Moon.

Do these help? Any more of yours you could add?

Your Friday Bullets For The First Frost Warnings

We have had a good crop of tomatoes and basil this year but there is a fair nip in the air so that may be drawing to a close. I don’t mind. I picked up a copy of FutureSex/LoveSounds to keep me warm. I may start doing reviews of my new funky collection but suffice it to say that I never imagined thinking an album could remind me of punk, Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury. I thought the internet was affected by the cold this morning as it was 1995 sorta sluggish. I thought someone forgot to turn a switch somewhere. Maybe a key router froze up north.

⇒ Did I mention this one before? Such a weenie. Likes his own chair by the TV, too. Don’t you think of sitting in his chair. Contrast: our top soldier loves to travel. On us.
⇒ Admit it. This is useful.
⇒ Great article: : “Dubya and Me.” Another sort of great writing.
⇒ I am pretty sure I worked with Vic Gupta back in 1992 in a pub / restaruant in London, Ontario. Great guy. I would be hard pressed not to vote for the guy if he was in my riding… and he a Tory. One to watch. The vintage base ball team’s second base woman and (let’s be honest) best player, however, is a local NDP leader so the universe is balanced.
This building faced the old Gingers on lower Hollis Street, home of the original Granite Brewery where the makers of beer experimented on us college kids as we learned how to play snooker watched and jeered by a crowd of hard luck cases whose shakes kept them from the table. I had no idea that we were looking at a 1760s building as we left the place.
⇒ Good that the RCMP has been called into PEI. A cool and untraceable $400 million enters an economy of 135,000 people, citizenships are given away and no body know nuttin. Classic. I was disgusted back in 2009. Related: best headline ever. If you have to say that, you know they are screwed.
⇒ Unbelievable that the parliamentary secretary to the foreign affairs minister doesn’t know that you do not make kissy face with journalists from dictatorships.

There. That should hold you.

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Does Brewing History Really Matter To You?

monkey4There is an excellent post over at Des de Moor’s blog this morning entitled “Brewing’s Disputed Histories” in which he discusses an accepted inaccuracy about a point in the history of the Belgian brewers Lindemans around 200 years ago. He goes on to ask some questions including this one:

…does it matter? Are the details of brewery inheritance in an obscure part of the Low Countries at the turn of the 19th century, before today’s Kingdom of Belgium had even been created, really that important compared to, say, understanding the reasons why Lindemans abandoned traditional lambic production in favour of sweetened fruit beers in the more recent past? In my view, yes, it does very much matter. Heritage is a valuable asset in the world of brewing, and most breweries dating from before the resurgence of craft brewing are quick to boast of their lengthy pedigree. The authenticity thus sought is admittedly limited as a brewery’s history does not necessarily reflect on the way it operates today — many a family business has ruthlessly torn up the rule book — but history does help provide the context in which specific beers are appreciated, particularly if they come in a style as ancient and rare as lambic.

I am not quite sure what to make of this. I am a significant consumer of history both personally and professionally. I study the implications of the American Revolution on the settlement of Upper Canada so that I can understand and can help shape a growing narrative about our community. You may have guessed that something was up when I posted these sorts of things. For me, it is an important and interesting task.

So, it is not history that I question but its place. Des states “history does help provide the context in which specific beers are appreciated.” I have to slightly disagree with respect. I would prefer to say “history can help provide the context in which specific beers may be appreciated.” Not to be overly clever with the subjunctive, but it seems to me that brewing history can be a tool or route to understanding for some but is ultimately unimportant if you do not need to tap into it. And I am going to suggest that about 98% of beer drinkers do not.

First, consider this analysis of the meaning of saison from B+B today which does not really rely on history so much as experience. Then consider this post by Martyn this morning by way of illustration, a piece called “The gastropub is dead – official” which I actually might have preferred was headlined “The ‘gastropub’ is dead: Official” for no other reason than my slightly priggy concern (shared by Martyn in the footnote) for what makes something official (…or even historically true for that matter.) On the topic of the arc of this sort of establishment sunrise and sunset, Martyn traces the beginning of the idea in the 1990s to the banning of the term in the 2012 Good Food Guide. I am fairly sure I have never been to a gastropub but am more certain that I have been influenced by the idea. And, whatever CAMRA its authors suggest in the guide, I expect it to continue to do so as the tide of good food into beer drinking establishments will not recede any more than it will in the grocery store. The “gastropub” as an expression of good food and good beer is part of a general omnivoristic trajectory of in the pop culture of the UK as well as in North American. It ultimately matters not that the term came into being, has jumped the shark or even that relates to something. The 2012 Good Food Guide does not alter anything other than points out questions about what the editors were thinking when putting together previous editions. If the word was good then, it is good now.

Note: brewing history does not matter but it may interest some and interest a few deeply. But for me just as I really can’t get that excited about experimental hop variety note identification with my supping a pale ale – being satisfied as to the question of whether the beer is tasty – so, too, do I find brewing history nice to know but seldom as vital when compared to other practical applications of history. It’s like being good at table hockey. For me, it’s a fun skill that leads, well, somewhat close to nowhere. Brewing history is also unlike the analysis of Boak and Bailey above that confidently places personal experience in the center of their understanding. You may disagree and can illuminate me on aspects of brewing history that make the beer tastier for you. Let me know how that might work.

Personally I Prefer “The Government Of Harper”

…because, it’s really the same thing as “the Harper Government” yet it is clearer about his intentions:

Erin Junker, a senior communications adviser at Health Canada, responded by email: “This was a directive I received from PCO.” The Privy Council Office is the bureaucratic nerve centre that serves the prime minister, working in concert with the Prime Minister’s Office. A PCO spokesman responded to a series of questions Wednesday about the Health Canada email exchange by reiterating that “there has been no change in policy or direction.” Raymond Rivet said in an email that he “cannot speculate” on what directive Ms. Junker was referring to: “There may have been instances where the term was introduced but, as I have said, there was no formal directive to use the term Harper Government.”

On one hand, I say run with it. Who cares? Steve wants to be the anti-Trudeau? That’s fine. Chretien beat him to it 15 years ago and Steve has about 35 million in deficit and a hell of a lot of Federal-Provincial agreements to go to catch up. Steve wants to change the symbols, the tone, the constitutional traditions? Go for it. We’ll have his grey and white flag one day, too.

But if I was a Tory I would be livid. Except Mr. Harper is not a Tory. He is not a Progressive Conservative either. He has gotten rid of both those things. And now he is getting rid of conservatives, too. It’s all Steve – Steve – Steve. For now. Because when he is gone? Liberals forever. Or the NDP or whoever. Name the heir apparent if you disagree.

At least the conservatives won’t lose when the house of cards fall. And one day it will.

Friday Bullets For Your Labour Day Weekend

You better be meditating on the benefits we all share from the labour union movement this weekend. “Sure, I’ll take the day off but don’t you dare think for a minute that I like unions.” I can hear you. You hypocritical holidaying ingrates. Me, I will be singing “The International” and all my Billy Bragg 45s and calling everyone I meet comrade or maybe even Leonid.

WATCH OUT! SPACE JUNK!!!

⇒ Glad that’s cleared up. Italians are now “ethnics” under the rural overlords world view. Next, Scots and Irish and soon New Brunswickers.

⇒ Ernie Eves busts out against those Ontario Tea Party Tory bastards: “I don’t think it was fair and I don’t think it was loyal and I don’t think it was compassionate and I don’t think it’s honest.” Crime: voting for someone. Now, that’s a Tory: anti-democratic and proud of it.

⇒ I have no idea how sad it must be to be a Blue Jays fan. I mean, it’s like they think the team doesn’t suck. See, being a Leafs fan, I know they suck.

⇒ Do we now feel a twinge of guilt for reveling in Conrad’s fall? I will give him this – there is no one else reporting honestly on the state of the back end of the justice system like he is.

Ahh… long weekend. I needed it. I earned it. Really did. Didn’t I. I didn’t? Who says?