And Quiet Flows the OCBeerCommentary Wiki

3014Well, I didn’t expect to be called out – or, rather, have my suspicions confirmed – by the east coast media establishment. I did say that I expect this to be a slow project from day one. Nonetheless, Clay Risen’s observations at The Atlantic today on the state of beer writing are well worth reading, including these:

Newcomers to wine can follow a reliable guide like Asimov or the Wall Street Journal’s Lettie Teague; good luck finding their equivalents (i.e., deeply knowledgeable but layman-accessible) in the world of beer…

Such absences would matter more if the book pretended to objective universality; as a companion guided by Oliver’s subjective perspective, their absences are points for debate…

The Wiki has only about 40 entries, and most of them deal with matters of interpretation. In a book that may have upwards of 100,000 factual statements in it, the presence of a few dozen errors, while regrettable, is pretty impressive…

It’s a shame that would-be critics have spent their entire time fact-checking the precise rules of the Royal Court’s brewing guidelines under Henry VIII (subject of one catch), because they’ve overlooked the achievement of the book as a whole — though, given their vehemence, it’s a good bet they weren’t going to give it a chance in any case. Thoroughly illustrated and beautifully typeset, the book is precisely what a companion should be: an engaging, subjective, erudite guide to the interested novice and, at the same time, a quick reference for the initiated…

Secret: one of my reasons for setting up the wiki was the suspicion that my concern with the date that lager beer was introduced to Canada was a blip. Fortunately, the wiki is intended – can only be intended – to give the book more than a chance. It’s a way of examining the text but it will take a lot of time. Feel for poor Stan who almost lost his marbles just working his way to the entry for “Thomas Jefferson” in order to start filling in the Index to Entries by Author. I have started to load his efforts… but that will take time, too. Might get done by Christmas.

This pace in turn is giving me more patience with the book. Oxford University Press chose my “throwing the book against the wall” sentence for their marketing but I might have been too rash. Garrett indicated in an email when we discussed the wiki that there was a chance for small corrections or additions between printings and that the wiki might be useful for that. I hope it is. Criticism can be useful. Even for those books in those subject areas of the library or the shop… or Amazon, I suppose… where not enough, as Risen suggests, has yet been written.

Garrett Oliver on The Oxford Companion to Beer

Is This The Gold Standard Of Brewery Tours?

I have been on a lot of brewery tours. In Halifax in the early 1980s it was a euphemism for college kids being locked into a room at the brewery and given all the beer they could down in a Friday afternoon hour. More recently, it’s the chance to hear craft brewers explain their processes. At one Japanese brewery, however, it’s now a chance to test out their equipment and your own ideas:

Soon they called our group, and we entered the brewing room. Our brewmaster sat us at a picnic table and brought us more beer. She asked us to taste all of their standard brews and choose one to use as a base for our own beer. We chose an amber ale and increased the alcohol content by adding more sugar, in the form of grain, for fermentation. We also increased the amount of hops added to bring up the bitterness and add more flavor. The whole process took about four hours and we did all the important things ourselves. We measured out the grain, milled it, threw it in a pot and boiled it. There were even tasks — as our brewmaster warned us — that, if done incorrectly, would allow bacteria to contaminate our beer.

I like this concept – even if the cost of $235 for a delivery of 15 litres of beer seems a bit much. But for all I know that might be the cost of a donut and coffee there, too. The brewery in question is no dud – the Kiuchi Brewery in central Ibaraki Prefecture is the maker of the Hitachino Nest line of craft beer imported into North America like this stout and this wit I had a few years back.

Could it happen here? I don’t know. There are likely 15,387 regulations between here and there but what a great way to reach out to your customers and to let them know how your business works.

“I Am Less Free Today Than I Was 30 Years Ago…”

That is a shocking sentence to read. Gets the brain going. Here is the nub of an excellent post over at the always excellent The Last Exile:

Globalization was suppose to make us all free and rich. Although, it has not worked out that way for most of us. I am not any richer and my wages face a constant erosion from the rising rates of taxes and the general cost of just about everything while the corporate tax rate continues to slide ever downward. I know for a fact; I am less free today than I was 30 years ago. Canadians generally do not have any babies anymore; mostly because they cannot afford to when it takes a 2 person income just to raise a small family with ordinary expectations. We never really discuss that in this country, and if the topic does manage to come up in public dialogue, somehow the dominate ethos manages to give the impression that a woman who works outside the home rather than rising her children at home does so for selfish avaricious reasons rather than the fact that taxation, housing and transportation costs now claim a much larger percentage of family income than they did 30 years ago.

Add to that list communications device fees. I pay over $250 a month for home phone, internet, cell phone and cable TV. I could cut it but with the range of ages in the house it’s not a practical solution. I am a bit shocked at electricity hikes added to natural gas bill, too. Again over $250 a month combined. If I ever created that stand alone blog dedicated to complaining about society’s broken promises called Where the Hell is my Jet Pack??, I might write about these things or think about them more.

Why don’t I? We are fortunate and a bit unconventional as fosterers and for other reasons, I suppose, but if I thought about it, I might have expected the sort of financial status we have now to have been the lifestyle in my late 30s rather than my late 40s. But maybe I don’t care. Maybe the money or other resources go to intangibles and non-investments. Like better cheese. Like tanks of gas for wandering weekend road trips. I think I am better off. But who knows. I don’t think I think about it all that much.

Why Did A Brewer In Kingston In 1815 Want Rye?

kgazkbrh1The ad is from page 4 of the Kingston Gazette, 6 January 1816. You can see at the bottom that it was placed on 15 December 1815. So many questions. What were Messrs Robinson and Gillespie up to? Why is rye placed between barley and hops in the large font while oats sit down there with the peas? Also, is “strong beer” something separate, something identifiable to the Kingstonian a year after the war with America? You will recall that a few months later in April, Albany strong beer is for sale. It also comes just a month after Richard Smith’s notice for plain “beer” – so was “strong beer” something they had the taste for still, almost 40 years after having to flee from their central NY homes at the beginning of the American Revolution? And why is it not “ale” when described in the Kingston papers?

I just finished The Lion, the Eagle and Upper Canada by Jane Errington, a historian over at Royal Military College – they of the old school base ball. The book is well reviewed here but, short form, it’s an interesting view of early Upper Canada (1790s to 1820s) based in large part by review of early newspapers. In it, Errington suggests something of a window between the end of the War of 1812 in 1815 and, a few years later, a clampdown in trade and other contacts with the US towards the end of the decade. But even with her level of detail about the community, trade and industry, there is not much about beer itself. Meaning I am left unsure if beer was being traded within months of the end of a war, perhaps as a stop gap until local product restarted… if it was interrupted by the war… which is another question.

So, I was very happy to read in the comments that Steve Gates has published his history of brewing in the city and in the region. I couldn’t get out of the door to go get a copy but will tomorrow. Hopefully it will shed some light on what Robinson and Gillespie were up to.

A Commentary On The Oxford Companion To Beer

3014You may recall that I had a first look at The Oxford Companion to Beer a few weeks ago. Comments have flown here and elsewhere. I am convinced that the book will be a great focal point for discussion for years. I am also convinced that by definition is it not definitive. Why? Well, it is a collection of very short essays, that’s why. Which also means there should be lively discussion building upon each essay as well as the cross-referencing between them.

So, I have created a wiki called “OCBeerCommentary” in which I hope to create a commentary upon, a concordance of this great book. It is a group project hopefully but the rules are fairly strict or at least focused:

The purpose of this wiki is to collectively make comments, add annotation, identify errata and suggest further sources to the text of The Oxford Companion to Beer. Members are asked to avoid comment about the authors, the structure of the text or other extraneous matters. This wiki is a not for profit project that reviews the text pursuant under the concept of “fair dealing for the purpose of criticism or review” under Canadian copyright law.

The wiki is available to be read publicly but is only open for participation by approved members. There is not much in there yet so bear with us. Let me know in the comments if you are interested in adding errata, elaborations and commentary. Or email me at There should be links to your existing blog posts, an interview your have come across or whatever else helps expand understanding of this work. I expect this to be a slow project but one that aggregates commentary to make it more readily accessible. Who know? Some comments might interest the editors enough for inclusion in the inevitable second edition.

Pete Revives The Beer Blogging Ethics Question

We did this one in 2008 but it is good to visit this question repeatedly. Me? I like cash. Because, apparently, the people who run pubs, make beer and publish beer periodicals like it as well. There is an odd assumption that bloggers (and drinkers) participate out of “passion” – a catch all word for sucker far too often.

But there is a question in all of this. Go read Pete and tell us what you think… here or there.

How The Red Sox Might Have Collapsed Last Month

It was quite a thing to watch. Forget the numbers involved in the drop from first to playoff observer. It was clear something was wrong when Lester didn’t care enough to throw strikes in his last Yankee games. Today’s Boston Globe sets out one interpretation of what happened, based largely on anonymous interviews:

By all accounts, the 2011 Sox perished from a rash of relatively small indignities. For every player committed to the team’s conditioning program, there was a slacker. For every Sox regular who rose early on the road to take optional batting practice, there were others who never bothered. For every player who dedicated himself to the quest for a championship, there were too many distracted by petty personal issues.

Blame is placed on Francona’s health and marriage, too. But, a bit oddly, the most blame is placed on forcing a Saturday doubleheader against Oakland to avoid a hurricane coming through. Seems a bit of an odd thing to ditch a season over but the trio of Beckett, Lester, and Lackey are suggested to have done just that. Called a hatchet job, it’s probably not the whole story but the idea that a team of millionaires who only have to play a game could get this sour and uppity is amazing.

No wonder Epstein’s with the Cubs now.

In Kingston In November 1815 There Was Beer!


Beer for sale! Hallallujah!! BEER FOR SALE!!!

Remember what I suggested before? That where there is peace there is
beer? Well, on 27 November 1815, my town of Kingston was just nine months past the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent and five past the Battle of Waterloo. The proposed terms of Napoleon’s incarceration at St. Helena are announced in the same edition of the Kingston Gazette as was the reprimand of Major-General Proctor – the news oddly received care of an American paper… care of one from Montreal. Funny information and trade routes in those early post war days.

Where did the malt come from? Sure, Kingston was a key outpost bastion in the Empire, the guardian of the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence and Rideau but, still, who grew the grain that made the malt that made the beer? Was it a local 1815 crop or was it shipped from Britain or America? Where was it brewed? Notice that Richard Smith only calls it “beer” where a few months later he calls what he is selling Albany strong beer. Also, I don’t see another ad in the paper for beer. There are many fine things – fancy goods even. The front page of the 2 December 1815 issue includes notices offering Turkish opium, spices and sugars, China teas and and Port wine. The town had its need and apparently some issues for which it had supplies. But there was no other beer for sale.

It makes one consider that this may have been the first or at least an early shipment to make it to the town after the war. There very likely were beers in taverns but not necessarily. More drinks can be made from spirits and if you are transporting them up a river filled with rapids between here and Montreal, there is more bucks in batteaux that way. We learn from Roberts that punches and cocktails was the fashion, too. Taverns were posh. Not sure. But what ever it was about, beer was for sale. And it was worth letting people know.

The Oxford Companion To Beer Wiki Still Grows

3014I haven’t mentioned it since May, but the wiki grows. It’s alive. This observation in the section on the letter “C” is my favorite correction in the OCB wiki so far:

“cask” this entry states that “After filing, a plastic or wooden stopper called a shive is driven into the large bunghole on the belly, and a smaller one called a keystone is driven into the tap hole.” In fact the keystone is driven into the tap hole before filling as the cask would leak otherwise.

Brilliant!! Ed Wray picked out that one. Don’t know how I missed it. Ed’s been doing a wonderful job working away at correcting, amending and adding to the thousands of pages of entries. This, I understand, is Ed. He’s only up to D so far. Many have given up before that. Be strong, Ed. Martyn has been adding to the wiki today, too. W, P and S so far. And did you know the OCB has no entry for the worlds greatest selling beer? You do now.

Good work. 202 or 18.36% of the book’s entries have now been corrected. Is the burst of entries because it is the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend? Me, I am eating cold mac + cheese and watching Canadian three-down football myself. Because I am thankful for cold mac + cheese and Canadian three-down football. And Ed and Martyn.