Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Devil’s Wishbone, PEC


Picked this up at the winery a few weeks before Christmas on a cloudy Monday off work. The Riesling and Cab Franc I bought the same day are gone already. The Devil’s Wishbone winery is a thirty minute drive west followed by a wait for the ferry followed by a five minute ferry and another five minute drive up the hill and back to the east at Lake on the Mountain just past the park next door in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

devw3As I mentioned recently, I have started a category for Prince Edward County wine because, well, it is tasty and nearby. While we have three actual production breweries, excepting Ottawa, in eastern Ontario there are over thirty wineries in PEC just over that wee ferry. Once I was up the hill and past the park, the sign for the winery soon came into view. Up a lane and past house, there was a parking lot by the barn with rows of grapes stretching out to the south.

Inside the barn, there’s a retail stop you duck under a beam to enter and a very helpful staff person. I picked this wine out for maybe 24 or 26 bucks. I picked this one just out of the sheer curiosity of finding the grape growing so close to my house. I was smart to do so even if opening it now is likely infanticide. After writing about beer so long what do I say? That it suffers from incredibly low levels of carbonation or that it’s the colour of kriek? It’s actually light for what I am used to in a Cab Sauv, not like the deep purple reds of a mass Aussie or Chilean plonk made with the grape after beaten down in the heat of the sun down under. I am going to say cherry juice red. Scent? Maybe cherry, raspberry and a little cigar or rather a bit of raspberry jam spread on on leather baseball gloves. More of the same in my mouth with maybe rosemary, tangerine and cedar… which may be expected given the local forest growth with bracing tannic. Tart berry woodsy finish.

Both Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke mention PEC in their 2013 guides as a newer upcoming wine zone. But not the Cabernet Sauvignon. And Devil’s Wishbone is too new for the latest edition of Crush on Niagara, the surely needing renaming guide to Ontario wines by Andrew Brooks from 2009. But it’s handy to my place and on the way.

Are Contract Brewers Posing As Gypsy Brewers?

Because we are having so much fun with terminology and meaning, I thought I would mention this:

As the name suggests, all the breweries involved, save for one (the host), are gypsy brewers. The Brewers Association (BA) defines this type of brewery as a contract brewing company—essentially a business that hires another brewery to produce its beer. The contract brewing company is often responsible for recipe development and handles the marketing, sales and distribution of the beer. “Not-owning a physical brewery doesn’t stop us [gypsy brewers] from being extremely passionate, innovative and community-minded,” notes Band of Gypsies ring leader, Ashley Routson of Bison Organic Beer. “Our mission is to work together to promote and celebrate each other, and educate the craft beer community on the world of gypsy brewing.”

Now call me goofy, but I do think words should have meaning and my understanding that a contract brewer hires someone else to make their beer while a gypsy brewer uses the surplus time on the brewing equipment of another to make a separate line of beer. In each case, the owner of the brewing equipment does not own the beer… unless that is part of the behind the scenes deal to get access to the equipment. The contract may or may not include marketing, shipping and the rest. Depends on the terms of the contract, doesn’t it. Pretty Things, for eastern North American example, does not own its own brewery but makes the decisions so it is an example of the gypsy. These BAers have been forming a shortish list of likely actual suspects. You can provide your thoughts and accusations on that as you feel appropriate in the comments.

But there is something else to note. The fudging of the idea is alleged in the article to be based on the brilliant linguists of the Brewers Association whose recent work has been noted. The two ideas are muddled here, too. I am not sure that is correct, however, from this BA webpage which clearly described contract brewing for what it is – despite some of the other head scratcher definitions in there. Why would one widen the definition of “gypsy brewer” to include anyone who hires someone else to make beer? Because “gypsy brewer” sounds neato and swell while the more accurate “contract brewer” is laden with… accuracy? The trend towards adulteration of the language in the name of good beer is a bit weird, isn’t it.

This is not a crack at all against the project which I suspect includes far more hands on involvement than a contract brewer would sully themselves with. But there is something unseemly even needy in all the slipperiness, isn’t there. Again, thoughts and accusations on that as you feel appropriate.

And Steve Is The Crown-In-Parliament, Too

Today’s news speaks to some fairly basic constitutional ideas:

The Harper government said Monday it will not include Governor-General David Johnston in any future policy discussions with First Nations, further clouding its battle of wills with aboriginal leaders. A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said Monday Stephen Harper will meet with Assembly of First Nations’ National Chief Shawn Atleo “in the coming weeks,” and has no plans to abide aboriginal leaders’ demands for a summit Thursday. “[First Nations people] are very insistent on having the Governor-General there, but the Governor-General says this is a policy matter with the government and that [he] shouldn’t be there,” Andrew MacDougall said. “We agree with that.”

This is interesting stuff. What is a Prime Minister and what is a Governor-General? In his book Federalism and the Constitution of Canada, David E. Smith uses the proper name of one institution the Prime Minister leads: the Crown-in-Parliament. Even though the Glorious Revolution of 1688 changed a lot of the constitutional principles it did not great autonomous spheres of power so much as rearrange the existing ones. As a result, Smith can write:

Sovereignty in a constitutional monarchy rests in the Crown-in-Parliament (or, legislature), except where the subject is the reserve powers (dissolution of Parliament, for instance) that remain as a matter of prerogative in the hands of the Crown’s representative.

So, unless the topic is one reserved to the G.-G., it is a matter of Parliamentary oversight. In section 91 of our Constitution of 1867, part of the division of powers discussion it states “the exclusive Legislative Authority of the Parliament of Canada extends to all Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated; that is to say,” and then lists a number of topics. It is generally taken that the list serves to distinguish between the Federal level and the Provincial one but the assignment of the classes of subjects is to the Parliament of Canada. Item number 24 in the list is “Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians.” Later in the constitution it states under the heading “Treaty Obligations” that:

The Parliament and Government of Canada shall have all Powers necessary or proper for performing the Obligations of Canada or of any Province thereof, as Part of the British Empire, towards Foreign Countries, arising under Treaties between the Empire and such Foreign Countries.

Interestingly, as Smith points out in his book, this only means that the Feds have the power to conclude treaties not to implement them. Where the subject matter is not in the list of subject matters assigned to the Federal Parliament, it is up to the Provinces to implement. And, in any event, the power relates to foreign countries. What was the nature of the “in Empire” domestic treaty that the British and then Canada happily signed from East to West as European Canada asserted itself? Mr. Harper is asserting that whatever it is, it is something that section 91(24) assigns to Parliament and he is the head of Parliament. Clearly an argument available to be made. Because he, like the G.-G. represents the Crown in his own way, too.

Having A Go At Beery Long Writing With Max

I have a few things burbling away. First in line, as you know, Albany ale needs to be properly addressed – especially given Craig’s more detailed research and clearer organization of the topic. Having stumbled upon the forgotten center of brewing of America before the lager invasion, it’s worthy of a proper job. But I had a rotten 2012. Things got in the way of good intentions and an even better topic. Time passed. Colds and flues came in and out of the house. The cat died. And I watched as Boak and Bailey gave hints that they were doing some long writing about beer in post-WWII Britain. Funk deepened. Not that I have lusted for authorship but there are bigger ideas than a blog can capture.

And, there is the opportunity to write in a format that is not only longer but… weirder. I was thinking of something mixing both Lawrence Stern’s Tristram Shandy of the 1760’s with The Compleat Angler of 1653 with Dada and Duchamp added for good measure. Which naturally made me think of the man with the biggest drinking vessel I have ever seen. Surrealistically large. Max, the Pivni Filosof takes up the story:

I must say we are both very excited with this. We’ve been exchanging e-mails like two long distance lovers (minus the raunchy pics, fortunately) in order to give a shape to this project. It’s still too soon to say how long it’ll be or when it’ll be ready. What we are sure of, though, is that it will be something completely different to anything that’s so far been written about beer. The topics we are going to deal with, well, I guess those that follow our blogs can pretty much figure them out, and they will all be wrapped in a fun and perhaps rather surrealist narrative. The first words have already been smithed, the journey has just begun. We’ll see where it takes us. Be ready.

Not sure I am ready. But I do look forward to discovering how not ready I am. Especially the footnoting. I am hoping one will be scratch and sniff. A Kindle can do that now, right?

What Does A Critique Of Beer Culture Look Like?

I’ve been thinking more and more about the framework of the beery discourse and what has gotten us to this point. Still no comprehensive US history of beer. Still we live with the very language of beer controlled by organizations with middle managers, accountants and committees. And a growing trend such that, like things polysynthetic, the task of learning and describing the state of good beer appears to include a lot of creative writing – as in creation of the thing purported to be the subject of study. Not sure these are good things. There are stands being taken. I keep coming back to a post Jeff wrote a few weeks ago called “I Feel A Veto Coming On” in which he announced his rejection of a certain sort of beer:

…I must institute a similar policy with any experimental beer using crazy ingredients. I’m going to start from the position that anything that might plausibly be sold as a candy bar, salad, or entree is not worth drinking.

See that? That’s a position being taken. And one that makes sense. If you think about it, if the experimental beer is based on the adding of “not beer” to “beer” it is clearly a distancing of itself from beer. A dilution. A covering up. A distraction. One need not inaugurate the Protz Shield and Papazian Cup to point out the weakness in a trend or a shape shifting of the market. So, I take up Jeff’s policy and ask you to consider doing the same thing. Maybe 2013 is the year we can put the focus back on the beeriness of beer.

Book Review: How To Love Wine, Eric Asimov

htlw1aI picked this book up in the pre-Christmas self-gifting spree and, as I mentioned, am glad I did. I have followed Eric Asimov for sometime probably starting with some of his studies of beer styles that, at the time, were hailed as something of a break through for good beer. Not that I always agreed with him but following his writing has helped my appreciation of wine – especially his tackling of specific and perhaps under appreciated sorts of wine like sherry. In the book, a manifesto backed up by autobiography, he extends my appreciation by identifying themes and preferences all of which may be summed up in this brief passage at page 119:

I’ve become a firm adherent of the notice that wine is for drinking, not tasting. Only by drinking, swallowing, savoring, and returning to a wine, and repeating the process over time, can one really get a full and complete idea of what’s in a bottle and what the wine is all about. A taste is fine if you believe that understanding a bottle consists of writing down impressions of aromas and flavors. It’s like buying music over the Internet – if a fifteen-second snippet offered everything you needed to know, why pay for the whole song.

When was the last time you read beer writing like that. Focus on the complete idea of what’s in the bottle? No reference to being a pal of the wine maker or how it fits into a structure of styles? A fluid first approach to appreciation. What is the proper route to thinking about good beer or any good stuff? Is there such a thing? I’d argue not. So, why limit examinations about approaches to appreciation to just beer? Here is what I am starting to think. If you love beer but don’t explore wine, you have failed yourself. You have failed yourself in the same way that you would if you sought to learn about all good beer but didn’t want to eat every vegetable in the produce section or turned your nose up at fish or blue cheese. If you don’t know any wine writers by name, here is a start. But just a start.

More than that, how about taking on a small project of trying wines or spirits… or maybe nuts and cheeses as an adjunct to your interest in good beer. Or just a sort of wine. Since I have been trying various lower cost dry sparking wines like Spanish cava I have come to a point where I think of them a lot like the drier sorts of saison. I have also come to think of lightly sweeter wine like you find in a German spätlese is a good reference point to appreciate some of the implications of residual malt in a beer world a bit mad with hop acid. It’s all the knowledge so why not? Is it any different from knowing about your local cheeses, meats, breads, or garden produce? Not to mention if you are this sort of foodie.

Wine v. beer? Why bother fighting when wine and beer offers a much broader, more interesting range of flavours. Me, I am going to focus on a few things but one will be the fact that I live very near a wine region that is taking off and that offers many more options than an hour and a half’s drive for good beer does. See, as I mentioned last summer, my local beverage is in large part actually wine. And there’s some pretty good stuff over there in Prince Edward County. Expect a few more posts on local wine in 2013. How about you? What is worth writing about in addition to good beer near you?

Thinking Back To Blogging When We Was Young

I heard the news about Aaron Swartz like everyone else. And then I heard another way as way back when I started blogging I belonged to the Berkman Thursday discussion group through the Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. I still get the digests via email when something is posted coming up on a decade after it was busy. This week I received this:

It is with great sadness that I share with you the news that one of tech’s bright minds and a blog group participant, Aaron Swartz, has left us. Many people are sharing thoughts about this amazing fellow. I’ll share a few links below. Some local memorials have already happened and more are yet to come. Since Aaron was on the MIT Mystery Hunt team sj and I and several other blog group folks are on, we are tentatively planning a gathering during the Hunt. If you’re participating in the Hunt, keep an ear out for more info.

It was sad news. I knew the guy was young but when I look back I really had no idea that in my late 30s I was in a chat with folk then only a little more than a third of my age. It was interesting stuff and the discussion was hopeful. There was lots to dream about. I saved stories to my blog like this one from 2004 about how blogs might make money one day. I wrote hopeful things this even though for the life of me I have no idea now what I meant to be saying. I argued. And on Thursday evenings for a while I would fire up the computer, turn on the speakers and listen as the Berkman bloggers’ group talked. There was a chat function – was it on IRC? – that allowed anyone to participate. So I have this dim recollection of chatting about blogging with a lot of people including Aaron. Maybe I just listened or watched his words pass on the screen.

At some point I got less interested in the theory. An argument point developed that somehow folk were able to appropriate the works of others. I didn’t disagree with the point as I had no clue what the heck was meant. The idea generally faded but it took a number of years for the fine points to come to the surface. No one speaks of a “mash up” world any more like in 2004. But Aaron did, I think.

I won’t connect dots and I don’t expect you would either. As was pointed out, there was depression involved. At least one pal of mine died at his own hands due to depression. It’s sad. Does not take a grand design or conspiracy or even anything that makes very much sense. But when I think of the keen interest I had a decade ago and the voices that I listened to in pursuit of that interest, his was in the forefront. And he was so young. As young as my kids now. Sad news.


Pass Peter’s Pewter Pottle Pot, Please!


In my quest for objects out of which to drink ale, I have a 1940s ceramic part pint, an 1840s pewter quart pot and have declared 2013 the year of the 1700s etched ale glass. But, what ho! Something came before my eye today that I had not only never seen before but never had heard of – the pottle! Not an actual pottle but just the concept.

As you can see, that is archaic word for a half-gallon. The image above is a handy illustration from the entry for “Ale” in 1725’s smash best selling book Dictionaire oeconomique: or, The family dictionary. Containing the most experienced methods of improving estates and of preserving health, with many approved remedies for most distempers of the body of man, cattle and other creatures…. You will have to excuse me for deleting more than half the title but you get the hint. But now you know that there are 16 pottles to a firkin. That’s knowledge, baby.

There are a few references to pewter pottle pots on Google mainly referencing legal cases where a whole bunch of things are listed as being stolen or being in a will. In 1267, it is recorded in The Court Rolls of Ramsey, Hepmangrove, and Bury that a number of naughty brewsters of Ramsey were brought before the rather ripely named William De Wassingle – who I have no doubt was called “Assingle” behind his back – to pay fines and pledge security. Earlier in the day there was a far more interesting case which is recorded as follows:

6 d. from Emma Powel for making unclean puddings, as presented in the last view. Pledge: Simon de Elysworth. Order that henceforth she not make pudding.

You wag, Assingle. Anyway, in the brewster cases on that day, the security pledged against failure to pay the fine included many pottles. Four centuries later but still over 350 years ago, in 1659, the court heard an action of trover and conversion brought against one Gervase Maplesden by one Gabriel Beckraan for a number of things including one pewter gallon pot, one pewter quart pot, one pewter pottle pot and one pewter pint pot. Battlin’ pewterers action! Nothing like it.

But where are the pottle pots now? Not only can I find none on the internets for sale but none even pictured. Can you send an image to one of these massive drinking vessels? Have you ever seen one?

Ontario: Headstock IPA, Nickel Brook, Burlington

I suppose I should write from time to time about what is actually in my fridge. I suppose I should also check out what is in that brown paper bag back there.

Nickel Brook’s Headstock IPA has become my “go to” beer which, to be fair, is because that can of Narragansett Porter back there is the only one I have and maybe one of a handful in Canada. Why do I like this so much? Well, it is big but not insane at 7% but has as much wallop as any number of stronger DIPAs I have had from the states. Then you have to simply like the price, $2.65 for a 473 ml can. No, I am not able to explain how it is we have 473 ml cans and not 500 ml cans but it is what it is. I can get almost three litres for just over fifteen bucks and it is the backbone of the weekend. It pours a slightly less than clear orange amber with a rich foamy white head. The aroma is pungent Seville marmalade. Sweet bitterness in the mouth. More orange flavours including bitter pith, pink grapefruit juice, prickly spicy green weedy hop, white pepper burn in the finish all in a satisfyingly rich even thick brew.

BAer respect. I like it way more than their average suggests.