Not Beer: Zero de Gris 2009, Huff Estates, PEC

zdgh1I was going to post about tea. I have been drinking a lot of tea lately. Good tea. Good tea is one of the least expensive good things going. Even at $35, per portion so might be a sweet wine like this bottle I picked up last summer at the winery on one of our ice cream, beach and cheese curd jaunts into Prince Edward County. A half bottle like this can easily be shared at dessert or after with six or eight. And you might open one once every couple of months, right? So, OK, not quite great tea value but often a well placed addition to the end of a holiday meal like the one shared today.

Zero de Gris is made with all Frontenac Gris picked late but short of forming noble rot or freezing. As flavour packed as I would have hoped, there’s honey and apricots on the nose. You can smell it with the glass sitting there on the side table. There’s more in there as well. Fresh lemon, white grapefruit, honey and something thicker, earthy – maybe melon or beeswax? A small sip gives you tangerine, lemon juice, honey in a sharp acidity framing a sweet hefty mouth feel. The finish is light and grapefruit clean with a lasting nod to that beeswax note.

We had this with a lemon curd cream cake. It would likely go well with just spoonfuls of thick cream and a couple dozen butter cookies if that were your thing, too. Light at 9.5% and enough sugar that the bottle’s drip leaves the neck sticky. Probably infanticide at three and a half years old. An award winner for Canadian late harvest wines in 2011.

Garden 2013: It’s Still March But Planting’s Begun

It has begun. A sunny Saturday reaching up towards maybe 7F today. I took down the cold frame that sat out back all winter and found one lone red lettuce plant growing along with a fair number of carrots. Leeks survived, hilled, out back and out front. Parsnips are starting to poke up enough green to betray their hiding spots.





Soups of ginger and parsnip are a-comin’. Peas have already been planted twice and some of the onion seedlings in the basement might actually survive. Rhubarb is a red ball pushing up through the leaves. But, best of all, that is the plot of garlic planted last fall showing itself.

Ontario: Eephus Oatmeal Brown, Left Field Br’y, Tra’na

I think I only dislike one thing about the prospect of drinking this new beer. I have a strong suspicion that Jays fans made it. Have I mentioned I really dislike the Toronto Blue Jays? Years ago when I bounced in a bar in London, Ontario there was another bar down the road all done up with Detroit Tigers memorabilia except for signs that said “Jays Suck” which I loved. See, as an Expos fan since ’67 when I was a toddler with a cap and ’73 when I saw the Yanks lose at Fenway, I have had a dual allegiance. One sadly past. One present. Yet… I love baseball. The season starts this weekend. Spring, summer and fall all lay before me again filled with baseball. See, I have done this. I have hit doubles in America in recent years as a rather fat man off a better player than me. I have hand lathed bats. So, the baseball theme chosen for Toronto’s new Left Field Brewery has me.

But how about the beer itself. Start with the bottle. Note the Mississippi mud hue of the label’s background tone. I have a ball in that hue from the day I watched the Sox smoke the Jays. A one pitch knuckle ball with the Wakefield fingertip inprints and the Vernon Well’s pop up all marked. Far defter branding than Coopertown‘s even if I do have the yellow t-shirt. The aroma is date and brown bread. Lots of molasses but something herby spicy, too. Verging on Abt 12 with half the alcohol. Mohagany ale with mocha cream lacing foam and rim. Lots going on in the swally. There is that smoothness one associates with oat but also enough placement points of hop over the arc of the quaff that you are aware this is not someone’s take on Peculiar. Yet, that dripping brown malt. The blackstrap. The nut. The bread crust, dry cocoa and black tea. It is also a rejection of all those trendy needy nanos. It’s, bear with me, reminding me of the intention behind the Whale. Beer for people who like the taste of beer. And a bigger beer than its strength. I had an oatmeal stout from Quebec’s Le Castor earlier and was only disappointed with its heft. None of that here. Heft to lend.

I am given to understand from one young pup to my west that this bottle is not actually for sale but zooped up for samplin’ and reviewin’. It can be bought around town on tap in the Big Smoke. I don’t go there much. Next time I am there, I am finding me some of this.

Big US Craft Apparently Has Bifurcated Lobbyitus

Interesting piece on the impending decisions to be made in relation to Federal excise taxation for beer in the US over at MSN Money today:

…The Brewer’s Employment and Excise Relief (BEER) Act, which is promoted by Washington-based beer industry group The Beer Institute, is expected to be introduced later this year and would reduce excise taxes on beer produced by brewers large and small. Past versions of the bill recommended cutting the tax from $18 per barrel to $9 for large brewers while also cutting the tax for small brewers from $7 per barrel to $3.50.

The competing Small Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce, or Small BREW Act, promoted by craft beer industry group The Brewers Association would cut the federal excise tax on beer from $7 a barrel to $3.50, which is placed on a small brewer’s first 60,000 barrels produced per year. After that initial 60,000 barrels, small brewers must pay $18 per barrel, which would be lowered to $16 under the bill. More importantly, it would expand the tax code definition for a “small brewer” from one that produces 2 million barrels or less to one that produces 6 million or less.

See, this is how relationships end. As the article describes, brewers like Boston Beer Co and Sierra Nevada are active members of both the Beer Institute and the Brewers Association which are lobbying for distinct and conflicting tax regimes. Not sure that this in itself is enough to create “a rift in the beer industry that could signal last call for the ‘craft’ title” as the author suggests but the implications are interesting. First, the government has to decide the matter one way or another. There cannot be two systems of the one excise tax. Second, the actual small craft brewers who make up the majority of the Brewers Association may soon have to decide whether being led by big craft brewers who look a lot like big macro brewers makes any sense. Either way, it won’t be controlled by big craft.

It would be comforting to know that this question was actually being discussed at the Craft Brewers Conference but the Twitter feed for #CBC13 has all the diversity of first night at summer cult camp. Crazy kids. They just can’t stop marketing – even to each other! One can hope that Congress’s governing leaders will have the sense to reject the idea of including the expansion of 2 to 6 million barrel definition of “small”. It is all fun and stuff but, given the state of the nation’s finances, buying into that sort of belief system isn’t very helpful especially given the clear focus offered by the Beer Institute’s characterization of the implications as “a giveaway to a handful of brewers that each are worth more than a billion dollars.” A billion? That’s a large number.

Maybe Beer Helped Create Violent Tyranny?

I find this beer “created civilization” line going around funny. Sure, it is an easy cut and paste story for bloggers needing to fill space. And, sure, it is an easy story for a newspaper to run. But really?

Hayden told Postmedia News that “there are lots of implications” of the team’s findings, and that “brewing was just part of the picture” during humanity’s pivotal shift to settled, stable communities with enough food supplies to foster more complex cultural developments. But beer-making, he added, was one factor “that we think was important in making feasts such powerful tools for attracting people and getting them committed to producing surpluses.”

Attracting people? Getting them committed to producing surpluses? Such verbs we choose for such things. How about rounding them up, enslaving them and forcing them into labour to provide an oligarchical hierarchy based on grain monoculture with the rich rewards of being the enslavers going entirely to the enslavers. How about the slaves were perfectly happy in their outlying tribal hunter gatherer lives beyond the fields of horror filled with barley they will never taste and certainly never chose to grow. It is lovely to hope and wish and, sure, springtime is upon us giving us thoughts of baseball and everything but is there any evidence that the step towards brewing-focused agriculture in any way formed the basis what we value today as “civilized”? Maybe it just occurred as a crop contemporaneous with, say, turnips.

Did turnips found civilization? Could well be. Like mostly anything could well be. Like shackles and whips.

Not Beer: Pinot Noir 2009, Grange, Closson Road, PEC


I didn’t buy this when we visited The Grange of Prince Edward County last August but maybe I should have. Found a bottle on a low shelf at the local government store. I sorta realized I had not been paying attention to this grape. I’ve probably been in a Côtes du Rhône rut now that I think of it. You know what that’s like. So, I have been picking up bottles from a few regions where Pinot Noir is grown when I see a reasonable price. Like this one. The Grange appears to have six different vineyards totaling around 60 acres. Half the vineyards have Pinot Noir. The are located just south of the lake in the middle of Hillier township on this Victorian map, right by old Sam Trumpour’s place. Lord Goog has the location, too.

grange2I made a white bean and sausage stew in the slow cooker to go a long with this wine for tonight’s family gathering. I threw in dried mushroom and celery root along with a good slug of a Niagara red blend. Earthy. Hopefully. Not sure if Pinot Noir earthy bears any relation to biere de garde earthy. Not sure I’ve thought about cross-referencing adjective from wine to beer at all, come to think of it. Whatever earthy means in relation to this bottle, it is defined by the Hillier Clay Loam that you can read all about at page 58 of this 1948 Government of Canada report on the soils of Prince Edward County. It’s all about the dirt.

I took this advice and opened the bottle this morning. In the glass, the wine glows dark cherry red and gives off aromas like barky spices, alcohol, earthy berry… maybe red current? I agree with the idea of tastes of cherry and cranberry from this review but might add a little wintergreen and maybe strawberry as well. Some astringency from black tea tannins in the middle open to woodsy berry fruit at the end. Not the big and slap on the back wine like a lot of the Cabs, Merlot or Shiraz. A quieter drink.

Did I like it? Well, on the way come from dropping off the guest scurrying to get home before Earth Hour, I bought another. Stick it away for a bit to see what becomes of it. And, as we are not drinkers from fishbowls, half of this bottle is still around for leftovers tomorrow. And at well under $20 a good introduction to Prince Edward County Pinot Noirs.

I Have No Irish In Me And Don’t Drink On Sundays

This is a difficult date on the calendar for me. Like in many places, the Irish, lapsed or otherwise, and their fellow travelers in small town eastern Ontario have gathered and tightly packed themselves into traditional bars like the Douglas Tavern or the Tweedsmuir drinking macro lager dyed green and/or Guinness and/or whatever else is going. But I am not of them. Scots me. These celebrations can get quite elaborate and have been mentioned in our national Parliament. They seem to rival the… err… passion seen in the larger urban St. Paddy’s events in US centers like Syracuse where it lasts so long it forms its own season. The day seems to serve the need for a New Year’s Eve party ten weeks after that hammering of the brain cells – and one with less of the pretense, more of the getting pickled for being legitimately pickled sake.

I say legitimately as these descendants of the Irish in this part of North America embrace themselves and the generations before them through this ritual. Me? It’s been tea and water for me today. A Saturday even. I am being sensible, see. Sensible. Four years ago, I called for the embracing of March 17th by the fans of good beer. Things may have changed. From the Twitter feeds and Google news items floating by good beer fans seem to be rejecting rejection. And some craft brewers are getting into the day. Beaus, as Bryan recently noted, has a seasonal beer out now called Strong Patrick. Are there others? Why not? If ever there was a reason to brew a seasonal beer it is in response to a season focused on beer. One problem, however, is that craft beer has somewhat abandoned standard Irish stout. As Andy noted last fall, it was the least competitive category at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival. Imperial Irish reds are all very fine in their way but why not make an Irish dry stout for when the Irish are dry? I might even join in.

Book Review: Alcohol and its Role in…, Ian Hornsey

That is Alcohol and its Role in the Evolution of Human Society by Ian S. Hornsey. I had no idea. In a work of beer writing that is still trying to find its way, seeking to evolve from fanboy gushing or trade focused boosterism or underdeveloped efforts at business journalism, Hornsey’s 2004 book A History of Beer and Brewing stands where few others do as a successful description of the broad scope beer and western society. So, it was a gigglefest when I put his name in the the hands of Lord Good to find out that there was this 2012 publication of the Royal Society of Chemistry exactly one credit card charge and international cross-Atlantic postal service away from me. Joy.

The index alone is enough to make you faint. The Taxonomy and Genetics of the Common Oat are described at pages 273 to 277. The Drunken Monkey hypothesis is described over five pages in the 540s. Interesting to note that, like the stylings of beer, I learn from page 164 that wheat classifications too have suffered from excessive splitting. And now, on page 223 to 224 I have a description of eight classes of sake. Excellent.

This is not really a review. It’s more like a plea for understanding. If you care about beer and don’t have the works of Horsey – and Unger for that matter – by your Laz-e-boy in the basement, you have a treats unimaginable awaiting. It may be a matter of $300 to have four or five of these sorts of books delivered but they form a strong shield against the woop and warp of propositions that may be posed these buffeting times. And they are a great natural source of footnotes.

“The Art Of Beer Alchemy” By Chas Chumley

Just in case there is anyone out there named Chas Chumley, I should explain. A couple of decades ago, The Kids in the Hall had a very brief skit of a man walking down the street in a leisure suit. He had a spring in his step and was winking, nodding and pointing at the people with a certain zest. He was, the skit went, zim-zam-zoodlin’. He was, in fact, a zim-zam-zoodlin’ sorta guy. For some reason I can’t recall, that sort of guy got dubbed Chas Chumley. Pretty sure the name was not in a skit but in our house Chas stuck.

Chas is a man with certain capabilities. He reminds me of the confidence that you can draw from Everyday Drinking – The Distilled Kingsley Amis which came out four years ago. In that anthology of earlier essays, Amis gave household hints on how to save money when entertaining guest by controlling what was in the liquor cabinet and the punch bowl. Given the news in The New York Times about how certain brewers are working to increase the price of your good beer, I wondered what would happen if the combined the confidence of Chas, the wizardy of Amis and applied it to the cause of good beer at an affordable reasonable price. Here is what I came up with for starters:

⇒ Start with a quality base beer. Last night, I opened an imperial stout that cost $4.95 for 500 ml. It was excellent and part of its excellent was the lack of those added flavours inserted into the swankier imperial stouts the cool kids buy. You may find one to your liking for an even more modest price.

⇒ Learn how to cork a champagne style 750 ml bottle. Get a home corker like this. Go in on it with friends and the costs per bottle plummet.

⇒ Think of the added flavours found in large format beers pushing the $30 range as notes that can be added in the form of home brewed teas or syrups. Need an earthy note? Add a quarter teaspoon of water that has had your best compost soaking in it. Need a rustic dark chocolate thing in there? Buy 50 cents of chocolate malt, soak in some of the base beer for a day in the fridge and draw off a touch as needed.

⇒ Control the alcohol content. Depending on the strength of your base beer, a eyedropper or turkey baster worth of neutral alcohol carefully measured and added with care will help you reach your target. But get creative. Need that popular bourbon note, too? Add a drop of Maker’s Mark. Need a sour twang? Add a sixteenth of a bottle of Orval for mere pennies. Remember: a little goes a long way and saves you money.

⇒ Finally, rely on the power of aging. Blending your own deluxe imperial stouts at home may leave them with rough edges that time can heal. Burying the bottles in a back corner of the basement or even the garden will add that mellowness that is a mark of a fine bottle with a double digit price.

This should work. Years ago, Joe the Thirsty Pilgrim and I discussed the possibility of home lambic and gueze blending given the phenomenal news that one can actually buy bulk Girardin lambic by the ten litre jug for peanuts. The same principle applies to, say, those double imperial stouts with added cheddar, the new Cheerio infused DIPAs or any of the other fancy and expensive strong beers with flavours added showing up on your beer store shelf. Who knows? Maybe in your jurisdiction, this sort of blending could be legal for your favorite bar, too. House blend swank deluxe. Consider the possibilities. Share your household hints for better entertaining in the new style. Chas is listening. Chas cares.

Again, The Most Wonderful Day Of Every Year

Previous celebrations: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012. The snow lays about in dirty lumps congesting into ice before it melts. Baseball is close now. SO close I can watch spring games on the iPhone. 450 onion seeds have sprouted in my basement. Under a grow lamp. One sole celeriac has sprouted, too. Hope lives in my edible basement grow op.