Quebec: Retirements And Consolidation At McAuslan

If I have a favorite beer at a favorite pub, it’s a pint of McAuslan Oatmeal Stout at the Kingston Brewing Company. It does not hurt that the place is a block from my work. But news has thrown a pebble at my world just now, placing that pleasure at perhaps some risk:

After a quarter century in the business, the husband-and-wife team behind the McAuslan Brewing company has sold their company to another Montreal-based microbrewer, RJ Brewers. Peter McAuslan, who founded the company with his wife Ellen Bounsall in 1988, told CJAD News it was just the right time for the two of them to get out. “When one starts a business, you always have a sort of an end point in mind,” McAuslan said. “Both of us over the last ten years said, ‘well, there’s going to come a point where we’re going to want to sell out and take advantage of the work that we’ve done.”

Risk you say? Don’t get me wrong. I have had RJ’s Belle Gueule and it has its worthy place. But successors rarely maintain the particularity of a beer even if quality generally is maintained. Different equipment, hands on the knobs, water tables or yeast strain races? You’re never sure about these things. With luck, I’ll stand corrected this time and that wee note of licorice will be there along the twiggy hops for years to come. Good news for the team of McAuslen and Bounsall certainly and perhaps part of an era we’ll be entering where many such just rewards are gotten by many more retiring first wave microbrewers.

But, really, it’s not like I drank the beer because of them. I drink it because of it. And I hope it has many more years ahead of it.

Garden 2013: The Last Of The Parsnip Crop


One of my favorite things to do is to not do something. Last year, I planted parsnips, onions and carrots in the square of soil by the front door. The carrots got dug up in early October and the onions were lifted a month earlier. But five parsnips were left in the ground all winter. Where they apparently grew. I had to dig around each root down around a foot and pull on the damn things. I left at least a quarter inch width of each in the ground. They came out with a snap.

Two Wooden English Tankards From The 1500s


A few months ago, I referenced a wooden tankard that had been found on Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose, as part of my review of Mitch Steele’s book IPA. I didn’t clue into one aspect of the tankard until I read this story about another similar wooden tankard from the 1500s found last year in the mud of the River Thames as described in this story posted at the Museum of London’s website:

It is comparable in shape to a modern beer mug, however, this tankard holds three pints. Was it used to carry beer from the barrel to the table or, was this someone’s personal beer mug? The quantity of liquid held in the tankard and markings suggesting it once had a lid, may indicate that it once served as a decanter. However, the lack of a spout seems to contradict this theory. The only other items that are contemporary and similar in appearance come from the Mary Rose, although the Mary Rose examples carry 8 pints.

1500stankard2Eight pints!! That is otherwise known as a gallon. Click on the picture to the right for a full version of the Mary Rose tankard.  Notice how it appears to have straps of split branches rather than metal. Notice also how the photo above of the three pint tankard neatly illustrates how the handle shape likely indicates there was a lid just as on the Mary Rose tankard. Otherwise, why does the handle rise up above the rim as it does? Nothing like the well applied use of scientific photography in the cause of drinking vessel description accuracy by Murray Saunders for the Daily Mail and the unnamed photographer in the Wharf article. Perhaps a guild of their own is in order.

Speculation goes on that these large vessels may have been used as jugs but I wonder. Not only is there no spout, obviously a known technology in those times but it presumes very odd handling of the beer. Barrel to jug to mug. Why not just barrel to mug? B => M is better than B => J => M technology as it needs no staff person as middleman. No waiter. Why wouldn’t these sailors just be lined up daily and given their full gallon, the measure for consumption throughout day? It’s not like they are sitting in a pub as they drank the stuff. Besides, ship’s beer was weak. And anyway, serving jugs had a different shape.

Another Good Reason To Support The Little Guy

Keeping in mind that by “little guy” I actually mean small brewers and not larger brewers who need their smallness to be defined by a trade organization… but this news out of Newfoundland is just weird:

…the bosses at Labatt Breweries in St. John’s apparently thought it was a good idea to instruct their employees to train workers who would replace them in the event of a strike. The employees refused and walked out, and are currently on a wildcat strike. The mind reels, and then reels some more upon news that a judge ordered the workers to stop interfering in Labatt’s daily business because, he said, they would do the company irreparable harm. Apparently, in a globalized knowledge economy, being replaced on the job does not qualify as doing irreparable harm to a worker.

We have to also be mindful, of course, that being a good brewer does not automatically entitle you to be considered as a good employer. You will recall how in 2011, Rogue of Oregon was the subject of “a devastating article about how Rogue Brewery treats its workers” to quote Jeff. Like any good consumer, that was the last time I bought any of their beer but, to be honest, anti-union tactics is something of a norm. But asking local workers to train their own foreign import replacements? Notice that a Canadian bank has been accused of the same thing this week. Which has led to an apology from now sweaty browed president and CEO Gord Nixon as clients are voting with their feet and withdrawing their deposits.

We clearly have a problem with any law that allows this. And any community that condones it. Will Canadians walk on Labatt, too? I hope so. Most likely in Newfoundland where the policy hits home most closely and people have an aversion to being led. They are not called the masterless men for nothing. One would hope these things would matter more generally, too. I do appreciate when Ethan points out that, hey, it’s capitalism but one needs to recall that capitalism is about trade and, frankly, turns on the principle “buyer beware.” As in be wary. Be aware. Know who and what you are dealing with. And appreciate, as Nixon now knows, that it is the consumer who defines what is appropriate within the construct of capitalism, not the law or business.

Wine’s The Real Challenge For Good Beer, Not MacroGak

As you know, I have been writing a bit about wine here because I am thinking about and drinking a bit of the fluids of nearby Prince Edward County. News today from those last few staff at Statistics Canada who have not met the wrath of our rural overlords indicates I might not be alone:

For some, beer is as Canadian as the Maple Leaf, and anything less would be downright unpatriotic. But, new statistics show, a nation of beer drinkers are increasingly switching from hops to grapes. “Despite the small increase in beer sales, both in terms of volume and dollar value, the market share dominance of beer continued to decline as consumers turned more to wine,” Statistics Canada said today, referring to numbers that are now a year out of date, but still show how tastes continue to change. “In 2002, beer had a market share of 50 per cent by dollar value, while wine had 24 per cent,” the agency said in an annual report on alcoholic beverages. “By 2012, the market share for beer had declined to 44 per cent, while wine accounted for 31 per cent.”

Notice the underlying factor, however, as this statistic is by dollar value. We are as a nation spending more on wine. We may well not be buying or drinking more wine but we likely are. Buying better, too… or at lease more expensive. Plus we are buying what is becoming fairly common around us, good local wine. Yet, we buy and make beer and spirits, too. We are polyboires, we Canadians, as the original StatsCan report explains.

My near western neighbour, Prince Edward County, here by the northeast corner of Lake Ontario provides only a small bit of Ontario’s and Canada’s overall wine production. Recently, I received samples of a number of Diamond Estates wines from Niagara, the better known wine region to the southwest of the same Great Lake. Because it is wine, it’s a bit hard to get a handle on what to make of even such a selection let alone place them in the context. I’ll mention two. I shared the EastDell Gamay Noir and, again, were pleased with the quality – especially the characteristics of the grape as grown in Ontario soils. I am not sure I would trust a wine at that price point to be as dependable were it European or South American. I unexpectedly liked a light bodied white wine, Birchwood Fresh Gewurztraminer / Riesling, even though it it is a modestly priced blend but, then, was a challenged by the implications. But that’s the thing, isn’t it. See, for me, unlike beer, taking into account all the challenges posed by nation, region, vintage, grape variety, blends, sometimes actual terrior and bottle variation – not to mention price point and vintner’s intention – the variables are simply more complex as a whole than good beer. I don’t know how to get my arms around the body of data presented to me by wine. So I focus on zones. I buy red wines from the Côtes du Rhône and Rieslings from the Mosel – Ürzigers if I can find them. And, lucky for me, I also buy local wines from nearer and often – but not always – more affordable zones.

I know, I know. Your a beer geek and you’ve been told that beer goes with more things and is more complex. You even believe beer goes with chocolate better, never having had even a reasonable port. But the saddest truth is these sorts of arguments makes a little sense. Good beer is wonderful and so is wine. So’s gin, for that matter. But learning about beer is a fairly straight forward or maybe just relatively straight forward matter, not even considering all the misdirection from above and its own inherent multi-faceted nature. You read 20 beer books these days and, be honest, you come away with the sense you’ve maybe read six. I read any book in the Faber series on wine, for example, and I am boggled by the sheer volume of data. 475 Beers to Try Before You Die? What about facing 2575 wines of the Côte de Beaune in a lifetime, a stretch of land in one French valley of maybe 5 by 20 miles.

What to do with this as a beer nerd wanting to start learning about wine? Start. Same goes for teas or cheeses for that matter. Take the chip off the shoulder if it’s there and start trying them. Start trying to figure them out and realize as you do that you will likely never master the stuff. You’ll never get a glimpse of the borders of the topic for that matter. But that is OK. You’ve never have a beer from all the US craft brewers either. Will anyone? Who cares.

Has Discontent Struck Good Beer In A Time of Plenty?

A little bird, or rather an email correspondent, who was present advised me that at the recent Craft Brewer Conference there was a closed session at which at least one well placed big-mid-sized Midwest brewer “sure made for good entertainment at the voting members session of the CBC- you know, the one the toss the media out for”. Apparently, unlike what is seen on the public sessions, issues like the asymmetrical effect of tax breaks and grants are creating divisions amongst those who would like you to believe that they sing all from the same hymnal… and, then, would like to sell you the hymnal so you can keep in tune, too. Interesting, then, to read about one implication arising from this sort of thing as illustrated by one particular expanding good beer market, Ashville NC, as reported today by Bill Night at The New School:

If the $9 Mil for New Belgium that Magee mentioned sounds like a lot to you, maybe you’ll be interested to find that New Belgium actually snarfed up $13 million in total from “the public trough”, as explained in this post on the blog Ashvegas. As far as I can tell, Sierra Nevada wasn’t quite as gluttonous, and only needed a little under $5 million to set up beer camp in North Carolina:

– State of North Carolina: $1M grant to New Belgium
– Buncombe County: $8.5M tax incentives to New Belgium
– City of Asheville: $3.5M tax incentives and infrastructure to New Belgium
– State of North Carolina: $1M grant to Sierra Nevada
– Henderson County: $3.75M tax incentives and infrastructure to Sierra Nevada

You know who should be really pissed about all that money? The small brewers who built Asheville up into Beer City USA.

Redistribution of wealth is tricky stuff and it does not help that those receiving are national craft millionaires even though sometimes it seems they would like us to think that they are hunting for sofa change to try to make payroll. But it does not stop there today as Harry Schuhmacher in the Beer Business Daily touches on more of the questions left unanswered after the recent conference. He discusses questions of tax policy as I discussed here the other day as well as badly made and overpriced craft – and even how succession planning leading to big money buyouts are all discussed. All important big issues that can leave a bad taste… sometimes by actually leaving a bad taste.

But, most interesting to me is the “S” word – smugness. Harry puts it succinctly: “I’ve met a few new craft brewers over the last year, and I get the sense lately that many think they invented beer.” A great direct line. I can’t, however, speak to the truth of it as, being trained in the law, I assume this is a phenomena that is woven throughout all business sectors so I don’t know whether this is new to beer or that the guard has been left down a bit recently. Yet the other sources mentioned above might be indicating that might well be the case. Where does all of this lead? Good beer did well in the recession, expanding market share as the economy took a hit. But that does not mean the industry is immune to all risk.

For me, big business is big business and will act as such. Lobbying and entitlement will benefit the largest most. But the time needs to come when US craft will stop trying to pretend all brewers are small start ups even if only to argue for financing opportunities which can benefit businesses of different scales. Beyond that, the risk of fatigue needs to be addressed – and not fatigue of flagship beers as Harry suggests though that is happening too. Craft beer is starting to act like pre-teen soccer league where everything and everyone is special. Every brewer gets the medal. Every one gets the treat at the end of the game. In the case of craft beer, the treat is unending increased prices and increased sales forever and ever, amen. Nothing works that way.

Change will come and will likely be unexpected. Change may also be brought upon oneself. How would a brewer best situate itself to withstand a shift away from these present times of plenty? Admitting opening how things actually are might be a start.

My Recollection Of Pizzaria Tomaso, 1984


So, this was dessert. We made a stack of pizzas tonight. This was the last one. I even have the blister on the back of my wrist where I brushed the hot oven wall to prove it. But apple pizza? Thirty years ago in the north end of Halifax, Nova Scotia there was Pizzeria Tomaso with Mr. Tomaso still holding sway before he sold the business to a local family who promised to keep up his standards, brought from Sicily. It was only open Thursdays and Fridays from 4 to 7 pm. He was about 80 and had 15 high school kids working behind him. I remember going in once and among the stacks and stacks of pizzas seeing, among those destined for law firms head offices and nearby neighbourhood families, boxes marked “the Cabinet” meaning the five or six extra larges were destined for the cabinet room of the government of the province. I remember asking for anchovies on my ‘za and he came past the clerk taking the order to slap my face saying “You want anchovies? You a good boy.” He used to cook pizzas 90% of the way and offer then tax free as “cook at home” pizzas because he was really mad that there was tax on pizzas. The CBC Halifax evening TV news was presented live from his pizzeria counter once a year when Frank Cameron and Doug Saunders hosted the show in the ’70s and early 80’s. He used to give away wine when you were waiting for your order because he was so mad that he was not allowed to sell it. And they still make an apple pizza.