Ontario: Byward Brown, Big Rig Brewing, Ottawa

A mad half week on the road. Two business meetings, a ball game plus a 97th birthday party in the family saw me driving from Eganville to Ottawa to Toronto to Owen Sound and back. Good thing I picked up a growler of this nut brown ale as I was passing from highway 417 to the 416. Big Rig sits in a small mall in Ottawa’s east end next to the big Ikea and serves both local passing car traffic as well as nearby residential community. The on-site restaurant was packed when I stopped in with folk catching the NHL playoff game happening in another part of town that evening.

After a morning of gardening and, err, home organization this hits the spot. The beer pours an attractive reddish mahogany with a fine creamy off white head. Nuts and dried fruit on the nose. In the mouth, there is a good bracing jag of twiggy hopping paired with a minority vote from something adding some citrus rind. As the beer warms, the malts open up with flavours of cola, dark sugars, dates and other brown things. The level of hopping might have attracted an earlier craft era designation as a Texas brown ale but that’s a label that seems to have faded away, a style that wasn’t then might have been but now may not be anymore. A black tea dry finish highlights the hazelnut notes and grainy texture.

A reasonably drinkable 5.2%, not enough BAer reviews to warrant an average. I like.

No, I Do Not Want An Imported Man Mug Thanks

So, could the menu offer a Woman Wine? I would have preferred that the mug was manly as opposed to simply masculine. I had no idea mugs were, in fact, gendered. What do they get up to in the dishwasher? I also didn’t know that while their masculinity was superior when not in frosted form – something many males might agree upon – that they were inferior to pitchers. Makes one want to work on that two fingered fastball a bit more… if you know what I mean.

Sad News Of The Loss Of A Great Guy

scoop1I have been on the road all day so am just seeing now that one of my favorite beer bloggers, Simon “Reluctant Scooper” Johnson of England, has passed away far too young. That’s my favorite of the portraits of himself he posted over the years. I never met Simon but we talked now and then through emails, tweets and blog comments. I completely enjoyed his writing. His optimism, bimbles and – perhaps more than anything else – his sheer interest and joy in so many things. And his humour. Here’s his bio:

A bloke who likes beer. What, you want to know more? OK. Ex face-painting clown, lives in the English Midlands, works with data, loves pork pie, hates couscous. Married with one barbecue. Knows some brewers and publicans. And politicians. And, ahem, “characters”. Has written for papery stuff like Beer (the CAMRA quarterly magazine), Gin & It (UK drinks journal) and Beeradvocate (US beer magazine) but is still holding out to be the pub reviewer for Country Gentleman’s Pig Fertilizer Gazette.

Not sure many others could have pulled off the craft rope post or levened it with a bit of meaning as he did. And he thought to give thanks, too. He loved Orval. He helped with the grunt work of the OCB wiki. A friend has posted photos of how he spent last Saturday with Simon, goofing around. His sense of infectious fun came through in everything he wrote. You know, were this rotten news today to turn out to be a massive wind up of us all on his part I would think it a classic. But it isn’t. It’s just rotten sad news.

His blog can be found here and responses to the sad news can be shared on Twitter under the hashtag #RIPscoop. My thoughts are with his family and friends.

Photos By Winemakers Fighting Mid-May Frost





Some amazing photos came out of last night’s efforts in nearby Prince Edward County with the risk to early tendrils which will, with luck and skill, become the vines that make the grapes that make the wine. The photos above are from a collection posted on Facebook by Norman Hardie, makers of excellent pinot noir loved by Joe Beef which means likely enjoyed, in turn, by Mr. Bourdain. And me, of course. Three degrees of vineous bacon… or beef… or something. Below is a shot posted on twitter by Harwood Estate in the western end of the county.


What is going on? Bales of hay are lit when the temperature sneaks down towards freezing in the spring when the buds have just opened or in the fall when the grapes are just about right. The smudgy smoke takes advantage of an inversion layer holding just enough warmth to push up against the dropping cold. I think. See, I learn about stuff like this from the internets. If twitter is to be believed, success all around on the ground with the cold beaten off.


Your Friday Night Beer Blog Reading Highlights

It’s a distracted time. The game between Toronto and Boston is interfering with the game between Toronto and Boston. The first thunderstorm of the spring is moving through giving parched seedlings out in the garden as heavier duties of life nibble at the back of the mind. Yet, it is a warm Friday evening. The kids are out. The smells of that season we Canadians call “not winter” float in through the one open window as the first large drops pat pat pat on the bags of compost waiting to be settled into their plots on the next dry day. As good a time as any to see what’s going on out there on the internets.

→ In two weeks or so, I have a chance to hit the one orchard estate perry maker I know of in Ontario. Which makes me utterly jealous of Pete Brown. A folk music, cheese and perry/cider fest. Pleasures unimaginable.

→ Please just leave Bieber alone. In Canada, he is now a grown up… sorta.

→ Jeff makes some very good points on the impending reaction from big beer should what’s been considered (for about five years now and still maybe a few more to go) as craft beer not eat itself or, who knows, actually gain a significant market share… as in something approaching 20%. Me, I am quite comfortable knowing that big brewers will quite happily flood the market if need be with cheap and excellent beers inseparable from those offered by the current profitable puritans of craft marketing. I do like his idea that the approach is to add more flavour to lagers but I think this is but one prong of attack. Watch your flank, big craft.

→ Boak and Bailey started early and didn’t have to deal with the thug.

Stan then Craig reacted to a xenophobic article on how US craft brewers woujld teach Germany a thing or two by being boring and hoppy and achieving <1% marketshare. No consideration on the role of Mosel in the overall equation. Much hand wringing over ugly American interventions but, believe me, far better than dealing with the ugly side of Canadians.

There. The hockey is 1-0 in favour of my team at 8:23 pm while the baseball is the same score for… my team. JINKS! Better quit while I am ahead.

Ontario: Weissbier, Denison’s Brewing, Toronto

Brewed since 1990, this wheat beer is one of the best arguments against worrying at all about tenancy forms of brewing in principle. While one might unkindly point out the web 1.0 nature of the brewer’s web presence, it does give you what you need to know and, more to the point, sets the tone. Fairly focused small batch niche brewing at a high standard for the best part of the craft beer revolution. Quite Toronto-centric in business terms, the stuff never gets out here much, here in the rude and rustic hinterlands 200 km to the east. I get there so rarely but did share part of an evening with the brewer, Michael Hancock back in 2009. I recall him complaining or at least explaining the trials of keeping on top of quality control whether in the then new can or as served from taps watched by the eyes of others.

What about the beer? Deft as much as anything. Even from the can, creamy wheat. Then there’s banana, a bit of white pepper and a bit less clove than the other guys. Clouded gold under whipped egg white froth and foamy rim. Leans slightly towards coconut creamy aroma. Lightly soured and spiced in the finish. An insane $2.70 a can, probably the best value in Ontario beer. Would a younger brewer would ruin this with a tiny fleck of shrubbery root or the bark of a tree? It needs none of it. Not so much a vestige of brewing past as a reminder of the days of easy adulteration by adjunct or showboating by faddish hop.

Oddly, the BAers tell you how the RBers rate it #1 then rate it not as highly.

Session 75: Brewing Business In 157 Words

It’s Session time again. Or it was Friday and now it’s Sunday 8:02 am. See, there’s things to do. Gardening, smoking pork, napping, sitting. So, it was with deep regret that I realized I needed to post something for this the three quarter-ish of a century edition of these, Les Sessions. The question this month is a bit, err, specific:

Creating a commercial brewery consists of much more than making great beer, of course. It requires meticulous planning, careful study and a whole different set of skills from brewing beer. And even then, the best plan can still be torpedoed by unexpected obstacles. Making beer is the easy part, building a successful business is hard. In this Session, I’d like to invite comments and observations from bloggers and others who have first-hand knowledge of the complexities and pitfalls of starting a commercial brewery. What were the prescient decisions that saved the day or the errors of omission or commission that caused an otherwise promising enterprise to careen tragically off the rails?

Hmmm… a tad particular, no? A wee bit off the point of the plan. Seeking business advice from beer bloggers? Let’s see. What did Stan write? Oh, cheater pants. He inverted the question and pointed out how brewing the beer is not the easy part. Good thing that is true or I would have a real issue with Stan this month. A real issue.

So, …”first-hand knowledge of the complexities and pitfalls of starting a commercial brewery.” What can I say. You could do worse than read the blog How to Start a Brewery (in 1 million easy steps) from one of Canada’s more successful craft brewers, Beau’s. Go look at the beginning, 25 May 2006 when they were about 65 employees smaller. Here’s the first batch being brewed. Here’s when the yeast died at the customs office. Read on. You will likely find there were no prescient decisions. There was panic and scramble, beer and patience. And luck. Lots of luck. And good taste and humour. Brewers who lack the skills at those sorts of things, well, don’t make it.

Oh, I cheated as much as Stan did. Damn. I’ll have to have a word with myself.