Coming to the end of the first draft of the Ontario beer history Jordan and I are writing, I find myself in the spring of 1927 at the Toronto hearings of the Federal Royal Commission on Customs and Excise. Officials from every major brewery in the province are being grilled under cross examination on their business smuggling beer into the United States. The glimpses of honesty through the lies are just good clean fun. When the manager of Carling was asked if they couldn’t make a profit at $1.75 a case, he replied “well, you can’t make a large profit.”
But of all the people in the witness box, I like John D. Aikens best. A shipping clerk, he appeared in the middle of row upon row of owners and business managers. While he cannot claim to be like Washington who never told a lie… he couldn’t tell a good lie. See, while all the others were crafting their tales to place all sales beyond the border and therefore beyond excise taxation, young Aikens tried to make everything better by letting the Royal Commission know he only sold illegal beer to his friends. That’d be OK, right? By the time the legal inquiries and hearings were done, the Supreme Court of Canada found it likely that O’Keefe bootlegged 17% of its production for cash within Ontario. That’s a heck of a lot of friends. And over $420,000 in back taxes.
Is it just me or does the expression on Beau’s Hogan’s Goat bear a slight resemblance to the brewery’s co-founder Tim Beauchesne? A sample arrived a few days ago and, while I am pretty sure I have had the beer before, “spiced” beer of any sort is not something I hunt out. Same with weizenbocks like the sample of Burly Goat sent by British Columbia’s Granville Island Brewing. Yet, given how often I am wrong, I really should check in on my prejudices. Besides, Tim-Goat is giving me a mean death stare from that label. Better do something.
Hogan’s Goat pours a bright caramel under a slightly orange cream head. The almond malty aroma leans slightly to gingersnap. A very pleasant first foamy gulp: rich nutty malt with a late showing of herbal hops. Sweet with nods in the malt to apple, raisin and even old fashioned brandy butter sauce. What spicing there is gets neatly placed. The overall effect is a bit barley candy, a bit herbal lozenge and more than that in beer. You particularly notice the orange peel when you burp. At 6.9%, strong but not over the top. BAers have the love.
Burly Goat is a beer in the style of Aventinus and a respectable homage. It has that spiced weizen yeast in common with its mentor and displays how wheat, when stronger, starts to move from simply grassiness to something itself rustic and spiced in the way that rye is. It has that beefy gravel hue that would be a turn off in any other sort of beer. Green grass, marigold, pumpernickel, a bit of almond in a drying brew. Herbal leathery aromas. You could soak a pork shoulder in this very nicely. Just one rating by a happy BAer.
What did I learn? I was reminded that I like beers like this and that domestic craft can make them with verve. Or is it panache?
A rather swell personal essay about one man’s love of a beer in today’s Globe and Mail:
Then one weekend last spring I was told they were out of Export in six-packs. I tried again the next week. Same story. The third time, the guy they call Red shook his head and said, “Sorry, they are not making it in six-packs anymore. I guess the six-packs aren’t selling very well.” I ordered two six-packs of something else and made my way home. I think I left the store paraphrasing T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in my mind, “I grow old, I grow old, I still like my beer cold.” I was brooding over whether to switch brands or throw away my aversion to drinks packaged in aluminum. Neither option appealed to a man set in his ways.
I think I am developing a soft spot for big industrial brewing. Maybe not like the guy in the essay but not so far off. See, I am hitting the mid-1900s in the Ontario brewing history that I am writing with Jordan. And I am writing today about how, as might be expected, EP Taylor looked out into the world at the outset of the 1950s and saw nothing but markets and opportunities. In 1952, he buys Quebec’s National Breweries, the company born of consolidations which had first inspired Taylor’s initial plans in 1928. In the same year, Carling Black Label was first brewed under contract in the United Kingdom. In the years that followed he expands operations in the US and buys breweries in Canada’s western provinces. Taking on the challenge, competitor Labatt bought breweries in Manitoba and British Columbia while building a new brewery in Montreal. Their original location in London Ontario also underwent large scale expansion. With the move by Molson into the Ontario market in 1955 with the building of new 300,000 barrel a year brewery on Totonto’s waterfront, the province’s big three brewers which would dominate the next thirty years were established. Whammo.
It’s all so positive and happy. Ontario’s population expands by 20% over the 1940s and the 1950s are pure economic boom. I may not want to drink the stuff that they are brewing but it’s all quite the rush.
Somethings just won’t make the book on Ontario’s beery history that I am writing with Jordan. I am working my way these days through the period after our version of prohibition ends in 1927 until, roughly, the beginning of microbrews in 1985. Jordan is back there somewhere untangling the Victorians.
This image is one from a regular series of serial cartoons placed in Ontario newspapers by Labatt during WWII under the pen name Ti-Jos. They are obviously patriotic but there is a theme of moral economics that flows through the set. They are set largely in the home or shops but the message is about what citizens need to do on the home front to aid the war effort. In this edition, you better damn well not be spreading rumours if you don’t want shortages.
Which is my message for each of you today, too.