Is The Western US Drought 2015’s Top Beer Story

4877We all drink dinosaur pee. Or at least the water we drink was also in the bladders of dinosaurs. Things come and go but the supply of water on the planet is stable. We have as much as there has ever been. But while stable it is also mobile. The water that may have fallen as snow on west coast mountain ranges a few years ago might now be blanketing east coast cities. Which got me thinking the other week when I tweeted:

So are Cali brewers actually setting up avaricious branch plants elsewhere or just setting up their escape routes?

As is usually the case, I didn’t really put much thought into that tweet… or any other. It’s just tweeting… and it’s just beer. But ever since that clever man Stan got me thinking about the impending ceiling on the capacity to grow more barley and hops, the story playing out as California brewers seek second homes elsewhere in the United States and elsewhere in the world as me wondering if water supply is as much or more a danger to the expansion of good beer. Has the water moved away? A long way away? Last summer, the Los Angeles Times quoted the state’s brewers association’s executive director as saying if the drought “continues for two, three more years, that could greatly impact the production and growth of our breweries…” Earlier this month, an op-ed piece in the same paper said there was now one year’s worth reserves left. It’s not just bans on new swimming pools. Farms are in trouble.

Last week, the state government indicated how serious the issue was when it voted to spend $1,000,000,000 of water infrastructure. In emails back in February, Stan and I talked about the cost of creating the agricultural infrastructure to provide the over 100% increase in hop production – the extra 28 million pounds of hops – required for the US craft industry to hit the 20% in 2020 goal set by the brewers association. Is it 1,000 acres at $10,000 to buy and upgrade the acre? Or is it 2,500 acres at $20,000 to buy and upgrade? Whatever it is, it is not a billion dollars. But if the state invests that much money in securing new water supplies, who will get to use it and for what? Do breweries come ahead of playground water fountains?

I know. These are really broad and maybe dumb questions. Well, maybe not dumb as unrefined. Fortunately, others are smarter including at UC Davis where they have a California Drought Watch program which includes considerations for the brewing industry. And, yes, breweries are taking steps to help conservation efforts but will it be enough? Or is the best strategy to move with the water, to diversity through relocating? I guess all we can do it watch. Each brewery is going to have to make decisions about the long term and whether its more about stability or mobility.

Ontario: Windward Belgian Wheat, Stone City, Kingston

stone1The last year has been the scene of many a revelation when it comes to my relationship with beer. Among other things, out of nowhere two fabulous breweries opened up in my immediate vicinity after years of claiming my town was the least served by fresh beer for its size in the northeastern bit of North America. One is MacKinnon Brothers which I have discussed before. The other is Stone City Ales who have a great social media presence and a website with great generational honesty. One feels a certain pain knowing one has kept a beer blog for over a decade appreciating that it’s like knowing how to properly maintain an 8-track player.

The great thing about having local beer choices finally after a quarter of a middle-aged life waiting is now normal it is. I did my Saturday morning shopping run and hit Stone not long after the 11 am opening. I picked up a ridiculously under-priced Rochefort 8 at the LCBO to soak a flank steak from Pig and Olive in. Hit Bread and Butter bakery as well as the Quebec-based Metro grocery, too, with all its ever so slightly exotic tendencies and, then, home and unloading the making of a good feed. What has changed is that the good local beer fits in now as just a stop on the way. Nothing precious, special or even – frankly – craft. Just as good as all the other excellent stuff you can buy in my very foodie town.

I bought a growler of Stone’s Windward Belgian Wheat. Eleven bucks after growler returns. It’s a 4.9% cloudy thing. See that picture? Cloudy. I am working on my cinéma vérité approach to representing beer in my art. The beer gives off very evocative aromas. Is it just me or do some wheat beers smell like babies straight from the bath? Maybe its just me. I diapered for 14 years. Anyway, the scents are twiggy herbal – mace, rosemary and lavender – with cream of wheat and meadow in mid-spring. Maybe even oolong tea with its earthiness. In the mouth, there is a grassy acidic bite then a wall of dry French bread crust with more of all that rich tangy complex herbal construct. The effect is drying rather than astringent. Extremely appetizing. I would love to soak pork shoulders in this for the best part of the day and slow smoke it for another, too.

Early signs of BAer respect. Every beer from here is a favourite. As I found in last December‘s taste test at Bar Hop in Toronto, Stone’s beers stand up to the best. This one is just another chapter in the same story. Lucky me.

Did Father Duplessis Brew Quebec’s First Beer?

1608habitation_de_quebecYou may recall that a couple of months ago I wrote a post about the first brewing of beer in New France describing how in 1617 Louis Hébert became the colony’s first private land owner, farmer and a brewer. He is generally accepted as the first brewer. But what’s been tickling at the back of my head has been the footnote that I quoted. It’s from a bit of writing about life in the earliest years of New France. The footnote included this tidbit from 10 August 1620:

Nous avon du grain suffisamment pour faire du pain and de la bière

The sentence to which that footnote is attached goes on to suggests the Recollet missionaries themselves were brewing at Quebec before 1620. How many years before 1620? The interesting thing about the early bits of anything is how little data there is to work with. This is admittedly compounded by reliance on (i) my crappy French and (ii) the internet. Yet… I think I like where I am going. One of the reasons there is only a little data to work with is there were only a few Recollets in North America at the key point in time. In 1615, four show up with Champlain: Father Denis Jamet the first superior along with Fathers Le Caron and Jean Dolbeau and Brother Pacifique Duplessis. Jamet appears to have written first impressions of life in New France that was sent to New France in July 1615. Haven’t seen that record yet. Some are just not on the internet. And some don’t last. Le Caron’s records were destroyed likely around 1632 when his possessions were burned due to him catching a bad case of the plague. The earliest fullish record of the Recollets in New France I can lay my hands on appears to be that of Brother Gabriel Sagard who only showed up in 1623.

From what I can see, La Caron spends the first winter far to the west in what is now central Ontario with the Huron people. After he returns to the settlement at Quebec, he and Jamet then leave New France in the summer of 1616, returning in 1617. Dolbeau stays from 1615 to 1617, spends the winter of 1615-16 to the northeast down river among the Montagnais, and returns as well after a year away. Brother Duplessis lives in New France from 1615 to 1618 and seems to be the one who sticks closest to home. Before becoming a priest in 1598, Duplessis was a practising apothecary and he seems to continue using that skill as a Recollet. He stays at Quebec from the spring of 1615 to 1617 which is when Louis Hébert, also an apothecary, shows up. Which means, unlike what is generally understood, Hébert was not the first apothocary at Quebec.

So, what is an apothecary in New France at that time? Mainly a pharmacist but with a good dose of gardener and herbalist along with amateur scientist. Part of the work of Duplessis from 1615 to 1618 includes tending to the sick. Alcohol is generously available – pervasive even – in New France and is used to treat infection and other medical purposes. Could it be that for two years when Quebec is being established that Duplessis might have turned his hand to brewing before Hébert arrives as part of his work as an apothecary? While the colony seems to be awash with imported wine and cider, brewing beer still seems to fit in the overall plan. By 1623, as Sagard describes, the colony has its own orchards and is making efforts to have a diversity of local crops, to attain as much self-sufficiency as possible. The Recollets had their own building at Quebec from the date their arrival in 1615 and Duplessis seems to be working there for much of his two years there. They farm the land. Which means Hébert was not the first farmer, either. And a few years earlier, Champlain specifically noted the presence of hops in the St. Lawrence valley. Just the sort of thing an adventurer apothecary farmer missionary might notice, too, over the course of a two year stay.

That’s all I know. It’s speculation so far even if plausible. But with local hops on hand, using a few pounds of grain to make a fresh ale is not the most absurd thing someone might turn their hand to to pass the time. Maybe.

Update: The next day I found this document which includes a quotation from Jamet’s report presented to the French King dated 15 August 1621… or 1620. Google Translate and I have tag-teamed of translate the description of the first Recollet building in Quebec in this way:

When we arrived, we learned that the Sieur du Pontgravé, captain for merchants in the community, had started to build us a house, which since our arrival we have completed… The main building is well made, strong frame and between a wall of large pieces 8 to 9 inches (20 to 23 cm ) to its coverage; it has a length of thirty-four feet (10.3 m), width of twenty-two feet (6.7 m); it has two stories. We divided the first floor into two – one the half we made our chapel until something better; the other a beautiful large room, which will serve as a kitchen and which will house our people (ie workers ). The second floor has a nice big room and four smaller ones, two of which we have built slightly larger than the other [with] chimneys to place the diseased so that they are alone. The wall is made of good stone, sand and good lime – better than that which is done in France. Below is a cellar twenty feet square and seven deep.

Workers, a kitchen and a cellar. Hmm. As a bit of background if only for Bailey as to where I am going with this, I am comparing the Recollets with their lack of records who were in New France from the mid-1610s to the late 1620s with their replacements, the Jesuits, who were very good record keepers. The roles of beer with the latter group is well illustrated in their reports of life into New France for 1636, in the form of reports back to France describing the life, work and needs of the young agricultural community:

Twenty men will clear in one year thirty arpents of land, so clean that the plow can pass through it; if they had an interest in the matter, perhaps they would do more. There are some places which are much easier than others. The usual task for each man is an arpent and a half a year, if he is not engaged in other work. As rations, each one is given two loaves of bread, of about six or seven pounds, a week,—that is, a puncheon of flour a year; two pounds of lard, two ounces of butter, a little measure of oil and of vinegar; a little dried codfish, that is, about a pound; a bowlful of peas, which is about a chopine [pint],—and all this for one week. As to their drinks, they are given a chopine of cider per day, or a quart of beer, and occasionally a drink of wine, as on great fête-days. In the winter they are given a drop of brandy in the morning, if one has any.

In the next decade, skilled brewing becomes established in the colony. In 1646 the Jesuit records state: “Our brother Ambroise was employed, from the 1st of May till the 20th, in preparing barley at notre dame des Anges, and the beer.” So if the Jesuits were splashing around the beer and other drink in the second quarter of the 1600s, should it not be reasonable to assume the Recollets were doing so in the first quarter, too?

Ontario Loves Its Large Profit-Making Aggregations


This is likely the least exciting picture visually I have posted around these parts. But its content may place it among the most interesting. Click on it for the larger version. That’s a couple paragraphs from a 1931 financial statement for E.P. Taylor’s nine month old firm, the Brewing Corporation of Canada. Taylor played a greater role in restructuring Ontario’s brewing industry from the 1930s to the 1970s than anyone else. We discussed him last December but it is worth reminding ourselves about one of his governing principles. We face, as Jordan notes, a supposed renewal of our retail trade in beer, a brave new future with beer being sold in a few grocery stores. We may, however, be facing the prospect of not obeying only some little discussed cultural factors but baggage left behind after the old man made his billions, moved on and died.

You see a few references to payouts. We are told that the executive officers enjoy large remuneration. Also a dividend of $90,000 was paid but unwarranted ensuring the shareholders were happy even as, we learn elsewhere, the firm suffered total losses on $496,000. The financial statements disclose these decisions because they are submissions to the bank lending Taylor and his firm money to raise the overdraft from $80,000 to $130,000. This bet on Taylor’s future was backed by his access to English investors but still was quite extraordinary given this passage in the financial statements which we quoted in Ontario Beer:

He is a very young man but quite capable,although probably not thoroughly experienced in the manufacture of beer. However, we think he has good organizing ability and is capable with lots of self confidence in the eventual success of this organization.

What all this illustrates for me is something I think was given to Ontario at its birth in the 1780s and lingers on today. We love a controlled aggregation. Ontario was established after the American Revolution as something of a utopian Tory colony which was supposed to prove that prosperity followed when a well conceived plan was followed through by a compliant populace obedient to their governing betters who ensured, in return, a supply of good things including beer. With the coming of the madcap liberties under the Victorian era, commercial opportunity in brewing expanded but it was soon stalked by another set of betters in the form of the temperance movement. This guiding principle of the growing God-fearing middle class made gains on economic liberty through the latter end of the 1800s to the point it were the most powerful political force by the First World War. The imposition of Ontario’s tepid form of prohibition during the conflict lasted until 1927 when the concurrent stink of corruption brought in liquor control system we live with today with its abiding interest in ensuring the many are, again, guided by the benevolent hand of the few. The few now being semi-bureaucrats heading heading up semi-governmental agencies.

What does that have to do with E.P. Taylor? Well, like others well situated at various points in Ontario’s history – from Richard Cartwright Jr in the 1790s enjoying the liquid rewards of his riches to the international conglomerates which own The Beer Store today – Taylor knew that Ontario and its beer buying population was too valuable a resource to let it have its own way without the application of a little profit making control. See, he may have carried the baggage for a large chunk of the 1900s he did not pack the bags. And because of the cultural acceptance of this sort of thing, because that is part of what makes Ontario Ontario… I do not expect this to change. So, when I read that out betters are planning to add a whole 300 extra retail licenses for a population of over 13 million, well, I do not expect great change. I do expect great financial reward for those granted the power to sell. And I do expect existing interests will likely be respected. No one will suffer the undoubted societal confusion caused by imposing the broad-based forms of beer retailing common in all our neighbouring US and Canadian jurisdictions. We shall be saved from all that. Anything else would be unOntarian.

New York: Last Bar Seat, Allen Street Pub, Albany

allen3I have to say. I didn’t expect it. Don’t get me wrong. I have known for a long time that I love neighbourhood bars in the US. I spent a great summer evening a decade ago with pals of a pal in Maine watching the All-Star game in a place down by the working wharves. The place was the shape of a cinder block and was made up entirely of cinder blocks. I drank Allagash White and then PBR before the money ran out. I love the idea of walking down the block to a place for a beer even though it does not exist in much of Canada outside of the cities where green things don’t grow. Doesn’t exist in much of any place where the planners have played a role. But there it was. And there I was, too.

The photo above is from the end of the bar at the Allen Street Pub in Albany, New York. That’s it. If I was a cheese eating school boy, I might insert some sort of pretendy disclaimer but let’s be honest – free beer is “money + alcohol” innit. Paul gave us the run of the taps though I hope the tipping went some way to match the beers poured for us. There is no avoiding the history of the western world. The bar is owned by Craig’s pal of decades. Paul. The place opened right after prohibition ended and sits among houses on a side street. A municipal planner’s nightmare. It’s filled with local memorabilia with a definite lean towards Albany’s history of military service. It’s also filled with folk from nearby having a beer. Normal. Beer in a normal place.














Here’s the thing. Over the few hours we were there I came to the understanding that this was one of the greatest times in a bar I have ever had. It was perfect. It was so perfect that while one in our group was keen to take me on at an argument about craft beer, I realized I was sitting in a dark tiny pub in a foreign land sucking on a rosemary laced saison as Led Zep’s “Kashmir” roasted out the speakers. While, yes, dark and tiny it could serve as a test site for the Bose speakers Paul had installed. The narrow bar had five distinct spaces: cans in the rear, the cooler with its kegs and bottles, back of the bar plus the old bar top and the new one. If you look at that photo above you will see the division. Before he took it over and expanded, the tavern was just that bit at the front – maybe 18 by 30 feet tops. When we got in the place, we grabbed the back bar with its four seats. The front two-thirds of the place was already well settled by guys drinking macros or a shot or both having a good Friday night. Mere feet away I was having a pint of Black IPA with a balancing splash of brown ale handed to me. And then something else. Again, let’s be honest: I was not conflicted. I had given in. Only an idiot wouldn’t.

What did it all mean? It was more like a village pub in some place where I have family in Scotland than most places I had been in North America. Think I had only seen a place this small on this side of the Atlantic maybe in Newfoundland. No dive and not even a joint. A place in the neighbourhood. Normal. Three beer engines, too. He plans to add more. Paul is even running a cask festival in a few weeks. I expect to be in Canada when that is on. Probably in my basement watching TV. A couple of bus rides away from the next nearest good place to hang out. Thanks a lot, fifty years of urban design.

Notes On Turning Into A Book Fair Carny, Etc

nowayI had not expected to make myself into a book fair carny but forty-five quiet minutes into the four hour book booth manning at last weekend’s NY State Brewers Association Festival I looked at Craig and said something to the effect of “we better think of something quick or we are going to hate each other around three hours from now.” It’s not that the fest wasn’t swell so much as it was a beer fest, not a book fest. So… I stood up and began to shout “GETCHA BEER BOOKS… GETCHA BEER BOOK HERE!!!” until I was quite hoarse. Sales picked up rapidly. And they continued to pick up as folk drank more beer. So, two tips for the beer book selling public for the price of this one post: (i) act like an idiot and (ii) act like an idiot in front of folks getting drunk. Which leads me to a few other thoughts:

=> “To grangerize: to illustrate with material taken from other published sources, such as by clipping them out for one’s own use.” Isn’t this what beer blogging really is?
=> Thirty-four dollars and ninety-nine cents!?!? I am sure some young aspiring consulting craft beer mixed revenue dreamer has a grab bag of cliches by which such things are justified but… thirty-four dollars and ninety-nine cents!?!? Seen at the Cicero, NY Wegman’s grocery store.
=> Chad was more sensible. He had some beer, too. I just shouted a lot.
=> I consider the fear of sweetness and the denigration of crystal malt to be hallmarksof this era which shall be mocked in the new future after the paradigm collapses. But I can say that about a lot of things.
=> I have no idea about how many pubs or taverns represents a crawl but some people have very fixed ideas. Having done one, as one must, by taxi in Toronto in the last year I would accept a walking four-stop crawl in two small neighbouring villages myself.
=> Words that beer bloggers might have recently chosen not to use: intended, unravelling, instantly.
=> My answer? Use the machines – whether you own them or not? You’re a “brewery” while the others can use “brewing” or “beer company” or something else.

There. Monday notes. It’s thawing out there. We are a long way from warm but the dripping roof has created the driveway trickle which leads to the gurgling roadside drain.

Session 97: A $40 Room And Maybe Free Beer

sessionlogosmWe are asked to write about up and coming beer destinations for this month’s edition of The Session but I wonder if I’m living the rougher and readier reality. Beer travel? From what I see it often includes some sort of relapse into undergrad lifestyle. I am having bit of a creeping feeling that this two star hotel on the old four-lane route out of Albany, New York might be serving that up for me this weekend. But the room ain’t bad and soon pals will arrive. The solvent againt will prove to be the bond.

See, as I mentioned, I am attending the New York Brewers Association fest and conference at some other fancy pants hotel without $38 CND rooms. And to be fair I got this deal in Hotwire weeks ago. But it illustrates one of two ways beer and travel interact for me. I go to beer events or I find beer wherever I go. I have never traveled to find only beer. But that was covered in Session #93 four months ago. Not to mention sorta during Session 29.

Beer destinations? You may want to have a good look in the mirror if you dwell too much on the idea. You will find good beer on life’s highway if you are good at noticing stuff. You will also find other good stuff if you keep you eyes open for that as well. And if you don’t want your grand children to think you were an alcoholic back in the day get some photos of that stuff, too, when you travel. Travel gives you perspective. Or at least it should. Jeff knows. Go hicking in Franconia and you’ll find some good beer along the way. And, if not beer, wine or rum or even a nice cup of tea. It’s a big world out there. Don’t let the grandkids down.

Soon Men In Vans Will Be Rounding Up The Bloggers

monkey4Boak and/or Bailey tweeted the news from the UK:

Publicans are being urged to share their views on the use of online review websites like TripAdvisor as part of a government backed probe on the impact of the sites. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) – the government’s business watchdog – has launched a consultation on the sites as a result of concerns regarding their trustworthiness and impartiality. The CMA will investigate specialist review sites, web blogs, video blogs, social media, trusted trader sites, retail platforms and retailers’ own websites. It will also look at the roles media companies, online reputation managers and search engine optimizers play in helping businesses promote themselves and manage their image in relation to blogs and review sites.

I typed that quote out by hand to make sure we were reading the same thing. See, the Morning Advertiser has this widget that blocks copying but here in Canada – being a freer more confident land even if laden with poorer marmalade – we have rights to quote bits of copyright work for criticism or review which seems quite apt with this article. So let’s have a bit of a critique and review, shall we?

Let’s be honest. What isn’t stated and should be equally followed up if the media are going to advocate for resorting to the use law to inquire about such things, is what role the well funded pub owners and breweries themselves play. Having had masses of beer delivered to my house over the last decade along with masses of invites to clinky drinky events as well as the odd junket – as any decent beer writer has – one is well aware of the keen interest bar owners and breweries have in building and maintaining a happy and even merry relationship with those in the media who discuss their beers positively. Many a free beer has also been passed across the bar to me once someone spills the beans, sometimes not even me. I often decline and lay down the sordid lucre – but actually understand the accepting soul may be then offered something called collaboration which sounds far too earth for a Dudley Do-right like me. An actual news source that was giving the reading public a full 360 degree description of the situation might mention that. So why are only publicans being reported as being urged to comment but not beer writers or others aware of these common pub and brewery incentives? Takes two to tango, no? Sometimes apparently more if we use all our fingers and toes and include the distracted press.

4859This is the point where I claim purity. Fully. Fundamentally. Every good beer blogger knows the line. I may have received these gifts by FedEx but, as with Christ’s beneficence offered through the holy sacrament of communion, I approach each chalice with pure intent and leave fully pardoned. To celebrate this, I am sipping a glass of La Formidable, a juicy 6.9% beer recently couriered to my house by Beau’s All Natural, operators of “B-Side Brewing” which is an interesting portfolio of beers they are brewing here under license and with participation of brewers from outside of Ontario. I even can identify the lovely lass who directed the beer my way. The thugs in vans won’t get the name, though… not immediately at least. [Run!] Jordan gave the beer a review, too. I can’t match his sense of 1980s TV sci-fi cartoon-isme but suffice it to say that when I consider this a lot like Headstock but different, too, that is a fine thing. A very fine thing. Maybe with a bit more of this and a little of that but it’s like comparing Jimmy Cowan to Paul Coffey in a way, no? Where Jordan notes clove, I get a bit of minerality like a Urzinger. But that is him. And me. I mean some one person has to actually taste the stuff, right? Of course each view will differ. As long as, you know, the blogger doesn’t just cut and paste the PR content emailed along.

Morning Advertiser by comparison? One has to acknowledge that the full of the publication begins “The Publican’s…” so there is a choir to be sung to, isn’t there. There are denominations and congregations. God’s house has many rooms. Does that make excuses? Perhaps. But does it also open up the question of the role of trade publications in “trustworthiness and impartiality” within the beery discourse? Why not? If we are going to go about investigating things, why not? Glass houses.

I Never Go To Beer Fests… Except This Week!

uhvb1aThis weekend will find me at Albany attending the New York State Brewers Association second annual Craft New York Brewers Festival. The most exciting thing is that it is being held at a place called The Desmond Hotel. It is exciting because I love 1960’s first wave ska and, according to my notes, every band had to have a guy called Desmond in it. At least the great ones did. I am going to head south for the first time since September to man a chair at a table to see if I can help Craig spread the good news about our history of Albany ale as folk spin around the dance floor to these sorts of song stylings.

The Craft New York Brewers Festival will bring together 40 New York Breweries (and brewers) from every region of the state featuring up to 90+ hard to find and award winning beers. To make this very special event more exclusive, we will feature food sampling and pairing from local Albany restaurants and food vendors to go along with each brewery attending at no extra cost! This is a great opportunity to meet the NYS brewers that make the beer, and the owners of the local food scene in the Capital District that are such an important part of the community.

So, what do I do with the opportunity? I am not all that keen on fests as drinking sessions but I do look forward to having some decent conversations with folk in the trade. Its tied to the Association’s winter meetings. What to do? I might ask for a glass of gin. I might try an informal survey on what beer to pair with Anjou pears. Always wondered about that. Perhaps I might inquire as to what business strategies they have to better support better arm’s length beer business writing. Might expect the answer to be “what the hell is that?!?” though, mightn’t I. Frankly, the real question I want answered this weekend is whether anyone has been subject to section 3.11 of the NYSBA’s bylaws: Membership in the NYSBA, may be revoked by a majority vote of the Board of Directors for non-payment of dues, conviction of a felony or crime of moral turpitude, or willful violation of any other provision of the By-Laws of the NYSBA.. Crimes of moral turpitude? What the heck is that? Wonder if any of the members know. Might walk around asking members if they know anything about that. Perhaps it has some thing to do with unholy collaboration projects. That sort of thing. Evil.

Say hello if you are around the Des. After 8 pm, I understand, known as El Des.

Thank God It Has Come And The Frost’s Going

Previous celebrations: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. This March comes with the first day to hit -2C in weeks. Snows and deep freezes. Norwalk visited last week and another bug two weeks before. Exam marks came back with praises earned. And Scotland again.