Is The Data Overload Becoming An Issue?

It was a bit of a revelation. Well, a joke and a revelation. I have a brother who is a bookman who sends rare finds for birthdays and holidays. This year for my 52nd I got this book on cheese. Published in 1960, it is a simple thing. More like a long magazine article than a full book. The author describes one trip taken in a car traveling from farmhouse cheese maker to farmhouse cheese maker. Cheeses are gathered in the back seat and the trunk… sorry, boot… and the taken back to London where they are eaten at dinners and parties with guests like Dame Margot Fonteyn and Stirling Moss. It’s all very light and comforting. It’s not all that unlike Everyday Drinking – The Distilled Kingsley Amis which I reviewed six years ago now. Yes, a voice from another era and one imbued with class and cultural distinctions which don’t matter anymore. Yet it is filled with discovery:

Mrs. Roberts DOES still make Caerphilly but not in her cool dairy, which I had foolishly asked to see. That is only used for storing milk and cream! Her cheeses are made in the kitchen, with vats and presses a hundred years old, and they mature in the bedroom. As these ancient, heavy wooden vats are irreplaceable, she may soon have to give up her cheesemaking.

OK, like Amis perhaps without the ever present danger of arrest for driving whilst intoxicated. Perhaps. There are still bottles consumed as she goes about. But there is nothing snobbish about any of it. In the second paragraph, snobbery is the word used for the one who sniffs contemptuously at the mere mention of the cheeses of ones own country. It’s an essay about the pursuit of the real in a world where imports and processes have become the norm. Sound familiar?

This is a voice like the one in my head when I became interested in beer. Not a voice I hear very much of anymore, sadly. Between the quantity chasing tickers and the off-flavour seminarians and the worshipers of the next ever so slightly different hop strain, there seems to be little being left to individual discovery. Too much expertise in the beer to be assimilated from above. Not enough simple pleasure in the experience of it. The current bleat about poor quality in new craft is just the latest twist. The hand of industrial process now reaches down as one’s betters warn that if you eat that cheese matured in the bedroom you might encounter something unexpected, unplanned.

This is not to suggest all was better. The second half of the book is filled with recipes which range from the traditional – like that very attractive cheddar biscuit – to the weirdly experimental. I will not, for example, take up the recommendation to wrap eight bananas in ham and bake them in a sauce made with a whacking pile of grated Lancashire cheese. But there is a joyfulness about it all which big craft seems to be drumming out of me, drumming out of good beer. I don’t care. The errors and trials and surprises of all these new actual small brewers are too interesting to care about their elders and betters, the self-appointed senex with the standard operating procedures, marketing staff and strategic plans for the annual trade show.

The Process Of Reforming Ontario’s Beer Sales

Well, the members of the editorial board of The Globe and Mail are not impressed. At least that is reassuring:

Politicians will be, more than ever, deciding who gets to sell beer and who does not, and which beer, where, when, how and at what price. Competition will still be largely forbidden. But, good news: If you are unhappy about anything, please write to the new Beer Ombudsman. He’s there to listen.

Ah, the Beer Ombudsman. What a silly idea. I eat a lot of toast and sometimes it doesn’t turn out. I want a toast ombud, too. It’ll never happen. But so might any number of bits of the policy… plan… ideas set out in the announcement. We all remember what happened to the LCBO Express stores idea. What exactly did happen yesterday anyway? As the Toronto Sun reported, the Premier put it this way:

“The days of monopoly are done,” Wynne said Thursday. “This is the biggest shake up to the sale of beer in Ontario since we repealed prohibition in this province and that was in 1927.”

Well, not exactly. Ontario never had much of a prohibition and the final centralization of retail stores happened more like in 1940 or so through the actions of Mr. E.P. Taylor in his gathering up of many of small breweries and their wholesale and retail divisions into what would become Carling-O’Keefe, one of Canada’s largest breweries until Moslon snapped it up in the 1980s. And Ontario was never really dry as humourist Stephen Leacock lampooned in his 1917 essay “In Dry Toronto“:

“…will you please tell me what is the meaning of this other crowd of drays coming in the opposite direction? Surely, those are beer barrels, are they not?” “In a sense they are,” admitted Mr. Narrowpath. “That is, they are import beer. It comes in from some other province. It was, I imagine, made in this city (our breweries, sir, are second to none), but the sin of selling it”—here Mr. Narrowpath raised his hat from his head and stood for a moment in a reverential attitude—”rests on the heads of others.”

See, when I was researching and writing the section for from 1900 to 1980 in our cult classic Ontario Beer, I came to see that Ontario went through a number of very intense shifts in its beer retailing rules and restrictions in little over a decade mainly starting in the middle of WWI, even though smaller changes had been coming for decades. What Leacock was lampooning was the situation in the early part of the regulatory temperance experiment in which Ontario brewed at a large scale for export only but then imported beer came in from intra-provincially brewers direct to the drinker through a process of individual purchases and delayed deliveries that – on paper – occurred outside of the province. The law literally allowed that the sin was only in the local sale of local beer.

And even when the rules were tweeked to stop that nonsense, there was still plenty of drinking going on. A Federal Royal Commission did the rounds on the question of tax evasionduring the years of official temperance and found out masses of beer was going out the back door of the “exporting” breweries for local consumption. As we stated in the book, in the spring of 1927, Labatt was implicated in kickbacks to customs officers in testimony before the Federal Royal Commission on Customs and Excise as it took evidence in hearings across Canada. When a shipping clerk called Aikens admitted he sold strong ale in London and vicinity, he explained that he only sold to people that he knew. He was congratulated for having such a host of friends. Labatt did, however, insist to the Commission that it had stopped shipping by camouflaged rail car in 1924 and, unlike most of its competition, had accounted for all taxes due. Such honesty.

All was forgiven as what replaced the process of tight control through regulatory temperance (and its really light ales along with some Ontario wine unless you had a cousin in the distillery in which case you got rye) was a succession of market control systems, laws and agencies which will be continued under the next new system announced this week. Don’t think so? Consider these aspects to the process leading up to the report issued by the Premier’s Advisory Council on Government Assets (the rather gutturally acronymed “PAC-OGA”) yesterday:

1. In the original announcement starting up this project in April 2014 it was stated that “will recommend how to maximize the potential of these government enterprises to ensure that Ontarians receive the value they deserve.” Note recommendation to the Premier is the goal.

2. An interim report is presented by PAC-OGA in November 2014 which explains how stakeholder (but not public) consultation had taken place:

We structured our review in two phases. Phase I, the results of which are included in this report, incorporated detailed reviews of the subject entities, stakeholder consultation and the development of our initial thinking on proposals for the future direction of each company. Phase II will incorporate further discussion and consultation on the proposals. This will further our goal of reaching agreement among the appropriate parties, leading to definitive recommendations to government for consideration in the 2015 Provincial Budget.

Note that discussion and consultation was to occur in Phase II.

3. But when the final report is announced yesterday, a deal has been struck. It even has at page 47 an “execution copy” of a document titled “Modernizing the Distribution of Beer in Ontario Framework of Key Principles” which has been worked out by Brewers Retail Inc. Molson Canada 2005, Labatt Brewing Company Limited, Sleeman Breweries Ltd., the Premier’s Advisory Council on Government Assets and the Ontario Ministry of Finance. It is also more of a transitional agreement than a simple non-binding memo of understanding. At section 10(c) it states that the parties agree to ” to negotiate the New Beer Agreements on terms acceptable to TBS and the Province, with the view to entering into the New Beer Agreements between the relevant parties as soon as possible and in any event before June 30, 2015.” Done deal. Recommendations and consultations finished. Working out the fine print as we speak. We are well on our way.

But to what? We’ll find out sometime in July, I suppose. Sure, the wish list has been published and will likely fall in place roughly as outlined but it is still a control system. The interests of big beer have been protected for at least a decade as have been enhanced revenue streams to the province’s coffers. There is lip service to concepts of “social responsibility” but no explanation of what that really means in this new world. Good reason. It means the same old thing as the same old structure still sits at the heart of the deal. If you have any doubt that that is not the case, that this is somehow a great leap forward for liberty, have a look at page 31 of the final report where it actually states:

The Ontario taxpayer is better off because they enjoy the same low prices as the Quebec taxpayer, but substantially more revenues go to the government.

Let that sink in for a minutes. No public discussion and locked in for a decade or more PLUS the report explains away how Quebec prices are the same as Ontario’s even with their 8,000 outlets because distribution costs are higher. See, Ontario is better off because instead of spending that money on beer delivery truck fleets – and instead of enjoying lower actual retail prices – all that money is scooped up by Ontario’s Ministry of Finance. Wonderful. Surreal but wonderful. What would Leacock have said about this sort of reform?

“To Search For What Is Best For The People Of Ontario”

I am not thrilled. Not really all that moved. The cornerstone of the big beer retail reform announcement that by two years from now there may be 150 grocery store licenses to sell beer to 13,000,000 Ontarians can quickly be boiled down. The reality is that as my town represents 1% of the provinces population that is an average allocation of 1.5 licenses for this city. On average.

If you have a look at the report issued by the Premier’s Advisory Council on Government Assets chaired by Ed Clark you see the other problem. At page 33 we see that licences “will be granted in urban areas”; “will be granted in a manner to ensure a fair representation of privately owned grocers”; and most importantly “will be issued through a competitive process based on the discount off the retail price at which grocers will purchase the beer from the LCBO.” So, there are no rural stores getting anything, it’s an auction that everyone gets a shot at but those with the deepest pockets will win. So most will end up in Toronto and maybe Ottawa because that’s where the best return will be made for the few holders of these licences. I am expecting little local change from the grocery store in initiative. Your grocery list is not “about to get a whole new look.”

But that is only one element of the whole. If you look at that headline up there, it is a quote from the introduction from last November’s interim report from the Advisory Council. It literally smacks of paternalism given there was no real public input in the process – but, despite that, there are still there are other other new initiatives that will create more interesting change. I think I will look at those bit by bit. There is a lot to look at. First, however, I think I am going to look at the process, how we got here – including how historically only the temperance movement from the 1870s to the 1920s triggered actual broad public input in the reform of alcohol sales. That was the only time that our betters were not firmly in control. Those times of referendum after referendum were very unOntarian. Ontarians actually like being controlled by their betters. And that won’t be changing anytime soon from the look of yesterday’s announcement.

Still Off, Five Wineries, A Flag And A New Brewery

pec1See that there? That’s a bit of a winery with a brewery popping up rapidly behind it. I raced through the east end of nearby Prince Edward County again today as I was getting itchy feet on day four of this week off. Itchy feet from reading all of Stonch’s posts about a Londoner’s country hiking lifestyle, wandering from pub to pub and glass to glass. Well, that sort of thing doesn’t happen much around here but, as he was giving me the gears over this and that on the chat app yesterday, I decided to do the next best thing and head to our nearest neighbouring grape growing region. And I found a new brewery in the works or at least a roof four walls and a newly poured concrete floor for County Road Beer Co., an offshoot of the makers of pretty grand sparkling wines, Hinterland. More in a bit about that but first a little history.














As I mentioned the other day and Craig set out in more detail in a press release today, in one month’s time there is a recreation of the sorts of beer that may have been familiar to combatants on both sides of the American Revolution on the central New York Frontier. And I have one job – get a flag. As you can see from the historic plaques, they take this flag thing serious in Loyalist-settled country. Just as the other side did after the war and the re-settlements, they had to recreate their lives anew. Farms were cut out of forests. Mills were built to service villages with names of the towns, like Cherry Valley, from which their ancestors fled in the 1770s and ’80s. I took that photo of the sign standing by the side of Schoharie Road. These days the flag is everywhere. A bit surprising that it is. When I went into a hardware store and asked if they had the old version of the Union Flag, they said no. Then the old guy at the counter added “we do have the Loyalist flag” which, when they checked, was the old version of the Union Flag. Within seven seconds of my explanation – about when I mentioned 1606 – eyes were glazed and mouths even smirked. I shut up and took the flag to the check out. “That will be $75.” Not a chance. I put it back and walked away.














I was actually more interested in the fruit of the lands than the damn flag anyway. As Jordan described in one of his bits in Ontario Beer, Prince Edward County was a hot bed of barley sales to nearby northern New York from the US Civil War until a tariff was slapped on the trade in the 1890s. Be sure not to say good things about President McKinley next time you visit. Anyway, the fields are all there now diversified into hay, corn, soybean as well as more and more grape vines. I got out of the car and onto the land and you could see why. Amongst the old cedar rail fences, the soil in the fields was rocky as anything. Chunks and sherds of limestone everywhere, just the sort of thing grapes love.













After first doing a gravel doughnut in the parking lot of Barley Days to read a sign that said the retail shop was shut, I aimed the old van at the Greer Road all the way over at the west side of the County. I picked up a rose, Riesling and Bordeaux red blend at Rosehall Run as well as some Black River cheese curd, one of the greatest things ever to come out of a cow. Across the road and about 500 yards to the east, I stopped at Norman Hardie for another Riesling and a Pinot Noir. I talked with Johannes Braun, the winery’s operations manager, for 20 minutes about the season, his love of beer and how he makes 100 loaves of bread most Saturdays on top of everything else it does. Hit wineries in April on a Thursday and you get to chat. And he mentioned that Hinterland was setting up a brewery, told me to stop in.














Next, I headed to Karlo Estates where I was again the only customer in view. Bought another Riesling as well as another Bordeaux red blend. The very helpful staff person in the re-purposed barn mentioned that Hinterland was setting up a brewery, told me to stop in. So, I thought, I better go to Hinterland which I now understood was setting up a brewery. When I go there it was a crowd of one at the tasting room and I had a couple of short sips of their bubble before buying a couple of versions. As I was about to go, a guy walks in and I mention something about plans for a brewery. Mark Andrewsky stuck out his hand and we talked for half an hour about what was going to be brewed as a guy worked on the concrete floor of the new building next to the re-purposed old barn. Local, local, local. The family behind the winery had connections to grain farmers, there was a hop farm down the road – Fronterra Farm – and a new maltster coming on line an hour’s drive north. Stan would be pleased. Like with MacKinnon Brothers of the Loyalists of Bath and Church-Key farther north, one county over to the east, this is arguably looking a bit like beer with terrior. Mark mentioned maybe a 4% saison and how he had an excellent chance of laying his hands on a barrel or two for some aging experiments. Before heading away, I stopped at Closson Chase for a couple more Pinot Noirs. It’s also just around the corner.

The curd was gone by then. Time to head back to the ferry and then on home. An hour each way. Unless you get to the ferry just as its pulling out like I did. Twice. I try to make it at least once a year but with the promise of beer and now 45 wineries it’ll likely be sooner. And if they figure out how to build a hotel or even a decent motel or two around there it might even not be a day trip. The flag? I am checking the internet.

A Week Off In April To Get Things Done


It’s either a sign of a well organized life or one with not enough in it. The spring holiday to get the taxes done, straighten out the gardening, fix the step and have some naps. And opening week baseball. Maybe some first round playoff hockey, too. The one thing I am not doing is writing a book. This time last year I was in the middle of writing three books each of which has turned out to be, err, cult classics. Happy readers. Low sellers. Good reviews. Niche huggers. I should have known. Beer writers are either fat or thin. Both from the same cause – anxtity yips. Told a pal once his mistake was doing for a job what I do for a hobby. Beer may still pay for itself. It just doesn’t take me all that far anymore when it does. That’s fine. Been since 2010 that the prospect of a truly idle summer lay before me. I was reading about brainy books back then five years ago today. Probably gave me ideas. Planting some carrot and lettuce seeds will help with that. Tiny seeds in the cold early spring soil don’t give you ideas. Just salad.

Scene From A Bar: Sandwich Tongs Or Not?

paulsbar“Have you always been such a crank?” the bartender shouted with his back turned.

I was used to this sort of thing. All I ask for is a proper pint glass for my beer and I get abuse. Same treatment every time. Who needs to drink their beer from a tiny glass trophy? Not me. Sure there isn’t that much different between a Chimay chalice and an old school beer US macro goblet from fifty years ago – but who wants to drink out of a little basin in a stick. Not me. I want a beer with a beginning and a middle and then an end. So I asked for the beer in a pint glass again. “But the brewery made this glass special for their beer. Wouldn’t they know better than you?” He was looking at me now, holding the thing up, wiggling the glass from side to side.

I thought about this for a second but then shook my head slowly. “You aren’t getting it, are you? It’s not that it’s just beer – it’s my beer. I just want to hold it without looking like a dingbat, smell it with plenty of nose space and drink it without ending up staring at the ceiling. Is that too much to ask?”

He gave in and placed the dark beer in front of me. The beer only made it half way up the sides. Which was fine by me. Lots of swirling room. It’s good to swirl your beer. There is something meditative about gently making circles on the bar with my glass as I sit slouched over it. Aromas making their way deep into my skull. Sip. Swirl. Sip. Swirl. Communion should be immersive.

“Hey Jerry!” The bartender looked my way. “How long have you been actually stocking those little fiddly snifter glasses anyway?” Instead of answering he walked right past me and pulled a book out from the shelf at the end of the bar then dropped it in front of me. He grunted something about page 110 and something about moron. It was The World Guide to Beer by Michael Jackson. First edition. Before he became everyone’s answer to everything related to beer, whether he said it or not.

“See?” Jerry said as he passed by my spot while he served another drinker. “Any more questions?” Like a 1970s Playboy centerfold, there they were in all their touched up slightly out of focus glory. Six Belgian beers, five of which sat in their own distinct forms of stemware. The rounded chalice of an abbey ale, the thistle shaped glass for a Gordon’s Scotch Ale. All great vintage beer porn. “A touch of elegance” Jackson wrote in the caption hovering over the pale lager.

“Touch of elegance? Sandwich tongs!” I shouted. Jerry turned and looked at me as if I had just shouted the words “sandwich” and “tongs” at him. “Sandwich tongs!!” I repeated now emphatically that I had his attention. “This is just like the caged cork bottle and the wax cap, Jerry, just a way to get another buck out of my wallet. It’s no different than the precious branding, the food pairing suggestions and the all the other crap I don’t need. Sandwich tongs!”

Jerry had given up listening half way through. He was serving someone else already. He didn’t even seem my little mime act called “Man Using Sandwich Tongs.” I went back to swirling and sipping for a while. Our universe was falling back into order. I was staring into the glass. He was selling beer. This dubbel was fabulous. Complex. Burlap and brown sugars. A sweater of a beer.

“Think of them like stereo speakers,” Jerry said to the top of my head. I hadn’t realized he was there. I looked up. “The beer is the music. You aren’t going to play jazz on something that is all bass. And you aren’t going to try to pound out heavy metal on something tiny and tinny. Each glass is shaped to suit the beer – even if it also has that branding on the side, too. It’s not like the brewery is asking you to drink the stuff out of the mouth of a chicken-shaped vase or anything. Would it kill you to try?”

Just before he walked away, he dropped a glass of the same beer I was drinking in front of me – in its branded snifter. “Sandwich tongs” I muttered at his back even if I got his point. I had had stemware plenty of times. But… never this one… on a side by side. I sniffed and swirled and swirled and sniffed. A sip from one. Then the other. Then the first again. This wasn’t bad. Not sure if I liked one better than the other but, yes, they were a little different. Hmm.

Swirl. Sniff. Swirl and sniff.

Beer And Art: Bruegel’s “Return From The Inn”


A couple nights in Montreal leads to a lot of good things. A number of forced marches for the family through an alarmingly frigid city to this meal or that shop. Buying beer in a grocery store. Five new pairs of Converse sneakers for distribution across the clan. And a stop at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts where I saw this, “Return from the Inn” by Pieter Bruegel the Younger (again with the PBtY) … or is it Return from the Inn? Such things elude me. It’s not the greatest image in terms of sharpness but a larger scale image is clickably before you if you want a closer look.

Aside from all the allegorical stuff, I noticed the two items related to brewing right away: the massive sacks of grain on the untended cart as well as the sign of the wreath indicating, I understand, that strong drink is on offer within. I would expect the birds pecking away at the spilled grain which has fallen to the ground would be a sign of decadent waste to someone 400 years ago. Not sure if the load has been left by carters now inside filling their bellies with ale or whethers it’s the inn’s own supply. Lot of snow on those wheel spokes.

I suggest you ignore all the brawling gifts swinging agricultural tools and the steamy suggestions of sexual faithless. Reminds me too much of the final half hour of a craft beer fest. A rather snazzy explanation of the whole thing can be found here. The image is from around 1620 or just when various European nations are setting up colonies in what are now Quebec, New York, Delaware and Boston. This would be what normal would look like to those earliest colonists, the way they would have approached – or avoided – this sort of inn if out looking for a beer of an afternoon.