Is 2016 The Year That Craft Beer Became Boring?

It’s a concern if this recent report is anything to go by:

In the last four weeks, he added, the largest four BA-defined craft suppliers — Yuengling, Boston Beer, Sierra Nevada, and New Belgium — were down a combined 4 percent. “I don’t think IRI has Yuengling in their craft, but the other three are 33.9 percent of IRI’s craft cases right now,” he wrote in an email. “Add in Blue Moon and Shock Top and you’re looking at 48 percent of IRI ‘craft,’ which is down 8 percent in the last four weeks. That’s going to pull hard on any number.” Indeed, volume sales of mainstream craft flagships like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Boston Lager, and New Belgium Fat Tire were down 5.9 percent, 13.8 percent and 5 percent through May 15, respectively.

Not to come off as being all neg on craft beer, it’s good to note that cider is bottoming out, too. I was thinking about that while I was reading Bryan Roth’s bit about selling to Millennials, aka thems who everyone else used to call Gen Y. The Roth report warns that craft brewers fail to focus on this era’s set of young, fun, unburdened, disposing of disposable income cohort at their peril. Yet half way down the argument there is one of the scariest statements I have seen embedded in an info-thingy from the BA: half of craft beer purchases by Millennial males are brands the buyer never heard of before. Holy frig.

I am told the Cedar Waxwing is a bit of a rarity among bird. They lack a strong sense of territory. “Nomadic, moving about irregularly; both breeding and wintering areas may change from year to year, depending on food supplies.” Drifty drifters, they can take off in a flock heading in one direction and, if there is enough food on the path, keep on for miles. Then they shift aimlessly off onto another path, happy as long as there is something new to chew. Were they the cider drinkers? The buyers of big craft flagships? Are they now making 2016 the summer of hard soda?

If I am honest, I am one of them. Gen Y yoof is just Gen X yoof with more money. Hard to shake the drift habit. Other than a modest if constant Dewar’s habit, I hardly ever get only the same strong stuff on my weekly trip to the power house. I’ll buy anything in a pretty wrapper from any brewer with a reasonable reputation – except if it’s fruit flavoured, of course. No one needs that. Being an early Gen Xer, I have shared with my Gen Z teens a sense of disorder and unreliability. Both Ramones and tweed. The garden remains half planted. I root for whoever’s doing well in the NBA.

Does the wise business person chase that market or aim for something a little duller and more reliable? You know, soon Millennials won’t be the new market entrants. My kids will. Millennials? They’ll start having kids and paying the bills. Settling and settling down. Maybe by then they’ll need a flagship of their own. Something to remind them of when they were young. Or maybe sherry. Maybe the 2010s are the decade of fino sherries. Maybe.

The Sensible Regulation Of Beer In New Netherlands


nnlease1640sA portion of a 1640s lease to Philip Gerritsen of a house to be used as a tavern. Click.

On the 22nd of March 1639, Cornelis van Tienhoven, secretary in New Netherland on behalf of the General Chartered West India Company received Gillis Pietersen van der Gouw, a 27 year old master carpenter who gave an account of the state of development in the colony by describing what buildings had been erected during Director Wouter van Twiller’s term on the island of Manhattan. Van der Gouw included in his report the building of an excellent barn, dwelling house, boat house and a brewery covered with tiles on farm No. 1. Van Twiller leased these lands in 1638 for two hundred and fifty Carolus guilders, payable yearly, together with the just sixth part of all the produce with which God shall bless the field. Beer would have been part of the produce.*

Director Van Twiller arrived in 1633 to run the colony in a time of great optimism and construction. The Hudson valley merchant community already had the character of an “independent sovereignty” more than a company doing business.

It owned one hundred and twenty vessels, ranging from three hundred to eight hundred tons burden, all fully armed and equipped; and employed between eight and nine thousand men. More than one hundred thousand guilders value in peltries were exported during the last year, and nearly the same quantity this year, from New Netherland. It is not surprising, then, that Van Twiller’s plans were on an extensive scale. The chief essential to the prosperity of the colony still lacked, nevertheless. Scarcely one solitary agricultural settler had been, as yet, sent over by the company, to fell the forest or reclaim the wilderness.**

The beginning of brewing on Farm No. 1 was the start of a relationship that lasted on those lands into the next two centuries. It ran directly north of the company’s garden outside the fort, from what is at present Wall-street, to Hudson-street, along Broadway in the city of New York; and went, in the time of the English, successively by the name of Duke’s farm, King’s farm, Queen’s farm. Now the site of Tribeca and the World Trade Center, it includes the lands developed in the first half of the 1700s by the Rutgers and Lispenard clan. It includes the 1760s export oriented brewery of Harison and Leadbetter and their successors into the 1800s before the good water disappeared. Legal right to the land meant control of the grain and the wealth brewing inevitably brings.

The reason for that long lasting success was, as it is today, the sensible regulation of brewing and beer consumption. Very early on in the New Netherlands experiment, the functions of grain growing, beer brewing and tavern keeping were separated and kept separate just as they were in the Netherlands. Then as now there was too much money and power inherent in the trade to allow it all under one hand. And there was too much danger in allowing it to all go unchecked. Yet, access to beer was a cultural key for the Dutch to the entire colonial undertaking. So, good laws were put in place. The most obvious sorts of laws are, like the above, the leases and transfers of land. Beer needs land. On 20 July 1638, Director General Kieft entered into a lease to one Jan Evertsen Bout for the New Netherlands Company’s farm at Pavonia in what is now New Jersey. The rents were quite specific:

For which Jan Evertsen aforesaid shall be bound yearly during the term of the lease to deliver to the aforesaid Mr. Kieft or his successor the fourth part of the crop, whether of wheat or other produce, with which God shall favor the soil; also every years two tuns of strong beer and twelve capons, free of all expense.

Brewing was part of the farming process. And sometimes too good a part of it to leave with the farmer. On 26 August 1641, Hendrick Jansen agreed to sell his property to Maryn Adriaensen. The sale included a house, barn and arable land plus a barrick all associated heriditaments together with all that is fastened by earth and nail. Excepted from the dead by were Jansen’s brew house and two brew kettels, which he was required to remove and take away “at his convenience and pleasure.”***

Just as the law recognized and protected who controlled the land and equipment that produced the beer, the law also regulated who sold the beer. Many of these sorts of laws still exist – like the laws regulating the distance a bar can be from a church and the rules about disturbing the peace during services. On 11 April 1641 the Council of New Netherlands heard the following case:

Whereas complaints are made to us that some of the Inhabitants here undertake to tap beer during divine service and also make use of small foreign measures, which tends to the neglect of religion and the ruin of this state; we, wishing to provide herein, do therefore ordain that no person shall attempt to tap beer or any other strong liquor during divine service, or use any other measures than those which are in common use at Amsterdam in Holland, or to tap for any person after ten o’clock at night, nor sell the vaen. or four pints, at a higher price than 8 stivers, on pain of forfeiture of the beer and payment of a fine of 25 guilders for the benefit of the fiscal and three months ‘ suspension of the privilege of tapping.****

This is not to say that the Dutch of New Netherlands were prudes. Far from it. Church events could be laden with alcohol. On 15 February 1700, the last of the church poor in Albany died – Ryseck, widow of Gerrit Swart. The “onkosten“ or expenses for the burial and ceremony borne by the community was recorded. The event seems to have been a social one. In addition to 150 sugar cakes and sufficient tobacco and pipes six gallons of Madeira were provided along with one of rum. In addition, twenty-seven guilders were paid by the congregation for a half vat and an anker of good beer. A similar table was set when Jan Huybertse passed away in February 1707. He was one of the “nooddruftige” or the needy and church coffers paid out for 3 gallons of wine, one of rum as well as 18 guilders for a vat of good beer. In each case, respects were paid by the local believing community with a good send off and a good drink for those in attendance.*****

Away from the church, the scenes could get more haphazard and needed locking down by municipal ordinance. Prices were fixed. On 16 January 1641 Cornelio vander Hoykens prosecuted Jan Tomasz and Philip Geraerdy for having sold beer for two stivers higher per gallon than was allowed.† On 25 August 1644, in making his defence to a prosecution that he did not pay the proper rate of excise tax on his beer, Philip Gerritsen raised the fact that a gang of sorts was at large who demanded cheaper beer. The week before the brewers declared on the record that if they voluntarily paid the three guilders on each barrel of beer, they would have the Eight Men and the community about their ears. In response, the council of New Netherlands banned harboring or even giving any food to the leaders of the Eight Men.†† The threat of violence, just as today, could play out within a tavern – as was seen on 14 March 1647 when Symon Boot met Piter Ebel:

…after the aforesaid persons had fought together, that a piece of Symon Root’s ear was cut off with a cutlass, whereof the aforesaid Symon Hoot In council demands a certificate In due form, In order that In the future, If necessary, he may make use thereof. Therefore, we, the director and council of New Netherland, [hereby certify that the ear was out off with the] cutlass In question in the place aforesaid. We request all those to whom this certificate may be shown to give full credence thereto. In token of the truth we have signed this and confirmed It with our pendent seal In red wax, this 14th of March, to wit, the certificate given to Symon Hoot.†††

Rather than leave it to the law of fist and knife, the Council required the giving of proper evidence to substantiate events as set out in the complaint. Order was imposed. A particular form of regulation related to violence was the troubled relationship the Dutch had before establishing peace and alliance with the local indigenous population, not helped in the slightest by Willem Kieft’s decision to attack them without any reasonable prospect of winning let alone actual sufficient cause. On 1 July 1647, the Council stated:

Whereas large quantities of strong liquors are dally sold to the Indians, whereby heretofore serious difficulties have arisen in this country, so that it is necessary to make timely provision therein; Therefore, we, the director general and council of New Netherland, forbid all tapsters and other inhabitants henceforth to sell, give or trade In any manner or under pretext whatsoever any beer or strong liquor to the Indians, or to have It fetched by the pail and thus to hand It the Indians by the third or fourth hand, directly or Indirectly, prohibiting them from doing so under penalty of five hundred Carolus guilders, and of being In addition responsible for the damage which might result therefrom. ††††

Things came to a point that early on in his term as Governor, Peter Stuyvesant made a general proclamation on 10 March 1648 respecting a wide range of they ways beer impose upon public order. No new ale-houses, taverns, nor tippling places could set up without council’s unanimous consent. Tavern keepers could not sell the businesses and had to immediately report all altercations. They could not “admit or entertain any company in the evening after the ringing of the curfew-bell, nor sell or tap beer or liquor to any one, travelers or boarders alone excepted, on Sunday before three o’clock in the afternoon, when divine service is finished, under the penalty thereto provided by law.” They were bound not to receive, directly or indirectly, into their houses or cellars any wines, beer or strong liquors before these are entered at the office of the receiver and a permit therefor has been received, under forfeit of their business and such beer or liquors and, in addition, a heavy fine at the discretion of the court.†††††

Notice how similar these laws from 370 years ago are to the sorts of regulation we see today. Not because the Dutch were puritanical or that the paranoia of a Randian was in anyway justified then as now. It’s because beer and taverns are both pervasive and a huge challenge to social order. Regulation and control not only are about ensuring taxes are paid and limbs go unbroken. While beer may be a consistent element of western culture, it is not all about sunny days on the middle class patios. And it’s an industry that generates massive economic wealth. So it is taxed. And it is controlled. Then and now. Because it is beer.

*Volume 1, Register of the Provincial Secretary, 1638–1642 (translation), pages 6, 108:
** History of New Netherlands: Or, New York Under the Dutch, Volume 1 by Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan, 1846, page 155-157.
***Volume 1, Register of the Provincial Secretary, 1638–1642 (translation), pages 72-73, 358-359:
****Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at page 106.
*****Upper Hudson Valley Beer, Gravina and McLeod, pages 35 to 36.
Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at page 134.
††Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at page 235.
†††Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at pages 360-361.
††††Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at pages 380-381.
†††††Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at pages 496-500.

Avoiding The Call Of The Content Control Clique

This is one of the sadder passages I have read about exploring brewing history in a long time. It’s in an excellent article by Joe Stange in which he is kind enough to have mentioned me:

At the recent Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia, there was an unusual morning roundtable totally devoted to historical beer styles. New Belgium brewmaster Peter Bouckaert moderated the panel, which included Brewers Association president Charlie Papazian, Colonial Williamsburg brewmaster Frank Clark, and Brasserie de la Senne brewer-historian Yvan de Baets. Audience members participated in the conversation, including several brewers and author Randy Mosher. Suggestions ranged from an open yeast bank devoted to ancient strains to an online depository for primary documents, including guidance on things like obsolete weights and measures, heirloom ingredients and historical method. “Make sure that everyone knows what the standards are for what qualifies as history,” Mosher said, “because we’re all just sort of winging it. … Some of it’s real history. And some of it’s just stories.”

The passage is not sad because of who was there or who said what. It’s because of the word “we” sitting there in the last bit there. The gathered folk – as I had feared and when voicing that fear was told by an eminent beer writer to “GFY” in an utter lapse of self control – had adopted a conversation control standard. People of standing were placed in a room with a topic that needed to be addressed but in a way that didn’t let the content get out of control. Can’t have that.

In his article Joe deftly compares the phenomenon with organic historical research: “just think of the many people willing to research and write about niche historical topics, often on their own blogs, for little or no money.” Who does that remind you of? How about all the new small brewers who don’t need to look to big craft for the authority to do what they want, to succeed as they want. Read Michael Kiser’s second last paragraph in his submission for this month’s version of The Session again:

If you think, even secretly, that your success in craft beer had anything to do with how wide open the shelf was at the time you started, I sincerely hope you’re listening for a ticking clock. The people coming up behind you are entering the most diverse and competitive beer market in the history of beer in this country. And they’re not complaining about it. They’re shaping their ideas into sharper, more precise weapons. They’re finding smarter financial models they can sustain. They’re brewing for audiences that are perpetually turning 21 even as we get older and older. And when they look across the tap lineup at their neighborhood bar, they don’t see AB or MillerCoors. They see you.

Let’s be honest. Beer writing is a small field packed with plenty of jostling. The pie is only so big but people have appetites. Folk of little imagination but plenty of ambition will gladly let you know their opinion about who should be writing about beer. And folk will gladly step in front of you in the buffet line up. Take your work, drop it in their book and not cite you. And brewers will lift research and brew with it without so much as a mention let alone a proper payment. My second or third question to Ron is always “and did they pay you for that?” So, be alert. When someone who is not particularly involved with researching beer history suggests “we” need to make sure that everyone knows what the standards are for what qualifies as history ask yourself whether or not it’s the same thing as the newbie nano not much interested in what the old farts of big craft think.

“We”? Hardly. “Them” and “they” more like it. The people doing the work who don’t bother with the keynote speech or junket. The people with better things to do, too busy down at the library with their nose in the books.

That 1700s Battledore Barley And The Other Four

battledore3These are busy days. The endy bit of April and the first half of May require my time in the garden. Yesterday I took apart the compost bin, sieved all the good bits out, returned all the half-rotted stuff and layered it with last autumn’s leaves and the parsnip greens from the overwintered crop. And it had gone all anaerobic. Much of it was the consistency of warm chocolate, reeking of sweet bog. Hours it took me. Then there was the week’s laundry. I don’t trust it to just anyone. And another Red Sox game to watch. And tweed to covet.* And supper to make. Saturdays are exhausting. No time to swan and noodle about the the London Metropolitan Archives like some. Research gets little time in spring.Yet, at the back of my mind there is that question. You will recall Sir. Wm Strickland’s observations from 1796 set out in a letter to Thomas Jefferson dated 20 May 1796:

I have reason to believe that a grain of Barley has never yet been sown on the Continent; the grain which is there sown, under that name, is not that from which our malt-liquors are made; it is here known under the name of Bigg, or Bigg-barley, is cultivated only on the Northern Mountains of this Island, and used only for the inferior purposes of feeding pigs or poultry, and is held to be of much too inferior a quality to Make into Malt, and of the five different grains of the species of Barley known to us, it is held to be by far the worst; I have therefore taken the liberty of sending a small quantity of the best species of Barley, (the Flat or Battledore Barley) and the one most likely to succeed with you; this grain is sown in the spring, on any rich cultivated soil; I recommend it strongly to your attention; and shall rejoice if I prove the means of introducing into your country an wholesome and invigorating liquor.

The passage is handy. It fills in two of the five grades of barley known to Britain in the 1790s. Flat or Battledore is the best. Bigg or Bygg is the worst. In the last post about Strickland, we reviewed how that latter lesser sort was six-row, winter or bigg barley. So what were the others? Battledore was a thing of the past in 1866 when the fourth volume of The English Cyclopaedia stated that the Sprat, or Battledore – also called Putney Barley – is the hordeum zeocriton. In a 2010 post, Ron noted that it was also called Goldthorpe. It seems to have hit its peak before the popularization of hordeum distichum or Chevallier. In 1785 it was described in A New System of Husbandry: from many years experience, with tables shewing the expence and profit of each crop by Charles Varlo in this way:

The sprat or battle-dore barley, has only two rows of grain; for which reaƒon , the ear is flat, the corn is ƒhort, plump and thin ƒkinned, not inclined to have a long gross ƒtraw, (but indeed this varies according to the richneƒs of the ground it is ƒown on) it is ƒaid it will grow well on many other ƒorts of land. I have had great crops on tough, ƒtrong, cold clay, or gravel land; but ƒuch muƒt be well pulverised, ƒweetened, enriched, mollified and warmed by tillage.

See, now it’s “Battle-dore” as well. And the focus is not so much scientific in the sense of identifying the plant as it was agricultural in the way the author describes its uses. In 1745‘s Agriculture Improv’d Or the Practice of Husbandry Displayd by William Agric Ellis, it was stated that it will produce “a strong straw that will always grow and stand erect to the last” whereas “common Barley… will fall down, and sometimes rot on the Ground.” Being also an earlier crop, the sprat or Battledore was harvested in 1744 before damaging rains came.

It is this Sort of Barley that is most valued by Distillers, for producing the greatest Quantity of Spirits, and is no less profitable to Brewers, for making a Malt that yields the greatest Length of Worts : The Stalk and Chaff indeed are coarƒish, but the Quality and Quantity of this Grain largely compenƒate for it.

More information is provided in The Natural History of Northamptonshire published in 1715 by John Morton, naturalist and Rector of Oxendon.** He records that there were two sorts of barley in his immediate area: sprat or Battledoor barley and Long-eared barley. Rath-ripe barley, however, was being grown in the area of Lowick, twenty mile to the east, and in fact it was the only barley sown by his colleague the Rev. Mr. Poulton of that parish. Each of these are distinguished, again, from common barley. Reaching back another twenty-nine years, we see the sorts of barley described in 1686‘s The Natural History of Stafford-Shire by Robert Plot – perhaps my favourite new old book of the year given how it may contain a creation myth, the very genesis of Burton and its ales. In one exciting passage at page 347, Plot states:

… it remains only that we recount the varieties of each kind sown here; and by what rules they are guided in the choice of their seed: there being as many sorts used here, and perhaps more, than in some richer Counties. For beside the white-flaxen, and bright red-wheat (which are the ordinary grains of the Country) they now and then sow the Triticum Multiplex or double-eard wheat; Triticum Polonicum or Poland wheat; and Tragopyrum, Buck or French-wheat; all described above Chap. 6. And for barleys; beside the common long-eard, and sprat-barley, which are most used; they sow sometimes the Tritico-speltum or naked barley, of which also above Chap. 6. And amongst the Oats: beside the White, black, and red Cats; at Burton upon Trent I found they also sowed the Avena nuda or naked Oat ; described, Ibidem.

Is anything more fabulous than a text that is 330 years old that uses the proper scientific Latin names of things? It’s all so… science-y. But what does it tell us? What does all of it tell us? Here’s what I see:

1. Battledore or Sprat Barley
2. Long-Eared Barley
3. Naked Barley
4. Rath-ripe Barley
5. Bigg Barley

Are these the five sorts of barley Strickland mentioned in his letter of 1796? I don’t know. There must be a masters thesis or two out there on the topic that would give more clarity. And there is that pesky reference to “common barley” that is a bit of a theme throughout these texts. Suffice it to say for now, then, that there were varieties and perhaps ones which are still sown for non-brewing purposes. More research needed. But, clearly, we can be assured that to the gentleman agriculturalist of 1796 Battledore is the best and was spoken highly of for the previous century. Which makes me suggest that if one is recreating porters of that vintage one ought to be using Battledore malt and not the later improved varieties of 1800s Chevallier or mid-1900s Maris Otter. Shouldn’t one? Certainly one would if one is to brew the earliest Burton, like the lads sipped in 1712.


Update: above you will see a passage from John Ray’s 1677 book Catalogus Plantarum Angliae, Et Insularum Adjacentium: Tum Indigenas, tum in agris passim cultas complectens. In quo praeter Synonyma necessaria, facultates quoque summatim traduntur, una cum Observationibus et Experimentis Novis Medicis et Physicis which describes Battledoor barley as a form of hordeum distichum and not hordeum zeocriton. Hmm… in 1838 it was called hordeum disticho-zeocriton. Hmm…This 2003 bit of botany suggests Spratt was a UK landrace out of which other barley strains developed.

*I am having a wee problem over the last six months. It really started in January 2015 with a windowpane tweed bucket hat bought at Pringle in Glasgow. Then, told at work along with other mid-life males to smarten up the look a bit I’ve, well, gone a bit overboard. I can’t recommend Peter Christian highly enough in such tight spots. Clothes for folk with 37 inch arms like me. Delivery by international $25 courier in about five days. I had no idea that I needed a lavender crew neck cotton sweater. But now I have one. And four new sports coats. And new sorts of socks. God, the HJ socksalone have changed my life…
**Which is just nine mile south of the famous Kibworth examined in BBC’s The Story of England mentioned here and here.

The Government Store Has Bad Branding News

Ah, the liquor control system. Government stores controlling the marketplace and then pretending that it’s still a marketplace. The sort of system that announces growlers will be sold in Ontario and then builds one growler stand in just one Toronto store to serve the entire population of 13 million or so. Once in a while, however, it comes up with a great idea:

Several LCBO stores, including the location at Wonderland and Oxford in London, have moved oodles of Ontario craft beer by refusing to tell customers what exactly they are buying. The store puts random cans in plain brown bags and prices the mystery bags for about $12, give or take, depending on what’s inside. An LCBO store in Waterloo recently claimed credit for starting the surprise suds marketing phenomenon, fuelled by young adults seeking to recapture some birthday party-style grab bag excitement.

Planning a career in branding? Maybe you should switch to marketing instead. Because sometimes covering up what’s in the package sometimes is an improvement. Think about it. Folk seem to be unhappy about this year’s new beer brand, America. For the life of me, I don’t see the issue. But I am Canadian so maybe I wouldn’t.

Maybe it’s going to be OK. Maybe it’s this summer’s new thing. Beats the hell outta X-treme, crafty v craft or treating buy-outs like identity theft. Could 2016 be the year that we just want a beer?

Review: Ontario Craft Beer Guide, Leblanc And St. John

ocbg1I have been remiss. Well, late. Not lazy. Late. Distracted? Distracted. Jordan and Robin sent me a digital copy of this book weeks ago and I have only gotten to writing my review now. There’s been taxes to do at the last minute. Children to take to sports or hover over as math gets the best effort we can expect. Evenings like tonight at City Hall giving my best advice to council. I got a hair cut Sunday. At 11 am if you are wondering. But all the while I have kept dipping into this book. I like this book. I like this book for a few reasons. Let’s be honest. I have secondary skin in the game. I co-wrote the history of Ontario beer with Jordan. It’d be nice to think that everyone who buys this book might buy our book, too. But that’s not why I like this book. I like this book because this is the book that got me interested in the beer over the next horizon over a decade ago.

Well, not this book. This form of book. A regional guide. Like the ones Lew used to write. In 2004, I read Lew’s New York Breweries and ever since I have tried to ensure that there were NY beers in the stash – and NY hot dogs in the freezer. He not only told you where to buy the beer but also where to stay, what to get the kids into and what snacks to buy. See, there have been a number of sorts of beer books over the years. Sure, there are the global style guides as well as the food and beer pairing books. But there have been the Brewers Association style guides that started with Terry Foster on pale ale, the History Press histories including the two I helped write, those annual Good Beer Guides from CAMRA and all the home brewing guides, too, back to the Amateur Winemaker books of the 1960s written by C.J.J. Berry and Ken Shales as well as the fabulous David Line. Then there are the wonders like Unger‘s histories of the Baltic and North Sea facing lands from 1000 to 1900. There is Boak and Bailey’s remarkable Brew Britannia and Pete’s wonderful books of a recent and yet some how lost era ago. Before I liked all these and the rest that sit in piles around the house – I liked regional beer guides. Like this one.

Regional guides contextualize beer to a place and time. They have a level of comprehensive detail that is hard to capture in any other sort of beer book. They are as useful as Peterson Field Guides: Eastern Birds, the granddaddy of this entire class of writing. Ontario Craft Beer Guide follows in that tradition with a particular exactness. Exactitude. See, unlike even many regional beer guides, Ms. Leblanc and Mr. St. John tell you exactly what to expect. They explain which breweries are doing the brewing and which are really wholesalers hiring others under contract to a specification. They have a numerical rating guide which – wait for it – does not range all the way from 72/100 to 94/100. Not everyone wins a participation ribbon in this universe. In their system poor beers can earn a 1.5/5 and come with a resulting warning and great ones can be rewarded with a truly rare 5/5. I am having a Rhyme and Reason from Collective Arts right now solely due to the 4.5 they gave it. And they were right.

Do I have quibbles? How could I have quibbles? They were on the road for months seeking out every beer they could! Have I? No. And I actually know a thing or two. Do I like some beers a bit better than they do? Sure, I do – but that’s not often the case and where it is I have reasons. Like I am an older guy who likes slightly maltier beers. Save me the loser facile tropical hops. I can open a can of fruit cocktail, too. But with this level of detail I can transpose my palate to their recommendations and still trust their recommendations. Trust. That’s it. I can trust a book like this. So can you. Mainly because I don’t need to trust it. It’s so reliable. It’s got facts. It’s full of facts. Facts about good beer are actually really hard to find. You want facts about good beer in Ontario? Here you go.

If I didn’t live in Ontario I might say that it’s too bad they didn’t add local context like Lew’s regional rules of boiled and fried wieners but let’s be honest about this, too. Snack food is not what made Ontario. Natural produce? We got it. Local wines and fine wild meats and fish? Sure thing. Local snack shacks? We live on rumours of such things beyond the borders. It might tell me some other reasons I might want to go to North Bay or Sarnia, too. Maybe in the next edition. Or not. When Lew wrote those first guides 12 years ago, the internets weren’t telling me what they are now. We can actually luxuriate in the focus as much as those other facts. That’s good.

Wonder not. Make the call. Buy it.