Comeau, Beer, Provincial Autonomy, The Crown And The Individual

Up in the night thinking. So, we had the big court ruling out of the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) about crossing the provincial border into New Brunswick with beer in your truck and few, clever beer writers and clever political pundits included, seems to have seen the unanimous decision coming. The heart of the decision in R. v. Comeau, by the way, is that the province has the power to provide that all booze in the province needs to be bought from the government agency. Which is what provinces do all the time – make laws for local application within their constitutional jurisdiction under their exercise of the bit of the power of the sovereign Crown assigned to each provincial legislature.

One problem that Canadians have at moments like this is that Canada is actually fairly hard to understand as an entity. The Constitution has something like 137 documents and there are loads of other unwritten rules. And at its heart it is a federation and not a unified state so the local bits called provinces are not subject to national oversight within the area of their local jurisdiction. There are powers and obligations assigned under our constitution to entities like the federal legislature, provincial legislatures, the Crown in other forms like the Governor-General and the courts and also the rights of the individual and indigenous peoples to  oppose or be immune from those other parts of society we call government.

I have had a taste of this as I practiced law from 1997 to 2002 in Canada’s tiniest province, Prince Edward Island, where it was a fairly common event to run into any number of ways the odd local rules under which the provincial jurisdiction was exercised. It was like a little constitutional science experiment. And unlike, oh, 100% of beer writers and maybe 99.9999% of political pundits, I also argued a constitutional case there proving, uniquely as far as I know, to the trial level judge that the province had exceeded its rights and offended the constitution by breaching the Charter of Rights and the protected political beliefs of individuals. I was on my feet for two days making my oral argument as I recall. You can find the ruling here. After I left PEI, it was again won on appeal on other grounds and, then, appeal to the SCC was refused.

The point is this. Provinces can pass internal laws that do not line up with the laws of other provinces. They are autonomous from each other except where there is a rule common to all Canadians that the local law offends. Now, PEI was once both hilariously and yet accurately called “too insular to be xenophobic” by the late great Harry Flemming – and this is expressed in all aspects of the law and how the culture responds to the law as an intensely local matter. So, you may have an ailment in PEI that is not covered by the public health system which is regularly provided for in all other provinces. When we lived there at least three men I knew died in the ambulance on route to another province because there was no cardiac surgeon in PEI. And you can find a ruling which can reference the environmental standards that might apply to crop spraying but then find a local aspect wins the day because:

Crop spraying, especially ground spraying,  is a common and ordinary activity on farms on Prince Edward Island… The type, severity, and duration of any “interference” was minimal and not what could be described as unreasonable in the context of a P.E.I. farming community.

Similarly, I recall a Crown prosecutor once telling the judge to disregard my submissions as lawyer acting for the defendant because I was relying on court cases from other parts of Canada. As relates to booze, while PEI has a strict liquor control government owned agency, as late as 2004 the culture also included well known illegal taverns.  It also even had a famous ban on soft and hard drinks sold in cans that only ended in 2008. I could go on (believe me, I could go on and one) but these are just examples of local nuttinesses which are all allowed within a province because it is a province.

The unhappy response to yesterday’s ruling by the SCC in Comeau appears to be largely based on the idea that somehow individual rights were part of the case. They really weren’t. The Comeau case was about a provincial offense related to bringing beer in to New Brunswick under a provincial law being within the power of that one province.  What was questioned was whether a right of all provinces related to free inter-provincial trade was offended.  The rights of the individual were not raised. They were only an implication.

They could have been raised. There is a lovely line of Charter cases related to personal autonomy from government impositions starting with the 1997 Godbout case in which the SCC determined that a municipality could not require staff to live in the municipality as that was a decision within “that narrow sphere of personal decision-making deserving of the law’s protection.” My own PEI ruling* referenced that idea in relation to the political beliefs of the individual. Other cases have discussed the concept of individual autonomy protecting the individual against government over reach in other contexts. And the problem for travelling with beer – and perhaps Mr Comeau’s lawyers – is that one of those other contexts considered was recreational marijuana use. Unlike in my case and others where the individual was able to resist the imposition of a restriction on their personal decisions, the SCC stated this in the 2003 ruling in R. v. Clay:

With respect, there is nothing “inherently personal” or “inherently private” about smoking marihuana for recreation.  The appellant says that users almost always  smoke in the privacy of their homes, but that is a function of lifestyle preference and is not “inherent” in the activity of smoking itself.  Indeed, as the appellant together with Malmo-Levine and Caine set out in their Joint Statement of Legislative Facts, cannabis “is used predominantly as a social activity engaged in with friends and partners during evenings, weekends, and other leisure time” (para. 18).  The trial judge was impressed by the view expressed by the defence expert, Dr. J. P. Morgan, that marihuana is largely used for occasional recreation.  Reference might also be made on this point to a case under the European Convention on Human Rights decided recently by the English courts under the Human Rights Act 1998 (U.K.).  In R. v. Morgan, [2002] E.W.J. No. 1244 (QL), [2002] EWCA Crim 721, the English Court of Criminal Appeal observed, at para. 11, that:

A right to private life did not involve or include a right to self intoxication, nor the right to possession or cultivation of cannabis, whether for personal consumption within one’s home or otherwise.

See also R. v. Ham, [2002] E.W.J. No. 2551 (QL), [2002] EWCA Crim 1353.  Recreational smoking is not on a par with other activities that have been held to go to the heart of an individual’s private existence.

I wrote about this ruling at the time stating:

This is a bit weird. If we are autonomous from the state, can’t we choose to be slackers? Are we not allowed to dedicate the core of our lives to the life of choice, even if the choice made is not the profound? If we are not granted each our own choice, we are not then each so much uniquely individual but individual as measured against some idealized standard of generic individuality. I bet if we looked into the brain of the judges the ideal standard might look a lot like the life they chose for themselves. Oddly, in many other areas of constitutional law, the individual is allowed to define him or herself – it is a subjective right. It looks like the subjective right to be slack is not good enough.

The law of marijuana use has clearly shifted since then as might have the right to be a slacker. But would the same 2003 rule in Clay apply if a Canadian sought to prove to the courts that his or her “narrow sphere of personal decision-making deserving of the law’s protection” should include the right to cross a provincial boundary to buy cheaper beer? Dunno. I do know, however, that this is not how the Comeau case defense was framed. It was not about Mr. Comeau about the individual. It was about Mr. Comeau as an example, an incident of a bigger thing, the trade in beer.

What is the take away? No where in any of this has any province barred the export of its beer to another province. As we know from our studies of Ontario’s brewing history especially in relation to the regulation of brewing during the deepest temperance years of 1916 to 1927, the making and shipping our of beer is not something provincial governments concern themselves with. The ban in about bringing it in, not sending it out.** So any province can make a local rule allowing beer from elsewhere in. And, in fact, it is allowed already… to a degree. The Liquor Control Act of PEI, for example, states this at section 33(2):

(1) No person shall have in his possession or keeping within the province any liquor that has not been purchased from a vendor under this Act.

(2) This section does not apply…

(b.1) to the keeping or having by persons of or over the age of nineteen years of liquor imported for personal consumption, not exceeding 3 litres of spirits, 9 litres of wine or 24.6 litres of beer per person;

So, there in Canada’s littlest province, the law actually allows you to have can have some imported booze. Just not an unlimited amount. Because that is the rule that is set by their statute passed by the legislature voted upon by the folk elected by the people. Democracy. If you want a law like that in your province, elect the people who promise to pass one. That’s it. Not a constitutional issue. Just one of the local law in each province. Take up your fight there.

*See para 65 of the Condon case – yes, my own Penge Bungalow Murders.
**Although wee PEI only allows export by brewers under provincial permit according to s.91(5) of the Liquor Control Regulations.

 

Your Weekly Beer News Considered And Consolidated For Exactly What Your Thursday Demands

I need to make sure I am less self-indulgent this week. Last week was a bit too… thematic without, you know, a solid theme. I deserve a rebuke from time to time. I thought Stan was helpfully chastising me in his comment… but I am not quite sure. You have a look:

I’m pretty sure Alan McLeod was lamenting the use of the term “deep dive” in his commentary on recent beer news last week. Fact is when I see the words “deep dive” I expect what follows to go deep less often than not.

I never do well with these sort of mathy statements. But then… I thought it would be “more often than not” if deep dives labelled properly were more common than the tawdry shams.  Doesn’t “less often than not” mean the shams outweigh the actuals?  And if you think about it – by their very nature – these summary things are more like strolls in the shallows, not deep dives at all.  Oh dear. I’ve been self-indulgent again. Must stop. Here’s some news.

My problem with the thesis on glitter beer by the entirely reliable Carla Jean Lauter is knowing the many really stupid and indulgent things which give me joy. They still remain sorta stoopid* despite my joy. I am reminded, in fact, of that passage from Thomas More’s early modern masterpiece Utopia:

They divide the pleasures of the body into two sorts—the one is that which gives our senses some real delight, and is performed either by recruiting Nature and supplying those parts which feed the internal heat of life by eating and drinking, or when Nature is eased of any surcharge that oppresses it, when we are relieved from sudden pain, or that which arises from satisfying the appetite which Nature has wisely given to lead us to the propagation of the species. 

In first year undergrad, someone in class asked what More meant by eased surcharge. Poop, said the prof. Or, now, glitter pee, I suppose.

Elsewhere, someone by the name of Gary, left in charge of UK grocer Sainsbury’s social media, was having a hard time at the end of last week but Matthew L stepped forward to straight-forwardly and helpfully explain the economics of chilling beer at the general retail level:

I’m closer to the shop floor realities of retail than Gary is, and I can explain why supermarkets don’t, as a rule, chill their entire beer supply and display chain.  As stated above, this might be a revelation to those who don’t work in my industry.

What a sensible explanation. And what a sentence from Stonch: “For an hour and a half, I was a fixed point among the shifting population of tourists, as I savoured glasses of each of the four beers poured at a simple bar.” While we are at it, what a photo and caption from The Beer Nut!

Good to see that sensible sweaters are big in Brussels. TBN actually had another point… which I liked. And I also liked this proclamation from Matty C about London. I usually don’t like proclamations, urban or otherwise, but this is actually a good one. It’s nice. Not quite Belgian millennial sweater nice but actually pretty close.

Speaking of almost Belgian millennial sweater goodness, if I were to pick a review to review as illustrating what a book review (and, yes, I know this sounds indulgent) it’s this review by The Tand of the new book by Stange and Webb. It even includes substantive arguments as to why one should trust the new book by Stange and Webb on Belgian beer:

The authors point out – and this is important – that they did not seek samples from breweries, but rather, went there and bought the beers. They are also keen to opine that, in an age of obfuscation and blurring of lines, often by large conglomerates,  the place of origin of beer remains important, as it adds to authenticity. This is particularly so in Belgium, where beer in all its diverse forms so often has a clear link to its local or regional roots. 

Some will still insist that paying your own way to prepare a book about beer is impossible. Sounds like a very good one. And what is a good “two”? Well, that’s the number of new good things you’ve learned so far about Belgium. Boom! Here’s something interesting which is not related to Belgium a confession from Boak and Bailey:

We’ve never been quite sure. Think it refers to a distinct grain / seed / breadcrust flavour derived from malt.

I think I can be helpful here… if the question is “what does a biscuity malt mean?” If you go way back into this blog’s archives you will find beer reviews like this or this.  And there you will see me using descriptors like biscuity and breadcrusty and pumpernickely. When I did that I sometimes actually went and got a biscuit or crust of bread to confirm my reference. But then… was it an arrowroot biscuit or a butter biscuit? Whole wheat or French? I also would find I wanted to describe something as raisiny but  then wonder is it a Thompson or Sultana? Words like this draw you into thinking about flavour. Based on your own actual experience. I think it is fundamental to learning how to taste things, about how I taste things.  You may have another path to the same end. There are likely many. But this is one I recommend.

Question: if you call a brewery “they” then don’t they then have souls?

Finally, our two nominees for “The Unhelpful But Beer-Related Semi-Science Story Of The Week“:

Australians Have Developed a Beer That You Can Drink in Space

Why Do Some Beer Bubbles Appear to Defy Physics?

There. I am done for now. There could be more to be said but I think I am done for this week. Yup. Feels like it. Done. Big Supreme Court of Canada ruling on buying beer and then transporting it across provincial boundaries being issued later today.  But that’ll deserve its own space and quiet consideration. So it will.

*St👀pid, even. Which, you know, owning the complete DVD set of Space: 1999 requires me to acknowledge. And the 200 lbs of men’s tweedwear.  

Remember When We All Believed In The J-Curve?

What is it in alcohol that makes people so strident, so binary? Oh, I forgot. It’s the alcohol. Which is what I thought again to myself as I read many of the reactions to the news from the UK’s leading medical journal, The Lancet, that a diet that includes a rather moderate amount of regular alcohol intake is not a very good diet if you like the quantitative aspect of life. Here is the summary of the study’s findings:

In the 599 912 current drinkers included in the analysis, we recorded 40 310 deaths and 39 018 incident cardiovascular disease events during 5·4 million person-years of follow-up. For all-cause mortality, we recorded a positive and curvilinear association with the level of alcohol consumption, with the minimum mortality risk around or below 100 g per week. Alcohol consumption was roughly linearly associated with a higher risk of stroke (HR per 100 g per week higher consumption 1·14, 95% CI, 1·10–1·17), coronary disease excluding myocardial infarction (1·06, 1·00–1·11), heart failure (1·09, 1·03–1·15), fatal hypertensive disease (1·24, 1·15–1·33); and fatal aortic aneurysm (1·15, 1·03–1·28). By contrast, increased alcohol consumption was log-linearly associated with a lower risk of myocardial infarction (HR 0·94, 0·91–0·97). In comparison to those who reported drinking >0–≤100 g per week, those who reported drinking >100–≤200 g per week, >200–≤350 g per week, or >350 g per week had lower life expectancy at age 40 years of approximately 6 months, 1–2 years, or 4–5 years, respectively.

The great thing about this study is that it is a study of all the bad stuff. In addition to using grams of alcohol instead of some useless “standard unit” measure, it does not cherry pick. From time to time you will see a beer trade consultant argue that there is a health benefit to drinking alcohol that leverages the idea up there of the log-linearly association with a lower risk of myocardial infarction. Heart disease. To dress it up, the talking head will reference “the J-Curve” to impress that this is a masonic like bit of secret information that has to be received on the basis of trust rather knowledge.* Belief over fact. Sometimes the idea actually is presented compellingly.

The most important thing to understand is that it is both true and not true at all. The J-Curve requires having a preference to not suffer from one particular set of diseases related to the heart. I know of no one who thinks that way: “I don’t mind recovering from this mid-60s bout of cancer but I will be damned if I have that mild heart attack that sets me back for a bit until I get my house in order.” But, just as craft loves to award itself first prize when it comes to harm avoidance, the booze trade loves the J-Curve.

No, it’s about overall health and the balancing of it off against overall fun. I turn 55 next week and have had my share of boozy fun, happily more and more in my further past. It’s nice to have the memories – even some of the ones that make you cringe – because the alternative to having the memories is not all that great. I had an acquaintance twenty years ago who was a regular smokey-drinky after work guy. Bob. Bob hit 50 around 1996 and would say he liked to live his live as he wanted. He’d bring that up, between phlegm sputtery coughs, most times I was out in his company. He died around age 52. No J-Curve miracle for Bob.

Max, as usual, has the more realistic view, expressed on Facebook this morning:

I don’t think having a drink every now and again is bad for you, any more than it is having a fag or a joint every now and again, but I am not convinced it is any good, either (at least physiologically) and I am equally skeptical about the conclusions of the linked article as I am about those from pieces touting the health benefits of having a pint or a glass of wine a day. And yes, I drink more than I probably should, but I do it because I like it and not because I expect any health benefit.

It’s a trade-off. Which is what the study in The Lancet is saying. If you have 200 grams of alcohol a week, well, on average that’s going to knock half a year off your life span. That’s about a 12 pack of 5% beer in 12 ounce bottles. Double that amount to about 24 bottles a week and you might be looking at a life that is shortened by four years or eight times that six months.

Now, without getting too much into the details, I have had the opportunity to work with the older and, occasionally, the dying as part of my career. I have taken a death will from someone who passed 30 minutes later. Not fun. Yet, quite important to that person and quite humbling for me. My impression is that once one gets to a certain point in years the “fun v. years” trade-off is worth it. You think “so maybe I die in October and not next April… I’ve had a good run.” My own father basically said that, even though the cause in his case was not the perils of alcohol but the perils of being freckled and living within the range of the sun’s rays. I might even go so far as to say that magic number for this sort of reflection might kick in when you get in view of your eightieth birthday – or perhaps it’s getting to 90% of your expected longevity based on your relatives. Not the Bob-span. Much more than that.

Yet note one other thing. This is from a twitter discussion amongst stats geeks reading the report in The Lancet:

Of 100 people drinking 14 units a week, 99 people will not die due to alcohol and 1 will. That 1 person loses 37 years of life. The remainder obviously lose 0 years. The average across the 100 people comes out at 0.3 years lose.

The distribution of the ill effects of too much drink is not consistent, not fairly distributed, whatever fair means. So much more important than either the J-Curve effect and even the average number of drinks is luck of the draw. You know you are shortening your life but the degree to which it is shortened is case specific. Based on you. And whatever it is you did. [What did I do? Yikes!]

Sometimes I ask myself whether at some point in my retirement I might take up smoking. Or add much more unctuously satisfying animal fat to my diet. Statistically, if I get to 73 or 76 I might as well as I won’t shift my likely outcome in terms of the quantity of my remaining years all that much. I fancy sticking a pipe in my pocket, a leather pouch of a cherry infused tobacco. Once in a while. Not Bob-like smoking. Something more sensible. No rush. That’s a couple of decades off yet. If I make it. If I haven’t already played all the strong suit cards I was dealt.

I think there is a lot of good news in this report. While the overall detrimental effect on health is steady, the line on the graph does not take off at an entirely unexpected pace. And, as the graphs do  not record longevity into the triple digits, there is a implicit reminder that we are all ending up in the same place eventually. So, it is a “fun v. years” calculation. Finding that point of balance. Unless it isn’t about fun for you. Or if you are a Bob. Or Bob. Good stuff to consider, maybe even over a beer or two this weekend.

*Trust me. I am a lapsed Mason.

One Other Problem With The Young White Males…

One of the nice thing about being a child of Scots immigrants who ended up in Nova Scotia is I am quite comfortable not being white or WASP even if I am privileged. Stealth immigrants’ progeny. Growing up in Nova Scotia in the 1970s, I never fully understood some things like the way other Canadians ate. Corn flakes? Coffee? Strawberry jam? We were more into oatmeal, tea and marmalade even if the sun rose over the Atlantic instead of setting. We were in a class with a few others of the similarly situated. One pal who married a lovely English lady later told me that our family was good training for meeting his in-laws. Like them, we apparently were the only people he had met who could all sit around the same room in armchairs reading newspapers or books. Quietly. Drinking cups of hot milky tea. Quietly. Taking turns making it. Quietly.

Which is something I think about when I read about “white people” these days. I used to think that they were just people who didn’t know their great-uncle’s names or why the different sausages existed and meant something. “White” was not a culture so much as an absence of personal family culture. Don’t misunderstand. There was no missing the strong Acadian, Black Nova Scotian, Caper, LGBT, Lunenburg German, Valley Baptist or indigenous Mi’kmaq experiences and their battles for equality in the particular time and place of my upbringing. The fight was so visceral that “white” (that sad default setting) spoke to as much to a fundamental lacking of something core as it spoke to a political and commercial privilege. It was a grey space in a vibrant landscape with robust variety and political tension. But for beer that sort of “white” is now a looming problem without much upside:

“Generation Z marks a turning point, being the first generation to prefer spirits to beer,” analysts led by Javier Gonzalez Lastra wrote in the report. However, one segment of Gen Z still prefers beer to other types of alcohol: white men. For a long time, beer companies only needed to appeal to white men to grow sales. White men have historically made up a hefty part of the American population. They also drink more alcohol on average than women of all races, as well as more than men who are not white.

So… in addition to buying into a systemically discriminatory construct, the persistent dependency on these privileged dolts might have resulted in something of a hollowing out of long-term customer base prospects. Is an unspoken flaw of the “beer people are good people (are people like me)” construct not only the wonky dependency on the heralds heralding  “doot-dah-doooo!” long-trumpetingly from the ramparts of majoritarian bastions but willful blindness to a key expectation supporting those bastions has long been undermined? It’s not so much that beer has failed to be inclusive as it has more fundamentally missed the fact that “white male youth beer culture” will now never again appear in any college level Demographics 101 class syllabus as representative anything like a majority.

The actual majority of the market – and the growing population defining that market – is not white or male or young… let alone “and” and “and”… which is a problem. Like the place I grew up in, it is filled with others who are now off and doing what they feel like freely. Which is good. And which makes me ask… if I was investing in a new crafty brewery in any kind of competitive setting why would I even market to the  white and male and young if I had any interest in surviving into the mid-2020’s? That market has already been locked in and is going to fade. Like the damp corner of a basement carpet that’s where the unwanted saturation is. Why would I not entirely aim my focus on the others, the actual majority? Or, you know, open a craft distillery?

Thursday Beer Links For Year’s End, Hogmanay and New Year’s Eve 2017

What can we say about 2017? Not as many celebrity rock star deaths as in 2016, I suppose. And we are not yet into the Putin war years. So, all in all a year to look back upon fondly.  It is the time of triumphalist beer pronouncements, whether by blogger or brewer, at bit at odds with the infantalization, death on the shelf and often resulting profiteering that really misses the key point: that being that the beer drinker really needs to be at unending war with the breweries she or he supports. If I have any message for you during this holiday season, it is that.

What else is going on out there? The Braciatrix has a very good piece about Vikings, brewing and Yuletide. One of the things I like best about her point of the post, which focuses on the roles of women in Norse brewing, is how there is a weaving with the roles of men in brewing. Given what I have learned and am still learning about Renaissance brewing in Tudor England and the Hanseatic Baltic, I suspect that the range of intimate scale household brewing to the ale house to public festive celebratory consumption to early industrial export brewing held places for both women and men, in contexts likely quite strange to we moderns. Fabulous stuff.

Also fabulous? Any post by Ron where he is wandering in and out of pubs. And any post by TBN where he is proving again that no more than about 50% of craft beer is worth it given the other better and often cheaper 50% of craft beer. Or a brewery tour post when Ed has to use the washroom.

Mr. Lawrenson has posted a rather special year in review,  one a bit unlike the others – not the least of which was him noting his own lack of activity. I quite like his Teletext tweets, especially how the medium de-aggrandizes the puff he like to waft away. There is so little rejection of the brewery owner as wizard theme going around in these days of the great schism and resulting gap filling that his commentary is always welcome relief. I look forward to more editions of his News in Brief in 2018.

Remember: pay your taxes. And quit complaining about paying taxes with your beer while you are at it. You want western civilization? Pay for it.

You know, much is being written on the murk with many names. Kinderbier. London murk. NEIPA. Gak from the primary. Milkshake. It’s gotten so bad in fact that even Boston Beer is releasing one, a sure sign that a trend is past it. Some call it a game changer, never minding that any use of that term practically guarantees something isn’t. They need to live as the hero in an exceptional time, I suppose. No such luck. My comfort is that the sucker juice of 2017 is so identifiable and so avoidable. My prediction? Clarified murk will be the hit of 2018. Which will take is full circle. To Zima. Then on to the low and no-alcohol ones.

Boom: “The late, great Don Younger (founder of the Horse Brass Pub) used to encourage beer competition by saying that a rising tide raises all boats, if that’s true than 2017 may be the year those boats began taking on water.

And keep your US craft in the US, thanks very much. We have more than enough of our own elsewhere.

Finally… you know, time was this would be when I was rushing around getting the Yuletide Kwanzaa, Hogmanay, Christmas and Hanukkah photo contest results are. How happy is the house that the tears and denunciations that went along with that are over. I found the prospect of transferring the entire set of contest posts to this the new site too daunting. Fortunately, the wonderful Wayback Machine has saved about 379 versions of the original website over the years and you can go browse the decade of 2006-15’s worth of the photo contest posts. To pique your interest and as a Yuletide treat, here are all the winners from the ten years including the favourite of all time from 2007 above which Stonch, then co-contest administrator, described this way:

First, the best image depicting some element of beer culture comes from John Lewington. He calls it “Two pints of bitter”. This is candid photo John took of two old boys enjoying their Sunday afternoon ale in a 17th century pub in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. Perhaps they’re old friends, or maybe they barely know each other. When this photo was taken, it didn’t matter: they were immersed in their own worlds for a moment. It’s a beautiful photo, and my favourite overall.

Click on the image for a larger version of each year’s winner.

Contest Year
Photograph
Artist
2006
Dave Selden of Portland, Oregon
2007
John Lewington of England
2008
Matt Wiater of Portland Oregon
2009
Kim Reed of Rochester, New York
2010
Brian Stechschulte of San Francisco, California
2011
Jeff Alworth of Portland, Oregon
2012
Robert Gale of Wales
2013
Fabio Friere of New York City
2014
Thomas Cizauskas of Virginia (co-winner).
2014
Fabio Friere of New York City (co-winner).
2015
Boak and Bailey

There you are. Another year over and deeper in debt. Don’t go crazy at New Year’s Eve. There’ll be another one in 12 month’s time.

Your Monday Beer New Links For The Return To Office Work

It’s not like I dislike office work. It’s just that I like a week off in summer better. Drove too much.  About 2500 km all in all. Did home repairs and lawn stuff. Took trousers to the tailor. Visited a tiny new brewery. Yes, that one right there. I expect to post on the beers I dragged home hidden amongst the kids’ camp and cottage crap. What else went on this week?

Flying Dog Quits The Brewers Association

The recently Maryland-based brewery Flying Dog announced it had quit the Brewers Association and folk quickly took sides or at least thought a bit about which side they might take. Nothing better than when libertarians and progressives face off over something even though the both have a thing for tie-die shirts. The press release is pretty clear about what’s behind the move:

The BA’s new Marketing & Advertising Code is nothing more than a blatant attempt to bully and intimidate craft brewers into self-censorship and to only create labels that are acceptable to the management and directors of the BA. By contrast, Flying Dog believes that consumers are intelligent enough to decide for themselves what choices are right for them: What books to read, movies to watch, music to listen to, or beers to consume (and whether or not they like the labeling).

What’s really interesting about this is how it is tied in as part of the new optional (and seemingly stalled at about 20-25% buy-in) logo thing. And… freedom!!! Or just licence… or debauchery… or something co-opted. J. Notte summed it up this way on Sunday: “BA sees itself as a parent setting the rules, Flying Dog sees BA as a roommate who just set a fire in the living room.”  What I don’t understand was where the BA membership outreach and committee work was on the logo and the code of conduct? Was this all actually just imposed without any trial balloons? More to the point, will others quit, too?

The Economist Noticed Craft Beer!!!

I found this story entitled “Craft Beer in America Goes Flat” interesting, pretty cool in fact as The Economist isn’t this micro focused [Ed.: get it? An economics pun!!] usually but it gets to the point: “the number of brands has proliferated, the number of drinkers has not.” [Ed.: sweet attention to that verb structure, too.] It might have been a link for last week but the lack of chit chat about the story since it came out is interesting in itself. I am sure if we ever see a retraction in US craft beer we’ll have months and months and months of explanation of how it’s not a retraction from all the smart people with careers invested in the expansion of US craft beer.

Why Even Call It “Contract Brewing”?

Ben Johnson expanded on his article in Canada’s newspaper, The Old and Stale, with a blog post that unpacks the contract beer situation in a pretty clearheaded manner. Me? I take nothing from the argument that consumers don’t care given that labeling laws don’t require that anyone tell consumers that a beer is brewed somewhere that isn’t the little sweet Grannie’s cottage the branding would make you think… but the other arguments are pretty good.

Let’s be clear. The firm that brews the beer bought on a contract is a “contract brewer.” Other folk in the retail supply chain are maybe a “beer company.” Nothing wrong with being a beer company. Also, it obeys English as one who does not brew can’t also be brewing. Doubt me? Ask one of them to change the yeast strain to improve the batch. Oh, not allowed. By whom? Oh, the actual brewer.

And the Co-opting Of “Punk” Started A Decade Ago

Good to see, as reported by Matt C., a Sussex-based brewery Burning Sky… a wee actual-ish crafty brewery has back away from BrewDog’s weird insistence that they are somehow connected to “punk.” [Ed.: they are only getting that in 2017? It’s like your nerdy accountant cousin Ken who likes to pretend he gets that hop-hip all the kids are listening to.] Anyway, BrewDog is great at marketing, aiming to be wonderful at opening branch plants globally as well as a chain of bars and half their beers are even sorta OK. But, let’s be honest, it’s hardly craft anymore let alone punk. A fledgling lawyer and his pal, a very successful brewer, dreamed up a way to get rich through beer with a smidgen less – what? – less of something… than even Malcolm McLaren‘s relationship to the actual invention of punk. Tellingly, Matt could only find a managing director for the BrewDog bars division to get a quote from. Small. Traditional. That’s it. Keep in line. Punks do that. Keep. In. Line. And… err… something co-opted.

Other Things of Great Importance

Jeff Bell posted a lovely short vignette of an encounter on the streets of London with a man sharing his beer.

Tweet of the week? From Matthew Osgood who neatly summed up the irritation posed by craft beer evangelists who just won’t stop it what with their knocking at the door fun, pamphlets in hand:

…my issue is that I don’t need a six-beer tasting session every time I come over to watch a game.

Jeff Alworth was exploring what things were like ten and twenty years ago in his fair town of Portland, Oregon care of a tweet and one of his best posts ever. Recent history benefits as much from reliance on records as much as the far dimmer past I wallow about in.

Rebecca Pate reported on her visit to our mutual hometown, Halifax, where she had a Pete’s Super Donair and… visited 2 Crows. Which is interesting as “crows” was a slag in my years at our mutual undergrad college.

Is Andy Crouch the first beer writer to actually pay with his own money when visiting Asheville? Seems incongruous.

And last but certainly not least remember to follow Timely Tipple for the weekly brewing history links.

Peter Pan As Craft Beer’s Archetype

Given we are in this “less research sharing and more blue sky dreaming, tea-leaf reading forecasting” era, I am less inclined to care all that much about what the mass of beer writing is broadcasting but this over at Stan’s is a very interesting thing:

This was, and in many cases still is, a familiar story. Hate your job? Become a brewer. This is an example of why J. Nikol Beckham writes in a new collection of essays that “the microbrew revolution’s success can be understood in part as the result of a mystique cultivated around a group of men who were ambitious and resourceful enough to ‘get paid to play’ and to capitalize upon the productive consumption of fans/customers who enthusiastically invested in this vision.” The title of this fourth chapter in Untapped: Exploring the Cultural Dimension of Craft Beer is a mouthful: “Entrepreneurial Leisure and the Microbrew Revolution: The Neoliberal Origins of the Craft Beer Movement.”

My immediate response was it might explain why today’s craft remains so male leisure-class driven:  because the entry to craft may require pre-existing privilege. Peter Pans? Which would also explain all the jockeying for position amongst the commenting classes, that irritation we may be seeing as the theme of mid-2017. Makes sense. Not only is craft beer writing a niche but access to publication and (not always a given) paid publication is as much drawn of that same leisure class as the brewery owners are. I commented to Stan thusly:

Well, I don’t know that we are seeing a lot of cultural analysis of the critical sort that identifies the issue of white, privileged, male and leisured in GBH or elsewhere as most beer writing these days is largely a celebration of the opportunities within this leisure class written by folk largely already in or aspiring to the same class – with, yes, tepid nods to those not in the class but no real suggestion of change. Half the discourse can’t even get on board of an anti-sexist branding movement.

How wonderful. I have had my head in a bit of a funk since the dawn of 2017 trying to get a sense of what was going on – but that is it! No wonder it makes me so uncomfortable.

That Musty Box Of Fuller’s Vintage Ales

First conclusion of the experiment: the boxes are far less mould caked
when not left in a corner of a cold room for a decade.

OK, it wasn’t so bad. I was worried there for a bit but its gonna be OK. Turns out I have doubles. I have leeway. But, come to think of it, this box holds ten years of Fuller’s Vintage Ales, 2007 to 2016 and it’s high time I tucked into them. First, I bought them and tucked in right away. Later, I would do some comparing and contrasting, like the .05 v .10 and the ’06 v ’11 but I didn’t keep it up. I just stock piled.

I used to stockpile. Like those Stone Vertical Epic Ale annual releases. Like the Thomas Hardy ales. I ended up giving away Stone’s 05-05-05 to 12-12-12 more out of a sense of boredom than anything. By the end of the project it was a parody of itself. Reports were that a third were great, a third were fine and a few plain sucked. Such is the path of big US craft. Yet, they gave more joy to those gifted than my THA’s are given me now. Yik. Malt reduced to soy sauce. Hops now only offering the residue left after I boiled down my childhood ’45s. So glad I saved them. So, tonight I begin my attack the box at the back of the cellar.

First up and this Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2015 is not giving me the joy. There’s an astringent green vegetable taste in the middle of my pint where, you know, rosy cheeked English youth gathering in autumn’s harvest should be gamboling… cavorting even. But it’s clear and the colour of a love match between a lump of amber and a chestnut – which I will grant you is a bit of a range. And it raises a good head. As ale it is not fouled. BAer review speak of a wooden bitterness. I get that.  Don’t want it. But I get it. Yet… as it sits it moves from astringent green vegetable to astringent exotic orange-like citrus fruit you couldn’t pronounce but thought you would buy anyway because “hey, it’s Christmas!” and then you find it dried out a bit at the back of the shelf weeks later, closer to February than December. Which is better. I now get some husky grain. I can even see Seville marmalade from here. Even if made by my cray cray great-aunt well past her marmalade glory days. Household helpful hint: open this and let it breath for an hour.

I had to wash both bottles of the 2014. The first one I pulled out was stored upside down and it’s showing a need to sit for a bit. Cloudy. And both have stage one designate substance issues on the box and label. In the mouth, again with the musty staleness. Gonna let it sit a bit but at least its not paying homage to a green pepper. Later. Better. Still maybe infanticide as the flavours have not resolved. There is a hay loft grainy dry as well as a a rich earthiness. If my garden compost tasted like this I’d be ecstatic. Thinking about it, Gouda and mushrooms on toast. That would work well with this. Later still, the narrative is adds a dry stone aspect. I am now walking on a path on a hot day through rocky fields like those in our nearby fine wine region.  The hops after an hour have a rich sweet field herb and mint aspect. I once owned a scythe and an acre garden needing tending. This is taking me back there.

[More later. An on-going project… until it’s all gone.]

A few days later, the 2013. Bottle washed and cap popped. Cold. Canadian cellar in February cold. Gotta let it sit but the first sniff and sip are promising. Cream, grain and rich sweetness.  Unlike its two juniors, nothing off yet. Receding beef brothiness shifting towards sweet stewed apple. But mainly a mouthful of husky graininess. And cream. Brie cream, though. The cream made by the Brie cows. There’s something going on there. A Brie thing. Brie-like. Maybe. Thick viscous stuff. But no earthy brooding and nothing like Seville marmalade. Fresh and open an hour later. A lovely beer.

One more week has passed. The 2012 just opened had a far less challenging bottle. Cold from the final few boxes in the beer cellar it is stunning, exemplifying what I absolutely love about great beers. Masses of cream cut orange marmalade.  I curse 49 year old me for not buying cases and cases of this. Kumquat even. I say that as a man who just this very afternoon roasted two chickens stuffed with kumquats. Just saying. Go eat kumquats if you don’t understand. Tangy, fresh, intense, bright citrus. I am pouring half an inch at a time into a dimpled pint mug and ramming my nose in, sucking the aroma in deeply.  [That, by the way, is how to drink fine beer according to me.] As it warms, the graininess starts to assert itself. So now it is like wholewheat bread with a double cream and marmalade spread. I should be graphing this, with different brightly colour lines tracing the taste every fifteen minutes. I am going to leave it there. I am having a moment. OK… ten minutes later weedy herbal notes as well as a nod to beef broth come out. Stunning.

According To Me: Forget Units, Embrace Millilitres

drunkmdRemember last July when I explained how I actually tasted beer? This is another one of those posts. Not looking to convince you of anything but just to set out what I actually do.

First, let me get this out of the way. One of the oddest things about beer is how it triggers a particular sort of outrage. We see it often in relation to the libertarian response to public safety advocates lobbying for lowering the levels of acceptable blood alcohol for drivers. My rights! The stats are wrong! The lawyers are lining their pockets! We see the same sort of thing when public health officers bring out advice about lowering your alcohol intake. My rights! The stats are wrong! The doctors are lining their pockets! I find these complaints boring and odd. Amateur LLBs meeting amateur MDs. They come across a bit addled or at least conflicted in ways that I don’t get. And a bit like a 1950’s TV ad for smoking. Certainly, killing yourself off early is preferable to killing off others but still… who really is driven to strongly react to folk seeing to reduce, you know, death. I bet these days even aging 1970s rock stars might be more inclined to wonder what a few fewer trips to the cookie jar might have meant to one’s latter years. If booze means that much to you, find something else to care about. Get a hobby. Or a fish. Find happiness in a snowflake FFS.

But… I am not here to point fingers and certainly not name names. Folk live their own lives and can react to these things as they see fit as long as they don’t harm others. Yet there is one thing I think would help immensely with the dialogue generally. Get rid of the idea of the “unit” that the public health advocacy is based upon. It just fogs up the whole discussion. You see it in Canada. You see it in the UK. Here, we still live in the 15 drink universe. In the UK, the outrage is the announcement of the 14 unit week. Yet what is a unit to you? Nothing. You require an online calculator to understand the implications. And no one is looking at one of those mid-session. By creating an arbitrary standard, you do not describe the experience as the people you are advocating to experience it. It muddles and befuddles.

There is a better way. Milliliters of pure alcohol. Let’s stick with Canada as I never could figure out the UK model.* There are 17.05 ml of pure alcohol in a standard 12 ounce standard 5% bottle of Canadian beer. We like standards. Canadians are obsessed with 5% beer. If a beer has only 4.8%, it’s is dishwater. Another at 5.2% is Satan’s route to your soul. We are very regular in these matters. So the prime unit is really 17 milliliters. Which means 15 of them for a Canadian man in a week is 255 ml. A 750 ml bottle of what most call hard liquor (aka spirits) also comes in as another Canadian standard: 40% alcohol. Which means a bottle of hard liquor has 300 ml of pure alcohol. Are you with me? Good. Wine is trickier as wine has a range of strengths. Light whites can be 9% or under while reds commonly top 14%. But they come in 750 ml bottles. So the quick mental calculation is based around three-quarters. Meaning a 750 ml bottle of mid-weight 12% wine has 90 ml of pure alcohol. 17 goes into 90 around five times. Five servings in a bottle of wine. Simple. You see where I am going?

Which means the average standard week recommended drinking per adult is a bit less than a 750 ml bottles of hard liquor or three bottles of wine or 15 bottles of beer. I don’t know about you but not only does that not seem like a small amount – it also does not seem to be equal. I would likely think myself a bit of a loser if I gunned a large bottle of, say, Gordons or Dewars a week. Three bottles of wine each seems a bit much, too, especially as I would be sharing that over the dinner table with another but I suppose I would feel a bit better about splitting a bottle of wine a night than I would being that gin bomber draining alky even if it might cost me twice as much. And, you know, the beer doesn’t seem like all that little at all. I wouldn’t want to have two or three beers a day most days of the week – but, again, I also would not feel like a gin dipso if I had fifteen in a seven day span. I certainly would not be sitting down to go on about the nanny state… in public… on the internet.

If the numbers were put in those simpler terms, stated as normal purchasing sizes over a week it seems to be folk would more easily get the message – pace yourself over time and keep it sensible. Yes, there is the jerk who drains the Gordon’s quart in one sitting as part of his healthy lifestyle but that person is, in fact, the jerk. These guidelines – all guidelines – should in fact come with a jerk disclaimer: “Warning: you are a jerk, you will not do this anyway so don’t bother complaining on your blog about it.” For most other sensible people it might get the point across better. Works for me. Which is all I was wanting to mention.

*Which, yes, I do see that the “unit” in the UK is only 10 ml and you now only should have 14 of them which is quite funny as it means the recommended amount is 140 ml a week as opposed to 255 ml here in Canada or 55% of the Canadian levels. Is that right? I’d be outraged! Unless… well, I bet Stonch is about 55% of one of me. He’s only wee. Maybe that’s it.

How I Actually Taste Beer According To Me

graph1

Once I used the phrase “the theatre of the mouth” and Stan liked the idea. Or maybe just the sound of the phrase. I was thinking about it today for some reason and realized that I had never described what I meant when I thought about this to myself. Well, the phrase itself places one in the seat, the only place that ultimately matters. No one can taste for you anymore than someone can attend a play for you. I was a playhouse usher for years so the analogy works for me.

Having now drawn the graph at dusk by the window, I wonder if it really works sitting there in 2-D. Nine squares through which the sensations move. Tic-tac-toe. I’ll have to think about this more, flavours and textures flitting in and out in order as the grid is traversed from left to right. Spaces between indicating selectivity and articulation. Do I fill it in with coloured pencils? Emoticons? My Little Pony stickers? Or by using it would it become less useful as a concept, a conceit?