A Guide To Maxing Out Your Upcoming #FlagFeb Experience

While I suggested in the last Thursday update that I cannot find much drive within myself to take on the call to celebrate the flagship beers of yore in February I am not being a grump. As you can clearly see to the right, both the shed and I like flags. And I recognize that Master Polk and Mistress Polk, for example, appear to be positively enchanted. The Fuggled folk are all a’giggle. So, it is perhaps useful for me to see what I can do to assist even if I do not jump on the bandwagon. Let’s start with a clarification of terms. Mr. B. wrote this about #FlagshipFebruary on Facebook deep down on a thread:

Flagships are, I think, the beer that formed the foundation of the brewery… not necessarily its current best-seller. I’m sure there are brands that outsell Central City’s Red Racer Pale, for example, but I would certainly list that as the brewery’s flagship. Ditto Deschutes Black Butte.

There are a few things to unpack there. It’s not a beer that founded craft era so much as the brand for each brewery. So the brewery, practically, has to be old and its given candidate brand needs to be something of a survivor. And its not necessarily the most loved today which means you may need to do a little sleuthing unless you are going to stop at Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Sam Adams Boston Lager. So how are you going to do that?

Act like a historian. One handy resource that you can start with are the Past Winners’ records for the Great American Beer Festival. So, if you look at the first awards list you see that in 1983 SNPA was the overall winner while SABL won top dog in ’85 and ’86.  Fine. But look at 1984.  Yakima Brewing won first and second place for an imperial stout and a Scottish ale. Hmm. Now, look at 1987 where SABL won as best “Continental Pilsner” as opposed to “Continental Amber Labers” – really.

The brief study of these records raises a few more questions. Is the brand’s recipe or even branding sufficiently similar now as it was then when it served as a foundation? Were those really the hops they use back then? Are you really experiencing the same thing? Does it even exist? Also, do these flagships actually represent the brewery’s foundation or are they just the lucky ones that now have survived the obstacle course of time, those whims of a succession of a beer fads and trends. Does its current status actually reflect its actual history or is it, like the beak of the finch, the one which by luck could accommodate unforeseen future? Figuring out that might take a little work.

My thoughts? Not that this initiative is any sort of minefield that we will fail at but that this is a great opportunity to consider the relationship between the micro brewing phase of approximately 1983-2003 and the craft phase from 2003 to the present. How much of craft’s history is made up and heavily laced with retrospective rosy coloured glassware? Plenty, I’d say. How much is even based on the lessening status of the great old white male brewery owner? Maybe a bit? So… if you really want to celebrate the actual foundation of the good beer movement, look at the structure of the early medal categories and go get yourself some stout, an amber or a porter. Find a Fuggle.

Use #FlagshipFebruary. Use it to explore and enrich your own understanding. Sours, fruit beer, barrel aging and even heavy hopping are developments largely from later in the second half of the history of your hobby. You may need to accept that what is actually the old and foundational is actually new and novel to you. Which is good. So do it.

 

 

The Last Thursday Beery News Updates For 2018

Not the last updates, just the last Thursday updates.* Don’t hope for much. But, given this my weekly function, is dependent on the efforts of others, well, I blame you. Me, I’ve been getting my calories elsewhere – roastie totties soaked in herby olive oil, fruit cakes and cookies.  And actual pheasant gravy made by me which I am now adding to my diet on a regular basis.** I trust you had your sprouts. Photo of the week, above, is from Old Mudgie of the cat awaiting its sprouts. By the way, I hope you are enjoying your holidays if you are having holidays. And enjoying them more than this sad lad who wrote a letter to The Telegraph.

Matty C in NZ posted his best or favorite of 2018, including beers. Which crystallized a concern of mine. Or at least a question. Like 99% of you, I had no access to most of these drinks. Reviews, as a result, are fairly useless to me practically speaking. I thought about how most pop culture events are defined by mass participation. Being a fan of a musician or a addict for a certain sports team – even a minor league one – means you have something in common with others. Not quite so with good beer. Yet, beer has not quite fragmented into the natural local scene and discourse. There’s a thought for  2019.

Roger Protz shared some wonderful news this week. Black Sheep Brewery of Yorkshire has saved its neighbour the York Brewery by taking it over:

The acquisition, which was facilitated by joint Administrators, Steven Muncaster and Sarah Bell of Duff & Phelps Ltd, builds on a positive year for Black Sheep, which returned to profit in 2018. Andy Slee, chairman of Black Sheep… says: “This acquisition fits perfectly with our strategy of developing our presence in our Yorkshire heartland and owning pubs. 

Black Sheep not only used to show up at the LCBO but it featured on a fabulous episode of the Two Fat Ladies twenty years ago – and I own a York Brewery necktie. So my joy is utterly natural.

Andy Crouch, whose word I generally take, praises a beer podcast of all things. Joe Stange, whose word I generally take, is involvedOne More Road For The Beer focuses on one beer locale at a time and promises not to be about drive-by slightly appropriative beery tourism by people who do not live in the locale.

So much for the eternal revolution:

Police in Greater Manchester have told a pub to take down its picture of Che Guevara, a landlord has alleged. Geoff Oliver, who owns The Sportsman in Hyde, claimed at the weekend that he may face a criminal investigation for displaying a photo of the revolutionary in his pub window.

Apparently complaints had been made about the displaying of an image of a terrorist. Who amongst us have not admired someone that is labeled by another? I assume there are Che Guevara themed pubs hidden up allies and behind trees world wide. And Maggie Thatcher ones, too. I was once a parade spectator in nearby northern NY and witnessed a children’s parade led by someone dressed as Napoleon leading the whole thing! No one got my suggested comparisons to similarly inappropriate 20th century military dictators.

No you don’t, not in Nigeria’s Kano State:

The Kano State government’s Hisbah Board has seized and destroyed more than 30 trailer loads of beer. The board’s Public Relations Officer, Malam Adamu Yahaya, disclosed this in a statement in Kano yesterday. Yahaya said that the cartons of beer were destroyed on Monday evening after interception at Kalebawa on Danbata Road in Dawakin Tofa area.

I might point out that 30 trailer loads is a lot of beer but I think you might have noticed that already. Perhaps related.

Like 87% of the planet, I have been following The Times of London reporter Katie Glass tweeting her travels from Moscow to Beijing which started Christmas Eve as I stuff my gob with fruit cake and sherry. While all her “wows!” over the Siberian landscape only make me ask the question of why this person has never visited northern New Brunswick, I was particularly taken by her photos from a shop at one minor train station stop east of Novosibirsk and the blend of international and national  beer brands in the fridge. Because, I suppose, while I do not care for drive-by slightly appropriative beery tourism by people who do not live in the locale I must like train-by slightly appropriative beery tourism by people who do not live in the locale.

Ontario’s LCBO and The Beer Store have branches open this Boxing Day. I hate this idea. Boxing Day is for panicked scrounging as we lock down all commercial and even community activity. Time was no money exchanged hands from 3 pm on the 24th to 9 am on the 27th. I assumed the dry vermouth industry was behind it, given that was all the liquor that was left by late on the 26th.

As viewed from the outside, US craft stands in existential crisis at year end:

If you needed any further proof of the difficult straits in which the craft beer industry finds itself, look no further than the latest change to the Brewers Association’s definition of craft beer. No longer must a brewery use the traditional ingredients that have laid at the heart of brewing for so long — now it just needs to make beer in some quantity. Otherwise pretty much anything goes.

Exactly: “…just needs to make beer in some quantity…” Sort of a twin, a bookend for the news that regulatory near beer has ended in Colorado.

Bonus Update: pub bans “saboteurs or vegans” and then receives the grief from vegans. No word from saboteurs.

And, well, that is where the year ends for me.  Have a Happy Hogmanay! I hope you don’t get too loaded and embarrassing this New Year’s Eve. Be good instead. I personally expect to be in bed by ten, scarred as I have been, ever since the 12:00:01 AM 1 January 1999 live version of “Auld Land Syne” by Gordon Lightfoot on CBC TV.  The horror…

*Check out Boak and Bailey on Saturday and Stan on New Year’s Eve.
**One frozen $20 bird seems to have made a big contribution to three meals.

My Own Golden Pints For 2018

Spurred on by the demise of The Session, I have this suspicion that beer blogging needs to be a wee bit more intentional about adhering to its own traditions. Like The Session, the Golden Pints were born in the UK during the golden age of beer blogging before anyone had a book contract and no one could sell an article to the press if their life depended on it.  I am pretty sure that I would find a version of my Golden Pints from years past if I hunted through the Wayback Machine (where much of the incidental archives of this blog sits) but Boak and Bailey have restated the format in their thoughts for 2018 so I am going to just poach and adapt their structure and see what I come up with. 

Best English… err… Local Spot. I have to admit that I have a new darling but it is not so much a pub as what really is a gastro pub: Red House West. Inventive food, a great selection of beers with a heaping measure of eastern Ontario craft, a bustling sometimes loud tone, $13 Eggs Benedict on Sundays and its in our end of town. And Labatt 50 always on tap just in case.

Best Establishment Further Afield. Like 2017, I actually did not leave the country this year. Work and college kids have their implications. I have, however traveled and was extremely pleased with Brothers Beer Bistro in Ottawa earlier this month. While not quite Quebecois in its embrace of less traditional ingredients, their two rabbit dishes I tried were fabulous and the beer selection was shockingly good.  

Best New Beer of 2018: Hmm… with so much fad and sideshow with the glitter and the brut and the haze, it really has not been a year with a lot to recommend it in terms of the new entries.  If I were to report on any change to my buying habits it’s the wave of new simple vernacular Ontario ciders made from just Ontario apple juice. Like Forbidden Dry Cider by Coffin Ridge near Owen Sound. And amongst those Millennials I actually know, a far more common preference than anything beer glittery, hazy or sour.

Best Beer Value of 2018: While at Brothers Beer Bistro, I landed first on a $9 CND Rochfort 8, a fantastic price for when one is out. We get this beer brought in by our state monopoly for wines, spirits and most imported beer for under $4 CND (under $3 USA) and is about as fine a value as you are going to find in beer. I would also give honourable mention to Napanee Brewing‘s Blacklist.

Best Blog or Internet Publication: Boak and Bailey. No real challengers. Earnest places like Beer Advocate or GBH might suggest themselves as a supply of beer journalism but never reaches the level the B+B offer seemingly from their kitchen table. Plus they provide the weekly round up, the wit, the history, observational vignettes and many other forms of writing. I suspect these two are actually about seven people backed by some shadowy investment consortium. 

Best Beer Book: There is only one this year, Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out by Josh Noel. Important beer business journalism expressed in very long form without a hint of agenda or interest. Here is my review from July. And it is thoroughly devoid of food pairing suggestions, style guide parroting or three or four figure numbers ending in “1” in the title. 

Best Beer Twitter: It’s a bit boring saying, ho-hum, @thebeernut but he’s really that fun to follow. So, that being said, I am going with Katie of @shinybiscuit – especially for her tweets about Tom. And her ever changing hair colour.

Biggest Brewing News: I think it might be the collapse of North American brewing equipment manufacturer DME if only because (1) they have sold their gear so widely, (2) there is an aspect of the role of Chinese steel in the market that needs greater understanding and (3) I have a suspicion that there is more to the story – something perhaps salacious even – than the early somewhat formulaic explorations at a distance seem to suggest.  As I noted, I know a number of those involved in the circle around the issue but there are some significant gaps still needing to be explained like why was there no provincial business development intervention… and where did all that cash go?

Best Work Done In The Cause Of Good Beer: Lars Garshol. If Boak and Bailey seem to pull of all they do from the kitchen table, Lars never seem to be home. He has discovered and described the entire works of traditional northern European kveik brewing. He is so central to the entire topic that I created #TheLawOfLars and, surprisingly, it almost made sense!

Other comments on 2018: I can’t recommend a magazine or other publication as there seems to have been a definite slump in that area. A bit of a relapse into trade PR for my tastes, no out reasonably due to those involved being constantly on survival mode. Interestingly, there has been a concurrent set changes such as magazines folding, columnists being let go, personal departures from trying to write for pay, personal writing for health reasons. A certain realism struck after years of somewhat irrational exuberance. Yet, still sad for those stuck in the middle of the problem.  

So, there you are my thoughts and, to other beer bloggers, a gauntlet drop. Let’s see what others think about the year gone by.

Session 142: The End Is Over And Now There’s Nuttin’

So, here we are. The end. Stan has asked for one last kick at the can and asks us to consider:

Pick a beer for the end of a life, an end of a meal, an end of a day, an end of a relationship. So happy or sad, or something between. Write about the beer. Write about the aroma, the flavor, and write about what you feel when it is gone.

Beer for an ending? What about the end of beer? Or maybe just the end of a beer. I was never fully convinced by Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting or rather Bernie’s lyrics, the wanting to rock, the wanting to get a belly full of beer:

A couple of the sound that I really like
Are the sounds of a switchblade and a motorbike
I’m a juvenile product of the working class
Whose best friend floats in the bottom of a glass…

It seemed a bit 1970s comfy rec room faux dystopian. But I remember it every time I look down at the dregs. Now often sated, even with a little relief. When I was young maybe a bit of tension. Tastes like another but wondering if I could afford a next… and a next. Goodbye to all that? To my surprise, over 15 years of this beer blogging seen many endings. The long goodbye. Endings I had not anticipated. People coming into view and then some time later departing, stage left. Switching to PR, quitting writing, quitting beer, moving along, falling apart, passing away.

A beer for all that? Clearly Orval. Simon H. Johnson‘s passing was over five and a half years ago now. He loved his Orval. And he had one Derby Bimble before he left. Amazingly, his blog is still all there. It’s hard to describe how influential he was, how his cheery insistent popping of each and every balloon was what we, what I wanted to read. If I could find a bottle of Orval I would have it now, before morning coffee. But this is Canada so I can’t just get one when I want it. Oh, sorry… this is a beer blog. There. Wonder what’s at the bottom.

It’s Your Mid-October Beer News For A Thursday

Another Thursday, another week of watching the ticker tape of tweets go by. I turn 55 and 1/2 today. Because it’s my brother’s birthday and he was born a year and a half to the day before me. That’s some sort of news. Or at least cause to buy myself a treat. I bought one yesterday, a carrot pale ale from the Oakville, Ontario branch of the 3 Brasseurs brewpub chain. It was quite yum.  Lovely and thick like a medieval beer fan would want.

The really big news this week was, I suppose, the death of All About Beer magazine, as wonderfully eulogized… almost pre-eulogized, in fact… by Jeff:

…as recently as a couple years ago, the magazine was in the midst of its most impressive period of content. The magazine looked great and Holl had the best writers in the business working on excellent, deeply-reported stories. The design of the magazine—never its strength—was also rich and interesting. And, Holl told me, “Even as online news became the standard, when I was editor we saw print subscriptions rise.” The problem wasn’t editorial—it came from the business side.

This blog was in AAB a few times for which I am entirely grateful. The old Christmas photo contest was supported by the magazine during the Julie Johnson Daniel Bradford era with prize packages and the winning entry even published on a couple of occasions. I also think a book review written by Holl of Ontario Beer graced its pages. If I had any complaint it was how, at a critical moment, a lot of the attention granted to the writings of beer bloggers was transitioned four or five years ago into those AAB blog columns – for which the writers were certainly paid but it also set up the expectation that there was money in writing about beer. I have not only thought this belief to be suspect but also undermines excellent amateur writing where I find the depths are actually explored. But, even if that was true…even if my semi-snark had a point, there was certainly no lack of nobility in the efforts behind publishing AAB all those years and many previously isolated writers were encouraged as a result. It is a loss to us all. Where will its digital archives go?

Ben has written about another sort of ending, his speculations starting on the wrong track upon hearing the news of what ended up being the retirement of the last of the three founders of Ontario’s Steam Whistle:

My tweet that started a conversation today predicted today’s Steam Whistle announcement might be about either a buy-out or a cannabis venture. And while that’s not what this announcement was, in light of Heaps’ departure, I actually feel a little more strongly that one of those outcomes might now be possible. Big beer companies tend to have better luck putting a dollar amount to a brewery when the people who built that brewery aren’t around any more…

If you don’t follow the tweets of @BarMas you are missing his adventures in German village life including his recent morning out in the orchard with his odd semi-tractor thingie, illustrated under the thumbnail to the right, gathering apples so that he can make insane amounts of cider. We all need odd things that keep us sane. Being odd is good. Me, I like tweed and I buy flags off some guy in India who gets them off cutting yard ships. Barry’s include this green semi-tractor. What are yours? You better find one or two or you will just mainline beer obsession, which is never good. Beer needs companion oddnesses to keep it in its place.

Conversely, what is the value of excitement over an experience only one in a billion can enjoy? If its enjoyable at all, that is. So, beyond self-affirmation through defeating the fear of losing out appears to be self-affirmation through abandoning the fear of losing out through accepting… losing out:

The Macallan 60-Year-Old 1926 takes this rarity to a higher level and is the zenith for collectors of The Macallan whisky. Sir Peter Blake (the renowned artist responsible for the album cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) and Valerio Adami were asked to design a label each for this special bottling, and 12 individually numbered bottles from each artist were released. 

Perhaps relatedly, I was never so pleased to read about a pediococcus infection as when I was reading tweets between Garrett O. and Lars G. on the subject:

This is a pediococcus infection. The bacteria forms a mucilaginous substance in the beer, often forming long strands. The old term for such beer is “ropy”. In lambics, this substance is eventually broken down by Brett. In the meantime (or otherwise) horrible.

See, Lars finally met a beer made with kveik (actually a muri) that he did not like. Thick in the way an ale should not be thick. And I, as a result, finally learned exactly what “ropy” means… after reading about it for years in all those pre-modern texts.

The talk of cask goes on. Matt C took some exception in fact to some of the talk of cask:

Cask ale is no more difficult to make than any beer. Good cellar-ship with cask, like with keg, is a skill, and requires due care and attention, but it’s not that difficult. As wonderful as it is, I wish people would stop romanticising a dispense method in this manner.

Well, it is more than dispense but it is romanticized. Care of the cellar is fundamental to the success of the dispense. And being careful and taking time is not something we value as we should. As we should value tweed, orchards and flags salvaged from scows beached on an India ocean scene. But not too much. Jack Duckworth kept a cellar, after all. Besides, what’s so bad about layering on a little romance?

You know, saying a sad goodbye to All About Beer isn’t over romanticizing things either. Nor admiring the semi-tractor in a field Teutonic. Baking a mash and knowing it’s keptinis and not kveik isn’t romanticizing either, even if its a bit nerdy. We are all nerds. We are folk who might admire a vintage bus rally now and then. Accept it. Me, I have just cut and pasted a whole bunch of links related to early North American colonies and especially the failed 1587 colonizing expedition by Sir Humphrey Gilbert, all to see if I can coax enough for a nerdy post out of it all. The romance of it all is real even if there is an ultimate lack of substance. Or is there? Perhaps this is all what is real.

I’ll have to think about that when I am not day dreaming about 1587 over the week ahead. I hope you have something to fill the idle hour until then, too. As you do, check out Boak and Bailey for more beer news on the weekend. That’ll help.

Finally – A Quiet Week In Beer Thursday Links

Quiet. So quiet Stan is taking a month off. You know what he does in these little gaps of his? Not judging. No. Not me.  It’s election time in Ontario all of a sudden but, again like in 2014, I expect a quiet sleepy time for beer as debating point on public policy. That is our current Premier Kathleen Wynne performing the obligatory pouring of the beer back in the last 2014 campaign. Oddly, she chose an iconic brand from another province far far away. I shall make no such error. I am announcing my committment to offering you the best politicians pouring beer photos throughout the next month of campaigning.

Was it really quiet this week? OK, there were some spats. Folk not liking folk calling folk out. I don’t get into these personality things much so I can’t speak to the dynamics. These are all strangers to me. And then there was that whole “Monday of the Glitter Beer” argie-bargie. While there are good intentions involved, my position remains clear:

I really should have written “silly” and not “stupid”* for niceness’s sake… but my point would have really been the same. You dull a beer with murk and then add adulterating if likely benign elements to make up for the loss of beer’s natural jewel like gleam? But isn’t the real thing folk should understand is that it just doesn’t matter at all? I was a bit surprised by the glitter as a thing women use association argument as I think of glitter as a thing children use. Stuff on the craft shelf like the Elmer’s glue and construction paper. Hmm. Maybe it helps to be Canadian with pals in upstate New York. Let me explain. In upstate New York, adults eat hot dogs. I get it. I even do it when I am there. There is a rich history of ultra-local hot dog loyalties. But in Canada hot dogs are the food of a child. Like racing all a giggle towards a teeter-totter in the park. Or excitedly wearing a new ball cap with Thomas the Tank Engine.** That’s what hot dogs are. And glitter. Doesn’t mean its not worth taking pleasure in. Fill your boots! [I understand folk like to play “name the hops in the beer” too.] Frankly, any reason for a good schism is reason enough for me.

Jordan has been quiet. Now he says he will no longer be as quiet.

Hmm. Even though I have unjustly received the sting of the Protz, this situation is a bit odd.  A newspaper… well, a newspaper-like-thing sneakily reconstructing an apparently new interview and story from an old interview and story. How odd.

What else is going on? Kara Loo and Kelissa Hieber posted a good summary of events at this year’s US Craft Brewers Conference from the positive party line point of view. I say US even though the BA seems to be silently absorbing the Ontario craft movement and maybe other Canadian craft brewing regional discussions. Is that happening elsewhere, too? Me, I find the “Stronger Together” stuff a bit weird. One ring to rule them all. Who would have thought independent and small mean homogenization and centralized authority? Jeff likes “independent” but I just don’t get it at all. Hard to think of a vaguer word to frame a potentially stalling trade’s rebranding campaign around.

There is a good reason no one goes to watch three-legged races. The rope tying up the participants. I think of that often when I read folk trying to describe the economics of craft brewing while carefully avoiding any discussion of the owners’ take from these businesses. It’s all very well to tell sad tales of the actual hardships families of brewing staff face but why is that not partnered with the story of the lifestyles, cottages and fishing boats of the established and emerging craft brewery owners?

Speaking of quiet, will what might have been called in the 1950s or 60s eastern mystical mindfullness and beer be a thing? Well, it is a thing already – one that’s called “laying off the hootch” but you see my point, right? Andrew Jefford poses the question as it relates to wine in this way:

I would simply point out that there are, in fact, many points of similarity between the general practice of mindfulness and that of wine tasting.  You can indeed be a mindful wine taster; wine tasting at its most subtle and rewarding is a ‘mindful’ activity par excellence.

I get it. It’s about the immediacy of now. But I just end up having a good nap when I am achieve this sort of state of mind. Or staring at an ant crawling through the lawn. Up and down the blades of grass. Or reading a few travel posts by Ron. Why add alcohol? Isn’t the cool spring air sweet enough?

The Low House in Laxfield, England has been bought by the community just eleven years after it was the subject of a post on this here blog. Just eleven years. Coincidence?

Another month, another stage in the  case of Stone v. Keystone… and this is the point in the litigation that the non-lawyers eye will start to glaze over. See, Stone has moved to dismiss the counterclaim rather than answer it with a statement of defense to the counterclaims. Got it? Bored yet? You know, I took Civil Procedure from Tom Cromwell, a wonderful professor who later became a judge of the Supreme Court of Canada… and even I am getting a bit bored. Mind you, I think it was a Friday 8:30 am class so I likely only went maybe once every five weeks. As always, legal brain*** Brendan in Syracuse unpacks the situation.

Not beer: Living Colour.

Oh – and I did have a few beer.**** I especially am enjoying a small stash of Brouhaha, a nut brown ale from Refined Fool out of Sarnia over by Michigan. Lovely. He who is tired of nut brown ale is tired of life.

That’s it. Laters.

*I did poll the drinking age women in our house and they did go with “stupid” so…
**Not to mention, giving equal time,  1 Corinthians 13:11.
***He is such a brain.
****Remember – in Canada, the plural of “beer” is “beer” – like moose. OK?

The Session 135: Recollections Of Beer Things Lost

For this month’s edition of The Session, Alistair Reece of Fuggled has answered the emergency alarm as Boak and Bailey have put it so well:

The Session, when bloggers around the world get together to write on the same subject, is a fragile thing, only ever one dropped ball away from disappearing altogether. This month’s was looking dicey until Al at Fuggled stepped in heroically to save the day, proposing for Session #135 the topic ‘Sepia Tones’….

You cannot be as much a crank as I am without having a solid point of reference for comparison. Actually, I don’t accept all that “Al the Curmudgeon” stuff by the way. In fact just this week, while watching  Rowan Atkinson in a much delayed broadcast of the first episode of Maigret this week, I was struck  by how much like his portrayal of the main character I am.  Much more the cool yet vulnerable observer of life who plays a quiet role keeping you all somewhat safer while, myself little observed, I move down wide chestnut-shaded avenues like him wearing fantastic grey flannel suits and fedora leaving the scent of modest yet fabulous pipe tobacco floating behind me. Knowing that… it is sad – or perhaps just self-congratulatory – that I used up the title “À La Recherche Du Bière Perdu” in March when I was contemplating a then mouth full of stitches so I can’t even layer this post with an entirely appropriate Proustian gloss as that would be repeating myself.  And I would not want to do that. My new inner Maigret would not do that.

Memory, as I learned in my days twenty years ago when I worked as a criminal defense lawyer initially of little brain, exists in the present and in the mind. We are bits and pieces gathered together in a shape like sea glass in a jar. A 8 mm film replaying a record of the past crudely spliced and haphazardly edited with our own conscious interjection only half guiding the process. We are in ourselves a fiction. Which is, one might suggest, why we drink. Not so much to forget as to pleasantly fill in the gaps. Which may be what Alistair is alluding to when he asks us to “get melancholy, drag up memories of good times gone by, and join us in this month’s Session.

The fiction we find each ourselves placed within is not all that different from the fiction good beer finds itself in. Today’s false claims of pink sludge in a stemmed glass, the phony history and personality cult aggrandizement driven and jockeying with the story tellers’ middle aged cramped ambitions for a reasonable retirement which outstretch any realistic opportunity for most.  The sins of a pleasure trade are always laced with compromise and money making. Was it better when I was young, pure and fresh? When discovery was in fact possible, when the new brewing was laced with something actual new?  I don’t know.

I can only know that it was my youth. Perhaps. The gang of pals out in our regular loud hot Halifax port city taverns. The bars in foreign lands. My first tripel served in a dimpled mug in a beer of the world outfit in France in my twenties when, again, backpacking through cheap hotels and hostels. My father passing me a half-pint of shandy in Ely in 1977 when I was 14 and, again, him handing me a full pint of cold lout three years later in a pub on Sauchiehall Street down from the sports store up the stairs, the same pub that I walked past three years ago but didn’t enter for fear of both having that memory disturbed and re-edited and, honestly, also the fear of a pub like that in Glasgow late on a Saturday afternoon after all the matches are over.

The sepia tones cannot fix certain things. Not the cringing inducing dumb things done when young, the thin boasts made to and of oneself, hovering too late at night or too late in life at the party. Those bits of medical advice recommending changes one picks up as the years pass. And, if we are honest, sepia can’t improve upon another clear headed early Saturday’s morning coffee enjoyed now far more often than a Friday night out at my age.

Does beer every actually grow up? Can it? Or is it a cheap Peter Pan promise of the Neverland injection that should last a few hours but, if you are unwise, the very thing that can trap you for years… or more… or even less.  But there I go again, post-Bean observing.

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.