Your Thursday Beer Newsy Notes For Six Weeks From Autumn

I miss corduroys. Don’t you? Eight months a year they are your best pal. One day a year they feel like your lower half is actually a roast chicken in a plastic bag baking in a 450F oven. I haven’t seen a leaf turn yet but the grapes out front are starting to ripen into show purple. The barley was ripened in the fields when I visited MacKinnon Brothers Brewing on Monday. I haven’t fully captured above how literally golden the fresh cut stalks were – pretty much beer-coloured.* There were a few big beer stories this week but none more important than a good barley crop coming in. Some are not so lucky.

Jeff created a lovely portrait of a small shaded corner. Boak and Bailey found a similar scene from 60 years ago. If there is one thing I like as much as the surprise hue of cut barley it’s scenes like these of actual people and how they enjoy their beer.

Here in Ontario, the big news is how the new Provincial government has launched a “buck-a-beer” initiative – including by lowering the minimum price to, you got it, one dollar. The response has not been a warm one from craft brewers and commentators. Great Lakes Beer spoke to CBC Radio while others were interviewed on TV news broadcasts. Jordan took some time before his UK-Euro vacation to set the tone, explaining how the policy change makes little business sense. Crystal pointed out how one brewery, Dominion City, is responding by donating a dollar from every sale to immigration agencies. Other efforts from the charitable to sarcastic response are underway. I’m sure this one is going to build towards the promised release of the new cheap beer for Labour Day. Question: wouldn’t that beer have to have been in production before the policy announcement?

I don’t recall ever craving no-lo alcohol beer other than to cut beer down to 2.5% or so by pouring half and half. Dad liked it as it was a way to get around his diabetes medications. Not sure the new wave of tasty water would fit any particular one of my needs but that is me.

Beer fests. I found the idea of not taking photos of drunk people a bit weird. Why not other than it’s tawdry. Fest organizers and the drinkers put themselves in positions of risk voluntarily. A few images might load social media with something opposing that other weirder idea promoted by the industry – people not drinking craft beer to get drunk. In other fest news, Ben asked if folk were willing to spend $120 for a three hour drinking session. Not a chance, I said. And James B. reported on the continued sexist crap at the GBBF. So… drunken, expensive and being stuck in the same room as sexist pigs. Not exactly my kind of fun. And it’s all a shame when I think of someone like the Tandyman behind the scenes, working to ensure these sorts of things don’t go on.

I really enjoyed this perspective from BeerAdvocate on wholesale beer buying in the US craft market. Thirty years ago I was a wholesale produce trader for a bit and the story rings true, especially the need to respond to demand rather than try to set trends at the supply side of the equation. Consider this:

“The guy at the shop asks, ‘Where are you opening?’ I tell him and he says, ‘Oh, you’re going to be selling gospel music.’ I was an alternative, metal, New Wave kind of guy. I thought, ‘I’ll never sell gospel music!’ I opened my fledgling store with no money and three or four of the first 10 people in the door asked for gospel music. Guess how long it took before I started selling gospel music?” That experience stuck with Singmaster. “You set something up, but then you follow what the customers do if you’re smart,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what I like or what you like… it only matters what the customers [do].”

When I express my unhappiness with the concept of beer “curation” go back and read that passage.

Ed gave us this bit of fabulousness: “Not everyone like lambic…

That’s it for this week. No need to link to the usual bland beer travel puff, beer pairing puff or puff-packed beer style announcements. A shorter summary of the news as you would expect from early mid-August but still enough real news to keep it interesting. Don’t forget to tune in to the internets for Boak and Bailey every Saturday and Stan on Mondays.

*Really? No, I had no idea. Thanks so much for the feedback!

As July Turns To Face August These Are Your Thursday Beer News Stories

Last weekend saw the family head off to the Big Smoke for a Pixies and Weezer combo concert at an outside venue at the west end of  Lake Ontario. It was great. Stinking hot. 15,000 people. Me and a lot of other old guys having a scream-along to “This Monkey’s Gone To Heaven” and “Hash Pipe” which was great. The scene, the Budweiser Stage at Ontario Place,  was an absolute fleece-fest: a tall boy of Bud Light Radler selling for about 15$. I had a Bud with my bland black bean burger before the show. Ice cold it went down like an icy cold Bud. Which was great until it warmed to about 5C after a couple of minutes and then it got, you know, not so great.

I wasn’t really following up on Andy’s idea of taking time to try a classic this summer when I had that Bud. I wasn’t in a place where Bud existed when three decades ago so it does not fill a personal space like that. Not my classic. It’s gas station cooler 1990s New England road trip scenery to me. The beer I passed up. But I did have an old favorite on Friday… and it was an odder experience. Hennepin, which I have enjoyed since at least 2005, showed up in my local LCBO for about $11 for a 750 ml (behind a far worse label… updated branding fail.) I was up for this. We were having a slab of salmon for supper. But it was not the beer I wanted. Hot and heavy even though it was perfect eight years ago on another hot summer night. It’s not like the beer was off. It was lovely. It was just way more than fit my interests, my needs. Am I turning into a target for the low-no movement? What do I actually want?

Jonathan Surratt wins (or perhaps poaches) the “Shaming the Worst of Craft” award with week with the news he shared embedded in that photo to the right. Some gawdawful craft bar somewhere is serving beer in bowls. Could you imagine being served that? Do they serve the food in flute glasses? Do they expect people to pay with actual money? Boo!

Ben notes how a single beer craft brewery putting out a fairly acceptable product that sells well has created another single beer craft brewery to make a fairly acceptable product that sells well. I think of these things like I thought of the music of The Carpenters when I was in my teenage punk phase in the latter 1970s.  They made music that was safe enough for parents who did not like discussing bad things. Like “why Alan is listening to all that swearing?” Mind you, my folks didn’t listen to The Carpenters so I am not sure I will bother buying this beer. Especially as “bugle” is actually a well-known euphemism for beer induced gastric issues.

Is this #ThinkingAboutDrinking? I suppose the idea of thinking is that it’s not about being all positive, just supportive. Fight!

Now this is great: a service to us all. The current big craft and macro craft family tree. Then updated for more detail. Nice to see honesty in the placement of breweries like Sam Adams, BrewDog, Brooklyn and Founders in their natural state. Speaking of Sammy A, sweet dissection by Jeff of another slightly… smarmy GBH post* on the supposed risk of Jim Koch somehow losing status. The lack of institutional knowledge is amazing. Jeff’s point: “when Boston got too big, BA changed the definition.” My point was how Koch was actually an outsider to the main micro/craft movement, which Josh Noel noted and “Sex with Sam” confirmed. Why do we have to fudge things rather than knowing and writing about the actual history of the craft beer movement?

How to sit on a fence.

This is either a story about art v. the regulation of alcohol or it is a story about arts management not grasping the need to find a venue with a stage with a normal licence. I love the “Toronto the Good” half-news in the footnote:

Editor’s note: The Tarragon Theatre has now relaxed their rules for this particular show. Patrons are now able to buy beer up until show time.

AKA: accept what you have been granted.  In other Ontario drinks sales regulation news, Robin has written about how for a few weekends she worked as a beer selection advice giver in one of the few grocery stores with a limited alcohol sales licence.  The role and the context may appear odd. It may well appear odder still as the new provincial government has promised beer and wine** in every corner store! Mind you, the promise has no details. But it may well be that the brave new world promised in 2015 will have a best before date of maybe 2018. So, Robin’s notes may well end up being a valuable set of observations on the state of affairs at the front line in which turns out to be a transitional period. Fabulous information for the future beer regulation historian.

Brendan has shared news that:

files opposition versus beer (and other beverages) trademark application for STONEMILL

With so many breweries using the five letters “s-t-o-n-e” is no one going to point out to the courts how this “just waking up to the news that there are intellectual property claims to be made” approach might be a tad selective on the plaintiff’s part? BeerAdvocate lists 3267 beers or breweries with the letters in that order in their name. Because it is as common as a very common thing. If I don’t associate “Firestone” or “Stone City” with Stone why would “Stonemill” confuse me?

Let’s conclude our collective cogitations this week with a few thoughts about wine writing from Jon Bonné, Senior Contributing Editor with Punch wegazine:***

We assumed experts are meant to provide some kind of road map through an unknowable, confusing realm. We’re expected to help you find a bottle for dinner, and not complicate the conversation. But that has led us, at a time when wine is more interesting than ever, to trivialize its cultural value. We’ve sacrificed context—I mean real critical context, not the fanboy literature that passes for too much wine writing today—for comfort and a sense of belonging. I think Bourdain might look at the situation and point a blaming finger at many of us for failing to explain why one wine is worth more than another, or why certain wines are culturally suspect because they’ve been made with cynical motives. (Big wine companies love when we abandon context for the blind pursuit of deliciousness. Context is the enemy of fake-artisan wine, after all.)

The piece is interesting as it builds on the loss of Bourdain and that irritatingly bland idea of “woke” to get to the notion that context and value are important. It’s a bit too toggle switch for me. Things are complex even if fakers are all around. And I am already a bit sad to see Bourdain being used as a prop for the arguments of others. But I like the call to deeper learning. Hence #ThinkingAboutDrinking.

Upcoming week? The second half of baseball begins. Six or seven weeks until school starts. Use the time you have left wisely. As part of your path to wisdom consider stopping for a pause with Boak and Bailey on Saturday and again after the weekend with Stan next Monday. Laters!!

*Time for an incidental graphics update, too. Keep it fresh.
**Hard liquor, as we call it here, will remain at the surprisingly good LCBO, our government store.
***It actually calls itself “PUNCH” in shouty all-caps… but is font really identity? I mean if it was PUNCH would i have to italicize it? 

 

 

Session 137: In 2005, I Had Seven Hefeweizens

One of the great things about the internet is the Wayback Machine. When I had to do some fancy footwork in 2016 to move the content of 13 years of two blogs in a matter of weeks, I spent hours and hours determining what I needed to save before the deadline hit and the server was unplugged. Months later I learned that it had all been saved, warts and all, care of the Wayback Machine, part of the Internet Archive project.

Which makes this entry for this month’s edition of The Session – ably hosted by Roger’s Beers – a few things: (1) a reminder that internet beer writing did not start in 2013 or so, (2) a celebration of non-fruit filled or gak-laced adulteration of a style and (3) a reminder that a fairly broad range of the style was available to Ontarians 13 years ago. Wow. Look at those photos. I really cared. Wow. Look at those spelling mistakes I just fixed. I really didn’t care all that much.

++++++++++

A real surprise was in store when I hit the LCBO the other day preparing for a dinner party on a stinking hot summer Saturday. They had actually brought in a bunch of extra hefeweizens, southern German wheat ales with a measure of yeast left in.

Rogue Half-E-Weizen: a loose rich white head falls to a white skim leaving generous lace over a slightly cloudly yellow straw body. Coriander and hops balance well, their bittering leaving some astringency while the lightly creamy yeast with its presence of banana intercedes. A medium light version of the style without the German commitment to full bore clovey creamy goodness. $5.05 for a 22 oz bottle.

Erdinger Weizen: I am a little unsure if this is a real hefeweizen as the labeling is “weissen” but the little neck sash says “mit feiner hefe in der flasche gerfeift” which in my hack German I take as “with fine yeast left in the bottle”. Even with that the nature of this beer still leaves me wondering a bit. White foam over cloudy yellow leaving no lacing. Light body without the phenol of banana or spice that indicate the style. A clean cream yeast without complexity but very refreshing.

Schneider Weisse: This is the business. One of my favorite beers that for some reason screams “lunch” with a cold cut sandwich. How many things scream that in life? It is rich and creamy good with lots of cloves and banana. A fine white head over medium brown with almost a greyish tinge. As befits the style, very moreish and heat-wave cutting.

Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen: this hefeweizen pours a tall egg white meringue over cloudy straw ale. A layer of hop astringency cuts and to a degree hides the yeasty phenol of banana and clovey nutmeg. Not as rich as others from Germany in the style though richer than the American cousins here. Lemony grapefruit in the finish.

Edelweiss Weissbier Hefetrüb: white foam over dark yellow or light brown cloudy ale. Simply lovely. Lighter than the Schneider Weisse with a lemony brightness it does not share. Clove aroma and banana-clove in the mouth. The brewery has had only 530 years to get it right. Clean finish with a nice drying hop astringency.

Saranac Hefeweizen:I am quite surprised by the quality of this beer. Not as creamy a yeast strain as the others but much truer than the other US version of the style from Rogue above and Harpoon’s version tasted in April. It would be worth comparing to Paper City’s Cabot Street. White fine rocky head over cloudy straw coloured beer. Quite pronounced clove over banana. Worthy yet the label says limited edition.

Hacker-Pschorr Hefe Weisse: The last of this set, perfect on a summer warm evening with a game from Fenway on the tubes, soothing to aches and pains from old timers soccer. Neither lemony or particularly creamy, this is quite a grainy rendition of the style with both banana and clove as supporting class. Massive rich white head over cloudy dark straw beer verging on orangey. There is something savory as well in the palate, making me thing of soaking a pork roast in this one. Of the selection above, most like the Rogue with that beer’s untraditional use of coriander but the notes of spice here are in the yeast. Another amazing expression and, for what it is worth, one of the best logos in all of commercial trade.

What an enjoyable inquiry. Hefeweizens are, what, the Rieslings of ale? Like Rieslings with their minerally edge, hefes take a little time to learn about but they are a world unto themselves. And they both go with sausage and sauerkraut – a beer for both summer and fall.

The First Thursday’s Beer New For World Cup 2018

I have to admit, few of my teams made it. I think sports allegiance needs a personal or familial connection. Land of my birth, Canada? Never had a chance. Land of my fathers and mothers, Scotland? Squandered any chance they had. Hmm… I worked in the Netherlands in 1986… but they didn’t make it. So POLAND! Aka “land of love” where me and herself met in 1991. That’ll do. Right? Except… it’s now slipping deeper under a super-simmering nationalist movement. Hmm. Gotta think about this theory of mine.

Note: Moscow might not have enough beer for the World Cup. Nizjnij Novgorod doesn’t either. The lads above might be less happy soon. Related: Beavertown Brewery is dependent on an dwindling artificial CO2 supply. Other craft brewers, too.  I love these unknown traditional aspects of craffy beer. Let them drink cask!

Elsewhere, supplies are abundant. Jeff triggered a fulsome discussion on Twitter on Monday on the word “godesgood” and whether it was used all that often. Like the mythical “no one drank water before public health” line, there are many familiar fibs that are rightly challenged. My contribution was in favour of barm, including this quote from a 1430s text:

For, whan the ale was as fayr standyng undyr berm as any man mygth se, sodenly the berm wold fallyn down that alle the ale was lost every brewyng aftyr other, that hir servawntys weryn aschamyd and wold not dwellyn wyth hir.

Almost 600 years ago. Nothing to be ashamed about this year’s British #NationalBeerDay, which unlike the 217 other national beer days every year, gave us at least this great photo set of the first four actors to play Doctor Who having a beer.

Apparently, according to the brewers the only way to return to cheap beer in Ontario is to lower taxes. Except, even if you do that, Ontario brewers are not interested in making cheap beer.

Warning: this article in The Guardian on the US starting to embrace British ale brewing requires readers to be completely unaware of the brewing of good beer by microbrewers and craft brewers from the late 1970s to the early years of this decade during which years the craft beer movement was largely driving by cloning the styles of Europe including, largely, the ales of Britain.  Example: Clark’s… oh, and hundreds of other places.

Ugly news from what had been one of my favourite local wineries – and an apology in response with some details about the greater response. Reaction. Reaction.

Far less seriously, these two tweets by very thoughtful people remind me again how – like “pairing” – I could not care less about beer label design other than (seriously again) to get rid of all the sexist, racist and otherwise bigoted content one finds on them. Honestly, I have a very hard time thinking of a label that gives any sort of Pavlovian effect, triggering the memory of a flavour one might find within the container. But I only speak of me. I judge no one. I suppose that comes with me being of an age when there were fifty brands and one flavour of beer. I find artsy labels just force me to squint more to figure out what is actually on offer. They are the Flash animation laced intro web pages of the beer world. Still – more signal, less noise please.

Lastly but somewhat related, Andy has spotted a wee trend that I can’t figure out whether it is signal or noise. Brewers are ditching “born on” dating for “best before” due to obsessives looking for only the very newest batches – even if it means engaging in style infanticide.

There you have it. A shorter post for a bit of a quieter week – some interesting news, some tough news. But mainly a week of international kicky ball, drinky beer. More will be revealed in the coming days. Especially if you take to time to catch up with Boak and Bailey on Saturday and then Stan on Monday.

The Post Victoria Day Blues Edition Of Your Beery News Notes

Erg. I have post Victoria Day general body disorder. When one is a young adult in Canada, the May 2-4 weekend can lead to the three day hangover version of VDGBD but in my case it is merely a case of too much gardening. Joining the overwintered leek, kale, parsley, parsnip, garlic and green onion are new seedlings of red lettuce, beets, basil, romaine and radish. Hoeing and mulching and mowing and digging sessions along with timid pruning of the Pinot Noir filled the weekend after which a few well placed Sam Roberts Band ales from my local Spearhead brewery store hit the spot. I have no comment on the concept of the collaboration as that only affects what is outside the can as opposed to inside but as a nice brown ale at 4.5% it did the trick.

Gardening was on my mind in another way this week. If you don’t read the wine writer Jancis Robinson you are missing something. I say wine writer but for my money she is the best drinks writer working today. Consider this column she wrote on “premox” or premature oxidation as currently found in premium white Burgundies. There is a massive raft of information embedded in the writing  including very firm opinion – “One wine, a Boyer-Martinot Meursault Charmes, was as dead as a dodo…” to details on how global warming might affect the value proposition as to grape growing acreage in the Burgundian geography. Fabulous. When I tell Stan that wine making, for me, is at least as complex as brewing, this (along with working my own current second vinyard-ette) is what I mean.

Book news. Jeff says Barrel Aged Stout and Selling Out, the new history of Goose Island by Josh Noel, is a something of revelation, framing important things for we who are sitting as we are now here in this one year seemingly just minutes after the era of the great craft buy-outs:

Throughout the book, people on both sides think there’s a way to square this circle, to bring the best of craft and big beer together. The second half of BASSO lays bare why that was never possible. The good and bad of each approach are actually just the positive and negative qualities of the same thing. It’s just not possible to be both revolutionary and cautious. As the story plays out, these cultures clash, and one comes out triumphant.

Sounds pretty fabulous. Go buy the book.

Blogs are back! As with Jordan two weeks ago, ATJ renews his pledge to his blog and post a tale.  Blogging is totally back, baby. Jordan has even doubled his output with this tale of salty nuts. Totally. Back.

From the twitter feed “Picture this Scotland” comes this view of Glasgow in 1980:

Better than a Bill Forsyth film, that up there. Memories flood in. I remember my father when I was seven giving us a tour of the areas of Glasgow which were still bombed out from the war. Up there with the time when I was fourteen he took us to the square in his hometown of Greenock at noon on a Tuesday to watch the drunk men eat mittfuls of chips while simultaneously falling down. Did I mention Dad was a minister of the cloth? Note: The Squirrel has some history and seems to still be… active.

Well… except for there being no beer in California in 1927 and there being plenty of US dark lager both before and after prohibition…

The Chicago Tribune published an excellent article in the form of real beer business journalism on the fall and possible rise of Constellation’s billion dollar bauble, Ballast Point, a beer brand for me which always screamed “price too high!” for the quality one received. Apparently others agreed:

Michigan-based Founders Brewing Co., best known for its lower-priced, lower-alcohol All Day IPA, was roughly the same size as Ballast Point in 2015, but could end up shipping twice as much beer to wholesalers this year. Founders CEO Mike Stevens called the Ballast Point decline a “perfect storm” of high price point — a six-pack of Sculpin regularly sold for $15 — and what he believes to be a fading trend in fruit-flavored IPAs. “They were obviously just screaming to the top of the peak, riding that price point, riding their fruit IPAs. … Right when that (deal) went down, we kind of all knew that they were going to have to fix the price points because the consumers were going to lose interest,” Stevens said.

Mmm… fruit beer. Expensive fruit beer… Not sure I need a resurrection of that anytime soon. What’s next? Andy is lobbying for a gimmick free summer. That would be nice.

Conversely, news out of central New York… err… the Capital Region… finds the clock actually being turned backwards as a bricks and mortar brewery, Shmaltz reverts* to being a contract brewer – just as they had been prior to 2013. I was a regular buyer of their beer a decade or more ago so it’s certainly a brewer whose brands never suffered from someone else owning the steel. Happy story likely in the making. Maybe?

Ales Through the Ages II looks fabulous. Might I get there?

Ontario election time beer update! Suddenly serious contenders to lead the next government, the New Democratic Party, might review the rather slim introduction of beer, cider and wine into a handful of grocery stores across the province. Current Premier and solidly slipping third-place candidate Kathleen Wynne says expanding beer to more privates stores is just… just… well, “it’s not sensible”! And Doug “Did I Just Peak Early?” Ford says – beer sales everywhere! That ain’t happening but at least, as shown above, he wins the prize for the first beer pour at an election stop, part of Canada’s great “politician pouring beer” heritage. Note: someone’s angry. Note2: Ben says none of this matters. Two weeks to election day. Stay tuned.

Well, look at that. That was largely a fairly positive week, wasn’t it! No inter-consulto insult fests. No big craft hyperbolic pontifications. Am I growing up or something? That would be weird. Don’t forget that the beer news never sleeps and check out Boak and Bailey on Saturday. Stan is on holiday somewhere south of the equator… again. “Good Old South of the Equator” Stan. That’s what they call him. He’s posting from there. But not on Mondays in June. No, sirree. Not “Good Old South of the Equator” Stan.

*As reported by Deanna Fox, someone I have actually met.

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.  

Yesterday, I Bought Beer At A Local Grocery Store

Well, that was interesting. I was out grocery shopping yesterday and discovered that arguably the best Ontario beer selection in town is pretty much at a grocery store I never go to all that often. It’s a bit of a premium store. The sort of store where a can of something I can buy for $1.39 somewhere else sells for $1.64. But then I went down the beer aisle that has been added since the great beer reforms of 2015 and found myself happily surprised.

I bought a few things. Two ciders not available elsewhere. A few brown ales, too. Not much. But it got me thinking about how the reforms as well as the advent of our local craft explosion had changed my marketplace. Above you will see in red the seven outlets for take away beer in my fair city until maybe five years ago. Then, as noted in black, we started the local beer boom and suddenly there was Stone City, Riverhead, Kings Town, Maple, Kingston Brew Pub and Spearhead growler and can sales along with beer, cider and wine at two Loblaws, a Farmboy as well as Walmart. And, if I drive a little out of town, we have MacKinnon Brothers, Napanee as well as Gananoque breweries too. Have I missed any? Seven take away locations has reached into the mid-twenties. Still, laughably low for any other location in the western world.

Does beer begat beer? Not sure. Was I right to be suspicious when the reforms were announced? Well, it appears we have received four of the grocery store licenses instead of the two I predicted. But there are maybe pushing twenty or so grocery stores in our fair city of 125,000 or so.  Why can’t I buy beer at the places I regularly shop? Ben J noted that there were supposed to be “craft beer zones” in 25 other LCBO locations across Ontario. Don’t think this occurred – sorta like the earlier LCBO growler initiative that saw maybe eight taps provided for the entire province.  Jordan dismissed the idea that it would be just big craft and macro. He was right and also a bit wrong. The coolers and shelves have a good selection but no outlet is in any way comprehensive. I might have to go to four or five stores to actually buy all the beers I might want to offer if I was having a do or, say, a shindig. The nearest outlet is a 30 minute walk away.*

So, two cheers for the reforms of 2015 to date. We have a more complex market place but one that could easily be simpler. We are weeks away from the next election in the Province of Ontario. You would think this might be an issue but, as with the last campaign, I expect to it be unfortunately quiet. Some things are either too important or not important enough to be debated at election time.

*I lie. There is an outlet of TBS 15 minutes walk from my house. I rarely go there but decent beer is possible to find there.

Session 132: A Homebrewing Conversation

For this month’s edition of The Session, host Jon Abernathy of The Brew Site has asked us to consider home brewing.  This is an interesting thing as we do not often get to consider, to reflect. To dwell upon. OK, who is kidding who? That is all I do.

I have had three phases of home brewing, the last of which is a decade in the past. The first, when I was in my mid-20s and between university degrees, was fun. I had been to the UK and picked up not only some books at the Pitfield Beer Shop but some rare equipment.  So, I was at the tail end of the UK-based Amateur Winemaker line of home brewing and never understood the attraction of Papazian – the relative flakiness and lack of technical information. More importantly perhaps, brought back a couple of five gallon polypin draft dispenser bags which, when filled, fit wonderfully into a milk crate. No bottles. Draught. When I bought my first house about 20 years ago, I went into home brewer big time brewing twice a month at least, making ten to twenty gallons of mainly low strength ale every four or five weeks. Last, when we bought this house I briefly revived the hobby.

Why did I stop? First, health. Home brewing – like that far more briefly followed hobby cheese making* – is basically cake icing making.  Gallons and gallons of beer – even ordinary bitter – sitting around the house represents thousands and thousands of surplus calories. I put on weight despite an otherwise healthy life playing soccer and working an acre vegetable garden.

And it is more than that. It’s all very fine to suggest that the problem with strong drink is that that it is a just buffer – that others suffer who are “those with difficulties that they hide with booze” – but we know better. Alcohol is the direct cause of deeper issues. In my first phase, the house basically became a free bar with a couple of draught taps. Those pals that hovered too much, as with any public house, were affected by that much drink. It did not take many months to realize it could get a bit unattractive even if it was interesting to figure out how cheap and easy it was to make a decent pint from malt, hops, yeast and water.

Cheap. Home brewing also was about saving money. When I was a college era party lad, it was great to pre-game for pennies. When I grew up and established myself, downing less and finally earning a decent income, my time became more important than the cash.  Why put all that effort into a task that was replicated by me heading over to the beer store and spending a bit of moo-lah? Additionally, the taking on of the task itself added a hazard to the house with young kids. Boiling a couple of gallons of maltose laced extract or shifting a full five gallon carboy are high quality occupational health and safety moments. It really no longer practically fit into life.

Finally, more and more good beer came into the world.  The move back to Ontario fifteen years ago situated me near a decent supply and the proximity to the international border with northern New York soon fed my cross-cultural interest in a wide variety of beers that I could never make – the fodder for the creation of this blog.  Why spend money and wait a couple of weeks shipping in the load of rare grains and other supplies from a quality home brew supplier when i could bomb down to Syracuse and load up?

So, what is left of the equipment gathers dust. No hobby for this old man.

*Downing a few pounds of the best cream cheese you will ever have over a matter of days is a great life lesson.

A First Good Beery Question In 2018 To Ponder This New Year’s Day

People complain. People complain that folk complain. It’s quite odd given people complain all the time about the value of this or the value of that. From donuts to computers to cars to the location of your house, people question and complain every time that feeling creeps up where what was assumed to be worth it turns out to have been a bit of a bust. Given most don’t get a regular supply of vintage samples (or, for that matter, quietly get paid by brewers to review and comment back on the QT as a trade consultant) but, no, actually have to live with a limited set of bank notes from which to draw upon, the question of value is always relevant. Beer isn’t all that special. So, it was good to see this topic bust out over New Year’s Eve:

What are they talking about? Well, late model Fuller’s Vintage Ales, of course. See, yesterday a few hours before that tweeting session started by Boak and Bailey (but with an image which would have destroyed my thin veneer of dramatic tension just now) I opened and started writing about a FVA dated 2008 which led me to exclaim this:

Crash the Stash Day #2: Fuller’s Vintage Ale. Let me check around to see what to expect. Seriously? The brewery is selling these for £100 each? £100?!?!? Glad I spent $6.95 CND almost a decade ago.

This was only news to my conscious self as Martyn had alerted me to the fact almost a year ago when I started a post about working my way through my stash of maybe 16 or so bottles of the stuff from 2007 onward. So subconsciously, I was at least prepared. And I girded myself for the question through drinking these beers, aged and new, since at least 2005. But the reality is that at least from a theoretical point of view, even after having a pleasant enough 2008 era bottle yesterday, I have eight bottles left with an alleged value of around $750 Canadian.

I was pretty clear in my mind that the 2008 was not worth $170 CND or £100 that the brewery was asking. Don’t get me wrong. It was a very good beer and I am delighted that my 45 year old self left such a treat for my 54 self to enjoy over a New Year’s Eve afternoon. Don’t get me wrong. It was yummy. But it had no value which corresponded to what was being asked when I look at it from a few points of view.*

On a relative value scale, were I magically able to use it as free currency $170 would get me and the family a very nice dinner out with drinks at a reasonably good restaurant here in my fair city. Or five tickets to our OHL hockey team with beers and hot dogs and maybe a t-shirt. I would have much preferred those achievable experience to my 90 minutes solo with the ale in a tulip glass. Even though it was a very nice beer in a tulip glass.

As an opportunity cost consideration, I could have left the beer capped and watched its theoretical price rise over a few more years.  By drinking it I am destroying the future increased value, racing well past actual inflation. But that depends on the future buyer being there and the beer not only holding its intrinsic value as a consumable but increasing in sheer tastiness over time. One issue was it started to feel like it was past its best at nine years. Folk would be noting this in the G.D. social media therefore ruining my prospects. How dare folk chat freely?

On beer trading marketplace, if it truly had that value I should be able to sell it back to Fullers or at least my government retailer for something expressing the wholesale current value. It’s been kept in a cool dark cellar and subject to optimum protection. As usual, my claims to provenance were impeccable. If I go back through my tax records I would likely be able to find the receipt for buying it. I expect it would say I spent something like $6.95 CND. Yet… the box was gone and the label encrusted with a bit of mould. Who would want that? I couldn’t sell my Captain Scarlet Dinkie toys in that condition – and I wouldn’t anyway so stop asking. Any in any event, there isn’t actually a buy-back program. Because there isn’t actually a market for the inflation-laced price.

As for the bottle itself, it was a bit like me facing my fifty-fifth later this year. Maybe a bit past it but still performing well. Took a long time in the glass for the bitterness to face a bit to reveal the toffee and pale malt below. I noted as follows:

Plenty of pith, orange zest and minty bitter hops over toffee malt. Lingering bitter finish with a hint of licorice. Less of a cream heart than the 2007 opened a few weeks ago… I have the end of it in a tulip glass now an hour and a half in. It could easily be a very well-made well-designed fresh strong ale that I might buy for a regular price. In no way a disappointment like that sad Stone vertical.

Frankly, I enjoyed the 2007 I had a few weeks ago a bit more. So, is the idea that the brewery is selling at that value a good one or a bad one? Is this a rip off or a smart advertising campaign? One thing I like about it is how the sticker price gives me confidence that I did the right thing by sticking a few aside as I did. They are also saying, screw you white whale hunters – we control this marketplace ourselves. But that is like the silly idea of “brewer’s intention” or, if we are already mocking 2017, “brewery’s cartoonish can label designer intention” in that it doesn’t really give me much value related to the price point being offered. The drink itself has to stand up for itself. And it did. To a degree. But not that degree.

No, in the end the price being sought now is not reasonable. But it does give me the warm conceit that I was once a clever lad. And I can drink to that. And I might just as that 2009 is up next.

*And, frankly, can you disagree with me unless you’ve bought one at current offered prices? Hmm?

Your Beery News For A Yuletide Thursday

Ah, December 21st. The kids’ Christmas pageant at church was already a few weeks back now. Gifts are bought and parcels have been mailed. Mainly. I will go out for a pint after work tonight but generally this is the time of sweet sherry and cups of tea. Times are a bit too Dad-ly to get overly tinseled. I’ll take a moment to think of Zimbabwe.  Play a few tunes. Then I’ll check in with the news.

Starting on a very cheery note, there is nothing better than accusations of marketplace corruption and political underhandedness in Canada’s tiniest jurisdiction – not that I’d have any idea of why this would be the case.:

Now you take your kid’s to a grocery store, and not only can adults purchase Gahan beer, they can even sample it. Why not sell Gahan beer in the emergency waiting rooms across the Island. Also, a keg of beer (Gahan) would be nice for patients in the back of an ambulance to take their mind off their issues. I am only using Gahan, since they are currently the only ones allowed to sell privately here on the Island. Maybe the other brewers never thought of this idea or are not Liberal donation givers

Frankly, I blame them getting rid of the bootleggers in 2004.

Next, apparently elsewhere in this fine nation the Canadian craft brewer alert status about the impending implosion of their entire industry has been raised to an alarming all time high: concerned. Let that give you pause, global brewing industry.

South of the border, it’s funny watching the brewing trade groups go on and on about the tax cut benefits the ownership class has received without any apparently awareness that these savings are built on relieving 13 million of their fellow citizens from access to health care. Andy has the right take as does Jason: a gratuitous three and a half bucks a barrel back in the owners’ pocket.  Forbes has the extraordinary details on the windfall that has fallen in the laps of the brewery ownership class. Just in time for Dunkin’ Donuts beer.

Antipodeanly speaking, you will be please to know that one retail business in New Zealand considers non-alcohol beer a gateway drug. Reminds me of how, as an undergrad in a college half-run by clerics, we learned how High Anglicans thought the danger with stand up… relations are that they could lead to dancing. Fabulous. Remind me to never shop there.

I love how one farming publication seems to suggest we set the birth of Jesus aside at this time of year to remember… the farmer. Friggin’ farmers.

One last thing. You really will have to pardon me. I really don’t care about the best beers for Christmas. I don’t. Not for me. Not for you. I hope you find something else to do like being happy, annoying little nieces and nephews, doing something good and not telling anyone, staring at the conifer in the living room and eating unfamiliar poultry. Or find a 45. Or listen to this. And, for God’s sake, don’t do this. Try this. Have a holly. Have a jolly. But enjoy yourselves and don’t fret about the beer.