Hair Of The Dog: A Couple of Difficult Cases

This may turn out to be an epic. It may end in tears. Whatever it is you can click on each picture for a bigger image.

In the early fall – actually on September 28th 2006 just after noon – I jumped into my first LCBO private order, two cases from Hair of the Dog brewery in Portland Oregon being organized by the excellent gents, those Bar Towellers out of Toronto. I faxed through my deposit of $51.60 CND on a total order of $197.96 CND. I ordered one each of Doggie Claws and Fred, two 10% or so barley wines from one of North America’s top boutique brewers. I had a Fred when I was at Volo earlier this year. And then I waited. And waited.

Around the first of December, the order came into Toronto, I paid the balance and waited for it to make its way 220 km or so east to Kingston. Then there were rumours of issues with the capping. Excellent, I thought – bottle variation. The curse of decent wine. Jon Walker, a Bar Toweller, noted:

This thread worries me. As a result I went in to check on my stash of HOTD and indeed many of the caps are not fully crimped onto the bottles. Most flair at their base and do not fully grip the lip of the bottle. I was actually able to press up on one with my thumb and get the gas to release in the “PPST” common to uncapping. What do I do know? I don’t have a capper to close the caps properly (if they actually CAN be sealed, perhaps they are the wrong size???). I’ve got just shy of 70 bottles left and I’m loathe to believe I might lose some to oxidation due to loose caps.

The cases showed today, 21 December 2006, about 12 weeks after they were ordered which is really not that bad seeing as I think the beer was still in the tanks when the order was originally placed. But there was an obvious problem from one look at the case of Fred that seemed to echo Jon’s words above.

 

 

 

 

When I got home I decided to have a look inside and what I found was not pretty. The inside of the box was soaked. Ten bottles were seriously uncapped with significant beer loss with mostly empty necks like above at the right. In addition, twelve were showing little beer loss and two showed some promise. All were irregularly capped in the same way. Some caps show some rubbing and wear like there was a mechanical issue when they were put on.

It looked as though it was shipped upside down as there is plenty of yeast in the necks and a fair amount of beery sneakery out from underneath the caps. No violence to the box, just seeping. This may actually be a short term saving grace. The smell is also rich and clean, not sour like a bar on Sunday morning. I will have to have one. I am a little depressed, a little pissed off and a little curious. I have not even looked at the box of Doggie Claws.

 

 

 

 

Much to my surprise, the beer, picked from the worst group of ten, opens with a loud Pfffft!!The yeast had created a seal inside as you can see below to the right and it pours with a huge head. It is huge and lovely and lively. Hallelujah! Christmas is saved. Christmas is saved. And the Doggie Claws show no sign of leakage at all with the same location of the irregular capping as the Fred but with a lot less severity.

So it will likely be a crap shoot one a bottle by bottle basis but if that yeast cakes up it may last throughout the holidays at least. “Pour slowly to allow sediment to remain in the bottle” it says on the back. What can you do? That yeast is my best friend right about now, the life in the ale securing what the dim-witted capped and shippers could not. I would hope the legal saying “buyer beware” is popping into readers’ minds right about now.


J’accuse!

Middle Ages Brewing By Shoe Cam

We had a bit of a beer blog break through as Gary and I met at Middle Ages Brewing in Syracuse NY as part of his day of two tailgates and my introduction to NCAA football. It was a perfect place to meet to start the day. Gary filled in when my camera’s memory card let it be known that it was not about to cross international borders this weekend. The effect was top notch shoe camera.

 

 

 

 

Let me start by saying, this experience is fairly foreign to Canada but not unknown. Middle Ages opened its doors on Saturday at 11:30 am. Gary was there at the bell and reports that there were a couple of dozen beer fans lined up with growlers to be filled. Once those guys were served, two happy gents behind the bar asked what we wanted and sold us – no, gave us free 4 oz shots of their excellent fresh ale. I tried their porter, IPA and the double IPA. All were as good as I remembered. So good I bought the baseball hat. I figure that if a brewer is good enough to go into business, make great ale and then give it to you for free, you ought to buy the hat. Note also Gary’s uncanny capture of the original portrait of the wench who wails. Gary also showed me the first beer blog award pottery component which now just needs me to forward the brass plaque for the 2006 award to be announced later in the year – though I already am pretty sure I know who is getting it.

 

 

 

 

I mention that I have not seen exactly this sort of thing in Canada before but I have almost seen it. In the days before the beer blog, I lived in the Maritimes and Halifax’s Garrison Brewery would serve all you want. But it had to be booked and was a private affair for attendees only. You got to pour and hang around asking the happy patient brewer lots of repetitive questions and also get a tour of the place but it was not a moment to meet other beerfans and you did have to stick around for the time booked. I like the Middle Ages approach better.

So a return for the tour is definitely in order as are more secret assignments with Gary and the shoe phone.

Beer Shop: Marché Jovi, Gatineau, Quebec

A run to Ottawa to see the Billy Bragg show on Saturday meant the opportunity to do a Sunday morning run to one of the better shops in Western Quebec for craft beer, Marché Jovi in Gatineau, Quebec. The shop is handy for anyone near Ottawa’s Island Park Drive and the bridge to the other side and sits near the gate of Gatineau Park.

Inside you are met with one of the tidiest depanneurs I have ever come across. I asked if I was able to take some pictures and, one bien sur later, was being escorted around the place by a very friendly guy in a dapper white grocer’s jacket. He was proud to show of the selection, let me know that there was new stock coming in and took particular pride in noting the selection of glassware – quite the thing for what you would think was a corner store – and the fact that the regular customers were quite knowledgable in their correct use. I also picked up a copy of the autumn issue of Le Sous-Verre: L’actuality de la biere!, a free craft beer newspaper out of Montreal…a review of which Google has butchered in translation here.

 

 

 

 

As Blork noted almost two years ago now, buying beer in Quebec is similar to much of the States. You can get your beer and your corn flakes and your milk all in one stop. Usually this means one large stack of macro brew – as it does most place in the states – but where the owners have imagination and the knowledge, you can create a small oasis like you find at the Galeville Grocery near Syracuse or in pretty much any place in Portland Maine. Usually it also means a walk in cooler.

 

 

 

 

Most of the stock was Quebec products including macrobrews (inlcuding Labatt Porter) but also many craft beer from breweries like Unibroue, Saint-Arnould, Les Brasseurs RJ, Ferme-Brasserie Schoune. Blork has already reviewed the white beer made by each of the last three. I picked up mixes sixes from Saint-Arnould and Schoune for ten bucks each as well as a couple of large format imports from Saint Sylvestre of France (on special for $5.79) as well as a 330 ml Floreffe dubble from Belgium. Interesting to note that Blonde d’Achouffe is being brewed by license by Les Brasseurs RJ and was included in their six pack.

I would definitely go again, especially with the indication that there were going to be additions to the stock on a regular basis. Clean and helpful with a good selection and good price. What ele could you want from a corner store?

“A Glass Of Handmade”

There are a few moments I can point to in my memory that represent elemental changes that helped frame my interest in beer. The first time I was allowed to dip a finger in a Labatt Blue; the Olands Ex I had at my pal’s house in high school; the visit I made to the Pitfield Beer Shop in 1986 from which I returned to Nova Scotia with beer making tools including two polypin cubes as well as Dave Line‘s Big Book of Brewing; and finding an article in an issue of The Atlantic in 1987 that gave me some hope that there was going to be a bigger world of beer out there, even with the first bottles of long-gone Hans Haus beers arriving in the liquor stores or our regular attendance at the first Granite Brewery at the old Ginger’s Tavern in Halifax (oddly excluded from the brewery’s own sense of history which starts in 1991 but referenced in this home brewers digest from 29 November 1989).

That article was “A Glass of Handmade” by William Least Heat Moon and I have finally located a copy on the internet which I have filed in the archives. It starts out with the following introduction:

The industrial brewers continue to prosper; but now they are facing a new challenge from local brewers across the country who are dedicated to turning out brews that have only one thing in common with industrial beer – wetness.

What I love about the article now is its place in time including some quirks – Redhook is considered a huge break-through, common terms need explaining as in “boutique, or micro-, brewery” and now famous names are played out like the obscure tiny operations they then were. It is a gem of an article with a great last line I have used for almost twenty years now. Here it is. Please add your reviews in the comments when you have had a good read through.

The Stash Renewed

While in Syracuse NY for a couple of days, a brief side trip this morning to the Galeville Grocery sees the stash now renewed for another month or two. As a result, I have stories to write about Middles Ages, Mendocino of Saragota, Magic Hat, plus two new to try from each of Youngs, Ommegang and Weyerbacher (their imperial stout and imperial pumpkin ale) as well as a bunch of singles including Stoudts ESB.

The night before found me at Clark’s Ale House and its neighbour the Blue Tusk. I didn’t take notes or photos taking the time to just enjoy these two great bars and introducing them to pals. Both institutions handle the beers fantastically, coaxing hidden flavours out with their cleanliness and care. I had my first taste of Lake Placid’s keg only brown ale last night at Clark’s – very pleasant nut brown with what I thought was an interesting subtle spiciness in either the hop or yeast selection. At the Blue Tusk I settled into an extended relationship with Dogfish Head 60 Minute Ale, the intermediary between their Shelter Pale Ale and 90 Minute IPA which sits in what I now think of as my happy place. There are snugs at the Blue Tusk, those little rooms off rooms that give you a quieter spot, time to talk and listen. The one farthest from the bar sits eight in benches like slightly reclined pews.

The Stash

The results of a trip south are often a slowly decreasing but merry little stash of singles in the closet and the fridge for the best part of a month as reviews get written. Sweet 1978 Rawlings, too. I am pretty sure I have only had two of the bottles previously, the McEwans Export and the Smuttynose Hefe. The future is unknown and that is great. I see about new brewery reviews including those nine new bottles for me from Middle Ages, three from Wolavers, four from Southern Tier as well as a couple of new Wittes and my first Mackeson’s XXX stout.

One other pick-up at FLBC was a variety 12-pack of Great Divide ales from Denver Colorado which has obeyed my two rules for variety twelve packs: give me four types, three bottles each, and no lager. If you like lager you likely won’t like an ESB or IPA and if you like those the lager is likely just a waste of space. Saranac makes a largely lager 6×2 pack which is quite legitimate…though I don’t think I would buy one with great anticipation.

Finger Lakes Beverage Center, Ithaca, New York

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You know when they say someone or something
is truly beautiful on the inside once you get to know?
 

OK, I have been a little quiet around here as of late but that is because I have been on special assignmentTM and this last special assignmentTM took us to Ithaca, New York about 3 hours due south of Beer Blog HQ in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. And what a good idea it was – and not just because of Purity Ice Cream.

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Ithaca is a loverly little city at the south end of Cayuga Lake, known for Cornell University and the most famous vegetarian restaurant on the planet. Touristy, academic and foodie. The perfect spot for a good beer store loaded with micros – and the Finger Lake Beverage Center is it. I have to be honest in that I have not been to a huge number of US beer stores, maybe ten or fifteen, but this one is pretty damn fine.

flbc2I was the nice beer blogger and asked if I could take some photos. There was a quick pow-wow after I explained a bit and sure enough it was fine. As usually happens, I find myself a bit dumb-struck in the face of hundreds of beers I have yet to buy and more so when faced with a well laid out, friendly and clean environment in which to be dumb-struck over beer. I also had to quickly calculate how much I could afford, how much I can get across the border and how much will keep my marriage on that level field we all call sanity. Once all that was done figured, it was time to talk and buy. I learned that the store was big on turnover of bottles and, as a wholesale distributor and retailer, they were able to ensure none of the bottles were sitting around too long. This is a curse of many shops with long lists – not enough nerd action. You could see that there was no dust on these bottles. Staff were friendly and knowledgeable and not a bit concerned that I was taking photos of their well-stocked shelves like the weirdo I am.

I only bought about 30 beers but I hit many of my wish list: a Belgian cassis lambic, California’s North Coast “Old Rasputin” Russian Imperial Stout, a mixed six of Stoudts from PA and Bert Grant’s Perfect Porter from Washington State among others. Price seemed good, though to be honest I was a kid in a candy store. This may be nothing to a citizen of the USA but the simple layout of single bottles over six-packs over 24 cases of region after region, brand after brand, brewer after brewer is quite a revelation to a Canadian. The idea of a growler selection, above, let alone a fill your own growler on a Sunday strikes the average Canuck like…well…something very hard to the temple that also makes you happy.

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All in all a quick visit has left me about 20 beer reviews behind, which is not a particularly bad place to be with the summer here and all. I will definitely go to Finger Lakes Beverage again. I will probably go there again in about a month when I pass through Ithaca again and have a little more time. You go, too. Go on. We’re watching.

By the way, the Customs officer moment was good:

Customs: (kind of offical-like) …and where did you buy these beer?
Me: Ithaca.
Customs: yes but where?
Me: Finger Lakes Beverage.
Customs: and where is that?
Me: Ithaca? What are you wanting to know?
Customs: (quieter) I want to know because I go to school in Ithaca and haven’t heard of the place…what’s it near?

A Norwegian Travels South-west

I was in London last week, which is pleasant during all seasons, but this has been the hottest July for 30 years, so there is an extra need to refill the body’s liquid reserves.

I first visited the splendid Pitfield Beer Shop, which sells both a number of bottle conditioned ales from its own micro and a broad selection of beers and ales from Britain and the rest of the world. Friendly staff that know their beers as well, so it is definitely woth seeking out, even if it is a bit out of the way for most visitors to London. I bought as many bottles I could reasonably carry, and walked back through the Clerkenwell area, where I decided to try the new golden ales on offer from Young’s and Fuller’s, the two independent London brewers which both own a number of pubs serving their beers.

Next stop was the Sekforde Arms, a friendly Young’s local on a side street. Young’s have Golden Zest as their seasonal ale this Summer. It is dark gold in color, but while it looks like a lager, it is certainly an ale. Light and refreshing, but not a groundbreaking brew. Served at the proper cellar temperature – what critics of British beer call “warm beer”, this could actually have been served colder on a hot day like this. It was nice to try the Golden Zest, but the next time I will return to their Special. The brewery blurb for this 100% malt brew: Maris Otter pale malt, lager malt, English Fuggle and Golding hops come together to produce a wonderfully light and refreshing golden beer. A few minutes walk to the Fuller’s pub City Retreat, a great place on a hot afternoon (or a cold Winter evening, as I’ve been there before). The new ale from Fuller’s is Discovery, and this was something else. An ale with a depth of flavour. It is fruity, with hints of apple and peach. A splendid summer beer, but I am not sure where it will fit in the market, as it is neither a lager nor a typical ale. According the Fuller’s, this is to be added to their year-round range of ales, along with London Pride and ESB. This was served chilled, and I found that suited the beer well. According to Fuller’s, this is “brewed using a unique blend of malted barley and wheat for a delicious malty taste bursting with rich, biscuity flavours. Liberty hops are added for a distinctive zesty character and fruity bite, whilst Saaz hops add a gentle bitter taste for a clean, refreshing finish.”

It seems like they have both aimed for the same type of beer, with “zesty” being a common denominator. It is worth mentioning that Young’s launced a beer a few years ago, the Triple A, which also aims at the drinkers who dont’t want the full flavour of their bitters. This is not a real ale, and it is served chilled, rather like a Kilkenny, but with a bit more taste. Purists frown on this, of course.

If you stay in the British Museum area of London, these two pubs are just a few minutes away by bus or taxi – if it’s not too hot they are within walking distance. They are much to be preferred to the more busy and touristy pubs in the Covent Garden/Soho area, being frequented by people who live or work in the area. You can look up their addresses on http://www.youngs.co.uk and http://www.fullers.co.uk, where there is plenty of information on their beer range, too. And, if you have more time on your hand, both breweries have tours of their premises and they have brewery taps and souvenir shops. Young’s even have published books on the history of the brewery and their pubs, see a review on my self-named Knut Albert’s Beer Blog.

Buying Beer In Quebec

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The Government Store, Canada

When I was a kid old O.H. Armstrong in our church called it the “Government Store”. In the South Shore of Nova Scotia apparently it is called the “Power House”. What ever you call them, there is a little left over from prohibition in every province in the country – the need to control…which also leads to the inability to shop around much. We are lucky here in eastern Ontario with the shops of Quebec and New York state not that far away, so that an hour and a half or two gets you into another world with another set of wacky regulations. If you are looking for something different when you travel, you can plan ahead with the web…but just don’t get too depressed from what you read:

What do you learn from looking at these sites? Don’t go beer hunting in PEI right off the top: no selection, six imports three of which are Heineken, Becks and Stella – mmm, macro-industrial North Sea lager. Quebec has very interesting beers, allows you to find out if a bottle is actually in your shop and shop on-line but if you are in a northern village you have to let the local authorities know what you have ordered. Newfoundland calls beer from New Brunswick imported. Alberta has privatized the shops in 1993 and has since only regulated but still they are left, according to the Bar Towel in 2002, with limited selection.

So – what do you do with a country that cannot organize itself better than a cornerstore in a suburb of a small US city or a pub in Halifax