Book Review: Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out, Josh Noel

My copy of Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business came in the mail from Amazon this week and I happily started into it while watching preteen softball on a June mid-week evening. The book, as the cover image to the right explains, is a history of Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Company, creator of the barrel aged stout and most infamous of the craft brewers to cash-out.

The book covers the span of over three decades, tracing an arc from brewpub making English style ales to regional production microbrewery to big craft reject to brand asset within the portfolio of an international global conglomerate. It’s quite a remarkable thing.  Before I knew it I was 120 pages in. It is clear that author Josh Noel, a journalist with the Chicago Tribune covering a broad mandate, benefits from his skill as an investigative reporter but also as a native of that fair city. The beer and book both convey a sense of place as well as event.

It also, refreshingly, paints realistic portraits of the key players, warts and all – without the slightest bit of an unseemly tone. My first impression from the book, in fact, was that none of the players behind the rise and fall and then rise and fall of Goose Island were all that attractive. As Noel tells it, brewery founder John Hall comes across as a bit of an angry nutcase who came up through the corporate rat race, starting out as a cardboard box salesman. We read at page 79 that as early as 1996 Hall is described as planning to sell out to big beer. But he’s also someone who took a change with his accumulated wealth on a reasonable if calculated risk so the attitude makes sense.

Less sensible is the image created of John’s son Greg: drifter turned alcoholic brewer turned egotist face of the business.  To the mid-2000s, he frankly comes off as a poor little rich kid, even if politely described. Even Michael Jackson is given an cameo and a slag at page 30:

Jackson was a good message guy. He wouldn’t hesitate to criticize Big Beer. But when a small brewery released a flawed beer, no one knew it from Michael Jackson.

The point of these observations is not to be just unkind. As a result of such honesty – rare among craft narratives – the reader is provided with a basis for trust in Noel’s work.  That trust is bolstered by Noel’s deft description of the factors behind the mid-2000s shift from micro-brewing to craft brewing as the US gospel of good beer.  While Noel does unfortunately buy into the back dating of “craft”* to an earlier point when it was not either the ethos or in general use, he does explain how the first efforts of the Brewers Association starting with its formation in 2005 were aimed at control of the discourse through control of the language. Noel suggests it needed to do this for internal reasons:

By the early 2000s, craft beer was splintering into identities. It was cool, it was hip, it was counter culture, it was “you’re not worthy”…

Not to mention it was when brewers and society at large were uncomfortably witnessing the weird 2002 tale of the “Sex For Sam” sponsored by Samuel Adams Beer in which “prizes were awarded to people who had sex in unlikely public places.” Yik. Noel unpacks the tone of the times, unpacks the tension which existed between cottage industry “craft” and what the founders of the Brewers Association were really after and later accomplished: the creation of a single story of large efficient breweries where quality and consistency are the hallmarks. Thus the creation of heterogeneous and hegemonic big craft as an act of sheer control.

Tied to the BA’s interest in market control, efficiency and scale – a goal would have made E.P. Taylor glow with pride – are Noel’s observations on profit and wealth as a fundamental underlying goal. Be clear on this point. All beer has this as its goal and it applies to macro, old school micro, big craft as well as today’s  tiny taprooms. So we read that Goose Island’s 312 beer is a hit as much for the retro black telephone tap handle as the taste.  And that Matilda was pushed as it had twice the profit margin of 312! And you thought it was all about homage to the great brewers of Belgium. Chumps.

I am enjoying this book greatly. I may even post another follow up as I have in the past when faced with a book on beer that sits so far above the rest. If you have not bought this, skip a couple of six packs and get your copy now. Like right now. Now.

*Not to mention perpetuates the tooth-achingly saccharine phrase “cast of industry all-stars” at page 124 thus, likely unintentionally, appearing to trip over the line from keen observer to fan-boy-ish insider.

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 Mid-March Beer News For The Winter That Won’t Go Away

Andy Crouch captured the mood with this tweet on Tuesday:

We are tired. We are tired of slipping. Of sliding. We are tired of corduroy. [Except me. I’m not hating on the cords – just trying to fit in here – gimme a break.] Otherwise, it’s been a really quite week. Not one brewery has done anything stupid since last Thursday.  Well, Stone seems to be having shelf space quality control issues in Europe but, well, that’s par for the course for big international craft. And St. Patrick’s Day is coming up on the weekend but that will be ruined but 827 beer writers working for exposure and samples lording over the fun of drinking green bulk lager… but that’s for next week.

Deeply into the now, Mr. B has a new book coming out, Will Travel For Beer. Like any numbers book there is a hyper-inflationary aspect to the idea of going on 101 vacations about beer but I am sure there will be more than a few ideas worth planning one or two trips around.

It’s not the one beer a day I couldn’t manage but who can stop at the third chip?

This is an odd story. Apparently MillerCoors in the US has created a new demographic category for 21 to 24 year olds and is intent in trapping them for life in a haze of weird macro-made beer like things:

The purpose is to sell more beer, which has been losing business to wine and hard liquor for a decade. MillerCoors, the U.S. division of Molson Coors Brewing Co., is gearing its marketing to 21- to 24-year-olds, a slice of the population the company characterizes as “curious,” “pragmatic” and still virginal when it comes to drinking beer… MillerCoors says there are important differences between millennials and the new generation the beer maker created but hasn’t named.

Apparently, the answer for these poor fools is a fluid called Two Hats described as “a light beer imbued with fruit flavours.” Which (i) we have seen in one form or another before such as the cited Bud Light Lime-A-Rita yet (ii) still sounds uniquely horrible. Pity the short term career path of the team that came up with this one.

Did I ever mention I really can’t get too excited about the unhappiness of the good monks who otherwise play quite happily in the commercial marketplace? Think of the extra good work that could be done if one of the recipes were given to big beer to milk  for all it’s worth with all licensing residuals going to good causes. No, reselling is fine by me. If I can buy Harris Tweed, an actual craft product, from some one on eBay – why not beer? I mean, who would deny the joy of the best beer thing of the week – also found on eBay?

Boom! Now that we have dealt with matter haberdasherrific, be careful. This post from B+B may find you wanting to stroke your screen. Lovely images of malt being made 50 years or so ago.

If we are honest, GBH is now sort of on a different planet, no?

Finally, as Jeff notes, the US Brewer’s Association has put out its annual biggest 50 craft brewery and biggest 50 brewery list… except it’s not the biggest 50 breweries but the biggest 50 brewing companies. Which is odd for an organization supposedly celebrating small. EcoBart explained that the lay of the corporate landscape no longer allows for simply listing breweries – but then offered a tweek that might see number of brewing facilities listed under each FrankenKraftenCorp. Which gets to be confusing. TBN certainly was confused. I’ve plunked the entire list into this post down there at the bottom for your review. Look at it. Look!! The inclusion of Duvel Moorgat certainly sticks out. Andy hailed it all as the revenge of the East. Me, I applaud Bell’s for sticking with “Inc.” while all the world rushed to “Co.” Two years ago or so, the annual list was a helpful tool in following the breweries which had sold out. We don’t talk of selling out anymore. It is all too confusing. Which is another reason to buy from your local actual small brewery at the taproom where you can talk with the owner and the brewer.

Remember: Boak and Bailey Saturday, Stan on Monday.

Book Review: 20th Century Pub by Boak and Bailey (Part 2)

This is a difficult review to write. Even if it is only part two so therefore half a review. I don’t like to come across as all fawning… but I have a hard time finding anything other to write other than I think this is the best book about beer I have ever read. See what I mean? How dull is that? Think of Jesus in Paradise Lost. That dull. How can I illustrate this problem in such a way that is actually helpful to you, that bit of the reading public who stops by here from time to time? Let’s see.

First, voice. One of the most interesting things about this book is how at quite specific points – but only at quite specific points – the writers breach what in TV is called the fourth wall. In sitcoms and crime dramas, we all assume, unconsciously sitting in our rec rooms on our sofas, that we are a camera, in a room with the actors and that the view of the lens is the view of the person viewing at home but somehow also in the room. Or when we read a book we forget we are interacting with an author and get lost in the suspension of the disbelief that one hope a good book offers as we are brought along by the storyteller’s pace. As is fully the case with this book – except when the authors interject themselves into the commentary about either the subject matter or the process of writing at certain points. It is deftly managed. Interspersed amongst long passages of excellently research and absorbingly described history. The authors are not there in view until they are and only when it is helpful.*

Second, structure. One of the most appealing things about this book is now it is not derivative. Beer books too often take the structure of other beer books** and maybe event a large part of its content and replicates it with a supposed update in terms of geography or the passage of, say, 18 months since the publication of a book roughly on the same topic. How many intro style manuals, food and beer pairing texts or geographical guides have come out? How many more will? Many.*** But structured histories leading through an important period? Few. THEN, add into the fact that it leads up to and creates the theoretical foundation for understanding many of the drinking establishments you have ever visited – more likely the case in the UK but not at all dislocated from the modern North American experience given how this micro brewing era began in the late 70s and early 80s in large part as an homage to UK brewing traditions. This gets a bit shocking as you realize you are reading whole chapters organized around disassembling elements of social patterns you just accepted were there. Consider just the chapter on gastropubs. It’s good enough on its own to be something you might read in that magazine that accompanies the Sunday edition of The New York Times. It also explains the milk paint in certain pubs and craft beer bars, where all the out of pattern plates and dishes came from and why a pile of salad is next to your shepherd’s pie – or more likely not shepherd’s pie but something a bit nicer. I actually looked up when I was done the chapter and thought to myself “what a good chapter” which is about as high a level of praise as I give out, chapterwise.****

Third, detailed research. Using primary sources contemporary to events! Footnotes. We get so numbed by fictive influencers, promoting pundits and the otherwise compromised that original research comes as a surprise. But there it is. Especially heartening is the presence of original transcriptions or newspaper interview of people who are – wait for it – still alive. Which means the authors have consciously made the determination that records contemporary with an occurrence are to be preferred to the recollection of the occurrence many years later. They got themselves into public libraries and perhaps even private business records. This is something which the entire history of craft beer in North America does not seem to have come to grips with yet. While oral history projects are certainly valuable, have we an effort out there to archive original records related to US craft in the 1980s? At the moment I am more confident that we could create a documented understanding of the state of American brewing in the 1880s. Not so now with the 20th century English pub.

Fourth, envy. This book is extremely appealing in its simple presentation of a well researched topic pushed along by a compelling narrative. Having co-written books myself, I was even thinking of how I might allocate bits to being more Boak than Bailey but gave up almost immediately. I have to be honest with myself. I have hacked away at this writing stuff for years. In relation to just beer about 26.6% of my life. I like to think what I have written is useful and entertainingly stated***** but, holy moly, is this stuff both strong and subtly put. As I recall, there is no more than two pages on how US black servicemen were received in English pubs during WW2 but it is so well placed and quietly left that you can’t help but contemplate the implications. Conversely, the massive and loud noise that was imposed on the UK market by the creation and expansion of that which is J.D. Wetherspoons is presented in great detail but without any bluster. Another well controlled, satisfying chapter.

So, there you have it. I have little more to add. A very solid bit of work.  I told you it was good. And it is. Get it.

*There. That’s not too fawning. I think I am off on the right track. This book is not just a patched together bunch of blog posts. It’s a book.
**They themselves first nicked from wine.
***Yes, we know that it is all publishers want but really.
****Fine, yes… fawning. Fine. Still true.
*****Especially this stuff about beer and brewing from the 1600s which I am not sure you are all appreciating as much as you should.

Book Review: 20th Century Pub by Boak and Bailey (Part 1)

It should be no secret that I have looked forward to the publication of 20th Century Pub by Boak and Bailey ever since the project was hinted at on their blog. The feeling reminded me of the release some years ago of Pete Brown’s Hops And Glory which I reviewed over four blog posts in 2009. What I think I find most similar between my expectations for these two books is the anticipation of work by authors who have proven themselves to be creative and committed in their previous books. I am only half way through 20th Century Pub but it has already exceeded even these expectations – so much so that I want to jump queue to tell you about their methodology and why I think you should just to email them and buy this excellent bit of work.

This book reminds me a bit more of their neither long nor short work, 2014’s Gambrinus Waltz: German Lager Beer in Victorian and Edwardian London than their perhaps more well known first book, later that same year’s Brew Britannia. I say that because the historical narrative is driven a bit more by the greater context of society than just the players involved. One of the odd things about the history of micro brewing and later craft beer is how personality drives the discussion. That is fine for early days when there were a few people (although sometimes not necessarily the same few people, the successful survivors, who self-identify) who were the actual pioneers. And, to be fair to those involved, the early days of craft appear to not have generated as many records considered worth retaining as we keeners today might have wished.* However, while it is fun to learn about these people and (as sometimes occurs) associated vicariously with them, it is far more interesting to understand how brewing and beer and pubs and taverns actual existed and exist in the greater context of society based on records which were created contemporaneously. For larger events it is best to seek out authority elsewhere.

Thankfully, their tale of micro brewing and craft’s origins in the UK, Brew Britannia, did just that and relies on primary documents from the time in addition to interviews of persons involved looking back from three decades later.  This book repeats that process and explores the subject matter from the wider range of sources. This is detailed and time consuming work – and the work undertaken shows in the result set out on these pages. An example. I have just read the chapter on 1950s estate pubs. To understand what an estate pub is you need to understand estates and to understand estates you need to understand British municipal planning principles of the first two-thirds of the 1900s.

I am somewhat familiar with this. I am a municipal lawyer. And some of you may have picked up that I am a dual national, Canadian and British. Many of my UK family when I was young lived in what we here in Canada would call “public housing” but in the UK the word for much of it was “estate” and they look at lot like what we might consider a condensed post-WWII subdivision when it wasn’t a low rise apartment building. My grannie, aka Bailee M’Leod aka Dad’s mother, as a municipal Labour politician was actually involved actively in the 1930s to 1950s in destroying slum neighbourhoods of the 1840s and building these sorts of forms of public housing. These events fed my bedtime stories, tales of the old country when they were not about Nazi bombings of the Clyde.**

Knowing that bit of the background, I am able to trust the point being made. Placing the particular point in its context is one of the great successes of this book. Boak and Bailey weave the the meaning of estate as they explain the estate pub, a somewhat sterile slightly spare Scandinavian set up that were allocated strategically through these new living spaces by municipal planning processes. Likewise, earlier in the book they contextualize the end of the Victorian gin palace and how it was responded to by the State Management Scheme of pubs introduced after WWI without the too common uninformed slag upon slag over the temperance movement. Judging from a seat in the future is one of the worst faults of a historian. Almost as bad as disobeying chronology. The authors here simple gather up sources and then unpack the narrative. Fabulous stuff. And not that simple at all.

I am taking my time, reading slowing. I am in the chapter on theme pubs, which related to the photo at the top of the page. In 2012, I wrote about the politician’s mother, my paternal great-grannie who goes by “Grannie Campbell” in our family. She loved drink and pubs and apparently she most loved the Suez Canal pub in Largs,*** which was coincidentally my mother’s hometown. The image I am guessing is from the 1940s and the bartender was former world boxing champ, Jackie Paterson. Given the book is about English pubs and not British ones, my submission of the photo did not make the cut. Saddened I was but then heartened by the rigor being imposed by the authors.

Buy this book.

*Somewhere I have an email discussion with Stan about the lack of records even from the early GABF days. Can’t find it. Probably deleted it.
**Including the story of the cousin who claimed Hitler saved his life when the air raid sirens woke his family up, got them running to the shelter only to witness the building explode before the bombs started dropping. Apparently someone had left the gas on.
***I only have one quibble with the book so far in fact – a Largs based quibble. B+B claim that the first espresso machine came to Britain in 1951. Being a child of a child of Largs I am well acquainted withe Nardini’s which opened in 1935. Uncle grew up as pals with Aldo. His Dad had a famous run in with one of the owners over an invoice for pebble dash. Italian ice cream parlours and cafe’s were an established thing even in 1935. Pretty sure they would have had espresso from day one given it also had an American soda bar and an electric dish washing machine.

Flattery Will No Doubt Get You Any Number Of Places

I have been doubly flattered by the firm of Boak and Bailey this week. First, I received my copy of their new book 20th Century Pub with the lovely inscription you see to the right. I had asked that they write something accusatory but, as much to their nature as their credit, they are kinder than I deserve.

Second, I has set them on a task and they have taken it on gangbuster style. For some time I have thought about the Amateur Winemaker books from the 1960s and ’70s which, as I discussed in edition #15 of The Session, were my first recourse when I wanted to learn more about good beer. Thirteen years ago,* I wrote about the triad of Berry, Shales and Line as illustrated below. As far as I can tell, they had a massive audience for their writing about homebrewing (i) from grain and (ii) in a wide variety of styles (even if “style” has not been invented yet) but other than five or six books, I have not had access to any of the actual magazines.

C.J.J. Berry, Ken Shales and David Line

I have been so obsessed I have saved C.J.J. Berry’s obituary (or a recollection I found on-line) from 2002 and was delighted to see that his son-in-law responded in the comments. Note 1: C.J.J. Berry’s book by 1984 had sold 650,000 copies. Note 2: in his book, Ken Shales (who died in 1971) includes a reference to lambic – but then does nothing with it! Weirdnesses abound.

Well, B+B found an issue of the magazine and posted their findings today. Fabulous. A beginning. My expectation is not that pursuit of this untapped vein will overturn history but enhance it. The magazine ran for almost thirty years from the 1950s to 1980s. And for perhaps a bit more than the last half of its life ran discussions on beer. That means there may be almost 200 issues to review. Big project. Hard to manage alone. Hard to manage from the left side of the Atlantic. Do you have a copy of an issue laying around? Get it and write about what is in it. Very exciting. For a beer nerd. Like me. Who poses (ahem) challenges…

*Christ!

Bert Grant, One Of Canada’s Gifts To Craft Brewing

As I mentioned the other day, I have been thinking about Bert Grant’s hop oil vial.* In his online obituary as written by Michael Jackson, under the head “How Bert Grant Saved The World”, the vial is described in this way:

“When you were brewing Canada, ales were still very popular. How many units of bitterness did they typically have?” I once asked. “I don’t know. I hadn’t invented the scale,” he replied. He was reputed to carry a vial of hop oil, and to add it to glasses of Bud, Miller or Coors when they were the only brews available. He was said to have done this at meetings of Master Brewers in Milwaukee and St Louis, dismaying his peers. “Michael Jackson adds it to his coffee,” he is alleged to have said, in his defence. Did he really say that? I think that joke was coined by beer-writer and consultant Vince Cottone.

See, that vial is one of the most important artifacts in craft beer history as it contained one key element of the DNA which went into craft beer’s hoppy obsession of today. A bit of a viral vial. I wanted to know where it came from, how early he was using it and in doing a little digging I came to realize, like E.P. Taylor… as well as half the malt in US craft beers today, Bert Grant was one of Canada’s great contributions to good beer as we know it today.

In 1998, three years before his death he published a autobiography, humbly entitled The Ale Master: Bert Grant, The Dean of America’s Craft Brewers. Not a long book, I recommend it highly. The copy found on eBay is a sturdy wee hardcover. And, on page 33, there is a discussion of that hop oil vial… but one that sits a little out of sequence sequence in a side panel. [It’s that sort of wee book, full of snippets and asides… not unlike this aside.] This side panel talks about how he carried a dropper bottle of hop oil and that he had sent another one to his pal George Stein in Toronto. But it doesn’t say when this was – before 1963 when he was living in Windsor, Ontario… or was it before 1959 when he left the Carling branch of E.P. Taylor’s Canadian Breweries in Toronto where he had worked for 15 years, ending up as assistant director of microbiological control. Or was it only a practice he adopted later, after he leaves Canada for Yakima in Washington State in 1967 after working as a consultant and testing out his ideas on a pilot brewery at his house in Windsor across the river from Detroit, Michigan?

He certainly could have developed the hop oil habit before moving to the USA. In the book and according to a summary of a Associated Press article dated 5 September 1997, Grant made that 1967 move moved to Yakima heart of the nation’s largest hop producers to work on hop extracts and here he later pioneered a process of pelletizing hops to preserve freshness. In his San Diego Times AP obituary it states he was technical director of the hops company S.S. Steiner Inc., the company he moved to Yakima to work with. Again, the book suffers a little from same sort of loose chronology. But it certainly seems he could have been fully proficient with a hop oil eye dropper before he left Canada.

It left me wondering if I was going to make a national jingoistic thing out of this damn hop oil vial at all. How am I going to prove that one of the founders of US craft brewing was really just a drop in saying hello from Ontario full of pre-existing ideas? Hmm… then, I saw something else in a story published in The Times News of Idaho on 24 August 1997, also under an AP dateline, there is this passage from Jim Parker, former director of the Association of Brewers based in Boulder, Colo.:

Part of what drove him out of the brewing business and into the hops business was his dissatisfaction with the monotonous beer that most breweries were making. When he ran the pilot brewery for Carling (a subsidiary of Canadian Breweries Ltd.), every year they’d say, ‘Do you have any new products to bring out?’ Each year, he’d bring out the same beer and say, ‘It’s the best damn beer in the world.’ All the executives would agree. But the marketing people would say, ‘But Bert, it’s darker than our regular beer. Will people know it’s beer?’ And sales people pointed out there were three different malts and four types of hops going into the beer. ‘But that’s expensive, Bert. Can’t you make it with one malt and one type of hops?’ And he’d roll his eyes and go back to the pilot brewery. Many years later, Grant served his favorite beer — the same recipe he’d promoted for so many years — at a 1981 Yakima Enological (wine) Society meeting. They all went, “Bert, why can’t I buy something like this in the store? It’s so good!’ He explained, and they all said, ‘Let’s open a brewery and make it.’ And that’s Grant’s Scottish Ale.

Hmm… nothing about the vial but look at that: “three different malts and four types of hops going into the beer. “ That rings a bell. At page 28 of his book, Grant discusses apparently the one beer he had particular fondness for in his early days with Carling in Toronto string in 1944:

… when I started in this business, there was no mucking about with the brands. Carling brewed a copper-coloured ale called Dominion White Label, which was, by our analysis, the most heavily hopped beer in Toronto (with English Fuggles, Kent Goldings and other hip varieties.) 

He described the decision to drop Dominion White Label “the triumph of the mass-production mind-set.” Then on page 75, he goes further:

Scottish Ale was the obvious first choice because it was my favorite home-brewed beer style – and had been my favorite since 1945, when I first tasted Dominion White Label ale at Canadian Breweries. The emigrant Scottish brew masters who made Dominion White Label assured me that I was tasting the same kind of ales that were brewed in Scotland… I knew exactly what I wanted to make: all malt, intensely hopped, naturally conditioned Scottish Ale that would be as close as possible to Dominion White Label.

One email correspondent° who knew Grant described the hoppiness of his beers in this way: “That Scotch was pretty hoppy. And the IPA was in your face. None of this juicy shit.” Hoppiness was a still a key selling point in Canadian ale brewing in the 1950s. As you can see from the ad to the left for Carling’s Red Cap ale, more hops equaled more flavour. And consider this TV ad for Red Cap from the time, for any number of reasons including the massive sandwich on the massive swing. But this beer, Carling Red Cap ale, was the beer that Grant insisted was under-hopped, that was the result of the triumph of the bean counters.

 

 

 

 

What was Dominion White Label? Inspired by Lost Breweries of Toronto by Jordan where Jordan tells the tale of the Dominion Brewery of Toronto in the later 1800s, one blogger has tried his hand at a recreation. The Dominion Brewery was where White Label was first invented. By the 1930s it ends up in the hands of E.P. Taylor as part of his aggregations and consolidations which eventually fall the umbrella Canadian Breweries around when Grant shows up as a 16 year old. As shown above to the left, in the 1893 journal The Dominion Illustrated Monthly, Dominion had a prominent display at the 1983 Chicago Worlds Fair. Its “white label” in the middle was the certificate from its victory at an 1885-86 exhibition in New Orleans. It advertised its many such victories, including in an 1893 magazine aimed at the medical profession up there to the right. So, it was a thing and a great thing and… a Canadian thing. And if Grant is to be believed about not messing with the recipes, in 1944 when he first had it it may well have been much the same thing.

Life goes on and in 1995, a full 51 years after starting out his brewing career at E.P. Taylor’s chemistry labs when he was sixteen, Grant sold out – in a way. He sold his brewery to a conglomerate but stayed on as top brewer with plans of expansion with his own hand still firmly on the tiller:**

Burt Grant has sold out, in a business sense. Yakima Brewing is now controlled by Stimson Lane Vineyards and Estates, part of a huge corporate chain topped by UST Inc., the parent company of U.S. Tobacco. But Grant, who continues as brewmaster, says he’s still making quality beers “to please the most demanding palate I have ever encountered: my own.” The Scottish-born, Canadian-bred Grant, 68, began honing that palate at age 16, when he went to work for Canadian Breweries Ltd. (now Carling). His brewing career led to jobs in the hops supply business, which brought him to the heart of Washington’s hop country in Yakima, where he opened a tiny brewery in 1982. “The brewery was doing well, but not spectacularly,” Grant says. “All the stuff I liked doing – product development, quality control – was being diluted horribly by all the worries about financing and marketing.” Stimson Lane “came to us out of the clear blue sky, with an offer we couldn’t refuse.” Grant has been able to double his production capacity, to an annual 40,000 barrels. And he’s talking about building breweries in other parts of the country to expand his market, as Seattle’s Redhook and Pyramid have done.

Grant passed away on 30 July 2001, according to his New York Times obituary, “at a hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he had recently made his home” and where three of his five children then lived. All five were reported to have been residing in Canada at the time of his passing. His life, his beer, his career and maybe even that vial of hop oil framed in large part by the 23 years from 1944 to 1967 when he learned his trade in the bowels of Canadian Breweries owned by another great contributor to the history of brewing, Edward Plunket (E.P.) Taylor.

*Not hop “juice” by the way.
**Sound familiar? The quotation is from a summary of a story by Rick Bonino in the The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, WA, on 12 March 1995.

Book Review: Brewing Local by Stan Hieronymus

brewinglocalsmConfession. I have fed Stan in my home. I have been asked by Stan why he bothers discussing things with me. My name appears in this book. I am very fond of Stan. All of which may influence my opinion of his writings, of this book. Along with the fact that this was a review copy kindly forwarded from the publisher. Can’t help it. Heck, if I run the photo contest again this Christmas I might just give it away as the only prize. I’m like that.

But let’s work around that for the moment. As with his other books for the Brewers Publications series, Stan has written a practical guide. Starting with the second half of the book, we see it contains discussions on foraging, a directory of ingredients one might consider adding to a beer to capture locality in the glass and, then, a collection of brewing recipes – including one for an 1835 Albany Ale supplied by Craig which has its roots in a report to the New York State Senate from that year which I discussed now over six years ago. It is flattering but at the same time something I consider important. Beer and brewing in the north end of the Western Hemisphere has a history which goes back at least 439 years – not counting the Viking expeditions. You would think it was invented by the immigrants who moved here after the varying successes of the 1830s revolutions in Europe. It wasn’t.

Much to his credit, Stan goes even further back and documents one beverage of one of the peoples who were here before European colonization: corn-based tiswin of the Apache. He also ties late 1800s Okalhoma choc with the Choktaw people who were relocated in the genocidal trail of tears two generations before. There would have been others – but they were not by any means pervasive according to a Senacan cultural botanist pal of mine. Yet it is hard to believe that the brewers of New Sweden in the 1650s making beer from local pumpkins, corn, persimmons and watermelons didn’t learn something from the locals.

What the depth and breadth of Brewing Local conveys is a picture of a complex and largely unexplored understanding of indigenous vernacular brewing on this continent. It is an exciting time to have an interest in such things. Stan emailed me earlier this year that he would have included my idea of “four eras of cream ale” had he come across it in time. I suspect I hadn’t even written it in any proper manner before he saw it. Months later, I got to hunting around “cream beer” dating back to the early 1800s with the hints of its pre-lager existence, its earlier German immigrant foundations and its potential links to later 1850s Kentucky Common. All of which might also be worthy of a footnote or two in this book. Had I written it. Had someone – anyone – looked it up. There is so much yet to be pursued.

Which is a good thing. Which makes for a very good book. Because the book is both history and guide, both a “how to” and also a “why” which ties a lot of things together in a way that hasn’t been done before. It’s a part of a bigger collective work in progress. [I don’t find fault that Stan, for example, doesn’t mention the reason I think steam beer is called steam beer but that is also part of the bigger working out of things. I could be dead wrong.] Does this make it a milestone book in North American brewing history? Could be. I’ll have to read it a more few times to form a full opinion on this book. You should, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonder not. Make the call. Buy it.

Platinum Pints 2010-15: Best Beer Book Writer

platwe are half a decade into… the decade. The twenty-tens. Time to reflect and to reflect on a longer time span than the annual keek. Have their been arcs to trace? Have past achievements been already lost? That’s what the Platinum Pint awards are for. To think about what we have received to this point and where we stand as a result.

As I might have foreshadowed, the winner of the award for the best writer of books 2010-15 is Pete Brown. During that span, his three books Hops and Glory, Shakespeare’s Local and World’s Best Ciders: Taste, Tradition, and Terroir have stood as the standard for inventive, daring, interesting and well-written drinks related texts. They also represent an era which may well be over. This past year was dry. We have to be honest. It was such a dip in beer book diversity that when I mentioned this, Stan tweeted about a book about making home brew very quickly. I love Stan’s sense of humour.

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Pete entered the decade riding a high. His third book Hops and Glory had been out for half a year. In December 2009, he won the British Guild of Beer Writers’ Award for Best Writer 2009. I had my eye on Pete. I reviewed his first book Man walks into a Pub in 2003 when most beer communicators were still in elementary school. I interviewed him in 2006 when his followup Three Sheets to the Wind came out. They were good but gave a sense that there was more to come that was better. One thing they did establish was that an insider could write as an insider and also that one could travel the world exploring beer without being a junket parrot. Better still, his books were being published by a proper generalist publisher, Macmillan.

When Hops and Glory came out, I was blown away. I reviewed it over a number of posts. What immediately struck me was the daring. The guy was actually doing something, exploring. And he was doing it in a pretty weird way. His plan was to take a cask of IPA from Britain to India by ship to retrace the origins of the beer. Fabulous. And he failed. Or at least the cask did (spoilers… literally… and I suppose too late for me to mention… oh, well…) But by not actually achieving the physical outcome he imagined he rightly claimed a greater good. He describes the British Empire, shipping routes and shipping methods as well as Georgian culture. He took beer, lifted above itself as subject matter, then drew us a picture of how the beer fits into its own broader history while illustrating the foibles of human existence – and did so effectively as I described:

Anyway, the point is that for 237 to 306, Brown takes us into his internal experience – into the doldrums of the sailing ship and then into the small heart of darkness that is the international shipping trade today – by seemingly forgetting to slip back into the history. It’s a good technique. It weighs a bit, wears a bit. But it still takes us along as if to say “it’s alright, Al, no need for you to ever go on a container ship from Brazil to India all alone for five weeks… I’ve done it… don’t bother.” Thanks Pete. I won’t. It’s off my to do list.

The book set the standard for those that followed. Beer books now needed to be filled with humour, invention and place the theme in context. His next book Shakespeare’s Local ran with all that while staying in one spot – the George Inn of Southwark. With a history going back hundreds of years farther back than India Pale Ale, the opportunity was ripe. He dove deeper again into his topic. I pointed out that the history was detailed, that it would be useful to know who Simon de Montfort was and maybe why Englishmen became more mobile in the 1400s bolstering inns like the George. The fact was we were being presented with beer as a subject worth something other than an introductory nod. I found this inspiring. I had dreams of much the same for the research Craig and I were undertaking with the Albany Ale Project even if not necessarily is the same medium. Pete’s books inspired the idea that there was more to know and more to discuss. I was left with the desire for more at the end of Shakespeare’s Local. More illustrations, a greater library of such histories. In response, I’ve published two histories chasing his example and, since then, have undertaken much more research that I intend to continue in the years to come. The past is, after all, good beer’s future.

The very next year, Pete came out with a new book and took a 90 degree turn with World’s Best Cider. Well, not really a turn as he announced in 2010 that cider and perry were officially on his radar. But when he published this book, he did a very interesting thing – he killed off all hope that anyone would write another as well. It is such a complete text for the first comprehensive global guide that none would be needed until the industry grew to a next level. And that opportunity appears to be off the cards given that the mass market for cider has, to put it kindly, leveled off. Again, I found the effect was somewhat shocking:

The next thing I thought was “oh, my… cider porn.” Never encountered cider porn before but, then again, never met an atlas of cider before either. Which is what this is. Think of all those beer books with the same “what beer is section,” the longer “all sorts of beer section categorized one way or another section” and the “food and beer” section. Then take away the beer, cut the food section and add fermented apple juice. That is what this is. Except… there isn’t another. Is there?

There isn’t. As Jeff uniquely and entirely graciously acknowledged yesterday. And there hasn’t been a set of three books by one author in good beer that have touched these three not only in the decade but, as far as I am concerned, in my experience. Not that they are comprehensive. That is the point. Each in their own way take a small part of the whole and drill down excellently. As a set, they illustrate how wonderfully drinks writing sits in the broader cultural context. These books gave us the impression that like good beer was on a roll.

It was not to be. The downside of the example these books of Pete Brown set is that, sadly, publishers have decided there is no market for such books and, if we are honest, sales likely drive that opinion. So we are left with the lower orders of the publishable and sales worthy, the style guides and pairing companions. Good for the authors, one supposes. But hardly something to look forward to repeating in the years to come. And Pete is self-publishing his next, his seventh book, What Are You Drinking? That is where we are mid-decade.

There you have it. The first Platinum Pints 2010-15 announced goes to Pete Brown as Best Beer Book Writer of the half decade. Next? Who knows. Maybe best experience. Whatever that means.