Did Franklin Know That Much About Beer Goggles?

I doubt not that moderate Drinking has been improv’d for the Diffusion of Knowledge among the ingenious Part of Mankind…drinking does not improve our Faculties, but it enables us to use them.

Benjamin Franklin, Silence Dogood, No. 12, 1722.

Franklin was 16 or 17 when he wrote that under a pseudonym. Smart kid. You know, quoting Franklin on beer can be dangerous stuff but, in this case, you know that is it true because you can read it for yourself on the internet. When I read that passage above in the introduction of Salinger’s book, I thought not about Franklin or his sayings but beer goggles. They were in the news lately, as this piece from CTV reminds us:

Anyone looking for a mate in a bar, take note: Beer goggles really do make people appear more attractive, British researchers say. Scientists at the University of Bristol found that study subjects who consumed alcohol considered people to be about 10 per cent more attractive than did people who did not consume alcohol…Both the male and female subjects not only found members of the opposite sex more attractive, they also found members of the same gender more attractive, too…The researchers also found that men deemed women to be more attractive for up to 24 hours after they consumed alcohol.

See, it’s that last bit that Franklin’s words mirrored – the continuing effect of the alcohol upon the faculty of the mind, an effect that lasted long after the alcohol ceased to exist in the body. Does the moderate drinker see the world through sunnier lenses generally? I wonder. I have had occasion by times to abstain for days on end – hard as it is to imagine – and it is in those times when find my imagination a little less vital, the roses passed sometimes unnoticed. Those are sad times. Pete Brown wrote the other day, by contrast, about how an introduction to craft beer opening the doors of perception to a whole new way of thinking about drink…but maybe it goes further than that, as Pete himself may be implying in his nod to good old Billy Blake, Franklin’s junior by half a century, who wrote:

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.

Isn’t that what the wee dram (or whatever the scientists of Bristol gave their human guinea pigs) did? Did it not cleanse the mind and reveal beauty? Is that no what Franklin saw when he was but a lad?

The Anonymous Brewers Speak: Rating The Raters

anonbrew2aFrom Alan: Recently I was contacted by a brewer who wondered if he, too, could write for A Good Beer Blog. Sure, no problem I thought. If Knut and Travis can, why not a craft brewer? But the brewer wanted to do it under the cloak of anonymity. I wavered. I wondered. I let it go for a while. Brewers usually stay silent like the one to the right. Then, quite a while later, unbeknownst to the first, I got a message from another brewer a world away asking for exactly the same thing. I knew then that there was a venue needed. A way for brewers to share what they really felt. So, from time to time they, too, can post here and share their thoughts. This is the first, a message from someone I will call Brewer A.¹ Please feel free to comment as you would in response to any post.

Well, how to get started? Sites like R(H)atebeer.com are a thorn in the side for many brewers. They are dominated by a handful of posters that don’t reflect the opinion of the general public. As with most critics they go off half cocked and I think often fully pickled. They pretend to know grain and hop varieties that they feel were used in a certain beer. I have seen the same poster rate the same beer twice in the same day and give it very different reviews. Hiding behind the mask of anonymity (like I am now) instills false bravery into these fellas (mostly boys but not all.) I have witnessed raters backing up a certain opinion to follow later in the same paragraph with “but I have not tried it yet.”

These raters looking to increase their numbers will will gather at fests to collect single mouthfuls of a new beer in the same way they once collected mint condition action figures. No need to engage the brewer or enjoy the beer for the sake of it – just get “Han Solo in the original packaging” and never open it up.

This involves further discussion. Maybe nine RateBeer guys and I could split a six pack and talk.

¹Stan’s point is excellently made: it’s Secret Brewer XJ17 from now on.

The Beer Drinkers’ Bill Of Rights

earlyrights
A depiction of the first debates on the rights
of beer drinkers, Greece 4th century BC.

I’ve been thinking about this beer stuff for a while now and have decided that it is right and proper that a Beer Drinkers’ Bill of Rights for us all be established. Any bill of rights, after all, is just a statement of fundamental law under which the many and individually weak define their relationship with powerful forces controlling a jurisdiction, whether they be the state or in the trade. That being the case, it is time that we admit that we have a jurisdiction of our own, that we assert the existence of the nation of those who love beer and that we define some elemental principles which the people of that nation hold to be self-evident

To that end I propose as follows:

1. All have the right to beer, the right to own beer and the right to their own beer.
2. Local beer shall be available and shall be excellent.
3. Beer shall not be taxed in undue proportion to other consumables.
4. Beer, including its constituent elements, shall be explained and explicable to the drinkers of beer.
5. Regardless of the source, beer shall be snob-free, plainly advertised and made available with minimal intermediaries, both in terms of consultation and transaction between the brewer and the drinker.
6. Beer shall be offered in a variety of packaging formats which shall include low cost formats.
7. Beer shall be safe and shall be accepted as a wholesome food and shall be recognized as an important and moderate agent in the pursuit of happiness.
8. The diverse rights to and of beer enunciated herein shall be guaranteed subject only to such reasonable limits as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

It may be the cold medications, sure, but I am convinced of the need of this. There may be amendments and additions to this list which can be submitted to via the comments as a form of constitutional assembly. Further, commentary upon each right shall be enunciated though discourse.

Do We Love The Beer Or Brewer?

Lew has written another segment of his unfolding manifesto on his relationship to craft beer and the craft beer industry and triggered a long discussion. I take this as his key point:

I have to tell you, this kind of “let’s treat craft beer with kid gloves” stuff has been bugging me for years. It’s one of the main reasons I started this blog and my website. I don’t have a lot of patience with people who blast beers from positions of ignorance — “This IPA sucks! I hate hoppy beers!” — but when a beer is not good — poorly packaged, poorly formulated, or just plain insipid — I don’t want to be told by some brewer that it wouldn’t be nice to say so, or that if I felt I had to say so, I should say so nicely.

Hey, we’ve all heard it from mothers and grandmothers (and editors): if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything. Well, how am I going to talk about light beer, then? Seriously, if a critic can’t say negative things, he’s gagged. And if I can’t say those negative things in an entertaining, creative way…what the hell am I getting paid for?

He is right but in being right also begs the question of the importance of his rightness. Don’t get me wrong. I like Lew lots. I even make a point of paying for his books and not hitting him up for review copies largely because he was an early adopter or at least supporter of my blogging about beer, what, for the best part of four years now. All I mean is like any voice with audience you have to remember that the subject matter itself is the important thing. Last month I thought out a bit of my mini-manifesto around being a fan. But while I am a fan of the great brewer I am really a fan of the brew more than anything. And I am really only a fan of what the brew does for me…not Lew… not the brewer… and not you out there (however nice you all are – and you are.) As a result, I am quite content not to get Cantillon and other Belgian sour beers, quite content to describe Rodenbach Grand Cru thusly…

That is all there but you have to appreciate that the acidity is that of a sub-puckeringly sharp wine. Vinous does not cover how sharp. Tart but only in the sense of King Tart of the Tartonians. Within the tart the is some reflection of spice and certainly a gooseberry-rhubarb custard trifle would go well with this.

…or to say of another of its general ilk: “I cannot hate it. Yet I am sure it hates me.”

If someone does not agree with me I do not understand how that changes the experience I have when those thing-like-fluids are in my mouth. For me, it is only about the fluid just as a pub is only about the actual experience you have or I have – not the hype or the good time a pal’s sister’s friend had 15 months ago. That may mean you have to take yourself seriously, too, and pay attention to what is in the glass and not rely on others anymore, even me, than you would rely on advertising or if the brewer is friendly, starting out or your cousin.

There. Another bit of the manifesto.

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!

Cyclops – Perhaps The Worst Idea Ever

Describing taste in words is funny business but making the effort is worthwhile as it provides you with a mechanism through which you can record your experiences with food and drink, and especially craft foods like real ale. We each take in the esters, phenols and other organic elements and recreate their interconnection in our own minds as we sip, sometimes discovering what the brewer intended and sometimes finding out new nuances never expected. Then you use your words to frame your experience. Do it often enough and you develop your own descriptors that make sense for your experience.

So it is inordinately shocking, then, to learn about what may be the worst idea in the craft beer movement I have ever heard of – a standardized system of beer description not unironically called Cyclops:

Cyclops, the new scheme launched today at the Great British Beer Festival at Earls Court in London, has the backing of 14 real ale breweries. Under the scheme, the brewers have agreed to follow a standardised template on all promotional material, describing the style, smell, look and taste of their beers. Bitterness and sweetness – the two main measures used to describe real ale’s characteristics – will also now be scored from one to five.

Cyclops follows a pilot scheme introduced by Leicester brewer Everards, which simplified the language used to describe real ales on promotional materials so customers knew exactly what to expect. A Campaign for Real Ale spokesman said: “Real ale is an incredibly complex drink with an enormous range of styles and tastes. Cyclops will demystify real ale so drinkers will know what a beer will look, smell and taste like before they part with their cash at the bar.”

This is tragic. And it is stunning that CAMRA supports such a thing. It is important at this moment in time that the most famous Cyclops, Homer’s Polyphemus, was blinded for life by drinking strong wine and ate people. This is hardly the making of a good brand. But even when he had one good eye he saw things…like he was born with one eye in the middle of his forehead – as in without particularly strong ability to see things from other perspectives. Plus, as man eating giant shepherds who get tricked a lot, they sort of fit the images of a rural rube caricature, kinda like in the satirical play by Euripides

And that is sort of what the program takes the craft beer lover for in presuming to tell you how to taste – it takes you for an ignorant oaf. It will create one recommended way to look at things and a snobby attitude to those who find their own way. Reject such mecho-branding systematic standards that will homogenize response patterns and trust yourself. If you think a beer tastes like the armpit Polyphemus after a long night in the cave (if you know what I mean) while the brewer tells you something like “it is a 5 (bitter), 3 (waterhardness), 3 (maltiness), 2 (mouthfeel) and 4 (overall) pale ale” then you just trust yourself and know that is likely tastes like that armpit.

¹…which would have been funnier if, instead of saying he was called “No man” thus leading to lots of punning hi-jinks that confused the big old dope, Odysseus had actually called himself “Norman” which would have led to a lot less confusion and likely the eating of Odysseus in the first few scenes thus saving thousands of undergrads the misery of figuring the whole thing out.

Beer Science: Pabst Against Pabst

pabst2

Ever since my pal portland came up with the phrase beer-tasting water, I have been a little too obsessed with Pabst Blue Ribbon. But then I realized I had a unique opportunity to perform my sort of science experiment: a side-by-side comparison of a PBR from the US against one brewed under license in Canada by Sleeman of Guelph. Even though any possible outcome of this project will not advance the human condition one bit, I took on the challenge.

pabst1First, I noticed the price. A six of Canadian PBR is $7.50 at the LCBO. The US version was $4.60 at a gas station on 12E, east of Watertown, NY. I knew I was getting ripped off, too, as I had seen $3.29 for the six at another place that was sold out. Then I noticed the cans. There is clearly more blue ribbon on the PBR stateside. Does this matter? I suppose not. Both also have the River Plate red sash which is quite natty.

pabst3To be honest, the beers taste pretty much the same – sort of bland, the pablum of beers yet without off flavours and somehow comforting. Like pablum, no self respecting adult would look forward to the taste but, once presented with it (like a new father feeding pablum to his little baby for the first time and scraping it off his hands knees and forehead), one is less turned off than one might expect. Yet the Canadian version, right in all pictures, is clearly a notch lighter and by the end of the glass as it warms and the bubbles die away it maybe even more watery.

What have we learned? Not much. Except I have ten more in the fridge.

Man Is The Measure Of All Things

Here is my half-baked unified theory essay based largely on idle car driving and long meeting daydreaming. Entire chunks could be rewritten and reversed, deleted even. I am too lazy to edit it any more and I am note convinced myself but, thought I, what the heck. I’m posting it for comment but given that I am calling it half-baked I would expect that the comment would not be of the “yor a moeron” sort. Pick out what you like, mix and match, compare and contrast.

I don’t know why the opening of Jane Taber’s column in the Globe and Mail last Saturday has clung to the back of my mind:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper spent last Saturday night at 24 Sussex Dr. fiddling with the TV, trying desperately to find the channel that carried Ben and Rachel’s favourite show, The Forest Rangers. It was the Harper family’s first Saturday night at the Prime Minister’s official residence — the family of four and their two beloved cats moved in just two days before — and the cable wasn’t hooked up. “I told Stephen I would arrange the channels on Monday, and he said, ‘No, let’s do it right now,’ ” Laureen Harper wrote in an e-mail this week. The Prime Minister proceeded to call the cable company…

It is not a sour thought at the sight of a Dad trying without any luck to figure out the electronics or a hapless moment for the new PM that saddens me. It’s that it was The Forest Rangers. Secretly, I hope it is a remake I have not heard of but I suspect it is that same show that was never part of my growing up – because even at 42 it was before my time. I suppose what makes me really sad is that in the last four and a half decades of entertainment communications there is nothing better for a couple of kids to watch than the show that made The Beachcombers seem like Shakespeare – even if their parents hold a pretty tight rein on the TV’s remote control. But I doubt it. Who would remake the Forest Rangers? Who now could?

Is this another post about the false promise of recent changes in mass communications? I suppose it is. This weekend, taking in a movie in a 1930s cinema as well as an excellent live hockey game, I was struck like I should not have been struck how the digital advance is something of a regression. We have a population that has, say, doubled in the last so many decades but the volume and variety of entertainments has exploded. And, while the technological advances have been impressive, has the content kept up? Is it possible that there could be so many more things with which to be entertained or informed without a relative dilution of the actual quality of content?

What have we given up due to the dilution? Audio fidelity in favour of tiny ear plugs. The ability to value excellence in favour of the ability to value what we choose or, worse, what we do. Even TV as a topic for water cooler talk is dumped in favour of the replacement of water cooler talk, the SuperNetWay. We have exchanged audience for authorship and awarded each of ourselves the same prize. Except maybe for Harper as Dad. For him there is that world of kids playing in a fort (without any explanation of who maintains it and on what budget) and helping with some sort of government administrative function in relation to lands and forests (despite the child labour laws). There is something back there in that show which is not here – the suspension of disbelief, that awareness that what your are taking is has acceptable flaws.

But we are such mooks now – suckered by belief in whatever we have placed before ourselves. All it takes is for a new self-flattering toy or medium to come along to make ourselves earnestly believe we must have it. And so with politics – we are so determined to be a vital player in the administration of government that we value our whim is as good as a policy borne of the toil of hundreds and the rulings of decades. We can no longer suspend our disbelief as consumers or citizens but are locked into our own certainty in relation to all things, creating a flat world where anything is pretty much as good as any other thing. We cannot defer. We must each be authority if we are also the personalize me. So no journalist is worth their salt, no policy can be trusted, no means to assert our own personal dominion of expression can dared be passed up. We each pick at the world yet pick each our own world. Less shared, less trusted. More me-like-ness.

Sometimes I think that the few years of this millenium have seen two changes which have melded unexpectedly: the rise of networked information technology and the rise of the fear and the security demand in response to terrorism despite almost five years now passing since, hopefully, the anomaly of 9/11 that shook us out of the sleep and pattern of tens upon tens being blown up here and there on a regular basis between nation upon nation, tribe upon tribe genocides. We can forget sometimes that there was life and community and many of the same problems in 2000, 1999 and before. We trick ourselves that all has been changed. About a year ago I wondered if we were post post 9/11. I wondered it again a few months later, the day before the bombings in London. But maybe the trick is on us, that the uni-mind of internet and homogenization of shared concern has left us burned a bit, blurred a bit even as we technologically assert our individual autonomy. So concerned with our fear of flying – even while we are on the ground – that we now have met unending earnestness and each of us shaken hands with it and made it our own. I thought there was an end to irony in the weeks after September 11th but now I think we lost more than just that as tools of surveillance and information merge in the one screen wired to the network, taking and giving, providing what we can say we have made up ourselves. We must believe now, nothing left to be suspended. Where would you stand during the suspension?

What to do? Doesn’t anyone think this is just a town full of losers to be blown out of? Maybe Steve does. Is the Harper family gathering around the black and white world of the past one way to assert the contrarian way? I still think it is a little sad but I don’t know why exactly. I wish them well.

Am I A Beer Geek?

Even though I prefer “beer nerd” I guess this description fits me:

…it was Sean Ziegler, pouring beers for Dogfish Head brewery at at the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival Saturday, who told it. “Wine is like an art. Your always subject to nature,” Ziegler said. “Beer is more like a science. Hence, the name beer geek. You can measure the color, the hops, the sweetness – and theoretically – if you can measure it, you can reproduce it over and over again.” The predominately male crowd at Saturday’s festival is part of a larger beer culture much different than the quantity guzzling, can crushing frat boys often associated with beer. These beer lovers crave knowledge about their favorite carbonated beverage. They seek out brews that are complex in color and flavor and do it through tasting, smelling, attending festivals, visiting breweries and cooking up their own concoctions. “There’s not a beer I don’t like, there’s not a beer I won’t taste, there’s not a place with a brewery that I won’t visit,” said Chris Katechis of Oskar Blues Brewery, who was serving up Old Chub Scottish style ale among others. “Everything there is to know about beer, we want to know. What time the brewer wakes up and starts brewing – we want to know.”

Is that you, too?