My Seemingly Obligatory Thoughts On St. Patrick

Have a thought for Saint Patrick, the actual guy. Taken as a teen age slave from his native Wales to Ireland, familiar with all the details of Druidism from whose bondage he was destined to liberate the Irish race, able to paralyze those who would deter him from his mission and all we can do is get pounded in his name. Isn’t the 17th of March now a bit of a sad legacy given, at least in certain places, the celebrations reach a pitch which would make a Druid blush?

Craft beer fans seem to object to the St. Patrick’s Day as a general thing. Andy Crouch is turned off by the exploitation by big American breweries, the push by Guinness for a holiday is seen for the commercial exploitation that it is and slightly excruciating efforts are made to find another angle on green beer.

But not being Irish, not being American, no longer being a regular Guinness drinker and not being a person to go out and get sloshed in bars like some cheese-eating frat boy…what’s the harm? Isn’t the cheeriness associated with the day and the doings somewhat compelling? Aren’t there peoples from Patagonia to the Republic of Palau who ache with jealousy at the good PR the Irish get out of it? And, given all the free press about beer this time of year – if we are like Patrick to be evangelists ourselves – isn’t this a great opportunity for a teaching moment? Isn’t this, frankly, the sort of beer holiday that craft brewers would dream of making up if it didn’t already exist?

Saint Patrick can be associated with bringing the gift of civilization, of the pluck to take on an impossible task, of the enduring drive to achieve passion’s dream. These all seem great values you can associate with hard working craft brewers. Take back and take on the day, I say.

Countdown To Christmas: I am Bagged

Bagged, I tell ya. Walking around the mall last night with a ten year old who was walking around the mall making sensible selections for a bunch of people as I handed out five dollar bills at the proper moments without flinching, discussing how Rihanna’s “Shut Up And Drive” has echos of Gary Newman’s “Cars” in the phase-shift syth, stopping at every grocery store around looking for large cuts of meat on sale, noting beef is on sale everywhere but never seen gia-norm-ous cuts (including a $55 joint the size of six cats tied together) are being placed on offer, standing in a line up at Tim Hortons only to be told that the mug someone wants for someone in all the TV ads sold out yoinks ago, enjoying the fact that my new YakTrax work so well, waiting to get home to post another thirteen prizes in the 2008 beer blog photo contest, staying up to midnight (even though I got up before five) to figure out the final seven prizewinners so that I don’t have to stay up to midnight tonight, eating the first duck we ever roasted for a vary late supper, marveling at how nice the house smells as the duck stock steeps.

I am bagged.

Belgium: Gouden Carolus Easter Beer, Het Anker, Mechelen

I had been planning on having this beer today as one small nod to the once busy task of brewing beer for holidays. Time was there were beers made for every saint’s day, every profession and every celebration of a stage in life. Now we are restricted to Yule and a few stragglers like this one for Easter. I had even complained about a lack of Easter brews when I was planning The Session last spring so I am at least grateful to have this one to try.

But before going there, I have read how Greg Clow over at Beer, Beats, Bites has uncovered calamity itself and has pointed out that the powers that be have censored the very label on this very bottle. I am quite innocent of all such understanding as my bottle kindly forwarded by the distributor, though slapped with the “Extra Strong Beer” label required by the Federal Food and Drug Act, is quite free from any thing dealing with the wickedness of the bunny.

Apparently, it is not so much this version of the bunny label, however, but previous versions that may have given the government some concern as is illustrated under the photos below. You will have to click to see the truth. I cannot bear it:*

 

 

 

 

Frankly, the more curious thing to me is the legal basis for the authority for making such a decision to enforce the banning of the bunny. In my chapter in Beer & Philosophy, I wrote about quite a number of these ridiculous sort of rules and they were all based on some sort or actual regulation. Ontario’s Liquor Licence Act at clause 62.1(10.2) provides that the Lieutenant Governor in Council (aka some particular bureaucract) may make a regulation in relation to labels:

…governing the information that may or must appear on labels and containers of liquor sold or kept for sale at a government store…

The government store is defined as a store established under the Liquor Control Act which would be the LCBO. You see, generally the LLA governs the activiities of the AGCO while the LCC speaks to what the LCBO can do – make sense? Well, in any event, regulations can be made for labelling at the store – but, as Greg points out, these beers are not for sale “at a government store.” So, in addition to there not actually being a bunny reference, there must be some other power to control labels. Under the LCA, it states at section 3(1)(j) that “the purposes of the Board are, and it has power…to determine the nature, form and capacity of all packages to be used for containing liquor to be kept or sold…” That might be it. But then somewhere there has to be a written statement of standards…and one would expect that to be found in the LCBO’s Trade Resources. And there it is: at page three of the Simplified Canadian Label Requirements (warning: pdf!) it states that beer label may not have imagery which is “misleading or imply irresponsible use of the product”. Hmmm – not very detailed authority for banning a bunny but the introduction to the LCBO’s SCLR mentions other sources of rules, including the CFIA which has jusrisdiction under the the FDA. Under that Federal law, beer is food and there is law about the labeling of food at section 5(1) of the FDA:

No person shall label, package, treat, process, sell or advertise any food in a manner that is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to create an erroneous impression regarding its character, value, quantity, composition, merit or safety.

Could it be that beer is not meritorious enough to be associated with a rabbit? No, I think that we need to find the regulation that actually details this bunny stuff. The Food and Drug Regulations happily define in law what beer is but while section B.02.130(b)(vii)
allows for “irish moss seaweed of the species Chondrus crispus” it does not allow at all for Oryctolagus cuniculus – the European rabbit. Could it be under Canadian law the rabbit is not so much banned as just not included?

Anyway, I am having mine tonight in celebration of the resurrection of Jesus 2025 years ago and, in a bit, I will note down what I thought of the beer inside the bunny-fouled packaging.

Later: the beer pours the colour of seasoned pine lumber with a wild rocky head that quickly subsides. At 10%, one has to be somewhat responsible so I have nipped away at this one consious that the bottle has the equivalent strngth of five and a half ounces of rum. But it does not stick out as much as it might despite this being a quite mild mannered pale ale. It is somewhat tripel-esque but things can merge somewhat stylistically at this strength. Safe to call it a Belgian Pale Strong Ale as it is each of those things.

There is plenty of aromatic graininess, a little bit of mild apple and honey in the malt, a bit of a musty side and a nice cream note to the heart of it. There is a bit of a bite that makes me think there could be some wheat in the grist, too, but I know nothing about these things. The brewery says that the particular twist offered by this beer is the addition of three herbs but they do not stand out to my taste, though there is definitely a twiggy aspect. They also say “served with pride it isdrunken with respect.” Perfect – just as I like to be. Plenty of BAer love. Too bad it’s blighted by that frigging bunny.

*…it’s more than I can bear to think of you seeing these…

Two From Weihenstephaner And Four Of Us

It does no good to write about beer and be alone. One has to cultivate a group, at least, who will share the wonderment when the good stuff is at hand. So it was then when the twelve from Weihenstephaner were delivered from Sean of the brewery’s the new Ontario importers, Beer Barons, there had to be a gathering to give it justice now six months before it is due to hit the LCBO shelves.

Knut visited Weihenstephan’s home town of Freising for us two years ago. This oldest brewery on the planet by its own reckoning is the maker of a range of Bavarian beers including the hefeweissbier and hefeweissbier dunkel that we shared. I think I had been unclear on the latter beer as I expected a wheat double bock or weizenbock but this was a lighter take on a brown wheat ale – and a very interesting one.

The first to be opened, though, was the hefeweisse and when it was opened all we could smell was banana cream pie. In the glass it pours a cloudy effervescent orangish amber under a think rocky orange tinged head. In the mouth there is cream of wheat, banana with a rather subdued clove and nutmeg presence. The yeast is whole milk rich and the finish is slightly black tea astringent. All in all, very rich bodied and soft water moreish.

The dunkel sits at an interesting middle point comparable to a balance between Schneider Weisse and its sibling Aventinus but really something different again. More brownish-grey turkey gravy in colour, the beer is virtually identical in strength with the weisse but a little less pungent of banana, clove and nutmeg. In exchange there is graininess and nut, like a good English southern brown ale with slight notes of plum and baseball glove leather.

Both rich gorgeous takes on weisse ales, the dunkel was deemed superior if only because it was so singular without being extreme. BAer reviews here.

Paul Tells A Tale Of Two Beer Festivals

paulstrip5

Bury St Edmunds Corn Exchange, home of the East Anglian Beer Festival
The East Anglian Beer Festival takes place in my hometown of Bury St Edmunds at the end of April. As it is on my doorstep, so to speak, it’s a must visit event. I normally pay a visit everyday, but this year was different. This year I’d planned to visit two different beer festivals in one week. Not only that but also several hundred miles apart to boot.

The East Anglian Beer Festival is what it says on the label “celebrating the best of East Anglian ale”. Now, apart from a singular trip to the Great British Beer Festival in London a couple of years ago, my beer festival attendances have been restricted purely to East Anglia. As a consequence I get to try a lot of local ales. Because of this there were few new beers to get me exited at this year’s EA festival. Not a problem as I had only a brief time to sample. Here’s what I sampled:

  • Maldon Gold from Mighty Oak – 3.8% – A bitter golden ale floral and lemon undertones. Hoppy with strong hints of sweet vanilla.
  • JHB (Jeffrey Hudson Bitter) from Oakham Ales – 3.8% – The colour of donkey wee, this ale tastes better than it looks. Light in colour, subtle in taste, hints of PLJ or lemon marmalade.
  • Windswept from Oulton Ales – 4.5% – Sweet dark copper coloured ale. Mass of flavours including honey and prunes. A most excellent ale.
  • Bitter from Winter’s Brewery – 3.8% – A bland could-have-been-anything sort of ale. A very boring beer. A distinct absence of the “advertised” fuggles taste. You can’t win them all!

The next day we set of for Bonnie Scotland. We planned to break our journey by a stop off in the Lake District. Keswick was our town of choice. I had hoped that staying at what was a traditional coaching inn would have given me the opportunity to at least have a decent ale-a-errific nightcap in pleasant surroundings. Not so. Three hand pumps but no real ale on. I was told that there might be some on later, “when it cleared.” What concerned me was how the bar steward tried to persuade me to have John Smith’s Creamflow, a disgustingly bland nitro-keg beer that I’d cross the street to avoid. When I said most certainly not, he looked totally bemused and went on to say that it was the most popular selling bitter in the country and that it’s always consistent. Well, in terms of quality I suspect suppositories are also consistent but I would recommend them as a substitute real ale either! He then went on to dis real ale because it sometimes went sour. They presumably don’t have a fast enough turnover, but with a salesman like that I’m not surprised. The man clearly knows fuck all about real ale.

paulstrip1In a situation like this there’s only one thing to do. Reach for one’s trusty Good Beer Guide. Bingo! A recommendation: The Dog and Gun also in Keswick. The Dog and Gun is a proper pub, four real ales, flag stones on the floor, a local’s pub with bags of atmosphere. Plus it serves good honest well cooked pub grub. I sampled two of their fine ales:

  • Yates Bitter – 3.8% – Distinct bitterness, a really good session beer, with some maltiness and no hint of hops.
  • Taste Ascent – Keswick Brewery – 4% – Very bitter golden ale. Too bitter for my taste. Hints of marmalade, again bereft of hoppiness.

paulstrip2…Hullo Jimmy. I’d like to introduce Jimmy…
 

The following day it was back on the road to the land of my Nana, north of the border. It was my first trip to a Scottish beer festival, nay my first visit to any beer festival north of The Wash and an interesting affair. Nosier, most certainly, and with a different demographic to the English beer festivals that I’m used to attending. East Anglian folk tend to be quite reserved, so the loudness and the extrovert nature of the locals I found needed a bit of adjusting to.

paulstrip4My raison d’etre for attending beer festivals is to try something new, as I intimated a little difficult in my hometown, but I suppose for those less dedicated or less travelled, that only attend their local beer festival, local beers are probably quite a novelty. Local beers for local people!

This was obviously the case at the 20th Paisley Beer Festival. The festival was spread over two rooms, one for Scottish ales and the other housing “foreign” ales – predominantly English ales. It came as no surprise to find that the hall containing the Scottish selection was more densely populated than the “foreign” hall.

The Caledonian Brewery Pipe band was at the festival, enjoying a few bevies and playing for the punters. There seemed to be an even greater mood of national pride at the time. It was just before the Scottish election so, as a consequence, the pipe band went down a storm with great cheers going up after each number. I was under the impression that this sort of thing was for tourists only, but clearly the local crowd loved it. Even more astonishing to a sasenach was the average age of the festival goers. It was a great deal lower than that of the festivals I normally attend in England. In my locale, youngsters would never be as enthusiastic about something as folksy as a pipe band. Not only was the average age a lot lower than in England, where beer festivals tend to be the domain of middle-aged bearded blokes in jumpers, but a large proportion of them were women. Young women in their late teens or early twenties, not wearing their vests and balancing precariously on frighteningly high heeled shoes, and seemingly able to out drink many of the men.

paulstrip3Here’s what I tasted at the festival:

  • Arran Blonde from Arran Brewery – 5% – A pale golden beer with that distinct hamster bedding flavour we’ve all come to know and love.
  • Piper’s Gold from Fyne Ales – 3.8% – A dark golden ale with an initial refreshing bitter taste and not a single hint of hops to be had.
  • Avalanche from Fyne Ales – 4.5% – A very pale and hoppy seasonal beer, perfect for supping on the banks of Loch Fyne.
  • Riptide from Brew Dog – 8% – A malty, smoky chocolately ale with traces of liquorice. Warming like liquid coal or a sharp intake of breath by someone with a 40 a day Capstan Full Strength habit.
  • Lia Fail from Inveralmond – 4.7% – A dark beer with a well-balanced sweetness, malt and slight chocolate tones.
  • Red Cuillin from Isle Of Skye Brewing Co – 4.2% – Smooth, well rounded dark copper malty ale. Also with burnt butterscotch musings.
  • Kelburn Red Smiddy from Kelburn Brewing – 4.1% – A red ale, complex in character with a dry bitterness and a citrus finish.
  • Cuil Hill from Sulwath Brewers – 3.6% – A light copper ale with bursts of malt and hints of honey.
  • Stairway To Heaven from Triple fff Brewery – 4.6% – The only “foreign” beer that I tried and I’m ashamed to say the best that I tasted at the festival. A pale brown ale with lusciously ripe mouthfuls of raspberries and blackberries. All that glitters is gold!

A great festival with a friendly and lively crowd. A wonderful trip.

Village Games

I was sent off on a YouTube adventure by a kind reader of note who last evening sent me emails with videos of cheese rolling attached like this one and all these.

That got me thinking that maybe there were videos of the ancient pre-football village games that happen at holidays. And there were. Like Royal Shrovetide Football you can watch here. Kind of weirdly but appropriately put to music. I think this is that game explained on wikipedia. Here is another – this from Orkney. Again set to music. Here is a web page on that game. Nothing on Winchester College Football on YouTube yet.

As we start moving from the recreational and civic holidays of the warm half of the year to the traditional holidays of the darker half, I am reminded that village and community are interesting things which are not like suburbs, workplaces or shopping malls or even families. The internet will only create real community when this sort of game starts up, including people you do not necessarily like doing things together you do not necessarily understand because you must. Maybe it has and maybe it hasn’t. Maybe that is what the Kingston Society for Playing Catch is to be. I will only know if anyone gets the hat and even then likely not.

Digger Dance

The last thing we stuck around the New York State Fair yesterday afternoon for was the JCB digger dance. Basically, six heavy construction vehicles are run around a parking lot to music doing a sort of Ed Sullivan era pop ballet. Here are some short short movies:

Here are a whack of photos:

Sunday At The NYS Fair

Here are some pictures from the New York State Fair. The first is actually a diner we passed half lost but near the fairgrounds. You’ll see crawdads, spiedies and dinosaur ribs. Maybe I have not gone to many fairs, but the amazing thing to me about the place was how there were more food booths than carnies. The butter sculpture was amazing…well…interesting enough…I guess. Clean, civilized, packed and stinkin’ hot when the weather was calling for cloudy with rainy spells. Excellent.

Here are two short short movies, the first of a crowd scene [1.5 MB] and the second of the two-seater ride I will never take [2.1 MB].

 

Men at Serious Play

So we went over to St. Lawrence County, New York, on Saturday to catch a War of 1812 re-enactment of the Battle of Ogdensburg organized by a local group, Forsyth’s Rifles Inc.. We were not disappointed. I had never been to one of these things before – other than being a mock soldier at Citidel Hill in Halifax for one day (I got sun stroke in the shade) – and so in had some pre-conceptions that, on one hand, it would be like a radio nerd convention and, on the other, a bit gungho.

It was neither. About 60 guys, who could very well have been all high school history from either side of the river/border, played out the actual battle with some authenticity for over about an hour. They were quite happy to answer all questions and made sure everyone kep a safe distance. The grey-coated British advanced over the ice in formation, cannons roared from both sides and fifes were played. It was quite cold and a couple guys said they were considering taking Walmart and holding it instead.

I wrote earlier this month on the events and provided links in that post. A year later in the War of 1812, the USA invaded Eastern Ontario and got hammered at Chrysler’s Farm where a much smaller force protected Montreal against 8000 soldiers (including the real Forsyth’s unit) coming up the river from Sackett’s Harbor. There is a bigger re-enactment in summer of that battle which we will likely take in. The Ogdensburg guys head over for that.

Some short movies of the action – all around 2 Mbs so expect some delay

The fifes play as the battle nears
The US forces march out to meet the Brits
a US cannon fires
The US musketmen are ordered to fire at will – note small Brit snowshoe unit coming up to the left in trees

Please give me a heads up if any of the links in the multi-media post do not work.