Ontario: Pan-Ontario, BeausFlyMonkGrandGreat Brewing

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They are still at it over at the Kingston Brew Pub as I write. Steve is to the left and Dave to the right, both Beauchesnes and both of Beau’s All Natural Brewing of Vankleek Hill in the furthest eastern edge of the province, roughly east of the eastern tip of Cuba if you must know. The release of Pan-Ontario, a blend of four Ontario beers which were then rammed into a a bourbon barrel, heated to 3,000C and sent to the moon and back in the Space Shuttle as part of the celebrations of the second annual Ontario Craft Beer Week.

OK. I know. I made the last two bits up but it is a pretty snazzy beer so it’s like it went through all that and came out the other side – all the better for it. It’s a big beer. 10% brown ale full of date and vanilla and other good things with maybe a bit of black cherry, too, but not so heavy that you wobble around like a weeble. Made of Flying Monkey’s Netherworld and Grand River’s Curmudgeon and Great Lakes 666 as well as Beau’s Screaming Beaver in unknown proportions. What I really like is that is not a recipe collaboration (aka another tax write off holiday in Norway for the brewery owner) but an actual blend of actual real beers to make another beer. It was like a nut brown ale as envisaged by a rabid squirrel. Sounds bad but I expect you have not hung out with rabid squirrels as much as you might so just have a little faith in the image, wouldja?

A great way to end a work week. I got to spend a few hours with the guys. I got to talk with staff and local beer fans talking about the brew as well as other things. I got to ask for another sample and was handed a full pint of the stuff. I made my way home in one piece.

Twenty Years Ago, A Christmas Eve In Scotland

One of my favorite Christmas Eves was twenty years ago tonight, in Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland. I was visiting my uncle, auntie and cousins and had settled into a week long stay. It didn’t take long for it to seem like to everyone in the village I was that “coosin frae Gan-ee-der.” People shouted hello to me from across the street, a colonial vestige of something, a bit of all their people who had gone away. I had been there a few years before by myself so was renewing old friendships but this time I had come there from a new direction – from Poland where I had been teaching English as a second language in a small city on the Baltic coast. And I’m still married to the guest I brought along, the one I had met only a few weeks before, back there well east of Germany where the Soviets still had tanks. All in all, a complex bit of culture shock going on: from the nutty affluence of North America to the balance of hard luck and new hope world of the land keeking out from behind the Iron Curtain and then on to somewhere in between, an old village in the old country in winter.

In that village there was a pub. The Golf Inn. Down the street and around the corner from the family home most evenings we played pool, drank a lot of Guinness and sat around and talked night after night with family and friends, greens keepers, university students back from college all curious about what we had seen in the East. We were there on Christmas Eve, too, dressed up a bit more and well fed by auntie, packed in with the neighbours likewise having a great old time when, at 11 pm, without any warning to we two Canadians in the corner, all moved as one across the road to the Church of Scotland, the Kirk, for the service. It was magic. Never been in a church before or since after a night filled with beer and friends. Before and after the dour sermon, there were great big men swaying in kilts, well oiled from the evening to that point. They sang in congregation and beefy harmony in great booming voices. Unlike this night, twenty years later in another church in another country, I am now not sure if they sang the Viking meets Italian carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” but they may well have:

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

After church, we were with the half that did not pour back into the pub to continue. We had to get back. There were plenty of guests in the house besides ourselves, generations of relatives that all had to get up in the morning as one. We walked together back round the corner and up the street in the cold still dark night full of the singing, the beer, the night.

Beau’s Thursday Night Tasting In the Backyard

A fun way to spend the evening. Beau’s had their quarterly business meetings in town and they all came over for a few hours of opening bottles – including the father, son and a sizable host. We nine started well with two saisons and biere de garde: Hennepin, Jack D’or and 3 Monts. Batch 10 from Pretty Things was much better than the more recent bacth 13. Lesson: let it sit.

Things got a little wobbly with three Quebec takes on Belgian white beer. We thought RJ’s Coup de Grisou was fine and a good value beer. And Barbier from L’Ilse D’Orleans was not well understood given its level of rich maltiness. But Blanche from Charlevoix was a revelation in nasal interaction with beer. Freesia. Fabulous.

Three more bottles were opened. Trade Winds Tripel from the Bruery was a bit muddled with a nice aroma. Too much of the malt ball for the style or maybe just our level of interest given the other choices. Next, the Poperings Hommel Ale, as always, was amazing. The greatest pale ale in the history of the planet? Could be.

Then the taxi was called for the eight to be off. It was time. The mosquitoes had begun to bite. Just time to open a quart of Drie Fontienen’s Oude Gueze, one of the few beer that could follow a Poperings. Like any divider of people, some were not with it. They got the first taxi. The rest of use stood on the driveway, waiting on the warm quiet summer night sipping. Then the taxi and then they were off and away.

The Women Every Real Canadian Male Has A Crush On…

Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin, left to right, Kim St-Pierre and Charline Labonte drink beer on the ice with their gold medals after Canada defeated the USA in women’s Olympic hockey final game in Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday Feb. 25, 2010. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Scott Gardner)

Truth be told, every Canadian male has a deep and abiding crush on every member of the woman’s hockey team and photos of them drinking beer just feed the flame. We have commercials where the players kick doltish men like us all on the ice. They sell us social networking tech. While we have to work on their taste in beer, these are the sweethearts of the nation. Goalie gear, baby. Oh baby.

Did Richard Lautens of the Toronto Star get the best picture of the moment?

An Olympics And Beer Story That Makes Some Sense

I still wonder what the average Latvian thinks about all this but at least this story makes a little more sense than needing to shut public booze sales and politicians drunk driving. Yet the International Olympic Committee is not amused:

Nearly an hour after the Canadians won their third consecutive Olympic gold medal with a 2-0 win over the Americans, the players came back out on the ice in the near-empty arena, smoking cigars and swigging champagne and beer. (Rebecca Johnston even tried to drive the zamboni.) “I don’t think it’s a good promotion of sport values,” Gilbert Felli, the IOC’s executive director of the Olympics, told the Associated Press after learning about the celebration. “If they celebrate in the changing room, that’s one thing, but not in public. We will investigate what happened.”

Gold. Literally. What’s that IOC? Leave it in the locker room? Hide your beer drinking?? What a joke. Remember, these are Canadian hockey players and remember what the Russian goalie said when the mens team gave them the boot the other night: “They came like gorillas coming out of a cage.”

Yet is that what we are? Is that what the world sees? Are we really the wild men and women of the north, clubbing and hammering poor Russians and American athletes as mere foreplay for a good beer? Sadly, no one appears to have taught the women’s hockey team on the ways of good beer. Does she really need to be sucking down a Molbat macro-blurt?

Olympic Celebrations One Big Binge-o-rama

Call the Neo-probes! Athletic competitions now proven to lead to binge drinking as Vancouver struggles to keep up with drunk jet setting gangs of cow bell ringers and fans of third-rate curlering nations. Jet setting Olympic public boozing is apparently something we are very good at in Canada:

“Due to an unprecedented number of intoxicated people, we must do what we can to ensure the Games are safe for everyone,” said a spokesman for the province’s liquor licensing branch Sunday. “We’re taking a measured approach that still allows people to have fun and feel confident that they will be safe while doing so,” he said… Vancouver Police said they are prepared to ask for more early-closing orders to tackle public drinking, drunkenness and disorder on city streets, after being granted similar orders for Saturday and Sunday. Police spokesman Const. Lindsey Houghton said there was a noticeable spike in people bringing booze into the downtown core on the weekend.

And it’s not just the crowds in the streets who are booze fueled. We Canadians proudly celebrated the gold medal celebrations by our own Jon Montgomery, the fastest guy to go head first down an ice chute on a sled: “I don’t subscribe to necessarily all the things typical athletes do, and for me a pint now and then is a good thing,” he said… “I go out to parties with him, and he finishes the party,” said teammate Mike Douglas. He finishes the party. That’s why we love him. He walked around chugging from a pitcher of beer after the victory pretty much like he did, above, at the Skeleton World Championships in Feb. 2008. And during an interview, a fan tossed Montgomery a mickey of rye, which he stuck in his back pocket. That’s why we love him. He is us.

We are such bad examples for ourselves.

Update: Huffington Post has the photos and a video:

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.