Interesting to see that “craft beer” is such a post-2007 term – and one that has never quote achieved the heights that “microbrewery” did in the late 90s. “Gourmet beer” never did nuttin’ for no one. Thank God. Glad to see “good beer” has the staying power that simplicity and accuracy assures. Play this game yourself.
So beer writers Stan and Daria and family were here getting a break from the camper on their world beer tour 2008. As it turned out, so were Steve from Beau’s and John o’ Church-key. Between them the lads drove 500 km to get here and as much to get home – nothing compared, however, to the Hieronymi land cruiser which hit the 10,000 mile mark yesterday. And, after hours of great beer and some good chow I threw together, I came away from what I will call the first Kingston Symposium on Craft Brewing realizing I pretty much know nothing about beer. Zippo.
Hanging around with such people of the beer is always a great education but listening to two such knowledgeable beer thinkers as Stan and Daria (who is also a recent winner on Jeopardy) over a whole evening with two of Canada’s most interesting young brewers was pretty amazing. Not to go blow by blow through the beers but I shared some Ontarians including our local Barley Day’s Wind and Sail Dark, some Stuart’s Natural and made some fairly snazzy scallops in a pan with a slug of Wellington Dark. Good Ontario and Quebec craft cheeses also shared the table.
We talked about beer price and value, the regulatory challenges of the Ontario market and the Canadian border as well as the opportunities a province that is trying hard to catch up to our southern neighbours provides. We also poured bottles of Steve and John’s brews including Beau’s flagship kolsche and Church-key’s West Coast IPA – as well as half year cellared bottles of Bog Water and Lactese Falcon, that beer that begs to be next to a rib-eye. Each of these showed really well and, in their comparison, begged the question as to which better expressed Ontario-ness: the traditional Algonquin Park canoe trip invocating bog myrtle or the funky blue cheese tang of the beer of the 22nd century. I just made that up. I am sure John will pick it up as the LT’s catch phrase.
To finish, we popped the tangy spicy dry and quite fascinating Fuego del Otono, a seasonal chestnut beer which is also very under-priced from Jolly Pumpkin. Stan and Daria had passed Dexter on a Saturday when the brewery was not open so it was fair to include it in their year-long continent hopping search for the essence of global local beer. By the way, that last beer is one of the ones that make me think there should be a web based auction for craft beer where beer lovers could set out what they would pay for a beer. If Ron at Jolly Pumpkin would set me aside a mixed case of beer like Fuego del Otono for pick up when I am in the neighbourhood, I would definitely pay $11.99 or a bit more compared to the $8.99 I paid for this one last fall at the ever excellent Bello Vino of Ann Arbor. Other beers of the moment might not get such a price boost from the set you own auction, if my suspicions are correct.
In the end, one in the morning came far too soon and, as with the best gatherings like this, I came away having added understanding as well as happily convinced in how little I still really know. There is so much to learn about good beer. For one thing, I now crave New Glarus Spotted Cow and may have to drive to Wisconsin just to get me some more.
Out and about on Friday I was quite happy to see this stubby at the LCBO, a cousin to the porter, imperial stout and IPA made by the Scotch Irish branch of Heritage Brewing. I was even more happy to see that it was a 3.7% ordinary bitter for $2.20 a bottle.
It pours a bright caramel-amber with a rich off-white head that resolves to a thick rim. In the mouth, there is a bit more of a carbonation zip than I would have thought an ordinary bitter might provide but it is relatively still compared to most ales you run into. The real pleasure in the beer is the amount of raisin-nutty grainy body that is packed into such a light brew. 95% of 5% beers in Canada would be thinner than this. The bitterness is in the English rather than American style with no room for citrus or pine or any other room freshener scent. Just a sweat (and cloy) cutting black tea jag.
Entirely delightful take on a too rare style usually reserved for thoughtful home brewers these days. If this is the same beer reviewed by three beer advocates, they have missed the point.
Spending the day with the kids at the Toronto Zoo on a field trip, I thought on the way back I would pop into County Durham Brewing in Pickering just to grab a few brew and have a chat with brewer, Bruce Halstead. Instead, I got a brief glimpse into the most trim and most successful small Canadian breweries I have ever seen.
County Durham seems to be a one man operation – all Bruce all the time. When I got to the door he took a break from cleaning the place but had to explain that there wasn’t even any beer to buy as he is casking it all for pubs entirely within the downtown of Toronto, half an hour’s drive away. In the past he had been servicing accounts in St. Catherine’s and Hamilton but has found success supplying the high standards of the beer geekdom of Canada’s biggest city. He has a van but, unlike other regional brewers, doesn’t have to spend half his week delivering to spread out customers. It’s one van load a week, one trip into town. He did mention he need a bigger van.
Another thing that makes County Durham’s brews stand out is that they are the only brewery in Ontario – and perhaps further afield regionally – that uses only whole hops. Bruce works with one farmer in the US north-west and has developed a relationship that has provided him with the quality and supply that perfectly fits his needs. I wish I could have tried some. But it was all gone out the door or heading that way.
A niche market that overtime has evolved to suit a very profitable small brewery. What any community could do with. Bruce mentioned a number of pubs where I could get his fresh beer any time, like C’est What or Volo. Trouble is they were all in the community half an hour in the other direction to the one I was heading in. He does supply the LCBO with two ales, C’est What Homegrown Hemp Ale and County Durham Signature Ale, but he needs to replenish those stocks as well.
Busy enough to be right at the edge, County Durham has to be one of Ontario’s more interesting success stories.
The call came at 7:45 pm. For weeks I had been exchanging emails with Steve about Beau’s All Natural Brewing’s move into the Kingston market and the prospect of another great Ontario made craft beer showing up in my favorite pubs as well as the LCBO. Being the man of mortgage as well as offspring, I have certain restrictions around my beer blogging so I thought this was a perfect opportunity to get to say hello and maybe get a short story. Well, that isn’t how it turned out.
I arranged to meet Steve at the nearest LCBO to get some pictures of the delivery process. 8:00 comes and goes. 8:10. 8:20. Nuttin’. I’d seen this white van go by a few times until it roared into he parking lot at 8:25 pm. After a quick how do you do, I asked whether he was delivering to all the LCBOs and realized he had three stops in 35 minutes and a couple of miles of traveling to do. As a good beer fan, I had a job to do and that was guiding Steve though my city. We jip here and there, zigged and zagged in traffic and before you know it 18 cases of their new swing top bottles of kolsche were delivered just as the last shop was locking its doors. I got to watch Steve hunched over paperwork quite a bit. And chatting up those who were going to sell his brew.
After delivering to the new Iron Duke on Wellington – which carries growlers – humping them down some very challenging stairs followed another chat about beer with the manager, we retired to the Kingston Brew Pub where their beer is on tap for a pint and a good old chin wag. I asked a lot of questions about how they started up, their plans and how they deal with materials. Steve described some of the fluctuations which they have to deal with – I had no idea that spring water is richer in minerals in winter – but mainly we talked about liking beer. One thing I always wonder about is how folks who are expert and committed to brewing put up with the cranks. “Cranks” is a good word for beer nerds as its one of the words that was used in the 1800s for baseball fans before “fanatics” got shortened. Steve was far kinder than me – as all brewers are when the question is asked – pointing out that their job as craft brewers in eastern Ontario was best described by John Graham as missionary work. Interestingly, we moved from a discussion on the pleasures of beer in which I wondered how it is that some could voice so much unhappiness with a chosen hobby when the subject matter itself is a pleasure and on into other things: the provincial trade association, thoughts about Beau’s philosophy of being a great regional brewer in touch with its customers, future plans.
Anyway, my night as a roadie was over before I knew it and Steve and the van were off into the night headed for his next destination. Energy and sleep deprivation and the zest that success brings seemed to be in the tank. I loaded up my growler of Beau’s new seasonal, Bog Water, that I’ll try for tomorrows next episode of The Session hosted over at Beer Activistwhere the theme is organic beer.
This is a great new stout from the Scotch Irish Brewing branch of Heritage, the eastern Ontario makers of a very good IPA and a solid, if only seasonal, porter. There is much talk about this one over at the Bar Towel, the province’s beer fan forum, with a little discussion of whether a 6.7% beer can be called an Imperial stout.
Does it matter? Not really. The labels and gradations of beer are as fluid as what is in the glass and what is in this glass is a full bore stout with plenty of the hallmarks of the style. The brew is deep and dark with a narrow brown edge showing when held up against the light. The tan head fades to a thin rim. In the mouth there is a mass of Dutch salty licorice over dark chocolate with some toast and prune treacle, if such a thing exists, underneath. It is all infused with the minty hop that opens up in the finish.
Greg beat me to this review but only because he is in the heart of LCBO-land, Toronto, and it takes some beers weeks to make the two hour trip east. The nuttiness of that is compounded by the fact that beer is brewed by Scotch Irish Brewing (now aka Heritage Brewing) of Carleton Place to the east of me – but centralized authority must have it’s way, you know.
This beer is dandy. The kind of beer that I do not expect to be made by Canadians – an accusation which makes depresses when I make it. But this is confident, a good example of a style, honest in that it is what it says it is and tasty. Sister to the excellent if recently slightly subdued Sgt. Major IPA, this beer pours a deep blackened brown with a light mocha rim and foam. On the sniff, there is cream, dry cocoa and espresso. In the mouth there is more dry cocoa, coffee, plum, date and plenty of drying but not astringent hopping on a reasonable soft water background. At 4.5%, it is moreish and sessionable. Two bucks a stubbie at the government store. Good doggie.
One of the beery treats of the trip was my first stop at Beers of the World on the south side of Rochester. It is actually in the community of Henrietta the question of whose separate legal existence as a separate jurisdiction is beyond the scope of this blog’s mandate. Either way, the shop is handy to the highway, easy to find from there in an sort of small to medium firm industrial park and big box shop zone and also located in a mini-mall area with lots of parking.
Once in the shop I was surprised by its scale. This store is about volume as the photos show with full cases of beers in the lower shelves and plenty of bottles of each in the upper ones. It is well illuminated, well signed and well staffed. There is also a huge cooler that I really did not investigate. All in all a very easy shopping experience.
Looking at my sales slip, I was able to get somethings I had not seen before at prices I am quite satisfied with. I found the sorts of beer that I was looking for. For example, for 4.65 USD I picked up a 11.2 oz bottle of Vichtenaar, the second Flanders red ale made by Brouwerij Verhaeghe, the brewers of Duchesse De Bourgogne. I also picked up 26 oz bottles of Meantime‘s IPA and porter for 9.59 each. One neat find was a 1993 Thomas Hardy’s ale for 19.95 on sale. A bit of a roll of the dice but as I am collecting these for a partial vertical tasting one day, not bad. All good things that I was happy to find and I dropped 200 bucks honestly and easily.
Still, the stock was not everything I could have imagined in one regard – too few mid-West beers were on the shelves. Now, to be fair remember that this place is called Beers of the World and there were pale lagers from every nation imaginable in addition to a great selection of Belgians, Brits and US micros from both coasts. But being that close to the Ohio border – the beginning of that next region – I was surprised that breweries like Great Lakes, Bell’s and the others with ads in The Great Lakes Brewing News were not represented. To be very fair, based on one visit, I did find a New Holland and a couple of Jolly Pumpkins I wanted but I would have thought that there could be more. If I am wrong and the clerk and I both missed the aisle, I would be happy to be corrected.
But be clear: I will return and this was a happy shopping experience. One thing that I would look into in greater detail next time is the home brewing supplies and beeraphenalia like the aisle of glassware, stacks of bar coasters, the displays of Toby jugs and also the rows of tap handles.
A very complete shop.
Nothing like a six of stubbies if you’re over 40 and a Canuck. I wrote about this beer in March 2005 and again in March 2006 when it compared very nicely in a side-by-side with Victory’s HopDevil. Careful sifters of clues will note however, that the address on the six-pack box above shows a different address from that mentioned in the previous two reviews. That is because for the last year or more Scotch Irish Brewing has been a branch or division or whatever of Heritage Brewing of Carleton Place, Ontario makers of interesting or at least daring seasonals especially that Maple Bush Lager. But the word was it was not so whatever-it-had-been now so I thought it was about to to try it again to see how things were going.
Starting with some non-fluid related observations, first thing I notice is that I like that they package has a lot number on it, in this case F077, which I understand means it is their 77th lot of the year and it was made in June. Someone will correct me I am sure but I am operating under the illusion that this beer is fresh. Next, I like the stubby. For those of you who are not aware, for people of a certain age, the stubby which ruled Canadian brewing for around 20 years from the mid-60s to the mid-80s is a bit of an icon for we of the Great White North. But one things that concerns me is the panicked look in the face of Mr. Sgt. Major. Look at him. While the last lad had a dull if determined air about him, this lad looks quite nervous, as if someone knew something about him and that that something was bad. We’ll have to find out if it relates to his job for the brewery and the beer or something in his private life like, say, a Zulu attack.
As for the beer, it left a lot of lace after the fine creamy head subsided and had a nice orange-amber hue all of which which is comparable to the 2006 picture and both sets of notes. As well, there is the soft water and pale malt graininess that I remember from before. The malt also is very much their with bread crust, sugar cookie and sultana raisin. What is different is perhaps a notch less hopping. While it is still a sharp shock of sour white grapefruit rind goodness, it does not seem to have quite the stomach ache producing acidity that I recall, less of the green hop fire in the finish.
But is that such a bad thing, if I am recalling correctly? For me, compared to many of the hard water beers of south western Ontario, that softness is something I would compare much more to the moreishness of many central New York micros. If you are a hard water fan, this might make it seem flabby but for me it is all good, giving a richness you might not find elsewhere in Ontario pale ales of any degree. So all in all a good experiment again. I will have to check-in in another year or so to see how this beer is doing.
A run to Ottawa to see the Billy Bragg show on Saturday meant the opportunity to do a Sunday morning run to one of the better shops in Western Quebec for craft beer, Marché Jovi in Gatineau, Quebec. The shop is handy for anyone near Ottawa’s Island Park Drive and the bridge to the other side and sits near the gate of Gatineau Park.
Inside you are met with one of the tidiest depanneurs I have ever come across. I asked if I was able to take some pictures and, one bien sur later, was being escorted around the place by a very friendly guy in a dapper white grocer’s jacket. He was proud to show of the selection, let me know that there was new stock coming in and took particular pride in noting the selection of glassware – quite the thing for what you would think was a corner store – and the fact that the regular customers were quite knowledgable in their correct use. I also picked up a copy of the autumn issue of Le Sous-Verre: L’actuality de la biere!, a free craft beer newspaper out of Montreal…a review of which Google has butchered in translation here.
As Blork noted almost two years ago now, buying beer in Quebec is similar to much of the States. You can get your beer and your corn flakes and your milk all in one stop. Usually this means one large stack of macro brew – as it does most place in the states – but where the owners have imagination and the knowledge, you can create a small oasis like you find at the Galeville Grocery near Syracuse or in pretty much any place in Portland Maine. Usually it also means a walk in cooler.
Most of the stock was Quebec products including macrobrews (inlcuding Labatt Porter) but also many craft beer from breweries like Unibroue, Saint-Arnould, Les Brasseurs RJ, Ferme-Brasserie Schoune. Blork has already reviewed the white beer made by each of the last three. I picked up mixes sixes from Saint-Arnould and Schoune for ten bucks each as well as a couple of large format imports from Saint Sylvestre of France (on special for $5.79) as well as a 330 ml Floreffe dubble from Belgium. Interesting to note that Blonde d’Achouffe is being brewed by license by Les Brasseurs RJ and was included in their six pack.
I would definitely go again, especially with the indication that there were going to be additions to the stock on a regular basis. Clean and helpful with a good selection and good price. What ele could you want from a corner store?