Session 141: The King Is Dead! Long Live The King!!

My reaction was immediate when I heard the news:

At first I was afraid, I was petrified…
Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side…

In fact, I was so strongly moved by the idea of shutting down the sentence that I tweeted out my congratulations to Stan and Jay on their retirement, as opposed to that of The Session – the monthly collective writing exercise that has been a constant in the last 7/8th of the history of beer blogging. But then Stan and Jay wrote to tell me it really was time to let go. I wonder if they are right. They might be.

My problem is not that beer blogging is one type of writing in a broad range of formats.  It’s the only one that provides for long form creative writing on anything that strikes the author’s fancy, without concern for pay or editorial intrusion. The Session was one way that the fellow minded stayed in touch with each other. Interestingly, Jonathon Surratt is reviving another old tool – the very former RSBS – with the same goal through his new beer aggregator,

I think there is a place for such things. Folk new to writing need encouragement. Folk with opinions need a venue when their writing is more personal or quirky than editors will pay for. Despite more ways for more people to express their thoughts about beer, there is an unfortunate drive to homogeneity driven by the unreasonable hope of some day making some sort of living from beer writing. Wasn’t likely when The Session was new. Likely less likely now. It’s a side gig for 98% of us. A fun gig, sure. But that is sorta it.

There is nothing wrong with this. Writing is a pleasure. Sharing your writing is a way to make that experience richer. Maybe Jay’s work on The Session will continue in another form. Maybe not. Either way link you writing to so as many people as possible can find it. If you have enough interest in writing you should have interest enough in putting in it front of a few more eyeballs. Sign up.

Some Words For Beer In The NY Times Over Time


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.

The Hieronymi Were Here…As Were Steve and John!


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.

Ontario: Stuart’s Natural, Scotch Irish Brewing, Lanark

snsa1Out 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.

Ontario: A Dry Visit To County Durham Brewing

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.

My Night As A Guest Roadie For Beau’s All Natural Beer

beaus5The 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. beaus2I 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.

Big Hop Bombs: India Pale Ale, Meantime, London, England

I picked up a couple of big format bottles of Meantime beers at some point in my travels last year. I needed a Stonch-like moment to try this micro from the centre of the known universe like the one from last March when he tried this beer on an English spring afternoon. Apparently, this first Wednesday evening in February with a blizzard coming was it.

The brewery has given me some confidence that this beer is fit for the Big Hop Bomb category, if we go by this description on their website:

Jam packed with English Fuggles and Goldings, the beer is brewed with as many hops as we can physically get into the copper. We then fill the lauter tun with hops for a further infusion and then we dry hop with the beer with even more hops using our own unique circulation process to ensure maximum contact between the hops and the body of the beer. All this gives us a final hopping rate of well over 2lbs of hops per barrel.

What a gorgeous beer. Orange straw ale under a rich cream mousse head. French bread and herbed lemon curd nose. Very rich and one has visions of slow roasting chickens that have soaked whole in a bucket of this. Plenty of hop floaties like I last saw in a Founder’s Harvest ale. A succession of quickly changing hop effects spark. None burn like in a big US IPA but there are garden bitter greens, tangerine zest and something like licorice. The body is lighter than a full throttle DIIPA, say, but there is plenty of mildy apple and sultana raisin pale malt balancing this 7.5% brew. A bit of arugula to dry the lightly sweet malt finish. Big BA support.

Stouts: John By Imperial Stout, Scotch Irish Brewing, Ontario

jbis1This 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.

I think this is an excellent example how big need not mean skull-splittingly strong and that Imperial stout can mean grand and not just alcohol ridden. Seven BAers give firm support.

When Is It Right Not To Blog About Your Beer?

I took no notes. I had the camera but I took no pictures. The photo is from two years ago.

Even though you can blog about pretty much anything if you have a deft eye for the moment, I felt only a little guilty but blogging can get in the way of enjoying and I had such a day of craft beer and Americana yesterday I just had to exclude you for the most part. I didn’t mean to exclude Travis, though. I feel quite badly that I did such a poor job of planning that I didn’t realize the Syracuse football game started at 4 pm instead of the expected noon. As a result, the demands of others and the Sox game rammed into the end of the football squeezing out the chance anticipated visit with Travis to Clark’s Ale House. I am a bad beer blogger but he wins a prize…which I now need to figure out what it could be…

But, as I said, there was much good ale nonetheless. To my mind, Syracuse and its outlying neighbouring counties are one of the hot spots of craft beer in the USA. We ate at the picnic tables outside the Dinosaur BBQ, above, on a warm October afternoon after a good shopping spree at the ever wonderful Galeville Grocery where I snabbed a few new beers to me from Sly Fox, Wagner Valley, Wachusett, Southern Tier (Oats!), Bear Republic (Rye!!) and Rogue (Juniper?!?) as well as the 2007 vintage of Big A IPA from Smuttynose, a past winner of beer of the year around here. As much smoky pork was being eaten, we had fresh well-cellared draft from Middle Ages, Southern Tier, Ithaca, Sacket’s Harbor plus the Dino’s own house beer, Ape Hanger. Best of the day, however, were the samples had at our stop at the refurbished (and very cheery) tasting counter at Middle Ages where we visited last year with Gary’s shoe cam. I tried their new 9% Imperial Porter and was so happy came away with a growler. Their new batch of Winter Wizard was also very nice on tap – a Burton perhaps?

By the way, Southern Tier’s raspberry porter is a cheesecake in a bottle…but in a good way. Notes may follow as part of Porter Season if anyone in this house lets me near another bottle.

Porter Season: Black Irish Plain Porter, Scotch Irish, Ontario

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.