Rock Stars? Enough With The Analogies Already!

So…you guys got any good beer in there? Some Saison Dupont maybe?

Earlier today, Stonch pointed out the somewhat strained tone of this press release floating around for a beer event half a day’s drive to my south in which one is promised that we may “[m]eet the luminaries of the craft beer world…[v]ery few events offer the opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with the “rock stars” of the craft beer world.” To be fair, I am not overly concerned with the world of PR and calling the fine brewers who will be there luminariesis a perfectly fine way to describe those in the forefront of any endeavor. But rock stars? Here is my trademarked immediate and rash comment:

This is the sort of marketing that led me to ask last year whether we love the beer or the brewer. “Celebrity” in itself only detracts given the immediacy of beer and the need to manage our understanding of their work and their ideas about beer – much of which is interesting and important but is utterly undermined by the characterization of “rock star.”

Besides, I like my rocks stars to be rocks stars and I expect them to point out – with all the outrage of the outcast (if they really be rockers) – all the bullshit around us. So, you may ask yourself, what would Joe Strummer or John Lennon or Johnny Cash have thought of this press release? Is this the Elvis of 1955 or the Elvis of 1972? Where do you place each name?

Rock star…I know what I think. I think they could as easily be called the “game show hosts” of brewing or even “the Beckhams” of beer – seeking fame now that they perhaps are not even the best on the pitch anymore. “Rock star” is so sold out as a term that it should be considered something of a backhanded compliment. Is that what they want to have thought of them. I doubt it. I say this is bad PR.

I suppose that was a bit harsh, a bit over the top with the whole fat Elvis thing¹…but when I think rock star I also think of The Darkness or even Spinal Tap which leads me to wonder which brewer so dubbed has turned it up to eleven? Or that line from Road Warrior about the guy known as “The Ayatollah of Rock-and-Roll-ah” as illustrated above. And really…is “rock star” enough? Are they not as much the Jedi Knights of brewing? Isn’t that, you know, just as stunned? Maybe some Old Testament imagery would help me understand who these brewers are?

How far can such dislocated hyperbole take us? As we continue our collective search for good beer and an understanding the place of craft beer, of its value and its appreciation, there are these uncomfortable moments of description popping up. Descriptions that have shades of elitist puffery as well as clumsy grasping for the right – but definitely earnest – word. I don’t know but is it too much to ask to ask for a little humour? Say what you like about borgy forums but I take the slightly metal-esque presentation of the Alströms as a bit camp. Maybe its because I am that novice masters shot putting metal and punk fan with the lifetime Ben Grimm Fan Club membership but I associate my association with beer a bit like they do – with a bit of self-effacing humour…they are being self-effacing, right? As with the unfortunate and often unwarranted eureka moments from some writers on brewing, I don’t think of all this stuff as some sort of rare and precious gift, a prize for the mantelpiece or something linked with celebrity. For me, this feeling of mine is informed by Knut’s label ølhund [aka “beer dog”] or Lew’s preference for the simple “beer fan“, the egalitarian joyful celebration of how were’re all in this together, we happy band, we cheery lot. Just enjoy yourselves.

I know. It’s a lot to extrapolate from one slightly unfortunate reference. But it’s beer we are talking about, right? Right?

¹[Ed.: ie. “Elvis: to young to die, too fat to live…”]

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…

My Deep And Witty Analysis Of The Big Hop Giveaway!

My computer ate it. It was a virtual unified theory of beer blogging, an apology draped in an accusation resting on a question with its feet up on satisfaction. Brilliant. Gone. In sum: I didn’t like their variety packs, the special glass, Utopia, the ’90’s triple bock or their white-like thing; but, once called out, I found liked their value-priced Scotch Ale and premium Imperial pilsner a lot and the ads have grown on me; remember that good business knows it does one good to do good; remember, too, they are a big raft brewer with a range from perhaps some kraphtt, much craft, and some special; I have no idea what percentage of their total hops ordered this giveaway of allotment represents; but in the end it is great to see a breakaway brewery remember that a rising tide raises all boats. Good work, Jim.

The long version was better. An epic.

Big Hop Bombs: Extreme Beer And Your Personal Limits

It’s always a big day when Eric Asimov writes a beer article for The New York Times. Being Canadian, a culture with a deep seam of neediness running through it¹, you glow when you feel like you are noticed just as when the beer nerd’s nerdiness gets the MSM treatment. But in today’s article all was not nice – there was a bit of push back from him and the panel against the extreme hoppiness in beer that have marked a certain sector of the nerd herd:

“The hoppiest beer?” Garrett asked. “It’s a fairly idiotic pursuit, like a chef saying, ‘This is the saltiest dish.’ Anyone can toss hops in a pot, but can you make it beautiful?” Phil likened the appeal of these beers to the macho allure of hot sauces, which almost dare enthusiasts to try the hottest ones.

I like the comparison to saltiness and it reminds me of the idea that the search for the strongest beer, an earlier extreme beer obsession, is as dumb as hunting for the strongest Scotch. One thing I noticed was that the beers chosen that I was familiar with were not the most hop-ridden out there by any stretch. Dogfish Head 90 looks up to their 120, I found Simcoe Double IPA balanced (something I could not say for the brewer’s bigger Eleven) and only Un*earthly broke the now standard 10% alcohol limit that now sort of divides extreme between really strong from insanely strong.

Stan notes at his blog that some in craft beer are not so prudent or concerned with beauty when he shares this update from Avery about their 2008 version of New World Porter:

While some observers may posit that the hop shortage is a good thing, forcing brewers to become more efficient and prudent with their use of hops, we at Avery tend to disagree. Hops are the heart and soul of our beers and we refuse to compromise our recipes or our flavors. Even more, as if to scoff in the face of common sense and basic brewery economics, we decided to increase the hops that were added to this years New World Porter. The 2008 batch is truly a black IPA.

Something tells me that this could well just not be a beer for me. After a few of years of these big brews I am starting to think that I have a natural limit of around 8.5 percent beyond which beers start to have a diminishing return unless there is something else to particularly attract my attention. I also have a limit as to hop acid and that is defined by the need not worry about the state of my tooth enamel…unless, say, there are those arugula hops from Ithaca in there. This is no different than my sour beer studies leading to my limit for acidity being far closer to Kriek De Ranke than to Bruocsella 1990.

Is it wrong to say that you can’t go all the way or at least as far as others go? Old farts call this a sign of maturing. The immature call it the sign of an old fart. To my mind, Asimov’s NYT article leaned towards old fart territory without explicitly saying so. The other end of the pendulum’s swing can be found at this busy forum filled with unimpressed lame-‘cusatory BAers. It’s like everyone is unhappy with everyone else and, frankly, Pete Brown is pretty much fed up with the lot of you.

Yet these things only go so far. Can someone else tell us what to think, to taste? There is nothing more odd than sitting over the same bottle with experienced fans and hearing differing comments, different experiences of pleasure. In many ways, beer has an audience of one and that is you. So what have you learned about yourself? Which path would a brewer have you walk but you won’t follow? Is it and overly Burtoned mineralized brew? Too still, too hopped, too smoked or just too much goddamn yeasty floaties? Or is it the milds, lights and other table beers that bore you or, worse, wear you out from trips to the can? Remember this: we each have to make our old way in this wicked world and there is no better example of that than the love of beer. What thing about beer have you learned not to repeat?

¹Think Sally Field saying “They like me! They really like me!!” and add snow.

Sign Of The Endtimes #3378

There are some things I won’t put on the beer blog – including some new gack called “Guinness Red”. Apparently the much jiggered with recipe moves over the last few decades have done their deed leaving the brewer to consider “the brand is the asset” now that it has destroyed the actual drink:

The launch of Guinness Red is the latest in a series of slightly odd, innovative brand extensions for the famous beer brand, which has been hit with declining sales. In February, in time for St Patrick’s Day, Diageo tied up with Marmite to produce a limited edition Guinness-flavoured Marmite spread, with just 300,000 hitting supermarket shelves. The company also launched the battery-powered “ultra-sonic” Guinness Surger that enables Guinness fans to create a proper “tight creamy” head to their beer when drinking at home. Perhaps the most bizarre brand extension was a tie-up with Northern Irish bread company Irwin’s Bakery, to create – after two years of research and development – Guinness bread. Guinness Wholegrain Bread, which has 17% Guinness content, is described as “the perfect malty bread” by Irwin’s.

Stonch has it right: “If this diabolical stuff passed the taste test, I despair of the British people.”

Sour Beer Studies: Rose de Gambrinus, Cantillon, Belgium

The famous nude lady sketch beer that outraged Maine or at least some officious Mainers. I never thought such a human condition was possible. Just to make a statement, I bought this 2005 375 ml bottling in Maine at the ever excellent Tully’s at York for $8.50 USD. However will I hide the empty from prying eyes as it sits in the recycling box by the curb?

Pinked amber ale under a slightly blushed fine white head, no doubt aware of the circumstances it found itself in. In the mouth, mild vinegar sour over Granny Smith. Not that much barnyardy poo in this one thankfully. There is a bit there but it melds with the over-riding under-ripe gravenstein apple effect. There is raspberry in the way that there is raspberry in raspberry vinaigrette except that there is no sweetness. After, though, you are left with an echo of the raspberry.

Most BAers approve. Do I? I am certainly less shocked having now had a few Cantillons. And I do find this one has a cream or maybe even vanilla note within the sharpness that I can’t imagine leaning on before like I do now, seeking a reason to approve. I certainly could see poaching a fillet of sole in this but the butter in the pan would temper it yet I have to admit that it is still more acidic than any white wine or rose I might enjoy. If the same fluid were labeled blanc de blanc, would we care so?

More sour beer studies here.


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.

A Brave Man Wrote Me

Home sick from work today, I was interested to find this note in the email this afternoon. Last November, I wrote about the efforts to create a unified advertising campaign in the US about the goodness of beer. Well, today’s correspondent appears to be involved in that effort. He write as follows:

Good afternoon, or evening, or morning depending on where you call home.

I’m writing about the latest announcement that the US beer industry is going to be rolling out a “Got Milk?” type campaign in a bid to halt the slow decline of the beer market. If you’re unfamiliar with it, you can read about it at

I’m not going to put up any façade here…I work for a marketing agency contracted with Anheuser-Busch…the Evil Empire as seen by many connoisseurs of beer. While this is not our idea, I’m very interested to hear what people think. If you could humor me and forget that this effort is being headed up by Anheuser-Busch (who will spend the most money on the effort and who will reap the largest reward)…I’d like to get your thoughts.

If each of you had :30 on TV to tell the world why they should enjoy beer, what would you say?Any other thoughts, insights, insults or rants are welcome.

Thanks, Scott Burns

Scott and I emailed and I said I would ask you guys. So…what do you think? I think this is a very interesting question and I will take some time to think about it before I respond in the comments to this thread. Do put what you think and, as Scott said, rants welcome…within the scope of acceptable manners around here, of course.

And if you are a lurker, please take this moment to speak up. Join the beer blog nation while you are at it.