Eephus, Bricks And Mortar – Left Field, Toronto

imageIs it just me or are samples you don’t ask for different? A wee giftie. A few brewers still send me stuff like these two beers from Toronto’s Left Field Brewery. I don’t hunt them out anymore and get so few these days it hardly matters. That’s what I tell myself. I still pure, right? Let’s be honest. Years ago, though recent enough to have been in this house, two separate UPS vans met face to face on the street where we live. They laughed over how they were sick of dropping of stuff at my place. Each driver had a box packed with various beers sent by gracious and keen distributors anxious for approval, when once this blog was the sort of place read, I am told, by the staff of the New York Times Food and Drink section. Now? Let’s stick with that word – different.

I still get samples I don’t write about. Some free beer is still just that Heineken Light sent in a cheap beach cooler with a 57 cent AM/FM radio built into the side. Or it’s an oddly foul crap craft that should never have been made. In an embossed bottle made so badly that the extra trim cuts you, leaving you will bloody palm. That was a great one. Beer from Left Field are nothing like that. With Game 4 between the Cubs and the Tribe on, they certainly fit the evening’s entertainment given the brewery’s baseball themed branding. The neck label is shaped like home plate. The names are usually linked to the game.

Not so with Bricks and Morter, a special release coffee porter. The back of the expensively presented painted bottle describes it as a tribute to the history of their neighbourhood’s brick trade. The coffee is from a nearby roaster, added during the final stage of extraction. I am told. The beer pours a deep cola with a thick, mocha coloured head.  One the nose, sweet dark coffee. In the mouth, a thick ale – bitter dark coffee made more so with a dose of twiggy hop. A small nod to licorice and eucalyptus. There is husky, rough texture to the beer that works, accentuating the espresso. The result is a 6% dark ale full of flavour that comes across as a light version of an imperial stout.

Eephus is an old friend. When I drink it I feel like I am cheating on The Whale, CBW’s flagship brown ale. I like brown ales.  Two years and a season ago in June 2014, I was out with Ron and Jordan on a rare trip to Toronto. The evening struggling to understand what good beer meant in that place at that time was well capped with Grizzly Beer, a solid comforting thoughtful brown ale at Bellwoods. Eephus was Left Field’s first beer and one that signaled good things. This bottle, like its sibling above, displays a fresh powdery texture that conveys goodness, thickness. A touch lighter at 5.5% there is no adjunct between you and the ale, unless you consider oats a novel ingredient. It’s flaked oats and not oat malt, by the way. Only a partial fermentable, a body builder that gives a silky touch. I will say that the hop profile is a bit more flowery, a bit more bitter than I recall from earlier happy sessions but it sits well in this incarnation.

An Eephus, in case you are wondering, is a slow looping trick pitch rarely trotted out, meant to throw off a batter. “Spaceman” Bill Lee would use when he was an Expo or a Red Sox.

Soon Men In Vans Will Be Rounding Up The Bloggers

monkey4Boak and/or Bailey tweeted the news from the UK:

Publicans are being urged to share their views on the use of online review websites like TripAdvisor as part of a government backed probe on the impact of the sites. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) – the government’s business watchdog – has launched a consultation on the sites as a result of concerns regarding their trustworthiness and impartiality. The CMA will investigate specialist review sites, web blogs, video blogs, social media, trusted trader sites, retail platforms and retailers’ own websites. It will also look at the roles media companies, online reputation managers and search engine optimizers play in helping businesses promote themselves and manage their image in relation to blogs and review sites.

I typed that quote out by hand to make sure we were reading the same thing. See, the Morning Advertiser has this widget that blocks copying but here in Canada – being a freer more confident land even if laden with poorer marmalade – we have rights to quote bits of copyright work for criticism or review which seems quite apt with this article. So let’s have a bit of a critique and review, shall we?

Let’s be honest. What isn’t stated and should be equally followed up if the media are going to advocate for resorting to the use law to inquire about such things, is what role the well funded pub owners and breweries themselves play. Having had masses of beer delivered to my house over the last decade along with masses of invites to clinky drinky events as well as the odd junket – as any decent beer writer has – one is well aware of the keen interest bar owners and breweries have in building and maintaining a happy and even merry relationship with those in the media who discuss their beers positively. Many a free beer has also been passed across the bar to me once someone spills the beans, sometimes not even me. I often decline and lay down the sordid lucre – but actually understand the accepting soul may be then offered something called collaboration which sounds far too earth for a Dudley Do-right like me. An actual news source that was giving the reading public a full 360 degree description of the situation might mention that. So why are only publicans being reported as being urged to comment but not beer writers or others aware of these common pub and brewery incentives? Takes two to tango, no? Sometimes apparently more if we use all our fingers and toes and include the distracted press.

4859This is the point where I claim purity. Fully. Fundamentally. Every good beer blogger knows the line. I may have received these gifts by FedEx but, as with Christ’s beneficence offered through the holy sacrament of communion, I approach each chalice with pure intent and leave fully pardoned. To celebrate this, I am sipping a glass of La Formidable, a juicy 6.9% beer recently couriered to my house by Beau’s All Natural, operators of “B-Side Brewing” which is an interesting portfolio of beers they are brewing here under license and with participation of brewers from outside of Ontario. I even can identify the lovely lass who directed the beer my way. The thugs in vans won’t get the name, though… not immediately at least. [Run!] Jordan gave the beer a review, too. I can’t match his sense of 1980s TV sci-fi cartoon-isme but suffice it to say that when I consider this a lot like Headstock but different, too, that is a fine thing. A very fine thing. Maybe with a bit more of this and a little of that but it’s like comparing Jimmy Cowan to Paul Coffey in a way, no? Where Jordan notes clove, I get a bit of minerality like a Urzinger. But that is him. And me. I mean some one person has to actually taste the stuff, right? Of course each view will differ. As long as, you know, the blogger doesn’t just cut and paste the PR content emailed along.

Morning Advertiser by comparison? One has to acknowledge that the full of the publication begins “The Publican’s…” so there is a choir to be sung to, isn’t there. There are denominations and congregations. God’s house has many rooms. Does that make excuses? Perhaps. But does it also open up the question of the role of trade publications in “trustworthiness and impartiality” within the beery discourse? Why not? If we are going to go about investigating things, why not? Glass houses.

Ontario: Uber, Nickel Brook Brewing, Burlington

uberWhat a minefield this beer presents me. Not only do I know and like the brewer but his mother lives nearby and his auntie works where I do. How could I possible give an opinion unbouyed by positive thoughts? Then again, it’s not like I am all Jimjunkety or anything. No need to stop using the bathroom mirror. Then, besides that, there is the question of what others might think of me – which can be odd and disconcerting – not to mention likely wrong. How dare I try something not conservative? But more importantly, what does it mean about this style? What does this beer in this place and time mean?

You will recall the the best expression of what style is was Jackson’s first go at it, before he went bad Aristotelian creating the mess we live with today. Originally, a style of beer was stylized after an example, a great beer. I think it is fair to say that practically speaking that example is the Weihenstephen Berliner Weiss I wrote about for Session 19 – if for no other reason that for a long while this was the only example you were going to lay your hands on in North America. That is until micro went craft. So, is this homage or dommage to the style? Should I care?

The beer pours an effervescent clear light gold. No head at all. On the snort, you get apple cider and cow poo of the nicest kind. In the mouth, a light and lightly astringent texture holds flavours of apple, meadow grass, minerals like a good Mosel, fresh lemon juice, a little cream of wheat like a good gueuze and a little little something vegetative like fresh cabbage or cauliflower. A really lovely sipper and at 3.8% a beer you can sip for a good long time.

What a relief! No ethical qualms!! Priced at $7.95 for 750ml, this is about twice as much as the brewers hefty IPA Headstock, one of the best values in beer in Canada. The BAers give it lots of positivitay… which is good.

But Which Spenser Would Not Be The Fool?

Jordan posted an excellent taking up of the exploration of ideas around junkets last evening. Earlier in the day he and I had a very good exchange on the topic and I assured him that the point was that this was very much that – an exploration. It interests me because in my other areas of life, there is no question that accepting side b$enefits from those I am dealing with would be greatly challenging to say the least. But Jordan’s review captures many of the differences that may make the situation distinct. He concludes his piece with this:

I suspect that the fact that Alan’s blog post needled at me at 6:30 AM in an environment where most people would be content to listen to a light jazz soundtrack and punish the continental breakfast buffet speaks to the fact that I have an active moral compass when it comes to representing my activities as they relate to writing about beer. There is also the other fact, which some folks might not be willing to admit to. While I’m certainly compensated well for writing (be it books or newspaper columns), a trip like this would typically be beyond my financial means. Given the circumstance, if someone invites you to go to Boston, meet Jim Koch and eat a bunch of really good seafood while drinking a selection of beer on their dime, the response is predictable. As Spenser would say, “We’d be fools not to.”

Being the proud holder of a degree in English Lit before the LLB and LLM, I immediately assumed we were talking about the author of The Faerie Queene, itself an exploration of virtue – but I was unclear how that would attach to a beery jaunt in Massachusetts, to Winthrop’s very City upon the Hill. Then I thought it might be reference to the Victorian thinker Herbert Spencer who was, perhaps like Jordan, a utilitarian in matters such as these. But this Spenser’s ethics are a distasteful pre-Randian whackjob un-virtuous sort of utilitarianism, the sort that allows wikipedia to summarize his thoughts as including “anything that interfered with the ‘natural’ relationship of conduct and consequence was to be resisted and this included the use of the coercive power of the state to relieve poverty, to provide public education, or to require compulsory vaccination.” Screw you, too, Herb. Turns out Jordan was actually referring to the character Spenser in the novels of Robert B. Parker. This Spenser is also Bostonian so a junket there would make no sense. Not sure how his ethics play out but seeing as he is a detective one assumes they are somewhat reality-based.

Some years ago now, there were bloggy posts about the ethics of beer writing that went in circles before settling neatly on a high shelf where it sits well within reach, getting brushed off now and again. The Junket Registry is nothing more than the same ideas turned around, like looking at another side of an unsorted Rubik’s cube. I never gained the obsession that others did when it first came out so I don’t know how many paths it offers towards its own resolution. Within Spencers and Spensers alone the range of options is quite remarkable, too.

Maybe A Junket, Payment, Sample, Freebie, Pal Registry?

Having the odd combination today of a chorus of the “I Can’t Quite Follow You” Blues contrasted with being offered an actual beer junket itinerary, it popped into my head that an independent registry of potential conflicts for good beer opinion makers might be in order. Sort of a confessional. Sort of a preventative. Yet also likely an interesting aggregate effect if, you know, aggregated. What would be some categories of information that might be included for the junket category:

♦ Name (optional)
♦ Destination and name of brewery or breweries.
♦ Price of junket and portion you paid.
♦ Who organized the junket?
♦ Why were you selected to go on this junket?
♦ Will you disclose the junket in any resulting articles?
♦ Will you refer the junket as “research” in any resulting articles?
♦ Do you intend to call people on junket “friends” in any resulting articles?
♦ Will you disclose to your actual friends that you intend to call people on junket “friends” too?

There. That’s a start. Please use the comments section for your junket disclosures. I am sure that will be helpful way to handle this.

Blogging About Blogging As Boak and Bailey Disclose

Books, beer and awkward branded clothing. And those products that supposedly make you experience of beer more convenient but do not. Emails offering come to me a number of times a week and, unless it is a really unappealing concept from the get go, I writing in reply that wee treat in the mail would be fine. Honestly, over half truly fundamentally disappoint one way or another. Sometimes, however, there are great surprises. Last week or the week before, I received a courier notice for an unexpected delivery. I hauled myself to the edge of town where the courier trucks live and was handed a box with a sample six pack of Rickard’s Cardigan, a spiced amber sort of beer – and really liked it. I didn’t expect to but with the shift in weather from stinking hot and 107% humidity to 65F and dry, Cardigan filled a need nicely. Rickard’s Blonde surprised me the same way last year as a good value brew. But I didn’t need the actual cardigan that came with it and the matching glassware will become a gift for some Christmas photo contest prize winner.

So, is there an ethical level to this? I have had an 18 wheeler stop at our suburban home to drop off a six pack and also had two UPS trucks stop at the same time down the lane a few years back on Christmas Eve, each with boxes of importers samples. The delivery guys shared looks of envy. These things happen, not often enough frankly, but overall writing about beer is a zero net affair for me. There are things I don’t get. The nutty LCBO system only offers samples at its “sensory lab” deep in the heart of its basement concrete bunker (I am told) which means I would have to travel for five hours return to participate. As if most people will interact with beer in that context. Shame on those who bow to these demands of the monopolist. Others, including certain well known US craft brewers, are notorious with being cheap with samples while others are quite keen to make it easy for you to try what they make – to, you know, spread the word. Do I like those who make it convenient more than those who don’t? I wonder.

Well, you don’t have to wonder anymore with Boak and Bailey as they are telling all by way of a disclosure page. My first reaction truly was brewers need to send them more samples. But the second was that they describe these samples as “gifts”! Gifts?¹These are inducements to help the brewer, the author or the maker of that stupid beer opener ring that rips your flesh. They are search engine optimization strategies. They are part of the trade. Marketing.

I have to run to work but would be interested in your thoughts. Given the absence of a real revenue stream, I would suggest that these things are the least one should expect, the very least.² But you tell me.

¹ See comments. I was in haste so over reacted a tiny bit. But, if I am honest, a sample from someone you like is still not a gift. This is a real issue with beer writing. We really like many many people involved with beer half the time (keeping in mind there are arses as well as in any part of life) which makes samples feel like gifts. Yet, one does also give back. How is that to be described?

² Note, too, how the juxtaposition of pleasure in beer and thought about beer can get tricky.

New York: Frankenwhale, Community Beer Works, Buffalo

OK, it is Frank and The Whale, actually, the two brews from Buffalo’s Community Beer Works. The recent Euro 2012 Beer Bloggers Conference has sent the up a red flag about the ethics of samples. Really? I suppose some have ethical debates within about the free bit of gak they might foist upon you at a grocery if you don’t plan your cart route cleverly. I think Tandy is on the right track. Missed PR opportunity. That’s all.

These samples sparkle ethically. A work friend was coming to this end of Lake Ontario from the other end and rather than stay in Canada popped south. He asked if there was anything he might pick up and I directed him to CBW who hand filled these two bottles for same delivery back across the border. They are only on tap so far so the bottling is a bit of an experiment. The “F” and “W” black markered on the cap is not actual branding. So, not available in my town or country and not available in this format. If I like them, I know the pain and torment of alienation from the beloved. If I don’t, well, what was the treat that I was somehow leveraging against my inner compass? No ethical mine field when the prize is crap. Result? My soul is as pure as the lamb’s.

Let’s see. Gimme a second to get a glass…

Frank poured a clouded light gold, under whipped egg white head. The aroma jumped at me as soon as I popped the cap. Bright apricot and lime citrus on the most modest snort. On the swish, it is a lighter bodies mouthful of grapefruit and arugula. Very much the lawnmower in the the weedy ditch sort of hopping. At 4.6% God knows I could not possibly suggest this is sessionable but one sure could consume a significant quality at a moderate pace over a long period of time. The slightly drying finish reminds me a lot of Nickle Creek’s APA of a couple of weeks ago. But this is a bit more of a fruity take of a pale ale. Like it lots. BAers who have had it have the love.

The Whale is beefier at 5.9%. Rahther than rocky meringue, from above this looks like a very large espresso with its fine mocha cream head. Plenty to smell: date, cocoa, coffee. In the mouth a wonderful wash of soft water cream and coffee with nut and dark dry fruit flavours wafting about. Really quite rich and lovely. Hopping is there, a bit minty but only a bit, to cut any cloy and also to frame the flavours in the malt. I get licorice and a bit of white pepper, too. Maybe even a little cigar. Quite the thing. Rich but not flabby. Still bread crusty. More BAer love.

So. Feeling ethically pure still? Sure am. A fine brace of beers as ever I had and certainly so given that they are from a brewery that has only been open for month and could fit in my shed.

Ontario: Robust Porter, Great Lakes, Etobicoke

I was handed this beer at last week‘s beer event. I just would like to mention that this is one of the best Ontario-made beers I have ever had. Part of their Project X series, it’s on limited release and, sadly, limited production. Too bad. Thick sheeting mocha cream head over deep dark ale. Thick aroma, too. Cocoa and mint. Pumpernickel and cream. If I had thought of a beer future back in the 90s, it might have been this. Before hop mania. Before sour. When malt and roast reigned. This has it. Masses of dark malt with dry roast coffee as well as sticky date and raisin notes all carried along with a rich light sour even yogurty yeastiness. It is heavy. In the best sense. As heavy as you wished your coffee in the morning could be.

I think I recall Troy telling me as he passed the bottle that this was named after Burt Reynolds. Can’t recall why.

Brewers’ Plate 2012 And My Happy Schooling

What a pleasant Wednesday. I ate. I sipped. I asked myself a lot about how people in downtown Toronto spend their Wednesday evenings. I did not think I got swept away in pairing mania but, and it is a subtle but so bear with me, there were many wonderful combinations to be found.

For example, Beau’s Mates with Dates and the cheese made from water buffalo milk from Montefort Dairy was a really interesting side by side but it was not one of the proposed pairings on offer. Similarly, a deftly tucked away bottle of Ten Bitter Years from Black Oak went very well with the dessert crepe being given away in a booth but that was not the beer on offer because the crepe had Ontario black walnuts. The chef and I talked about the weirdness of the texture of the crepe and nuts with a very bombish IPA. But we agreed that there was a twigginess in the hops of the beer that worked with the walnuts which tasted like you face would after an hour of chainsawing hardwood.

So did I pair? Probably. Was the event a good one. It really was. I am going to just post this now but add some more thoughts as my day’s class on contract drafting proceeds. Unless it is riveting. Which it could be. You never know.

Scotland: Paradox Islay #004, BrewDog, Aberdeenshire

bdpi1What a mess. I hadn’t realized the label was made of hard card stock stuck on with two-sided sticky tape. I might take it down to the lab and get James’ near teen DNA off of it. Bottle 131 of 200. By opening it, I probably just threw away the 100 bucks I could get from some guy in Kansas on eBay. Sent as a sample by the brewery when they were but boys a few years back. I decided to open it after watching a little Horatio Hornblower that was accompanied by a Bourbn County stout. No doubt you have known that moment, too.

As promised, it is all Islay on the nose, the beloved smoky low Islands Scots whisky. Land of my fathers. Because the stout sat in a barrel of the 1968. My mother’s cousin-in-law was a canny and, for the Clyde, stylish post-war whisky broker in the southwest so I am sure he would approve. He certainly would recognize it. Deep deep mahogany under mocha rim and froth. Aroma of the malt but in the mouth it is sharp. At first, a hammer of old Dutch man’s licorice with all the salt that goes along with seaweedy Islay – then something like a stout with something like a whisky. It isn’t really anything like “balanced” and I wonder, honestly, if it is more of an artifact than a beer. Dry and a little like something I would call harsh but on the lovely side of harsh. Descriptors like “whopping”, “foolish” and “two by four to the head” come to mind. Planky. Sae halp ma bob. That is all I can say.

One sole BAer went mad for this early Holy Grail like example of experimental 21st century UK brewing.