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.

Scotland: Chaos Theory and Its Prototype, BrewDog

1739I heard the news today. Chaos Theory was being delisted. Discontinued. One of the sure signs of a brewery moving into a next stage is rationalization and we have seen a bit of that with BrewDog. They have new staff and a new range for their experimental beer ideas. But once upon a time they were not rationalizing. They were a wee bit irrational, in fact, as they used to send me samples… including samples of prototypes. These two beers have been in the stash for at least a year. I think I got them in November 2008 along with a following email from James actually saying “sorry it took me so long to send them” even though it was free beer and I was Canadian. They have held up well. The prototype shows some crown cap rusting but the proper labeled version is quite clean. At over 7%, there’s no issue as to condition with the best before being over six months from now. Let’s have a go.

The two beers appear roughly the same – medium amber orange with a swell white froth and foam. On the sniff, the prototype is a bit richer but both are raisin tart with prototype leaning towards a really gorgeously complex set of orange peel, allspice, baked raisin edgings. In the mouth, the prototype suffers a tiny bit from a drabness – even with the swirl of malt richness – which could be time but also tastes like a bit of cardamom. There is a bit of a husky quality to it that butts heads with the fruit richness, too, the aroma’s promise. A little bitter and even mineral in the finish even with the barley candy playing out. Still, big and fine and I’d have bought it if it ever made the shelves.

Theory put into practice is a notch finer. The note of the finishing hops stands out more clearly – tangerine peel, candy cane and even maybe a hint of coffee bean. In the mouth, there’s a little less to work with than the prototype but there’s more control even with all the bitterness. Softer water with weedy hops over peppermint and peppery hops over rich cream malt. Pear in the malt. Also big, pretty brash but not off kilter. A very well made beer that the BAers gave big respect.

BrewDog has been doing all things for (and to) all people including taking a brash, cheeky culturally appropriate stance that I love more than even each of their beers. But like childhood’s end, it’s no longer all about adding. Sometimes there is subtracting in life.

Scotland: Paradox Springbank, BrewDog, Fraserburgh

1208“It smells like the granary when it’s filled.” I think that is what I was told but it makes sense.

It pours – imagine – rather deep brownish and has a rich mocha froth and foam. The nose in delightful. Fig and chocolate, milk and bread crust. Like a rich child’s breakfast in 1710. The mouth expands with both smooth and whisky sharp. Not Lowland, Campbelltown. Barely a “hodge yer whisht” from the land of my forefathers off the far eastern side of Arran. An amazing swishy mouthful of softness, grain, roast and shadow of burn. Batch 17 in the Paradox series. “Awfy braw” were Oor Wullie asked.

BAers don’t do subtle. The lips tingle from the water of life.

Hail To The New Sponsor – Scotland’s BrewDog!

771It was an intense stretch of negotiations. I begged. They were repulsed. I whined. Then…they pitied and came on board. We of A Good Beer Blog are always thrilled when a new sponsor signs up and we like to explore all sorts of ways to get along all in the cause of what might be thought of an alternative take on craft lagers and ales. The fine folk at BrewDog cover a few bases – they make incredibly good and innovative beer while meeting a sensitivity to the emotional needs of a North American bound fan of the Greenock Morton. It’s good to be in such a relationship. I’m all a giggle at the idea of them joining people like the hoteliers of Prague and, of course, the good good people at Ontario Craft Brewers. I think we’ll float the ad in the tops stories for a while. See how that works. Click on it and you will no longer even be here.

And this is part of a big plan we call the big plan. We are always looking for these sorts of new pals. It’s kind of like a support group for this one beer fan with a writing problem who finds himself bearing the full weight of a jurisdiction with monopolistic beer practices of limited variety, overly taxed price structures and friends who ask “can I have another one of those?”. Proceeds go to beer travel by car and beer acquisition by hand picked selection at some of the nicest stores in Quebec and the US north-east. That’s right: cash = stash. Simple math. And we dicker and we try to figure out a bazillion ways for you to join in whether by an ad or a sample or just by that Google ad cheque in the mail. Why? Because we love what you the beer hound, beer maker, beer writer, beer vendor and beer bar owner do. All proceeds include the tax man’s share (at least five ways if I was to think about it) and acquisitions go in part to the local beer nerds I am cultivating…though in larger part to me. Gotta be honest.

Do you have what it takes to sponsor or otherwise the support the program of good works we are undertaking at A Good Beer Blog? I bet you do. I do.