Newsy Beery News For The Thursday That Starts February

Tra-la! It’s February. Said no one ever. Now is the season of our discontent. And it affects the beer writing world. People are unhappy about this and that and writing posts mainly about “hey – it’s beer so just get through all the greater social issues and go back to where we were in 2012!!” I am not sure I am inspired. The blinkers sit tight on most beer writing. For years I have seen folk belittled not only for their gender but their state of mental health, their independent view, their stand on ethics, their hardscrabble decisions… I am inclined not to link to any of this for two reasons. First, it doesn’t seem very inspiring in that there is an underlying theme that somehow “craft” as a prime directive needs to be insulated from investigation or treated with kid gloves. Second, I keep coming back to the common thread in all the dysfunction is alcohol. Beer seems to have its fair share of bigotry and thoughtlessness but does that extra kick fuel the fire that bit brighter? Some of the comments at Ron’s alone makes it hard to debunk the addled nature of the discussion.

I did get some faith back from this post by Melissa Cole. She often swings widely but, in addition to a welcome and generous use of “we” as poised to “they” in this piece, in this particular paragraph she neatly makes a point well worth remembering:

There needs to be a clear acknowledgement that the male voice is still all-powerful in nearly every aspect of society. So perhaps it’s a good idea to think about using yours at a softer volume. Or to use it merely to amplify the vital messages women are sending about how we are frequently pushed aside or patronized or harassed in beer festivals, brewery taprooms, and bars—even if you think people really don’t want to hear it.

For additional points and a very informed approach to considering sexism in beer, the ever excellent braciatrix has provided a start for your library.

Not beer: Santos-Dumont.

The funniest reaction I have seen to this article on the looming hops glut was the one Stan mentioned from the BA econo-PR committee basically saying don’t worry be happy. I await Stan’s further thoughts.

The saddest truest footnote ever.

If anyone ever again says that Twitter is a poor medium for explaining anything, point them to this thread from Mr. B where he makes a clear argument in favour of a dowdy beer that has been reimagined. Speaking of Mr. B, he was a panelist on a TVO (Ontario’s public broadcaster) public affairs show, the Agenda, on the role of alcohol in society. While it was fair and represented a wide range of views, it was an example of how the concerns inside the good beer bubble are fairly irrelevant in the greater discussion – particularly in light of the partner interview broadcast on the same night. He did well but we need to stop mentioning the debunked J-Curve stuff. Folk don’t drink because they are sick. Not the other way around.

Finally and as proof we can all have a big hug Tinky-Winky moment, Mr. Protz has the news about the introduction of Chevallier barley malt into British brewing. Martyn has more on the background in this post from 2013. I have challenged the folks involved to get me some Battledore porter.

That’s it. A bit late today. But hey – tra’ la! It’s February!!!

The Tale Of Two Harvest Ales

You will recall my slight obsession with MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Co., located a mere 20 km to my west in the Loyalist town of Bath, Ontario. Attentive readers will recall that brewmaster bro* Dan joined me to represent Canada at the 1780 Challenge organized by Craig three years ago, back in the spring of 2015 in central NY, where two brewers used cut straw stalks as part of the wheat beer mash just as we discovered they did back then. A fun day. In fact below, in the leftmost thumbnail, you will in fact see Dan MacKinnon mock inviserating Craig Gravina in one of the greatest “brewer gets back at blogger” moments in recorded history. I’m getting verklempt.

Well, this week I got an email and then a box at the door both from Laura Voskamp, the rapidly expanding brewery’s media contact. The box came two half growlers labeled “Batch #1” and “Batch #2”, two bags of malt labeled “2016” and “2017” along with a note. The image above and to the right is the note. Below in the middle thumbnail are the bags of malt in the cool clinical laundry room light. I did my part to share the news of their first 2016 release of the Harvest Ale which was generally received as one of the best beers to come out of Ontario. Jordan and Robin dubbed it “estate beer” which works for me. So, very much looking forward to this bit of a beery performance art piece in a box.

 

 

 

 

Ivan MacKinnon** added a bit more information by email. Both malt sample were  Munich malt made from the Metcalfe barley strain malted at Barn Owl. The 2017 is darker, quite clearly stained.   In both cases, the quality is excellent but their differences reflect the growing season, mainly. Rain and insects hammered the 2017 crop while the 2016 basked under the sunny sun.  Out of the situation, as stated above to the right, MacKinnon made two batches of Harvest Ale out of their 2017 barley. The first, straight up bug and rain reality and the second a blend of four-firth 2016 malt cut by one-fifth of the 2017. Batch #2, the blend of 2016 and 2017 is lovely. When I wrote my notes on Friday night, I waxed poetical:

Light copper coloured ale. Approaching the colour of that good French cookware. Taste: Brewery characteristic apple richness while still a level of dry attenuation. Mid- mouth prominent note of smoke wells up but more like unsliced rye than just sootiness. Hefty note yet woodsy. If this is harvest, it’s late in the season. A sensation leaf pile. October not late August. Even a fattiness that remind me of my favourite Polish Krakowska sausage. White pepper.  Leek and wild mushroom sauce on venison. And a jug of this. Then it fades – a diminishment of the rustic. In the finish as apples and nut flair up to stand with it. Malt smoke russet apple in quick succession. With, then, light toffee plus a hint of  an unfiltered McDonald Export A green label tobacco as a last lingering hello. Your uncles coat including the hard candy he’d slip to you if you were a particularly clever pest to your parents. Earthy sweetness. Their Crosscut making the big leagues? Lovely.

Hmm. I suspect the sample may have contained alcohol. The pure laine uncut Batch #1 from 2017 is not as lovely. While the brewery describes it as phenolic off-flavours, I would say celery and cumin. Which is not what many are looking for in a beer and to be honest, on a Sunday morning doing laundry while skipping church, it’s a very spicy dry experience. But the underlying malt sweetness is there and this clearly has the brewery’s house style. So, it’s an educational moment rather than one poetical.

Still, it has its use. Not a drain pour. I am having a bit with Brie on a bun as T-Rex plays on the turntable while the clothes get done.*** And it is being bashed into the crock pot of baked beans I have gurgling away in the oven, dry beans I grew myself out in the garden. Batch #1 is perfectly geared to sit along with the mustards, molasses, ancho pepper, ginger root, Seed to Sausage saucisson sec from just north of here and all the good other things I threw in there. Local barley. Local malting. Local sausage. Very local beans. Local terroir aplenty.

*An actual bro, by the way.
**Also an actual bro.
***Turntable dust matching dryer lint. One side of the LP matching the wash cycle almost exactly. No doubt this lifestyle is exactly what Bolan meant when he said “born to boogie.”

Oh, For A Mug O’ Fern Ale To Keep Strangers Away

Ron got me thinking. He was making fun of something written by Horst Dornbusch today, the “man of a million unfounded claims,” when I noticed something about pale ale coming into being around 1800 when coke was first used. I knew that was wrong so I started digging around for references to straw dried pale malts. There is something about the lack of industrialization that makes for a lack of a record of things and I thought the Coke Makers Association of The English Midlands may well have diddled the books, created history around their own inventions. And there it was… sorta… in The London and Country Brewer from 1737:

Next to the Coak-dryed Malt, the Straw-dryed is the sweetest and best tasted: This I must own is sometimes well malted, where the Barley, Wheat, Straw, Conveniences, and the Maker’s Skill are good; but as the the fire of the Straw is not so regular as the Coak, the Malt is attended with more uncertainty in its making, because it is difficult to keep it to a moderate and equal Heat, and also exposes the Malt in some degree to the Taste of the smoak.

OK, the pro-coke lobby is firmly entrenched but the quotation is from 63 years before Horst so that is worth noting. But then I notice this comment further down page 14:

The Fern-dryed Malt is also attended with a rank disagreeable Taste from the smoak of this Vegetable, with which many Quarters of Malt are dryed, as appears by the great Quantities annually cut by Malsters on our Commons, for the two prevalent Reasons of cheapness and plenty.

Interesting. Commonly used and rank. The author likes his descriptors of bad tasting: “rank disagreeable Taste” is joined by “most unnatural” and, my favorite, “ill relish.” Yet there is it – fern beer. What was fern ale like? We spend so much time hybridizing a new hop or injecting a new chili pepper extract into our beers we have forgotten the humble fern, maker of widely consumed if rank ales. In 1758’s Volume 3 of A Compleat Body of Husbandry by Thomas Hale, a bit more hope is given to the prospects for the taste of a fern ale:

The amber may be straw dried, but ’tis not nearly so well. As to wood and fern they are used in some parts of the kingdom, and custom makes the people relish the beer brewed from such malt; but to a stranger there is a most nauseous taste of smoak in it.

At least the locals liked it.

Lord Goog in the end gave up what I was looking for. In an edition of A Way to Get Wealth by Gervase Markham from 1668, a book first published in 1615 or about 200 years before the start date picked by Horst, we have an opinion on the preference for straw… and not just any straw:

…our Maltster by all means must have an especial care with what fewel she dryeth the malt; for commonly, according to that it ever receiveth and keepeth the taste, if by some especial art in the Kiln that annoyance be not taken away. To speak then of fewels in general, there are of divers kinds according to the natures of soyls,and the accommodation of places-in which men live; yet the best and most principal fewel for the Kilns, (both tor sweetness, gentle heat and perfect drying) is either good Wheat-straw, Rye-straw, Barley-straw or Oaten-straw; and of these the Wheat-straw is the best, because it is most substantial, longest lasting, makes the sharpest fire, and yields the least flame…

Look at that. We are in a different world compared to both today as well as the mid-1700s. Back to an agricultural age. “She” is the maltster. And the specific qualities amongst four classes of straw are known and ranked. After these light grain straws come fen-rushes, then straws of peas, fetches, lupins and tares. Then beans, furs, gorse, whins and small brush-wood. Then bracken, ling and broom. Then wood of all sorts. Then and only then coal, turf and peat but only of the kiln is structured to keep the smoke out of the malt.

Why? The whiz kids at Wikipedia tell us that:

In 1603, Sir Henry Platt suggested that coal might be charred in a manner analogous to the way charcoal is produced from wood. This process was not put into practice until 1642, when coke was used for roasting malt in Derbyshire.

So, coking turns out an early industrial practice that only first considered halfway through the life of Gervase Markham who lived from 1568 to 1637 and only applied to malt after his death. Coke is used to perfect – but not create – pale malts.

Pale malts and pale ales would have been around for some time well before 1600 even if in the effort to make them some became, as Markham writes at page 166, “fire-fanged.” I am sure that a fern fire-fanged ale may well have been an ill relish. But what of those whose custom made them love them all the same? Right? It’s a style just waiting to be reborn. Right? Markham would have none of it. At page 181 he states:

To speak then of Beer, although there be divers kinds of tasts and strength thereof, according to the allowance of Malt, hops, and age given unto-the fame; yet indeed there can be truly said to be but two kinds thereof, namely, Ordinary beer and March beer, all other beers being derived from them.

Got it? Fern ale is not a kind of beer, just a taste. There are two kinds of beer, ordinary and March. Everything else is showing off.

National Six-Pack VIII: Raftman, Unibroue, Quebec

You think it is February. Nothing will surprise you in February when you are as many weeks from Yule as you are to spring. Month o’ the rut. Then, you try a brew that you have never gotten around to trying and the world is all sunshine and love…or at least has one more good brew to tell folks about.

I really like this ale. Likes it, I do. 5.5% at a pretty basic price at the Beer Store. It is like a cross between a great Belgian witte and a great Canadian pale ale. A bit spicy, gingery orangey/lemony but also a big husky grainy profile as well. There is a yeast deposit that tastes decidedly spice-a-lee Belgian but a careful pour leaves the ale bright in the glass. The colour is more deep dark straw than amber – no red to my eye. The head stays around in a nice lively fine foam. It is the kind of beer you could smell for an hour, sticking half your face in the glass – you could if your wife or pals or children would not laugh at you for being a dork.

The brewery, Unibroue says of one of its lighter offering Raftman:

Launched in March 1995, Raftman is a beer with a coral sheen that is slightly robust. It contains 5.5 percent alcohol and combines the character of whisky malt with the smooth flavours of choice yeast. It has a subtle and exceptional bouquet that creates a persistent smooth feel. Raftman complements fish, smoked meat and spicy dishes. It is brewed to commemorate the legendary courage of the forest workers. These hard working men knew when to settle their differences and share their joie de vivre with a beer and a whisky.

The brewer twice notes “smoked whisky malt” as a part of the mash but it is a pretty subtle smoke if it is there at all. Still, it is Big Joe Mufferaw ale. Ale for men in plaid. Beer for lumber bars like Fred’s in Chapeau or the Silver Maple back of Shawville. Click on the photo for a plaidly scale version. The beer advocates do not go all rang-dang-do ever it but lots like it.So far, tied best of the National Six-Packs along with St-Ambrose Pale. Two Quebecers leading the pack. Who knew?