As July Turns To Face August These Are Your Thursday Beer News Stories

Last weekend saw the family head off to the Big Smoke for a Pixies and Weezer combo concert at an outside venue at the west end of  Lake Ontario. It was great. Stinking hot. 15,000 people. Me and a lot of other old guys having a scream-along to “This Monkey’s Gone To Heaven” and “Hash Pipe” which was great. The scene, the Budweiser Stage at Ontario Place,  was an absolute fleece-fest: a tall boy of Bud Light Radler selling for about 15$. I had a Bud with my bland black bean burger before the show. Ice cold it went down like an icy cold Bud. Which was great until it warmed to about 5C after a couple of minutes and then it got, you know, not so great.

I wasn’t really following up on Andy’s idea of taking time to try a classic this summer when I had that Bud. I wasn’t in a place where Bud existed when three decades ago so it does not fill a personal space like that. Not my classic. It’s gas station cooler 1990s New England road trip scenery to me. The beer I passed up. But I did have an old favorite on Friday… and it was an odder experience. Hennepin, which I have enjoyed since at least 2005, showed up in my local LCBO for about $11 for a 750 ml (behind a far worse label… updated branding fail.) I was up for this. We were having a slab of salmon for supper. But it was not the beer I wanted. Hot and heavy even though it was perfect eight years ago on another hot summer night. It’s not like the beer was off. It was lovely. It was just way more than fit my interests, my needs. Am I turning into a target for the low-no movement? What do I actually want?

Jonathan Surratt wins (or perhaps poaches) the “Shaming the Worst of Craft” award with week with the news he shared embedded in that photo to the right. Some gawdawful craft bar somewhere is serving beer in bowls. Could you imagine being served that? Do they serve the food in flute glasses? Do they expect people to pay with actual money? Boo!

Ben notes how a single beer craft brewery putting out a fairly acceptable product that sells well has created another single beer craft brewery to make a fairly acceptable product that sells well. I think of these things like I thought of the music of The Carpenters when I was in my teenage punk phase in the latter 1970s.  They made music that was safe enough for parents who did not like discussing bad things. Like “why Alan is listening to all that swearing?” Mind you, my folks didn’t listen to The Carpenters so I am not sure I will bother buying this beer. Especially as “bugle” is actually a well-known euphemism for beer induced gastric issues.

Is this #ThinkingAboutDrinking? I suppose the idea of thinking is that it’s not about being all positive, just supportive. Fight!

Now this is great: a service to us all. The current big craft and macro craft family tree. Then updated for more detail. Nice to see honesty in the placement of breweries like Sam Adams, BrewDog, Brooklyn and Founders in their natural state. Speaking of Sammy A, sweet dissection by Jeff of another slightly… smarmy GBH post* on the supposed risk of Jim Koch somehow losing status. The lack of institutional knowledge is amazing. Jeff’s point: “when Boston got too big, BA changed the definition.” My point was how Koch was actually an outsider to the main micro/craft movement, which Josh Noel noted and “Sex with Sam” confirmed. Why do we have to fudge things rather than knowing and writing about the actual history of the craft beer movement?

How to sit on a fence.

This is either a story about art v. the regulation of alcohol or it is a story about arts management not grasping the need to find a venue with a stage with a normal licence. I love the “Toronto the Good” half-news in the footnote:

Editor’s note: The Tarragon Theatre has now relaxed their rules for this particular show. Patrons are now able to buy beer up until show time.

AKA: accept what you have been granted.  In other Ontario drinks sales regulation news, Robin has written about how for a few weekends she worked as a beer selection advice giver in one of the few grocery stores with a limited alcohol sales licence.  The role and the context may appear odd. It may well appear odder still as the new provincial government has promised beer and wine** in every corner store! Mind you, the promise has no details. But it may well be that the brave new world promised in 2015 will have a best before date of maybe 2018. So, Robin’s notes may well end up being a valuable set of observations on the state of affairs at the front line in which turns out to be a transitional period. Fabulous information for the future beer regulation historian.

Brendan has shared news that:

files opposition versus beer (and other beverages) trademark application for STONEMILL

With so many breweries using the five letters “s-t-o-n-e” is no one going to point out to the courts how this “just waking up to the news that there are intellectual property claims to be made” approach might be a tad selective on the plaintiff’s part? BeerAdvocate lists 3267 beers or breweries with the letters in that order in their name. Because it is as common as a very common thing. If I don’t associate “Firestone” or “Stone City” with Stone why would “Stonemill” confuse me?

Let’s conclude our collective cogitations this week with a few thoughts about wine writing from Jon Bonné, Senior Contributing Editor with Punch wegazine:***

We assumed experts are meant to provide some kind of road map through an unknowable, confusing realm. We’re expected to help you find a bottle for dinner, and not complicate the conversation. But that has led us, at a time when wine is more interesting than ever, to trivialize its cultural value. We’ve sacrificed context—I mean real critical context, not the fanboy literature that passes for too much wine writing today—for comfort and a sense of belonging. I think Bourdain might look at the situation and point a blaming finger at many of us for failing to explain why one wine is worth more than another, or why certain wines are culturally suspect because they’ve been made with cynical motives. (Big wine companies love when we abandon context for the blind pursuit of deliciousness. Context is the enemy of fake-artisan wine, after all.)

The piece is interesting as it builds on the loss of Bourdain and that irritatingly bland idea of “woke” to get to the notion that context and value are important. It’s a bit too toggle switch for me. Things are complex even if fakers are all around. And I am already a bit sad to see Bourdain being used as a prop for the arguments of others. But I like the call to deeper learning. Hence #ThinkingAboutDrinking.

Upcoming week? The second half of baseball begins. Six or seven weeks until school starts. Use the time you have left wisely. As part of your path to wisdom consider stopping for a pause with Boak and Bailey on Saturday and again after the weekend with Stan next Monday. Laters!!

*Time for an incidental graphics update, too. Keep it fresh.
**Hard liquor, as we call it here, will remain at the surprisingly good LCBO, our government store.
***It actually calls itself “PUNCH” in shouty all-caps… but is font really identity? I mean if it was PUNCH would i have to italicize it? 

 

 

The Final Beery News For This Winter Olympiad

Did I mention I planted peas and radish seeds outside the other day after shoveling a patch in the snow? I have hope and I have trust. Spring is keeking around the corner surprisingly early this year. There isn’t a day in the 14 day forecast with a high temp mark below freezing. March is upon us. And I made the news today… well, me amongst many others. Spring training games start tomorrow. And a good brewery is opening a fifteen minute walk from my house and I am off to the opening this evening. So, it’s a happy time.

Hmm. What is else is going on? Well, now that we are in the merrily saturated market, now that the local supply is diverse and inclusive, fabulous and fresh… what do we do when we consume the ales and lagers of others? Foreign beer is not necessary very now. But still it show up and often finds a place for no other reason than that its comfortingly foreign. I even bought eight Guinness the other weekend. Something something rose coloured glasses something… something something “stupid European boyfriend“…

One for team? Taken.

Speaking of teams, as shown to the right, Ben Johnson* won the Canadian beer Olympic social media moment with his screen shot and tweet of the spouse of Rachel Homan, one of our Olympic curling team members.** It is a fabulous image, the subject displaying his Canadian-ness in a number of key ways: the clothes, the way the hat is jacked down, the wide balanced relaxed stance and his “third and fourth” two-fisted macro lagers. Ben posted his tweet on Sunday evening and by Tuesday morning it had over 6,000 retweets and even made it into the realm of actual media. 8,000 retweets by Wednesday 7:00 am. Nutty.

Not beer: Slovenian wagon cart bits from 3,000 BC.

Web 2.0 update: not a good look.

News that England’s Fuller’s bought a smaller brewery broke on Tuesday morning and, in an amazing display of speed guru-ism, within minutes tribes were forming, one asking “why is this OK?” as the other says “it is OK!” – which is pretty much normal and not much turns on it. The acquired Dark Star charmingly tweeted

Yes, I predict we’ll do more one-off, small batch beers this year than in our history with their investment in our operation. Same brewers, same passion.

…which could be true but could also mean they’ll be shut by summer. Or not. A seemingly wise man considers the Otley alternative, you know the formerly award winning brewery, the former darling that disappeared late last week. Then the longer pieces came out within 24 hours. Another churned out rushed bit at GBH. A longer, substantive*** piece by Pete pops up… yet with the familiar assurance that Fuller’s is “a minnow in the world of corporate beer.” Hmm.  Yes, “weasel words” and then already “some redundancies in sales and accountants.“**** Yet, there is a sameness to it all.  And there’ll be more. Not just (or even primarily) in the ideas – not the content but in the pattern of comment. I can’t put my finger on it. Is that all there is?  If only someone was keeping track of the promises of the bought out and the later reality. And remember around 2013 when people were going to write fiction about craft beer? Have we dropped playing at being Hemingway to playing at being U.S. News & World Report circa 1993? Content. And plenty of it. Ever notice content sounds a lot like stuffing? You just know somewhere someone is writing another identical style guide for the Christmas market – and another twenty are writing articles to congratulate the long dead man for guiding it all still today, the hand reaching out from the grave. Creepy needy. Me, I am reminded of the stack of thumbed, even greasy magazines at the barbershop when I was a kid, only the top few being touched by those waiting.

There is another view. Ron gave a glimpse with this gathering of 1950s brown ale adverts. The prosaic hiding the poetic. Yet… still rose-tinted, no? Next? More art – this time a brief drama:

Craft Beer: Haha! Young kids today hate macro crap beer!
Macro Beer: Haha! Young kids today just hate beer. How’s your cash reserves, craft?

Interesting. The things you learn when you aren’t listening to a staff PR guy posing as an economist. Speaking of bad news, these are hard times in the lives of the one of the saints:

…Samuel Adams beers and Angry Orchard ciders hurt business… We remain challenged by the general softening of the craft beer and cider categories… A late-2017 survey of beverage retailers by Wells Fargo named Boston Beer as the year’s least innovative alcohol company.

Which isn’t exactly praise right there coming from Barron’s. Hmm.  How would you write a comforting column adopting the language of minnow based on that?***** Should we expect some redundancies in sales and accountants? Maybe. Because that is sorta where we are at as Q1 2018 looks out and sees Q2 coming on fast.

One final reminder: as you likely know, two other weekly news summaries are available with Boak and Bailey posting their round-up every Saturday morning UK time whilst Stan Hieronymus offers his thoughts on Mondays with little old me now plodding along mid-week. I have elbowed my way back into this clique over the last year so am quite grateful for their quite different weekly perspectives on this finite set of stories and should be back with more cheery thoughts of my own next Thursday… in March!

Update: bonus non-beer Quebec content because the phrase “…and it tastes like feet.

*Yes, the socialite Ben Johnson but not that Ben Johnson.
**Traitor curler!!!
***Beefy even. Based on actual experience. And much to be said about simply being interested in something more than others.
****Must have lacked passion.
*****But… but… passion!

The Olympics Of Thursday Beer World News

Every four years I wake up and think: “…oh, yeah – people luge…” I am not sure how much those of you out there in my international readership care about the winter Olympics but it is fairly big here in Canada. It’s always nice to learn about the new ways that Mr. Putin has devised to crush the dreams and steal those medals earned by strapping young folk from rural Manitoba. And unlike the recent Super Bowl victory, I don’t expect beer to end up featured in any public rioting. And we know how to maintain a reasonable distance between athletic excellence and beer. Sure we do. Yup.

Enough about sport. How about some art? To the right is an image posted by Martin Taylor on Twitter the other day. Seemingly a plain snapshot, it is one of the best compositions I have ever seen. And a character study. And a morality play. Not to mention the portrait in the portrait. For a still life, there is plenty of action going on. Lovely.

Ron’s wife Delores has made her position clear – Ron needs to make some real money from this whole beer writing lark.

Not beer: unexpected sexism.

As I noted a couple of weeks ago, Jordan has shown how one big brewery led bleat-fest on the government’s share of beer is fairly poorly founded. Rod Hill, professor of economics at the University of New Brunswick, has added one more factor to the discussion of the taxation of beer in Canada:

Adjusted for inflation, the tax on a 500 ml bottle was 19 cents in 1976, 18 cents in 1987, 19.5 cents in 1999. At just under 16 cents, it is the lowest it’s been in 40 years. Last year’s budget will keep it at that low level into the indefinite future.

Beer choir.

Lots of opinions in the UK about one craft brewer wanting to join the national executive of CAMRA, the fabulous consumer interest lobby group.  A fairly juvenile manifesto was posted, the sort of third-rate entitled stuff that we have to put up with time to time.  The Tand wrote this, weighing the pros and cons. At Lady Sinks The Booze, the analysis was a bit more direct and unimpressed. And BB2* raise two proper points:

Our gut feeling is that this feels like a PR move more than anything and we’re not sure brewers should be on the NE…

Oddly, the candidate’s manifesto is also somehow similar to the somewhat foggy revitalization statement that the Ontario Craft Brewers have published. Both in their own way miss the mark, shimmer with perhaps unspoken motive. Is the fundamental problem with such things that both the rebellious and counter-reformation forces churning around the brewing of good beer basically have little to say? Could it be that beer takes care of itself quite nicely?

By comparison, a very useful and succinct discussion of value and expense related to low strength beers broke out on Twitter amongst a couple of fine beer writers and a couple of small scale US brewers. Exactly as an open marketplace of ideas should work if folk have their brain bucket properly adjusted. There may be hope after all.

That’s enough for now. Sports are on. There’s quad mixed luge coming on the TV soon. And full contact curling after that.  This is great…

*pronounced as in the Dutch: bay-bay-tvay.

Your Mid-January Thursday Beery New Round-Up

It’s been a big week. The Arctic air mass has left us so Easlakia once again is a ball of slush. It’s been a dryish January around these parts but only “-ish” – so don’t go all hostile. Much more veg. No fries. Walks as walks can be walked. It’s good for you. Hmm. Ice storm coming Friday. That should be sweetly end-timesy. Like what Lars just went through recently… maybe. You and I? We have done nothing for good beer. Not like Lars. Speaking of getting off the kookoo juice, I like this: “…waking up fresh at 8am on a Saturday morning after 8 hours uninterrupted sleep.” Try it. It’s good.

I was very sad to read a Ed’s blog about the passing of Graham Wheeler. During my home brewing years his book (with a drizzle of R. Protz) Brew Your Own British Real Ale was a constant companion. One thing I will always appreciate having learned from him was how small differences between recipes created remarkably different ales.  A great loss.

This is the national anthem of beer.

Caption contest! What the hell was Mr. B saying with that expression? It’s a third of an Elvis, clearly. Click for the full view. Was Jordan using that dab of tuna fish juice behind the ear as cologne – again? Robin caught the moment* at a beer dinner Wednesday night in the centre of the universe which famously included house made gentleman’s relish, the only relish a gentleman ever needs. Perhaps Mr. B was musing on the qualifications JSJ brought to the table, gentlemanly-wise. Surely not.

Speaking of hostile, it was a bit odd reading the follow up this week to Eric Asimov’s bit in The New York Times on brown beer. His column was just a round up of the brown ales you can try in the New York market with, yes, a little jig and jag about beer nerds. Then…. accusations, handbags and recriminations. Reminded me a lot about last week’s crisis over pointing out – “theatrical gasp” – sexism in craft beer.** What a round up of “the superior gathered to get the boot in” that was. And now, while it is clear that it’s probably never going to be a good idea to go all “bored quasi-intellectual snobbery intro is the tiredest of journalistic tropes” if you want to be taken seriously, I was quite happy Jeff told his what his actual issue was with this week’s panic. Not my issue but a reasonable issue as he framed it. Still, Asimov’s a fabulous wine writer who makes complex things make sense – and successful enough to have no interest in making his own status an issue. Me, I liked the piece. And, tellingly, so did a lot of the paper’s readership if the many many comments are anything to go by. So say it loud and say it proud: brown ale is go! As in other hobby interests, this again goes to show that good beer still needs a bit of aging to get past these angst-ridden teenaged years. Yes, these may still be the times of doubtful mild cheddar. As I say to my own kids, it gets better. I hope.

700 employees! Damn good thing they are still small.

Nearby, Robsterowski in Glasgow posted an interesting pit on those little knives or tongue depressors used to smack the head of a fancy beer pour – skimmers. I’ve never thought much about them so his work has added to my understanding by about 1237382%.

Not beer: King Crimson’s Larks Tongues in AspicThis was 45 years ago now. Talk about gentleman’s relish.

There, another 23 minutes I can’t get back. Don’t forget to lay your bets on next week’s crisis in the shrinking good beer writing marketplace. Who lashes out next? Stay tuned. Meantime I will likely be back on the weekend with something about brewing in the 1500s you won’t care about. See you then.

*Shared without consent.
**Was it only last week? Nate S. uncovered this weeks Pigs Of Craft award winners. Folks just don’t get it.

“No Liquor On Earth Is Like Nottingham Ale!”

As a lad, before the internet, I was a keener for the BBC World Service. I actually visited the studios at Bush House on the Strand in 1980 on a family holiday and sat in on a Dave Lee Travis show taping. Most evenings I would listen to the shortwave and at the top of the hour before the news hear the station’s identification signal, the Lillibullero. Little did I know that the short tune played right after “This is London” and before the “beep beep beep beep beep beeeeeeeeep” of the hour was taken from an English folk song called “Nottingham Ale“,* the singing of which which you can hear here

I learned that fact searching for references to the great ales of late 1600s England in an archive of mid- and late-1700s colonial New York newspapers. I came across this lyric to the right which was to be sung to the tune of “Nottingham Ale.” It was published in New York’s Gazette of the United States on 18 August 1790. Which means that there was some understanding in NYC at that time of Nottingham, England having, you know, an ale. So well known, in fact, that a brewer in New York, John F. Jones, appears to have been using the name for one of his own local ales if the New York Gazette of 12 March 1803 is to be believed.

What isn’t in the archive are references to Derby ale,** Hull ale or Margate ale, the coastal and carted ales of England in the 1600s. As we have seen, there are plenty of references in the NY press to other English ales not much discussed in the 1600s – ales like Taunton, Burton and Gainsborough. What is remarkable seems to be how while the pattern of naming these great ales for the cities from which they came continued, these transoceanic ales were named after a largely if not entirely a distinct class of city. Hmm.

Anyway, this short post bridges a few things that I need to unpack a bit more but most of all it should serve as encouragement for all you all to learn the words and tune of “Nottingham Ale” so that we may sing it when we meet next. Extra points for learning the version in praise of St. Andrew set out above, too.

*Amongst other antecedents.
**Need to work on a Derby post. I have found quite a lovely map from 1680…

Saturday Night In A Rain Soaked Beer Tent

I rarely think of things as being “Canadian” because “Canadian” is a bit elusive. Usually you need an American friend to let you know something is weird so that you can tell him “oh, that’s Canadian.” Sitting in a beer tent at long plastic covered tables during a cold downpour watching iconic 1970s rockers April Wine on a military base at a civvie invitation only concert feet in chilling puddles watching soldiers and pals and dates and, apparently, parents and grandparents having a good time on the one macro beer on offer struck me as pretty Canadian as I was sitting in the midst of it there last night. There in the foggy tent on the parade square asphalt. Do other nations even have laws requiring beer tents? The stamping of hands as you go in? I didn’t have any beer. Not because I didn’t like the beer. Mooseheads pale ale is decent enough for a beer tent. Fact: the porta potties were a hurricane away. Others didn’t pass on the opportunity. Watched one guy down eight or ten Mooseheads in the first half hour we were there. He was givin’ ‘er. As we say. It was so foggy in the tent from the downpour outside that it started condensing on the inside of the tent, rain reforming to pour on our heads. A science lesson in itself. We left not just because of that or because it was so loud that I stuffed wads of Kleenex in my ears but because they played their 1979 cover of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” which I had not appreciated they had in fact once recorded. They did an excellent job for the eleven minutes of that tune but the crowd was there for songs on the radio, songs with lyrics like “tonight is a wonderful night to fall in love, oh yeah” and not covers of early prog rock speed metal. Earlier, folk had happily Legion danced to the opening band, Whiskey Overdrive, playing classic rock covers. Legion dancing requires a generous application of the elbows. And a few Mooseheads. There’s a real happy levelling that goes on when military folk are partying. The opposite of the oneupsmanship you can get at house parties filled with strangers. Military folk already know who in the room is one up. Still, there was a bit of a crush at the exit gate as we left. But plenty stayed. It was really good. Good company. Good out dinner before. Good being among Canadians. People were having a time.

Session 9: When Beer And Music Shaped My Life

sessionlogosmA bit like Greg, when I thought about the topic for this month’s edition of “The Session”, hosted and proposed by Tomme Arthur of Lost Abbey, I was initially disappointed as this one’s generality seems to be taking us another notch farther and farther away from the beer and nearer and nearer to a free for all, allowing for a drift towards that glaring lack of attention to detail that any good beer blogger should fear.

Yet the posts so far today have dispelled my fear as has just wallowing in a bit of recollecting. I have to go quite a ways back to a time when music and beer were more closely associated for me. Not as background music either – when one older brother came back from a trip to family in the early ’80’s, his most telling remark was that the British pubs he had visited all seems to have jukeboxes compared to our last trip, the summer of punk in 1977. And they were all playing “Born in the USA”. That’s not music. That’s music in a can.

hfx1-1Stephen Beaumont’s post for the session – or one of them – makes a very good point about the music in a bar being a huge part of the
experience but it is also important to note that canned music is a fairly recent introduction into a lot of bars – a reality of only the last 35-25 years. Even in my youth of the early 80s many Halifax taverns were still only either loud with conversation or had live music. And it was that live music we sought out because we sang, too. Maritime Canadians like me have a capacity for shout-singing a good shanty with the best of them and we sang them in the taverns like the Lower Deck with certain songs being somewhat obligatory like “Barrett’s Privateers” by Stan Rogers and, of course, the cultural anthem “Farewell to Nova Scotia” which usually brought the house down in pubs like the Lower Deck with the long tables being hammered and dimpled by beer glasses keeping the beat, students and guys in the navy sharing their benches and trying to out do each other on the chorus:

God damn them all
I was told we’d cruise the seas for American gold
We’d fire no guns, shed no tears
Now I’m a broken man on a Halifax pier,
The last of Barrett’s Privateers

hfx2The music was real and I was making it, the tavern was on a Halifax pier and the beer was then, for the most part, locally brewered draft by regionals Keiths and Moosehead even if a few imports were popping up like Newcastle Brown and the oddly present but welcomed Frydenlund lager from Norway – both also coastal brews. Stephen shares a bit of the flavour of Halifax that from that time, too, in his post:

Then there are times when beer trumps music, as it does in this story told to me many years ago by Kevin Keefe, founder of eastern Canada’s first brewpub, the Granite Brewery in Halifax. Winning Maritimers over to British-style ales wasn’t the easiest of tasks for Kevin, but in doing so he recognized that he would create for himself a sort of captive audience. And so, one by one, he convinced the locals to switch from the regional lagers and bland, blonde ales to his unique dark ales and best bitters, including, eventually, one long-time hold-out we’ll call Alan. Alan was for many months skeptical about the appeal of the Granite’s ales, Kevin told me, but after numerous tastes and talks, finally came around and began to drink the Best Bitter on a regular basis. This continued for some time, up to and including the evening when a hugely popular band was playing in a rival bar, attracting away the bulk of Kevin’s clientele.

Funny. The Alan I knew in the mid-80s of Halifax (me), the one hunting out the best place to belt out the best song at closing time, was starting to enjoy craft beer in a Halifax brewpub that actually pre-dated the one that came to be called the Granite Brewery. As I went on about back here, their equipment was originally at a sort of down at the heels place called Ginger’s which was a few blocks, a few rougher blocks nearer the train station and the docks, south of where the places now called the Granite and Ginger’s sits today. We’d also another source for early craft beer from a southern New Brunswick brewery, Hans House, that I do not think made it into the 90s.

But Kevin Keefe is right. It was the place as much as anything that made learning about his early efforts at craft beer so attractive and so different – whether that first harbour town tavern or later, at the Henry House, the new sort of upscale pub that he introduced into the scene that made for the setting. And those places of his had, for much of the time, something hard to find these day of mainly canned tunes or those days of table thumping massed messed choirage – the peace of no music at all.