Now That It’s Summer Do I Want Gin Or Beer… Or?

yard2016This is the sort of problem I have in summer. Which is another way of saying I have no problems. Summer in the yard. Digging slightly pointlessly until drenched with sweat. Watching the teens push the mower from the prospect of that chair and that shade. What to drink?

I am happy to say I have two local gins in the cabinet – or as local as you get in Canada. One speaks of Quebec’s Arctic with herbs north of the tree line. The other reeks of Ontario’s middle, the bush of the Shield. I don’t expect them to disappear soon as I rarely have a second. It’s not that I suffer but I do find satisfaction fairly rapidly returned from a well placed G+T. I also make sure I have a reasonable utility gin in the cupboard, something with sufficient colonial branding, to ensure the good stuff isn’t wasted on me by me. Gins. Or rather a gin.

Other than one gin what plays upon the mind as the bus trundles homeward? Riesling and Vinho Verde. Two wines that make every other white feel bloated and weighty. Each are madly underpriced, too. Each balances brightness and fruit. And each comes in at the lower end of the alcohol scale. 8.95$ x 8.95% is an attractive Portuguese proposition. Conversely, good Riesling is a very local proposition for me. This 2014 by nearby Sugarbush is a bigger take at 12.5%. From Hillier in Prince Edward Co., it’s full of the rich cream the loam provides. Lightly lemoned sweetened cream. Farmsworth? Limestone shards like those in fields I walked out into last year. Wine from a field and a year.

What of beer? Tenacity pale ale by Ottawa’s Tooth and Nail is as herbal as gin but with none of the levity. It’s a lovely ale. Plenty of graininess standing up against the comforting weedy bitterness. Deep oranged gold, maybe it simply speaks of twelve weeks from now. The season of mellow fruitfulness. Does any beer match the audacity of an unadorned early leaf of lettuce? None. Wine wins every time. But maybe it’s a campfire beer, an Algonquin beer? Perhaps I am too urban… or, rather, suburban. Last night I wasn’t. I was out there, where highway 38 meets 7. Surrounded by mosquitos and haunted by distant calling loons watching the eldest play softball against the league’s Near North team. It would have fit in there well, near where seed aspires to sausage. Really.

Lemon Beer In Schenectady In The 1830s

schencabinet28march1832lemonbeerI was looking up spruce beer to see how late it was being advertised and came across a small batch of notices from one newspaper in Schenectady New York in the 1830s. By the second half of the 1800s, there are plenty of recipe books that offer homemakers the ability to make a 1.5% alcohol soft(ish) drink for the family based on sugar and essence of lemon. Unlike those household guides, the 1830s lemon beer appears to take its place with other alcoholic beers and not in the temperance drinks cabinet.

The notice of the lost notebook to the right is particularly interesting. from the 28 March 1832 edition of the Schenectady Cabinet, it explains its own purpose – but whoever was keeping track of the debts of this drinker was serving lemon beer along with rum and beer. Or porter, sweet wine, strong beer and New Jersey cider. Premium drinks. Yet, the recipe for ginger beer to the lower right is from 2 May 1818 of Albany Gazette and that looks a heck of a lot like the later 1.5% temperance drinks. Maybe the stuff was both premium and light, a small nod to sensible drinking in the fairly debauched days of James Monroe.

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Still Off, Five Wineries, A Flag And A New Brewery

pec1See that there? That’s a bit of a winery with a brewery popping up rapidly behind it. I raced through the east end of nearby Prince Edward County again today as I was getting itchy feet on day four of this week off. Itchy feet from reading all of Stonch’s posts about a Londoner’s country hiking lifestyle, wandering from pub to pub and glass to glass. Well, that sort of thing doesn’t happen much around here but, as he was giving me the gears over this and that on the chat app yesterday, I decided to do the next best thing and head to our nearest neighbouring grape growing region. And I found a new brewery in the works or at least a roof four walls and a newly poured concrete floor for County Road Beer Co., an offshoot of the makers of pretty grand sparkling wines, Hinterland. More in a bit about that but first a little history.

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As I mentioned the other day and Craig set out in more detail in a press release today, in one month’s time there is a recreation of the sorts of beer that may have been familiar to combatants on both sides of the American Revolution on the central New York Frontier. And I have one job – get a flag. As you can see from the historic plaques, they take this flag thing serious in Loyalist-settled country. Just as the other side did after the war and the re-settlements, they had to recreate their lives anew. Farms were cut out of forests. Mills were built to service villages with names of the towns, like Cherry Valley, from which their ancestors fled in the 1770s and ’80s. I took that photo of the sign standing by the side of Schoharie Road. These days the flag is everywhere. A bit surprising that it is. When I went into a hardware store and asked if they had the old version of the Union Flag, they said no. Then the old guy at the counter added “we do have the Loyalist flag” which, when they checked, was the old version of the Union Flag. Within seven seconds of my explanation – about when I mentioned 1606 – eyes were glazed and mouths even smirked. I shut up and took the flag to the check out. “That will be $75.” Not a chance. I put it back and walked away.

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I was actually more interested in the fruit of the lands than the damn flag anyway. As Jordan described in one of his bits in Ontario Beer, Prince Edward County was a hot bed of barley sales to nearby northern New York from the US Civil War until a tariff was slapped on the trade in the 1890s. Be sure not to say good things about President McKinley next time you visit. Anyway, the fields are all there now diversified into hay, corn, soybean as well as more and more grape vines. I got out of the car and onto the land and you could see why. Amongst the old cedar rail fences, the soil in the fields was rocky as anything. Chunks and sherds of limestone everywhere, just the sort of thing grapes love.

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After first doing a gravel doughnut in the parking lot of Barley Days to read a sign that said the retail shop was shut, I aimed the old van at the Greer Road all the way over at the west side of the County. I picked up a rose, Riesling and Bordeaux red blend at Rosehall Run as well as some Black River cheese curd, one of the greatest things ever to come out of a cow. Across the road and about 500 yards to the east, I stopped at Norman Hardie for another Riesling and a Pinot Noir. I talked with Johannes Braun, the winery’s operations manager, for 20 minutes about the season, his love of beer and how he makes 100 loaves of bread most Saturdays on top of everything else it does. Hit wineries in April on a Thursday and you get to chat. And he mentioned that Hinterland was setting up a brewery, told me to stop in.

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Next, I headed to Karlo Estates where I was again the only customer in view. Bought another Riesling as well as another Bordeaux red blend. The very helpful staff person in the re-purposed barn mentioned that Hinterland was setting up a brewery, told me to stop in. So, I thought, I better go to Hinterland which I now understood was setting up a brewery. When I go there it was a crowd of one at the tasting room and I had a couple of short sips of their bubble before buying a couple of versions. As I was about to go, a guy walks in and I mention something about plans for a brewery. Mark Andrewsky stuck out his hand and we talked for half an hour about what was going to be brewed as a guy worked on the concrete floor of the new building next to the re-purposed old barn. Local, local, local. The family behind the winery had connections to grain farmers, there was a hop farm down the road – Fronterra Farm – and a new maltster coming on line an hour’s drive north. Stan would be pleased. Like with MacKinnon Brothers of the Loyalists of Bath and Church-Key farther north, one county over to the east, this is arguably looking a bit like beer with terrior. Mark mentioned maybe a 4% saison and how he had an excellent chance of laying his hands on a barrel or two for some aging experiments. Before heading away, I stopped at Closson Chase for a couple more Pinot Noirs. It’s also just around the corner.

The curd was gone by then. Time to head back to the ferry and then on home. An hour each way. Unless you get to the ferry just as its pulling out like I did. Twice. I try to make it at least once a year but with the promise of beer and now 45 wineries it’ll likely be sooner. And if they figure out how to build a hotel or even a decent motel or two around there it might even not be a day trip. The flag? I am checking the internet.

Did Hipsters In The 1850s Like Adulterated Beer, Too?

uhvb1aThis is a pretty interesting bit of news in the New York Post:

The scientists discovered the glass “California Pop Beer” bottle on Bowery Street near Canal Street, where a popular beer hall, Atlantic Garden, bustled in the 1850s, scientists said. “It’s a light summer drink, slightly minty and refreshing” said Alyssa Loorya, 44, president of Chrysalis Archaeology, which headed the project. The beer is infused with ginger root, sarsaparilla and wintergreen oil, and other herbs, giving it a one-of-a-kind kick, Loorya said.

If the beer bottle collector nerds are to be trusted, California Pop Beer was produced as Haley & Co. Celebrated California Pop Beer out of Newark, New Jersey… but apparently sometimes in New York as well. The archaeologists reproduced the beer based on research that led to finding a patent for the stuff. I suspect that. I suspect something about it all. I am suspicious. Seems a bit weird that you would get a patent for a beer when every other brewery in the world relies on and has relied on trade secrecy as opposed to a patent telling the whole world about what goes into the bottle. Fortunately, someone in the Google Borg decided we should all have access to patents so we can have a look at what went into this stuff at least in 1872. Hmm…. not really beer. A yeast and an extract of wintergreen, sassafras and spruce are prepared and then, if I read correctly, they are combined with “ten gallons of water one hour, after which seventy pounds of granulated sugar”. Or maybe 105 gallons. Yum? Does it matter?

What is most interesting to me is that this is an example of a second half of the 1800s popular beverage. It relies upon the word “beer” but really is more like a an alcopop or cooler. It comes from a time when, like today, purity is less important than flavour. It also plays upon California in the branding right about when Quinn & and Nolan in Albany, New York were advertising their California Pale XX and XXX Ales. Maybe California was just neato right about then. I like the idea that spruce is part of the taste profile. An old regional favorite flavor that you can learn more about if you BUY THIS BOOK. Oh. That was a bit gratuitous, wasn’t it.

Never mind that. The point remains. The past is a foreign land and so were their drinks.

Not Beer: Dr. Konstantin Frank, Pinot Noir 2010

flwine1I don’t always drink wine but when I do I like the good local stuff… or maybe something from the Mosel. Or maybe a nice grenache. I was thinking yesterday when I was looking at the fantastic selection of Finger Lakes wines at Triphammer Wines at the north end of Ithaca, NY that if you are going to say stuff like beer is more versatile, complex or varied than wine, well, you had better have downed a good lot of both to justify your argument. I don’t believe any of it myself. Both are wonderful and awful and everything in between.

Dr. Frank is the old hand, a pioneer in growing European grapes in northeastern North America. The Finger Lakes wines are comparable to those of Ontario’s Prince Edward County near where I live. They are a couple hundred km due south but the local climate is not so affected by their smaller lakes. On price point, this Pinot is just over half the retail of a Norman Hardie from PEC. It would be good to do a side by side. No need for a tasting note for this wine other than to mention balance, age worth tannin and a strong berry core.

Like the hotel decor? I am showing you the nicest bit. Unlike the wine, low cost and grinder charm is the best you might suggest. The Utica Club of places to stay.

Not Beer: Racing Around PEC And Buying Stuff

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Another great day in the nearby setting of Prince Edward County. We left the house around 10:30 am and returned at seven having hit a cidery, four wineries, a cheese maker, two beaches as well as a BBQ smoke house on the way home. Highlight? I ate goat milk strawberry ice cream with chèvre chunks built right in. Less buy in on that treat with the older kids but the six year old gulped it back happily. Family: those who scorn your habits… with the evidence to back it up.

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Needless to say the stash is tightly packed. I dropped into Devil’s Wishbone at the north-east of the county again, this time for a couple of their Rieslings and a 2010 Pinot Noir. The vines above are the same ones seen nicely sleeping last January. After dropping the others at Wellington Beach, I bombed through what might just be the greatest trio of wineries up a back road in Ontario. First up 2.5 km out of the village was Karlo Estates, new to me but immediately exuding a welcoming comfort in the re-purposed barn. I found a straight up petite verdot called 5th Element, a Bordeaux inspired blend name of Quintus as well as their 2010 Pinot Noir.

pecjuly1Sooner or later I am having a Pinor Noir fest in the back yard. Chatted a bit and learned that their Riesling is made withe grapes from Devil’s wishbone. Best in the area I was told. Next, I got on to the Chase Road and headed north. I wanted to visit Lacey Estates for their Gewurztraminer as well as another Pinot Noir. Had a quick chat with an owner and the wine maker. I was on the clock but very cheery folk. Last, the most excellently named Closson Chase which sits at, you know, the corner of Closson and Chase roads where I picked up a couple of their County grown Chardonnay as well as, yes, a Pinot Noir called Assemblage. More Pinot Noir.

Living so near hitting the County hard at least a couple of times a year is becoming a habit. Most of today’s finds will sleep for months and maybe years for big dinners and family gatherings. Took a heard look at a lot of small older back road farmhouses along the way. Could do worse than a cottage in wine country.

Wine’s The Real Challenge For Good Beer, Not MacroGak

As you know, I have been writing a bit about wine here because I am thinking about and drinking a bit of the fluids of nearby Prince Edward County. News today from those last few staff at Statistics Canada who have not met the wrath of our rural overlords indicates I might not be alone:

For some, beer is as Canadian as the Maple Leaf, and anything less would be downright unpatriotic. But, new statistics show, a nation of beer drinkers are increasingly switching from hops to grapes. “Despite the small increase in beer sales, both in terms of volume and dollar value, the market share dominance of beer continued to decline as consumers turned more to wine,” Statistics Canada said today, referring to numbers that are now a year out of date, but still show how tastes continue to change. “In 2002, beer had a market share of 50 per cent by dollar value, while wine had 24 per cent,” the agency said in an annual report on alcoholic beverages. “By 2012, the market share for beer had declined to 44 per cent, while wine accounted for 31 per cent.”

Notice the underlying factor, however, as this statistic is by dollar value. We are as a nation spending more on wine. We may well not be buying or drinking more wine but we likely are. Buying better, too… or at lease more expensive. Plus we are buying what is becoming fairly common around us, good local wine. Yet, we buy and make beer and spirits, too. We are polyboires, we Canadians, as the original StatsCan report explains.

My near western neighbour, Prince Edward County, here by the northeast corner of Lake Ontario provides only a small bit of Ontario’s and Canada’s overall wine production. Recently, I received samples of a number of Diamond Estates wines from Niagara, the better known wine region to the southwest of the same Great Lake. Because it is wine, it’s a bit hard to get a handle on what to make of even such a selection let alone place them in the context. I’ll mention two. I shared the EastDell Gamay Noir and, again, were pleased with the quality – especially the characteristics of the grape as grown in Ontario soils. I am not sure I would trust a wine at that price point to be as dependable were it European or South American. I unexpectedly liked a light bodied white wine, Birchwood Fresh Gewurztraminer / Riesling, even though it it is a modestly priced blend but, then, was a challenged by the implications. But that’s the thing, isn’t it. See, for me, unlike beer, taking into account all the challenges posed by nation, region, vintage, grape variety, blends, sometimes actual terrior and bottle variation – not to mention price point and vintner’s intention – the variables are simply more complex as a whole than good beer. I don’t know how to get my arms around the body of data presented to me by wine. So I focus on zones. I buy red wines from the Côtes du Rhône and Rieslings from the Mosel – Ürzigers if I can find them. And, lucky for me, I also buy local wines from nearer and often – but not always – more affordable zones.

I know, I know. Your a beer geek and you’ve been told that beer goes with more things and is more complex. You even believe beer goes with chocolate better, never having had even a reasonable port. But the saddest truth is these sorts of arguments makes a little sense. Good beer is wonderful and so is wine. So’s gin, for that matter. But learning about beer is a fairly straight forward or maybe just relatively straight forward matter, not even considering all the misdirection from above and its own inherent multi-faceted nature. You read 20 beer books these days and, be honest, you come away with the sense you’ve maybe read six. I read any book in the Faber series on wine, for example, and I am boggled by the sheer volume of data. 475 Beers to Try Before You Die? What about facing 2575 wines of the Côte de Beaune in a lifetime, a stretch of land in one French valley of maybe 5 by 20 miles.

What to do with this as a beer nerd wanting to start learning about wine? Start. Same goes for teas or cheeses for that matter. Take the chip off the shoulder if it’s there and start trying them. Start trying to figure them out and realize as you do that you will likely never master the stuff. You’ll never get a glimpse of the borders of the topic for that matter. But that is OK. You’ve never have a beer from all the US craft brewers either. Will anyone? Who cares.

Not Beer: Zero de Gris 2009, Huff Estates, PEC

zdgh1I was going to post about tea. I have been drinking a lot of tea lately. Good tea. Good tea is one of the least expensive good things going. Even at $35, per portion so might be a sweet wine like this bottle I picked up last summer at the winery on one of our ice cream, beach and cheese curd jaunts into Prince Edward County. A half bottle like this can easily be shared at dessert or after with six or eight. And you might open one once every couple of months, right? So, OK, not quite great tea value but often a well placed addition to the end of a holiday meal like the one shared today.

Zero de Gris is made with all Frontenac Gris picked late but short of forming noble rot or freezing. As flavour packed as I would have hoped, there’s honey and apricots on the nose. You can smell it with the glass sitting there on the side table. There’s more in there as well. Fresh lemon, white grapefruit, honey and something thicker, earthy – maybe melon or beeswax? A small sip gives you tangerine, lemon juice, honey in a sharp acidity framing a sweet hefty mouth feel. The finish is light and grapefruit clean with a lasting nod to that beeswax note.

We had this with a lemon curd cream cake. It would likely go well with just spoonfuls of thick cream and a couple dozen butter cookies if that were your thing, too. Light at 9.5% and enough sugar that the bottle’s drip leaves the neck sticky. Probably infanticide at three and a half years old. An award winner for Canadian late harvest wines in 2011.

Not Beer: Pinot Noir 2009, Grange, Closson Road, PEC

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I didn’t buy this when we visited The Grange of Prince Edward County last August but maybe I should have. Found a bottle on a low shelf at the local government store. I sorta realized I had not been paying attention to this grape. I’ve probably been in a Côtes du Rhône rut now that I think of it. You know what that’s like. So, I have been picking up bottles from a few regions where Pinot Noir is grown when I see a reasonable price. Like this one. The Grange appears to have six different vineyards totaling around 60 acres. Half the vineyards have Pinot Noir. The are located just south of the lake in the middle of Hillier township on this Victorian map, right by old Sam Trumpour’s place. Lord Goog has the location, too.

grange2I made a white bean and sausage stew in the slow cooker to go a long with this wine for tonight’s family gathering. I threw in dried mushroom and celery root along with a good slug of a Niagara red blend. Earthy. Hopefully. Not sure if Pinot Noir earthy bears any relation to biere de garde earthy. Not sure I’ve thought about cross-referencing adjective from wine to beer at all, come to think of it. Whatever earthy means in relation to this bottle, it is defined by the Hillier Clay Loam that you can read all about at page 58 of this 1948 Government of Canada report on the soils of Prince Edward County. It’s all about the dirt.

I took this advice and opened the bottle this morning. In the glass, the wine glows dark cherry red and gives off aromas like barky spices, alcohol, earthy berry… maybe red current? I agree with the idea of tastes of cherry and cranberry from this review but might add a little wintergreen and maybe strawberry as well. Some astringency from black tea tannins in the middle open to woodsy berry fruit at the end. Not the big and slap on the back wine like a lot of the Cabs, Merlot or Shiraz. A quieter drink.

Did I like it? Well, on the way come from dropping off the guest scurrying to get home before Earth Hour, I bought another. Stick it away for a bit to see what becomes of it. And, as we are not drinkers from fishbowls, half of this bottle is still around for leftovers tomorrow. And at well under $20 a good introduction to Prince Edward County Pinot Noirs.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Devil’s Wishbone, PEC

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Picked this up at the winery a few weeks before Christmas on a cloudy Monday off work. The Riesling and Cab Franc I bought the same day are gone already. The Devil’s Wishbone winery is a thirty minute drive west followed by a wait for the ferry followed by a five minute ferry and another five minute drive up the hill and back to the east at Lake on the Mountain just past the park next door in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

devw3As I mentioned recently, I have started a category for Prince Edward County wine because, well, it is tasty and nearby. While we have three actual production breweries, excepting Ottawa, in eastern Ontario there are over thirty wineries in PEC just over that wee ferry. Once I was up the hill and past the park, the sign for the winery soon came into view. Up a lane and past house, there was a parking lot by the barn with rows of grapes stretching out to the south.

Inside the barn, there’s a retail stop you duck under a beam to enter and a very helpful staff person. I picked this wine out for maybe 24 or 26 bucks. I picked this one just out of the sheer curiosity of finding the grape growing so close to my house. I was smart to do so even if opening it now is likely infanticide. After writing about beer so long what do I say? That it suffers from incredibly low levels of carbonation or that it’s the colour of kriek? It’s actually light for what I am used to in a Cab Sauv, not like the deep purple reds of a mass Aussie or Chilean plonk made with the grape after beaten down in the heat of the sun down under. I am going to say cherry juice red. Scent? Maybe cherry, raspberry and a little cigar or rather a bit of raspberry jam spread on on leather baseball gloves. More of the same in my mouth with maybe rosemary, tangerine and cedar… which may be expected given the local forest growth with bracing tannic. Tart berry woodsy finish.

Both Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke mention PEC in their 2013 guides as a newer upcoming wine zone. But not the Cabernet Sauvignon. And Devil’s Wishbone is too new for the latest edition of Crush on Niagara, the surely needing renaming guide to Ontario wines by Andrew Brooks from 2009. But it’s handy to my place and on the way.