Session 133: Hometown Proud?

For this month’s edition of The Session, host Gareth of Barrel Aged Leeds has asked us this question:

For this month’s edition of the Session, the proposed subject is ‘Hometown Glories’. Take this and run with it how you wish, but when thinking about possible subjects I had in mind an imminent visit to the place I spent my formative years and blogging about it’s highlights and wider beer scene. 

Being a gent of a certain age, I was struck by how similar this topic was to Session #15 “How Did It All Start For You?with a heavy dose of Session #9 “When Beer And Music Shaped My Life added for good measure. Which is fine but there is another problem. I am not sure I have a hometown. Our family moved when I was age 7, 8 and 15 before I went away to university at 18 to a city where my parents moved to when I was 21. As an adult I have received my mail and wages in eight communities including long stretches in Poland and the Netherlands – not to mention of months long patches of slumming around the UK with friends and family half-heartedly looking for work. So what to do?

Recently I realized that there was more to the story. I was trying to make sense of the storeroom in the basement. There are boxes and boxes of my late parents’ things down there and, working my way through the papers, I came upon my birth certificate. Oh. My. God. They lied to me and took it to their graves. I was horrified. Even though I spent my first years in Mississauga, turns out 55 years ago I was born next door… in Toronto. TORONTO?!?! The shame. The confusion. Yet, now I know why I love Johnny Bower so.

So, I am drinking a Pompous Ass tonight from Great Lake Brewing, Toronto’s other gift to Canadian beer… you know, other than me. At $2.65 CND it’s the right choice, fresh value craft from a legendary micro in its 31st year. One of the things that makes me hometown proud.

The Space Left Behind When Jordan Stood Up

Jordan was in visiting his old home town. We had a very pleasant two hours in my favourite spot, a block away from my work. I started with an excellent thick smoked oatmeal stout from Black Oak. But it wasn’t the beer or even that we were in the Kingston brew pub, which I have written about before – including this post from 2005 – but we had snagged one particular booth by the front windows. Another view of the seat, in a bit neater condition, is one of the photos that scroll up above in the header area. I first sat in the spot twenty-five years ago when, before children, my wife and I would take weekend holidays in this small eastern Ontario city where we later ended up settling. The brew pub was our home base out from which we would explore the old town or, staying in warm and dry, watch a blizzard whip by on a Saturday afternoon.

Jordan had his own memories. He thought it might be where, underage, he was first served a beer.  He effectively had a tab a few years later when he was a regular after the late shift. The space still surprised him. We discussed what was behind it and chatted a bit with the manager, too. The way the selection of Ontario craft beer was not actually strongly highlighted was a key feature we landed on. No more mentioned than the fine whisky selection or the house smoked BBQ. The pub itself was the main attraction. There is nothing particularly self-conscious… dare I say “curated”… about the place. Good brisket on the nachos, a great selection of good beer both reflecting both craft and micro sensibilities, Dwight Yoakam on the speakers surrounded by decades worth of British and US breweriana coating every flat surface displaying thirty years of beer culture, gathered extemporaneously there like a jar of beach glass.

After his drive arrived and Jordan headed out, I sat there by myself for a few minutes, afternoon giving way to evening, until a large group came in. I motioned them to fill the booth as I moved to sit on a chair to the side. We had a couple of minutes as they shared their own thoughts about the place. Then my own ride was there outside the big windows because it was suppertime.

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.”

Your Thursday Bullet Points For A Beery Yule

Are we in Yule yet? I think we are. The old town is at least looking wintery as you can see above. Our warm spell has flipped to cold snap so fast that the last of our garden tomatoes ripening on the window sill looked out at -17C this morning. But enough about comfort and joy. This blog is about beer, not… not beer.

First up in the news is all this  fuss about the shadowy Portman Group telling a brewery with childish colours and cartooning in their branding that childish colours and cartooning might be attractive to children. Infantilization indeed. I am pleased that the response of the UK brewery in question is so sensible and support the take by  in large part. BUT… a bit shocked was I by the (i) weepy hand wringing over the decision, (ii) weepy hand wringing over the process, and (iii) the collective amnesia about the Portman Group rulings on 2008. So much #poohwiddowcwaft! Now, I realize that the demise of most actual beer blogging has left an imprint on the minds of some that beer blogging was never all that good but it is rewarding to reach back in the archives to find sensible discussion about those events in a way that neither social media or trade-based beer journalism can apparently cope with these days.

Speaking of sensible application of the law, good to see that Beyoncé got here reputation unshackled from those freelancers who would attach their profit making to her hard earned fame.  It is quite stunning how we see this appropriation by craft brewers of the intellectual property of others. I still haven’t heard who drew and, so, owned or owns the copyright as opposed to the trademark as it relates to that White Stag. Yes, yes… it’s all a bit of fun. But that’s what the sexists and racists say, too, right?

Gerald Comeau, hero.

Robin and Jordan got a generous amount of coverage by TVO, Ontario’s public TV and interwebs broadcaster this week. My only sadness is the entire misrepresentation of the sixty years from 1927 to 1987 and the glory that was E.P. Taylor’s contribution to the world of brewing with his war on waste under the banner of lightness and modest price. The point, however, on “local” is especially well made and avoids our muddiness about all of Ontario being “local” to the entire 13,000,000 persons province.

Finally, interesting news about the jump in Canadian malting barley sales to China including this tidbit:

Canadian malting barley commands a higher price, especially for China’s premium beer market, because of its dark color and higher protein, which allows for better foaming, Watts said.

Because its all about the foaming. Good to see us kicking some Argie-Aussie-Euro butt for one in something other than curling.

I am off. Not like Stan is off. I should be back sooner than he is. I am going to think about Thursdays. Gonna think some more.

Ontario: Patricia, Stone City Ales, Kingston

A beer with subtitles: autumn saison, brewed with sweet potato and squash. I bought two bottles of this a few Fridays ago from the retail counter at Stone City, a short march up the hill from work. The first bottle gave me a bit of pause. This was an example of something. An excellent beer thoughtfully made that I liked but, still, one that I was not sure about.

And my uncertainty was fuelled by my own uncertainty as to why I am uncertain. So I am glad I bought two. This is a fabulous beer. The base saison is white peppered and dry. The gourd and rhizome quite restrained. On this warm Sunday afternoon in the middle of this strangely warm autumn, it tastes like the rich earthy air flowing in through the wide open windows. It is a clever timely release with adjuncts which are right up my alley. I grow squash and we even have use the nickname Swee Apado around the house, given we eat so much of it. So what is wrong?

Clouded vintage gold ale under a lacing fine white head. On the nose, it is classic saison in the Dupont style. Not the DuPont one, if you know what I mean. Backing it up is the dirt-tang of sweet potato. In the mouth, immediately dry and twiggy herbal with an very pronounced opening of flavours in the swallow followed by a long long hot herbal finish that resolves into the squash. The vegetable elements hide, show, hide then show.

I worry that my problem is this beer is cleverer than I am. Rustic and elegant. I can personally only claim the first. In my mind, I am searching for a place to put the beer. Pigeon hole it. I want to have it with spurting hot venison sausages. In a coconut curry. Or pork shoulder roasted on a bed of parsnips. I want a balancing fattiness. But is that fair to the beer in itself? Yeats spoke about loving something, someone for herself alone.  I have never claimed to be all that nuanced in my tastes but this may well be suggesting, strongly, that I revisit my limitations. I don’t like to not get the point of something this good.

So… I consulted Keats and his poem Ode to Autumn. The subtitle asked me to, no? And this explains everything. This is not the autumn of mists and mellow fruitfulness in the glass. That’s the autumn of back to school. A month ago. This beer speaks to a later point – the brittle leaf pile, warm welcome corduroys. Early sunsets and chilly walks back up Cobourg Road to get to college, to happy hour. Soccer practice with freezing knees. Remembrance Day and singing “Abide with Me” down at the Grand Parade.

We are not there yet. Here the leaves are still on the tree and I am picking cherry tomatoes off the vine a month after the equinox. I mowed today. Soon it will be six months to May. Four to March. This will be a short winter if autumn still is a ways off yet.


Gord Downie And Al Purdy’s poem “At The Quinte Hotel”

I love this poem so was delighted, on the day of his passing, to discover that our local lad Gord Downie had recorded his version of Al Purdy’s poem “At The Quinte Hotel” in 2011 or so. It is a great way to understand Ontario-ness. Once upon a time, I had the poem posted on the former version of the blog. But I was asked to remove it by Purdy’s publisher by way of one of the nicest cease and desist letters ever written. I also received an email over ten years ago from the late Roy Bonisteel, another famous Canadian, forwarded by a family member friend and colleague who wanted to clarify one point:

I like the beer blog….it’s very good. An interesting fact that a lot of people don’t know is that although Bellevillians are very proud of Al Purdy‘s poem about the Quinte Hotel…it is not the Belleville Quinte.  It is the Trenton Quinte…now called something else…where Purdy drank. At this same time I had a room at the Quinte when I was driving cab and working at the Courier. At that time we didn’t know each other…but year’s later over many a beer, talked about the fact that we had both been there at the same time. Tell your friend I’ll keep up with his blog.
Cheers,  Roy

One thing I love about that is that the bar is called a hotel in the title but a tavern in the text of the poem. I call any place a tavern or, better, a tav until I learn otherwise.

Half Hours On Earth, Seaforth, Ontario

I’d like to say that I visited Half Hours on Earth a few weeks ago but it was more like a drive-by shooting. Except I was only shooting with the iPad camera. See, it was summer and the kids at camps and cottages on the Lake Huron shore. My only job that week off was to get them there one weekend and get them back on the next one. Thirty-two hours of driving all in all. I needed some joy and a stop like this on a long haul is just the thing I needed. But I only had 12 minutes so I was in and out after asking 57 questions and coming across as a weirdo. I am used to me so it was fine.





Seaforth is a small crossroads ag supply town in south western Ontario that looks like a lot of the other small crossroads ag supply towns in south western Ontario that I married into. Lovely orange and tan brick houses and main street buildings. Gingerbread gothic revival churches sitting prominently on a grid of squares drawn on a map in the 1830s, long before the people arrived. All cooled by the shade of large hardwoods planted over 100 years ago – or maybe a dip in the river when it’s a hot one. The whine of cicadas interrupted by blizzards on an annual cycle. Alice Munro country filled with quiet towns laced with the quietly unhappy but satisfied enough. It’s not where you would think you would find great beer but a few weeks back Robin and Jordan declared it the best new brewery in the province and I went all in. I found the brewery and its two owner operators in the lower level of a grain depot by a rail siding. Here is what I thought.

Green Mind: The name is like a Third Doctor serial. Except it needs to have “of Doom” added at the end. I bought a quart jug, aka a small growlers. It provided me with a great follow up to a GLB Canuck and a Friday evening mow of the lawn. At heftier 7.1% its the biggest of the beers I bought, surprising similar but also the senior to the province’s favourite craft beer. Not a sour bomb so much as a weedy raggedy-arsed maybe even pissed-off IPA.  Pale malt sweet base under bitter greens. The lavender brett fitting beneath the lush ditch weed bitter herb hop. Remember. I just mowed the lawn. A bit of Chinese mustard green burn. Not really arugula black pepper bitter but green and sharp like a salad full of salad greens you never heard of. Quaffable. I quaffed. Rounded by the wood not a hint of any cheesy Chardonnay oak. Robust but not heavy. Extremely satisfying dry stinging nettle note in the finish. Cloudy but not milky, mustard – tan coloured ale under a rich clingy fine whipped egg white head. Sweet cream and herbs on the nose portending the unexpected. A thinking person’s ale. Or at least a person having a good think after mowing the lawn on a Friday. Lovely.

Jez: 5.6% rosehip rosemary farmhouse. Herbal lemonade on the nose. Smell like the sorbet/sherbet I want in my life. Cloudy dark lemon ale under rich white whipped head. Dry yet moderately full. Plenty of bright acid, lemon juice, rose hip giving both a bit of body and a seam of earthy slightly sweet must. Very attractive, vinous. Citrus rise at the start, lime and white grapefruit pith. Deftly confident if not bold. Could have been overbearing if a few element had gone astray. Could poach cod in this. With baby leeks and smashed new spuds. I came back to this one. As I thought about this beer, I agreed with myself about how brilliant the use of rose hip was.  Earthy but not mushroomed.

Corrigan: I believe I learned that this was the same 5.6% base beer as the Jez but with coriander and lemongrass. The lack of the earthy non-mushroom tone makes a great difference. This is all bright and light. The piccolo of citrus notes with a relatively slight herbal presence compared to Jez. The lemongrass adds green hues to the middlest middle where another brewer this summer or last might have placed cucumber. Very attractive…. again. The bretty lavender effect frames deftly. Did I use deft again, too? Sure did. A very much quieter sour beer but well worth leaning in a bit and paying proper attention.

Mingus Dew: I bought a full growler, a pottle to those who know. Quarts and pottles. Can’t we just call them that? This pottles-worth was drained in the backyard of the in-laws who were away out east on holiday. We were feeding grapes to the unwelcome rabbit who had set up shop, eating all their garden plants. Rather cheeky. It was the perfect antidote to a stinking hot day in a quiet town, another southwestern Ontario ag supply town. At just 3.8%, a dry hop table sour that offers no dangers, just promises. And opportunities. Dry citrus tang on the nose. Slightly clouded light golden ale under a rich rocky lace leaving head. I should pull the two emergency bottles of that Girardin with the black label out of the residual stash to see how they might compare. This is lovely. Yes, simple lemon but, as with GBL, there is that measured cream backbone from the light malt.

Pod Six: Last but not least. Again, I believe this is the same 3.8% base beer as Mingus Dew with sea salt rather than dry hopping. Side by side, very interesting. The most obvious difference is how the salt adds a slight coating to the lips. Next, it slightly takes the edge off the acid. It might contribute to a more restrained aroma. What, after all, is the smell of salt? A miner might know. The choice of sea salt is interesting as just down the road is Ontario’s salt supply at Goderich. I want to fill a jug with this beer and mild garden herbs. Parsley. Chervil.

We actually chatted a bit. Not what you would call an interview or anything. The kids were in the car. With the AC on. You can read the newspapers for that sort of information. Owners Kristen Harburn and Kyle Teichert grew up in the area. People I know probably know people they know or at least were at the same buck and doe. I asked how it was they got into sours and told me of trips to Buffalo to find Belgian sours, the empties of which were on display. I pointed at a few with strong memories for me, especially Brise-BonBons from Fantome which introduced me to hoppy and sour ten years ago. These beers are the the love child of that.

They ship their beers. You can order them and they stick them in the mail. I will do that. Likely today. After all, I am just about out. If I think of the thrill I had in the fall of 2007 finding myself in Dexter, Michigan getting an hour of Ron Jefferies’ time at the end of a busy week and then getting a case of quarts (and a woolly winter hat) to take away at $5.99 a bottle, the idea of getting beer this fine delivered to my door has a Jetsons’ tone to it here in Ontario the monopolistic. I like this future.

The Summer Intern Hands Back His Smock And Tongs

Well, that’s it. Stan will be back next week. It has been fun but it’s also required a fair bit of attention. Something I am not sure I could sustain month after month. I sometimes see beer writers use the word “fascinating” and realize I couldn’t muster up that emotion if I was handed a vial of Fascinex 150 pills.

How much greater the rip roaring fun one finds in beery records of the past like this real knee slapper of a joke to the upper right from the 11 December 1811 Kingston Gazette of this my dear old colonial town. This brain teaser from the same paper’s 4 December 1810 edition had me spinning for hours. What chance does one week today have against this sort of quality work from the past?

More International Mass Craft

Is it even news that BrewDog is setting up another branch plant, this time in Australia? My thoughts, what with another quarterly report and another slip in Sam Adams sales offset “by increases in our Twisted Tea and Truly Spiked & Sparkling brands,” that there is a diminishing return on such things but – as we know from our Bible story time – avarice will have its way. Just as there is no thrill seeing another run of the mill Sam Adams product on a beer store shelf here in Ontario, I trust and likely hope that my Australian cousins have enough local breweries to support that a carpetbagger would get at best tepid reception.

Somehow, Martyn’s fuzzy picture from the event captures the spirit of it all.

Hiding in Plain View

GBH has tweeted a link to a very interesting reddit post by Sixpoint Brewing on the recent “investment” in 21 Amendment by Brooklyn that is fun in its bitchiness but also very telling in one particular comment: “…with a path to full control.” See, when these things happen and people say “whew, it was only a 19.9999% investment so it’s OK” they entirely miss the point. Percentage share ownership means nothing. The BA definition was either writing by non-lawyers or was crafted to dupe. See, you can own 1% of the shares or 99% of the shares of something and still effectively control it outright through the terms of the agreement that is entered into when making the investment. It’s called a shareholders agreement and under them you can list decisions which can’t be made without the approval of this shareholder, you can name names as to which founding owner is now only a front man for the business and you can establish rights to future purchases of more shares – aka the path to full control.

Fuggles Or Fuggle… Or Fuggle’s?

Ron has posted a picture on Twitter of an 1850s brewing record that uses the word “Fuggle” which has spun off a bit of chatter about the nature of the notation. Martyn suggests it references the farm family rather than the variety. But I wonder when the variety became itself. Not that the record says “Fuggle” and not “Fuggles.” Late in 2014, Martyn posted a detailed description of his understanding of the genesis of the hop variety. Mr. Fuggle was traced through the Manwaring-Fuggle family tree. Note in his explanation at one point we had a strain named “Fuggle’s Golding” which makes the question even more fabulous.

And, Finally, In Other News

North Korea has revealed the best beer in the world and it costs six cents. Kim Jong Un is apparently nuts about it. I love how it is “suspected they drew particularly heavily on British and German know-how” because, as you know, that is what all the best beers depend on.

Could Mr Zyankali make his approach to drinks sound more boring?


Jason N. tweeted a very interesting fact about the relative successes of two supposedly “sell out” brands. Which makes me wonder why we like one faceless global conglomerate more than another in some sort of form of corporate anthropomorphism. Why do we care? Why do we kid ourselves?


That is it. Of the five weeks I was assigned, this was a bit of a quieter one. What with the dog days of summer, I suppose that was to be expected. First trick I learned? Have a draft started by Thursday with at least 60% of the post sketched out. Second, make sure you do not just overlap Boak and Bailey’s regular Saturday post o’links. Only you can judge whether I can claim to have been effective.

Well, only Stan can. I trust he will be back at the coal face today building his links for publication next Monday, 7 August. I shall be back to my own semi-coherent ramblings upon my ramblings.


Your Monday Morning Beer Links For Canada Day Weekend

As threatened and then oddly certified, I am stepping in for July as Stan has scampers off somewhere. And it seems Boak and Bailey are putting their feet up, too. So my July 2nd and a bit of the 3rd will be spent pounding the keyboard for your sideward glance – instead of focusing on the can of Bud and Coors Light like most beer loving Canadians will be doing. No rush. I have to make the best use of that lawn chair out back. Hmm… has there been anything going on worth discussing?

Wine News

As is Stan’s habit, I begin the week’s highlights with news from Clarence House. Prince Charles and herself spent a part of last Friday about an hour’s drive west of me partaking of the wines of Prince Edward Co., Ontario. I have written a few posts in the past about the region which you may wish to review before checking out the story as covered by the UK’s Daily Mail. Excellent exposture to the greater world market likely means my local prices go up. Thanks, Chuck.

In other wine news, Eric Asimov in The New York Times has made the case for simplicity and pleasure in his regular “Wine School” column:

That is especially true with the thirst-quenching wines we have been drinking over the last few weeks. These easygoing wines are primarily focused on the No. 1 task of any wine: to refresh. They do so deliciously, but these wines don’t offer much to think about. They are the lawn-mower beers of wine, ready to stimulate, energize and invigorate. They provoke physical reactions, and do not leave much room for contemplation.

I can hear the teeth grinding but being honest – for 99% of the time 99% of beer drinkers don’t sit around and contemplate 99% of their sipping anyway. Thinking about such things might include less thinking about such things. Think about it.

The Logo

Once again, the US Brewers Association PR committee has made a bit of a botch of a well meant bit of communications. At the start of the week, they revealed a new logo for their organization, then limited its use to only members who signed the special pledge and watched as their plans for market share demarcation got ripped. Given these folks came up with the fabulous failure of “craft v. crafty” what were we expecting? So many fonts for one image – is it five? And that weird outline. And an upside-down bottle.

The really problem the BA faces is that it can’t use the proper word that beer fans are really interested in – local. This is because it has spent a decade chasing the false promise of national craft with truckloads of California beer selling in New York gas stations and corner stores while Maine brewed Belgian-styled ale sell in Hong Kong and Dubai. So, the campaign and the logo have to fall back on second rate concepts.

The key concept in the messy logo is something called “INDE… PEN… DENT” which sits uneasily along with inordinate use of a “TM” and “CERTIFIED” given the limited visual geography. [Note: I couldn’t find the image’s trademark registration when I looked for 47 seconds and nothing about the logo relates to certification.] The problem with “independent” as a core message is that big industrial macro is independent too and the diversity of small local brewers can hardly be expressed with the “one ring to rule them all” approach that centralized trade industry branding offers. Plus anything can be “independent” can’t it.

Jeff Alworth takes a different approach which is quite compelling, separating message from branding. He argues that by moving away from “craft” and embracing “independent” as the core concept, the BA is taking back control of the debate. Bryan Roth also explores “independence” more from just the branding angle. But, for me, both these approaches (as both Jeff and Bryan state) are not without long term issues. Consider Mr C. Barnes at The Full Pint who is even less hopeful.

The Video

This is even sillier. Andy called it correctly when he called it “whining and whinging.” You may have more thoughts on the thing but I don’t see why anyone would bother. Why make that sort of ad when you have made this fabulous one?

Other things

The Sun newspaper-like thing reports that hipster craft is causing an inflationary effect on the price of lager. Who saw that coming?

The Sammy Smith “no swearing in our pubs” rule has led to at least one pub closing up for an evening due to naughty bad bad people being rude. Pete Brown, no fan apparently, called Humphry Smith, the head of the company behind the scheme to wipe out bad language the “nastiest, most unpleasant person in the brewing industry” by way of his introduction to a story on Humph in The Guardian which discloses this tidbit:

Smith’s eccentricity is the source of local legend and seems to know no bounds. Regulars inside Smith pubs claim he habitually dresses up as a tramp and poses as a customer to make sure his rules are being enforced. Punters in the Commercial Inn in Oldham claim Smith once sacked a bar worker for not handing him the correct change – another tale of summary sacking it has not been possible to confirm.

Quite the nut – but it is his ball so he can take it home whenever he gets in a huff, I suppose.

Finally, happy to report that the Canada Day long weekend was celebrated with Ontario made regional and local small brewery beers from Perth, Riverhead, Beyond the Pale, Great Lakes and Side Launch. Those two gents up there with their Buds? They are the 90%. It’s everywhere.

Fine. That’s enough for this week, Stan. Time to hang up the bloggers smock. Send your complaints and spelling correction suggestions to him via Twitter.

Bert Grant, One Of Canada’s Gifts To Craft Brewing

As I mentioned the other day, I have been thinking about Bert Grant’s hop oil vial.* In his online obituary as written by Michael Jackson, under the head “How Bert Grant Saved The World”, the vial is described in this way:

“When you were brewing Canada, ales were still very popular. How many units of bitterness did they typically have?” I once asked. “I don’t know. I hadn’t invented the scale,” he replied. He was reputed to carry a vial of hop oil, and to add it to glasses of Bud, Miller or Coors when they were the only brews available. He was said to have done this at meetings of Master Brewers in Milwaukee and St Louis, dismaying his peers. “Michael Jackson adds it to his coffee,” he is alleged to have said, in his defence. Did he really say that? I think that joke was coined by beer-writer and consultant Vince Cottone.

See, that vial is one of the most important artifacts in craft beer history as it contained one key element of the DNA which went into craft beer’s hoppy obsession of today. A bit of a viral vial. I wanted to know where it came from, how early he was using it and in doing a little digging I came to realize, like E.P. Taylor… as well as half the malt in US craft beers today, Bert Grant was one of Canada’s great contributions to good beer as we know it today.

In 1998, three years before his death he published a autobiography, humbly entitled The Ale Master: Bert Grant, The Dean of America’s Craft Brewers. Not a long book, I recommend it highly. The copy found on eBay is a sturdy wee hardcover. And, on page 33, there is a discussion of that hop oil vial… but one that sits a little out of sequence sequence in a side panel. [It’s that sort of wee book, full of snippets and asides… not unlike this aside.] This side panel talks about how he carried a dropper bottle of hop oil and that he had sent another one to his pal George Stein in Toronto. But it doesn’t say when this was – before 1963 when he was living in Windsor, Ontario… or was it before 1959 when he left the Carling branch of E.P. Taylor’s Canadian Breweries in Toronto where he had worked for 15 years, ending up as assistant director of microbiological control. Or was it only a practice he adopted later, after he leaves Canada for Yakima in Washington State in 1967 after working as a consultant and testing out his ideas on a pilot brewery at his house in Windsor across the river from Detroit, Michigan?

He certainly could have developed the hop oil habit before moving to the USA. In the book and according to a summary of a Associated Press article dated 5 September 1997, Grant made that 1967 move moved to Yakima heart of the nation’s largest hop producers to work on hop extracts and here he later pioneered a process of pelletizing hops to preserve freshness. In his San Diego Times AP obituary it states he was technical director of the hops company S.S. Steiner Inc., the company he moved to Yakima to work with. Again, the book suffers a little from same sort of loose chronology. But it certainly seems he could have been fully proficient with a hop oil eye dropper before he left Canada.

It left me wondering if I was going to make a national jingoistic thing out of this damn hop oil vial at all. How am I going to prove that one of the founders of US craft brewing was really just a drop in saying hello from Ontario full of pre-existing ideas? Hmm… then, I saw something else in a story published in The Times News of Idaho on 24 August 1997, also under an AP dateline, there is this passage from Jim Parker, former director of the Association of Brewers based in Boulder, Colo.:

Part of what drove him out of the brewing business and into the hops business was his dissatisfaction with the monotonous beer that most breweries were making. When he ran the pilot brewery for Carling (a subsidiary of Canadian Breweries Ltd.), every year they’d say, ‘Do you have any new products to bring out?’ Each year, he’d bring out the same beer and say, ‘It’s the best damn beer in the world.’ All the executives would agree. But the marketing people would say, ‘But Bert, it’s darker than our regular beer. Will people know it’s beer?’ And sales people pointed out there were three different malts and four types of hops going into the beer. ‘But that’s expensive, Bert. Can’t you make it with one malt and one type of hops?’ And he’d roll his eyes and go back to the pilot brewery. Many years later, Grant served his favorite beer — the same recipe he’d promoted for so many years — at a 1981 Yakima Enological (wine) Society meeting. They all went, “Bert, why can’t I buy something like this in the store? It’s so good!’ He explained, and they all said, ‘Let’s open a brewery and make it.’ And that’s Grant’s Scottish Ale.

Hmm… nothing about the vial but look at that: “three different malts and four types of hops going into the beer. “ That rings a bell. At page 28 of his book, Grant discusses apparently the one beer he had particular fondness for in his early days with Carling in Toronto string in 1944:

… when I started in this business, there was no mucking about with the brands. Carling brewed a copper-coloured ale called Dominion White Label, which was, by our analysis, the most heavily hopped beer in Toronto (with English Fuggles, Kent Goldings and other hip varieties.) 

He described the decision to drop Dominion White Label “the triumph of the mass-production mind-set.” Then on page 75, he goes further:

Scottish Ale was the obvious first choice because it was my favorite home-brewed beer style – and had been my favorite since 1945, when I first tasted Dominion White Label ale at Canadian Breweries. The emigrant Scottish brew masters who made Dominion White Label assured me that I was tasting the same kind of ales that were brewed in Scotland… I knew exactly what I wanted to make: all malt, intensely hopped, naturally conditioned Scottish Ale that would be as close as possible to Dominion White Label.

One email correspondent° who knew Grant described the hoppiness of his beers in this way: “That Scotch was pretty hoppy. And the IPA was in your face. None of this juicy shit.” Hoppiness was a still a key selling point in Canadian ale brewing in the 1950s. As you can see from the ad to the left for Carling’s Red Cap ale, more hops equaled more flavour. And consider this TV ad for Red Cap from the time, for any number of reasons including the massive sandwich on the massive swing. But this beer, Carling Red Cap ale, was the beer that Grant insisted was under-hopped, that was the result of the triumph of the bean counters.





What was Dominion White Label? Inspired by Lost Breweries of Toronto by Jordan where Jordan tells the tale of the Dominion Brewery of Toronto in the later 1800s, one blogger has tried his hand at a recreation. The Dominion Brewery was where White Label was first invented. By the 1930s it ends up in the hands of E.P. Taylor as part of his aggregations and consolidations which eventually fall the umbrella Canadian Breweries around when Grant shows up as a 16 year old. As shown above to the left, in the 1893 journal The Dominion Illustrated Monthly, Dominion had a prominent display at the 1983 Chicago Worlds Fair. Its “white label” in the middle was the certificate from its victory at an 1885-86 exhibition in New Orleans. It advertised its many such victories, including in an 1893 magazine aimed at the medical profession up there to the right. So, it was a thing and a great thing and… a Canadian thing. And if Grant is to be believed about not messing with the recipes, in 1944 when he first had it it may well have been much the same thing.

Life goes on and in 1995, a full 51 years after starting out his brewing career at E.P. Taylor’s chemistry labs when he was sixteen, Grant sold out – in a way. He sold his brewery to a conglomerate but stayed on as top brewer with plans of expansion with his own hand still firmly on the tiller:**

Burt Grant has sold out, in a business sense. Yakima Brewing is now controlled by Stimson Lane Vineyards and Estates, part of a huge corporate chain topped by UST Inc., the parent company of U.S. Tobacco. But Grant, who continues as brewmaster, says he’s still making quality beers “to please the most demanding palate I have ever encountered: my own.” The Scottish-born, Canadian-bred Grant, 68, began honing that palate at age 16, when he went to work for Canadian Breweries Ltd. (now Carling). His brewing career led to jobs in the hops supply business, which brought him to the heart of Washington’s hop country in Yakima, where he opened a tiny brewery in 1982. “The brewery was doing well, but not spectacularly,” Grant says. “All the stuff I liked doing – product development, quality control – was being diluted horribly by all the worries about financing and marketing.” Stimson Lane “came to us out of the clear blue sky, with an offer we couldn’t refuse.” Grant has been able to double his production capacity, to an annual 40,000 barrels. And he’s talking about building breweries in other parts of the country to expand his market, as Seattle’s Redhook and Pyramid have done.

Grant passed away on 30 July 2001, according to his New York Times obituary, “at a hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he had recently made his home” and where three of his five children then lived. All five were reported to have been residing in Canada at the time of his passing. His life, his beer, his career and maybe even that vial of hop oil framed in large part by the 23 years from 1944 to 1967 when he learned his trade in the bowels of Canadian Breweries owned by another great contributor to the history of brewing, Edward Plunket (E.P.) Taylor.

*Not hop “juice” by the way.
**Sound familiar? The quotation is from a summary of a story by Rick Bonino in the The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, WA, on 12 March 1995.