A Very Busy Beery News Notes Thursday For The End Of November

To be honest, its been quite for a while there. Too quiet. I would have been questioning the value of my time put into this weekly round up but, fortunately, I am far less self-aware than that. My plunking together of this thing every seven days takes about as much effort and thought as scraping a razor across my face each morning. That being said, what a week it has been in the world of thinking about beer and brewing. Cats and dogs! We’ll unpack that a bit but before we do, just as a reminder that no one should have hard feelings, I offer this photo of Monty, the Hook Norton Brewery horse who retired this week. Nice horsey. See? That’s so nice. Not like a huge cow at all. OK, enough of that. Settle in. On to the mud slinging!

First, I am so proud of Norm for writing about his issues with beer and his big decision. He and I have never met but when we do I hope to see much less of him for a good many years.

Next, this piece on opening a restaurant in Toronto and then failing at it was extremely instructive for anyone still considering the foolish route of following one’s passion:

Out of desperation, Dorothy invited her mother to the restaurant for dinner, where we sheepishly explained our problem. A sensible woman, my mother-in-law was always convinced that my restaurant was a stupid idea. We were handily making her case. Nevertheless, she agreed to lend us a few thousand dollars to cover payroll. But her loan was eaten up so quickly that by the next payday, I was short again.

Drag. Conversely, Katie of @Shinybiscuit fame has written a wonderfully positive thing about how beer writing has contributed to her 2018:

There are so many people who’ve lifted me up this year, and believe me, I’m a neurotic mess, I need a lot of lifting. If you have ever told me you liked reading a blog post I wrote, or sent me some constructive feedback, or left a comment that caused me to think differently about something I’d written, or met up with me for a pint and a chat, or sent a Ko-Fi tip my way, or DMed me to see how I was, or allowed me to awkwardly hug you at a beer festival, or asked me to read something of yours, it means the world to me. Not because of what happened last week, but because this year I finally started doing something I’ve always wanted to do.

Fabulous. Again and much more conversely, the massive self-inflicted botch Boston’s Trillium is undergoing has been instructive in a number of ways including (i) how not to seek to correct a story, (ii) what can be found in the public record – and, not the least of which, (iii) how it filtered and organized beer writers into camps of sorts.  Crystal Luxmore appeared to put the whole thing down to a “disgruntled employee” in her tweet upon the matter. But then wrote of outrage. Bryan Roth subtly hinted at something of  seeming pro-ownership view in GBH: (i) allowing that working for crap wages in a “prestige” business (a term he included, left laying there but never really explained in the context of a 5000 brewery universe) while also (ii) including this fabulously and maybe telling wee nugget:

As these back-and-forth public spats tend to do, there’s no winner in a series of “he said,” rebuttals.

It’s a way of discrediting the complaint, isn’t it. And to what end? There is a risk of turning business ethics and employment standards into a matter of personality, framing the “disgruntled” as having “spats” is a conscious choice that a writer makes, leaving doubt as to purposes. Jeff Alworth (like Jason and Craig) saw things far differently in a piece (as well as follow ups) that he introduced by tweet in this way:

A Trillium worker revealed that his pay had been cut from $8 to $5 an hour. That was only the start of the brewery’s trouble. How owner JC Tetreault responded was a case study in bad crisis management. 

Jeff backed that up in the comments by way of a response to his own piece:

I’m assuming that Trillium was making enough money to continue to pay their employees $8/hr. Trillium is wildly successful, and has been under constant expansion for years. Pay cuts look bad and result in disasters like this for the darlings of beer. Unfair? I don’t think so.

To be clear, all these writers are excellent but they may come to the discussion with a view and sometimes interests. I certainly do. This is normal. It’s the marketplace of ideas – in both the senses of ideas fighting for their place and also the voices fighting for… let’s just say their own place. Very normal. Except… it is not much discussed in the great big fiction that is the unified, harmonized, sanitized beer community. Fabulous organic clannishness hot takes all.

Speak of which and perhaps conversely, right after that Pete Brown announced that the British Guild of Beer Writers has issued a Code of Conduct! Heavens to Betsy! This is the sort of thing that filled a beer bloggers mind in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. And 2011.  You can read the Code here for yourself. A few questions immediately jumped out for me:

1. the document speaks of members of the Guild as professional [s.1.1] and that a disagreement between members should be
dealt with in an appropriate business-like manner [s.1.3]. This is the deathknell* of the Guild to the degree it might want to present an organization which might be considered to speak as or for consumers not because of the standards that are being set but due to the reasons stated for setting the standards. This is especially odd give many if not most Guild members are not professionals in either the sense of (i) being solely a beer writer or (ii) supporting oneself with writing. Many tinker. Many others write and earn in a wider context of revenue streams as we saw last week.

2. the prohibition of endorsing “any commercial product or
service save for the promotion of her/his own work or the medium in which it appears” [s.2.2.1] is going to be very problematic for those members, perhaps most of them, who spend most of the time promoting the commercial product known as beer.

3. Good luck having anyone involved abide by the requirement to “give full disclosure if reporting on a press trip or other visit or significant hospitality that has been paid for by the brand or company being written about, or their agencies” [s.2.2.3] if by full disclosure we mean full disclosure. Too often all we can expect is the “trust me” or assertion (and one quite correctly asserted) that writing does not pay well enough not to take all… err… the support one can.

I do not point these things out to be unkind but to state that the undertaking of such a thing as a Code of Conduct is a minefield. Unlike others, I congratulate the BGBW for trying to take on the role of diffusion technician.

Now, to conclude, some shorter news items…

Note: Eoghan warns not to read to much into a loose organization acting as a loose organization as members leave the shadowy HORAL.

Remember: There are other sorts of bad employer practices in craft brewing.

Warning: the cheese has been always been high at GBH but this piece is extraordinary. It’s like a 1970s Coke ad or a dreamy John Denver song.

Affirmed: IPA is meaningless.

Also affirmed: stories too good to be true often aren’t.

Fabulous: Stan reports upon lambic exports in the 1830s.

Even more fabulous: excellent and extended research reported out on the demise of All About Beer Magazine.

Isn’t that enough for all you all? The good. The bad. And the ugly. Can’t I lay down my head now and have a well deserved nap? I think I shall. I think I will do just that. Happy early December without an edition of #TheSession. Pause and reflect as we move towards that quieter Friday. In the meantime, remember to check out Boak and Bailey for their news nuggets most Saturdays.

*Fine. Yes, “partial deathknells” are a silly idea… but I got your attention.

If Mid-November Were More Exciting Would You Be So Happy With Your Thursday Beer News?

So. Here we are again. This is a bad week. Traveling around central Canada. Long meetings. Hotel rooms. Fortunately, I am working on my Korean food skills as part of this road show. My newly increased obsession, kimchi is… well… it’s like a hipster Scot would have invented if Korea hadn’t done it first. Peace food. Other than that, its all hotel breakfast buffets and minivans fully of cheery engineers. Bounding down the highway balanced on a buffer of spicy exotic cabbage.

First off, I was alerted by someone no doubt more attentive that I am, given my kimchi induced food coma, that there has been a shock wave hammering those writing about the history of saison. You see,  has shared his thoughts of a fact-checking mission he undertook on the “2004 book Farmhouse ales, and especially the contribution it includes by Belgian brewer Yvan De Baets” and YdB is not too thrilled but sadly fell back on what looks like a status based defense in his extensive comments offered in response:

This is your website. By definition you will have the last word on it. Cool. I will not start a debate here anyway. I have more to say about some of your claims but I don’t have nor the time nor the desire to do it: not only I strongly dislike the ego battles, but more importantly the first tanks of our new brewery are arriving in a few weeks and I have to prepare them a nice nest.

Remember: watch out for expertise transposition. Few brewers are actually all that acquainted with the means and methods of the historian. Its not in the nature of the gig. Likewise, vice versa. Dig it? For me, however, I think the real problem is assuming anything written in 2004 is going to represent an exhaustive examination of a topic involving beer. A decade and a half is a long time for research to advance – especially when that decade and a half saw the explosion of the digitized historical records. That being the case, taking a strong stance either in favour or against such stale dated research is likely a mug’s game.

More convivially, Eric Asimov of The New York Times (who I like a lot) wrote a piece about the ciders of the Hudson Valley (which I like a lot):

All share a deep-seated desire to understand the traditions, nuances and complexities of apples and ciders. They are the latest wave of a great cider revival in the Northeast, reaching through New England, out to the Finger Lakes in western New York, and down through the Appalachians. For anyone used to most commercial ciders, which are often made from concentrate, sweetened and sometimes flavored, these serious ciders are a revelation. They are mostly bone dry, with the flavors of apples and of the region. Apples, too, it turns out, express a sense of place, what wine lovers call terroir.

Less authentically, apparently what was a contract brewery is now an app that the deal did not include. Figure out that one if you will… and this one for that matter:

Drinking at taprooms isn’t just en vogue, it’s a permanent part of today’s industry that now drives about 10% of Brewers Association-defined volume.

Permanent? You misspelled “today’s top fad” darling. Not unconnectedly, Matthew Curtis announced his retirement from the collective blog Good Beer Hunting. One never know what is behind “effective immediately” but one hopes its nothing too drastic. I line it up in my mind with the tweets about breweries hiring passionate beer comms for their passionate beer comms needs. All in all, a very tough row to hoe but hiring Rebecca would be a smart move, for example:

Hi guys! I’ll be looking for some freelance/ad hoc work after this month. I’m an accredited Beer Sommelier and was even nominated as Best Young Beer Writer this year by the (!).’

You know, Pete Brown used to be a beer comms guy but he is no longer working for this sort of work. He is working on being a better Pete* – which is great – but once in a while loses his marbles most wonderfully:

Oh fuck off. I’m sorry (I’m trying to rein in the bad language and anger and be more professional) but fuck the fuck off. Even the most cursory reading of the history of pale ale/IPA shows this simply isn’t true.

Like others, I don’t really even care what he was writing about when he got so deliciously rude… but in case you are curious it was about a disappointing relaunch of Bass Ale.

Czech beer drinking in a slump.

Tandleman has an opinion on the four Cloudwater cask offerings pending according to a tweet – as well as a very nice new profile photo of himself as you can see. He must have a good social media consultant.  I wonder what social media consultants like that cost…

These days, calling anything “one of the most important beers in modern American brewing” is a bit silly but the Chicago Tribune found cause to so publish in relation to Allagash Brewing’s Coolship Resurgam. I remember about a decade ago getting in a handbags match over someone claiming one US brewery or another was the first to do something to which I replied something something about the Allagash coolship – which Ron will correct correctly as being a “cooler” in English. These things get heated. Fortunately, even the shock of the new is past us now given we live in hyperspace and no one really cares, knowing that next week’s new thing will in turn be stale by the following weekend. Just hope the Allagash beer is tasty.

As noted last week, readbeer.com is up and running. We now can see the output of 63 different sources of online beer writing. That will grow and with it the decentralized, leveled goodness of blogs will return. One of the great things about the former RSBS was how access to ideas was not being filtered through the gauze of self-proclaimed expertise or assertions of journalism. Access was immediate and it was up to the reader to sift clues.  Soon there will be 630 feeds. Best to keep up.

Well, that is enough for now. I am closer to home for most of next week so maybe this will be more considered. Maybe something big will happen that will fill the thousand words with one long observation. Maybe I will sit and count the days to first Christmas and then Spring Training.  That’s more like it. In the meantime, check in with Boak and Bailey for the regular Saturday update.

* Fab.

Your Thursday Beer Newsy Notes For Six Weeks From Autumn

I miss corduroys. Don’t you? Eight months a year they are your best pal. One day a year they feel like your lower half is actually a roast chicken in a plastic bag baking in a 450F oven. I haven’t seen a leaf turn yet but the grapes out front are starting to ripen into show purple. The barley was ripened in the fields when I visited MacKinnon Brothers Brewing on Monday. I haven’t fully captured above how literally golden the fresh cut stalks were – pretty much beer-coloured.* There were a few big beer stories this week but none more important than a good barley crop coming in. Some are not so lucky.

Jeff created a lovely portrait of a small shaded corner. Boak and Bailey found a similar scene from 60 years ago. If there is one thing I like as much as the surprise hue of cut barley it’s scenes like these of actual people and how they enjoy their beer.

Here in Ontario, the big news is how the new Provincial government has launched a “buck-a-beer” initiative – including by lowering the minimum price to, you got it, one dollar. The response has not been a warm one from craft brewers and commentators. Great Lakes Beer spoke to CBC Radio while others were interviewed on TV news broadcasts. Jordan took some time before his UK-Euro vacation to set the tone, explaining how the policy change makes little business sense. Crystal pointed out how one brewery, Dominion City, is responding by donating a dollar from every sale to immigration agencies. Other efforts from the charitable to sarcastic response are underway. I’m sure this one is going to build towards the promised release of the new cheap beer for Labour Day. Question: wouldn’t that beer have to have been in production before the policy announcement?

I don’t recall ever craving no-lo alcohol beer other than to cut beer down to 2.5% or so by pouring half and half. Dad liked it as it was a way to get around his diabetes medications. Not sure the new wave of tasty water would fit any particular one of my needs but that is me.

Beer fests. I found the idea of not taking photos of drunk people a bit weird. Why not other than it’s tawdry. Fest organizers and the drinkers put themselves in positions of risk voluntarily. A few images might load social media with something opposing that other weirder idea promoted by the industry – people not drinking craft beer to get drunk. In other fest news, Ben asked if folk were willing to spend $120 for a three hour drinking session. Not a chance, I said. And James B. reported on the continued sexist crap at the GBBF. So… drunken, expensive and being stuck in the same room as sexist pigs. Not exactly my kind of fun. And it’s all a shame when I think of someone like the Tandyman behind the scenes, working to ensure these sorts of things don’t go on.

I really enjoyed this perspective from BeerAdvocate on wholesale beer buying in the US craft market. Thirty years ago I was a wholesale produce trader for a bit and the story rings true, especially the need to respond to demand rather than try to set trends at the supply side of the equation. Consider this:

“The guy at the shop asks, ‘Where are you opening?’ I tell him and he says, ‘Oh, you’re going to be selling gospel music.’ I was an alternative, metal, New Wave kind of guy. I thought, ‘I’ll never sell gospel music!’ I opened my fledgling store with no money and three or four of the first 10 people in the door asked for gospel music. Guess how long it took before I started selling gospel music?” That experience stuck with Singmaster. “You set something up, but then you follow what the customers do if you’re smart,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what I like or what you like… it only matters what the customers [do].”

When I express my unhappiness with the concept of beer “curation” go back and read that passage.

Ed gave us this bit of fabulousness: “Not everyone like lambic…

That’s it for this week. No need to link to the usual bland beer travel puff, beer pairing puff or puff-packed beer style announcements. A shorter summary of the news as you would expect from early mid-August but still enough real news to keep it interesting. Don’t forget to tune in to the internets for Boak and Bailey every Saturday and Stan on Mondays.

*Really? No, I had no idea. Thanks so much for the feedback!

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.

 

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.

Sour Studies: Timmermans Oude Gueuze 2013, Belgium

image232Session beer. 5.5% and sufficiently sour that a personal sized 750 ml gives at least two hours – or four laundry loads – worth of sips. It pours a slightly clouded golden straw. Plenty of must and funky tang when the nose is rammed into the nonic. Still, a bit of fruit in there. Maybe lingonberry. Just a hint. Much more going on in the swally. Sour, yes, certainly sour with a light summer apple, lemon, creamy wheat, nutmeg heart. “Rotten lemon, more like it!” says the lad after he sticks a finger in the glass. Which pretty much sums it up.

What is my relationship to this sort of brutal beer after all these years of study? I certainly have an appetite for any I get a chance to lay my hands on but they come along so few and far between for Ontarians given out mediocre retail options that I wonder if the scarcity makes them more interesting. I bought this in Albany a few months ago and do like to have a few bottles of panic gueuze… but wonder if I would be quite so excited if I could buy one of these any old day down the street? Or should I just be happy that one of these every three or four months is just what keeps me happy. You really can’t measure the relative value of the exotic.

BAers give it solid respect.

Ontario: Uber, Nickel Brook Brewing, Burlington

uberWhat a minefield this beer presents me. Not only do I know and like the brewer but his mother lives nearby and his auntie works where I do. How could I possible give an opinion unbouyed by positive thoughts? Then again, it’s not like I am all Jimjunkety or anything. No need to stop using the bathroom mirror. Then, besides that, there is the question of what others might think of me – which can be odd and disconcerting – not to mention likely wrong. How dare I try something not conservative? But more importantly, what does it mean about this style? What does this beer in this place and time mean?

You will recall the the best expression of what style is was Jackson’s first go at it, before he went bad Aristotelian creating the mess we live with today. Originally, a style of beer was stylized after an example, a great beer. I think it is fair to say that practically speaking that example is the Weihenstephen Berliner Weiss I wrote about for Session 19 – if for no other reason that for a long while this was the only example you were going to lay your hands on in North America. That is until micro went craft. So, is this homage or dommage to the style? Should I care?

The beer pours an effervescent clear light gold. No head at all. On the snort, you get apple cider and cow poo of the nicest kind. In the mouth, a light and lightly astringent texture holds flavours of apple, meadow grass, minerals like a good Mosel, fresh lemon juice, a little cream of wheat like a good gueuze and a little little something vegetative like fresh cabbage or cauliflower. A really lovely sipper and at 3.8% a beer you can sip for a good long time.

What a relief! No ethical qualms!! Priced at $7.95 for 750ml, this is about twice as much as the brewers hefty IPA Headstock, one of the best values in beer in Canada. The BAers give it lots of positivitay… which is good.

Can You Make Wild Beer In A Vineous Mono-culture?

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Like most things, Canadians are about half a decade behind so it is no surprise that a group of Ontario brewers have decided to take a kick at wild beer or that some in the Canadian media reacted to the invitation as if they had no idea what was going on in the wider world of good beer. Which is nothing against those directly involved. It’s a great idea. Hope it is yummy and not sold for twenty bucks a glass. Experiment on your own dime, brewers.

Wild indigenous wine yeasts are one of the current things. Like Citra hops. Craze that might be a fad. Here today and gone tomorrow. Yet the yeast is itself. From the photo up top from the Macleans magazine article, you can see the brewing is done in a vineyard, an agricultural monoculture. But is it a monoculture of yeast even if the plants are all clones? Apparently not. We learn that our mutual friend Saccharomyces cerevisiae is certainly on the grapes but only on about 1 in 1,000 berries. What else is in there? The beer will tell. Could be tasty. Hopefully.

PS: get a coolship, wouldja? Wild inoculation via narrow topped vessels might be less than optimum if the history of beer before a hundred or so years ago is anything to go by.

Do Olde Geuze And Oysters Go Together?

oysgeu1-1I was out hunting for some Caribbean stout to go with the PEI oysters I picked up and the incredibly jambi Mike Mundell’s shop this afternoon. Without success. What to do?

I love oysters. I used to live in view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence on PEI’s north shore and heading over to Carr’s at Stanley Bridge for a half dozen Malpeques to suck back with my home brew. Despite the trade’s odd view of what makes for a benefit, the oysters know not what is done in their name. Quietly in their rocky shells they ignore such things, preferring to be pretty damn tasty and – at a buck and change – a great value.

So, instead of a strong sweet stout, I thought I would try them with a geuze, in the case a half bottle of Drie Fontienen’s Oude Gueze, the beer I had last New Year’s Eve. This one was bottled back on Friday, February 1, 2008 when I was having an Old Guardian for the twelfth edition of The Session. Let’s see what happens in mid-summer two and a half years later..

Wow. That is quite a combination. The barnyard funk of the geuze hits the oyster’s wharfy skank head on in your mouth. One of my more intense taste experiences when I think of it – which is all I can do given it is happening in my mouth right now. All that is missing is an overly aged chunk of blue cheese to make this as overwhelming an experience as it could be. But the aftertaste is creamy, like two waves counteracting each other leading to calm. The oyster brings out the apple notes and places the acidity in context. I am happily reaching for the next meaty oyster.

Success. Each assisted through the difficulties the other can pose. A vital combination.

Grill, Shed, Steak, Rain, Bieres de Garde And Saisons

The trouble with charcoal grilling is that when the rain comes you can’t turn it off. Propane, on the other hand, has a nice dial that has a “0” setting. But there is the garden shed and, when it rains and you have visitors, it can turn out to be a delightful place to while away a late afternoon hour reading last week’s newspapers in the recycling bin, listening to AM radio and comparing a few examples of bieres de garde and saisons.

We opened the Ch’ti Blonde from Brasserie Castelain à Bénifontaine first, a gold ale called a saison (though French not Belgian) by the BAers but a biere de garde by Phil Markowski in his book Farmhouse Ales under a white mouse head that resolved to a froth and rim. It was the favorite of the set with cream malted milk, pear juice and nutty grain. Very soft water. I actually wrote “limpid cream of what graininess” but I am a little embarrassed by that pencil scribble. It gets a fairly poor rating from the BAers but maybe that is because they were not in a shed when they tried it. Castelain’s Blond (no “e”) Biere de Garde was drier but still creamy fruity, not far off the greatest example of a Canadian export ale. Light sultana rather than pear. Also dry in the sense of bread crusty rather than astringency. Lighter gold than the Ch’ti but, again, the rich firm egg white mousse head and far more BAers approve. By this time the shed dwellers had decided that steak could in fact be finger food and also that these ales were an excellent pairing with chunks of rib and New York strip. The Jenlain Ambree by Brasserie Duyck was another level of richness altogether, the colour of a chunk of deep smoked Baltic amber, the richest lacing I have ever seen left on a glass. Hazelnut and raisin, brown sugar and black current with a hint of tobacco. Lately I have been thinking that amber ales are the one style that could quietly slip away and never be missed. Placing this in the glass in the hand in the shed as the rain thumped on the roof and steak was eaten was an instructive treat as to what ambers can be, though 6% of BAers hesitate to be so enthusiastic.

I think this is the worst photo I have ever posted so I will keep it tiny unless you choose to click on it for the full effect. Apparently there is a limit to the beery photographic arts and I have made it my own. The 3 Monts to the left was picked up at Marche Jovi in nearby Quebec for a stunningly low price of under six bucks. Plenty of malteser and pale malt graininess with yellow plum and apple fruitiness, straw gold with more of the thick rich head, cream in the yeast. The water was not as soft was either beer from Castelain but all BAers love it. By Brasserie De Saint-Sylvestre who also made this biere nouvelle. To the right, the Fantome Winter was one of the stranger beers I have ever had and, frankly, a disappointment. All I could taste was radish, sharp and vegetative, over and all around the insufficient malt. In my ignorance, I didn’t realize that was likely quite an aged beer as the happy BAers explain. Neither the cork or even label, with its unmarked best before portion, give a hint as to the year but that is all right as I suspect I will consider this just a lesson learned even though I generally love Fantome.

By this time there were stars and a breeze as the cold front finished moving through.