So, could the menu offer a Woman Wine? I would have preferred that the mug was manly as opposed to simply masculine. I had no idea mugs were, in fact, gendered. What do they get up to in the dishwasher? I also didn't know that while their masculinity was superior when not in frosted form - something many males might agree upon - that they were inferior to pitchers. Makes one want to work on that two fingered fastball a bit more... if you know what I mean.
I have been on the road all day so am just seeing now that one of my favorite beer bloggers, Simon "Reluctant Scooper" Johnson of England, has passed away far too young. That's my favorite of the portraits of himself he posted over the years. I never met Simon but we talked now and then through emails, tweets and blog comments. I completely enjoyed his writing. His optimism, bimbles and - perhaps more than anything else - his sheer interest and joy in so many things. And his humour. Here's his bio:
A bloke who likes beer. What, you want to know more? OK. Ex face-painting clown, lives in the English Midlands, works with data, loves pork pie, hates couscous. Married with one barbecue. Knows some brewers and publicans. And politicians. And, ahem, "characters". Has written for papery stuff like Beer (the CAMRA quarterly magazine), Gin & It (UK drinks journal) and Beeradvocate (US beer magazine) but is still holding out to be the pub reviewer for Country Gentleman's Pig Fertilizer Gazette.
Not sure many others could have pulled off the craft rope post or levened it with a bit of meaning as he did. And he thought to give thanks, too. He loved Orval. He helped with the grunt work of the OCB wiki. A friend has posted photos of how he spent last Saturday with Simon, goofing around. His sense of infectious fun came through in everything he wrote. You know, were this rotten news today to turn out to be a massive wind up of us all on his part I would think it a classic. But it isn't. It's just rotten sad news.
See, in these times when people are questioning all manner of stuff that is foisted upon the fan of good beer, one get's a little internally chippy. So, when I read the beginning of this NYT article by Clay Risen just now I stopped and then stopped myself:
For years, the American beer world has been in love with saisons: dry, fruity ales traditionally made by Belgian farmers in winter, then set aside for quenching thirst during hot summer days in the fields. But while most craft breweries have a saison beer in their rotation, and some even specialize in the style, it has yet to catch on with the general, I.P.A.-swilling public. That needs to change, because the saison may be the perfect summer beer. Saisons (pronounced say-ZOHNS) are usually light in body and moderate in alcohol...
First, I suffer from one cultural artefact that I have to admit up front. We Canadians have, like with "moose", decided the plural of beer is beer and not beers so it is correct to say "I had three beer before I even got to the party." So, I sort of transfer that to styles in an intentional manner. I would be quite comfortable saying "I had three saison before getting to the party." If I said three saisons I might find myself meaning I had a Hennepin, a Dupont and something else. And, anyway, who is going to say that and not feel like a dork, right?
Then, there is that "n" next to the "s". Being badly bilingual in a badly bilingual land, I click over to the default French pronunciation especially when facing a word in French. I come by it honestly even if I apply it inconsistently. Time was when the Habs were great and the Leafs weren't, a lot of us watched a lot of hockey on French-broadcast CBC TV. And Expos baseball for that matter. So, I know who le lanceur is and what to do when the announcer shouts "le buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut!" I know what you don't do is ask what happened to that "T" and the end. For me, saison is "say-zo(n)" with that last letter acknowledged more in a whisper that slips into the sinuses.
But none of this matters. Pronounce it "moose" for all I care. What I really note in the passage quoted above is the image of the "IPA-swilling public"! Has it come to that? Ray Daniels got a bit of attention this aft for suggesting a good beer bar must have an IPA, then also backstroking to a degree to the effect that the Lord knows we have too many IPAs now. Are IPAs all of a sudden the easy target, hallmark of the sloppy inattentive craft beer fan? Who so judges them? Who casts the first stone? I do like saison. I like it better than IPA if I were honest. In 2008, I wrote that in 2005 I thought saison was the next big thing. But "IPA-swilling public"? Look, everyone makes judgement calls to differing degrees of success. Risen laid an egg in his reaction to the Oxford Companion to Beer wiki and, sure, he misses the price of Saison Dupont by about 50% in this article. So has he done another one or has he captured something of the tone of the times?
In ten years of writing about beer, I have to admit the reaction to the article "Against Hoppy Beer" in Slate yesterday by author Adrienne So is one of the oddest over reactions to something written about beer that I think I have ever seen. As others have done to make each of their own cases for a proper reading of So's article, here is my list of key points made in the short fourteen paragraph piece:
"In addition to their bittering properties, hops impart strong piney, spicy, or fruity flavors and aromas."
"...hops command the vast majority of the industry’s passion."
" America’s independent breweries make beers to suit every palate, not just the ones that revel in bitterness."
"Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a beautiful beer with an aggressive edge, and it’s the beer that put me, and so many others, on the path to craft beer enthusiasm."
"Maximizing hops is a good way for craft brewers to distinguish their creations from mass-market brands."
"...unfortunately hops are a quick way for beginning brewers to disguise flaws in their beer..."
"Craft brewers’ obsession with hops has overshadowed so many other wonderful aspects of beer."
Based on those observation, So concludes that other elements of beer like yeasts and malts deserve to be raised in terms of the greater discussion. A reasonable and not very challenging suggestion. Stan then Jeff then Jay and Craig responded on their blogs as well as Facebook inviting a further collection of comments. Good ripe chit chat of the sort social media generates. Yet, the responsive discussion is not particularly satisfactory as there is something of the Calvinist's hegemony over the underlying principles. Perhaps the article's author intended that. If so and even if not, the overall results are not very gratifying.
Why? Because there is that doctrinal aspect to it all. Someone has offended the unwritten law. Stan, as always, is measured. He simply does not accept that craft beer people have become so "addicted to hops that we don’t even notice them anymore." Jeff focuses on a headline to the article, notes that most craft beers sold are not overly bitter and reviews the relativity of the effects of hops. Jay calls the article provocative and bait. He suggests the author 'blames Sierra Nevada Pale Ale for starting it all." Craig in turn finds:
Someone is, yet again, telling me why I should, or why I should not drink one beer over another—be it hop-bombs of craft versus krafty, or whatever. I have grown tired of this tactic.
What to make of this? It's like a panic has broken out. Over what? A very innocuous proposal to the effect that an imbalance has been identified and, therefore, a rebalancing is required. You would think from the strength of reaction that we were dealing with something along the lines of Swift's 1729 essay "A Modest Proposal..." in which it was offered that society would be better off were the poor children of Ireland sold off as meat for the rich. Swift's use of harsh black humour conveys the deep sarcasm at the true plight the poor face and, as a result, the moral point was made.
Here, what do we have? Someone pointing out the obvious, that strong hoppy beer is the standard bearer for US craft beer and, as a result, has become in part a liability to the understanding of the sector's actual diversity. The point is the opposite side of the coin of last week's mini-crisis founded upon this story about US craft beer nerds seeking to teach Germany a thing or two about beer by introducing beers "in flavorful styles that are popular among craft brewers in the United States but rare in Germany, such as hoppy ales and zesty lagers." Reaction against the initiative included "...American beer can be great—with all of its piney, bitterness and potency..." and "German drinkers sure are lucky those guys showed up." Last week being critical of imperialism of US hoppy hegemony, this week not so much.
OK, here's the thing. I don't really care. The article could have benefitted from a well placed "also" as the second word of the third sentence of the last paragraph. Its absence unnecessarily sets up a seeming rejection of hoppy beer that I don't think the author intended but which Craig gets caught upon. I mainly posted this because Jeff wrote on Facebook "Damn you, Alan, and your provocative ways" and Jay asked me to consider that "I know you keep saying you're pleased someone asked the question, but are you honestly pleased by the incendiary manner in which it was posed." Not pleased so much as puzzled. See, it's that idea that this article is so incendiary or otherwise off the mark and deserving of such strong response that I just don't get. By this I mean, amongst the flow of all the writings and communications about beer, we are innundated with horribly researched, badly written and private interest ridden beer writing on a regular basis. We see folk holding themselves out as journalists, historians, consultants and personally players in the beer trade all at the same time, all for multi-faceted revenue sources. We see manipulation of taxation and government policy by self serving trade organizations. All met too often with something between quiet discomfort and tacit approval.
Compared to that, here we have in this short article a suggestion that the marketing of craft beer might focus on diversity and shift away from the attention grabbing hop bomb. Just a point of view. One not as clearly made as it might have been but one that we should have made more often. What is all the fuss?
Some startling statements in this report on a presentation by Simon Thorpe, the president of Duvel USA/Ommegang from May 2 reported in this article published just yesterday:
“We are revenue and margin driven, which means high pricing and margins at the expense of volume... We think that the difference that our luxury beers bring to our wholesaler and our retail partners is important, not just in terms of profitability but also in terms of the changing wave of the way this new millennial generation is thinking about beer...
“BMW presents luxury at multiple price points,” he said. “It introduces luxury at various levels through a chain. Their marketing programs are all about loyalty and building someone up the ladder of luxury.” Ommegang and Duvel beer types follow a similar “luxury ladder” and are often found in high-end on-premise accounts. They cost more, but fit with a consumer base that has been trained to reevaluate what is ordinary and what can be regarded as luxury. “They [consumers] need to feel so good about a luxury brand to justify the price,” he said.
See? Haven't I been telling you for years? This is what a certain sector of good beer thinks you are: a source of high margin mark up that has been trained to pay more not because of intrinsic value but because of perceived luxury. Thorpe's point of view has not been infused with craft beer though his career so perhaps it is refreshing that he is so open and honest.
Yet, to be honest in return, it's reason enough for me to not buy his high end beers. Not as a boycott or anything. But because I don't need to. See, unlike a brand like BMW, good beer brands can't claim the sort of exclusivity that underlies this oligopolist's view rubbing his hands as he looks over a limited marketplace. Good beer is thankfully fungible to a degree that luxury cars have never been. And Ommegang is particularly prone to this fact of life. More and more North American brewers are moving into the Belgian clone and semi-clone sub-market and not taking the position that folk need to be "trained" to pay inordinately jacked up prices. In just Quebec alone, I can think of a number of breweries who aim at this niche and make more interesting beer for lower prices. Happy to get better value with my dollar by buying there.
Let's be clear about another thing. This is not someone making the arguments Tomme Arthur did back in 2007 where he claims he is an artist and earns his prices. Not that I believe that all that much but it is his argument and he can hug it all he wants. No, this is the mating of arguments from big beer about "premium branding" with the characteristics of craft beer. This looks much more like, to quote Tomme, "part of some conspiracy theorist group hell bent on raising the price point of beer." Notice, too, how there is no macro-brew left in this vision at all. Not even one artisan. It is another thing altogether. And one to avoid.
Some amazing photos came out of last night's efforts in nearby Prince Edward County with the risk to early tendrils which will, with luck and skill, become the vines that make the grapes that make the wine. The photos above are from a collection posted on Facebook by Norman Hardie, makers of excellent pinot noir loved by Joe Beef which means likely enjoyed, in turn, by Mr. Bourdain. And me, of course. Three degrees of vineous bacon... or beef... or something. Below is a shot posted on twitter by Harwood Estate in the western end of the county.
What is going on? Bales of hay are lit when the temperature sneaks down towards freezing in the spring when the buds have just opened or in the fall when the grapes are just about right. The smudgy smoke takes advantage of an inversion layer holding just enough warmth to push up against the dropping cold. I think. See, I learn about stuff like this from the internets. If twitter is to be believed, success all around on the ground with the cold beaten off.
Some interesting statements from the Jamaican Agriculture Minister at the end of last week:
...Roger Clarke on Thursday said a window of opportunity seems to be opening up for cassava farmers. While unwilling to disclose the issue of price, Clarke said Diageo, the parent company for Red Stripe, appears to be in a position to “take a substantial amount of cassava in their beer manufacturing”... In January, Clarke said in Parliament that Diageo had offered to pay $1 per pound for cassava. “They came to the fore indicating that they wanted cassava to replace the hops in their beer. I did not go to the farmers until I got from them what is the indicative price that they would pay. When they came, finally they said to me they would pay $1 per pound,” Clarke said.
Diageo's global competitor SABMiller has started a cassava brewing program in Ghana following up on another similar one they've been brewing in Mozambique for a year and a half. Likely more to convert the starchy tuberous root into fermentables rather than, as the Jamaican government suggests, as a bittering agent to replace hops. Likely just a misstatement.
In northeastern South America, over a bit to the west, there's a traditional fermented cassava beverage called Kasiri. There are variations elsewhere on the continent as well. But these appear to not be beers so much as simpler, single ingredient fermentations. Neither the BAers or RBers have a review of the beer from Mozambique as far as I can tell but they appear to be... how should one put it... emulations of beer, like Japanese third-category beer, designed to take advantage of lower cost ingredients and lower taxation. News stories offer social good through increased revenue for farmers as other reasons for the initiative.
But is it beer? How much can you remove from beer and still leave enough that it is, you know, beer? Any taste testers out there with reviewing notes to calm the furrowed brow? Google Analytics informs me that there have been a whole 5 visits from Mozambique over the last two years. All from the city of Maputo, too. If these internets stand for anything surely they stand for feedback from that guy.
It is quite the thing to realize how almost, well, a bit dull this 1995 ad for Guinness is when seen 18 years later. But, it was not shown at the time due to the theme of the gay couple:
In 1995, an ad created by Ogilvy and Mather for the ever popular Guinness beer never made its way to the airwaves. It was deemed too controversial. The commercial shows a happily domesticated gay couple—one a more of a neat freak, the other a messy business man on his way to work. We watch their morning routine unfold as Tammy Wynette sings, "Stand By Your Man," in the background.
Hard to imagine what the fuss was. But, then again, hard to imagine what the fuss still is in far too many places. Placing oneself in the context of the recent past, however, has that extra layer of needing to subtract the subsequent events and knowledge which contextualized and caused change. When did political correctness come in? Cultural context just before the internet took off are so poorly described, so hard to get a finger on. Why was tea and toast and a morning routine too hot for Guinness?
The '90s are the land before IPA, before gay and lesbian as norms - and before cheap raspberries in the grocery year round for that matter. My cousin in law... well second cousin in law once removed Mike Malone has just published a novel that also reaches back to the '90s, No Never No More. Lad lit to a certain degree it describes the life of a New York loutish guy in his late 20s, largely set in bars or on rugby fields. Not quite my era as I turned 30 in 1993 when - and certainly not my town - but she who grabbed the parcel when it came through the door gives it high marks. Mike is the writer in residence for Captain Lawrence among other things. The thing I have been writing with Max, aka The Alan and Max Book, has scenes in bars of my youth and now, like the Guinness ad, Mike has me wondering whether I am just recollecting through a filter 30 years on or describing them as they were. With the volume of beer those days were steeped in, it's hard to know. Times before all sports networks playing on the TV in the corner of the bar, when cassette mixed tapes sometimes were one mark of a good bartender.
It's a distracted time. The game between Toronto and Boston is interfering with the game between Toronto and Boston. The first thunderstorm of the spring is moving through giving parched seedlings out in the garden as heavier duties of life nibble at the back of the mind. Yet, it is a warm Friday evening. The kids are out. The smells of that season we Canadians call "not winter" float in through the one open window as the first large drops pat pat pat on the bags of compost waiting to be settled into their plots on the next dry day. As good a time as any to see what's going on out there on the internets.
→ In two weeks or so, I have a chance to hit the one orchard estate perry maker I know of in Ontario. Which makes me utterly jealous of Pete Brown. A folk music, cheese and perry/cider fest. Pleasures unimaginable.
→ Please just leave Bieber alone. In Canada, he is now a grown up... sorta.
→ Jeff makes some very good points on the impending reaction from big beer should what's been considered (for about five years now and still maybe a few more to go) as craft beer not eat itself or, who knows, actually gain a significant market share... as in something approaching 20%. Me, I am quite comfortable knowing that big brewers will quite happily flood the market if need be with cheap and excellent beers inseparable from those offered by the current profitable puritans of craft marketing. I do like his idea that the approach is to add more flavour to lagers but I think this is but one prong of attack. Watch your flank, big craft.
→ Boak and Bailey started early and didn't have to deal with the thug.
→ Stan then Craig reacted to a xenophobic article on how US craft brewers woujld teach Germany a thing or two by being boring and hoppy and achieving <1% marketshare. No consideration on the role of Mosel in the overall equation. Much hand wringing over ugly American interventions but, believe me, far better than dealing with the ugly side of Canadians.
There. The hockey is 1-0 in favour of my team at 8:23 pm while the baseball is the same score for... my team. JINKS! Better quit while I am ahead.
Brewed since 1990, this wheat beer is one of the best arguments against worrying at all about tenancy forms of brewing in principle. While one might unkindly point out the web 1.0 nature of the brewer's web presence, it does give you what you need to know and, more to the point, sets the tone. Fairly focused small batch niche brewing at a high standard for the best part of the craft beer revolution. Quite Toronto-centric in business terms, the stuff never gets out here much, here in the rude and rustic hinterlands 200 km to the east. I get there so rarely but did share part of an evening with the brewer, Michael Hancock back in 2009. I recall him complaining or at least explaining the trials of keeping on top of quality control whether in the then new can or as served from taps watched by the eyes of others.
What about the beer? Deft as much as anything. Even from the can, creamy wheat. Then there's banana, a bit of white pepper and a bit less clove than the other guys. Clouded gold under whipped egg white froth and foamy rim. Leans slightly towards coconut creamy aroma. Lightly soured and spiced in the finish. An insane $2.70 a can, probably the best value in Ontario beer. Would a younger brewer would ruin this with a tiny fleck of shrubbery root or the bark of a tree? It needs none of it. Not so much a vestige of brewing past as a reminder of the days of easy adulteration by adjunct or showboating by faddish hop.
Oddly, the BAers tell you how the RBers rate it #1 then rate it not as highly.