An excellent image on the TV at the moment as the Canadian women's hockey team is disassembling Switzerland at the Olympics. The coolest thing is that our lassies are in black, clearly a nod to the cultural monolith that is 1983's Strange Brew, the movie that captures the moment that beer was last unsullied by craft. In the movie, the game between the chess piece Star-Wars-esque black and white teams in plastic uniforms laced with Hamlet references happens in the wicked brewery's cold storage room. Flats of Elsinore beer form the boards defining the rink. That the Canadian women's Olympic team chose black places them on the side of evil but, if you think about it, that is just going to freak out the Swiss - especially as it is well known that the movie is shown as a regular part of their high school curriculum. Best sports put down ever was that of team vet Haley Wickenheiser back in 2002 after winning Olympic gold: "The Americans had our flag on their floor in the dressing room. And now I want to know if they want us to sign it."
Oliver Grey is hosting this month's edition of The Session and asks us all to review a beer... without reviewing it. No? Me neither. In answer to this question, I offer you a passage from chapter three of the new smash hit, the latest in the Canucko-Argie school of magic realism comedic drama The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer by Max and me. The first line is by my character:
"So how am I supposed to taste this and describe it if I have no descriptors? Isn't everything relative?"
"Not in tasting, grasshopper. It's all about knowing the beer and experiencing the beer as it is. Take a sip."
Alan drank a full ounce. "Hey, it is a double IPA from... umm... southern California... or at least under the influence of the San Diego brewers. Simcoe hop additions near the end of the boil, I'd say. I would suggest this is 8.9% in strength, spent six weeks in a barrel that previously held an oloroso sherry and then sat on a shelf for eight more weeks... a little too close to the door, if you know what I mean." Alan looked at Max in surprise. "Hey. How did I know all that? I don't know how to do that? What was that all about?
"I copied into your brain the contents of the entire tasting note inventory of of the most respected beer reviewers alive, plus bits from the BeerAdvocate and RateBeer power users. Do you like?"
"But if I can use that information, why can't I use my own memory?” Alan asked. “What has that got to do with whether I like or don't like this beer?” He sniffed the glass again. "Hey. I can smell it now. Sorta earthy. But like prunes, too. And cabbage. I thought you said I could not sense anything from outside this place or recall the smells of my past. What's going on."
"Sorry, I..." Max paused, a bit embarrassed. “Yeasty beer.”
"Oh, good Lord." Alan grimaced and waved his hand in front of his nose. "There isn't any window is there? You didn't think of that, did you boy genius. You created all this but forgot the window. Let's get out of here."
[Applause. The players bow.]
See the non-review of the beer? Or is it rather a review of a non-beer? Yeasty. I think my work here is done.
Anheuser-Busch InBev SA (ABI.BR) struck a deal to buy New York microbrewery Blue Point Brewing Co, as the world's largest beer maker seeks to increase its offerings in the fast-growing craft-beer segment. The companies, which announced the deal in a statement on Wednesday, did not disclose terms of the deal. Blue Point sold around 60,000 barrels of beer in 2013, with sales concentrated along the U.S. East Coast.
Good news. Successful succession for the craft brewery's creators and another slate of good brews heads to the big leagues. Will it flop? Who knows. Will it be joined by others? Who really knows. There are only so many spots on the bench as you move up league by league. Things get serious. The trade mark lawyers may now get called in as part of the due diligence. The plans to make something of the brand will have to be rolled out.
People with spit and curse but people think beer is healthy, too. The real question is how many breweries will also get to take the cash from the dark side, Scrooge McDuck, whatever you call it. Not many. Not fifty. What is the fifty third buy out worth. Not as much. Not near as much. It's a buyers market, isn't it?
I need a new project. The writing and working and new kitten stuff is simply not enough. So when I was reading Ron Pattinson's new book The Home Brewers Guide To Vintage Beer yesterday as the six year old did not do much during a kids' basketball practice at the Y, I was struck by this passage on page 11:
The earliest porters and stouts were brewed from 100 percent brown malt... It was custom to use straw as a fuel in the final stage of the kilning, where the temperature was increased dramatically.
See, in these hop-crazed times we worship a false idol, a flavouring agent. That error has spawned a thousand flavoured beers posing as craft. But we know that adding watermelon or lye or New Zealand hops to a beer only succeeds in making the beer taste of the adulteration. It is time that the focus of brewing returned to the making of better beer. And that means paying attention to the malt.
Which is the point of the LDBK. See, when I was a bad home brewer I liked to manipulate the malt, I would toast it immediately before mashing to make the oils more volatile and available. I used to let some malts soak for days in cold water in the fridge and pour the resulting tea into the boil right at the end. It worked. It was easy. But ever since I tried the 1855 collaboration porter brewed by Pretty Things and Ron, I have wanted to taste what should be considered the holy grail of brewing: pre-1800s beer made with proper diastatic brown malts.
That is where the LDBK comes in. See, what needs to be determined is how diastatic brown malt is made. What we know is that it was made of malt and that it was made by kilning. What has been forgotten is how the malt got darkened without destroying the enzymic properties of pale malt that allows the grains' natural starches to convert to fermentable sugars. This conversion is something that can and should happen in every home every second week. Through collective experimentation and statistical analysis of results, it may be possible to establish the practical point at which pale malt may be toasted and darkened to create brown malt as well as the manner in which it might be done to protect the enzymic action. That in fact is the motto of the LDBK. Protect the Enzymic Action. What is the Latin for that?
So, start kilning and mashing. It takes a kilo of pale malt, pots and pans, graph paper and curiosity. While it may be that the critical feature is pre-kiln, that mention of the use of straw and flash heating may be key. The trick might be to darken the outside so fast that the inside is not fully heated. Then mash it in small batches to see if the resulting 66C porridge goes sweet. Like a rare steak on the grill, the point might be to preserve both characteristics through the process. Just a theory. But that's where all great advances in human understanding begin. With a theory. And some graph paper. You in?
Got this sent to me by Church-key Brewing's John Graham today. It was Facebook and not email now that I think of it. The brew is one of Ontario's finest, Holy Smoke. The bonnie tartan trim? Magic.
So the rough draft of the Ontario beer book Jordan and I are writing is done. Tomorrow morning I started in editing the stuff I wrote a few months ago about 1610 having just stopped myself at 1984. I skipped a bit. The bit including the reigns of George IV, William IV as well as Victoria. And a bit of George III. Jordan focused on that chunk of time. The time of transition. Beer in 1610 was pretty much the same as 1810 around these parts. Traditional. And beer in 1900 is not all that different from 1980. Industrialized, whether craft or macro. But the bit in the middle? That's where all the action happened. Where's the action tonight?
=> Apparently Canada is ready for imported beer. Never mind that it's been here since at least 1795. Beyond that... What the heck makes this news... news?
=> Now here's a real beer story. Where to find good beer cheap in Toronto. Finding good beer not cheap in Toronto. No news in that.
=> Words to live by: "with regards to the Super Bowl, foodwise, my mind always goes to cheese." Or is it an end times beer tale? Beer covered up in weird flavours? At least once upon a time people had the decency to call it Zima.
=> You leave a place and just like that, whammo, 22 years later they change the law to let you fill growlers at pubs. Maybe last done there in the 1890s. Beer by drone? No one needs that.
News late January Friday evening? Maybe the thaw. I saw non-frozen water outside today. That's news in my world. That and getting a review in Mexico for The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer.
The thing I find interesting is the distinction between stout and porter being referenced to the US soldiers. This is from The Pocket Guide to Northern Ireland issued by the War and Navy Departments of the United States in 1942. Best advice ever: don't be a dope.
Coming to the end of the first draft of the Ontario beer history Jordan and I are writing, I find myself in the spring of 1927 at the Toronto hearings of the Federal Royal Commission on Customs and Excise. Officials from every major brewery in the province are being grilled under cross examination on their business smuggling beer into the United States. The glimpses of honesty through the lies are just good clean fun. When the manager of Carling was asked if they couldn't make a profit at $1.75 a case, he replied "well, you can't make a large profit."
But of all the people in the witness box, I like John D. Aikens best. A shipping clerk, he appeared in the middle of row upon row of owners and business managers. While he cannot claim to be like Washington who never told a lie... he couldn't tell a good lie. See, while all the others were crafting their tales to place all sales beyond the border and therefore beyond excise taxation, young Aikens tried to make everything better by letting the Royal Commission know he only sold illegal beer to his friends. That'd be OK, right? By the time the legal inquiries and hearings were done, the Supreme Court of Canada found it likely that O'Keefe bootlegged 17% of its production for cash within Ontario. That's a heck of a lot of friends. And over $420,000 in back taxes.
One of the older beers in my stash, I found a bit of a blue plume on the recessed cork. A few years I gave up on this beer based on some comments I read that this generation of bottlings were often shot. Brewed in 2003, I think i bought this about a decade ago for $4.99 likely at the then Party Source in Syracuse, NY.
The advice may have been wrong. The first sip was beer broth and stale air. But as it sat it opened. No carbonation. No head. Deep patina over cherry wood. Masses of dark fig, hot with booze with a decent acidity. Far more complex at 9% than any beer that's been made this decade. We say things like sherry-like and this might be sherry-like but for all I know it is more like cider that has sat in a cask for a decade. The label says calvados casked for seven months. Not six. Not eight. Seven. $4.99. With inflation over a decade of say 25% - tops - this would be maybe... what...
Soft with a line of bright acidity and full of dark wood. A bit of water in the middle that sets the rest in context but dark wood, old berry and acidic tang. Odd low rating from the BAers but who knows what's in any given bottle. This one had none of the complaints listed.
Is it just me or does the expression on Beau's Hogan's Goat bear a slight resemblance to the brewery's co-founder Tim Beauchesne? A sample arrived a few days ago and, while I am pretty sure I have had the beer before, "spiced" beer of any sort is not something I hunt out. Same with weizenbocks like the sample of Burly Goat sent by British Columbia's Granville Island Brewing. Yet, given how often I am wrong, I really should check in on my prejudices. Besides, Tim-Goat is giving me a mean death stare from that label. Better do something.
Hogan's Goat pours a bright caramel under a slightly orange cream head. The almond malty aroma leans slightly to gingersnap. A very pleasant first foamy gulp: rich nutty malt with a late showing of herbal hops. Sweet with nods in the malt to apple, raisin and even old fashioned brandy butter sauce. What spicing there is gets neatly placed. The overall effect is a bit barley candy, a bit herbal lozenge and more than that in beer. You particularly notice the orange peel when you burp. At 6.9%, strong but not over the top. BAers have the love.
Burly Goat is a beer in the style of Aventinus and a respectable homage. It has that spiced weizen yeast in common with its mentor and displays how wheat, when stronger, starts to move from simply grassiness to something itself rustic and spiced in the way that rye is. It has that beefy gravel hue that would be a turn off in any other sort of beer. Green grass, marigold, pumpernickel, a bit of almond in a drying brew. Herbal leathery aromas. You could soak a pork shoulder in this very nicely. Just one rating by a happy BAer.
What did I learn? I was reminded that I like beers like this and that domestic craft can make them with verve. Or is it panache?