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?
A big thanks to each buyer of The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer first of all. People have been kind and honest - which is a kindness, isn't it. A few emails with longer discussions have been thoughtful, people either agreeing with the general narrative or asking why this was said or that scene was chosen. Things like this:
Just wanted to say I finished reading the "Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer" which I purchased a couple of days ago after I saw it in your blog (for $4 it was really an impulse buy, how could I resist?). I have to say I utterly enjoyed it and laughed quite a bit too. More importantly, I couldn't agree more. Although at times I thought you guys had gone a bit far in your criticisms, in the end you put it all back in perspective and that worked out really well.
That was good to hear as I thought me and Max had taken it running towards the cliff, took it over the cliff, looked down and then... only then... had a good long conversation about the situation with each other, about how this was a very fine situation we were in and how next time we were definitely going to plan on putting it all back in perspective well before this sort of situation came around again.
What things are happening? Soon a Lulu edition will be out for folk who don't want to give into the 1979 LCD watch upgrade called Kindle. Don't get me wrong. Kindle geno uno is in our house... but it looks a lot like the Texas instrument calculator from grade eleven. Or Casio. Plus, we are working on an audio take on it. Which is hard to set up and might involve three or four countries. More of a radio drama than a spoken word book. Sound effects. That sort of thing. Maybe a comic version in coffee book format, too, but that needs a sponsor. Max and I are also going to be on a shopping mall tour of Manitoba and the US Upper Midwest except for Wisconsin (jeesh, get over yourselves) sometime in March doing signings in a string of independent book stores and grocers. Hope to see you there.
Law is fun. Never let anyone tell you differently. In 1979, Labatt went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to defend its right to call a 4% lager a light or rather a "lite" beer. Trouble was a regulation said that meant the beer was under 2.5%. The Court ruled. Hilarity ensured:
"The brewing and labelling of beer and light beer has not been said to have given rise either to a national emergency or a new problem not existing at the time of Confederation, nor to a matter of national concern transcending the local authorities’ power to meet and solve it by legislation."
"Like the learned trial judge, I conclude that the manner in which the appellant seeks to market its “Labatt’s Special Lite” beer is not such as to make it likely that it will be mistaken for a food..."
"I can find no basis, therefore, for this detailed regulation of the brewing industry in the production and sale of its product as a proper exercise of the federal authority in criminal law."
"...the regulations under consideration do not on their face purport to be, nor can they be, connected or related to the protection of health since any such beverage regardless of its name having an alcoholic content by volume of not less than 1.2% and not more than 8.5% and otherwise brewed in accordance with the process common to all “Malt Liquors” is presumptively not a hazard to health."
"Even on the strict view that any use of the word “light”, properly spelled or mis-spelled, is prohibited. I fail to see how this can be said to amount to a prohibition of the sale of this particular product. Could they not label it as “Low-calorie” if they wished? It may be that this would not be commercially desirable but that is a matter of the wisdom of the legislation with which we are not concerned."
See? No, that's what I call a good time. Any lessons to be learned? First, unlike the yuk-fests in most beery court rulings, the serious folk of the upper shelf stay away from the silly that sometimes sneaks into the text. Second, it was a split ruling. Three out of seven judges on the panel wanted to smite down the uppity brewery and keep the under the yoke of federal law so that the fans of 2.5% beer wouldn't be confused by 4% beer. Third, in an interesting observation, the Chief Justice pointed out that as breweries and their beer had become national, Federal control was appropriate.
There. Learned you something on a Monday night.
Saturday afternoon after a morning of 1250 first draft words on Ontario's brewing heritage in the 1950's and 60's. What better reason to pop open a couple of very different examples of what perry can be. I have to admit, perry is one of those things I can daydream about. Like an Ürziger Würzgarten Auslese Riesling, it is sweeter and lighter than most anything called beer but it can still have a fruited complexity and authenticity that can make one start wondering about "terroir" - or maybe just tree-iorr - in a way that beer can't really claim.
I've written about Spirit Tree before. This bottle comes from a case picked up last summer on a trip that saw us travelling up Highway 10 between Toronto and Owen Sound. Until a moment ago, I knew zippo about Oliver's that wasn't on the label. It's from Herefordshire, has been in oak for 8 months and packs a reasonable 7.1% punch. And the owner works on the side in rock concert tour management. Spirit Tree's perry comes in at 5.5% and is not according to the information available to me connected to rock concert tour management. Jeff is heading towards Herefordshire as we speak so we may learn more soon.
In the glass each give off its own separate scent of pear. Oliver's smells a little candied without cloy. With a little barnyard funk, too. Spirit Tree is lighter with what I might call a nod to pear blossom except that my experience with pear trees is that their scent in bloom is not so swell. Maybe that is a varietal thing but suffice it to say this smells better than my tree, like cut ripe fruit or, better, like fresh cut bough.They are very lightly yellowed, Oliver's with a nod to gold while Spirit Tree actually leans a bit towards silver.
On the telling gum wash, both do what they want very well. Oliver's has the dry oaken bit in the middle but the finish lingers with fruit. After an hour and a half, I get a bit of acetic acid at the end. Not off putting and, overall, it's part of the aged aspect that faintly reminds me of that candied stuff at the edges of BBQ ribs. The first attack, however, is quite light. Just for a mo. Three or four stages of flavour jangling along in there. Very good stuff. Spirit Tree may seem simpler but as it is also fresher, you are getting more flavours of pear peel in there and, with a little more acidity and greater carbonation, it is simply playing from another point in time. I really like both and, best of all, the room smells like mid-June.
By the way, blending was a small mistake as the best of each was lost. RB on Spirit Tree here and Oliver's here. Note: Pete has two pages on Tom Oliver in his book as well as references to Spirit Tree.
On the issue of movement. Obviously it’s a movement. Since 1980, thousands of breweries have opened up across the globe, tens (hundreds) of thousands of people have begun brewing their own beer, and millions participate in various activities related to the consumption of good beer. There’s no way to call this purely a commercial movement, and it’s facile to separate the camps into soulless Barnums and clueless rubes.
The problem with the statement is not the idea of "movement" and not even the use of such overripe language set in glowing primary colours in a seeming effort to make a simple idea... something. [Hint: if someone says "obviously" what follows is often a little slippery.] No, it is not all that. It is that one word up there. The word "a" that might have just snuck by.
That one word means well. And Jeff was in a rush so you will forgive him. Don't hate him or anyone because they believe in a movement. We are not haters. Yet, just remember to ask why. See, they forget that since 1980 thousands if not hundreds of thousands of software companies have opened up and billions of humans have be changed by how the code has touched their lives. No movement. Since a little before 1980 punk rock asserted the right to protest as you slam dance leading to a trillion mosh pits on a zillion planets. No movement. You might as well talk about the disposable condiment squeeze bottle for home use movement. Billions and billions bulk up landfills worldwide. Movementlessly.
There might be movements. And there might be change, too, but no one really needs "a" movement, right? I was chatting with Ethan on Facebook on a tangentially framed topic and it went something like this:
Ethan: "quality" has an objective dimension; "value," OTOH, is inherently subjective.
Alan: Quality may be subjective. A particular roasted note in a stout can attract one drinker and turn off another. This may be chemical as in sauvignon blanc wine in which some taste cat pee while others taste gooseberry. It can also be personal as in if someone hates liquorice, many imperial stouts are out.
Ethan: Right, quality has an objective dimension, but a subjective one as well. Value, though, is purely subjective. But then, if "value" is made up of some combination of quality/desirability and price, my query is: does value only include that subjective aspect of quality? If not, than even value has an objective dimension. Yes, I have been reading yours & Max's book. But I think about these things all the time, too.
Alan: But value has ranges of subjectivity that look objective. The beer writer v Joe Sixpack v. Hipster are economic tribes who lump in value bands.
See the connection? See it? That bit at the end. Tribes. I know. I know. It's the sort of thing the Dads of hipsters say but sometimes it might be true. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. So, why is craft beer the only single thing in all of western pop culture and perhaps in the entire universe that needs a movement, needs such pure acceptance, homogeneity and lock step? Well, maybe except for the bad guys in WWII, that is. Why does an idea that associates itself with brash independence express itself so completely and insistently based on one mass herd mentality? A movement?
First, it helps with the continued money making, that's easy enough. But, second, if the actual tribes of good beer started voting for their own local democratic elections, maybe things would not be the same here as there, maybe the words people would start to differ and different languages develop. That might make keeping on top of things hard. We might even miss the baby talk of "craft beer's all one big family". But would we? Really? We might each start to think things "I like this bit but really not that bit" for example. And we might learn that people out east don't really care one bit for West Cost IPAs, for example. Based on, you know, real sales figures.
Think about it for a bit. Get back to me. My latest discovery is that the spam bots only attack after a comment is posted. So, I can let moderated comments build up and then unleash them all at once to your delight, like the last momentous prize winning reveal in a TV game show. Once displayed, it's about 53 spam bots a minute for the next eight hours. That gives you time.
A rather swell personal essay about one man's love of a beer in today's Globe and Mail:
Then one weekend last spring I was told they were out of Export in six-packs. I tried again the next week. Same story. The third time, the guy they call Red shook his head and said, “Sorry, they are not making it in six-packs anymore. I guess the six-packs aren’t selling very well.” I ordered two six-packs of something else and made my way home. I think I left the store paraphrasing T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in my mind, “I grow old, I grow old, I still like my beer cold.” I was brooding over whether to switch brands or throw away my aversion to drinks packaged in aluminum. Neither option appealed to a man set in his ways.
I think I am developing a soft spot for big industrial brewing. Maybe not like the guy in the essay but not so far off. See, I am hitting the mid-1900s in the Ontario brewing history that I am writing with Jordan. And I am writing today about how, as might be expected, EP Taylor looked out into the world at the outset of the 1950s and saw nothing but markets and opportunities. In 1952, he buys Quebec's National Breweries, the company born of consolidations which had first inspired Taylor's initial plans in 1928. In the same year, Carling Black Label was first brewed under contract in the United Kingdom. In the years that followed he expands operations in the US and buys breweries in Canada's western provinces. Taking on the challenge, competitor Labatt bought breweries in Manitoba and British Columbia while building a new brewery in Montreal. Their original location in London Ontario also underwent large scale expansion. With the move by Molson into the Ontario market in 1955 with the building of new 300,000 barrel a year brewery on Totonto's waterfront, the province's big three brewers which would dominate the next thirty years were established. Whammo.
It's all so positive and happy. Ontario's population expands by 20% over the 1940s and the 1950s are pure economic boom. I may not want to drink the stuff that they are brewing but it's all quite the rush.
I was reading this review of an Ontario-made brew by Josh Rubin in the Star the other day and it got me thinking. Most of the write up is about the brewery's plans to brew more and more all-Ontario beer but it's interesting to note that actual beer review consists of a 2.5/4 rating and confirmation that the beer tastes "pretty good." What that got me thinking about was the math behind the review.
Math? Yes, math. Think about it. The older we get and the less time we have for each and every beer in a over-branded marketplace, one needs to think of the value proposition each of us make when purchasing if we are not going to get lost in the supermarket. Do I have time left in my life for a 2.5 star beer? Not sure. But do I have more time for a local 2.5 star beer? In fact, does a 2 star beer become a 2.5 one if it is local? Maybe it does if it is from where I am from. But where am I if I am in Ontario? The main east west highway is 830 km long. Is that one local or, say, six? If one aspires to the hundred mile diet but fails does one give half a bonus star for the source that squeaks in at a reasonable 248 miles away? Is that pretty good math?
What is local worth when you are factoring in stars, miles and dollars all into one formula mulled in the back of the mind as you slow down and scan the shelf, shopping basket in hand?