Seeing as we are getting over 1,000 visits a day now...who the heck are you people?
Ever since I picked up a couple annual editions of the Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, I have been wondering why such a thing does not exist for beer. We know that beer is a massive economic phenomena and that it is a pervasive habit. Yet, as far as I can tell, there is little discussion on the cultural event as far as I can tell. Sure there are histories of brewing in a region or a nation but I have yet to come across anything as a general effort to define the sociological aspects of beer. A co-mingling of study and ale not necessarily like this but not necessarily unlike it. Could we do that? It would require:
- interest - I need a group to discuss and plan a level of achievable feasibility. Creation of a trust account and a steering committee.
- money - for awards to trigger academics and lay folk to prepare papers. This could start with donations to a trust but could also include larger sponsorships from brewers.
- a panel - to read and judge the papers.
- a medium - presenting the best papers requires a medium. Cooperstown is a gathering of baseball nerds at that magic place but that sort of expense and formality need not exist at the start.
As I am going to a big US college sports event in a few weeks not to mention a few key temples to ale, I am quite interested in the phenomena of tail gating or tailgating or tail-gating. Some readers outside of North American might not even know what a tail gate is - it is the openable rear wall of the box at the back of a pick-up truck...or the back of a station wagon or an SUV. Some have special modifications like the built-in tap shown to the upper-right. Tail gating is taking a vehicle like that to a sports stadium before a big game - usually football and usually college football - opening it's back end up and running a BBQ and beer shack right there at the parking lot. The meaning has been extended to partying before the game and can refer to a party watching a game on TV or, as in this story, drinking during the walk to the game:
Many residents agreed that the tailgating was far less than feared at the big evening game last week. Neighbor Bill Hass, who was concerned earlier this year when Boston College asked to expand tailgating from two to three hours, said he did not hear of any complaints, which he believes is good news. "But I was impressed with the amount of police presence this weekend and hope that prevented anything before it started." Some residents participated in the festivities, drinking beer on their lawns, and said they did not mind the game traffic or tailgating. "Boston College was here before I was and if I don't like it, I can move out to Weston," said Margaret Grealish on Undine Road. "There's extra traffic, but they do a good job," added Lorraine McGrath of Larch Street, who works at Boston College and graduated from there as well.Because the US has a general minimum age limit for drinking of 21, most college students break the law when they drink. In Canada it is 19 so most do not. Open air drinking is also often a no-no. So the semi-illegality of the event is part of the event. I would imagine more than a million Americans will do it today.
In northern New England we have an expression that is quite useful in Fall: Leaf Peepers. This is defined as tourists that we can sell stuff to...from New Jersey, Massachusetts, etc...places where you figure they also have trees, but still. The economy depends on it. We have some pretty nice colors on the hills and mountains in September and October, and some would say ground zero in New Hampshire is the Kancamagas highway between Lincoln and Conway. Perhaps the prettiest area in the prettiest state in the prettiest season.
Anyway, Conway is the home of the Tuckerman Brewing Co., makers of Tuckerman Pale Ale. Tuckerman's Ravine is actually a bit north of Conway, on the back side of Mt Washington, the tallest mountain in the American northeast.
I have seen Tuckerman Pale Ale at the grocery store for years, and reached past it every time to get the Harpoon ales, which are on record as favorites of mine. Today, however, Tuckerman was on sale. It is a tiny brewery with limited distributorship in New England for the most part, especially New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Its location is also close to all of New Hampshire's big ski areas, and close to Maine and Vermonts, so this is a ski bum beer, pictured on the label too.
I was fascinated on first taste - what is this?. It tasted like a lager to me at first, then all those hops they boast of stepped in and it tasted more and more like an India pale ale, but somehow it remained a hoppy, ale/lager blend in my mind. I used to brew small batches of beer in my kitchen, and these guys warn on the label that there may be yeast goop on the bottle bottom because of in-bottle fermenting, just like home brew. This is a big plus in my mind, a reminder of the craft of brewing.
An outstanding brew, a place to visit soon also. The BAers have some questions but plenty say yea!
Beer never has a "bad year."
A co-worker who gets to drive a cop car called and said he had a delivery for me. Fine as long as it is not a summons, I thought. And lo and behold what were gifted me but a beer from the Basque area of France, bought by a pal of his when recently visiting St. Pierre and Miquelon, the tiny French province off Newfoundland. It cost 2.28 Euros for 330 ml at 5.5% and is from a small brewery called Akerbeltz, their amber or ambrée Gorrosta. Most neato of all is that no one has reviewed the beer on the Beer Advocate. Very interesting opportunity for me. Click on the picture for a close up of the label.
This well illustrates my policy on giving me things. You can. More when I open this.
My favorite book on the beers of Scotland is called Scotch Ale and it is by Greg Noonan, founder of the Vermont Pub & Brewery of Burlington on Lake Champlain which I first visited in the summer of 1990. I referred to this book in one of the few reports written here on the beers of my forefathers, the great Traquair House from Peeblesshire. I should take a moment in what promises to be a longer post than usually to mention the series in which Noonan text is published - the Classic Beer Style Series from Brewers Publications. Issued mainly for the home brew set, these guides set out the history, the main features of profile, brewing facts, ingredients and examples. They are gold for any beer nerd. Noonan's on the beers of Scotland is among the best written of the series. A bit expensive due to the limited market, beer fans really should invest in these.
Scotland's beers are largely based on one thing - the solid mass of rock which rises in the middle of Edinburgh. That is because, as Noonan explains, wells drilled deep into the rock produced a wonderful water that always arose at exactly the same temperature, a cool 51º F. That allowed for a more standardized brewing in the pre-scientific era than you would have found elsewhere. As a result, for centuries and right up until recent years the road down from the castle was the site of a number of large breweries jammed up against each other. In addition to the cool of the water was the northern climate. Barley and oats grew better than wheat and even then other strains of barley florished. Added to this was the inability to grow hops as easily as in southern England what with the colder seasons and you had a naturally slower fermentation at a lower temperature, without high hopping, without highly attenuated yeast to dry out the sweet from the beer. This left the world with a smoother maltier beer, not unlike the idea of a Marzen from Germany, but with sources of balancing bitter other than steely hops to cut the cloy. Usually this was black malt burned almost to dust but sometimes, too, it was the local fruit or herbs. These five ales are attempts to capture something of the spirit of those conditions.
- McEwan's Scotch: This is an old friend. I had a habit for this 8% ale in my undergrad years, being one of the few deviations from rapidly macro-morphing Maritime Canadian pale ale you could get in the early 1980s in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A sheeting tan lace, rim and foam sits over deep mahogany. The aroma of sweet malt with a note of smoke sits like a fog over the glass. You sip molasses with a note of apple butter which opens to a discrete seam of black malt char guarding the heat of the alcohol. Underneath is the rich smoke and cream of the yeast. It is big but not massive, a winter's blanket of an ale. It has actually been years since I had one of these and I am immediately regretting the time lost. Thankfully it is generally available at least in eastern Canada. I can renew the acquaintance. BAers approve.
- Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Ale: Jim in Scotland included this in a past review of five from the Old Country. For me, it poured a dark honey with large bored carbonation feeding white foam. At 6.6%, this strong ale is honey sweet, smokey oaked and buttery. The effect, confirmed by the yeast selection, is creamy and rich and very pleasant. As the maker's website explains, the beer takes 77 days to make, the first thirty in new American oak barrels. This provides a profound effect on the ale which makes it difficult to compare it to others, rounder and mellower while also picking up flavours such as vanilla. It is too bad as beer from the wood was a common thing not that long ago but in all these reviews only Marston Pedigree serves as another example of a beer formed in a wooden cask. This flavours assist in their way with the successful balancing the sweetness and as a result, as is appropriate for a Scots ale, there is a more subdued hop effect. A note of black malt toast is also present. All in all, the flavour profile is not unlike the liqueur Drambuie in far drier form. Very nicely done. 15% of advocatonians disagree with me.
- Smuttynose Scotch Style Ale: reddish mahogany...maybe chestnut...under a rocky tan head. This scotch has a hidden green hoppy underseam beneath the round soft malt and the stroke of dark malt - but chocolate rather than black. A bit hot, too - which is no surprise at 7.8%. The malt is mainly apple butterish but also a little dark raisiny, too. There is a bit of smoke in the rich yeast as well - which is not from the yeast itself but from 2% German hardwood rauch malt according to the brewer's notes. Really a nice take on the style of a wee heavy. Everyone loves it. Worthy.
- Middle Ages Kilt Titler: this is something of a take on the McEwan's Scotch above with tan foam and rim over rich mahogany. The nose is more subdued and in the mouth there is the heat of 9.5%, apple butter and maybe a note of licorice and even perhaps banana, coffee and cocoa. There is smoke which is more likely from smoked malt than a true Scots yeast. The water has a chalky thing without being overly soft. At the end there is hop which sits below the malt, perhaps green, maybe twiggy. The otherwise pleased BAer average is skewed by one low rater. Confirms again that Middle Ages is one of my favorite brewers.
- Belhaven Wee Heavy: Wow. The smokiest of all. Tan foam and lace leaving rim over reddish mahogany ale. This would make an excellent BBQ beer, medium-sweet and big bodied. Unlike a pure smoke beer like Rogue's Chipotle, there is also rich malt flavours of date, apple, raisin and pear - and a licorice effect as well. A very complex array and not as strong at 6.5%. There is also more hop than in the other Scots-made heavy above, the McEwan's. If this were placed before me as a light rauchbier I might believe it. BAer approved.
This beer from St. Peter's is a ruby brown ale under an oddly ivory head. I've never seen an ivory head: tan plus hints of green-grey. This is old style, like Burton Bridge porter: barley candy plus molasses with lime and green hops. The yeast is sour cream or soured milk or something in between. Yet all well balanced.
Is this the holy grail? A 1750s porter? Likely not sour enough but colonial US farmers drank diluted vinegar so go figure.
So we went to Peterborough yesterday to see old friends and we had lunch at St. Veronus, a cafe/bar with a subtitle: "Belgian beer temple"...truer words were never writ. We are now looking for jobs in the Peterborough area.
So unaccustomed to great selection, great service, reasonable prices, care and attention to interesting beer and fantastic food selection am I in a Canadian beer spot that I kept mentally making US exchange rate calculations as I browsed the menu and the beer lists. Then I would shake my head and say...this place is actually in Ontario...and Ontario is in Canada.
I was overwhelmed at the outset when I realized what lay before me. I did not know what to order for a first drink so I just wandered around the two room cafe taking pictures. I mentioned the fact of this here website and, without shifting into a higher gear of service in any respect, the extremely helpful staff answered any number of my deer-in-headlight questions. They even allowed themselves to engage in a little beer porn for the camera as illustrated below. I settled on a Rochefort 6, a new beer to me. At 7.5% it was off their "new arrivals" short list. It was heaven. From recollection malty, a tad burlappy with even a little chocolate perhaps. Others had various lambics and Gueze as well as a very nice Barbar honey ale which I got to sip. Loverly. Just look at the bar fridge - now that's real shock and awe.
Despite the excellent price and variety of the beer, however, it was the food that actually made the visit. St Veronus offers a selection of grilled thick sandwiches with thoughtful ingredients that match the beers very well. The best I thought was the cheddar, slow cooked onion goo and slow cooked apple goo sandwich - it has an other better name but whatever it is called it was scoffed down by a seven year old in mucho haste. For my second sip, I had a local micro, Church-key Northumberland Ale. I did not get a six of that when I visited the brewery last winter but I will next time I go. It was a full malt-fruit forward rich pale ale under what must be the best beer handling conditions I have met in Ontario. And only 4.50 CND for a 500 ml pint.
Definitely a first of many visits.