New Year's Resolutions? Find more people who like to write about beer. David Akin is in Toronto and has made an excellent post about some of his favorite ales. I thought from his comment in the post below that he was in BC due to his reference to one of Granville Island beer but no - he appears to be a Newf in Trana. Maybe the LCBO is holding out on the hinterland, supplying the big smoke with ales not available to we few scratching a living out on the woods beyond the GO train.
Does such a thing exist? If speaking of the North American market, is it the low carb stuff which I doubt I will ever try or is that the boondoggle of the year? Personally, I will have to review my notes in the review archives but suspect it will be American and it will be hop-heavy. Maybe it was a particular pint in a particular pub? I will have to do some thinking about this...
What was yours?
In a shocking but true accouncement as reported in the New York Times, the US government has passed a regulation that will require what is taxed as beer to be at least 51% beer twelve months from now:
Popular flavored malt beverages must have the majority of their alcohol come from the process of brewing if they want to be taxed and treated as beer products rather than higher-taxed liquor products. That's the upshot of final regulations announced Tuesday by the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Companies will have until early January 2006 to comply. The new regulations require that at least 51 percent of alcohol in flavored malt drinks be derived from the brewing process. No more than 49 percent of the alcohol may come from other flavorings added to the product, the bureau said in a release.While this relates to beverages which are a long way off of real ale, you still would think that this would have been an obvious requirement. That would not, however, have taken into account the fact that brewing is one of the biggest business rackets going and just because it looks like beer or claims that it is beer on an income tax return doesn't mean it is a beer. One day beer will have to have its ingredients listed so that we can all see how much sea weed, which is added commonly to add body to corn sugar based brews, is in which beer. Here is the TTB announcement.
The BBC has a good piece in its Magazine section on the British temperance scene today. Apparently:
the British National Temperance League (BNTL), as it is known, has two staff and a mailing list of 1,200 people including social workers, teachers and police.What is the connection between temperence and beer? Most temperance activists were actually pro-beer until the "t-total" abstainers came along. It was not a fight against alcohol per se at first but a reaction to the flood of gin which was destroying the industrial work force of England around 1800. Beer as a source of nutrition when in the form of real ale supports the good health of labouring folk as all we here can testify. So take a moment to think of those good promoters of ale, the temperance societies.
Sleeman's Brewery has released a special limited edition Porter, called "Fine Porter," available for a limited time only in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. I don't know how long its been on the market, but I just found out about it last week. The natural thing to do, of course, was to head to my local beer store and see if they had any in stock. They did and I bought two bottles.
Sleeman's as you may know, is an old/new Canadian brewery, founded in the 1850s. They went bust in the 1930s as a result of Prohibition (or, to be precise, because they got busted bootlegging during Prohibition, which lead to a large tax bill that forced them to sell the brewery). In the late 1980s, the great-great grandson of the first Sleeman brewmaster revived the business using the original recipes, that, according to folklore (or is it marketing?) were found in an old notebook tucked away in an attic. The relaunch of Sleeman's was a success, due in part to a major investment from one of the big American brewers. Behind the hokey ads and the down-home sentiments is a medium-sized brewery with big ambitions. Sleeman's brews a number of big-name brands under license, including Stroh's, Pabst, Pilsner Urquel, and Sapporo. They also brew the "Upper Canada" brands.
For that reason, no one should think of Sleeman's products as "craft brews." Still, their products are consistent and tasty, if not entirely distinctive. Which makes me wonder where this "Fine Porter" limited edition 2004 came from. If you believe the marketing, it came from page 68 of the old notebook. Who am I to argue? I suspect there really is a bit of good old nostalgia around the Sleeman household. While they're pumping barrels of Pabst and Stroh's out the back door for a fast buck, there might really be a sense of it being a family business.
Whatever the case, I cracked open a Sleeman's Fine Porter this evening while a batch of slow-cooking chili bubbled away on the stove. I wasn't sure what to expect -- until I read the label. Sleeman's has courteously provided a label (on their traditionally label-less bottles) complete with tasting notes, ingredients, and colour notes (in both of Canada's official languages). That makes it easy. Thus, I quote: "Bitterness of imported hops balances the malty sweetness, with roasted and chocolate aroma notes." The colour is described as "Deep rich brown," as if you couldn't tell through the clear glass bottle.
Unfortunately, I am not familiar with other Porters. They simply aren't in my repertoire. I've always thought of Porters as flat muddy beers that old people drank, so I tended to avoid them. (A silly prejudice, I know...) That said, I found the Sleeman's Fine Porter to be pretty much as described on the bottle, which was disappointing as it brought no surprise. It was definitely toasty, and the chocolate aroma was present but not strong. It had a decent heft, like any dark ale, but didn't weigh down like a stout.
I enjoyed it. It was a nice late-afternoon-on-a-winter-day-spent-at-home kind of beer. The sort of thing you might have one of while waiting for your pot of chili to age. It would go well with a nutty cheese on crackers as a late afternoon snack. In the end, it didn't quite have the kind of character I expected from something referred to as a "limited edition," but it did go down nicely and agreeably and I'm looking forward to another winter day spent at home, when I will crack open the second bottle.
From the annals of the great cases in beer jurisprudence comes this recent ruling:
"Bob the Beerman" has lost his battle against Coors. Bob Donchez, known as "Bob the Beerman," was the first licensed vendor at Coors Field in Denver. He trademarked his character in 1993. He sued Coors about four years ago over the brewer's "Beerman" $100 million ad campaign. But a federal judge in Denver has ruled the term beerman is generic and doesn't infringe on the rights of Bob the Beerman. Attorneys for the Beerman say they'll likely file an appeal.There is a releif as we all now can take on the name "Beerman", as I know so many secretly desire, without fear of lawsuit.
In 1900 Prince Edward Island became the first province to ban alcohol. It was the last to end prohibition almost 50 years later. However, there continued to be dozens of bootleggers around the province...The writing has been on the wall for these illegal bars - one of which is illustrated as shown on the CBC PEI website - for a few years since a man died at a table and was not detected as being dead for some time. It is interesting to note, however, that on the main street of Ogdensburg, NY, one of the last holdouts of British North America in what is now the eastern USA, these sorts of small home-sized bars do operate under license as one might also see in St. John's Newfoundland. With any luck they will become similarly licensed in PEI but that may destroy some of the attraction to their customers who took advantage of after-hours drinking and unregulated low pricing.
It seems Charlottetown's bootleggers have raised the white flag, choosing to close their illegal establishments in the face of tough new legislation passed by the Binns government. The bootleggers run illegal bars in homes. The houses are gutted, a bar is put in, and the people who run them resell liquor and beer. They don't have liquor licences, and don't conform to any provincial or municipal laws. They've been raided, railed against and reviled. But mostly, they've been tolerated, selling booze for much cheaper prices than legal lounges and nightclubs. That's until this past weekend, when the doors of the known bootlegging establishments in Charlottetown were suddenly locked.
Of somewhat finer interest is the use of "bootlegger" in PEI for an illegal bar. Growing up in Nova Scotia it meant an illegal retailer only.
I was hoping I would run into one of the gift packs with the nut brown ale, pale ale and oatmeal stout. $13.95 CND at the LCBO in addition to the Imperial Stout and the previously reviewed Winter Welcome which go for $3.95 CND each. Samuel Smiths was founded in 1758 and still uses the open top square fermenters which are well described at the website of its North American distributor, Merchant du Vin, and which have been lovingly copied by student breweries like Shipyard of Portland, Maine.
- Imperial Stout: soft and chalkey with a nip of carbonation on the tip of your tongue. A flush of dusty cocoa and espresso around the cheeks and a hint of burn down the throat. At 7% a light version of an Imperial Stout, lighter and drier than Sinebrychoff, the licorice much farther back. The aroma of plum butter and chocolate truffles. Of its colour, one of the happy beer advocates writes: "Only other thing darker than this is my ex girlfriends soul." No Satanic imagery here, however. Just the dark warm arms of sleep. A great ale to accompany a spare one or two dozen raw oysters. Hmmm...that sounds like a Christmas Eve well spent to me.
- Old Brewery Pale Ale: This beer is the one that best portrays the yeast that is the hallmark of the brewery's range. Rich and tangy like an English cheese, the yeast merges with the bitter hops rather than sits in counterpoint as is usually the case. Otherwise, the ale is fairly dry with little in the way of raisin or other crystal malt indicators - unlike, for example, the big malty Winter Warmer. The effect is somewhat like Bohemian lagers and their metallic Saaz hop tang. For me the pale ale by Samuel Smith's is more of a marker of the brewery's traits than something I could see bumping off some other favorite English Pale Ales. Here is what they are saying over at the Beer Advocate.
- Nut Brown Ale: Just the thing for Christmas afternoon. This is a brown ale in the northern English style, like Newcastle Brown but deeper, rather than the sweeter lucious southern English style. It sits somewhere between the brewery's pale ale and Winter Warmer in terms of richness with its own particular use of crystal malt and pale malt giving the sweet nuttiness of the grain. The mouthfeel is slightly oily indicating perhaps a little oat malt in the mash. The trademark yeast fits very nicely. This is one of the ales I wish the LCBO could find a way to keep on the shelf rather than only provide once a year as part of a Christmas gift pack. How many Sammy Smith pint glasses do they think I need? BAs discuss.
- Oatmeal Stout: ...or rather "The Celebrated Oatmeal Stout" if the label is to be believed. This is the business. I probably have had four pints of this in my life and can remember each individually. Molasses, maple syrup, chocolate, cocoa and coffee are all there in the malt along with a nice graininess that lets you know they are all real and not just created by some tanker load of syrups. The hops may be Northern Brewer as there is a minty thing to the bitterness. The water is soft but not flabby. The same yeast traits are there that are in all the other Samuel Smith beers but they are perfect here - a creamy undertone beneath the oat silky buffet of dessert flavours. This is one of the perfect beers of my life. It is as simple as that. I have had a few oatmeal stouts in the last 12 months - the worthy Wagner Valley, the honourable St. Ambroise, the interesting blackberry flavoured Ebulum, and the very very unfortunate Strike Out and this is clearly the best. Two percent of BAers are clearly mad.
Jim Barr, our correspondent from Ayrshire Scotland, has forwarded some great notes on five brews from the old country, three of which are organic.
- Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted: Apparently Champion Beer of Britain, 2003 in its cask conditioned form. This is a honey coloured beer with a lot of flavour, “hoppy and vanilla-ish” said the wife. Sharp with soft edges to it, bitter but in an extremely pleasant way, and a pinch at £ 5.00 for 4 bottles from Morrison’s. 4.2%abv. The bottle says its bottled with a 1/3 less carbon dioxide than most beers which results in a fresher more natural beer. Who am I to disagree, it was a great beer. Here is Harviestoun's home on the web.
- Caledonian Golden Promise Organic: Claims to be the world’s first truly organic beer. Nice pale gold colour, is the best I can say about, both the wife and I thought it was disappointing, insipid even. Not a lot of flavour at all, I wouldn’t buy it again. Here is the page on the web for this brew.
- Black Isle Yellowhammer Organic Bitter: From the highlands of Scotland, produced by a micro-brewery near Inverness, what a difference between these two organic ales. This was superb, dark, toffee flavoured, slightly sweet, soft and a big flavour. I will go out of my way to buy this stuff again, and to try some of their other beers. 4.0%abv. Check out the website here.
- Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer: Honey coloured Edinburgh brewed, caramel flavoured beer but a bit too sweet for my liking, in the 330ml bottle, its okay but I really couldn‘t swallow a lot of it. 6.6%abv. They, too, are on the web.
- Broughton Border Gold:Yet another organic beer, golden colour with a taste I would have expected of a darker brew. A burnt sugar, sort of treacle like flavour, with a tart after-taste, full hoppy flavour, not at all unpleasant. A site to check out as well.