Last night before going to see the Pixies, the siblings and I took advantage of the moment to visit an old friend, Irene's pub in Ottawa's Glebe district. Irene's is a neighbourhood bar which means it is not necessarily the place to take someone on a first date unless you are on a serious testing night-out. If she agrees to go to Irene's again, she wins. If she suggests going to Irene's again, you win.
Opened in 1985 as a sort of Maritime Canadian bar in Upper Canada, its almost 20 years of experience shows in the honeying pine of the wainscoting and the furniture, the colour of good real pale ale. I have seen bands play there, ended work weeks there with pals, had dinner parties collapse into it and wished often I lived nearer to it. People there can be loud. They can also be worse for wear for the night - or even for the decade. A little harder than the Pilot House in Kingston but the same idea. The beer selection is pretty good but not great. The Guinness moves well, however, meaning it is always fresh. Upper Canada Dark on tap is also a good choice. I was driving so those were the brother's choices.
We also stopped by the Arrow and Loon where I did break with the club soda and lemon habit to have one Wellington County Ale. The difference with the decor of the Arrow and Loon compared to Irenes is a bit off-putting. It is like having a pint in a Roots shop, a bit yuppie gone wild. The entertainment being a trumpeter playing carols kind of confirmed that. But...the staff are very friendly and knowledgable and they have a much broader selection of beers on tap. They even have three beer engines, those merry-handled pumps you pull back on as a bartender to pull the ale up from a cask. As usual, the beer line refridgeration unit is set to iced lager temperatures so finding any flavour in your glass means waiting around for a bit. I was surprised by the Welly County Ale after my review of their rather disappointing SPA in a six. It was even the kegged not casked version so hope abounds.
No time to eat there but I would definitely go again when someone else was driving.
From the Homebrewer's digest comes a link to North Queensland Craftbrewers Radio Show. If I thought the USA-based Beer Radio was perhaps a little over-produced to meet the expectations of its market, this goes well the other way. I have been listening to the first show on the list and it sounds pretty much like it was made in a shower stall. But, like the US version, it is also enthusiastic in the best sense and, also like the US version, it is unimaginable that this show is in the pocket of any big brewers. Put together by members of the Australian CraftBrewer digest and focusing on homebrewing, it is definitely worth a listen.
It is not easy getting a handle on what a drink or more than a drink does for or to your health. In the UK, there is a lot of effort going into warning against binge drinking. This is one of the campaigns of the Portman Group, an association of UK drinks manufacturers. Medical research seems to have a bit of a difficult time balancing what is too much and what is enough, as evidenced by this report in the BBC recently, but the statistics are more than a bit alarming:
...around one or two units of alcohol a day, on five days a week, may have a beneficial effect on coronary heart disease. But the risk of dying from all alcohol-related causes doubled if you had 10 drinks on two nights a week rather than drinking around two units a day...Even then, the beneficial effect only appeared to apply to the over-40s. In the UK, women are advised not to drink more than two to three units of alcohol a day, and men three to four units. Recent government figures revealed that a fifth of men and one in 11 women were now binge-drinkers in England. For men this means drinking more than eight units of alcohol on at least one day in the week, and for women more than six units.What I can never seem to find out is what a "unit" is. I can't imagine, frankly, having four drinks each day as that would leave me worn out. Unless a unit is actually half a beer. This story seems to say a unit of beer for British purposes is 10 oz (@250 ml) of 3.5% ordinary beer. In Canada most beer is brewed to a 5% strength so we are talking 7 oz of Molson Golden as a unit, making a pint more like 3 units. The Journal of Studies on Alcohol has chosen a rather extreme definition of binge which requires the passing of days not just the third pint.
You also sometimes get the sense that there are cultural factors at play so that researchers from different countries begin the question from a point of view that a drink is good or bad. Consider this Czech brewer's claims as to the healthy properties of beer:
Beer contains bitter hop resins that make people calm and also contribute to the secretion of bile, thus positively influencing digestion. A calm and happy person enjoys his/her meal and digests better.Nice to be told that "beer is healthier than water" but other facts from other sources are a bit staggeringly contradictory, as when you read that 12 million Britons regularly use drink as a crutch.
I am not going to conclude anything that wraps this up neatly. There are too many interests behind the facts to expect such an outcome. We'll keep an eye on it.
Yes, Double IPA. I luckily found this beer when I wandered into Stewart's on Friday night. I questioned the owner about the makeup of the beer; unfortunately, he didn't have the answers to all of my questions. But I'll judge it the best I can.
The beer was advertised at 8% ABV. Hardly a session beer. The beer was not excessively bitter, although your mileage may vary, because I'm quite the hophead. The beer was heavy in both flavoring and aroma hops, however. The aroma was mostly spice, grass, and grapefruit. The hop flavor was dominated by grapefruit and a slight peppery and floral quality. The beer finished surprisingly dry for an 8% beer. I had hoped to get some idea about the beer's gravity and hop varieties, but the owner didn't seem to have that kind of detail. He did deny that the beer contained any honey; the dryness and the floral quality had aroused that suspicion.
The gentleman next to me was surprised. "That's a bold move to order that beer without trying a sample first." What can I say, I've never met an IPA I could resist drinking. A Double IPA intrigued me doubly.
The beer is a seasonal offering, and may not be available if you ever make the trek to Delaware. Fear not; the brewery has several award-winning beers and offers consistent quality. The offerings from the kitchen are also superior to standard pub fare. Definitely worth a visit if you're in the area.
This is a shift. I am going to include true six packs which are not necessarily pale ales when cause warrants. This one does.
It is the first Sleemans signature series brew, out for a limited time only and it is a porter. Interesting stuff but, first, look at the outside - they are blinding me with science. If packaging were up for a prize, this one wins. Beer porn. I could photograph it all day. Textured packaging, a sticker across the top and a flyer inside. Real corrigated cardboard. It made me get out the damask as a background and makes me feel like the photography studio needs an ungrade - or maybe a start.
The beer is in the style of Burton Bridge porter, highly hopped and only then malty brown. Not the other way around as modern porters would have it, like, say, Cooperstown Benchwarmer. That is good, legit. But it may make for issues with the expectant market. But who cares. This is a page from the recipe book, the Sleeman's artifact from its 1800s heritage that is a glimpse into south-western Ontario brewing as it was over a century ago.
The brewery gives its pitch at the website:
Taken right from page 68 of the family recipe book, it pays homage to the original Porters of Great Britain, and was brewed by George Sleeman back in the 1800’s.The book is a big thing with Sleeman. It was passed to the current owner two decades ago by an elderly relative who had held it since the demise of the brewery in the Great Depression fifty years before:
John Sleeman, great-great grandson of the first Sleeman Brewmaster, revived the family business, locating its new facility just a few miles from the site of the original Guelph brewery. Pure spring water from Guelph's celebrated deep wells again provided the first ingredient. Rare, small batch brewing vessels, similar in size to those once used by John H. himself, were imported from Europe. In 1988, Sleeman Cream Ale went on sale in Ontario for the first time in over half a century. Brewed according to the recipe found on page 64 of George Sleeman's personal notebook, and sold in distinctive clear glass bottles reminiscent of those used by earlier Sleeman brewers, the refreshing ale soon earned a loyal following among the growing circle of premium beer fans.So, one wonders what is on the other pages.
My tasting notes are not necessarily as loving as either the packaging or the story. This is a challenging style. It is not as big in terms of mouthfeels as I might like but we have to trust that the brewer is being faithful. It is somewhat sharp and decidedly hoppy. I wonder what hops were used in 1864 and how these modern hops were chosen to reflect that. I wonder if the attenuation would be as great in 1864 as 2004. Attenuation is the ability of a yeast to consume as much of the sugars as possible and determines both how dry the finish ends and how high the alcohol is. Current production would greatly change what was to what is. When a beer ends up at 5.0%, the Canadian standard, I do not think there is much chance it is honouring any tradition. This beer is at 5.5%. There is hope.
The beer advocatonians are on the case.
Another seasonal release by the LCBO and the offering of one more Rogue Ale. As discussed before, the biggest monopoly in the market left in the world, only seems able to stock Rogue ales one at a time - next Saturday, I will be at a corner store with ten. Two months ago it was their chocolate stout. Now it is this well hopped pale ale flavoured with juniper berry.
It is a very intelligent brew as you ought to expect from Rogue. The use of juniper is intriguing. Pale ales sometimes have the addition of licorice - the former LCBO offering Hop and Glory had it. The idea is to balance a level of hops that malt alone cannot withstand. The ingredient has to harmonize with both the malt and the hop as it plays this supporting role. This beer is not a mammoth effort like Stone's Ruination, but at 5.7% and 45 IBUs it is getting there.
The brewery describes the ale as:
A pale ale, saffron in color with a smooth malt balance, a floral aroma with a dry spicy finish from whole juniper berries.In that description there is something of the timing of the flavour, that what juniper there is shows only in the aftertaste. The Amarillo and "Styiran" (their typo) Golding Hops. Styrians are Fuggles (not Goldings) grown in the Czech Republic instead of their native southen England. Both Amarillo and Styrians are spicy and relatively obsure indicating a careful selection to match the juniper. Similarly the malt has honey notes while also providing some graininess. All these flavours still exist within the word "smooth". A real dandy effort. Some beer advocatonians do not appreciate it, which is fair as it is a take on a standard. Definitely worth a try of you, like me, like hopped pale ales. Sadly, as Lew notes, a poorly populated heaven such as this needs the brew to move and too many were sour.
The workers of the liquor stores in Quebec are on strike. In any other place in Canada that would cause a small crisis, but Quebec is distinct in Canada for several reasons, one of which is the retail sales of beer and wine. While spirits can only be purchased at the government-run retail stores (the Société des alcools du Québec, or SAQ) beer and wine can be purchased at any grocery store or dépanneur (convenience store).
To my knowledge, the only other place in Canada where you can buy beer in convenience stores is Newfoundland. In that case it is only selected stores (I think) and you have to buy a "package." Here in Quebec, beer and wine is available in every dépanneur, and you can buy individual bottles, not just packages.
Unfortunately, the selection of beers and wines at most dépanneurs is not great. In the case of wines, there is a clear distinction between the wines of a dépanneur and the wines of the SAQ. Essentially, wines that are shipped to Quebec in bulk to be bottled locally are sold in dépanneurs. Most are quite bad, although some -- notably the ones from Chile -- are serviceable as table wines. "Real" wines are only available at the SAQ.
As for beers, most dépanneurs handle the usual array of standard domestics -- Labatt and Molson products, perhaps some Sleeman's, and a few others. Most dépanneurs have a few "imports" which are invariably Grolsh, Heineken, and Corona. Dépanneurs in urban areas usually carry a selection of Quebec-made microbrews (usually from Brasseur du Nord and McAuslan), but the farther you get into the countryside the fewer you see of these -- unless you find yourself in an enclave of urbanites in exile.
This system has the immediate benefit of having wine and cold beer available within walking distance of any home until 11:00 pm seven days a week. However, it is not without pitfalls. For example, the dépanneur wines are not only of lower quality than SAQ wines, but they seem, quite naturally, to be less expensive. Not necessarily, however, given that SAQ prices include all taxes and dépanneur prices do not include 15% sales tax. Most dépanneur wines are priced between $8 and $12 before tax, which I find outrageous. It is still possible to find a quite drinkable wine at the SAQ for under $11. Some dépanneurs -- such as ones that are far from any SAQ outlet -- gouge the consumer by cranking the prices even higher. I once was asked for $17 (after taxes) for a bottle of wine that usually retailed for about $10 (and was worth half of that in terms of quality).
In terms of beer, the SAQ handles an interesting -- but not exhaustive -- array of imported beers, and does not carry domestics. Thus, if you want to try something interesting from elsewhere, the SAQ is usually your only choice (but not always -- more on that in another post). However, you can imagine my surprise when I found cans of Japanese Sapporo beer in my neighbourhood grocery store last week, stacked next to jars of mustard and cans of tomatoes. Sapporo is quite well known, and easy to find, but I have not had it for some time, so I bought one -- partially because I'm rather fond of the heavy aluminum can in which it comes.
I cracked it open last night over a dinner of guacamole, artisanal tortilla chips, and home-made chili. It was much as I remembered it -- a good sturdy lager with a nice lacy head and golden color. Sort of a summery beer, but robust enough to stand up to my beefy meal. Then I looked closely at the can and was shocked to see that it was made in Ontario by Sleeman's, under license from Sapporo! Quel shock!
And there lies another pitfall of dépanneur shopping. A quick visit to the SAQ's Web site revealed that "real" Sapporo from Japan is available in some SAQ stores. Those who like the convenience of dépanneurs, however, must bear with the imitations.
Since both are available, perhaps I should set up a taste test...