Musings Over a Beer

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How Much for that Beer in the Window?

Beer is usually considered a working man’s vice. A cheaper alternative to fancy wines and single-malt scotches that is still social and will still get you buzzed. For many, a major benefit to drinking beer is the considerably lighter hit on the wallet found when drinking macro offerings.

Here in Canada the government enforces a minimum price on beer (with recommendations to increase  them!) that means even the coarsest swill costs more in Toronto than craft beer in the US.   The theory is that higher prices will mean reduced consumption and dangers from excess drinking. Hogwash.  That’s prohibition-era thinking and is specious at best.

Drinkers are already paying significantly more than they need to in order to plump up the Ontario coffers.  Now they’re thinking of asking us to pay more?

NO

I’m sorry, but just last night I found myself paying $13.75 for a single bottle of beer. Limited Edition and 750ml, but still more than I would pay for  a really nice bottle of wine in the States.  Picking up a 6 pack of  beer brewed just down the street is going to set me back easily $13.  I don’t drink swill, but even if I did $25 for the minimum price 2-4 is unbelievable when you consider just how much actual beer is in there.

The government is trying to stigmatize drinking and make it so prohibitively expensive that people will quit. Like smoking.  But the analogy isn’t sound.  The risks of smoking were always about second-hand dangers to the community as a whole.  There was little-to-no separate infrastructure for smoking (cigar bars and tobacco-only shops aren’t terribly common) and no real tobacco business in Canada, so the marginalization of smokers didn’t heavily impact large numbers of people.  People like their booze. Prohibition was tried and failed and the proliferation of bars and pubs on every corner shows that drinking is a popular past time.

If the goal of government is to discourage harmful behavior, then I want to see a tax on Timbits.  Mandatory gym memberships for all! If you don’t check-in at least 3 times a week, pay a fine.  I don’t believe it’s the government’s role to tell people how much to drink or to interfere in the free market pricing of booze, but if they feel it’s a legitimate safety and health concern, I expect to see other similar dangers addressed.

Just Another Beer Bloggin’ Nerd

There was a bit of a discussion here locally about the nature of beer bloggers and what value they add to the beer scene.  One poster brought up the typical image of the beer blogger as being a basement-dwelling nerd, who was friendly in person, only to turn around and write horrible things when back in his mom’s basement.

The idea amused me, because I know a ton of basement-dwelling nerds, and none of them are beer bloggers or even craft beer fans. Being a part of the craft beer scene requires a certain commitment to leaving the house, after all.  Beer Bloggers here in Ontario are generally a good bunch, with very little rivalry or animosity that I’ve seen. Most of us are supportive of the local beer scene and keen to provide honest reviews and constructive criticism.

The discussion got me thinking, though, about the role or purpose of beer blogging.  Ideally, I see beer bloggers as a way to aggregate information and provide individual insight into beers and beer related happenings.  I look to the beer blogging community to provide interesting and lively conversation on topics related to our local scene. I don’t see bloggers as being an adversary of  the local brewers or publicans, but rather partners in a quest to create the best beer and beer drinking experience. We may not always agree on what that is, but the debate is a noble one.

For me, this blog is mostly a place to lay down my thoughts about local beer and events, publish some reviews, and discuss my beer travels.  It’s slanted heavily towards my personal opinions and is more of a ‘journal’ than a resource.  Other local bloggers have already cornered the market on providing timely and accurate updates on beer events and local craft beer happenings. I’d just be repeating what others, with a far larger readership, do if I tried to replicate that here. I’m an independent blogger with no advertising  or income from the blog, so I have nothing to lose by offering my honest opinion. I like it that way. I won’t put anything here in writing that I wouldn’t say in person.

I also try to bring in a slightly different perspective as I am a) female and b) American. There aren’t a ton of women in the local craft beer scene, though more are joining, and there aren’t many Americans in the Toronto beer scene.  So, with that in mind, I like to look at Ontario’s booming craft beer culture and compare it to what I have lived through down South.  As a woman, I can also poke fun at some of the crazy marketing done by breweries to ‘capture the female market’ . I’m also required to ruthlessly mock the facial hair of my male counterparts. Especially in November.

 

 

 

 

(Review) Stone 16th Anniversary IPA

Over the Canadian Thanksgiving (for my American readers – Columbus Day) hubby and I took a brief trip across the border to Buffalo. The primary point of which was to do shopping. Beer shopping being high on that list.  My target was to get my hands on some of the Stone 16th Anniversary IPA. Last year’s Black IPA edition – the Escondidan Ale – was a huge hit and I was curious to try this latest twist on the style.

Stone being Stone, we have to expect that boundaries will be pushed, tastebuds will be assaulted, and those not worthy will be left crying in the corner begging for a adjunct lager.

This year Stone went for a double IPA with some rye.  The rye isn’t the emphasis, however.  What you get from this beer is lemon. Hoo Boy: Lemon! The bottle notes that lemon verbena is added and that is extremely evident in both the nose and on the palate.  The Amarillo and Calypso hops play off the lemon flavor and leave you with an astringent feeling like drinking an herbal tea.  An alcoholic, bitter herbal tea.  With some spicy notes on the follow-up from the rye.  We split the bottle at a tasting and nobody felt like they needed more. I’m confident this beer is not for everybody. I’m not even sure it’s for me.  Don’t get me wrong: I like lemon. I like IPAs.  I like tropical IPAs and all the ingredients Stone used here. I’m just not sure how I feel about the execution.  There’s a local beer fan who is famous for ranting about ‘unbalanced American IPAs’.  I generally think he’s just cranky and overreacting, but in this case he’d be right.

I’d be curious to try this again in a few months and see if the lemon mellows out a bit.  Except I forgot to buy extra bottles, so I’ll have to hear from others if this one matures into a more balanced beer.

I’ll give the Stone 16th Anniversary IPA 3 steins

In Defense of Imported Beer

I drink primarily craft beer. The majority of which is brewed within 100 miles of my apartment by people I have met or at least could pick out in a line-up.  It’s cool and I know I’m getting the best, freshest beer. I like supporting our growing local beer scene and even when a beer experiment doesn’t go as planned, there’s always a fun story behind it.

Sometimes, though, I drink imported beer. Beer, not necessarily craft, from places like Germany or England. In the craft beer scene, these beers are often viewed as boring and not worth the time, but by god some of them are tasty.  They’re also easy to find and, from what I have seen in the US, a stepping stone on the road to better craft beer acceptance both for patrons and pubs.

My local watering hole switched earlier this year from tap lines full of AB/INBEV shlock to a mix of local craft and import.  This means I can now get Delirium Tremens on draught a mere 5 minute walk from my home.  Ditto for Erdinger Weissbier.  I’m OK with this. When I started drinking beer seriously, back in 1999, my local trivia bar in the US had something like 100 beers. Most of them bottles. Most of them imports. I remember drinking my first Schlerlenka there and wondering why in the name of the beer deity anyone wanted an ashtray in their mouth*. I went back this year to that bar and now it’s chock-full of local microbrew taps.

It’s a natural progression. As patrons become more experimental with their beer choices and adapt their taste buds to more flavorful beer, that opens a path for local options. But starting those first steps into non-macro beer with a known import name is a beginning and one that is less risk for pubs. So don’t hate on the Guinness crowd, nudge them in the direction of something new. Everyone has to start somewhere.

*I’m still not a fan of rauchbiers

Belgian Beer Weekend

There are some beer festivals that every beer fan should experience once in a lifetime. I believe The Belgian Beer Weekend is one of them. It’s held the first weekend in September (Labor Day weekend for those in N. America) in the Grand Place in Brussels, Belgium.  The event is held by the Belgian Brewers guild and features beers from Belgium exclusively.  This includes traditional trappist beers (yes, you can get Westvleteren at the festival) and newer breweries like Urthel. If it’s made in Belgium, there’s a pretty good chance at least some of their beers will be available. We were lucky enough this year to visit Brussels and participate in this wonderful event.  Here’s what I remember.

Transport

Brussels is dead-easy to get to from anywhere in Western Europe.  The train station for international trains (Zuid/Midi) is a 15 minute walk or 5 minute subway ride from the festival.  Brussels also has tons of flights to/from North America. We flew in to Amsterdam from Toronto and took the Thalys high-speed train down.  First class, baby!

Lodging

The festival is held in Grand Place, which is in the center of old Brussels.  Accommodation is very easy to get, as it’s a tourist destination.  We rented an apartment a few blocks away for $90 a night on Air BnB.  Having a fridge to keep our purchased beer in and a coffee maker for those rough mornings was a very nice boon. Since the festival is on a weekend, and Brussels is very much a business town, you can also find very good deals on hotels if you’re only interested in staying for the weekend.

The Festival

The days we were there the festival was from 11-7pm. You need to buy beer tokens (bottle caps) from one of the authorized booths.  None of these booths is located inside the festival perimeter (more on that below) and the queues to purchase tokens gets long. Ludicrously long.  Go early. You also need a mug token. At each booth, you exchange your mug token for the appropriate brewery glass.  When you’re finished with that booth’s beer(s), you return said glass for the mug token.  Repeat until done drinking when you can return your mug token for the deposit.

It’s important to remember what you’re drinking and where it came from.  Later in the day, this gets harder. Trust me.

You then proceed to the festival itself*, which is a quad of tents ringed by 2 layers of waist-high fencing.  There are gates and if the festival is full, you will not get in.  Again. Go early**.  Turn in your beer tokens (usually 3-5 tokens per beer) and mug token and start enjoying Belgian beer!  There are plenty of tables spread around the festival to place your beers down, but no seats.  There are also no toilets in the festival itself.  You must go out the gate, down the street, possibly queue, and then pay 1 Euro for a fancy port-a-potty.  There are food stands at Grand Place, but again these are outside the festival itself.  Eat a hearty breakfast and bring water.

Around Brussels

The Belgian Beer Weekend is far from the only reason to go to Brussels.  For starters, the world-renowned Cantillon has their brewery 20 minutes from Grand Place. I highly recommend you take the time to visit it and go on the tour.  I’m not even a huge fan of sours, but this was excellent!

Perhaps you enjoy Delirium Tremens?  Well, the labyrinthine Delirium Village complex of bars is just a stumble from the festival and has 2,700 bottles of beer and a zillion taps including Delirium’s own brews.  Warning: you will get lost in Delirium Village if you explore the bars. Bring breadcrumbs.

The craft-focused Moeder Lambic likewise has a location close to Grand Place and a ton of good beers from around the world. It’s more laid-back than the Delirium bars and tends to an older crowd of experienced beer drinkers.  They have a comfortable patio for afternoon sipping. The servers really know their beers and can point you in the right direction.  It’s the only place I found in Brussels with truly hoppy beers on draught.

Or you can just stroll the streets of Brussels and pop into a cafe that looks interesting.  That’s what we did many times and found ourselves in 100 year old pubs drinking excellent beers off-the-beaten-track.  You’ll be hard pressed to find any place in Belgium with a crappy selection of beer.  Also, there are a ton of good bottle shops in Brussels if you want to bring some home.  Even the grocery stores in Belgium have a selection that puts anything in Ontario’s LCBO to shame.

 

*there were 2 satellite event locations that we didn’t drink at – these offered pre-set samplers from what I saw

** we attended on Sunday and there were basically no lines, but Saturday was chaos and people were launching friends across the perimeter barriers

Toronto Beer Week!

In case you’ve been living in a cave, Friday launches the 3rd annual Toronto Beer Week.

You should go. Because…beer.

It’s hard to believe, but this will be my first year to attend.  The week usually falls on my birthday, a time when traditionally I am travelling.  This year I did  my trip early (Belgian Beer Weekend – more on that later!) and will be around to punish my liver.  There are too many events to list them all, so I’d advise consulting the webpage.

The only event I know for sure I’m attending is the Rogue Dinner on Wednesday night at Beer Bistro.

There are general plans for several other events throughout the week, but hubby is out of town on business for several days, so I’m not putting things in writing.  Follow my twitter feed to know exactly what’s going on.

Amsterdam Tempest Imperial Stout – 2011 and 2012

2011 on the left; 2012 on the right

Last weekend was the Canada Day long weekend here in The Great White North. Wherein our little village gets overrun by every bored family in Mississauga and we can scarcely get out our front door without being trampled by tourists. In lieu of actually going out in the madness, we decided to stay in and drink beer. What better way to celebrate and enjoy 5 different firework shows from our balcony while mostly avoiding the herds of strollers.

One of the tastings I’ve been wanting to do for a few weeks is the Amsterdam Tempest Imperial Stout. This is an amazingly thick and luscious Imperial Stout that we always seek out.  We managed to get bottles of both this year and last. I wanted to see how the 2011 differs from the 2012 after age and a slightly altered recipe. I was also curious if the wax was any easier to get off this year. Last year’s batch proved to be a challenge requiring sharp instruments and many expletives and left behind odd ‘spider’ looking globs of wax that the cats just loved.

We enjoyed the Tempests at just above room temperature after a few light beers to get the palate going. These were kept in a dark, somewhat cool place but not in an actual cellar.  There were four of us enjoying them and 3/4 preferred the 2011.  I preferred the 2012.  Go figure. We all agreed that both were damn tasty and we’d reach for either of them if we felt like drinking a stout.

Tasting Notes!

2011

Everyone agreed that the 2011 was much, much more mellow than the recent batch.  The aroma was greatly diminished to the point where I had trouble picking up the candy sugar and roast much.  The appearance was like motor oil.  Completely black with a thin brown head.  The taste was a smooth and slightly roasty.  There was little-to-no heat from the alcohol (2011 was 9%) and not much sweetness left from what I remember having the beer ‘fresh’.  A very enjoyable beer and quite easy to drink for a heavy hitter.

2012

The aroma on the 2012 is what won me over. Just tons and tons of molasses and roast.  I loved smelling this beer.  The appearance was very similar to the 2011, but with slightly more carbonation.  Taste was stronger and brighter.  The roasted coffee flavors were more vibrant, but so was the sweetness.  You definitely could feel you were drinking a big beer (10%).  The 2012 was definitely more of a sipper than it’s earlier brother (sister?).  It is such a well executed beer.

I’m going to be curious to try the 2012 after, say, 6 months to see how it fares.  I loved the 2011, but felt it had lost some of the aroma and flavors that I love in stouts.  Admittedly, our less-than-perfect storage might play a role in that.  For those wondering, the wax still puts up a fight.