BeerBistro! after all the people go to bed.
I had a great time Friday night. It was fun to meet the Southern Tier guys as well as the very dapper Liliana and Vlado, those great folk behind hosts Roland + Russell (who, by the way, I am starting to think were either two dusty Victorian-era sherry broker gents were secretly offed by L/V on their way up the drinks trade...or are the names of their dogs) but the real fun was being unexpectedly surprised. Greg Clow was kind enough to tell me that by times I am too cranky and - you know what - he's right. I claim to have an excuse, however, as by times I feel like one of those 19th century astronomers trying to figure out the layout of the canals on Mars. I sort of live in a bubble placed some distance from our beery subject matter. I don't get to these beer dinners, I don't have access to a swath of great pubs, can't just pop out to anywhere for a Rochefort of any degree, my nearest craft brewers are two hours drive away and until Friday I had only met one other person into beer writing face to face. I organize family trips around beer hunting and get sleepy around ten pm, too, so closing down BeerBistro was not what I had expected.
As a result, I build up some presumptions. One was that the beer dinner idea was going to be a bit stiff. You have to understand that I am a BBQ in the back yard in frayed hiking shorts kind of guy. When I walked into the Academy of Spherical Arts in jeans and a ball cap - albeit a lovely Adirondack Brewpub one - and saw folk in Toronto casual (aka eastern Ontario dress-up) I was worried. I couldn't have been more wrong. The table guests from Southern Tier, The Toronto Star, the LCBO beer and marketing groups and R+R made for great company. And the food and beer matching thing was not as
lame uninteresting as I feared. I don't think I will get too much into obsessing over pairings - as I prefer beer as ingredient than a match - but it was really interesting to see how the chocolate dessert reacted with a raspberry wheat altered the beer drastically, removing the grassiness, highlighting the fruit and making for a palate cleanser. The third course, a variation of what I know as Cambodian "Western Style" yam and chicken curry (my education gleaned from Kingston's excellent Cambodian joints) was also just dandy with the heat of the ST IPA.
The wall o'whisky and whisky's friends at The Academy
In the end, the food and beer was just a side show to the gathering over beer. It was really about meeting Troy finally and speaking a bit about his plans for his beer writing whether at his blog or TAPS, the recently revived Canadian beer magazine - that's him taking a photo of Phin DeMink and Paul Cain; putting a face to the name of Cass, the founder of Bar Towel as well as contributors like Harry; speaking with Sheryl Kirby, partner of Greg over at Taste T.O; talking to Josh in the end for hours about the economic tensions that are affecting where craft brewing is going; reusing my old jokes like the time the grade one teacher asked what Daddy did and was told "my Daddy takes pictures of beer!"
The next day I stopped by Church-Key again, making the 50 km detour to Campbellford to pick up some fine local ales. The day was sunny and warm and, because it was Saturday, there were more cars in the parking lot than I had seen before. People were sitting on the porch drinking samples just enjoying John's beer. The shop was busy. I grabbed a six each of Northumberland Ale and West Coast IPA and drove on home.
The neatly manicured hand is Josh Rubin's. After the very successful Southern Tier dinner on Friday night, he snabbed Phin DeMink, Southern Tier's brewer Paul Cain
(aka "Paul whose business card I misplaced") and me taking us on a taxi ride to BeerBistro! where we popped tops until we closed the place down. After I earned the nickname butter blogger boy for my lack of distress for those bottles found to have high diacetyl levels, the final beer to be shared was Lost Abbey's Angels Share. It was quite lovely and we had a reasonably (or perhaps just almost) contemplative discussion on value and style categorization as we sipped its bourbon oaked vanilla, cherry, dark plum and cocoa goodness. We couldn't come to agreement on the first point but did agree that it really didn't fall into the barley wine slot given its lack of pale malt focus and absence of the sort of hops you see in the US take on the style.
What was good was how it triggered communal consumption as we were joined by another beer hound, an aspiring brewer whose name I am sorry to say I missed (given the, errr, late hour) but who reads the blog so may be able to remind me. What I found most interesting was how it was not massively heated, overloaded with hops or particularly spiced and it lacked any tang. These were the sorts of things I had decided are hallmarks of extreme brewing. What it did have was discretion: this LCBO labbed 12.9% brew (even given the, errr, late hour) was as subtle a walloping brute as ever I've had. Given that, I was struck by perhaps its extreme prudence or even humility in how it made us slow down and notice it. BAers have gone gaa-gaa.
Andy has another good post up this week about the sorts of ethical standards of journalism as (what I would argue) befits that particular corner (but not the other corners) of what I consider collectively to be "beer writing." I won't copy his bit (as you can follow the link above) but I did want to post my (sad putative attempt of a) comment from earlier, rejected (utterly) due to my (undeniable) need to include a link at the end of it was not acceptable to Andy's (normally quite unmoderated) comment leaving system:
I think this is an example of where I think we are missing the idea of sliding scales (as opposed to slippery slopes).See, I was being cheeky...yet on point if you notice who is in that photo. So now you can be cheeky about me if you like in return as I am now off on a glorious half-day vacation to drive the 401 to Toronto to enjoy the benefit of a comp tickie to a dinner just as I myself have been the conduit whereby others have received comps this same weekend.- First, I assume all beer writing is tempered or effected by the beer itself. We like it. It makes us write about the pleasures of its consumption and the related pleasures of learning about its production and producers.I will reiterate this. I think this discussion is extremely valuable. It can only be advanced through illustration of actual work not as a "gothca!" but as an honest exploration so that I will know what these sort of photos actually mean.
- Second, I also assume that the conviviality and generosity of beer and beer folk must overlap into the description of any beer experience. This may include the free dinner I am getting tonight care of Southern Tier and its importer and the odd brewer tour whether at the level of me showing up in the mini-van at Jolly Pumpkin and getting an hour of Ron's time as well as Lew going to see the hop fields. Beer and brewers are generous to those that love the product and production. That is also part of the joy of beer, the fifth voice in the quartette as it were. [In undergrad we even spoke of "beer money" - money borrowed to buy beer should only be repaid if the first lender later needed beer himself.]
- Third, I don't think integrity is automatically compromised by the presence of either the intoxication or conviviality of beer, brewing and brewers. We have to remember that all beer writers have an entre into the world of beer and that is the the mutual benefit of the writer, the brewer as well as the reader/consumer. Michael Jackson's reference to his mere access to Girardin or his familiarity and friendships with monkish brewers (things I will never experience, I am sure) were of more benefit to him and created value in the strengthening of his reputation as a free airflight.
- Fourth, I think any code of conduct must take the points above to heart and adapt them to the various levels of beer writing which, at one apex of the craft, may include that sort of sterile business reporting I likely have litle use for (and which we often learn is actually absent from much general business journalism).
There's a bunch of things going on out there as I get ready to leave Easlakia and head west to the Big Smoke for the Southern Tier dinner Greg is talking about today. I am bringing a long a pal I first had a beer with in 1981 and will be interested to hear his take on all this craft beer stuff.
- The Beer Philosopher is asking whether he is a beer writer and, given he posts over 1700 good words on the subject, I'd say he is.
- Boak and Bailey celebrate their first blogoversary! Tomorrow is my fifth anniversary - one reason I am celebrating - of the blog out of which this one was born; the All In The Family to this my version of The Jeffersons.
- I was really surprised by the article this week by Joe Sixpack about the lack refillable bottles in the US as up here in Canada I have only known through my whole life a world in which most beer and certainly the vast majority of domestic beer comes in refillable and largely standardized bottle, starting with the delightful stubbie one of the great Canadian icons along with, you know, the canoe and, frankly, most of American TV and movie comedy.
- I love the obvious characterization in David's post of "factory beer". That is what it is, of course. Way better than saying "macro-" anything. Hmmm...and it reminds me of the old ladies at church when I was a kid dissing "store bought bread"...even that odd one who used to say "milk or cow's milk?" when you were getting your tea. Milk, of course, came in a can to her.
- Knut notes a nice bit on beer on the wood by Greg Kitsock in the Washington Post - though I am shocked by the waste of the "one and done" policy described. Wouldn't a more sustainable brewer create a number beers to work through the cask successively as its character changes?
I have no real complaint over the 12,474,832 awards that are handed out for beers every year. I have never paid any attention to these things when making beer selection decisions - though, to be fair, when a label mentions a claim to one of them I think of it as red flag worthy of further investigation. "Antwerp 1931" only makes me wonder what the hell they've been doing for the last 76 years?!?!
But that is nowhere near as fun as this one, the beer that won the its own beer-style award:
Hoegaarden, the Original Belgian White Beer, was awarded its fourth consecutive World Beer Cup Gold Medal in the Belgian-Style White (or Wit)/Belgian-Style Wheat category at the 2008 Brewers Association World Beer Cup competition held recently in San Diego, Calif.Don't get me wrong - I am quite happy to have a Hoegaarden any time it is stinking hot. And I love most of its descendants the wittes and whites - except maybe for that one from Brouwerij Sint-Jozef...four years have not been enough to drive the furniture polish taste out of my memory. But, as mentioned and half of you will know, this is like awarding Adam the Annual First Guy Award. Hoegaarden is the defining standard and originator of the Belgian-Style White (or Wit)/Belgian-Style Wheat (aka 16A) which, oddly enough, comes from the place called Hoegaarden. It's actually quite Hoegaarden-esque and, if Unger is to be believed, is one last legacy of the proud independent principality (or whatever) of Hoegaarden which lived as itself quite happily since the middle ages and subsisting on something they called "beer" that we call Hoegaarden.
So well done, Hoegaarden. You are the very essence of yourself.
...you know if you really have to. Because I will be attending a food and beer event being held at Toronto's The Academy of Spherical Arts in honour of Roland + Russell bringing Southern Tier IPA to Ontario. There is more information here and here. Events start at six but if you are the bailiff, they really start at nine. I don't get out much so if you want to get a sense of how much better I am in writing than in person, get yourself down there.
And what's that photo got to do with it? Well, I took it after enjoying supper with a gang in Ithaca where we enjoyed a few pitchers of "STIPA" back in 2006 at The Nines in Collegetown, Ithaca. It was so hot that evening - pushing 100F - that I was reminded of a group of ladies from the deep south who I once heard commenting on the weather. I could not decide if they were saying it was hotter than home or ham - ham was clearly better. After that evening, it was abundantly obvious that STIPA is a fine brew when it is hotter than ham.
This really should be labeled as "book review, part one" given I have not hit the half way point in this book, published just this year. But as I have complained long and hard about the absence of a comprehensive US brewing history, I am driven to tap and type, to type and tap. In a nutshell, this book gives me a significant degree more confidence that I am getting a fuller picture than either Smith's 1999 Beer in America: The Early Years and Ogle's Ambitious Brew from 2006. Not so strange when you consider the simple fact that Smith stopped at 1840 while Ogle starts about there leaving only a few gaps along the way to the craft beer movement. Neither as as comprehensive as Canada's pan-alcohol 2003 history by Heron entitled Booze: A Distilled History.
But I am still not yet sure that Mittelman achieves the level of Heron's completeness given where I am in my reading but at the same time I have some hope. The book has, for example, footnotes for just about each paragraph that indicate some good primary research has been done as well as reliance on a number of secondary sources. And that research is well laid out. There is clearly a focus on the role of taxation due perhaps in part by the ease of access to public records as well as Mittelman's past work in the area. I like the fact that she deviates from Ogle's claims as to the independent immigrant will of specific personalities as a key factor in brewing history with some reasonable description of how German immigrants banded together in the 1860s to assist the newly created Federal tax department in creating a policy structure that went a long way to create a continuing regulatory environment sympathetic to their business needs. Which is right? Probably a bit of both and a measure of something else as well.
Maybe it's wrong for me to want a unified theory or at least a single history on the topic. The three recent works do relatively well together in presenting their visions of American brewing. Mittelman keeps a blog which is interesting but needs more readers to spark it up a bit - and maybe for reasons other than the unfortunate matter Andy mentioned the other day. I will keep reading and maybe follow up with more thoughts as they pop into my head.
I have fallen into a habit of posting every day. I don't know when that started but I didn't so much not post yesterday on purpose as I had other things to do: driving guests around showing the town, organizing meat procurements, soaking ribs in Church-Key West Coast IPA, smoking and grilling, napping, watching the Red Sox. It was a big day. We had some dandy brews along the way like Allagash White (note: good and tasty); Barley Days Brewery's Harvest Gold Pale Ale (note: good and tasty in a different way - but nicely a little like Magic Hat #9, fruity malt; the guest hated the grassy taste that never left his mouth saying "it was no Miller Highlife!!"), Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabaza (note: good and tasty in another different way - my favorite beer with a New York Strip Steak; guest said "hey that is complex but I would never drink it"), Smuttynose Hanami (note: weirdly twangy, beer for extended periods of lettuce eating perhaps), De Dolle Ara Bier (note: good and tasty, like an orange laced with Flemish Red and a bit of a dubble...weird label), Michigan Brewing Peninsula Porter (note: good and tasty, licorice and coffee), Ichtegem's Grand Cru (note: good and tasty balsamic vinegary goodness without being ear rattling).
The key findings of the day were (#1) that beer is often good and tasty, (#2) much of it does not taste like Miller High Life and (#3) the fear of having too much meat over coals is always a misplaced fear. And the Sox won. And, oh yeah - teaching your kid to make shrimp kabobs on that George Foreman grill you got six years ago but never took out of the box is a good thing.
Jay was kind enough to post about my birthday today - especially after I let him know! Thanks for all your wishes and rest assured craft beer is paying a dignified and important role in the day. Best of all I suspect in about an hour a pal and a case of Allagash may come though the door to share over the last three innings of the Red Sox game.
He posted a few photos including my favorite of myself - me wedged between two of the pillars at Stonehenge circa 1970 when you could get right to the site of the inspiration for one of the better segments of Spinal Tap. Don't I exude my future potential in this image?
Happy My 45th Birthday to you and yours!