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Monthly Archives: October 2010

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Cask Days 2010 – IT BEGINS!

It’s the end of October, and while for your average pub-goer it’s an excuse to scrape together a last minute costume (“I’m a psychopath. We look just like everybody else.”) for beer nerds it can mean only one thing: Bar Volo’s Cask Days.

This is going to be sixth annual Cask Days, and I feel like this is as good an opportunity as any to talk a little bit about the history of the thing.

It started out fairly innocuously: A relatively small number of casks on Volo’s Yonge street patio. Over the years it has snowballed. Two years ago, it was a weekend long festival and they had something like fifty casks and I recall one of the highlights being a jury-rigged Randall made out of a cafetiere. Last year they had “Cask Week” which featured a selection of English style cask beer during the week, before launching into the main event. People camped out. I know of at least one Liverpudlian who managed to attend nearly every one of the eight sessions. People making decisions like “I know. I’ll drink a whole pint of Peche Mortel. Well, when am I ever going to get this chance again?” and then promptly falling asleep on their feet.

This year it has expanded even further. It was “CASK MONTH” and a steady stream of Moranas have been pouring cask across the province from Van Kleek Hill to Cambridge. This included the decision to pour English style cask all throughout the week prior to the main event. Cask Days is now mobile. If my projections are correct, next year, even if you live in Moosonee, you’re probably still going to be able to enjoy cask beers thanks to the efforts of Ralph Morana.

So come on down to Crazy Ralph's House of Cask!

I worry about Ralph’s mental state sometimes. He takes a huge amount of pride in his pub, as well he should. It’s a fine place to enjoy a couple of beers. It’s just that as CASK MONTH has progressed, I have noticed a thousand yard stare developing and I wonder whether he has an ulterior motive. He has had sleepless nights putting this together and I begin to suspect this is all part of a larger plan to annex Scarborough and rename it The Independent Republic of Caskylvania. At the very least, there’s the possibility that he might start using casks as a weapon a la Donkey Kong. All I’m saying is that if this trend goes unchecked we may discover that the Mayan 2012 prediction actually references the beginning of CASK MILLENIUM.

I kid.

The main benefit of Cask Days to your average beer nerd is that there are always things that you’ve never tried before. It’s also a good opportunity to re-evaluate breweries that you may have discounted in the past. Every brewer and their dog creates new and interesting beers for the general public to try. It’s a good indicator of which breweries are paying attention. Some of the established ones will release special dry-hopped versions of their staples. Some breweries that you have long since discounted as being uninteresting will attempt to change your mind. Generally, the people who have innovated continue to do so with potentially devastating results. Also, this will be the first year where Volo’s house cask is on offer. You don’t want to miss out on this.


1) The event is traditionally cash only. Bring money. Lots of money. Sample tickets are usually ten for twenty bucks and the regular casks are usually about two tickets for a half pint.

2) The premium casks imported from Quebec might be four tickets for a half pint.

3) Yes, that’s expensive. You know what, though? It’s worth it. Think of the effort that goes into this thing. Do you want to try getting a cask of Hopfenstark beer through the LCBO? No? Then shut up about it already.


The best part about Cask Days is wandering around and trying stuff that looks interesting. Sure,you may regret ordering the “Jack and Coke” ale or the “Peanut Butter and Jelly” ale, but this is not a time for planning meticulously. If you don’t like it, you can pour it out and move on. They have conveniently located potted plants for just such an emergency (also rinse stations).

I won’t tell you what you should try. It removes the fun from it entirely.

I will, however, tell you what I’m looking forward to:

–          Amsterdam CJM Royal Brown Ale. They’ve been going through some changes over at Amsterdam, and they’re now doing interesting things. This will be a chance to see whether it’s paying off.

–          Dry Hopped Trois Mousquetaires Baltic Porter. Best Baltic Porter in Canada. Now with extra hops!

–          Great Lakes Triple IPA! Maybe! I talked to Mike Lackey about it the other day. He’s conscientious enough to send something else if it’s not up to his exacting standards.

–          Trafalgar Bert Well Pale Ale will be the absolute last chance I’m ever going to give Trafalgar and if it isn’t any good I am going to rain down fire and brimstone upon them with such intensity that it will raise the temperature of the blogosphere by several dozen degrees. They are already on double secret probation for Korruptor and I for one have very little difficulty seeing the benefit of hastening along Ontario beer Darwinism.

–          Stuff from Quebec! Cuda! Pionniere! Greg!

This is going to be an interesting couple of days.

Beer – For Liberalism

It’s October, and you know what that means: Somewhere, someone is kissing hands and shaking babies. Across North America, people are on the campaign trail trying to get elected. As if I needed proof of this, I have messages on my cell phone from potential mayoral candidates who think nothing of eating up my precious minutes with their hyperbolic claims and accusations. Rob Ford, Josh Matlow, and a number of other political candidates want my vote. They want it so badly that they are willing to completely alienate me in order to promote themselves. My vote will go to whichever candidate has the good taste not to get in my face. Probably Smitherman.

But it’s not just in Toronto. While Rob Ford may be a fat, flatulent, racist, red-faced goon, he has at least demonstrated some competence in the past. There are candidates in the United States that are completely insane. Christine O’Donnell of Delaware springs to mind. She’s an ex-wiccan born again nutjob whose platform seems to openly indicate that she’s against masturbation, which seems counterintuitive given her involvement in American politics. The left also has its share of whackadoos. I refer you to the Rent Is 2 Damn High party’s candidate for New York Governor, Jimmy McMillan, who looks a little like a cross between Hulk Hogan and Isaac Hayes.

For all that the people involved in the process bear watching closely for signs of potential sanity, I am going to get out my soapbox here and suggest that Liberalism is important. There are scads of reasons that I can give you: Universal Healthcare. Environmental Impact. Reasoned Debate. Immigration Policy. The slow death of the middle class. The necessity of solid, sober non-xenophobic policy in a time when the role of America in the world is forced to change by the inevitability of globalization.

But I’m going to give you a reason that no one talks about: Beer.

I’m going to provide you with a link to Wikipedia’s breakdown of Red States and Blue States in the 2008 presidential election, and I want you to take a look at it for a couple of minutes and figure out whether you can see where I’m going with this.

For some reason that I don’t fully understand, there seems to be a correlation between number of microbreweries in a state and the propensity of that state to lean to the left politically. Look at the list of Blue States:

It’s clear to me that the best of the American microbrew scene is located squarely in blue states. And they’re not all “flyovers,” either. Colorado swung blue in 2008 and they’ve got a heck of a microbrewing scene there. Now here’s a mental exercise for you. I’m going to provide you with a list of the most Republican leaning states from 2008 and you see if you can name a single microbrewery for each of them.

I’m amazed if you can do it without google. I certainly couldn’t and I actually research this stuff.

I don’t believe for a second that this is a cause and effect scenario. The microbreweries have not caused this situation. It’s pretty clear to me that the reasons the famous American microbreweries are in blue states are manifold: Mostly they were settled by people from brewing cultures. The laws about alcohol have always been more lenient. There’s a higher per capita income which results in more interest in premium products. There are more university graduates, so potentially people are more willing to experiment with different tastes.

It’s a ridiculous assertion that drinking good beer will cause liberalism. It’s more likely that liberalism causes educational funding, which allows universities to exist, which causes a certain amount of wealth and sophistication within the population, which allows microbreweries to exist. It’s a lengthy process towards improvement, especially when you can probably just import stuff across state lines.

I guess what I’m saying is that if you like good beer, you should probably continue to vote Democrat in this mid-term election. Even if I’m wrong, you’re going to get universal healthcare out of it. If I’m right, maybe a double IPA.

I will leave you with this thought:

William Jefferson Clinton – Had UBU Ale from the Lake Placid Brewery in New York State delivered to the White House.

Barack Hussein Obama – Bet Stephen Harper a case of Yuengling that his hockey team would win at the Olympics.

George W. Bush  – O’Doul’s.

Beer – For Mourning.

Astute readers will have noticed that I have been absent from my blog for a couple of weeks. For the first week, we had Alex Nixon writing about Portland, Oregon in his inimitable fashion. We’ll be seeing more from him later this fall, as my near quintessential semi-legitimacy seems to have rubbed off on him and some west coast festivals are allowing him to attend. Who would have thought that my college roommate would be allowed out in public without an armed guard?

For the last week or so, though, I have been dealing with some personal issues. One of my best friends passed away on Monday. It’s difficult to write about because it’s so recent. It’s a loss that I feel deeply and that I will continue to feel indefinitely.

Tim Mitchell was a mountain of a man. He hailed from South Porcupine, Ontario; a fact that we ragged on him mercilessly about down the pub. (Was it named that because of the indigenous wildlife? Was there a North Porcupine? How many banjos were owned per capita? Oh, no! Look out, Ned Beatty!)

I met him through Darren Siddorn because they are both supporters of Everton FC and Sid brought Tim into the fold at Bar Volo. I didn’t actually get to know him very well until about a year ago, when it turned out that Sid was going to have to move to Edmonton for work. In the weeks leading up to Sid’s departure we would talk about how things wouldn’t be the same after that happened, and we bonded over the idea that even if it wouldn’t be the same, it would still be good.

As we talked (and got through rather a number of pints), we discovered that we enjoyed a lot of the same things and that we had a lot of similarities. We had both been intelligent kids and had gotten bored pretty easily by schoolwork. We both grew up on British comedy and sci-fi. Somewhat embarrassingly, I can reveal that we both enjoyed Firefly so much that to this day we were both watching Castle even if only for Nathan Fillion’s affable badassery. We liked Doctor Who as well. He was a Tom Baker guy, while I preferred David Tennant. I think that Tom Baker looks like Graham Chapman in a wig.

The differences didn’t end there. He worked in some capacity in middle management for HP. Personally, I think that middle management probably exists somewhere between Sisyphus and Judas Iscariot in the Dantean vision of hell, but it seemed to do well for him.

The truth of the matter is that in terms of beer drinking we were pretty similar. It wasn’t about craft beer, really. It was mostly about the pub and the stories it creates. He would tell me stories of Hong Kong businessmen and drinking too much scotch in karaoke lounges. I would tell him stories about New Brunswick and how I once saw a regular at Ducky’s in Sackville barter for drinks with handfuls of hydroponic weed out of a huge Danish butter-cookie tin.

We would laugh, mostly. I would do impressions of things I’d seen on TV and he would stand there trying not to break up. He would interact with patrons at the bar that we didn’t know, sometimes giving them fake names if they looked like they were going to be trouble and coming up with an elaborate improvised backstory which would inevitably fall apart when someone who knew him came over and addressed him by his real name. I think he once managed an entire night as Steve.

There’s a bond that laughter creates. My brother Blake is able, periodically, to make me laugh to the point where I can’t breathe: Paroxysms of laughter and oxygen deprivation that may take minutes to elapse at which point the merciless bastard will wait for me to catch my breath before adding to the joke! Sometimes I can do that to him if I get peevish and reach John Cleese-level ranting angry.

It is worth noting that Tim was one of the only other people I have met who was able to produce this effect, and in that way he was like an older brother to me.

I would usually wait until he had taken a sip of his beer before launching in with a punchline, causing whatever he was drinking to explode out of his nose. I think that the record was three in one evening, which eventually twigged him to the fact that I was doing it on purpose. He stood there red-faced, laughing and shaking his fist in mock anger while the hops burned his sinuses.

He was one of my best friends, and he was a man that anyone would have been proud to know. He behaved with honor, fortitude and compassion. He treated everyone equally. In the words of Raymond Chandler, “If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.”

I have broken up streetfights with him. I have seen him offer assistance to people on the street in passing without a moment’s consideration. I have laughed with him and cried with him. On Friday, I saw a throng of people in Volo who had come out to mourn his passing. He touched everyone he met. He must have since there were people there on Friday I had never seen before.


This is, at least ostensibly, a beer blog, so I am going to review a beer. I shared it 8 days ago with my friend Tim at the end of the night, the last time I saw him. I had my half of it out of a snifter. He, flaunting convention, drank his out of the bottle. That’s South Porcupine for you.

Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout: It is black as midnight on a moonless night. It has notes of chocolate and coffee and a certain amount of booziness on the back of the palate after the swallow. It is excellent, but it will never be as good again.

Portland, Oregon – Deschutes

I went to Deschutes a couple of times in my journey.  It was after my second dinner there that I realized I might be the wrong person for this assignment, as I had spent around $40 on beer the entire trip and $120 at Powell’s Books.

I sent him to Portland to drink beer, and I get pictures of bookstores? Points for literacy, I guess.

Deschutes is a jewel in Portland’s Pearl District.  The brewery has been around since 1988, but the Portland brewpub was only opened in 2008.  It looks new; the wood that dominates the décor gleams fresh and new.

Walking in the door, I am greeted by three hosts.  Take that, Rogue!  Unlike my previous Portland trip, I was immediately seated.  Apparently, it’s less busy at 5 pm than it is at 7:30 pm.  Still, the pub was at 85% capacity.  This is a popular place.

There are many menus, including the food menu, the beer menu (highlighting what’s on tap with their ABV, IBU, tasting profile, and some background), the specials menu, and a gluten-free menu.

The food is good, but not exceptional.  First time I was there, I had chicken wings and the Beef Dip.  Although the wings were good, the beef dip was not; the au jus was tangier than I like, the beef a little chewy and over done, and the fries uninspiring.  The second time I had the smoked pork sandwich, which was delicious.  The fries were still unimpressive.  The service was exquisite.  The servers are attentive without being overbearing, and very knowledgeable.

Deschutes offers a tasting tray of any six of their beers for $6.50.  18 oz of beer for $6.50 is a deal wherever you are, and it gives you a chance to try a variety of their offerings without getting hammered and going bankrupt.  I tried the following on a tray:

Streaking the Quad: Fruity nose with hints of citrus.  Amber color.  No head.  There was a strong fruit taste with a malt finish.  Noticeable carbonation.

Jubelale: Deep brown color and a strong malt taste.  Bitter finish.  Good weight.  An okay beer, but nothing to write home about.

Mirror Pond Pale Ale: Golden brown color.  Little head.  Slight pine nose.  Light pine flavour notes, good body.

Fresh Hop Mirror Pond Pale Ale: Made with hops that are used within hours of being culled from the field.  It had a much stronger pine nose and flavour.  Very pine-esque finish, yet still highly drinkable.

The Deschutes Brewpub

Black Butte Porter: Black as night with a good head.  Coffee and slight chocolate nose.  Coffee flavour.  Nice finish.  Strong carbonation.  The body wasn’t nearly as heavy as expected.  A nice beer, but probably not their best offering.

Inversion IPA: Dark Amber color.  Grapefruit nose.  Citrus flavour, strong acidity on tongue.  Balanced carbonation.  Very crisp.

Over my two trips, I tried an additional three beers in pint format.

Slam Dunkelweizen: Beautiful amber-brown colour with a tan head.  Clove nose with a hint of bread.  Bananas and spice upfront, moving into a bread middle and a crisp aftertaste.  Little malt, surprisingly.  A very nice Dunkel.  I can imagine myself enjoying one of these on an autumn afternoon.

Oak Aged Graveyard Stout: Black as night.  Little head.  It gives off notes of oak, coffee, and caramel.  Surprisingly bright flavour.  Begins with bitter chocolate that gives way to coffee and sweetness on the end.  Not a heavy mouthfeel.

Perhaps it is my misunderstanding, but I expect stouts to have a heavy body.  Neither this nor Rogue’s Chocolate Stout had that.  In fact, I found them surprisingly bright and almost cheery.  It’s like expecting the Biblical Grim Reaper and instead getting Gaiman’s Death.  This may be a problem with all West Coast brewers; I’ve only had one impressive West Coast Stout, the Granville Island Rogers Chocolate Stout.  The rest lack heft.  Perhaps this is understandable, given the West Coast’s focus on IPA and hoppy beers.

Black Butte XXII: Offered in snifters only, and it ran out after my first trip.  Appears black with a light brown head.  The head stays for awhile.  Hints of chocolate and coffee on the nose.  Chocolate and coffee in the taste.  Surprisingly mellow in the flavour.  Better body than the regular Black Butte Porter, with cream and weight, but still short of what I’d expect.  Very warming (hello 11% ABV!).  It’s almost like the Black Butte grown up, with the rough edges smoothed out.  A beer to relax with, not battle against.

Given the flavour profile of the Black Butte XXII, it’s entirely appropriate that I had it with my cousin.  We talked about family, responsibility, fatherhood, and other weighty subjects.  The Black Butte XXII mingled into and out of my perception as the conversation went on.  An adult beer for an adult conversation.

Deschutes is, in my mind, the paragon of a proper brew pub.  Excellent staff, great and diverse beer selection that they work hard to highlight, and a very welcoming atmosphere.  Although the food is uneven, it is still quite good, and there’s something for everyone.  I am planning a return trip sometime in the future, hopefully when The Abyss is on tap.  Perhaps that one will change my opinion of West Coast stouts.

My time in Portland forced me to re-evaluate how a city should be run.  They’ve managed to encourage most people to use public transit or ride their bikes.  There were tons of people out shopping and eating, thanks to reasonable prices not burdened by a sales tax.  They have amiable people, excellent coffee houses, and the best bookstore in the world.  If Canada ever decides to invade the US, I hope we annex Portland.

It also forced me to rethink how brewpubs work.  A thought came to me during this vacation.  All brew pubs fit on a spectrum: at one end are pubs that specialize in food and serve only common beers, and at the other end are pubs that specialize in beer with only a token amount of food.  Rogue would lean towards the former, with their good food and obfuscation of their beer.  Hair of the Dog (HotD) is almost the Platonic form of the latter.  Deschutes falls somewhere in between.  It’s an imperfect model, but one that probably represents reality fairly well.  The perfect brew pub would probably have Rogue’s food with HotD beer and Deschutes’ environment and service.

Coming home, I realized that such a place exists.  It’s called Portland.  I encourage you to visit.

Portland, Oregon – Hair Of The Dog

Hair of the Dog

The Hair of the Dog (HotD) Tasting Room is a new venue for this brewery, although how new I am unsure.  It is new enough that they haven’t updated the address on their website.  Not so new that I wasn’t able to find out that they’d moved.  It’s off the road most travelled (MLK Boulevard) and down an innocuous looking side street (SE Yamhill), in an industrial looking building.  You wouldn’t find this place unless you knew about it.  The approach gives the whole experience a slightly mystical tinge.  You’re on a pilgrimage of sorts, to the microbrew equivalent of the Lourdes.

The tasting room is a hole-in-the-wall place in the best sense of the term.  There’s a bar, a small open air kitchen, and tons of tables.  The tables are wood and the décor simple.  I found their staff to be friendly and welcoming.

The food menu is small and features regular pub style food, probably there to help soak up the alcohol (HotD beers are notoriously strong, with most of them 10%+ abv).  There are a few specialty soft drinks for the DDs amongst us.  The big draw, and focus, is on their beers; it’s clear that the tasting room is meant to be just that.

The tasting room offers an extensive back catalogue of their beers, including bottles of their first batch of Adam for $75 a pop.  I refrained, saving my powder to try a variety of their beers.

The sacrifices I make for you, dear reader, should not go unappreciated.

I ordered 3 oz tasters of five of their beers, coming to $10.  Yes, beer is incredibly inexpensive in Portland.  The glasses were clearly designed with this purpose in mind.  As I said, this tasting room is here to showcase the beer.

Greg: No head.  Golden colour.  A fresh squash nose.  Bitter.  Very sweet.  The notes say that this is made entirely from squash- no hops.  Odd little beer, but not unenjoyable.

Blue Dot: Dark, golden color.  No head.  Citrus nose.  Very bright, citrus flavour.  Clean aftertaste.  Lovely double IPA.

Fred: Muddy ochre color.  Fruit nose.  Very sweet front that gives way to a bitter, sour aftertaste.  Tastes like it earned its 10% abv.

Doggy Claws 2009: Deep, rich mahogany color.  Fruit on the nose.  Sweet, fruit flavour with a lovely malt finish.  An almost sour aftertaste.  I don’t typically enjoy barleywines, but I did enjoy this.

And, of course:

Adam: Beautiful dark brown color that’s almost black.  Gorgeous head- thick and rich looking.  It almost looks like a stout.  Leather and smoke on the nose.  Chocolate and smoke flavour, and surprisingly not bitter.  The flavour lingers in the mouth.  Heavy mouthfeel.  Dangerous, because it doesn’t taste like it is 10% abv.  Dangerous, because I now yearn for this beer.  It’s the type of beer that inspires myths and legends.  It’s probably the beer they serve in Heaven.

Overall, this is a mediocre eatery and a fantastic tasting room with friendly, knowledgeable staff.  It has limited food.  It’s not the most luxurious locale.

But you don’t go to HotD for the food (although it did smell pretty good).  You don’t go for the décor (although it was nicely laid out).  You don’t go there for a first date (unless your date is a zythophile, and then you should consider marrying her immediately).  You go to support an innovative brewer (I can’t think of another beer like Adam, nor like Greg).  You go because of its hallowed status in the beer world (there’s a reason Adam goes for exorbitant amounts in Toronto).  Most of all, you go for the beer.

Head there and drink up.

(Ed. Note: Everyone I know went to Portland this week. I’m incredibly jealous. The preceding post was, of course, written by Alex Nixon. He has recently been promoted to Senior West Coast Correspondent for the purposes of sounding semi-legitimate.)

Portland, Oregon – The Rogue Brewpub

The Rogue Distillery and Public House

Portland is renowned for their beer, and Rogue Brewery is probably the most famousof the Oregon Microbrews. Its beers can be found across the continent. Many people consider themselves to be part of the “Rogue Nation.” Founded in 1988, their creed states that:

“Rogue is a small revolution, which expresses itself throughhandcrafted Ales, Porters, Stouts, Lagers and Spirits, and this isthe way we conduct our business. The spirit of the Rogue brand, even the name, suggests doing things differently, a desire and awillingness to change the status quo.”

Walking into their bar, they certainly do things differently and fight the status quo. Most places are glad to have my custom, or at least willing to fake it for a tip. Not Rogue. I don’t think I’ve been to a place that was less enthused to take my money. Most places are eager to give me some indication of how I should present myself to them. Not Rogue. There was no host/hostess, nor a sign to indicate what I should do, nor other visual or auditory clues. I finally asked a waitress moving past if I should seat myself. She answered in the affirmative and I found a seat.

A waitress eventually took notice of me and dropped off a beer list and menu. The beerlist was an impressive book. It had a description of each beer, a list of ingredients, notes on ABV and IBU, and food pairings. Everything you need to know. Except for which beers are currently on tap.

You see, the book lists every beer that Rogue offers…ever, including their seasonal offerings (helpfully highlighted with the word “seasonal,” but not with any indication of which season they’re offered in). My hopes of trying their Russian Imperial Stout were raised and dashed when I tried to order. My waitress said no, and really didn’t elaborate on which ones were available.

It was at that point I realized that Rogue was there to try to confuse and vex me. With this in mind, I decided against probing deeper. I didn’t ask what her suggestions were. I didn’t even ask if they offered taster sizes. I picked a beer at random from their list of year round offerings, their Orange Honey Ale.

Somer Orange Honey Ale: Clear golden color with no head. Some orange in thenose. Surprising malt flavour, with underwhelming honey and little orange. Fairlywatery. More of a lager than a wheat ale. Reminds me of Molson Canadian, sans thecheap price and college bar unpretentiousness. I had maybe a 1/5 of it and put it aside.

I am Canadian, born in Ottawa, bred on the West Coast, and educated in Atlantic Canada. Let me assure you: it is not a complement when your beer reminds me of a Molson product.

I ordered their Kobe Chili and side of fries. The food was superior to the other two brewpubs. The chili had just the right amount of spice, the fries had just the right amount of crunch. Their menu had Kobe beef burgers and hot dogs (haute dogs), and other intriguing offerings (bread made with their beer, Rogue creamery cheeses, ect). Go hungry, because their servings are generous.

To replace the Honey Ale, I ordered their Northwestern Ale.

Captain Sig’s Northwestern Ale: Amber color with a grapefruit nose. Little head. An overwhelming grapefruit flavour and almost no bitterness. Well balanced mouthfeel. Mild carbonation. No burning acidity, but very bright. It was a bit sweet and sour, like a ripe pink grapefruit. A lovely India Red Ale.

I finished off my meal with their Chocolate Stout Float. Yes, an adult version of classic children’s drink.

Chocolate Stout Float: It was surprisingly good. The bitter flavour of the stout combined nicely with the sweet vanilla ice cream. Bitter cocoa is the overwhelming firstimpression that gives way to a sweet, creamy aftertaste. The carbonation of the stout dances nicely on the tongue. I get the impression that their stout is very bright and fizzy (like a lot of West Coast Stouts, sadly) and lacks body. I think this is the best way to enjoy their stout. The rich ice cream gives the stout a heft it would otherwise lack.

Rogue was a disappointing experience overall. As mentioned, the service was… er, unique. The waitress graciously struck the Honey Ale from my tab. But for most of the night she was absent. I don’t mean busy. I mean she vanished. It was impressive. I’m curious to learn if she knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.

The food was very good. I’m impressed by their use of high quality beef in standard pub fare. But if you want to excel as a brewpub, the food is a secondary consideration. Youmust highlight your beers. To do so is inexcusable in Portland, a city is known for its exquisite food carts (Tito’s Burritos!) and exceptional bistros. You can get great food on every street corner.

There are several changes I would make if I were running the pub. If they didn’t want to pay for a host (a concern I understand with a pub that’s half the size of Deschutes), perhaps there could be a “Please Seat Yourself” sign. I would organize the beer book with the on tap beers upfront. I would offer tasting sizes. I would encourage the staff to be more visible. I would, perhaps, have signs indicating where the washrooms are. In short, I would minimize the opportunities for their customers to feel stupid.

Good food, though.

The Rocky Road to Portland – Part One

Hi, Everybody!

One of the benefits of running a blog about beer is that periodically friends and acquaintances suggest that they would also like to drink beer and then write about it. In this particular case, a roommate of mine from university has chronicled his recent trip to Portland, Oregon. I’ll be posting this four part feature over the next couple of days, allowing myself a certain amount of time to recover from the near novel-length series of blog posts over the last four months.

Let’s all welcome Alex Nixon, my new Senior West Coast Correspondent:

I appreciate the opportunity to come here and talk about my trip to Portland, the Microbrew Capital of the World.  I’m not a beer expert like Jordan.  Sure, my tastebuds are trained; I’m a former Starbucks Coffee master and an amateur chef and baker.  I can discern tasting notes.  And as a former rugby player, I’ve certainly drank my share of beer.  But, in spite of this lineage, I am a beer tasting neophyte.

I first met Jordan on the night of his 20th birthday.  It was my frosh year, and I was a young 17 year old 6000 KM from home.  He had a twelve pack of Alexander Keith’s and a bottle of Wiser’s. (Ed. Note: I have since developed something like taste) The beer was quickly opened, and I made the strategic decision to skip my dorm’s initiation for a different sort of initiation.  Beer was drank and oaths were spoken.  I’m not a fan of Keith’s (it’s a lager gussied up as an IPA), but I rarely have enjoyed beer more.

Beer is affected by the glassware it’s served in, by the travel conditions that the bottles and kegs endure, the temperature of the cooler, and how it’s poured.  Should it be any surprise that its taste is affected by the environment that it is drunk in?

It is with that in mind that I will analyse the beers I drank on this trip.  I had the opportunity to drink at the Rogue, Hair of the Dog, and Deschutes brewpubs.  I drank their beer, ate their food, and enjoyed their hospitality.  Going to the Big Three gave me a glimpse into the Portland beer culture.  I experienced things that made me hopeful and endured things that were disconcerting.  I came back with an appreciation for the city and concern for the country.  Most of all, I got to try 18 beers that are very different from those in Canada.

The sign works on many levels, including six feet down.

The trip to Portland goes through Bothell, WA.  It is home to my uncle and my favourite street sign (seen in the photo).  I always stay overnight at my uncle’s house whenever I travel south.  It offers a respite and a chance to reconnect, both with my uncle and my history.  My family and I spent many, many weekends in his house when my aunt was sick.  It’s a home filled with my childhood memories, both happy and sad.

So it’s appropriate that the first beer I enjoyed on my trip was a Wells’ Banana Bread Beer.  I picked up a bottle in the local QFC for my evening refreshment, being somewhat intrigued by the beer.  Who came up with the idea for mixing banana bread and beer?  It’s certainly not something I can pick up in the staid BCLS.  I mean the brewer had to be a certified genius or authentic whacko.

My uncle was out for the evening and I was enjoying a good book.  I opened the beer and poured it into a Tom Collins glass (I know, I know, probably not the best glassware for this, but settle down).

My first analysis will be formal.  The rest of them will probably be more stylistic, as some were written on small tables, during conversations, or under a reasonable feeling of inebriation.

Wells Banana Bread Beer:

Appearance: Reddish-brown in color.  Little head that disappears almost immediately.

Aroma: Malt.  Heavy banana bread.  Just a lovely nose.

Taste: Strong banana flavour- it just fills the mouth.  The banana gives way to cloves and spices and a hint of bitterness in the end.  Overall, a very sweet taste.  Little aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: Surprisingly heavy mouthfeel- almost like a good stout.  Slight amount of carbonation.

Drinkability: I’m not sure I would have more than one of these in an evening, or more than once in a while.  But I thoroughly enjoyed this one in this moment.

I sat in the living room with this beer and my memories.  My stomach was warm and the taste of banana bread lingered in my mouth.  I closed my eyes and imagined I was nine again.

The Walk To The Ballpark

In the UK, there are entire websites devoted to the concept of the Pub Crawl, but in Canada it’s something of a lost art. I say “lost art” but the truth of the matter is that it may be a phenomenon that never properly developed. How could it? The layout of Toronto means that there are not the number of pubs within stumbling distance to make such an endeavour worthwhile. Have a look, for instance, at this London Pub Crawl: The Monopoly Board Pub Crawl. I imagine that at some point (Probably  around The Red Lion) you’d need to send the soberest remaining member of the pub crawl out to buy a monopoly board in order to determine which pubs remained and whether you’d like to mortgage Fenchurch Street Station in order to be able to pay your bar tab. The fact that it can be done at all speaks volumes about the amount of thought semi-professional English inebriates have put into the thing. It’s worth mentioning that a 26 pub crawl would need to take place over the course of approximately 12 hours, resulting in 26 half pints of beer at a rate of approximately 15 minutes per, if you factor in walking time. It’s patently impossible to complete in a single day and is the kind of thing that sensible people wouldn’t even consider attempting. It’s so completely destructive that it’s the backstory for Dave Lister on Red Dwarf.

Fortunately for Canadians considering a Pub Crawl, there’s The Walk To The Ballpark, now in its 33rd consecutive year. Nick Pashley, the elder statesman of Toronto Pub Goers and all around nifty guy, came up with the idea in 1977 and has been working for years towards getting the route exactly right. According to his book, Notes On A Beermat, The Walk developed as the result of the fact that Exhibition Stadium did not serve beer during its early days. In some puritanical frenzy, people were forced to sit through a 57-104 season in complete sobriety. For the home opener, which was played with snow on the field, brandy would have been completely apropos.

At this point in time, the crawl has outlived its association with Baseball and has taken on a life of its own, complete with notifications in the form of press releases containing route information and a not insubstantial amount of whimsy. Here are some of the FAQs from the press release, to give you an idea of the tone of the event:

What is the Walk to the Ballpark? It’s an institution. Kind of like the Terry Fox Run, but less noble. People take a day off work, go to a pack of pubs and drink beer.

Why do you do this? It seemed a good idea in 1977.

How do I meet up with you if I can’t get there at the beginning? Examine your life, for starters. What’s stopping you from turning up at 11am with the others? No ambition at all? I mean, what’s important to you?

But I have a job! That’s not a question. Look, we all have our problems. Deal with them.

Are the times quoted accurate? Oh great, a comedian. You ever tried to organize a pubcrawl? Of course they’re not accurate. Even if we get to the Rebel House, say, right at 3pm, get a pint straight into you, it’s still a helluva walk to Volo, okay? Then somebody inevitably turns up at 10 to 4, just as you’re trying to herd these people out, and orders a damn pint and gets all miffed that the rest of us are leaving. Honestly, is this the way we won WWII?

This year, the crawl schedule looks like this:

11 am: Duke of Kent, Yonge Street just north of Eglinton.

Noon: The Granite Brewery, Mount Pleasant just south of Eglinton; eat lunch.

2 pm: The Twisted Kilt, Yonge north of Davisville, formerly the Bow and Arrow

3 pm: The Rebel House, Yonge near Rosedale Subway

4 pm: Bar Volo, corner of Yonge and Dundonald

6 pm: Pay attention – new place… Duggan’s Brewery, 75 Victoria Street.

8 pm: Beerbistro, 18 King Street East, give ’em a chance to get the after-work suits out.

Later: Kilgour’s, 509 Bloor West, as is traditional among our people.

It’s a good route and it’s worth pointing out that it’s mostly downhill. That’s important on a pub crawl as any student at Dalhousie will tell you. You certainly wouldn’t want to do it the other way around if only because the hill between Rosedale and St.Clair would see that half the participants remained at the Rebel House patio for the rest of the day (not unhappily, either, as the sun is shining and the air is as crisp as their excellent kettle chips.)

Being as the next stop as of this writing is the Twisted Kilt, whose faux-Tudor façade I can see from this chair, it seems impolite not to join the group at this point for at least a half pint and a stroll down Yonge street. Feel free to come along and introduce yourself to the group. I promise that you won’t be sent to procure a boardgame, although I cannot absolutely guarantee that you won’t be asked to get a round of drinks in.

EDIT: OCTOBER 4, 2010.

I made perhaps the worst showing in the history of pub crawls, managing to get through the Twisted Kilt and a pint of Hobgoblin before a flu that I was unaware I had been fighting off made itself known outside of the Rebel House. Like most people on the pub crawl, I spent most of the next day lying down. The difference was that I was in no way hungover.