St. John's Wort Beery Musings And Amusing Beers

Monthly Archives: December 2010

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Sam Adams Utopias: A Public Service Announcement

As you’re all aware by now, Sam Adams Utopias is on its way to Toronto. It’s going to be $115 per bottle. In order to get a bottle, you have to enter a lottery held by the vintages section of the LCBO! That’s some fancy stuff. There are only 70 bottles, and you’re probably not going to get one.The truth is that I’m probably not going to get one either, but I’m ok with that since I’ve tried it before. At Mondial this year in Montreal, it was something like seven dollars an ounce.

It’s a little like bungee jumping: preposterous, expensive and the kind of thing you need to try once in order to be able to say that you did.

That said, you’re probably not going to get try it. I have come up with a way to help you feel better about that. I present to you the St.John’s Wort Expensive Liquids Equivalence Chart. The SJWELEC is the absolute cutting edge in liquid value comparison and will present you with interesting alternatives to investing $115 in a bottle Sam Adams Utopia.

Kind of Liquid Cost /ml Difficulty to Procure
Green Tea Free with sushi Sometimes difficult to get a refill if the restaurant is busy.
Krusty Partially Gelatinated Non-Dairy Gum-Based Beverages n/a Only available in Springfield. 

Suggested Pairing: Krusty Burger with cheese.

Gasoline $0.001124 More difficult for cliched movie teenagers.
2% Milk $0.002595 Are you kidding? It’s freakin’ milk!
Nitrogen $0.003000 You’ll also have to buy a Thermos.
Fiji Natural Water $0.003000 Harder than just turning on the faucet, Mr. fancypants.
Starbucks Christmas Blend $0.004000 Only available November through January
Briess Malt Extract $0.009000 Aside from finding a brewer`s supply store, not so bad.
Brass Monkey (That Funky Monkey) $0.010000 Only available in Connecticut, apparently.
MacAllan Cask Strength $0.133000 Not hard to get. Just expensive.
Sam Adams Utopias $0.153330 1.Wait until January 6th 

2. Enter a lottery officiated by LCBO employees,

3. Win golden ticket like Charlie Bucket

4. Pay $115.00 for a bottle.

Love Potion No.9 $0.510000 Only available down at 34th and Vine.
Chanel No. 5 $0.890000 Pretty easy to find, but you’re going to smell 

like you should be wearing a pantsuit.

Chateau Lafitte 1787 $213.330000 Extraordinarily difficult. Don’t even bother.

According to my calculations, for the price of a Sam Adams Utopia you can:

1. Buy 44 litres of milk and just enough liquid nitrogen to make an attempt at the Guinness record for world’s largest, blandest popsicle.

2. Buy a single half milliliter of Chateau Lafitte 1787 and party with Madame Guillotine.

3. Afford enough gas to be able to drive a 2010 Toyota Camry to Cooperstown, New York (533 km, approx ~$46), Tour the Baseball Hall of Fame ($19.50), Visit the Ommegang brewery for some free samples of beers that are probably better than the Sam Adams Utopias at no charge and then drive back to Toronto (another 46 bucks.)

4. Buy a bunch of bottles of Fiji water for people who like that stuff and then sit around lecturing them on how they are suckers for not just buying a Brita filter while getting progressively more incoherent because you are swigging from a bottle of excellent MacAllan single malt.

5. Get your mom a bottle of her favorite perfume for Christmas and use the rest of the money to buy some sushi so that you can drink a lot of green tea.

6. Pay Matt Groening to sketch you enjoying a Krusty Partially Gelatinated Non-Dairy Gum-Based Beverage.

7. Buy 49 Venti Starbucks Christmas Blend Coffees, use the approximate 20000mg of caffeine to vibrate through the walls of the LCBO warehouse and just steal a bottle of Utopias.

8. Buy 21.5 litres of Aunt Jemima’s Butter Flavoured Syrup and have a very, very strange bath.

Feel free to comment with any suggestions that you may come up with to help the SJWELEC educate the population at large about opportunity cost.

Beer Launches and The Christmas Ramble

While there’s some question about whether this is the most wonderful time of the year (much as there is debate about April being the cruelest month; I’ll have you know August once stole my bike) it is certainly one of the busiest socially and it is for this reason that I haven’t been doing a great deal of blogging lately. Ix-nay on the og-blay. It’s like Satchel Paige says: The social ramble ain’t restful. I’ve been all over the place the last couple of weeks, attending beer events and launches and I think there may have been a jamboree in there somewhere. It could have been a hootenanny. My memory of it is slightly hazy.

It’s for this reason that I’m going to update on a whole bunch of topics at once, to try and get them out of the way so that we can all get off the internet and have a holly jolly Christmas and a great deal of Turkey. Unless you’re opening presents via skype, I’m told that taking your netbook with you to the tree is bad form exemplified. You might start a flamewar if you get socks from Great Aunt Gladys.

Let’s do this thing.

GREAT LAKES/ST.JOHN’S WORT LAZARUS BREAKFAST STOUT

This got launched at Project Xmas down at Great Lakes on December 10th. The cask version did extremely well and it ran out in what I think was just slightly over two hours. I have got to tell you that all of the whacking stuff with a mallet that my junior sergeant-general correspondent royale did really paid off. We were all worried about having used so much Ancho Chili in the recipe, but it just sort of lingers a little at the back of the palate. The coffee flavour really came through up front and in the bottled version there’s a nice cocoa note right in the middle.

There were some bottles for sale, but there weren’t many of them, so they were gone within 48 hours. Mike Lackey, Great Lakes beer guru and guy who’s crazy enough to let me try brewing stuff, says we’re going to take another run at it, so you can expect to see that back on the shelves in the next couple of months. It may even make it out of the brewery in cask form. Look out, beer nerds!

It used to be that when I’d see Mike out at the pub, he would be standing in the corner with a pint of whatever it was that he brewed and he wouldn’t be saying a whole lot. I used to think he was just taciturn, but now I realize that he was thinking about what had gone into the recipe and made that beer what it was. I experienced the same thing at the Great Lakes launch. There was about 20 minutes of relative silence and instropective blinking and stammering and pride. My recipe did better than it had any right to, and I’m going to credit that mostly to Mike Lackey. Thanks, man!

ST. JOHN’S WORT CHRISTMAS ALE

I finally got to try this beer on December 17th and we’re currently in the process of getting it to all of the people who helped brew it. As you may recall, Chris Schryer, Matt Caldwell and Andrew Bartle helped to actually brew the thing, although I came up with the recipe. While we were all extraordinarily manly and competent and not at all confused or worried looking, Andrew Bartle was pretty much the lynchpin that prevented us from scalding ourselves with boiling wort. Credit where it’s due: Because of Bartle none of us have third degree burns in unpleasant areas.

As you’ll recall, it’s sort of a Winter Warmer/IPA. Promash is telling me that it’s supposed to weigh in at about 77 IBU, but that bitterness really only comes through on the tail of the thing. Up front it’s mostly cinnamon and there’s a touch of molasses, which is just the sort of thing that you want at this time of year. I stopped in briefly at the Amsterdam brewery where it has been fermenting and we opened a couple of bottles for sampling purposes. Again, better than it has any right to be and you’ll be pleased to know that even after fermentation is seems to have retained its aroma and ability to waft female people along like a cartoon pie on a windowsill.

PUSHING MY LUCK

My last three beers have done great! The IPA was third best in the Toronto Beer Week Competition. The Christmas Ale is better than it has any right to be. The Lazarus Breakfast Stout is apparently not just going to be a one off; it’s actually going to be produced again with a few small tweaks.

Where do I go from here, you may ask? I’m still convinced of the worth of gambling big. Maybe the next one will be a hoppy American Style Old Ale. Maybe it’ll be a Biere de Garde or Saison with indigenous North American fruit. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll attempt to answer the question “Why the heck aren’t people doing any really big lagers with American style hops?” Only time will tell.

All I know is that there’s a heck of a lot of actual research going on and not a great deal of writing, which is slightly worrying since I know just enough about the subjects I’m researching to screw up incredibly badly when it comes to execution.

A  WORD ON LAUNCHES IN GENERAL

My Lazarus Breakfast Stout wasn’t the only one that launched last week. Fuller’s Bengal Lancer hit town in a relatively spectacular way at the Monk’s Table and Chris Schryer and I spent rather a lot of time at the launch. The Bengal Lancer is very tasty if you like an English style beer. It’s somewhere between a Bitter and an IPA. It’s got some earthy and coppery notes and a smooth mouthfeel and reminds me very much of beers that purported to be IPAs in Ontario just over a decade ago. It really is rather good.

You should go to the Monk’s Table, but I’m not sure the Bengal Lancer is the reason you should do that. Let me tell you about Lester. Lester is the Guatemalan ubermensch behind the kitchen over there. Everything is made from scratch, all the time. The Artichoke dip actually has bits in it that are recognizable as Artichoke. The Buffalo Shrimp have actually been freshly breaded. The Baked Wings manage to retain their texture and have just the right amount of heat. The Apple Cobbler is maybe the best Apple Cobbler I’ve ever tasted and I usually hate dessert.

Adam Grant, the owner, is doing some really good things with beer. He’s bringing in rare bottles and interesting things on tap, but the thing that convinced me that the Monk’s Table is a destination is that they do exactly what people claim to want to do: quality food. You’ll notice I leave out “pub” there. I think that’s a qualifying adjective that causes people to lower their expectations. In this case the menu fits the concept and it works spectacularly without any qualifiers.

FINALLY

The Canadian Food Blog Awards are up and still running their nominations today and tomorrow. Now far be it from me to attempt to wheedle nominations out of my readership, but I’ll just remind you that it’s Christmas and you haven’t gotten me anything.

Wink-wink. Nudge-nudge. Say no more.

Trafalgar Ales And Meads

There seems to exist amongst beer writers a sort of unspoken gentleman’s agreement not to excessively disparage the efforts of a craft brewery. It results in a certain amount of imbalance in reporting. Craft good; Macro bad. Small good; Large bad. There’s also a fairly heavy bias against value brands, because of the socioeconomic realities and stereotypes of their consumer base. It’s always easy to score a few cheap points off of, for instance, Lakeport:

–          Yo Mama so poor she drinks Lakeport. We are becoming concerned about her welfare. Maybe if she had chosen a more skilled financial planner, things would not have come to this sad state of affairs.

See? Easy! Plus, if you don’t have a “Yo Mama” joke ready to go, you can google one without much effort. The thing is that while we can easily disparage something like Lakeport for not living up to our discerning palates, they do exactly what they set out to do: They create an affordable product for people who are interested in beer as a commodity. There’s an incredibly small amount of variation from batch to batch. They do the same thing over and over and over again but they do it very well, comparatively speaking.

It’s a facet of the industry that I don’t completely understand.

For instance: Why do reviewers seem to give Craft Brewers a pass if their product is substandard? There’s a Western Ontario brewery whose beer sometimes end up laden with a diacetyl-y butterscotch flavour which is almost certainly unintentional, given that the style claims to be an IPA. Last year, I saw fill lines vary by nearly an inch on one Ottawa brewery’s Imperial Stout; this is a worrying sight when the bottles are all lined up on the same shelf. I’m willing to shrug these examples off and assume that they’re one-time problems which have since been fixed. I’m also not going to name them since I like to restrict the potential for getting sued for libel to one brewery per post.

There is one brewery in particular which doesn’t really get talked about very much by writers and reviewers, but which has managed to develop an almost entirely negative set of criticism online. You guessed it: Trafalgar.

Now it’s not really in my nature to kick people when they’re down, but the negative criticism is so overwhelming that I began to wonder about Trafalgar. I’m a statistics wonk, so I looked at Ratebeer; it paints a woeful picture. There are nearly fifty entries under their brewery. There are three that have done passably well: Hop Nouveau (58 overall, 82 on style), Winter Warmer (65 overall, 52 on style) and Dark Wheat (38 overall, 71 on style). I’m giving the Elora Grand Lager a pass since Ratebeer is notoriously hard on lagers and it scored in the 83rd percentile on style.

Of the remaining entries, none have done what you’d call well on either individual or stylistic bases. Some of the less well received examples of Trafalgar’s wares (and I am hereby restricting myself to those beers which were widely available through the LCBO) are the Maple Bock (4 overall, 1 on style) the Smoked Oatmeal Stout (19 overall, 3 on style) and Critical Mass (25 overall, 0 on style). Critical Mass was part of their VERY STRONG BEERS series. It’s a Double/Imperial IPA. There’s a lot of competition in that style, but to have done so poorly as to be rendered statistically negligible takes a certain amount of doing.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to let a lot of internet nerds tell me what to think. I went to the LCBO and got me some Trafalgar products. Both of the ones that were available: The Bock and the Smoked Oatmeal Stout. I wanted to give them a fair shake, because the LCBO deems their products worthy of continued inclusion in seasonal releases and I think we can all agree that the government knows what they’re doing. The Smoked Oatmeal Stout has been out for a while, so I made sure to check the best before date (good for another month). I made notes on each of them, which I share with you here.

Bock: Has some of the malt richness and caramel flavour that I expect from the style. There seems to be a disconnect somewhere between the nose which makes sense given the style and the body, which reminds me of one of my earliest batches of homebrew. Impression possibly clouded because the last Bock I tried was the Troegenator Double Bock, which I think might highlight the disparity. I think if it were really very cold indeed, it might have been better.

Smoked Oatmeal Stout: Nose is reminiscent not so much of a stout as an American Porter. There’s a sweet, honeyed quality to the nose but nothing much in the way of smoke. Body is thin. To me, the idea of an Oatmeal Stout means that there’s some thickness to the body; practically chewy. The smoke is on the tail of the palate after the swallow. It leaves an unpleasant film on the entire palate. I not only poured out the sample after four sips, but brushed my teeth immediately after.

Now, I’ve tried other beers that they make. I tried the Bert Well Pale Ale at Volo’s Cask Days this year. It had a leafy green sourness to it that I didn’t find appealing. I think that may be a result of the fresh hops that were apparently used, or possibly because they don’t do cask very frequently. I have also tried all of the beers in the VERY STRONG BEER series (When they were fresh). My recollection of them is that they were incredibly boozy and that I was glad they came in small bottles. I tried some of the Elora Special Bitter last Thursday as part of OCB Discovery Pack 7. I’m trying to convey to you that I have some context here.

It has been pointed out to me by a qualified BJCP that Trafalgar beers are actually very tasty when consumed straight from the tap; when they are quite fresh. That’s certainly worth noting, but the problem is that I don’t recall seeing a Trafalgar product on tap in Toronto in the last three years. Maybe I’m hanging out at the wrong places, but it seems to me that their business model is based nearly entirely around bottles. The bottled beers don’t seem to be taking the world by storm. In point of fact, they have garnered what borders on infamy in online circles.

It worries me. Legitimately. I don’t know the brewers and I have nothing against them personally. I don’t mean to be hurtful. But you see, this is a business that people base their livelihoods on. I can’t imagine that they produce much in the way of volume, but the brewers and staff have their lives tied up in this thing. If the reviews are this overwhelmingly negative, maybe they don’t get into a seasonal LCBO lineup. Maybe they don’t get into a couple. For a small brewery, that’s potentially the difference between viability and bankruptcy.

At what point do you have to start listening to your critics and attempt to improve your standing? What steps can they take? Bring in a new brewer? Change their recipes? Improve their processes?

Is it possible that they are unaware of their reputation? Maybe the lack of accurate reviews from legitimate sources is the problem. Maybe they’ve been given a pass for so long that they don’t know where they stand. I don’t know.

I do know that if I were them, I’d be worried.

Shameless Plug for CASK!

Hey!, You know what you should do today? You should use the CASK! Social as an excuse to get out of the house and away from your loved ones so that you can do some Christmas shopping. They’ll be thinking “Sure, he’s going to spend all day at the pub.” You, on the other hand, will only spend a few hours at the pub and the rest of the time shopping for Christmas presents. This month it’s at the Victory, and in Mirvish Village you can find something for everyone. Just picture the looks on the faces of your loved ones when they open that new book that you’re pretty sure they’ll let you read after they’re done with it and that you’ve only managed to spill a small amount of Oatmeal Stout on. They’ll be ecstatic that you remembered to wrap it.

Take a couple hours and get out there to shop and then go to the victory and have a pint. After all, it’s the last time you’ll get to see CASK! folks this year and shopping is thirsty work. Besides, pints are only $5.00.  You’re not going to break the bank, even if your misguided attempts at shopping saw you spend several hundred dollars at Sonic Boom purchasing new vinyl pressings of Buzzcocks albums.

It takes place this afternoon:  Saturday December 4th 2010 from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm at the Victory Cafe, 581 Markham St., Toronto.

It looks like it’s going to be F&M beers and one Cheshire Valley pin. George Eagleson will be there! You may confuse him with Santa, but try not to sit on his lap.

CASK! : Giving you an excuse to go Christmas shopping in peace and quiet.