St. John's Wort Beery Musings And Amusing Beers

Monthly Archives: March 2011

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BB Barfly Bottle Opener

Last week around this time I was down at the Amsterdam Brewery for a product launch. Now, I know from having been to a number of them that launching a beer is a pretty hard thing to attract people to in Toronto. Imagine how difficult it must be to get people to turn up to a product launch for a bottle opener! Brian Becker, the guy behind the launch managed to get a pretty good turnout considering the difficulty level involved.

Basic black.

It’s a pretty cool bottle opener, as you can see. If you ever wanted to look like you should be facing down Chow Yun Fat in a drinking contest in an alley while doves fly around, then this is the product for you! It comes in a range of attractive colours and is made in Canada, which is nice.

While I can’t openly endorse a product without compromising my journalistic integrity, I feel like Brian might need some help getting the word out. For that reason I’ve recorded a radio spot to help him. Of course we’ll need sound effects in post production, but this is not a bad dry run. Could use some shattering glass and a wilhelm scream or two.

Nothing's cooler than basic black.

All The Beer In The World

Dateline – Weehauken, New Jersey

According to his blog, All The Beer In The World, Steve Hackenbush of Weehauken, NJ has today completed his quest to sample and rate all of the beers produced by mankind.

This seemingly impossible achievement marks the end of a thirteen year project for Hackenbush, aged 37.

“Well, one day back in ’98, my boy Lumpy Mike said I should get a beer while we were out at T.G.I.Friday’s. I didn’t want a beer, you know? Mudslides were more my thing. But when I got back from the bathroom, there it was,”said Hackenbush when reached for comment.

“I guess he didn’t know what he was getting in to.”

Currently, Hackenbush has amassed over 165,000 ratings on Judgebeers.com, a prominent site frequented by beer enthusiasts. According to the website, he has given all of the beers ever brewed an underwhelming average rating of 4.73/10.

“Well, you know. Some of those mass produced beers from China just suck. I mean, have you ever tried that fermented Yak’s milk  beverage from Tibet? I have. Not pleasant.”

Upon the revelation of the completion of all of the beers available on the planet, Steve’s controversial blog post “I Win At Beer” was revealed to be little more than a tirade aimed at “Lumpy” Mike Colaggio, including phrases like “Well now who’s a pussy, Lumpy Mike? That’s right! I drank the beer. I drank ALL the beer.”

Judgebeers.com forum member P1NT_D4DDY69 immediately questioned the legitimacy of Hackenbush’s accomplishment: “That’s not even possible. He must have had 40 beers a day! And how did he get them all? I can’t even track down a 2003 vintage Thomas Hardy. It completely violates the laws of physics and causality. He even has a rating for one released exclusively on tap in Oregon yesterday! I’m calling bullshit.”

“Some of those beers are pretty high in alcohol. By all rights he should be dead,” opined visibly repulsed nutritionist Debbie Wilcox. “A Healthy diet is all about moderation, and I’ve never seen anything like this. Sure, some of those beers are served with orange wedges, but that hardly counts as a serving of fruit.”

“Haters gonna hate,” stated Hackenbush from his parents’ basement in Weehauken. “At least I finally showed that jerk who the real man is.”

Michael Colaggio, a successful office manager and father of two now residing in Salinas, California was shocked to discover that this grudge still existed after thirteen years. “I had forgotten all about that. I left him a voicemail the day after it happened to apologize. I had had a few too many drinks and I was trying to impress the waitress by getting Steve to drink a beer. Man, that guy hated the stuff.”

“I said I was sorry. At least I got her number.”

Judgebeers.com’s owner, Jay Stafford, has hired accounting firm Deloitte and Touche to conduct an audit of the 165,000 plus ratings, citing the fact that the work of verifying their authenticity was far too tedious for one man. At the time of writing, the outlook is promising, despite some repetitive language in the reviews. The adjective “hoppy” has been used 77,483 times with “fruity nose” running a close second at 42,896. Third place is occupied by the phrase “maybe this’ll show that douchebag.”

When asked what was next for him, Hackenbush replied “I should probably get into the office and start working on that Y2K thing.”

“Maybe I’ll take a nap first,” he added.

The Wreck of The Okanagan Springs Beer Review

The thing about writing a blog is that you have to keep churning out content, and this essentially means that you’re always on the lookout for something to write about. All beer bloggers are doing this all the time in order to stay relevant. By the same hugely generalized token, we’re all hoping to enjoy whatever it is we’re doing. There are beer dinners and beer launches and nights where a brewery will take over tap lineups. Great Lakes had a fantastic one of those the other day, and I imagine I’ll get around to writing about that one in the near future.

The problem is that with the constant need for content, a PR company can essentially flood an entire cycle of blog posts. Michael Warner over at A Year of Beer has already received Okanagan Springs Pale Ale. Chris Schryer over at Toronto Beer Blog will be writing about it soon if he hasn’t already. I couldn’t tell you how many other people have received samples.

Near as I can figure it, this is what happens: PR firm confirms my contact details, sends a small amount of beer with a courier or hand delivers it (sometimes a single bottle, in this case a six pack), and then I get to write about it a little bit. Depending on the blog that you’re writing, next time someone googles the product name, they end up reading your review. The quality and judgment of the review may not matter very much as long as it contains factual information and establishes the fact that the beer in question is a known quantity within whichever market you happen to be blogging about. It creates a number of google results for the product which will be around nearly indefinitely, since putting something on the internet is like peeing in a swimming pool. Once it’s in there, it’s not going to come out.

It is therefore possible to dominate an extraordinarily niche media cycle and create a lasting series of easily available reviews argued from a position of authority for the price of a six pack of beer and a courier delivery. I’m assuming for the purposes of this equation that the PR guy was going to be in the office that day anyway, possibly playing minesweeper or Farmville (which autocapitalizes in Word 2007. DAMN!)

Got that, internet denizen? Moving on:

Okanagan Springs Pale Ale

Here’s what it says on the tin:

“First brewed by Okanagan Spring Brewery in 1989, the Pale Ale is a clear and copper-coloured beer that is fruity on the palate and hearty in hops with a nice, round finish … The recipe hasn’t changed from the original using premium, two-row Canadian barley, Bavarian hops, a signature yeast strain and 100% pure Okanagan spring water.”

LCBO item number: 232645

MSRP: $12.95

It pours a nice coppery colour (a six on the Okanagan Spring proprietary colour wheel), with some off white head that quickly recedes. There’s more malt sweetness than I would have expected from the style and whatever hops are in it don’t really come through in the aroma, although there is a bitter twinge on the tail of a sip. It’s kind of fruity. Honestly, I think it might be closer to an ESB than a pale ale.

It’s disappointing and I know why. This is a recipe designed in 1989 and at the time this probably could have been construed as hoppy. Might even have been a provincial champion in 1989. The goalposts have shifted and this can only be considered hoppy for a macro craft beer. It’s drinkable, but it’s not very exciting. I think that might be the hop varietals at play. I don’t quite know why you’d use Bavarian hops in the pacific northwest.

Oh, I know what you’re saying. “Mr. Crankypants beer blogger doesn’t like the free beer that showed up at his door. He wants the moon on a stick.” Truly, though, what I think happened is this: Sleeman’s (Sapporo) now owns a bunch of brands and is trying to spread them throughout Canada in a bid for market share. This may be the best pale ale on their roster and they’re running with it. It’s not objectively bad, but it is objectively mediocre. I mean no offense to Stefan Tobler who designed it originally, since it was probably comparatively pretty good at the time he developed it.

My advice to you, if you’re looking for a pale ale in the LCBO is Black Oak. Not only is it eighty cents cheaper for a six pack, it’s more interesting. You could easily drink Okanagan Spring Pale Ale in a pub without being laughed at, if that’s any consolation.

Now to see whether the building super would like some of the leftover sample bottles.

Beer Fairy Thursday: Keith’s Tartan Ale, Innis and Gunn Rum Cask

Hands down, the most interesting development of the last couple of weeks is that beer now gets delivered to my doorstep. Not a huge amount of beer. It’s not like I won a contest or anything. Usually single bottles in bubble wrap. The beer fairy brings other things as well: Tasting Notes. Invitations to press galas in Saskatchewan. Carefully crafted messages from brewmasters.

Today, as I stood idly staring out the window and popping bubble wrap, I realized that they probably intend for me to talk about the things that they’re sending me. The beer fairy has an ulterior motive. My general operating procedure here is to amass information and let it develop into content organically, so simply talking about beer that people send over is an odd concept for me. Baffling that this should be the case for a beer blog.

What I’ve decided to do is talk not only about the beer, but the entire process. It would be disingenuous to suggest that the public relations elements involved in the equation are unimportant: Simply put, the breweries that are large enough to be able to afford a competent PR firm are not really interested in your input. They’ve made the decision to go ahead with whatever they’ve sent you and they’re promoting it to you to the best of their ability. It’s the nature of the beast.

So what do you do with that? You could just pass along the information in their press kit, but that would be pretty dull. You could ignore the press material and attempt to evaluate the beer in a vacuum, but there are a huge number of people who already do that.

Fortunately, making things up as I go along seems to be working out pretty well, so I’ve decided just to be honest without being intentionally mean spirited or nit-picky.

Without further ado:

Keith’s Tartan Ale

Well, the picture ain't cropping. Mental Note: Clean lightswitches.

(Beer delivered surrounded in bubble wrap in a brown packaging envelope of the variety that makes “recycled material” explode all over the front hall when you get impatient and try to rip it open. While this cannot actually be held against the brewery, it was mildly enervating.)

You have to admire the packaging that went into this. Sort of a burlap wrapper and tartan swath, which is likely meant to evoke opening a packing crate. It gives it a touch of class and shows that some thought was put into the reception of the product. Definite style points here.

This came with a form letter from Graham Kendall, Brewmaster Emeritus, which is selectively worded to leave the impression that it’s a recreation of a specific beer. “It’s brewed according to the original scotch ale process,” which I assume pretty much means that it’s brewed the same way as all the other ales. It has a “lower hop aroma, due to the fact that hops were scarce in Scotland at that time,” which probably means the early part of the 19th century. Wikipedia disagrees, citing IPAs being brewed in Edinburgh in 1821. Regardless, the letter is cheerful and well written and sets expectations nicely: Scotch Ale was “noted for its hints of smokiness, mild bitterness and fuller body.”

The beer itself poured with almost no carbonation into the pint glass. At 6.1% alcohol it’s relatively robust for a larger brewer like Keith’s. I find myself wondering about the grain bill because it doesn’t really seem malty enough when cold. There is some caramel sweetness and you do actually get more than a hint of peat smokiness when it warms up. Despite the fact that they claim a lower hop aroma, I suspect that this still contains more hops than the IPA. Probably an English variety, going by the vaguely minerally taste on the finish. It does, in a fairly basic way, what it says it’s supposed to.

Conclusion: I guess it’s Keith’s attempt to appeal to the craft market, but I don’t think it’s quite interesting enough to accomplish that. The smokiness only comes out when it has had some time to warm up and at that point it overwhelms everything else. It needs balance and malt depth in order to work and it doesn’t quite make it. Points for effort, though, since it’s better than the IPA.

Innis and Gunn Rum Cask

(Disclaimer: I don’t like Innis and Gunn products and I never have. I even explained this to the nice people at the PR firm before they sent over samples. “I don’t know that whatever personal views on it that I express will be laudatory,” I said. I warned them, and they sent them anyway. Audentis fortuna iuvat, or something.)

I don’t understand why you would package a beer in a clear bottle, especially a premium oak aged beer. It skunks pretty quickly and really hurts the flavour. I found the Innis and Gunn Rum Cask to be incredibly buttery. It’s almost certainly laden with diacetyl and I suspect that the notes from the oak are making it seem even more buttery than the diacetyl would have done by itself. It’s a perfect butter storm. It was like drinking a buttered plum soaked in booze. I barely made it through a quarter of the bottle before pouring the rest out.

Maybe it was a bad bottle, but I suspect from what people have told me in conversation, that this is what people like about Innis and Gunn. For a lot of people it seems to be a gateway beer, possibly because it’s so different in flavour. If you didn’t know any better, you might assume it was supposed to taste buttery. Makes for a completely different mouthfeel, anyway.

What the exercise did explain for me was how Innis and Gunn manages to remain so popular. The answer is that their PR firm is professional and extremely competent. While I still can’t say that enjoy the beer, I am impressed by the packaging. The four pages of information are very comprehensive and answer just about anything you might want to know. Their media rep even followed up by email. I don’t know that people across the country are actually clamouring for the beer, but I now understand why it continues to remain in prominent view of the public.

Conclusion: I can’t really recommend it based on my personal preference, but I feel like people will probably buy it anyway, somewhat defeating the point of the review.

Whiny, Petulant Man-Children

An article in the Globe and Mail was recently brought to my attention, titled “If you really loved Ontario families, Mr. McGuinty, you’d kill the LCBO.

It’s essentially an example of how not to be taken seriously and a petulant tantrum on the part of the columnist.

He starts out with concrete assertions of Dalton McGuinty’s lack of manliness, asking whether he had purchased a set of testicles. This is, of course, the best way of getting people to take you seriously. If only someone had asked William Lyon MacKenzie King whether he was on crack, I’m sure that the political discourse of the day would have advanced significantly and that he would have stopped holding seances. Start with a personal attack. Yeah, that’ll definitely ensure that you’re not simply dismissed as a whiny crackpot.

The most embarrassing part of this article is the almost complete lack of self awareness involved. Mark Schatzker (see smug file photo) is framing his desire to be able to purchase alcohol in a corner store in an argument which largely seems to blame his children for making him drink.

And I quote:

For example: When an Ontario toddler melts down at dinner because his parents insist he at least try the homemade meatballs that his Ontario father slaved over, it would be nice if it were possible to procure some beer (which, studies show, can prevent heart disease when consumed in moderation) within, say, a streetcar stop of said meltdown.”

Which translates roughly to: “Waaaah. My kids don’t like my cooking. I need a drink, but I don’t have any beer on hand and the liquor store is too far away.” This behaviour seemingly justified by the idea that he’s somehow combating a mild setback in his personal life with drinking on the basis that it may have some long term health benefit.

And:

Similarly, when a four-year-old informs her Ontario family there’s going to be a clown performing at the birthday party they’re on their way to, and it suddenly dawns on her Ontario parents that maybe they should have brought a bottle of wine, it would be nice if it were possible to stop on the way to get such a bottle of wine without making a 15-minute detour.”

Which translates roughly to: “My kids are going to a birthday party. I can’t deal with clowns without being slightly inebriated. Oh God, why is there no wine? This is going to be the worst hour and a half of my life!”

He seems to have had a traumatic experience with someone in a red shock wig and rubber nose as a child and feels the need to self medicate or he seems to consider bringing wine to a party solely for his own benefit.

The real problem with the article is that he has managed to frame a reasonably sane request (Allow sales of beer and wine outside of officially approved LCBO outlets) in the most childish, selfish, petulant manner possible. Completely ignoring the idea that there might be long term consequences to getting rid of a very profitable government venture (the proceeds from which almost certainly benefit actual families in a real and measurable way) he seems to feel that provincial law should be changed due to his slight inconvenience

In the words of Charlie Sheen: Plan Better.

It’s not as though he hasn’t lived his entire life under these rules. Buy some stuff in advance, you whiny schmuck!

The most glaring part is the infantile attitude of the article, and the way in which he is mirroring the behaviour of the child who refuses to eat meatballs. That child will almost certainly be given something else to eat. Mark Schatzker has declared that he is not about to eat the LCBO’s meatballs and is now waiting for Dalton McGuinty, who he refers to as “Premier Dad” in a manner that suggests some worrying freudian issues, to make him something else.

Public discourse does not work for the benefit of any one person, no matter how badly they may want a drink after putting training wheels on a bicycle. Schatzker has declined to point out how something like this would come about and has declined to think about the long term consequences of that action. He just wants a cookie. And he wants it now. He feels he deserves that cookie because he had a bad day at school.

If I were the Globe, I would have been bloody embarrassed to print that.