St. John's Wort Beery Musings And Amusing Beers

Monthly Archives: April 2011

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Don’t Worry About the Government

The St. John men can really pull off the whole muu-muu look.

Tuesday was the fourth annual Ontario Craft Brewers Legislative Tasting at Queen’s Park. It was the first one that I’ve managed to attend, and it prompted some interesting revelations about the old family tree. As it turns out my long deceased relation Joseph Wesley St. John was actually Speaker of the Provincial Legislature from 1905-1907.

You know you're either important or dead when your name is engraved somewhere.

He died in office. Since I wasn’t exactly sure whether this was meant literally, ie. that he snuffed it while signing papers on the second floor or whether he was merely the elected representative at the time, I decided that it was in my best interest to dress up for the event. I got my dapper on. I looked like 87 dollars the hard way. I was, in short, nattily attired.

This is just as well. No one wants to be lying in bed late at night as the sound of rattling chains and flashes of light begin to emanate from the kitchen because great uncle Joe has decided to haunt you for wearing a t-shirt to parliament. You don’t want ectoplasm in your butter dish.

It’s an interesting event. Most of the time if you go to a beer event, you don’t have to check in with a press office or make yourself known to security. Most of the time, you just sort of shamble in and see what’s on offer. People frown on shambling in an Edwardian dining room, unless you are geriatric. The 16 foot ceilings are particularly daunting, conveying the impression that while there is certainly a great deal of beer to sample, it would be best if you went sparingly.

The event is a good one, not necessarily because you’re likely to sample anything new, but for the goals that it attempts to accomplish. This was the fourth annual Legislative Beer tasting, and my understanding is that it is mostly the result of the effort of Steve Peters, Speaker of the House and the OCB.

Between Steve Peters and Rob Morra, there's about four people's worth of facial hair

It’s a good idea. It promotes Ontario beer to members of the provincial government and Queen’s Park staffers. This is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that at some point some of these people may have influence in decisions that affect the OCB. For a couple of years, there has been talk of founding craft beer stores outside of the purview of the existing beer store. If that’s the kind of thing that you want to get done, it’s good to provide a positive experience of the product in question.

Fortunately, this was exactly the venue for that sort of thing. This year’s event included 18 separate breweries and 61 beers. The goal of the event is to provide a democratically chosen selection of beers for the Legislative Dining Room and other Queen’s Park locales. There are six categories in which people are meant to vote, and one category where the Speaker decides on a beer. It’s a closed ballot, so there’s no possibility of malfeasance or electoral fraud.

My understanding was that there had been minimal press coverage of the event in previous years, but I’m not entirely sure that I understand why. It’s humanizing. I don’t claim that we (like the Americans) need to choose our politicians based on whether you could have a beer with them, but it’s refreshing to see Dalton McGuinty hanging around with brewers. I’m given to understand that he’s something of a craft beer enthusiast. I like that he demonstrates some taste.

His Reverential Dalton-ness & The Great Lakes Boys

It’s easy to vilify politicians of any stripe from a distance. It’s somewhat more difficult to do that when you see an MPP struggling to eat dark ale injected striploin off a side plate without adequate cutlery while trying to balance a schooner of beer in the crook of his arm. Even a small amount of jostling from the crowd will mean a trip to the dry cleaner.

I suppose that the best part of the event is that supporting local businesses that produce excellent beers is about as far from being a hot button issue as you can get. I certainly can’t find an argument against it.

I think that the only part of the event that fell short was the sound system. About halfway through the proceedings, there were speeches. Steve Peters made a speech, and John Hay (President of the OCB) made a speech. The event took place in two separate rooms, and while the room with the podium may have been receiving loud and clear, it was impossible to tell that there was a speech going on in the neighbouring room. John Hay is a relatively soft spoken man at the best of times, so it was no surprise that the noise began to build as he spoke.

I know little of Steve Peters politically, but let me assure you that he has a formidable set of pipes, as he was forced to call for silence on a number of occasions. As a Speaker, he is definitely a woofer.

The winners were announced yesterday, and I list them here:

Golden Lagers, Pilsners & Light Beer Mill Street Brewery: Mill Street Organic Lager

Refreshing Ales Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company: Beau’s Lug Tread Lagered Ale

Amber Lagers, Ales & Honey Beer Old Credit Brewing Company Ltd: Old Credit Amber Ale*

Malty Dark Lager or Ale Kichesippi Beer: Kichesippi 1855

Bold Flavoured Ale, Stout or Porter Railway City Brewing: Railway City Dead Elephant Ale

Wheat Beer & Specialty Nickel Brook Beers: Nickel Brook Green Apple Pilsner

Speaker’s Selection Flying Monkey’s Craft Brewery: Hoptical Illusion Almost Pale Ale

I can’t claim that it’s the most adventurous selection that I’ve ever seen, but it’s a fair representation of what’s available and of what’s popular. It’s worth remembering that for some of the people doing the voting, this may have been their first exposure to Ontario craft beer, so a beer with flavours that hit like the Sergeant-at-Arms’s mace is unlikely to have done very well.

It’s nice to know that visitors to the Legislative Dining Room will be able to experience some of what the OCB has to offer. It demonstrates pride in the province and in the ability of small business. More than that, it captures the attention of government personnel; something that could be invaluable in the near future.

Steve Peters! OCB Members! Bartle, for some reason!

In Which My Local LCBO Closes Down

Sunday, about the time that the Blue Jays were demonstrating how not to score any runs, I went to the fridge to get a beer. It seemed to me that there was very little point in yelling at Juan Rivera for being a goldbricking layabout while completely sober. It’s sort of inexplicable behavior. If someone were to walk in and see you making insulting gestures towards a baseball game on the screen, the only way that could be acceptable is if you had had a beer.

The only problem was that there wasn’t any beer. Not even any reviewing beer. I’m not much of a multitasker, but I can definitely make notes on a beer while shaking my fist at Juan “The Human Brick” Rivera. They don’t even get conflated.

For instance: Golden/straw colour. Light body. Should get on base by stepping in front of pitches. No noticeable hop finish.

I thought to myself, “I’ll just pop down to the LCBO and…”

I knew that there was something important that I was forgetting. When I stood up and looked out my window, I saw that the parking lot at the Yonge and Davisville LCBO was empty. The store actually shut down on the 16th.

I knew that already. Of course I did. I had been in there to see if they had gotten anything new a week before and the only beer that they had in the place were those very expensive bottles that were brought in as specialty items. Little Korkny. Infinium. Ola Dubh 30. (I can’t figure out why the 40 should have sold out when the 30 was the better value.) They sat at the back in a shelving unit that had once been refrigerated, but which at this point had been turned off and now looked shabby in an unlit way; like the bottles had been relegated to the island of misfit beers.

It turns out that there’s a force more powerful than the LCBO: Condo developers.

For a number of years, I was lucky enough to live close enough to an LCBO to be able to pop out and get a beer if I felt like one. People coming over? Off you pop. I can literally look out the window and see the sign on the store without getting out of the chair I’m currently sitting in.

Of course, a new LCBO has opened up on Yonge street at Manor road. This can’t be considered any great distance. It’s something of a neighbourhood beautification project, replacing as it does the Mystique Lounge. I had never been inside the Mystique Lounge, but having walked by it late at night on the way back from a friend’s house, I can tell you its sidewalk was the place you were most likely to see a fistfight in midtown Toronto.

Maybe it’s because they just opened, but the beer selection is nothing to write home about. The most upscale thing on offer was Innis and Gunn original. The standees were full of cases of Old Milwaukee. It was encouraging to see that they had already sold out of Mill Street Tankhouse, but overall, it was unimpressive. The store is slightly less than half the size of the old Davisville location.

This means that for the first time in a very long time, I’m going to have to think ahead. The next closest location is Summerhill, which is within walking distance (downhill) but probably not within walking back distance (uphill carrying enough beer to last a couple of weeks). This is not a bad thing. The ambiance is nicer there, and there’ll be some exercise. I may be forced to actually keep a small cellar. The record for cellaring in my apartment is four months for a bottle of Dark Lord 2010.

I finally see what people are talking about when they claim that they’d like to see beer sold in convenience and grocery stores. The problem, I guess, is that it wouldn’t necessarily solve anything, since the selection would probably be a series of macro and value brands in most locations. Anything that results in the likelihood of purchasing beer of lower quality because of convenience is almost certainly counterproductive for craft beer enthusiasts.

Plus, think about the lead time on something like that. You’d have to train all of the employees. You’d have to find the space to open a store like that. There would be renovations. Independent stores would be unable to operate using economies of scale like the government employs. Plus, think of the successful depanneurs in Montreal like Rahman. So much inventory that you feel like you’re going to knock a case over if you sneeze. It would be a giant, expensive mess for a while at opening.

I’m not saying it’s not worth doing, but the number of obstacles is daunting. Also, the societal impact is unlikely to be as pronounced as people claim.

In the meantime, I have produced a list of beverages that it will be acceptable to drink while saying increasingly negative things about Juan Rivera should his batting average fall below .100 this evening:

Coffee, Tea, Water, Lemonade, Horchata, Cognac (only if your criticisms are particularly highbrow: “Oh, I rather say, Reginald. Perhaps he would be better suited to Whist.”) Milk and, of course, Diet Mr. Pibb.

It’s important to have a contingency plan.

Niagara College Grand Opening – Brewmaster Meals

One of the main things that I hadn’t considered about Niagara College was the existing programs. It will probably not come as a surprise to regular readers that I have done quite a bit of research into the Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program, what with being a prospective student. The truth is that I hadn’t given any thought to the other programs that they offer. There’s the winery, of course, but there’s also a pretty prestigious culinary program down there.

I showed up early to the grand opening on Wednesday, since I’m on a freelancing journalist’s budget and that meant cadging a ride off of whichever good natured commuters were willing to stump up. Fortunately, I know a couple of the Brewery Program students. Andrew Bartle (who blogs infrequently, but whose beer reviews are practically poetry) and Mark Murphy were nice enough to help me get down there.

As it turned out, I had some time to kill upon arriving and I stumbled around in order to get the lay of the land. The culinary building is impressive; Chef jacketed students crashing through the hallways, discussing the amount of time chicken wings need to spend in the fryer. Wafting aromas from the various classrooms meant that it was hard to nail down exactly what was being worked on in which classroom. I’m relatively sure that there were Cinnamon buns being baked somewhere, but it was hard to nail down. Perhaps most impressive was the gallery of chefs who had come down to help out with the program. Rick Moonen. Susur Lee. Ming Tsai. Hubert freakin’ Keller.

I had been invited on a media junket, meaning that I was around for lunch and dinner, both of which had been paired with beer. Possibly because of the comparative youth of the program, many of the beers being used were from outside breweries, which is what you want. Seamless integration into the existing market is a strong selling point for the brewing program. If you’re going to tout real world experience as a feature, you have to take into account your competitors.

Having been to the Brewer’s Plate the previous week, I suspected that the meals produced by Benchmark at Niagara College would be of a tasting portion size, since that was my only frame of reference. Michael Olson was on hand and had designed the menu. Everything about Michael is big. Big frame. Big personality. Big sense of humour. A welcoming host for the evening.

Michael Olson, explaining.

The portions, as you have probably intuited, were also quite large. Not that I’m complaining. It was interesting to see what he was able to do with the pairings, given that he had time to design the menu and play with the concepts.

Lunch

For lunch, you actually had choices for the appetizer and the entrée. Impressive, given that both dishes were to be paired with the same beers. This seems to have required a certain amount of lateral thinking on the part of the chef, and I found myself somewhat torn between the choice of entrees.

On the one hand, you had a classic pairing the likes of which you might find in Bavaria.

“Brewmaster’s Manifesto” – Hommer’s Ham, Smoked Sausage and Little Schnitzel with Beer Mustard, Spaetzle and Juniper Braised Cabbage

Or

Lager Steamed Fresh BC Salmon in Parchment with Sweet Peppers, Celeriac and Quinoa

Both of these served with Saint Andre Vienna Lager.

Heh. "Little" Schnitzel.

On the one hand, I’d never had fish served “En Papillote,” and I like Quinoa, so I was sorely tempted by the lighter option. I ask you, though: How can you turn down a dish with a title like “Brewmaster’s Manifesto?” It’s impossible. Add to this the fact that I’ve been hooked on spaetzle since Budapest, and it becomes a no brainer. The pairing worked well, but that’s not a surprise given that the style of beer is indigenous to the region that the food comes from. The nuttiness of the Quinoa would have been more difficult to pull off as a pairing, but I’m sure it would have highlighted the malt and body of the Vienna Lager.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

The dessert was Sticky Toffee Date Pudding with Milk Stout Caramel paired with Muskoka Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout. It was incredibly moist and rich, and it was approximately the size of your head. I can’t really do it justice in description. Easily the best Stick Toffee Pudding I’ve ever tried if only because of the light, spongy texture. One of those situations where the pairing doesn’t even matter because of the quality of the dish.

Dinner

Dinner came on the heels of a two hour cask tapping and beer sampling event, so good humour and red cheeks abounded on the way into the dining room.

Good to know that the cask decal budget is in place.

Terrine of Quebec Foie Gras (Duck) with Spent Grains Brioche and Bok Jelly paired with Niagara College Teaching Brewery Educator Dopple Bock.

Photograph. THEN eat. silly pseudojournalist.

This was an interesting pairing given that the Educator Dopple Bock was fairly subtle. It weighed in at about 7% alcohol, but I’m not sure that you would have been able to tell. Relatively light bodied, but with the malt sweetness you get in that range. If I had to pair something with Foie Gras, I would be tempted to go with a hoppier brew to try and cut the lingering fatty texture, but this ended up supporting that element. Interesting.

Erie Whitefish “Waterzui” with Hothouse Peppers, Yukon Gold Potatoes and Sweet Shallots – in aromatic coriander citrus beer broth paired with Muskoka Summer Weiss.

Waterzui

This was delicate. Mike was joking with us that his wife was joshing him about it being feminine. Interesting to see the dish served, given that the broth was poured at table. James from Muskoka pointed out that the Weiss was not meant to have any elements of orange peel or coriander. The pairing did contain both of those elements and the sweetness from the shallots created an interesting situation where the dish suggested notes that were not actually in the beer, meaning that the alternation between tasting the dish and the beer resulted in a single range of flavours that were not strictly present in either. Easily the most successful pairing I’ve ever seen.

Wort Sorbet

Wort Sorbet. Should see whether we can sell the idea to gelato stores.

Traditionally, a sorbet is used as a palate cleanser. This was a light sorbet flavoured with wort from the teaching brewery. I’m not sure that it actually worked as a palate cleanser since it imparted its own subtle flavours, but it didn’t need to because I think it was put there to do something more clever than that. The lingering malt sweetness from the sorbet led directly into the beer pairing for the next dish: Neustadt 10W30 Brown Ale. If that was the intention, great googily moogily is that an incredibly complex concept.

Roast Tenderloin of Black Angus Beef on Barley Root Vegetable Stew and roasted Garlic Lemon Hollandaise.

Even I think that was a lot of beef.

Protein well cooked. Medium rare on the outside, rare in the middle. The description of the Barley Root Vegetable Stew doesn’t really do it justice as it was more of a buttery pearl barley risotto with what seemed to be a large dice roast root vegetable. Delicious, but less adventurous as a pairing than the first two courses. Brown Ale and Beef is a staple pairing of English and faux English carveries the world over, and therefore well worthy of inclusion.

Dessert

Dark Prinz Espresso Torte with Laurel Cream paired with Grand River Russian Gun Imperial Stout

Dark Prinz Torte with Candied Dark Prinz Malt, Laurel Cream

Interesting. I’m not sure that I liked the pairing of the torte with the Imperial Stout. I know that the combination of flavours works in theory, but I feel like there’s an astringent note in the mid palate of the Imperial Stout that didn’t quite jibe with the torte. The Laurel Cream (flavoured with bay leaves. I didn’t know this was a thing.), on the other hand, combated that note, so it worked when the elements were composed. I would have been tempted to try a Laurel Cream Eton Mess with it, but I suspect that might not have stood up this well. The texture of the candied Dark Prinz malt really added to it.

To Sum Up

I think that the benefit I hadn’t seen previously of attending Niagara College is that you would have the opportunity both to try and to think about some fairly sophisticated food pairings. Imagine someone with that context starting their own brewpub. I don’t suppose that the students get into the dining room often, but just having a sense of what’s possible would be invaluable.

The Brewer’s Plate 2011 edition: Top Chef St.John’s Wort

Oh yeah. I guess it was a TTC barn.

This was my first year at the Brewer’s Plate dinner. I have to say that my experience of events like this is coloured somewhat by the fact that I watch a lot of Top Chef. Regular, Masters, All-Stars, I’ll probably even watch the Canadian one when it starts up on April 16th. I know some chefs, but it’s not like I’m talking shop with a lot of them. Mostly, I read. Bittman, Bourdain, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I own Nigella Lawson cookbooks, and I’m not ashamed of it. While the camera on her show may be in soft focus, her prose is sharp and entertaining. I once checked Fergus Henderson’s book out of the TPL. He writes like a particularly sinister Neil Gaiman character.

I like this stuff. I just don’t have the budget for it, what with being a quasi-legitimate journalist.

This year the Brewer’s Plate was at the Wychwood Artscape Barns, which aside from doing a pretty good Pink Floyd album cover imitation, is also a farmer’s market during the summer. I knew it was going to be a good night. If you’re being consoled about breaking a glass by a man on stilts who is dressed in a tuxedo before you even have a drink in your hand, you’re probably in good shape.

Could someone please photoshop a flying pig into the background?

First off, there’s no way to talk about an event like this one comprehensively. For instance, most of the breweries had more than one beer on offer, so there’s no point in trying to do a recap. My colleagues mock me gently periodically about the length of my blog posts, and if I tried to talk about the beers on offer, this would be somewhere in the vicinity of a Coelho novel (Veronika decides to drink?).

For this reason, this post is hereafter: TOP CHEF ST.JOHN’S WORT!

For a lot of people, the highlight of the evening was Chef Tawfik Shehata’s battered fish taco. It was served with a smoked tomato salsa and what was apparently a candycane beet slaw. Personally, I felt that the batter, which involved Steamwhistle, could have been a little crunchier as a textural element. I understand why people liked it. It stood out as one of the only light dishes in the building. It worked well with the beer pairing, mostly due to the fact that there was a little acidity to the tomato which contrasted the slight sweetness and crisp finish of a Pilsner.

Fish Taco!

Another reason that this dish worked particularly well was that it was served on a corn husk. I’m not sure whether you’ve ever attempted to navigate a room of 400 slightly inebriated jostling people with a full sized plate and cutlery, but it’s an unenviable and awkward task.

The majority of the dishes were late winter fare. One of the problems in using local seasonal ingredients in early April is that you end up seeing a lot of radish and watercress as garnish. It is what it is.

Perhaps the hardest dish to actually consume was Chef Brad Long’s stew. I believe I heard that the protein was Muskox. While it was served on a full size dinner plate, and I had to get my blogger friend Matt Caldwell to hold my beer, it was thoroughly enjoyable. Mildly gamey, and the root vegetables held their texture very well. It was also fairly heavily seasoned, which helped it stand up to the Beau’s cask Beaver River IPeh. As you can see, I neglected to take a picture until after starting in on it.

The stew of a neglectful photographer

I did not try Brook Cavanagh’s buffalo ricotta stuffed morel, although, I think it was probably the most intricately plated dish at the event. It seemed to have a large number of elements in play. Shaved radish, shallot confit and preserved Brussel sprouts all seem like they may have been extraneous to the core of the dish. It was paired with Wellington’s Russian Imperial Stout. Points to La Palette for attempted complexity.

A whole lotta garnish.

I think the dish that worked best with the beer pairing was Lora Kirk’s Black Oak Nut Brown Ale braised pork belly. The confession I have to make here is that I had never actually tried pork belly before despite cheering on Kevin “Pork Jesus” Gillespie for much of Top Chef season six. I think the sweetness of the brown ale worked nicely with the unctuous fattiness of the pork belly, and it complimented nicely the crispin apple slaw which she had somehow imparted with a smokiness that I didn’t expect. I went back for seconds on this one and that’s probably the reason that I’m going to slip into a coma as soon as I upload this post. Also, the cheddar biscuit was a nice touch. You can rarely go wrong with a cheddar biscuit.

Lora Kirk's Braised Pork Belly

The only dish that I didn’t think worked was Michael Steh’s cheddar and broccoli soup. It was a composed dish with a sort of barbecued or pulled pork on the bottom and pork crackling used as a garnish. I think that the intention was for the fattiness of the pork to work with the slight saltiness of the cream soup. I didn’t care for it, but I’m not a soup guy. Also, I’m not a food writer, so y’know, caveat emptor.

Michael Steh's Cheddar and Broccoli Soup

The more I think about it, the best dish of the evening was Jamie Kennedy’s. I don’t know from Jamie Kennedy. If you asked me opinion of Jamie Kennedy, I would say he was quite tall. But on this occasion, I think he probably created the best standalone dish. It was a Tortiere Strudel. I know. More pork. In this case, it was served on a base of thinly shaved pickled celeriac, carrot and ginger with a sort of mustard relish. Taken by itself, the tortiere was fine; it had all the spicing you’d expect from a standard French Canadian tortiere. As a composed mouthful, as a single bite, the other elements brought some brightness and acidity that elevated the dish.

Also, there was chocolate. And tiny cupcakes. And maple sugar. Did I mention the inevitable food coma? I think I did.

Chocolate! I didn't have any, but the layout is tasty.

I cut out of Brewer’s Plate early in order to go get an espresso. As soon as I saw someone in a papier mache replica of the Fox mask from the cover of Genesis’ seminal album Foxtrot, I knew it was time to call it a night. Surrealistic whimsy is a great thing, but not when you’re blissed out on pork belly.

Here’s the verdict.

Jamie Kennedy: Best Standalone Dish.

Lora Kirk: Best Pairing.

You: Buying a ticket next year.

Smashbomb and Social Responsibility

It’s a new season! The little lame balloon man whistles far and wee! Those little blue flowers whose name I always forget are only a couple of weeks away (a quick google tells me they’re probably Scylla). It’s supposed to hit 60 this afternoon, and if the price we have to pay for that is a pretty significant thunderstorm, then who really cares?

Not unsurprisingly, business is picking up in the craft beer world as well. Almost immediately on the heels of the Craft Brewers Conference in San Francisco, interesting things started happening.

I didn’t get to the CBC this year, but I am given to understand that it is basically a collection of serious minded individuals coming together to forge relationships and share information. This is done by drinking enough Pliny the Elder to give a Rhinoceros cirrhosis. All throughout the week, pictures would get thrown up on facebook. Steve from Beau’s drinking everything that Russian River had on tap! Mike Lackey from Great Lakes standing idly outside various pubs and breweries! A whole contingent of Canadians singing the national anthem in some atrium or other!

Since then we’ve had the acquisition of Goose Island by Anheuser-Busch. I’ve written about that a little bit in the sun.

It’s also shaping up to be an interesting week in Toronto. The Monk’s Table is putting on a series of events for Tartan day, and that should be interesting. Will it change my mind on Innis and Gunn? Probably not, but maybe the IPA will be different.

Wednesday is going to be the Brewer’s Plate, and this will be my first time attending that event. I’m looking forward to it. Good food prepared by local chefs, paired with beer. That’s enough reason for anyone to want to go there. Tickets are $125.00, which seems a little steep, but it’s for charity, so… I dunno. Probably value for money if you’re into local fruit picking.

That’s not what I want to talk about today, though.

Today I want to talk about Flying Monkeys.

One of the things that has impressed me about Flying Monkeys is the fact that their brewmaster displays a certain amount of savvy when it comes to product development and interacting with the community in general. He’s got an account on Bartowel.com and he’s not afraid to interact with the beer nerds. I suspect that a lot of people don’t want to do that for the reason that the beer nerds can be a contentious lot and they’re as likely to grumble about minutiae as they are to accept a beer out of hand. I think that a lot of this has to do with the way that a beer is sold to them.

Peter Chiodo, at some point, hit upon the very clever idea that they can be catered to. He used the Bartowelers as a product development panel for his Smashbomb IPA which went through several revisions over the course of the summer and fall of last year. It’s a beer that’s got a flavour profile well outside of mainstream acceptability.

I got my dad to try it the other week when we were at Highway 61 on Bayview. “Smells like cat pee,” he said. “Tastes like I’m sucking on a pine forest.” Those are both legitimate tasting notes for the beer, which I understand uses a lot of Citra hops (at least it did last summer.) I explained that it was an acquired taste, while he ordered a Muskoka Dark.

One of the interesting dynamics of an internet forum is that dissenting views are typically ridiculed. At this point, if you were to go on Bartowel and post a less than glowing review of Smashbomb, you’d start a flamewar the likes of which haven’t been seen since the allied bombing of Dresden. Savvy market development there. It allows the beer nerds a certain feeling of ownership for the product that they have helped to hone.

Speaking of offensive jokes about armament, Smashbomb failed to make it past the LCBO’s social responsibility panel. One can only guess what the exact reason might have been for this. Maybe it was the mushroom cloud on the packaging. Maybe the warlike nature of the name SMASHBOMB ATOMIC IPA is the kind of thing that needs to be censored lest it poison our water, privatize our health care and crash our planes in the Libyan No Fly Zone. Maybe they simply worried that the garish colour palette and design features would give people seizures.

Who knows?

The LCBO social responsibility panel is a law unto itself. It’s understandable. They’re a large provincial moneymaker and they don’t want to get sued. I can dig it.

So the Smashbomb IPA will be going into certain select beer stores, and in the meantime Flying Monkeys have been developing some other products. I hear there’s a Barley Wine that weighs in around 18% and might take your face clean off.

But I’ve been thinking.

If you were a brewer looking to make a point about the LCBO social responsibility panel, this would not be a bad way to go about it. Create an elite cadre of online forum members who feel as though it’s THEIR beer. They’ll almost certainly write letters and put some pressure on the LCBO to pass the thing. Of course, the LCBO isn’t going to backpedal on a decision like that.

The thing is that this was almost certain to be their decision, right from the outset. If Flying Monkeys just wanted to sell some beer, they probably would have named the beer something else at the beginning, or they could have run it up the flagpole with the LCBO at some point in the development process to see whether it could be sold there. There could have been caution. They could have tested the waters.

The controversy actually garnered a small amount of legitimate media coverage this morning on CFRB. That’s some free press for a brewery that doesn’t have a huge advertising budget. I’m wondering whether this is a continuation of the savvy that Peter Chiodo displayed with the product’s development. I wouldn’t put it past him. It would set Flying Monkeys up with a sort of outlaw brewing image, which is the kind of thing that could catch on in Ontario at this point.

If he’s picking a fight, it’s an obscure fight to pick, especially with what is probably a relatively niche product. Ultimately, the success or failure of Smashbomb IPA depends on how much people want their beer to smell like cat pee. I think that there’s a rabid inbuilt market for the beer in the beer nerd community. Maybe distributing through the beer store is not as big a gamble as it seems in this case.

We shall see.

Edit: and half an hour later he’s on CBC One talking about how the packaging is intentionally edgy.