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Monthly Archives: November 2012

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Beer And Food Tuesday: Carbonara Alla Morana

For those of you that have just joined the craft beer scene in the last couple of years, it’s worth pointing out that Bar Volo wasn’t always a beer bar with a light menu. At one point in the late 80’s, it was an Italian restaurant. After a while it became an Italian restaurant with beer. It further evolved into a beer bar with Italian food. Then came the nanobrewery and, with kitchen space at a premium, an expanding audience and wait times for food frequently outstripping forty minutes (about two pints, for those of you who tell time by pints), it became Bar Volo as it currently stands.

They changed with the times, somewhat to the chagrin of the regulars. Roger Pettet would sometimes ask me if I could write a blog piece about how the bar was changing, probably with the aim of stopping it from changing overmuch. The problem is that with Bar Volo being a leader in craft beer in Ontario, change was inevitable. It was not a bad thing, necessarily. People seem much happier getting fed quickly. So it goes.

The only issue that I had with the change is that Volo was responsible for a truly great pasta dish in their Carbonara. Periodically, when people wax nostalgic, the Carbonara comes up as one of the only examples of something they wish could come back. (The Puttanesca is also mentioned, as is the Pepperonata (at least by me)).

This is what Carbonara looked like when Volo used to cook it.

One day a couple of weeks ago, I realized that I could rectify that problem for people who missed the Carbonara. Since the Moranas aren’t using it anymore, they were pretty quick to supply me with it. I had tried to get the recipe previously, but it had been a long night and I discovered, after having it explained to me at great length, that I had no idea how the sound recorder on my Blackberry worked.

I emailed Ralph and he gave me the recipe, which I now impart to you:

Two Stages :
1. In a stainless steel bowl add
2 egg yolk
T parmigiana cheese
T Italian parsley
tsp salt
tsp pepper
tsp mixed dried herbs – basil & oregano
Pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
4T of 35% cream – (I just drizzle the cream in. You do not want too much because this is a dryer version of the Carbonara)
Add al dente spaghetti noodles (portion for one person)
Whisk all the ingredients.
Put aside until needed.

2. Heat a pan on medium low heat.
Add half of red onion medium thin slices.
Within 3 minutes add 2 diced smoked bacon.
When the onion and bacon are 3/4 of the way cooked raise the temperature to medium and add the mixture in the bowl.
Toss until all the ingredients are mix.
At this point I add a pinch of salt, pepper from a pepper mill and I grade ricotta salata cheese( asiago also works). I usually add about 2T of cheese and 2 diced fresh sage leaves.
Taste ( add more salt or pepper if needed)
Pasta is ready pending on how you like it. i like it on the crisp side.
I also like to add pancetta on top of the pasta.

I should point out that there are three things you need to know here.

My version doesn’t look nearly as good, but I don’t have a white plate or a DSLR Camera or any ability to plate food in an aesthetically pleasing way or the inclination to do so when I’m just ripping hungry and want to get to it already. Jeez.

1)      Since you’ve tempered the egg yolks with cream and the other ingredients prior to adding them to the pasta, you’re probably not going to scramble them. This is good news. It is still worth removing the pan from the heat to be safe.

2)      While ½ a red onion seems like a whole big bunch of red onion, it’s actually more or less right as long as you don’t choose the biggest one in the display.

3)      This is a restaurant size portion. At home, this could probably feed two, since it’s quite rich and very filling. I am slipping into food coma territory at the moment.

But what to drink?

Things people have sent me. I’m not sure where the one on the right came from, actually.

Well, people send me things. The fridge is so full that baking soda has developed agoraphobia.


When the folks at Creemore sent this stuff over, I was more excited about the Hops and Bolts. Call me a skeptic, but I haven’t really liked much of the Granville Island stuff I’ve tried. The Pale Ale is lodged squarely in the 80’s. The Hefeweizen is fair to middling.

The Lion’s Winter Ale is surprising in that it contents itself with a healthy bill of dark malts, a relatively creamy texture and a strong hit of vanilla. It is actually mildly reminiscent of Dieu Du Ciel Aphrodisiaque. I was a little shocked that the pairing works here. The sweetness of the malt and the vanilla actually play with the caramelization that the onions have gone through and there’s enough carbonation to lift the fat off the palate and refresh for the next bite. Oddly enough, the texture is the big thing. It’s creamy enough to play to the sauce while stripping it off your tongue.

I shouldn’t be surprised given that the Granvillers provided this recipe for pairing.


It is always good to choose appropriate glassware. In this case, I’ve chosen branding over propriety.

As I think we’re all aware, Cameron’s RPA is one of the better IPAs available in Ontario at the moment. It’s going into year round production soon. It has five malts, seven hop varieties and at least one hand picked variety of water. It’s delicious. It may not have a whole lot of noticeable rye character, but who cares when the overall product is this good? Caramel Malt and Pine and Citrus and Tropical Fruit and Joy.

It paired terribly. The hops just blew the Carbonara out of the damn water. It’s too big. It’s too bitter. It somehow fails to cut the fat in the cream sauce and the bitterness coats the tongue. If there was a single ingredient it might have had some interplay with it was the oregano. Not enough.

Don’t get me wrong. Love the beer, but this application was a loser. It was a bad choice on my part.


I was dreading this one.

Ralph suggested a smoked beer. I haven’t ever really liked this beer, but it was the smoked beer that I had on hand. Sometimes I’ll use it to braise a pork shoulder.

I don’t know if it’s ingredient creep, but the smoked malt doesn’t seem as pronounced as it once did. Probably, a slight whiff of smoke in Imperial Stouts is acclimatizing me. What it manages to do very nicely is accentuate the bacon and the smoke there, and in turn the salt content. There’s enough malt character to hold its own against the onions.

While it worked nicely as a pairing, I still didn’t quite manage to finish the bottle, although I admit that in the proper culinary application, this works. It’s just that I wouldn’t drink it without food.


Oddly, the winner here in terms of pairing was Granville Island Lions Winter Ale. The shocking thing is that it might work even better if you throw a pinch of nutmeg at the cream sauce. I’ve seen that in some carbonara recipes.

Also, we learned that it is good to be friends with Ralph Morana. He’s the Godfather of the Ontario Craft Beer Scene. If you go against the Morana family, you might wake up with the neck of a bottle of Rolling Rock next to you.



It Takes A Village – Liberty Village Brewing Company

These days when I go to a tasting for a new brewery, I’m always a little bit leery. The sheer number of startups in Ontario at the moment suggest to me that we are in a boom period for craft beer. If you want to look at it objectively, you could probably claim that the boom is represented by the day Spearhead came off the line in June of 2011. Since then, we’ve had Hops and Robbers and Hogtown and The Indie Alehouse and Sawdust City and Silversmith and Oast House and that’s just near Toronto. Add in the fact that you’re going to have Snowman and Ramblin’ Road and Radical Road and 5 paddles and a large number of others and you start to think “Hey. Some of these fellows are going to lose pretty badly.”

The difficulty is that I generally like brewers and people who work for breweries. It’s hard not to like people who are passionate about what they do and who have given up other careers in order to make it work. I don’t want to see them fail, but I begin to get the sense that some failure is inevitable. I wrote it about it over here last year, prognosticating the issue. No one seems to have paid any attention, which is about par for the course in a boom. One of the problems with passionate people is that they believe in what they’re doing.

I think that the best thing you can do, if you’re a nano-brewery startup, is find a populous area that no one else has cornered the market on and set up there. It helps if the people are young and drink beer and have money. You might get bonus points if they wear a lot of plaid and ripped jeans and have ironic horn rim glasses despite living in pretty nicely appointed condos.

Once you’ve got your own glassware branded, you pretty much have to open a brewery.

The folks behind Liberty Village Brewing are thinking ahead in just that way. At their first tasting on Tuesday night, it became clear that they have the support of much of the liberty village community. The location for the event was provided gratis, and they seem to have struck up an arrangement with the local BIA. Like many of the other startups we’ve had in Toronto, it’s a group of people working together with one brewer. In this case, the brewer is Eric Emery, who took 3rd place in the IPA category of the Toronto Beer Week Homebrewing contest in 2011.

I have some sympathy for that position since I fared exactly the same in that category in 2010.

Liberty Village Brewing is going to try to get their own space up and running in 2013, with a view to eventually getting into the LCBO. I think that will be difficult at such a small volume, and may prove to be unnecessary in Liberty Village since there’s so much parking.

They have chosen the odd route of having public tastings for the purposes of R&D in order to refine recipes and discover what their audience is likely to want. On the one hand, it seems like an ideal solution to marketing beer. If you already know what people want, it becomes easier to produce it for them. On the other hand, it does make it a great deal more difficult to surprise them with something new that they might not have tried.

Of the beers I tried, there wasn’t a stinker among them. This is pretty good for an outfit that’s currently using homebrewing equipment. Some of the beers that were up for tasting reminded me pretty explicitly of beers that I have had before in Ontario. I suspect that if you’re a homebrewer on the way to becoming a brewer with your own stage, you more or less have to start out emulating things you like. You don’t end up with clones, but rather amalgamations of flavour combinations that you’ve seen work elsewhere.

For that reason, some of the beers on display were reminiscent of beers that have been available in Ontario. There was a malt heavy pale ale that fits nicely into the mold of Ontario Pale Ales from the latter part of the last decade (albeit more aggressively hoppy). There was a northern California/pacific northwest IPA that was not entirely dissimilar to Boneshaker (although lighter in Alcohol). There was a Robust Porter that seemed to mimic some of the best qualities of a good vintage of LTM Baltic Porter.

Interestingly, however, there were a couple of beers that didn’t have an equivalent within the market. There was a light, balanced Pale Ale that blended new world and noble hops. It would be ideal for a summer patio, weighing in at 36 IBUs. There was also an Imperial Amber Ale that came as something of a surprise. It’s not a hop monster, remaining balanced by its caramel malt presence and a touch of smoke that made it distinct from the rest of their lineup. It seemed to make the biggest impression on the crowd, which is an odd thing for such an eccentric offering.

Oddly, what I came to respect most was that people in attendance were given the opportunity to try some of the R&D batches that didn’t make the tasting. I had one IPA (R&D batch 7) that had resulted in a sort of Oniony funk. Now, you might think that serving such a beer at a tasting designed to impress a new market would be a misstep. I think that it speaks of both the scale and transparency of the operation. They served the beers that would make the best impression first, and then displayed some of the beers that they had to make in order to be able to put their best foot forward. It says:

“Here is where we are. That was where we were. Can you imagine where we will be tomorrow?”

Who knows what beers will end up in these bottles eventually? Probably Lamont Cranston.

Unlike some startups, Liberty Village seems content to carve out a niche for themselves within the Toronto scene. It seems to call for a small brewhouse, a small retail store, a restricted number of recipes and a supportive presence within their community. Incremental steps for a sensible tomorrow. I like their chances.

In Which I Tour The Sam Adams Brewery

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about over the course of the last week is exactly what to say about the tour of the Sam Adams Brewery I went on last Friday. It’s hard to know what to make of Sam Adams. They are so large in comparison to craft brewing generally that if they had not existed, you have to imagine that much of the rest of the craft brewing industry wouldn’t exist either.

There’s the fact people point to that the Brewer’s Association changed their upper limit for the volume a craft brewer could produce so that Sam Adams would remain a craft beer. They are currently the fifth largest brewer in North America. I don’t know what the precise annual volume is, but it’s something like a fifth of the craft beer brewed in the states. (They pretty much had to revise the limit upwards. Losing 20% of your overall volume is a narrative ruining media nightmare. Narrative is important to craft beer.)

That’s all well and good, but the cultural impact Sam Adams has had on us is impressive as well.

The Simpsons, which I think we can all agree on as a cultural touchstone, gave Homer Duff Beer to drink. This was in 1989, and the writers use Duff to parody huge, generic breweries. You’ve got the Duff Blimp and Duff Man and Duff Gardens. On the tour of the Duff brewery it’s made clear that the product is so generic that we see one pipe supplying the same beer to three different brands.

Family Guy, on the other hand, features Pawtucket Patriot Ale as Peter Griffin’s drink of choice. It’s pretty obviously a Sam Adams ripoff, right down to the label. Family Guy first aired in early 1999. Sam Adams normalized craft beer so completely to North American audiences between 1989 and 1999 that no viewers questioned that Peter Griffin would be drinking a regional craft beer.

That shift in consumer consciousness took slightly less than 15 years, given that Sam Adams was founded in 1984. Pretty good for a small group of people in an 800 square foot warehouse in Jamaica Plain.

The smokestack is shorter than it used to be. To be fair, it was cold out.

The current facility in Jamaica Plain is on the site of the Haffenreffer brewery, which was established in 1870. The smokestack is still there, bearing at least a portion of the original brewery’s branding.

It became pretty obvious that we weren’t going to get the regular tour. After a suitable amount of time standing amongst the display cases, viewing medals from various competitions, we were ushered into the private tasting room. After a certain amount of time trying samples of some beers in their lineup that I had never heard of (Black and Brew Coffee Stout, Whitewater IPA ) Jim Koch arrived and took us out for the deluxe tour.

I’m pretty sure that this was the least animated Jim Koch got during the tour.

I think that part of the success of Sam Adams has to do with the fact that it would be pretty hard to take a dislike to Jim Koch. He’s not a physically imposing man, but he’s quick on his feet and he’s wiry. If you had to guess his age, you almost certainly wouldn’t guess he was on the high side of 60. He’s been doing this for 28 years and he remains slight, which, having been to the Craft Brewers Conference, is not a quality that you see a whole heck of a lot in craft brewers generally. He’s animated when he talks about beer, and you can sense the mental quickness even before he opens his mouth. He reminds me a lot of Leo McGarry on The West Wing. As we toured, I’m pretty sure he was doing two things at once: Telling his story and doing QA on the IPA that had been on tap in the tasting room.

We had timed it so that there was a tour group ahead of us. Jim explained about the beginnings of the brewery, how he had managed to get started in 1984. He explained about the trouble that they had with gangs (and how you can buy gangs off with beer) and pointed out the order forms that they had used in the early days. He told the story about Boston Lager winning Best Beer in America at the 1985 GABF four months after starting up.

The couple who were waiting for the next tour to start were initially oblivious, playing the videos that explained the stories we were hearing first hand, clueing into the fact that something interesting was happening only when Jim was standing in front of a videoscreen that was playing his own image.

The brewhouse is decidedly old school

The Jamaica Plain brewery is more or less a showpiece at this point, the spiritual home of what can reasonably be called a small empire at this point. The majority of the brewing is done in Ohio. From what I gathered from the guy working the DE filter, the batch that he was working on was probably New World Tripel, a part of the barrel room series. Much of the production in this brewery seems to be one-offs or specialty batches, including a Colonial Ale for the Union Oyster House. An entire facility for R&D and special projects.

Clearly, there are parts of the tour that are there for the benefit of people who have never been on a brewery tour before. Standing in front of barrels of Boston Lager ingredients, Jim held forth on the virtues of the Hallertauer Mittelfruh hop variety.

See that barrel he’s standing in front of? You guessed it. Crystal 60.

The thing that I found most interesting, and tried to think about while rubbing a handful of hops and giggling quietly, was that a number of the Sam Adams beers that I tried contained Crystal 60 malt. I have a suspicion that the character of the Boston Lager and some of the main seasonal beers (Winter Lager, Octoberfest) share that as an ingredient, and that this is a rare case of a malt variety defining a brewer’s character (well, at least as much as the hops.) It’s that core grainy caramel sweetness that runs down the middle of those beers. It verges on molasses-y. I sort of have to be in the mood for that, but it suggests that when those beers were launched in 1989, it struck the brewer’s palate the right way. At the time, it would definitely have made those beers stand out from the competition.

Through a doorway, we skipped ahead 20 years to taste one of the main ingredients of the Barrel Room Series, which was launched in 2009.

There is still some Triple Bock. I’m pretty sure the last batch was 1997.

The barrel room is dominated by three huge vats of what they’re calling the Kosmic Mother Funk. It’s a mix of yeast and bacteria; sort of brettanomyces and pediococcus with an acetic kick. It’s a murky light reddish-brown and it’s not really the kind of thing that you’d want to drink by itself. It’s intended to be blended into other beers in the series.  By way of explaining the barrel aging process, Jim analogized sour beer to balsamic vinegar, explaining that if aged long enough the acetic pungency slowly transforms into a concentrated sweetness.

Jim explains the Kosmic Mother Funk. Mostly, I just like saying Kosmic Mother Funk.

“Don’t you find it worrisome having all that wild yeast kicking around with a production brewery on the other side of the wall?” I said.

“We manage a lot of different types of yeast strains in the brewery. We’ve gotten pretty good at it after 28 years,” he said. After a very brief pause, his arm snaked out and yanked the cord that closed the door to the rest of the facility. I suspect that he was humouring me.

The thing is that Jim Koch has gotten good at this after 28 years; extraordinarily so. Back in the tasting room, Crystal Luxmore asked him about beer and terroir. He gave a brilliant answer, which she had the foresight to catch on video.

Karmic Terroir. Karmic… Freaking… Terroir.

The answer is brilliant mainly for the reason that you can see the amount of thought that he has put into his profession over the years and for how eloquently he’s able to put the concept. Now, depending on your viewpoint, you might say that it was entirely justified; that a brewery occupies a position both in time, with all of the influences upon it of those things that have come before and have influenced both the trends of the moment and the tastes of the brewer that go into creating a beer, and in space, which is to say the ingredients and technology available. If you’re into the whole romance of brewing, the idea that, say, Boston Lager could only have been produced in Boston in 1984 is an earthquake of a concept. That Sam Adams could no more have produced Sierra Nevada Pale Ale than it could have produced a Zinfandel. That despite the fact that there is a tradition that all brewers share, each iteration of the process has so many extrinsic variables working upon it that the end result could not be other than a product of its place and time.

What can I say? The man gives good quote. Plus, it lent credence to my theory about the Crystal 60.

The thing that amazed me about Sam Adams generally was the drive to innovation. Currently they’re approximately the same size as Yuengling. Yuengling seems more or less content to rest on their laurels, sticking with a core lineup of brands. Sam Adams is currently working with something like 55 brands, some of which rely so heavily on concept as to beggar belief.

It’s my impression that they probably don’t actually need to be doing that. They could probably narrow it down and stick with a core lineup. They’re doing it because they’re having fun doing it. Jim Koch actually believes in this stuff. He’s excited about it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone shift that quickly between talking eloquently about the basics of brewing and wild beers and overarching philosophic principle. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. He’s been giving the tour for 28 years, after all.

Lunch at Doyle’s Cafe after the tour. You can’t turn down Knockwurst in Oktoberfest season.

The Craft Beer Advent Calendar

I would like to apologize in advance. 


‘Twas the month before Christmas and in my apartment,

The beers overflowed from the storage compartment

The fridge had no room left for soy sauce or jelly

On the bright side, no leftovers rendered it smelly


This infrequently happens to your beer reporter,

But sometimes with packages sent from importers

And brewers who’ve got a new product who think

That a bottle of this beer is what you should drink


They usually email to say that it’s coming

And this month the igoogle inbox was humming

The PR releases could choke a small camel

Or some lesser species of quadruped mammal


You usually know what the beer’s going to be

They list malts and hops and if it’s on lees

And although the packages come in all sizes

There frequently aren’t very many surprises


But one day an email arrived from out west

Craft Beer Importers, in a fit of beau geste,

were sending a package, a Christmassy present

I wasn’t to open until it was advent.


The concept is simple: December progresses;

Each day there’s a beer and with hope it impresses.

Not one of the beers have been sold here before.

There’s promise and wonder with each opened door.


With a chime of the buzzer and a knock on the door,

My package arrived and was set on the floor,

The man who delivered was nervous and wary,

That comes with the job, if the job is Beer Fairy.


His coveralls stank of a spilled pint of lager

His belly was proof that he wasn’t a jogger

Decorum was naught to this drunken old elf.

He burped and he farted and scratched at himself.


His cheeks, how they flushed! His stare it was glassy!

The Beer Fairy’s never mistaken for classy.

He thrust out a waybill and lent me his pen.

I signed, and he staggered back off to his van.


As I unwrapped the package I heard a small hubbub

“Sod this for a laugh, now I’m off down the pub, bub.

Now Blotto! Now Shaky! Now Wobbles and Stankey!

On Gulper! On Stumbles! On Pukey  and Jankey!”


(I love when he visits, please don’t get me wrong.

It’s just that I’m glad that he never stays long.

When he stands in the hallway the neighbours all stare.

They must not appreciate his savoir faire.)


I addressed myself back to the package and gripping

The handle could swear that the cardboard was ripping

In moments, the contents had covered the floor

And sadly, there are no surprises in store.


There are beers that have hops and some have seen barrels,

Some are probably worthy of new Christmas carols

“Oh my giddy aunt” I exclaimed in alarum,

“Beers featuring saccharomyces uvarum!”


They sit in my fridge and I cannot review’em

I don’t want to spoil the surprises for you’m

Who actually purchased this big box of beer.

At least I can say there’ll be reason for cheer.


The selection is worthy of waiting for advent!

It’s on shelves in Alberta! Buy one if you haven’t!

Stock’s running low now, so mind you don’t tarry

And watch out on the road if you see The Beer Fairy.

Beer and Food Tuesday: Temple Bar, Cambridge

Recently, I was flown to Boston to visit the Sam Adams Brewery. While we’ll no doubt get to the brewery tour itself later in the week once the experience has had some time to percolate through the ol’ grey matter, I wanted to talk about something that Sam Adams is doing right.

Once a month, or thereabouts, Sam Adams hosts a beer dinner at Temple Bar in Cambridge, just a couple of blocks up from Harvard. Coming from Toronto, where beer and food pairing is something that happens at a rotating series of restaurants and comprises great effort on the part of individuals like Greg Clow or of brewery reps, it’s somewhat surprising to see an attempt at continuity between a brewery and a restaurant.

Temple Bar does an upscale bistro take on what I suppose you would call Yankee cuisine, with a focus on seasonal ingredients. They have a wide selection of beers on tap, including small brewers like Jack’s Abby, and Pretty Things in addition to larger properties like Harpoon and Sam Adams. The beer menu is nearly as long as the wine menu. That’s an encouraging sign in and of itself.

Todd, shrouded in darkness, spends a contemplative moment with his beer.

Our host for the evening was Todd Bellomy, who is the Consumer Relations Representative for Sam Adams. He is one of the biggest beer nerds that ever sighted a refractometer. He makes Sake in his spare time. He’s all about beer and food, having spent years working in kitchens as an undergrad. This is a man who held forth eloquently for nearly ten minutes on “Beer Cheese” at one point in the evening, going so far as to highlight the advantages of various types of cheddar that might profitably be employed for this application.

Clearly, we were going to get along just fine.

The novel thing about the relationship between Temple Bar and Sam Adams is the way that it works. Before there were beer dinners, Todd showed up at Temple Bar and gave executive chef Greg Boschetti and his staff a bunch of beer to play with. The cases included a few bottles of everything that Sam Adams makes. The goal wasn’t to come up with a focused menu that would persist as a feature, but rather to see what a talented group of people could come up with if they were given license to play with the pairings. It has been over a year since this program started and so far they have repeated a total of one dish, but Todd was quick to point out that the beer pairing was different so that may not really count.

Before we get into the beer dinner proper, I have an observation about Sam Adams and regionalism. In the bread basket, there was a delicious Boston Brown Bread. I noticed, over the couple of days that I was in Boston, that most of the Sam Adams core lineup seems to have crystal 60 malt as part of its DNA. It seems like you get some of that malt character in the Boston Lager, Winter Lager and Oktoberfest. It goes extremely well with the molasses heavy brown bread, and I find myself wondering whether there was some intentional mirroring of a traditional cuisine or whether it was a subconscious thing on the part of the brewers, who may have been influenced by what was around. It’s possible I’m imagining it. Either way, it’s worth replicating at home as an experiment. I’m hoping I can shake the recipe for the bread out of them with a polite email.

FEZZIWIG STEAMED PEI MUSSELS: Chorizo, Jalapeno, Cumin-Cilantro Butter, Grilled Baguette. Paired with Winter Lager

Mussels are pretty much beer food. I know people who cook them with wine, but those people are wrong and should feel bad.

This is an interesting combination, because the Chorizo leeches a smoky paprika into the broth that compliments the heat from the jalapeno and the earthiness from the compound butter. It is probably déclassé to sop up broth with sourdough at a place like Temple Bar. I did so unapologetically. Winter Lager showed up in Ontario without much fanfare and it was never really advertised that it contains orange peel, ginger and cinnamon. It’s subtle, so that I’m not sure the mixture is immediately obvious if you drink it by itself. As a pairing, the orange played off the cilantro and the malt from the Fezziwig matched the Winter Lager.

The speed with which this bucket filled with shells is an indicator of how wrong the wine people are.

BOSTON LAGER POACHED PEAR & CRISPY DUCK RILLETTE: Caramelized Blue Cheese, Baby Greens, Balsamic-Lager Reduction. Paired with Latitude 48 IPA

Not only customizable, but pretty.

This is designed as a plate where you can combine different flavours in order to discover what works with the beer pairing. Each of the individual components would work with the IPA. The rillette and blue cheese, with their fat and salt, play with the mouthfeel and carbonation of the beer and also with the malt sweetness from the crystal 60 (those dudes love some crystal 60) and Gambrinus Honey malt. Because Latitude 48 uses hops from different regions, the individual character of the hops is highlighted by different components. The baby greens are peppery enough to bring out some of the Hallertauer Mittelfruh and East Kent Goldings.

BEEF TWO WAYS: Grilled Brandt Bavette Steak, Holiday Porter Braised Short Rib Cannelloni, Fingerling Potatoes. Paired with Boston Lager

Steak doesn’t need a caption. Steak needs only potatoes.

Typically, at beer dinners, when I see beef on a menu, it’s with a darker beer than a Vienna Lager. Todd was of the opinion that sometimes you just want to let steak stand on its own, that the beer balances the maillard reaction in the steak while more or less staying out of the way. I’m not sure it’s a great pairing, but in context, it’s a welcome relief between the intensity of the bookending courses. That said, in any other context steak and beer is nothing to whine about.

CHOCOLATE BOCK CAKE: Chocolate Bock Ganache, Salted Caramel, Chantilly. Paired with Utopias 2011

I’ll talk about Utopias more in another post, but I have to say that Graham Duncan made an excellent observation about the pairing here. Utopias takes on a minerally character from the barrels it ages in and that means that, oddly, the dessert component that complements it best is the salted caramel. At this point in its life, it seems to me that the barrel character coming through on the 2011 Utopias is port heavy, and that certainly works with the chocolate.

It may be wonderful, but there is only so much Utopias that even journalists can drink.

I think that the ongoing collaboration between Temple Bar and Sam Adams has some benefits. First of all, I can say that this is one of the most considered beer dinner menus I’ve seen. I think that results from the removal of one-time planning from the equation. Greg Boschetti has been thinking about this for more than a year and he’s had the opportunity to try different things. I suspect that means that there’s no impetus to do something really wild and crazy with the pairings in order to make a short term impression. That’s a good thing, especially since Sam Adams uses these monthly dinners for training new employees.

This is the kind of thing we should be looking into in Ontario. It’s one thing to have talented chefs doing one off beer dinners. It’s a joy when it works out. A longstanding arrangement, on the other hand, builds consistency and builds fluency on the part of the chef doing the pairing. I don’t know that there are any individual craft breweries in Ontario with the wherewithal to make something like this happen, but if I’m the Ontario Craft Brewers, I might look at this post as a suggestion of something being done right that can be shamelessly pilfered.

Cents and Sensibility: A Junket Declaration Form

This morning I was sitting in the lobby of the Park Plaza in Boston, smiling as effusively as the early hour permitted at a waitress in an attempt to get some coffee. Possibly it was because of the lack of caffeine in my system that a blog post from Alan McLeod was needling at me. In his October 31st blog post about press junkets, there was a tacit, albeit relatively lighthearted, accusation of impropriety on the part of the people taking part in the press junket that was allowing me to fail at flagging down a much needed cup of joe while listening to Tony Bennett in a prodigiously swank chandeliered environment.

Maybe it’s because of the reading that I did leading up to the trip to Boston (Robert B. Parker novels), but I feel that I should probably address the issue. Parker’s detective, Spenser, spends quite a bit of time sussing out exactly where his morals lie in relation to his occupation. It’s one of the defining qualities of the novels that he has things that he will and will not do in order to stay true to an internalized sense of self. There’s a sense of what can be referred to as honor in Spenser’s character; an imperfect analogy in this case because the stakes generally involve life and death.

I write about beer, so the stakes are not that high. There is still a curious morality at play, but comparatively little hangs in the balance. On a good day, I might be able to influence someone to try a certain beer. I recommend things that I like and tend to pan things that I don’t like. See this week’s column on Rickard’s Oakhouse and Creemore’s new offshoot Mad and Noisy. On my best day, I might be able to frame debate about craft beer and subtly influence the way people think about what they’re drinking. I think that’s about all anyone can do with this gig.

That said, Alan McLeod has posted a junket declaration form in his blog post, and I’ll play along. Initially, I was a little huffy and indignant about it, before realizing that if that was the emotional state, he probably had a point. I will fill it out to the best of my ability without attempting to justify too much and without staring too long into my navel.

♦ Name (optional)

Jordan St.John
♦ Destination and name of brewery or breweries.

Boston, Mass/ Sam Adams
♦ Price of junket and portion you paid.

I don’t want to break out the calculator to estimate the first part and I don’t need a calculator to tell you the second part is no dollars

♦ Who organized the junket?

The people at Elevator Communications, who handle PR for Sam Adams and Moosehead in Ontario. Also, Magner’s Pear Cider.

♦ Why were you selected to go on this junket?

I would like to think that it is because of my somewhat sardonic sense of humour and gentle bonhomie, but probably due to the fact that I have a large readership in Canadian Newspapers and a smaller, but high quality readership on the blog.

♦ Will you disclose the junket in any resulting articles?

Actually, yes. I sort of have to in order to write about it on the blog, since I’m aware of the potential for there to be some perception of malfeasance. I have already done so on social media. I’m also doing so as I write this sentence.

♦ Will you refer the junket as “research” in any resulting articles?

Almost certainly. I have never dealt with the strictures of academic citation. This is a blog where I make reference to Truckasaurus periodically. Also, I bought a bunch of craft beer from non Sam Adams breweries that actively constitutes research or, as some would put it “drinking stuff.” I also bought a copy of Norman Miller’s Beer Lover’s New England, which will almost certainly be useful at some point.

♦ Do you intend to call people on junket “friends” in any resulting articles?

Probably not the PR people, given that this is a working relationship. It’s not a comment on them personally, since they seem like nice folks. I was already friends with one of the other Journalists going in. It would be asinine to refer to Jim Koch as a friend after meeting him for a couple of hours or so, but I can definitely say that I respect what he’s built and that the man gives good quote. Actually, I might keep in touch with Todd Bellomy, who is Sam Adam’s Consumer Relations Representative, but that’s mostly because he’s a huge beer nerd and I like the cut of his jib. I would not currently call him a friend, although I get the sense he’d be fun to hang out with.

♦ Will you disclose to your actual friends that you intend to call people on junket “friends” too?

Most of the people I know are in the beer industry or related to the beer industry currently and I have no qualms about that disclosure. I should probably diversify the ol’ friendship portfolio.

The simple fact of the matter is this: I think you have to take junkets like this on a case by case basis. If you look at say, articles that P.J. O’Rourke wrote while reviewing cars, he’s vehement about disclosure on who’s paying. I think that’s the right way to go. I tend to disclose the fact that people send me beer to review. I freely acknowledge, as anyone who expects to be respected while writing about beer must, that you can only review what is in front of you and that the research budget is not huge. Does the fact that you have been sent a beer (or, indeed, been invited on a spree like this one) mean that you will review it positively? If it always does, that might mean that you are in someone’s pocket, which you’d certainly want to avoid.

I find that in my case I will soundly thrash things I don’t like even if they are free. There is the larger argument to be made that you can only write from experience, and that by definition, the long term mental model is irrevocably influenced by experiences like this. To claim otherwise would be nonsensical. It’s a thing I’m aware of and fairly vigilant about. I suspect that the fact that Alan’s blog post needled at me at 6:30 AM in an environment where most people would be content to listen to a light jazz soundtrack and punish the continental breakfast buffet speaks to the fact that I have an active moral compass when it comes to representing my activities as they relate to writing about beer.

There is also the other fact, which some folks might not be willing to admit to. While I’m certainly compensated well for writing (be it books or newspaper columns), a trip like this would typically be beyond my financial means. Given the circumstance, if someone invites you to go to Boston, meet Jim Koch and eat a bunch of really good seafood while drinking a selection of beer on their dime, the response is predictable.

As Spenser would say, “We’d be fools not to.”