St. John's Wort Beery Musings And Amusing Beers

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Irish Beer at the Toronto Festival of Beer

One of the things that I’m always fascinated by is the development of beer culture in non-North American markets. If you look at the United States and Canada, the narrative is all too familiar because it’s something like 30 years old. There have been problems with regulation and with monopolies, and there have been periods where the envelope was pushed to the extremes of taste. There’s a villain or two for small brewers to kick at in their marketing on their way to becoming larger brewers.

Photography n.: A practice by which beer gets skunked in the sun to give the audience something to look at.

Photography n.: A practice by which beer gets skunked in the sun to give the audience something to look at.

Probably the most interesting book on beer I read last year was a guide to the breweries of South Africa. This is because the development of their brewing renaissance hinges on a whole different set of factors than the North American version. For one thing, they had apartheid to deal with and economic resurgence. The climate is different and the presence of different colonial powers meant a different set of inherited tastes. They also didn’t have the Yakima and Willamette valleys with their hop production to provide inspiration.

When it was announced that the Toronto Festival of Beer was going to feature brewers from Ireland, it was the first time I’d been excited about the event in years.

Ireland is, first and foremost, a very small market. Consider for a moment that the entire population of the Greater Toronto Area is something like six million people. The GTA (or The Six, I guess, if you’re Drake) is more populous than Ireland by about a third. If the number of offensive advertisements running in the city is any indication, there’s a steady stream of emigrants from Ireland.

It's important to crowd around and take pictures of the obligatory photo-op. It makes the nice people from the tourism board feel good.

It’s important to crowd around and take pictures of the obligatory photo-op. It makes the nice people from the tourism board feel good.

Of course there are the iconic Irish brands like Guinness and Murphy’s, but like a number of other countries, Ireland has been subject to the ministrations of massive brewing companies over the years. Diageo aside, there’s Heineken which has bought up both Murphy’s and Beamish and closed the Beamish brewery in Cork. It’s one of the places where Ontario’s Carling brand has remained relevant. A contract brewed version of Budweiser made a large push into the market some twenty years ago and Diageo managed to cannibalize their own Harp Lager brand with that move. Left unchecked, the suggestion is that even the brands we’re familiar with in Canada (Harp, Kilkenny, Smithwicks) would have eventually disappeared in the name of moving additional volume in the Irish market.

Diageo and Heineken are the two largest breweries in Ireland producing millions of hectolitres each. This is, incidentally, the way it has been since the late 19th century. The St. James Gate and Lady’s Well breweries have occupied those market positions seemingly indefinitely. The only difference is that some of the competition has shut down in the interim period.

Seamus O'Hara, pouring the ceremonial pint of stout. O'Hara's makes a number of other beers which I'm now very curious about.

Seamus O’Hara, pouring the ceremonial pint of stout. O’Hara’s makes a number of other beers which I’m now very curious about.

The third largest brewery in Ireland is the Carlow Brewing Company, who make O’Hara’s. Founded in 1996, the entire idea behind their flagship stout was to attempt to recreate beers of the kind that had been popular up until the 1950’s and 1960’s. It should not be surprising that Irish stout became simplified as Guinness, focused largely on export, played to foreign tastes. O’Hara’s makes 28,000 HL of beer annually. The entirety of the Irish craft brewing scene is only 80,000 HL. If you’re keeping track, that’s about the size of Toronto’s Steam Whistle.

O’Hara’s hits a number of notes you’d be happy to see in any stout. The official sell sheet is telling me that I should be looking for dry espresso in the aroma, but that’s not what makes the beer work. There’s a complexity of flavour here ranging from dark chocolate and tobacco to licorice and a pronounced malt chewiness to the mid palate. It improves on the typical Dry Irish Stout in that it supplements the mild roast malt astringency with additional flavours and, unlike Murphy’s and Guinness, has a more substantial body.

Perhaps the most important thing is that O’Hara’s Stout is 4.3% alcohol: a measure that reflects the nature of Irish drinking culture. Beer in Ireland has been somewhat lower in alcohol due to the fact it’s consumed largely in pubs in session format. Walking around the Irish Pavilion at TFOB, you get the sense that there’s a struggle between this utilitarian drinking tradition and the ideas that are coming across the Atlantic. There seems to be a sort of battle at work in the development of small brewers in Ireland between the traditional place and purpose of beer and the adoption of stronger, more flavourful ingredients and styles.

Nothing looks impressive on a paper plate, but take my word for it: excellent.

Nothing looks impressive on a paper plate, but take my word for it: excellent.

It’s an interesting practical contrast with the food featured by the lads from Dublin Pop Up at a beer dinner the previous evening, featuring modern treatments of more or less indigenously Irish ingredients. At TFOB a smaller version of that dish was available: Rapini (Asparagus when they’re in Ireland) with hazelnut butter, charred Leeks, kombu baby potatoes, soured goats cheese, rye and dill snow. It’s an inventive treatment of traditional ingredients. Even more traditional was Tim McCarthy’s Black Pudding; so traditional, in fact that the course’s introduction was highlighted by the butcher downing a shot of Pig’s Blood (which one suspects might have been jagermeister)

If the culinary scene focuses on celebrating the strong points of tradition in imaginative ways, the youthful brewing scene seems more conflicted about their heritage in the face of prevalent international influence. McGargle’s branding suggests that the Irish Red Ale is appropriate only to grandmothers at this point while the visual look of the other labels in the lineup is suggestive of self-parody in the vein of Moone Boy.P1040094

Bru Rua takes the Red Ale far more seriously, but I found myself wondering whether it was any the better for the sleek branding and lack of whimsy. That’s how young the brewing scene is in Ireland: There are still brewers attempting to fill a single niche. Tom Crean’s Lager, for instance, is the kind of property that every brewing scene needs: a locally made lager that’s a gateway improvement on the mainstream. The amazing thing is that the Dingle Brewing Company that makes it is only four years old.

Stephen Clinch from Trouble Brewing, enjoying a leisurely pint before the hordes bear down

Stephen Clinch from Trouble Brewing, enjoying a leisurely pint before the hordes bear down

Amongst the newest members of the brewing scene, there were beers that could have been brewed anywhere at all. One problem with international brewing scenes interacting is that you end up with things like Trouble Brewing’s Equinox SMASH. Our own Nickel Brook in Burlington, Ontario did one of those about two months ago. For all that craft brewing suggests permutational possibility, you sometimes end up with monoculture. According to Brewer Stephen Clinch the influence in ingredients comes largely from North America, but frequently filtered through the English craft beer market. It’s an influence visible in his Hop Priority Triple IPA (a style whose time seems to have passed in our market.)

Trouble Brewing also presented what might be the best expression of Ireland’s brewing in a modern context in their Graffiti Session IPA. Session IPA tends to play as watery and without much in the way of malt character. Graffiti manages to pack a great deal of flavour into its 3.6% alcohol. The hops are Citra, Amarillo and Magnum. Instead of front loaded fruit salad impact, it’s balanced by Munich, Cara, Crystal and Carapils malts. The result is a beer that’s light in alcohol, balanced and just that touch too interesting to swill thoughtlessly down. It felt perfectly suited to discussion in a pub. It seemed to me like a fulcrum point between old and new, which is an admirable thing to achieve in an emergent scene that doesn’t quite seem to know how seriously to take itself.

If you're going to host an Irish Pavilion in Toronto in July, you'd do well to leave complimentary sunscreen about the pavilion. Someone at Tourism Ireland thought ahead.

If you’re going to host an Irish Pavilion in Toronto in July, you’d do well to leave complimentary sunscreen about the pavilion. Someone at Tourism Ireland thought ahead.

Review: The Wild Beer Co. Ninkasi

The Background

When you get right down to it, the job of a critic is to tell you whether something is good or bad.

Most of the time, I’m able to convey that information in prose. I don’t often use numeric ratings because that has always struck me as inutile. Unless you’re going to catalogue everything, that universality of context is not necessarily helpful. Whether it’s out of five points or a hundred points, unless you can create justification in context against everything else, a single point of data doesn’t really matter.

Besides: It’s essentially thumbs up or thumbs down. The variable is the size of the thumb.

Sometimes I can’t even manage that.

The way the media tasting at the LCBO works is this: On a given day at a given time, most of the people who write about beer in Toronto show up during a two hour window and try a small sample of most of the things that are going to be in the release. Sometimes they don’t have everything. The cast of attendees rotates somewhat, but it’s full of familiar faces. Sometimes there are a lot of beers and it takes a very long time. In some release lineups there’s no good point of entry.

If you’re tasting beers you usually want to work your way from least hoppy and/or assertive to most hoppy and/or assertive. It reduces palate fatigue and prevents burnout from bitterness or sourness or tartness. It’s one of the first things you learn.

Sometimes though, you get a weird one at about beer eight and it’s so different from everything else that everyone in the room sort of looks at each other to see whether there’s a consensus to be reached. Is the beer incredibly clever and our palates are shot? Is the beer terribly, freakishly weird? Beyond the objective scope, can you even figure out whether you like it?

That’s what happened with Wild Beer’s Ninkasi. In a tasting with not a few Saisons, it was something of an anomaly. I promised myself I would revisit it if only for my own edification.

The BeerP1040061

The Wild Beer Company is based in Somerset and they’ve used a number of ingredients in this beer. It’s something of a kitchen sink. They’ve used locally sourced apple juice (and I wish they had listed the varieties), wild yeast (probably both from the apple skins and directly inoculated), New Zealand Hops and a Champagne style refermentation. The beer is 9% alcohol and is suggested as a “Celebration Beer,” probably in the style of Deus or Charlevoix Brut.

It pours a golden colour with a big white fluffy head that recedes fairly quickly in my snifter, leaving trickles of carbonation but no significant lacing.P1040070

The aroma is complex. At first there’s the vanilla and mild clove that you might expect from a Saison yeast. Lemon and an indefinable tropical fruit note dance around the apple core. The apple aroma is that combination of slightly musty apple skin and the malic explosion of the first rending of the torus of an unripe windfall. There’s something earthy on the sip and at the LCBO tasting I recall comparing it to the nitrogen rich potting soil character of an altbier. Call it dead leaves and the dirty ground. The apple character does not carry through on to the palate in the way you might expect and much of the character is spent in the aroma. The scrubbing carbonation and acid rather than refreshing, actually seems to deaden the tongue. The alcohol is massively warming and the heat in the throat and dryness of the beer are practically arid. The retronasal sting continues that autumnal aroma of a copse of leaves turning and dying. The staying power of the finish is massive and (what I’m guessing is) the wild yeast character that plays around the finish reminds me of the agglomeration of leaves and stems that would sit at the bottom of the bushel of Empire Apples in the wine cellar of my childhood home; that apple not meant to be overwintered which nonetheless hangs on until February and continues to make appearances in the lunchbox.

Thus equipped, I am now ready to speak for this beer both in the objective and subjective cases.

Is It Any Good?

It’s Brilliant. It manages to evoke the entire autumnal life of an apple from the orchard itself to the wrinkled old maiden in the bottom of March’s storeroom. I don’t think it’s a summer beer, so you should probably hang on to it until the first cold night of fall.

Do I Like It?

No. Sometimes I don’t want to have to work that hard to enjoy a beer. For me, it doesn’t meet the criteria I want in a “celebration beer.” While this is life affirming in its way, it’s not exactly Kool and the Gang, you dig?

Stift Engelszell Gregorius Trappistenbier

One of the best things that Michael Jackson ever did was give the world Belgian Beer.

Not the Belgians, of course. They already had Belgian Beer. I’m pretty sure that the Dutch and the French were aware of it as well. What Michael Jackson managed to do was invest Trappist beer with a level of Romance that persists in marketing and in the subconscious minds of beer drinkers to this day. I get the feeling that you’re going to be skeptical about this claim I’m making, so I’ll link to the episode of The Beer Hunter where he waxes rhapsodic about Chimay. (I also think, probably disrespectfully, that David Mitchell could play him in a biopic based on this sketch.)

We owe Michael Jackson a lot as beer drinkers. He more or less singlehandedly created a systemic organization of knowledge for dealing with beer, categorizing styles based on historical provenance and ingredients. That’s important as far as it goes, but his real gift was imbuing the topic with a sense of Romance. I believe that we would not ascribe nearly as much importance to Trappist beers without his six editions of Great Beers of Belgium. What he managed to do in his lifetime was promote an iterative narrative. Each edition would improve on the last and the legends that he promoted would grow. Chimay, Westmalle, and Achel may not exactly be household names, but would we know them at all without his constant tending of their stories?

I wondered about this as I looked at the number of bottles of Stift Engelszell Gregorius Trappistenbier sitting on the shelves at Summerhill: 336. This was part of the Spring release and we’re now well into July. You would think that it would fly off the shelves, but no one seems all that interested. I wonder whether this is due to the lack of an authoritative figure to tell their story. It seems to lack the cachet of its Belgian brothers.

I realized that I knew very little about the beer except for the fact that it was Austrian. Having done some research, I’m shocked that it’s still there.

Maybe you’re familiar with the story of Orval. A widow named Matilde, who just happened to be Countess of Tuscany, carelessly dropped her wedding ring into a fountain. She prayed for its return and lo and behold a trout came to the surface with the lost ring. She was so thankful that she built a monastery on the site. It is a good story in an Aesop/Ovid kind of way.

The Engelszell story beats it standing.

I stole this image from the monastery's website. I hope they don't send internet Jesus after me.

I stole this image from the monastery’s website. I hope they don’t send internet Jesus after me.


Picture it! The d’Oelenberg Abbey in Alsace at the turn of the 20th century. The 200 monks live a relatively happy existence, but dark clouds loom on the horizon! During the first World War, all of the expansions made during the 19th century were bombed to rubble. The monks, without a home, were forced to relocate to Engelszell on the Danube in Upper Austria. Gregorius Eisvogel is their leader and he becomes the prior and subsequent abbot of the rococo church and monastery in 1925. In 1939 the Gestapo confiscate the abbey and evict the brothers. Several are sent to Dachau and more are dragooned into the Wehrmacht. Of the 73 brothers who had been part of the community only a third were left in 1945. In 2012 only 7 remained. They have turned to brewing in order to afford to maintain their property.

The beer tells their story in a glass in a way no other Trappist beer does. There’s the issue of the name: Gregorius is named after their first abbot at the new location. There is, one supposes, a theological issue of pridefulness in celebrating their own history. There are no other Trappist beers named after a single man. Their history is represented by the use not of a Belgian Ale yeast but by an Alsatian wine yeast more apropos to their earlier lives. They use honey from near their own monastery in place of candi sugar and would have used honey from their own apiary in test batches; monastic cells possibly mirroring those of mellifera.IMAG1286[1]

The beer is 10.5% and pours a reddish brown with auburn highlights. The aroma at fridge temperature pronounces the sourness deriving from the yeast strain in use with fruit character from plum, prune and currant. As it warms there’s slightly burnt rum raisin on the finish, a note of cocoa on the soft palate and as it reaches the proper temperature for consumption there’s black licorice, eucalyptus and a powdery cherry candy dot at the front of the tongue. Reaching room temperature there is a dusty bazooka joe character and a warming kirsch note in the throat before a souring finish.IMAG1289[1]

Here we have a unique product with a great story retailing for $4.45. Somehow no one seems to have written about the release in Ontario. I think that part of the problem is that there is no authoritative figure like Jackson to give it the nod. He’s not around to push the narrative of Trappist brewing and invest it with Romance and as a result the feeling I get is that no one knows what to make of an Austrian Trappist Beer. I don’t believe Gregorius is quite world class, but it’s very good and there’s nothing else like it. After all, they’ve only been making it for three years. You should pick up a bottle.

There’s a larger lesson to be learned here, though. With the democratization of the internet we are without authoritative figures. It is easy to write about properties like Chimay that have existed for 150 years because there are reference materials to spoon feed you. It is difficult to do what Michael Jackson did, which is approach a thing from first principles and understand both how to analyze and promote it all at once. It is necessary even in a world with Untappd where objectivity and subjectivity are frequently confused.

Visit: Muddy York Brewing Company

If you approach on foot from Dohme Ave, the aroma outside the Muddy York Brewing Company is actually that of baking cookies. Located in the same neighbourhood as O’Connor Bowl and the Peek Freans factory (and perhaps more importantly the factory outlet store for those of you interested in attaining peak levels of Freen), Muddy York is tucked away amongst low rise industrial buildings and transport trailers on Cranfield Road.IMAG1258[1]

The single floor building housing Jeff Manol’s brewery is not purpose built. It’s actually in the back of a Tool and Die shop from that period of East York’s postwar boom, a detail visible in the shape of the cabinetry and the hanging of the doors throughout the building. That sage parental advice that you should have something to fall back on has been taken seriously and the brewery, if we’re to take the square footage it occupies as an indicator, seems to be a subset of the other business. In several places, hard worn sets of calipers line the wall in ascending order of size.IMAG1259[1]

There is a cobbled together sense about the place. The retail area could easily double as the cover of a late 1960’s folk album. The press back chair and battered steel refrigerator might as well be from the Basement Tapes.IMAG1266[1]

To name a brewery after the early portion of Toronto’s history is not a choice to be taken lightly. For one thing, you’ve got people like me roaming around to point out inauthenticity. The flagship beer for Muddy York is their Porter, a style which did not really exist here until Muddy York was Toronto (William Helliwell toured the Barclay Perkins brewery in Southwark in 1832 but didn’t start brewing Porter until much later.) It’s silly to take them to task for that because any historical beer is a pastiche at best. You can’t step in the same river twice.

What you can do is borrow sensibly from the past; you can be aware of it. There’s a tendency to chase trends in new breweries that is ultimately self-defeating. There will always be a newer hop variety and there are always recently pioneered techniques to borrow. It’s important to view those elements as additions to an already existing set of equipment and knowledge than as replacements for old iron. With each additional element the permutative possibilities of creation increase. In the short term, the novel tends to exhaust itself.    IMAG1261[1]

Muddy York seems to have taken a top down view, preferring to select from the entire palette of options for their beer. It reaches the point where it’s difficult to tell what the influence might be for their Unearthed Amber Ale. Do the two varieties of Crystal malt suggest the bones of an English ESB and how do you reconcile that with the American C-hop character? While there is some of the fruitiness of an English style, there’s also the citric and coniferous zest of an American style. Despite that, the balance lets the grain character come through and the dry finish prevents the Crystal from cloying.IMAG1264[1]

Their Diving Horse Pale Ale is similarly an exercise in negotiation between old and new. There are any number of Pale Ales and IPAs brewed in Ontario with the hops that Muddy York is using here. Nelson Sauvin, Simcoe, Chinook and Cascade are all in fairly common use. The late hopping technique employed here is also making its way around. The clever part about Diving Horse is the decision to use only UK Pearl malt. It allows for a more substantial, bready background to illuminate the gentle citrus and tropical notes in the aroma without overbalancing. The contrast adds complexity to what could be a fairly dull experience.IMAG1265[1]

The Muddy York Porter does something that I’ve never seen before. Typically, when you think of a London Style Porter there’s chocolate and roast and a little bit of smoky acridity; it has that. In the historic versions Porter was aged significantly and soured somewhat, a nicety that modern versions don’t really attempt to emulate. Muddy York has cleverly included wheat and chocolate wheat in the grist for the beer which results in that slightly wheaty tang that gives it a touch of verisimilitude. The brown malt adds body but the entire issue is somehow less cthonic than you might expect from the name. It has ruby highlights in the sun.IMAG1268[1]

The brewery itself is relatively small. With three fermenting vessels, it seems unlikely to me that Muddy York is going to take the world by storm in the immediate future. I visited them on Canada Day during the first few hours their bottle shop had been open for business. At the beginning of the third hour they were out of everything but Porter. It may be a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem. I admire the gumption it takes to establish a bricks and mortar property when the more usual solution is to hire a brewer and hire a brewery on the way to considering a property eventually. It’s a slower and more gradual process, but there’s something to be said for graft and for complexity.

Review: Underdog’s All or Nothing Hopfenweisse

The Background

Underdog’s Brewhouse is located in Oshawa and has been in business since some point last year. I know this because I’ve frequently seen them at festivals. They are unmistakeable with their bright yellow signage. Owned by Jeff and Eric Dornan, they seem to have taken the Steam Whistle tack on things at the beginning of their enterprise. They’re attempting to do one thing really well. That’s a solid idea for a start-up brewery and making a wheat beer is a fairly good choice. There aren’t a huge number of locally produced wheat beers on the Ontario market on a permanent basis. They have also recently hired on Matthew Gibson, creator of the Sounds Like Beer podcast. It is always a good idea to have an (ex)lawyer on staff.

I generally like Underdog’s chances. I think that the thematic element that they’ve decided on for branding is a good one. There are all manner of historical underdogs that you could use as inspiration for furtherproducts. I do wish that they would create a name for the boxer that they’re using on the tap handles. Also, I wish that the boxer on the tap handles wasn’t a nightmarish yellow figure without distinguishing features not unlike Charlie Kelly’s Green Man. These are minor quibbles.Tap_Handle1Greeman

The Beer

All or Nothing is a Hopfenweisse, a sort of hoppy wheat beer that has become fairly popular since Schneider-Weisse introduced their version, TAP5, which was a collaboration project with Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn. Other Ontario examples include Beau’s Wag The Wolf and Creemore’s Mad and Noisy Hop & Weizen. The can that I’m drinking was packaged fairly recently, something like June 3rd according to the date code. It is apparently 25 IBU and 5.1% alcohol, making it somewhat lighter than the progenitor of the substyle. I don’t know whether it is an Ontario thing, but all of our examples are a little lighter than the original. At $2.95, it’s in line with the Creemore and cheaper than Beau’s by quite a bit.P1040032

All or Nothing pours a cloudy light orange and seems to be can conditioned, judging by the swirl of yeast that settles through the fluffy head and dissipates into the body. Although the yeast character on a Weisse is frequently said to be banana or bubblegum, that’s not what All or Nothing is doing. Sure, there’s barely ripe banana, but the majority of the yeast ester comes across in an explosion of rising bread dough when you open the can. The force of its sudden expansion is that of a tube of Pillsbury dough. While there is some tropical fruit in the aroma, the majority of what’s there is citric and in combination with that rising bread character, the overall impression is of fermenting orange juice or a spicy orange chutney.

On the palate, the texture is smooth and wheaty. However, there’s a significant and somewhat distracting pepper note at the tip of the tongue that I think is probably from the Magnum bittering hop. The aroma hops responsible for the fruity bouquet are a sort of rope a dope in that regard.

I can’t help but think that the disparate elements come together rather better on tap.

The Arbitrarily Chosen Score Based on Various Criteria

Today we’re going to be using as our scoring reference guide the S.J. Beetlebaum Index of Heroic Unlikelihood. This is a standard scale which rates underdogs on their accomplishment from one to ten. John Cena, who is portrayed as an underdog but who has actually been champion something like 15 times, scores very low. Cartoon Superhero Underdog similarly rates fairly low on the scale due to the fact that he never loses. Biblical hero King David sits at the other end of the spectrum having gotten extremely lucky with a slingshot precisely once.

This beer rates a score of Rocky Balboa…rocky.2

…at the end of the first movie.

Ultimately, Rocky has all of the tools at his disposal to make victory happen and he has just managed to take Apollo Creed the distance. However, when it comes down to a split decision, he loses to the champ. Has Rocky really lost? Not in the larger sense. He gets a rematch and his world has expanded.

All or Nothing Hopfenweisse doesn’t quite manage to hang together. All of the things that will make this a solid flagship beer for Underdogs are present, but they’re a little jumbled and they need refinement. With a little work, I can see the Dornan boys running down the beach with Carl Weathers and eventually beating up Mr. T.


Fun With Numbers: Illicit Substances Edition

(Disclaimer: CAMH has provided data for this piece, but their representative would like me to point out that that is the sum total of their contribution. Opinions expressed are mine and should not be taken to reflect on CAMH.)

Last month, as I was sitting here writing book proposals, the property management company that owns my building slipped a note under my door. Apparently, we here on the seventh floor of the building have been responsible for complaints about what the note comically described as “illegal aromas.” In a fairly sarcastic phone call in which I attempted to clarify what that might mean, it became clear that someone had taken offense to the fug of pot smoke that creeps out into the hallway at all hours of the day from what seems to be most of the apartments on the floor.

I’m not exactly against the use of marijuana. I think that legitimate prescription for medical purposes is a good thing. I harbor suspicion that the stronger strains that exist today probably tend to trigger latent mental health conditions, especially in young people. I don’t smoke pot myself, but I did a handful of times in university. I tended to experience paranoia (probably a bad idea to watch Dawn of the Dead for the first time before smoking pot), but I know a number of people who seem to enjoy it. As someone who drinks a lot of beer, it would be hypocritical to harsh someone else’s mellow.

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. My mother is a family practitioner and at some point in the last decade she changed one of her diagnostic questions. She no longer asks people whether they smoke marijuana. She asks them how much marijuana they smoke. It’s a better question. Instead of being perceived as stigmatizing or puritanical, it’s more likely to result in accurate data. Accurate data is better for the patient’s care.

Pot has gained a certain amount of societal acceptance and I’m interested in how that effects what I do. That is to say that I don’t have an agenda, but I do like accurate data. I’ll be pulling correlative information from various places and I don’t believe that I have quite enough to establish causation. I think that this is a discussion worth having even if it’s not definitive.

When people write about craft beer, they tend to eschew the reason people drink it: It contains alcohol. They talk about flavour and local production and economic benefit. It’s infrequent you see someone talk about beer purely as a recreational substance without being jokey, but that’s what we’re interested in here. The reason that we’re interested is that there’s a lot of data that suggests people use beer and marijuana interchangeably. Behaviourally, the consumption patterns are similar.

One of the hallmarks of the modern era in brewing is the fact that the total size of the market in North America has been shrinking. Brewers tend to attribute this to bad weather during the summers, but that’s a bone they dangle in front of the media. Have we really had four bad summers in a row? No. We are also told that people are switching from beer to wine. I think that’s nonsensical as well, given that wine is not situationally interchangeable with beer. I think beer is losing market share to pot.

Consider the following: CAMH’s 2013 E-Monitor states that past year use of cannabis has increased from 8.1% of the population in 1977 to approximately 14.1% of the population in 2013. In terms of the adult (18+) population, 42.6% has tried cannabis at some point in their lifetime. I would bet (and this is not CAMH data) that if you included teenagers, you’re probably looking at something like 48-50% of the population on that lifetime stat.

Beer drinking, on the other hand, has been in sharp decline since the late 1970’s in North America. Coincidental to the CAMH information, we have the stat that Canadians consumed 115.2 litres of beer per capita in 1976. Currently, we’re down to just over half of that at 63.35 litres of beer per capita. Partially, that decline has to do with the changing taste of the consumer, the explosion of craft products and the changing demography of the country.

Let’s take a historical low point from the 1990’s in order to prove a point: In 1995-1996, a particularly bad year for beer sales, we dwindled to 66.5 litres per capita. At an estimated population of 29, 671,900 that should equate to 19,731, 813.5 HL of beer. Currently, the population is something like 35,726,535 which equates to 22,632,760 HL. That seems like growth, but you’ve got to remember that if consumption had remained stable at 1996 levels, you’re looking at an extra 1.125 million HL: Approximately the 2014 production of breweries under 100,000 HL in Ontario and Quebec combined.

Why the shift? Well, the makeup of the population is changing. Canada’s population grows about 250,000 per year purely through immigration and many immigrants come from cultures where drinking beer in quantity is not really a thing. That’s not a moral failing on their part, by the way. It’s just factual. If drinking beer were a particularly Canadian trait, then the Czechs would be the most patriotic Canadians in the world. If you come to Canada and your religion forbids alcohol or beer simply isn’t as relevant to your culture as it is amongst groups with European heritage that fact is going to bring the average down a little.

There’s a larger economic argument to be made, however, and it’s one of the most noticeable trends from the 2015 Beer Canada statistics released this week. The Consumer Price Index for beer based on the 2002 average price has increased dramatically more than wine and spirits. Wine, on average, has been pretty steady from 86% in 1994 to about 104% in 2014 or about 18%. Spirits, on average, have increased in price at a faster rate 94% in 1994 to about 114% in 2014 or about 20%. Beer has gone up from 80% in 1994 to 117% in 2014. That’s a 37% price increase in twenty years for a product with a substitutable commodity equivalent whose price is decided on the black market.

That’s not even the worst of it. I want you to think about the fact that “buck a beer” was discontinued in Ontario in 2008. Brewers lobbied the government to increase the minimum pricing in the province so that discount brands could no longer be sold at 24 dollars a case. Approximately six years ago, the cheapest beer on the market cost $24.00 dollars. Today it’ll set you back $32.95. That’s a 37% price increase in six years. During that period, beer sales in Canada dropped off by 3.4%, a number which vastly outstrips population growth during the same period.

There’s a study in the Journal of Law and Economics from 2013 that suggests that in an economy where medical marijuana is legalized, there’s a correlative drop in beer sales by 5%. In Ontario, we have medical marijuana and even before that there was an attitude of decriminalization towards pot. Let’s think about that for a minute.

CAMH’s E-Monitor statistics say that past year use of marijuana by people in the demographic 18-29 has increased from 18.3% in 1996 to 40.4% in 2014. This is a period of time referred to by large brewers as the “prime drinking years.” That makes a significant amount of economic sense when you consider the 37% average increase in price over 20 years and the 37% increase in the price of discount beer in the last 6 years.

This is not really a good article to plug a product in, but I'll take the trouble to remind you that Old Style Pilsner is objectively the best beer in the discount category. If you're going to drink cheap beer, this is probably the one you want.

This is not really a good article to plug a product in, but I’ll take the trouble to remind you that Old Style Pilsner is objectively the best beer in the discount category. If you’re going to drink cheap beer, this is probably the one you want.

(Further disclaimer: I have never bought weed and wouldn’t really know how to go about doing so. I had to google the following figures. I felt like the guys in Office Space trying to google “Money Laundering.”)

Apparently an ounce of average quality pot in Ontario costs 200 dollars. There’s a convenient price index at That’s 28 grams. This means that, even according to the RCMP’s 2009 price index, which is probably slightly inflated, the price has not gone up on pot during a period where the price of discount beer brands has increased 37%.

The median total income for a single person in Canada has increased from $28,840 in 2009 to $32,020 in 2013. That’s about a ten percent increase. At an income level most likely to buy discount goods, brewers have massively outstripped the wealth of their target demographic. CAMH’s data suggests that the economic group most likely to have smoked marijuana during the last year is that with a household income less than $30,000.

My contention essentially is that beer, a product that is meant to be a blue collar luxury is now even its cheapest and ugliest form priced so highly that people seem to be switching to an untaxed black market commodity. Craft Beer goes from strength to strength, but because it has flavour and is a bit middle class, it’s not the commodity we’re talking about here. It appeals to a different demographic.

What I’m seeing here is something that could become a vicious cycle. Brewers sell less beer and therefore put the price up to shore up their profits and people who are buying discount beer for the effect rather than the flavour switch to marijuana causing the brewers to sell less beer… etc. More importantly, there’s a rather large amount of black market pot going around that could probably be legalized and taxed and controlled for quality assurance.

Like I said at the outset, I’m not sure that I’ve displayed causation. I think the data merely hints at it. There is, I think, an obvious correlation and I think it might call for additional study by someone who’s getting paid to do it.

Review: Bush Pilot Pengo Pally

The Background

When you think of contract brewers in Ontario, you typically think of those companies that are launching into the market with a single product in an attempt to become a saleable commodity before they acquire expertise, ability, judgment, equipment or any damned thing other than a bank loan. What you tend not to think of is fairly complex high end beer.

Bush Pilot is therefore something of an anomaly. Owned by Vlado and Liliana Pavicic who are behind import agency Roland and Russell, Bush Pilot is releasing their third aeronautically inspired beer this summer. Running an import company means that these are people who have evaluated beer internationally for the possibility of import into the country. They’ve spent something like a decade talking to brewers. They’ve brought us Dupont, Het Anker, Southern Tier, Kiuchi and Nogne. Unlike some other contract brewers in Ontario, they have judgment and expertise. This means their attempts are a great deal more ambitious than others in the market.

For their first beer, Stormy Monday, they brought in Anders Kissmeyer and partnered with Niagara College and Nickel Brook in order to produce a Barley Wine aged in Calvados barrels. Contrarian that I am, I did not care for it much. It was over full of good ideas with 26 ingredients. It was not a bad beer, but it was in need of editing. It was, at least, ambitious. There’s a lot to be said for your high flying risk takers and I suppose if you’ve named your company after bush pilots, you’re comfortable in that ozone.

The BeerDSC_0200

Their third beer, Pengo Pally, is a far more conceptually stable venture. Apparently, “Pengo Pally” is Iniktitut for “I miss you.” This was the message stenciled on the plane of Inuit bush pilot Johnny May and intended for his wife. This ties in rather beautifully with the National Film Board’s documentary The Wings of Johnny May (which is affecting and worth a watch.)

I do not know that any style of beer is really suited to the north. The Inuit never produced much in the way of alcohol, one assumes due to the lack of fermentable material and the punishing ambient temperatures. That said, Pengo Pally attempts to use indigenous ingredients to their full effect and there are relatively few styles that would be effective in showing off delicate floral and herbal notes. By process of elimination, Pengo Pally is a Saison.

The specialty ingredients are crowberry leaves and Labrador tea. I have no context for these ingredients, so I’ve been researching them a little. Crowberry is fairly common in the tundra, and although the berries themselves are quite mild in flavour, they freeze well during the winter and are a traditional dietary staple of the Inuit and the juice seems to do well as a seasoning when mixed with fat. The leaves are frequently boiled into a tea as a medicine against stomach upset.

Labrador tea I am slightly more apprehensive about. A member of the rhododendron family it is both hardy and slightly narcotic in large enough quantities. It theoretically contains grayanotoxin, which in large enough quantities may act as a paralytic. Indeed, in the Caucasus mountains they harvest honey from bees who feed on rhododendron. The following from Xenophon’s Anabasis (you know the movie The Warriors? That, but in a phalanx and 2400 years ago.):

“The effect upon the soldiers who tasted the combs was, that they all went for the nonce quite off their heads, and suffered from vomiting and diarrhoea, with a total inability to stand steady on their legs. A small dose produced a condition not unlike violent drunkenness, a large one an attack very like a fit of madness, and some dropped down, apparently at death’s door. So they lay, hundreds of them, as if there had been a great defeat, a prey to the cruellest despondency. But the next day, none had died.”

Ryan Morrow, from Nickel Brook, assures me that the use of Labrador Tea in this instance is quite mild and slighty floral. Having been added to the whirlpool, the active ingredient is not present due to the lower temperature and everything is quite safe. If you experience violent drunkenness, it’s for the usual reason.

Sadly, for neither of these ingredients have I found an indication of the flavours they might impart.


The beer shares some commonality with Nickel Brook’s La Paysan Saison. The carbonation level is quite high, with an excellent pillowy head that softly collapses in the glass. The body is slightly hazy to the eye. There is here a slightly sour bright lemon aroma with floral and vegetal notes that manage to offset the yeast character, playing subtly with the peppery whiff. The body has a light, wheaty smoothness to it and the vegetal and floral notes dance along the soft palate never quite succumbing to clove due to the spiky carbonation. The finish is quite dry and very mildly tannic with a note not entirely unlike dandelion milk.

This is what I like to see. An overarching thematic concept from the brand, executed well in a specific product through the use of interesting ingredients, a talented brewer, exquisite packaging and a good story. The retail price on the Bush Pilot website is $9.95, and at that price point you’d be a fool not to try this.

The Arbitrarily Chosen Score Based on Various Criteria

Today, we’ll be using the United States Army Airforce’s World War II era Arctic Survival Manual as our inspiration for providing this beer with a score. Specifically, it will be the section on edible plants and animals. It tells us, for instance, that the Caribou is the most sensible option if you find that your plane has gone down in the arctic and you require sustenance. The manual advises against eating the liver of the Polar Bear due to vitamin A toxicity. Amongst the smaller animals, rabbits are frowned upon due to their leanness and the possibility of developing malnutrition in the form of protein poisoning.

Birds are promising: puffins, eider, ducks, swans and geese all contain enough fat to help the human body survive. If you’re lucky enough to have crashed your plane in the summer, you might be able visit and pluck eggs from the nesting sites of migratory birds.

Pengo Pally is a summery beer and I think our score has to derive from that. Like any Bush Pilot in the great white north, Pengo Pally has decidedly taken an Arctic Tern.

I'm not even a little sorry.

I’m not even a little sorry.


Review: Lake of Bays Cheli’s Pale Ale

The Background

Lake of Bays has had a fairly eventful five years. When you consider that they launched in 2010 and are now selling their beer in the United States, they must be doing pretty well. They have somehow managed to get five core products into the LCBO and a seasonal SKU and a mini keg SKU and a series of NHL Alumni Association SKUs and a CFL Alumni Association Football Growler SKU. Eventually, they’re going to have a Les Stroud Survivorman SKU that will probably be seen walking away from the camera and then coming back to the camera and then playing harmonica next to a lonely campfire.

I love me some Les Stroud. He grumbles very little for a man with dysentery being chased by a jaguar.

The question that I suppose you have to ask yourself is: “Given that a five year old brewery is producing five core brands and four seasonals and a seasonal beer every quarter in addition to one offs in the Wild North series, are all of these beers going to be good?”

Well, it’s difficult to say, isn’t it? Having celebrity associations with your product is demonstrably an excellent way to get a look in from the LCBO. Just ask Sam Roberts, Tom Green, and K-OS. On the surface of it, having the NHLAA in play is an interesting way to guarantee public interest in Canada. This is a country where every child is issued a copy of Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater with their government toque. The problem is that they have now issued seven of these beers and they have to have a new one every quarter. They’ve had a series with goalies and now they’re on to gritty players in their True Grit series.

How long can you milk the gimmick? It’s for charity, which is good, but at some point you’re going to have issued enough of them for a game of shinny.


Consider how many people have drunk beer out of that thing. Consider how many taxis it has been left in.

The Beer


I’ll give the NHLAA series this: The graphic design has been uniformly pretty good.

The most recent edition in the True Grit series is named for hall of fame defender Chris Chelios. Called Cheli’s Pale Ale, this is an Oak Aged American Pale Ale with Chinook and Perle hops. It claims to be 40 IBUs (which I suspect is low.) It’s 7% alcohol and comes in a 750ml bottle from the LCBO for $9.95.

The pour is a pleasing light orange with considerable head retention. I’m assuming that the stability there is from the protein in the wheat they’re using. The aroma has buttery oak and vanilla, but there’s also a certain amount of maple character present. The citrus from what I’m guessing is the chinook comes through as orange zest, but has to fight its way up through the woodier elements to emerge in the foreground. Warming up, the caramel malt character begins to come through on the sip and lingers through a smooth mid palate until the swallow at which point a lump of peppery bitterness sits in the throat as the finish trails away. The finish is long and, by contrast to the aroma, stingingly bitter.

As it warms further, you begin to get the Perle hops, but the spiciness there in contrast to the oak and citrus puts me in mind of English Leather rather than a beer. Taken all together, it’s not balanced. If you were to plot the beer on a graph, the high points are the aroma and the finish with a deep valley in the middle.

Additionally, I’m not exactly sure how this expresses particular Cheliosity. How is an Oak Aged Pale Ale particularly Cheliesque? How does one arrive at which beer best interprets Cheliosness?

The Arbitrarily Chosen Score Based on Various Criteria

Today, due to our Hockey theme, we’re going to be using the Shaffer-Zevon Big Book of Enforcers as our guide to assigning a score to this Lake of Bays product. What else can a blogger from Canada do? This scale assigns a score from one to ten based on the severity of the penalties accrued by the goon in question. This can range anywhere from a quiet word from the ref (1) to Gross Misconduct and ejection from the league (10).

Lake of Bays Cheli’s Oak Aged Pale Ale is symptomatic of a brewery that is trying to do too much. The wood is certainly there, but it doesn’t work terribly well with the beer. The execution could use work and, conceptually, there might be a reason why we don’t see a lot of oak aged pale ales on the market. They do tend to be suggestive of cologne if they’re out of balance. I think this kind of problem could be rectified with more development time, a factor that Chelios’ own training regimen might suggest as a solution. It’s the kind of thing you want to address if you’re going to launch an Oak Aged Amber Lager in the fall. It had better be at least as good as Rickard’s Oakhouse if you’re going to charge that much more for it.

This beer is therefore given the score of (3): A bench minor penalty for too many men on the ice.

OCB Week: The Jester On Yonge and Thoughts on Opening a Pub

On Sunday, I got out to the Jester on Yonge for a sampling event for the Bobcaygeon Brewery. It’s been at Yonge and St. Clair for about as long as I can remember, but currently they’re going through something of a resurgence. The owners have had the place for 15 years, and I can attest to how much that block has changed since I was a child.

Bobcaygeon Bitter Warrior APA would have fit in to the IPA rush of 2012 or so. It's unbalanced in the direction of bitterness, but there is a nice grapefruit character. They're brewed in Ottawa, based in Kingston and sold in Toronto. It seems like a lot of 401 travel to me.

Bobcaygeon Bitter Warrior APA would have fit in to the IPA rush of 2012 or so. It’s unbalanced in the direction of bitterness, but there is a nice grapefruit character. They’re brewed in Ottawa, based in Kingston and sold in Toronto. It seems like a lot of 401 travel to me.

At one point there were two movie theatres and Bregman’s bakery. Before the Fox and Fiddle, I’m pretty sure that corner at Heath was a McDonald’s (a high point of Friday afternoons when you’re let out of BSS early at seven years old. Yes, I went to an Anglican girls’ school until grade two. The running joke is that my parents wanted me to be an Anglican girl.) I’ve got fond memories of The Book Cellar, smelling simultaneously of new paperbacks and slightly moldering basement. One of my earliest food memories was seeing Caesar salad prepared tableside at Oliver’s on that block.

In 2000, the Jester on Yonge would have been one of the high points of the strip at Yonge and St. Clair. J.J. Muggs was a block south (and probably closed) and I’m pretty sure the same fate had befallen Toby’s Good Eats.  In 2015, it faces stiff competition. There’s the Union Social Eatery and John and Sons Oyster House for upscale dining. There’s Holy Chuck and Easy Catch for upscale casual. The rest of the dynamic is odd because the pubs in the neighbourhood are pretty niche affairs. The Midtown Gastrohub was a Fox and Fiddle and now seems to be largely Molson taps in a bare minimum-effort bid for resurgence. They did have Detour when I stopped in the other night. Scallywags is always popular with the sports crowd, but I recall their most interesting offering being Tankhouse.

There's something I love about the Toronto high street pub. It's almost always a long rectangular box and if the space hasn't been renovated since mid century, you can practically predict where the bathroom will be.

There’s something I love about the Toronto high street pub. It’s almost always a long rectangular box and if the space hasn’t been renovated since mid century, you can practically predict where the bathroom will be.

Until recently, The Jester was almost all Labatt taps. That might as well be suicide when faced with the demographic changes in the neighbourhood. They’re up to twenty-nine craft taps at the moment with a couple of mainstream offerings remaining. Typically when a bar makes that change, they’ll close down and renovate and re-launch with a new image, so it’s interesting to see the Jester making incremental progress towards their goal. They’re going to introduce a new food menu at some point in the very near future. They’re installing a stage for live music or comedy, which should add a feature to the neighbourhood that it doesn’t really have. They want to tread the line between being a local pub for the apartment and condo dwellers in the area and being a destination pub. It’s easier said than done, but I like their chances. They seem to be in good hands.

I was sitting there on Sunday talking to their consultant and thinking about one of the problems that we face: There aren’t enough taps in Ontario to support all the breweries that exist now. As we continue to add breweries, this is going to be a pretty serious problem. For that reason, I’m going to share some of the advice I gave them because I think it’s universally applicable and maybe it’ll help other people too.

Selection is important, but not in the way you think.

Quality is far more important than quantity. You probably don’t need more than twenty taps in order to make a go of craft beer. The important thing is to choose the selection so that you’ve got a good example of a number of different styles. Rotating taps will help with seasonal interest, but quality will move all year round. Beyond a certain point more is less and the kegs get old.

The condition of the taps is as least as important as the beer coming out of it.

Clean your lines every two to three weeks. Consider using plugs for your draught system. Flush the first 5-6 ounces of beer out of each line at the beginning of service every day. That sounds like a lot of spillage, but you’re better off taking a low margin hit on spillage than losing customers permanently. If you’re aiming to be a destination, you will lose customers to off flavours sure as the TTC shuts down for signal problems. If you own the pub, save some money in the long term by learning to clean and troubleshoot your own draught system. It’s also important, since you’ve gone to that trouble, to make sure the balance of detergent in the dishwasher is right. Don’t pour pristine beer and ruin it with chlorination.

Treating the glassware properly is more important than logos.

Every brewery worth their gypsum has branded glassware, but if you’ve got a lot of taps, that amounts to a lot of shelf space, glasses of different sizes and fragility, and inevitably uncertainty when someone gets served the right beer in the wrong glass during a rush. You’re better off investing in standard glassware in two sizes: 20 ounce nonic pint and 14 ounce tulip glass. 5 ounce glasses for samples and flights are a good idea if you want to go that way and have room. As a bonus, place the size of the glassware somewhere prominent. People like to know what they’re getting for their money.

Your menu is cheap to reprint.

If you’re a pub finding your niche, the temptation is to lean heavily on pub food classics. If you’ve hired good kitchen staff, they should be able to knock that stuff out blindfolded. It’s not the best use of those guys. Maybe you’ve got cooks from Sri Lanka or Guatemala or Mexico. Maybe they’re culinary school graduates. Maybe they’ve got hidden talents. If you let them cook things they’re interested in you’ll wind up with a menu no one else has and talented employees cooking to their strengths. If it doesn’t work out, you can go back to fish and chips and the “name of the pub” burger that inevitably has bacon and cheese.

Events are not a once a year affair.

I’m looking at the list of events for OCB week and I’ve got to say it: A special on a burger and a pint is not the kind of thing that’s going to draw people to your banner during a beer week. If you want the neighbourhood’s attention make that the Wednesday night special on a weekly basis. Kill the Cask? Make that happen once a month. You want to do a beer dinner? What the hell is the percentage in waiting for a beer week to do that. With a little promotion, you ought to be able to sell out a modestly sized beer dinner quarterly.

Get the word out.

I really can’t overstate the importance of social media. It’s important that people know what’s happening at your pub. It’s one thing to have a notice board on site with events: you should still have that. It’s quite another to be able to get peoples’ attention on an ongoing basis. If you can, documenting the changes you’re making is a good idea. “This is new on tap” or “We’re trying this dish out this week” are great ways to make people pay attention. This requires maintenance. Sending identical content out weekly will get you put on mute.

A brightly lit marquee probably helps as well.

A brightly lit marquee probably helps get the word out as well.

Finally, it needs to be said: success in running a pub is an ongoing process. All of the above items have to work together all the time in order for the place to succeed.

Review: The Collingwood Brewery

The second floor of Tequila Bookworm on Queen Street West is a good location for a tap takeover. For one thing, in order to be able to attend such an event, you have to know about its existence. You’d be forgiven for bypassing it completely on the way into the main bar area on the first floor. I was invited by Mick McNamara, until recently a blogger under Hopgobblin’ to come on out and try beer made by his new employer, The Collingwood Brewery. If you read last Friday’s post as he had done, you probably appreciate that that’s a brave move.

Seriously. Whoever came up with that slogan gets this laurel and hearty handshake.

Seriously. Whoever came up with that slogan gets this laurel and hearty handshake.

In the past, I’ve tried Collingwood’s Downhill Pale Ale from cans in the LCBO. If you don’t get up to the Collingwood area, it’s likely that is the extent of your experience with them as well. While it’s nice that there are breweries opening all over Ontario, it does make a top down view of everything happening quite difficult to maintain.

The brewer at Collingwood is Chris Freeman, a graduate of the Niagara College program. As yet, it’s a small operation. They seem to be on tap at something like 70 locations in Ontario (including the schnitzelicious Alphorn in Collingwood) and selling Downhill cans out of 76 LCBO stores. That’s quite an impressive territory for a brewery this young.

Perched on the barstool, looking around the room, it became apparent that the development of the brewery has acquired a noticeably schizophrenic tendency. On the one half of the room, there’s the Collingwood lifestyle brand which has replaced the wooden floor temporarily with a nearly vibrant lawn of astroturf. On the other half is a blackboard listing a Black Saison and a Barrel Aged Saison.

1-3) Sensible Options 4-5) Wha?

I should point out that one of Tequila Bookworm’s great strengths is their blackboard script. If you glance it on social media you never wonder which bar it is.

I like Collingwood’s branding. The advantage being taken of the connotation of Collingwood’s activities and the skiing and outdoor lifestyle. Frankly, “It’s all Downhill from here” is the kind of slogan of which a proper ad agency would be proud. In a market where your immediate competition is Side Launch (High quality core brands without much room for experimentation) and Northwinds (Lots of experimentation, but no canned or bottled core brands) it makes sense to play to the cottagers and the moguls on the moguls. During the winter the brewery hosted a Helly Hansen clothing sale. That’s the audience.

The beers that are consistent with the branding are Downhill Pale Ale and Fireside ESB. Downhill Pale Ale successfully walks a line at 5.4% between accessibility for new beer drinkers that might be trying out the local product and a surprising amount of character. The only difficulty is that the hopping is relatively subtle so the beer needs to warm significantly before it develops substantial aroma (perhaps the taps at Tequila Bookworm are being kept slightly too cold). I know that in the canned version, the hops (Amarillo leading others according to Freeman) are more pronounced.

The Fireside ESB does many of the things an ESB should including a certain amount of caramel through the body and enough roast to reinforce it without becoming assertive. I suspect that it would be a very versatile beer for food pairing. I think it an Americanized ESB and it lacks a certain amount of the earthy, funky English yeast character if we’re judging to style. I’d bet the folks in Collingwood drinking it apres-ski prefer it this way, making it the right choice for a growing brewery.

A third year round brand recently introduced is the Rockwell Pilsner. At 4.6% and touting itself as a Czech Style Pilsner, this is the least accomplished of the core offerings. The hopping is relatively minimal at 28 IBU and in discussion Freeman denoted the use of Saaz. The Saaz, typically floral and peppery in a Pilsner is subdued here. The Collingwood water is, according to municipal websites, relatively hard. It seems to me compensatory late hop additions would help here. Perhaps because of the lessened hop character, the yeast esters emerge more fully and for that reason I wonder whether the fermentation was toward the upper temperature range for a lager. The fruitiness here is so like a Cream Ale that the beer doesn’t really read as a Pilsner. Rockwell needs tweaking which I’m sure it will get in future.

The two Saisons on offer are the black Saison du Nuit and the 1854 Anniversary Saison. These beers are conceptually misaligned with the larger brand of the brewery and, independent of that quibble, were the least successful of the five offerings. The Saison du Nuit came across aromatically as extremely phenolic and retronasally created a lingering impression of Sunlight Soap Bubbles. There is also clove from the yeast and roast from the grist, but overwhelmingly the impression is of disharmony. According to Freeman the batch was a single brew from back in January and the malt flavours are only now coming to the fore. What must it have been like in January? The 1854 Anniversary Saison was aged in Pinot Noir barrels from the Tawse Winery and began successfully with oaky notes and vanilla but contained a distracting frisson of uncooked pumpkin or gourd around the edges that was inescapable once experienced. Neither of these beers inspire much confidence. To be fair, both Saison and Barrel Aging have steep learning curves so it may be unrealistic to expect greatness a year out of the gate.

I think if I were Collingwood, I would stick to the core mission statement. Continue to expand Downhill Pale Ale, push to get Fireside into the LCBO (bolstered by last week’s CBA), refine all three core brands so that they become more themselves. If your target market is the weekend warrior it doesn’t do to show anything but strength.