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The Magna Carta and Beer

This is how big the craft beer movement has grown internationally: The 800th anniversary of the issuance of the Magna Carta, which takes place later this month, is being commemorated by a beer.

It’s hard to imagine a brewery more suited to produce it than the Windsor & Eton Brewery. They’ve got scads of history kicking about the place. They’re situated about half a kilometer from Windsor Castle and five kilometers from the location where the document was actually signed 800 years ago. The brewery has a line in historical names, including Kohinoor (obviously an India Pale Ale), Conqueror 1075 (somewhat less obviously a Black IPA), and Parklife (dating all the way back to Damon Albarn).Mgana-Carta-Clip

The Magna Carta Barley Wine is based on a recipe from London Amateur Brewers member Manmohan Birdi and it is a sort of amalgam of various parts of brewing history. Barley Wine as it’s typically thought of is a later invention than the kinds of Gruit that would probably have been around at the time of the document’s issue. That said, this beer contains Root Licorice, Yarrow and Ground Ivy in addition to Fuggles and East Kent Goldings. At 7.2% it packs a wallop, but there’s apparently a 4% alcohol cask version if you can make it to England. It’s fair to say that there’s not a lot of beer like this out there in the market.

When the Magna Carta gets here at some point in the next couple of days, so will some of this beer. I’m told by the people at Magna Carta Canada that it will be available at some special events, so that should be some impetus to go and look at a piece of vellum.

What’s that? You need additional incentive to go and look at a piece of vellum? You don’t think the Magna Carta is relevant to Canada?

Did you know that the 35th article of the Magna Carta stipulates standard measures for Wine, Ale, Grain and Cloth? That’s pretty important. That’s why measurements are what they are. Except of course when they’re not and people routinely switch out 14, 16, 18 and 20 ounce pint glasses to achieve greater margin.

I see your problem. Let me see if I can explain the historical background. It’s a parable for our time.

What you basically know about King John is that he is a usurper and that he is not a good man and that Errol Flynn or possibly Cary Elwes is going to turn up and pop him one. The problem is that King John exists both as the villain in the Robin Hood stories and also as something of an ineffectual king. He signs the Magna Carta at the behest of a group of rebel barons and because he has the reigns at the time, we all know he must be the villain. History doesn’t really work that way.

The real driver of the story of the Magna Carta is Richard the Lionheart, as far as I can tell. He was a brave and clever soldier who didn’t care even a little about administering his Kingdom. He was a terrible king. Over the course of his reign, he spent something like six months in England. His father, Henry II was “in his own time… hated by almost everyone,” but he did manage to create some of the basis for English Common Law. Richard mostly spent money.

"I have not yet bankrupted the peashantry."

“I have not yet bankrupted the peashantry.”

It’s not like he spent it on anything sensible either. The Saladin Tithe of 1188 raised something like 100,000 marks from the population of England (the handy online calculator tells me that’s 38 billion quid in today’s money). Gold and Silver was confiscated from churches and everyone was expected to give up 10% of their goods or be exempted from the tithe by joining the Third Crusade. Saladin had captured Jerusalem in 1187 and apparently, if you’re King Richard, it’s more important to bankrupt your citizenry and trudge 3000 miles to go and sort out an unwinnable proposition with incredibly poor supply lines at great expense than it is to pay any attention to your kingdom. He was quoted as saying “I would have sold London if I could find a buyer.”

Probably, the English people still have some money, those of them that aren’t lying dead on a field outside Jaffa or at the bottom of the Mediterranean. Presumably they had seen this coming and had hidden some rainy day money under the floorboards. On the way back to England, Richard gets captured and ransomed, essentially bleeding funds from his country as a result of a prolonged and ill-judged war in the middle east. His ransom was 150,000 marks (57 billion English sponduliks. Same calculator.)

The ransom was something like three times England’s GDP at the time. By the end of Richard’s ten year reign, England is something like a hundred billion pounds in debt. Debt’s not even a good way of explaining it because it’s not owed to anyone. They’ve essentially extracted the potential for the country to produce wealth. This is how bad Richard is with money: He dies after being shot in the neck with a crossbow and having the wound go gangrenous. He not only pardons the orphaned child who shot him, but he gives him a hundred shillings.

"King John was not a good man. He had his little ways and sometimes no one spoke to him for days and days and days."

“King John was not a good man. He had his little ways and sometimes no one spoke to him for days and days and days.”

John comes to power in 1199 and England is more or less bankrupt. In order to raise money for the crown he has to get creative. At the time, as a result of William the Conqueror a century earlier, there’s a concept called the Royal Forest. A Royal Forest doesn’t necessarily have trees. It’s just a parcel of land. It could be heath or swamp or hills or forest. You’re not allowed to cause any damage to the animals or greenery of the Royal Forest unless you pay for the privilege.

That’s a nice little moneymaker, so what do you do if you’re John? That’s right. You expand the Royal Forest. By the time of the Magna Carta the Royal Forest is up to something like 20% of the land in England. What this means, essentially, is that if you own land that has been afforested by the crown, you now have to pay for the privilege to use your own land. If you own a bit of fenland that’s no good for anything but pigs, you have to pay pannage even though there’s no other use for it. If you want to heat your hovel in the winter, you’re paying estover for firewood and turbary for turf. If you want to keep a cow and that cow is going to eat grass, that’s agistment. That’s on land you theoretically own, mind.

This is King John riding o'er the sward. I've never been exactly sure what a sward is, but you can bet that if you owned one you were bloody well going to be paying swardage on it.

This is King John riding o’er the sward. I’ve never been exactly sure what a sward is, but you can bet that if you owned one you were bloody well going to be paying swardage on it.

There are instances of entire villages being burned out in advance of afforestation amounting essentially to seizure of land. The law of the forest was enforced somewhat arbitrarily and without due process. You could be blinded or mutilated or killed for poaching a deer. You could be severely fined for just about anything.

The Magna Carta and the companion document the Charter of the Forest are a rare example of what happens when you push Monarchic rights too far. The Magna Carta disafforests all of the land taken by the crown during John’s reign and basically ensures that it can never happen again. The Charter of the Forest basically establishes personal property law. In one fell swoop the Magna Carta gets rid of unreasonable taxation, unreasonable seizure, establishes due process of law and ensures a properly sized pint.

You may be able to think of an example of a country who has, on an approximately 25 year long time frame, gotten themselves involved in an ill-judged and prolonged war in the middle east on ideological bases and who have accrued massive debt to do so and are now bleeding their citizenry dry while the misapplication of law frequently results in protest and riots. History tends to repeat in pattern.

The Magna Carta is a good reminder that there’s only so far you can push people. The fact that you can drink a beer while looking at it is just a bonus of which you should take advantage.

How You Win in Ontario

Let me tell you about how things change in Ontario.

In 1837, the rebels in Upper Canada met at breweries. They met at John Farr’s brewery and they met at John Doel’s brewery. John Doel was a Methodist. He wanted exactly the same thing that the rebels wanted: responsible government, democracy and a slightly smaller slice of the pie for the fat cats running the show.

If you know your history, you know that the rebels met at Montgomery’s Tavern and proceeded to march down Yonge Street. They probably met at Montgomery’s Tavern because they were marching against troops commanded by John Colborne. They were ill equipped to fight a man who beat Napoleon’s Imperial Guard at Waterloo. The fact that they bothered at all meant that they were very brave and possibly slightly drunk. They never had a chance.

Change came in Ontario through demographic shifts and through consensus building and it took a long time. A lot of that was done by Methodists who built schools and churches and temperance halls. Some of that was done with money they’d earned selling beer. They changed the mores of society and they changed opinions. In Ontario change doesn’t come from the barrel of a gun. It comes through waiting and working patiently. When William Lyon Mackenzie was finally allowed back into the province it was John Doel who sold him back his property and the Methodists had already changed Ontario.

It’s hard to say how much responsibility anyone has for the changes made by the province to Beer Sales on Thursday. Martin Regg Cohn did some sterling work, at first annually around Christmas and then more frequently over the last six months. Ben Johnson over at Blog T.O. has left nary a feather unruffled in bringing the public’s attention to matters beery. Just about every beer writer in the province has made some contribution, including but not limited to Stephen Beaumont, Crystal Luxmore, Dan Grant, Chris Schryer, Nick Pashley, Robin LeBlanc, Greg Clow and David Ort. There are others, too. If you’re left out, be sure it’s not intentional. We reached critical mass so quickly over the last year that it’s hard to keep track. (ed. note: I can’t believe I left out Josh Rubin. Dude’s great.)

I don’t know how much responsibility I can claim, but the answer is “some.”

I wrote nine blog posts about The Beer Store and, with Alan McLeod, one book that summarized its place in the history of Ontario. The link to the book is to the right.

The first three blog posts didn’t exactly fall on deaf ears, but they reeked desperately of policy wonk. The first post talked about the basic problem with reform (that the issue only cropped up every six months). The second post talked about the OCSA commissioned study written by Anindya Sen and the reason it had failed to persuade. The third post talked about the OCSA’s second study, which I had discussed with Dr. Sen and which talked about economic theory.

Eventually I realized that asking people to understand any economic theory more difficult than supply and demand was going to be fruitless. It doesn’t matter that you’re right if you can’t explain why you’re right.

The fourth blog post was simply called Understanding The Beer Store. By this point I was researching their history with Alan and I realized why people couldn’t get their heads around the business model. To this day I still hear people say “but they must make money.” All you have to do is explain that it doesn’t need to be profitable because it’s saving its owners money. The foreign owned Beer Store was actually preventing its owners from having to push capital into the economy.

The good part about creating easily understood talking points is that they filter out to other places. People started talking about that. The Convenience Store poll from November 2013 said 14% of the population polled were aware of the foreign ownership. By the time I got Lorne Bozinoff to run polling for me in April of 2014, we were up to 22%. I wanted pure data so we made the questions as neutral as possible. By this time, I think everyone realized that the key to the situation was raising public awareness on the issue. All we had to do was keep the flag flying so people would see it. Critical mass of coverage helped a LOT.

I wrote to my MPP, Eric Hoskins who was Ontario’s Economic Development Minister at the time highlighting the massive potential for economic growth. I encouraged others to do the same. I can’t tell you if anyone did, but I’d hope it’s a positive number. I wrote later about the Ontario Problem and the inequity of the situation and how the demographics had changed. When Ontario’s brewers were tempted by The Beer Store in January, I rallied ‘em by aiming for St. Crispin’s day and letting it rip. Eventually, I simply wrote about the necessity of change.

I got name dropped in the C.D. Howe Institute study on The Beer Store and on the Agenda with Steve Paikin. I somehow got a professional polling firm to work for me for free. I co-wrote the history of beer in the province of Ontario (which seems Machiavellian in retrospect, but I’m not that clever. I lucked into that.) which made me into the go-to media interview on The Beer Store’s history. I was interviewed on Global Morning and CBC Radio One (three times this month). I was interviewed by the Globe and Mail and Metro and wrote my own columns in the Sun. I helped Adrian Morrow at the Globe fact check his figures on the beer store’s cost offset after I was let go from the Sun.

I retweeted others and others retweeted me. It was a group effort. The important part was keeping the ball in the air; making sure that the narrative didn’t disappear from the airwaves and from the internet. We fought The Beer Store for the best part of two and a half years. It’s owned by companies with billions of dollars of assets and I fought them with no budget and facts and arguments and rhetoric. I didn’t lose my temper and I didn’t raise my voice and I didn’t give up.

I see people complaining about the changes that have been instituted. That they’re not enough. That they’re a smokescreen. That the Liberal Party are only making changes because they’re in dire financial straits.

I’ll take it.

The thing is this: We’ve got the demographics. We’ve got 245 breweries extant and in planning. We’ve got grocery stores we can browbeat and campaign against. We’ve got MPPs we can write. We’ve got a rabid base of craft beer fans and we’ve got momentum. We just won a thirty year fight and people are worried about whether we can get craft beer on grocery store shelves.

We can. We just have to keep pressing forward politely and persistently.

Root For the Home Team

The first thing that I noticed walking into Left Field’s brewery on Monday was how much calmer and happier everyone seemed to be now that the place is finally opened. There has been rejoicing on social media about the fact that it is now possible to buy their beer in bottles; It has always been difficult to predict which bars would be carrying which of Left Field’s beers. The fact that people can take home their favourites seems like a significant victory, but I’m not sure that there’s such a thing as victory in brewing. I’m pretty sure that winning means you get to continue to make beer. IMAG0934

When I was thirteen, I got to sit on the third baseline at Skydome and watch Joe Carter hit a walk off home run to win the World Series. At thirteen, it makes perfect sense to you that all such moments should be defined by a beautiful arc of dramatic tension. The World Series is great for moments like that: There is a payoff. For a few moments the faith of the crowd at Skydome was rewarded and people leapt to their feet and Joe touched ‘em all.

That thing of which you’re absolutely certain as a child, that there will be a defining moment after which everything will be alright, is not the way anything really works. Life isn’t a called shot homer; it’s a series of fielders choice outs that advance the runner. It’s sabermetrics.IMAG0947

I’ve had the opportunity to follow Left Field from its advent and the main reason for its success is the level-headed, sensible approach that owners Mark and Mandie Murphy have taken from day one. I don’t know that every move that they’ve made has been planned out, but they’re so unflappable it’s hard to tell. I have never seen Mark look panicked, which is something that you want in both an Accountant and a Brewer. I don’t pretend to understand how marketing or branding works, but judging by the response, Mandie is some kind of wunderkind. These are people who understand that this is a long game.

A couple of years ago I wrote about Eephus on the blog. Since then, Left Field has been contract brewed at Grand River and Barley Days and they’ve rolled that success into their property on Wagstaff Drive. Their launch drew something like 1600 people; a number which made it hard to move in a cavernous warehouse space. The support they’ve seen from people in Toronto is certainly deserved but almost incredible. The renovations are now complete and with what seems like a victory their work now begins in earnest.IMAG0942

Currently, the brewery houses three fermenters each of which can take a double batch from the 20 BBL brewhouse. Trenches and piping are supplied for nine more fermenters which would theoretically take the capacity of the brewery up to 10,000 HL a year. Their Maris* Pale Ale is going to be on tap this season at the Renaissance Hotel at Rogers Centre. Their first run of canned beer will probably be in process by the time you read this. Mark is even thinking about repurposing his homebrew setup for specialty casks for the tap room. He points to places where rails will be installed for safety and where a canning line might go eventually.

I was told that this would probably be ok for me to post by Thursday. If it isn't, Mandie Murphy is going to have my legs broke.

I was told that this would probably be ok for me to post by Thursday. If it isn’t, Mandie Murphy is going to have my legs broke.

They have graduated from a contract brewing world in which they were dependent on external variables in the production of their beer to having their own facility where everything is a discrete, manageable task. If that’s not a calmative change, I don’t know what is.

By the time I get to the brewery, there are precisely six bottles left in the fridge. The Pop Up Shop has been devastating to the stock on offer, but the taps contain a wider variety of Left Field beers than I’ve ever seen in one place. It’s clear that over the summer months variety will suffer somewhat, but that’s unlikely to dampen the spirits of drinkers once the weather warms up. I’m told that they’ll be producing their Sunlight Park Saison in relatively short order.

People get down on corn in beer because large lager brewers use it. It's like any other ingredient. If you use it the right way the result can be great.

People get down on corn in beer because large lager brewers use it. It’s like any other ingredient. If you use it the right way the result can be great.

Eephus is enhanced somewhat by the change in water from Cambridge to Toronto. The sweetness is more pronounced on the nose and through the body. The proportion of oats in the grist have been increased and, in point of fact, everything about Eephus is now slightly bigger although it remains balanced. L’il Slugger, a Kentucky Common made in collaboration with Collingwood’s Northwinds (Home of the Bartle), has turned out to be a sort of amber cream ale.  At first I’m confused by the lack of a sour mash character, but it turns out that may have been an invention of homebrewers who inserted it by geographic association. The use of corn lightens the body without cutting into the toasty grain and I can’t help but think it’d be a hit in the bleachers on a hot day. The Citra Prospect IPA is indicative of that series. It doesn’t overreach on the hop character, remaining balanced through its grapefruit and lime character. The body is sweet enough to prop up those flavours and present it properly.

For me the highlight is their Bricks & Mortar Porter. Brewed in celebration of the opening, it’s enhanced mightily by the presence of their next door neighbours, Pilot Coffee Roasters. They’ve used the Kenya Kii beans here, although I think anyone who wasn’t already familiar would have difficulty picking it out. The important thing seems to be that the coffee that they’ve used is incredibly fresh. It dominates all the other aspects of the beer, but it’s very difficult to fault such a vibrant expression of good coffee. It’s as good as any coffee beer I’ve had.

Bricks and Mortar at last!

Bricks and Mortar at last!

When I tell Mark this, he’s not surprised. It’s not braggadocio. It’s just part of the plan. This is small ball played well with each small, discrete task adding up to another step forward for Left Field. Standing in their tap room on a bright spring day with light streaming in through the new glass of the garage door,  with the scent of grain and the recently cut plywood that temporarily makes up the tap room bar, it’s hard not to feel that contagious magic of the grandstand. Like any team that has built momentum and finds itself on a winning streak, Left Field is easy to get behind and we can only hope they’ll continue to get better as they grow into their home.

Yeah, well what happens if you score 20 runs?

Yeah, well what happens if you score 20 runs?

December Book Reviews: Pocket Beer Guide 2015

(Ed. Note: In 2014, while sequestered in a hermetically sealed writing bunker, Jordan St.John produced two books. This did not stop other people from sending him books to review. The stack is nearly as high as the sense of obligation. Let’s crack on.) 71+bcJLxBaL

When you hear about Thomas Jefferson and beer, it’s usually about the fact that he had a brewery planned for his property at Monticello. More impressive than that is the library at Monticello. It represents (more or less) the sum total of the world’s practical knowledge ca. 1770. Thomas Jefferson was maybe the last man on the planet who had the ability to know everything. It has less to do with the idea that he was a genius (he was) and more to do with the fact that information tends to develop exponentially over time.

We’ve reached the point with beer where no one can hold the entire world’s variety in their mind. The scope of information increases daily. The best single overview of the development of independent brewing scenes across the world was 2012’s World Atlas of Beer by Stephen Beaumont and Tim Webb. It was comprehensive and well thought out.

The severe difficulty is that time marches on and within five years the information in that book, although basically correct and fundamentally accurate, will miss nuances that have developed in the interim. As such, the companion works to that piece, The Pocket Beer Guide(s) 2014 and 2015 are attempts to provide a portable field version of the larger reference work.

The 2015 guide contains an additional 500 listings in addition to explanatory notes on ratings, beer styles and food pairing. It is an incremental improvement in scope over the 2014 version.

I will be honest. It’s a hard book to review because with the advent of the internet it is not as handy as it would have been a decade ago. The beer world is in an interesting place because we are none of us Thomas Jefferson. More beers will launch in North America this month than a single drinker could get through in a year and that will be the case indefinitely. No one will ever have total context again.

What you’re paying for in the Pocket Beer Guide is not total world knowledge. That’s an impossible goal.51+lIaoxKWL

A book like this is only as good as the people who write it.  It is more or less the descendent of Michael Jackson’s Eyewitness Companions Beer from 2007. Even in 2007, such a book was not the best way to convey the information contained within. We weren’t paying for the specific beer reviews so much as Jackson’s referential context.

We are meant to trust that a brewery has made it into the book because it is worth our time. That the beers they make will not disappoint. We must be assured that, as readers, we are in the hands of people who know what they are talking about.

Stephen Beaumont and Tim Webb have something like 60 years of professional experience with beer between them. Stephen has been writing about beer since the late 1980’s and Tim Webb was with CAMRA before I was born. What you’re paying for in the Pocket Beer Guide is their breadth of experience. They have seen breweries come and go and trends pass. Between them, I cannot think of people who are more qualified to attempt to convey a relational system of criticism that covers inequal international beer scenes.

What you’re buying with the Pocket Beer Guide is 60 years of attention paid and for the recommendations of men who have earned the right to be unimpressed. That’s always going to be worth an annual update.

December Book Reviews: African Brew

(Ed. Note: In 2014, while sequestered in a hermetically sealed writing bunker, Jordan St.John produced two books. This did not stop other people from sending him books to review. The backlog is high and the conscience is guilty. Let’s crack on. )41QwNbx4R+L

One of the more interesting books on beer I’ve seen this year is African Brew: Exploring the Craft of South African Beer by Lucy Corne and Ryno Reyneke. It’s easy to review a straightforward book on beer and food or a guide to the world’s beers. I have context for that kind of book and there have been a lot of them published in recent years.

African Brew is interesting because it performs the difficult function of explaining the past and present of brewing in a country that I cannot say I know very much about. The entirety of my context for South Africa is Bryce Courtenay, J. M. Coetzee, a handful of Tom Sharpe novels and a Matt Damon rugby movie. I don’t know the Transvaal from Transylvania. All I know is that you shouldn’t leave a coke bottle lying around.

What I have learned, and what this book helped me realize, is that brewery scenes seem to be subject to convergent evolution. Starting from the early 1980’s beer scenes in various countries have developed in largely the same way.

That said, the book is not formatted as a history. It is a layman’s guide with the usual appointments that style of book requires. There is the obligatory explanation of the brewing process and a short history of the brewing industry in South Africa. There’s an admirably concise section on beer styles, the brevity of which has partially to do with the fact that South Africa’s craft brewers have not yet caught up with North America stylistic diversity. There is a brief introductory section on beer and food.

At first glance, these sections seem too brief. What Corne and Reyneke have managed to do is fold much of the material into the other sections of the book as pop out windows with information or, in the case of recipes, as full page affairs tied to the brewery or brewpub that has supplied them. It lends a good deal of character to each chapter. The book does an excellent job of making the stories of the brewers the focus of an understanding of the South African beer scene.

It seems as though their scene is going through much of the same process Ontario’s went through. There was the first generation of craft brewers in the 1980’s and they were a wild, windswept bunch of eccentrics, engineers and disgruntled professionals. They seem to have developed a number of newer school breweries over the last few years (probably the impetus for the book) that mirrors our own development. Some of them I desperately want to try (Triggerfish, Darling Brew, Bridge Street) and I sense that some of the breweries suffer from early adoption. It’s just like here.

It is also nothing like here. Ontario was a British Colony. South Africa had both Brits and Boers and Zulu and Xhosa and instead of being in a similar climate, it’s much more temperate. The Dutch and European brewing influences seem more widely accepted on a historical level than they were in Ontario. Perhaps most importantly, the location of South Africa as a trade route means that the food is influenced by neighbouring countries on the Indian Ocean.

While the storytelling in African Brew is very good, the included recipes are a real surprise and paint a picture of an increasingly multicultural society with a wide swath of inherited foodways. It’s not all biltong and boerewors. It’s Weissbier and Waterzooi from the Dutch. Pilsner with a Veal and Bacon Meatloaf shows some Bavarian influence. There are curries borrowed Thailand, Malaysia and Alleppey. Some of the cuisine displays a really deft touch with seafood.

African Brew succeeds as a basic guide to South African beer, but it exceeds expectations to the extent that it makes me want to know more about South Africa’s brewing scene. If I were writing about beer there, how would I talk about the flavours in a cuisine like that with new hop varieties and beer styles? With the stories of the individual brewers, how could I frame the effects of Apartheid on a manufacturing industry like brewing? It seems like the rich variety of influences on the culture seem to be winning out as the country becomes more progressive. It would be a fascinating beer scene to work with over the next five years.

African Brew is so good it made me envy the authors.

The Ghost Tour

“Such is the uncertainty of Human Life we know not the moment we may be called off – the hand that guides this pen may ear another day be stiff and cold” – William Helliwell. April 7, 1837

These were the words of William Helliwell on finding that a maltster that he previously employed, Thomas Woodly, was burned to death in a barroom fire. William Helliwell was the brewer at Todmorden in the Don Valley and he was typically a very brave man. In 1837 in Toronto, people were acquainted with death in a way that is removed from us now. He had lost members of his family on several occasions and in 1832 lost several acquaintances to contagious disease that gripped the city. It wasn’t until the death of Thomas Woodly that he began to realize that he might not live forever; this despite surviving a truly gruesome brewing accident in 1834.

Writing history is difficult, especially if you’ve got source material like the Helliwell Diaries. It’s a biographer’s dream. There’s no need to ascribe any characteristics or intention to the man’s actions because he’s written everything down. He even copied his correspondence by hand. The level of detail is not worthy of Samuel Pepys, but William fared pretty well for a provincial lad from Upper Canada.

The difficulty, then, is in writing the other 16 chapters of your book. It’s hard not to think of William Helliwell as a character; a kind of archetypal pioneer figure slogging through knee deep mud to get to Yonge Street. But he isn’t a character. He was a man. It would be like, to take a modern example, thinking of Jim Koch as the protagonist of a Don Delillo novel. It would exploit some marvelous Jungian memetic structures and create a wonderful base for thematic exploration, but Jim’s just this guy, you know?

In writing Lost Breweries of Toronto, I harnessed two of my greatest skills: monomaniacal drive to research effusively and sitting motionless for hours at a time. No one could have written this book before now. I don’t mean to say that I’m singularly brilliant: I mean to say that the technological resources didn’t exist. The Globe is all archived online from 1844 to the present day. To get correct details of Toronto’s 19th century breweries, I’ve have to comb through half a dozen search strings for each chapter to turn up information: Literally hundreds of disparate articles of dross to find an additional detail; to create another avenue of inquiry. I once spent three hours researching a bear for this book. It amounts to a sentence in the finished version.

If you’ve read Ian Bowering’s book The Art and Mystery of Brewing in Ontario, you will appreciate how long that research must have taken. I believe that he wrote that in 1988, which means that he did it all manually. I can’t even imagine. If you’ve read that book you know that most of it reads as a list or chronology more than anything else. Alan Winn Sneath’s book Brewed in Canada also has a chronology.

Those were more or less the starting point. Mining those two chronologies for data I created a spreadsheet. Using the spreadsheet I created profiles of each brewery. I intentionally avoided using secondary sources where possible because I don’t trust anyone to get the details right. Many of the secondary historical sources conflicted with each other. I used contemporary accounts and guides to Toronto, obscure legal records and first hand accounts, newspaper advertisements. I was able to source quotes from some of the late Victorian brewers. In one incredibly lucky instance I discovered an entire manuscript that was written by William Copland. I discovered the existence and location of three breweries no one seems to have known about. One of them was on the block I live on at Davisville in midtown Toronto. One of them was basically on the site of Bar Volo.

William Helliwell created a difficulty. We know everything about him. That sentence above is a young man realizing that he’s not going to live forever. He’s not a research subject: he’s a man with hopes and dreams and fears. He was clever and observant and detail oriented. He was desperately in love with his young wife. The poetry he wrote her was, from a critical standpoint, awful, but it was enough to win her heart.

The realization that you come to writing history is that you have to stick to provable information. The dozens of other brewers that feature in the book cannot possibly allow for the same level of detail. In culling information from every possible source, you begin to build up pictures of these people in your head. Some of them spring to life more readily than others.  The difficulty is knowing where to draw the line. The respect I’ve tried to accord them is not to assume motivations where they are not obvious; not to ascribe characteristics. It is the respect they are due.

Lost Breweries of Toronto has all the information that you’d expect of such a book: “This brewery was here and the brewers where such and so and it existed from then until then and they made X. X was 6.7% alcohol in 1897. Phew, that’s a strong beer.” Don’t worry. There’s plenty of that.

Mostly though, I ended up writing a book about Toronto. I wrote about the larger social context the breweries existed in. I figured out how all of the brewing families were intermarried. I tried to uncover how the capital from brewing built our city and how that history was more or less whitewashed in the name of Toronto the Good.

I stared for what must be days at fire insurance maps from the 1880’s and 1890’s; At this city’s growth and expansion through maps of acreages and geological surveys and maps of sprawling Victorian redbrick and maps of annexed towns. As I walk around Toronto now, I catch myself thinking of streets that no longer exist and buildings long since gone and taverns that no one has thought of in generations. The geography has changed, but the soul of the place is one that we continue to grow into.

All I’ve done is use beer to explain that.

 

Win Free Tickets To Mill Street Oktoberfest!

Howdy, St.John’s Wort Junior Rangers!

Are you like me? Do you wake up to Jazz 91.1 on your clock radio? Is one of the first things you hear in the morning, aside from the contemplative cool jazz guitaristry of Pat Metheny the dulcet tones of brewmaster Joel Manning explaining why the Cascade hops somehow make Mill Street Tankhouse different than another style of beer which also uses Cascade hops? Has it affected your subconscious mind to the point where you periodically wonder what Joel Manning is doing during the idle moments of your day?

No?

Well, fine. Do you like free stuff?

There we go. That’s better.

St. John’s Wort is giving away two tickets for Mill Street’s Oktoberfest party on Thursday October 17th! It is taking place at the Mill Street Beer Hall, which is a really appropriate place to have such a party! There will be dancing! There will be souvenir beer steins for you to take home! You will drink bierschnaps, which is, to be honest, something of an acquired taste due to the hoppy bitterness in some versions of it! You will eat a Schnitzel Teaser! I don’t know what a Schnitzel Teaser is or what part of the schnitzel it comes from, but man oh man is it good eating!

This is a great opportunity to go and see the Mill Street Beer Hall if you haven’t already! Not only will there be Mill Street Beer, there will be beer from nine other Ontario Craft Breweries! You and a friend (or heck even an enemy) can attend this year’s Mill Street Oktoberfest for free and all you have to do is take part in the following contest!

Tweet to me @saints_gambit your favourite thing about Mill Street using the hashtag #MillStreetOktoberfest! It could be about their Organic Lager! It could be about their ESB and be followed up by a bitter nine tweet screed about how that’s only available at the pub and should be available on a wider distribution! It could be about Joel Manning! I bet he’s checking a hydrometer at the moment!

Entries will be judged by a panel of me! A winner will be announced on Tuesday, October 15th at high noon! The winner will be initially overjoyed and then subsequently stuffed full of beer and sausages!

So You Want To Be A Brewer: Lazarus Breakfast Stout

The nice thing about planning an event like the Feast Of St.John for Toronto Beer Week is that I’ve managed to create a certain amount of context for myself over three years or so that I’ve been writing about beer. I’ve collaborated on beers with a number of breweries, frequently with pretty good results. I have never really understood whether that is because I have some idea of what I’m doing or possibly just because I pick really talented people to work with.

If you don't make it a Great Lakes day, you will make Troy Burtch sad. That would be monstrous.

If you don’t make it a Great Lakes day, you will make Troy Burtch sad. That would be monstrous.

It’s hard to believe that the first of these collaborations was almost three years ago now. The original batch of Lazarus Breakfast Stout was brewed in Mid-November 2010. It was before I was working for Sun Media, if that gives you any indication of the time span. In that time period Project X at Great Lakes for which the beer was originally brewed has ceased to happen on a routine basis. The experimental brews that developed out of it have become the “Tank Ten” series. The fruits of Project X resulted in Great Lakes becoming the best brewery in Canada this year at the Canadian Brewing Awards. Mike Lackey has not yet been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace through Zymurgy, but I’m sure that as soon as they found one, he’ll be considered.

A few facts, gentle reader, about Mike Lackey:

Mike Lackey’s brewing prowess is not actually attributable to his beard, as I may previously have indicated. The truth is that Mike Lackey was actually barrel aged for the first six years of his life, receiving his meals through a specially drilled bunghole. His first language was not English, but rather the nearly imperceptible hum of cerevesiae. It is the great tragedy of his life that he has never been able to reproduce by mitosis. The beard is only window dressing.

It’s no wonder he’s done so well.

This time around, it seriously occurred to me as we stood there talking about his various projects (He’s creating a beer concept called SMASHASS) and my various theories (food and beer pairing should be derived from scientific first principles) that we’re getting old. We talked about some of the new breweries that are popping up and what we thought their chances were.  We talked about how much more stuff there is now. In November 2010, when we first worked together, there were about 50 Ontario breweries, many of whom were doing very little. According to Mom and Hops today? 137 active and in planning.

The smell that comes off a wort with this percentage of dark malt is pretty hypnotic.

The smell that comes off a wort with this percentage of dark malt is pretty hypnotic.

This batch of Lazarus sort of reflects the changes. Originally, I brought the idea with me because I really liked Founder’s Breakfast Stout and I really liked Oaxacan Mole sauce. I continue to like both of those things, so the ingredients have not changed. It’s still an oatmeal breakfast stout with a really significant amount of roast and dark malt. It still has cinnamon, chocolate, and ancho chili. It still gets a half pound of coffee in the whirlpool (you avoid the leeching tannins that way.) The main difference this time around is that the alcohol content is a little lower. Originally, we think Lazarus was supposed to be 7.0% alcohol and near 50 BU’s. We lost the sheet after the first batch, so we were going from the second version, which we had already tweaked.

Here’s an important tip to all you well meaning lugs out there starting your own brewery: Don’t lose the freakin’ sheet. It’s black box crash test time. Without the sheet, if people criticize you for inconsistency, you deserve the rich, velvety, lambasting you get. Don’t be a chump: keep the sheet. Laminate it. Put it in a safety deposit box.

We decided that we’d rather have more beer at slightly lower alcohol. The flavour isn’t really dependent on the alcohol in this beer, but rather on the vast number of elements that contribute flavour. I don’t really think anyone is going to feel cheated if the beer drops to 5.5% alcohol. The novelty is the Oaxacan Mole thing.

Mike and I discussed briefly whether the nice folks at Aztec in Vista, California borrowed the idea for the beer for their Noche De Los Muertos. We figure that they probably arrived at theirs independently and that it doesn’t matter since the label is so cool. I actually got to try their version at the San Diego Zoo while holding a python. I like ours better, but I’m biased.

Once you add the coffee in the whirlpool, the rolling foam gets darker and darker. I love that part.

Once you add the coffee in the whirlpool, the rolling foam gets darker and darker. I love that part.

In terms of the Feast Of St. John, one of the great things is that Lester Garcia at the Wallace Gastropub has actually inserted mole sauce into the menu. I’m not sure exactly what the food pairing is going to be for the Lazarus Breakfast Stout, but I do know that I’m finally going to get to put it together with the thing that inspired it. Actually, the awesome part is that Lester’s version of the mole sauce is lighter in colour than a Mole Negro, so we’re going to get a fantastic range of flavours. His version incorporates a lot of fennel seeds, so it’ll be really interesting to see how that interacts.

I’m told that Lazarus will also be available as part of the tap takeover at Bar Hop on the 19th of September. That’s going to be a fun day. See the Michael Jackson movie and then go try your own beer on tap at a takeover hosted by Great Lakes and Bellwoods. Sometimes you’re given a reminder that you really don’t have the right to complain about your job.

How much more black could it possibly be? None. None more black.

How much more black could it possibly be? None. None more black.

London Craft Beer

Here’s an interesting thought:

Craft beer in North America went through a lot of growing pains on the way to being where they are at the moment. There were years of struggling to make English styles of beer as authentically as possible (hard to do in San Francisco) and the advent and proliferation of C-Hops. By the time you get to about 2010, the fruits of those labours have more or less paid off as the craft beer trend went global. Suddenly there are hops from New Zealand and the C-Hops have blossomed into widespread Double IPAs. You’ve got hop varieties that are great at not just citrus and pine, but all manner of tropical fruit and mineral elements.

The thing is that this kind of innovation, if perpetuated on a long enough timeline, brings old ideas with it as well as new tools and equipment. If you introduced your flagship pale ale in 1994 and it was considered to be pretty hoppy at that point, you’re unlikely to be able to change the recipe without compromising your market share or really pissing off your earliest customers. There’s such a thing as 90’s beer. It still exists in Toronto. If you have The Beer Academy’s IPA, it’s more or less exactly what I’m talking about. It’s quite good, mind you, but it is so old school that it wears a striped tie.

Nice glassware is key to a decent beer festival. Subtle branding is best.

Nice glassware is key to a decent beer festival. Subtle branding is best.

In London, there was no craft beer scene until about 2007. I’m not choosing that date arbitrarily. That was the year that The Rake in Borough Market opened for business. Before 2007 there were a couple of what might be considered small breweries dotted around the country. Dark Star is a good example of this. They opened in 1994 and you really get that sense from their Hophead on cask. Again, really a very good beer, but the Cascade hops are unmistakeable. It’s of an era.

See? There's a DJ booth.It's a proper modern beer festival. Apparently Craig Charles was going to be DJing at some point. It's just as well I didn't meet him because I would have been forced to offer a hearty "boys from the dwarf" in greeting.

See? There’s a DJ booth.It’s a proper modern beer festival. Apparently Craig Charles was going to be DJing at some point. It’s just as well I didn’t meet him because I would have been forced to offer a hearty “boys from the dwarf” in greeting.

The number that I heard bandied about at the inaugural London Craft Beer Festival at the Oval Space in Hackney on Friday was 50. Over the last five years or so, there have been 50 brewery startups in London. They’ve all come into existence during the height of the international craft beer trend, many of them within the last six months. This means two things:

1)      They don’t have as much of the conceptual baggage that you might have in an older scene.

2)       Because of point one, they’re now doing really interesting cutting edge stuff.

A really neat thing about starting a brewery from scratch is that you get to come up with all new branding and a cohesive concept upon which to base your products. You have a template from which to work which seems completely contemporary. You also don’t have the baggage of existing brands that you have to continue making. Because of that, you can introduce a flagship brand or choose not to. Rather than being beholden to older hop varieties, you can choose to use the new stuff whenever possible. Beer styles? Out the window. Screw ‘em.

I’m at least putatively on vacation, so I’m going to hit the highlights of what I saw on Friday at the London Craft Beer Festival. Incidentally, I’m extraordinarily lucky to have been able to fit all of this into one week. You have to imagine that scheduling the London Craft Beer Festival during the Great British Beer Festival is not so much happenstance as a direct assault. This is a vastly different crowd and I think it can be summed up by the t-shirts from the Weird Beard Brewing Co. This is more representative of a younger demographic in London, brewing in rail arches and warehouses.

A very nice contrast to the GBBF policy of mandatory sandals.

A very nice contrast to the GBBF policy of mandatory sandals.

One of the points that cropped up repeatedly is that you can’t have a scene emerge this quickly out of thin air. I had never really understood, prior to Friday, the sort of influence that Gypsy brewers were having. For one thing, they’ve only made it to Toronto in the last couple of years. We’ve got Anders Kissmeyer working with Beau’s and Evil Twin popping up at Bellwoods periodically. In the case of the London scene I feel like the gypsy brewers have been instrumental in making progress happen this quickly. Mikkeller had a booth as did To Ol.

Clever conceptual branding here from Siren, working the mythology to advantage. I'd eventually like to see a beer called Odyssey.

Clever conceptual branding here from Siren, working the mythology to advantage. I’d eventually like to see a beer called Odyssey, or possibly Screaming Argonaut.

One of the most impressive breweries on site was Siren Craft Brew. I’m given to understand that their head brewer, Ryan, did a lot of brewing for Evil Twin and Mikkeller prior to his current gig at Siren. This shows through in a number of ways. First of all, there’s the willingness to experiment. Broken Dream is a 6.5% Breakfast Stout with coffee and lactose and I’d have been happy to get that anywhere in the world. Second of all, there’s the obvious potential for collaborative effort with contacts you’d make as a gypsy brewer. Not only was there a very interesting beer called Limoncello (lemon zest, lemon juice, sour mash, lactose) that was brewed in collaboration with Hill Farmstead and Mikkeller, but apparently there’s a version of Broken Dream out there aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels. You don’t get your hands on those if you’re just some guy.

So, now I understand what gypsy brewers do: They are conceptual cross-pollinators. They have a top down view and manage to get bits of information (and sometimes rare bourbon barrels) from over here to over there. Groovy.

No Hops. No Herbs. Just a lactic sourness that'll make you beg for mercy.

No Hops. No Herbs. Just a lactic sourness that’ll make you beg for mercy.

Another significant strength of the craft beer scene here is that they don’t seem overmuch worried by stylistic definitions. Buxton, for instance, had come up with something that I haven’t seen before for the festival. Called Wolfescoate, it’s a 3.3% beer, black as night with a whole lot of lactic sourness. I believe the rep told me that it had been soured in copper for four days. In order to highlight the sourness, they’ve decided to omit any hops. “So it’s a gruit?” I can hear you say. No. They haven’t replaced the hops with herbs. Instead of using bitterness to balance their beer, they’ve chosen to balance it with the roast from the malt. The result is pretty amazing.

Thornbridge employees alternately mugging for and ignoring the camera.

Thornbridge employees alternately mugging for and ignoring the camera.

Additionally, there seems to be a trend toward something like a very small version of an India Pale Ale. Magic Rock (from Huddersfield in Yorkshire) and The Kernel (from near Bermondsey Tube Station) have both gone in the direction of brewing very small beer indeed. Magic Rock’s is called Simpleton and sat at around 2.5% alcohol. The significant Citra hop nose is something you wouldn’t see at that strength very frequently. Somehow it retains a full body. There’s not much room for error here and Magic Rock manages it very nicely. The Kernel has a Table Beer (which, to be fair, I had at The Rake) which claimed 2.7% alcohol and was packed full of Nelson Sauvin.

Some of the London brewers have really done extraordinarily well in terms of branding. Partizan is at the forefront with their whimsical lettering.

Some of the London brewers have really done extraordinarily well in terms of branding. Partizan is at the forefront with their whimsical lettering.

This is a really pleasant range. You get all the hop character without malt or alcohol getting in the way. The bitterness is quite mild because it has to be. It would overwhelm very quickly beyond a certain point. It is pronounced in terms of balance within the beer, but not in terms of comparison to a 5% Pale Ale. I suspect you could spend the entire afternoon drinking beer of this style, appreciate them as a connoisseur and walk away from the experience stone cold sober. I like the idea so much I’m going to thieve it.

Among the other highlights here were Redemption’s Rock The Kazbek (lemon, lime, slight hint of drying paint), Weird Beard’s Mariana Trench (it’s a solid, tropical fruity pale ale), Partizan’s Saison (Quite dry, very refreshing) and Brodie’s Hoxton. Thornbridge’s Kolsch TZARA is pretty excellent, especially since my context for that brewery is Kipling and Jaipur.  Also worth mentioning is Crate, who have produced a stout that inexplicably uses a hefeweizen yeast. Neat idea. It results in Chocolate/Banana. The brewer was quite forthright about having come to it by accident, but I’m still going to give him credit for sticking with the thing.

Redemption were one of the few booths offering cask. Nice to see tradition alongside innovation.

Redemption were one of the few booths offering cask. Nice to see tradition alongside innovation.

The only difficulty I foresee for the London scene is that because so many of them are using the same hop varieties in the same types of beers (there are a lot of galaxy/citra/nelson sauvin pale ale type beers) that there will eventually be a lot of overlap between different breweries on some styles. If I were them I’d be planning accordingly to differentiate myself a little.

As with any relaxed craft beer festival, you get the opportunity to talk to the brewers at some length.

As with any relaxed craft beer festival, you get the opportunity to talk to the brewers at some length.

The good news is that London’s scene is going to be coming to Canada in relatively short order. This year Cask Days is having a number of English brewers over for a special part of the annual Cask Days event. I suppose it had been announced, but it was interesting to talk to Andy from Redemption and hear that he was sending cask to Canada. The brewers who mentioned it all seemed a little confused that their beer should be in such demand, especially from Toronto. If what I saw this week is any indication, Ralph and the boys should probably double the order.

 

Beer and History: Mesopotamia at the ROM OR Sumer Lovin’

A couple of weekends ago, I signed a contract to write a new book with m’colleague Alan McLeod of A Good Beer Blog. The book will be called Ontario Beer: A Heady History of Brewing from the Great Lakes to the Hudson Bay. We’re just kids in a candy store over the possibility of leafing through dusty archives and creating indexes and bibliographical footnotes. What can I say? We’re nerds.

As I was on my way to the subway, I noticed that we’re not the only ones working on beer from a historical perspective. The Royal Ontario Museum currently has a Mesopotamian exhibit that highlights some of the innovations that sprung from the fertile crescent. As an early agrarian society, Mesopotamia certainly had beer; a fact which is highlighted on the large advertisements for the exhibit encased in bus shelters around the city.

Since I was already in a vaguely historical frame of mind, I decided to get in touch with the ROM and see whether they could offer some guidance towards the exhibit. They actually provided an expert in the form of Dr. Clemens Reichel, an Associate Curator at the ROM, who took some time out of his schedule to show us around.

I say “us” because I was joined by Robin LeBlanc who writes about beer over here, and who was featured in a nice article today.

I suspect it’s fair to say that there’s not a great deal of planning that you can do for an exhibit like this if your intention is to write about it from a beer writer’s perspective. I have read beer books from the period between about 1880 and 2013 and the ancient world really only ever gets a couple of fundamentally similar paragraphs.

Sort of “development into Agrarian society… blah blah… Hymn to Ninkasi… blah blah… Does civilization exist because people wanted a drink?… and in conclusion, we owe a lot to these proto brewers whom we have included because we’re pretty sure we might have seen an article about it at some point, maybe in the Atlantic Monthly.”

The base of knowledge may well have expanded in the last 133 years or so, but since additional information would require vast amounts of research and records are typically fairly sketchy, these are the highlights that crop up. I mean, take the amount of research someone like Martyn Cornell does on a regular basis and understand how difficult it is to put together brewing history on London before tabloids. That’s nothing compared to 6500 years ago.

As a thought experiment, consider this: You want to know everything there is to know about a now closed Ontario brewery. Let’s use Conners as an example. We have the ability to track down and interview people who worked for them, which would take some research but is not impossible.  We also have the ability to read contemporary articles or books about brewing in Ontario and infer from those sources about Conners as it existed. The most accurate source of information, however, is going to be financial. I can guarantee you the tax information is kicking around in a government archive somewhere.

Oddly enough, the same goes for Mesopotamia. Of course no one who made beer in Mesopotamia is still alive and they didn’t have print journalism. The financial records, though, are more or less intact.

As a spreadsheet, the real downside here is that you can't copy and paste with hotkeys

As a spreadsheet, the real downside here is that you can’t copy and paste with hotkeys

As it turns out, the development of writing was largely due to accountancy. Part of the development of civilization has to do with accountability to each other. Without some manner of allaying mutual suspicion, we’re pretty hopeless as a species. If you were to deposit a number of bushels of grain at your local granary, you’d want there to be a record of how many bushels you had deposited. In part, Cuneiform was developed in order to do just that.

This tablet, from some period between 3300 and 3000 B.C.E., displays cuneiform symbols for various types of grain including Emmer Wheat and Barley. As you can see, there’s a heading and a column with a representative number of marks meant to represent quantity. It’s your basic inventory spreadsheet. The clay tablet technology has preserved this information. Clay had a number of comparative strengths, as Dr. Reichel pointed out. The papyrus based Great Library at Alexandria simply burnt down one day. If you expose clay to fire, it just gets harder. In some ways, clay is preferable to modern spreadsheet technology. Clay doesn’t upgrade its menu options every few years forcing you to learn how to use a styles menu or suddenly crash in the middle of an export.

This likely means that writing developed as a tool to allow us to feed ourselves. I can only imagine that in a culture where they had already developed irrigation and had likely managed to discover fermentation by dint of the fact that there was a lot of damp grain around, this means that writing probably developed in part due to beer. In a very small part. It’s practically not even worth mentioning when you consider all the other things you’d want to use grain for as well. Let’s call it about 10%.

The other illustrative artifact from the exhibit is a golden drinking cup discovered in the tomb of Puabi at the royal cemetery in Ur, dated to approximately 2500 B.C.E.

From this angle, you might think "Alright, I can drink out of that."

From this angle, you might think “Alright, I can drink out of that.”

The cup presents some interesting problems. First of all, as Dr. Reichel was good enough to point out, Southern Iraq is hot. Tomorrow (July 12th) the forecast for Baghdad is 46 degrees Celsius. To convert to farenheit, that’s about 113. What kind of idiot drinks out of a golden cup when it’s 46 degrees in the shade? Think about the heat transfer. No one is actually drinking out of a cup like that. Probably you want something that is thick and made of pottery so that your beverage remains at least nominally refreshing.

The other difficulties with the cup have to do with the dimensions. First of all, it’s not really round. It is shaped a little bit like half of a pita. When you view it from the front, it’s completely normal. When you view it from a slightly elevated angle, it’s obvious that no one looking to actually drink something would have used it. There’s even a completely non-functional straw built into the side that would make it dribble on your shirt.

But from this angle, it's clear that you're better off just drinking out of the bottle.

But from this angle, it’s clear that you’re better off just drinking out of the bottle.

As a cup, it sucks. It’s a terrible cup.

As a simulacrum of a cup, it makes complete sense. It is a representational imagining of a cup. Many of the tombs in Ur had ornamental pieces like this made of gold and carnelian and lapis lazuli: Necklaces that would snap a vertebrae; earrings that would tear a lobe. The tombs were appointed with these things, as well as a number of apparently unwilling servants (as evinced by the skull trauma). You can take it with you, but eventually someone will dig it up.

These simulacra are great for pointing out how important feasting was to the culture of Sumer. To have developed to the point where you’re creating ornamental representations of tableware for an elaborate burial like that of Puabi, you can safely assume that the feasting culture was pervasive and established. It gives you a sense of what was thought of as important in terms of the details of everyday life.

I suppose if you really felt the need for an additional beer artifact, you could tell yourself that this lion is really hungover.

I suppose if you really felt the need for an additional beer artifact, you could tell yourself that this lion is really hungover.

I should point out that these two are the main beer related artifacts in the exhibit. I can’t help but feel that the ROM overstated their case a little on the promotional posters. That said, the rest of the exhibit contains some truly amazing pieces from the British Museum. Tablet VI of the Epic of Gilgamesh, for instance. A stele with the code of Hammurabi inscribed upon it. Perhaps most impressively, a bas relief lion from the Ishtar Gate of Babylon with much of its glaze still intact. You should go and see these things. It’s good for you. And you can pop across the street to the Museum Tavern afterwards for beer if you feel your appetite hasn’t been sated.