One of the best things about Molson, from the perspective of DISCOUNT BEER FEBRUARY, is that I have contacts over there. Once I explained what I was trying to do with a survey of the Discount beer section of The Beer Store, and that I really only needed two bottles or cans of each product, they complied. I mean, never before has anyone writing about beer professed a desire to give Ferg Devins a big ‘ol hug, but compliance here probably earns the guy one whether he wants it or not.
When this is all said and done, I’ll do a tally of what remains and you’ll see why the two bottle limit was a good rule.
Molson sent five products over in total. The fact that they sent four cans of Keystone Lager may be a gentle nudge in the direction of supporting that product. If that was the case, they may end up being somewhat disappointed.
I don’t understand where Keystone came from. It was Chico, California in 1989. Keystone is really a Coors product at heart and originally there were a number of varieties of it, not unlike you would have had with Lakeport in the early 90’s. There’s not really any story behind Keystone that I can discern, and I guess it was probably originally designed to fill a market niche. There’s nothing wrong with that.
In terms of Ontario, I’d guess that it was more or less brought in to fill a slot on the Molson roster that is roughly equivalent to the position of Busch in the Labatt portfolio.
The interesting thing is that they’re not really in the same league. Busch is sort of a light refresher, whereas Keystone is much fuller bodied and doesn’t have much in the way of hop presence. This is not surprising considering that it was once touted as the “never bitter beer.” It’s certainly smooth. I suspect that you could bump the IBU’s by about ten or fifteen and it would not overbalance.
VERDICT: There’s nothing wrong with Keystone Lager; It just sort of IS. Not being very interesting is not a capital offense.
If you’re a Canadian beer nerd, then you probably know the story of Carling and the E.P. Taylor consolidation of breweries etcetera. The original Carling apparently sold his beer in the streets in London, Ontario from a wheelbarrow. Last year they sold 25 billion pints of it worldwide. You’d think we’d be proud of that as a nation, but the history is too byzantine and punishing and contains too many mergers to really get a feel for it.
It’s 4.9% and it’s got a biscuit malt sort of thing happening in addition to the slightly lighter mouthfeel you get from corn as an adjunct. I’m pretty sure I’m detecting the regular Molson red apple yeast ester, which is pretty distinctive.
I tell you what, though. Points go to Carling for the WTF factor and that’s mostly because of the website content. If you’ve got ten minutes to kill, you really need to check out the marketing under Great Beer Decisions. The “1930 – Beer After A Move” video is sort of hilariously metatextual. The “1955 – Beer While Watching Sports” video just gets incredibly dark very quickly.
VERDICT: It doesn’t exactly grab me, but in terms of value for money, this is pretty good. Plus, it’s a worldwide brand, so it’s not going anywhere if you’re one of the remaining brand loyal drinkers.
OV is the butt of a lot of jokes, but it’s sort of a heritage brand. It was a 19th century beer from Ohio, which was made by City Brewing and subsequently the Koch Beverage Company. This morning I asked Jim Koch from Sam Adams if they were any relation. He thinks there’s probably a distant family connection. Brewing was always a small world. It was taken over by Carling O’Keefe at some point in the late 60’s or early 70’s.
OV smells like the 80’s, which is to say it reminds me of what I think beer smelled like when my parents would have Christmas parties. I’m surprised that there’s a nostalgia kick in the Discount Beer category.
There are recognizable hops in OV. There is balance here. There’s an oddly metallic edge that is not without charm, especially because of the nostalgia. Objectively, I think that this is a better beer than Keystone or Carling.
VERDICT: You should probably try this. It’s sort of living Canadian Beer History. Also, as discount adjunct lagers go, this is pretty good.
Speaking of living Canadian Beer History
I didn’t know why they sent me this beer, because it’s not actually available in Ontario as far as I can tell. This was originally from Fritz Sick’s brewery in Lethbridge in 1926. The website does a much better job of explaining the history than I can. This is a beer with a cult following to the extent that people dress up in bottles, apparently.
A word on the bottles, courtesy of Jim Button at Village Brewing in Calgary: In the old days, the long neck bottles were hefty enough that a bar fight might have resulted in a fatality. I mean just look at this thing.
Here’s the thing: So far during Discount Beer February, I hadn’t run into anything that I would actually consider drinking if I weren’t doing a month of blog posts about cheap beer. Old Style Pilsner changes that. I like the fact that the label looks like a lower tech version of Oregon Trail. It’s goofy and fun. There is actual malt flavour here. There is an actual noble hop aroma. The head retention is good. It’s not a world beater by any stretch of the imagination, but it is recognizably a Pilsner. In terms of value this outweighs just about everything else in the category so far.
When I was talking to the folks at Sherbrooke Liquor in Edmonton about Discount Beer February last week, I mentioned that I thought Old Style Pilsner was probably at the head of the pack. They didn’t even feign surprise.
VERDICT: I like this beer enough that I’m not ashamed to admit it. Don’t go into it expecting a life changing experience, but by all means go into it. I dunno if I’m suffering from Stockholm syndrome or what.