Tuesday was the fourth annual Ontario Craft Brewers Legislative Tasting at Queen’s Park. It was the first one that I’ve managed to attend, and it prompted some interesting revelations about the old family tree. As it turns out my long deceased relation Joseph Wesley St. John was actually Speaker of the Provincial Legislature from 1905-1907.
He died in office. Since I wasn’t exactly sure whether this was meant literally, ie. that he snuffed it while signing papers on the second floor or whether he was merely the elected representative at the time, I decided that it was in my best interest to dress up for the event. I got my dapper on. I looked like 87 dollars the hard way. I was, in short, nattily attired.
This is just as well. No one wants to be lying in bed late at night as the sound of rattling chains and flashes of light begin to emanate from the kitchen because great uncle Joe has decided to haunt you for wearing a t-shirt to parliament. You don’t want ectoplasm in your butter dish.
It’s an interesting event. Most of the time if you go to a beer event, you don’t have to check in with a press office or make yourself known to security. Most of the time, you just sort of shamble in and see what’s on offer. People frown on shambling in an Edwardian dining room, unless you are geriatric. The 16 foot ceilings are particularly daunting, conveying the impression that while there is certainly a great deal of beer to sample, it would be best if you went sparingly.
The event is a good one, not necessarily because you’re likely to sample anything new, but for the goals that it attempts to accomplish. This was the fourth annual Legislative Beer tasting, and my understanding is that it is mostly the result of the effort of Steve Peters, Speaker of the House and the OCB.
It’s a good idea. It promotes Ontario beer to members of the provincial government and Queen’s Park staffers. This is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that at some point some of these people may have influence in decisions that affect the OCB. For a couple of years, there has been talk of founding craft beer stores outside of the purview of the existing beer store. If that’s the kind of thing that you want to get done, it’s good to provide a positive experience of the product in question.
Fortunately, this was exactly the venue for that sort of thing. This year’s event included 18 separate breweries and 61 beers. The goal of the event is to provide a democratically chosen selection of beers for the Legislative Dining Room and other Queen’s Park locales. There are six categories in which people are meant to vote, and one category where the Speaker decides on a beer. It’s a closed ballot, so there’s no possibility of malfeasance or electoral fraud.
My understanding was that there had been minimal press coverage of the event in previous years, but I’m not entirely sure that I understand why. It’s humanizing. I don’t claim that we (like the Americans) need to choose our politicians based on whether you could have a beer with them, but it’s refreshing to see Dalton McGuinty hanging around with brewers. I’m given to understand that he’s something of a craft beer enthusiast. I like that he demonstrates some taste.
It’s easy to vilify politicians of any stripe from a distance. It’s somewhat more difficult to do that when you see an MPP struggling to eat dark ale injected striploin off a side plate without adequate cutlery while trying to balance a schooner of beer in the crook of his arm. Even a small amount of jostling from the crowd will mean a trip to the dry cleaner.
I suppose that the best part of the event is that supporting local businesses that produce excellent beers is about as far from being a hot button issue as you can get. I certainly can’t find an argument against it.
I think that the only part of the event that fell short was the sound system. About halfway through the proceedings, there were speeches. Steve Peters made a speech, and John Hay (President of the OCB) made a speech. The event took place in two separate rooms, and while the room with the podium may have been receiving loud and clear, it was impossible to tell that there was a speech going on in the neighbouring room. John Hay is a relatively soft spoken man at the best of times, so it was no surprise that the noise began to build as he spoke.
I know little of Steve Peters politically, but let me assure you that he has a formidable set of pipes, as he was forced to call for silence on a number of occasions. As a Speaker, he is definitely a woofer.
The winners were announced yesterday, and I list them here:
Golden Lagers, Pilsners & Light Beer Mill Street Brewery: Mill Street Organic Lager
Refreshing Ales Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company: Beau’s Lug Tread Lagered Ale
Amber Lagers, Ales & Honey Beer Old Credit Brewing Company Ltd: Old Credit Amber Ale*
Malty Dark Lager or Ale Kichesippi Beer: Kichesippi 1855
Bold Flavoured Ale, Stout or Porter Railway City Brewing: Railway City Dead Elephant Ale
Wheat Beer & Specialty Nickel Brook Beers: Nickel Brook Green Apple Pilsner
Speaker’s Selection Flying Monkey’s Craft Brewery: Hoptical Illusion Almost Pale Ale
I can’t claim that it’s the most adventurous selection that I’ve ever seen, but it’s a fair representation of what’s available and of what’s popular. It’s worth remembering that for some of the people doing the voting, this may have been their first exposure to Ontario craft beer, so a beer with flavours that hit like the Sergeant-at-Arms’s mace is unlikely to have done very well.
It’s nice to know that visitors to the Legislative Dining Room will be able to experience some of what the OCB has to offer. It demonstrates pride in the province and in the ability of small business. More than that, it captures the attention of government personnel; something that could be invaluable in the near future.