St. John's Wort Beery Musings And Amusing Beers

Reviews: Ontario Ginger Beers

Ginger beer seems to be having a moment in Ontario. Well, not “Ginger beer” so much as beer with ginger as an ingredient. If you’re from here you’ll find that odd. If you’re from South London you’ll find it ginger beer.

Ginger is a pervasive flavour. It’s the kind of thing you get in holiday baking for that very reason. It’s a bright flavour in the midwinter to ward off the dark of night. That said, if you were asked to tell me what ginger tastes like, you probably wouldn’t have any adjectives to use that didn’t reference its name. I wouldn’t have either. That’s why I’m researching the ingredient.

When faced with a culinary ingredient I don’t know about I go to Harold McGee’s extremely useful and comprehensive On Food and Cooking. On Ginger he has this to say:

It’s a pungent, aromatic rhizome of Zingiber officinale that is distantly related to the banana. It’s a member of a genera associated with galangal, grains of paradise, cardamom and turmeric. It was domesticated in southern Asia and had made the Mediterranean by the Classical Era. The root is about 60% starch although most of its use is now longer in a dried form for baking, but fresh in the manner of Asian Cuisines. Depending on the terroir the ginger is from it can be quite bright and lemony with floral, citrus, woody and eucalyptus notes – and mild pepper-like pungency that complements other flavours without dominating them.

Seriously. Go buy Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking. There’s a marvelous chart on page 392 that tells you what aromatic compounds are in spices and herbs. With just the smallest bit of research you can find out how they complement the terpenoids in myrcene and humulene. If you want to brew a spiced beer, this is your bible.

The chart tells us that the fresh aromas are from phellandrene and cineole. The citrus is from citral. The floral component is linalool. The woody component is zingiberene. This is all massively useful if you have the ability to think about food on a purely scientific crossword puzzle level.

Here’s the important thing: Gingerol.

Gingerol is the compound that makes ginger gingery. It’s similar to capsaicin and piperine, which give chilies and peppercorns their flavours. If you cook ginger, gingerol becomes zingerone. Zingerone is less pungent and is sweeter. When you bake with ginger or stir fry ginger, that’s the flavour you get. When you dry ginger, you get shaogols, a compound about twice as pungent as fresh ginger. When you candy ginger, you get cavities.

What this means is that if you want to make a beer with ginger in it, you need to be mindful of the ingredient. If you put it in the boil or the whirlpool, you lose aroma to sweetness. If you use powdered ginger, you’ll get a lot of the aroma, but some of the delicate terpenoids will flash off if you add them to the boil. You’ll get shaogol ginger and nothing else. You’re unlikely to get the flavour of pickled ginger because the ginger they use for Gari is harvested earlier. You might get that sweetness if regular ginger is added to a hot liquid.

The Beers

Vikings didn't put up with this Ginger nonsense. They referred to themselves as "Erik The Red" and "Lars The Burnt Sienna" and "Magnus  VeryDarkOrangesson"

Vikings didn’t put up with this Ginger nonsense. They referred to themselves as “Erik The Red” and “Lars The Burnt Sienna” and “Magnus VeryDarkOrangesson”


First up, we’ve got Double Trouble Brewing Company’s Revenge Of The Ginger. It’s always an interesting choice when you name a beer after a pun. I feel like they could have made Revenge Of The Ginger just about anything conceptually as long as it had a reddish hue. In this instance, they’ve referenced the fact that the beer contains ginger and juxtaposed it with the fact that Nathan Dunsmoor will combust spontaneously if exposed to sunlight.

I have some problems with the beer’s construction. The aroma certainly contains ginger, the ingredient made unrefutable by the lingering burn, but the hops don’t really seem to complement it. I think that the northern brewer and saaz hops bridge to the ginger in a woody, humulene dense place and from a sensory perspective I found some distracting malt astringency (probably from whichever malt is imparting the red colour). The upshot is a beer that divides in the mid palate and results in the sensation of the hops fighting the ginger. It’s thematically consistent, but not terribly enjoyable.

Heathcliff, Heathcliff, no one should terrorize the... oh wait. Let's avoid the lawsuit and call it "Ginger Cat"

Heathcliff, Heathcliff, no one should terrorize the… oh wait. Let’s avoid the lawsuit and call it “Ginger Cat”

Second, we’ve got Mill Street’s Ginger Cat. It is a part of their Summer Mix Pack, although I feel like a wider release on patios as a one off would have been clever. The Mix Pack seems to be successful for Mill Street, so what do I know?

Ginger Cat is sort of scaredy on the ginger front. It’s not a big fresh ginger character. They’re using candied ginger and orange peel. It’s a wheat beer with some amber barley malt and a Belgian ale yeast. Stylistically, this is probably a better fit for the candied ginger: Essentially a modified Witbier. The end result is quite sweet at the top and a slight wheaty tang redeems it at the back end. It’s certainly a refreshing summer beverage, but there’s not a lot of head retention. It’s interesting, but if you’re a ginger fanatic, you might find the additions a bit gingerly.

Green Thumb. I have a black thumb. The nice people from Pommies delivered an apple tree last year. It's now only fit for kindling. :(

Green Thumb. I have a black thumb. The nice people from Pommies delivered an apple tree last year. It’s now only fit for kindling. :(

Finally, we’ve got Garden Brewers ostensibly out of Hamilton, but contract brewed at Black Oak here in Toronto. For my money, the Green Thumb IPA displays the best balance of the lot. The beer is essentially dry-gingered. Fresh Ginger is added to the beer after fermentation, which ensures that you get all of the delicate flavours that you’re meant to get in addition to the big spicy gingerol character. The choice of hop is also fairly inspired. They’re using the infrequently championed Bullion, which is an offspring of a wild Manitoban variety discovered something like a hundred years ago. For the most part people don’t use it because it’s a little vegetal and the flavour profile leans towards blackcurrant.

The aroma makes no bones about the concentration of ginger in the beer and the ginger dominates throughout. The hops manage to dance around the outside of that core flavour and pick out small detail. The palate does split on the finish between a dry character on the palate and a lingering retronasal ginger heat. It’s a clever use of the flavours and I find myself surprised by the fact that it’s 7.2% alcohol. It seems lighter than that, but maybe that’s just the freshness of the ginger. I think if I were going to pair it I might try this Venison with Ginger and Garlic or this Venison with Blackcurrant Jus and what looks like parsnip.

Not Exactly A Review: Sleeman Lift

Sleeman Lift launched this week. I’m not going to review it. I don’t care what it tastes like. Many of the lifestyle bloggers that you’ll see promoting it in the coming weeks don’t care what it tastes like either. They probably attended the launch because the invitation came with the offer of a Fitbit Flex.

Sleeman has brought in Ben Desbrow, an associate professor from Griffith University in Australia to talk to the media about the science of hydration. He is a very nice man and his studies have been peer reviewed and are generally well intentioned. I popped by the offices of Sleeman’s PR firm on this campaign, Cossette, to talk to him about the potential of hydrating beer. I had done a cursory amount of research, including actually reading the studies that he has co-authored on the hydration potential of various liquids.Print

The thing to realize is that Desbrow’s work on altering the hydration level of beer by the addition of sodium is that it deals with harm minimization. He works in sports nutrition and athletes, especially rugby players and cricketers, drink beer in great quantity. The idea behind the study is that it might be possible to make that less harmful. That’s why the conclusion in the first study on beer hydration states the following:

All beverage treatments failed to completely restore fluid balance across the 4h observation period suggesting that beer, irrespective of ingredient profile, is an undesirable post-exercise fluid.

You got that? Beer in any form is not a desirable beverage for hydration. In point of fact, drinking beer will not bring you back to a normal level of hydration even if you drink 150% of the volume of liquid you lost through exercise.

Water is a better option. Gatorade is a better option. Chocolate Milk is a better option. Fruit juice is a better option. Coconut water is a better option. Beer is worse at hydration than everything else other than higher alcohol liquids. The study on beer as a hydrating liquid basically states that very low alcohol beer with added sodium is better at hydrating than regular beer.

So there are two things that you need to take away from this study:

  • Beer is not good at providing hydration. If you want it to be better, you can add salt to it in small quantities.
  • In order for beer to achieve even comparable hydration, you need to drink 150% of the volume of liquid you just lost due to the body’s tendency to produce urine.

For strenuous exercise, participants in the study were pushed to a loss of 1.8% of their total mass. Let’s say you’ve got a big rugby player. He probably weighs a very solid 220 pounds or 100 kilos. 1.8% total mass lost means that he lost 1.8 kilos. In order for beer to be reasonably hydrating, he would need to drink 2.7 litres of beer. I’m told that the beer that was used in the study was Castlemaine XXXX Gold (we had it at the LCBO a few years ago.) In Australia, that’s a mid-range beer at 3.5% alcohol. Because this is attached to the Sleeman Lift campaign, we’ll go with the nutritional information on that. It is 4% alcohol and 150 calories/473 ml can. That means that in order to come close to a state of regular hydration, our rugby player (probably named Bruce) would have to drink nearly six 473 ml cans of beer at a toll of approximately 900 calories. Bruce can shrug that off. Bruce probably needs 4000 calories a day if he’s an active athlete.

You are probably not an active athlete. You are probably pretty average. You’re meant to consume something like 2000 calories a day.

This is why I absolutely hate Sleeman Lift. The average person will not have read professor Desbrow’s study. The average person’s scientific literacy is non-existent. We live in a world with Anti-Vaxxers and Dr. Oz and The Food Babe. There are people who are preying on society’s basic lack of understanding of science in order to make a buck. Between them, they have less than an ounce of moral fibre. They are, in my opinion, pond scum. Sleeman may now count themselves among that group.

The average person will look at the can and they will see that Sleeman Lift contains coconut water. “That’s healthy” they will think. They will see the words “For The Performance Focused” and they will assume that there are significant health benefits to drinking Sleeman Lift. They will not have read any studies on hydration. They have not had my privilege to be able to talk to the author of the studies who readily admits that beer with sodium added is better than regular beer but not as hydrating as other things. No, the average person will simply make the connection themselves and assume that they are being sold something that is good for them as opposed to something that contains empty calories and is both more expensive and less efficient than water.

That’s what Sleeman is banking on. That you will assume that beer, which has never before in human history been considered a health beverage, has suddenly been made healthy. It hasn’t. It has simply been made very slightly less detrimental. Hell, the media is jumping to those conclusions for you. Look at this report on CHCH Hamilton.

This makes me very, very angry. I don’t like to see the public exploited with implication and I don’t like seeing scientific illiteracy being taken advantage of. I cannot do anything about Anti-Vaxxers or Dr. Oz or The Food Babe. Beer, though? That’s where I’m a Viking. That’s why for the first time in my five years of writing about beer professionally, I am formally complaining to the AGCO in order to have this snake oil removed from shelves.

You see, the AGCO’s advertising guidelines state the following:

Except for public service advertising, the holder of a licence to sell liquor or a manufacturer of liquor may advertise or promote liquor or the availability of liquor only if the advertising: (3) does not imply that consumption of liquor is required in obtaining or enhancing: (a) social, professional or personal success, (b) athletic prowess, (c) sexual prowess, opportunity or appeal, (d) enjoyment of any activity, (e) fulfilment of any goal, or (f) resolution of social, physical or personal problems.

I believe that the implication of “For The Performance Focused” probably contravenes several of those lettered subsections. If I had my way, I’d have every single can recalled and destroyed.

P.S. Thank you for the Fitbit Flex.

Revisit: Trafalgar Ales & Meads

I don’t have a sense for how long people have been following the blog, but if you started reading back in 2010, you’ll know that I had pretty strong opinions about Trafalgar. At that point, we were living in a 40 brewery Ontario and Trafalgar was down amongst the bottom of the heap with things like Old Credit and Wolfgang’s. I wrote a post about them you can see by clicking here. It was fairly gentle, considering. I didn’t like the way their labels kept changing. At the time I didn’t have the context I do now. If I had been reviewing them then with the context I have now, it would have been worse.

Searching through the archive, I find I also wrote this paragraph:

Trafalgar Bert Well Pale Ale will be the absolute last chance I’m ever going to give Trafalgar and if it isn’t any good I am going to rain down fire and brimstone upon them with such intensity that it will raise the temperature of the blogosphere by several dozen degrees. They are already on double secret probation for Korruptor and I for one have very little difficulty seeing the benefit of hastening along Ontario beer Darwinism.

I’ve been keeping tabs on things coming out of the brewery over the years. Some of the Black Creek beers that they’ve been contracting have been very good. Some of their one offs have been questionable. The bottle of Saison I purchased by Brasserie des Quatres Lunes was brewed there and somehow managed to soak through the cork, which is something I’d never seen before. It was an unqualified drain pour. It was terrible.

Part of being a good critic is being honest and being open to the idea that things can and sometimes do change. Earlier this year, Trafalgar won a number of awards at the Ontario Brewing Awards. They also won “best newcomer.”

I’ve tallied votes for the Canadian Brewing Awards four times, so I feel comfortable telling you this even if it means that I never get to do it again: An award doesn’t really tell you very much on an ongoing basis except that the beer has achieved a certain level of quality. An award means that on that day in that room to those judges with their understanding of BJCP criteria, the beer was an exemplar of the style category it was submitted in. This doesn’t mean that awards are nonsense. If you see one brewery win a lot of them, it means they’re performing well according to a Michael Jackson/AHA/BJCP defined context. All of the awards judging I’ve ever been involved with has been conducted in good faith based on principles of fairness.

That means that when you win as many awards in one fell swoop as Trafalgar did this year, you’re probably due for a revisit.

The newcomer thing has to be addressed. Trafalgar isn’t a newcomer. Trafalgar started when I was 13. Giving a 22 year old brewery a newcomer award is the kind of asinine decision that makes people take you less seriously. It’s like awarding Justin Bieber “Cutest Toddler.” I know the justification was that they had not entered the Ontario Brewing Awards in five years. That doesn’t make them a newcomer. 60 breweries started in 2014. This is pretty cut and dry. I feel like running that decision by literally anyone would have been a good move. “Most Improved” would have been fine.

I sent Connor at Trafalgar my address and the following picture. 7e3

He sent me six beers from the Trafalgar Black Label series. What follows is the upshot:

Big Hefe: A 5% wheat beer, Big Hefe is really more of a Kristalweizen due to its clarity and carbonation. It’s more like an American Wheat Beer than anything else if only because of the filtration. The aroma is still clove and a little bit of banana with some chalky grain and a wheaty tang towards the back. It has quite a rocky head, and the iso-amyl acetate suggests it fermented fairly warm. It is a touch too sweet for me, but it’s objectively pretty good.IMAG1190[1]

Wee Beastie (second on the operating principle of low IBU to high): An 8.5% Scotch Ale, this is throwing aromas of toffee, grape, raisin and grape nuts with some booze in the background. There’s a touch of licorice peeking through at the back of the palate. There are other dark fruit characters at play here, but I feel like the body could be a little thicker. I think that some texture would take care of the bitterness which is a little on the high side. That’s a minor quibble. I have had worse Scotch Ales than this. Also, the name is clever (if already taken by Howe Sound.)

Schwartzy: A 5% alcohol Milk Stout, this might have been leaking carbonation. The aroma doesn’t present the lactose in a creamy way and to be honest it’s more of an American Stout than anything else. There’s smoke, chocolate and a small amount of roast. There’s a really lingering bitterness and astringency from the malt. Of the six this turns out to be maybe the poorest bottle.


Schwartzy Xpresso: Also at 5%, Schwartzy Xpresso pours with a big fluffy head and the coffee here seems to bring out the lactose in the milk stout, creating a creamy character. There’s a little vanilla and I’m actively reminded of Dieu Du Ciel Aphrodisiaque. The difference is the texture. This is aggressively carbed and that spikiness takes away a little from what could be a really smooth texture. This could easily have won an award.

Stinger: An 8% Dry Hopped IPA, this is really leaning in the direction of Torpedo. I think that the dry hopping here might be citra because of the vibrant lemon and (maybe it’s because I broke 5kg of Marynka with my bare hands the other day) I’m getting raw whole cone vegetal notes. I think they really dry hopped the hell out of this. There is something in the malt bill I don’t quite like, but I’ve had many worse IPAs than this. From other OCB members. Recently. It is another example of a name that’s already taken (by Mill Street).


Eclipse: The Imperial Stout. It’s quite simple and is basically exactly to style. No flaws, but not much joy either.

I wanted to believe. I don’t know if I do. There are serious problems.

For one thing, the fill lines in the bottles that they sent were inconsistent. One near the cap and one near the bottom of the neck. This and the crimps on the bottle caps lead me to believe that they are probably manually bottling the beers in their black label series. I hope that they will listen to me when I suggest improving their processes to eliminate inconsistency in packaging. As I checked the beers in on untappd people got in touch via twitter and facebook and email to tell me about their experiences with bottles that had been undercarbed or had gone wrong in some way. The focus needs to be on consistency if Trafalgar is going to claw back some reputation. People talk now more than ever.

Additionally, it’s important to recognize that you don’t exist in a vacuum. Using names that other people are already using just signals a basic lack of market research. Yes, it’s hard to come up with a new name, but it’s not so hard that it’s worth eventually getting sued over.

The upshot is this: Three of the beers that Trafalgar sent over (Wee Beastie, Schwartzy Xpresso, Stinger) would absolutely have been worthy of award consideration. In the right room on the right day in front of the right judges, they’d win. That’s a hell of an improvement and at some point in the near future they might think seriously about switching out a couple of LCBO skus with their black label stock. Once they get their processes squeaky clean, of course.

So You Want To Be A Brewer: Innocente & Collaboration Nation

I don’t brew collaboratively as much as I used to. I’ve been blogging about beer for five years this week and originally I was only doing it to get into brewing school. The focus on brewing was a great deal heavier at that point because I was trying to build a resume. The focus is less on brewing at this point, but the background is immensely helpful. You’d be amazed how many people write about beer without knowing how it works.

Truly, I love the creative part of brewing. I like the recipe development part a lot. The part I don’t like is the endless squeegeeing and line flushing and scrubbing and raking out mash tuns. 90% of brewing is custodial work. Don’t confuse “custodial” with “janitorial.” It requires caretaking and watchfulness. It requires meticulous planning. Believe it or not, one of my favorite parts is the bottle filling and washing. I like the repetitive rhythmic element. That beta wave mental twilight that comes with constant occupation. It’s not entirely like sifting through historical archives.

This year for the Session Beer Festival’s Collaboration Nation I’m working with Innocente Brewing in Waterloo, Ontario to combine those two elements. Depending on what we choose to name it, we may be brewing the most recursive beer in the history of the world.

See if you can follow this:

For the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, we’re brewing a Belgian-Style farmhouse ale inspired by the farmhouse (La Haye Sainte) on the battlefield at Waterloo, the namesake of the town of Waterloo, Ontario where the Innocente Brewery is located.

A Belgian Farmhouse. Did they actually make their own ale? Would the Oxford Companion lie to me?

A Belgian Farmhouse. Did they actually make their own ale? Would the Oxford Companion lie to me?

Waterloo is one of those decisive historical moments that could have gone either way. Napoleon, having escaped from Elba, had managed to rally a significant number of the French population to his cause. The amazing thing is that it might have been the only time in history that war was declared on a man rather than a country. Napoleon’s Army of the North faced the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian forces led by Blucher.

*frightened horse whinnies*

*frightened horse whinnies*

The feeling is that had Napoleon won at Waterloo, he would probably have been stopped by the Russians (who sent a quarter of a million men) or the Austrians or maybe the Spanish. He had something like 46,000 troops compared to the half a million the nations allied against him would have sent. It’s hard to say. Napoleon was a compelling presence. Maybe if he had beaten Wellington and Blucher, a significant number of French citizens would have joined up. Maybe we’d all be pausing between bites of croissant to take a drag off a Gauloises.

The point of the alliance against Napoleon really was about the wholesale destruction of his army and the removal of his capability ever to return. It was more or less a killing field with 65,000 killed, wounded or missing. The ground at Waterloo was churned to mud by a torrential downpour and cannon shot and blood. La Haye Sainte featured prominently early in the battle, housing sharpshooters in the form of the Light Battalion of the King’s German Legion. Thousands of men died trying to occupy it.

Napoleon thought of Wellington as a "Sepoy General" because of his time in India. I always thought that would be a good name for a one off IPA.

Napoleon thought of Wellington as a “Sepoy General” because of his time in India. I always thought that would be a good name for a one off IPA.

The previous week, it was just a Belgian farm with a rye crop that was nearly ready for harvest.

I started thinking about what I would make with the ingredients lying around. Clearly, it’d be some manner of Belgian Farmhouse Ale. It would need to have some rye in it because they had rye on hand. It’d be relatively low in alcohol. When I talked to Steve and Dave from Innocente, we thought it would be a good idea to bring in ingredients representing the allied forces. The hops are therefore English (Goldings and Fuggles) and Prussian (Marynka). We’ve used some wheat, some dark wheat and some Melanoidin. My feeling was that it was probably important that the beer be blood red. If the liquid we tested for gravity was any indication, we should be spot on. The yeast we’re using is Lallemand Belle Saison and it should go banana-y since we’re fermenting hot. I don’t know that the citrus-y Marynka would work with clove character. We used about 5 kg of organic Marynka for the hopback and it should come through bright and shiny.

Steve Innocente surprised me a little bit by opting for a water profile that he’s used for Northern German Pilsner. As you may know if you’ve followed Innocente since their inception, they wanted to make big hoppy beers to the exclusion of other styles. What I found yesterday on visiting the brewery was that their best beers are the ones displaying restraint. The Glance Rye Pale Ale is subtle and delicate and really very good indeed. The winner, however, was the Pilsner. Sinner uses an identical water profile to the one we’re using for the collaboration beer. It uses Cluster and Waimea in place of traditional German landrace hops and it manages to duplicate the effect and mouthfeel of something like Jever, but with a different flavour profile. It’s absolutely worth trying if you see it on tap. It’s a combination I’ve never seen and it works beautifully.

Essentially, what we think we’re looking at is a 5.0% blood red Belgian Farmhouse ale that will start with a citrus and pepper note from the hops and a mildly phenolic fruitiness from the yeast, backed up with earthy tones from the goldings and fuggles (possibly going herbal towards thyme in the middle) with enough pepper and spice from the rye to be noticeable without throwing it out of balance. The mouthfeel will be soft because of the water profile, but the bitterness will cut through on the finish. It’ll be a low final gravity, so the finish will be dry and quenching. On a hot summer day, it should be just the thing.

There is, I think, a pleasant contrast between the normal reality of La Haye Sainte and the bloody day two hundred years ago this June 18th. In extremis, mankind can bring the combined wealth and force of nations down on one man and his followers in an attempt to finally wipe them off the face of the earth. In regular circumstances, we would mostly like to tend to our fields and drink a refreshing pint of ale in the sun.


Review: KBC Hops & The Grain Merchant

(Editor’s Note: The Kensington Brewing Company is the only company from which I have ever accepted money as a beer writer. They bought a banner ad when they launched their crowdfunding initiative. I don’t think the banner ad did much good and I felt bad enough about that to leave it up for a lot longer than was agreed. If you’d like to throw great flipping wodges of cash at me to have your banner ad installed on my blog, please feel free to get in touch. The cat needs to eat. Hell, so does the blogger.)

The Background

The Kensington Brewing Company has been around for a while at this point. For the most part they’ve existed as a contract brewery over at Wellington in Guelph. Owner Brock Shepherd has been thinking about this for a while. I remember climbing around in the disused bakery out back of the sadly short lived Burger Bar and having him point out where brewing equipment might go while attempting not to contract tetanus.

When Augusta Ale came out, brewed by Paul Dickey, the excitement was palpable. That was 2011 and there weren’t a lot of Paul Dickey beers around. If you were now to choose a contract brewed beer at random from a shelf in Ontario, you’d have something like a two in five chance of drinking something he either designed or stewarded the design of. That’s not a criticism of the man, incidentally. If anything it’s a testament to his unique skillset that he is so much in demand.

The difficulty with being a contract brewer is that most of them are in it for a quick buck and are more interested in marketing than ever brewing a beer. “How do we cash in on the trend?” they ask me, having invited me out to talk about it over a few pints. “Ha, ha!” I laugh, sensing that there is no money in this situation and fob them off for an hour or so with vague generalities until they go away. I don’t like Carpetbaggers.

Kensington aren’t carpetbaggers. They became a contract brewery to help them become a real brewery. They’ve been constructing a brewery at 299 Augusta Avenue for what seems like eons to me and must seem even longer to them. The running joke with Michael Gurr, their factotum and general nice guy, is as follows:

“Hey Mike, when’s the brewery due to open?”

“Fall of 2014.”

We have fun, don’t we?

Things are looking up. The brewery construction seems to be clipping along at a decent rate (it no longer exists solely in AutoCAD) and they may actually have something open this year. The Watermelon Wheat beer, a passable summer patio choice is going to be in the LCBO this summer. They have also had a few legitimately impressive one offs of late. Their Home Grown Porter was the kind of core of the style exemplar of a Robust Porter that signalled some growth as a company. Hopefully they’ll revisit it when they get a roof installed.

The BeerP1040008

Hops & The Grain Merchant is billed as a Cascadian Rye Ale. I guess that that’s like being a Cascadian Dark Ale but with Rye. At 6% and 50 IBU, it sounds like it ought to be a fairly substantial beer, but the impression that it leaves is lighter than that. The Reddish-Brown body accents ruby in sunlight. The head recedes relatively quickly, but I’m willing to put that down to packaging. They’re using a standard 341ml bottle here with what looks like an Avery 6879 Envelope Label and an obviously hand bombed metal cap. Due to the length of the review queue, this beer has been sitting in my fridge for a while. Reviewing it probably doesn’t help them at all at this point. Some days the bear eats you.P1040009

In truth, this is actually pretty impressive. The aroma doesn’t seem to have faded at all and there’s a large splash of spritzy grapefruit at the beginning and that’s reinforced by the pepperiness of the rye. Most of the time, you’d assume that a beer like this would have more dark malt notes to capitalize on the “Cascadian” aspect, but this doesn’t do anything that simple. As it warms up, you get caramel, but it seems like whatever crystal malt and rye is here is doing the heavy lifting. After a malt peak in the mid-palate there’s a cedar shake with some peppermint and thyme reinforced by the rye spice. The finish somehow manages to be short but juicy, leaving a sort of mouth-watering salivary response. I don’t see that quality often.

This actually does one of the things I look for in a high quality beer: It has the same progression of flavours on every sip. It doesn’t dull or recede. A great beer can vary from sip to sip and moment to moment. A very good beer has to do the same thing all the time.

Hopefully Kensington will open soon and hopefully this will be on the tap list when it does.

Review: Muskoka Moonlight Kettle Summer Saison

The Background

Muskoka’s been going great guns of late. When you think about the amount of reach that their brewery now has, it’s impressive considering where they were just a few years ago. Here’s a picture of their branding from when I started writing about beer in May of 2010. In point of fact, the first beer event I ever got invited to was probably the launch for their Light Pilsner. They replaced that beer with other things, correctly sensing the mood of the market.CIMG0594

They’re on shelves across most of the country now, and Mad Tom and Detour seem to be the brands leading the charge. I’m given to understand that they projected brewing 15,000 HL of Detour last year, and I’d bet they surpassed that. That beer, by itself, accounts for more volume than the majority of craft breweries in the province of Ontario. This was made possible by a brewery expansion in 2013-2014.

When a brewery rebrands this quickly, there are growing pains. The universally lauded Spring Oddity has made its way to the Great Egress, but given its name I could see it returning. The Winter Beard may not have moved with the speed you’d assume, given the cellar aged versions we saw on shelves the subsequent year (although that could have been an attempt at educating the public.) The Dark Ale, a sort of throwback to 90’s era Ontario is gone now, and I confess to missing it a lot.

On the bright side, the Summer Weiss has gone through packaging variations and I’m pleased to see that it has settled in a standard 473ml can rather than a 750ml corked and caged bottle. That wasn’t a good format for that beer. Also, and this is baffling to me, I have talked to beer reps from America a lot recently and they all really like the Twice As Mad Tom. Three separate companies of various size. Same praise.

I like the fact that they are now delivering beer to people’s docks. That’s a fun idea, although in order for it to benefit me, they’re going to need to go all Fifth Element on it and bring it to my balcony.0HTRK

The Beer(s)

Moonlight Kettle Summer Saison is the first beer in a series of exploratory beers. I am in favour of Muskoka trying to vary their portfolio a little because while the core brands are moving, you’ve got to keep the brewers engaged. Oddly, this is not the first such attempt. They briefly had a “Rough Cut” series with beers that would switch out in the Survival 12 pack. Making people buy 9 established bottles to get 3 new bottles is a risky strategy. As long as you have time to run the product through R&D in order to make sure the quality is there, a monthly innovation is a great idea. You create engagement with the audience and if you play the social media aspect right, you get people excited about the core brands and grow everything.

I don’t know about the marketing pitch:

“A midnight visit to our brewery unearthed a secret – late at night our brewers rendezvous in the brewhouse to develop untamed brews that haven’t been shared, until now. Created under the mystery and intrigue of a full moon, our Moonlight Kettle Series showcases a select few of these top-secret brews. Each Moonlight Kettle beer has been hand crafted in unique ways, with our solemn promise to never brew the same beer twice.”

Seems to me the entire point is to develop additional product. Promising to create artificial scarcity is silly. Also, I know a bunch of brewers. If they are at the brewery at midnight, something has gone terribly wrong. Ah, well. Romance! Adventure! Marketing!Moonlight-Kettle-Bottle

The Summer Saison is the first of these products on offer and it’s a touch odd given the context in which it exists. For the most part in Ontario, the Saisons that we’ve gotten have been from Dupont. The Vieille Provision is frequently held up as the standard and for good reason. It has influenced a lot of local brewers and I believe Dupont’s yeast strain is kicking around in Ontario at the moment. It ferments hot and attenuates well. Muskoka’s Summer Saison doesn’t seem to be trying to emulate that, which is sort of an odd choice in a market where consumers have come to expect that dry, peppery character connoted by the name of the style.

As I’m nosing it, the first thing I get is a big iron world of blood and copper. As the foam recedes so too does that brazen metallic character and I’m left with overpowering phenolics in allspice and clove. There is honey and bready malt, but mostly there is sweetness. The label promises Tropical Fruit, but I am not getting much more than a small hint of what might be passion fruit and I am thinking to myself that the finish is too sweet. This should be 7.8% instead of 7.3%. It’s out of balance in the direction of the phenolics which are only exacerbated by the apparent addition of Grains of Paradise. For something that markets itself as a Summer Saison, it misses the implied connotation of refreshment completely.

It reminds me of the Belgian Tripels that Cedric Dauchot is brewing out at Townsite. They were also big and phenolic and sweet, but with a little more restraint. Dauchot trained at Silly, so I assume that’s an influence here. There are, naturally, Saisons other than Dupont and I don’t claim to have been exposed to many of them, but I do not think it is context that is letting me down. Two days before I tried this I tried the competition it will be facing in the form of Boulevard’s Tank 7 and Brooklyn’s Sorachi Ace.

There are the bones of something worthwhile here, but it’s not a summer project. This is a rare miss from Muskoka and I’m glad to see that. It means that they’re actually taking risks with their monthly development program. This should be about the R&D process and that means that sometimes it’s not going to work.

Review and Market Recon: Moosehead Radler

The Background

I go back and forth on Moosehead. Here’s the thing. Since the BA in the States changed the definition of “Craft Beer” to include Yuengling, it stands to reason that Moosehead is now a “Craft Brewer.” At the very least, they’re an independent company that has existed for a very long time. They are, I believe, the only wholly Canadian owned brewery from the 19th Century that’s left standing and that should count for something in a world where anyone can find an Angel Investor and bang out a 100 gallon batch of mediocre tonsil oil.

They brew something like 1,200,000 HL. That means that Moosehead is now actually two thirds the size of Sierra Nevada or one fifth the size of Sam Adams. The problem is that they’re always that little bit late to the party. Moosehead doesn’t really innovate so much as follow the big players. Look at the lineup of beers that are available on their website. They have all of the big hits of the last twenty years, a situation which would be ideal if they were a large market FM station. There’s Light Lime and Low Carb and Dry and Dry Ice. They also make James Ready’s lineup of discount beers, a fact which is somewhat obscured by their web presence although it probably needn’t be. As the discount category goes, they actually fared pretty well when I did Discount Beer February.

The best thing Moosehead did in recent memory was launch Boundary Ale. It was really pretty good. Is it mentioned on the Moosehead website? Nope! Is it still in stores? Sure! Fellas, when you get something right, take the credit, ok? Hell, throw some more resources at your craft beer division over at Hop City. Between that and Boundary Ale, you’ve got the potential to take advantage of both the standard beer market and the growing craft segment in the Maritimes. Either way, you win.

The BeerP1030992

If I were going to put it diplomatically, I’d tell you that Moosehead Radler is an interesting twist on a standard Radler. Since I am not writing this for a newspaper, I don’t have to be diplomatic. Forget all that (probably legitimate) historical humbug about Bavaria and cyclists. Radler is meant to be a combination of beer and one other liquid. The most popular choices are grapefruit juice or lemonade. This is a really simple idea.

Moosehead Radler certainly has the correct aromas, all sharp grapefruit and zest, but the body is sticky sweet. When I find my lips smacking between sips when a product’s PR sheet is claiming that it’s refreshing, a twinge of doubt crosses my mind. Let’s look at the ingredients.P1030997

Apparently, Moosehead Radler contains Moosehead Lager, Grape Juice Concentrate, Grapefruit Juice Concentrate, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Gum Arabic (probably a foam stabilizer), Citric Acid (probably for additional lemon flavour), Natural Flavour (probably better than unnatural flavour), and Sugar.

The Harsh Realities of the Market

Let’s look at the rest of the Radler segment.

Stiegl Radler Beer and Grapefruit Juice 50/50 2.5%
Schofferhofer Radler Hefeweizen and Grapefruit Soda 50/50 2.5%
Wernesgruner Radler Pilsner and Lemonade 50/50 2.5%
Rickard’s Radler Beer, Juice from Concentrate, Natural Flavour 66/33 3.2
Amsterdam Sweetwater Squeeze Beer and Blood Orange Soda ~80/20 3.8%


You’ll notice that all of these beers on the Ontario market play by the rule that you’re basically allowed two ingredients. Beer and something. Compared to the rest of the market, Moosehead Radler is significantly overthought. Grapefruit juice from concentrate makes complete sense, but where on earth is Grape Juice from concentrate coming from? If you have three juices from concentrate, do you really need to add extra sugar? I really want to see the caloric information on Moosehead Radler.

I understand that Radler is supposed to be a light, spritzy kind of a thing, but the most successful in the market by far are the Europeans, which are tart and lightly bitter and have two ingredients. Why would you not emulate that instead of making something more reminiscent of Mountain Dew?

Another thing: All of the other Radlers are available in a single can format. Stiegl, the best of them, is $2.70 a can. Moosehead Radler is $26.95 for 12x355ml cans. You can get 10x500ml cans of Stiegl for the same money or 11x500ml cans of Wernesgruner or Schofferhofer. All three of those are better options.

What we’ve got, then, is a product that has completely misunderstood the mission statement, is higher in alcohol, caloric content, sugar and price than all of its major competitors and is a late addition to the Ontario market with other brands having established themselves. It’s a miracle it’s not already listed as discontinued.

Review and Food Pairing: Black Oak Epiphany No. 2

The Background

Black Oak started in the last days of 1999, initially launching with a Pale Ale, a Nut Brown Ale and a Premium Lager. I know that sounds weird. By all accounts the Lager nearly killed them. It was the least well received of the beers and it was retired in 2003. It is not as though Black Oak has not made a lager since then. They make their Oaktoberfest Lager every year.

Having worked the very occasional shift on their bottling line over the years, I can tell you that making a lager would have been a difficult proposition. While the amount of fermentation volume has increased over the last five years, the amount of conditioning that you’re looking at in order to make a proper lager might cause backlogs with the main products, which is probably why it’s not done all that frequently.

A word about Black Oak’s staffing: It’s hard to think of a character more beloved than Ken Woods in beer in Ontario. Everyone has a story about the time he let them borrow some equipment or helped them out of a jam. That said, I believe him to be the only member of staff that has been around since the beginning. The rest of the roster has changed around over the years.

The current group is a great fit and with John Hodd brewing and Erica Campbell manning the hashtags and interwebs, we’re really seeing Black Oak live up to its potential. They’ve switched out to 650ml bottles for the LCBO, which means that the seasonals get shelf space. They’re also being sold at a price point that’s impossible to argue with. That’s key to an Ontario business model at this point.

When you’ve got talented people around and product is moving, you can branch out and do more interesting things. The Epiphany Series has resulted so far in two beers, the first of which, a Cherry Wood Aged Belgian Strong Ale (I’m not saying Quad. You can’t make me say Quad.) was a real shock coming out of Black Oak. Releases like Love Fuzz and Nox Aeterna are a far cry from the days when we’d get a cask of Saison with Marmalade (not that there was anything wrong with that).

Black Oak is currently the best it has ever been and any missteps, most of which would be small issues with balance, may be put down to growing pains.

The BeerBeer Photography 048

Black Oak Epiphany No. 2 is billing itself as an Imperial Pilsner. In the 650ml bottle, it’ll set you back $8.95 at a nearby LCBO location. You’ll want to use Drinkvine to find it since the ‘BO website is currently borked.

As a style choice, it’s a little odd. We haven’t had much in the way of Imperial Pilsner in Ontario. I suppose this is the influence of Jack’s Abby out of Framingham, Mass. I like the idea of mixing Pilsner styles with some of the newer hop varieties that are out there. There’s the potential for finding combinations that work really well and we’re beginning to see some experimentation in the province.

The most important thing with a strong lager is conditioning and this has apparently been given 45 days in total. Six weeks is significant, and it helps ensure there aren’t any technical flaws like DMS or Diacetyl. Epiphany No. 2 has good head retention, although I feel like the dry hopping may have slightly foxed the clarity. In the case of Epiphany No. 2, the dry hopping incorporates Comet, Wakatu and Saaz.Beer Photography 054

The result is a fairly complex beer. There’s a slight pear ester from the lager yeast and aromas are pepper, peach, apricot, and sourdough bread with a sense of very slightly hot alcohol smack dab in the middle. The breadiness continues on the palate, but the interesting thing is that it manages the same progression of flavours on each sip. Sourdough up front with a bloom of pepper on the swallow. As it warms up you get a dankness from the hops and a sort of lime cordial character that continues to work with the other flavours in the mid palate.

The Arbitrarily Chosen Score Based on Various Criteria

It’s probably too good to give it a silly rating. Instead:

Food Pairing

How do you approach pairing something like this? Well, there aren’t a lot of places in the world where they serve Strong Lager. You probably need to take Germany and Scandinavian food culture into account. That said, you’ve also got Comet and Wakatu hops. Comet is apparently where the dimebag dankness is coming from, being an American landrace blend. Wakatu is a Hallertau Mittelfruh cross from New Zealand and exaggerates the lime character of the mother variety.

What this means is that you’re free to play around because these are flavour profiles that don’t really exist in Germany. Although the accent is different, let’s attempt to keep the bones of a pairing from that Swabian/Bavarian food culture. Let’s make it pork.

I’d like to see this with Pork Tonkatsu or Katsudon. The claim is that this was invented in Japan in 1899, but I’d bet you that just as the German beer styles influenced Japan in its early years, so did the cuisine. Tonkatsu is basically schnitzel, but the sweet, fruity sauce would pull at the beer in interesting ways and the salt and crunch just make for good beer food. In a Katsudon, I feel like the Mirin would tug at the slight alcohol heat and while the slightly creamy egginess seems odd, it’s not very different from a Jagerschnitzel sauce. Actually, I’d like to see what an Izakaya like Guu would make of this beer.

My first choice, googling while I polished off the bottle, would have actually been this Pork Tenderloin with Tomato-Peach compote. Tomato is always referred to as difficult to pair with beer, but I feel like the peach would create a complimentary bridge and that the curry dry rub and thyme might bring some of the myrcene heavy Hallertau parentage out of the Wakatu and reinforce the Saaz.

Review: Innis & Gunn White Oak Wheat Beer

The Background

I have a pretty good working relationship with Innis & Gunn, which is odd because I only like their beer about 50% of the time and I’m honest about that publicly. I think that oak treatments work well with some styles of beer and not with others. The results are therefore going to depend as much on the concept of the beer being attempted as they are on anything else. Of course you can barrel age a Porter or Stout; so many people are doing that that the price of used barrels has increased steadily from a point in the not too distant past where they would probably have paid you to haul them away.

I think that one of the best things Innis & Gunn has done in the last few years is to switch out from aging their beer in barrels to doing it with an “Oakerator” which is sort of like a dry hopping torpedo, but with oak chips. The main thing that you’ve got to realize is that Innis & Gunn are quite large at this point. They’re larger than any Ontario brewer other than Brick. That gives you some picture of their success, especially when you realize that it’s not a beer anyone is looking to drink a case of. When you make that much beer, you need the ability to ensure uniform quality and the Oakerator is a step up from blending different casks together. The Original has improved vastly as a result and the cans and brown bottles are also helping.P1030968

The Beer

Innis & Gunn White Oak Wheat Beer is not actually available in Ontario until July. Alberta has got it this summer and it seems to be selling quite well out there. Personally, I think it’s a bit of an odd duck.

When you think about barrel aging beer, it’s usually dark. In the case that you’re making a kind of barrel aged farmhouse beer like a Saison or a Wild Ale, you’re probably using a wine barrel for that. You’ll note that those styles are both Belgian influenced. This beer purports to be a KristallWeizen, a sort of filtered German Wheat Beer. Normally, that kind of beer comes out to 5.0% or so, but in this case it’s 6.4%. It has apparently been fermented at a warmer temperature than usual to bring out the phenolic character, which I suppose is detectable here as a spicy character in the background. They have then added dried bergamot and blood orange to make it reminiscent of Earl Grey Tea. Then it hits the Oakerator.P1030972

On opening the aroma is a little bit like a barrel aged version of Mill Street’s Lemon Tea Beer. The bergamot is immediately noticeable, but that recedes as it warms in the glass. It seems to pull tannin from the oak, but the mnemonic association with Earl Grey Tea may actually be the thing doing that for my palate. I would want a second opinion. As it warms the blood orange comes through practically as a curacao peel giving the sweet body just a hint of that candied Cointreau feel, which is redeemed by a short sharp bitterness. The Oak lingers around the edges.

This beer is working against itself. It’s meant to be a summer seasonal. The timing of the release and the summer seasonal program dictate that. The character really only reveals itself as it warms, which somewhat defeats the purpose.

The Arbitrarily Chosen Score Based On Various Criteria

Today, in keeping with the deeply Scottish nature of the brewery, we’ll be using as a judging implement the operations manual of the Royal Highland Fusiliers. It is a scale which operates very simply on a binary scale from Innis to Gunn. Notably, it runs from “Oi, Lads, shall we get a couple pints of this in us or shall we fire it from a gun?”

The beer survives by a narrow margin.

I think that this is probably best suited to being an after dinner digestif if you’re barbequing on a cool summer evening. I feel like it’s probably too strong and too complex to be drunk as a refresher in hot weather, but it’s pleasant in its way. I wonder if it might have been a better beer without the barrel, but then it wouldn’t be an Innis & Gunn product. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, Innis & Gunn gotta throw a barrel at it.

Bru-V: Science and Sam Adams

Lab Report #1


Jordan St. John – Grade 7 (held back)



Given the tendency of beer brewed with a significant quantity of hops to undergo changes to its chemical nature in direct sunlight, there has recently been introduced to the market a line of glassware that claims to prevent this transformation.

The chemical change is the result of ultra violet rays affecting the iso-alpha-acids in beer and converting them to a compound called 3-methyl-but-2-ene-1-thiol (and commonly referred to as prenythiol). This results in a detectable aromatic compound which is frequently referred to in polite circles as “Light Struck.” In impolite circles, people are likely to refer to you as a “pie-r square” and make unflattering comments about your radius.

Bru-V glassware is fashioned of hand-blown brown glass which boasts natural properties preventing this occurrence. It is an established fact that brown glass bottles have become the industry standard in North America partially because of their ability to render light struck character a non-issue.

The question, as it pertains to brown glassware being able to prevent lightstruck reaction may be cogently condensed as follows:

Is this a whole bunch of bullshit or what?


If Bru-V’s claim to prevent skunking is correct, then we should be able to prove it in a formal testing setting. This will require the rental of a cummerbund.

Independent Variable:

Given that the lightstruck reaction occurs primarily with clear and green glass, it makes sense that the independent variable for this experiment should be the glassware that beer is poured into. As a control for the experiment the same beer will be poured into each glass. Today, that beer has been supplied by Sam Adams: Rebel IPA. It is important that the beer, as a control variable contain real hops and not hop oils which are impervious to lightstruck character.

Dependent Variable:  

The lightstruck effect observable in beer should depend wholly upon the character of the glassware utilized in our experiment.


-One Sam Adams Branded Speed Opening Church-KeyP1030960

-Two Bottles Sam Adams Rebel IPA: Date Coded December 2014. A 6.5% 45 IBU West Coast IPA.P1030955

-One Branded Sam Adams Glass (Clear) Subsequently Referred To As Sample AP1030956

-One Bru-V Branded Glass (Brown) Subsequently Referred To As Sample BP1030957

-One Certified Cicerone (Scruffy)

-One HTC Android based Stop Watch

-One Conveniently Located Fusion Reactor Emitting Ultra Violet LightP1030962


Both glasses will be set in the sun at approximately 1:05 PM on a patio with no significant light obstruction. Over a period of 30 minutes, beer in each of the glasses will be evaluated using olfactory sensation at set intervals. This period of duration has been suggested by Dr. Chris Schryer of the Castro Institute For Cask Ale Consumption and his attitude is recorded as follows (sic): “If it takes you more than half an hour to drink a beer, you’ve got more problems than lightstruck beer.” Conditions note a Moderate UV index on a spring day at approximately 21 degrees Celsius. It is, colloquially speaking, T-Shirt weather.


At the instance of pouring, both Samples display good head retention. The Sam Adams Rebel IPA is clearly a well-made product. This is irrelevant to the scientific method in this instance.P1030958

At five minutes into the process Sample A has noticeably developed an off flavour. There is no reason that such a change should not develop instantaneously. Sample B experiences no such transformation. The malt character seems to overbalance the hops in Sample B.

At fifteen minutes, Sample A’s lightstruck nature has receded somewhat in terms of aroma. Sample B has issues with hop balance, but experiences no negative effects.P1030959

At thirty minutes, Sample A is an undrinkable trainwreck and is poured unceremoniously into the garden as a thirsty contractor installing cable on the side of the building nearby looks on angrily. Sample B is humanely disposed of by a Certified Cicerone. He observes that Sam Adams Rebel IPA is trying really hard to be too many things and that the Latitude 48 was a more distinctive product. He fruitlessly cautions a billionaire who he refers to primarily as “Jimbo” that trying to emulate things other people do isn’t going to win you the hearts and minds of the audience. He is summarily ignored, but he feels better for venting.


While Sample A did nothing to prevent the control beer from skunking, Sample B managed to prevent the reaction for a period of half an hour.


Interestingly, the criticism most frequently levelled at the Bru-V glassware has to do with the fact that the top is wide open and that light will still effect the beer on a patio because some degree of surface area is exposed. When you compare the cylindrical volume of Glassware Sample A to the Bru-V Glassware, it’s clear that a wholly transparent vessel of clear or green glass has exponentially more surface area than the few square inches at the top of the Sample B which are directly exposed. I suspect that a well made beer with adequate head retention would obviate even that fractionally vulnerable surface.P1030963

The only other difficulty worth mentioning is that the brown glassware tends to take away from the visual excitement of a well poured beer. That is a qualitative observation relating to personal preference and we here in Grade 7 deal only with the quantitative. In practice, it’s a matter of personal choice: pretty and skunky or obscure and correct.


Call me Susan and slap my daddy, the damned thing works.