At the end of a 675 page book, it turns out that there’s a bit of a fallow period where you don’t feel like writing very much. The temptation of Instagram is mighty in that situation and it becomes easy to try and build a following on that site by posting a review of a couple of sentences for things that people send you. There is a perverse, bloody minded part of me that really hates Instagram. I’m a beer writer, after all, and not a beer photographer.
Although I did manage to get a couple of shots in this edition of the Ontario Craft Beer Guide, photography is not a strength of mine. At beer dinners, I’m frequently in such tearing haste to start the next course that I only infrequently remember to take a picture before the first bite. When photographing the beer I’m drinking in an informal setting, there’s usually slightly less than half a glass left. You could view this as a conscious decision on my part to create a sort of lived in aesthetic in which the point is appetite, consumption, and enjoyment rather than fetishized perfection of experience; The self-portrayed photographic equivalent of Friar Tuck throwing half eaten turkey legs over his shoulder in the intro to Rocket Robin Hood.
That would be totally inaccurate. The fact is I’m a large man, usually hungry and thirsty after a long walk. I’m also colorblind, shortsighted, have little patience for figuring out relatively dainty camera controls, and can’t hold the bloody thing steady anyway because I have a familial tremor at arm’s length and a lousy rotator cuff.
While I plan on continuing periodically to Instagram things (Lord knows we can’t simply abandon a social media platform once it has begun), I am still apparently paying for hosting on this blog and thought that it might be a good idea to write something.
THEY SEND ME BEER
It’s always nice to catch up with breweries that I haven’t thought about very much over the last couple of years. When we come up with the list of who’s going to cover what for the book, that basically means that unless we attend a festival, we’re probably not going to see anything from brewers who aren’t on our own list. Fortunately, I’ve had two fairly similar beers show up at the same time from breweries I haven’t thought about in a while: Cameron’s and St. Mary’s Axe.
St. Mary’s Axe is probably only in their third month, but it’s interesting to watch it develop. They are brewing out of Forked River in London. It has to be said that Forked River has really been coming along in their own right as a brewery over the last couple of years and that they seem to have gotten past the barrel aging learning curve. A Flanders Red that they did last year for Remembrance Day was particularly good; nicely judged with appropriate sourness and flavours. Possibly not up to direct comparisons to Belgian equivalents, but a really solid attempt.
To see them brewing on a contract basis is a little surprising given their size. I know that Milos’ and the Denim Brothers’ Beer Lab have been brewing out of there, but that was small enough as not to really count as production. St. Mary’s Axe is in Grocery.
The good news is that it seems to be going well. If anything, the canned version of St. Mary’s Axe Canadian Best Bitter is better than the growler version that I had about three months ago. The owners live in my neighbourhood and actually showed up on the Saturday of Easter Long Weekend to deliver samples. On a bicycle, no less.
St. Mary’s is a throwback. It’s designed by Alan Pugsley and uses New World hops in the attempt to hybridize the Best Bitter style. I believe Pugsley had a hand in a number of breweries you’re familiar with. The Granite’s original location in Halifax, for one. He’s one of the reasons Ringwood yeast caught on. It’s a different type of stylistic hybrid than the Ontario Pale Ale. It’s somehow a good deal more complex. It says six hops go into it in the marketing bumpf. If I had to guess I’d say Northern Brewer, EKG, Willamette, Cluster, Cascade and Centennial. The marketing bumpf also says that the original name of the church it’s named after is St. Mary, St. Ursula and Her 11,000 virgins. That sounds like the beginning of a Peter Cook bit. It’s a fairly seamless combination of English and New World varieties. My notes say:
Pine and a small amount of citrus, properly marmalade, something a little twiggy; dewy hedges on a morning walk. Light caramel and a small amount of toasted wholemeal loaf. Just a touch of plum around the edges of the aroma. Very small amount of roast and dark crystal malt at the head of the swallow.
I think it accomplishes nicely what it sets out to do. If you didn’t try it during the first three months, you should give it a shot now. It has ticked up slightly.
I also have Cameron’s One Eyed Grouse ESA. Cameron’s wanted to send me their Oak Aged beers, and I asked them to send along anything they had going that I hadn’t tried yet. Robin had them for the book for the last two years, so aside from periodically running into Bill Coleman at events, I haven’t had a lot of contact with them. I like Bill a lot. He seems constantly to be running at full speed.
An “English Session Ale” is presumably also a Best Bitter. It’s a bit of an odd departure for Cameron’s who have been stretching themselves since the switch in branding at the beginning of 2016. I confess to missing the Rye Pale Ale and the Deviator Dopplebock, but I suppose you have to move with the market.
One Eyed Grouse is less hybridized and more traditionally in the vein of an Extra Special Bitter. It apparently contains Target and East Kent Goldings. My notes say:
More grain and fruit than hop. Hop character comes through on the palate rather than in the aroma and really is more floral and spicy than anything else. Maybe even a touch of lilac. Woody spice drops away halfway through the palate into a rounded, smoother full mouthfeel and then pops back up at the front of the tongue as a little gulch of dry bitterness.
One of the best things happening in Ontario is that we’ve now got a good one of just about everything in terms of beer styles. If you feel like revisiting some of the core English influences that helped shape the market on the road to the current scene, these are both excellent choices. They’re at once familiar and a little novel.