St. John's Wort Beery Musings And Amusing Beers

Tag Archives: Ontario

Advent Calendars – But What If You’re In Ontario

This week in the column, I talked about the growing trend for breweries to produce advent calendars. It’s a fun idea and one that I can get behind. With the short days and cold weather, you want to treat yourself nicely and a single high quality beer a day is not a bad way to do that. It may only give you ten or fifteen minutes enjoyment, but it’s a nicely ritualized thing. It’s an Agent Cooper approved strategy for coping with a seasonal lack of esprit de corps.

You’ll notice that there are no craft beer advent calendars in Ontario. The LCBO isn’t allowed to stock packages over six bottles because of an agreement with the Beer Store. It’s an agreement that they’re threatening to rescind. The Beer Store isn’t a good option for stocking something like an advent calendar because they charge the same for listing whether you’re offering a product year round or as a seasonal option. Even when Andrew Oland from Moosehead says that The Beer Store is doing a great job, you’ll notice that his Hop City and Sam Adams Seasonal products only show up in the LCBO. If The Beer Store is so great, why aren’t they carried exclusively by The Beer Store, huh?

Incidentally, you’d think this would be a great opportunity for the Beer Store to score a PR point and maybe make way for something like that “because Christmas” what with them having been visited by the ghost of Christmas future in the form of Ed Clark. They seem to have decided to cover their ears and reap the whirlwind of public opinion.

Let’s not be scrooges. For the moment, let’s be Fezziwigs.

If you’re in Ontario, you might want to put together an advent calendar of your own. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to do that with the beer that’s available at the LCBO. I notice that the  Craft Beer Advent Calendar out on the West Coast is somewhere between $129 and $145. In Newfoundland, more like $188. If you like rare stuff, that’s probably a good deal. The Phillips and Central City/Parallel 49 packs tended to come in somewhere between $65 and $85 depending on the store stocking them. That seems a little more in line with what I’m willing to spend.

The goal I therefore put together was to create advent calendars that you can use. I wanted them to be affordable and fairly specific. The ones that I have put together will run you approximately $75-$80 bucks and they’re suitable for different beer drinkers. I didn’t put together a Canadian Craft Beer version because that’s really easy. You can do it entirely with canned beer and it requires no imagination. I’ve come up with an English Version and a Belgian Version instead.

The “Full English” is actually 25 beers. You can drink the extra Hobgoblin while you put the calendar together for whomever the recipient might be.

The Full English
Package Beers Included Price
Marston’s Classic Ales Brakspear Bitter $18.95
Banks Bitter
English Pale Ale
Ringwood Fortyniner
Wychwood Beers of Character Hobgoblin $12.95
Duchy Originals $3.05
Young’s Double Chocolate Stout $2.95
Abott Ale $2.25
Fuller’s London Pride $2.95
Lancaster Bomber $2.65
Bombardier $2.25
Fuller’s London Pride $2.95
Belhaven Best $2.15
Historic Ales from Scotland Heather $9.95
Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome $3.90
St. Peter’s Winter Ale $4.00
Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout $4.25

The Belgian Pack actually came in under budget because the leverage the LCBO has over the Belgians is insane. It’s crazy. I included a Dupont Saison for Christmas day which brings it in three dollars over budget. Whoever you give it to will be just that much happier. Because of the darkness of the short days and the prevalence of St. Bernardus products, I’ve taken to calling it “Bleak End at Bernie’s.”

St. Bernardus Pack St. Bernardus Wit $18.95
St. Bernardus Pater 6
St. Bernardus Tripel
Watou Tripel
St. Bernardus Abt 12
St. Bernardus Prior 12
Belgian Beer Pack Piraat $18.95
Gulden Draak
L’Eute Bokbier
Augustjin Blonde
Augustjin Donker
Augustjin Grand Cru
Pauwel Kwak $3.00
Chimay White $3.25
Rochefort 8 $3.25
Chimay Blue $3.55
Rochefort 10 $3.85
Mort Subite Framboise $3.95
Saison Dupont $7.75
Unibroue 6 Blanche de Chambly $12.95
Don De Dieu
Ephemere Apple
La Fin du Monde
Trois Pistoles

I’m not going to claim that either of these packages is going to be absolutely unique. I will say that at least wrapping them is pretty simple: Take two wine boxes from the LCBO, arrange beers at random in them and slap a bow on that sucker. Wrapping paper optional, but available at dollar stores for cheap.

Hoppy Beers and Monoculture in Ontario

I want to suggest something to you, and it may be something that has crossed your mind if you’re a brewer in Ontario. I think that we’re all aware that large brewers are, if not faltering, then experiencing a period of contraction. This is probably as the result of the ascendance of craft beer in some small part, but it also has to do with shifting preference in packaging and with the economic recession from 2008 to the present. So craft beer is taking off. Why not buy a few bottles of really interesting beer instead of a 24 of lager that might be indistinguishable from its competition?

That’s the important bit: many mass produced lagers are as like their competition as it is realistically possible to be. It’s (and I borrow a term from Jason Tremblay who posted about this on a monoculture.

Tremblay went on to suggest that the current growth of craft beer is on the back of hoppy pale ales and IPAs. This seemed somewhat suspect to me, so I decided to crunch some numbers. I like a bit of data-centric research periodically, so what I’ve done is taken two snapshots of LCBO product lists based on their API data and broken down those snapshots into stylistic preference. The first is the earliest record I have access to: January 1, 2011. The second is from April 19th, 2013.

I have included only beers produced in North America. I have not delineated between macro and micro. I have included only one SKU per product, which is to say that while there might be different available formats of something like Budweiser, I have listed only the Budweiser brand as a coverall for those SKUs. If a product has listed itself as a Pilsner, I have simply taken the listing at its word. I hear you say “but Lakeport Pilsner isn’t really a Pilsner.”

Well, true. The data isn’t concrete. What it does is paint a picture of the last 28 months.

For January 1, 2011 there are 10837 existing SKUs of which about a thousand are categorized as beer, 571 of which are produced in Canada and 55 were American imports.

There are, by my count, 45 brands of Lager, craft or otherwise, that don’t differentiate themselves into stylistic subcategories. Basic Light beers count for 20 SKUs. Pale Ales count for 18 SKUs. There were only 5 Canadian produced IPAs. From the USA, the numbers are 9/0/2/4 in those same categories.

It should be noted that this does not mean that they were all on the shelves at the same time. Some were seasonals. Realistically, there were as few as three IPAs on the shelf at any one time.

If you fast forward to the present (or near as dammit) There are 20939 SKUs represented on the LCBO Product list (which goes some way to explaining why people aren’t grumbling about selection as much anymore). Of these 1427 are beer, 856 are produced in Canada and 95 are imports from the USA.

The number of undifferentiated lagers has actually decreased by one over the last couple of years: 44. There are now 22 light beers on offer. Pale Ales have grown to 27 SKUs. Canadian produced IPAs have grown to 22. (This is not to say there are this many on the shelves. Some of them were seasonals). From the USA, the numbers are 13/0/4/7.

Just for the sake of argument, I’ll point out that in January 2011, there had been one Double IPA: Garrison. As of April 19th, 2013, there had been nine from Canada and the USA.

So, this tells us that interest in Lager has waned very slightly and that there is almost no growth in light beer. If you’re a craft brewer, this is a good thing. It also tells us that the Pale Ale category has grown by a factor of 1.5 and that IPA as a category has grown by a factor of 4.4. If you include the American SKUs for those categories, there’s comparatively little change in lager. The growth of Pale Ale rises slightly to a factor of 1.55. The growth factor of IPA shrinks slightly to 3.2.

Now, I’ll point out that one of the nice things about the large brewers is that they tend not to brew a great deal for consumption that excludes mainstream sales channels. That is to say that there aren’t a lot of lagers that are sold exclusively outside the LCBO and The Beer Store.

You may wish to consider, however, the total number of small brewers not represented in the LCBO and the likelihood that basically every single one of those brewers has a pale ale. I don’t have a figure for that, but you have to realize that of the now 112 Ontario breweries reported on Mom and Hops’ directory it is probable that 7/10 of them have a pale ale as a continuing brand. Some will also have IPAs.

There are some pretty significant downsides to this. First of all, it’s just massively unsustainable. Secondly, it means that craft brewers are largely competing for the market segment that defines their expansion. Thirdly, the problem isn’t going away. I can think of at least three new pale ales and IPAs hitting the market next month. As smaller breweries attempt to get into the LCBO it’s more vendors competing for approximately the same slice of the pie.

What I guess I’m saying to you is this: If you ever had a good idea for a beer that you thought would work, now would be the time to diversify. Just because everyone else is making a hoppy ale doesn’t mean that you have to. Plus, the increasing number of American craft beer products coming to the LCBO is probably going to make competition even tougher.

If you’re going to launch a new brewery, you’d do well to do something to differentiate yourself stylistically and find something accessible for drinkers that provides value for money and has a novelty factor. It provides craft beer some genetic diversity and might just put some money in your pocket. Launching a non-descript Pale Ale or IPA that can’t compete against objectively better beers is more or less a recipe for bankruptcy.

Every Six Months…

It seems like every six months we get a spate of articles about privatization of liquor, wine and beer sales in Ontario. Currently, it’s in the press again because Tim Hudak is theoretically in favour of selling off the LCBO. Now, personally, I think that privatization of sales is a shiny bauble that gets waved in front of the electorate. There are so many factors that would go into privatization that simply mentioning it is never going to accomplish anything. I don’t believe that it will happen in the short term, and that a number of stars would have to align in order to make it happen in the long term.

The reason that the discussion is frustrating is that the status quo for the organizations that would be involved in the discussion never seem to change sufficiently in a six month period to bring any new information to bear on the situation.

It’s like a campus demonstration on social equality. The actual rate at which change takes place on a societal level is glacial. It’s the result of many small changes over a lengthy period. Sure, having placards and megaphones for an afternoon is cathartic, but it accomplishes relatively little. It also promotes a cognitive dissonance between people who think that change ought to be instantaneous and the reality of the situation. Small vocal groups tend not to represent the majority.

When these articles are written, they tend towards being somewhat exploratory while ignoring the fact that there was a similar article in the recent past. Personally, I hate this because the situation exists on a continuum and not as a single instance of reporting as you would be led to believe.

Rather than looking at it from the perspective of the consumer, you have to look at it from the point of view of the revenue stream for the province. The consumer wants change because they can’t find a certain variety of sherry or port, or because the craft beer selection is not expanding quickly enough. The consumer essentially wants to be satisfied on a basic, short term level. I have some sympathy for this, since “more good beer” is probably not a bad thing.

The problem is that that desire simply doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If you’ve read an article on the subject in the last year or so, you know that the LCBO generated a dividend of about 1.55 billion dollars for the province in the 2010-2011 period and about 1.63 billion in the 2011-2012 period. Keep in mind that the total amount of revenue for the province of Ontario in 2011-2012 is about 109.25 billion dollars.

This means that the LCBO dividend to the province is worth approximately 1% of the total provincial revenue. It will be slightly higher than that in coming years due to the sale of the LCBO headquarters and adjacent properties. Also, the dividend has been ticking steadily up for the last decade, meaning that there is some significant optimization of profitability going on.

The difficulty is that privatization is not an overnight process. It’s fine to spitball the concept that tax revenue might remain the same or even increase were sales of liquor, beer and wine permitted in convenience and grocery stores. The issue is that this is not magic. There are transitions to be made in order to allow for that situation.

Folks point at Alberta as a shining beacon of privatization. Sherbrooke Liquor, with its thousand beer selection gets mentioned a lot as the kind of thing that might appeal. The thing that tends not to get discussed in re Sherbrooke Liquor is that Alberta was privatized in 1993, meaning that it has taken approximately 20 years to get to the point where there are a thousand beers on the shelf.

I think one of two conditions has to be met amongst the players in the market before privatization can be considered anything more than a pipe dream.

In the case of political will, I suspect that it is unlikely that we will see privatization prior to a year in which there is a budget surplus in the province of Ontario. Ontario’s economic recovery plan suggests  that this will not happen until 2017-18 barring any catastrophe. Until such a time, it would be folly to play with the LCBO dividend that results in 1% of the provincial revenue stream. I would like to think that politicians of all stripes recognize that a guaranteed amount of income in a period of financial hardship is a better choice than an unproven alternative. Once there is money to play around with, you might see change.

The other possibility in the situation has to do with market share. There’s the possibility that the large brewers who own The Beer Store might be quite interested in privatized sales. While they currently control a de facto monopoly on 80% of beer sales within the province, the market share for their products is eroding at a relatively slow drip. This is a bad thing for large brewers, and you can see how there might be some resentment of the fact that they are forced to provide logistics and shelf space (however minimal) for their competition.

I mean, they’re not quite as resentful as the small brewers who are forced to pay for listings and shelf space, but they are probably mildly resentful.

The question of privatization may well hinge on whether the large brewers are willing to forego a sales monopoly in order to take advantage of wider distribution through supermarkets and convenience stores. After all, they are in an advantageous position in terms of economy of scale. Small breweries don’t have the ability to leverage deals with large chains. Large breweries do.

The difficulty is the additional outlay required to make this happen. This requires sales and negotiation, distribution, lobbying, additional and possibly alternative packaging for various chains. It requires more labour. It is an expensive proposition, and a strategy which would not see immediate profit due to the capital expenditure required to make it work.

Should large brewers see a series of poor financial quarters, this might begin to look appealing to them. It assumes, however, that the additional convenience provided to the consumer would result in the growth of the market. Given overall trends we’ve seen for sales of large brewers’ products, this is probably more risk than they are willing to sign on for at the moment.

What might well occur is a concatenation of circumstances whereby a provincial budget surplus and a shrinking market share pronounced enough for large brewers to take such a risk exist at the same time. Say, about… 2016-17.

In the meantime, I think Tim Hudak is performing the time tested political trick of “being seen to be looking into,” which probably doesn’t hurt.

On The Likelihood Of Success OR Consider The Finches

One of the things that we don’t talk about very much in the Ontario beer scene is the initial outbreak of craft brewing in the province. I have the feeling that the reason for this is that it was pretty depressing for a very large number of people.

Over the Christmas break, I glommed on to a copy of Jamie MacKinnon’s book, The Ontario Beer Guide, published in 1993. It is subtitled “An Opinionated Guide to the Beers of Ontario,” which gives you some idea of the slant he took on the beer scene. It is not, it has to be said, a great deal different than the views that current commentators find themselves espousing. We like the underdogs. It’s a very interesting book for a number of reasons, one of which I will almost certainly talk about in a subsequent blog post. Also, MacKinnon is an entertaining author.

The thing that caught my immediate attention while I was leafing through it on Boxing Day was that he claimed on page 171 that Ontario would have more than 50 brewpubs by 1995. Initially I thought that this was a wildly optimistic prediction, but I’ve spoken to some other beer writers who recall that there was a period when it looked like it would go that way.

Apparently, there was a brief period in the early 90’s when there were four brewpubs on Eglinton between Yonge and Mount Pleasant. The Granite is still there, of course, but The Spruce Goose is now Philthy McNasty’s. I remember the Spruce Goose mostly as a result of the fact that they had Pinball. At 13, I was too young for beer, but I was intrigued by the multiball feature on the Jurassic Park table. Incidentally, in retrospect, the hubris of naming your business after an insane billionaire’s failed attempt at aviation was probably a poor choice. It would also probably be best not to name your hang-glider company after Icarus.

Mackinnon’s book systematically sets out to rate all of the beers in Ontario (except for Great Lakes’ Golden Horseshoe, which was too new at the time). Let’s consider the list. There’s Brick, who only continue to offer one of the beers that was rated. Conner’s is gone. Creemore is owned by Molson. Hart is gone. Lakeport is owned by Labatt and their original facility was scrapped. Niagara Falls Brewing Company is now The Syndicate. Northern Algonquin Brewery is gone, although some of their Formosa brands persist. Northern Breweries are gone. Pacific Brewing Company only exists in BC. Sleeman is owned by Sapporo. Upper Canada is owned by Sapporo (and the dark ale is a shell of its former self).

Arguably, the only brewery who has survived in a recognizable form is Wellington. The success rate for the small independent breweries listed in The Ontario Beer Guide in 1993 is about 3/13. About 23%.

In terms of brewpubs, of the 31 listed in the appendix to the book, the total number of survivors is 5. The Granite, Kingston Brew Pub, Tracks, Charley’s, The Lion. That’s not a completely accurate figure, as Denison’s and Amsterdam evolved into other things. Call it 7/31. About 23%.

If you started an independent beer related venture in Ontario prior to 1993, the aggregate chance of your having succeeded to the present day without having sold your business or having gone bankrupt is therefore about 23%. I didn’t even have to do any additional math.

That’s a 77% failure rate. Not as bad as Goldman Sachs, but not great.

Failure and collapse are parts of any ecology, even ones that appear to be thriving. Consider Darwin’s Finches. The Galapagos Islands are a relatively isolated environment and Darwin’s finches are part of the ongoing scientific study in evolution. Over time, something like fifteen species of finches have managed to evolve into individual roles in the Galapagos.

For the purposes of this analogy the one on the top left likes IPA.

They have all developed different beaks so that they can take advantage of different food sources. There are finches that eat the seed of a certain type of cactus. There are finches that eat the flesh of the same cactus, having evolved beaks that can get between the needles. The Woodpecker Finch uses various tools to get at the food source it’s after. There’s even the Vampire Finch, which has been known to sustain itself by drinking the blood of boobies.

Man, this blog post is really finch heavy. Next time I'm going to write about something awesome like Monster Trucks. Did you know that Truckasaurus doesn't have a 77% failure rate? Truckasaurus never fails.

The point is that while this is a miracle of diversity from some points of view, these are only the species that made it. At some point along the way, there must have been more finches. From an environmental perspective, the Galapagos are relatively untouched. There must have been intervening species that did not evolve sufficiently to take advantage of the food sources available. Some fall by the wayside.

In point of fact, most of the species of finches that have ever existed in the Galapagos are long since dead or significantly altered. Evolution continues anyway: a 2006 study says that evolution in terms of beak shape is possible in less than 20 years.

For the purposes of this analogy, it’s helpful to think of small independent breweries and brew pubs in Ontario as finches.

They are small, adaptive organisms, all about the same size, who have developed different beaks in order to take advantage of the different food sources available to them. If they are located close to other species, they will have to evolve in an entirely different way so as not to deplete the same food sources. Some environments will simply not support them. Before the ecology reaches a state of equilibrium, some of these finches will become extinct.

Now, Ontario isn’t like the Galapagos. For one thing, the food source is expanding. There are more craft beer drinkers than there have ever been before. The thing that has me worried is that the number of craft breweries and brew pubs seems to me to be expanding at a rate that is equal to or greater than the speed at which the number of craft beer drinkers is expanding. There is probably an equilibrium point, but I don’t pretend to know what it is.

There are a lot of new Ontario craft breweries starting up. Many of them are making some very tasty beers. Lots of them are outside Toronto. One of them is entirely fictional.

Now, we may not be anywhere near the equilibrium point for the ecology in terms of beer in Ontario. I hope we’re not, as many of the people who work for these breweries are friends of mine. Further, there will be more start-ups over the next five years as Niagara College students decide they want to brew their own beer and the craft beer market in Ontario catches up with other markets.

The failure rate might not be 77% anymore for independent breweries and brewpubs in Ontario over a 20 year period. It certainly seems as though it has gotten lower. The important thing to remember is that we’re in the middle of a boom, and it probably will not last indefinitely. There will be equilibrium.

All Hail Truckasaurus!

In Which I Attempt To Be Polite To Bureaucrats

I was walking through the LCBO at Summerhill last night on the way back from Niagara College looking for something to drink. Not review, but drink. Sometimes you just want a beer with dinner. If I wanted to review something, I would have picked up a bottle of Trafalgar’s new India Ink Black Pale Ale, or maybe Muskoka’s Winter Beard Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout, or even Unibroue’s 17. Any of those would have been interesting beers to review; not all of them in a positive way, necessarily.

I just wanted a beer to drink with dinner, so I got a Crazy Canuck.

Here’s the thing: Looking around the LCBO Summerhill these days, you would never know that we had a lack of beer selection in the province. I understand completely that this is a flagship store and that it’s not like this everywhere. There are stores that don’t get the really interesting stuff. In fact, this accounts for the majority of stores. I just want to point something out to you.

This is a list of the beers that have made it into the LCBO between September and December. It is an incomplete list because they are now bringing in so many beers as part of the general list that they do not always get my attention. I have grabbed the lists from bartowel, which explains the formatting.

263988 / Fuller’s Past Masters Double Stout / 500 / 7.5 / $3.75
263954 / Fuller’s Golden Pride / 500 / 8.5 / $3.75
263962 / Fuller’s India Pale Ale / 500 / 5.3 / $3.75
266841 / Fuller’s Old Winter Ale / 500 / 5.3 / $3.75
263970 / Fuller’s Past Masters XX Strong Ale / 500 / 7.5 / $3.75

237693 / Cannery Maple Stout / 5.5 / 650 / $5.80
254656 / Ayinger Celebrator / 7.2 / 330 / $3.45
173658 / Garrison Imperial I.P.A. / 7 / 500 / $4.25
234047 / Bacchus Flemish Old Brown / 4.5 / 375 / $4.50
236091 / Celt Bronze Crafted Ale / 4.5 / 500 / $3.65
233486 / Marston’s Pedgree V.S.O.P. / 6.7 / 500 / $3.50
233494 / Wychwood Goliath / 4.2 / 500 / $3.50
236992 / Renaissance Stonecutter Scotch Ale / 7 / 500 / $4.60
173534 / Southern Tier Choklat / 11 / 650 / $9.85
504670 / Fuller’s 1845 Bottle Conditioned Ale / 6.3 / 500 / $3.50
125153 / Affligem Dubbel / 6.8 / 330 / $2.75
239475 / Charlevoix Dominus Vobiscum Triple / 9 / 500 / $5.95
244376 / Les Trois Mousquetaires Porter Baltique 2011 / 10 / 750 / $9.95
237875 / Box Steam Funnel Blower / 4.5 / 500 / $3.55

254896 / Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin Ale / 9.0 / 650 / $8.95
248179 / Brasseurs de Montreal La Stout Ghosttown / 6.6 / 341 / $2.85
247635 / Wychwood King Goblin / 6.6 / 500 / $3.50
67710 / Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale / 5.5 / 650 / $4.95
90738 / St Ambroise Pumpkin Ale / 5.0 / 4×341 / $9.95
182287 / Southern Tier Pumking / 9.0 / 650 / $9.00
132761 / Dieu du Ciel! Corne du Diable IPA / 6.5 / 4×341 / $11.60

LCBO 187005 LAVA, Smoked Imperial Stout – 500 ml – Iceland
LCBO 171413 St Ambroise Russian Imperial Stout – 341 ml – Quebec
LCBO 264341 Nogne 0 Imperial Stout – 500 ml – Norway
LCBO 188870 Box Steam Dark & Handsome (Old Ale) – England
LCBO 090845 Great Lakes Winter Ale – 750 ml – Ontario
LCBO 186999 Traquair Jacobite Ale – 330 ml – Scotland
LCBO 135194 Southern Tier Creme Brulee Stout – 650 ml – New York
LCBO 250944 Brooklyn Monster Ale – 355 ml – New York
LCBO 264358 Dominus Vobiscum Double – 500 ml – Quebec
LCBO 250472 Affligem Tripel – 330 ml – Belgium
LCBO 270405 Solstice D’Hiver – 4 x 341 – Quebec
LCBO 222236 Lake of Bays Mocha Porter – 750 ml – Ontario
LCBO 054106 Trafalgar Smoked Oatmeal Stout – 650 ml – Ontario

Fullers Vintage Ale
Samuel Smith Winter Welcome Ale
Christoffel Winter Bier Jug
Jenlain Or Biere Blonde
La Chouffe
Bah Humbug Christmas Cheer Ale
Unibroue 17 Grand Reserve
Samuel Adams New World Triple
Mill St. Barley Wine
St.Peters Winter Ale

Sam Adams Utopias 2011

Note that this list doesn’t include things like the Grand River Highballer Pumpkin, which was released without being on a list. It doesn’t include a bunch of small batch Ontario releases. It doesn’t include the upcoming Garrison brewery feature. Not including the gift packs that come out at Christmas, the specialty releases include something like 50 beers in four months. Granted, they’re not all winners, but the effort counts for something.

Gift Packs:
Biere Du Boucanier Mix Pack
Samuel Smith Selection
Erdinger Gift Pack
6 Exclusive Belgian Ales
Amsterdam Entertainer
Historic Ales Of Scotland
Rickard’s Taster Pack
Bavarian Alps 3 Collector Bottle Gift Pack
OCB Holiday Discovery Pack
St. Ambroise Gift Pack
Innis & Gunn Connoisseur Oak Collection
King Brewery 3 Kings
Taste Of Belgium
Alexander Keiths Barrel Gift Pack
Faxe Premium Gift Pack
Old Speckled Hen Bottle and Glass
Tiger Gift Pack
European Beer Mix Pack
Duvel Twinpack with Glass
Maredsous Chalice Gift Pack
De Koninck Belgian Gift Pack
Mill Street Organic Gift Pack
Mill Street Tankhouse Gift Pack
Mill Street Coffee Porter Gift Pack
Chimay Grand Reserve Canister
St. Bernardus Gift Pack
St. Peters Twinpack with Glass
Sapporo Holiday 2011 Gift Pack
Stella Artois Chalice Gift Pack
Steam Whistle Gift Pack

There are 30 gift packs. I concede that you may not like all of them. I don’t care, as long as there is a Samuel Smith’s gift pack somewhere with my name on it.

That’s 80 specialty products in four months. That doesn’t include Ontario seasonal and craft products that get listed without much fanfare. The total number is probably closer to 100. I just wanted you to see this all in one place, so that the amount of variety could sink in. When I was at Summerhill last night, I got a visual representation of this, and it’s impressive. They have maybe half of this stuff, since some of the earlier releases have sold out. It’s still enough beer to make you wander around the section for 15 minutes trying to figure out what to get.

In addition to this, they seem to have relaxed the “Won’t somebody think of the children” department to allow for the release of Smashbomb Atomic IPA during the summer. Dan Aykroyd’s vodka even made it into the store recently, despite the crystal skull bottle. We might even get Delirium Tremens back at some point.

There are still problems. The specialty releases are in a limited number of stores. The store to store transfer can be difficult to initiate, judging from all of the anecdotal information I’ve gathered. The release dates are sort of sporadic across the stores that do participate. The store by store inventory is not always reliable.

When talking about the LCBO, I have generally ceded the point that the LCBO is a huge bureaucratic endeavor and does not turn on a dime. If the above list suggests anything, it’s that the LCBO has been doing that over the course of the last year or so.

The selection may not be to your liking. You may think that the number of low alcohol British beers hurts the releases because they don’t travel all that well from England. You may want more of a certain style. IPAs, popular in the US, don’t seem to get the same play here, possibly due to the lack of warehouse refrigeration. Because of the sheer number of products showing up, some of them will not be in the quantity that allows for a certain beer to remain on shelves for more than a week. These are reasonable criticisms.

The LCBO has, though, shown that they are willing to expand the selection available. I don’t think it’s possible to argue that they haven’t. They’re clearly trying to provide quality beer. It would be disingenuous to suggest that they have not improved massively over the last year. I suggest that from this point on we should probably try positive reinforcement.

Next time you find yourself sitting down to blast them on an internet forum over not including something that you want, I want you to write them a polite email about your concern and send it off to them, while keeping in mind the following:

1)      These are actual people, so using phrases like “jerks who will be first against the wall when the revolution comes” or questioning the legitimacy of their parentage is probably counterproductive.

2)      They are actually trying.

3)      They have probably not received a whole big bunch of polite, congratulatory emails from the public on this subject before, so this may actually have an impact on future selection.

It’s never going to be perfect. They will never be able to satisfy everyone. You are not going to get incredibly rare beers from small brewers in the states because the lead time on acquisition for those is probably insurmountable and the quantity is very low. It is my suspicion, however, that since the LCBO is now demonstrably interested in providing a wide variety of high quality beer, they are probably now willing to listen to the people who actually drink the stuff.

It’s worth a shot, anyway.

Icelandic Beer Day and Olvisholt Brugghus

We complain a lot about beer in Ontario.  We complain that the LCBO’s monopoly means that we can’t get anything interesting. We complain that The Beer Store is run by huge multinational companies primarily interested in maintaining their control. I am now literally complaining about the fact that we complain, which is probably the kind of thing that can get you pulled over by the irony police (who have recently been saddled with a shipment of ten thousand plastic spoons despite the fact that their requisition form clearly stated that they needed exactly one knife.)

The truth is that it’s simply not that bad. At least we’ve got beer. Iceland didn’t until 1989.

In 1915, Iceland enforced a total prohibition of alcoholic beverages. This is not, in and of itself, all that surprising. We had prohibition in North America. The difference was that Iceland is so geographically remote that there was no easy way around it. If you look at the history of bootlegging in Ontario, it’s clear to see that we were not really all that impressed with prohibition. The town of Picton, Ontario, owes a huge amount to Rum Running. Apparently, they would smuggle whiskey that was intended for the US market back into the province and it was such common practice that people would do it on an amateur basis.

Iceland didn’t have that luxury. They were eventually forced to allow the import of Spanish wine as part of a trade agreement in 1935. At that point, a total prohibition remained on “Strong Beer.” In Iceland, “Strong Beer” is anything over 2.25% alcohol. I can’t picture a two percent beer and neither could Icelanders, who would attempt to get around the prohibition by adding spirits to their beer in order to create something that resembled a proper drink.

Then, on March 1st, 1989, beer was legalized, ending a 74 year prohibition.

As you can imagine, people were pleased with this decision; So much so that from that day forward March 1st was known as Beer Day (Originally titled “Let’s get Wreckedjavik”). It’s celebrated with pub crawls during which the bars stay open until 4am. That seems like overkill to me, but they enjoy it.

The thing that baffles me is that in Canadian provinces a much shorter period of prohibition had pretty serious long term effects on brewing culture. Breweries outright failed. It can be argued that prohibition led to the situation in which E.P. Taylor was able to consolidate brands, leading to the huge corporate breweries of today, leaving us with relatively standard pale lagers. In Iceland, which had an extraordinarily limited brewing culture for 74 years, they ended up with Olvisholt Brugghus.

The brewery is only four years old, but their beers are already available for purchase in Ontario. The amazing thing is how good they are. As part of the LCBO’s spring release, you can purchase Skjalfti. It’s described on the Olvisholt website as a premium lager, although beeradvocate has it listed as a steam beer. It’s a good deal maltier than the majority of lagers and it’s actually a treat to drink. It’s a great deal more complex than you would expect from the style. While I typically don’t drink a whole lot of lager these days, I was really pleased to see it returning this year. (The LCBO website suggests that you pair it with “Saucy pulled-pork sammies.” Someone over there has been watching a little too much Rachael Ray.)

They also had a Smoked Imperial Stout in the fall lineup that people went pretty crazy over. That’s not a style which is all that prevalent, but they made it work.

Here’s a thing that I didn’t know until I started reading their website: Olvisholt Brugghus is located on a farm. The farm is located over the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Their Smoked Imperial Stout is named Lava, because periodically the volcano that’s visible from the brewery’s door erupts. Their lager is named “earthquake” because the brewery is subjected to them with some regularity. There’s the daily possibility that the brewery will be completely totaled by nature, or possibly Grendel. Their insurance premiums must be devastating.

They’ve still managed to get into the LCBO within four years of their founding.

Even in a country where beer was banned for 74 years because people were worried that beer would lead to depravity (and potentially longboats and pillaging), there’s now a national beer day.

Someone should talk to Stephen Harper about making that happen here. In the meantime, feel free to see if you can get your hands on a bottle of Skjalfti for tomorrow and toast your Nordic brethren.

The Kingston Brewing Company

Typically, one of the best things about Christmas in Kingston is that I get to revisit, if briefly, an old haunt. The Kingston Brewing Company is the oldest brewpub in Ontario and Canada’s oldest wine producing pub.

Back when I lived in Kingston for a short period of time after university, it was a place that my brother and I would hang out. We were both working in a call centre and as relative newcomers we had been put on the night shift. It was a call centre for an American cell phone company’s activations line and we were dropped into the queue at a time when it suddenly became possible to port a number from other service providers.

I think this is actually a pretty good representation of the concept of "festooned."

Of course, the technology wasn’t perfect when it was introduced. People were promised that their numbers would be ported within 48 hours and in some cases it took several months. More often than not the port would fail, the number would drop back into circulation and people would be entirely without phone service.

What I’m getting at here is that there was a lot of yelling which we had to sit good naturedly by and accept as per the provisions of the script. If you can picture yourself being paid to sit quietly at a half cubicle desk getting yelled at by Foghorn Leghorn, it was sort of like that: a dunk tank, but instead of water there was verbal abuse.

Typically, by the end of the week, you’d need a trip to the pub. There was a pleasing alignment in that our paycheques were usually deposited by midnight on the last day of our weekly shifts and that the KBC was close to our house and took interac. We would sit and drink Dragon’s Breath and mercilessly take the piss out of people from Alabama who wanted their cell phones “cut back on.”

I have a lot of good memories of the place, but until this year I was never a beer blogger and never thought about it from a professional standpoint, so it was interesting to visit this year and see how my perception of it changed based on the amount of context I have.

If you’re used to brewpubs in Toronto, there are a certain number of expectations that have cropped up in the last few years. First of all, the place is going to look corporate. Think about Mill Street or Three Brewers or The Granite. They all have relatively clean looks to them and they all have pretty elaborate layouts capable of seating a hundred people simultaneously. Duggan’s sort of resembled a sensory deprivation tank for the first months of its existence; I don’t know whether plain white walls can be classified as “decor.”

That polar bear has been looking at those towels for the better part of a decade.

The Kingston Brewing Company, on the other hand has been amassing memorabilia from all over the world since 1986 and has a collection of bartowels that I have never seen matched. During the regular course of business, the sheer number of framed towels is pretty daunting. During the Christmas season, they really go to town. Lights and garlands everywhere. Camels festooned with ornaments. A Santa hat on the papier mache polar bear that lives over the entranceway. It’s enough to throw an interior designer into an apoplectic rage. That said, it does give the place character and a certain joie de vivre.

Another marked difference is the fact that Toronto brewpubs are likely to have several of their beers on at any one time and that they will have only their own beers on offer. Additionally, they’re caught up in the current atmosphere of development and brewer’s whimsey. Mill Street and Duggan’s keep coming up with new beers in order to stay at the cutting edge of the Ontario Craft Beer scene. Even The Granite will periodically come up with a new release, the most recent being their smoked porter.

The Kingston Brewing Company, on the other hand, is one of the only venues for Ontario Craft Beer between Toronto and Ottawa and it seems like they’re completely willing to share the stage with any number of Ontario Brewers. It’s not something that you can really fault them for when you see the size of their brewing setup. I think that the brewing facility (located just behind the bar) would be hard pressed to accommodate more than two people at a time and I’m sure that given the customer volume I’ve observed over the years there’s no way that they could possibly keep up with demand. Brewing of their two most popular beers is outsourced. Their Whitetail Cream Ale is brewed by Brick and the Dragon’s Breath Pale Ale is brewed out of province by McAuslan.

So I guess the question is “What do they brew?”

Well, they still brew their Real Ale on site and they also brewed a winter seasonal called Figgy Puddin’.

Figgy Puddin', just hanging out in its natural habitat.

I tried both of those and I don’t really know what to think. The seasonal brew actually contains Rum as an ingredient, so I have no idea what to make of that. I’m not advanced enough as a brewer to know how that would even work. I suspect it’s dark rum added after fermentation to create depth, but I don’t know for sure. The Real Ale is just sort of alright, which is about fair when you consider that they’re trying to do cask conditioned real ale on an extract brewing system.

Truth be told I think I’m judging the Kingston Brewing Company harshly based on the fact that I want it to be better. I certainly seem to remember it being better. For a period in the late 90’s Dragon’s Breath was contract brewed by Hart and was fairly widely available. At the time it was one of the hoppiest beers in Ontario and was certainly different than just about everything else on the market. I don’t know how it would stand up today, since it was an English style IPA and those have fallen out of favour.

I think that the issue is probably complicated by the fact that it’s a very popular brewpub in a town dominated by tourists during the summer and university students during the rest of the year. I suspect that since much of their business is based on volume of sales, they probably don’t have to try very hard to make a great deal of money. That’s the sort of thing that might engender a certain amount of complacency.

I tell you what: The place doesn’t lack for character. They once reprinted their menus in order to fit in “decriminalized pot-pie.”

Anyone who’s willing to stretch that far for a joke is OK in my book. I just wish they had a little more pride and experimentation in their brewing. It occurs to me that in the wake of the first crop of Niagara College graduates, they’d do well to pick up an apprentice brewer and switch to an all grain system.

When there's no more room on the walls, the memorabilia will walk the earth.

It’s one thing to rest on your laurels as the first brewpub in Ontario. It’s quite another to remain relevant. My hope for the Kingston Brewing Company is that they can manufacture some type of resurgence in the next few years and not only reclaim some of their former glory but surpass peoples’ expectations.

Sam Adams Utopias: A Public Service Announcement

As you’re all aware by now, Sam Adams Utopias is on its way to Toronto. It’s going to be $115 per bottle. In order to get a bottle, you have to enter a lottery held by the vintages section of the LCBO! That’s some fancy stuff. There are only 70 bottles, and you’re probably not going to get one.The truth is that I’m probably not going to get one either, but I’m ok with that since I’ve tried it before. At Mondial this year in Montreal, it was something like seven dollars an ounce.

It’s a little like bungee jumping: preposterous, expensive and the kind of thing you need to try once in order to be able to say that you did.

That said, you’re probably not going to get try it. I have come up with a way to help you feel better about that. I present to you the St.John’s Wort Expensive Liquids Equivalence Chart. The SJWELEC is the absolute cutting edge in liquid value comparison and will present you with interesting alternatives to investing $115 in a bottle Sam Adams Utopia.

Kind of Liquid Cost /ml Difficulty to Procure
Green Tea Free with sushi Sometimes difficult to get a refill if the restaurant is busy.
Krusty Partially Gelatinated Non-Dairy Gum-Based Beverages n/a Only available in Springfield. 

Suggested Pairing: Krusty Burger with cheese.

Gasoline $0.001124 More difficult for cliched movie teenagers.
2% Milk $0.002595 Are you kidding? It’s freakin’ milk!
Nitrogen $0.003000 You’ll also have to buy a Thermos.
Fiji Natural Water $0.003000 Harder than just turning on the faucet, Mr. fancypants.
Starbucks Christmas Blend $0.004000 Only available November through January
Briess Malt Extract $0.009000 Aside from finding a brewer`s supply store, not so bad.
Brass Monkey (That Funky Monkey) $0.010000 Only available in Connecticut, apparently.
MacAllan Cask Strength $0.133000 Not hard to get. Just expensive.
Sam Adams Utopias $0.153330 1.Wait until January 6th 

2. Enter a lottery officiated by LCBO employees,

3. Win golden ticket like Charlie Bucket

4. Pay $115.00 for a bottle.

Love Potion No.9 $0.510000 Only available down at 34th and Vine.
Chanel No. 5 $0.890000 Pretty easy to find, but you’re going to smell 

like you should be wearing a pantsuit.

Chateau Lafitte 1787 $213.330000 Extraordinarily difficult. Don’t even bother.

According to my calculations, for the price of a Sam Adams Utopia you can:

1. Buy 44 litres of milk and just enough liquid nitrogen to make an attempt at the Guinness record for world’s largest, blandest popsicle.

2. Buy a single half milliliter of Chateau Lafitte 1787 and party with Madame Guillotine.

3. Afford enough gas to be able to drive a 2010 Toyota Camry to Cooperstown, New York (533 km, approx ~$46), Tour the Baseball Hall of Fame ($19.50), Visit the Ommegang brewery for some free samples of beers that are probably better than the Sam Adams Utopias at no charge and then drive back to Toronto (another 46 bucks.)

4. Buy a bunch of bottles of Fiji water for people who like that stuff and then sit around lecturing them on how they are suckers for not just buying a Brita filter while getting progressively more incoherent because you are swigging from a bottle of excellent MacAllan single malt.

5. Get your mom a bottle of her favorite perfume for Christmas and use the rest of the money to buy some sushi so that you can drink a lot of green tea.

6. Pay Matt Groening to sketch you enjoying a Krusty Partially Gelatinated Non-Dairy Gum-Based Beverage.

7. Buy 49 Venti Starbucks Christmas Blend Coffees, use the approximate 20000mg of caffeine to vibrate through the walls of the LCBO warehouse and just steal a bottle of Utopias.

8. Buy 21.5 litres of Aunt Jemima’s Butter Flavoured Syrup and have a very, very strange bath.

Feel free to comment with any suggestions that you may come up with to help the SJWELEC educate the population at large about opportunity cost.

Cask Days 2010 – IT BEGINS!

It’s the end of October, and while for your average pub-goer it’s an excuse to scrape together a last minute costume (“I’m a psychopath. We look just like everybody else.”) for beer nerds it can mean only one thing: Bar Volo’s Cask Days.

This is going to be sixth annual Cask Days, and I feel like this is as good an opportunity as any to talk a little bit about the history of the thing.

It started out fairly innocuously: A relatively small number of casks on Volo’s Yonge street patio. Over the years it has snowballed. Two years ago, it was a weekend long festival and they had something like fifty casks and I recall one of the highlights being a jury-rigged Randall made out of a cafetiere. Last year they had “Cask Week” which featured a selection of English style cask beer during the week, before launching into the main event. People camped out. I know of at least one Liverpudlian who managed to attend nearly every one of the eight sessions. People making decisions like “I know. I’ll drink a whole pint of Peche Mortel. Well, when am I ever going to get this chance again?” and then promptly falling asleep on their feet.

This year it has expanded even further. It was “CASK MONTH” and a steady stream of Moranas have been pouring cask across the province from Van Kleek Hill to Cambridge. This included the decision to pour English style cask all throughout the week prior to the main event. Cask Days is now mobile. If my projections are correct, next year, even if you live in Moosonee, you’re probably still going to be able to enjoy cask beers thanks to the efforts of Ralph Morana.

So come on down to Crazy Ralph's House of Cask!

I worry about Ralph’s mental state sometimes. He takes a huge amount of pride in his pub, as well he should. It’s a fine place to enjoy a couple of beers. It’s just that as CASK MONTH has progressed, I have noticed a thousand yard stare developing and I wonder whether he has an ulterior motive. He has had sleepless nights putting this together and I begin to suspect this is all part of a larger plan to annex Scarborough and rename it The Independent Republic of Caskylvania. At the very least, there’s the possibility that he might start using casks as a weapon a la Donkey Kong. All I’m saying is that if this trend goes unchecked we may discover that the Mayan 2012 prediction actually references the beginning of CASK MILLENIUM.

I kid.

The main benefit of Cask Days to your average beer nerd is that there are always things that you’ve never tried before. It’s also a good opportunity to re-evaluate breweries that you may have discounted in the past. Every brewer and their dog creates new and interesting beers for the general public to try. It’s a good indicator of which breweries are paying attention. Some of the established ones will release special dry-hopped versions of their staples. Some breweries that you have long since discounted as being uninteresting will attempt to change your mind. Generally, the people who have innovated continue to do so with potentially devastating results. Also, this will be the first year where Volo’s house cask is on offer. You don’t want to miss out on this.


1) The event is traditionally cash only. Bring money. Lots of money. Sample tickets are usually ten for twenty bucks and the regular casks are usually about two tickets for a half pint.

2) The premium casks imported from Quebec might be four tickets for a half pint.

3) Yes, that’s expensive. You know what, though? It’s worth it. Think of the effort that goes into this thing. Do you want to try getting a cask of Hopfenstark beer through the LCBO? No? Then shut up about it already.


The best part about Cask Days is wandering around and trying stuff that looks interesting. Sure,you may regret ordering the “Jack and Coke” ale or the “Peanut Butter and Jelly” ale, but this is not a time for planning meticulously. If you don’t like it, you can pour it out and move on. They have conveniently located potted plants for just such an emergency (also rinse stations).

I won’t tell you what you should try. It removes the fun from it entirely.

I will, however, tell you what I’m looking forward to:

–          Amsterdam CJM Royal Brown Ale. They’ve been going through some changes over at Amsterdam, and they’re now doing interesting things. This will be a chance to see whether it’s paying off.

–          Dry Hopped Trois Mousquetaires Baltic Porter. Best Baltic Porter in Canada. Now with extra hops!

–          Great Lakes Triple IPA! Maybe! I talked to Mike Lackey about it the other day. He’s conscientious enough to send something else if it’s not up to his exacting standards.

–          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.

–          Stuff from Quebec! Cuda! Pionniere! Greg!

This is going to be an interesting couple of days.

Toronto Beer Week

Finally, an excuse to drink beer.

There are, of course, two things that people claim that they don’t want to see being made: law and sausage. One contains a lot of grease , pork and leftover trimmings and the other is delicious sausage.

That being said, no one ever claimed that events planning shouldn’t be open to public consumption, so I thought that it might be fun to talk about Toronto Beer Week, how it’s coming together and why you (yes you, gentle consumer/bored guy looking for something to do) should be excited.

A lot of North American cities have been having beer weeks recently, and  it makes a huge amount of sense that this should be the case since the advent of the organic and locavore movements. Beer is, after all, an agrarian product and it makes sense to celebrate the best of what’s local. Seattle had one. San Diego had one. Philadelphia had one as well, and while I know just enough about the beer scene in Pennsylvania to appreciate how good an idea that is, I still have a mental picture of the cast of It’s Always Sunny flipping cups and getting involved in a cheesesteak eating contest.

Now, I can hear the cogs turning in your head. I understand that you’re thinking to yourself, “But Jordan, isn’t this just another in an increasingly desperate series of bids by Toronto to be taken seriously as a world class city? Isn’t this the same kind of thing that leads us to send Mel Lastman to try and bid for the Summer Olympics? Remember that time we built the CN Tower and that escalator to nowhere? Where did that get us? It still takes me an hour and a half to get to the airport and my feet hurt and it’s too hot out and I’m surrounded by Canada geese.” I hear your concerns, polite but almost cripplingly neurotic citizen, and feel like I should point out a couple of things that will serve to put your mind at ease.

First of all, I’ve talked to a number of people on the organizational committee for Toronto Beer Week and I can tell you flat out that I have never heard anyone utter the phrase “World Class City” even in jest. Toronto Beer Week seems to be content to focus on the realities of what is actually possible given the beer culture in the city, and that approach has served them well. They’ve managed to get over 45 venues and 15 breweries involved during the inaugural edition of Beer Week through hard work and planning. The events list continues to grow and there’s a lot of focus on making sure that everyone who attends an event has the best time possible. The watchword is accessibility and hopefully bringing attention to products that are available locally will produce converts to small, independent brewers located around the Greater Toronto Area. That’s basically the only goal: getting you to drink a nice pint of locally brewed beer.

It’s a grass roots movement, and the Toronto Beer Week team is comprised of local brewers, pub owners and enthusiasts who are there because they want to be there. This is not some cynical cash grab perpetrated by international macrobreweries. Toronto Beer Week started as the product of nine people with a good understanding of the beer scene in Toronto. That’s not how it’s going to end up though: The fact of the matter is that I see a lot of industry professionals rallying to the cause.

I was at a media dinner for the event at The Monk’s Table the other day and while I was sitting there making copious notes I realized something interesting. They’ve somehow managed to get everyone on board. Bill White was there to guide us through the dinner, which he managed in a thoroughly entertaining  and engaging manner. Stephen Beaumont was there, lending both his credibility and wealth of knowledge to the proceedings. Mirella Amato from Beerology, who is hosting the TORONTO BEER QUEST during Beer Week was there. They had a number of legitimate journalists and some completely illegitimate bloggers like myself.

The best part is that everyone was excited about the direction that Toronto Beer Week was going in.

Now, maybe I’m just the new guy on the scene, brimming with the kind of wide eyed optimism and naivete that can only be instilled by gift bags and a developing sense of belonging, but it occurs to me that none of this has to happen: The reason that Toronto Beer Week exists is because a lot of talented people who are extraordinarily passionate about beer have banded together to share their interest and expertise. The best part is that this is not some ragtag bunch of misfits trying amateurishly to pull off a coup: These are professionals who are essentially volunteering their time to ensure that people who go out to an event are going to have a good time. There’s very little in the way of self aggrandizement. Everyone is on message and in the coming weeks you’re going to see a lot of promotion and enthusiasm and a lot of people are going to work very long hours to get the word out. Never in Toronto have so few done so much to convince so many to drink a nice pint of beer.

Starting this week, you’re going to be able to pick up the Toronto Beer Week passport at participating locations and you’d do well to check the events calendar periodically to see what those locations are going to be able to come up with. There are already some absolute corkers lined up through Bar Volo, beerbistro, C’est What and The Monk’s Table. I get the feeling that the tickets for the BrewDog dinner are going to go very quickly indeed, what with the recent press that they’ve been given.

To my mind the question is no longer “Is this going to be any good?” Currently the question is “Which events should I hit first?”

It’ll give me something to think about as I trudge humourlessly along delivering passports and coasters.