As a teenager, I collected LPs. It was after the advent of the CD so people would look at me askance, because they claimed that digital quality was so much better. In truth, I was never much interested in the quality of the sound that was coming out of the stereo, but rather the content of the songs coming out of the stereo. Think about it like this: If you wanted to jump into Bob Dylan’s back catalogue, you could either afford to buy two greatest hits compilation volumes on CD or you could get everything he recorded up to Planet Waves on vinyl.
To me, there was nothing more infuriating than trying to jump into an artist’s back catalogue, especially since if you’re like me you don’t know what you like until you hear it. This leads periodically to purchasing things that you hate. By the time my record player wore down and I had to switch to a discman, I was still trying to amass huge amounts of knowledge about individual artists. It’s time consuming and eventually you end up with something like Elvis Costello’s Goodbye Cruel World on which the reissue liner notes start with the phrase “Congratulations! You just bought the worst album of my career.” which is just annoying enough to make you want to give up and listen to CBC Radio 2.
Fortunately, with the internet providing the services that it does now, It’s now possible to condense everything you need to know. For instance, if you liked “Gimme Shelter” on the radio, you can punch a half remembered lyric into Google, figure out that it’s on Let It Bleed and then download the album from iTunes (or, for you scofflaws, some disreputable torrent site) in the amount of time it would actually take to listen to the song. You might decide to just dip your toe in the Stones’ back catalogue by getting the Hot Rocks compilation. iTunes even has the genius feature that tells you what you might like based on what you already have.
It’s never been easier to have your tastes catered to in what is essentially an entirely subjective medium. While there are dozens of top hundred album lists available, your personal tastes are being catered to as a matter of course. You don’t need to know anything more than you feel like knowing. I’m something of a completist myself, but who am I to tell you that you absolutely need to know the backstory of Peter Gabriel’s split with Genesis to enjoy Solsbury Hill? It’s catchy and toe tapping, and sometimes that’s enough.
With something like beer, though, which is equally subjective, you run into issues of accessibility pretty quickly. No one has figured out how to get beer radio play, and downloading pirated beer is equally difficult. You actually have to go out and find various beers to drink in order to discover what you like. It’s not as though you can hire a beer nerd to follow you around and point out things about various beverages that are on offer (and would you want to even if you could? You would probably end up staggering out of a pub in the early morning hours muttering about IBUs and dark malt.)
Even if you’ve tried a large number of beers and know what you like, something like Toronto Beer Week can be daunting. There are going to be special one-off brews and unreplicatable events taking place. The difficulty here is figuring out how not to miss the good bits while finding your level of comfort. There’s a huge range of activities and events on offer, so my intention over the next week is to provide some guidance for those of you who don’t know where to start.
I don’t pretend to know which events will be the most fun. There’s no way to judge that without going to them yourself. I do have a pretty good idea of how accessible each event is going to be on a scale of no experience necessary to die-hard beer nerd, though. I also know how expensive they’re likely to be and whether you’re likely to have to buy in for an entire evening or if you can just turn up. There will also be a certain amount of editorializing, just to keep myself amused.
As an example of the kind of range that exists, I’ll show you two food pairing events that are happening concurrently:
Burger and Beer Promotion – For the entire week, at both BQM locations, you can enjoy a Bacon and Blue Cheese Burger with a Blanche de Chambly for $10.
This is nicely accessible. You get a solid beer from Unibroue and a burger. The charm of the thing is that it’s a very straightforward pairing with high quality components. Even if you end up not liking the beer, you’ve almost certainly paid more than that for a tasty burger before anyway.
Accessibility: 5/5 (no experience necessary) ; Price: 5/5 (ten bucks or less)
BrewDog Beer Dinner – 6 course dinner, paired with beers from Scotland’s most progressive brewery. Hosted by James Watt from BrewDog. Tickets are $90, and on sale Wednesday Sept 8th: Call (416) 861-9872
This event exists essentially for the hardcore, even down to the likely inclusion of the brewery’s Hardcore IPA. In order to really get the most out of it you need to know who BrewDog are: That they are a sort of DIY punk rock brewery from Aberdeen who recently released a beer with its own cozy (a taxidermied stoat) and that you’re probably going to sample a beer that’s stronger than most liquors before the night is over. That doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t have fun if you don’t know the backstory. Tickets go on sale this morning. Operators are standing by.
Accessibility: 1/5 (hardcore beer nerds) ; Price: 1/5 (most expensive ticket of the week)
Leading up to Toronto Beer Week itself, I’ll be breaking down the events like this in order to give you enough information to find one that will work for you. I hope to be able to do it without displaying too much personal bias, or at least by making it slightly less obvious than usual.
Next time I’ll be looking at food pairing events in earnest.