Toronto Beer Week – Tuesday 4


Brew Dog Dinner @ beerbistro

I get the feeling that there’s going to be a lot written about the Brew Dog Dinner, and that there are going to be a lot of pictures of identical plates and glasses and explanations of what was eaten and drunk. In point of fact, Chris Schryer has a nice piece on his blog about it. I can certainly attest that his pictures are likely to be better than mine as his camera has a flash which would not be out of place on a Nevada testing range. Hours later my retinas were still imprinted.

I should like to take the opportunity to talk about my impressions of Brew Dog’s output now that I’ve actually gotten to sample the majority of their core brands and some of their more gimmicky offerings. Our host for the evening was James Watt, and he gives the impression of being a hands on kind of guy. He’s clearly knowledgeable and is very entertaining. He has a passion for the industry which is nice to see.

With Brew Dog, it’s easy to talk about how good they are at manipulating the UK media. Between having beers banned for their names (Speedball), a 0.5% beer called Nanny State, packaging bottles in preserved stoats and generally bouncing between hero worship and vilification, it’s easy to buy into the hype that they manage to produce. I don’t say that the hype is unnecessary, as it has certainly launched them into international beer consciousness.

What I’ll say is this: Having tried their core brands, I think that they might be doing themselves a disservice by promoting their extreme offerings so consistently. 5AM Saint is an excellent beer, but not one that I had heard very much about. The same can be said of Trashy Blonde and Hardcore IPA. It’s just that you don’t hear much about them because of the TACTICAL NUCLEAR PENGUIN.

Tactical Nuclear Penguin

Speaking of, it’s probably worth mentioning that TNP was better than I would have assumed. I had thought that they were only attempting to make a high alcohol (32%) beer for publicity, but I hadn’t given any thought to the flavour profile. Since they used a high quality cask aged imperial stout to begin with, it worked surprisingly well: A digestif not entirely unlike Islay whiskey.

On the other hand, Sink The Bismarck which is made in approximately the same way, started out as an IPA and ended up at 41%. If you concentrate IPA, the hop content elevates as the water content is extracted. To suggest it was resinous would be charitable; It was downright coniferous, like an alcoholic Pine-Sol.

I hope that at some point the focus shifts from their extreme beers to their core offerings, which are exceedingly solid and thoroughly enjoyable.

The Beer Writers` Roundtable @ C’est What

Now I want you to understand that in university I once spent a very cold winter poring over literary criticism and post-marxist neo-feminist deconstructionalism, so it`s worth pointing out that I have a very high threshold for tedium.  The beer writers` roundtable left Adorno, Horkheimer and F.R. Leavis standing.

I`ve spoken with all of these men individually, and I can attest to you that all of them are capable of being not only interesting, but downright captivating when left to their own devices. The thing is this: They`re beer WRITERS. They are neither stand up comedians nor beer public speakers. They are, with the notable exception of Nick Pashley, better in a written format. (Nick Pashley is entertaining in any setting and is a guy worth getting to know if only because of his wry humour and gentle bonhomie.)

I think that I have to blame the format. If you’re going to put people in a circle and have them pass the mic around, it’s unlikely to be entertaining unless those people are the Wu-Tang Clan. They answered the questions that were put to them one at a time, meaning that a question like “What’s the best beer you’ve ever had?” can only reasonably be answered with “Well, there’s no such thing as an objective BEST beer, but…” once and then everyone else in the circle has to scramble to also look reasonable and erudite, shunting the discussion off onto “Well, I don’t know about BEST, but I did try this very weird beer one time. The year was 1976 and…”

Points should be awarded to Greg Clow, incidentally, for his completely accurate indictment of Wellington Silver Wheat for not only being disappointing as an anniversary beer, but also legitimately and objectively awful.

I think that next time something like this is attempted, there are a couple of tweaks that need to be made. First of all, it has to be a discussion format. If there was a certain amount of cross talk, the panellists would have been able to generate discussion on a few questions, entering into a dialogue as opposed to giving answers in what might as well have been a single interview format. Secondly, the questions should be a little more open ended: “What do you think is the next thing for beer in Canada?” or “What did you think of Steve Beauchesne’s Beer Revolution concept?” or “What do you think the highlight of the last year was for beer in Ontario?”

Here are some other suggestions for improvement to the format:

-Nick Pashley should be promoted to moderator of the roundtable. He should also be given a shotgun and instructions to kneecap anyone who fails at an attempt to pander to the audience or takes too long to come up with a compelling answer to a simple question.

-Panellists should have the good grace to answer the question “What is your most embarrassing beer moment?” interestingly. Make something up! Tell them about the time you had way too much beer and woke up in Guadalajara next to a burro named Juanita, missing your wallet and six teeth. “One time, I accidently set fire to Chicago while cow-tipping after a sixer of Milwaukee’s Best tallboys.” Now THAT’s embarrassing!

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