Beaumont's Beer Blog
Exclusive to ThatsTheSpirit.com!
I’m recently returned from a California beer trip, and it was good, no doubt. Very good, in fact. And more about that in a bit (or over here and here), but first, about the flying experience these days.
I understand that we live in curious times and that some dude stuffing his underwear with explosive material is bound to have repercussions, but Pearson Airport in Toronto has taken security to new heights, or depths. It starts with US Customs, entry to which is now allowed only by flight number, so forget arriving early to the airport because it doesn’t matter, you’ll still have to cool your heels in the concourse until they call your flight number. (And Torontonians, bless ‘em, still insist on lining up, even though it makes neither sense nor difference.)
Once past customs and immigration, you must now contend with security, where you’ll be met by a huge line-up and well-meaning agents attempting to comply with rules that, one security officer told me, change almost daily. You will step on some sort of rubber pad and an arrow will light telling you what direction to go. (Lord knows what happens if it doesn’t light; I’ve never seen it.) Then you will go through the normal scans before being subject to a possible second scan and a mandatory secondary inspection of every bag you have with you. Yes, that’s right, absolutely every single bag is opened and rifled through. Every…stinking…one.
Now, I could understand this as an appeasement of our cranky southern neighbours if they were performing anything near the same measures, but they’re not. In San Francisco, in San Diego, in Chicago, it was business as usual: off with the shoes, out with the computer, through the machines and thank you very much. So why the chaos on this side of the border and not the other?
Believe me, I am about the most tolerant frequent flier you could imagine, but there are limits! And I haven’t flown domestically yet this year, so I’ve no idea if the security for Canadian flights is as bad, or if other Canadian airports have instituted the same measures. Anyone else? Tell me your experiences, folks.
Rather quietly last year, a new pub opened up in the Leslieville area of Toronto, the district we laughingly called the “West Beaches” back when I lived there many moons ago. It’s called the Ceili Cottage, which is pronounced “Cay-lee Cottage” for the Irish-challenged amongst ye.
Run by my friend Patrick McMurray, who also oversees the Starfish Oyster Bed & Grill, it’s not a beer joint in the sense that Paddy keeps a massive range of ales and lagers from which to choose. But if you’re looking for a neighbourhood local kind of place with a handful of fine beers, decent food and the lingering scent of peat smoke hanging in the air, well, this is the place.
The Cottage also has a little patio out front, lovely in the summer but obviously rather superfluous in winter. So what does Patrick do? In an inspired bit of lunacy, he puts up boards and floods the thing, making a little skating rink that’s free for locals to use almost any time. Canadian to the max, says I.
But Patrick isn’t finished even there. Not only can you skate on the rink, but as you’ll see from this blog post, you can also drop by and partake of some curling, complete with instruction every Wednesday night! With beers inside afterwards, of course. Like a proper Canadian.
I mentioned last week that I’d be writing more about a particular 15 year old barley wine I recently sampled, and here it is.
Tall Ship Ales of Squamish, British Columbia, was a sadly short-lived enterprise, but when it was around it was responsible for some of the finest ales brewed in western Canada during the 1990’s. My notes on their brands have been sadly lost to the computer melt-downs and bust-ups I have endured through the years, but I still bear fond memories of their IPA and Imperial Stout, the latter brewed long before others even contemplated such an effort, and their barley wine.
No. 1 Barley Wine, it was called, an homage, I’m sure, to the infamous Bass No. 1 Barley Wine, reputed to have been the first commercially bottled version of the style. It was then a wonderful beer, and although I knew much less fifteen years ago than I do now about aging beers, I was pretty sure it would store nicely for some time to come.
My second to last bottle was tasted earlier this decade and it was a beauty, with still acres of character and plentiful appeal. The final bottle I trotted out in January, however, was considerably older than even that well-aged version and, frankly, I wondered how it would handle the extra years.
Turns out, it did so fairly well. There was a slight acidic edge to it and a distinct thinness of malt, but at the same time there was plenty still going on, like dark fruits and black liquorice in the nose and black currant, prune, raisin, herbals and clove notes in the body. Although obviously a few years past it, I was impressed with the stature it retained and more than happy with the results of a decade and a half of patient aging.
Afterwards, I tasted one of Canada’s new classic barley wines, from one province over and a whole lot fresher. More about that in a day or two.
Tim Kramer, the young brewer at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan’s Paddock Wood Brewing, passed through Toronto lately laden down with bottles of his most recent creations, including the Loki Double IPA. Never one to pass up the chance to sample something new, I met up with him at Toronto’s Bar Volo and swapped a taste of a 15 year old barleywine – and more about that next week! – for a couple of bottles of his cargo.
Bottle-conditioned with a fair amount of sediment laying on the bottom – thus requiring careful decanting – Loki is brownish copper in colour and offers a good degree of fruitiness in the nose, like candied orange and peach, alongside notes of grapefruit and butterscotch. On the palate, though, the beer shifts course rather dramatically, hitting with but a whisper of fruity sweetness before coming forward with a great deal of hoppiness. Brewer Kramer says that he is an unapologetic hophead and it shows here, with rampaging flavours of spicy, green hop and citrus peel held in check by, well, practically nothing.
The finish mellows out so the palate doesn’t feel quite so assaulted, but more maltiness would make this a much more balanced and considerably less harsh ale. What Kramer does quite well, however, is hide Loki’s considerable strength, so perhaps the aggressive hoppiness is more a warning not to get too carried away with this beer!
I could hardly miss the 1/3 page ad in the Life section of today’s Globe and Mail: “Infiniti presents The Essence of Elegance.” Sounds like a Big Night out, yes?
If you enjoy the sounds of Matt Dusk and the food of Mark McEwan, then yes, I suppose it is a quintessentially Big Night out. But for $150 per ticket and no full meal included, it’s worth looking down the page a ways to see exactly what you’re getting, too.
And here they are, the details following the price: “Includes Matt Dusk performance, appetizers created by Mark McEwan, fine wines, Corona, as well as a special parting gift.”
Wait a minute, Corona? It’s a popular beer, no doubt, but “the essence of elegance”?
Yep, nothing says elegant more than chugging pale Mexican lager from a bottle with a wedge of lime stuck in its neck.
If you read The Globe and Mail newspaper, you may have noticed this morning a full page ad on the back of the front section for Scenic Tours, promoting a river cruise in October from Amsterdam to Basel. It’s certainly an attractive trip, all the more so because the company is offering two-for-one pricing! But it’s about to get even better…
Because yours truly is coming along to add beer to the equation!
That’s right, in addition to a relaxing cruise down the beautiful Rhine, complete with plenty of culture and tourism stops, we’ll also be featuring numerous beer-oriented side trips, including a visit to Amsterdam’s terrific Brouwerij ‘t Ij, a pub crawl through Köln, tours and tastings at Belgian, German, French, Luxembourg and Swiss breweries large and small, and even floating tutored beer tastings. All for only a few dollars more than the book price for the cruise.
The beer portion of the trip is all very new – so new it hasn’t yet been included in any of the promotional materials for the trip – and so several details are still being worked out, but I can guarantee that it will be an experience no beer aficionado will soon forget. And the Scenic Tours “Space Ship,” with balconies attached to almost every suite and plenty of room in both the public and private areas, makes the whole thing just that much more appealing.
For a basic outline of the cruise, stop by the Scenic Tours website and have a look at the itinerary departing October 11 from Amsterdam and sailing for 13 days to Basel. And if you like that idea, give CruiseShipCenters Rosedale a call at 866-355-7447 or 416-962-7447 for more info and booking details.
Nice to see at least one Canadian political leader supporting Canadian craft beer, even if our own embassy fails miserably on that front.
(Disclosure: I know Nick Pashley pretty well and would count him as a friend. I am also referenced a couple of times in this volume and more than that in his enjoyable earlier work, “Notes on a Beermat.” That said, I do not believe that either of these factors impact on the opinion expressed below, although you are of course free to disagree.)
While this book, Pashley’s second beer-themed tome, was published in the fall, I was unable to get my mitts on a copy until just before the holiday season, and thus read the bulk of it while toasting my pasty white flesh over Christmas on a Riviera Maya beach. If you think it odd to read a book about drinking Canadian beer in Canada while broiling under the sun in a place where the most characterful beer available is Negra Modelo, well, you’re quite right, but such were my circumstances.
Still, with all the gift cards that seem to change hands each Christmas these days, perhaps it’s better my review appear now, when you’re in a position to buy the book for yourself, than before, when you would have perhaps felt more obliged to buy it for someone else. And buy it your should, even if that means using actual cash, because this is one highly entertaining read.
Pashley has a way of writing which, like the best of beer-related scribes, makes it seem more like you are conversing with him in a pub than absorbing dry words from a page. So when he waxes poetic about the triumphs and failures of beer marketing in this country, or invites you along on his cross-Canada beer travels, it really is more dialogue than monologue, even if your part only takes place in your own head. (And for your own good, make sure that it does, especially if you’re inclined towards reading in public places, as Pashley is himself.)
What this book is, then, is a fun romp through the Canadian beer biz coast to coast, from the Centre of the Universe (a.k.a. Toronto, both Pashley’s and my home town) to both the Atlantic and Pacific and even up so far as Whitehorse. What it is not, however, is the advertised “History of Beer in Canada,” unless you count the twenty or so pages covering the start of European occupation to the commencement of prohibition, or even the thirty-some-odd pages that follow and bring us right up to the 1970’s.
But really, who cares? This is Pashley we’re talking about, not some starched collar historian, and if you go into a book with a blurred picture of a Mountie on the cover and chapter titles like “Barkeep! Gimme Another Light Dry Low-Carb Ice Beer with No Aftertaste” expecting a serious history lesson, well, you get what you deserve, my friend.
My advice is to buy the book now – for all I know, Nick might need the money, given his penchant for public house beer drinking – and store it until the start of the summer. Then, crack the spine with a glass of nicely chilled ale or lager at your side and mete it out to yourself in careful doses. You might be tempted to finish it in one go, but you’ll also want to keep drinking, which would no doubt result in that damn Mountie picture blurring even further. No, much better to take your time and savour every word and drop.
Ontario beer aficionados were left seething this week when two-thirds of the province-wide allocation of the rare Ola Dubh Special Reserve 40 wound up by mistake at a single store and sold out in a day! But there is much more to the story than just that.
First, some background. Ola Dubh – pronounced “Ola Due,” not “Ola Dub” – arrived this winter in Ontario in two versions, the 12 and the 40. The first, which is now out in stores in reasonable quantities, was aged in barrels that had previously held Highland Park 12 Year Old Single Malt, while the second is the same beer aged in barrels that previously aged the much rarer Highland Park 40 Year Old. I sampled both a couple of weeks ago and found that the 12 has a wonderfully constructed character featuring raisiny notes of dried fruit and obvious notes of whisky, all in a luxuriously creamy texture, while the 40 has greater complexity with well-integrated but more apparent whisky notes and bigger spiciness.
Here’s the kicker: At $5.45 a bottle, the 12 is not cheap, but it pales in comparison to what is the most expensive beer ever sold at the LCBO, the $18.40 per 12 ounce bottle Ola Dubh 40.
It is the 40 which sold out 20 cases in a single day, prompting the beer category manager to send an email to the press apologizing for the mistake and assuring us that a further 100 cases have been put on expedited order, arriving too late for the holidays, of course, but arriving nonetheless.
So let’s do the math here. The 20 cases that sold out from a single store in a single day – with no advance press, I might add – represent close to $9000 in retail sales, or the equivalent of almost 900 six-packs of mainstream beer! That is, by almost any definition, remarkable, and bodes very well for the future of high-end, eclectic beer in Ontario.
Going through a bunch of old magazines, I came across a short interview I conducted in 2003 with the head fish at Dogfish Head Brewing, Sam Calagione. What caught my eye was Sam’s excellent description of the uncertainties involved in the creation, fermentation and conditioning of his so-called “extreme” beers.
You’ve got to remember that there are probably about 40 human entities at Dogfish Head, while in one fermentation tank there are millions of yeast entities doing what they want to do. And their people aren’t always talking to our people.