The Beer Store & Bad PR: Kill the Thrill

I normally don’t post too much on local news, but this…this was a bit too tempting to resist. And the thing that started it all made me so annoyed, that rather than just rant on social media, I decided to take it to this site to get everything in one place.

So if you’re just joining us, here in Ontario there is a bit of a debate going on between The Beer Store and the Ontario Convenience Stores Association (OCSA) over selling beer and wine in convenience stores. The Beer Store, owned by Molson-Coors, Labatt, and Sleeman, are, aside from Liquor Control Board of Ontario stores, the only other place you can buy beer in the province of Ontario. Since it’s owned by three mega-beer corporations, you can probably take a wild guess as to what kind of beers you’re most likely to find there and you’d be right to assume that if you’re a small brewer who wants shelf space at their stores, you will not be able to afford it.

So the OCSA wants to open up the market and allow selling of beer and wine in convenience stores. The Beer Store, obviously enjoying the profits it makes on being pretty much the only game in town, is understandably doing everything in their power to make sure that doesn’t happen. And so, The Beer Store had a few meetings and Ontario Beer Facts was born, “Providing Ontarians with important facts on the consequences of selling beer, wine and hard liquor at corner stores and gas stations.”. The problem is that the facts they give…well, they aren’t really facts. Any points they give can mostly be slapped away by the OCSA or anyone at all who decides to take five minutes to look in to both organizations. Nevertheless, they still trudge on, taking advantage of people’s fear and stupidity as they move ahead. One such move on their part has been particularly offensive.

So above is an ad that The Beer Store just put out, showing the careless Convenience store clerk knowingly selling alcohol to minors. It’s an ad that harkens back to late-80s-early-90s PSAs about drug use and if it wasn’t officially backed by The Beer Store, I’d think it was a joke made by a parody account. The underlying point the video was trying to make was “You can not trust shopkeepers to sell this stuff. The Beer Store’s employees are specially trained so they can sell alcohol responsibly”. Which ok, I can see how that might be a good point to go with…but what if we made it so Ontario shopkeepers who want to sell alcohol in their stores be required to get SmartServe Certification? No one serving drinks in the province can work without one and the penalties for violating are harsh enough for shopkeepers to not want to even chance it. It’s a good response and one that Beer Store President Ted Moroz can’t quite answer back with anything.

Bottom line: No one is taking this new ad seriously at all and there are many people who are actively boycotting The Beer Store because of it’s blatant attempt at fearmongering to keep their profits flowing. If that makes you angry, good. It should make you angry. 

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So with that busted, the OCSA should have it pretty easy PR-wise, but…well, they’re being kind of disappointing. They have so many things on their side: family-owned business, an active support of local Ontario wines and beers, actual FACTS…but they aren’t using them, instead taking the time to snark on The Beer Store for being wrong, and that’s it. I voiced my frustration and asked questions to the OCSA and was asked to call them, but…I’m just annoyed because I shouldn’t have to call them. I shouldn’t have to dig for answers to detailed questions because they should be shouting them out to whoever will listen as their opposing argument.

In the end, we’re left in the middle of a PR mudfight between two Ontario giants and the only reason people are going with the OCSA is because they aren’t The Beer Store. I’m just suggesting that people should be going with the OCSA because they very clearly offer ________ and _________ and some ________. I suppose I’ll dig and let you folks know how it went.

In the meantime, for more amazing coverage on this debate, read Toronto writer Ben Johnson’s posts on the topic and check out Sun columnist Jordan St. John’s blog for updates. Jordan recently got sick of the commissioned reports brought out by both sides and actually got the ball rolling on an independent survey.

In the meantime, let the message stand to not trust bad PR. Call them out on it. Ask questions. Show them that you aren’t an idiot.

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So I’m a SAVEUR Magazine Best Food Blog Awards Winner

 

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Well. Uh. Wow.

So as you recall, I recently got nominated for the Saveur Magazine Best Food Blog Awards in the category of Beer & Wine. I was up against some very talented writers and was…

Ah the hell with this, I WON! I won. Reader’s Choice. I feel weird saying it. I’m still in a bit of shock. My phone has been having a stroke with the flood of texts, e-mails, and notifications of people suddenly following this little site.

SAVEUR is flying me in to Vegas and putting me up at the Bellagio. I’ll be there for two days sampling some of the finest foods and will be presented with a customized award. I’m going to try and make it in to a few choice craft beer bars while I’m there as well. Anyone who has any suggestions, please put them in the comments. Freakin’ Frog is the only one I know.

So wow. I’ll have more to say on this later, but as it stands I’m still expecting this to be a part of a really crappy episode of the Twilight Zone.

To Longtime Readers: You did this. Thank you all so much for reading. Like I said in my birthday post, if it wasn’t for you, I’d have stopped this long ago.

For New Readers: Hi there. My name is Robin LeBlanc. I live in Toronto and write about beer. Here are a few posts that give a good feel for who I am and how I write:

 

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The Thirsty Wench Turns 3

I started The Thirsty Wench for a number of reasons. The first was to create a kind of journal of what I was learning in the world of beer while at the same time showing my friends, who at that point were sending me e-mails at 3am with a pdf of the menu of a bar they were at asking me what drink they should order, what I was learning so they could make their own decisions and take in the same knowledge I was taking in. The more I learned about some of the more practical aspects of choosing and drinking a beer, the more I would write, boiling it all down in a way that even the most casual of readers could take in. I wanted my writing style to be the same as if I was talking directly to the reader in a pub. No bombarding of too many details, just some decent facts, practical examples of how to use them, and a few jokes because hey, this stuff is fun. It’s a kind of philosophy that I still try and write by.

If you had told me three years ago that this site would be at the level it is now, I would have laughed. Hell, if you had told me three years ago that I would have paid money for the domain name, I would have laughed. This was always a casual and fun thing and any level of fame the site got has always been a surprise to me. Being a regular guest on Rogers Daytime Toronto, being featured in NOW Magazine’s Beer Guide, getting interviewed for radio, being asked to speak on several panels…it’s great, it’s wonderful, and I’m honoured to have been showcased in these ways, but I can’t help but laugh in disbelief. I guess I’m still waiting for Rod Serling to pop out of some bushes and tell me it was all a dream.

Disbelief aside, beer has been good to me. It constantly surprises me and reveals new things about it every day that keeps me smiling. Through it I’ve also met an incredible community of people who are welcoming, supportive, and engaging, with our common love bringing us closer together and making the world feel a little smaller (Really, beer is a subject that, for me, has made complete strangers longtime friends). Beer is a wonderful thing on its own, but what makes it so amazing and special to me are the experiences and people around it. For those that are a part of that, thank you.

This site has been good to me as well, connecting me with more and more readers every week, all with their own stories, opinions, and suggestions. If it wasn’t for readers like you, I would have stopped this long ago. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

tl;dr, You’re all amazing superstars and I’m very grateful. Thank you.

Happy Birthday, Thirsty Wench.

Myron, take it away.

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So I’m A SAVEUR Best Food Blog Awards Finalist…uh…again!

This is a bit late, since I’ve been dealing with computer troubles and catching up on things with a clunky mobile unit, but…earlier this week the nominees for Saveur Magazine’s 5th Annual Best Food Blog Awards were announced and yours truly is a finalist in the category of Wine & Beer!

I’m really honoured to be considered once again in the awards by the editors of Saveur and feel I’m among very talented company in the category. Of course it would be amazing to win, but the fact that I got nominated is an honour in itself.

So how can you help? Well, as I understand it things have changed around from last year and there is going to be two winners in each category. One for Reader’s Pick, and one for Editor’s Pick.

For readers, all you have to do is go to the Category page, find me (I’m #5 in the Best Wine or Beer Blog category), click “VOTE FOR THIS BLOG”, go through a quick and painless registration process, and that’s it! All is done! Best part? Saveur won’t even send you anything for doing that, so don’t worry. Voting closes on APRIL 9TH, so hurry!

However this plays out, I want to again say what a thrill and honour it is to be considered for this award for a second time. It’s a good indication that somewhere along the line I’ve done something right.

 

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In Space No One Can Hear You Review A Beer: Half Pints Brewing Co.’s Black Galaxy

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Whenever friends of mine let me know they’re heading to Winnipeg to see friends (And dear god, that happens more than you would think), they always ask for a local brewery recommendation and with no pause whatsoever my response is always “Half Pints Brewing”. There are others in Winnipeg and definitely in the whole province of Manitoba, but Half Pints is the one I always suggest because they have been leading the charge on well-crafted beers since 2006 when co-owners Nicole Barry and David Rudge opened their doors as part of a grand plan to open a brewery by their early 30s.

With Rudge as Brewmaster and Barry putting her extensive accounting and business administration background to good use as the brewery’s CEO, Half Pints have slowly and steadily made their mark on the minds of beer drinkers in the province of Manitoba and beyond. From being fiercely active in their local community (one instance of note is creating “Queer Beer”, a special beer for the Winnipeg Pride Festival with proceeds of sales going to Pride Winnipeg), to consistently coming out with new and exciting beers, Half Pints stands as a good example of creative brewing and cunning business sense.

Flagships include St. James Pale Ale, Bulldog Amber Ale, Stir Stick Stout, and the incredibly popular Little Scrapper IPA. Their market includes Saskatchewan, BC, Alberta, and of course Manitoba, with the occasional feature in the eastern provinces as well. If you find yourself in Winnipeg, the brewery also does tours every Saturday starting at 1pm.

1601307_681922288535481_1551725549_nI was lucky enough to get my hands on a bottle of their newest limited release, the Black Galaxy, a Black IPA finished off with, you guessed it, Galaxy Hops. The beer has been a popular March feature since it first came out in 2012 and has had Half Pints fans shaking with anticipation ever since. The beer is about 6% ABV and is being sold at the brewery itself along with selected stores while quantities last.

…And I have to say that it’s a comfortable and strong beer. Normally when I have a Black IPA I get a lot of roasted coffee notes at the end, and while I certainly start to get the malty notes as it warms in the glass, if I was blinded in an accident and drank this beer I wouldn’t guess that it was so dark in colour. I say this because despite its colour  it’s a very bright beer. The tropical fruit notes of the Galaxy hops comes out nicely in the aroma, and those same notes come out strongly in the taste. I have to admit, I didn’t know what to think of a dark beer release so close to Spring, but I’ll be damned if this doesn’t fit the season nicely. If I’m going to borrow from the space theme this beer takes on, the aroma and taste are two bright stars in an otherwise dark space.

It’s fun to see this beer unwrap itself while drinking it, going from a bright and tropical IPA while cold and ending up as a slightly roasted hoppy dark beer as it warms.

This isn’t the first time a Half Pints beer has made me smile at my glass and say “Well, look at you!” and I doubt it will be the last. While I have no clue when I’ll next be in Winnipeg, I’ll be sure to keep this on my list of destinations when I’m there.

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The Kinda-Sorta Rise of Session Beers

So these days the words “Session Beers” are entering the mindset of beer geeks and casual beer drinkers more frequently. This isn’t a new thing at all, Session Beers are a very common type of beer, but small breweries are deciding to take a break from their usual projects to create the perfect one and the public eye is wondering just what the hell a Session Beer is.

A Session Beer is, essentially, a beer that is low in alcohol (Usually about 4.5-5% ABV or under) and thus a beer that you can drink frequently during a drinking “session”, which is a period of time where you are having several drinks.  So my version of the perfect session would be sitting on the top of my friend’s apartment building in Bushwick and splitting a six-pack of a beer that barely leaves me buzzed by the end. But really, a session can be spent alone or with friends, at a bar or in the comfort of your own home. Wherever good times are had. There are other aspects to what makes an arguably good session beer, such as balance of flavour and reasonable price and so on, but they are by no means strict rules that one must follow (although I will agree that they are somewhat in line with the spirit of the social aspect).

If you’ve had beers like Guinness, Pilsner Urquell, Newcastle Brown, or even Blue Moon, you’ve had a session beer before. They’re nothing new (Like I said, it’s just an alcohol level). So why am I telling you this?

Because in a craft beer climate where breweries seem to be looking for the next Big Beer (Here, have this Imperial Belgian Stout aged in Bourbon & Absinthe barrels that is roughly 12% ABV!), it pays to know that it is possible to have something simple and finely crafted. Don’t get me wrong, I adore geeking out over over a sample of rum-barrel aged barleywines or basking in the beautiful aromas of an Imperial IPA, but at the end of a particularly tiring day of work, I tend to go for a beer that doesn’t get me buzzed after half a glass and is something I have the option of not thinking about if I don’t want to. The latter is particularly important to me if I really just want to relax. Also, it may be just me, but I think that Sessionable beers have a better chance of “converting” folks on to the smaller breweries than the sensory explosions do. Not that the big ABV lads don’t pull their weight, it’s just I’ve often found the smaller alcohol beers that are made very well end up being great Gateway Beers. It’s for that reason that I think small breweries are starting to put some nice session beers in to their brewing schedules lately.

One such beer that is making the rounds up here in Ontario is Detour Session IPA by Muskoka Brewery and it pretty much matches my criteria for a great session beer. At 4.3% ABV and hopped with Eldorado, Sorachi, and Citra hops, this is a beer with gorgeous, subtle, citrus aromas, a subtle note of mandarin oranges in the taste and a quick dry finish. It’s a very well balanced beer, hoppy enough for you to take notice, but not too hoppy so you’ll end up thinking about it too much. Were we not having lousy Smarch weather right now, I’d be out on the porch slowly sipping this beer. Instead I’ll settle for sipping this at the end of the day in my office and know that I have something to look forward to in the brutal heat of summer.

GoToIPA_6packIn Amerika, the big one that has exploded right now is Stone Brewery’s Go To IPA, which at first was a bit weird to think that Stone would do a 4.5% beer, but then I remembered that they have their Levitation Ale which is 0.1% lower (HUGE difference, I know…).

For more information on some amazing international Session Beers out there, I can’t recommend The Session Beer Project enough. This site has been going on with sporadic updates since 2009 and has been an absolute joy to go through. Be sure to subscribe to it or just flip through the archives.

So when you hear someone say that their beer is really “sessionable”, what they mean is that you can drink a few of them without having to worry about waking up in a city you’ve never been in married to someone you’ve never met. Sometimes that’s a really good thing and after a long day where all you want to do is chill out a bit, it’s the perfect thing.

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Ü Two Should Meet – Chocolate & Beer Pairings

It was my parent’s 30th wedding anniversary recently. As a celebration, a family friend sent over a box of chocolates that were, to put it mildly, a decadent experience that transported us all to Cloud 9. Rich, smooth, creamy, and bursting with flavour, we vowed never to get celebration chocolates from the grocery store again. The chocolates were made by Ü Chocolate for the World a local business run by Mother & Son team Lydia and Andy Yue. Lydia, a longtime veteran chocolate maker, originally rose to confectionary stardom with her business Chocolateur, which had two storefronts in London, Ontario’s Masonville Place and Toronto’s Eaton Centre. Now, after an absence of more than twenty years, Lydia has returned and making confectionaries with high quality ingredients and incredibly rich and creamy swiss chocolate.

If you’re in Toronto, Ü Chocolate for the World has a temporary storefront at Holt Renfrew (50 Bloor Street West) for the 13th and 14th only. If you miss those dates or live elsewhere in North America, you’re in luck! They’re primarily an online shop, and can provide boxes of their wonderful truffles, chocolate coated fruits, and custom gift novelties.

So anyways…after being sent to heaven with these chocolates, I thought that it was about time I did a post on chocolate and beer pairing. And what better way to level the quality playing field than by pairing excellent beers with excellent chocolates? After all, a bar of generic, waxy, milk chocolate bought in a grocery store is going to provide a different experience than a well-crafted chocolate made with quality ingredients. It pays to have good quality on both sides of the pairing to get the best overall experience.

So chocolate primarily seems to go well with the darker beers such as stouts, porters and brown ales, with the occasional nod going to Barley Wines or a nice Pilsner. But like all pairings, it all depends on your personal preference to taste as well as the quality of what you’re pairing.

Now, for the selection of some of these, I went with what seemed to me like a fairly logical pairing based on what I knew about the beers. Sometimes they worked out, sometimes they didn’t and I had to figure out something else. As a result, I not only went with a dark and milk chocolate truffle pairing, but also went for two of the flavoured ones as well (I mean hey, you get a box of chocolates and it’s not just straight up milk and dark, right?). I have to say in, ahem, researching for this post, I was quite surprised by the tastes that went with the beers selected.

So here we go.

Dark Chocolate - Mort Subite Kriek Sour Cherry Lambic

Mort Subite Kriek is usually a beer I break out when I learn that a person doesn’t drink beer because of the bitter taste. It’s a good introduction to the versatility of beer and is a lovely occasional treat to pick up at the LCBO. While this particular one, brewed in Belgium’s Brouwerij Mort Subite, is made with cherries, the brewery does have a Raspberry variation as well. I find that one a bit too sweet though, and appreciate the wonderful sour cherries used in the Kriek.

I always love matching rich, bitter, dark chocolate with the taste of cherries and the choice of pairing the dark chocolate truffle with the cherry lambic was a wise one. The tartness was brought out more with the chocolate and provided a breif, wonderful explosion of cherry and cocoa, almost as if I was eating a cherry flavoured truffle. As the flavours died down, the sour notes of the lambic continued to swirl around my tongue while the chocolate provided and nice, creamy finish.

Mango - Chimay Grande Réserve (Blue Cap) Dark Belgian Ale

Admittedly this one threw me for a bit of a loop. The Mango certainley wasn’t my first choice for the pairing, but as an experiment I decided to try it out and…well, it worked. Marvelously in fact. Definitely helps that the chocolate was of extremely high quality, with the Mango flavours less overt and medicinal and more natural and subtle. The dried fruit and malty notes of the Chimay blended nicely with the subtle Mango note at the back. The alcohol burn I normally find in this Dark Belgian ale was all but diminished, making for a creamy, slightly dessert-like experience.

Milk Chocolate – Black Oak Nut Brown Ale

Again, I had a bit of a trial and error with this one. Unfortunately, dark chocolates paired with this beer just didn’t do either of them justice. But there was the Milk Chocolate truffle and I thought “Why not? Two longtime, solid favourites coming together. Let’s see how it goes.” and sure enough, it went well. The sweet creaminess of the milk chocolate matched the dark, slightly bitter malty notes and distinctive hop characteristics perfectly.

Irish Cream – Wellington Russian Imperial Stout

You can’t go wrong with Irish Cream Coffee, and the Wellington Russian Imperial Stout, with it’s strong cocoa and coffee flavours, was the perfect pairing for the milk chocolate Irish Cream chocolate and made for a wonderful final pairing on par with a nice cup of coffee with dessert.

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