Passing The Bar – Tips For Ordering Beer

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In the years I’ve been writing about beer the biggest question I still get asked is quite simply “What do I order?”. As amazing as it is that beer selection is growing in places, for the beginner in to that world (Hell, at times even to a seasoned veteran of the scene), the Beer Menu can be a source of indecision and even intimidation.

So here are a couple of tips that, in my experience, help me in figuring out just what the hell I want when I go to a good bar. KEEP IN MIND: This is in no way a definitive list of rules that will have you going down a specific path of tastes. I’m trying my best to steer away from beer suggestions because, like in all things from food to comic tastes, you need to work out which beers you enjoy and take note of what you’re in the mood for. The following will definitely help you figure things out though, and are designed to be the first steps in to what will be your own process in figuring it out.

 

Don’t Be a Jerk

Before we get in to the fun bit about ordering a drink, something should be said about the unspoken code of conduct. There are a number of dos and don’ts but they all go under the one unifying rule of “don’t be a jerk”. Don’t be too rowdy, be polite to your server, and be respectful of the other patrons of the establishment. You’re in a building being run by people who are earning a wage and filled with other people trying to relax. Don’t be a jerk. Remember that and you’ll be fine. Plus it’s always great being a favourite customer.

Ordering

DSC_0125Depending on the place you’ve picked, you’ll be faced with the same problem that many people before you over the course of centuries has faced; what to order. Sometimes the beer menu of a place can be so large and intimidating you wouldn’t know where to start and the chance of ordering something you weren’t really looking for is there.

Ordering the right beer for you is very much like taking a multiple choice quiz. Eliminate as many of the options as you can to narrow it down to something that is probably the right one (for you). The first thing to do is ask what exactly you feel like. As your starting on figuring things out in terms of flavours, it can be as simple as “crisp and light” and “dark and malty”, then as you get more in to things you’ll be able to figure out the specific cravings, such as hoppy beer, sour beers, something aged in bourbon barrels, etc. If there is anything on the menu that looks like it may match with what you’re after, give it a try. Other things to keep in mind are price range, ABV and how long you’re planning on being out. If you’d like a nice evening out without getting blasted and you’re on a limited budget, the $40 bottle of 15% abv beer might not be for you.

While that’s always the first move, the following are other routes you can go in making a decision.

ASK YOUR SERVER

Chances are good, especially if you’re at a craft beer place, that your server will know a good deal about the selection. Tell them what kind of tastes you’re in the mood for and they will do their absolute best to find a beer for you. If the beer they pick is on tap, they will give you a small sample to try it out.

ASK FOR A SAMPLE

If you’ve narrowed the menu down to two choices, ask your server for a sample and they will send over a shot glass full of the beer to help you decide. While these are free, there is an unspoken etiquette that demands you not go past two samples. By that point you’re wasting everyone’s time and you should get to ordering.

ORDER A FLIGHT

IMG_8350This is one of my favourite options when faced with an overwhelming beer menu. Some places offer the option to order a flight of beers. Usually a flight is about 4-5 5oz glasses filled with whatever beers they have on the menu. Flights are an amazing way to get to try a wide range of beers without spending too much money and, in the case of indecision, will help you find a beer that may well be your favourite of the night. If the place you’re in offers flights, I strongly suggest getting a few.

GET A LITTLE EXPERIMENTAL

Another fun thing about going to places that have a wide range of beers available is to experiment. This is a fun thing to do both alone or with a group of friends (the latter however is better to sample if cost is an issue). The key to this is to pick whatever sounds interesting to you! A porter made with coconut? An IPA with Watermelon? Why not? Give it a try! As expected, your experience for this will be very hit and miss, but you at least have tried several beers that are new to you and can log away which ones do and don’t work for you. Additionally, if you’re out with a group of friends and there’s an expensive bottle you all want to try? Order it, and split the beer and the costs.

And there you go. No doubt there are other folks who have their own tips (feel free to comment), but for some outright basics, I tend to go with those. The important thing to remember as well is to have fun and don’t stress out too much about it. If you can’t nail down a specific beer, just go with the flight. Either way, the ordering process should be quick, painless, and getting you going on enjoying the rest of your night.

 

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International Women’s Day

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So today is International Women’s Day. Although it’s something we should be doing all year-round anyways, this day in particular allows us to look at and honour all of the females that are extremely important to us and have been, in their own amazing ways, making a hell of a dent in things.

For the beer world…there’s still some work to do. But we know that. We’re getting better. We’re getting so significantly, amazingly better, but we still have some work to do. And not just on women. People of colour, LGBT folk…quite a lot of groups that are feeling pretty marginalized. These are all pretty damn key demographics. I recognize that there’s no outright way to advertise to each of these groups without coming off as a MASSIVE generalizing asshat, but in the meantime little things, sponsoring marches, pouring beer at events held by a female game developer groups (tip of the hat to Liberty Village Brewing Company, who I just discovered is doing this​), and just being there with the welcome sign and refusing to support the people on the wrong side of history…these seemingly small differences matter.

For women in beer, I feel that we seem to pull out the usual historical facts. Beer brewing was women’s work. It was primarily a woman’s job (part of cooking). The Sumerians worshipped a GODDESS of beer, Ninkasi, with which a prayer to her is the first recorded recipe in human civilization. This history is amazing to note. It’s a wonderful look back on how much of a dent women made in the world’s existence.

But just like any other industry or interest group, we don’t need to justify our love of something, or our very presence, with historical tidbits. Never did. We love it, and that’s that. A woman wanting to get involved in anything she loves should be celebrated as someone following their dreams and making it work, not be made big news with headlines of confusion because only men love this thing. The latter is absolute nonsense and the sooner we’re away from that line of thinking the better.

So I for one am going to raise a glass to all of the important women in my life. All the brewers, reps, writers, game devs, game players, comic creators, office workers, chefs, racers, fighters…all of you, who are perfectly comfortable with standing up and saying “I don’t care what you think, I like it”.

Cheers.

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An Unexpected Brewery – Central City’s Hobbit Beers

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Considering that I’m writing this post with the Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack playing and a replica of the One Ring To Rule Them All hanging from a silver chain around my neck, I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’m a fan of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work. The world, the languages, the beautiful stories that go on throughout his books are nothing short of masterpieces for me. While my preference tends to lie with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it’s children’s book sibling, The Hobbit, has a special place in my heart as a book that I would escape to when the trials and pressures of being a Grade Fiver would get to me (not a joke, there were plenty). So when a movie trilogy based on the book was being made I was optimistic. The movies are great. They’re no Lord of the Rings (Extended OR theatrical), but they’re fantastic films all the same, that capture many of the characters, in particular the company of Dwarves, in a way that really made the fifth grader in me smile.

So it’s with that same level of optimism I had when I learned that Central City Brewers + Distillers out of Surrey, B.C. would be making a series of beers based on The Hobbit films. The beers would essentially be a Canadian version of Olympia, Washington brewer Fish Brewing Co.‘s Hobbit beers, with Central City using their recipe. So Canada would have a beer based on a movie based on a book that is based on an American beer based on a movie based on a book. The thought of adaptation in this is very interesting and I’m sure that Central City adapted as well as changed slightly to create a series of beers that is altogether unique.

I’m actually a huge fan of beers based on franchises, since the name attached tends to, not totally unlike Bilbo Baggins, get people not inclined to be adventurous with beer to try something new. However, there were a few hurdles to overcome, the big one of these being timing. Fish Brewing came out with their beers in the Fall of last year, which left Central City racing to get their beers finished and out in time for the release of the final Hobbit film. And as an Ontario resident I’d like to add my personal gripe of the beers being available in all provinces of Canada EXCEPT Ontario, with the LCBO deciding not to go with it for reasons that I can only speculate on (hooray).

But anyways! You aren’t here to read my Ontario Retail System slashfic, you came to read about these Hobbit beers! Let’s get to them!

Bolg Belgian Tripel (9.5% ABV): The albino Orc Azog is one of the primary antagonists in the Hobbit film, having killed Thorin Oakensheild’s grandfather, the king under the mountain by beheading him. Thorin managed to cut off his arm, but Azog merely retreated and was able to hunt down his nemesis Thorin with his son Bolg. But the movie actually demoted Bolg, whose father is long dead and is merely mentioned by name in the book, with his son actually being the Orc leader of the Misty Mountains and leader of the Goblins of Moria.

All that to mean that for whatever reason, Bolg’s role in The Hobbit is one of the more problematic and ill-conceived (at least in the movie version). He doesn’t totally work and, I’m afraid, the beer, a belgian tripel, doesn’t either. To its credit, it starts out with promise. Both aroma and taste have some lovely notes of honey, dried fruit, and cloves in them. But the taste falls apart at the end, when things get far, far too bitter.

The Precious Pils (5% ABV): Oooooh we likes it, Precious! We likes it! The colour is golden like the Precious! Golden, Precious! Very balanced, it is, with slight grainses and a clean finish, Precious! The dry note at the end is especially good!

*Gollum! Gollum!*

As it warms the dryness grows, but we still likes it, Precious! We likes it! All ours! Forever and ever!

*Gollum! Gollum!*

Smaug Stout (8.5 ABV): “Revenge! Revenge! The King under the Mountain is dead and where are his kin that dare seek revenge? Girion Lord of Dale is dead, and I have eaten his people like a wolf among sheep, and where are his sons’ sons that dare approach me? I kill where I wish and none dare resist. I laid low the warriors of old and their like is not in the world today. Then I was but young and tender. Now I am old and strong, strong, strong, Thief in the Shadows!”

With a quote like that, you would expect that a beer named after a huge, heavily armoured dragon, especially Smaug, to be pretty damn big. So it’s with no surprise whatsoever that it’s an 8.5% ABV Imperial Stout with Habanero Chilis was created to honour the Dragon who took over the Lonely Mountain.

The aroma sets up a really good expectation, as the chilis come out very prominently, followed closely with its friends cocoa and coffee. The taste is incredibly creamy and smooth. Very well-balanced. A bit disappointing, as the chili notes in the flavour was a lot more subtle than the aroma led me to think it would be, but that aside, it’s an incredibly well put together stout.

All in all, two of the three offerings blew me away. The pilsner is a thing of beauty and the Smaug Stout is an incredibly close second.

Now go gather some of your close Dwarf and Hobbit friends, pour a drink, and sing a song. Or read the book together. Whichever works.

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“Hey, ho, to the bottle I go,
To heal my heart and drown my woe!
Rain may fall and wind may blow,
But there still beeeeee many miles to go!

Sweet is the sound of the pouring rain,
And stream that falls from hill to plain!
Better than rain or rippling brook,
Is a mug of beer inside this Took!

Strange and dark is the world outside,
But in the pub we’ve naught to hide!
With lots of ale, and barley wine,
This evenin’ is surpassin’ fine!

Harvest’s in and cold without,
An’ hobbits strong are hobbits stout!
Naught to fear, and naught to think,
For hobbits nowwww have ale to drink!”

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The Divination Six Pack – Beer & The Tarot

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One of the things I’m often asked to do when trying beers is to assign a particular profile to whatever it is I’m drinking. This works as a descriptor of when/where to try a beer, but like with all things that involve taste and smell, it’s entirely subjective. To me a hotdog is best enjoyed on a city block while trying to fight away pigeons, whereas to others it might be in a baseball stadium. Each person has a different ideal scenario for what they’re having and each one has a very specific kind of emotional attachment to that scenario.

But hold on, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s go back a couple of nights.

So I’m chatting with a friend of mine, Philosophy Professor and Occult Reality Augmentation Man-About-Town, Damien Patrick Williams about the popular method of divination, the Tarot Cards. Within that he brings up his own unique way of doing Tarot pulls that don’t involve the actual cards. Instead, he puts his music player on shuffle. When he asks his question (let’s say “How do I see myself?”), a song will come up and he’ll take in the lyrics and his emotional reaction to the song and figure out how it fits in to his question.  He feels that it works similar to the tarot, but also has the ability to provide a bit more nuance than cards, as songs can make you feel a whole mix of feelings at the same time.

This got me thinking about beer. After all, each beer has incredibly unique flavour profiles and brings about its own unique emotional response. If there was a way to create a randomized list of beers, could I do the same thing that Damien did with his music player? I decided to find out.

In creating a “deck”, I formed a list of a healthy mix of Ontario beers that were the resulted wins of the 2014 Ontario Brewing Awards, which involved three beers in each section, which was many different styles from Lite Beer to Dark IPA, to Wit Beer. To make things easier for a pull, I removed beers that either no longer existed (and that I hadn’t tried) or would be impossible for me to try in the span of a few days, leaving a grand total of 62 beers for this experiment. After making the list, I ran it through a list randomizer several times and it was complete.

To do a reading all you have to do is go to a random number generator, think about your question, and click “Generate”. Look up the number in the beer list, and then think about (or try!) the beer, noting it’s full flavour profile and what you think of it, including situations where you think it would be ideal to drink it in (and think about how you would feel about that situation, good or bad?). With those connections made, think about how they relate to your question and how they apply to you.

Removing the Tarot element of this, I feel it’s an excellent exercise in really getting to think about the connection you have with certain beers and may help you for pick out selections in the future. It’ll provide some context in your thought process and help you understand what kind of beer you want when faced with the dilemma of “what should I have?”. Additionally, this would be a really fun way to share beers with friends, as you can create a Divination 6-pack for them as a gift.

For the Ontario folks, I have this handy-dandy list pre-made, so you can use that (though feel free to make your own). For everyone else, at last we have a use for lists that web sites make! Ratebeer has a top 50 beer list section that can be customized, or you could spend an hour or so creating your own. The more there is on the list, the better. All you need is the random number generator and you’re good to go.

As for the questions, I’ve kept it simple but strong with six ones. You as you see yourself, you as others see you, your goal, recent past, near future, and ultimate outcome. As an example, I’ve done a pull of my own below. While I’m not going to give you specific aspects of my life, I have included my personal reaction to the results and have outlined the ones I feel have the strongest connection.

And here we go.

You As You See Yourself: Highlander Brew Company  Scottish Ale – A very soft-spoken beer in the public eye, but revealed to have a level of complexity due to the malts.

You As Others See You: F&M Stone Hammer Maple Red Ale – An all together solid beer and arguably one of the most solid from this particular brewery, it’s an Amber Ale brewed with locally sourced maple syrup. However, it isn’t to everyone’s tastes. Folks will either have one and never think of it again, or reach for another

Your Goal: Amsterdam Brewery – Downtown Brown – Whenever I think of Downtown Brown, I tend to think of “Balance”. While it has many of the elements of a solid, grounded brown ale, there is also a level of lightness to its taste that makes it a drink that doesn’t demand a certain atmosphere to enjoy it with. Very easy-going but grounded.

Recent Past: Molson-Coors Rickard’s White – Rickard’s White is actually a pretty good beer, but in America, where the exact beer is known as Blue Moon, it is a a beer that is constantly mistaken for something made by a smaller brewery (When in reality it’s made by one of the largest). As a result, there is a deep mistrust among the craft beer crowd and it has the image of trying to be something that it is not.

Near Future: Mill Street Frambozen – A very bright and sweet beer, ideally preferred in the sunshine. However, the taste is quite brief. (Only real personal note – Am planning a trip to Montreal soon)

Ultimate Outcome: Wellington Imperial Russian Stout – With several exceptions, I often view Imperial Stouts as the grand finale beer of a particularly trying day. With it’s dark roasted notes and slight alcohol burn, it’s a beer that’s meant to be savoured and sipped slowly. My ideal circumstance would be sitting in an easy chair with some music playing and a good book. Ultimately, with an Imperial Stout, in particular this one, I’d like to unwind from something with it. While this may not be my absolute first choice, it’s a damn good choice nonetheless.

And there you have it.

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Beer Nog, Holiday Message, and Good Tidings

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Well, it’s that time of year again, where a bearded fat man, in celebration of Jesus, breaks in to your house in the middle of the night, eats your food, and leaves a few things before moving on to the next house. For others who don’t recognize this bizarre annual disturbance, it is also the holidays and a good bit of time off work.

There are many ways (and reasons) to enjoy beer over the holidays and the variety is, as it has always been, limitless (though in the cold winter months I’ve noticed many folks tend to go with the dark and/or boozy beers like Imperial Stouts, Belgian Tripels, or Dark IPAs). While of course nothing quite beats enjoying them in a glass on their own to either wrap up a day of gift wrapping or in an attempt to shut out the family arguments, there is a way to combine your beer with the OTHER favourite drink of the holidays. I refer, of course, to the ‘Nog.

Yep, you can indeed mix eggnog with your beer, though picking the right beer isn’t as easy as it sounds. It can’t be too bitter or too dry, so something creamy and a touch on the sweet side would do marvelously. Beers I would suggest to use are Mill Street‘s Vanilla Porter, New Holland Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout, or North Coast Old Rasputin Imperial Stout. Though thinking on it, a nice coffee stout might also go pretty wonderfully. If any of you folks have other suggestions, please please PLEASE put them in the comments.

Now that a beer is picked you have two ways of going about it. You can either do a mix with store bought eggnog or you can make your own. If you’re going with the first method, I’d suggest 3 parts of nog to about 2 parts of beer. Possibly throw in a bit of milk and nutmeg/cinnamon.

For the make-it-your-own method, the author of The Craft of Stone Brewing Co. and The Sriracha Cookbook Randy Clemens made a damned good recipe way back in 2009. Here it is…

Beer Nog Recipe

6 eggs*, separated
1/2 c sugar, plus 2 Tbsp
2 1/2 c whole milk
1 1/2 c heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
10 fl oz of beer (Clemens suggests Port Brewing Old Viscosity or other dark, strong ale)
2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

Whisk 6 egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer for several minutes, until the yolks lighten in color and double in volume. Lower speed of mixer and add milk, cream, vanilla, beer, and nutmeg, stirring until combined. Reserve yolk mixture. Wash mixer bowl and whisk attachment thoroughly (any traces of dairy or egg yolk left on equipment will keep the egg whites from whipping properly).

Whisk 6 egg whites in cleaned stand mixer on high. Gradually add in remaining 2 Tbsp sugar and continue whisking until stiff peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into yolk mixture. Chill and serve, topping each glass with additional grated nutmeg if desired. Serves 8.

And with that, I just wanted to say Happy Holidays from me and mine to you and yours. I’ll go in to a bit more detail on my new year’s post, but 2014 was a hell of a year for this little site and its humble but pretty tall author and none of it would have happened without viewers like you. Thanks for reading, thanks for talking, and I hope your holidays, however you spend them, are as relaxing as they can be.

 

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The Blood of Cthulhu – A Lovecraftian Beer Review

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So before I go in to it here, I should offer some explanation. I was offered to sample a beer for consideration of a review and, based on the name and label design, I immediately said yes. The beer is called The Blood of Cthulhu. It’s put out by Sawdust City Brewing Co. from Gravenhurst, Ontario and is in collaboration with Bar Hop from right here in Toronto. It’s a 9.5% ABV Imperial Stout with raspberries, cranberries, and tart cherries. It will officially be launching at Sawdust City’s brewery location (with limited availability in bottles) and at Bar Hop’s annual Black & Orange Halloween celebration on October 31st at 5pm. Should be said too that Bar Hop’s Black & Orange will have a series of multiple collaborations with other breweries and it’ll be a hellishly good time.

IMG_0456So as for this beer specifically…you know, when I approach this time of year I find I start reading a good bit of horror fiction. Of course one can’t really go in to that genre without catching references to the famous H.P. Lovecraft, creator of the Cthulhu mythos among other incredible stories that leave the imagination reeling. Upon hearing of this beer, I thought it would be a fitting tribute (not to mention fun as hell) to write a review in the style of a short H.P. Lovecraft story. I should note as well that while much of this story is original, I did in some cases directly pull from Lovecraft’s famous story The Call of Cthulhu.

Here it is.

——————-

Tuesday, October 28, 2014
I have just been notified by Samuel Corbeil, noted brewer of Sawdust City Brewing Company and former Professor of Brewmaster and Brewery Relations at the Niagara College of Applied Arts and Technology in Niagara, Ontario that there is a certain item he wishes me to appraise. A dark liquid of strange and dark origins encased in a receptacle with sharp engravings that surpasses the knowledge of noted historians and archeologists of his acquaintance. Normally in cases with such profound mystery as this, Prof. Corbeil would not hesitate to defer to his associate, head brewer and creative liaison Aaron Spinney whose experiences in his search for the more esoteric pleasures of the world have, despite his reputation in polite society, required him to associate with the strange and arcane. However, recent events have found Mr. Spinney to be missing without a trace, the last Corbeil seeing him being before he departed on an expedition to the South Pacific some six months ago. There was, however, a recent correspondence in the form of a telegram, which was delivered to Corbeil in September. It has been speculated that this strange item may have been indeed sent by Mr. Spinney, though Prof. Corbeil is unsure of how it came to be in his study or who in fact delivered it.

On seeing my old friend nearing the end of his wits, I have agreed to appraise the item and have arranged for it to be sent to me at my home address. Included with it will be Mr. Spinney’s final communication and notes that precluded his mysterious disappearance, which I hope will provide some insight in to the location of his whereabouts.

I look forward to discovering what secrets this strange item may hold and will, of course, be writing my findings with the intent to publish.

October 29, 2014
After a rather tiring day of running errands throughout the city, I arrived at home to find the parcel from Prof. Corbeil along with the accompanying notes of the missing Aaron Spinney as well as his letters of correspondence. The item which has been the source of mystery for my colleagues is a strange, dark, receptacle. While obviously a bottle of dark glass, the etchings all around it seem to be that of a language with the cryptic regularity which lurks in prehistoric writings. Equally curious is a figure in the glass that can only be described as a monster or symbol only a diseased fancy could conceive. At a cursory glance, this appears to be a container for a divine drink used for particular rituals. But as for what god this is in reference to, I can not even speculate at this moment.

The accompanying notes included comments on secret societies and hidden cults, accounts of queer dreams, and cuttings alluding to outbreaks of group mania in the spring of 2013. They also tell the tale of a Mr. Robert Pingitore, A man of known genius but great eccentricity and the owner of the now-famous Bar Hop on King Street West. He arrived at the office of Mr. Spinney one night troubled and requesting insight from his trusted friend. Mr. Spinney’s response was curt, as he was deep in to his research on a current project. Pingitore’s rejoinder, though, impressed him enough to record their fantastical conversation. It transpired that the night before there had been a slight earth tremor and Pingitore’s imagination had been keenly affected. Upon retiring, he had an unprecedented dream of great Cyclopean cities of titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths, all dripping with ooze as red as cranberries and sinister with latent horror under a sky that was as black as the darkest of chocolates. Hieroglyphics had covered the walls and pillars, and from some undetermined point below had come a voice that was not a voice; a chaotic sensation which only fancy could transmute into sound, but which he attempted to render by the almost unpronounceable jumble of letters, “Cthulhu fhtagn”.

Photo 2014-10-29, 6 12 10 PMIt is in this moment that I pause to note the striking coincidence in the jumble of letters that Mr. Pingitore dreamed of that Mr. Spinney recalls in his last telegram. It reads: “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”. These words only appear one other time throughout his notes, alongside an image not unlike the bizarre creature etched in the mysterious bottle. Underneath this crude sketch are what I can only conclude is the translation of the words. “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming”.

With this new information, I turned once more to the mysterious bottle, now seeming to be the center of this particular chain of events. I decided to take a chance by opening the bottle so that I may study its contents.

what poured out was a liquid as dark and black as obsidian. Despite the dark colour leading to the expectancy of a rather potent, syrupy smell, all that is on the aroma of the liquid is rather light, with hints of raspberries and an ever slight presence of chocolate. What possessed me, I know not, but I took a sip of this libation and found that the expectations that the aroma presented me with were not only met, but exceeded upon. My senses came alive with the swirling chaos of flavours. The prominent essence of raspberry, followed by the mild bitterness of cranberries, and the subtle note of tart cherries, all bound together by the warm, calming notes of high quality cocoa and the overall texture of rich cream.

As I snapped out of this transcendental state of flavour and pleasure, I noticed that I had lost several hours and that the contents of the bottle were diminished to mere drops. With a light head and the memories of the pleasant gratification of the senses, I will retire to my chambers for the night.

October 30, 2014
Whether it was a result of my imagination being affected by my findings the day before or some other cause, upon retiring last night I was constantly in a state of unrest due to the most bizarre dreams that haunt me still in my waking hours.

I was aboard the Intrepid, the ship that Mr. Spinney and his expedition sailed on with intentions of heading towards the South Pacific. The sky was a deep blood red and the wind harsh. As I looked around, the ship appeared to be in a state of long abandon, with mould, barnacles, and rust prominently covering the area. What can be described as a rushing sound came from beyond the hull and I made my way towards the area to investigate the cause of such a noise. I found that something was arising from the depths of the ocean and there was very little water separating it from the world above. What rose were structures of weed and ooze-covered Cyclopean masonry which can be nothing less than the tangible substance of earth’s supreme terror. The construct that Spinney’s scripture alluded to in his notes and what I now know to be the nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh, that was built in measureless aeons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars.

And through the depths of that poison city it arose. The Thing of the idols, the green, sticky spawn of the stars, had awaked to claim his own. Once again the stars were right and the dreaded high priest, the monstrous creature governed by laws that are not of this earth and whose description defies sanity, Cthulhu, was on the loose once more!

I awoke screaming, and it took a not insignificant amount of time to console myself that what I saw was the result of an overactive imagination and not a vision of the horrors to come brought on by the divine elixir, what I now refer to as the Blood of Cthulhu, which was used in practices relating to this horrific being. I must confess though, a hesitancy to accept this comforting thought.

I have been left shaken and, satisfied that I have solved some portion of the mystery of the object that has confounded Prof. Corbeil, return the items he provided me with. With them shall go this record of mine – this test of my own sanity, wherein is pieced together that which I hope may never be pieced together again. I have looked upon all that the universe has to hold of horror, and even the skies of spring and the flowers of summer must ever afterward be poison to me.

I must conclude that it was a harsh storm that overtook The Intrepid and with it Mr. Spinney, or else the world would by now be screaming with fright and frenzy. But who knows the end? Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men. What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise again.

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Louis Cifer Brew Works (House Beer Review Edition)

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I didn’t mean to do a review on Louis Cifer Brew Works, but my small notes turned into something a bit more solid and, well, here we are.

So a bit about the place. Louis Cifer (yes, yes, fans of Angel Heart, it’s a play on De Niro’s devil character. Lou-Cifer) is a brewpub in the Danforth area put together by Erin Gamelin, the owner of the well-known Stouts Irish Pub. It features 26 taps pouring a selection of guest beers along with a proposed ever increasing selection of Louis Cifer’s house beers, brewed by Brewmaster Christine Nagy, a recent grad from Niagara College Teaching Brewery with experience interning at Big Rock Brewery in Calgary, Alberta and working with the folks at Silversmith Brewing in Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario. There are additional plans to have a barrel room in the basement. Aside from that, food promised to be pub fare, with the overall concept of the place being geared mainly towards people who are unfamiliar with the world of craft beer.

Unavoidable to notice, however, were the reviews that were coming out shortly after it’s soft launch earlier this week. Not just in local news sources, but hearing personally from people about it. In regards to the beer, the things I heard ranged from the simple “not up to snuff” to the, frankly, dramatic. Even more worrying was finding out that the brewpub…didn’t actually have the “brew” part down. The in-house brewing facility has not been installed yet, with the house beers brewed at Railway City Brewing in St. Thomas, Ontario.

So today I found myself finished with errands in the Danforth area and caught in the rain. I noticed the place and, remembering the things I heard from it already, decided to check it out and reach my own opinions. It should be noted that I didn’t order any food, so I can’t comment on any of that.

Before I head on to reviewing the house beers, a couple of points:

  • The lack of brewing facility is due to two factors. Firstly, they’re having a bit of trouble retrofitting their current gear for use and the second is that the red tape to get everything okayed took longer than expected. I have been told that now it’s just a matter of installing it and getting the certification. ETA for a fully workable and ready-to-brew facility is 1-2 months.
  • And this is a big one for me. It was recently reported that the house beers were being brewed at Railway City in St. Thomas. I discovered that the beers are actually being brewed in multiple breweries, each with different brewing facilities. I suspect that one of the problems people have with the house beers is because of this, as different facilities and making the translation work would be a pain in the ass.
  • One of my annoyances is the lack of originality with the names of the beers considering the devil theme. So far there are only two with names, the Louis Cifer IPA and the Dirty Blonde. The rest are just given the names of their styles. “lager”, “Bock” and so on. Apparently they have plans on actually naming their beers later on.

On to the beers:

Lager:  Unfiltered. Nice creamy note with a whole whack of biscuit and a really nice dry finish. Incredibly solid and enjoyable. This one has proved to be the beer that staff suggest when someone asks for a Molson or Stella.

Louis Cifer IPA:  I kind of get the feeling that this doesn’t know whether it’s an English or American style IPA. The malt is pretty over the top and kind of ruins the bitter finish, which I felt started too late. I definitely feel like it needs more balance. Additionally, they have plans to dry hop this beer for future versions.

Bock:  Not carbonated and a whole whack of molasses but finishes with a nice twist of bitterness. Needs to warm up to be fully appreciated. Frankly, this one has a lot of great potential. This is part of their ongoing experiments, which is limited to two kegs. Get it carbonated a little more and age that sucker in bourbon barrels and it’ll be very worthwhile.

Stout:  Also part of the experiment series and limited to two kegs. More bitter than the IPA. Too much coffee notes and the flavours just start and end with bitter, which is not great. Lower the coffee notes, bring up the cocoa notes and (a thing they were going to do anyways) make it a nitro stout to add a bit of creaminess, and it could very well be a nice winter warmer.

Dirty Blonde Blonde-Brown Ale Hybrid:  This baffles me because despite the light colour of the beer, if I close my eyes I swear I’m drinking a pretty thin tasting English brown that has a touch too much carbonation. With that confusion out of the way, there’s a good bit of balance there and provides a bit of an interesting mix. Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t mind trying a one-off nitro version of this just to see how it is.

Conclusion:

Surprise surprise, it’s too early to tell. I feel in regards of the house beers they tripped on the starting shot. There are a couple of problems I have with the beers that are easy to fix and, to be honest, I feel that the brewmaster should have nipped those in the bud months ago. That said, there’s definitely a lack of harmony in how these are and I feel a big portion of that is due to making beer in multiple brewing facilities with different setups. I get a lot of “lost in translation” in these beers more than anything and can’t help but think it may have been less of a headache and less a chance of inconsistency for Brewmaster Nagy if they just…waited until their own brewing facility was installed and good to go. They could have easily glided with their impressive guest tap selection and a mea culpa, I feel.

When there’s more harmony and they have their facility up and running, I’ll be coming back. I want to see how the Bock is after a few more batches and I hope that stout gets worked out.

As a beer geek there’s an acceptable amount of guest taps with an experimental streak to Brewmaster Nagy that, at the moment, is at least worth keeping an eye on. But the vibe I’ve been getting is that this a place for people to take their first steps with beer. In the area it’s placed at, with more and more families moving in, it’s a spacious area with inoffensive food and beer that could perhaps ignite a spark of adventure in those curious enough to go with the staff’s suggestions.

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