Category Archives: Learning

Premium Near Beer – A Look at Quality Non-Alcoholic Beers

WAIT NO COME BACK TRUST ME READING THIS WILL BE WORTH IT.

Okay, let’s get this out of the way, first. Non-Alcoholic beer get a bad rap. You know it, I know it. We’ve all tried it at one point or another, went to a store, got a little curious about a Beck’s non-alcoholic beer and gave it a try…only to spit the first mouthful in the sink, throw the remainder out the window and set your house on fire in protest. It’s happened. The Quest for non-alcoholic beer has been pretty futile and fraught with peril for designated drivers, religious folk, people that want the taste but not the buzz, and folks with medical conditions that prevent them from having an alcoholic beverage. Sadly, it seems that the taste notes are pretty much the same for all of them. Basically water, sickly sweet, you wouldn’t even know it was trying to taste like beer. What’s even worse is that crap like that are the most common sold, which hasn’t helped non-alcoholic beer’s reputation in a world that stupidly provides social alienation for people who don’t drink alcohol (And really, if you are That Person who shames someone for not drinking alcohol for any reason, close this window and don’t come back. You aren’t welcome here).

While us in other parts of the world have been frustrated by the horrible Near-Beers out there, Germany as well as a few other countries who have seen the potential, have been making a hell of an industry of making some pretty high-quality non-alcoholic brews, with many traditional breweries making non-alcoholic versions of their flagship beers and some even being a strictly non-alcoholic brewery. There’s clearly a demand for quality in this style and they’re doing very well, which isn’t so surprising when you give a good hard think about how many people actually can’t drink alcoholic beverages.

Some fun facts about these beers:

– Legally, any beer up to 0.5% ABV is considered non-alcoholic. For some perspective, that’s pretty much in line with the natural alcohol content of things like grape juice.

– The history of  “near beer”  can date as far back as the middle ages, when it was made as a better substitute for the putrid, disease-ridden water that nobody in their right mind would drink.

– Non-alcoholic beer gained popularity during the Temperance Movement throughout the world and during Prohibition in the US where many breweries managed to stay in business by making them. It was during the Prohibition years where the style really got huge and the flavour of nearly water and very sweet gained popularity. Plus at the time you could drink one right in front of Eliot Ness and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do.

– Non-alcoholic beer is usually made like normal beer, aside from one step at the end where alcohol extraction takes place. Depending on the method, this can greatly change the taste of the beer.

– In 1966 Swiss brewery Hurlimann developed a special yeast that would yield a low alcohol amount during fermentation. However, since Birell Pale Lager is 0.8% ABV, legally it is considered Low-Alcoholic beer.

Here in Toronto a new service has opened up called Premium Near Beer. It offers a wide selection of International award-winning non-alcoholic beers for a decent price. The founder, Ted Fleming, whose diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease prompted him to explore the landscape of non-alcoholic beers, saw the more common products out there lacking in flavour and quality. So he did what any reasonable person in his situation would do. He let out a resolute sigh, went out, and…had a selection of quality, award-winning non-alcoholic beers brought in, opened up an online shop and made it so anyone in the area who orders can get it delivered right to their door. Oh, and brought on Cicerone, Prud’homme Beer Sommelier, Beer Scribe, and at the time a soon-to-be mother Crystal Luxmore to go over the selection and provide professional tasting notes that added some weight to the claims of high quality. And indeed some of the non-alcoholic selection carries a hell of a rep with it. Clausthaler Premium, for instance, won a World Beer Award for best non-alcoholic lager. And soon Premium Near Beer hopes to be getting in Nanny State, by UK beer heavyweights BrewDog. Known for their huge beers that are high in the percentage rate, this beer, tipping in at 0.5% ABV, is made with eight different malts and five different hops.

Premium Near Beer has a few plans. Firstly, of course, is to get an interest in the service and take as many orders as they can while also getting more quality brews in. Beyond that, they would like to see the landscape change in favour of non-alcoholic beers and the social stigma surrounding them fade. Another ideal goal would be to develop enough interest to get local breweries interested enough to make a quality non-alcoholic brew. I admit, I’d love to see Amsterdam or Great Lakes, or any of the others at least try and take on that challenge. Perhaps even do a non-alcoholic version of My Bitter Wife, which has a drawing of the Temperance Movement’s Carrie Nation on the label.

Most of the bottles available are only available in 24 packs, with the option to get a mixed pack if you can’t decide on just one. Currently they deliver to Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga, Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Thornhill, Markham, & Aurora, with  free delivery in the area for orders over $100. If you have any questions on deliveries beyond Toronto, the province of Ontario, or the country of Canada, feel free to contact them and hopefully something can be worked out. These beers ARE available internationally, so while it may be hard to get a hold of them, it’s not impossible. Unless you live in Germany, where most of these beers are from, in which case…uh…just go to the store.

And folks, Ted Fleming brought a sample 6-pack to my house and, after sampling them, I must say that I’m turned around on what I thought non-alcoholic beer was about. As Moss in the IT Crowd says, “Every value I’ve ever held is being questioned and I’m loving it”. While the pack was pretty hit and miss, I should say that the hits were pretty solid hits and the misses were just simply not to my tastes. Here are my notes from each of them.

Krombacher Pils (Krombacher Brewery, Germany, 0.5% ABV) – The first one of the six I had and it officially blasted any misconceptions I had about non-alcoholic beer. Beautiful grain aroma with solid malt flavours and a dry finish that leads you wanting more. Crisp and wonderful. Definitely on par with some of the highly regarded Pilsners I’ve had.

Krombacher Wheat (Krombacher Brewery, Germany, 0.5% ABV) – Beautiful cloudy gold colour that is so wonderful about wheat beers. Big head that died down a bit. Aroma is bananas and cloves, which carries in to the taste. This is a little on the sweet side for me, but still…I’d put this up against many of its alcoholic siblings and it would do really well. Dry finish on the end leaves me wanting more. While I might not order a case of 24, I will have a second.

Sagres Lager (Central de Cervejas, Portugal, 0.3% ABV) – Incredibly light straw colour. Taste is almost that of an incredibly dry cider, but finished off with an intense maltiness. Still good, but by the end I was still thinking about the Krombacher Pils. Very carbonated, which added to the dry flavour.

Gerstel Lager (Gerstel, Germany, 0.5% ABV)  – Sweet, grassy aroma and incredibly malty taste. Nice mellow grain taste in the middle and ends with an abrubtly dry finish. Barely any aftertaste to it, which made me want to try more.

Clausthaler Golden Amber (Clausthaler, Germany, 0.4% ABV) – My least favourite of the bunch. Beautiful amber colour, but a bubblegum taste mixed with something metallic. The hoppy finish is nice, but doesn’t quite save it for me and I’m left with a kind of chemical layer of…something on my tongue.

Clausthaler Premium Lager (Clausthaler, Germany, 0.45% ABV) – I can’t fairly review this one, as it seems that in transit the (green) bottle came in contact with some sunlight and the entire beer went skunky. But hey, it won a World Beer Award for Best Non-Alcoholic Lager, so I’m sure it’s lovely.

Both the Krombacher Wheat and Pils are beers that I would keep regularly stocked in my fridge. They both have a beautiful aroma and refreshing taste with flavour notes that hold a bloody sword up to the thought of non-alcoholic beers being sugar water only consumed by rubes. I found both those beers very surprising and was glad that the quality of the taste didn’t take a back seat. They are both beers, and I say beers including the alcoholic ones, done right.

 

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Barkeep, Another Course – The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook

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Longtime readers of this site along with anyone who has known me for like, five minutes knows that one of my most enjoyable activities is cooking. Additionally, finding ways to cook with beer is another interest of mine, although I should say that beyond an excellent cake recipe, a weiss pizza crust, BBQ sauce, and a lovely sauce for some sausages, I’ve been left stumped.

Although there have been recipes and even books that involve incorporating beer in to the dish, I’ll be honest, guys…it’s easy to get cynical when I hear about someone releasing a beer cookbook. Normally it means that the recipes have beer thrown in with very little thought, the beers suggested are very specific ones which makes the book redundant in six months to a year from publishing date, the author’s tone suggests that (bless their heart) they don’t know a damn thing about beer, or, if it’s REALLY bad, a combination of all three of those things. We’ve all bought cookbooks before, or visited a recipe blog and were disappointed. We’ve all been hurt before.

But The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook is none of those things. For five years David Ort has been a food and drink writer on his blog, Food With Legs, and throughout that time he has been creating recipes, attending events, and doing research. This book, the product of many long hours of tweaking, testing, researching, and redoing for the self-taught cook, shows the careful effort that was put in to it.

The first thing that sticks out about each recipe is the accompanying beer recommendation. Although not every recipe is actually made with beer, every recipe does have a suggested pairing in order of style, specific Canadian beer, and sometimes a specific international beer. This not only gives you an ideal pairing for the meal, but, when referring to the specific style, ensures that I can still pick this book up after ten years and make something from it.

Another thing that sticks out for me is something that many would probably be surprised to learn – it’s not all pub food. While there are recipes for onion rings, Currywurst and Steak & Ale Pie, there are also recipes for Soba Salad, Fondue, and Rogan Josh as well as recipes for condiments such as IPA Mustard, homemade vinegar, and Hop infused Salt. The recipes I’ve been reading so far seem to range from “simple” to “a little more difficult but still simple” and the variety of foods ensures that one won’t be reaching for this book just for a main dish.

It’s also enflaming an adventurous, experimental spirit in me cooking-wise, I have to admit. I don’t even have my physical copy yet (I was graciously given a pdf to help me with this review) and as I type this I have some mustard seeds sitting in a jar of IPA where, for the first time, I’m going to be making my own mustard (though due to availability, I had to change the suggested beer of Amsterdam’s Boneshaker to Muskoka’s Mad Tom). Hop salt and Edamame will soon be following in the next couple of days.

To top it all off, its introduction section provides a very thorough history and guide to Craft Beer and the book is scattered with profiles of some of Canada’s Beer trailblazers. Ort’s thought process in forming the recipes is also brought out in an understandable way, helping the reader learn more about what it’s like cooking with the beverage from a  practical viewpoint.

In summary…buy this freakin’ book. There are others out there, but this one is the one I’m excited about because it is just so solid and ridiculously good. Simple recipes for big dishes that get you to think more about the individual ingredients as well as the incredible versatility of beer. Aside from what is already turning out for me as a book that I find myself going through for the next culinary adventure, it is also very obviously a love letter to good food, good beer and the country that provides both of those things.

David Ort’s Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook is available RIGHT NOW in Canada and the US both online and in stores, with plans to move things more across the pond to be available internationally.

For more info, check out the book’s page at beercookbook.ca

—–

You didn’t think I was going to write about a beer cookbook and not provide at least one recipe from it, did you? Honestly, and you call yourselves my readers…

When I visited David at his apartment a couple of days ago he made me a couple of dishes from the book. One in particular, an amazing fondue sauce, got devoured quickly. Tangy, sharp, smooth, slight burn (both literally from the temperature as well as from the little bit of brandy and mustard) and…argh. Just go and make it. Absolutely delicious.

FONDUE SAUCE

recommended beer Bière de garde
Barrel-Aged Bière de Garde, Bellwoods Brewery (Ontario)
Bière de Beloeil, Brasserie Dupont
(Belgium)
serves 4–6
preparation time: 5 minutes
cooking time: 15 minutes

7½ oz (230 g) shredded Gruyère
(about 2 cups/500 mL)
4 oz (125 g) shredded aged cheddar
(about 1 cup/250 mL)
1 Tbsp (15 mL) cornstarch
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 cup (250 mL) bière de garde
1 Tbsp (15 mL) whole-grain mustard
1 Tbsp (15 mL) cider vinegar
2 tsp (10 mL) brandy
freshly ground black pepper

Toss the two cheeses and cornstarch together in a medium mixing bowl. Set a fondue pot over medium heat and add the garlic cloves  and beer. When the beer barely simmers, add the cheese, a handful at a time, and stir to melt before adding the next handful. When the cheese sauce is smooth and creamy, add the mustard, vinegar and brandy. Season with a few grinds of black pepper. For dipping, move the fondue pot to its tabletop setup and serve with bread cubes, potatoes, sausages and pickles.

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Will It Grow? Part 2: We Rise! We Live!

So, remember when I bought a Cascade hop rhizome, planted it, and then told you folks that I’ll let you know how it goes?

Well…the hops grew.

They started to sprout after a couple of weeks and then once it was fixed up so it had some support to get up on the frame of my porch the vine grew incredibly fast. Thankfully, up here we’ve been getting a lot of rain and sun in equal measures this summer, so they were pretty low maintenence. The cones didn’t start forming until about three weeks ago and every week they seem to get bigger. They make my porch just that much more beautiful.

While the cones are pretty big, they aren’t ready for harvesting yet. Apparently the time to do it is when they actually start to give off that wonderful, citrus-like aroma that I love so much.

As for what to do with them after harvesting…I’m not sure. I originally was thinking of using them to dryhop a homebrew (since I don’t think I got enough hops for a full batch [which is TOTALLY okay because apparently in the first year you don’t get many cones]), but I’ve been in talks with someone who is also growing Cascade hops and there are talks of maybe doing a beer with them. We’ll see!

But so far…I’m really happy that I decided to pick up a rhizome to try out and will definitely be picking up more next year. And even for the beer lover who doesn’t brew their own, hop vines are an incredible decoration for your home.

But anyways, I’ll let you know what happens with these little guys soon. Stay tuned.

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Beer & Food Pairing

I’ll be honest, this post is a long time coming. Truthfully, I’ve had the most problem just STARTING the damn thing. Any writer knows that the kick-off point in a piece of writing is one of the worst and I’ve been stuck with that for a couple of weeks while also getting used to having some sort of a life outside of work and beer (video games, they’re going to be big). Over the course of being stuck I promised myself that under no circumstances will I just start this post with a “it’s been hard for me to start this” paragraph. And heeeeeere we freakin’ are.

Anyways.

Beer and food pairing. Let’s talk about this.

This is a subject that I really love learning more about and which I honestly am still at the beginning stages of understanding. While there is no single right way to look at this, I’ll try my best to explain how I see this and give a few examples.

To start out with some base knowledge, here’s a clip from Disney’s Ratatouille in which the main character Remy brings up the visualization of flavour.

If you can’t watch the clip at work or hate Disney for some twisted reason, the point of it is that there are an almost infinite number of flavour combinations out there, both simple and complex, that can make one unified flavour that is something completely different and amazing. Although the above clip was talking about food, I believe this thought crosses over to pairing as well. Take a selected beer and a selected dish and combine them to create an experience, something that combines the two elements to create one. And that’s pretty much how I see pairing.

From there you can go in to the trial and error stage, which can be fun but comes with the risk of just not working out in your meal (but hey, an excuse to order another beer is a good one). And while there are no rigid rules like wine (I remember the “red with red, white with white” rule being hit over my head when I was younger), there are some good tips people have found that you can choose to follow or ignore. Here’s a few that I’ve picked up from my own experiences or from the advice of others:

–       A hoppy IPA can bring out the heat in a good, spicy curry and a crisp and cold pilsner can tone it down.

–       A stout with heavy chocolate notes can pair well with vanilla ice cream, raspberries, or even trifle.

–       A nice IPA can bring out spiced lamb in wonderful ways.

–       Hard Cider and Pork. Yep. It works just as well as porkchops and applesauce.

–       A pilsner can cut down on the greasiness of bacon while successfully keeping the smoked taste. A stout with heavy coffee notes can make a good breakfast.

–       A light saison brings an added sweetness to seafood like lobster, scallops or shrimp.

And even then, it’s just personal opinion and taste. As the song goes, “what might be right for you, might not be right for some”. But pairing a food with beer is really a fun rabbit hole to go down due to the limitless possibilities of pairings. Cookies? Go forth and discover. Pizza? Whatever works. Braised Herbed Rabbit with Mustard Sauce? Best of luck. Sausage? WHAT KIND?

There are many ways to learn more on pairings and improve your palate. For books ‘Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink’ by Randy Mosher has a really great section on the subject. There is of course the above mentioned trial and error option, where you figure things out for yourself (I personally like trying to figure out the best beer to go with a burger while taking the condiments in to consideration). A handy tip is to be sure to read the description on the bottles of certain beers as the brewmaster may have some pairing suggestions that they feel best compliments their beer. And also, depending where you are, there are always classes and events going on, put on by a brewery, importer, restaurant or some combination of the three.

A recent examples of a pairing event: A while back I went to the first in a series of quarterly beer pairing dinners at Bier Markt here in Toronto (King St. West location). Operations Manager Daniel Schmidt and Chef Kris Tatemichi brought forth a total of six courses along with beers to accompany each one. Although that sounds intimidating as hell, the servings sizes weren’t monstrous and each pairing was allowed to have their moment. As each course was being served to us, Daniel would talk a little bit about the beer that was being paired with the dish and why it was selected and Chef Kris would talk about the dish. While there were some small problems to be associated with a first time event (The section for the dinner wasn’t separated from the local crowd who came in, making for a noisy night) and some of the pairings missed the mark for me personally, the good outweighed the bad with inspired pairings such as housemade apple and pork sausage paired with Poperings Hommelbier (a beer that on first taste almost resembles tree bark but combined with the sausage to create a smooth, earthy and delicious combination that I remember still), Picked Ontario Mushrooms and Schnieder Weisse Tap 7 (when combined made for a very creamy, rich dish) and Bier Beignets with pastry creme and Sinha reduction with Unibroue’s La Maudite Strong Amber-Red (which made for an elegant and creamy taste that wrapped up the event nicely). I left the night feeling like I had gotten an education and a few new base blocks of understanding in my own pairing explorations and experiments.

Although that was a good exception, I give you a warning about pairing events: They can be a little unbalanced at times, sometimes focusing more on the food or more on the beer depending on who is putting the event on. Too many times have I been to a pairing where the beer selection was an afterthought and it just fell short. By all means check them out, but be aware that it’s possible it may miss the mark for you.

In the end, the important thing is to have fun with it and go with what works for you. As long as you like it, there is no “wrong” pairing. Just keep on combining and figuring it out and you’ll be fine.

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Will It Grow? Part 1: In To The Ground, My Sweet

So one of the advantages of no longer being in the office (and there aren’t TOO many, but that’s for my non-existent therapist, not you) is that I have time for some personal projects in between errands and freelance work. One personal project is my garden.

I have a raised bed in the backyard which currently has some beet, onion and radish seeds in it. Later to come will be cucumbers (that I intend to pickle) and Hungarian Black Hot Peppers, which I intend to put in dishes and watch loved ones scream in despair when I feed it to them. But those need a little more time yet.

I’m also growing some Cascade Hops, which is the point of this post.

I missed out on purchasing the rhizomes (an underground stem that shoots out roots, basically) last year, but this year I managed to preorder them from Toronto Brewing a few months ago and my little darling arrived yesterday.

I always knew I’d plant it in the front yard, where the hop vines could grow and wrap themselves around my porch frame, which I think will look beautiful and smell wonderful. For those that know me well in regards to beery stuff, it’ll come as no surprise that I chose Cascade Hops, which have a beautiful light citrusy character to them that drives me wild.

My yard is one of those “Weeds everywhere no matter what” places, so this required some digging in my selected place followed by a method of mulching that’s worked for me in the past. Basically getting some newspaper, layering it on the bottom of the hole, soaking it with water and putting a good layer of soil over it. This prevents any weeds from growing and what weeds do get through can easily be picked out. I used basic gardening soil along with a nutrient mix from Urban Harvest that slowly releases all the good things that make for healthy growing.

Apparently there is some debate on exactly how to plant the rhizome. Hops Direct’s youtube series says to plant it vertically, while the book “The Homebrewer’s Garden” by Joe and Dennis Fisher and several other forums and guides say to plant it horizontally, roots down and white “nibs” up, about 2 inches in the soil. I chose the latter method.

In the end it KIND OF looks like I buried an animal in the front yard, but it’s done and the key is to keep the soil moist but not soaking wet and make sure it gets at least six hours of sunlight, apparently. After it sprouts and the vine reaches to about a foot I’ll need to set up a small trellis leading up to my porch frame. Then I’ll have to regularly make sure the little guys get some water.

I’ll be letting you folks know the progress of it, of course. But for now…we wait.

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The Thirsty Wench’s St. Patrick’s Day Survival Guide

It’s that time of year again where people see a lot of green stuff and guides for a good St. Patrick’s Day are being released by bars, breweries and newsfolk alike.

So I thought I’d throw my hat in to the ring and give you my own St. Patrick’s Day Survival Guide.

  1. Stock up on supplies. – It’s only for a weekend, but still. Buy enough food and good beers to last you for that time because you won’t be leaving. Give a last final embrace to any friends and family you cherish, just in case.
  2. Board up your windows and lock your doors. – If you don’t, you may find that a keg of crap beer you didn’t buy will be in your house surrounded by shattered glass and you’ll be overrun with university and college students screaming and breaking things and singing Danny Boy even though they aren’t sad because IRELAND.
  3. Arm yourself. – A baseball bat is best. I have a battle axe. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
  4. Pray or alternatively recite the Litany Against Fear – It’ll all be over soon. Don’t worry. You must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
  5. DON’T GET BITTEN.
  6. DON’T OPEN THE DOOR. – Ignore the other people who aren’t being Irish for a day trying to get in to your place for safety. You open the door, you put yourself and others in your home at risk. They should have prepared. Like you.
  7. Drink a beer because you want to, not because you have to. Really, folks. Nowhere does it say that you have to drink until you vomit on St. Patrick’s Day. If you feel like having a drink, do so. If not, then don’t.

That’s all from me. Stay safe out there, folks.

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Small Lessons Making a Big Difference

So I’m going to tell you folks a little story.

You sitting down? What about you in the back? Okay? Good. Here it goes.

So back in 2011 when I was still trying to get this blog going and was still at the very start of the grand journey of learning about beer, I went to my first Ontario Craft Beer Week event, which was a “meet the brewer for a tutoured tasting” thing with Mill St. Brewery at The Rebel House. Brewmaster Joel Manning and brewer Bridgid Young showed up with samples of their Original Organic Lager and Tankhouse Ale. And since the place wasn’t too busy, they sat down with me and taught me about the ingredients that go in to their beers. Even bringing bags of two types of grain and a bag of hops to show. Joel encouraged me to taste the grain that went in to their Tankhouse Ale and then try the beer. Suddenly I realized the source of the biscuit-like flavours I was tasting. Even with the hops, I learned how to take a handful of the flowers, grind it with my hands and smell the wonderful hints of citrus and sweetness that the hop is known for.

It was my first exposure to the individual ingredients that went in to beer and was nothing short of a revelation on the senses for me and changed the way I looked (and, well, tasted) beer. Now and then when I do a tasting of a beer my mind sometimes goes back to the lessons I learned that day.

So why am I telling this story? Am I too tired? Am I off my meds and just feel like rambling?

Well, yes.

hops1But also to segue in to talking about earlier this week when I went to the launch of Alexander Keith’s Hop Series of beers, which opened with two single-hop beers (that’s a beer that is made with one variety of hop); a Cascade Ale and Hallertauer Ale.

Now, I’ve only tried the Cascade Ale so far and while it’s a pretty decent and comfortable offering (but not to my personal taste) I really need to bring attention to the packaging. The cans themselves talk a bit about the history of the individual hop they’ve used, which I think is a fantastic idea. Also press were given this little pack (seen on the right) that came with two small jars of flower hops. The only labels on the jars were “Hop A” and “Hop B”.

Confusion was cleared by the accompanying card:

hops2

And I thought that was such a brilliant way to get people learning about what goes in to beer and encourage a whole appreciation for it. Sometimes when a 2-300 page book or big event seems too intimidating for a beginner in learning or when you just plain don’t know, it takes one person to show up with a jar of flower hops or a bag of malt and say “this is what went in to what you’re drinking”. Like in food, breaking something down to its raw ingredients increases an understanding in it.

So say what you will about the taste of Keith’s, or dismiss them because they’re a big brewery, but I say they did something right here and that this is a pretty cool way to educate people about what’s going in to their drink. And that’s something.

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