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Queer Beers: On LGBT Representation in Craft Beer

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Alright, so at the time of writing this I just finished up a kinda-sorta twitter conversation that I want to elaborate on in this site. LGBT representation. I do know that there are a handful of LGBT folks in the craft beer community, but as a bisexual fan of beer I’d like to see something a little more open within the industry itself.

The first question most folks ask is…why? Why should someone’s non-beer preferences be anywhere near the beer world? And I get that, it’s just that the craft beer community is a very large group of people. We talk about beer, but on other subjects as well. Most commonly the topic of relationships will pop up in conversation, and if someone in a same sex relationship is talking with a group of strangers who are all talking about their heterosexual relationships, it would be understandable if that person decided to omit out of the fear of getting an odd reaction. To me it’s not about whether or not someone would act poorly in response (in my experience they definitely wouldn’t), it’s more that a hesitation like that shouldn’t even be considered before talking about a loved one. The beer community is a very comfortable and welcoming community, but without a visible LGBT figurehead it risks unintentionally closing the door in some people’s face. Just saying “there’s no problem” isn’t cutting it for a group of people who have historically learned that no visible representation = not welcome. Not just for someone attending an event but even someone looking to get in to the industry. Make sense? I hope so.

But what to do? Well, there are two ways to deal with things.

The first is the grand gestures that breweries can do to show they acknowledge LGBT folks as a valid demographic and support them. Sam Adams boycotted the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade when the parade announced the exclusion of LGBT marchers. BrewDog made a Double IPA called Hello My Name Is Vladimir to protest Russia’s anti-gay legislation with 50% of sales going to pro-LGBT organizations. Half Pints Brewing in Manitoba made a beer exclusively for Winnipeg Pride…these are all bold, loud gestures that most likely have swayed over a lot of customers based on the inclusion and rabid defense of that demographic. It feels good to be stood up for on such a grand scale in that way.

The second one is something that is more direct to the culture and requires a bit more thought and a lot of personal risk, but I would like to see someone within the industry openly out as LGBT and comfortable enough to talk about it. Now, I’m not talking about breaking out the pink shirts and rainbow capes (unless they want to), but more of pulling an Ellen Page. Coming out, talking about it, and then going back to work doing what they do best. I think a move like that from someone (and hey, it only takes one or two people) would be wonderful for LGBT people looking to enter the craft beer world, as it would give them someone to look to as a more overt example of representation, which I feel is needed. Something that will have them say “hey, I guess people like me are less alienated than I thought”.

Many know how vocal I am for my love of the craft beer community. It is a welcoming, supportive, smart, funny, awesome group of people who are from all walks of life. All I’m suggesting is that maybe, just maybe, making the welcome sign a little bigger would go a long way for people who aren’t sure just how well they’d fit in to our group. If we could make such a move that will just let people know more clearly how welcoming we are, well…that’d be something to take pride in.

 

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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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Can the Can: On Canned Craft Beers

I’m sorry if the title of the post was somewhat confusing, but you only get to make one or two Suzi Quatro references in your lifetime and so help me, I chose to go with it.

Canned beer has kind of a negative stigma with a lot of people. A common negative image, at least in North America, that comes to mind is that of drunken jocks, chanting their fraternity motto while slamming cans in to their foreheads and beating up nerds (or for my older readers, the image of Billy Beer comes to mind). A common taste is that of tin and warm water. Regardless, for some reason canned beer feels to many like a step down from bottles.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

More and more in the past while craft breweries have been taking the canned route. Some breweries have even been switching from bottles to cans. Now there are a couple of obvious benefits with cans, being easy to stack, less breaking…but what else? Is there a financial benefit? Is there a sacrifice by compromising the flavour?

To answer some of these questions I e-mailed Michael Gurr at the Kensington Brewing Co. Their beer, Augusta Ale, just came out at the LCBO this week. In cans. I thought it a good time to ask what their rationale was for going with cans instead of bottles for their release. I was surprised to discover just how many benefits there are to both the brewery and the consumer.

On the business side of things, cans make sense especially for a new brewery. They’re cheaper to manufacture and don’t include additional costs such as a six pack holder, thus cutting down on initial expenses. The cost of a single tall boy can, which is a common method of selling canned craft beer, is also meant to be less intimidating on potential new customers, allowing them to purchase a single can ranging at about $2.50-3.00 instead of taking a chance on a new brand/beer by committing to a  6-pack for $12-14. This creates more liklihood of bringing in new customers (it’s reasons like that which make me more likely to purchase singles than packs as well).

For the consumer’s benefit, for one, you have an environmentally friendly container. “Cans are much lighter than glass, using much less material to hold the same amount of beer.”  Gurr says, “Less weight = less emissions. The rate in which people recycle aluminium is also shown to be far greater than glass.” (Although, Gurr admits, this does not take in to account the Beer Store’s bottle return program which, apparently, has a 99% return rate.)

Cans are also a good way to go because there is no light exposure on the beer, preventing the chance of a “skunky” chemical reaction that isn’t fun in the slightest (which is why beer bottles are typically dark. Green and clear bottles have more of a chance of going skunky, so beware!). This also makes for a beer that can be stored longer.

But what about the tin taste? Well, there’s two possible causes to people’s problem with that in the past. The first being that the taste of tin was actually a smell (think where your nose goes when you sip from a can) and the other being that some cans didn’t have protection on them that prevented the the beer from extracting materials from the can, creating a tin taste. The good news though, is that modern beer cans are coated with a special food-grade epoxy resins that prevents this extraction.

Other benefits include what most already know; easy storage, less breakability (Can’t say I’ve ever seen someone smash a beer can open and attack someone with it) and faster cooling time. And for me anyways, I love seeing the beautiful designs that cover the entire container as opposed to a label. Good show, package designers!

Still got that negative stigma and think that canned beer is a step down? Well, here’s a simple solution: do what you’d do with bottled beer and pour it in a glass! That way you’ll be able to drink amazing beer without the fear of being “found out” as a can drinker. While you’re at it, you can even let people sip your beer and find you’ve converted some anti-can folks.

What beers should you go with? Well, explore around! If you’re in Ontario give the three in the above picture a try, as they’ve been *ahem* tested by myself and have proven to be quite delicious and satisfying in this hot-as-balls Summer. International, I would suggest going with BrewDog’s Punk IPA, which has been hitting the stores in can form and is also quite refreshing!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to dance to more of Miss Quatro’s music.

——-

Special thanks to Michael Gurr over at Kensington Brewing Company for the insight in to cans! 

Beers in image (left to right): Hops & Robbers IPA by Double Trouble Brewing Co., Augusta Ale by Kensington Brewing Co. and Dead Elephant IPA by Railway City Brewing Co.

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Best of Winter (Providing It’s Gone)

Don’t know about you folks, but up here our weather has been…well, let’s put it this way: Last week in a single day we had snow, rain, snow, hail, rain and ending with some snow overnight. Now it’s practically t-shirt weather with forecasts saying the temperature will more than double tomorrow.

So screw it, I’m calling it. Winter is over.

I think I’m going to make up a very quick list of some of my highlight beers of Winter. If this were a television show, it would be a clip show episode, but as it is I’m just going to list the beers. These are in no particular order and some of them aren’t even seasonals, but beers I’ve just tried over the winter. It SHOULD be noted that during the winter I primarily drink stouts and porters, because it’s cold and my natural instinct is to drink something that seems like a meal (my rule with stouts is that it’s good if I can put a pencil in the middle of the glass, let go and the beer keeps it up). While there are some exceptions in the list, these are mainly black-as-my-soul beers.

1. Winter Beard Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout by Muskoka Brewery – An absolute treat to have both in bottles and on cask. Cranberry taste is a bit too subtle, but it more than makes up for it in the chocolate taste.

2. Lava Smoked Imperial Stout by Ölvisholt Brugghús – This also was a regular visitor to the LeBlanc house. The coffee and chocolate tastes along with the  liquid smoke makes this beer and is a meal all on itself.

3. Wych Craft Blonde Ale by Wychwood – Noticed this turning up more and more in LCBOs this winter, and have to say, rather crisp and refreshing!

4. Double Chocolate Cherry Stout by Black Oak Brewing Co. – The tartness of the cherries just makes this beer a wonderful treat and the chocolate taste adds a wonderful warmth to it. I was really lucky to try it for the first time on cask, which all in all gave a warmth that I needed that particular night. Will be having some more this week.

5. Infinium by Samuel Adams and Weihenstephan – Slight romantic memory behind this one, because The Fella bought me a bottle of this rather wonderful beer that came in a Champagne bottle. Very clean beer with the taste of a nice, somewhat sweet Belgian Tripel. Needs to be consumed in a champagne flute and it matters on the type of company you have with this drink (mine of course, was wonderful).

6. World Wide Stout (Aged for 1 year) by Dogfish Head Brewery – Hahahaha….man. Visiting one of the brewpubs owned by Dogfish Head was such a TREAT. And part of that treat was having this amazing beer, aged for a solid year.  At about 19%ABV had a lovely chocolaty taste with a slight burn I would normally get from an Imperial Russian Stout. But wonderful. WONDERFUL.

7. Tokyo Imperial Stout by BrewDog – Thanks to a wonderful donation to the Tip Jar from reader Raymond Conlon (you could all learn something from him. HINT HINT), I got to try this $24 Imperial Stout at around 14% ABV (though I’m sure it’s cheaper anywhere but here). INCREDIBLY sweet, which was unexpected for its alcohol content. Wonderful taste of cranberries and chocolate in there. I’d go so far as to say it would make an excellent dessert beer.

8. Sublimely Self Righteous Ale by Stone Brewery – What turned me on to Black IPAs. This was a birthday gift from The Fella, who brought it all the way from the states and…wow.  SO. MUCH. HOPPINESS. Drinking it is like putting a handful of fresh hops right in your mouth. Just wonderful. The Fella, who is a malt fiend, could not finish his share. It is my go-to beer whenever I am in the states now.

9. Black Chocolate Stout by Brooklyn Brewery – Tried this during a 5-hour layover in New York City where I met up with friends Rachael Fox and Eddie McShane and we found a decent watering hole to sit down, have a few drinks and have the most wonderful conversation about photography. This beer, which had a WONDERFUL bittersweet chocolate taste and a creaminess. was a perfect match for the night.

10. Spruce Beer by Garrison Brewing Co. – Most of you have read my review in which I talk about this beer, so will keep this short. But I’ll say this: What a wonderful treat it was to have this beer.  A drink that did an amazing job of invoking the spirit of winter. Loved it.

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Wish List: Abstrakt Beer

My friend and fellow beer/metal enthusiast Alastair messaged me to tell me his brew plans for Friday night and linked me to this little beauty:

That’s right.  It’s a Belgian Imperial Stout aged on toasted coconut and cacao.  Created by the bloody GENIUSES at BrewDog as part of a concept series they are putting out in which they say:

  • Abstrakt is a new type of beer brand, we will only ever brew and release a beer once
  • Abstrakt will release a very small number of limited edition batches per year
  • More art than beer, Abstrakt will brew directional, boundary pushing beers: blurring distinctions and transcending categories
  • All Abstrakt beers are bottle-conditioned, individually numbered and known only by their release code, e.g. AB:01
Isn’t that wonderful? The bottles are expensive, but apparently well worth the price.  Hopefully I’ll be able to gather enough cash to get one before the series is out.  Their current release is a Triple Dry Hopped Imperial Black IPA which sounds like EXACTLY my sort of beer, but alas, money.  And I’m not sure if the beers ship internationally or not, so there’s also a problem.  If they do I might need to enlist the help of some of my fellow beer-lovers…

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