Tag Archives: craft beer

CURRENTLY DRINKING: Two Beers, One Province

As the travel, along with the huge amounts of stress and panic brought on by the ultimately rewarding privilege of working on a second book (MAY 20TH, FOLKS!) has officially died down, I’m finding myself looking towards my own fridge for inspiration, and finding that over the years I really haven’t been short of that. Here are two reviews of a couple of rather unique Ontario beers.

TYRANNOSAURUS GRUIT
Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co, Vankleek Hill, ON
5.8 % ABV

Those who are aware of Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. out of Vankleek Hill tend to know at-rex gruit few things about them. There is of course the fact that they have one of the best corporate cultures among their staff and that their eye-catching branding really makes you want to seek them out. They have an almost cult-like following, which is in part due to the fact that they come out with a new one-off or seasonal beer roughly every week or two. Going at that rate, it’s not unsurprising that Beau’s is one of the first breweries Canadians tend to think of when it comes to going a little wild, good or bad, with ingredients. A beer made with rosemary, thyme, and lavender? They’ve done it. A beer made with beetroot powder, spruce tips, juniper berries, and hibiscus flowers?

Well, as it turns out, that’s the beer I’m drinking right now. Tyrannosaurus Gruit was a beer that capped off their annual FeBREWary, a solid month of beer releases and events. It’s made with the ingredients listed above and is part of the brewery’s obsession with gruits (that is, beer brewed without the use of hops, not a terrible misspelling of our favourite tree-like character).

LOOK: Red. Red red red. Very red. Damned red. There’s beetroot powder and hibiscus in this. I would be concerned and a little frightened if it wasn’t red.

AROMA: The beetroot dominates this one. Slight hint of spruce tips and just a touch of juniper near the end of the aroma, but this smells like it’s going to be pretty beet-forward.

TASTE: …And I was right. Up front is nothing but beets, but it’s followed up quickly by a peppery character and a lightly sweetened tang, before moving in for a dry finish. Oddly, and I don’t mean this in a bad way at all, it’s kind of like biting into a pickled beet. You get the choice ingredient, followed by the pepper, and a somewhat bittersweet note in the end. At the finish, like with having a piece of beet, you kind of want to go in for another. Chilled it has a really nice crisp note making an appearance.

AFTERTASTE: The dry note lasts throughout, and of course the overpowering beets still linger, but I feel the aftertaste is where the hibiscus tends to shine a bit brighter. Light cranberry flavour comes in nicely, making the experience quite pleasant.

OVERALL: Personally I think the beetroot notes, while wonderful to taste, was a little too overpowering on this one and I would have liked to have seen the hibiscus celebrated a bit more, or at the very least something that could dance with the beet a little better. Something sweet and tart, like raspberries, probably would have brought this out a little better. That said, I really enjoy the flavour profile of this beer and I’m glad that there’s a beet beer made on a fairly larger scale. It’s an ingredient that I’d like to see more of.

* SESSION SAISON
The Exchange Brewery, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON
5% ABV

exbI was recently in Niagara Falls with some time on my hands and, accompanied by the incredible Jill Currie and YouTube beer reviewer the Albino Rhino (whose festival, The Albino Rhino Beer Fest, which has proceeds going to the Ronald McDonald House, is coming up on May 27th), I took my first visit to the Exchange Brewery, and it was way past due. Head Brewer Sam Maxbauer, formally of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales in Michigan has been bringing his experience into the inventive beers this brewery produces and while only a year old, have established a barrel-aging program and a yeast cultivation effort (no doubt headed up by former Louis Cifer brew master Christine Nagy, who is a master with yeast), that is producing some wonderful results. They’ve also been getting some recognition on a non-local scale, taking home the title of Canadian Brewery of the Year at this year’s New York International Beer Competition. The space itself takes its name from the telephone exchange that the building once housed and the brewery has obviously kept with the theme, with many of their beers being numbers and symbols usually found on an old phone.

The * Session Saison runs at 5% ABV and comes in a beautiful 750ml bottle.

LOOK: Before getting to the appearance, a word of caution: open this over the sink. It may not gush out, but the carbonation is very aggressive when first opened. The upshot of this is remarkable head retention [post-writing note, it’s been over a half an hour since I poured and the large, foamy head is still there. Damn.]. Now, as for the look, you have what looks to be a medium to dark gold colour that glows remarkably when put up to even a minimal amount of light. It’s quite a hazy beer, making it damn near impossible to see what’s behind the glass.

AROMA: It’s a very light aroma, with light hints of white pepper, belgian candi, and just a dash of cloves.

TASTE: In mouthfeel it’s pretty light, but that shouldn’t lead one to believe that it’s a simple beer. There’s quite a journey here, starting with that white pepper note addressed in the aroma and leading towards something more, a kind of earthy, herbal note with a hint of cloves that makes way for its slow finish, that has a nice, cedar-like dryness.

AFTERTASTE: The cedar-like dryness stays with you in the finish, but as that fades over time, I find that I’m still getting the odd bit of clove in there. It’s not overpowering, just a murmur. Quite nice!

OVERALL: I can’t question the quality of this beer, as it’s very well-made. I feel like this would make for a good drink to introduce folks to the concept of highly complex flavours in beer without having to give them an imperial sour whatever. Its light body and wonderful flavour profile makes me wish I had more of this beer.

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Three Notable Breweries of the Wasteland

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This post is sort of my way to put to use one of my favourite writing exercises. At the start of each creative writing class in school, our teacher would put some music on and allow us to do some freeform writing for 15 minutes or so. This would allow us to get the worries, thoughts, and memorization techniques of our other classes out of our systems and shake up the creative juices in our heads, which would better prepare us for thinking outside the box.

After a couple of years of writing beer columns and, now, two beer guides, I’ve kind of been feeling a little creatively stagnant. I’m still enjoying a lot of what I’ve been writing, but everything has been too steeped in the serious, and I like to think this blog is a mix of both serious and fun. So with that in mind, and in an effort to shake up my brain a bit, here is a fictional article for a fictional newspaper that features a few of my favourite breweries in the far distant post-apocalyptic future, where civilization has been destroyed and is currently in the process of being rebuilt.

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Originally printed in Wasteland Adventurer Magazine, Issue 35, 2242

It’s not a secret that the world is a dangerous place to travel. From the human threats of bandits, pirates, and cannibals, to the non-human ones of super storms, large insects, and of course creepers, one has to tread carefully when seeking out adventure or even simply visiting friends and family. But as readers of this magazine are no doubt aware, the ancient saying “travel broadens the mind” quite often rings true and makes such threats a reasonable price to pay. The world is out there and with it a wealth of experiences. Different people, different customs, different food…

And of course, different beer.

With the seemingly infinite number of settlements, towns, and cities out there it’s almost impossible to keep track of all the breweries contained within them, making small batches of beer using local ingredients and techniques, and brewing exclusively for their local communities. While a complete record of the world’s breweries hasn’t been created yet, word does travel fast on a few individual ones that have captured the imagination and excitement of travellers. So with that, here are three breweries that are worth seeking out in the wastes.

Nepho Brewing
Barker Square, Tuskin Cloud City
If you happen to be a sky sailor, on the hunt for Glow Mist or *cough* less legal rewards, sky-citystop by the Tuskin Cloud City at 56.156259, -40.517578 to refuel your ship, exchange your goods, have a nice rest, and most recently, try some new beer. Nepho Brewing, located in Barker Square of the city, is the result of two former pirates who became better known for their brews than their bounty acquisition. Of the cloud cities out there, the duo decided that Tuskin was the best, as they’re more known there and the city’s placement above the near constant flow of Superstorm Clouds make it perfect for harvesting cloud water with minimal tax from the city. The brewery’s flagship offering, Perfect Storm Mild, is dark in colour with sweet toffee notes and an earthy, roasted character that adds balance before moving towards a dry finish. It’s also fairly low in alcohol, which is better suited to the clientele of sailors looking to lighten their wallets and ease their worries while on a week’s shore leave.

Bushwick Base Brewing
Jefferson Street Station (L Line), Brooklyn, New York
While the majority of the once great city of New York is in ruins and infested with Creepers and a varied number of mutated monsters, the city is still bustling, although primarily underground in the former MTA tunnels. If you’re looking for a great place to rest easy for a beer, walk down the L line to Jefferson Street Station, where Bushwick Base Brewing’s taproom is serving up some quality beverages that are sure to keep you warm at night. Working off-site out of the former Kings County Brewers Collective building, the 20-person team of former (and current) mercenaries risk their lives to go above ground, power up the generators, harvest from their rooftop farms, and brew for the masses. Because of the risk involved and infrequency of the releases, the price on a pint is pretty high, but the creativity and wide selection found in the candlelit taproom makes the cost worthwhile. As for the beers themselves, they’re all named after military slang terms, reflecting the brewer’s backgrounds. Expectant IPA is the most often consumed of the beers, and for good reason. It features a fairly light mouthfeel with an explosion of tropical fruits so bright, you could swear it could light up the MTA tunnels. However, if you have some coin and you’re lucky enough to be in the city when it’s released, the seasonal imperial stout 40 Mike-Mike is worth getting. Sold in handmade canteens, a few sips of this 18% beer will warm you right through while providing, if you’re lucky enough to have them, fond memories of chocolate and coffee.

Loup Garou Labyè
Bayou Pigeon District, Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana
Located in a long-abandoned oil rig deep in the Bayou Pigeon district, Loup Garou Labyè has proven to be a popular brewing spot for settlers to the Atchafalaya Basin. The amazing thing about this brewery is that the entire community in the district are running it, enabling brewing operations to go on 24/7 and making it one of the most frequently consumed beers in the South Louisiana region. Making use of purified swamp water and local greenery, the beers are nothing if not unique. Of note, the Voler Porter, for instance, is made using locally harvested graine à voler (otherwise known as ‘Cajun Peanuts’ or American Lotus seeds), which are toasted and thrown in the boil, adding for a subtle peanut butter character.

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The Brewer’s Path, Renoir, and the Craft Beer Narrative

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One of the things that I got a real sense of while co-writing the Ontario Craft Beer Guide and something that has really stuck out as we begin our research on a possible other one, is the narrative. The story each brewery has behind them.

The fascinating thing is that narratives in this more beer-focused sense are similar to a Renoir painting. If you step back enough you can see a beer narrative on the provincial, national, and even international scale. An LCBO online store that delivers via Canada Post, Canadians cleaning up in American brewing awards, the interesting goings of the biggest beer takeover, or even the growing demand for craft beer in China and South Korea. But you can also get right up close and see smaller but no less important narratives going on. A homebrewer’s path to going professional or a brewery’s journey in navigating the consumer landscape or growing as a company. It’s those stories that writers like me live for. It can be incredibly rewarding and educational just to track how far a brewery has come over the years and what experiences get carried by brewers who shift from job to job.

Here’s an example.

robertsimpson_logoFlying Monkeys Brewery in Barrie. Founded eleven years ago and originally named after the city’s first mayor, Robert Simpson Brewery had a fairly standard lineup of beers in its portfolio, which included Robert Simpson Pale Ale, Sugarbush Lager, Confederation Amber Ale and Antigravity Light Ale. Four years later the brewery underwent a rebranding because, as founder and head brewer Peter Chiodo said, “Being named for a dead white guy just isn’t very exciting”. The newly branded Flying Monkeys Brewery launched with a new beer along with their name, the Hoptical Illusion Almost Pale Ale, and soon after put a focus on esoteric and strong-flavoured beers with some of the craziest-looking art around. So crazy, in fact, that in 2011 the brewery saw themselves the topic of a province-wide discussion on the stronghold the LCBO has on many breweries when an application to stock the brewery’s latest beer, Smashbomb Atomic IPA, was declined because the depiction of an explosion on the label went against the government-run institution’s social responsibility policy.

smashbooombOver the years Flying Monkeys had been favouring brewing beers both extreme in flavour and high in alcohol content. Starting in 2011 with Alpha Fornication, “the world’s hoppiest beer” at 2,500 International Bittering Units, the brewery went on to make beers like Matador IIPA, Chocolate Manifesto, and the City & Colour Imperial Maple Wheat. Interesting concepts that were proudly over the top and, perplexingly, sold in large 750ml bottles despite the fact that for the most part the flavours were so extreme you couldn’t finish a pint of some of them. To add to their publicity for esoteric beers, they also regularly collaborated with musicians, notably Dallas Green and the Barenaked Ladies.

mythologyLately though, Flying Monkeys has been paying close attention to where people’s tastes are going and have started putting more of a focus on a few of their “simple done well” beers. Mythology, for instance. is a Czech Pilsner with a wonderful blend of biscuity malts and the floral, citrus character of Saaz hops. It’s incredibly well-made and has just recently won gold in the Canadian Brewing Awards. The brewery has also, finally, switched to cans, realizing that folks are more prone to buying one or two tallboys than they are for a six pack or giant bottle.

From basic entry-level beers, to outrageous and extreme flavour bombs, to award-winning pilsners in cans. That’s a hell of a brewery narrative, and it’s not even close to being finished.

One more.

DSC_0650Eric Portelance and Callum Hay are self-taught homebrewers with no formal training. For over four years they had been reading every book they could find, scouring every wiki and forum they could, to learn how to brew and brew well. They were also active members in Toronto’s large homebrewing community. When they eventually decided to start a brewery, one of the elements they had always insisted on being part of their identity was to have every single recipe for their beer available on their web site so other brewers can replicate or even expand on it. While several breweries have done this, the standard designation of it was putting out a “clone recipe”. Portelance, a former digital product designer, and Hay, a former software engineer, coined the term “Open-source beer” as a kind of tribute to their past lives. Terms aside, it was important for them to give back to the homebrewing community that helped them so much by putting their recipes out there for free.

DSC_0672After going through the usual tumbles of opening a brewery in Toronto (licensing, installation of equipment, testing the recipes etc.) Halo Brewery officially opened in the spring of this year. Located across the street from Ubisoft Toronto (people in motion capture bodysuits can frequently be seen around the area), the brewery experienced what is almost now common in the Toronto beer scene…a tremendous wave of support and near-constant packed house, with a very quick sell-out of many of the beers available that no one would ever have anticipated. Their beers include such delightfully nerdy names as Ion Cannon Strawberry & Kiwi Gose, Magic Missile Dry-Hopped Pale Ale, and Tokyo Rose Saison with Rosehips.

Despite their initial success Portelance and Hay have brought their experience of homebrewing with them, which means they are always refining their recipes and their process to get it to their own constantly raising standard. It also means that they’re learning a lot of the little differences between a homebrewing setup and a full-on brewery, which is something that can only be learned by starting your own brewery. Luckily for the duo, they anticipated all of this so they’re rolling with the good and the bad.

Callum Hay and Eric Portelance’s individual stories are long, but Halo Brewery’s has just started. That’s exciting.

Now it should be said that not all of the narratives in the beer scene are happy ones. While we’re seeing more and more breweries open up lately there are still a bunch that are closing down, and I don’t feel the latter gets as much attention as it should. A lot of breweries, most contract (folks who hire a brewery to brew their beer for them), some not, get into brewing thinking that it’s a giant cash cow and that the money will just come rolling in. Others end up just not progressing as much as they’d like to and the dream becomes unfeasible. Just today brewer Victor North announced that his brewery, Garden Brewers, was winding down operations. In his own words, he says: “We began to really focus on growing into a bricks-and-mortar company, but we also began to really lose money. I genuinely thought that we would beat the clock -and the odds- but we now find ourselves in a position where we are unable to continue”. It’s moments like that which remind you that, regardless of the reason, it is still possible to fail in this business. However, not wanting to be a downer, I should point out that while that’s the end of Garden Brewers’ narrative for the time being it is by no means the end of Victor North’s. The dude is a bright talent and he’ll continue to do awesome things within the industry. He’s by no means down for the count and I couldn’t be happier about that.

These are just a few examples of the thousands of narratives that are currently going on right now as you’re reading this. From a beer industry viewpoint they’re great to hear and provide insight into the ethos of a particular brewer or brewery. For a customer, it does the same, only I kind of feel those stories don’t get told as often as they should, what with all the commercials about the fresh ingredients and so on. But even then, all it takes to learn the story of a brewer is to simply walk up to them at an event and ask.

Chances are, they’d like to tell it to you.

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TRUTHSEEKER ALERT: NEW LEGENDARY MUSKOKA ODDITY SIGHTING!!!!

oddity2

Up here in Ontario there was some excitement on my part when I found out that Muskoka Brewery’s Legendary Oddity, formally the Spring Oddity, a Belgian Ale made with Heather Tips, Juniper Berries, Sweet Orange Peel, and Candi Sugar has not only come back to the brewery’s lineup, but also evolved from their giant 750ml wine bottle to a respectable tallboy can. I was happy about this for two reasons. Firstly, that particular beer, which itself was an oddity by being one of the early Belgian-style beers in Ontario, always marked the arrival of the spring season for me. so getting it on a day where the grey clouds actually parted to reveal sunny and mildly warm weather behind them made me feel all good. As erratic as it’s been, it was a long winter.

oddddddityThe second reason I got excited was because Muskoka’s marketing for it has leaned heavily on the Cryptozoology aspect of the beer which considering its mascot, a large eagle with antlers called a “Reineagle”, is absolutely perfect to create a story and social media campaign behind. The brewery has even gone so far as to make up some photos of Oddity “sightings” which I think are really cute (Above is my own discovery, from when I was hiking in the woods).

For those who don’t know, Cryptozoology is, in absolute basic terms, the study of animals that have very little evidence of their existence, but have been seen in legends and folklore of the locality. Think the Loch Ness Monster, El Chupacabras, The Jersey Devil, Mothman, and everybody’s favourite party animal, Bigfoot.

I love Cryptozoology. Not just because it’s taking a look at local lore and seeing if there is any substance to it, but also because in this day of cynicism, where there are all sorts of conspiracy theories over governments trying to destroy the population or personally attempting to bring forth the end of times…it’s just pleasant and downright heartwarming to know there’s someone out there looking for Bigfoot just to confirm that he exists. Like, maybe for some financial gain, but mostly just doing it to see if he’s real. Reading stuff on Cryptozoology is a good way to take a break and realize that there’s a more wholesome and optimistic type of fanatic out there.

In doing some research I was disappointed to find that, while Ontario has some legendary creatures of our own, they don’t seem to excite many folks in the cryptozoological community. We have a bunch of lake monsters reported as far back as the 1800s and the odd Sasquatch kicking around, but that’s about it.

Well…actually there is one.

Wendigo1The only creature that really sticks out is the famous Wendigo, a half-man-half-monster that has its origins in the belief system of the Ojibwe, Cree, Naskapi, and Innu people and has been spotted around Northern Ontario, particularly near Kenora (Note to self, call up Lake of the Woods Brewery up there). While the legend itself varies, one thing is common, a person could transform into a Wendigo by taking part in cannibalism, a strong taboo in the Algonquian cultures, even in dire circumstances such as needing to survive the cold. The transformation would leave that person as a horrible creature of pure malevolence, obsessed with the consumption of human flesh.

For further reading on Cryptozoology, check out American Monsters by Linda Godfreys. While it puts its focus on the States, it is fun to read about creatures of air, land, and water in the regions.

Now. On to the beer.

To be honest, it’s been awhile since I’ve tried this beer. It’s been on hiatus for a while and my tasting notes are lost to time. I’m happy to note that the flavour is really….well, bright is the only way to put it. The juniper berries provide a nice tart note along with a gin-like mouthfeel (not surprising, since the berries are a key ingredient in gin), while the heather tips and orange peel do the heavy lifting making for some wonderful bitter notes. The candi sugar wraps it all up in a lovely sweet blanket and there’s a gentle jab of warmth and a fairly dry mouthfeel. All in all, it’s definitely a great welcome in to the Spring season.

Muskoka’s Legendary Oddity will be out in LCBOs on April 1.

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So I’ve been busy (Ontario Craft Beer Guide Announcement)

ontariocraftbeerguide_robin_jordan

Hey folks, a lot of you might have noticed that I haven’t posted much on here this summer. My deepest apologies. Work has been absolutely crazy, with things just getting incredibly busy leading up to a string of business trips last month. Rest assured that posts are on the way. I have at least three posts in my drafts folder waiting to be tweaked on.

But before we get to that, I wanted to let you all in on some news. This will excite many people, but in particular long time readers and loved ones, who have seen this site grow since 2011.

As of today, fellow beer writer Jordan St. John and myself have signed a book contract with Dundurn Press to write The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, a comprehensive guide of Ontario’s breweries, brewpubs, and contract breweries.

Details will come soon. We’ve only just signed the thing and put it in the publisher’s hands. But I can say that we’re looking at a 2016 release, it will feature pictures, and that it’s the first book of it’s kind since 1993’s “Ontario Beer Guide” by Jamie Mackinnon. Safe to say that a lot has freakin’ changed since that time.

Right, I should get back to work. I just wanted to let you folks know. While this has been a Thing In The Works for a little while, now that it’s out there in the big world, it’s…it’s emotional, to be honest. Just going through this whole journey from blogger to contributor to columnist, to author. Freakin’ author.

Man.

Anyways, for some more official news, check out Canadian Beer News and Ontario Beer Network’s articles. Stay tuned for more details.

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The Long War: Big vs. Small Beer

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I think for about as long as I’ve been writing on this site, and definitely many years longer than that, there’s always been this epic war going on between smaller breweries and the big breweries. I know I definitely took part in fighting for the side of Small Craft Beer, especially when the lines were divided so distinctly between “unique, flavourful beers” and for the most part “tinted water painted up to look sexy”. It was, and still is, a thrill to see small businesses pull one over on the big corporations. It’s a sign that quality DOES matter to consumers and that each battle won, be it in the form of a growing selection at bars or stores, or in the rise of beer events, the small will always win. It’s always an aspiration and a joy to feel like Anya Major in the 1984 Apple commercial, throwing a sledgehammer at the screen broadcasting Big Brother’s word and showing the drones of people that there are other options out there and they can think for themselves.

The problem is, though, that at some point it became a war over ideals than actual quality of the product. This wasn’t helped by the fact that no one really managed to get a firm definition of exactly what “Craft Beer” is. The Brewer’s Association have one, but considering they’ve changed it so they can keep certain famed breweries under the “craft” label, it’s safe to say that their definition isn’t too great. With that, everyone has a personal ideal of what “Craft” represents. I often joke by saying that Craft Beer is the sun rising in Spring and is the warmth you feel when a loved one holds your hand. Frankly, I feel that “Craft Beer” should either be trademarked (similar to “Trappist Beer”), or left be. The definition is so broad.

workersAdditionally, the distinct line between flavours blurred as more and more the big brewing companies were purchasing smaller ones and had them continue to make the beers that made them famous, only with MUCH bigger distribution and budget behind it. Similar to when a favourite indie band signs with a big label, many fans forget that there is a business side to every art and that “selling out” is very different from “changing who signs the cheques”. Boycotts and expressions of outrage over a betrayal usually follow the news of a smaller brewery getting bought. It’s weird to see that, even though smaller breweries have won so much, many of its fans still fight as if they have everything to lose, as if everything they’ve fought for could all slip away without a moment’s notice and we’d immediately go back to The Way Things Were. For many, when we think of small breweries we think of the lone brewer skillfully working on their craft, but when we think of big breweries or breweries owned by a bigger one, our mind leaves the brewing floor and focuses on people in suits having a meeting about marketing strategies. And that IS terrifying. Our minds go back to the quality distinction and there’s this small, gripping fear that anyone picked up by a company that historically was on the wrong side of that distinction will be lost to us, drowned in watered-down piss, and emerge as one of the nameless machines that churns out mediocre brews.

Not to suggest that big brewing is blameless and doesn’t warrant that distrust. Like how Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty is run by the same folks that sign off on AXE Body Spray ads with bikini-clad women, it’s hard to trust a company that is so big that they have sections that cater to things you’re both for and against. I love sitting down at a patio with a nicely made beer, but I hate being at an event where nightclub partiers scream and fall down with a beer-case cardboard hat on their heads. And yet big breweries are in this position where they are able to comfortably sell to both sides of that market. Along with that and actively engaging in offence and deceit tactics, as a consumer I totally get how someone could look at that and not want to support it.

For myself and many others, there’s been a few things we’ve had to do. Firstly is to acknowledge that everyone has different tastes (duh). Secondly is to put the politics aside and see how the beers stand up along with the others we’ve enjoyed. While Miller Light, Coors, Bud, and Molson Canadian will always be passed on for me, Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout and IPA, Rickard’s Lederhosen Oktoberfest, and Pilsner Urquell will always be considered damn good beer. Just like a beer being “craft” doesn’t mean it’s a good beer, the same goes the other way for big beer. It’s not all yellow water with a flavour note of “cold”.

But hey, you’re all adults capable of making informed choices. I certainly don’t want you to choose sides, though as a personal rule that doubles as a compromise, I’m more prone to give local smaller breweries my money and attention while knowing that if I find myself in a spot, a good quality big beer is handy if I need it and they can work great as “old reliables”. From a variety within the brewery perspective, I’ll get some amazing limited one-offs from local breweries. Big breweries? Not as much.

There are many wars being fought in regards to beer. But I do feel that with the way things have been going, with big brewing companies courting smaller breweries and trying their best to embrace some of the adventurous spirit in those brewers, small beer has won the war on flavour. How that victory will continue to take shape is something we’ll discover as time goes on.

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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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