Ben's Beer Blog

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The Friday Four 11/17/2017

The Friday Four is a (new) weekly feature where I mention some beers I either drank this week, am currently drinking, or am looking forward to drinking. 

Brasseurs du Monde
Célébrante 375

Included in a handful of beers my brother brought me from the dep near his house in Montreal last time he visited, this beer is a “mellow blonde beer with champagne yeast.” The label listed tasting notes that suggested I could expect “low bitterness” and noted “it delivers honey, pear, orange and lemon flavours.” I didn’t catch most of these notes and instead this came off as a sort of overly-boozy blonde with an almost overbearing rounded pear note. I didn’t actually finish it. Sorry, brother. I include it here though to note what might be the first instance of  casual colonialism I’ve ever seen on a beer label. Brewed to commemorate the 375th anniversary of the founding of Montreal, the label includes this gem: “With courage and preserverance, Maisonneauve and his settlers founded Montreal on the site of an Iriquois village called Hochlega 375 years ago.” Right on the site of an existing village. What courage!


Sawdust City
Long Dark Voyage to Uranus

Previous batches of LDV have been a weird and impressive balance of rich, bitter, and dry that somewhat manages to be far more dangerously smooth than its hefty 9.5% imperial ABV would suggest. Possibly one of the best imperial stouts in the province–and definitely the best beer I know of that involves butthole word play–LDV is slated to return to LCBO shelves November 23rd and appears to already be on tap at a couple bars.


Block Three Brewing Co.
Frankenstout

On Monday, I undertook the overdue task of cleaning out my second beer fridge. Yes, there are two. I had a ton of beer that I knew I’d never drink (i.e. because it was terrible) or that appeared to be past its prime per its date stamps. It turns out I had a Frankenstout from November 2016 in the fridge and, given its lowish (5%) ABV I wasn’t sure how it might have held up. Turns out it was just fine. I took a whiff from the bottle and had to get a glass. Rich aromas, semi-dry finish, etc. and not over-bearing. A very nice accompaniment to pouring other beers into my laundry tub.
I forgot to take a picture so here’s Boris Karloff. 


Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co.
Tom Green Cherry Milk Stout

The folks at Beau’s sent me this variant of their popular Tom Green Beer milk stout about a month ago but I’ve been too much in denial to admit the winter months I associate with stouts are  here to dig in on the dark stuff–as you can see from the inaugural Friday Four, I’ve accepted that winter is around the corner and I’m diving into dark beers wholeheartedly. Tom Green Cherry Milk Stout is a black-brown with reddish highlights and it was doing that crazy growing head thing where I had to keep an eye on the glass to watch the ever-expanding off-white foam creeping higher. There are nice roasted malt and subtle chocolate flavours in this one and, while the tasting notes suggested sweet “dessert-like” cherry, I detected would I’d call a semi-sour smooch (a technical term) of sour black cherry. Very nice beer.

 

What are you drinking this weekend?


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30 minutes with Scott Simmons, the new President of the Ontario Craft Brewers

Back in August, the Ontario Craft Brewers announced the appointment of a new association president.

The former CEO of Golf Canada, Scott Simmons was also Vice President, marketing and business development for The Beer Store, and he led that organization’s development of a long range strategic plan.

The OCB currently boasts 82 members and is the only organization representing the interests of small brewers in the province. Accordingly, the role of president is one that could conceivably be pivotal in shaping the future of craft beer in Ontario. I reached out to Simmons and managed to catch him during a free half hour when he was literally driving to Queen’s Park to chat beer with provincial politicians and we discussed what he’s been up to in his first 12 weeks on the job, what we can expect next for beer in Ontario, and, importantly, what a newly-craft-converted and self-described “blue collar” guy from Brantford (who went to high school with Gretzky no less) likes to drink. What follows is an edited transcript of the things Simmons was willing to go on the record about (also worth noting: I knew we only had 30 minutes, so I tried to cut to the chase).

 

Ben’s Beer Blog: “Ok, you probably saw this one coming, so lets start with it. Craft brewers in Ontario are still “the little guys,” and to my mind, there are a few big guys they have to do battle with and one of them is The Beer Store. You come from The Beer Store. How do you reconcile that? I’ve talked to some OCB members and, the consensus is generally “who better to help us in that system,” but there are also a lot of guys that want to blow up that system. In March 2015, I watched Darren Smith, the owner of Lake of Bays Brewery and the Vice Chair of the Ontario Craft Brewers, give an impassioned speech directly to provincial politicians, basically saying “Let us have our own stores.” I still think that’s the best possible scenario here: Let craft brewers open their own stores. But given your Beer Store background, does this signify that the OCB is content to work within that system, or are stores still a goal?”

Scott Simmons: “I think it’s still a goal for sure. But as you know from your work in the industry, every thing is political. Everything is a negotiation. I think that, my personal opinion, the craft brewers kind of lost the battle for their own stores—for the time being at least—when the grocery store plan got announced.”

BBB: “I agree.”

SS: “I think when they announced grocery, cross-selling and individual stores fell off the table for the time-being but it’s certainly something that I’m going to keep advocating for. And to your point about the little guys and the big competition with Molson and Labatt—for sure, but I try not to think of it as so contentious. They’re not evil and all this. You know, they’re good people.”  Continue reading


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The LCBO doesn’t have a definition for “craft beer” either

If you want to have an exhausting and irritating conversation with a bunch of beer nerds, bring up the subject of the definition of the word “craft.”

Opinions will quickly vary on whether or not it relates to production methods, some notion of “quality,” size, or ownership, and some folks think the word ought to be abandoned altogether. Personally, I’m of the opinion that the Brewers Association’s definition, while not perfect, provides a good place to start in order to create some working definition here in Canada–and I actually attempted to define the term in an August 2016 blog post.

My own efforts notwithstanding, the definition of “craft” seems to be something that we still struggle with here in Ontario. Even, it seems, at the LCBO.

First, let it be said that I do think the LCBO is making commendable efforts to support craft beer. Virtually every small brewer in Ontario that I’ve spoken to on the subject notes that the people working within the LCBO are very helpful and supportive when it comes to the local breweries who vie to hawk their wares on their store shelves. Aside from being overly bureaucratic and occasionally making some head-scratching decisions about beers that are and are not approved (NO LASER SHOW?!), I think the LCBO is a pretty darn decent place for craft beer.

That said, given that the government-run booze emporium is one of the few places we can legally buy beer to take home, too much of its advertising and merchandising seems to me to have a complicated relationship with the word craft. Continue reading


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Never mind Oktoberfest, here’s Craftoberfest

When I was in university, I travelled to Kitchener to attend the annual Oktoberfest event there, and it was nothing short of terrible.

The pilgrimage to the K-W included sleeping on the floor of a frat boy friend of a friend and it coincided with a lamentable period of my youth that all men seem to go through where we find it humourous to hit each other as hard as possible in the balls. While my group of friends always had a gentleman’s rule that these shots were permissible only when administered open-handed, the agreement was not enough to prevent my two best friends from nearly fighting each other in the middle of a polka-filled hall of dirndl- and lederhosen-bedecked revellers that evening.

Accordingly, I will likely forever associate my experience at Oktoberfest with a terrible night of drinking and the anxiety of perpetually fearing blunt force trauma to my penis and testicles. And while the organizers aren’t responsible for me associating Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest with being hit in the balls, it seems to me an apt metaphor for the annual event. Continue reading


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Column: The top five places for (good) beer in London

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In addition to the ol’ blog, some of you might be aware that I write a bi-weekly column for the local publication Our London. About a month ago, I wrote a column detailing the scant places you might find a good beer in town. I thought I’d repurpose it here as it might be helpful to any thirsty blog readers who might be headed to The Forest City soon.

1. Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium

Anyone who drinks good beer in London won’t be surprised to see Pub Milos atop this list. With an owner who goes out of his way to bring unique Ontario beers to his Talbot Street locale, Pub Milos’ 27-tap draught menu is unparalleled in London and is arguably among Ontario’s best. The food is very good, the staff are all either certified cicerones or working to become certified, and it’s right downtown. The place does beer the way I wish all bars would. ‘Nuff said.

2. The Morrissey House

In 2014, owner Mark Serre stopped buying draught from The Beer Store and now deals directly with local brewers. The result is 18 draught options that feature options you can’t find elsewhere in the Forest City, including offerings from London’s breweries and beer from Windsor to cottage country, including regular options from the excellent Great Lakes Brewery in Etobicoke. There’s an increasingly decent selection of 35 craft bottles and cans and a decent menu. Occupying a converted “London Brick” mansion, “The Mo” offers a somewhat dated ambiance, but is suitably cozy and offers a great patio.

3. Bungalow

Frequently packed thanks to being the only pub in convenient walking distance for those who live in Old North, the seriously-good burgers and respectable draught lineup are certainly as much to blame for its popularity as its convenience. A welcoming watering hole, Bungalow offers a draught lineup that skews toward craft but won’t frighten the uninitiated. Approachable craft beers like Steam Whistle and Samuel Adams Lager abound with occasionally experimental offerings like Muskoka Brewery’s rotating Moonlight Kettle series or a Beau’s All Natural one-off. The place promises a “neighbourhood hub” and it delivers.

Read the rest of my column over on the Our London site here.


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Sexist beer marketing: Meanwhile in Nova Scotia

A  few months ago I wrote a blog post discussing sexist marketing in beer and I called out–and chatted with–some Ontario breweries about marketing efforts I felt objectified women.

In the interim, there have been some changes worth noting. Whitewater Brewing, the Ottawa Valley area brewer who makes “Farmer’s Daughter Blonde,” has quietly updated the branding for that can and appears to have renamed their seasonal “Farmer’s Daughter’s Melons” to the decidedly less cringe-inducing “Watermelon Blonde.”

Niagara Brewing Company, the makers of “Amber Eh!,” an American-style Amber that features a semi-naked female lumberjack on the can, took the less strategic but still effective approach of responding to my repeated inquiries by simply blocking me on social media. I guess that works.

The other breweries mentioned have, to date, continued business as usual; including continuing to use the cans that I discussed.

As first reported here in August, Garnet Pratt Siddall, the then-newly-appointed chair of the Ontario Craft Brewers who spoke candidly with me for my article about sexist beer in the industry, has been terminated as the CEO of Collingwood’s Side Launch Brewing Co.

I’ve also confirmed with the OCB that she has likewise subsequently resigned as the chair and director of that organization. It remains to be seen who her replacement will be and, as such, it’s unclear whether the de facto figurehead of Ontario’s only organization advocating for small brewers will share Siddall’s interest in making changes related to offensive marketing.

Interestingly though, one of the most promising changes to come about since my article, and apparently as a result of it, comes not from Ontario, but rather from Nova Scotia. Continue reading


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The best beer I’ve ever had: Doug Lounsbury

As part of an ongoing series, The best beer I’ve ever had, I put the call out to other beer folks and ask them to detail their “best beer” experiences for me.

For today’s installment, Doug Lounsbury shares his (illegal) story. Lounsbury is one of the founders of the Georgetown Craft Beer Festival , now in its third year and taking place Saturday Sept. 16th, from 11-6pm.

This story might not be politically correct, as my best beer memory actually came at very young age.

When my father was in his mid 30s, he decided to move away from the city and give farming a shot. I was born a few years after this transition.

In the early 70s, when I was young, rural living was much the same as it is now. It meant early hours and hard work, with friends and neighbours helping each other out; especially at harvest time. My father had pigs, corn, and hay and it is hay that that led to my best beer memory.

In late summer, all of our neighbours would move from farm to farm assisting in the harvest. The hay was in bales and the men would follow the tractor and trailer, throwing the bales into neat stacks. Every man was needed for this backbreaking job and so who was left to drive the tractor? Well, at all of five years old, that job fell to me. My instructions were simply to keep the steering wheel straight and, on the turns, someone would jump up and maneuver it for me. I’m not entirely sure how many times I got to do this, but it is ingrained in my memory for one important reason: Beer.

When we were done I remember we all gathered in the shade and everyone had a Labatt’s Blue. I was having water, but I distinctly remember my dad let me have a taste of his beer.

I remember it being cool and bubbly.

To this day, whenever I finish working in the garden or cutting the grass, I have a cold beer and it brings me back to those days. Of course, these days it’s usually Steam Whistle, not Blue.