Ben's Beer Blog

A place for all things beer.


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The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, Second Edition: a review

Recently, beer writers Robin LeBlanc and Jordan St. John released the second volume of their guide to the breweries currently making beer across Ontario.

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the aptly named Ontario Craft Beer Guide, Second Edition, and so, as I imagine the authors and Dundurn Press had hoped I would, I have undertaken the task of reviewing the book; and, as it seemed appropriate, I did so in a manner befitting the book’s subject matter.

Mostly a pale gold in colour, the book features spots of blue with white font and a sturdy, purple binding with about two fingers of head depicted along the top of the cover that has not dissipated in the twelve hours since I received this review copy. Including the comprehensive list of recommended pubs across the province, the book is a whopping 640 pages and is thus entirely opaque. Literally no light shines through it at all. Continue reading


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Food and Beer, the book

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On the short list of things I’m really enthusiastic about, beer, food, and books all rank fairly highly.

That’s why I was pretty excited to check out a review of copy of the book “Food & Beer,” by Daniel Burns, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø,and Joshua David Stein.

Burns and Jarnit-Bjergsø share space in Brooklyn where their respective attached homes, Luksus and Tørst, elevate beer to the status it deserves as they pair it with both casual food and fine dining in two environments that rank among the coolest places to drink a beer I’ve ever seen. Tørst is humbly self-described as a neighborhood bar, but it is in fact a barnboard, white-marble, and mirrored shrine to good beer where serious beer enthusiasts come to drink from Tørst’s custom wine glasses and beer is the only beverage served. Essentially, Jarnit-Bjergsø is overseeing the physical embodiment of the happy place from my dream journal (Incidentally Jarnit-Bjergsø is also the evil twin who founded Evil Twin Brewing).

Daniel Burns oversees the menu of casual fare at Tørst where, at the back of the bar is a “secret” door leading to Luksus, a 16-seat tasting menu restaurant that Burns helms, where diners are “transported to a Nordic-inspired evening, influenced by the chef’s time in England and America, and his childhood in Nova Scotia.” Each dish at Luksus is paired exclusively with beer chosen by Jarnit-Bjergsø. Wine and cocktails are not available. Because fuckin’ eh, man.

Burns and  Jarnit-Bjergsø have written this book with Joshua David Stein (the food critic for New York Observer) and, as you might have guessed by the flurry of credentials I’ve already thrown at you, the book is dope, as the kids say. Continue reading


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The Ontario Craft Beer Guide is for geeks

Despite what virtually all of the Ontario breweries, beer writers, and various beer-scene hangers-on that I happen to follow on social media have been telling me for the last week or so, Jordan St. John and Robin LeBlanc have not written a beer book.

I mean, technically, of course, they did “write a book,” the soon to be released Ontario Craft Beer Guide, but what the authors–one a former nationally syndicated beer columnist and the other the current beer columnist for Torontoist, both of them prolific bloggers–have actually written is a unique and thorough snapshot of the beer industry in a region that is on the cusp of a very large boom.

Craft-beer sales in Ontario rose a whopping 26.6 per cent between 2013 and 2014 according to the last available data from the LCBO and, according to the Ontario Craft Brewers, their share of beer sales has increased nearly 220 per cent since 2010. “Craft” is by far the fastest-growing segment of beer in the Ontario market. The Ontario Beverage Network formerly known as Mom n Hops has 300 breweries on its list of beer-making-operations that are either currently open in the province or are in the planning phase, and that number is up from just 100 three years ago. To put it bluntly then, craft beer in Ontario is going fucking gangbusters.  And so it’s an extremely interesting time for the arrival of The Ontario Craft Beer Guide which, in effect, will serve as an excellent and ridiculously detailed archive of Ontario craft beer essentially right as it’s coming into its own. Continue reading


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Beer goes in your mouth

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In honour of April Fool’s day today, Jason Fisher, the perennial shit-disturbing owner of Toronto’s Indie Alehouse released a couple of videos staring a handful of Second City alumni regular customers taking shots at some of the more absurd, ridicule-worthy elements of the province’s beer scene.

I particularly enjoyed this video that takes aim squarely at the province’s growing number of Certified Cicerones, Prud’homme beer sommeliers, and know-it-all beer bloggers (ahem) who might consider themselves beer experts.

Let’s be honest, this is hilarious (“Rope?”). And it’s a welcome reminder that maybe we all take beer a little too seriously sometimes.

Well done, Jason. Also fuck you!

Click here for Indie’s other video about their beer store


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The best beer I’ve ever had: Robin LeBlanc

Recently, I shared an occasion that had me considering the emotional connection one can have with a beer-drinking experience when I wrote “The best beer I’ve ever had.” I put the call out to other beer folks and asked them to detail their “best beer” experiences for me for a series aptly titled, The best beer I’ve ever had.

For this entry, Robin LeBlanc, aka The Thirsty Wench, a home-brewer whose beer blog was a recent finalist in Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog Awards in the Wine & Beer category, talks about her best beer experience. 

Back in 2005 or so, long before I even knew the words “craft beer,” I was a second-year film student with no social skills (as opposed to what I am now–a beer writer/photographer with minimal social skills).

My brother Sean wasn’t doing well. Well, he never did well in his life, as he was born severely disabled; scoliosis, collapsed lung, cerebral palsy; he had quite a list of things to deal with, but let’s just settle on “severely disabled.”

Despite that, I should point out that he was one hell of a kid; always full of smiles and attitude. He also had a way with the ladies. Anyway, something came up with him that required immediate surgery. For most people this would have been a walk in the park, but because of Sean’s other problems,it proved risky. He had never had an operation before and the doctor wasn’t sure that he’d survive the operation. And even if he did, we were told, there was a risk that he wouldn’t be able to be taken off of assisted breathing. We were told to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Terrified and worried, we met the surgical team and said what we hoped wouldn’t be our final goodbyes to my brother.

Hours went by.

It was nauseating. Terrible. There was no way to make that time go any faster. Try reading a book? Too worried to get past a single sentence. Try to talk to family? It only went to the subject at hand and back in to worried silence. I walked around the hospital for a while and talked on the phone to a few people. Mostly though, I just sat in the waiting room with the other families who were worried sick about their kid’s surgery. When we reached the time that the surgery was supposed to be done, I was already at the door of the waiting room. Some time passed by before Sean’s surgeon showed up saying the operation went well, but he wasn’t out of the woods yet, as the breathing tube was still in him and there was still a chance that he wouldn’t breathe independently.

Before we had time to tense up over that, not even a full half hour, a nurse came up to us and told us that Sean had fought to get that damned breathing machine out of him and he was breathing steadily on his own. He was in ICU, but he was going to be totally fine. A collective sigh of relief from the family could be heard throughout the hospital and soon we were laughing. After a while my mom, who knows Sean’s medical details like the back of her hand, decided to stay with him through the night just in case the nurses and doctors needed some information. Dad and I started heading home.

On the drive back to our home in Scarborough, my dad noticed that The Feathers Pub was coming up and decided that a celebratory drink was in order. He pulled over and we went inside. My dad thinks he had Ardbeg Single Malt (his difficulty recalling the specific scotch likely due to the fact that Feathers has one HELL of a single malt selection) and I, not a Scotch drinker, ordered a Guinness.

We got our drinks, toasted to my brother’s strength and good health as well as the phenomenal staff at Sick Kid’s Hospital, and commenced with the quaffing. And I’ll be damned if that wasn’t the best beer I ever had.

After the events of the day, it was nice to sit down with this beer and know that things would be alright.


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The best beer I’ve ever had: Crystal Luxmore

Last week, I shared an occasion that had me considering the emotional connection one can have with a beer-drinking experience when I wrote “The best beer I’ve ever had.” I put the call out to other beer folks and asked them to detail their “best beer” experiences for me for a series aptly titled, The best beer I’ve ever had. For my first guest entry, Crystal Luxmore, beer writer, editor, Certified Cicerone and a Prud’homme Beer Sommelier, talks about her best beer experience. 

I was at Real Sports Bar and Grill at the Air Canada Centre, killing time before the Jays game. I was eating wings and watching my sister, husband, and brothers-in-law down pints because I was eight months pregnant and hadn’t had an entire pint of beer since finding out the news 7 months before.

I refreshed my email and saw a message titled: “Certified Cicerone Exam Results – Crystal Luxmore.”

I’d seen this message once before — in January — when I had come a few percentage points short of the 80% needed to pass. So in May, I’d flown to Chicago to sit the exam one more time, hoping to pass the sucker before my baby came.

This time I read as far as:

On behalf of Cicerone Program Director Ray Daniels and the Cicerone Exam Management Team, I’d like to congratulate you on passing the Certified Cicerone® exam!

before screaming “Yes!” and breaking out into a wild grin.

Ten minutes later I decided it was time for the first full pint of my pregnancy — I chose Creemore, one of the first great Canadian craft lagers of my generation and still a favourite of mine.

Never have beer and wings tasted so good.

I suspect, however, with only a week to go until my due date, that the first full bottle of beer I have after giving birth might taste even better.


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The best beer I’ve ever had

On Friday July 19, 2013, my son was born.

As is to be expected, his birth did not go entirely as we had planned it to go. It was a traumatic experience for him, for his mom, and for me. As a result of his traumatic birth, he didn’t get to stay with us for very long before he was whisked off to the newborn intensive care unit for observation.

He’s fine, but the fact that he spent his first two days in the world in an incubator on a different floor of the hospital than our recovery room made for a pretty emotional start to his life (for his parents much more than for him I’m sure—we had to wake up every three hours to come down to feed and hold him, he was warm and safe and sleeping and probably didn’t even notice).

As anyone who’s had a baby can likely attest, you don’t get much sleep in the first little while. On top of that usual lack of sleep, we had the emotionally draining experience of having to frequently visit—and then leave—our son throughout the night. All told, by the time he was actually with us in our hospital room on Sunday July 21st, we’d probably had less than 10 hours sleep in the 65 hours since we had taken a cab to the hospital at 4am on Friday morning and a good portion of the time we’d been awake had been spent crying.

Needless to say, we were frazzled.

On the night our son finally joined us in our room, my wife spent a considerable amount of time holding and breastfeeding our son until she finally slipped into what I imagine was the first real sleep she’d had in some time. When she did, I took over (the holding, not the breastfeeding) and turned on the TV. It was then that my father-in-law offered me a beer—something that my in-laws had slipped in with the food and clean clothes they’d brought to the hospital “just in case.”

It was in this state—emotionally drained, tired to an extreme I’d never before experienced, and overjoyed to finally, permanently have our son with us—that I drank what was without a doubt the best beer I’ve ever had. My newborn son was in my arms, there was a baseball game on the TV in our room—a Baltimore Orioles/Texas Rangers game that history tells me the Rangers lost 4-2—and I was finally able to relax. The beer, incidentally, was a can of Muskoka Brewery’s Mad Tom IPA, but frankly I’m not sure that matters all that much. Mad Tom is without a doubt a great beer, but truth be told, I don’t think I even finished it.

This experience has inspired me to explore the emotional component that sometimes accompanies a great beer and I’ve asked a handful of “beer folks”–brewers, writers, and industry folks–to detail their best beer experience in a series aptly titled “The best beer I’ve ever had.” I’ll share their stories with you here in the coming weeks.