CLOSING TIME

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Movin' On...

After running Beer, Beats & Bites for the last year or so with a Blogspot address, it seemed to me that it was about time to give it it's own domain. And since I've come to prefer the Wordpress blog software we've been using for Taste T.O. over the Blogger software used on Blogspot, I decided to move the whole thing over to Wordpress.com.

That means there will be no more new posts at this address, so please change your bookmarks to http://www.beerbeatsbites.com (or if you're using an RSS reader, http://www.beerbeatsbites.com/feed).

Since the domain was just registered this morning, the DNS record may not be finished propagating yet, so you can use http://beerbeatsbites.wordpress.com as a back-up address for now. Please don't use it permanently, though, as I may move to a new host in the future, but the main beerbeatsbites.com domain will follow wherever I go.

Thankfully, Wordpress.com has a handy import utility for Blogger blogs, so I was able to get all of my old posts - including comments - over to the new location. There are still a few glitches to be worked out and some sprucing up needed, but generally, it's ready for prime time.

See ya on the other side...

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Trio From Isle Of Skye

A recent Bar Towel posting from import agents Roland + Russell regarding a pending order from Scotland's Isle of Skye Brewery reminded me that I never got around to cross-posting my thoughts on the sampler pack they delivered to me a while back from RateBeer to here. Sorry about that, R+R!

Here they are now, better late than never:

Isle of Skye Hebridean Gold
This ale has a vibrant golden colour with a moderate pure white head. Nice, fresh aroma of honey, heather and herbs, and a soft, pleasant body. Flavour is simple but enjoyable with notes of graham crackers and lightly toasted oats followed by a mild, herbal finish. Nice and quenching, I quite liked it.

Isle of Skye Red Cuillin
Slightly murky reddish-brown colour with a small head. The aroma holds roasted malt, Fuggles hops, a touch of caramel, and a hint of peat. The flavour follows the aroma pretty closely, with the peatiness becoming more prominent as it warms up. Not a bad little ale.

Isle of Skye Black Cuillin
Deep brown porter with a good sized off-white head. Roasted malt, coffee and a hint of smoke in the aroma. Medium body. The flavour is big and roasty, with smoky and sour notes around the edges. A very good porter.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Session #7: Theme Announcement

As mentioned in my round-up of Session #6 last weekend, Rick Lyke of Lyke 2 Drink is the host for Session #7, and a couple of days ago he announced the theme:

Have you ever noticed how many animals show up on beer labels? We have lions and tigers and bears, plus various birds, reptiles, fish, assorted domesticated and wild animals, plus a few mythical creatures. For whatever reason brewers have a tradition of branding their beers using everything from pets to predators. The Brew Zoo will celebrate these lagers and ales.

Your assignment for The Session #7 is to go on a beer safari and help stock our Brew Zoo with animals large and small. This is one hunt that even PETA should not protest.

This should be a fun one, although I do have two thoughts right off the bat:

1) All of the locally-available beers I can think of with animal names and/or graphics are pretty lousy. I'll have to wrack my brain to come up with something before September 7th.

2) It's funny how the idea of drinking a "zoo brew" is perfectly acceptable to the beer geek contingent, while serious wine drinkers generally look down upon so-called "critter wines" that feature animals on the label.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Anthony Wilson R.I.P.

This post has nothing to do with beer. It's vaguely related to the usually ignored "Beats" portion of this blog's name. But mainly, it's just my small tribute to a man who changed my life, even though I never met him.

His name was Anthony Wilson, he co-founded Factory Records, and he died today.

During it's relatively short and infamously volatile existence, Factory was the home of a number of artists whose work I enjoy - Section 25, A Certain Ratio, Happy Mondays, Durutti Column, OMD - but most importantly, there was Joy Division and, following the death of singer Ian Curtis, New Order.

Very few bands had as much of an influence on my musical tastes as they did, and if the stories are to be believed (and if you've seen 24 Hour Party People, you'll know that often they are not...), it was Wilson's encouragement that kept Joy Division together in the first place.

So for that, and all the great music and ideas that he presented to the world via Factory and his other undertakings, I simply say: "Thanks, Tony."

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

You Down With OCB? (Yeah You Know Me)


Last week, I received a special delivery from the fine folks at the Ontario Craft Brewers to promote the appearance of many of their members at Toronto's Festival of Beer, which kicks off tomorrow at Fort York. The package contained an assortment of eight beers (well, actually, six different beers, with doubles of two of them), as well as a copy of Bill Perrie's book Craft Brewers Of Ontario (which I already received and reviewed last summer, so it's been passed on to a friend) and various promotional materials.

Now, even though I received hundreds - if not thousands - of free CDs and records during my years of music reviewing and DJing, this free beer thing is still a cool novelty to me. But I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed by the contents of the package. Not that I didn't appreciate receiving it - I mean, hey, it's FREE BEER! But as someone who is quite familiar with the products of pretty much every brewery in the OCB, I felt that the full spectrum of what our province's craft brewers have to offer wasn't as well represented as it could've been, especially if the same package was sent out to less beer-saavy media. As noted above, two of the beers were there twice, and of the six distinct beers in the pack, four were pale lagers, one was a cream ale, and one was a porter. Meanwhile, one of the promotional pamphlets bragged about the diversity of the beers being brewed in Ontario, and listed the various styles available such as fruit beers, dark ales, pale ales, and so forth. So why didn't they include examples of some of those in the packages?

Anyway, I guess I should write a bit about the beers that were actually in there, eh? Well, to start with, there was a bottle of Great Lakes Golden Horseshoe Lager and two bottles of Cool Beer. I drank these one after the other, and I honestly couldn't tell the difference between them. Each of them is a pale yellow lager with a vaguely sweet aroma, mild and clean flavour, and little to no aftertaste. Both are well made for the mainstream lager style, but they're just not my kinda thing. However, based on the number of neighbourhood drinking holes that I've seen with one or the other on tap, I can only assume they're doing pretty well at cracking at least a few bits of the market, so more power to 'em.

Next up where a pair of lagers from Neustadt Springs Brewery - Bruce County Premium Lager and Neustadt Lager. I wrote these up for my Beer of the Week column on Taste T.O. this week, so I'll just give you an excerpt from what I wrote there:

(Bruce County) has a nice golden colour which is a bit darker than you might expect from a 4.5% lager, with a good sized white head that doesn’t stick around. The aroma is predominantly malty with a sweet and toasty character, and the body is a bit thin, but suitable for the style. The flavour is mild but well balanced, with bready malt and herbal hops in their proper places, and the hops getting a bit bolder as it warms. Yeah, it’s a relatively simple and easy-drinking lager, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially when the beer is well crafted and holds a fair bit more character than a typical macrobrew.

The same can be said for the brewery’s flagship Neustadt Lager. In some ways, it’s quite similar to the Bruce County, but with a bit more colour, more aroma and more flavour. Also like the Bruce County, it’s not an envelope-pusher, but it doesn’t have to be. I like so-called “extreme beers” as much as the next guy, but well made and enjoyable golden lagers like these have their place as well, especially during the dog days of summer.

From there, I moved on to Cameron's Cream Ale. Right up front, I have to say that I'm generally not all that hot on cream ales. The style seems like a bit of a cop out to me - an ale for people who don't really like ales. That being said, Cameron's version is an enjoyable quaff, with a slight fruitiness to the nose, the expected creamy body, and a balanced, refreshing flavour. Still, I much prefer their Auburn Ale.

Finally, there were two bottles of Mill Street Coffee Porter, neither of which I was able to drink because my wife stole them to take to a friend's BBQ on the weekend. But I've had this one often enough to know that it was easily the best beer of the bunch. They've toned down the coffee from the early batches, but it's still an excellent porter with tasty roasted coffee notes, and easily one of Ontario's best beers.

As mentioned, these five breweries and around a dozen other OCB members will have booths at Toronto's Festival of Beer running August 9th-12th at Fort York. For all of it's flaws, the fest is still a good opportunity to get a taste of Ontario's craft brewing scene, as well as a bunch of the good (and some not-so-good) quality imports available in the province. Just stay away from the Labatt and Molson tents and you should be fine.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Session #6: Round-Up

Well, I think this was the busiest Session yet, which is pretty impressive considering that BB&B is probably the least active blog to have hosted so far. Here's what everyone had to say:

  • Al at Hop Talk confesses that he's really not much of a fan of fruit beers, and after trying six new ones, his opinion doesn't change much.
  • Also at Hop Talk, Ron compares a couple of blueberry beers, and tries to improve one of them by mixing it with Guinness.
  • Andreea at Belgian Beers tries the "pink" and "girly" new Hoegaarden Rosée, a raspberry flavoured version of the classic Belgian witbier.
  • Stan at Appellation Beer tries a fantastic sounding Raspberry Strong Ale from Berkshire Brewing in South Deerfield, MA, which is brewing using a whole whack of real raspberries.
  • Ray at The Barley Blog is another fruit beer hater, so he dodges the bullet by reviewing Duchesse De Bourgogne, which isn't a fruit beer at all but does have some fruit lambic character to the flavour. Plus it's one of my favourite beers, so I guess I'll let it slide.
  • Rick at Lyke 2 Drink gives quick notes on 11 different fruit beers he's tried in the last month, ranging from light wheat beers to some high-octane ales, and featuring flavours as varied as raspberry, blueberry, apple and pomegranate.
  • Alan at A Good Beer Blog is pleased to find a fruit lambic that he likes in the form of Kriek De Ranke from Belgium.
  • The Beer Nut in Dublin gets the award for tasting the most unique beers for this Session, as he tries examples flavoured with green tea and yuzu, palm nut, and banana.
  • Steve at Summer of Beer is a relative newcomer to fruit beer, but he enjoys the pair of raspberry beers that he tries.
  • Tim at Sioux Brew is new to the Session, and debuts with a look at Brau Brothers Strawberry Wheat.
  • Wilson at Brewvana doesn't really dig Longs Peak Raspberry Wheat, but is very happy with his homebrewed Cherry Bomb, a Belgian strong ale enhanced with bing cherries. He also offers a helpful list of beer styles that often have fruit-like characteristics without having any actual fruit added.
  • Captain Hops at Beer Haiku Daily gives a couple of his patented 5-7-5 tributes to Lindemans Pêche and Dogfish Head Aprihop.
  • Paul at Stuff. Y'know. is another Session newbie, and he tries two cherry beers: Bell's Cherry Stout (which he doesn't really like) and Unibroue Quelque Chose (which he does).
  • Craig at Beers, Beers, Beers reviews three beers in three different flavours - apple, cherry and peach - and ends up liking them all.
  • Another Session newcomer is The Dude at Akelas Biggins, who gets nostalgic with a look back at the original Austin-brewed version of Celis Raspberry.
  • Jay at Brookston Beer Bulletin checks in with one of his typically informative and interesting posts where he lists dozens of different fruit beers grouped by fruit, and then reviews what is probably the first ever beer brewed with plumcots, a plum/apricot hybrid that's one of my favourite fruits.
  • Paul at Beer & Food is a Session virgin, so it's fitting that his post is entitled "My First Cherry".
  • Stephen does double duty once again, with reviews of Bell's Cherry Stout at On The House and Wild Rose Wraspberry Wheat (plus mentions of a few other Canadian fruit beers) at Stephen Beaumont's Beer Blog.
  • Sage at My Beer Pix does a bit of self-analysis regarding what he likes and doesn't like about fruit beers in general, rather than reviewing one in particular. And he also has a very funny picture of a banana in a glass of beer.
  • Ted at Barley Vine is pretty happy with his choice of Atlantic Brewing's Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale.
  • Jon at The Brew Site doesn't have any fruit beer on hand, so he decides to "wax rhapsodic about fruit beers in general", and also links back to reviews of some fruit beers he's posted about in the past.
  • Andrew at Flossmoor Beer Blog offers his personal opinions, and those of some other people, on two fruit beers (or more accurately, two different versions of the same fruit beer) that he brews for Flossmoor Station.
  • OK, I lied when I said that The Beer Nut tried the most unique beers, as the award really must go to Chris at Beer Activist, who brewed up a batch of mfula mfula (aka riva riva), an African fermented drink made with bread, oats, sugar and pineapple.
  • Jesse at Twin Cities Beer Geek takes one for the team and reviews Miller Chill.
  • Jack at The Beer Tap missed last month's session, but he returns this month with a mixed trio of peach, raspberry and blackberry beers.
  • Bill at Beerjanglin' is yet another Session newbie, and he arrives in fine form with a witty and well-written feature on three East Coast offerings.
  • Dave at Hair of the Dog Dave pays tribute to my Canadian-ness by writing up two fruit beers he tried on a recent visit to Vancouver.
  • Adam at Beer Bits 2 (does that mean there's a Beer Bits 1 somewhere?) looks at two raspberry beers that are quite different from each other despite featuring the same fruit.
  • maeib at maeib's Beerblog looks back at some of the many fruit beers he has known.
  • Spence at Brewer Man reviews Dogfish Head Black and Blue - a beer that I sincerely wish was available in Ontario, as it sounds fantastic - and also gives his thoughts on a few other fruit beers that have impressed him.
  • Londoners Boak & Bailey review a couple of blackberry beers - including one they brewed themselves - as well as beer brewed with tayberries (yeah, I'd never heard of them either - they're a cross between raspberries and blackberries).
  • Lost Abbey's Tomme Arthur is late with his post at Brewer’s Log (Blog), but since it's a really fascinating look at his own Cuvee de Tomme, we'll let it slide.
  • And finally, some guy named Greg at Beer, Beats & Bites is pissed that the beer he wanted to review didn't show up, but stumbles across three others unexpectedly, so it all works out in the end.
So, I think that went pretty well, don't you? I figured that my theme choice would be a controversial one, and based on the number of people who started their post with "I normally hate fruit beers...", I guess I was right.

To be honest, though, I think the reason why fruit beers get such a bad rap from a lot of beer geeks is because they instantly think of the ones that are most common in North America - i.e. filtered wheat beers or other light ales and lagers that are flavoured with cloyingly sweet and often artificial tasting fruit extracts. The fact that such beers made up a large percentage of those covered in this Session goes to show just how ubiquitous those type of fruit beers are. But thankfully, a number of people looked at some more classic and/or bizarre examples as well.

In the end, this whole Session can be summed up nicely by the following words from Jay Brooks at Brookston Beer Bulletin:

(There is an) amazing diversity of different fruits used in beers. No two are alike, and so saying you don’t like fruit beer is like saying you don’t like people. There’s just too many variables to make such a blanket statement. I think it comes down to perception again of some weird prejudice in the U.S. where fruit in beer is seen as unmanly, as ridiculous a notion as I can imagine. There’s just too many good flavors here to ignore them over masculinity. But I guess that’s more for the rest of us.

Amen. And thanks to everyone who participated. I now pass the pint glass to Rick at Lyke 2 Drink who will be hosting next month's Session. I'm sure we're all looking forward to his theme announcement with much anticipation. No pressure, Rick... :)

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Session #6: Fruit Beer

OK, here's the thing: When I selected fruit beer as the theme for this month's instalment of The Session (that beer-blog round-up thingie that a bunch of us do on the first Friday of every month, and that I'm hosting for August), I did so in anticipation of the pending arrival of Liefmans Kriekbier as part of the LCBO's summer beers promotion. I loved this beer when I first tried it a couple of years ago, and was looking forward to downing a couple of bottles to see if it's as good as I remembered, and to write about it for The Session.

However, the beer - along with its non-fruited counterpart, Liefmans Goudenband - never showed, leaving me at a bit of a loss as to what beer I would write about it. After all, as my fellow Ontarian Stephen Beaumont mentions in one of his contributions to the Session, there are very few fruit beers produced up here, and only a couple of imported examples on our LCBO and Beer Store shelves. But I guess the beer gods were smiling on me, as I managed to get my hands on three new fruit beers in the past week, giving me a lot to write about after all.

The first was a beer that came in as a part of the now Liefmans-free LCBO release: Chapeau Banana Lambic from Belgium's Brouwerij De Troch. The Chapeau line-up consists mainly of highly sweetened and strangely flavoured lambics, and my past experiences with other Chapeau beers like Exotic (pineapple) and Mirabelle (plum) had been, shall we say, less than stellar. But in the case of the Banana, I was surprisingly not offended by it. In fact, I kinda liked it, and even picked it as my Beer of the Week over on Taste T.O. this week. Here's a bit of what I wrote about it there:

The aroma is a combination of those marshmellow banana candies I used to like as a kid (yeah, you know the ones I mean), mixed with a slight lambic funkiness. (My wife also found notes of strawberry, melon and kiwi.) The body is sticky, and not very refreshing, which is a common fault in sweetened fruit beers (or any overly sweetened drink, for that matter). The flavour is quite sweet off the top, although it tastes more like real banana than the candyish aroma suggests, and there’s a pleasant tartness peeking through in the finish.

That being said, beers like this are still closer in style to coolers and other alcopops than good quality fruit beers. Which is quite the opposite of the second one I tried thanks to my pal Paul bringing it to a tasting night: Oud Beersel Oude Kriek from the respected Belgian lambic producers Brouwerij F. Boon. This hazy ruby-rose coloured brew is a much more traditional fruit lambic, with the expected funky and musty aroma with notes of sour cherry, wood, old books and mouldy cheese. (Yeah, I know, it doesn't sound that appealing when I write it, but believe me, it was.) After the aggressive aroma, the flavour was actually a bit of a let down - it was good, very dry and tart with a strong cherry character, but a bit milder than the aroma let on. Still, it's a classic example of the kriek lambic style, and provided a great contrast to the Chapeau sugarbomb that I drank the night before.

Moving from the Old World to the New, my third fruit beer of the week came to me courtesy of import agents Roland + Russell who dropped off a package of a few of their new offerings for me to sample. It actually contained two fruit beers, but I only had a chance to sample one of them: Southern Tier Raspberry Wheat Ale from Lakewood, NY. While I'm usually underwhelmed by fruit flavoured versions of North American wheat beers, I'd enjoyed pretty much every Southern Tier beer I'd tried before this one, so I had fairly high hopes. Unfortunately, it followed the pattern of it's style: light golden-yellow colour; lots of fruit and faint malt on the nose; thin, spritzy body; and a mild, lightly fruited flavour. It was certainly refreshing, especially during the nasty heat wave that we're currently experiencing in Toronto, and I'd take it over the Chapeau Banana any day of the week. But I guess I just expected a bit more oomph from a Southern Tier beer.

So now that I've got my own post out of the way, it's time for me to put on the hosting hat for this month and compile a round-up of the posts that all of my fellow Sessioners have published today (in most cases, in a much more timely manner than yours truly). I'll get that together over the next day or two, allowing any stragglers to get in on the action before posting the final tally. If you have a contribution to be included, drop me a line or comment on this post.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Tomorrow: The Session!

Just a last minute reminder to my fellow beer bloggers and other interested parties that tomorrow is the August instalment of The Session, the monthly beer blogging round-up that I happen to be hosting this month. This month's theme, as I announced a while back, is fruit beer.

Given my ridiculous schedule lately, I probably won't be getting my own post up until fairly late in the day. Those who are more on the ball than me can feel free to email me or reply to this post with a link to their contribution, and I'll do the obligatory round-up on the weekend (which is a long one in Canada, thankfully).

Friday, July 20, 2007

More Weeks, More Beers

Geez, I keep forgetting to make a post about these! Here are the last few "Beer of the Week" posts I've made to Taste T.O.:

Waterloo Wheat - "...seems like a hybrid of a Belgian witbier and a German weissbier: it has the citrus and spice notes expected from a wit, but also a bit of the banana and yeast that’s typical of a weisse..." (full review)

Christoffel Blond - "...a somewhat unique version of a Pilsner, at least in comparison to the ones that most people are familiar with..." (full review)

Southern Tier Phin & Matts Extraordinary Ale - "...the pungent, grapefruit-like aroma of the Cascade hops [...] makes it obvious that this beer has some balls..." (full review)

Castlemaine XXXX Export Gold - "...aside from homesick Australians with bad taste in beer, I can’t imagine anyone enjoying this chunder from Down Under..." (full review)

Hacker-Pschorr Hefeweisse - "...a fantastic beer from a venerable brewery..." (full review)

Beer & BBQ: Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together

As I've mentioned on this blog in the past, I was a pescetarian until a few months ago. I had been so for a number of years, not because I have a problem with animals dying for human consumption per se, but because I have a lot of issues with the factory farming industry that produces most of the meat consumed in North America. (OK, there was also the fact that my wife dropped meat from her diet before I did and stopped cooking it for us, and since I'm a lousy cook, it seemed easiest just to give it up as well.)

Earlier this year, however, I decided to start eating meat again for a number of reasons. I won't go into all of them here, but I will admit that at least some of it was due to me quite simply having cravings for meat more and more often. I nearly caved a couple of times, and then finally fell off the wagon when I was given the opportunity to attend a Brooklyn Brewing dinner at beerbistro back in February where the menu featured many delicious meaty courses.

Since then, I've been eating meat on an occasional basis, most often at dinners or events that I'm invited to attend via Taste T.O. or Bar Towel. One of the most recent of these was a lunch earlier this week at Steam Whistle Brewery featuring the succulent creations of Canada's reigning Grand BBQ Champions, Team Cedar Grilling. Consisting of Steve Adams, Daryl Maybanks and Mike Adams, the Team Cedar trio are a non-profit team who depend on sponsorship to defray their travel and equipment costs (although the $6500 they won a couple of weeks ago probably helps as well - congrats, guys!). Hence their partnership with Steam Whistle who not only hosted this little media get-together, but who also have their beer featured in several of the Team's recipes.

Held on Steam Whistle's sunny patio just south of the CN Tower, the lunch started with Cedar Planked Garlic Shrimp with Asiago Gratin served to us right off the planks. There were also an array of salads available, but as we started spooning them on to our plates, one of the guys shouted over that we'd better not eat too much as there was a lot more to come from the grill.

Like, for example, their award winning Parrot Sticks. These are chicken wings that are stretched to their full length and skewered, resulting in a sort of wing-meets-kebab thing that looks kinda funny but tastes damn good, especially when dipped in the accompanying Steam Whistle Chicken Sauce.

Of course, what we really wanted to try were the ribs, and when they finally made it off the grill, they didn't disappoint. Prepared using the team's Steam Whistle BBQ Sauce recipe, they were juicy and tender and bone-sucking good. So good, in fact, that they made the Pulled Pork Sandwiches that followed almost anti-climatic. Which is too bad, because the meat itself was possibly the best pulled pork I've ever had, it was just let down a bit by the doughy supermarket style bun it was served on and the odd inclusion of cole slaw on the sandwich. Still, I ended up finishing it even though my stomach was threatening to explode from the previous courses and the couple of beers I'd already put back.

Speaking of the beer - as you'd expect, Steam Whistle Pilsner was the only beer option. This beer/brewery gets a lot of flak from the beer geek community due to the fact that it's a fairly simple, straight-forward, crowd-pleasing lager. But I've defended them in the past, and will continue to do so now. Sure, it's a simple beer, but it's also a very well-made and refreshing one, and if you drink it cool and fresh - such as the less-than-a-week-old bottles we were served to us at the brewery - it's a perfect accompaniment to eating some killer BBQ on a warm patio.

For those in Toronto, Team Cedar Grilling will be appearing at the Fort York BBQ Championships on Sept. 14-16. If you're a fan of the swine and the smoke, you should definitely plan to be there.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Announcing Session #6

OK, it's been a week since the last Session took place, and since I'm hosting the next one, I guess it's about time for me to announce the theme.

First, some background:

2007 seems to be the year of the farmers market in Toronto. We've always had a few regular markets in the city, both seasonal and year-round, but there's been a mini-explosion of new ones this year, including a Sunday morning one in the Liberty Village neighbourhood, just a few minutes from my apartment.

As a result, my wife and I have been eating even more fresh produce than usual this summer. We're at the Liberty Village market almost every Sunday, and Sheryl also takes trips around the city to check out other markets for the Market Basket feature on our website, Taste T.O..

For the past several weeks, we've been gorging on fresh local strawberries and cherries, and have just recently gotten our first taste of the year's raspberry and blueberry crops. Coming soon will be peaches and plums, and later will be the first crisp, tart apples of the year.

With all of this fruit on the brain (or more accurately, in my belly), it gave me the idea for a theme for Session #6. Therefore, I hereby declare that on Friday, August 3rd, 2007, beer bloggers the world over will be writing about Fruit Beer.

Aside from the stipulation that it be a beer brewed/augmented with fruit (or fruit juice or extract), there are no other rules or guidelines. Anything is fair game, from a tart and funky Kriek or Framboise, to a sugar-laden "lambic", to a Blueberry Wheat or Raspberry Ale from your local brewpub.

And have some fun with it. After all, it's the summer! (Well, except for where it's the winter, but you know what I mean...) Spread the word, enjoy the rest of your July, and check back on August 3rd to report your contribution for the obligatory round-up post.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Book Review: Grilling With Beer with Lucy Saunders

Grilling With Beer
by Lucy Saunders
F&B Communications, 224 pp.
US$21.95

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a manly man. I don't care much for any sports besides hockey, I don't own any power tools besides a simple drill set, and I don't have any interest in cars (in fact, I don't even have a driver's license).

The one manly pursuit I do enjoy, however, is barbecuing. At our previous place, my wife and I had use of a large backyard with a great deck, and we invested in a decent quality gas grill. While my wife is a fabulous cook, she always let me man the grill (even though she actually did all the prep work), and even during our years of being almost-vegetarians, we still did up some great grilled fish and veggies once in a while. Last year, we moved into our current yard-less and balcony-less apartment, which meant leaving the BBQ behind. I sort of missed it last summer, and now that I've started eating meat again, I'm really missing it.

Rubbing salt in the wound was the recent unexpected arrival of a review copy of Grilling With Beer by American food and beer writer Lucy Saunders. If only this book existed 5 or 6 years ago when I was at the top of my grilling game and getting more and more interested in exploring different beers - I would've been in beer & BBQ heaven! Sigh.

Still, even as a member of the unfortunately grill-free set, this is a great book to own. Logically arrayed into 10 main chapters - 5 covering sauces, glazes, marinades, rubs and other basic BBQ condiments, and 5 covering various meats/seafood and sides - Grilling With Beer features well over 100 recipes to match everyone's tastes (yes, even vegetarians - the recipes for Grilled Herbed Hazelnut Flatbread, Brined Grilled Eggplant, and Grilled Potato Salad all look delicious). And thankfully for kitchen klutzes like me, most of them are pretty simple as well, with clearly written ingredient lists and instructions.

Saunders has also brought a lot of her friends to the party, and features recipes from such beer cuisine luminaries as Brian Morin (beerbistro), Gary Marx (Pike Brewing), Mario Gongora (Marin Brewing) and Scott McGlinchey (Q Real American Food). Also pitching in are the Jason & Todd Alström of BeerAdvocate.com, who provide convincing argument for grilling with beer (in case you needed one) in their preface, and the legendary beer writer Michael Jackson, who explains why Saunders is pretty much the best person in the world to have written this book.

Making this book even more of a treat are the segments between the chapters. Written by Saunders and other beer scribes such as Anne Ausderau, Dan Rabin and Jay Brooks, these interludes provide profiles of festivals and events that feature craft beer and grilled/barbecued food, ranging from the New Mexico's Rio Rancho Pork & Brew and a BBQ Oyster Fest in San Andreas, to events in such exotic locales as Hawai'i, Australia and New Zealand. And as if that weren't enough, writer and brewer Stan Hieronymus gives some tips on pairing beers with the dishes that the book helps you prepare, and Saunders wraps things up with a list of mail order resources for all of your grilling needs, and a fantastic run down on the flavour profiles of various beer styles.

And it would be remiss not to mention how visually attractive the book is. The spot illustrations and font choices give it a slightly retro look (although not to the point of parody, like so many faux-retro cookbooks that are on the market), and the event profiles feature some nice photos, as do a number of the recipes. All in all, it's a slick little package.

Like most self-published books, the best way to get your hands on a copy of Grilling With Beer is directly from the author. Mail order instructions can be found on the book's website, grillingwithbeer.com, as well as at Saunders' main site, beercook.com. If you prefer the in-person method and live in Toronto, there's a good chance that she'll have some copies for sale at beerbistro this coming Tuesday, July 10th when she's there to present a special dinner as part of the restaurant's month long American Beer & Barbecue Fest.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Session #5: Atmosphere

Holy crap, is it already time for another Session? It seems like just three posts ago that I did a last one! Oh wait, it was just three posts ago, 'cause I've neglecting this poor li'l blog of mine more and more. If not for the monthly Sessions, it might just wither away to nothing. Sniff.

Anyhoo - for those just joining us, The Session is one of those things where a bunch of bloggers write about the same topic on the same day. In this case, it's beer bloggers writing about a particular type of beer, with the style chosen each month by a different one of us. Then the person/people who chose the topic keep tabs on all of the posts and compile a round-up. Our themes for the last four months have been local beer, milds, dubbels and stouts.

(I get to choose the theme for August, so watch for that to be announced here soon.)

This month, our "hosts" are Al & Ron at Hop Talk, and to mix things up a little bit, we won't be writing about what we drink this month, but rather where we drink it, as the theme is Atmosphere:

Beer is about more than flavor, IBUs, and the debate over what is a craft beer and what isn’t. It’s about Life. It’s the proverbial icing on the cake.

So, we want to know about the "Atmosphere" in which you enjoy beer. Where is your favorite place to have a beer? When? With whom? Most importantly:

Why?

Because while life isn’t all about beer, beer is all about life.
Since I'm an indecisive git, I'm going to do as I did in the first Session and give multiple answers:

1) Down The Pub

Yes, I know, it's the most obvious choice, and will probably be the most popular one today. But I think very few beer lovers would deny that some of their favourite beer imbibing moments have been sitting in a friendly pub - whether it's your local spot, a place across town, or a bar you discover during your travels elsewhere - and hoisting a pint or three with friends old and new.

Here in Toronto, the bar I frequent the most is The Rhino. It's been my neighbourhood bar & grill for the 13 years I've lived in Parkdale, and while they've had their ups and downs on the service and food quality fronts over that time, they've been pretty stable in the year and a half since I moved from a place 5 blocks away to a place even closer. Their dozen or so taps are dedicated primarily to good local craft beers, they added about 200 bottled beers to their selection around the time I moved closer last year, and they also started carrying cask ale a few months back. They may not match destination spots like Volo or beerbistro when to comes to truly eclectic beer selections, but the remarkably low prices for both beer and food combined with the ramshackle neighbourhood vibe of the place just can't be beat.

(Addendum: A couple of hours after I originally posted this, my wife and I went to Rhino for dinner. I had mussels and fries, she had a veggie sandwich, and we each had two beers. Total with tax and tip was 40 bucks. That may seem a bit high to you Americans who are used to $2.50 pint specials and the like, but trust me when I say that for Toronto, that's a fantastic deal.)

2) Tasting Sessions (aka Geekfests)

Being a beer rater, I'm always up for trying as many new beers as possible, and one of the most efficient and enjoyable ways of doing so has been via tasting nights with some of my fellow raters. Once a month or so, I get together with my regular crew (Jeff, Paul, Harry & Jer) and occasional guests to listen to some tunes, shoot the shit, and drink & rate a bunch of beers. Sometimes we have a theme - like last summer's infamous "Beers from the RateBeer Top 100" tasting - but usually, it's just a pot luck of beers that most of us haven't tried before. Yeah, it can be a bit geeky at times, as we jot in our notebooks and debate whether the beer is true to style or try to figure out what hop varieties were used. But mostly, it's just a bunch of guys (and sometimes one girl) with similar-but-not-identical interests and views sitting around and sharing something that we all love.

3) I Drink Alone...

Supposedly, it's one of the warning signs of alcoholism, but I don't really see anything wrong with enjoying a beer on my own at home. (And to be completely accurate, I'm rarely completely alone when I'm doing so, as my wife is usually around, and will even join me if I crack something she likes). Sometimes, it's something new that I drink and contemplate and write about. More often, it's an old favourite that I quaff while watching the tube or poking around on the computer. Either way, it's an enjoyable and civilised way to unwind after a day at work. And it's cheaper than going out, as well.

So there you go - a trio of places that I like to drink. Check out the round-up at Hop Talk to see what the others have to say, and check back here in a couple of days to find out what we'll all be writing about a month from now.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Beer(s) of the Week(s)

As promised a couple of weeks ago, I'm going to post teasers here for beer articles I'm writing for Taste T.O. and other sites such as Gremolata. The most regularly appearing of these will be my Beer of the Week column for Taste T.O., and here are the last couple of those...

Mill Street Cherry Beer

While I’m usually inclined to reach for a nice dry Pilsner or a hoppy Pale Ale when the weather gets warmer, I can understand the increased popularity of fruit beers in the summer months. Their fresh and lively flavours are a reminder of the warm weather harvest, and the often complex combination of sweetness and tartness that is found in many better quality fruit beers can be quite refreshing on a hot day.

So it makes sense that the folks at Mill Street would choose to make a cherry beer as the first summer seasonal at their brewpub. (Although I suppose the fact that they had a raspberry beer available during the early spring sort of ruins the "summer = fruit beer" angle I’m playing up here, doesn’t it? Damn.)

Click through to read the rest of this article

Gubernija Grand 9.5

When most people read the words “Malt Liquor”, the image that likely pops into their heads is homies in South Central drinking 40s of St. Ides, or perhaps the neighbourhood drunk slumped in an alley with a king can of Schlitz Red Bull spilled beside him. Either way, the beers that tend to be tagged as malt liquor aren’t exactly considered to be beverages of the highest quality.

Of course, the definition of “malt liquor” can vary depending on where you live. In some jurisdictions, any beer above a certain alcohol percentage must be labelled as “malt liquor” before being sold, meaning that everything from cheap, high-octane swill to elegant strong Belgian ales are considered to be in the same category in the eyes of the alcohol overlords.

As a beer style, however, malt liquor is generally understood to be a strong (usually 6% to 9% abv) lager that is most often brewed with the addition of non-barley adjuncts such as corn and sugar, and a very low hop content. The result is a sweet brew with very little bitterness and a strong alcoholic punch. The flavour and aroma are often unpleasant, with notes of everything from rotting vegetables to jet fuel, but such concerns are secondary in a beer that is simply intended to get the imbiber as drunk as possible, as quickly as possible.

Click through to read the rest of this article

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Geek Speak

Hey. Life is still pretty busy, hence the continuing silence around these parts. I've got a few posts either half-written or half-formed, and I'll get to them soon(-ish).

In the meantime, check out this great little article by Ken Wells, author of Travels With Barley, on how to speak beer geek. Most people reading this blog probably won't learn anything, but it's a great primer to give to your less beer-saavy friends have a hard time following when you start to geek out.

Also - the theme of next month's Session has been announced, and it's "Atmosphere". Interesting. I'll have to think about that one for a bit.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Session #4: Local Brews

Right, it's time for another Session, that day of the month when beer bloggers all over the damn place kinda-sorta post about the same thing. This month, it's being hosted by Gastronomic Fight Club, which is a bit odd since GFC appears to be a food blog (based in Omaha, no less) rather than a beer blog. But hey, beer is food, so it's all good.

For the past three sessions, we've focussed on particular beer styles - stouts, dubbels, and milds. But this month, we're mixing it up a bit, as snekse (I bet that's not his real name...) at GFC has decreed that we shall all drink and write about a local brew (or brews). The specific parameters were that it had to be brewed within 150 miles of our house, preferably at the brewery closest to us, and leaning towards beers that are not well distributed outside of our area.

Well, if I was writing this 10 years ago, my pick would probably be something from Upper Canada Brewing, as I live about 5 minutes away from their original brewery. But they were bought by Sleeman in 1998, and production was moved to the Sleeman facility in Guelph soon afterwards. Plus the UC brands are pretty much shit now.

Nowadays, there must be at least a dozen breweries within 150 miles of my apartment, if not more. If I were to stick strictly to the "closest" rule, my pick would have to be either Amsterdam or Steam Whistle. But Amsterdam's beers don't really wow me (except for maybe their Framboise), and Beaumont did Steam Whistle.

So the other day, when I was returning some empties at the Beer Store, I stared at the big wall of logos (Ontarians will know what I'm talking about) looking for something local, and decided upon an old favourite that I hadn't had in a while: Black Oak Pale Ale. And since I did this on Monday, the day that I was writing my Beer Of The Week column for Taste T.O., it gave me a chance to double dip, as I used it as my subject for this week's column.

In fact, the column became a sort of preview for the Session, as I wrote a bit about local beers, and my somewhat embarrassing habit of not drinking them as often as I should:

I’m not the type of beer drinker who sticks with a single favourite brand. I usually have a bottle each of a dozen or so different beers in the fridge at any given time, and another box or two of others stashed in the closet. Even when I go out, I rarely have the same beer twice in a night, unless I’m at a pub where there’s only one beer that I like on tap.

As a result, I often find myself giving short shrift to some beers that I really enjoy, but generally pass up in favour of grabbing something new. This is especially true of local beers that I tend to take for granted, figuring that they’ll always be available, while this new seasonal release or import may only be around for a limited time.

Like I said - kinda embarrassing. And also kinda stupid, given how good the beer is:

As the photo demonstrates, it has a beautiful golden hue with a good sized white head that leaves a fair bit of lacing on the glass as it recedes. The aroma is fresh and inviting, with a big hop presence, but with sweet malt to balance, and a faint woodiness. The body is a touch thin, but also crisp and lively - quite likely due to the addition of a bit of toasted wheat to the recipe - giving the beer a thirst-quenching edge. And the flavour follows the aroma closely: a good balance of sweet, honeyish malt and citric hops that linger deliciously in the finish.

As a result of all this, I've made a pact with myself to start drinking local beers more often. Sure, I'll still pick up new and interesting imports, and faves like Brooklyn Lager and Aventinus will still be coming home with me occasionally. But I need to stop taking breweries like Black Oak (and Neustadt and Mill Street and Magnotta and King and so on...) for granted. Despite what I write above, they may not always be available, so best to enjoy them while I can, especially in these warm spring and summer months when a cool, fresh beer is always welcome.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I've Been A Bad Little Blogger...

Between work and Taste T.O. and other life stuff, this poor blog of mine has been sorely neglected the past couple of months, and I'm feeling a little guilty about it. I actually considered just shutting it down completely, but I still like the idea of having a place to stick up my writing - beer-related or otherwise - that doesn't quite fit at Taste T.O. or Gremolata, so it's safe for now.

My lack of time, however, means that it may still look a little sparse, at least for the foreseeable future. So in order to make it seem not quite so dead, I've decided to start cross-posting my articles from Taste T.O. and Gremolata - or rather, portions of those articles, with a link to the source so you can click through and read the whole thing if you're interested.

As an introduction to this, are segments from my last couple of Beer Of The Week posts at Taste T.O., as well as links to all previous ones. Watch for future instalments to be previews & linked here each Tuesday:

Creemore Springs Traditional Pilsner

Back in 1987, just as Canada’s modern craft brewing scene was kicking off, a small brewery called Creemore Springs opened in their namesake town of Creemore, Ontario. Unlike most of the other microbreweries launching around the same time, they decided to concentrate their efforts on a single brand, Creemore Springs Premium Lager.

This flavourful lager with a rich amber colour has been praised by beer drinkers and writers from around the world, and is often listed with Brooklyn Lager and Samuel Adams Boston Lager as being a landmark lager in the North American craft brewing scene.

It took ten years from the brewery to add a second beer to their line-up, the dark and malty Creemore Springs urBock which is available during the fall and winter months. Another ten years on, and they’ve decided to mark the end of their second decade with a second seasonal brew, Creemore Springs Traditional Pilsner (LCBO 53686, $2.55/473 mL), which will be available from May through October.

Click here to read the rest of this review

PC Blanche

It probably goes without saying that I’m not a discount beer drinker. It’s not that I have a problem with the idea of saving money, but as someone who drinks beer in order to enjoy the aroma and flavour rather than to serve as an alcohol delivery mechanism (well - most of the time, anyway), I’ve found the few “buck-a-beers” that I’ve tried have generally failed to satisfy me.

However, while flipping through the latest President’s Choice Insider’s Report this past weekend, I came across a blurb for a new addition to the PC discount beer line-up: PC Blanche. Considering that every other beer in the PC portfolio is a knock-off of some macro-brewed lager or other, from Genuine Lager to Dry to Honey, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the idea of them tackling the decidedly non-mainstream Belgian witbier style.

Click here to read the rest of this review

Hockley Stout

As noted in this column a month or so ago, I’m quite a fan of Hockley Dark, an authentic UK-style brown ale brewed by Orangeville’s Hockley Valley Brewing. So when I caught wind earlier this year that they were planning a dry stout to be released for St. Patrick’s Day via the LCBO, I was obviously very interested to try the results.

Well, they missed the St. Patrick’s Day target by a month or so, but Hockley Stout (LCBO 615625) finally started appearing on shelves a couple of weeks ago as part of the LCBO’s spring beer promotion. And having now tried all six of the beers in the rather meagre little release, I’m happy to declare this stout to be the best of the bunch.

In fact, I might go so far as to say that this is a quintessential example of a dry stout. Although the style is pretty rare around here, so aside from Guinness, there’s no real point of comparison.

Click here to read the rest of this review

Earlier "Beer of the Week" Reviews

Great Lakes Orange Peel Ale
Atlantic au Pineau
Duchy Originals Organic Ale
Wellington Arkell Best Bitter
Hockley Dark
Fuller’s Cask-Conditioned ESB
Gayant La Goudale
Trafalgar Celtic Pure Irish Ale
Fuller’s London Pride
C’est What Mild Brown Ale
Brooklyn Lager
Heritage Passion Brew
Denison’s Weissbier
Steam Whistle Pilsner

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Session #3: Mild

Another first Friday of the month, another Session in beer blog land. This time around, we're being hosted by Jay at Brookston Beer Bulletin, and in honour of CAMRA's Mild Month, he chose mild ale as this month's style.

As Alan notes over at A Good Beer Blog, mild is a rare style nowadays, especially outside of the UK. But luckily, Toronto pub C'est What has a Mild Brown Ale in their line-up of house beers.

Even more luckily for me, I wrote an article on this beer just a couple of months ago as part of my series of Beer of the Week columns over at Taste T.O.. So I can be lazy this month, and just do some cut 'n' paste. Nice!

Here's what I wrote:

To most North American drinkers, mention of a beer with a 3% to 4% alcohol level will undoubtedly bring to mind fizzy yellow light/lite lagers that taste even less of beer than their 5% kin. But fans of UK-style ales will more likely think of Mild Ale, a style that was once on the brink of extinction but that has been gaining popularity thanks to the efforts of CAMRA and other real ale supporters.

Brewed since the 1600s, if not earlier, the definition of Mild Ale has varied a bit over the years, but it has typically referred to malty ales that are darker in colour and have a lower alcohol content than Bitters and Pale Ales. Back when ales were generally stronger across the board, Milds would vary in strength from 5% to 7%, but most modern interpretations sit somewhere in the 3% to 4% range.

Like most traditional ale styles, Mild is more common in the UK (although even with CAMRA’s efforts, it still hasn’t been restored to the point where nearly every pub had a Mild on at least one of their taps). But with the increasing popularity of cask ales in North America, more and more microbreweries are taking a crack at the style.

The only local example of the style comes courtesy of C’est What (67 Front Street East), the almost-brewpub (their house beers are brewed off-site at County Durham Brewing) that has been at the forefront of Toronto’s craft beer scene for over 19 years. Their C’est What Mild Brown Ale had actually crept up to 4.1% abv, but it was recently reformulated back to its original 3.4% level without sacrificing any of its unique character.

In the glass, it has the appearance of a nut brown ale or even a light porter, with a ruby-brown body and light mocha head. Both the aroma and flavour hold notes of roasted malt, cocoa, coffee and toasted nuts, with a delicate touch of hops in the finish. The body is on the creamy side due to the fact that it is served using a nitro tap of the sort typically used to serve stouts and some cream ales. Personally, I’d rather have it served as a cask ale, but in this case the nitro doesn’t have as much of a negative effect as it can have on lighter beers. Dispensing method aside, it’s just nice to have a flavourful beer that one can quaff several pints of in a session without falling off one’s barstool in the process.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Shaken or Stirred?

First of all, I must apologize for the severe lack of posts here lately. April was, to put it bluntly, a completely fucked up month for me. First my wife got sick, and then I got sick, and then my wife got sick again. Add to that a busy day job and work on the increasingly popular Taste T.O., and something had to give.

Anyway, speaking of Taste T.O. - we launched a discussion forum earlier this week, and I made a post there yesterday that I thought readers here might find interesting. It doesn't have to do with beer, but it does have to do with booze:

I've been a fan of New York Times wine & spirits columnist Eric Azimov for quite a while, primarily because unlike many other booze writers, he has a healthy respect for beer as well and don't treat it like a second- or third-rate drink.

My respect for him has gone up a couple more notches today thanks to his article about martinis. Or more accurately, his article about a gin tasting where they decided to taste 20 different gins in the form of martinis.

Here is the specific bit that I really enjoyed...

Before we discuss the findings, though, we need to clear up a little matter. It’s come to my attention that some people believe martinis are made with vodka. I hate to get snobbish about it, but a martini should be made with gin or it’s not a martini. Call it a vodkatini if you must, but not a martini. Gin and vodka have as much in common hierarchically as a president and a vice president. Vodka can fill in for gin from time to time and might even be given certain ceremonial duties of its own, but at important moments you need the real thing. Vodka generally makes a poor substitute for gin in a martini or any other gin cocktail.


In a follow-up post on his blog, he continues...

I’m annoyed at myself for even asking this question, but when’s the last time you had a real martini? Not a chocolate cocktail, or watermelon drink or any of the other spurious hangers-on that threaten the integrity of the word martini, but a real honest-to-goodness gin-and-vermouth martini?

What annoys me is that few people really know or care what a martini is anymore. They’ve just appropriated the appeal of the term to sell other cocktails, drinks that may be fine themselves but are decidedly not martinis.


The funny thing is, I'm actually not a huge martini fan. I'll have one once in a while, but I tend to prefer my gin mixed with tonic. But this whole trend of sticking "-tini" onto the end of the name of any alcoholic drink that's served in what people consider to be a "martini glass" (which it's not, by the way - it's just a cocktail glass) has always gotten under my skin. Especially when I've been handed a "Martini List" at a place that really should know better.

So are Azimov and I both cranky old sticks-in-the-mud who should get over it? Or do we have a valid point here?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Review: Micro Matic Kegerators

(The following is a paid review solicited via ReviewMe.com.)

For my second ReviewMe mission, I've been asked to give my thoughts on the line-up of Kegerator draught beer dispensing units produced by the Micro Matic company. Although they didn't actually send me one for a test run, so I guess I'm really just giving my opinion on how they look on the website.

As with my first ReviewMe post (a review of the UK-based website Homebrew 4U) , I'm at a slight disadvantage because I'm not really in the Kegerator target market. As much as I like beer, the idea of having kegs on tap at home has never really appealed to me, probably because I rarely drink more than one of the same beer in a row.

That being said, if I was interested in getting a draught system for home, the Kegerator models look pretty decent. They come in a variety of sizes and prices, ranging from a US$495 unit that holds a pony (1/4 barrel) keg, to a US$1,470 professional grade unit that houses full-sized (1/2 barrel) keg. There are a couple of double-tap models available as well, for those who like a bit of variety.

Customers could also have some confidence regarding the quality of the products based on the fact that Micro Matic has been around since 1953 and is one of the world leaders in the manufacture and distribution of draught beer equipment. If the stuff they make is good enough for bars and restaurants in over 120 countries, it should be more than good enough for a home bar set-up. And the fact that all of the units have fairly detailed info and specifications available online makes comparison shopping easy.

So - I probably won't be buying one for myself any time soon, but if you're in the market for a draught beer dispenser for your own home bar, this site may be a good place to start, if only to get an idea of what's available from the pro-grade manufacturers. If you don't believe me, just ask Alan.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Session #2: Dubbels

Another Session, and another last minute post from yours truly. This month, we're doing dubbels. Which means that I should probably start by confessing that I'm a bit of a spaz when it comes to Belgian ales.

It's not that I don't enjoy them. Like most beer geeks, some of my favourite beers come from Belgium, or are brewed in the Belgian style. It's just that I have a hard time keeping track of what characteristics differentiate the various Belgian sub-styles from each other. So when Alan announced his pick for the second edition of The Session was dubbels, I was at a bit of a loss, and had to check RateBeer to see which beers were actually in that style.

Another factor was figuring out which dubbels are actually available in Ontario, since we're at the mercy of a government owned liquor monopoly here. As I mentioned in my last post, the only dubbels we can get here on a regular basis are Leffe Brune and Chimay Premiere (Rouge). Both of them are decent enough beers, but I was hoping for something a bit more unique for this Session.

But then I noticed something interesting: According to RateBeer (as well as Beer Advocate), Tickle Brain Ale from the UK brewery Burton Bridge is considered a dubbel. And it just so happened that I had one bottle of Tickle Brain left in my stash from a private order that a few of us got in on last year. A nice stroke of luck.

According to the label, "Tickle Brain" was a Tudor name for strong drink, so it fits this 8% beer well. It has a nice, rich ruby colour with a slight haze from the bottle conditioning. The aroma is big and sweet, lots of malt and caramel and dark fruit, and some sharper spicy notes coming through as it warms. More of the same in the flavour - caramel, brown sugar, dark fruit and berries, and an alcohol warmth that comes on a bit strong, but which is appreciated on this unseasonably cold Good Friday night. It's not an everyday beer to be sure, but it's nice to have around for those times that you want something a little stronger to savour. Too bad that this is my last bottle.

Thanks to Alan for picking a style that led to me getting a bit of an education. I'm already looking forward to next month.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Session 2: Electric Boogaloo

I'm posting this mainly to remind myself of the date, but some of you might be interested to know that the second Session will be taking place on Friday, April 6th. It's being hosted by Alan at A Good Beer Blog this time around, and the style he's chosen is dubbel.

I wasn't especially thrilled to hear this at first, because there are only two dubbels currently available at the LCBO, both of them quite common ones. But then I remembered that I have a couple of bottles of a rather unique one in my stash. So it should be a bit of fun after all. Check back next Friday and see.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Beerfest

At the latest beer tasting/rating session with my usual crew this past Thursday, we decided to take a bit of a break from the notebooks for part of the night and watch Beerfest, which this month's host Paul - aka The Guy Who Buys Every Movie Released On DVD And Watches Them On A Kick-Ass Home Theatre System - recently picked up.

The serious craft beer aficionado in me should've been horribly offended by the fact that the film celebrates binge drinking, stupid drinking games, and the age-old connections between beer and half-naked women. But since I also have a strange and somewhat misguided appreciation for stupid and sophomoric comedies - from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure to Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle - I couldn't help but love this flick.

Oh, sure, it's got it's fair share of puerile and scatological humour (ever seen a frog being masturbated?), and some rather gratuitous sexism (although in most cases, it's played with such over-the-top gratuitousness [yes, that's really a word - Firefox spell-check told me so!] that only the most prudish would find it offensive). But it's also quite clever and self-aware in places, not to mention laugh-out-loud funny. And really, how can you not love a film that includes (A) an uncredited cameo by Donald Sutherland as a dying Bavarian patriarch who chugs several mugs of beer before pulling his own plug; (B) Cloris Leachman as a foul-mouthed great grandmother who gives a hand-job to a large sausage; and (C) Willie Nelson as Willie Nelson?

So, yeah - if you're looking to kill a couple of hours with some relatively mindless but not completely moronic entertainment, then invite over a few buddies, chill a few brewskies, and watch Beerfest.

Or alternatively, you could read the stuff that I've written for Taste T.O. and Gremolata in the past couple of weeks, including a review of last month's Brooklyn Brewing dinner at beerbistro, a report on a great food & hospitality conference called Terroir: A Sense of Place, and "Beer of the Week" features on Fuller’s London Pride, Trafalgar Celtic Pure Irish Ale and Gayant La Goudale. But you'll probably enjoy the movie more...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

R.I.P. Olive 1991-2007

I love dogs even more than I love beer, so I was saddened to read on Lew Bryson's blog that Olive, the lovely pooch featured on the label of Smuttynose Brewing's Old Brown Dog, passed away on March 15th. If OBD was currently available in Ontario, I'd be raising a couple in her honour, but since it's not, hopefully she won't be offended if I toast her with a different beer at tonight's session with the boys.

On another note - things are still busy at Taste T.O., and even busier at my day job, hence the lack of posts in these parts lately. I've got a couple of things half-done, though, so there may be a post or two this weekend. I'm sure you'll all be waiting with bated breath...

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Post-Session Musings

I spent some time today looking at some of the posts from the first Session. Very interesting to see such a wide variety of opinions on a wide variety of stouts. I think Lew Bryson summed it up best in his Session post with the following:

Storm King made me look back at the stouts I'd had, and all the stouts that are out there, and the stouts I'd read that other bloggers would be sampling. I realized that this is a continuum, that stout embraces session beers, extreme beers (Dogfish Head World Wide Stout certainly qualifies), dessert beers, hoppy beers (black IPA, anyone?), mild and malty beers... There is no definite "stout," not even Guinness can claim that, with so many different versions of itself around.

I love stouts and porters, in a large part because of this malleability of form. They're dark ales (and sometimes lagers!), yet they have enough in common to be recognizable as brethren. The Brotherhood of Stout (women welcome, too).

Right. What he said.

Continuing with the stout theme, I had a pint of Guinness with lunch today. It had been a while since I'd had one, and as always, my feelings were mixed. The nostalgic part of me always wants it to be as full and rich and flavourful as I found it the first time I had one, but the many better beers I've had over the years combined with the dumbing down of the recipe mean that I'm always a bit disappointed by the stuff.

But when you're at a place where the other draught options are several macro-brewed fizzy yellow lagers, a couple of imported fizzy yellow lagers, a flavour-challenged red ale, and a sickly honey brown, it's certainly the lesser of all the evils. And when I stopped being such a frickin' beer geek for a few minutes, it was a pleasant enough pint. Just not the world-class beer that many think it to be.