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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.)

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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.

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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.