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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

That means there will be no more new posts at this address, so please change your bookmarks to (or if you're using an RSS reader,

Since the domain was just registered this morning, the DNS record may not be finished propagating yet, so you can use 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 domain will follow wherever I go.

Thankfully, 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.