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Elysian and AB-InBev. Brewers not Nazis

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The betrayed are out in force on twitter. “Goodbye Elysian” “Last time I EVER drink Elysian Beer”

“Traitors!”  “Sell outs!”

It was as if the founder of Greenpeace had just joined ACME petrol-chemicals Inc. and personally dumped toxic, radioactive waste directly on a whale’s head while laughing maniacally!

I realise that the craft beer is more than just great beer, carefully brewed by bearded artisans in railway arches and barns behind a pub. It has become a political movement that reflects the campaigns against the 1%, a liquid counterpart to ‘farm to fork’ and locavore groups.

The best breweries not only make the best beer, but often become successful. They need to expand and become …… Big! Big is not a word that fits well with an industry that started as home-brewers selling their liquid gold as a nano or micro brewery. The reality is that as Sierra Nevada and New Belgium are available around the world and Boston Beer Company required the Brewers Association to change their definition of ‘Craft Beer’  to maintain their good-for-marketing label. The other side of this success coin is that those that are a manageable mid-size, and enjoy cult status as well as high desirability have and will become targets for takeover. This is not new or exclusive to the brewing industry. T’was ever thus.

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The accusation that owners Dick Cantwell and David Buhler have ‘sold out’ is tough. If you had built a business from scratch, worked evenings and weekends, cleaned out lauter tuns and fermentation tanks in the dead of night, drove from store to bar to sell your beer when no one was particularly interested, you might be tempted too. They can now keep on brewing, inventing great beers in their own brewery and know that their retirement and family are covered financially until the day they ‘call time’ on this mortal plane. Isn’t that the point of working hard all our lives?

You may be disgusted by their actions, and I am very disappointed, having visited Seattle many times and visited their bar and looked forward to every release that made it to the bar I managed in Vancouver. I do however, understand them.

Craft beer has evolved into quasi political movement, but not everyone is on-board with that!

So, boycott the beer if you must. (You’ll be missing out on some great brews!). Tell people of your disappointment. There is no point spouting hatred to the level that social media seems to propagate.

They are brewers not Nazis.

 

 

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Beer for English Devolution

 A beer for every region!

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Talk of English devolution got me thinking. At first beer was, unusually nothing to do with any of thoughts, but memories of history lessons about Anglo-Saxon England and the original divisions of England emerged, before those pesky conquering Normans came along with their Dukes and Doomsday Books. I checked a few blogs and websites on devolution and came up with a modern version that might work today, dividing England up into modern day provinces that represented some historical roots but allowed for modern populations etc. etc…..’but what the hell does this tangent have to do with beer?’ I hear those of you still reading ask.

Well, in states and provinces in other countries, there are state flowers, provincial birds and trees, so if England were to divide up into provinces why not have a representative beer style? Ok so there are probably lots of reasons but this is just a bit of fun!

Capital Idea: London.

There are a couple of nominations for the beer choice of the capital, including IPA, as London was where the forerunner to the modern style was initially developed and exported to India. I felt that the home of IPA in its heyday was not in London but further north, and the real beer of London has to be the one that took its name from those that carried the goods around the city in the 18th and 19th centuries. The ticket porters (tickets were the metal badges that they wore as a licence to work) were the lifeblood of the worlds most important trading centre 200 years ago, and the beer that slaked their thirst was named after them. This classic was also known as ‘entire butt’ due to the brewing process used by the breweries that were, in effect, mass-producing this beer for the new industrial working classes in London, but it is better known as Porter. This beer lubricated a city and has become synonymous with it. The new wave of craft breweries in London are embracing the style and it has now been given new life and a prominence it deserves.

Beer of London: Porter

porters

Three London porters. A river porter, ticket porter and fellowship porter

 

The Mysterious East: East Anglia & Home Counties.

This may be a bit of fusion of two areas but my main thought here is that it contains the two counties most associated with traditional hop growing: Kent and Sussex. The hop is the ingredient that seems to be most revered by modern brewers, and we are now understanding them in the same way sommeliers understand grape varietals, with soil, terroir and climate all adding to their various flavours and aromas. The style that has showcased the English hop so well over the past 250 years has been Bitter and pale ale. Hoppy pale ale emerged with the development of IPA in the 18th century, and was in contrast to the relatively low-hopped ales that were also sold at the time. These hoppy pale ales were colloquially know as ‘bitter’ by those that drank them and the name stuck. Today bitter can be found around the world in its various guises and New World interpretations, but the home of the hop in Britain lies within this region and I think Bitter should be their official beer!

Beer of East Anglia & Home Counties: Bitter

Kent Oast Houses with hop-poles

Kent Oast Houses with hop-poles

 

The Borderlands: Mercia

Mercia translates as border country in Anglo-Saxon, and referred to the kingdom that sat uncomfortably for many years next to Wales, until King Offa defined a more permanent boundary with his dyke. Nowadays this area roughly translates as the much more prosaically named ‘Midlands’, but as a history enthusiast, I like Mercia a lot more! This was a tough one to decide as the industrial heartland in the ‘Black Country’ consumed many millions of barrels of Mild over the years, so that was my first candidate.

The second beer on the list is Burton Ale. Burton-upon-Trent was and the major centre of brewing for the British Empire for many years and this eponymous ale was drunk around the world before falling into obscurity. The town lies in the heart of Mercia, and any beer that represents this region must have an association with this old brewing powerhouse. Today its shadow falls upon many a Winter Warmer and Barley Wine, as Burton ale found itself being re-labelled and developed into these more familiar beers. Although Burton brewed and exported this beer, it was a major producer of porter and stout for export too, but the beer that really put it on the map was IPA. At the height of the British expansion into India through the East India Company as well as through Empire, Burton was the largest producer of what went on to be called IPA, running London into second place and Edinburgh third. This style has now captured the imagination of many a craft brewer around the world and been re-invented and interpreted many times over. The famous Burton water and brewing prowess made this style its own.

Beer of Mercia: IPA

Burton Union Brewing System at Bass in 19th C

Burton Union Brewing System at Bass in the 19th Century

 

The Summerlands: Wessex

Wessex expanded its borders regularly of the second half of the first millennium, but its heart lies where the West Country meets the South. I tried to think what encapsulates this beautiful part of England, and I kept coming back to summer holidays, beaches, sailing, camping, hiking and sunnier weather that the rest of the UK! The only traditional beer I could place here is the now extinct west country white ale. This was an historic English beer made with wheat flour, little or no hops and wild fermentation. Maybe it was a more wheaty lambic, although some recipes include egg whites, so I’m not going to guess what it tasted like! I did think wheat beer, as a descendant of this curiosity, had a shout but really it’s a bit of a stretch.

In the early 1990s Wessex based Hopback brewery brewed a type of pale ale that appealed to a new generation of drinker. It was paler than the bitters and pale ales at the time, had a light , easy drinking body and just enough hops to give it a crisp, refreshing finish. Lifelong lager drinkers were starting to convert and a new style (or sub-style) was born. The Summer ale or Golden ale is now a mainstay of many breweries and usually finds itself as a summer seasonal, although recently it has become a year-round offering due to its popularity. It chimes perfectly with the sunny disposition of this region, and a pint of golden summer ale is never far from a beer lover’s lips when holidaying or living in this provincial paradise.

Beer of Wessex: Golden Ale

Coastal Beer Garden in the West Country

Coastal Beer Garden in the West Country

 

The Northern Powerhouse: Northumbria

The North of England is a blend of industrial towns and cities, that helped build a nation, and stunning wild mountains, lakes and hills. It’s as diverse as this country gets, but whether sat in a country pub or Manchester restaurant, the atmosphere of an independent spirit with a warm welcome is never far away. The candidates for this region were easy to assemble. Bitter is a mainstay of many a Yorkshire brewery and I’m sure many dissenting voices would be happy to fight the South East for this one, but I had to make the call and Northumbria came off second. Theakston’s Old Peculiar is a classic North Country beer and this modern-ish version of an Old Ale is a must after a long hike in the hills, accompanying a beefy pie and mash in the pub. I felt that Old Ale is a bit obscure for a flagship brew so the winner had to be Brown Ale. The internationally famous Newcastle Brown Ale is drunk in many parts of the world and spawned many, some far superior, brown ales. One is from the other side of the region and Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale is a delicious version of the amber brown style of beer. Sometimes known as ‘Northern English Brown Ale’ by American pigeon-holing types, it is not to be confused with the sweeter dark brown ale, typified by Mann’s. This northern ale is a thirst-quenching pint that can have a nutty malt flavour, and just a hint of hops for balance only and I feel this is a beer the North can be proud of.

Beer of Northumbria: Brown Ale

Thirsty Coal Miners enjoy a well-deserved brew

Thirsty Coal Miners enjoy a well-deserved brew

 

I hope you have enjoyed this regional ramble and provincial pontification. Feel free to disagree and stake a claim for an official ale for your area. You never know, we may be going federal in a few years and as beer is the national drink, it can unite us as well divide us, but each Anglo-state may be searching for an identity all of its own, and what better than a local beer to do just that?

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Judge a beer by the colour of its glass?

beer bottles

On returning to live back in the UK, one of the treats in store for me was to have a few bottles of some of the beers that I had loved in the era before the ‘Craft Beer Revolution’. These are beers that some young hipsters in East London might turn their nose up at these days, but in my view are as tasty and drinkable as any put out at £3.60 a bottle in a stall in Borough Market! They might be seen as old-fashioned, traditional or just plain boring, but these are the ones that I grew up with, and offered flavour and a certain ‘made with love and care’ feel at a time when there was not the plethora of crafty options that the modern drinker has at their disposal.

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As I found myself in a large supermarket, looking at shelves of bottles, lined up like soldiers waiting for inspection, I noticed that a regular tipple of mine (one I had in cask at my local in Twickenham more often than in bottle) was now in a clear bottle. 20 years ago, you would be hard pushed to find many beers in anything other than the traditional and trusty brown bottle.

Even Heineken and Carlsberg knew their beer tasted better from brown glass.

Then the marketing people took over.

‘The public want to see the colour of the beer’ they say.

‘Green is the colour of a premium European lager’ they chorus.

‘Great packaging will help you sell more’ they promise.

So what do I have against clear and green glass?

I hate the odour of a skunk.

Those readers outside of my former home of Canada or the USA may be unfamiliar with the incredibly musky, ammonia punch of squashed skunk on a road, but the smell is not nice. British readers might imagine a tomcats spray of musk and urine, and then let it fester a while with some sulphur to get some idea.

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This is a similar smelling chemical that is released (in thankfully smaller doses than an attack from an angry skunk) when ultra-violet light is allowed to react with  iso-alpha-acids present in hops creating a compound called 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol (MBT for short!)

The result for the less scientific among us is known variously as ‘lightstruck’, ‘sunstruck’ or just simply ‘skunked’. I have seen the term ‘catty’ used as well, but it all means one thing: The beer in your hand may well be off as was my bottle from Badger beers (Hall and Woodhouse). A good pint of bitter in the pub is transformed in clear bottle to a stinky smelling and tasting beer that has sat in clear glass under the glare of sunlight or the UV strip lights in a store. Green and clear glass let UV light in and brown glass (the darker the better)  largely keeps it out. It’s that simple.

So here is an appeal to brewers, marketing managers and drinkers alike:

Say NO to clear and green glass, show us some respect and do your best to ensure the beer that passes my lips is as close as humanly possible to the one that the brewer intends me to drink.

 

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Becoming a Beer Sommelier

 

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IBD Beer Academy Beer Sommelier Pin

I recently became a beer sommelier, well rather I achieved my accreditation as one, I considered my previous jobs as being an uncertified beer sommelier, as I had much the same role as a (wine) sommelier in a more wine oriented establishment. So what does it mean and is it necessary? Well, the number of beer styles and sub-styles seem to be ever growing and, to the uninitiated, it may seem like a malty quagmire  of names that mean nothing. There are the know-it-all beer geeks who pedal internet based knowledge at the bar all too frequently, probably putting off the inquiring neophyte. Enter stage left a qualified pro, who can guide without snobbery, judgement or ubergeekery, suggest food pairings, describe flavours and chat about breweries, making the experience a pleasurable one for the bar, pub or restaurant patron.

There is more than one path to the brother and sisterhood of beer professionals, and I trained and passed with the Institute of Brewing and Distilling’s arm The Beer Academy in the UK (soon to be offered in Australia) . You could choose the Doemens Beer Sommelier course in Germany or the US at the Siebel Institute, or pursue Cicerone certification, again in the US (now offered occasionally in Canada and the UK), or the Prud’homme Beer certification in Canada. The fact that there are a growing number of people and organisations offering courses is encouraging, as it sanctions professionals and offers education in an area of the drinks industry that is growing massively.

What does it take?beeracademy1

Depending on the certification you go for, they are fairly different, but have a common focus. The main thing that you need to be good at is blind tasting. Describing the flavours determining a style as well as identifying faults is an important part of all the programs. This takes practice, lots of it, and mimicking faults in beers to taste is definitely needed to be confident in his area. A strong concept of food and beer pairing is also needed, and you will be tested on your skill at finding sublime matches to enjoy both together. Getting a grip on brewing techniques and the different possibilities created by varieties of  malts, hops, yeast and water, as well as a host of adjuncts is a must as well. I found a healthy home-brewing habit is an enjoyable way to do this!

Knowledge of beer service and storage, as well as a good comprehension of beer styles and their flavour profiles are essential too. Not only having this knowledge but being able to impart it in a positive, friendly and accessible manner to a variety of customers, MUST be central to the role of a beer sommelier.

So to all you that aspire, go to tastings, read books, learn about the history of styles, take notes, attend courses and visit breweries, but remember that being a sommelier of any sort means contact with customers in some capacity. Whether it be as a retailer, restaurant server, barman, representing a brewery, or if you host beer events and tastings, you’ve got to relate to a client or customer. The term ‘beer sommelier’ is more than being a certified beer geek, it is about understanding every aspect of the product and getting other people interested and happy with their beer experience, so they come back for more!

 

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Beer Store Focus: Market Row Wines, Brixton

Dave-Front-ShotWrangler Rating:

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Having moved from what I consider the centre of Canadian craft brewing, Vancouver, back to my old home in London, I quickly missed the range of cutting edge brews that were available in a number of stores around town. The British supermarket choice is fair at best but can’t compare with the specialist retailer I have been spoilt with for the last 6 years or so.

On a slow day searching for new employment opportunities I took a break and had a stroll around the fantastic Brixton Village and Market Row, the indoor arcade sections of Brixton Market. I came across a tiny wine merchant in the Market Row arcade and saw a number of interesting looking beers in the window.

Market Row Wines is run and owned by Dave Simpson who, like me and what seems like half the British wine trade, used to work for high street chain Oddbins. After having a browse and choosing one of each from the local Brixton Brewery range (reviews later in the week) Dave found time to have a chat. His wine and beer selection are squeezed into an area smaller than many living rooms, and as a former manager of wine and beer stores, I can only imagine how tough it is to shelve and store all that stock!

What Market Row Wines lacks in size it more than makes up for in quality. The fairly modest selection of 40 to 50  beer focuses on London craft breweries with a few other interesting choices from further afield.  Apart from the local Brixton Brewery beers, there are selections from the Bermondsy based Partizan Brewing, Camden Town, Wild Beer, Pressure Drop and the darlings of British craft brewing The Kernel Brewery amongst others.  Dave certainly knows his beer and gives honest and friendly advice and recommendations. I asked him how the craft beer selection is selling, and he enthusiastically explained that it just keeps growing and the only problem is keeping on top of new breweries and new beers that the ever demanding current generation of customer desires. The world of new wave brewing moves quickly and the retailer has to be one step ahead of the game to keep the eager “latest thing” obsessed consumer satiated.

If you live in the area or find yourself visiting the fabulous Brixton Market, then make your way to Market Row Wines for nice break from the norm, as they offer not only a nice selection of interesting beer but some hard to find wines too. If you find you don’t know what to get, don’t be shy and ask for some advice – it’ll be well worth it.

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Is there such a thing as “Craft Beer”

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What do these beers have in common?

 

Sharp’s Doombar

Goose Island IPA

Worthington White Shield IPA

Granville Island ‘Thirsty Farmer’ Saison

Leffe Brune

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The answer is that they are all delicious, well made beers by individual brewers who seem to care about the product that they make. Oh they also happen to be owned by two of the largest international mega brewery companies in the world; companies that most ‘craft beer’ fans treat with contempt, and are unlikely to be ordering any of their more visibly ‘industrial’ brands anytime soon. Those two companies are Molson Coors and AB Inbev. AB InBev are known for probably the most famous brand of beer in the world – Budweiser. Molson Coors own the  ‘silver bullet’ (coors light to you and me) as well as the top selling domestic range of lagers in Canada from North Americas oldest continually operating brewery – Molson.

These companies do not make craft beer, surely.. according to the (American) Brewers Association and now the guys at Brewdog, craft beer can only be made by a craft brewery, and AB InBev and Molson Coors are definitely NOT craft breweries.

James Watt and Martin Dickie have tried to define craft beer in the UK because,no definition exists as such. They are looking for SIBA (Society of Independent Brewers) , CAMRA and the community as a whole to come together and define what ‘craft beer’ means in the UK. They point to the US and the Brewers Association’s (BA) definition as an example of how the US ‘defines’ it.  The roots of the BA lie in representing small brewers, but now the maximum output per year for members is 6 million US barrels (7.04  million hectolitres). This would be one huge brewery, hardly ‘small’. The Brewdog boys think 500,000 hectolitres annually is a suitable size limit for a ‘craft brewery’. SIBA (formerly Small Independent Brewers Association) reserve full membership for breweries who produce 200,000 hectolitres or less (above this then only associate membership is permitted) alongside provisions ensuring full independence from the big boys.

This brings me to my main point – does size matter?eoc_growler

There is no guarantee that small breweries, by anyone’s definition, whether that be 7 million hectoiltres or a nano-brewery producing less that 10 hectolitres annually will produce beer that is any good, let alone be defined as ‘craft’

For me it is about the beer, and its ingredients. Adjuncts seem to be important to many people when working out a definition. Are they used to enhance or reduce flavour? asks Brewdog and the BA. A brewer that uses rice (such as Budweiser) would argue that it does enhance the flavour by giving the beer a clean crisp taste that an all malted barley beer cannot give.  Craft beer fans would say it reduces flavour to the point where the drinker can barely taste anything.

It tastes great, but is it a craft beer?

It tastes great, but is it a craft beer?

So where does it leave us on defining what is and isn’t a craft beer? Well, one man’s craft beer could be another’s mainstream swill, so who am I or you to define it for everyone else?  I think that giant megabrew companies can own brands or companies that can make craft beer; the five at the top of the article are examples where they have bought up great breweries that produced great beer and still do.

Can the same beer made with exactly the same recipe in the same brewery by a great brewer one day be considered “craft brewed” and then as the shares are bought up by Coors Molson or AB InBev suddenly be industrialised swill? The beer has remained the same, just the ownership has changed!

The answer is that there is always going to be a large grey area that may well be impossible to define, and to try and put hard and fast rules may well be a fools errand. I thing it is worth defining “Independent breweries” and perhaps size as well. ‘Regional, Small, Micro and Nano’ might be worth defining if only to inform for the consumer, as well as qualifying for particular beer festivals that feature for example, just nano-breweries or just independent breweries.

Pigeon-holing a broad term like “Craft Beer” is trying to define different peoples perception of an ethos, quality, flavour, ‘honesty’ and artisanal-ness among other terms. It is not possible in my opinion and we should only try to define what is quantifiably definable, and I think size and independence as well as declaring a list of ingredients is what we should be aiming towards as they are far more useful and interesting things for the drinker to know as he or she sups on a tasty brew.

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Beer! The Show

It was with great pleasure that I took part in an episode of Beer! The Show a while back, and I’m glad to say it has been released! Fortunately for me I star with the lovely Chanté Swanson, and follow the great interview with Powell Street Brewing’s owner and brewer David Bowkett (recently the winner of Best Beer in Canada with the Old Jalopy Pale Ale at the Canadian Brewing Awards)

My bit is about seven and a half minutes in and takes place at Bitter Tasting Room in Vancouver, but please watch the whole lot as its an entertaining and informative show and “Fezz” Nazarec , your beery host, makes craft beer uncomplicated and fun!

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A perfect beer cocktail for Summer – the Vancouver Vice

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A vice is something that we might enjoy despite it being bad for us, a bit naughty or immoral in some way!

Weiss Beer is a German wheat beer
(and pronounced almost like the English “vice”) that is delicious and refreshing.

I put the two together and developed this great summer cocktail. It sells now in Bitter Tasting Room in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, and if you want to impress some summer guests who need to be shown how versatile beer can be, then grab a cocktail shaker and make a few of these with your favourite German Hefe!

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The Vancouver Vice

1 oz (30 ml) Hendricks Gin (or your gin of choice, but Hendricks is best for the “Vice”)

1/2 oz (15ml) Pimms N0.1

1 1/4 oz (37ml) 2:1 Strawberry honey syrup

1/2 oz (15ml) Lemon juice

1/4 oz (7ml) Lime juice

1 bar spoon (5 ml) Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters

3-4 oz (90-120ml) Maisel’s Weisse wheat beer (or your favourite German Hefeweisse beer)

Garnish: Wheel of Lime or Lemon

(Metric conversions are approximate)

Method:

Combine all the ingredients (except beer) in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a stemmed 12oz (360 ml) glass half filled with ice. Top up with gently with beer. (If you pour it straight in too fast, it will foam over) . Now gently mix with a barspoon (or ‘pull through’ from the bottom to top) to combine the beer and garnish.

I know some of you are looking at strawberry honey syrup and wondering where to buy it, but it is home made and very quick and easy to make. It’s totally worth it as the fresh fruit flavour gives it a real kick.

Strawberry Honey Syrup (2:1)

1 cup (250 ml) of clear runny honey

1/2 cup (125 ml) of water

1 lb / 500 g Strawberries

Gently warm the water and honey until they combine into a syrup (this is a 2:1 honey syrup) – don’t let it boil though! If you have a juicer, cut the green stems from strawberries and juice all the strawberries and add to the honey syrup. Stir on a low heat until it has combined. (Any raw fruit in a syrup has to be heated just enough to pasteurise it, just don’t let it boil otherwise you lose that fresh flavour and get a jammy one) . You can optionally strain the syrup through a large sieve or strainer to remove any remaining strawberry bits, but it is not necessary. Allow to cool and chill

No juicer, no problem!

De-stalk the strawberries and slice and chop them. Add to the honey syrup over a very low heat (don’t allow to boil) and stir and allow the juices to seep into the syrup. Strain, allow to cool and chill.

Always keep the syrup in the fridge.

 

 

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Beer Cocktails: Artistry or Desecration

beer cocktailBeer cocktails can be an anathema to both the mixology purist as well as the craft beer aficionado, so what are they all about, and why should we ruin the flavour of a well crafted beer?

There are arguments abound on the web about this and in many ways I might agree about ruining a fine brew with a shot of liquor in it. A quick scan on the Wikipedia entry on the subject lists a range of so called “beer cocktails” that seem to be a bunch of pints with a shot of something in it, often still in the shot glass! That is not a cocktail – that is a bunch a frat boys getting drunk by spiking their beers and calling something offensive like “an Irish car bomb” or vaguely militaristic like a “depth charge” or “U-Boat”.

Classic cocktail ingredients have relied on good quality ingredients for many years (not always, though – some early cocktails or punches mixed in things that would soften the harsh taste of badly made spirits). Whiskies, rums and gin make the basis for many cocktails, and their flavour is paramount; the better the spirit, the better the cocktail can be. It is the same with beer, in my opinion, and those great flavours that can be enjoyed on their own, can form part of the picture to make a great tasting beer cocktail.

The secret to any cocktail is getting the balance of flavours right. Sweetness, sourness, acidity, bitterness, body and alcohol need to have a certain synergy that culminates in the flavour that the creator is trying to achieve and beer can add a new dimension to the list of more common ingredients. The problem with merely adding a shot to a pint is that the beer drowns out the flavour and rarely offers anything other that making the beer stronger and often sweeter. The beer needs to be in smaller amounts to allow the other ingredients a chance to offer some complexity and nuances, as well as making a drink that resembles a more traditional cocktail (long or short) and more interesting to drink!

I am starting to compile some beer cocktail recipes here that have merit and have been sold at a bar or restaurant so please help and submit some recipes with their creator, year of invention and where it was first sold (if possible). Cheers!

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Save The Growler! – Stop The Tax

eoc_growlerI had wanted to write a reflective piece today about stepping down as CAMRA Fraser Valley president after 2 years on the exec, but Warren Bowyer from the BC exec  came along to our AGM at Mission Springs brew-pub and made us aware of the new “Growler Tax”. In short this will raise the price of a growler fill at a small brewery (under 15,000 hectolitre production) or brew-pub by about $1 (and change) in the province of British Columbia.

Now I hear you cry that that this is a small increase, why bother complaining about it when gas prices are sky-rocketing and the cost of this or that are at an all time high? Well, we in British Columbia have some of the highest taxes on alcohol in the developed world, we are treated like naughty, irresponsible children who have to have their candy consumption limited by raising the prices to keep overeating out of financial reach! Having managed a few liquor stores both here and in London UK, I can say that those who choose to over drink to the point of alcoholism will not be buying craft beer, and they are unlikely to be visiting nano-breweries to fill up their growlers with the latest Imperial stout or cardamom infused saison.

This tax is yet another burden having to be carried by small, independent breweries, who already have the deck stacked against them with the spurious tactics of the large domestic brands, as well as the government taxing them at every turn from the licence application up to the point the beer touches the consumers tongue. Randy Shore in The Vancouver Sun recently told a tale of a small industry on the up (here) and BC is now punching its weight alongside the craft beer meccas of Oregon and Washington.

So why is the provincial government so keen to put a tax shaped bump in the road, just when we seem to be really getting the beer ball rolling at speed? Well, the answer lies in the question. They see an industry growing and flourishing and want to get their extra tax in before it grows too large and can more easily gather their forces to oppose such a tax.

It is time to say enough is enough. We draw the line in the sand here, and we will oppose this tax hike!

Please sign the online petition here to Save The Growler!

Following are links to your local CAMRA branch who are spearheading the fight, and were instrumental in getting this information out to the craft beer loving public.

CAMRA BC (the umbrella organisation for the province)

CAMRA Fraser Valley

CAMRA Vancouver

CAMRA Victoria

 

savethegrowler

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Cascadian Dark Ale – A name is dead? – time to re-brand!

500px-Flag_of_Cascadia.svgThanks to the litigiously minded Eli Gershkovitch at Steamworks Brewery in Vancouver, BC The name for that dark, top fermented beer, with full hoppy aromatics, created by the Cascadian varietals of  hops, has now effectively ceased to exist. Proud Cascadian brewers across the Canada-US border in the beautiful Pacific Northwest have been denied the chance to brand the style that was created and championed with the cross national region that takes its name after the Cascade mountains (a term first used  in 1825). In 1970 the term ‘Cascadia’ was first used to describe the surrounding region, and since then has been a popular name used by its inhabitants. Sadly the use of the word “Cascadia” and “Cascadian” has been trademarked for beer names and styles by a brewery that no longer produces the beer that once bore its name.  Sadly, as far as I know, this has not been tested in court, no doubt because these things cost money, and money is often in short supply within the world of  small craft brewers.

So it might be safe to assume that the battle to use the name for our region is lost for now, but that begs a new question: What should we call this style now? Black IPA seems popular but is a truly horrible contradiction (black and pale – oh please!!) So what are the options?Cascadia_map_and_bioregion

The American Brewers Association has plumped for ‘American style India Black Ale’ – with its US-centric attitude towards beer styles they have ignored the Canadian contribution to this beer as well as the uncomfortable use of ‘India’ within this name.

The American  BJCP, founded on principles of homebrew competitions, have yet to decide on a name for this style other than a speciality style, but debated the issue last year. (I can’t find any resolution on their site).

The British based World Beer Awards have gone for ‘Black IPA’ and the US based World Beer Cup with its record breaking number of sub-styles call it ‘American style Black Ale’.

One thing is certain, no one agrees!

The use of ‘American’ for me is problematic as it ignores Canada and its contribution to the development and popularisation of the style. The great thing about ‘Cascadian’ is that it crosses the border effortlessly without the ‘North American’ moniker.

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There is a genuine ancestor of this style that was brewed as a porter, but prepared for export to India with extra hops and dry hopping. This was called a number of things such as ‘India Porter’ or ‘India Export Porter’, or ‘Export India Porter’. This was predominantly hopped with English hops (but not necessarily exclusively) but resembles the CDA in the same way a British style IPA would resemble a North American style IPA – related, similar but not the same. The Kernel  Brewery in London have re-created the style (interestingly they also make a Black IPA). This gives us a start but ignores those that developed the Cascadian version and the use of Pacific Northwest  hops

 

Here are some options which I would be grateful for you, the reader, to consider.

 

North American Style India Porter

West Coast India Porter

West Coast Porter

West Coast Dark Ale

PNW (Pacific Northwest) Dark Ale

PNW Porter

Can-Am Black Ale

Obviously there are many variations (Black versus Dark etc) but you get the idea. Perhaps a shortlist can be assembled and some names voted on!

 

 

 

 

 

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Beer Vs Wine… (Yawn..)

Google Beer v Wine and you will get many blogs, magazine articles and special events geared towards this eternal battle of the beverages. This usually comes from the beer sector of the publishing/blogging world as the wine folk don’t feel they have to prove anything. Beer people feel they need to prove how good modern craft beer is and how versatile it can be. This is a fair point, there is much ignorance amongst the general public about what beer actually is! Many still see beer as an inferior product, mass produced for the masses and hoi polloi to lubricate themselves at the end of the working week. Most, in the English speaking world, view wine as a luxury product with elitist overtones; visions of snooty French sommeliers and posh types using overly flowery descriptors abound.

So how do we reconcile these two beverages? Is it just a case of blue collar vs white collar, that tired old stereotypical struggle of the classes? Far from it in my opinion. I have been told/asked after I have introduced myself as a beer blogger that “oh, so you’re a beer person, not a wine person then?” I never thought I had to choose! I enjoy writing about beer because I think I have more to say, and wine blogs outnumber beer blogs about 10-1.

Wine in Southern Europe has always been a drink for all, from the labouring peasant to the aristocrat in the palace. Likewise in Britain and Germany beer was a drink enjoyed by the Lord of the Manor as well as the serf in the fields.

So why are there a thousand beer v wine articles out there? I think beer has an inferiority complex, a kind of small man syndrome, always trying to start a fight. Sometimes beer is just the thing and other times wine is the one that fits the bill. Beer has some great food pairings, but wine can do as well. There is no fight, let peace break out! I like both! I just choose to write about beer.

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The Beer Moment

 

This months Session (no. 63) as posed  by uber-beer blogger and writer Pete Brown is called The Beer Moment. Here is mine.

I grew up in a semi rural/suburban town in Buckinghamshire, just outside London (that’s UK not Ontario!) and my parents, especially my father, often went to the local pub and enjoyed cask bitters from the likes of Fuller’s and Bass. One such pub was a haven for families in the summer. Warm Sunday afternoons were spent in the expansive beer garden where kids could run, roam and play in relative safety, while the mums and dads could chat and no doubt exchange tales about their offspring, schools, housing prices and lousy bosses. It was here that my Dad gave me a bitter shandy, so that I may start on the journey to develop a taste for a drink like no pop or orange squash that I had ever had.

My best friend was (and still is) 3 years older than me, and his dad had been giving him not only shandys but actual half pints of an ordinary bitter for a while, and I was always playing catch up. (He hit forty last year and for once, I was not jealous of his three years of seniority!) This was, I guess, my first beer moment, but not The Beer Moment.

After difficult teenage years in a military boarding school, and hating my parents for it, I left for university. It was some time in my second year and after much drinking of  beers good, bad and downright awful, I no longer hated my parents, and no longer felt I had a childish point to prove. I had wanted to be a grown-up and not an angry teenager any more. On a visit home, my mum was toiling in the kitchen, cooking food I would now walk across hot coals for, while I suggested that my Dad and I should head to the pub for a quick pint before supper. My mum gave a look, that said she knew she would be putting our food in the oven to keep warm, while we sat and drank with no regard for punctuality or good home-cooked food. She had obviously been there before!

We walked less than stumbling distance to a small but atmospheric and traditional village pub. My dad seemed to know various people when he walked in, including the landlord, giving an air of comfortable familiarity; and then my Beer Moment happened.

It was the first time I bought my dad a drink.

A cask conditioned Fuller`s London Pride arrived in each hand. We both enjoyed this classic bitter, but most of all we enjoyed each others company as adults and friends – for the first time.

Beer has always been a leveller, whether between social classes, nationalities, and even between generations – especially between fathers and their sons.

Cheers Dad – here`s to many more!

 

 

 

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Winter Beer Showdown

Seasonal beers are filling the shelves right about now, and go well beyond any single type. The basic style is the classic Winter Warmer. This is not usually spiced but brewed to a slightly stronger alcohol volume (6% – 7% is typical for this warming malty style). Specialty Christmas beers take their cues from the old Wassail Ales – spiced, sometimes fortified, mulled beer given to carol singers in Medieval England. Although no longer fortified or served warm, it is usually strong and spiced, rich and filling. There are other winter seasonal ales brewed in the Belgium style.  They tend to be strong and dark with a super-rich malt profile.

Lagers get a make over too with the German, and now Canadian specialty, Ice-Bock, giving fans of strong and malty dark amber lagers something to enjoy. Of course breweries the world over make all sorts of beers for the festive season and often they don’t fit easily into any specific style, but that’s what makes it fun – beer can be full of surprises!

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IPA – A History

The History of IPA

Pale Ale and Industrialisation

The history of IPA starts not in India but in London and then found its home in Burton-upon-Trent, an ordinary town in Staffordshire, Britain, where beer has probably been brewed since 1004, when an abbey was founded there. Monks were (and still are in Belgium) prodigious brewers, and would have used the water from the local River Trent to brew their early ale. What made Burton so special, therefore made it the most important centre of brewing in Britain (and even the world for a while) was the water from the river. Its natural minerals happened to be perfect for brewing beer, particularly (as it turned out) Pale Ales. In fact today many brewers add mineral content (Gypsum or Sulphate) to their beer before brewing – a process still called ‘Burtonisation’.

Brewing in Britain was largely done by the owners of pubs, inns and ale-houses for their immediate customers, and so the beer would not have had to travel far before it was consumed. With the onset of early industrialisation there was suddenly a need for larger brewers who could supply the fast growing urban populations, and thankfully the growth of the canal system gave them the means to transport it. Burton, already noted for its fine ales quickly became an important centre of Brewing.

At the end of the 17th century the process of kilning malts was becoming more efficient, due to the use of coke, derived from coal. This meant that you could kiln a malt (stop it from germinating by heating it) without the use of so much direct heat. This had two consequences; the finished malt was paler than before and it produced more fermentable sugars per grain. Initially this was a fairly expensive process, so the early pale ales (more likely to be a dark amber) were mainly drunk by the wealthy, who were also the ones who could see the colour, due to the fact that glassware was so expensive. (The ordinary drinker would still have used a pewter or leather tankard for some time!)

The beer that became IPA descended from a beer known as “October Ales” – named because they were brewed in that month, and were highly thought of because of their strength, and extreme aging potential (as well as high hopping levels). Documents telling of 25 year old October beers being consumed and enjoyed exist from 1773.

The East India Company

The Company was founded in 1600 as a speculative venture that would trade spices from the east back to Britain. This company would come to be, in its heyday, one of the largest, wealthiest, most successful and most unethical companies the world has ever known. The British government did not formally take India from the Indians but nationalised the Company in 1857 after the Indians “mutinied” against them. They had their own army (made up of British and Indian soldiers) a vast merchant fleet and many local maharajahs in their pocket.

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World Beer Cup Categories

I picked up a copy of the magazine “All About Beer” last week, as I wanted to have a read about various things beer related, including a detailed run down of the World Beer Cup and the brews that placed. As nice as it is to have a list of ‘must try’ beers in a well made magazine while sitting on the train, going to my daily job, I couldn’t help but get mildly frustrated by all the categories.

There were, in total 90 yes that’s 90 ! Including such notables as ” American-Style Strong Pale Ale”(featuring all three medalists calling their brews IPA) “American-Style Sour Ale” including a medalist from Denmark called “Oud Bruin” (surely Belgian style?)  “International Pale Ale” (including two medalists labeled IPA from the US)….. I could go on, but I won’t- or maybe I will. It seems that every style of beer had so many sub sections it was as if they were trying to give out as many medals as humanly possible  (270 medals in all) by inventing categories that 99.9% of beer drinkers and enthusiasts would have trouble understanding the difference between!

Is this because it costs money to enter your beers, and the people running the awards want to entice as many as possible, and give them a good possibility of medalling (always good for promotional purposes).  I am such a cynic!! The winners seem to be overwhelmingly from the USA as well, which does not make this a great representation of the world’s beers. In fact this seems like an American party where a few foreigners enter the odd beer for good measure. Now I’m not saying that it’s the organisers fault – it isn’t, it’s down to the breweries of the world to enter all their beers; but if you’re going to enter your beers for international honours then the World Beer Awards is probably a fairer representation of the global beer scene, and they only have 46 categories – far more manageable and far less skewed towards US breweries and spurious sub styles.

Let’s make craft beer accessible for those we are trying to win over from the mass produced rubbish that passes for lager. 90 categories is too much and smacks of an exercise in promotion than truly rewarding the finest beers in the world!

For a full list of styles at the World Beer Cup:   http://www.worldbeercup.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/2012.WBC_Style_Descriptions.pdf

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Beer and Butter Tarts

I had never heard of a ‘blog agregator’ before but there’s a first time for everything! Beer and Butter Tarts collects all its members’ recent blogs and shows bits from them and a link to their site/blog.  It specialises in beer and food blogs, so if you’re a foodie or a beer lover, this is a great place to scour through a bunch of them in one place without having to find and actually go to the website, so it’s a real energy saver for those tired typing fingers (that’s just two for me!).

Most importantly it will be featuring the musings and reviews of yours truly: The Beer Wrangler. Well actually, as you already read my blog (I assume) it’s a grand way of discovering some of my competitors… er.. I mean friends, colleagues and fellow bloggers. So click on the link – it’ll always be on my blogroll (bottom right of home page) and read some of the best beer and food blogs on offer!

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An African Oddity

So I have finally returned after spending three and half weeks in South Africa, Botswana and Zambia for work where I tried in vain to find a genuine craft brew available to drink. Sadly I failed. There were a couple of options, Mitchell’s in South Africa, and Zikomo in Zambia, but these proved elusive.  No one I spoke to had even heard of them, least of all where to find them. Admittedly I wasn’t long in South Africa, so perhaps I didn’t give Mitchell’s a chance, but touring around Zambia, Zikomo was not known by anyone. I was very disappointed.

But what was I drinking in this land of Macros? Well, SAB make sure Castle Lager is available EVERYWHERE….. They have it brewed in almost every country, either under license or they’ve bought every other brewery up and have it brewed there. The beer of choice in Zambia was Mosi. This was a brew made with sugar and maize, so in effect was a tasteless adjunct lager, but I guess in a hot country, anything ice-cold with alcohol in is welcomed by most. One beer of interest was Castle’s Milk Stout, although not a ‘great’ beer, it was a nice break from cheap lager. It had a good round, sweet, creamy maltiness, and was reasonably appealing.

In a land of chilled lager, there is one company is challenging Castle and is increasing its sales year on year. This is Windhoek (pronounced vindhook) and was set up by German brewers in Namibia in 1920 (Namibia Brewers Ltd). They made a classic German style Pils according to the German Beer Purity Laws, and still are today. It is a pleasant, crisp, well made lager that stands head and shoulders above the competition, and importantly , is widely available throughout the region.

So if you’re going to that part of the world (maybe for the World Cup) let me know if you find some nice craft brews – as I failed miserably

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Vancouver Craft Beer Week

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Just a quick plug for the inaugural Vancouver Craft Beer Week. This should be a great series of events that will do more than wet your whistle! If you’re not a local this will be a great reason to come and visit the city, where British Columbia’s craft breweries will be showing off their wares and brewing prowess.

So if you drink your beer south of the border, come on up to BC and get a warm welcome and some cold beer!

If you are a local (that includes you on the island!) come and support what should be a fun and tasty week.

There will be lots of food and beer pairing events as well as special dinners with brewmasters, a brewpub crawl, a homebrew contest and lots more!

So, hopefully BC will get some more recognition as a great brewing province and craft beer destination along with Washington and Oregon, as one third of the Pacific Northwest threesome, flying the flag for quality craft beer.

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A Cascadian Revolution

Viva Cascadia!  So at last there seems to be some agreement on a name for a very hoppy dark brown to black ale made with Pacific Northwest hop varietals (see Northwest Brewing News). Those not from the great nation of Cascadia might not have had this mighty dark ale, but should definitely try this deliciously contrasting beer.  Hoppier than an American Brown Ale, as dark as a porter, this beer has had numerous names in the past, not all of which make sense!

“A black IPA please”  I hear in a crafty taproom.   “A dark  India Pale Ale for me!” …..”hold on, hold on”, said other more sensible folk ” How can you have a dark or black pale ale?” . So the term India Dark Ale was bandied about and the cries of indignation seemed to have been quelled, until some bright spark piped up “What’s this beer got to do with India?”

“er, nothing really, except the hops….”

“Hops?” came the reply, “Well hopping levels actually, the word India on a beer label really just means loads of hops now”

“really?”

Although the logic is clear, this means that we should have India Barley Wines, and maybe an India Russian Imperial Stout…..

“India Weiss Bier anyone?” – hmmm no thanks, let’s stop this now please. So thank goodness this beer, popular with brewers from the Pacific Northwest, AKA Cascadia, has a name we can all agree on. It uses the spicy, citrusy hop varieties grown in these parts (not just Cascade hops) hence the name, it’s dark, and it’s an ale. As the old British advert for a wood treatment product used to say “It does exactly what it says on the tin!” or in this case bottle.  So why oh why -at this moment of consensus did Phillip’s rename their Black Touque India Dark Ale – a Cascadian Brown Ale? Well there’s always someone who wants to be a bit different…..

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