Category Archives: beer and beverage books

Palin Porter? Palinator Doppelbock?

I see that former political liability Sarah “Whack Job” Palin has released a new book today, entitled Going Rogue. Besides marvelling at why in the world anybody with sense would want to shell out their hard-earned cash to read the woman’s (surely ghost-written) ramblings, I’m left to wonder what might be the response of the real Rogues, those who live and brew in Oregon?

Will John Maier release a new beer “dedicated to the failed vice-presidential candidate in all of us”? Is a Palin Imperial(ly Ignorant) Pilsner in the planning stages? How about a special edition India Pal(in) Ale?

Surely the great minds at one of the west coast’s earliest and most rebellious craft breweries aren’t going to take this blatant co-opting of their name laying down? Well, are they?


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“Undisputed” is Rarely So

If you troll the beer blogs, or read The Times, you may have come across beer writer Roger Protz’s assertion the other day regarding the state of British beer:

Mr Protz said that Britain was now the undisputed top brewing country in the world.

On reading this at Alan’s blog, I was struck by the rather extraordinary nature of the claim, and emailed Roger directly to see whether it was a simple misquote, an overstating for media effect, or what. Here’s how he replied:

My rationale is that, yes, Britain does have more breweries per head than any other country (excluding Denmark and New Zealand, with tiny populations). I was at pains to stress in media interviews that I wasn’t claiming that British beer is better than, say, Belgian, Czech or German beer, but that the choice and diversity now available here is quite astonishing. I wasn’t waving a jingo flag because that’s anathema to me, but was stressing the facts in a bald way to a media that is generally hostile to beer and pubs.

That made sense to me, except for the bit about Britain having the most breweries per capita. Surely, I thought, brewing powerhouse Germany must have more. So I ran the numbers:

  • Population of the United Kingdom: 61 million
  • Number of Breweries: 711
  • Population of Germany: 82 million
  • Number of Breweries: 1250 (more or less)
  • British population per brewery: 85,794
  • German population per brewery: 65,600

Granted, Germany has been experiencing a good number of brewery closures of late, while Britain’s brewing industry has been growing, but that would still mean the German number would have had to drop by over 20% to 956 breweries in order to equal the U.K. count. And I somehow doubt that has happened.

Does any of this matter? Not in the slightest. As Roger further noted in his email, the latest Good Beer Guide has been receiving unprecedented media coverage, just as we’ve seen craft beer become very “in” of late on this side of the pond. And if you care about what’s in your glass, that’s great news all around!


Filed under beer books, beer industry, beer news

What’s In a Name?

In a lead-up post on Troy’s site relating to this Saturday’s Golden Tap Awards and Beer Festival at beerbistro in Toronto – more about that at the end of this post – Alan has raised the question of whether or not names really matter when beers are not sold in the same market. The specific beers he cites are Hoptical Illusion, by both New York’s Blue Point Brewing and Barrie, Ontario’s Flying Monkeys Brewing – the former ahead of the latter – and #9, brewed most famously by Vermont’s Magic Hat and more recently by the not-quite-officially-open Duggan’s Brewery.

There are other brand and brewery name similarities in today’s well-populated beer world, both cross and intra-border, and so we must wonder how important they may be. It’s fairly well-known, of course, that Russian River and Avery settled their same name issues by crating a Collaboration Not Litigation Ale, while Canada’s opposite coast Storm Brewing companies have managed to thus far co-exist quite happily.

But what of more litigious possibilities? Is it a matter of size or respect? Should Flying Monkeys offer a nod to Blue Point, even if they were entirely unaware of the latter’s beer when they named their own? Will Magic Hat ultimately launch action against Michael Duggan, especially considering the larger brewery’s proximity to the Canadian border? And should any of us, as beer consumers, care?

I don’t have the answer, but it’s certainly a matter worthy of consideration.

For interested readers in the Toronto area, the Golden taps will be handed out at 8:00 on Saturday, August 29, as part of an Ontario brewers-only beer fest held at beerbistro, 18 King Street West in the heart of downtown. Admission is free and it all gets started at 4:00. More details are available here.


Filed under beer advertising, beer festivals, beer industry, beer news

Curiosity and a Bloody Disgrace

(This post is primarily for Canadian readers, even more so for Ontario readers, so the rest of you can feel free to scan or skip as you see fit.)

Doing a little online research on a couple of local breweries this morning, I came across – as the title of this post would indicate – a curiosity and a sad and disgraceful thing. First, the curiosity.

The website for Ontario’s monolithic Beer Store empire is not very good or useful, but it does offer some entertaining “Beer Type” and “Category” listings for the brands they carry. “Malt,” for example, is provided as a searchable type of beer, and the sum total of all the categories is three: premium, imported and discount. (Which beggars the question, what is a beer that is neither premium, discounted not imported?)

But the curiosity to which I point in the headline is not the entertaining classifications listed above, but rather the inclusion of a specific beer in the “Discount” category. That beer is Labatt Blue.

Yes, the iconic Blue that once “smile(d) along with you” is now a discount brand, occupying the same territory as such illustrious brews as James Ready 5.5, Lucky Light and Milwaukee’s Best. More evidence, to my thinking, that Labatt has all but given up on their former flagship brand.

Now, the disgrace.

Surf over to the website for Ontario’s pioneering craft brewery, Kitchener-Waterloo’s Brick Brewing, and click on the “History” icon. There you will find a timeline which suggests that precisely one event occurred in the twenty years of Brick history between the brewery’s founding and the commencement of the production of the discount Laker brands of beer, that being the licensing to Brick of Andechs Spezial Hell, in my opinion the best beer the company ever brewed and one which they have not made in many a year.

Now, I recognize that Brick, the brewery, is currently entangled in legal proceedings against Jim Brickman, the man, but to post a history of the company that doesn’t even acknowledge the person who gave the thing its name seems to me utterly absurd, and more than a bit disrespectful. Indeed, it is, in my considered opinion, a true disgrace.


Filed under beer advertising, beer news, drinking quality

Of Angry Arms and Alcohol

My friend and erstwhile travelling companion, Jay Brooks, first told me of this tumultuous tale while we were taking in the delights of London last week, and now he’s blogged about it for the world to see. If you wish, take a look and gaze greedily upon his furious indignation. For the rest of you, here’s a quick summation.

Following the so-called beer summit when Obama met over a Bud Light, Sam Adams Light and Blue Moon with the possibly racist cop and potentially over-reacting professor, some knob at the Delaware chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving opined that she hoped the appearance of the president drinking beer “(doesn’t) send the wrong message to the millions of young people.” This evoked a response from the American Beverage Institute, an organization representing restaurants that serve alcohol, in which their managing director stated that “MADD is no longer an organization that opposes drunk driving, but an anti-alcohol group that has been hijacked by the modern day temperance movement.”

Return fire came quickly, of course, this time from the national office of MADD. Among other, more reasoned statements, MADD’s Frank Harris chimed in that the ABI was “the angry arm of the alcohol lobby,” and that, my friends, is what spurred Jay to first laughter, then outrage and finally creativity. (Really it did, and you should check it out.)

What I found most fascinating about all of this, however, was not that MADD did something stupid and then tried to defend it, but that some organization connected with the responsible serving and consumption of beverage alcohol actually called them on it! They didn’t roll over and say “Oh well, we can’t criticize MADD because then it will look like we’re in favour of drunk driving,” as so many have done in the past, but they called the suckers out for what they are and challenged them on their own supremely self-righteous turf!

Good on ya, ABI. I hope the rest of the “angry arm” soon learn to follow suit.

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The “Brotherhood” Steps Up

As I reported in these virtual pages last month, a great disaster hit the Drie Fonteinen lambic brewery, costing owner Armand Debelder, a fine man and an excellent brewer, an estimated one third of his production. Initial reports, since confirmed, were that Debelder hopes to recoup some losses by distilling the salvaged beer. This will, however, only somewhat mitigate the financial impact.

Enter here Sam Calagione of Delaware’s Dogfish Head Brewing and Leonardo Di Vincenzo of Birra del Borgo, an Italian craft brewery located near Rome. By coincidence, news of Drie Fonteinen’s plight arrived while the latter was visiting the former in the States, and so a decision was quickly made to craft a charity beer of sorts, with a part of the proceeds going to Debelder to help him weather the immediate storm.

The beer, called Namaste, is a Belgian-style wheat beer flavoured with dried organic orange slices, lemongrass and coriander, and should appear on tap at Dogfish’s Rehoboth Beach brewpub in Delaware in about three weeks. An identical beer will be crafted solo by Di Vincenzo when he returns to his brewery and sold at Bir & Fud in Rome as early as July.

This is not only a generous gesture on the part of both breweries, but also a fabulous example of the camaraderie that exists between craft brewers the world over. It is, to a great degree, why I’m both happy and proud to be a beer writer rather than, say, a reviewer of plumbing parts.



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Beer Book News, and a Bit About the Mondial

Like Lew Bryson, with whom I toured some of Montréal’s better beer destinations last Thursday, I’m a bit overrun with actual paying work right now, and so will get to my notes on the wonderful and wonderfully successful Mondial de la Bière later on. But here’s a quick taste in advance:

The cask-conditioned Post-Colonial IPA from Hopfenstark is a wonderful ale, one of the top two or three IPAs in the country, by my reckoning, and so something to definitely watch out for. I understand that as the day and a half the cask survived wore on, the beer got a little too warm and so generated some less than completely enthusiastic reviews, but when I had the pleasure, it was tasting pretty damn good!

Now, about that book. I’m hardly impartial in my approach to it, since I both like Tim Webb as a friend and colleague and have an essay contribution on pages 8 and 9 of the book, but the new Good Beer Guide to Belgium is something everyone who ever intends to set foot in Belgium should have. Period.

gbgb_168pxTim has improved the guide over previous editions by bulking up the substance without skimping a bit on the content. How he did this by adding a mere 13 extra pages is anyone’s guess, but there you have it: More interesting opinion up front; all the useful travel tidbits of volumes past; an impressive attempt to explain the unexplainable, which is to say Belgian beer styles; an exhaustive catalogue of breweries and their beers; and what you buy the book for, namely a great listing of the best of Belgium’s many, many cafés. Oh yes, and for the uninitiated, there’s even a section that explains in brief the typical Belgian menu.

Tim still doesn’t fully understand the beauty of the Bosteels beer, DeuS, but at least now he admits it “may yet become a classic.” And anyway, that’s one of his rare missteps.

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Filed under beer and beverage books, beer festivals, beer reviews, Uncategorized

New Glarus News

I usually take little note of brewery press releases that tout the opening of new bottling lines or the addition of fermenters, but from time to time I receive a legitimately newsworthy notice of a brewery’s expansion. Like this one.

No-longer-so-tiny New Glarus Brewing, famed for their fruit beers but also purveyors of a variety of beers from the accessible Spotted Cow to the outrageous “Unplugged” series of way out there ales, has opened a new brewery, thus increasing their brewing capacity to around 130,000 barrels!

Read that again: 130,000 barrels. That’s a lot of beer, folks, over 150,000 hectolitres worth, or about 18,600 cases. And what’s more, the Careys, who own New Glarus, are projecting sales of well over half that amount, some 80,000 barrels, in 2009.

Now comes the newsworthy part: 100% of those sales will take place in Wisconsin, a state with the population of about 5.3 million people. That, my friends, makes the success of New Glarus all that more impressive, and puts to lie all of the arguments I’ve heard over the years about how difficult it is to operate a craft brewery in a “small market.”


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That Ol’ Integrity Bugaboo

Stan has brought the wine world’s airing of their not-really-so-dirty laundry to beer’s front stoop again, I’m sure solely in the interest of making us think and perhaps once again provoking Andy Crouch.

I was going to ignore the whole brouhaha, as I have in the past expended way too many keystrokes on it. But then I read Olly Wehring’s take on it at and had to reinforce the crux of his message:

There is no way that I could afford to pay to visit some of the places I’ve been to in my time at just-drinks. At the same time, if our writing had any kind of slant to it, I’d expect you, dear reader, to vote if not with your vocal disagreement, then certainly with your feet.

I won’t insult your intelligence, then, if you won’t insult mine.

Well put, Olly. Read his whole response here.

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Lambic Disaster

I had some friends over for dinner last night, an event at which I planned to serve a four year old bottle of Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek as aperitif. I did, that is, until I found that the wonderful Leblon Cachaca has finally made it to my local liquor store and quickly changed the menu to include caiprihinias rather than lambic.

All of which is my way of introducing Drie Fonteinen to this post and telling you of some bad news I received this morning concerning Armand Debelder’s magnificent lambic brewery, courtesy of Joe Strange over at Thirsty Pilgrim. Apparently, an equipment malfunction has led to the ruination of some 100,000 bottles of Armand’s beer, representing about one-third of his yearly income! It seems as if it would be catastrophic to his business and makes me want to fly immediately to Brussels and buy all the Drie Fonteinen beer I can, but as Strange reports, it might not be as bad as all that. Check out the full story here and then drop on by the brewery website to offer a word or two of support (and congratulations, as Strange also tells us that Armand is also recently engaged).

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