Category Archives: beer blogs

In Which the Stars Align and Mr. McL and I Go Head to Head…

In Which the Stars Allign and Mr. McL and I Go Head to Head…I mentioned earlier an upcoming Toronto event called The Brewer’s Plate. It is an excellent occasion and one I have enjoyed greatly in the past, even when I was wishing the assembled chefs had paid a little more attention to the beers with which their foods were being partnered.

Well, I hear now that not only will this year’s edition be held in the most comfortable confines of Roy Thompson Hall — where, by the by, I shall be again in May with the* Spirit of Toronto — but also that my frequent food and beer pairing foil, Mr. Alan McLeod, shall also be present. Yes, the Good Beer Blog curmudgeon and frequent beer and food sceptic, oft-referred to in these pages as Mr. McL, will be in attendance. At a food and beer pairing event. Will wonders never cease.

I have yet to determine with certainty whether I will be in Toronto or Dallas on April 18, but it’s looking much more like the former than the latter at this point. And if I am in Toronto, rest assured I shall also be at The Brewer’s Plate. And I shall dog Mr. McL’s every step, or alternately stay one step ahead of him, until I hear from his locavore lips an admission that at least one food and beer pairing was to his taste.

* Unfortunately cancelled.

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The Futility of Either/Or Thinking

As he is wont to do, Andy Crouch set tongues a-wagging this week with a rant against both beer cocktails and collaboration beers. He received a quick rebuttal from the Wench – or rather a Facebook-driven revival of an older post in defense of beer cocktails – as well as kudos from the inestimable Mr. McL, and who knows how many other yeas and nays.

To explain my position, I must retreat first several years, about twenty or so, in fact.

As a neophyte beer writer, I regularly encountered people who would approach beer of any variety with the simple dismissal of “I don’t like beer.” (I still do hear this, though not nearly as often, but let us leave that matter aside for now.) To these people, or at least the overwhelming majority of them, “beer” was mainstream lager. They had tasted it; they didn’t like it; ipso facto they did not like beer.

My response to these self-depriving souls was the same then as it is today. “Beer is a multi-headed beast,” I say, although not necessarily in those exact words, “Just because you don’t like what you have tried thus far needn’t mean that none of it is to your taste.”

If you have read Mr. Crouch’s self-described “rant,” you may have some idea of where I’m going with this. Having partaken of both beer cocktails and collaboration brews – we know not what sort of quantity of each, since he offers no such information – he declares that he has found both lacking and thus declares “Death” to them.

I’ve made a few beer cocktails in my time, and have sampled the mixology of others, and several, indeed I’d go so far as to say many of the combinations I’ve tasted have been quite delicious. At their best, as I have stated time and again, they are neither better nor an attempted improvement on the original beer, just a flavourful attempt at something equal but different.

And let’s face it, beer cocktails are in their infancy, so there are bound to be any number of sad and ugly ones taking up beer menu space. That’s the way it goes, indeed the way it was in the early days of craft brewing. (Lord knows, at the GABFs and other beer fests of the early 1990’s, and in bars and restaurants and my own tasting cubicle during the same period, many an unbalanced or poorly designed or unintentionally sour or buttery beer crossed my lips.) But the industry improved with time and experience, as beer cocktails are bound to do should the “death to” hoards fail to get their way.

Mr. Crouch’s position on collaboration beers I find much harder to comprehend. For the sin of being the product of two or more brewers working together a beer should be condemned? Really? That makes as much sense to me as do those who scream “anything but chardonnay!” when, in fact, they really mean “I’m tired of over-oaked butter-bombs.”

Granted, Mr. Crouch goes on to proclaim his distaste for “confusing and disjointed…beers,” with which I heartily agree, but why tar all collaborations with a single brush? I have tasted many fine collaborative brews from producers both prodigious – I’m looking at you, Stone Brewing – and selective, and one of the finest beers I have ever had the pleasure of reviewing in my almost seven years on All About Beer Magazine’sBeer Talk” panel was Fritz & Ken’s Ale, an Anchor-Sierra Nevada collaboration. Others have been less successful, but so what? I could say the same about any number of single brewery beers.

So you’ll hear no dismissal or “death to” from this writer. I’ll take each beer or cocktail (or spirit or wine) as it comes and judge accordingly. In fact, the more the merrier!

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Now THAT’S a Comment Thread!

You think the deluge of comments that occurred in this space following my “Sh*t (people) Do” series was entertaining? You ain’t seen nothing yet!

As usual, I am bettered by my British colleagues, in this case the Fabulous Melissa Cole*, who took umbrage with a statement BrewDog head James Watt made in Greg Koch and Matt Allyn’s book, The Brewer’s Apprentice. You should follow the link and read it for yourself, but the upshot of it all was that Watt felt that his experience with the British and U.S. brewing industries had lead him to believe theat the latter was far more open and friendly than the former.

And then came the comments!

Brewers are heard from. Writers sound off. The English and the Scots exchange words. Tempers become heated, then cooled. And it all makes for a terribly interesting read.

Go on, take 10 minutes and have a go at it yourself. Beer-based entertainment at its very best.

*Because the Internet is notoriously bad at conveying emotional meaning, I must add that I include “Fabulous” because I really do think Ms. Cole is fabulous, and not because I’m trying to be sarcastic.

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Sh*t Drinks Writers Do (But Shouldn’t)

In fairness

1. Take a knowledge of one beverage and assume it automatically makes you qualified to write about another. Being an authority on wine doesn’t qualify you to offer “expert” opinions on single malt whisky, UNLESS you’ve done one hell of a lot of research and tasting.

2. Judge a release negatively on the basis of one or two sips. Everyone and everything deserves a second chance, so try it again before you lambaste it, or say nothing.

3. Get all attitudinal when someone calls you on a mistake or error of judgement. We all screw up from time to time. Take your lashes and move along.

4. Write your blog as if you are a ten year old because it makes it more “real.” You’re supposed to be a professional writer, even when doing something you’re not paid for. Typos are one thing, but frequent errors in grammar, punctuation and structure just reflect badly on you and your craft.

5. Use descriptive words no one is likely to understand. Noting underlying hints of some obscure Amazonian fruit doesn’t help North Americans to understand the flavours you’re describing; it just makes you look like an ass.

(I hope I’m not guilty of any of the above, but let’s face it, I probably am.)    

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Thinking Hard About Miller Lite

Why, you might wonder, would I be thinking hard about Miller Lite? It is not, after all, a beer I sample with any sort of regularity – the last one I tasted probably belonged to the last century – and neither is it a brand I see as having any sort of defining presence in the marketplace. (The introduction in 2010 of the “vortex” bottle provided but a single upward blip in what has been the beer’s more-or-less steady decline over the past few years.)

But Lite popped up on my radar recently thanks to none other than Stan Hieronymus, he of Appellation Beer, who put not one, but two links to this ad into his blog. It took me a while to get to actually watching it, but once I did, an eyebrow was raised. Go watch it for yourself and see if you can guess what made my eyebrow twitchy.

No, it wasn’t that Lite has won the World Beer Cup gold for American-Style Light (Low Calorie) Lager four times. (The category is tailor made for such beers, so that comes as no surprise.) It wasn’t the caricature of beer judges as bizarrely facially haired gents and sour-puss ladies. (That part is kind of true, at least for the men, although few in the judge’s room would be so nattily attired.) And it certainly wasn’t the notion that Lite is hopped three times. (Hell, hop it a dozen times if you want, just don’t try to tell me it has any significant hop character.)

What got my attention was this line: “…and never watered down.” Taken at face value, this means that unlike the majority of convenience beers on the market today – and again, thanks Tim Webb for that great way to describe mass-market lagers – Miller Lite is not high-gravity brewed, or in other words, brewed to a higher alcohol content band then watered to the desired strength at the packaging line.

More than the cost of the hops, more than the price of malt and whatever adjuncts they may or may not use, and more even, I suspect, than the price of the vortex bottle, not high gravity brewing Lite would add extraordinarily to the cost of the beer’s production. And that is what i found this revelation to be, well, rather extraordinary.

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British Beer Writers Honour Their Best

In case you missed the tweets, last night the British Guild of Beer Writers held their annual awards dinner and honoured some of the best scribes in their field, plus one brewer. Here are the awards in total:

Brewer of the Year 2011 – Evin O’Riordain, Kernel Brewery

Budweiser Budvar John White Travel Bursary – prize £1,000 plus trip to Czech Republic. Winner: Des de Moor

Shepherd Neame 1698 Award for Beer and Food Writing – prize £1,000. Winner: Mark Dredge

Thwaites Award for Best Corporate Communications – prize £1,000. Winner: Pete Brown.

Brains SA Gold Award for Best Use of Online Media – £1,000 & £500. Winner: Martyn Cornell; Silver Award: Mark Charlwood

Adnams Award for Best Writing in Regional Media – prize £1,000 & £500. Winner: Marverine Cole; Silver Award: Gavin Aitchison

Fuller’s ESB Award for Best Writing for the Beer and Pub Trade – prize £1,000 & £500 . Winner: Ben McFarland: Silver Award: Glynn Davis

Molson Coors Award for Best Writing in National Media – prize £1,000 & £500 Winner: Adrian Tierney-Jones; Silver Award: Will Hawkes

The Michael Jackson Gold Award – Beer Writer of the Year 2011: Ben McFarland

In my considered view, every winner is a deserving soul, and scanning this list frankly makes me realize how good British beer writing has become. Kudos to you lot for continuing to raise the bar!

 

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A Brief Note on The Oxford Companion to Beer

First off, let me say that I have been far too busy of late, and too ill at present, to give The Oxford Companion to Beer the attention it deserves. So, in this post, I will not presume to offer a verdict as to whether it is good or bad, accurate or lacking. This is commentary on the commentary, pure and simple.

Latest to wade in is Roger Protz, a fine man and a pioneering and remarkably prolific beer writer. In The Publican’s Morning Advertiser, (UPDATE: The post has since been removed. See comment by Alan McLeod below.) he writes:

For beer lovers with a passion for style, this is more a treasure trove than an encyclopedia.

And:

The Companion is hard to put down. Cross-referencing ensures a quick glance at one item will inexorably draw you into many other related sections. It’s a joy to read and has already widened my knowledge and appreciation of the subject.

Fair enough. As I said, I have not had the chance to indulge fully in the book and so have no opinion to counter Rogers. Or that of Pete Brown, at just-drinks.com, or Adrian Tierney-Jones, both of whom I number among the best beverage writers of my generation.

But then Roger continues:

In spite of this, the bloggerati have come piling in, damning the book and some saying it should be withdrawn. How they must wish they had been around in the 1930s when book-burning was in vogue.

(Martyn) Cornell expresses his thanks to a Canadian blogger, Alan McLeod, who has “started a repository for errors” in the Oxford Companion. What sad people. It’s an established fact in publishing that most encyclopedias and dictionaries contain errors that are corrected for subsequent editions. I’m told the Oxford Companion to Wine had around 1,000 errors in the first edition.

And now I must call foul! Every person mentioned thus far in this post, with the exception of McLeod, contributed to the book, including its perhaps harshest critic, Martyn Cornell. And while I understand fully the desire to defend a book the making of which one was involved in, I have a great problem with referring to those who would wish to correct the record as “sad people.” “Fastidious people,” perhaps, or even “sufferers of OCD,” if one wishes to go impolitic, but hardly “sad.”

This is a much different world that it was when The Oxford Companion to Wine was first published, with information, accurate and otherwise, at a person’s fingertips 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Some of the errors Martyn has pointed out are minutia, I will admit even if he may not, but pointing them out as present in a book of this scholastic heft is commendable, I would think. And McLeod’s interest in establishing a wiki to help rectify the errors and omissions is a nothing if not a laudable pursuit, particularly since it is an unpaid one.

I’ve written it before and now I shall write it again: The dialogue that has followed the publication of The Oxford Companion to Beer marks, as does the book itself, the maturing of the craft brewing industry and those who follow it. The accolades and the criticism and the controversy are all good, and signs that we, the global community of beer aficionados, are finally on the right path. As a veteran writer in this field, Roger should recognize this.

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On The Oxford Companion to Beer and Beer Writing

I finally obtained a copy of the much talked-about Oxford Companion to Beer a few days ago, and although its spine is barely cracked, I have something to say about it. Or rather, the discussion it has generated.

I believe the publication of this book to be a significant point in the development of beer writing, not because of what it contains, but because of how it has been reacted to by others, even some of the contributors. If you have followed the online chatter, you will know that this reaction has been both good and bad, considered and coddling, but almost always volatile. I think this is a very good thing.

I’ve been writing about beer for over two decades and have been by-and-large friendly with most of my contemporaries. In a way, beer writing has been a lovely international social club, to the point that for some writers, myself very much included, one of the great things about attending the Great American Beer Festival or the Great British Beer Festival or Zythos is not the event itself, but the chance to meet up with the rest of the “clan.”

With the arrival of the Oxford Companion, however, some ranks have been broken, or perhaps more precisely, existing fissures have become apparent. Most publically, Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson, both contributors to the book, have exposed errors within the text, some admittedly minor in appearance and others more significant, but all nonetheless notable mistakes within a scholarly text. Companion editor Garrett Oliver has shot back in his defense, a tad too aggressively in tone for some.

Me, I’ve sat on the sidelines, book not in hand, and thought how nice it was that there was finally developing some significant self-criticism within the world of beer writing. And although it makes me decidedly more nervous about the publication next year of my and Tim Webb’s World Atlas of Beer, that there are others out there who will identify errata and offer corrections is something which will ultimately contribute to the further development and maturation of this particular field of study.

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Again with the Black Whatever

Yesterday on Facebook, I posted a tongue-in-cheek link noting the new “black kölsch” just released from the St. Arnold Brewing Company of Texas, and saying that somewhere Ron “Shut Up About Barclay Perkins” Pattinson was popping a blood vessel. (Just joking, Ron. I sincerely hope you weren’t.)

Turn out, it wasn’t Ron who threw a wobbler, but Velky Al. And I’ve got to add, with good reason. Al does note that there is a convention governing what may be called a kölsch, and that even though the U.S. is not bound by said convention, it is, like those governing Champagne and Bordeaux, a matter of respect to do so. More broadly, he duly observes that there is nothing in the convention about a beer being black.

Without getting bent out of shape about it — it is Friday, after all — I must agree wholeheartedly with not just Al’s words, but also what I infer is the sentiment behind them, specifically this obsession with defining new styles and “innovations,” even is such things involve only the addition of a bit of black malt. As Jon Stewart might say, “Brewers, come over and meet me at camera three.”

Listen, I understand that you want to make your beers stand out and that, in the wake of the “black IPA” juggernaut that is sweeping the land, using the word “black” in front of pretty much any traditionally blonde or amber style is one way to do it. But in so doing you are forgetting that the vast majority of the beer drinking populace doesn’t yet know all of the basic beer styles, much less the 100+ offshoots recognized by the Association of Brewers today. Thus, creating more styles, especially faux styles like “black kölsch,” makes matters more confusing for the beer buying public. In short, you’re not clarifying, you’re confounding!

I like new beers. I like weird beers. I like challenging beers. What I don’t like is the seemingly irrepressible need of some, perhaps most craft brewers to create a new beer “style” with every release.

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It’s All Been Getting a Bit Heavy of Late

American beer love and hate; issues surrounding the existence of beer community, or the absence thereof; more about beer for women; daft signs in supermarket beer aisles.

Let’s all remember Stan’s Rule #5: It is only beer. And enjoy your long weekend, North Americans.

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