Misadventures in homebrewing

My leap back into the homebrewing circuit after a 6-month recess is with a style that, naturally, is also a couple months late off the block: the Christmas beer. Throw a few spices in a dark brew and suddenly you can only drink the thing from October to December. Well, I ain’t buying it. As long as the mercury stays below 0˚C – which will be a while, no matter how many outdoor rinks they close – beers like my Spiced Bourbon Oatmeal Stout will serve as ample restoratives.

The brew day started with the toasting of two cups of oatmeal. I first read of this in Randy Mosher’s great book Radical Brewing, who says that when using toasted Continue reading

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AHU: The few, the proud, the drunken

Does fanaticism toward one beer mean it is truly worthy of merit?

graphic by Sasha Plotnikova

graphic by Sasha Plotnikova

On February 9 in the small seaside town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a beer will be placed on tap in the Portsmouth Brewery. Its reception will ripple through the sea of beer aficionados across America. Portsmouth Brewery, which only produces about 1,000 barrels of beer annually (for comparison, Boréale’s brewers produce around 60,000), releases this beer so infrequently and in such small quantities that the Internet is buzzing with anticipation of its arrival.

Kate the Great, as the beer is called, wasn’t such a hot topic before December 2007, when the readers of BeerAdvocate Magazine rated it the number one beer in America and the number two beer on Planet Earth. The magazine is the periodical of the popular web site beeradvocate.com, which has over 175,000 members, most of whom are self-labeled beer geeks – lovers, defenders, and sometimes, to a fault, crusaders of craft-brewed beer. Such an accolade for Kate the Great created enough hype to give rise to Kate Day, the name given to the not-to-be-missed celebration of its release.

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AHU: The wide world of deps

Depanneurs are peculiar stages for the drama of life. If you’ve been in one, you’ve been in 20, but everyone has a favourite. There is a cozy familiarity one has with the dep closest to their apartment. Maybe the old man behind the counter smiles when you come in, but it’s a shame that beer in Montreal is sold almost exclusively in deps, which are little more than glorified newsstands peddling cigarettes, forties of Molson dry, and overpriced groceries despite such minor charms.

Where to buy good beer is the question I’m asked the most. It seems that people are interested in drinking quality brew but reluctant to shell out $7 a pint at a bar. But never fear! There are deps that suit your purpose if you’re after something more than a Molson Ex. Well, actually, some aren’t deps – in fact they may scoff at the stereotype that beer needs be sold next to bottles of Porte d’Enfer. Nevertheless, these four establishments are the best purveyors of local, craft-brewed beer in the city. Along with a description, each review has the manager’s pick, my own, and a reason to go more than once.

Marché Atwater

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Tack one more resolution onto 2009

Here’s a novel idea: Once in a while, 100-200 words on two beers tried within the last seven days. No limit or expectations on either the beers or their reviews. Ready? Go.

Beer #1: Frontenac blonde ale biere_frontenac2

Beer #2: Le Mild-End, Dieu du Ciel! dieuduciel1
Le Boudoir (850 Ave Mont Royal E.) wins for best bar name in recent memory, but it also wins the puzzler award for its tap of Frontenac blonde ale, a delicious but mystifying beer. The bartender said it’s brewed by the folks at McAuslan in St-Henri, and while a vague review on an obscure reviewing site provides corroboration, there is no evidence of Frontenac on the McAuslan page or anywhere else. All information points toward a Montreal brewery that existed in the early days of the 20th century. The brewery, founded by Mr. Beaubien himself, shook the beer world by slashing the cost of their product, inciting a price war. Despite all the rabble-rousing, Frontenac failed to put its money where its mouth was and folded back in the 1920s. The pint at Le Boudoir was a tasty, less dry, and less hoppy version of the Griffon blonde, but if McAuslan isn’t owning up and Frontenac closed shop way back when, who made it? Was it the ghost of ales past, ales present, or ales yet to come?

UPDATE: I found out while working at McAuslan that Frontenac is a label they slap on Griffon blonde for reasons unexplained. I think it’s not the brightest idea, in terms of branding and confusion on the part of the consumer, but they’d probably say “Pay us for the keg and you can call it whatever you want.” I asked who brews Frontenac; the answer, I do (or did).

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A while ago I spoke with Dieu du Ciel’s brewmaster Jean-François Gravel about a piece on the importance of tradition in brewing. Rather than giving credence to one specific practice, Gravel’s beer reflects the multitude of traditions. With that in mind, I approached a session beer (a.k.a. “mild”) that graced Dieu’s blackboard as “Le Mild-End.” The trend of brewing in North America has generally favored the bigger, stronger, bolder beers. The concept of a session beer, one that is low enough in alcohol that you can drink four or five and not stumble home, comes from the Brits. Unfortunately, the practice has succumbed to the double IPAs, Imperial stouts, and other extreme beers from this side of the pond. I ran into Gravel as I ordered my Mild-End and he explained that the beer had been on the tap list five years ago, but was dropped because of low demand. We chatted about ambivalence toward beer that registers as unfamiliar. Beer without hops can be good! Le Mild-End sure was. Full-bodied and sweet without being syrupy, wonderful caramel and biscuit flavors shone in the malt – a fine beer whether you’re having one pint or four.

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The Globe and Mail finds solution to Quebec independence

In Monday’s Globe and Mail came an article about a beer aimed at Quebec’s sovereignty, L’Indépendante – Vive la bière libre. The main angle here was seeing the release of a beer whose profits are donated to the separatist movement as frustration that sovereignty has taken a back seat in the provincial elections.

Although it was good of the national daily to pick up the story, there were a couple of areas where the writer, Ingrid Peritz, missed the point. Continue reading

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AHU: Home sweet homebrew

Ever been intrigued by the thought of brewing your own beer, but turned off by the “science” or intimidated by foreign words like sparge and flocculate? Well, you needn’t be. Brewing in your kitchen is actually pretty easy. I like to compare it to making a big pot of soup, but the secret ingredient is a live organism and you leave it out for two weeks before dipping in. To take away the mystery, I’ve illustrated the major steps of homebrewing so you can see what you’ll be getting into before you roll up your sleeves. Continue reading

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The New Yorker affirms my love for print journalism. And beer.

A Better Brew, in The New Yorker – November 24, 2008

Above is the link to a great article by Burkhard Bilger in the food issue of the current New Yorker. It talks eloquently about the place of extreme beer in craft brewing and profiles Sam Calagione and his awesome Dogfish Head brewery.

I actually spent a while writing commentary on the piece. Unfortunately I did it using a function of WordPress that I’ll never use again. One where “save” does not mean “save” and “publish” means “delete all of your writing.” This proves only what I already knew. Print journalism is amazing and blogs, besides signalling the End of Days, are hard to use.

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