Category Archives: beer in the press

Does This Make Me a Social Media Guru?

It’s been a while since I last mentioned it here, but I’m still doing a some writing for TAPS Magazine, the quarterly publication that looks at the beer and brewing industry from a Canadian perspective – although since changing the subtitle from “Canada’s Beer Magazine” to “The Beer Magazine” a few issues ago, the scope has expanded to include more content from beyond our borders. It’s a magazine that keeps getting better and better, and even if wasn’t writing for it, I’d be reading every issue from cover to cover.

While my “Beer Styles 101” column is no longer appearing in its pages (since, as I noted last summer, I pretty much ran out of major styles to feature), I’m still on the review panel for the “Tasting Notes” in each edition, and I’m contributing other stuff from time to time. Amongst that other stuff is an article in the Winter 2010-11 issue looking at how Canadian breweries are using Twitter, Facebook and other social media to promote their brands and connect to their customers.

My original intention was to write an editorial-style article with quotes interspersed here and there from some brewery folks that I interviewed via email. But when I started getting fantastic answers back from the interviewees – including Steve Beauchesne of Beau’s All-Natural Brewing, Karen Gaudino of Creemore Springs Brewery, Tina Wolfe of Wild Rose Brewery, and Ferg Devins of Molson Coors Canada – I realized that running the four Q&As pretty much in full along with a short introduction would give a better idea of the whats, hows and whys of beer and social media in Canada than anything I could write myself.

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TAPS Magazine – New(ish) Issue & Old(ish) Column

As I was finishing up my contributions to the upcoming Summer issue of TAPS magazine last week, it occurred to me that I’d completely forgotten to post a mention here back when the Spring issue came out back in early May.

So, here’s the mention: The Spring issue of TAPS magazine came out in early May. A bit later than planned, but in the right season at least. And while it’s still not perfect, it was a marked improvement over the Winter issue. The layout is less busy, are there are more contributors from across the country so it’s less Ontario-centric. I’m still not a fan of the corny bar jokes that are sprinkled throughout as filler, and I think the order of the features still needs some tweaking, but all in all, it’s continuing to move in the right direction.

While I’m on the topic of TAPS – as I mentioned previously, my main contribution to the mag is a series of articles on different beer styles, presented under the horribly unoriginal title of Beer Styles 101 (a title I came up with myself, by the way, so don’t go blaming anyone else for it). Hopefully, most of my pitifully small blog readership will be buying copies of the magazine to read my scintillating words in print, but for those who have some sort of aversion to paper, I’m going to start reprinting each column here as following issue comes out.

Since the Spring issue is out now, here’s my column from the Winter issue…

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TAPS Magazine – Winter 2007/08

taps_winter0708.jpgDuring my decade or so as a music writer and reviewer, I had my work published in a number of magazines around the world. I even spent a year or so as the editor of an electronic music section in Chart, a national music magazine here in Canada. Even so, I couldn’t help but feel a little giddy when I received some copies of the first issue of the newly relaunched TAPS magazine this past week and saw the first print byline in my beer writing “career”.

For those who familiar with TAPS from its previous incarnation as a frat-boy oriented mag filled with plenty of chicks and cars and other “lifestyle” articles, you’ll probably be happy to know that aside from the name and a couple of contributors, the new version bears little resemblance to the old. As he says in his introduction, new publisher Rob Engman intends for the new TAPS to “focus on one thing… beer!”.

My main contribution to TAPS is going to be a series of articles on beer styles. For the first instalment, I focus on pilsner, expanding on pieces that I wrote here and for Taste T.O. around the time of Pilsner Urquell’s 165th anniversary earlier this year. Also new to the magazine, besides Rob and myself, are fellow beer blogger Troy Burtch; CABA member and beer host Mirella Amato; and editor, photographer and writer Karla Dudley. Contributors remaining from the old guard include Bill Perrie, a writer of pub & beer guides who has visited more than 2000 pubs across the country; renowned brewmaster Bill White; and Kevin Brauch of Thirsty Traveller and Iron Chef America fame. Between the 8 of us, we’ve somehow managed to fill over 50 pages with lots of great content.

Like any new venture, the relaunched TAPS isn’t perfect. The design is a bit busy in places – although I tend to like stark and minimal graphic design, so that complaint can probably be chalked up to personal preference. There’s also a bit too much of an Ontario-centric focus to some of the content (I’m especially guilty of this in my own article, as I focus almost exclusively on beers available at the LCBO and Beer Store), although there are already plans to have contributors from the east & west coasts in the next issue, which should help it live up to the “Canada’s Beer Magazine” subtitle. And on a personal note, I’m not really happy with the odd layout choice that was made with the end of my article (once you see it, you’ll know what I mean).

In general, though, the new TAPS is a huge improvement over past issues, and it should only get better as copies make their way into the hands of beer drinkers and brewers across the country and more feedback starts coming in. Speaking of which: TAPS is available at Chapters and Indigo stores, via subscription, and if you’re lucky, you might come across some complimentary copies at various pubs, bars, and other beer-friendly establishments. Please check it out and let Rob, Karla, and the rest of us know what you think.

When I Asked For A "Microbrew", This Wasn't Quite What I Had In Mind…

microbeer.jpgFor their November, 2007 issue, Wired magazine asked biologist and photomicrographer Mike Davidson to take some microscopic images of a typical Thanksgiving feast.

Amongst the shots was the one on the right: an 800x magnification of beer. Or rather, beer in a slightly modified form:

After evaporating off most of the water from Bass Pale Ale, Davidson added hydrochloric acid to break down the beer’s complex carbohydrates. They formed the orange crystals; the black spots are voids with smaller crystallites inside.

The full series also includes very, very close-up shots of turkey, cranberry, gravy, potatoes, peas and bread – all of them looking like psychedelic album covers from the late 1960s. Groovy, man.

Geek Speak

Hey. Life is still pretty busy, hence the continuing silence around these parts. I’ve got a few posts either half-written or half-formed, and I’ll get to them soon(-ish).

In the meantime, check out this great little article by Ken Wells, author of Travels With Barley, on how to speak beer geek. Most people reading this blog probably won’t learn anything, but it’s a great primer to give to your less beer-saavy friends have a hard time following when you start to geek out.

Also – the theme of next month’s Session has been announced, and it’s “Atmosphere“. Interesting. I’ll have to think about that one for a bit.

Beer: Snob Drink or Slob Drink?

This past weekend, while taking a break from working on the Really Cool Project that my wife and I will soon be launching, I spent an hour or two catching up on a week’s worth of blog reading, and I was somewhat amused by all of the attention that was being given to a fluff piece that ran in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last Wednesday. Entitled “Beer snobs forget the true meaning of beer“, the article sees columnist Mike Seate lamenting the influx of bars catering to people who actually want some choice and flavour when it comes to their beer.

If you read the piece (go ahead, it’s short), you’ll see that Mr. Seate has two big problems with these sort of places:

  1. The beer is too expensive; and
  2. The people who choose to drink the type of beer served in these places don’t know what beer is really supposed to be about.

His argument is summed up by the penultimate paragraph:

Is it just me, or has somebody forgotten that beer is supposed to be a workingman’s drink, as free from pretensions and airs as a kielbasa smothered in sauerkraut?

As you might expect, this caused quite a flurry of commentary on the beer boards and blogs that us hoity-toity non-workingmen like to frequent. Lengthy threads sprang up on RateBeer and Beer Advocate, and most notable (and opinionated) beer-bloggers chimed in with their thoughts, including Alan at A Good Beer Blog, Stan at Appellation Beer, and Jay at Brookston Beer Bulletin.

Perhaps the best counter-argument came from Stephen Beaumont, who asks “Who defines what a workingman should drink?“, and sums things up nicely in these two paragraphs:

What does bother me […] is the idea that North American “workingmen,” as popularly defined by people such as Mr. Seate, are expected, no, required to make do with ordinary, often boring food and drink, as if the past two or three decades of gastronomic evolution have never occurred. If your collar is blue, the theory goes, you are expected to make do with a pint of pale, ice-cold lager and an order of previously frozen chicken wings and fries, and be happy for the privilege.

Now, contrast this with what I see in continental Europe, where local people of all stripes and economic classes, and both genders, tend to eat local food and drink local wines and beers. In areas like rural Wallonia in Belgium, the Provençal countryside and the hills of Tuscany, one needn’t worry about being derided for preferring the wares of the small winery or brewery down the street, or noshing on some artisanally-produced cheese or cured meat. Quite the opposite, in fact; a person might be thought too big for their boots if they went with the national, mass marketed brand.

In the aftermath of all this activity, Mr. Seate made a couple of posts to his own blog where he quoted some of the irate emails that he received from beer aficionados who took offence to his article. As expected, he doesn’t take them very seriously, expressing shock that there people out here who “spend their off hours visiting Web forums where they discuss beer, worship beer, analyze brewing techniques and generally turn something as simple and refreshing as beer into a Star Trek convention nerd-fest”.

Hey! I resemble that remark!

But am I upset or angry by the column? No, not really. I’m well aware that my habit of sniffing, swishing and scribbling while enjoying my beer makes me one of those “weird beer enthusiasts” that Mr. Seate refers to in one of his blog posts. I’ve always had mildly obsessive tendencies and a habit of collecting and cataloguing things, and I’ve moved from being a comic geek to a music geek to a beer geek. Most people don’t get it, and I’m fine with that.

It’s unfortunate, though, that so many people are ignorant of – or indifferent towards – the fact that while 90% of the beer produced in the world today may be bland, industrially-produced pale lagers, the remaining 10% consists of brews of a variety and complexity that rival the best wines and spirits. Or that so many people are content to treat beer as nothing more than a commercial product, like “cornflakes or, say, Hostess cupcakes”, to use Mr. Seate’s words. But if they’re happy too look at beer as just another item on their grocery list, and don’t have the time or interest in exploring the beer world beyond Blue, Bud or Boddingtons, then who am I to argue?

Anyway – just to add a little twist of irony to this whole episode, I thought I would mention that I spent a night in Pittsburgh about 15 years ago, a time when, according to Mr. Seate:

[…] few local bars served anything more esoteric than, say, Old Frothingslosh, and the concept of drinking a Guinness stout from a tap just like Europeans do was something of a beer-lover’s revelation.

Now, while I tended to drink local microbrews at the time, I was far from being the raving beer-rating fanatic that I am today, so I wasn’t on doing any beer hunting. I was just on a the road for a few days to see a couple of musician friends playing shows in some Midwestern towns, and their show in Pittsburgh happened to be at a place called the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern. It was a comfortable college-friendly place with a banner out front proclaiming that they served the “Best Perogies in Pittsburgh”.

And it also had dozens of different beers from all over the world. So many of them that they ran out of room behind the bar and put the overflow on the customer’s side of the bar, in fridges with lights that flashed when they were opened so the staff could make sure no-one absconded with the goods without paying. I don’t remember now what I drank that night – maybe something from Russia? – but it was definitely something I’d never had before. And I liked it.

Isn’t it funny that one of the milestones in my journey towards full-fledged beer geekdom happened right in Mr. Seate’s backyard?

Sandy McTire Would Approve

Like 5 AM hockey practice and the double-double, Canadian Tire money is a tradition in our fine country. Introduced nearly 50 years ago as a loyalty reward program by the Canadian Tire hardware & gas chain, these coupons featuring the visage of cheery Scotsman Sandy McTire have become so ubiquitous that they’re often referred to as “Canada’s second currency”. Check the glove compartment of any vehicle on the road in Canada, and you’re bound to find a few bucks worth of the colourful funny money.

Of course, if you only shop at CT occasionally, there’s always the question of what to do with this stuff when you end up with some. Saving it until the next time you need to pick up some tools or get an oil change is an option, but if you happen to live in Edmonton and would like to buy something a bit more fun with it, you now have another option:

A west Edmonton liquor store is accepting Canadian Tire money at par as a form of payment, and its owners say the program is a hit with shoppers. “There’s a liquor store on every corner nowadays, so you need to have a bit of an edge to get someone to stop by your liquor store,” said Don Calder, a part owner of Liquor International.

Calder, whose store takes in about $5 worth of the stuff on a slow day and up to $200 when things are hopping, put the policy in place about a year and a half ago.

It was supposed to be a short-term gimmick but proved so popular that he’s kept it up.

“We do have a fair amount starting to stock up,” he said. “And, I assure you, we actually look for items now to go to Canadian Tire and buy.”

Sadly, it’s unlikely that such a policy will ever be implemented at Ontario’s booze outlets. Not only are the stores here run by a government monopoly, but if Wikipedia is to be believed, Ontario retail tax laws state that such coupons “must be reimbursed by the franchisee”. Too bad – I’ve got a couple of bucks worth of this stuff myself that I’d be more likely to trade in for a bottle than a lug wrench…

Four Things For Friday

  1. I’m sort of late to the game on this story, as many other blogs have already covered it, as well as “real” news outlets including the New York Times and the Globe & Mail. But in case you haven’t heard about it yet, Massachusetts-based beer importers Shelton Brothers have been having some of their products rejected by liquor regulatory bodies in New York and Maine due to the beers’ names and/or labels being unacceptable. Some, like the Santa’s Butt Winter Porter pictured to the right, were snubbed due to the name and label graphics potentially being appealing to children, while Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus and Brasserie Les Choulette’s Sans Culottes were turned down because the labels feature paintings of bare-breasted women. While the civil libertarian in me finds these decisions to be pretty offensive, I can’t help but be a little amused by them as well, if only because it shows that even though most American states have a much freer market for alcohol sales than we do in Ontario, their government busy-bodies can be just as ridiculous as our pink elephant banning LCBO.
  2. I discovered a new blog this morning that I’m looking forward to keeping my eye on: Pint and a Smoke is written by fellow Torontonian Pat McLean, and it features his musings on the pubs in our fair city. His criteria for a good pub are quite similar to mine: no TVs (or maybe one, as long as it’s unobtrusive), no loud music, at least one good stout on tap, etc. While we live across town from each other, I hope that our paths cross at some point soon, as he seems like a good guy to hoist a few with (even though based on his other blog, he seems to be an Oilers fan…).
  3. Speaking of pubs: My local, The Rhino, has recently added a cask engine to their great line-up of local taps. Normally, this would be cause for celebration, but based on the experience that I and others have had there since they brought it in, I’m not especially enthused. The wife and I popped in for a pint the other night, and while our waitress knew that they had a cask ale on, she didn’t know what beer it was (“Uh… I think it’s an IPA?”), and when she went to the bar to ask, the barman sent her back with a sample rather than the name of the beer. The beer was in decent shape, at least, and I suspect that it was probably Durham Triple X IPA. But the lack of knowledge concerned me, as does the fact that the cask ale is not mentioned anywhere on their pre-printed beer menu. Cask ale lovers expect more care and knowledge, not to mention some assurance that they’ll be served a fresh pint, and newbies could end up being served stale pints that will turn them off the stuff – assuming they are even aware that it’s there.

  4. I got together last night with my pals Paul & Harry to help them drink about a dozen mediocre beers that Harry had trucked back from his last visit to Quebec. (Yes, we are beer rating whores). But just so the night wasn’t a complete swillfest, we threw in a couple of guaranteed winners, including the much-loved Struise Pannepot. The other two guys had had it before, but this was my first time trying it, and it definitely lived up to the hype. It pours a deep mahogany-brown with a small mocha head that leaves lots of lace. The aroma is big and round and inviting, with a fantastic sweet & roasty backbone supporting notes of brown sugar, caramel, and assorted dark fruits and spices. The flavour masterfully juggles notes of roasted coffee and dark sugar with hints of fruit (fig, plum, cherry) and spice (cinnamon, licorice), leading into a moderately dry and woody finish. A complex and remarkably satisfying beer that rivals the best that the Trappists have to offer.

Newsflash: Beer Goes Well With Cheese!

Many newspapers and websites across Canada that get a feed from the Canadian Press ran a fluff piece recently about a shocking new food and drink activity that is “becoming all the rage in some trendy corners”: pairing cheese with beer (gasp!) rather than wine! (It also mentions scotch, but since this is ostensibly a beer blog, that’s what I’m focussing on.)

Now, I’ve always argued that good beer is much more conducive to many food pairings than wine – but then again, I’m not much of a wine guy, so that’s really just me talking out of my ass. But it seems that executive chef Lee Humphries at FigMint Restaurant and Lounge in Vancouver agrees with me:

While wine seems like a natural to have with cheese, the likelihood of a mismatch is much greater with wine than with beer and scotch, says Humphries.

“Beer and scotch work really well with cheese because the flavours are so complementary,” he explains. “Many wines just overpower the delicate nature of cheese, making wine pairings that much more difficult to perfect.”

And it’s not just chefs who think this – the scientists are in agreement that wine & cheese don’t work well together:

Bernice Madrigal-Galan and Hildegarde Heymann of the University of California, Davis, presented trained wine tasters with cheap and expensive versions of four different varieties of wine. The tasters evaluated the strength of various flavours and aromas in each wine both alone and when preceded by eight different cheeses.

They found that cheese suppressed just about everything, including berry and oak flavours, sourness and astringency. Only butter aroma was enhanced by cheese, and that is probably because cheese itself contains the molecule responsible for a buttery wine aroma, Heymann says. Strong cheeses suppressed flavours more than milder cheeses, but flavours of all wines were suppressed. In other words, there are no magical wine and cheese pairings.

It’s curious to note that Humphries thinks that wine overpowers cheese, while the science-types argue the opposite. But either way, it’s obvious that wine and cheese just don’t get along as well as people like to think, and they should just split up now so beer and cheese can get together. I mean, they make such a cute couple. It’s inevitable, really. Wine should just accept it and move on.

Anyway, this story comes along at an interesting time for me, as I’ve got plans afoot with a local cheese guy that may lead to some fun stuff in the new year. More on that as things develop…