Category Archives: editorial

The Beer Blogging Axis

While attempting to catch up on my reading of other beer blogs  this evening, I got to thinking about the old “quality vs. quantity”  equation. It applies to more than just beer blogs, of course – to more than just blogs in general, even – but I found it interesting to analyze things just in terms of those of us who fill our little corners of the Internet with ramblings about beer and brewing.

While I won’t mention any names in order to avoid unnecessarily offending or ego-boosting, I was especially struck by the vast variation on both sides of the equation amongst our clan. There are highly skilled writers who post very infrequently; remarkably prolific bloggers who can barely string a sentence together; those who manage to write both often and well; those who offer their clunky and turgid content on a mercifully infrequent schedule; and any and every combination in between.

As for this blog, it’s pretty obvious where it fits on the quantity scale (i.e. pretty freakin’ low), and as the sloppy image to the right indicates, I have enough confidence in my writing ability to think (or at least hope) that it sits somewhat higher on the quality axis. I often wish that I could even things out with some more frequent content, and I always have at least a half-dozen ideas that I’d like to write about. But as long as this poor little blog continues to play fourth or fifth fiddle to my writing for other places, not to mention my job and other real life stuff, posts here will likely always come in fits and starts. I can only hope that the quality is high enough to keep people coming back for my less-frequent-than-I’d-like-them-to-be musings.

Anyway, speaking of those other places I write for – here are my beer-related articles for Taste T.O. from the last couple of months:

Feb 16th: Beer of the Week – Great Lakes Canuck Pale Ale
Feb 9th: Beer of the Week – Michael Duggan Number 9 IPA
Feb 2nd: Get Yer Drink(vine) On (profile of a handy new website for Ontario booze drinkers)
Jan 26th: Beer of the Week – Harviestoun Ola Dubh 40
Jan 19th: Beer of the Week – Black Oak Ten Bitter Years
Jan 12th: Beer of the Week – Amsterdam Dry Dock Porter
Jan 5th: Beer of the Week – BrewDog Punk IPA

Help Save RateBeer

ratebeer[NOTE: Scroll down to the end of this post for more recent updates.]

Just as I hit the “Publish” button for my previous post, a disheartening email arrived in my Inbox from Joe Tucker, the owner of RateBeer, a website that I’m sure most readers of this blog are familiar with.

As you might know, RateBeer as been the target of a series of attacks lately, with hackers installing malicious scripts that have downloaded viruses and other nasties on the computers of people visiting the site. Several attempts have been made to solve the security problems, and it looked like the issues were sorted out a couple of weeks ago. But this past weekend, there was another especially bad attack, and Joe is running out of options to get the site fixed and back online.

Here’s what he has to say:

I’m sorry to say that despite our best efforts and an outstanding group of worldwide volunteers and active raters in countries around the the globe, we’ve come to a point where it’s difficult to resume our service to craft beer community.

Recently we’ve come under a steady attack by hackers to shut us down. I’m very sorry to say that for now that they’ve been successful. And I realize that correcting the issue is beyond my abilities and means.

I’m asking you tonight for help.

If you can recommend a top tier Windows IIS/SQL Server security expert or can donate money to RateBeer for the cause please do. Please send help to either via PayPal or via mail. I’m trying very hard to bring back our service to the community. Please help.

Joe Tucker

If you can help in any way, I strongly encourage you to do so. RateBeer is one of the most important online resources for beer lovers, and its loss would be a huge blow for the international beer scene.

UPDATE (November 22nd, 2008):

Since my stats show that a whole lot of people are hitting this post via Google searches for “RateBeer down” and the like, I thought I should post a bit of follow-up info.

After the original problems noted above, RateBeer was down for two weeks or so and given a complete security overhaul. The saite came back up earlier this week, but then went down again without warning yesterday, this time without even a “we’ll be back soon!” splash page.

A few hours later, Joe posted the following to a “RateBeer refugees” thread on Beer Advocate:

hi gang, the security team saw the threat tonight while they conducting diagnostics. their move was to continue diagnostics in a safe environment by taking the site down and starting tomorrow morning. This operation is a top to bottom approach by the best specialists I could find. They plan on attacking this as a team first thing tomorrow morning.

The plan this time is a prompt relaunch with guaranteed work.

Thank you to everyone in the community for coming together to bring us back. As we approach 2009, people are talking about change. This was the mantra of RateBeer and Beer Advocate many many years ago and things in the beer world were very different. We are now seeing the fruits of our early labors and the many positive changes in the beer industry we’d hoped for so long ago. These changes have only come about because of people like you all, whose passion has made for monumental worldwide change.

I’m grateful many of you — some without even a RateBeer account — have pitched in to help us continue our work. Thank you, Todd, for helping us out. While we’ve had our superficial differences in the past, deep down we’ve known we’re all in this together.

Thanks for showing what a strong family of committed people we are. It’s this kind of spirit that has been instrumental in the success of craft beer and the spirit that keeps me fighting for the cause.

So, yeah, it’s down again, but should (hopefully) be back soon.

UPDATE (December 1st, 2008):

There are lots of people hitting this post again today doing searches for “ratebeer” and “save ratebeer”. Yes, the site is being hacked again, it’s going up and down like a yo-yo, and when it is up, a lot of functionality isn’t working.

Since I don’t have any direct contact with Joe, I really don’t know what the long-term prognosis is, but for today at least, it seems to be rough sailing.

LCBO: Let's Censor Bunnies, OK?

gc_easter_censored.jpgLike most government-run liquor boards, Ontario’s LCBO has their fair share of rules and regulations that producers and agents have to follow in order to get their products into the system. Some of them have at least a semblance of logic, such as ensuring that the alcohol percentage on the label matches that of the liquid in the bottle, but a lot of them elicit an incredulous “WTF?” reaction from me, and presumably many other people.

For example, there is a policy that any graphics that might be appealing to children are not allowed to appear on the packaging of alcoholic beverages in Ontario. Now, I find this policy to be pretty ridiculous, which is how I feel about most overly restrictive laws and policies of the “Who will think of the CHILDREN???” sort. But if I put myself into the nanny state mindset for just a moment, I suppose I can see the reasoning of such a policy when it comes to products that are sold at LCBO retail outlets, since they might purchased and brought in the homes of irresponsible parents who leave their liquor in a place accessible to their kids.

What I absolutely cannot understand, however, is why this same policy applies to products that are not in LCBO stores, and are only available via consignment orders directly from import agents. The vast majority of these products – such as the Gouden Carolus Easter Beer pictured here – are sold to the bar and restaurant trade, where they should never be accessible to anyone under the age of 19. Yet the LCBOverlords ordered that the label on every bottle of this beer had to be defaced with a sticker before they were shipped out to the handful of establishments that ordered it via import agents Roland + Russell.

(By the way – if you’re curious to see the offending image that needed to be censored, just click on the photo.)

Anyway, government red tape and label defacement aside, I suppose we should at least be happy that Gouden Carolus Easter Beer is available to Ontarians at all. It’s one of the few Easter beers brewed anywhere (according to RateBeer, there are barely two dozen beers in the world with the word “Easter” in their name), and given the generally high quality of the Gouden Carolus line-up, it’s bound to be a good one.

I’ve actually got a bottle courtesy of R+R, but it’s set aside to share with some friends at a beer tasting later this week (none of which are children, I promise!), and my review will pop up on RateBeer soon afterwards. In the meantime, Happy Easter!

Can It!

knickerbocker_can.jpgRecently, a thread was started on the Bar Towel forum that was intended to be a place for people to discuss what they saw as positive developments in the beer selection at the LCBO. Given that hating the LCBO seems to be considered by many as a prerequisite for being a craft beer drinker in Ontario, this was an interesting attempt at diplomacy.

Of course, it didn’t take long for the discussion to go in a completely opposite direction, because obviously the dozens of other Bar Towel threads slamming the LCBO in one way or another just aren’t enough for some people. But then, somewhere around the middle of the second page of the thread, it shifted yet again into a discussion of the pros and cons of using cans to package craft beer.

As you’ll see from my contribution to the thread, I’m pretty solidly on the pro-can side of things, although I haven’t always been. I recall, for example, being quite shocked during a visit to a small brewery in Quebec about 5 or 6 years ago when the brewer said that he would prefer to see his beer available in cans rather than bottles. They way he saw it, the beer would stay fresher for longer, which would make for happier customers.

(Of course, considering that this same brewery has since become infamous for quality control issues that cause many of their beers to become infected and go sour soon after bottling, it could be argued that dealing with what they’re putting into the bottles is probably more important than switching those bottles to cans.)

Anyway – my shocked reaction made some sense, since in the Ontario market at the time, cans were almost exclusively the domain of “premium” macro-lagers like Blue and Bud, or stomach churning buck-a-beers. Much like the “cork vs. screw-cap” debate in the wine world, bottles had a sense of class and dignity that was perfect for well-crafted beer, while cans were meant for shotgunning swill at frat parties or chugging overpriced corn-lager at ball games.

But then, a couple of things happened that changed my mind. First, the LCBO got a big environmental kick, and decreed that preference would be given to canned beer over bottled beer from now on. Arguments about which of the two is truly more environmentally friendly aside, this edict meant that many of the European and UK beers that I enjoyed, such as Pilsner Urquell and London Pride, started being sold in cans rather than bottles at the LC’. And once I tried them, I realized that I actually preferred the canned versions to the bottled! They were fresher and livelier tasting, and in the case of the Urquell in particular, I was happy that I no longer had to annoy LCBO staff by asking them to open a new case for me in order to avoid buying green bottles that had been sitting under fluorescent lights for an indeterminate amount of time.

Around that same time, I caught wind of a small brewery out in Colorado called Oskar Blues that had started canning their Dale’s Pale Ale, a relatively big (6.5%) and hoppy beer – i.e. the sort of beer that I usually like a lot. It took me a while to get my hands on a can, but when I finally got a chance to try it in mid-2006, I was very impressed, and equally so by their even bigger (8%) and similarly packaged Old Chub Scotch Ale. Finally, it sunk in: cans aren’t just good, they’re great, even for true craft-brewed beers.

There are many reasons for cans to be considered superior to bottles as a beer container, many of which are laid out in Lew Bryson’s latest First Draft column on The gist of the article is summed up nicely in these two paragraphs:

I just bought four cases of beer for a long weekend upstate-all cans, from three different breweries: I.P.A. from New England Brewing in Connecticut, pilsner and pale ale from Sly Fox in Pennsylvania, and Old Chub Scottish ale from Oskar Blues.

It just makes sense. The can is a superior package to the bottle. Cans are lighter and take up less space, making them cheaper to transport and store. They’re more durable once filled. Cans are completely lightproof, meaning the beer won’t get “skunked,” acquiring the nasty odor that comes from hops compounds breaking down in sunlight. Cans today come with a lining that keeps beer away from the aluminum, eliminating the metallic taste that used to affect canned beer. They seal up with very little air in the can, keeping the beer fresh longer. They’re even cheaper to recycle. Any “but it’s a can” stigma evaporates with the first taste of the emphatically nonmainstream taste.


Now, given the poor selection of American craft beers at the LCBO, the fact that a number of small brewers down there are making the move to cans hasn’t had much of an effect on my personal drinking habits. But to bring things full circle back to the Bar Towel thread that inspired this post, the trend has started to catch hold in Ontario, with a number of craft brewers – including Neustadt, Wellington, Great Lakes and Hockley Valley – now offering some or all of their brands in cans.

It certainly hasn’t been a completely painless transition for all of them, as illustrated by several blog posts from Neustadt’s Val Stimpson. But I’m firmly of the opinion that the move from bottles to cans will end up being a positive development for many of Ontario’s craft brewers, most notably because someone looking to try a new beer will probably be much more likely to pick up a single can – or their own mixed pack of a few different ones – than a six-pack of bottles of a single brand that they might end up hating.

It can’t be denied, of course, that cans aren’t an ideal package for every beer. I can’t imagine, for example, that a vintage ale or big barley wine would fare well being cellared in a can for a decade or three. But for shorter term storage of most types of beer, cans beat out bottles in most criteria, save for aesthetics. But as someone notes in the Bar Towel thread, good beer is meant to be poured into and enjoyed out of a glass, so as long as the container keeps it fresh and tasty, why should it matter if it’s a can or a bottle?

(That last line isn’t a completely rhetorical question. I’m interested to hear other opinions on this, so please comment and let me know what you think.)