What’s on tap next?

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Now that class is drawing to a close, the question of where to take this blog is looming. Do I continue down this road over the rest of summer and into autumn, and see where it will lead? Do I alter course, and maybe make a turn and look at another topic? Do I stop blogging altogether?

[Do I at least find a photo that matches the metaphor in the post’s title?]

I faced a similar decision last spring and chose to change things up. In case inspiration hit or there was a need to voice my opinion on that topic I did keep the other blog alive, but I haven’t fed it in a very long time.

This one is different. While I’ve admitted the fact that I let things slide, and I can’t promise how regularly I’ll post, I do feel that this topic has captured my interest and I’d really like to learn and share more. And there is so much for me to learn! Not just about beer and whisky either, but also with regard to social media — I’ve picked up a lot of knowledge in the two courses I’ve taken, but most of those lessons I have yet to put into practice. This blog is an ideal testing ground for some of them, particularly if I start using social media for more serious purposes in business or my career.

Perhaps it will lead to a hobby, or perhaps more… we’ll see. There are some topics and ideas I have yet to write about (for example, I’ve always been intrigued with the idea of home brewing, but have never had the space or the time to do it). There seems to be a lot of interesting people out there in the world of brewing too, and it would be great to connect with some of them via our common interests.

Plus I have some half-developed ideas in the hopper, as well as a lot of “research” to write about.

So, I will carry on and see where things go. And to those who have followed me so far maybe you’ll continue the journey and say hello once in a while. Cheers!

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Please drink responsibly

Source of the above image

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Gluten free beer? Who knew

Gluten intolerance is something that I was aware of, but do not know much about.

It wasn’t until a class colleague — Jeanette Minshall — started blogging about it that I took more of an interest. She asked me about “gluten-free beer” a couple months ago and I did not have the foggiest idea about it. Turns out there are products available, and there is also a Wikipedia page. We chatted about doing some collaborative posting on the topic.

For starters, I didn’t even know that beer has gluten. I didn’t think about it. And I guess I would just assume that it’s removed during the brewing process or that the chemistry is somehow altered to neutralize the gluten. But it makes perfect sense: other ingredients (like dairy) in recipes remain an issue for people who cannot tolerate them, so why wouldn’t it be so with gluten as well?

Apparently gluten-free beer is made by using cereal grains that don’t contain gluten or proteins that trigger a reaction in people with a gluten intolerance. This piques my curiosity, because the first thing I wonder is how the beer tastes.

In Jeanette’s blog post titled The Beer Controversy, she wrote:

There’s a lot of disagreement over beer containing gluten.  Some beer producers claim that all beer is gluten free because the hordein protein (gluten) found in the barley is destroyed in the brewing process.  The problem is that there is no commercially available lab test for hordein protein, only for gliadin protein found in wheat.  So there is no way to test to find out if beer contains gluten and/or if the gluten in eliminated in the brewing process.

Personally I have never been able to drink beer.  In university people were always amazed at how I could nurse one beer the entire night.  Beer always made me feel overfull.  All it took was a couple sips and I really couldn’t drink more.  I literally had to force it down.

There are several gluten free beers available in Canada.  There’s only one option at the Beer Store, La Messagere, it’s from Quebec. There are three varieties and they are brewed using gluten free products: rice, buckwheat and millet.  Several varieties are offered by the LCBO: Bards, LaMessagere, Lakefront, Nickel Brook, and St. Peter’s.  Not all varieties are available at all locations so you’ll need to check online for a store near you.

This past weekend I tried the La Messagere Blonde.  This one is made from rice and buckwheat, it was the only offering at the LCBO I visited.  It’s a very light tasting beer with 4.7 % alc. so a little less than regular beer.  The taste was fine by me, although I’d much prefer a glass of wine.  I guess I’ve been drinking wine for so long it’s hard to change my habits.  I asked a friend to try it and she said it smelled like OV (Old Vienna) and was a bit bland.

When she says not all varieties are available at all locations she’s not kidding — on my last trip to the LCBO I could only find one from the UK, and the offering from Nickel Brook that is brewed right here in Burlington. I haven’t seen many on other trips either, but I haven’t looked very hard. I tried the Nickel Brook.

Nickel_BrookNickel Brook’s beer is not actually labelled as one, but as an “alcoholic beverage”. The website notes it is “brewed in the style of a classic Pale Ale” and that it’s made from “a blend of Sorghum, Demerara Sugar and Pear Juice, which is then balanced with classic Pale Ale hoping” (typo there; it should probably say “hopping” though they’re no doubt “hoping” people will enjoy it)

It has a pale golden colour, without a very thick head though it bubbles nicely from the bottom of the glass. It does have a beer aroma, but only vaguely; to me the scent is more fruity, a mix of honeydew melon and citrus fruit, and after reading that pear juice is used I can detect that too.

The first sip? It tastes like, well, beer. But, it also doesn’t… it’s hard to explain but it’s just different to me. I find it fairly bitter and hoppy, and the aftertaste is strong and a little tart but passes quickly. While I have a hard time defining the flavour it does match up with some pale ales, and to my palate there is a bit of a grapefruit flavouring to it. I’m not sure I’ll buy this again for myself, but bear in mind I’m not a fan of very hoppy pale ales (Nickel Brook makes quite a variety of beers though so I will be trying more of their products)

Note that it is stronger than average, at 5.8% alcohol content. I bought it in a 473ml can for $2.95 at the LCBO.

While I won’t be buying gluten-free beer very often, I will have to try the one that Jeanette did at some point, and perhaps other brands. I would hope there are a number of delicious options for those who cannot tolerate gluten, but would really enjoy a beer if they could drink it.

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Summer is nice with some weiss

Many Ontarians probably spent their civic holiday long weekend at the cottage, or perhaps that weekend became longer if it was stretched out with some summer vacation. So it’s very appropriate that the first beer I “officially” review hails from Muskoka, one of the many great cottage-country regions of the province.

Muskoka Brewery, in Bracebridge, makes a beer that I have come to enjoy immensely since discovering it a few months ago. In fact I’d go so far as to say it’s become a staple item when I buy beer.

Summer_WeissSummer Weiss, pronounced “vice”, is a wheat beer. Wheat beer is also known as weissbier in Germany, or “white beer”, because historically it was lighter in colour than other beers. It is made by replacing part of the malted barley with malted wheat during the brew process (note to self: need to get on a Brewing 101 post in the near future). This particular version is also called a hefeweizen — hefe means “yeast” and weizen means “wheat”.

When poured (and I should have been using a weizen glass for this; second note to self: buy new beer glasses) it has a light but rich golden hue, and is slightly cloudy like many wheat beers because the yeast has not been filtered out. It has a thin white foamy head that takes a while to dissipate.

The aroma is sweet with a light fruitiness: I can smell banana, as most do, but also apricot (?) and other people have noted clove but I can’t detect it. The beer also has an unmistakably wheaty/yeasty character. Its scent is unlike that of other types of beers and hard to describe to someone who has never tried wheat beer.

In terms of taste, I find it mild, smooth, light, and slightly sweet, with no bitterness and minimal hoppiness. There is a mildly tangy aftertaste that doesn’t last long. This beer seems meant for sipping. While it is mild, it’s not the kind of beer you would guzzle to quench a thirst.

Other Details:

  • 5% alcohol content
  • a 6-pack of 355ml bottles is $13.50 at the LCBO or The Beer Store
  • it has a traditional bottle cap (you’ll need an opener)
  • before opening, agitate the bottle slightly to mix up the sediments and bring out more flavour; also leave a little in the bottom when pouring, and swirl it around before finishing the pour
  • the back label has the message “rub for warm weather” around a small version of the logo… given the cool temperatures in Ontario this summer, I bet there has been lots of rubbing

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An admission and an observation

It’s been ages since I’ve posted. This is not a good thing for two reasons: one is about building and preserving an audience; the other relates to fulfilling course requirements where the blog is a significant chunk of the final mark.

The admission is that I did a similar thing in a previous course, despite my enjoyment of writing and sharing my thoughts and also despite planning this one better at the outset. In fact here’s a post from that other blog where I noted frequency and planning as being important, so I am self-aware of them.

[Insert here your favourite cliché about best laid plans, learning from the past, creating change, old dogs and new tricks, etc.]

On the positive side, I think I’ve done better with respect to what I wrote on subject, audiences, and depth. However, I can’t evaluate marketing and topics from the few posts I’ve created, and I won’t even get into my personal blog goals. [he rolls his eyes at himself as he types that]

I’ve also ignored half of my subject: whisky. This too is part poor planning, but also because I have not been into sipping whisky this summer. Since I do intend to keep this blog going it will be something I will explore later.

Anyway… time to move onward.

The observation is about craft beer.

In an earlier post I mentioned being introduced to mass-market beers and not learning about other types until later. When it comes to beer, there is a huge difference between “mass-market” and “craft”. I do enjoy the former and have my favourites, but those beers are designed to satisfy a wide range of tastes. In terms of flavour there is less distinction between many of them, even among brands. I also buy European beers and I find them similar in that way, though there are flavour differences from the North Americans.

Craft beer is different. It’s an art. Brewers take time to develop recipes that are unique, and even when comparing beers of the same type made by different breweries there can be big contrasts in flavour. Their products do not likely appeal to everyone and their markets are more niche. I’ve tried many craft brews that I love, and also some that I don’t.

But as I’ve been drinking more craft beers, I’ve noticed something that I did not expect — just how bland the mass-market beers seem to me now. I’m not trying to knock them, but now that my world has expanded it would be hard to shrink it back down. And I don’t think I’d ever want to do that.

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Please drink responsibly

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Did you know these 20 things about beer?

For those of you who don’t know me, you may not realize how big of a geek I am. In fact, a major geek, am I. And beer geek is something I aspire to add to my bio.

When the MythBusters do an episode involving beer, beer geeks rejoice.

When the MythBusters do an episode involving beer, beer geeks rejoice.

(Note: just as there are computer geeks, sports geeks, Star Wars geeks, and so forth, there are beer geeks. And geeks can be a mix of several types of geek. Also note there are differences between geeks and nerds, but I digress)

Many geeks have subscriptions to technical or scientific publications. One of my favourites has always been Discover. It’s “pop science” but has articles on a wide range of topics that are well-researched, well-written, and interesting. I’ve always enjoyed reading it and usually do so cover-to-cover (that said, I’m very behind in my reading; apparently I am not so dedicated a geek lately).

Every issue of Discover has a “20 Things You Didn’t Know About…” page, and for June it’s about beer. I thought it might be of interest, regardless of whether you’re a beer geek, a trivia geek, or a non-geek:

1. The oldest known recipe is for a 4,000-year-old beer made by the Sumerians.

2. In the 1980s, Anchor Brewing re-created these ancient Fertile Crescent suds.

3. Sumeria’s neighbors, the Egyptians, built the pyramids under the influence. Workers at Giza received about four liters of beer a day, according to Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

4. Beer (in part because it contains antimicrobial ethanol) was a healthier drink than polluted Nile river water.

5. Ethanol, the intoxicant in beer, is a powerful antiseptic, but not a good cold remedy. The optimal blood alcohol content to kill germs would be more than 60 percent. Alas, that’d kill you, too. (Fatal alcohol poisoning occurs between 0.40 and 0.50 percent.)

6. Salud! Researchers at the University of Western Ontario found that micronutrients called polyphenols in one 12-ounce (0.35-liter) bottle of beer create protective levels of plasma antioxidants that can prevent heart disease.

7. But at three bottles a day, the cardiovascular benefits of beer are reversed by the pro-oxidants your body creates as it metabolizes excess ethanol.

8. Another side effect, beer farts, might earn you an offer for a bung — the large cork that seals a cask’s bunghole to allow beer to ferment properly.

9. In Great Britain alone, 93,000 liters of beer are rumored to be lost each year in facial hair.

10. You might have known that fact if you were a beer expert, or cerevisaphile — a word derived from the Latin name of the Roman goddess of agriculture, Ceres, and vis, meaning strength.

11. More on-tap trivia: “Aplenty bahl steinber horn!” means “A really great beer!” in Boontling, a folk language developed by workers in the hop fields of California’s Anderson Valley.

12. Hops, the bittering agent in beer, belong to the family Cannabaceae, making them marijuana’s close cousins and lending a little perspective to the term “hopped up.”

13. Trippy: Stanford researchers found that beer bubbles create a gravity-defying loop. Bubbles head up in the center where frictional drag from the glass is less and down on the outside as the top gets crowded.

14. While you’re examining your beer, try an experiment: Tilt the glass to see if foam adheres to the side. If it does, that’s called “Brussels lace,” considered by some to be a sign of high-quality beer — and clean glasses.

15. Experimenting with beer has taken many forms. John Lubbock, an 18th-century naturalist, studied the behavior of beer-boozy ants.

16. If the wandering drunken insects stumbled upon sober comrades from the same nest, they were carefully carried back home to sleep it off. Drunken strangers met a different fate: They got tossed.

17. According to a study from the London Business School, political differences dictate American beverage choice: Conservatives prefer domestic pours such as Busch to imports like Guinness.

18. Speaking of Guinness, to pour a perfect pint of the company’s stout, you need to let it rest for exactly 119.5 seconds between the first pour and the top-up — a period called the surge and settle.

19. That’s when nitrogen comes out of solution and forms a creamy head.

20.What do you call the study and practice of yeast fermentation in brewing? (Hint: It’s also the last word in many dictionaries, as well as in this issue of DISCOVER.) Zymurgy.

Source: 20 Things You Didn’t Know About… Beer | DiscoverMagazine.com

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It’s Craft Beer Week!

I should first note that it’s Father’s Day, and raise a glass to all the dads out there.

But it’s also the kick-off to Ontario Craft Beer Week.

OCB-Week-2811Source: OCB Week image gallery

I’m embarrassed to admit that I knew nothing of this until seeing it highlighted on the news a few days ago, especially considering the event is in its 4th year. It is sponsored by the Ontario Craft Brewers, an organization of 32 (and growing) small Ontario breweries.

The “about” page on the Craft Beer Week website explains it better than I can:

Ontario Craft Beer Week is a week-long, province-wide festival that celebrates the thriving locally-based craft beer industry in Ontario and exposes consumers to the premium quality and culture of Ontario craft beer.

Hosted by Ontario Craft Brewers®, Ontario Craft Beer Week first launched in June 2010, with 25 craft brewers and their licensee partners hosting 110 events across the province. Now in its fourth year, OCB Week 2013 will feature 30+ craft brewers producing over 150 events in 50+ communities throughout Ontario.

OCB Week events are hosted at breweries, pubs, restaurants and event venues across Ontario in cities such as Toronto, Guelph, London, Ottawa and communities from Cambridge to Vankleek Hill and from Muskoka to Niagara. With special events ranging from intimate to festival, OCB Week is designed to expose consumers to the craft beer experience through tasting events, brewery tours, meet the brewmaster, cooking demonstrations, food pairings, beer dinners, music nights, brewery collaborations and one-offs, exciting online contests and much more.

Check out the events page if you’re interested in attending something. I may just be able to find some time to do so myself.

I’ve been seeing more and more about craft beer on television, in the media, and especially online. This is definitely a growth industry in Canada, and it’s larger than I had imagined. That’s a good thing on both counts. It adds variety to the beer market, providing consumers with more options. It’s also a nice complement to our domestic wine industry, and there’s a tourism aspect as well. And small/medium-sized businesses make up a huge part of the economy, so if these establishments thrive it’s good for everyone.

Once you start trying the beers, it’s easy to get hooked.

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Lost in translation — the language of tasters

file000240171319It recently dawned on me that I need to find ways to describe what I’m tasting when I write about beers and whiskies. It’s not going to be good enough to say “I liked that” or “that was smooth”. Obvious adjectives like “bitter” or “sweet” may be a start, but they’re not going to convey much either.

So I need to learn the lingo a little.

If you’ve ever read a wine review, you know they talk about things like bouquet, which describes the smell of the wine in the glass before it is sipped. The review will usually detail all the hints of aromas and flavours a taster can discern. Let me qualify that: all the hints of aromas and flavours an experienced taster can discern. It must take practice to do that, as well as a sensitive palate and sense of smell. Sampling beer and whisky is similar to wine tasting in this respect.

file00073583231To be honest, I’ve never really tried to pick out all the things I can detect when I drink something. And aside from the very obvious, I’ve had a problem sensing some of the flavours that are even just listed on labels. For example: citrus, with a hint of oak, notes of zucchini and lilac, with earthy banana undertones… that was a bunch of made-up nonsense that would probably characterize an air freshener not a beverage, but the point is I would often be stumped after “citrus”. Maybe I just haven’t applied the patience to try.

I also need to be able to plain language my descriptions. It won’t do much good if I’m explaining things few readers can relate to. But to be taken somewhat seriously, I need to understand things like how to express what malt tastes like and how it can vary, how to rate the hop flavouring, and observe whatever the heck diacetyl is. I’ve tasted them all before, but haven’t connected those tastes with words. There are sites that may help me with this, such as that of the Beer Judge Certification Program. The same issue applies to my whisky tasting.

I do know what I like and dislike, but this may be a challenge and it will take practice. And I have no idea just how keen my senses really are, so be prepared for some potentially funny descriptions (just hopefully no funky ones).

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A world of beer

It really is surprising how many beers there are, once you start looking. Many of us have probably gone to The Beer Store, checked out the big board that lists all the brands, and thought “wow, there’s so much to choose from”… but that selection is actually just a sampling of what’s out there.

There is so much more once you discover all the imported and specialty beers, and particularly the large number of craft and micro-brews. It’s staggering. A whole universe of beers. A brew-niverse, if you will.

But it’s not just the variety of brands available — it’s also the types. Most of us were probably first introduced (at the legal drinking age of course) to a beer like Canadian or Bud. That’s how it was for me, and while I liked a number of different beers I really didn’t learn about some of the other kinds until I started visiting pubs more often and buying products that were not mainstream.

I’ve seen this graphic referenced in many places, and it illustrates beautifully not just the varieties of beer but how they’re all linked together, like a family tree:

P-BeerVarieties_ZoomSource: Pop Chart Lab

If you’re ever in an LCBO, particularly one of the larger stores, you can browse through quite a range of beers. That was my first stop to build an inventory of things to try that I could write about. Here’s an alphabetical list of what I’ve selected so far:

Over the summer you’ll see posts about many of these. In truth, I’ve tried some of them already (I felt it prudent to do some research to make sure I’d picked a blog topic that I would like; at least that’s the story I’m sticking to)

That list is just a starting point and may — and likely will — change. Most of those breweries make other beers, and there are quite a number of small breweries and brew pubs in Ontario that I’ve yet to look into, plus many more across Canada. But I’ll start there and see where this journey takes me, and if anyone has any other favourite “destinations” in mind, please feel free to pass them along.

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Please drink responsibly

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An Ode to Fermented Grains

Welcome!

I’m blogging again, with a new topic for a new class. So a little introduction is in order, I think.

I’ve always liked beer of all kinds, and while its cousin whisky has been among my mixers of choice, over the past several years I’ve begun to appreciate it on a different level. But beyond trying new labels from time to time and reading the occasional article, there is really so much that I do not know about brewing and distilling, and a huge variety of craft products to sample from all over Canada.

Beer and whisky have long histories: their creation is an art, developed over millennia since the dawn of civilization. There’s also a lot of science involved, which appeals to me. Each beverage comes in many distinct types, and while the mass market offerings are plentiful, there are large and growing segments of independent brewers and distillers that seem to have been gaining more prominence and popularity.

Through this blog, I’d like to expand my horizons regarding beer and whisky. This will include exploring craft beers and whiskies, learning more about them and how they’re made, what offerings are out there to try, and sharing my impressions after trying them. My focus will be mainly on Canadian specialty products, especially those available at the LCBO and The Beer Store (at least at first), but perhaps sampling them at brew pubs and distilleries as well.

I also hope to discover and connect with others in this niche community. I’m aware of many micro brewers and a few smaller distilleries, and also that there are a lot of websites and blogs, but I have yet to really delve into them.

With the threat of an impending strike at the LCBO, perhaps it is poor timing for this topic. But rest assured that I’m planning ahead.

I have to note I’m a novice when it comes to this topic; a somewhat knowledgeable consumer, but far from having expertise. Learning new things will be a key goal for me. And it is about enjoyment, not excess.

Also note that this blog is a project for the Social Media Research & Techniques course (a.k.a. SMRTCCE) offered by McMaster University’s Centre for Continuing Education. So there may be a few “off topic” posts from time to time.

Thanks for reading so far, and cheers.

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Please remember to drink responsibly

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