Category Archives: Musings

Mining for treasure at the LCBO

Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen… well to be fair a great many people share my current beer dilemma, which is the woefully sparse craft beer representation at the provincially run LCBO stores in Ontario. I know there are many reasons (???) behind the logic of having beer stop at provincial borders but seriously folks a beer geek wants to have a vast ocean of choices not simply a rain barrel full. To be fair, there is a good amount of craft beer on the shelf but it’s a bit of a tease when you know there is so much more behind the curtain.

The result of this lack of brew diversity? I have become a bit (more) of an archaeologist when it comes to extracting the best that the LCBO can offer. Being blessed with an insider view means I am now privy to the fact that you can (for a price) get pretty much any beer you want ordered into the LCBO and with the handy-dandy app you can seek out the location of whales – I also happily discovered that a couple of stores even have growler fills and tastings (don’t laugh BC folks it’s just baby steps here). 

What does this look like for me? See below for my current beer companions.


So keep the faith. Together we can work towards eroding the invisible borders that prevent us from creating a veritable garden of craft beer choices. Canada 150? Let’s equally share in what’s brewing across the country and beyond. A truly multicultural nation would embrace all the beer that calls Canada home and welcome beer from around the world where it can happily co-exist on the LCBO shelf and in my fridge ūüćĽ

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A lil’ something new on my grocery list…

  

After too many years of cross-border shopping while having all kinds of envy at the complete obviousness of selling beer in the grocery store, FINALLY us Ontarians can now pick up our craft beer with the rest of our dietary staples.

Instead of bemoaning the fact that it took us as a province this long to put bottles on the grocery shelves or that the selection is meagre or that the seperate checkout is still working through the kinks rather I am going to simply enjoy the moment.

I knew it was coming, the news alluded to beer in grocery stores being on the horizon for months now but it was not until I saw the sign from above (the Superstore in Oshawa) that I became a believer.

  

Even better this sign did not deceptively lure me in only to break my heart with a provisio beer soon or beer next year but quite accurately beer was most indeedly-doodly here.

   
 
As I alluded to above the actual nuts and bolts of beer in the grocery store are still being revamped. 

While I was in the Superstore that fateful day the very helpful store worker walked me through the process. Beer can only be purchased at the tiny checkout situated between the two aisle end caps where they stock the beer. The initial offerings are somewhat sparse though I was told the shelf space for beer is slated to grow in the near future. Also, when beer is allowed through the regular checkout lanes there will be only a select number of lanes where cashiers are trained in the fine art of deciphering those under 25 (the age under which you will be id’d) and pretty sure you will never be in the self-checkout with your craft beer.

Nonetheless, no whining or complaining on my part, beer is here and we will happily work out the kinks as we grow!


Beer by Campfire Light

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I know I have been a little off the radar as of late but I like to think I have good excuses for not getting around to writing my blog posts. It is really not for lack of ideas, I am quite adept at that part, it is just the actual sitting down at my computer and typing part that trips me up.

I blame it on the fact I have worked too many years as a Princess Leia like slave to my desk – yup, in my mind I am literally chained to my desk, which I picture as a slovenly beast from a distant galaxy and I must type up endless reports and documents for it’s amusement while I wait for someone to come rescue me or at least afford me the opportunity to strangle something and free myself.

But lets put a pin in that while I get back to the topic at hand, why does beer taste so much better around a campfire?

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Seriously, has anyone done any scientific studies on this? If not, I volunteer.

Labour Day weekend found me and a couple of friends car-camping with our trusty red plastic coolers, gas station bought bags of ice, enough firewood to keep burning man in business,¬†and, of course, several (dozen) summer worthy beers like Muskoka Detour, Beau’s American I.P.A., Naughty Nellie, Waupoos Cider, Daura Damm (gluten free for the hubby), Smithworks Kellerbeer, a few types of Radlers all made better by the warm nights, mosquitoes, lakeside smells and smores.

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I really do not have much in the way of beer reviews to impart but I do have a few observations; summer and IPA are meant to go together like summer and baseball, everything tastes better when you are sitting in a camping chair in front of fire and wearing a glow stick, beer always has been and always will be a communal experience, and take the time to enjoy your last few sips of summer before the pumpkin beers start emerging from the patch!

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Why Blog?

blog-cartoon

 

There have been many changes in my life as of late. I have been dealing with the prospect of finding a new career, a recent cross-country move, not to mention my hubby’s struggle with his new diet and the general level of uneasiness that accompanies any such large changes in ones life.

During this period I have found myself less and less enthusiastic about writing my blog so when I got an email from WordPress congratulating me on three years of The Parting Glass I got to wondering just why bloggers do it.

 

Obviously when someone chooses to start a blog they do it out of passion for the topic they are writing on. It takes a level of self-confidence (or self-delusion) to just put your thoughts out there for anyone to read.

It is exciting drafting those first posts, crafting your image and receiving those first comments. As you gain followers, you strive to differentiate yourself by finding that niche you are knowledgable about and exploring with your readers.

Time passes and you push the boundaries of the familiar trying new formats, changing up post styles, adding more of yourself, intentionally raising hackles and really thinking about what you can offer your readers. The longer you blog the more comfortable it becomes but the longer you blog the more you feel a certain pressure to keep at it, to maintain the quality and quantity of your postings.

 

It is this expectation (real or imagined) that became somewhat paralyzingly for me as ‘real world’ problems made my¬†blog seem superficial. As I sat down at my computer to write I felt a sense that there are better things I could be doing with my time. It was disconcerting to see the fun begin to fall to the wayside.

 

For some blogging is a means to an end. Some writers monetize their blogs or use their blog to grow a business or blog as self-promotion to catch the eye of someone in the industry. But for those that write simply to add your voice to the chorus why keep at it?

 

To be honest I am not sure I have a good answer to this. Maybe all blogs have an expiration date and like a great television show they need to make an exit before they jump the proverbial shark. I wrote another blog that, while I loved the topic. I somehow could not get behind it and keep it going in any sort of meaningful way. Perhaps the inability to stick it out is symptomatic of the instant culture of social media where ideas are tossed into and out of the milieu at an alarming rate.

 

The Parting Glass felt different from my other failed attempt at blogging. When it came to craft beer, I got excited about the next post, I stockpiled reviews and I sought out topics in anticipation of what I would write next. I did this because I wanted to do a better post than my last, to take a better photograph, to craft a wittier paragraph, to unearth some fact that people did not know, to find an undiscovered beer etc. There was a new romance feel about the whole endeavour that lasted longer than most crushes.

Perhaps the next phase of my blogging career will be an acceptance of allowing The Parting Glass to become more organic. It will ebb and flow as I grow and change as a person. The pace of writing can change and so can the depth of content and maybe that is not necessarily a bad thing. Feeling beholden to my blog can have no benefit so I think I will just know when it feels right to get back at it. Or maybe I just need to pull my gaze away from navel and stop over-thinking the whole thing…

Did I mention I picked up a great looking beer from Southern Tier at the LCBO today?

 

*Cartoon from http://www.businessesgrow.com/2011/03/31/3-steps-to-a-breakthrough-corporate-blog


Dressing the Part

One of the often overlooked aspects of craft beer culture is the dress code. Sure we blog about the beer, the breweries, the brewers, the beer labels and the beer events but attend any festival, tasting event, cask night, tap room etc. and you will begin to notice that lovers of beer love to share that love via the t-shirt.

Putting aside the well-crafted (notice that pun) aesthetic of the plaid-wearing, beard waxed, skinny jean sporting crowd, I am speaking about the other portion of the group that treats beer events like concerts i.e. show your love via your choice of attire. From the basic brewery logos to clever puns to pop culture spoofs there is no shortage of creatively dressed folks out there if you so choose to look around.

On that note (and since it is Friday, which by definition requires light reading), I would like to dedicate this post to beer wear. What follows is a mere drop in the bucket of some of the more interesting clothing options just waiting to be gifted to the beer geek in your life…

 

Brewers Shirts (Etsy)
Brewer Shirts 4 from Etsy

Brewer Shirts 5 from Etsy

Brewer Shirts 6 from Etsy

Brewer Shirts from Etsy 2

Brewer Shirts from Etsy 3

 

Hop Cloth (Etsy)
Hopcloth from Etsy 2

Hopcloth from Etsy 3

Hopcloth from Etsy

 

Twisted Twee Ltd. (Etsy)
Twisted Twee Ltd from Etsy

City Collection (Etsy)
City Collection from Etsy

Classic SciFi (Etsy)
Classic SciFi from Etsy

Sleazy Seagull (Etsy)
Sleazy Seagull from Etsy

Little Atoms (Etsy)
Little Atoms from Etsy

Unicorn Tees (Etsy)
Unicorn Tees from Etsy


Of Bell Curves and Bandwagons…

As I enter my “veteran” years as a craft beer drinker I like to look back at how and why I got here.

Like. Any of you, I started by dabbling here and there with the occasional import offering, slowly learning that beer has a diversity not unlike the human race, and one day snapping, jumping right into the deep end. I shopped at the small independents, bought numerous best-after beers to stock my cellar, made cross-border excursions to hunt for whales, attended beer fests, hosted tasting nights, learned home brewing, made brewery visits, began beer blogging and so on and so forth. Basically if it was new I was going to try it.

Perhaps not surprisingly my blanket enthusiasm waned and I became more serious about my beer, my glassware, my palate and so forth. Eventually I was so picky I whittled the whole thing down to a couple of preferred styles and lately I seem to have let craft beer fall almost off radar.

This led me to a realization, the aforementioned trajectory was actually pretty familiar, I got on the bandwagon and rode the bell curve.

Bell curves are the graphic representation of a function wherein there is a small volume at the beginning, a fairly quick ascension to the top, and an equally quick descent down to a small volume once more. You know, like the outline of a bell.

Most typically used to illustrate distribution I think this graph nicely charts the path undertaken by many craft enthusiasts. Start slow, jump in with both feet, and taper off just as quickly.

While the initial tentative steps and resultant over-enthusiasm are easy to spot almost everywhere, the subsequent disengagement is only really just becoming visible.

I know I have read (and written) many posts discussing beer fatigue, market saturation, the perils of too much quantity, and just a general feeling that in the rapid resurgence of good beer there is potential peril if customers feel it all becomes a bit too much and decide to get back off the bandwagon.

So how do those of us who stepped off find our way back?

I like to think we will all come back to craft beer that stepping away only affords us the opportunity to see everything as new again and re-enter the world with a more nuanced and informed perspective. Personally, the way back for me has been the olive branch that is session beer and understanding my own unique palate, which lets me pick beer I will almost certainly enjoy and invest in beer with timeless appeal.

I certainly hope the next leg of my journey follows the brontosaurus head phase shown below, it looks like fun!

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*thanks to the Drucker Institute for the image of the bell curve.


Taking a Detour

Muskoka Detour IPA

I am from the West Coast, land of all things hoppy, hoppier and then triple hopped and dry hopped. Those crazy left coasters love their IPA’s so much that West Coat IPA became a style unto itself to accurately encompass the floral, citrus and resin full-frontal assault you would be subjected to when you raised a pint.

During my time in BC I was admittedly a slow convert to hop camp. I started off with a vocal distaste for beers I described as tasting like soap and/or perfume but as time went on and my taste buds wore down I began to appreciate these hoppy beers for what they were. In fact, in time I would say I even grew to like IPA’s (not love, like) proactively seeking out Pliny the Elder, smuggling Green Flash Double IPA and Deschutes Chain Breaker across the border, stocking my fridge with Dogfish Head 90minute and giving a fair shake to pretty much any local IPA making its way down the tap line.

But like all great love affairs this one was to burn bright and brief. Eventually I once again grew weary of beers whose name added descriptors like destroyer, wrecker, palooza, bomb, triple alongside the word hop. I like to call this phenomenon hop fatigue and it is an affliction common amongst beer geeks -perhaps it is merely a side effect of our neurotic need to jump on style band wagon after style band wagon but that is a post for another time. Needless to say I found myself taking a holiday from hops.

Then I moved East.

Here in the centre of our country the IPA’s are a little more, dare I say it, balanced. Cracking the top off an Ontario IPA does not de facto mean you will no longer be able to discern any taste in your second beer of the evening. I jest of course but sampling a few IPA’s from Ontario has reminded me that IPA’s and I can find a middle ground.

This takes me full circle, or back on the road after a detour if you will, to Detour IPA from Muskoka Brewery a subtly hopped not to strong India Pale Ale that allows you to taste some malts alongside the citrus and floral hops. A 4.3% ABV makes this a sessionable easy to drink while it still brings a fair amount of complex flavours to the table. Pouring a clear dark gold colour with lots of airy white head, Detour has a nice citrus/tropical fruit nose, light body, slightly sweet malt flavour and a bitter finish that is pretty subtle. Overall very clean to drink and I would say approachable like IPA’s are welcoming me back into the fold. It’s nice to be back.

 


Beer and Politics

There was an interesting convergence of beer and politics this past St. Patrick’s Day.

In case you missed it, Boston Beer Company, maker of Samuel Adams, drew attention for their decision to withdraw funding for the Boston St. Patricks Day parade because the organizers would not allow members of the LBGT community to march in said parade.

Specifically, the issue concerned Irish-American veterans who identify as LBGT marching as a group in the parade and carrying signage identifying themselves as such.

After the announcement there were mixed reactions towards the company with some voicing their support whilst others vowed to boycott beer produced by Boston Beer.

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In light of potential to alienate and/or engender consumers I have to ask should we mix beer and politics?

Do we want our pints and shut up please because we don’t care about the ideologies of brewery owners and operators or do we want to know the people behind the beer, what they stand for and what lines they will not cross?

More cynically should we view these public ‘stances’ merely as a means to thrust a company into the headlines because, as the adage goes, all press is good press?

Personally, I was impressed with Boston Beer Co. for taking a stand and making their voice heard and, if anything, the fact that I know what they stand for and stand behind makes me more likely to be a customer.

They took the opportunity, when presented, to do what they felt what was right and perhaps this means that there are more important issues than number of beers sold or the number of events sponsored.

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Perhaps it is naiveté on my part but all too often we seem to hear that companies made choices and taken stands without much publicity. Unfortunately these stands include abhorrent working conditions, unfair labour practices, horrendous environmental impacts etc. When we learn about such practices our moral outrage surfaces and we vow to change our consumer habits.

On the other hand, what if we knew what organizations stood for because they simply told us and backed their words up with actions? This gives consumers the power to endorse or boycott as they choose because we know how the company aligns itself.

Breweries, of all sizes, support causes, fund raise, make purchasing choices etc. Craft breweries in particular seem to be leading the way by brewing beers for causes, hosting beer events for local and international non-profits, and generally keeping things local. As such, they participate in shaping the development of the craft beer community and culture and we all have a stake in what that will look like and how it reflects upon us.

So maybe we all need a little more politics with our beer.

*Images courtesy of www.canadianbeernews.com and www.centralcitybrewing.com


A Pox upon our House

There are a great many tragedies that can befall a beer geek, the last of the cask runs dry before you get a pour, your favourite brewery puts out a dud, you forget to check-in your beer on Untapped and miss a special badge, you drop your six pack on your bike ride home, well you get the idea. But none of these compare to the worst, I meant the WORST thing that can happen to a lover of craft beer …you find out you cannot have gluten.

gluten-free

No-BeerTrue gluten intolerance and allergies are not the beer death sentence they once were, and in our increasingly health conscious society, many people are choosing to eschew wheat by choice.

There are gluten-free options being brewed with alternatives like rice, sorghum, buckwheat or corn (hello Bud) and apparently some of them don’t suck.

Bon Appetit compiled their ¬†list of the¬†10 Gluten-Free Beers that actually taste good¬† and Men’s Fitness chimed in with¬†Gluten Free Beers you’ve gotta try.¬†I even found out one of the beers I really enjoy, Unity Vibration Bourbon Peach Kombucha beer, is naturally gluten free!

And there are always ciders, which are becoming increasingly creative and dare I say craft beer-esque. Barring that hard liqour will do in a pinch but honestly going sans gluten is still a drastic blow to a beer nerd’s ego.

 

Now before you go feeling sorry for me (and mentally divvying up my cellared beer) it is my stout-loving, strong beer-finishing, blog-enabling hubby who is going to be  re-inventing his beer geek personae.

I am thinking a Ziggy Stardust-like character who espouses the virtues of beer made from rainbows not grains but I am not convinced he’s on board so in the interim disgruntled beer nerd may have to do.

 

Long story short, our fridge now boasts two gluten free offerings, a Coffee Pale Ale from Harvester Brewing and a Dubbel Dark Ale from Green’s Brewery so it looks like we will be exploring a whole as-of-yet untapped area in the craft beer market; stay tuned for our adventures into the unknown…

Greens Dark Ale

 


If it’s tangy and brown, you’re in cider town!

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As most of my readers know sour beer is kind of my thing, some beer geeks love hops, some love stouts but for me tart is where it’s at. With this in mind it is not too much of stretch to imagine that I also enjoy a good cider from time to time.

Cider, like craft beer a few years back, is really carving out a niche for itself moving far and beyond your basic sugary hard cider of yesteryear. Pulling a few tricks from the brewery handbook ciders are crafted from a myriad of fruits, herbs, spices, they are being dry hopped and even barrel aged creating a spectrum of flavours from sweet to tart. Craft breweries seem to be taking heed of the next big thing hitching their hops to the bandwagon and making a cider or two to round out their line ups.

I think it is great to see ciders finding their place in the limelight especially for those people who are gluten intolerant and can’t tolerate the typical grains used in craft beer. Having cider on the menu brings more people to the table and introduces something new to jaded beer geeks. Often, after a long day of tasting at a beer festival, a cider or two, is the perfect way to reset your palate.

If you think cider is not for you you just haven’t delved deep enough into the amazing range currently on the market.

For instance:

Finn River Habanero Cider
Originally conceived as an odd-ball for a strange brewing event this cider brings the heat by adding habanero peppers into the apple mix. Pouring a clear pale gold with tons of carbonation, this cider has a very sweet nose but a couple sips in and you realize that habanero is not merely a pretty word to adorn the label; there is some real heat to this cider. The cider has a nice amount of tartness but overall a sweeter cider, which works well in combination with the hot pepper taste. I have to say The heat really hits you after you finish a few sips leaving a deep warming sensation in the stomach. A dry finish rounds this one off.

This is one of several Finn River ciders I have tried including an excellent cranberry rose hip version and a tart dry barrel-aged version, which was equally Impressive.

A little closer to home we have Seaside Ciders located in Saanich on Vancouver Island making amazing ciders that garner ridiculously (but totally deserved) high praise from reviewers. Their Rum Runner and Prohibition ciders blur the boundaries between cider and spirits making liquory, rich ciders that are also sweet and tart. If you have not had the chance be sure to visit their tasting room, which is a picture perfect farm surrounded by orchards looking out to the ocean.

So beer geek nation get out there and try something different, an apple a day and all that jazz…


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