Monday, February 28, 2011

Henry II, Zeus, and a Hermit: the history of Bordeaux (Young & Wyse 33 · 30 · 24 · 13)

Bordeaux, British Columbia, a hermit from the very distant past. I sit here sipping my wine enjoying the product of a long and storied history. The new world has feverishly tried to emulate the wines of Bordeaux since it was colonized by the old world. This is no surprise, many of the wine producing nations of the new world were colonized by the British: Canada, United States, Australia.

Bordeaux and Britain have a long history of close association. Back in the day, and I mean way back in the day circa. 1200, some royal marriages took place. One such marriage was between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry Plantagenet (Henry II). This unlikely coupling had a huge impact on the world of wine. Why do the top wines from Bordeaux command such ridiculously high prices? Well you have Mr. and Mrs. Plantagenet to thank for that.

Aquitaine is a region in France that just so happens to house the conveniently situated Gironde river; useful for such things as exporting Bordeaux wine, which is grown on its’ banks. Henry became king of England, his wife: a Bordelaise. In a bid to make nice with Bordeaux the region was given special tax exemptions which fueled the export of Bordeaux wine to England. Over centuries the bond between England and Bordeaux grew; the British developed a taste for the wine which they would later dub claret, the Bordelaise developed a taste for the money that came rolling in every time they sent out a ship filled with the delicious, powerful wine from the banks of the Gironde.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Experiments in Alcohol (Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz)

Humans are adventures and experimenters, the realm of alcohol is no exception. Our natural inclination to drink meant that in the early days of civilization simply hoping to stumble across some fermented fruit or honey was no longer an acceptable means of attaining a buzz. Early alcohol makers didn’t want to leave anything to chance, they knew a little of what was required to make booze and they applied all of the knowledge they had into making one hodgepodge of a beverage. The first known brew was a mix of the more popular non-distilled libations you will find today. Recent analysis of pottery sherds (sherd refers to pottery shard refers to glass) from the yellow river region in China, dating back to roughly 7000 BC determined the first man made brew (we have evidence of) was a mix of grain, grapes and honey, essentially it was beer, wine and mead all put into one.* Over centuries of experimentation we eventually learned that beer, wine and mead are all quite tasty but are best served in separate glasses.

Much like the early days of experimentation in alcohol Canada is in an exciting phase of discovery with wine. Take a sample of the range of wine that is Canadian made and you will see that Canada grows almost every grape that anyone has ever heard of. There are certain grapes that crop up more than others, Bordeaux blends(some mixture of Merlot, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc and maybe a couple other grapes thrown in for good measure) are fairly common, Pinot Gris is another popular grape, but by and large Canada runs the gamut. Canada is in a very exciting stage of wine production, vintners have discovered the secret to making delicious wine yet there is no clear consensus as to which grapes are best suited to the climate and soil.

A recent article in Vines Magazine suggests that Cab Franc, one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, might emerge as the grape of choice for many Canadian wine makers. If you’ve never tried a Cab Franc there are a handful of Canadian producers making varietal (varietal is a pretentious way of saying the wine is made from only one grape variety) Cab Franc such as Poplar Grove, Burrowing Owl, Tawse and more! Outside the borders of Canada venture to the Loire in France, Chinon is a sub-appellation well known for quality Cab Franc. In all honesty I don’t especially love Cab Franc it’s very fruity in youth and I tend to like more earthy wine, but I promise I will sample this rising star of a grape in the near future an let you know what I think.

Producers such as Mission Hill still have a relatively wide range of grapes that they grow however their high end wines tend to focus on a couple white and red varieties. The narrowing of varieties offered by Canadian wine producers is something we will see more of in the future. As grape growers and wine makers figure out what works best in their climate and on their soil they will discard the grapes that don’t deliver a delicious product.

Shiraz/Syrah has managed to become an incredibly successful grape world wide. Particularly well known regions are Australia and the Rhone Valley in France each with their distinctive characteristics. I recently tried a Okanagan produced Shiraz, I wasn’t sure what to expect, while there are a lot of Okanagan Shirazs on the shelf I haven’t heard many people talking about them. The Mission Hill Shiraz I tried was very satisfying and surprising in that I found it to have a mix of typical Rhone and Australian characteristic.

All the experimentation on the part of producers means we as consumers have a unique opportunity to experiment too. It won’t just be the producers who decide which grapes stay and which grapes go, it will be the people who spend their money on the best wine Canada has to offer. As wine drinkers we are presented with the unique opportunity to help decide what will become Canada’s signature grape.

Producer: Mission Hill
Wine: 2008 Reserve Shiraz
Region: Okanagan, BC 
Price: $20
Alc: 14%

Notes: Surprising mix of old world and new world style. The aromas and flavours were similar but slightly different, I found aromas of cherry raspberry, pepper, cedar, mineral, and eucalyptus. Flavours were cherry, raspberry, vanilla, mocha, green bell pepper, pepper, and blackberry with a long finish. I enjoyed this wine quite a bit especially with the shepherds pie I made. This wine is Very Nice!

*If you want to get all technical the analysis showed evidence of rice, grapes and or hawthorn fruit and honey. If you are a serious alcohol geek check out Uncorking the Past by Patrick E. McGrover.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valetine's Day -- Beer + Oysters

I took the day off work for some Valentine's day "special time". What kind of self-respecting person doesn't have a beer on a day off? I ask you!

We went out to a nice Italian restaurant that has become a special place for us due to the little private celebrations we have had there. But we skipped on dessert and went across the way to Gambrinus for some post-dinner snackies instead. I was tempted to have dinner there, but I gravitate there enough as it is. Beer with dessert was enough.
I don't know what it is but I have largely lost my sweet tooth, especially after eating a whole meal. Especially if the meal is Italian. If you aren't undoing a button or walking funny because you stomach is heavy after an Italian restaurant meal then you are doing it wrong. I can do about 3 bites of Cheesecake. Tops.

So I passed on the sweets and went for something special: Oysters. Marina had Tiramisu and I had a bite or two. I may have to go back and try the Tiramisu with some beer. Some porters and stouts came to mind. Maybe the right Rauchbier (we will be covering the amazing world of Rauchbiers and the mecca of Bamberg, Germany in future posts) would be good here. But that is neither here nor there.

I chose Black Oak Brewery's (Oakville, Ontario, Canada) Summer Saison to go with the oysters and it did not disappoint.

Summer Saison
Black Oak Brewery
Oakville, Ontario, Canada
4.1% Alc.


Saisons are a style of Belgian Ale brewed with Wheat and are renown for their spicy, zippy, flavour. They are great summer beers, very quenching and refreshing. Black Oak is an excellent brewery. The bottle says this beer is unfiltered, yet the beer just barely has a haze in it. [Note: Cloudiness is an effect caused by any of either cold temperatures, wheat or yeast. If it is intended there is no cause for concern. In fact there is cause for celebration--welcome to flavour country!]

The beer is spiced with coriander and either lemon or orange peels. It says on the bottle but I neglected to note this :( In any case, I found a lemony flavour to be present. The bitterness and peel flavours are in the finish especially, along with the seediness of the coriander. The lemon flavour became more distinct as the beer warmed up a bit. The body thinned out a bit as it warmed, too. This wasn't such a big deal. The lemony-ness was great with the salt and lemon flavours of the oysters. I had a spot of horseradish in there too and this was a hit with the subtle, prickly spiciness of the beer. The wheat and coriander were more prominent in the nose and in the middle of the sips. I suppose it could have had a bit more body and spiciness, but I will not complain. The beer is solid and was a great food match here. Break it out in the summer, as the name suggests.

Overall, I'd say this beer (all on it's own) was Nice. With the oysters and a hot date, however it became Awesome.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What the eff are Hops? Don't be Bitter if you aren't sure!

You probably don’t know what hops taste like offhand. But if you have drank beer then you have tasted them before. Isn’t that weird? What is a hop? What do they do in a beer? Why will I care about hops when I am done reading this? Allow me to explain.

The main ingredients in beer are Water, Malt, Hops and Yeast. Water is the medium in which the magic happens. Malt supplies sugars for the yeast to munch on as well as colour and flavour. Yeast eats the sugars making alcohol and bubbles. I’m glad the world works this way.

Where does the hop come in? Hops are added to the beer at specific points during production to deliver bitterness, flavouring and aroma to the beer. The sweetness from the malt needs to be balanced and bitterness is the way it is done. Hops do a whole lot more and have some interesting properties, but I’ll sketch out the bitterness, flavour and aroma aspects first.

Bitterness – Bitterness is an essential part of any beer. But most beers people drink have barely perceptible levels of bitterness. If you want to do some tasting to try and specifically ‘find’ this aspect of the beer I would recommend you start with English style beers. In fact, ‘bitter’ is the name of a style of English ale. Any beer with ‘bitter’ in its name will work too. Ten Bitter Years by Black Oak Brewery is a good example. If you want a mainstream (Canadian) beer to try I would say Labatt 50 is a good choice here. Of course, India Pale Ales (IPAs) are the beer world’s way of worshiping the hop.

Bitterness shows up in many ways in a beer’s flavour profile (the way and the order that the flavours present themselves). Sometimes it is there, nakedly, all on its own. Generally, it shows up as a compliment or a counterpoint to sweet, malty, and grainy tastes. It can linger as part of the a beer`s finish.

Flavour—Flavour is a little trickier to define. I mean, bitterness is a flavour, right? You would be correct. But here flavour refers to the taste of the hop itself, not the taste of the bitterness it imparts. Each hop has its own flavour. Brewers pick and choose them for their different taste and aroma properties in order to make you a delicious pint.

This is where beer is a little like wine. The hops are a vine-grown plant (actually, hops grow on a bine if you want to be geeky about it). They grow in certain famous regions. They are temperamental and affected by the weather. Each variety has its own unique tastes and uses.
If you want to taste hop flavours and not just bitterness I would recommend IPAs. But I would also say that every IPA is different and you may end up with one that is heavy on the bitterness and lighter on the flavours. Another good choice here would be a Pale Ale or an American Pale Ale. Bitterness is on display here too, but there will most likely be a strong hop flavour here. As you drink different beers you will start to notice the particular tastes of certain hops. Cascade hops, for example, taste and smell a lot like grapefruit.

Aroma—Aroma is where the hops deliver in a big way. Because taste and smell are so intertwined you are mostly going to get the ‘nose versions’ of the tongue flavours hops provide. Fruit, citrus and grass/plant smells abound.

Effectively, you will never detect a hop aroma in a mainstream beer. Stop drinking it and try something not associated with large breasts, pool parties and American football. Here, you will find hop aromas to delight you. As far as a recommendation, I will just say that I encourage you to smell beer in general and to smell it with curiosity. Smell your beer like Sherlock Holmes would.

Randall-ized beers--What got me started on all this hop madness was the recent addition of a Randall at Gambrinus Bistro, my go-to beer bar in my hometown. Also known as an “organoleptic hop transducer module” (though I suspect this phrase is just Sam Calagione’s sense of humour at work ) it takes dry hopping to another level by pumping your draught beer through a chamber filled with hops. There’s a lot of fun to be had by playing with different hop varieties and their flavours + different beers and how they taste when ‘Randall-ized’. You could put spices, cocoa or coffee beans in there. The sky is the limit.

This is a good way to taste hop flavours, but Randalls aren’t exactly common. It will be much easier to walk into a bar or store and buy a hoppy beer (or Gambrinus, if you are in Southwestern Ontario).

Some Hop Facts--If you are curious about how brewers use hops to favour bittness vs. flavour and aroma you are in luck. Beer is boiled during the production process (actually, wort is being boiled and it later becomes beer if you want to be geeky about it). As the beer boils hops are added in stages at specific times. The timing of these additions determines what aspects of the hops will end up in your glass.

Hops deliver bitterness through alpha acids and flavour and aroma through other volatile compounds. Hops that are added early in the boil will have the volatile compounds boiled away and will impart only bitterness. Mid- and late-addition hops have relatively fewer compounds boiled away.

You can also add hops to beer after the boil. This is known as dry-hopping and it imparts flavours in its own way because the hops are never exposed to boiling temperatures. You add the hops by putting them in a bag or a cheesecloth and throwing them in the beer as it ferments. Or they are added to casks. Dry hopping flavours are very noticeable and unique. I once had a beer at Blind Tiger in New York City that tasted eerily like grass clippings and marijuana. Not sure if it made me hungry, but I certainly was very thirsty.

Hop bitterness in beer is measured in IBUs (Int'l Bitterness Units). Hop bitterness comes from compounds known as Alpha Acids and these are measured as a percentage. You won’t see alpha acid percentages unless you are buying hops. You will see IBUs on bottles and in tasting notes.

Hops have anti-microbial properties that help preserve beer. I did one of my first ever interviews with Monique Haakensen, a Canadian beer scientist who studied this exact phenomenon.

Skunky beer flavours occur when hop compounds in beer are fractured by light, breaking into new compounds that don’t smell as nice. This has more to do with the colour of the bottle than hops. Green bottles are the culprit here because they allow in light spectrums that brown bottles don’t. Ever wonder why skunky beers are the ones in green or clear bottles—eg. Heinekin and Moosehead? This has never happened to me, but I heard a brew-pub brewer tell me that he got skunk complaints because people drank the beer slowly, in clear pitchers, on a sunny patio. Better drink quick on the patio!
The big commercial brewers often use hop extracts to flavour beer. They use special extracts that are light-stable instead of changing the packaging. Craft brewers use whole leaf or pelletized hops.

Hops are related to marijuana and hemp. Might explain that beer I had in NYC, eh?

Hops are basically useless for anything other than beer making. Though, The Royal Oak in Wantage, Oxfordshire, makes a nice go at it using them for decoration.

Finally, here is the wikipedia page for hops so you can read more and see just how many beer-specific hops there are worldwide (a LOT!).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Electronic Beer Dinner

Here is a wee experiment for any beer lovers to try, wherever and whenever they please. It is a beer dinner on demand. As long as you can obtain some food and 4 bottles of Brew Dog you can re-live a degraded form of a 2010 beer dinner featuring James Watt in the comfort or discomfort of your own home. He's a busy man and can't be in two places at once. A recording is no substitute for the real thing, but it also beats no-thing at all.

There is much in the way of beer tasting advice, flavour notes, food discussion and a TON of great Brew Dog stories from James himself.

Here is how the Electronic Beer Dinner works:

1) Click here and go to Adventures in Alcohol's SoundCloud page
2) Laugh, cry and listen along to the recording of James speaking in Gambrinus Bistro
3) Drink the appropriate beers at the appropriate times, matching the recording
4) Make whatever food you wish to match the beers
5) Share your comments here or on SoundCloud's unique commenting feature.

You can comment on exact sections of the recording with questions, chuckles, and quaffing notes!

Here are the 4 beers you'll need which were featured that night as food pairings:
Tactical Nuclear Penguin and Sink the Bismark were there too, as post dessert options. Any beer over 30% alcohol starts to follow into the 'digestif' category. Rest assured, everyone was digesting very well that eventing! As promised, my own notes will follow so you can get the full scoop on most of the Brew Dog lineup. Eventually :-P

Trust me, the high alcohol beers are no gimmick and were a flooring experience. Stick around!

From Good to Great and a Full Belly to Boot (Ricossa 2005 Barbaresco)

I love alcohol, all alcohol. Aside from a few misadventures in the cocktail world* there has almost never been a drink that I didn’t immediately appreciate or that I couldn’t learn to appreciate. Barbaresco was one of the few drinks I could not manage to wrap my head around, until tonight that is. Barbaresco and her** cousin Barolo are regions in Italy that produce, what a lot of seasoned wine drinkers would describe as, the pinnacle of flavour in Italian wine. Both regions must use exclusively the Nebbiolo grape in the creation of their wine, although rumors abound that this rule is loosely followed at best.
Mamma Mia!

If you have never herd of Nebbiolo there is good reason, not only is it a fickle grape to grow, but it produces what the average wine drinker might describe as a mildly appealing sour cherry flavour for upwards of $30. Italians know better. Nebbiolo, much like other classic Italian grapes has not yet managed to gain international success. Italy has a total planting of just 5247 hectares Argentina comes in a distant second with a measly 189 ha, I could drink Argentina’s crop in a day! Compare that to one of France’s most successful exports, Cabernet Sauvignon, where nine countries have at least and quite often well over 8500 ha, it becomes painfully obvious that Nebbiolo has been shunned by the international community.

What separates varieties that have managed to gain international success from Nebbiolo is food. Many of the varieties that have risen to fame are not only adaptable to various climates but are also quite pleasant to drink even in the absence of food. To quote Oz Clarke from Grapes & Wine “many old-timers would never dream of bringing out their true treasures [aged Barbarescos and Barolos]… without platefuls of Piedmontese fare to accompany them.” This I learned is the important secret to enjoying a Barolo or Barbaresco.

Nebbiolo has the habit of creating very tannic and very acidic wine, to balance these features it is important to serve a dish with protein and substantial acid. Tannin chemically reacts with protein softening the astringent mouth drying feeling a tannic wine can impart, that’s why a really big Cabernet Sauvignon will seem softer when accompanied with a steak. Likewise an acidic wine needs acidic food to match, if the acid content of food and wine are unbalanced, the flavours too will be thrown off kilter.

At the suggestion of one of my co-workers I put together a pasta dish to go alongside the 2005 Ricossa Barbaresco I picked up. The sauce was composed of crispy bacon (for protein), diced tomatoes (acid), seered green and red pepper, sautéed mushrooms in basil and garlic cooked with the left over bacon fat, olives and about a quarter of a lemon’s worth of juice just to add a little extra acid. It’s important to match flavours of wine with the flavours of food, Barbaresco is often described as having a tar flavour, I wasn’t about to put tar in the sauce but the earthiness of the mushrooms and olives worked nicely. There is also usually a cherry and rose component to the wine, hence the seared bell peppers, to bring out the sweetness, and the natural sweetness in the tomatoes complimented these flavours nicely. Credit where credit is due my coworker is the one who suggested all the ingredients it was not of my own creation.

The pairing brought out the best in the wine, a wine that is nice to drink by itself was transformed into a truly outstanding wine with layers upon layers of complexity. The food too was enhanced by the wine, and this is exactly what a good food and wine pairing should accomplish an enhancement of your entire flavour experience!

Producer: Ricossa
Wine: Barbaresco
Region: Barbaresco, Italy
Grape: Nebbiolo
Vintage: 2005
Alc: %14
Price: $22

Notes: I'm going to have to argue that this wine should not be drunk without the appropriate meal. On its own this wine is nice with flavours and aromas of cherries, green peppers, floral, leather and tar, nice flavours but the acid and tannin are high enough that it is a bit much by itself. To truly get the full effect of this wine have it with a high acid dish with some protein that will match the flavours and aromas present in this wine. With the proper dish this wine is Awesome!

*Sometimes you want a drink, and sometimes you only have low quality whiskey, raw eggs, a few milliliters of beer and other various ingredients. Do not believe any cocktail recipe that claims you can make a tasty beverage out of this bizarre assortment of beverages and raw eggs, in fact I’d go ahead and just avoid pretty much any drink that contains raw eggs with a few notable exceptions.

**I say her only because Barbaresco is often described as the more effeminate of the two.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What's in a Name? (St. Urbans-Hof 2009 Riesling)

Whilst strolling in a beautiful weingut last night a thought occurred to me: I don’t actually know what a weingut is, how can it be that I’m strolling in one? But it was of no matter to me as I was soon presented with a delicious bottle of official gutsabfullung wine from the very weingut that I was strolling through, needless to say I was quite pleased. As I whiled away the night drinking my delicious Mosel Riesling, it occurred to me that if I was strolling through the very weingut in which this gutsafullung wine was produced weingut must mean wine estate! Which of course led me to the realization that gutsafullung must be the more stringently regulated version of erzeugerabgullung which everyone knows means producer bottled! And of course just like the butcher selling his own meat is a good indication of superior quality… err, well…

Photo by Mick Stephenson, who in no way endorses this blog
Germany, like many European countries and indeed the EU as a whole, has a mind boggling set of legislated terms which are meant to give the consumer a hint as to the quality of a wine. As we all know when you buy a Gevery-Chambertin you are most certainly getting a quality wine! Clearly they don’t need to put the grape on the label because as is commonly known Gevery-Chambertin is a small town in the Cote de Nuits district located in north Burgundy, or as it might say on the label Bourgogne, in which only Pinot Noir is allowed. Thank heavens the French and Europe as a whole have made wine so easy to understand for their consumers.

In all non-facetiousness though Gevery-Chambertin is known for quality wine, but then so is Bordeaux and I have drank a lot of over priced swill from this most famous of wine appellations*. The Europeans have tried to make rules that protect the quality of wine and also give some indication of the quality of the wine to the consumer. Bureaucracy being what it is the system, I would argue, failed. A lot of quality wine is confusing as all hell to buy. (By and large what would not be considered ‘quality’ wine is less strictly regulated)

There are dozens of terms that are put wine labels that are meant to indicate wine is of a given quality. From my experience most of these terms guarantee that there is indeed wine in the bottle. I have tried in the past to memorize the terms from various regions so I could be assured a quality product. I have now concluded that terms rarely indicate anything about the quality of a wine. For example ‘Bordeaux Superieur’ is a legally legislated term, which in theory should indicate a certain level of quality. What the term really means, besides superior Bordeaux, is that the wine has  0.5% more alcohol than a regular Bordeaux, assuming the producer even bothers to put ‘Bordeaux Superior’ on the label. At one time alcohol content did somewhat give you an indication of quality but this is no longer the case.**

The problem is there are so many of the terms floating around that no longer indicate much of anything, least of all a guarantee of quality. I’ve learned not to shop based on terms that are applied to a label but to shop based on specific regions I like or based on a specific recommendation from someone I trust. That being said I mostly just grabbed the wine I’m drinking tonight at random and thankfully I got lucky!

Producer: St. Urbans-Hof
Wine: Riesling
Region: Mosel, Germany
Vintage: 2009
Grape: Rielsing
Alc: 9.5%
Price: $20

Notes: I didn't know what to expect because there were very few labels indicating quality... This wine is off-dry, but don't let that scare you it is well balanced so you won't even notice the slight amount of sugar. Aromas of Green Apple, Pear, Mineral, Floral, Citrus, hints of Peach and very minor hints of Petrol, flavours that match the aroma without any noticeable Petrol. This wine is Very Nice, and I would recommend it to anyone who is afraid of 'sweet' wine.

*In all fairness Bordeaux is a much more general appellation than Gevery-Chambertin and as the specificity of the appellation increases so to should the quality of wine, unfortunately such is not always the case.

**Modern viticulture (grape growing) and vinification (wine making) mean that pretty much every single Bordeaux wine will also qualify as a Bordeaux Superieur. In the past alcohol content would be an indicator of grape ripeness which translates into wine tastyness, but as I said modern techniques have evolved whereas the terms have not.***


Monday, February 7, 2011

McAuslan 2010 Vintage Ale, Montreal, Quebec

St Ambroise Vintage Ale 2010. 10% Alc. 341 ml bottle.

Brasserie McAuslanMontreal, Quebec 

Notes – Please. Please. PLEASE. Serve cool or lightly chilled --  bottle says 13-15 C but you can go a little lower to start out. Use any glass that will help you smell this better. Bottle recommends a brandy snifter, but you can use a wine glass if you had to.
A beer like this is best enjoyed with food. I tried some spicy shrimp and grilled peppers as a bit of an experiment and it wasn’t half bad. But I set that aside quickly knowing that I had a can’t fail backup snack. Sesame seeds, goat cheese, blueberries, blackberries, crackers and jam are the perfect midnight snack. This beer was a holiday release, meant to be given and enjoyed in good times. Rather than keeping it in uncertain conditions I will try mine young and seek out a 2010 that has been stored away to compare one day. That is one great advantage beer bars have. They can cellar vintage beers like nobody’s business. Not to say that you can’t too, but it’s nice knowing there’s places out there doing a good job of it so you don’t have to.

A cracker is a good way to ease through the first sips of this beer, cleaning your mouth out for a fresh go at this beer each time. One word for this beer is ‘classy’. It sets a nice bar for winter-release beers and would be a nice way to get acquainted with the flavours you’d see in stronger barleywines. It is not a punch-in-the-face level of flavours like some barleywines or big/extreme beers can be.

There is a nice almond and dried apricot flavour and a microscopic drop of dates. These are thrust forward by the alcohol, with the sweetness and bitterness following along. Long adding finish. Vanilla, nut, oak as this warms up.

The bits of fruitiness from the wheat and yeast and the lipsmacking quality brought by the Munich malt are perfect together. The relatively youthful hops play a part here too. The deceptive warmth of the alcohol is gentle but also the guiding force for this whole beer. Even in the mouthfeel and finish: The CO2 here is so very downplayed the beer is in no rush to do its work. If the alcohol had been, say, 6.5 % the beer may have felt heavier, more bitter, less in balance. The level alcohol lightens up the body to an extremely sippable consistency. The youth of the beer is on display. It is excited and vibrant but still delicious and in balance.

This beer is Awesome.

Lesson >> Barleywines and high alcohol beers aren’t that way for no reason. The alcohol is the secret story of this beer. It is the ribbon that ties together all of the pieces in play as this beer matures. The fun of trying one of these later is that I now have a reference point for the future beer against these young flavours. Hopefully I can track down a 2010 next year to compare notes.

I tried an older McAuslan vintage on New Year’s Eve 2010 while @GambrinusBistro, but I doubt those notes survived. If I do find and decipher them I will post them up to see how the different years compare. Until then, a picture of both these fine glasses will have to do for comparative purposes :) Cheers.
@ Gambrinus Bistro
2010 Vintage Ale

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Brew Dog - Punk Brewers Straight Out of Scotland - Interview with Brett Taylor

[As it seemed appropriate, this post was edited and went live while enjoying a pint at London, Ontario's Scot's Corner-- as real of a local as you will find in these parts]

You can be forgiven for suspecting that there might not be a lot going on in the wee corner of Scotland that is FraserburghBut you would be wrong. Fraserburgh is the hometown of Brew Dog--a brewery not-so-quietly becoming a force in global beer culture.  Here (via the magic of Facebook) is my interview with Brett Taylor a Canadian doing his Co-Op in Fraserbergh, at Brew Dog brewery. 

Brew Dog barks loudly at its critics and back up its bite with delicious drinks, defiantly quirky marketing, and a willingness to push things to world-breaking limits. I mean it: they broke multiple world records for the world's strongest beer. The strongest they served it in a stuffed animal. A real stuffed animal. (And it cost £5-700). There's a lot to talk about here.

I recently was at a beer dinner hosted by co-founder James Watt at Chancey Smith’s (now the Gambrinus Bistro). I will tell you all about the lovely evening and delicious beers on offer there, drilling down into what the fuss is all about…but not just now. Before getting into the beers, lets get into the story of the brewery itself. First, an inside scoop into what is going on at Brew Dog from someone who woke up this morning and was there all day. 

I corresponded with Brett to get a more timely peek at what the Brew Dog punks are up to on their home turf. Brett is also writing his own blog about his time in Scotland.

  • First off -- what are you doing at Brew Dog and how did you get here?
How did i get here? An email. BrewDog loves having interns apparently and when I contacted them said yes. James and I exchanged a few emails and I explained what I was looking for. We set up everything and here I am. Nothing glamourous or crazy. I've been very luck with all my experience in the brewing industry so far and the guys here are great. I am officially an intern but I'm working as an assistant brewer. Here that can mean just about anything. I am learning to brew on a commercial scale in a very retro way. I work bottling and packaging and just about everything in between. Thanks for the opportunity!
  • What are some of the problems you are trying to solve, things you are trying to change in your position.
Since I’ve just started there isn’t much I can do to change my position since I’m still learning it. I’m doing a bit of everything right now until things get more sorted out. I would obviously prefer to work on the brewing side more but some days there isn’t much to do so packaging is where the focus shifts. I’m talking to and working with the head brewer Stewart Bowman to set up some more structured quality control measures which is also something I am very interested in.

  • Brew dog conveys a sort of high energy enthusiasm for brewing and an experimental/radical vibe to their products. Is there a kind of crazed energy in the brewhouse like one is tempted to imagine?
There is always energy at the brewery. Lots of energy. I don’t think I’ve worked a day where anyone working did not want to be there, except maybe if they had a big night out the night before. There is always music playing and I frequently find myself playing air guitar or mouthing the words. We listen to everything: heavy metal, punk, rock, punk rock and a bit of mellower stuff. It all depends what is happening the brewing process and who is brewing. The way I’ve described it to many people is that it is a very rock star life. We rock out to music and make beer. Is there any better job?

  • Are there experiments and test brews that you have seen going on? Anything you can talk about?
Since I’ve been here they have received a new mini brew system for the R & D side of things. I believe that an IPA of sorts was brewed on it and we are just waiting for it to ferment out. We have also brewed 2 of the IPA is Dead beers. IPA is dead is a brew with 4 beers, all the same malt base and IBU’s but each one has a single hop added to it. Each one has a hop from a different continent: Bramling X from England, Sorachi Ace from Japan, Nelson Sauvin from New Zealand and Citra from the US. It will be cool to put them against each other and see what characteristics come out when they go solo.

  • Quick thoughts on living in Fraserbergh, Scotland (pop.~15,000)?
It is isolated, cold and there isn’t much to do. That being said I’m really enjoying it. It has been a nice change of pace from the city life I’m used to. No partying every weekend, no constant work to do and I can walk everywhere with ease. Living by the sea is also really nice and for some reason makes me feel at home. Essentially, there is a church, a lighthouse the beach and BrewDog.

  • Name some things that have surprised you recently.
I was surprised at the brew house. This is the most hands-on brew house I’ve ever seen, and for a brewery this big I’m shocked it is this way. Most breweries have a silo for the pale malt but we do it all by hand. It is really like home brewing in 50 HL batches. I think the size of the brewery also shocked me and we are still expanding. The biggest thing is the multi cultural aspect here. There is me, a Canadian, as well as 2 Australians, a German, a safety manager from India, an intern from Denmark, an American and a lot of Scotsmen. We have also had people come as interns for a week from Israel and Sweden. Its great how something like beer can bring people together from almost everywhere to up here in the middle of nowhere.
  • How did you get hooked and start to learn more about brewing?
My love of beer started with the Beer Store being out of the beer I was after with my friends. I looked up at the board and picked up a Steam Whistle. After a sip or 2 I just turned to everyone and said “This is by far the best beer I’ve ever had.” Being the type of person to look up things I like I hopped on the web right away and started to read. Once I learned there was a whole “craft brewing” industry in Ontario I instantly started to look for more. After about 9 months I learned that my mom taught a guy who worked at Brick Brewing in Waterloo and she connected us (parents as teachers are great once you are out of high school). He gave me some malt and hops and a recipe. After that I was hooked. I kept brewing and we have become really good friends since.

I also got a few brewing books for Christmas that year (2009). The Practical Brewer is a great textbook on all things beers and is put together by MBAA. It truly has everything you could want to know about beer from ingredients to tasting notes. I also got a few books on Canadian brewing history and the beer industry in general. I’m a hands on learner so as great as the books are they have nothing on learning the process hands on from the punks here at BrewDog.

This was a very cool experience. I sadly missed the MUSA (a local pub) dinner with the guys but got to spend a day with them the next day. I don’t think they were at their best. They showed up to brew an Imperial Pilsner which was continually hopped for the full 75 minute boil.

While mashing in I got to talk with Zak Avery about the beer industry over here, some of the great beers he has tried and we exchanged the differences between the UK and Canadian beer markets. I also had to relieve him from shoveling out the mash tun later that day.

I chatted with Mark Dredge while shoveling out the mash tun about his career, what he thinks of Twitter and other social media and his favourite styles of beer.

Pete Brown was also fun to chat with while mashing in and we talked about beer in general and the inspiration for the imperial pilsner. They did have a hard time coming up with words for the label for when we finally bottle the beer and I’m pretty sure it was due to the hangover.

We also had a great fish and chips lunch home made by [Brew Dog co-founder] Martin Dickie with a 77 Lager beer batter and Mackerel. Its funny that I spent a few hours with 3 great beer writers and we didn’t talk about beer as much as I thought yet I still learned quite a lot and I plan on seeing Zak’s beer shop in Leeds during my visit.

  • Do you have a favourite Brew Dog Beer?

So far my favourite beer is probably Hardcore IPA or Chaos Theory. I’ve only had Chaos Theory once so I can’t be 100% sure but we will be brewing it again soon. If you can’t tell I’m an IPA fan. I also really like RipTide which is a great imperial stout. I also can’t wait to try the high ABV ones or the Abstrakt series, which I hear are fantastic.

  • Thoughts on the high ABV beers? [Brew Dog has brewed beers at 32%, 41% and 55%! More on these in my future post about the Beer Dinner!]

Brilliant. Just brilliant. I know that lots of people have a problem with them and that BrewDog is “irresponsible” for making them. At £35 or £40 per bottle nobody is going to buy a 12 pack and get hammered off of them. Each bottle comes with a stopper and in a paper bag, which I think makes it seem classy and cheap at the same time, because they know it won’t be put down in one sitting. You don’t buy a nice bottle of Lagavulin 16 year old whisky to drink in one night, and you don’t buy a bottle Penguin to funnel at a party. They are true to what BrewDog has become and I think they help define BrewDog. The Penguin Video (see below) on the website is the reason I became interested in BrewDog and look where it got me.


Thanks Brett! What a lucky guy, to be at a place like Brew Dog and for school no less!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jackson -- Legends of their Craft

NOTE: If you are here because you were curious and Googled "Wayne Gretzky Alcoholic" I will just tell you right now: I don't really know but he seems like a good guy and if he can pull off being the greatest player of all time and being a boozehound then more power to him. I doubt he started his winery to supply himself with stuff to drink. 

This is a blog about wine, beer ans spirits and the adventures you have when consuming and pursuing them. We hope you read on despite not knowing very much about Number 99's private life. 

You can find us on Twitter @Adventures_alc if you have a question and we are on Facebook too.

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Recently, Wayne Gretzky turned 50 and it got me thinking. Every hockey player since has lived in the shadows of Wayne.

No matter how good you get there will always be Wayne and his 60 records, golfing and enjoying his retirement. Like Plato to philosophy, everything since him is a footnote.

But it’s not like living in the shadow of a legend takes the fun out of the game. Which is a good thing because beer and alcohol writers have their own shadow over them—the shadow of Michael Jackson. What does Michael have to do with beer? Everything.

If you didn’t already know, Michael was the world’s foremost beer and whiskey journalist until his death in 2007. I never got to meet him, but I have read many of his books. If you read them you will feel that you know him a little bit too, but not as much as he does his subject matter. Jackson was a master beer writer. In fact he transcended this niche. He was a travel writer and social historian of the highest order.
Heck of a dancer, but no beer drinker
I was lucky enough to look through his books and papers which are now in the care of Oxford Brookes university in the UK National Beer Library - a fitting home.
Can I live up to Michael? Does such-and-such beer writer live up to Michael? I just don’t think that way. If Sidney Crosby wakes up every day struggling to be Wayne he’ll never touch him. Sydney goes out to be the best Sydney he can be. Best to just lace up, play the game and have fun. Michael's 'shadow' is a testament to the greatness of beer culture, not an impediment in the way of progress and opinion. Michael is a totem of his craft and culture.

If you want a quick sip of Michael’s writing I am happy to oblige you. Here is a link to a collection of Michael’s writing printed in magazine and newspapers worldwide. Here is his Wikipedia page in case he come up in Jeopardy. Here is Michael’s last interview, with Dan Shelton. My personal favourite of book of his is The English Pub.

Now that you know a bit more about the MJ of the beer world, do you want to read about my visit to see his collection? I thought so! What a coincidence…that will be an upcoming blog for your enjoyment.