Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2013 Predictions

I love Mike's predictions over at his A Year of Beer blog. I always love reading them and it's been fun to see some of them come true. Mike is a pretty good picker and has had a good percentage of his predictions come true.

I doubt I'll be as accurate as he has been but I figured it would be fun to try my hand and make some predictions. I am publishing them now because I don't want to be influenced by his list. Look for it to pop up over on his blog and day now.

1 - Breweries within Breweries.
Instead of opening new breweries or fiddling with their mix of core brands, brewers will let their employees flex their creative muscles under a house label. I don't know what to call this precisely, so I will just call it a brewery within a brewery for lack of a better term.

There are a couple pressures that make me think this will be a trend. One is retention. You don't want to lose a key employee because they get bored brewing the same beers and don't get to experiment as much as they'd like to. If your brewery relies on a stable of 2-4 core brands and doesn't do much else then this might be an elegant solution for retaining an ambitious young brewer who might have different priorities.

A second reason is the tension between brand equity and chasing opportunities. If you've invested millions of dollars and many years creating a brand you don't want to mess with the public's perception of your company. Any change will be incremental and gradual. Whatever your opinion of Creemore's Mad and Noisy house label, it is an astute business move. Creemore's brand remains an arm's length from their releases under Mad and Noisy ensuring there is no brand confusion. They also get to chase growth opportunities in the craft space where sales are increasing instead of stagnating or declining.

2  - Celebrity Collaborations
Unlike the wine world, I don't see any celebrities snapping up brewing equipment and starting a brewery any time soon. What we will see instead is celebrity and promotional collaborations. The best example in Canada this year is Flying Monkey's BNL beer, but this was also a trend in other parts of the world. Delaware brewer Dogfish Head has already done at least three (Positive Contact, Bitch's Brew, Faithfull) and there is a beer in Argentina produced by Grammy winning musician Gustavo Santolalla. They make two barrel-aged Belgian style beers called Grosa and ReGrosa -- both delicious.

If the Bare Naked Ladies did it, look for someone to try and seal a similar deal with the Tragically Hip. Or maybe we will see a Stephen Page collaboration with coca leaves? Zing!

3 - Filling in the cracks
Toronto is the center of gravity for this industry. Nearly every brewer's growth leads down a road towards Toronto.  My prediction is that the cracks will fill in. Areas further and further away from Toronto will put on more beer events and festivals. We will see more local breweries open in small and out of the way spots. This year saw construction of a brewery begin at the Carolinian Hop Yard and the opening of Bayside Brewing in Erieau, a small town with one road and a population of about 300 people.

Toronto will remain the mecca but looks for lots of growth on the extremities: anywhere south of Kitchener Waterloo is ripe for growth and there are plenty of thirsty drinkers available to market to.

4 -  Spiced Beer
We saw a ton of this at Cask Days with brewers venturing into realms of spice previously not treaded (eg. Indian). This won't likely be a trend in LCBO releases (unless Spearhead's Moroccan Brown ale gets picked up) but we will see more experiments with spices at festivals. A note to festival organizers: look for an indian food vendor.

5 - Event Deals
One piece of news that gave me great joy this year was the coup that Muskoka and Amsterdam pulled on Molson's in sponsoring the Honda Indy race. Races have a strong association with crap beer. Not only was this a great mov eon their part, I think it proves that the masses are sometimes smarter than given credit for.

Just because a lot of people are gathered does't mean we need to go for the lowest common denominator with food and drink sponsors. As an outsider looking in, the deal seemed successful to me and I'd expect it to continue. My prediction is that other large events will look to craft brewers to inject vibrancy and selection into their event. You've got to believe that other brewers took note of the Amsterdam/Muskoka deal and are already courting event organizers. Steamwhistle comes to mind as someone who has the money and brand that event organizers will jump on. If anyone else will do a deal think this in 2013 it will be them.

6 - LCBO/Beer Store

Any prediction about shakeups at the LCBO or liquor laws rests partly on a prediction about who will win the next Ontario election. I predict no major change to our liquor laws in 2013. At most I predict a a government study of some kind that will offer fodder for debate.

If any change happens it won't be until beyond 2013. It will be a relatively minor change too. The LCBO will not be sold. The Beer Store will remain intact. Brewers will win the right to run stores similar to Wine Rack. Corner stores will not be allowed to sell beer. The most major change will be in the tone of the debate. The LCBO will have to more explicitly justify it's existence and argue for the status quo as official debate intensifies.

One thing that won't stop is the unofficial debate. In bars and newspapers across Ontario the cries for change will grow in frequency and intensity.

7 - Cicerones
Beer education programmes will continue their success. I predict at one more Canadian Master Cicerone by the end of 2013. Congrats to Mirella Amato for being the first!

1 - We will see at least 1 more brewery within a brewery open in Ontario 2013
2 - We will see at least 2 celebrity beer collaborations in Ontario 2013.
3 - We will see at least 3 small breweries open in small towns in 2013. We will see at least 3 new beer festivals spring up in towns that have never had an event like this before,
4 - Moroccan Brown Ale gets picked up by LCBO. We will see innumerable crazy spiced beers at festivals.
5 - Steamwhistle will sponsor a major sporting event or concert, stealing sponsorship from Molson or Labatt.
6 - No major change to Ontario Liquor Law in 2013. Lots of noise, bluster and debate but not where it matters (the Ontario legislature).
7 - Roger Mittag has a banner year. A new Canadian Master Cicerone is named in 2013.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Labatt's Brewery Archive -- 1884 - 1894

You never know what you'll find if only you look.

I'm not sure what jogged my memory, but it recently seemed like a good idea to visit the Labatt Archives held at Western University. The archive was a gift of the company to the University. Other items were donated to Museum London as well (see p.2).  Over 2600 boxes, it was catalogued for internal use by the company and is now being sifted through and re-catalogued.

If you've never visited an archive before here's the drill: contact someone beforehand and talk to them about what you're looking for, make an appointment, get there early to register with the library. It's not like a regular library. Items are requested in advance and get 'pulled' for you to look at. In London (England) the archive has request forms that are filled out. Staffers pull your items and they are brought to the reading room a short while later.

No pens allowed!

Here is what I have looked at so far after two visits:

  • A brewing log, 1884-1894 - Every beer brewed by Labatt during this time at the London Brewery
  • A malt production log and malt use log - Shows how much malt was being made in-house and (in a limited way) shows what beers in was going in
  • Accounting ledgers and order books - Lists of all their clients for beer deliveries, accounting records cover all aspects of the brewery
  • Brewery plans from various years and an undated list of the dimensions of all the vessels and containers on the premises.
This is a lot of information to take in, so I photographed as much as I could before the battery died and have been sifting through the photos since. Let's begin with the brewing book. Here is a photo of one of the the first pages, detailing beer production in August, 1884. This blog is publishing research-in-progress. The picture sometimes will be a little fuzzy at first and become more clear as we go on.

First, how do we read this? You'll see the columns are all unmarked. I was able to work out about a third of the columns. I emailed beer historian Ron Pattinson for help and this is what we were able to determine. Some columns remain uncertain.

The numbers track each brew on a single line. As more beer was brewed and beer moved along the production process the book began to fill up. Every day a new line would begin and more information would fill the lines above it.

Every August, totals were counted to track annual production. The columns logically follow a brew from beginning to end. If you're unfamiliar with the brewing process this may be confusing. This is not a primer on brewing, rather a primer on what the record contains, how to read it and the questions raised by what was found.

1 Date
2 Brew Number
3 Bushels of Pale Malt used
4 -  6 Pounds of Hops used
7 Water Temp. (in Fahrenheit)
8 Mash Start Time
9 Sparge Temp.
10 Sparge Start Time
11 Sparge End Time
12 Boil Time - First Wort
13 Boil Time - Second Wort
14 Yeast Pitch Temp. (uncertain)
15 Original Gravity (Pounds Per Barrel)
16 A heat? (uncertain)
17 Pitch Time
18 Fermentation Vessel Number
19 Cleansing Date
20 Cleansing Time
21 Cleansing Gravity
22 Cleansing Heat
23 Racking Gravity
24 Racking Date
25 Beer Name
25 Puncheons Racked
27 Barrels Racked
28 Kilderkins Racked
29 Firkins Racked
30 Total Barrels racked
31 Yeast pitch number
Notes Column

The first bit is pretty straightforward: what day is it and how many times have we brewed beer so far this year?

Next: how much malt and hops are going into the beer? Malt was measured in bushels. A Bushel, like a Quarter, is a measure of volume not of weight. The modern bushel has been standardized to a fixed unit of weight for different products. For Malt, it is 34 lbs. or 15.4421 kg (thanks Wikipedia!). Curiously, the use of patent malt was recorded by hand in the notes column instead of receiving a column of its own. Perhaps this is because they used so little of it (only 530 bushels 1884 vs. 45,561 of pale).

"The 3 fifties are new hops the others should be in this column"

Three columns were used for the hops with each column totaled individually. These numbers were then added together each August for an annual total of hop use down to the ounce. There are three times that hops are typically added during the brewing process but that is not what is being tracked these columns. I suspected new and old hops were denoted in columns 4 & 5 but wasn't sure which until I saw confirmation in a handwritten notes from  October and November, 1889 that was correcting some of the numbers (see below).

A similar note, hops erroneously written down in the wrong column.
Out with the old, in with the new.
Brewers often bought hops in quantity during boom years and kept them on hand for continued use later on. Brewers were adept at adjusting the recipes to account for this. There is what appears to be a hop age conversion table in the back page of the brewing book. We will come back to that goodie another day.

Many times, the cell in column 4 or 5 is split into two numbers and there are handwritten notes on some pages with B, C, and E. These are notes on the hop origins: Bavarian, Canadian, English. This coding is backed up by the notes column. The 6th column is a bit of a mystery. Comparing the relative amounts I suspect it is late-addition hops, possibly even dry hops. It is definitely a hop column because that number is needed to achieve the annual hop total. The notes occasionally sometimes make reference to quantities of hops added at racking, but the numbers don't seem to

The next columns break down the mashing process. You can see temperatures and stand times. The mash would stand for around 2 hours and 40 minutes. Sparging took four hours. Each of the worts was boiled for two hours, the second wort sometimes more. Analyzing this part of the record will be interesting: what was Labatt doing for its mashing vs. UK brewers at the same time? This, and other questions, will let us see just how much of an influence British brewing traditions had on Canadian brewing at this time.

Moving on: the gravity readings are different than what we are used to. Denoted in Pounds per Barrel, this is a way of measuring what you had extracted during the mashing process. Hydrometers were long in use, but the scale different than what we are used to today.  Pounds per Barrel was the weight of a barrel full of water vs. how much the barrel weighed after you had mashed and dissolved sugars and other goodness into it. You can convert pounds/barrel into modern OG numbers: multiply by 2.77 and add 1000 (

In May 1884 the OG of the 'P' (Pale) beer was about 1058 (~21 Lbs. per Barrel) and the 'BS' (Brown Stout) was a touch stronger at about 1066.5 (~24 Lbs. per Barrel).

The gravity is dropping and the beer is nearing completion. It is cleansed and then later racked into various barrels and this is kept track of in columns 25-30. Column 30 converts all the various barrel sizes into standard barrels (36 gallons) to more easily total up production. Cleansing occurred about 3 days after brewing and racking occurred about 9 days from brewing. The beer was kept in casks for an unknown amount of time before delivery to the trade.

Labatt got fresh yeast from a number of sources, including down the road at Carling
Column 31 shows what brew number was used when yeast was harvested and pitched into this particular batch. As described in a talk I heard Ron give a typical practice would have been to skim yeast off the top of the fermenter when it was white, clean and free of brewing-related gunk (to use the scientific term). Today we would use the yeast collected off the bottom of a conical fermenter.

A bit of local trivia: they occasionally used yeast from Carling (as they did in June 1893 -- see photo) or started afresh with yeast from other sources. The notes sometimes have comments on the colour and appearance of the yeast head.

The notes column is the most interesting. Here you will see miscellaneous notes on all aspects of the brewing process: names of malt suppliers, hop farmers, mixes of old/new malt being used, weather notes, notes on the yeast head and potential spoilage of the beer, equipment breakdowns, use of Patent Malt, city water or well water, etc.

Welcome to the Labatt brewing records. We will cut today's information off here before anybody dies of boredom. 1500 words is quite enough, no? Go drink a beer, ok?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Carolinian Hop Yard - Fresh Green Goodness

Twitter is an amazing thing. I reached out to @thehopfarmer on Twitter just because of her name. It turns out Melanie Doerksen is based in London, Ontario (a happy coincidence) and this leads me to offer her a speaking slot at Forest City Beer Fest.

Melanie and her partner Tim Wilson come to the Fest and dutifully take to the stage to share their vision for the Carolinian Hop Yard. Attendees are invited to come visit at harvest time. I took them up on it.

I made a trip down to get some fresh hops for homebrewing purposes and boy am I glad I did! Here is a rundown of my day at the Hop Farm:

First, I got lost. This always seems to happen. Usually something good comes out of it but not today. I just saw a lot of fields and took a detour down a dirt road. The city boy in a Prius got some funny looks when asking for directions.

I missed the harvest work and the BBQ in the field that I had intended, but I made it in time to catch Tim vacuum sealing the last of the crop. The overall yield was not massive but promises to be far larger next year. It takes a few years for hops to mature and reach heir full height and potential.

There are currently 10 rows of hops growing mostly Cascade & Willamette. There is plenty of space for more rows on both sides. The property is long and skinny divided by a small stand of trees. On one side you have the hop fields and the other is home to the foundation for a brewhouse, eatery and more open land.

In the coming years I expect this to become more of a destination for brewers, beer nuts, foodies and fun-seekers. The goal is to have a fully operational farmhouse brewery using the farm's own crop. Tim and Melanie are green through and through. The field is not yet certified as organic, but it is clear that there are no chemicals and that natural techniques are being used to maintain the field. The same goes for the brewhouse. A number of construction features will cut down on electricity use and waste.

The farm is located near Delhi & Tillsonburg in Charlotteville, traditional Ontario tobacco country. Many farms have gotten out of the business over the last 10 years and the old tobacco equipment is being re-used. Special trailers with ladders can be dragged between the rows of hops allowing a worker to cut down and hang and entire bine (not a typo -- hops are technically bines) very quickly. These are already on the property and will be put into use once the bines grow high enough to make their use more practical.

Even the future brewhouse involves a bit of recycling. Old barn materials are on the site and are ready to be re-purposed as construction continues. It has already advanced considerably since my visit, as you can see on their Facebook Page.

Brewers, homebrewers and beer lovers should keep an eye on the Carolinian Hop Yard/Charlotteville Brewing co. as it continues to piece itself together and reach its potential. Congrats to Melanie and Tim on all your hard work.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Cossab - Brew Pubs of Buenos Aires

Cossab deserves more prominence on the online lists you tend to find when searching for English info on beer in Buenos Aires. Sadly, it doesn’t always make an appearance. Sometimes I suspect that they might not have even gone and tried any of the beer they are writing about!

Boedo is not as famous as Palermo or as busy as the Microcentro, but it isn’t a neighbourhod that is hard to find. It is easily accessible by bus and subway. Beer is the best reason to go on an adventure if you have never been to Boedo or didn’t have plans to go already. Boedo is well known for the Abasto shopping center (it used to be the city’s main market and is now a gigantic mall) and as an area with many high quality tango shows.

The beer is very good and is definitely worth the trip. Cossab has been making beer for 9 years in Boedo and opened a second location in Urquiza that is less than a year old at the time of this writing.

I went with my brother and a friend and I really liked the Scotch ale. I promise to go back and update this post with more info on the beers. 

Here is an interview I did with the boss himself, Juan Ignacio Sabeckis. [note: the interview is translated from Spanish]

When was Cossab founded?

October 11th 2003.
My brother, making shit up and waving his hands

Why does Cossab sell a variety of beers and not just the beers you brew?

We have the mentality where we are open about everything because we are lovers of artisanal beer and we want to defend this ancient drink. There is a lot of great beer to try, not just the ones we make. If you don’t like the ones I make you can try something from the big variety that we have that will fit with your taste.

This is how it has been for years at the bar. People who didn’t like beer end up trying a honey beer or a fruit beer or something else.

For you, what are some example of some great Argentine beers and Breweries?

Buko, Berserker, Buller, Gambrinus, Pampa, Guillon, Antares, Stone (now closed), Berlina, La Cruz, Zepellin, Otro Mundo (before they were sole to the Heinekin group), Buena Birra Social Club. And many more!
What is your favourite Cossab beer?

I.P.A., and a bitter that we made.
Maudite! A little piece of Canada :)
In a month, how much beer do you make?

Around 2500 liters a month in the two bars. When the Urquiza location grows I guess it will be over 3000 liters.

What are your favourite beer styles?

I like all beers, but I prefer IPAs and APAs, bitters, robust touts and wheat beers.

What is your inspiration? Why did you start Cossab?

It all started almost by chance. Here in Argentina around 2002 things were really bad and with a little bit of money that we had saved with my brother we decided to set up a beer bar with beer we made ourselves. Little by little we introduced ourselves to the beer world and we got training to get to the place we are now. This year I’m going to start a beer sommelier course to keep perfecting myself and perhaps next year I will do another one. The idea is to always keep moving and to not stay still.

What time is your happy hour? How much does beer cost?

We don’t work with a happy hour. The idea is that people will come for the beers and not for an offer or a deal. It is for this reason that people come back regularly. Equally, we have prices that are very fair and competitive with other pubs. We are about 20% cheaper than the process you see in other locations.

The pints are between $22 and $24.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Meet Troy Burtch of Great Lakes Brewing & A Great Canadian Beer Blog

What kind of crazy person leaves a job at a beer magazine where you get sent beer samples in the mail? 

Troy Burtch is that man. Don't worry. He hasn't lost his marbles. He is just making a move to a role that is equally cool. Troy recently sent out an email announcing his move but didn't say exactly where he would be moving to -- just that it would all be revealed soon. I decided to ask Troy if he'd be cool with spilling the beans and letting me pick his brain.

Mr. Troy Burtch

Who are you and what do you do?
I’ve been asking myself that question for years! J Well, obviously my name is Troy Burtch. I live in Toronto, Ontario where I publish the GreatCanadian Beer Blog and co-founded and help organize the annual Toronto BeerWeek. I just recently changed careers, joining the folks at Etobicoke’s GreatLakes Brewing Co. after working for TAPS Media, the parent company of TAPS TheBeer Magazine and the Canadian Brewing Awards. My life is beer…well, selling it, marketing it, and preaching it!

We first met at Bryden’s over xmas at a TAPS-organized meet and greet – lots of fun! – can you tell the readers a little about the nature of those events?
Well, that was something that I came up with a couple of years ago. This past Christmas was the third annual social. I thought it was a good idea to bring a number of people who work in the beer industry together for a holiday pint (or three) at a local Toronto craft beer supporter. You know, get together, share stories, taste new beers, talk about the industry etc. This year we held it at Bryden’s (Jane and Bloor) and had an incredible turn-out. The industry is so close and everyone gets along so well, so that makes it a lot of fun. I’m already looking forward to the 4th annual this Christmas.

Do you have any styles you tend to gravitate towards?
No, I really don’t. It all depends on the time of day, the weather, the people I’m around, the food I’m eating etc. I jump around quite a bit. We don’t have a lot of them in Ontario, but I’m a sucker for a well-made Mild. Cheshire Valley Brewing makes a great one and if it’s on tap somewhere I tend to get two!

What do you do when you’re not working or drinking beer?
I get asked this question a lot, and to tell you the truth – I talk about beer when I’m not working or drinking. I collect breweriana: Growlers, old brewery ashtrays, beer books, tap handles and bottle openers. Other than that, I play hockey, snowshoe at our cottage up north, cook and entertain. I also like to get out and walk around Toronto. There are so many unique neighbourhoods and parks in Toronto and I like to do the whole Urban Explore thing.

Can you give a quick overview of your role in the Canadian Brewing Awards? What are they all about and how did they get started?
The Canadian Brewing Awards started 10 years ago by the former, former owners of TAPS Magazine. They allow breweries of all shapes and sizes from across the nation to submit beers for judging (blindly). Medals are awarded in Gold, Silver and Bronze and there are two big awards in the Canadian Brewery of the Year and the Canadian Beer of the Year. In 2011, the 9th annual, we received over 450 beers from over 80 breweries, making it the largest to date.

I was one of the Brewery Liaisons. I was part of a team that organized the judging and the Awards Presentation Gala. I was also the individual who poured all the samples for the judges, catalogued the score sheets and talked to breweries across Canada on a daily basis leading up to the competition. It was a lot of hard work to help organize a competition the size of the Canadian Brewing Awards, but I loved working so closely with all the great Canadian breweries!

What is your proudest moment at TAPS?
There were many, many proud moments! When I joined the magazine it was in the middle of a re-birth of sorts. There was a lot of work that went into changing the tone, the look and the past indiscretions. Our social media accounts needed a lot of work. Our website needed updating and more information. These things were all changed for the better during my time there. We strengthened the TAPS brand(s), getting the magazine out to more establishments and into the hands of beer drinkers. This generated talk amongst the brewing industry and helped solidify the magazine as a great publication within the industry.

I’m also really proud of the work we did with the Canadian Brewing Awards. When I joined TAPS in 2010 one of my goals was to increase participation in the competition, attracting more and more breweries from coast to coast. The last two years witnessed a tremendous growth and the marketing of the awards has skyrocketed, attracting hundreds of new beers for judging. The Canadian Brewing Awards logo is now a recognized symbol of brewing excellence.

Where are you moving to and what will your new role be?
After much thought and consideration, I decided to leave TAPS to go to Etobicoke’s Great Lakes Brewing Co. I’ve been following this brewery for a number of years and I really respect and believe in their direction. I truly believe in the beers that they brew and I think more Ontario residents deserve to try the various brands.

What is one change you’d like to see in the industry in Canada or the industry in general?
There has been so much change since I first started following the Canadian beer industry when I launched Great Canadian Beer Blog (then known as the Great Canadian Pubs and Beer Blog).  The educational component of craft brewing is evolving everyday to the point where people are curious to try these wonderful beers based on what they’ve learned on websites, social media, newspapers, etc. It will only get better and it will only help the industry moving forward.

There are more collaboration brews taking place, more seasonal and obscure styles being produced, and more brewpubs are opening. The biggest change, and I think I’m not alone in thinking this, is there needs to be a change in the way beer is distributed in Canada. It’s mind boggling sometimes to think that a beer brewed in Quebec, and readily available there, is just as hard to get in Ontario as it is to get a beer brewed in Belgium or Germany even though they are right next door. Canada’s alcohol rules and regulations, across all provinces, need a closer examination and legislation needs to be updated to reflect today’s society.

What is one thing you hope doesn’t change?
More government interference… 
The camaraderie amongst the craft brewing industry

Tell us about three great beers you’ve tried this month and why you liked them.
That is a tough one. While working with TAPS Media, I would get beers delivered to the office with great regularity from breweries across Canada. I just received and thoroughly enjoyed the Green Dragon Double IPA I had from Edmonton’s AlleyKat Brewing Co. It was delicious. Another great one that I recently enjoyed (on more than one occasion) was MacKroken Flower from Le Bilboquet inSaint-Hyacinthe, QC. It’s a scotch ale brewed with honey and it clocks in at 10.8%, but it is so smooth, full bodied, rich, and has a great nose. And the third, well, I do a lot of my beer drinking at the pub and I have to say that I’ve been drinking a lot of beers from Great Lakes. I also managed to snag a bunch of Beau’s Bog Water before it disappeared from store shelves so I’ve been knocking them back one by one.

Name three Toronto hangouts that you enjoy.
Right off the bat, I have to say that Toronto is home to SO many great local beer bars/pubs. As I mentioned, I do a lot of my drinking out with friends at the pub, so choosing just three is pretty tough.

I am a regular at Bryden’s. It’s located at Jane and Bloor and offers a number of different styles and flavours from a number of different Ontario breweries. They have a number of rotating lines that keep things interesting, their food is always great, and the service is awesome. I have my own unofficial “office” there…

barVolo has always been, and will always be, one of my favourite places to go for a beer – not just in Toronto. I’m great friends with the Morana family who own and operate it and I love everything that they do there. From their diverse selection of bottles and taps, to their House Ales brands, to the atmosphere and layout, barVolo is a great place and an institution in Toronto. You can learn a lot about the Ontario brewing industry there.

And the third? Hmm… Very tough. How about this – I always enjoy visiting the following establishments due to their selection of beer, their service, atmosphere, food offerings, location, etc. Dominion on Queen, Monk’s Table, TheOnly Café, Castro’s Lounge, C’est What?, and the Granite Brewery. Like I said, I could go on and on. Toronto has so many GREAT beer spots. Check out the listof Toronto Beer Week locations. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Where to Buy (Good) Beer in Buenos Aires

Getting beer on draught at your neighbourhood bar or from a corner store is easily accomplished. It can be a little tougher to find stores that specialize in Argentine craft beer and foreign imports. You can’t drink Quilmes forever!
Here is a guide to some of the noble stores in Buenos Aires that cater to the discerning beer drinker’s need for top notch suds. Each of these locations carries at least one beer that you can’t find at the others, so make sure you visit them all.
Chatting with customers in Bodega Cerveceria (Photo: Trillia Fidei-Bagwell)
Bodega Cervecera is a Palermo Soho gem a short walk up Thames from Plaza Italia. The store specialises in beer but also carries some wine brands. They carry brands such as Gülmen, Beagle, La Loggia and Die Eisenbrucke. They have gluten free beers, hard to find brands from Belgium, China, and even a beer I had never seen or heard of before from Korea.
Store owner Sebastian Piñol is a friendly guide to the products he carries and is always looking for new things to fill his shelves. If you have a product in mind that he doesn’t carry he is usually able to order it in. Stop in and sample a beer or two from the fridge before deciding what you’ll take home.
I recommend Beagle’s stout, Die Eisenbrucke’s Imperial Stout and Kolsch, and Gülmen Lager Ahumada. It also has the best price I have seen for a bottle of Grosa, a barrel aged Belgian tripel co-created by Argentine musician Gustavo Santaolalla.
Cervelar is around the corner from the famous pubs of Renconquista, like Downtown Matias (Photo: Trillia Fidei-Bagwell)
Cervelar is an interesting hybrid between a store and a bar. It is like a beer store with tables and waiters. You can order a draught, take bottles to go or do both. They boast two locations the widest selection I know of when it comes to Argentine and Foreign beers (though they don’t have everything). The original location is in Microcentroright around the corner from the famous pubs of Reconquista and their newest location is in Belgrano.
Prices tend to be a bit higher here on some brands (Grosa, for example). It always pays to compare when you see two stores with the same products. I recommend any of the products by Abdij Deleuze, an Argentine micro-micro brewery that specialises in Belgian style beers. Grab a couple Belgian originals off the shelf to compare side by side.
La Francisca (Photo: Trillia Fidei-Bagwell)
La Francisca is a feria de campo (country fair) themed store located in Palermo Soho, a short walk from Av. Scalabrini Ortiz. The store has a rustic feel and is as close to the friendly, smiley experience of buying at a market stand as you can get without a long drive into the country.
Save for some Schneider lagers, the beer selection is all Argentine and artisanal. The best part about La Francisca is enjoying a beer on the outdoor bench with one of their made to order sandwiches. Sandwiches are cheap (starting at $10) and the cost is based on the weight of the meats and cheeses you pick. Served on a fresh baguette, they are some of the best sandwiches around and certainly some of the cheapest to be found in Palermo.
I recommend the pastrami and smoked cheese, enjoyed on the sidewalk with the beer of your choice. Artisinal beers are all $15 meaning you can enjoy a sandwich and a beer for under $30. Look for Sixtofer’s IPA, one of my favourite IPAs in the country.
Antares impresses with its draught beer offerings (Photo: Trillia Fidei-Bagwell)
Antares is one of the go-to locations for draught beer, but did you know they also sell bottles to go? Antares can be found in grocery stores (and some of the stores in this list) but you won’t find a cheaper bottle of their products anywhere else. When you consider you can get a 660ml bottle for $13.50 and a draught pint costs $24.00 outside of Happy Hour it pays to get some Antares in your fridge.
Make sure you show up before 10pm to avoid disappointment. Once the beer drinking gets into high gear they don’t sell bottles to go anymore. Antares has a solid lineup of year-round beers but keep an eye out for their seasonal beers. Right now the seasonal beer is Antares Bitter. I highly recommend this beer. It has a gorgeous label and authentic British flavour to match.
Natural Deli is both a cafe and a store (Photo: Trillia Fidei-Bagwell)
Natural Deli has three locations sprinkled between Recoleta (Laprida 1672), Las Cañitas (Gorostiga 1776) and Palermo (República Árabe Siria 3090). It is a mix between a natural food store and a café/restaurant carrying high-quality foods of all kinds. Their beer selection follows the theme of quality. They don’t carry Argentine artisanal beers, instead focusing on imported beers such as Duvel and Chimay.
You can have a beer sitting down with your meal or take a couple home with you to go with your purchases. This is a great place to try your hand at matching beers with food. Natural Deli is chock full of options for picking up picadas and the drinks to go with them.
I recommend Duvel with your choice of cheese, nuts or preserves.
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This Article originally appeared in the Argentina Independent

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Beer Night in Buenos Aires - Round III

Here is a rundown of the third beer dinner in Buenos Aires. Big thanks to Magdalena's Party for letting me use their venue, Bodega Cervecera for the beer, La Francisca for the cheese and Sugar and Spice for the Parmesan cookies we used. The biggest hand of all goes to those who attended. This was the biggest yet with 23 people.

Sixtofer IPA - This is the best IPA* I have had in Argentina so far. I was really impressed when I first tried it. It is a little more like a North American IPA, but isn't excessively hoppy. It has a solid malt flavour, bitter but not too bitter and a great resin/pine smell. The quality is extremely high.

We tried this with the awesome curry and sugar fries I have used in previous tastings.

Die Eisenbrucke Kolsch - This is a great example of a Kolsch. It is not very hoppy (you get a distinct hop note with some examples in Cologne) but has a nice bitter accent and a kind of buttery mango fruitiness to it. Die Eisenbrucke is becoming one of my go-to breweries. They just put out a Weizen and a 15% Imperial Stout. Both are great beers. I really liked the Weizen. There are not so many Argentine versions readily available and it is hot out right now. Great combo.

We had this with pizza. Beer and pizza isn't the most creative combination in the world, but it is something people understand and enjoy. Plus Magdalena's makes a good pizza.

Gulmen Smoked Lager - I thought this would get mixed results. It is a very good beer, but I thought the smokey taste might put some people off. I was wrong. This was easily the most loved beer of the night and we actually ran out because I was topping up everybody's glass. Next time I will bring more.

We had this with two cheeses (a queso criolla and a smoked cheese) and some Parmesan walnut crackers from Sugar and Spice.

The evening was sadly marred by a theft. My girlfriend's purse was snatched and we didn't realize what happened until it was too late. A guest of the beer tasting also had her purse taken from off of her chair. This kind of thing happens frequently in Buenos Aires. Live here long enough and it is just a matter of time before something gets stolen from you. Nobody is invincible and you need to keep your wits about you.

Not trying to scare anyone from coming to Buenos Aires (or to my next beer night!) just giving you a heads up. Things happen. Don't be afraid, just be aware. Go about your business and don't let anything stop you from enjoying life and getting things done.

*I'm only counting 'regular' IPAs here. Cork IPA makes a great Black IPA and other variations. Another straight-up IPA I like is El Buho.

Good Times at the Buena Birra Social Club

The Puerta Cerrada (a closed door reservation-only restaurant) is not a new concept in Buenos Aires anymore, but that hasn’t stopped Ariel ‘Toti’ Golia from doing something new with the idea. His Buena Birra Social Club has, if you let your imagination embellish a little, the same spy thriller fun and secrecy as other Puerta Cerradas, but no other establishment pays homage to good beer like this.
The club is unlike anything else in Argentina. It certainly stood out to international beer expert Stephen Beaumont, who recently named the club as hisfavourite beer locale of 2011. Pretty impressive when you consider that he logged over 50,000 miles of air travel last year, visiting the world’s top bars and breweries. When I asked Toti about it he confessed that he wasn’t aware that Beaumont has visited until his article was later published. To Toti, Beaumont was just another customer and he wasn’t afforded any more special treatment than you or I would get. Promising news if you were left disgruntled by the service you got the last time you ate out.
The Buena Birra Social Club is the logical culmination of 10 years of brewing by Ariel. After a decade of tinkering with recipes and sharing brews with friends it was time to expand the circle that could enjoy his beer. The club provides the platform desired by every brewer: pleasing paying customers with the fruits of their labour. It is a family affair, with sister Maria Eugenia having a hand in everything except the brewing. She is seemingly everywhere at once: tending to the kitchen, welcoming guests, pouring drinks at the bar, and smiling the entire time.
The club is in a residential house modified for the purpose of brewing, cooking and providing an informal environment for relaxation and conversation. Past the front door you enter immediately into the bar and dining area, where there are less than a dozen tables in the interior, making for a cozy atmosphere. Despite the size, high ceilings make the area feel airy and expansive.
A patio, with hop vines overhanging it, awaits in the back yard. There are two more tables in the open air garden if you prefer fresh air with your pint or if you need a place to smoke. Trees from the neighbouring yards stretch high over the walls of the club and you feel very secluded, almost as though you are outside of the city.
The back yard is also home to the brewhouse, a compact setup featuring two 180-litre fermentation vessels with digital controls. It is an enviable operation that any neophyte homebrewer would aspire to own. When I was there a batch of Golden Ale and Indian Pale Ale were in the midst of fermentation, soon to be kegged.
On tap during my visit was a Dry Stout, a Blonde and an English Mild.  The Dry Stout was my favourite of the three. It was a roasty looking black with a hint of ruby light peeking through. The cap of head was thick and aromatic. The Mild was also a winner. Give this a try, but don’t expect a light beer despite the name. Mild comes from a time when beer in England was sold aged or young and fresh from the brewer.  The word Mild used to apply to the young tasting fresh beer regardless of style. Nowadays, it refers to a brown ale, notably bitter but much less so than a Pale Ale. It has a malty backbone and often a touch of sweetness, and this club has an admirable version. I must confess one regret—I did not sample the evidently popular Blonde. There seemed to be a Blonde lurking at every table.
The lineup is constantly changing and the new beer on offer is already a great reason (excuse?) to go back. The food, meanwhile, is a welcome bonus. I enjoyed a personal-size pizza, made to order. Tacos, nachos and picada plates (cheese and cured meats) are also available. Prices are reasonable for the beer, especially when compared to other craft beer bars (especially those in the city centre). Consider that you get a whole pint for a competitive price and you are definitely winning. Where the kitchen is concerned, the portions could be bigger, but the food was a hit. At least this leaves plenty of room for more beer.
I sat out the back, nibbling on pizza, enjoying my Dry Stout and looking inside as couples on dates and small groups of friends began to trickle in around 9.30pm. When pressed, Maria Eugenia told me the ‘typical’ customer was at first someone from their circle of friends in the brewing industry and homebrewing community, but that the word-of-mouth nature of the club has brought in an increasingly diverse crowd of people since they opened just over one year ago. Now, people who “probably have never had artisanal beer before” are the ones calling.
Public interest in artisanal beer is slowly but steadily increasing with media exposure (Toti was recently brewing on Live TV) and the promotional efforts of brewers and homebrewers. “When drinking wine, no one accuses you of drunkenness. Beer still needs to gain respect” says Maria Eugenia of their work to secure a place for beer in the Argentine heart and mind. The group of three girlfriends drinking beer in the back yard and the couples in the dining room look convinced.
The day to day operation of the club is straightforward: beers and a simple menu are available. Buena Birra Social Club also hosts regular prix fixe beer dinners featuring more exotic fare and specially brewed beers to match every course (including dessert). I recommend simply looking at the photos on their Facebook page if you are undecided about attending. The plates look like works of art.
To conclude, I must touch on the question that you are surely wondering about. Where is it? If I told you, it would ruin the fun. Half of the enjoyment is not knowing where you are going and having to call for a reservation. Who am I to deny you that pleasure? I will reveal that is in Colegiales. Take collectivo 59 or Linea D to Estaction José Hernández and you won’t be far away on foot.
You can contact the club via their website or by calling 15-6428-3457. They are normally open in the evening on Thursday through Saturday, but are currently on summer hours and will be closed Saturdays.
*This article originally appeared in the Argentina Independent