Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Charge of the Light Brigade: How Light Beer With Attitude Invaded our Patios

“Why is light beer like having sex in a canoe?”
“Because its ‘effing close to water!”

We’ve all heard this wisecrack in a bar or a backyard before. Perhaps the joker was even specific enough to name names and take shots at a particular brand. Light beer has long been a punching bag for advocates of bolder beers that put flavour first. Why not? It is an easy target.

‘Lite’ beers are perfect straw men that set the stage for the micro vs. macro argument. The product’s most distinctive feature is a hole in the can that lets you guzzle one down faster than you can flip a burger. Sure, you can put away a whole lot of them, but why would you want to?

This is a pretty fair picture but it isn’t the whole picture.

“Light beer” is actually a very broad idea and a lot of beers and beer styles can fit under that umbrella. Session ales are created with the idea of enjoying several over a long period of time. Mild ales, a criminally under appreciated beer style in the British tradition, could also be classed as light beer. Don’t forget about Berliner Weiss, the real wheat king of the summertime patio. You could even count Saison, a style with roots as a rustic Belgian farmhouse brew, as a light beer as well.

Suddenly, light beer isn’t such a bad word after all!

There is more emphasis on lighter beers this summer and for good reason. With crappy beer everyone loses, but good beer is a win win for everyone: “Pub owners are loving the fact that patrons will be willing to stick around and order a few pints, and customers enjoy the full flavour and complexity” says Flying Monkeys rep Nick Baird.

Here is the takeaway: beers below the usual 5% alcohol don’t need to give an inch when it comes to flavour. The beers on this list truly embody drinkability and more-ishness*. Here are some examples that can re-define the light beer category and jazz up your next visit to the patio:

    • Every genius has a secret. The Genius of Suburbia’s secret is a touch of oats that give this 3.8% beer the body of a 5-percenter. A bold-yet-light alternative to their Antigravity light ale. Find it at Milos’, Crossings, The King Edward in Ilderton, and Mercer Hall in Stratford.
    • Don’t think twice about ordering this beer. It may only have 3.5% alcohol but it has a lot of soul and is a 2011 Gold medal winner at the US Open Beer Championship. Best found at Grand River’s retail store, but can also be spotted at Milos’, The King Edward, and the Winking Judge in Hamilton. If you are supremely lucky you’ll find it on cask.
  • Beer Lab - Session Ale
    • Beer Lab is the ultimate local secret. Brewed by mad scientists Adil Ahmad and Nick Baird, Beer Lab’s Session Ale recipe comes in at 4.4%  The formula is still being tweaked and improved but it is already a hit at the only place you’ll find a pint: Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium. Look for special appearances at Milos’. It never lasts long.
    • Detour is widely available and a good example of the session beer trend. The beer packs a hoppy punch, 4.3% alcohol, and capsizes the idea that drinkability has to mean watery. Muskoka chair recommended, but not included. Look for it at LCBO & Beer Store and licensees across Ontario.
    • Many German cities have their own local beer style and Berlin is no exception. The Berliner Weiss style is characterized by practically non-existent bitterness, low alcohol levels, and a mild sour tang. In Germany this is enjoyed with a shot of fruit or woodruff syrup. Uber may be the most quenching beer on this list. 4.2% alcohol and waiting at an LCBO near you. Prost!
    • Session Toronto featured over a dozen collaboration beers and this one walked away the winner by popular vote. Brewed with input from the Sam Roberts Band and featuring a blend of British and American ingredients, this beer can be found on rotation at Beertown and Chaucer’s Pub. It might just be Spearhead’s best beer. Spearhead also has a London connection in head brewer Tomas Schmidt. Look for an LCBO release this fall.
    • Black Oak doesn’t make one bad beer and this is my favourite one to enjoy in the summer months. The beer is widely available on tap and in bottles (LCBO) and it is a perfect introduction to the Saison style if you’ve never tried it. A touch of wheat, a bit of peppery character from the yeast, and a zesty note in the aroma. At 4.5% its also the strongest beer on this list.

* More-ishness is an unstoppable primal urge to order a second beer right after finishing the first. It is a strange paradox of being satisfied and needing another beer at the exactly same time.

Note: this article will appear in print in Venture Cover, a magazine profiling ass-kicking people in business, sports, and culture and is re-published here with their permission.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Beautiful Sex and Old (blind) Wine

Fucking* an ugly person is objectively just as much fun as making love to a person of great physical beauty.  From my experience the lights during sex are usually extinguished at the lady's or ladies** request... which should give you some indication of my relative level of attractiveness, I'm sure the Edwards of the world get the opposite request. Assuming we live in a world where you can only have sex blind, much like the world that I inhabit where I am forced to taste wine blind, the attractiveness of each party is inconsequential, try to assess beauty with your hands! Or just try to assess asses with only your hands, more fun and more informative!

When light is not part of the equation it's all the same really: slot Y is inserted into slot X and friction ensues,
or in other cases slot Y into slot Y, or X into... X? I've never truly understood the exact physics of X, X slot fitting but I know there are many women who understand it and as long as they do that's really all that matters, it's all a beautiful expression of human biology no matter what the configuration. If you experience your partner 'blind' the quality of sex will depend entirely on the performance that ensues, you are forced (hopefully not literally) to do nothing but enjoy the experience for what it is without any personal or societal judgments that go along with physical beauty. Trust me on this one I've been to a lot of lights off rumpy-pumpy parties.
Sex-god, Vampire or a dude who just ate a lemon and is
vaguely angry about it?

For us non-Vampires it is relatively unlikely we will encounter a mate and follow through with rumpy-pumpy without ever actually seeing them due to the unfortunate fact that the sun exists.*** There are obvious values placed on beauty and because of this most people chase after beautiful people with the idea, I guess, that the sex will be better. The sex may or may not be better but at the very least it's easier to brag about bedding an Adonis rather than Oscar the Grouch. Along with bragging there is also a feeling of conquest, "I touched that which many wish to touch". All of this is a long winded way of saying context matters, it affects' the way we assign value to something or someone which in turn will impact our opinion and relative enjoyment of that value laden object.

It is much easier to taste a wine blind then it is to have sex with a person blind, you just get a friend to put a bag over the bottle and pour it, do that with a human and you are going to jail. There are many claims made that expensive wine is often rated to be equivalent quality or lesser quality than cheaper wines by experts when they are forced to taste them blind (check out the Freakonomics podcast "Do more expensive wines taste better?" as one such example) I will not argue against this. Preconceived notions about a wine play in heavily when determining the origin, grape and relative quality/desirability of the wine. Just as I would rather bed Scarlett Johansson than someone who isn't Scarlett Johansson I would rather drink a 1947 Cheval Blanc than literally anything else because both are deemed to be the highest possible quality in their respective fields that one can hope to experience, regardless of how they actually hold up to that standard, than any alternative. (Sorry Scarlett I know you read this, I didn't mean to objectify you but I had to chose someone and you won, feel free to text me and we can chat about it over drinks)

"Don't worry Josh I forgive you, but I did just guess that Alsatian Sylvaner blind..."

The house I live in and the circles I roll in are filled to the brim with blossoming wine experts, almost everyone I know has been working in the industry for years, often with sommelier training and is either currently studying to get a degree in wine making or already has such a degree. At my house it is a sin to pour a wine with the label, or any other physical clue from the bottle, visible. We drink wine and we drink it blind 100% of the time, sometimes to my great chagrin.

Once a wine is poured we, as a group, have no idea what the wine is beyond the obvious of it being either red, white or blush. But there is one more clue most in the group can rely on when trying to determine the wine being poured: the person pouring it and the grapes and regions they gravitate towards. I have noticed a trend as of late: most times I pour a wine the guesses as to grape and origin are widely inaccurate, which at one point was largely due to my purchasing of the most obscure and unguessible wines, wines we lovelingly refer to as blowjob wine because if in the holy-hell anyone could guess such an obscure wine that is precisely what they would be owed.**** The trend has changed and I now buy quite guessible wines yet it almost never happens that anyone guesses them. Why is this? I try my best not to stick to one region or grape, as such making inferences and narrowing down what the wine could be based on my personal tastes becomes much less likely. One of my friends almost always chooses Niagara or Australia as region of origin, considering virtually every country on the planet now makes wine knowing his natural proclivity towards these two regions is a great help in narrowing down the possibilities and accurately guessing the wine.

Niagara, Australia... sure I'd live in both, I'm really just a lazy raccoon
Thanks DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0 for this now non-stolen photo ;)

Knowing the region or grape and being able to guess it is vastly different from assessing enjoyment level (quality). But to those schooled in wine, the history and what a wine represents often has a large impact on the enjoyment of the wine, and the determination of it's relative quality. A friend of mine often says he enjoys a wine when it it blind, but once it is revealed that the wine is actually a very pale Shiraz rather than a robust  Pinot Noir he recants his enjoyment and proclaims the wine to be shit, I have argued at great lengths about the variability of his enjoyment based on knowledge of what it is, but now that I truly reflect maybe there is something to this opinion. If you were to be served a delicious tuna sandwich and after consuming it be informed that it was actually a ham sandwich would you pat your belly contented or recoil in horror screaming "Why the hell did you serve me ham so spoiled that it tasted like fish!?!?!" and then promptly vomit in your shoes?

Knowing the story of something can be half of the fun of enjoyment. Lusting after and sleeping with a beautiful women, even if the sex is worse, is in the grand scheme of things more satisfying to me than just randomly hooking up with a women I am moderately attracted to.***** The context surrounding an experience informs our enjoyment of that experience. To those who poo poo wine experts and relative wine qualities I say poo poo away because I am not drinking fermented grapes, I am drinking a story, and it is the story I truly love. Who, in their right mind, would commit their life to drink?

Japan would agree with me on this one.

*Interesting side note: Rumpy-pumpy is a synonym for fucking/coitus/sex according to the Collins English Dictionary and Thesaurus, it's now my preferred term.

**Don't tell me to give up my dreams.

***Well completely blind people probably have experienced this but that doesn't really help me prove my point.

****Thankfully no-one has ever guessed one... I doubt they'd claim their prize even if the did.

*****Yes I'm depraved but you are too don't lie.