“Fairness” At the Pumps

This is a great response to the nonsense that was written in this Toronto Star article – http://on.thestar.com/1rkxub6
The writer of the Star article clearly doesn’t understand the benefits of foam on a beer, such as:
1. It looks great
2. Allows aromas to be released to the drinker
3. Allows some CO2 to be released making the beer smoother and less filling
4. Protects the beer from oxygen
5. Keeps the beer fresher longer
Also full third of the foam does revert back to liquid form, so that should be considered.

Trans-Canada Beer Blog

There has been a lot of media coverage about the recent “Fairness at the Pump” act and I understand the initial indignation at the idea that unscrupulous publicans are trying to nickel and dime us out of a proper pint. I’ve seen those trick pint glasses that make 14 ounces of beer look like 16 ounces and I’m sure there are some bars and restaurants out there that use them. So let me restate: I agree with the basic intention of the law.

Image from the Honest Pint Project. Image from the Honest Pint Project.

Where I get annoyed at the law is in its metrics. Especially since it’s not in metric. The infotastic webpage for the law states:

A pint contains 20 fl. oz. (568 ml) in Canada. The limit of error for 20 fl. oz. is 0.5 fl. oz.—the foam (head) is not included in the measurement.

In units that we…

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What is “Craft Beer” exactly?

The recent “internet exploding” article, penned by local beer blogger Ben Johnson about Labbatt’s marketing plans for Shock Top, lead many people to ask “What exactly is the definition of craft beer?”  It apparently means different things to different people.

Russian-River-Brewery-Beer-Sampler

Russian River Brewery Beer Sampler

As a point of reference, Brewdog of the UK proposed a definition of what a craft brewery should be and they posted the following on their website:

A Craft Brewery:

1) Is Small

  • Brews less than 500,000 HL annually. *see point 3 below

2) Is Authentic

  • Brews all their beers at original gravity
  • Does not use rice, corn or any other adjuncts to lessen flavour and reduce costs

3) Is Honest

  • All ingredients are clearly listed on the label of all of their beers.
  • The place where the beer is brewed is clearly listed on all of their beers.
  • All their beer is brewed at craft breweries.

4) Is Independent

  • Is not more than 20% owned by a brewing company which operates any brewery which is not a craft brewery

Size is still sticking point for some. Some of the larger breweries in the world consistently produce excellent beer that is still considered craft.   By this definition Sam Adams in Boston is not a craft brewery, but according to the American Brewers Association it is.  I’ve heard that the Brewers Association actually raises the production size limits in its definition yearly to keep pace with the growth of Sam Adams.  So what does say about brewery size?  Clearly that is not really a defining characteristic of what makes it a craft beer. I firmly believe Sam Adams is a craft brewery.  They adhere to the latter points in the above definition namely the quality and brewing methods.  They make good quality beer and are constantly innovating and partnering with other brewers to make really amazing stuff like Utopias, Infinium and their Barrel Room Collection.

Infinium

Sam Adams Infinium

Locally, some would argue that the Beer Academy is not a craft brewery because it’s owned by Molson.  I know people like to hate it because of that fact, but if you’ve ever tried their beer you’d see that most of what they serve is brewed right on the premises and is pretty damn good.  They do limited releases and special one offs.  So would that not qualify them as a craft brewery?  I concede that the ownership by Molson (technically Six Pints) gives them more operating capital than a brew pub of that size would normally have.  But it looks like Molson is allowing them to brew independently of their main industrial apparatus and let them make pretty much whatever they want.  I think the end results speak for themselves.

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Beer Academy in downtown Toronto

For me the term “craft” is a directly related to quality.  Craft also says to me, an attention to detail and methodology that creates a superior product.  The quality, brewing methods and the ingredients used should be how we judge what is a craft brewery.  Just because a brewery is small and independent that doesn’t automatically make it great.  I’ve tried some pretty mediocre beers that were from small “craft breweries”.  A brewery may be considered “craft” because it’s small and independent, but the product they produce shouldn’t automatically be superior because of that.  That being said there are quite a number of small independently owned breweries making consistently great beer like Left Field, Sawdust City and Great Lakes, just to name a few.

Great Lakes Brewery in Etobicoke

Great Lakes Brewery in Etobicoke

Many people also think that a craft brewery should be local.  I do believe that locally made beer is always better, mainly because it’s fresh.  Beer doesn’t always travel well and if it spends weeks inside of some massive container on a ship traversing the oceans of the world, it’s really not going to taste the same as when it was first bottled or kegged.  But I don’t think local should be a defining characteristic of what makes it craft.  Otherwise we wouldn’t have people lining up at Bar Volo for Zwanze Day.

My philosophy about ALL beer, whether it is “craft” or not, is if it’s well made and tastes great, who it’s brewed by doesn’t matter. In a blind taste test, with all bias aside, most of us couldn’t identify a specific brewery anyway.  Size and ownership of a brewery shouldn’t determine whether a beer is good or not.  Taste the beer first and then make that decision.  If the beer is great, enjoy it! If it’s crap and you don’t like it, pour it out and drink something else.

So maybe it’s time to redefine what we mean by “Craft Beer” and really just make it about the beer itself.

Labatt is planning an expensive, intentionally misleading ad campaign for Shock Top

Ordinarily my philosophy concerning micro versus macro is that as long as a brewery is making a great beer, the size of the brewery doesn’t matter to me. But when a big multinational pretends to be a small craft beer producer, they’ve crossed a line. I think that what these guys are doing is absolutely reprehensible and we should be shining a bright light on this kind of BS. Thanks to Ben Johnson to uncovering and sharing it with the beer world.

Ben's Beer Blog

ShockTopCorp

Shock Top is a beer made by the massive, multinational brewing company AB-InBev.

People who drink craft beer know that Shock Top is a beer made by AB-InBev and its local consortium Labatt, and those same people who know that Shock Top is a Labatt product often speculate that the line between Shock Top and actual “craft beer” is likely left intentionally hazy so that Labatt might conceivably pass Shock Top off as craft beer–which it most certainly is not.

And while we, the stout sniffing cognoscenti, have always known in our heart of hearts that Shock Top is part of the macrobrewery effort to get “crafty” as a means to compete with (and presumably crush) small brewers, it doesn’t make it any less galling to actually see that strategy laid out on paper.

But now we can.

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Have yourself a Eureka moment!

There seem to be new and interesting craft breweries popping up in Ontario all the time now!

HopGobblin'

Bell City Brewing Company based in Brantford Ontario (the last place I was expecting craft beer to come out of, although I have no idea why not!) has released its first beer in the LCBO.  It is called Eureka, and according to the brewery’s website, is a “pre-prohibition cream ale”.  It uses 4 different malts and for hops Sorachi Ace and Bravo.  The choice of hops for me illustrates the fact that these guys are trying something different.  The brewery is named after Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone and favourite son of Brantford (you learn something new every day, I thought AGB was English!!).

Eureka is definitely unlike any other cream ale, craft or otherwise, available in Ontario at the moment.  The funny thing is, it doesn’t really fit the BJCP style guidelines for cream ale but ironically I think it might represent the best example of what…

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Birra Artisanal – Craft Beer in Tuscany

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Tuscan hill top vineyards and villas.

When you think of Tuscany, the first things that probably come to mind are beautiful villages and villas, vineyard covered hills, olive groves and of course red wine.  As the home of Chianti and some of the most fertile grape growing areas in Italy it’s hard not to associate Tuscany with wine.   So it’s hardly a place you’d think you’d find great craft beer.  While it’s not exactly obvious, it’s really quite worth the effort once you do find it.

Tuscany is saturated with vineyards and wineries and anyone hoping to get into that business now would likely find it impossible to start something new.  Many young Italians have turned instead to making really interesting craft beers.  Breweries don’t require a great deal of land and can be operated year round.  Italian brewers also have access to a wealth of unique and very fresh ingredients. They’ve turned many beer recipes on their heads and given them a decidedly Italian twist by working with non traditional ingredients like chestnuts and anise.  They also make liberal use of spent wine barrels to do some really amazing things with barrel aging.

Wine!

Barrel cellar – Vignamaggio Winery

Many of the beers that I sampled in Tuscany had a wonderful sour element to them, which in part can be attributed to that barrel aging process.  Everything I tried was also bottle conditioned, so the beer inside continued to evolve until opened.  Some “evolved” into absolute gushers, but that comes from the inexperience of many retailers who store the bottles in warm places for too long.

I tried a really great range of beers  and one of my favourites was a “Bionda” made with spelt called Cotta 21 from Mastri Birrai Umbri.  While technically not a Tuscan beer, it was made in nearby Umbria, I still considered it local.  It had lemon and herbal notes and wheat-like mouth feel from the spelt.  It was a great beer to enjoy under the hot Tuscan sun.

Mastri Birrai Umbri - Bionda

Drinking artisanal Italian beer as the Tuscan sun sets at our villa.

But one of my absolute favourite breweries was Collesi, from the town of Apecchio, located on the border between Tuscany and Umbria.  I had the pleasure of trying the Rossa or Red Ale while having a midday pizza lunch in the main square in Greve-in-Chianti.  It had all of the complexities of a sour Flanders Red but also had sweet notes with flavours of apple and fig.  And because it was refermented in the bottle it had a very robust head that left some impressive lacing on the wine glass it was served in.

photo 1a

Afternoon beer, main square, Greve-in-Chianti.

Generally many of the beers I tried had complex aromas and flavours, with many venturing into wine-like territory.  I guess it’s hard to remove the influence of thousands of years of wine making, it’s literally in their blood!  It’s also worth noting that many of the artisanal producers use really beautiful bottles, that previously contained either wine, brandy or champagne.

Because I knew that August was a time that many Italians took holiday, as soon as I arrived in Florence I made a point of stocking up on as many craft beers as I could get my hands on.  The larger grocery stores had an enormous selection of amazing craft beer to choose from.   It was a good thing too, because  many of the breweries and brew pubs I chose to visit during my stay were actually closed for vacation, or siesta, or simply because it was Monday.  Can’t really fault the Italians for this, they really know how to live.  Every day they take a 2 to 3 hour break in the middle of the day for lunch and a nap.  They also make a point of taking at least one day a week off, which means closing smaller restaurants and bars.  Everyone needs to rest right?

I was hoping to see more of the brewing operations first hand, but because this is a fledgling industry they haven’t quite caught on to the tourism element of that just yet.  I suspect that will change as the years pass and more people are exposed to these amazing brews and start visiting Italy for the beer and not just the wine and great food.

photo 3a

Beer Bar in Florence

Regardless of these minor short comings, I truly enjoyed the entire beer experience in Italy and look forward to returning.  Salute!