Killing beer, LCBO style

If we are going to be stuck with the LCBO as the best option for craft beer in this province, they might want to consider hiring a few people who know a thing or two about the product they sell. There is an appalling lack of knowledge within that organization.

That being said I have had the pleasure of teaching a few people from the LCBO in Prud’Homme classes, but not nearly enough of them are getting this sort of education. Dan has a few really great points about the LCBO here, hopefully someone in the organization is listening.


Yeah, it’s a bit blurry, but not illegible. Take a look at the sticker on this bottle and guess why I’m sharing it.

Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca, at the King / Spadina LCBO Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca, at the King / Spadina LCBO

If you didn’t figure it out already, here’s a hint: this photo was taken on October 23rd.

Yes, Jolly Pumpkin bottled this ten months ago.

Over the summer, Calabaza Blanca was my favourite beer. Untappd says I had six of them, but those are just the ones I checked in. I’m sure I consumed at least 10.

Most recently I paired one with my Thanksgiving meal. The lightness of this beer’s body does wonders to brighten up a somewhat dense Tofurky roast. I noticed then, though, that it didn’t taste the same as the ones I enjoyed in the summer. It was less refreshing. Also, despite a few days resting in my fridge door, the carbonation unleashed a…

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It’s Thanksgiving! Time for Beer!


Thanksgiving and beer, so good together

This weekend Canadians will come together to celebrate the harvest and many of them will be having a traditional Thanksgiving meal, consisting of roasted turkey, root vegetables, stuffing, perhaps some squash and quite possibly some sort of pie.  So what are the best beers to pair with this feast?  Food roasted in the oven undergoes caramelization, just like the darker malts used to create amber and brown-coloured beers. The complementary flavours of darker malty beer and oven-roasted food, offer a range of ideal choices, here are just a few of my suggestions:


Unibroue Trois Pistoles

My favourite beer to feature at meal like this is generally something Belgian.  Many of them are highly carbonated which will help to cut through the rich and fatty foods, giving you a greater enjoyment of both.  Your best bet is a Dubbel, because the dark fruits, sweetness and higher alcohol will pair nicely with the roasted turkey, root vegetables and the gravy.   There are couple of choices readily available in Ontario.  Chimay Premiere is a great Trappist beer that is slightly cloudy and has a dark brown colour.  It has soft grassy, herbal, yeasty aromas with plum notes, bread dough flavour and a lightly bitter finish.  If you want a more Canadian option try Unibroue’s Trois Pistols.  While not technically a Dubbel, this Belgian strong dark ale exhibits all the same great characteristics; it’s slightly sweet with accents of roasted malt, cocoa, ripe dark fruits and spices.


If Belgian beers aren’t really your style, you can’t go wrong with an Oktoberfest lager.  It’s malt forward caramel flavours and low hop bitterness will also complement many of the dishes.  It’s also October, so it’s a very appropriate time to be drinking this great german style beer.  Ontario breweries have many excellent options for this style.  Beau’s has a great offering called Night Märzen.  Märzen is a traditional German lager style that used to be brewed in the month of March and was then lagered (or stored) in cold cellars for the summer, ready for drinking just in time for Oktoberfest.  It’s a great choice to pair with the main event, the oven roasted turkey.  Beau’s is also offering a special four pack of Oktoberfest beers that include: Happy Pilsner, Dark Helmüt (black lager), Rauchstack (smoked lager) and Dial ‘Z’ for Zwickel (Zwickelbier) which is a copper coloured lager with bready and grassy notes.  All four of these selections would make interesting additions to the Thanksgiving table.  You could also opt for a truly German beer and get an Oktoberfest brew from Munich like Hofbrau, giving you an excuse to break out your lederhosen.

Oktoberfest! Yay Beer!

Oktoberfest! Yay Beer!

When it comes to dessert, most people will serve pumpkin or apple pie and there are a number of pairing options available for both.  If you like Pumpkin beer, it is an obvious choice to pair with the pumpkin pie.   While I used to love trying every single pumpkin beer made during this time of year, I’m not as big a fan anymoe.  I think my over-enthusiasm in previous years resulted in pumpkin overload for me! But if this hasn’t happened to you yet and you are still a fan of pumpkin beers, you might want to grab several different kinds and try them all.  Before my interest in them declined sharply, Southern Tier’s Pumking was one of my favorites.  It actually tasted like pumpkin pie in a glass, with all of the usual flavours like vanilla, clove, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and pie crust.


Wellington Chocolate Milk Stout

But if you are looking for something a little different to pair with your pumpkin pie, why not try a milk stout?  It will offer a nice sweet chocolately counterpoint to the spices in the pie.  A good choice may be Wellington’s Chocolate Milk Stout, although you might want to go out and get this one right away because supplies appear to be limited at the LCBO.  You could also go with a straight up Chocolate Stout like Flying Monkey’s The Chocolate Manifesto or Young’s Double Chocolate Stout and get similar results.

If you are opting for apple pie for dessert instead you can’t go wrong with a good Dunkelweiss, which is a dark german wheat beer.  The banana, raisin and clove notes will pair very nicely with the cinnamon and apples in the pie.  Your best bet and most readily available choice is an Erdinger Dunkel Weissbier.

Thanksgiving is great time to try a few new beers and see how everything works together.  Great food and great beer are always something to be thankful for.

Should Ontario Craft Beer Have a BQA (Brewers Quality Alliance)?

Beer and Wine

Ontario wine has it’s VQA, perhaps it’s time for Craft Brewers to have a BQA

With all the talk of what constitutes “craft beer”, perhaps it’s time Ontario created Brewers Quality Alliance (BQA) standards the same way the wine industry has with its VQA designation?  If we look at the VQA Ontario website they state that they are “an independent authority that establishes and monitors the province’s “appellation of origin” system. All countries that produce wine have similar systems, which define their best grape-growing regions and set standards for their wines. ”

Mainly they ensure that wine is made from 100% Ontario grapes and specifically they regulate:

  1. Grape varieties and ripeness
  2. Winemaking techniques
  3. Labelling requirements
  4. Sensory and chemical criteria for the finished wine

This whole concept isn’t a new idea, the BC Craft Brewers Guild are looking into doing something similar.  Their cited reason is mainly so the industry can be standardized and pave the way for it’s members to sell beer in BC grocery stores.  Something to consider if we are to convince our Premier, Kathleen Wynne of doing the same in Ontario.

We could start by using these VQA standards as a basic framework and alter them to suit the craft beer sector.  In order for it to really effective, a large number of craft brewers in Ontario would have to agree to be part of it and adhere to it’s regulations.  This is something the OCB could be doing as it is already part of their stated brewing philosophy.  Although there are a couple problems with the OCB in it’s current form; one is that some of their current members (who will remain unnamed) have questionable standards and serious consistency issues.  The second problem is there are many new breweries who may question the value of OCB membership.  Out of the 150 plus breweries in Ontario right now, less than half are members.

Don’t get me wrong I like the OCB and support what they stand for, but I really think they need to do something like this.  If they did create some sort of BQA, membership in the OCB would be a tangible recognition of superior quality craft beer.  Until they adopt quality standards, the less than stellar members diminish the validity of the entire organization.

So assuming we could get Ontario Craft Brewers on board with this concept, they’d need to adopt criteria that would set them apart as “Craft Brewers” and ensure a superior quality of product.  To do that they’d need consider the following set of rules:

  1. Brewed in Ontario
  2. Ingredients used in brewing would be free of chemicals and artificial additives
  3. Craft Brewing techniques utilized
  4. Specific mandatory labelling requirements
  5. Quality and consistency standards for the finished beer

#1 – Brewed in Ontario – This one appears to be a no brainer.  If it’s brewed in Ontario that would automatically make it an Ontario beer right?  Within that criteria that could apply to some of the brands brewed by the larger brewers Labbatt’s, Molson and Sleeman, because much of their beer is actually brewed in Ontario.  But most of the other criteria on this list would eliminate them from being a craft brewery with the possible exception of sub-brands like Creemore and The Beer Academy.  Some people may sneer at that exception, but objectively speaking those breweries do make craft beer so we have to seriously consider whether or not being owned by a multinational negates that.


Ontario Hops Growers Association

#2 – Ingredients used in brewing would be free of chemicals and artificial additives – While it would be great if every Ontario beer was produced using only Ontario grown ingredients, this isn’t really possible or realistic.  Ontario doesn’t grow nearly enough hops or barley to meet the current demand.  But insisting on using quality ingredients with no artificial additives or other chemicals would be the way to go.  Also this could be tied into the labelling requirements by stating what exact ingredients are used.  Not allowing corn and rice adjuncts, which most craft brewers don’t use anyway, could also set them apart.


A large scale brewing operation

#3 – Craft Brewing techniques utilized – All craft breweries (at least the ones I’m aware of) brew to original gravity.  Which means the beer strength they intend to package is the one that they brew; for example a 5% ABV (Alcohol By Volume) beer is brewed as a 5% ABV beer.  Industrial brewers often employ high gravity brewing techniques, meaning they’ll brew a 10% ABV beer and then dilute the ABV by half by adding water after fermentation.  This allows them to brew double the quantity of beer from a single brew using half the number of fermentation vessels.  Some argue it has no impact on the taste of the beer and shouldn’t matter.  But the main argument against it is that it is a large scale industrial practice and goes against the entire concept of what “craft” is.  In all likelihood to make this regulation stick, limits on the size of brewery would need to be imposed.  This can get a little sticky because the definition the size of a craft brewery varies from region to region.

#4 – Specific mandatory labelling requirements – Having labelling requirements would mean that all of the ingredients used in the beer would be clearly listed.  This would ensure that no adjuncts or anything artificial was used to make the beer.  The label would also state exactly where in Ontario the beer was brewed, clearly showing that it wasn’t made (all or in part) some where else out of province or out of the country.


The Quality Control Testing Lab at Steam Whistle – Photo via Twitter @SteamWhistle

#5 – Quality and consistency standards for the finished beer – This last requirement is probably the one that many brewers would welcome, but might also find challenging to meet the standards of.  This is where larger breweries have the advantage.  Testing and rigorous quality control standards aren’t cheap, but would ensure consistency and superior quality.  If a brewery couldn’t meet basic standards it shouldn’t be able to add a BQA type label.  Member breweries would need to agree on what those standards of quality would be and could perhaps pool resources and have a central quality assurance lab facility that they could all send their beer to regularly.  This would give smaller operations a better chance to succeed.

It’s clearly not as simple as this, but I think if we put these sorts of rigorous regulations in place, Ontario would put itself on a path to be recognized on a world stage.  It would also expose craft pretenders like Shock Top and give the entire craft industry genuine credibility.  High level quality and consistency standards would definitely get noticed outside of Ontario and this would be great for the entire craft industry as a whole.