Next Stop: Santiago, Chile!

Well, actually my next stop will be in Blumenau, Brazil, but that’s to judge homebrew and take in the Blumenau Oktoberfest. After I’m done there, though, I’ll be flying to Santiago to spend a few days getting up to speed with the local craft brewing scene.

Sometime during the week that I’m in Chile — October 12 – 16 — I’ll be hosting a beer event of some sort, although details are still being put together. If you’ll be in or near Santiago, please check back here for an update once things are firmed up.

Win Tix for OktoberFEAST in Ontario!

For my readers in Ontario: I not a big promoter of events and neither have I ever hosted a ticket give-away, but OktoberFEAST not only looked to me like it’s going to be a great time, but it’s also an event in support of a good cause. So here you go.

 

 

Featuring ample amounts of Toronto food talent (Barque Smokehouse, Thoroughbred, Cheesewerks, Hawthorne and Oyster Boy, among others) and Ontario  breweries including Beau’s, Double Trouble, Great Lakes, Junction, the new Lake Wilcox Brewing and Side Launch, among many others, OktoberFEAST promises to be a terrific night of food and drink, all in support of cancer research and support services for cancer patients. It all happens on Thursday, October 8, at the Berkeley Church, 315 Queen St. East.

 

We all likely know someone whose life has been affected by cancer, so there is no reason to not want to support this cause. I’d be there myself, but I will unfortunately be boarding a plane right about the time the Toronto event is getting started.

 

I am, however, able to offer you, dear reader, the chance to win a pair of tickets for the Toronto event. Just go to Twitter and either retweet one of my mentions, like this one, or tweet a link to this page and mention both me (@BeaumontDrinks) and the hashtag #OktoberFEAST. Two lucky winners will be selected Wednesday, October 7 at noon. I’ll tweet at you if you’re a winner and you’ll get your ticket emailed to you. It’s as simple as that. 

 

The Rise and Fall and Rise of Spirit Hound Distillers

Here’s a feel-good booze story I wrote for the Whisky Advocate blog. I also write a regular column for the print magazine entitled ‘The Thinking Drinker’ and it’s where I believe I do some of my best work. To subscribe or just test-drive a free trial offer, visit the Whisky Advocate website.

Craig Engelhorn will readily admit that it takes a special kind of crazy to open a whisky distillery, given that the act is committed with the certain knowledge that it will be years before your product is ready to sell. Even so, Engelhorn and his four partners had no idea what kind of chaos awaited Spirit Hound Distillers a mere nine months after they finally got their whisky distillery up and running. Like, over two feet of water sort of chaos.

Lyons, Colorado’s first distillery, Spirit Hound was first conceived by Engelhorn back in 1999, when he was working at the local Oskar Blues Brewery and imagining what might result were the company’s Old Chubb Scotch Ale to be run through a still. Over a decade later, while still toiling at Oskar Blues, he and his co-worker Wayne Anderson hatched a plan to open a business of their own together. Anderson favored a brewery; Engelhorn wanted to make whisky.

Whisky won and over the next two years the duo assembled their partners, secured a location and began building their still. It was ready at the end of 2012, and even though they then had to have their wash produced under contract at a Colorado craft brewery, by the start of 2013 the distillery was up and running.

(Continue reading at Whisky Advocate.)

Most Improved! – Big Ditch Haymaker IPA, Buffalo, NY, USA

When I first reviewed this beer last April, I enjoyed it but didn’t think it was anything overly special or exciting. A return trip to Buffalo earlier this week changed my mind, and a tasting last night from the growler I brought back confirmed it.

From a dense and restrained aroma, this has blossomed into a complex and fruity nose that leads with lemon, floral grapefruit and preserved lemon, but also boasts subtler notes of strawberry, currant and starfruit. On the palate, it’s gone from a resinous body with herbal notes of muddled grapefruit zest, rosemary and thyme, all layered over lingering malty sweetness, to a more integrated balance of malt and hop, with fruity, caramel and floral notes up front leading into a still largely resinous body with well-developed notes of herbs and grapefruit oil. The finish is clean, just off-dry and lingering.

Lovers of hop bombs and citrus assaults will no doubt view Haymaker as just another ‘meh’ IPA. For lovers of complexity and character, however, this is an absolutely top-flight ale that demands attention as one of upstate New York’s finest IPAs.

Britain Beyond CAMRA

When I first visited the United Kingdom slightly under two decades ago, making my way around the beer circuit was pretty easy. The Campaign for Real Ale, better known as CAMRA, published and still publishes an annual Good Beer Guide, so finding the best in breweries and pubs was a simple matter of buying a copy of the most recent edition, making a few pages of notes – no smart phones back then – and heading off for a pint or three.

Today, however, things are a bit more complicated. Since the dawn of the new millennium, and especially over the last decade or so, the number of operating breweries in Britain has exploded, even as the number of pubs has thinned considerably. On a population basis, the growth of craft beer in the U.K. has even dwarfed what we’re witnessing in the U.S. these days.

Consider this: With about 319 million citizens, the United States boasts 3,739 breweries, according to the Brewers Association’s mid-2015 statistical update, while the United Kingdom, with a population of about 64 million, claims somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1,200 breweries. Meaning that Britain has roughly one-fifth the population of the U.S., but about one-third the number of breweries!

(Read more at The Celebrator.)

Why the Purchase of Your Favourite Brewery Doesn’t Matter, and Why it Does!

Okay, let’s begin by getting one thing straight: There are not, as BrewDog’s James Watt recently tweeted, “so many breweries selling out to mega brewers.” There are a few, as many as a couple of dozen if you count the partial sales and purchases by private equity firms, out of the more than 3,700 breweries operating in the United States alone, plus the four hundred plus in Canada, eight hundred or more in Italy, in excess of 1,200 in the U.K. and so on and so on.

So no reason for panic.

But what if the brewery that sells out is one of your favourite breweries? An Elysian, for instance, or a Lagunitas or, most recently – as of this writing, at least – a Golden Road? Then what?

Again, no worries. Big breweries like Anheuser-Busch InBev, SABMiller and Heineken don’t generally do stupid things, and buying an existing, successful craft brewery only to tinker with their recipes and screw up their beers would be a decidedly stupid thing. The multinationals are buying these brands for their craft beer credibility, not their existing sales volumes, and so screwing with the biggest thing these brands have going for them would be paramount foolishness.

(You think these craft brewery buys are all about volume, you say? Well, consider this: In 2014, ABI’s Shock Top brand sold in excess of 14.1 million cases, according to the Beverage Information & Insights Group, while MillerCoors’ Blue Moon sold over 29.1 million cases. Lagunitas IPA, by way of comparison, sold a relatively scant 4.4 million cases, and the entire output of recently acquired Elysian was about 700,000 cases and Golden Road just over 400,000. In other words, the big breweries are doing far better with their made-in-house “crafty” brands than they are with the breweries they are acquiring.)

So that’s why it doesn’t matter. All a big brewery ownership means is likely better quality control and shelf stability for your favourite beers, and more than likely increased distribution.

Here why it does matter.

Leaving aside the less than 51% acquisitions, the half-and-half Lagunitas sale, for example, or the minority stake Founders sold, these newly acquired breweries exist and function at the whim of their owners, and their owners are not necessarily benign. Take Goose Island, for example, a case study of a successful big brewery buy-out if ever there was one.

ABI, which has owned Goose Island for a half-decade or so now, has been spending outrageous amounts of money and investing massive resources in expanding Goose’s barrel-aging program and promoting specialty brands like Sophie and Matilda. Which is great, until someone at head office finally decides that the revenues are not meriting the expenditures – which I’m not saying will happen, but might. At that stage, we could see the barrel program slashed, the specialty line cut in half or worse, and the hops in Goose Island IPA changed to cheaper and more easily accessible varieties. And there wouldn’t be anything that the brewers, managers or operations people in Chicago could do about it.

(As an aside, last night I drank a can of Goose Island IPA that my visiting west coast sister had left at my father’s house. I was unimpressed.)

More philosophically, however, the sale of a small brewery to a much, much, much larger one will put many craft beer fans in a bit of an ethical dilemma. Specifically, if you were drawn to craft beer as a supporter of the underdog, how do you react when that underdog gets sold to the very Goliath your David had been tossing stones at? Or, even more to the point, how does this statement by Meg Gill, owner of newly sold Golden Road Brewing, make you feel?

“Once I understood (ABI’s) vision and that they were going to win, I wanted to be on the winning team,”

To be clear, ABI “winning” means the effective end of independent breweries, or at least that’s how I see it. Because so long as there are more craft breweries outside of the ABI portfolio than there are inside, garnering increasingly greater market shares, then I cannot see any way of framing an ABI “win.” It’s really that simple.

So the bottom line is this: We all cast votes with our purchasing dollars and have the right to decide where we want those votes to go. If your concern is all about flavour and character and has little or nothing to do with ownership or oligopolies or multinational corporations, then you can and should continue buying whatever brand or brands of beer you want, whether they are owned by ABI or MillerCoors or the guy who lives down the street from you.

But if part of the reason you were drawn to craft beer is because it’s small and relates to you as a beer lover rather than as a consumer statistic and there’s a good chance you might bump into the brewer at your local bar this Friday night, well, you might want to think long and hard about your relationship with that recently purchased brewery.

From The Globe and Mail – My Look at 8 Rums

Drinking trends are fickle and often contradictory things. Lately, anything aged and complex is red-hot, from bourbons to tequilas to single malt whiskies, and the older the better. And yet, youthful flavoured spirits such as imaginative gins, spiced Canadian whiskies and all manner of juiced-up vodkas are also making headlines. One spirit can satisfy both the aged and flavour trends: rum.

The stereotype has been changing of late as aged and spiced rums make their way into more than just shots and shooters.

“A good spiced rum can provide depth and character to an otherwise one-note rum cocktail,” says Lauren Mote, co-owner of Bittered Sling bitters, bar manager at Vancouver’s UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar and winner of Diageo World Class Canada Bartender of the Year, 2015.

(Read more, including notes on Bacardi Fuego, Mt. Gay Black Barrel and Flor de Cana 12 Year Old, plus the recipe for Lauren Mote’s Amphibious cocktail, at The Globe and Mail.)

Moonlight Kettle Series Mosaic Single Hop (Muskoka Brewery, Ontario, Canada, 4.7%)

Okay, first off I didn’t understand why Muskoka was sending me another bottle of a beer I’d already tasted, the Moonlight Kettle Summer Saison, much less why they would do so with a summer beer at the end of summer. But then I noticed the small print ‘Mosaic Single Hop’ and realized that this is a new beer in the series. (Might want to make that a bit more obvious in the future, guys.) Unfiltered and slightly hazy, this has a bright, tropical citrus aroma holding just enough oily herbs and car tire to make it really interesting. So much so, in fact, that I’m salivating for a sip. The start is peach and mango and orange, leading to a more complex body with a somewhat oily disposition, blackberry and strong herbs joining the initial fruitiness, and an impressively clean, just off-dry finish. I seem to recall someone tweeting about this being a more summery beer than was their Moonlight Kettle Series Summer Saison, and I’d agree. Doesn’t make my thirst for another glass any less, though.

Update: Having had that second glass, I’m compelled to note that the Mosaic hop is very assertive in this beer and that, by the end of the 750 ml bottle, I was feeling some Mosaic fatigue. For maximum enjoyment, then, it’s probably best to share this with someone.

The Wide World of Beer with Stephen Beaumont: Drinking in Thoroughly Modern London

During the latter part of his enormously successful career, the late Michael Jackson, beer writer extraordinaire, employed an assistant named Owen Barstow.Like Michael, Owen was London based and beer fixated, which on one memorable occasion led to he and I enjoying a rollicking discussion about drinking on each of our respective sides of the Atlantic.

Ever the aspirating colonial, I would maintain that Owen lived in a relative beer nirvana, with a wealth of pubs and, providing you chose carefully, terrific cask-conditioned best bitters, ESBs, porters, and stronger beers at his doorstep. Conversely, he would envy the variety we had available in North America, from American-style pale ales to Belgian lambics, German and German-inspired lagers, and the best of British bottled beers.

While I still envied London’s pub scene, I could see Owen’s point. I mean, cask ales are great and all, but sometimes you crave a bit of variety. And in London around the turn of the millennium, that wasn’t something generally on offer at the local pub.

(Read more at The Growler.)

.

 

Introducing The Beer & Food Companion

cover imageThe Beer & Food Companion is my new book, the tenth I’ve either authored or co-authored in my 25 years of writing about beer. It’s the first I’ve written entirely on my own since the second edition of The Great Canadian Beer Guide in 2001 and, fittingly, it’s a deeply personal book.

As far back as the early 1990s, I’ve been interested in the marriage of food and beverage. It was then I started partnering up beer and chocolate, beer and cheeses, beer and just about anything edible, and my experiments and experiences have continued more-or-less non-stop ever since. The Beer & Food Companion is the culmination of this minor obsession.

The core of this new book is, naturally enough, the pairing of beer and food, beginning with the places we have for decades or even centuries dined with beer – the British pub, the Bavarian beer hall, the Belgian café – and drawing out the lessons of those experiences for application in our modern and global gastronomic times. But there is more to the Companion than just marrying beer and cuisine.

I’ve met a lot of very interesting beer and food savvy people through my travels, so I profile many of them within the book’s pages, including Sean “The Homebrew Chef” Paxton, celebrated Indian chef Sriram Aylur of London’s Quilon Restaurant, Schneider & Sohn’s Susanne Hecht and Toronto’s own Jesse Vallins, to mention but a few. Those who are chefs I’ve asked for recipes, and people like Kiwi star chef Martin Bosley, long-time Portland farm-to-table advocate Greg Higgins and Baird Brewing’s Joon Ou have obliged, helping me create a mini-cookbook within the book. I’ve also dug into the experience and knowledge of myself and others to create a section of tips on how to develop your own great beer cuisine recipes.

Of course, any book that deals with pairing beer and food had best start with defining beers by style, so I’ve dedicated an early chapter to that, developing what I believe to be an original, stripped down and, I hope, user-friendly approach along the way. Charts, tips, recommendations and a list of 100 of the world’s finest beer and food destinations help round things out nicely.

It took me the better part of a year to write The Beer & Food Companion, but a sizable chunk of my professional life to research it. I hope that you enjoy it.

Shuffling Off to Buffalo…for Beer Week!

The end of September will be me heading just south of the Ontario border for Buffalo Beer Week, where it will be my honour to host not one, but two consecutive events.

First up, on Tuesday, September 29, I’ll be teaming with winemaker Jonathan Oakes of Leonard Oakes Winery and Chef Jim Guarino to host a dinner called ‘Vines & Bines’ at Jim’s stellar seafood restaurant, Oshun. We’ll be serving six remarkable courses, each one partnered with both a wine and a beer, but this isn’t going to be any kind of ‘he said wine, he said beer’ sort of thing – we’re celebrating both beverages and how well they pair with Oshun’s delectable cuisine.

More information is available on the Buffalo Beer Week website and tickets may be booked by calling 716-848-4500.

The next night, Wednesday, September 30, I’ll be installed at the Pizza Plant Italian Pub on Transit Road in Williamsville hosting not one, but three tasting sessions of rare, esoteric and remarkable beers from all around the world. Each tasting will cover four beers and last for one hour, with a new set of beers lined up for the next one.

The first tasting starts at 6:00 and tickets are available for all three through the Pizza Plant.

Dear Brewery with the ‘SOLD’ Sign: Cut the Crap!

Over the last several years, there has been a marked rise in the number of breweries that have sold to the world’s largest corporate brewers. Anheuser-Busch InBev has bought several, not just in the United States but also more lately in Brazil. MolsonCoors has purchased a few in Canada and the U.K. and, through their Tenth & Blake division, the odd brewery mash-up that is MillerCoors has to date bought one cider producer and one brewery.

Of course, the big deal that everyone is talking about happened last week when Heineken finally decided to enter the fray and bought half of Petaluma, California’s Lagunitas Brewing Company. In his blog post explaining the deal, Lagunitas head Tony Magee wrote the following:

“Our new Joint Venture with Heineken is that ’sixth way’. It represents a mutual respect society, a meeting of equals, a partnership of peers.”

Two days later, when the southern California Saint Archer Brewing Company announced their sale to Tenth and Blake, brewery co-founder and president Josh Landan was quoted thusly:

“We were fortunate that brewers big and small were interested in partnering with us, but Tenth and Blake was the clear choice. Tenth and Blake shares our passion for putting great beer first. Joining Tenth and Blake allows us to keep doing what we love right here in San Diego, but now with more resources to innovate and grow.

To which I reply: Bullshit!

Look, I get it that when you build a small business into a larger one you have a corresponding rise in responsibilities. I understand that there are employees to consider, investors to pay out, maybe bank loans to finance. I know personally about the sacrifice and strife involved in being an entrepreneur for 25 or more years, grinding away and hoping that others will share your vision sufficiently that your business might turn into a success. And I appreciate that many long-time brewery owners may not have a succession plan in place.

Hell, I even understand pure avarice of the “they backed up a dump truck full of money” variety.

But when your company’s entire marketing strategy has for years been based upon the premise of “small is good, big is evil,” do you honestly think it reasonable to suddenly turn on a dime and tell us otherwise? After imploring us to “buy local” for decades, does it really make sense to expect us to abruptly opt for “international” instead? Do you really believe that the joining of a small brewery – and let’s face it, everything in craft brewing is tiny relative to the big international brewers! – with a multi-billion dollar company can ever be anything even approaching a “meeting of equals”? Do  you truly think that the massive corporate structure to which you have just made your sale really “shares the passion” that led you into craft brewing in the first place?

If you want to sell your company, fine. If you want to make certain that your employees are well looked after once you retire or pass from this mortal coil, good for you. If you feel a need to pay out your founding investors so that they finally get something out of the business other than free beer, that’s responsible business management. And if you just want to be able to just take things a little easier, fly first class, stay in the best hotels and smoke only what Snoop Dog smokes, that’s cool, too.

Just please don’t insult my intelligence by telling me it’s all for my own good.