Advice for St. Patrick’s Day

Okay, so evidently St. Patrick’s Day isn’t just a day this year; it’s a whole friggin’ weekend. Which means that the madness and mayhem will commence tomorrow.

While I’ll personally be laying low this year, as I do around March 17 every year, many others will be running riot over the next four days, drinking beer and whiskey that they seldom if ever otherwise drink, calling anything that’s green “Irish,” including bog-standard lager dyed with food colouring, and generally using the feast day of an Irish saint as an excuse to get plastered. Which is fine.

But if you’re going to “do” St. Patrick’s Day, at least do it right! Which means paying at least a bit of attention to the following:

1) If you must shorten the name, repeat after me, St. Paddy’s Day. Not St. Patty’s Day or plain Patty’s Day. “St. Paddy’s Day.”

2) There are many more Irish whiskeys out there than just Jameson. Try one or two. You might just find yourself drinking Irish whiskey more than just once a year.

3) What I said above about whiskey? It applies equally to Irish stout.

4) If you must do shots — and on a day that is sure to be filled with drinking, I would counsel strongly against them —  limit yourself to just one or two. Five or six or more whiskey shots is a sure-fire route to drunkenness and eventual spewing.

5) Wear green, wear funny badges, wear silly hats if you wish, but accept that you are not, in fact, Irish. Not for a day or for a minute. (Unless, of course, you really are Irish.)

6) A cocktail made with crème de menthe is not by definition Irish. Neither is one made with Midori.

7) Imperial stout is not a beer built for all-day drinking.

8) The green-dye-in-lager thing? It shouldn’t need saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Just. Don’t.

9) Lining up to get into a bar is stupid. If there is a line-up, go somewhere else for a drink or two and return later to see if the line-up has dissipated. If it has not, just accept that it was never meant to be.. (The sole exception to this rule is when the line-up is covered, heated and licensed.)

10) That “Kiss me, I’m Irish” shirt? Leave it at home.

The Craft BeerAdvent Calendar

Okay, it’s November still and too early to start writing about – shhhhhh! – Christmas, but December 1 is just around the corner and that’s when you’ll need to have your advent calendar in place if you want to have (almost) a month of fun.

Fun? Opening tiny doors to see a cute picture or sample an industrial chocolate? Are you kidding me?

No, not at all. Because the BeerAdvent Calendar I have in mind is big and heavy and filled with an assortment of European beers never or seldom before seen in Canada. And believe me when I tell you that some of them are actually very good.

Of course, I can’t tell you what all the beers are, because that would ruin the surprise, but I can say that they make for an interesting selection. (Yes, I went ahead and opened all the little doors so that I could better report on it.) A dozen of the beers are from Austria, and in truth they are among the least interesting overall, though some are still quite good and others are, um, not what you’d expect.

(That “not what you’d expect” part applies also to a beer from Germany — *cough*day 18*cough* — but I shouldn’t say more lest I give the game away.)

The remainder of the brews are mixed between Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Some are better than others, a few are truly spectacular – (sing it!) on the 23rd day of Christmas my calendar gave to me, a pretty friggin’ awesome beer – and fittingly for December, ten of them are 7% alcohol or stronger.

The Calendar is a product of Craft Beer Importers of Alberta, although I’m told that it’s sold out in its home province. Some are apparently still available in parts of British Columbia, so check the Facebook page for availability and get yours soon.

And One Final Beer Goal for 2010…

11. Get out there!: Drinking in situ is one of the most illuminating experiences a beer aficionado can have, whether it’s at a riverside brewpub in a town a few miles away or in a café on the other side of the world. It’s also (usually) a hell of a lot of fun.

That’s it for me in 2009. Enjoy your New Year’s Eve, everyone, and see you all next decade!

Beer Goals for the New Year

It is with some sadness that I learned of the departure of Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher from the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The husband and wife team have been writing insightful and accessible columns on wine in that paper for a dozen years, and have long been one of the few reasons I would pick up the weekend edition. I still have a yellowed copy of their “How to Order Wine in a Restaurant, In 10 Steps,” which is one of the most common sense pieces of wine writing I have ever come across.

Much of Gaiter and Brecher’s work, I have found, is easily transferable to other realms, including beer. And so, in honour of their years of service to imbibophiles, I am going to riff (yet again) on one of their ideas, with my “10 Things to Do with Beer in 2010.”

  1. Learn to appreciate something different: You may not like, say, lambics or highly hopped ales, but that need not mean you shouldn’t try to understand what they’re all about.
  2. Blow apart your preconceptions with a blind tasting: Sampling a slate of beers without knowing what they are can be humbling and illuminating. For extra credit, try using glasses that hide the colour of the beers.
  3. Learn to love low alcohol: Subtlety is sometimes lost in beer tasting circles, so even if you enjoy your fill of session beers now and again, or again and again, much can be learned by taking some time to ponder the nuances of a 3.5% alcohol mild or 5% alcohol kölsch.
  4. Try a beer under different circumstances: Possibly the greatest thing I’ve learned in my twenty or so years writing about beer is the powerful effect of context on taste. Trying a familiar brew under utterly unfamiliar circumstances – early in the morning, say, or under physiologically stressful conditions – can lend keen insight as to its makeup.
  5. Plan a period during which you will not drink the same beer twice: Be it a week or a month, spending some time in beer drinking promiscuity can be both fun and challenging.
  6. Talk about beer without judgement: Be it with beer aficionado friends or the Bud drinker at the end of the bar, you can learn a lot about beer and beer drinking by simply listening to what others have to say.
  7. Drink both beer and wine with an oenophile: Sample some of your favourites and some of his or her favourites and learn from each other.
  8. Buy blindfolded: Not literally, of course, but randomly grabbing stuff off the shelf, or having someone do it for you, can lead to interesting discoveries, and also, it needs be admitted, huge disappointments.
  9. Splurge: Not on a high-priced beer – although feel free to do that, too – but on a totally unnecessary round for a group of friends and acquaintances. There’s no better way to remind yourself of why beer really is the most sociable of beverages.
  10. Spend time with a notepad: Nobody should feel they need to take notes on every beer they drink in order to assure their “beer cred,” but it can be an interesting exercise to from time to time sit down and record flavour and aroma observations. You may even be surprised at how it improves your taste perceptions.

And a Crankiness-Inspired Holiday Beer Rule

Thinking about my mini-rant earlier this morning, I arrived at another Holiday Beer Rule, and an important one, I think.

13. Now is Not the Time to Count Calories: There are precious few times in our lives when, as responsible individuals, we get to eat and drink with impunity, to recognize our limits, cast them a friendly wave and continue right on past. The holidays is one of those times.

No, I’m not suggesting that we all go out and get legless and wind up puking on Aunt Louise’s sofa. That’s not only stupid, it’s also not at all fun. What I am saying, though, is that it’s okay to get a little merrier than you might ordinarily, to have that extra piece of cake and to indulge in that splendid but calorie-laden beer.

As M.F.K. Fisher once wrote about the ideal dining companions, it is important to approach the holidays, as it is the table, “with the right mix of abandon and restraint.”

One Very Important Holiday Beer Rule

11. The Following Phrases Shall be Banned: “Wishing you a hoppy new year;” “Beery Christmas;” “Happy new beer;” “Hoppy new beer;” “Merry Beermas;” “Hoppy Christmas and merry new beer;” and “Malty Christmas and hoppy new year.”

And any combination of the above.

Beer Rule for the Holidays No. 10

(Just to piss off Stan.)

10. Now Is Not the Time to Go All “Locavore”: Eat local, drink local, hell, exist local at all other times of the year, if you wish, but not now. This is the season of indulgence, and you should use it as an excuse to drink from the full-to-the-brim cup of the brewing world.

Belgium; San Diego; Trieste; Japan; Victoria (B.C. or Oz): sip with enthusiasm of it all!

Not done yet…

Beer Rules for the Holidays Nos. 8 and 9

8. Christmas Ale Trumps Spiced Ale Trumps Pale Ale Trumps Pilsner: Unless any of the above are particularly exceptional, or really and truly suck.

9. Respect Your Host: And never, ever criticize their selection of beers. Instead, pass by the fridge without comment and drink their single malt.

Still a few more in the holster…

And Yes, Another Beer Rule for the Holidays

7. At a Social Gathering, You Are Expressly Prohibited From Saying, “This Pale Ale Isn’t Very Hoppy, Is It?”: Nor are you allowed to comment on the over-spicing of the Christmas beer, the diacetyl in the brown ale or the slight whiff of DMS in the lager. Not even as an attempted conversation starter.

Especially not as a conversation starter.

I’m not finished yet…

Still More Beer Rules for the Holidays

A continuation from this post and this one.

5. Fortifying a Beer Isn’t Necessarily a Bad Thing: A drop of bourbon in a sweet or Imperial stout or a dash of aged rum in an IPA can indeed go a long and very flavourful way.

6. Fortifying It With Vodka Almost Always Is: Truly.

More to come…

More Beer Rules for the Holidays

A continuation from this post.

3. Pay Up or Shut Up: For the greater part of the year, you may debate, discuss and harangue about beer prices and their seemingly inexorable rise. Not now. Either enjoy the beer at the price being asked or don’t, but there’s to be no whining about it either way.

4. But Feel Free to Rationalize All You Want: The holidays are indeed a time of indulgence, so when better to rationalize the purchase of an over-the-top beer? “Why not? I deserve it and it’s the holidays anyway!” is a perfect way to salve a guilty conscience, at least until the credit card bill comes in next month.

Still more to follow…

Beer Rules for the Holidays

As any beer aficionado will know, the holiday period is one of the best times of the year for the enjoyment of their favourite beverage, at home, in bars and pubs, with friends and family, or even as part of a solitary respite from it all. But even so, we must conduct ourselves correctly during this indulgent period, or risk doing irreparable harm to the very industry we seek to promote, and so I give you the first two in my Christmas 2009 list of Beer Rules for the Holidays.

  1. Giving is at Least as Good as Receiving: ‘Tis the season, and all, so you might as well seize upon the opportunity to introduce all your friends and relatives to the beers you love. Buy a pint of pale ale for the Bud drinker in your life; introduce your brother to Belgian beer styles; bring a 750ml bottle of a special ale instead of a bottle of mediocre wine when you’re invited over for dinner or drinks: the worst that can happen is your recipient decides they don’t like it and you’ll have to drink your gift yourself.
  2. There is No Such Thing as a Good Recipe for Beer Eggnog: You know I like beer cocktails as much as the next guy, but there really isn’t. Give it up and move on.

More Holiday Rules to follow…