Thursday, March 31, 2011

Is Beer Snobbery Getting Out of Hand?


Okay shortest post ever, everybody go home.

But before we do, let me just explain myself a little. On the old Twit-feed this morning, I stumbled across this article from Draft Magazine. I'll give you the Coles' Notes: writer thinks ciccerones et al are a bit silly, wants beer to remain opiate of masses, comes to realize beer education is good at reducing the snobbery. Or something.

But the question raised is a good one: with the burgeoning popularity of craft beers, do we face falling into the same trap the oenophiles occasionally wander into? Isn't is a bit fruity and extended-pinky-ish to start rambling on about mouthfeel and coriander notes and all the rest of the high-falutin' nonsense that results in "organic grass-fed bison with sesame aioli and watercress froth on a 14-grain hand-kneaded artisan kaiser" when all you want is a goddamn burger?

Again, no. And now I want a burger. Great.

Here's my argument: Wednesday evening found the wife and I at the Lighthouse Brewery for a meeting of the local chapter of CAMRA. There were tours of the brewery, jugs of beer pulled right off the tanks, four taps on the go, and much chatter about beer. We also snuck away and ate brownies (regular ones) in the lab.
At no point was a soapbox produced, a cigar lit, not did anyone peer through a lorgnette at their beer and say something like, "I say, these plastic cups are quite frightfully ghastly, don't you think? One does ever-so-much miss having a proper glaahss to sip from." In short, no snobbery, just CAMRAderie.

Here's the second part to my argument. If you're not already aware, the Georgia Straight's Golden Plates awards came out last week and, as far as the craft beer community is concerned, the beer category was a laughingstock. Among other things, Alexander Keith's IPA was listed as being the best beer from outside BC, ignoring the facts that it's
(a) brewed in Creston,
(b) not a real IPA,
(c) goddamned terrible.

Needless to say, everybody who drinks real beer was a trifle upset. I think Chuck's head may have exploded. See his take at Barley Mowat, and mind the swears. There were some successes: Driftwood, Central City and the Alibi Room all got mentions, but it was not what you'd call a banner day for craft beer. But it wasn't quite a horrible one either.

The fact of the matter is, we're getting there. I'm actually just about to head out the door down to the Beagle, where I will no doubt be delighted with the offering that Central City is showing up with. Week after that there's two casks of Naughty Hildegard around Victoria, and more to come. Meanwhile, over in Vancouver, you'd have to be a raging alcoholic to attend every cask event that's going on over the next two months. Either that, or an Australian.

So here's the good news: yes, we need ciccerones to educate the masses so they quit poisoning themselves with pale-yellow fizzy corn-syrup, and grab a real beer instead. And yes, from time to time, I'm a little wary of the tulip-stemmed glass crowd and the attendant pretentiousness that is always just around the corner when you start getting elitist about anything. But beer is, and will always be, more than just a drink that the pedantic can get snobby about.

What it is, when you think about it, is liquid bonhomie. Sure, most beer contains yeast, barley, water and hops, but the good stuff, the stuff all us beerthusiasts are really after, the stuff that people like @sticklebract make, is the kind where they add a fifth ingredient: pride.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hot Damn of the Week: Naughty Hildegaard Returns

It's been a long three days. In a short period of time, I've viewed a dozen houses, worked a 12-hour shift (and another 6-hour one) taken the ferry four times, attended the press launch of the 2011 Vancouver International Auto Show and written an article on same.

I need a beer.

Not to worry though, as I've returned to the Island to the welcoming arms of these three lovely ladies. Yes, yes, I know: polygamy is bad. Unless you're Bill Paxton.
But Hildy is a nun after all, so I'm going for a holy trinity thing here. This is a beer I've been looking forward to all year. Every time Driftwood beer releases one of its excellent seasonals, there's a teeny-tiny part of my brain that goes, "Hey is it Hildegard yet? ...awwwww," like a dog perking up at hearing a car in the driveway, and then disappointedly realizing it's just the crazy, cat-owning neighbour.

But now she's here. And by here, I mean here, just to the left of the keyboard. So what's it like this year?

Hildegard is still an ESB, but I remember last year's as being quite floral and citrus-soaked, and this year's version marks a return to a more UK-style brew. It's certainly got some bite to it; there's more lingering bitterness here than at the Leno-O'Brien tenth anniversary reunion. I love it.

Driftwood Naughty Hildegard ESB
Recommended if:
-you're Robbie Coltrane or Eric Idle and the mob's after you
-you're looking for an ESB that wears fishnets
-you like a little bite from your beer

Not Recommended if:
-Feck! Nuns! Reverse!
-You prefer your ESBs to be just plain ESs
you're a penguin. 'Cause that'd just be plain confusing.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Best Damn Sandwich In The World, Old Bean

I say chaps, 'twould any of you fancy a robust nibble? Perhaps a cove might dare to point you in the direction of the Shooter's Sandwich: a dashing Edwardian arrangement of meats that'll put hair on your mutton-chops. As @pattoni put it, "If you didn't wing your manservant while taking drunken potshots at grouse, you didn't earn that sandwich."

Well, some poltroon has mislaid my fowling piece, but never mind. Herein find the thrilling tale of the #questforsandwich.

We begin with a search for a period-correct beer. Not a problem. As I had previously discovered whilst perusing barley-based tonics at the Cascadia on Quadra, Pretty Things Brewery out of Bahston has a beer called KK. You can read the shakedown on it here but, in brief, it's a beer exactingly brewed to a historical recipe created in 1907 and it tastes like steamship lubricant. In a good way.

All well and good, but when I attempted to find some this past week, hopes were dashed at every turn. I had no idea it was going to be so dratted hard to collect all the ingredients I needed, but I persevered and a quick tweet from @CascadiaLiq alerted me to the last few bottles of KK on the island at their Colwood location.

Hopping in the horseless-carriage, it was a quick blast out to their surprisingly well-stocked store where I procured two bottles of soot-blast excellence.

Beer out of the way, I then focussed on collecting the remaining components of the steampunk sammy.

If you'd like a list:
-Two ribeye steaks
-Medium round crusty loaf
-Half-pound brown mushrooms
-Half-pound scallions
-Wedge of Stilton
-Fresh parsley and rosemary
-coupla-three cloves of garlic
-Worcester, soy, pepper and salt
-mustard and horseradish

Picked up a couple of steaks and the stilton at Impecunious Foods, hit up Wildfire for a loaf (I think it was spelt, forgot to ask), got my 'rooms, scallions and herbs at Root Cellar, and everything else was in the fridge behind a half-full jar of pickles that have been there since the late fourteenth century.

Step One:

First thing is to reduce and decarbonate the KK. I used about a cup, and simmered it in an open pan to increase the density a trifle, adding a dash of worcester and soy. Not very effective, I'm afraid: this beer is dense. Still, while it was bubbling like hot pitch, I went on to...

Step Two:

Dicing up the scallions and mushrooms takes a bit of work, and try to avoid slicing off your fingers if you're already imbibing. You also want to de-cap and scoop out the loaf, saving the innards for bread-crumbs, although I just ate it.

Step Three:

Hot liquid poured on diced mushrooms (they'll soak it right up), knob of butter in a saucepan and saute the scallions while the mushrooms marinate. Season the steaks at this point, and don't be stingy on the salt.

Step Four:
Mushrooms and remaining beery liquid into the saucepan for a bit and then put the whole mess into the open pan on high: it'll sear the mushrooms and boil off that liquid. Once it's done (pretty quickly), pop it back in the saucepan to keep it warm, and get ready to...

Step Five:
Pop the steaks in the pan, and while they're sizzling, get your parsley and rosemary chopped and mixed with mushroom/scallion mixture. Stir in the garlic at this point too, and get your stilton sliced if you haven't already done so. Steaks should be medium-ish. When they're done, don't bother resting them, just pop 'em out of the pan and start layering.

Tuck first steak in.

Then add mushroom mix.

Then stilton.

Then second ribeye, spread hot mustard on the loaf cap and hot horseradish on the top of the steak.

Step Six:

A boa-constrictor can unhinge its jaw to swallow something massive. I'm going to go ahead and assume that you cannot, or that you choose not to do so in polite company. Step 6 is all about solving this problem.

First, double-wrap the shooter in wax-paper and tie it with string.

Then, wrap it in aluminum foil, place it on a plate in case of leaks and press it under a large cutting board and as much weight as you can find. I used weights, boards, a Tintin collection and most of my wife's medical textbooks. Note that Gray's Anatomy won't work if you use the DVD box set instead of the book.

Leave it pressing for at least six hours.

Step 7:

Sharpen your knife. This sandwich is practically pre-cambrian in its sedimentary density. Cut it in wedges like a cake and eat.
The KK and the Shooter's go together like Holmes and Watson, Jeeves and Wooster, The Royals and Inbreeding. Both sandwich and beer are at the upper limits of what can be packed into their respective categories; there's a lot going on in each.

I shared the Shooter's with some friends and one remarked, "I think this is what the Elves gave the Hobbits to sustain them while they travelled to Mount Doom."
I doubt it. Feed this sandwich to a Hobbit and that little bugger's gonna explode.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Bit of a catchup post today, as I've been sadly neglecting my blog. Apologies.

Actually, scratch that. I shouldn't be apologizing for not inflicting my rambling incoherencies upon you for nearly a week. If anything, you should be thanking me!

Well, you're welcome. And if you'd like to know why there's been a dearth of activity on YADBB, it's because my good lady wife and I are attempting to purchase a house, an activity which is as stressful and difficult and apparently impossible as trying to castrate a unicorn. Luckily, there are many ways to cope with stress: vigorous exercise, deep breathing, meditation.

I chose alcohol. It's traditional.

But the line representing page hits on the blog has been trailing off like the trajectory of Charlie Sheen's career or, if you prefer, coming very close to a graph representing my fading will to live over the duration of that awful Rebecca Black video, so it's time to get back behind the keyboard.

Let's rummage through the pile of empties. First dead soldier: an Elysian Immortal IPA. We hit up the Hogshack in Steveston on Saturday for some BBBQ (the extra B is for craftBeer) and an Elysian schwag pack. I highly recommend it. Great beer, good eats and yet more people fired up about the local craft brewing scene. Plus I got a free shirt.

Read here, for a proper review of the place.

Next, a new pair from Howe Sound Brewing.
Rockfish Red is good, although after drinking wild and wooly stuff like Pothole Filler and Megadestroyer I was a little surprised it didn't actually contain fish. But as a fisherperson, I applaud their action for conservancy, and it was a tasty little bevvy. The hemp ale is the better of the two; it's a full Big Lebowski of malty creaminess. I didn't know the wife had picked it up but my beerdar must have been on because I inexplicably chose to buy humus on the way home. Fitting.

Next up, a hopeful story accompanying a purchase of Hitachino Nest.
Cook Street Liqour provided me with some high-test after a day of wrestling with mortgage lenders, and amongst the haul were a pair of Japanese hooters. These guys were hit hard by the tsunami, and there were rumors that the brewery would be out of commish for months, if not years. At least as far as I can ascertain, Hitachino will be back in production in about 3-4 weeks. The sake brewery seemed more damaged, pictures can be found here. Good news for everyone. Side note: the Cook Street boys have got their hands on some Baird beer. Coming soon from the rising sun.

Lastly, a small obit for Dogfish Head.
As everybody already knows, the Delaware-based brewery has simply maxed out in terms of production. It's Peak Beer, worse even than running out of liquid dinosaurs. As such, no more DH for Canada, the U.K. and a few Red States.

Sad surely, and I'll especially miss the 90 minute 4-pack (far more effective than NyQuil), but I'm going to put a positive spin on it. You know what? So we lose one beer company. Big deal. This might have been a tragedy three or four years ago, but nowadays we've got multiple local guys brewing crazy beers, loads more foreign imports like Mikkeller and Brew Dog, good availability of East and West Coast American brewers, and the big micros are stepping up their game in a huge way. Examples? Just look at Lighthouse's Deckhand and GIB's upcoming Imperial IPA.

You know what? It's a hell of a time to be a craft-beer fan in BC. We've got kickass brewers, great organizations like CAMRA, and a community of enthusiastic beer-folks spreading the gospel. I'll miss Dogfish, but one dead soldier either way doesn't make a damn difference.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Another Damn St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick's Day, as far as I can make out, is a day when one is supposed to celebrate the triumphs of Ireland, its writers, thinkers, musicians, and playwrights, its cultural contributions to the world and the influences of those who left during the diaspora by drinking a hectalitre of Budweiser with some kidney-destroying green dye in it, singing a song filled with wack-fol-de-diddle-idle-crap, starting a fight where both sides lose and then vomiting into someone's shrubbery. A reasonable way to pay tribute to a people who, like the
Scots, are very good at drinking, fighting and being oppressed by the Brits, although at least we have the good sense to not to run around in skirts.

Each year, I brace myself for the usual trials: radio-waves packed with Irish accents that are as cartoonishly unconvincing as Michael Flatley's hair, enough stupid green leprechauns everywhere to have Darby O'Gill reaching for his pitchfork and hordes of people ordering a Guinness and then only drinking half a pint while exclaiming, "it's so thick! It's like a meal!" Guinness is a meal like those little cracker packs with the orange rubber you spread with a razor-sharp red plastic rectangle are a meal. It barely qualifies as a snack.

Here's the thing, I'd be considered fairly Irish by any yardstick. I've got red hair, a "Mc" in my last name, dual-citizenship, and a fondness for potatoes. But even I consider that the Emerald Isle has only really contributed two things of note to human history: the Book of Kells, and Father Ted.

And not necessarily in that order.
As such, I regard Guinness with a fair degree of suspicion. Oh sure, it's traditional, and of course I bought one to toast my cousins, aunts and uncles overseas, but it's kind of like U2. Sometimes it's not bad, but it's a little embarrassing to be a SUPER HUGE FAN, dontcha think? Also, if you know anything about the history of Guinness in Ireland, they've basically taken over nearly every pub like the beer-Borg. Unlike the UK with its wealth of real ales, Ireland has little going on in the microbrew scene, unless you start looking at things like cider, and then there's quite a bit, which is an interesting reverse of the situation here (although that's rapidly changing with Merridale, Sea Cider and others).

So, a pint of the Black Stuff, but only just the one, as I following it up with something better.

If you're out-by, as I've said, try to find yourself a Backhand of God or a Black Plague on tap. If you're looking for a dry Irish stout that you can get in an easy-to-carry-home six-pack, then you should pick up one of the most underrated beers on the Island.
This is Lighthouse's Keepers Stout, and we've all seen it on the shelves and reached past it for a bomber of some uber-hopped trice-Imperial brettanomyces ale-porter-stout with 25% ABV and the same viscosity as used 50W engine oil. That's a mistake.

Like many beerthusiasts, my a priori views of Lighthouse have been favourably changed by the surprising excellence of their "Small Brewery - Big Flavour" series, particularly Deckhand Saison. But, truth be told, I've always had a fondness for a few beers out of their lineup and this is one of them.

It's not what you'd call a big-bodied stout, although I'd really be interested to try a cask done on nitro for added creaminess and to keep the head from disappearing faster than the Celtic Tiger. As it is, there's plenty of nose, malts and a little lactic sourness on the palate and a crisp, dry, roasted finish that'll have you craving a second one.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Battle Royale No 5: The Hockey Drafts

Note: Of course, a thought to Japan. What you can do: Red Cross.

Here's truth: beer on tap tastes better. Thus it is that the rather serious folks over at the Journal of Food Science put down their clipboards and headed off to something like 70 pubs in 14 countries to track down the best-tasting Guinness in the world, and then found that it tastes best in Ireland.

Well, I could have told you that. If you're interested, it tastes best either in Temple Bar (although you'll be neck-deep in tourists), or in a little pub in a tiny town just South of Strabane that I can't remember the name of. It wasn't this one:
But I thought it was worth a mention anyway. Can I get a pint of Darkness!

More rambling (and ranting) about Guinness closer to St. Padraig's day, but let's have a good look at our current combatants.
On one hand, we have (left) the Gold-Medal Winning Red Racer IPA. It's already a champ, and might just be the best beer you can get in a can. Certainly it's a front-runner for hopheads seeking a sixer on the way home. How does it stand up on draft and without home-court advantage?

On the right, it's perennial home-town hero Driftwood with their Fat Tug IPA. Honestly, it's worth ordering it for the pardon-me-miss wink-wink nudge-nudge snap-snap grin-grin double entendre name, but it's a frankly excellent beer, and has firmly supplanted the no-longer available Hop Circle as the hockey-watching beer of choice down at The Beagle.

Ah yes, the Beagle. This great little neighbourhood pub is our beers' battleground tonight, and as well as the main event, it appears we have a little side-skirmish on ice: 'Nucks vs. Sharks. Eeexcellent.
(sigh: I really need to learn to use Photoshop.)
Central City Red Racer IPA vs. Driftwood Fat Tug IPA

First period: Fight!

Central City drops the gloves right after the faceoff with a smasher of Cascade hops. It's 1984, this beer is Dave Semenko, and you've just laminated Wayne Gretzky to the boards. Hope you enjoy the taste of broken face.

But Fat Tug is no whinging Kyle Wellwood. Right from the get-go, you can tell this is going to be a bench-clearer, as the Driftwood hits right back with citrusy, hoppy goodness.

'Nucks up by two, battling IPAs at One-All...

Second Period: Fight!

Both beers are out of the locker rooms after getting a pep talk from their head brewers, and having their knuckles taped up. Meanwhile, the Sharks take just over a minute to tie it up. This might go more than three periods. Hope me oul' liver can take it.

Body-wise, Red Racer has the edge. Or does it? It's certainly got a heavier malt and a denser feel to it, but it's paired nicely with a dry, dry finish that keeps you reaching for that next sip. It's a bruiser but a speed-skater too.

Only an idiot would call Fat Tug a lightweight, but it is certainly less heavy than the Racer. Mind you, that works in its favour. The citrus notes are enhanced to a degree, as though between two varieties of grapefruit, one tarter than the other. I'm just alternating sips here, back-and-forth, end-to-end. Nobody's playing the trap, both are going for broke.

'Nucks-Sharks 3-2, IPAs 2 each

Third Period: Fight!

It's down to the wire, but I still can't make my mind up. You'd think the Red Racer would overpower the Fat Tug because it is a bit heavier, but Tug comes from the guys who bring you Sartori and Singularity and old Cellar Dweller. They're CAMRA gold-medallists too, and the super-balanced nature of their IPA is hard to find fault with.

Everybody's tied up. IPAs and hockey teams.

This looks like just a crappy picture, but it's actually a rather accurate representation of my view of the screen right now. The thing about sessioning IPAs is that they don't tend to hold back, and both these enforcers are absolutely Bertuzzi'ing my frontal cortex.

But even with extra minutes, I've got to go to the shootout. So do the Canucks.


Okay, here's the thing. If I rolled into a pub in Vancouver, I'd be reaching for the Red Racer unless there was something missing on my untappd list. It's a huge IPA; an unconcussed Crosby I'd be happy to put up against the best that the Yanks have to offer. That means you Dogfish.
But I'm not in the Big Smoke. I'm in Victoria, and specifically, I'm in the Beagle, the place where Driftwood first rolled in a cask and essentially said, "we're here to brew great beers."

It's all down to the goal-tending, folks, and the home-team wins this one. On-screen, Cory Schneider does his best impression of a Pink Floyd Album, and I ain't talkin' Dark Side Of The Moon.

Fat Tug wins by decision. 'Nucks win by (quite frankly) luck.

Post-Battle Review:

Honestly, one this close could have been swayed by a food-pairing, or simply the mood you were in. It's like picking a Sedin: I'm just glad I wasn't at Christie's where Hop Circle gets thrown into the mix. Let me just put it this way: how killer is it that we've got both these breweries in BC, putting out some of the best beers in the world? I'd even say they were nearly as good as Dockside.

Driftwood Fat Tug IPA
Recommended if:
-that's what she said
-you want one of the best beers on tap. Period.
-you would consider
this counts as a cruise

Not Recommended if:
-you want to remain conscious into the 2nd OT
-like a rabbit with polio, you don't "do" hops
-you're at the tiller of the
Queen of Oak Bay

Red Racer IPA
Recommended if:
-you're near Central City Brewing. As in: within 500kms of it.
-you want one of the best beers on tap. Period.
-you're an '80s oiler fan

Not recommended if:
-you're a lager lout
-the pub you're in has just run out of it
-that's it, I'm out of reasons. Just order yourself a pint.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I'm back! Damn it.

Judging from the way my blog readership has dwindled over the past two weeks, I'd say that everybody's pretty sick of hearing about how great my Hawaiian vacay was. Well, here's the good news crab-bukkits, I'm back and I'm as grumpy, wet, cold and miserable as the rest of you. I just have a few more freckles is all.

At least, I hope that's why there's been a bit of a dip in readership. It could be that this is a backlash to my Czechvar diss, which seemed to inflame quite a few passions (I know, I know: I'm an idiot), or maybe the novelty of the Post-it Sou'wester has run its course. I hope not.

Brendan: "Well, I think I'll blog about a beer I like."

The Plain People Of The Internet: "Not good enough. Eat an entire baconjam-smeared honey ham now. Make a top hat out of butter and shoe-polish!"

Brendan: "Uh...actually, that doesn't sound like very much fun..."

The Plain People Of The Internet: "Drink five Singularities! Do a Battle Royale of Drano vs. Clorox! Drink toenail-clipping homebrew!"

Brendan: "Well, I'd really rather not, but..."

The Plain People Of The Internet: "WE DEMAND ENTERTAINMENT!! DANCE, MONKEY!!!"

Brendan: *dancing*

The Plain People Of The Internet: "What a crappy dancer. Let's go download pictures of the Molson Girls instead."

However, I'm choosing to believe that you're all just bored of sunny pictures, and would rather I get down to drinking some good local beer. Well, fine.
One of the things I was really excited to get back and try was Driftwood's Cuvee D'Hiver. I admit it, my French is a little rusty, but I've successfully translated this to mean: "Cuvee D'Hiver." It's a tasty little brew, crisp as anything, and I could really see drinking one after hauling a bloody stupid heavy-looking rake around all day in the Belgian sun. Is Belgium sunny? Well, whatever.

Hey Driftwood! Let's get a cask of this over in Victoria. You've shipped about five of them over to the big smoke, and while it's good to see craft beer making the rounds, let's not forget your loyal supporters down at the Beagle. Trust me guys, you don't want the Plain People riled up.

The other beer I was happy to get home to try is this.
It's another outta-the-park for Howe Sound Brewing, a big fat hoppy Imperial Ale. I love the lolburgers name (it even has "Turn around bright eyes!" in the side comments), but I love the chewy, nutty taste too, especially when you let it warm up a little. The little orange guy expresses it best.
I also have a Rockfish Red, but I'll crack that another day with a fishy-themed post.

Just one more thing here. Driftwood and Howe Sound are great breweries, right? Oh, I'm sorry. According to some random idiot, only one of them rates among the top 10 BC Breweries. Phillips? Nope, not on the list. R&B? No chance. CAMRA Gold-medallist Central City Brewing? Duuurrr, I din't know Surrey wuz in B.C.!

I'm not going to make a top-10 list. Quite frankly, I hate them. Part of the great fun of being a beerthusiast is the sheer variety of stuff there is to choose from. And what would you base the top 10 on? Number of different styles? Overall sales?

If pressed, let me just say that you couldn't put together any proper BC Brewery list without both Howe Sound and Driftwood, and putting Fernie Brewing on a list instead of Phillips or Crannog or Fat Cat or Central City or any number of others makes you a micro-brained, non-beer-drinking hack. And that's no slight against Fernie either. "Try 'em all, big and small" is what I'm saying. Worst case scenario: you'll get an Untappd badge out of it.