Prud’homme Beer Enthusiast, session 1

photo 1This was the first formal class in my beer education. I’ve been reading and drinking, but felt that a more structured framework at the beginning might be best for me.

That’s how I came to be stumbling around outside Great Lakes Brewery in the dark, looking for the door. It might be close to the lights of the highway, but their parking lot still gets pretty dark once they turn the store lights off. I bumped into a few other people in the course, and we found our way up to a space on the second floor.

Roger Mittag, the teacher, is both knowledgeable and engaging, so the time went quickly. Most of this first class was taken up by going over the ingredients and brewing steps. It felt like review after reading Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher, but repetition of  concepts is never a bad thing.

The last half hour was what I had been looking forward to the most – tasting concepts. It’s easy to read about aroma and taste, but so hard to put into practice without some guidance. What does banana, coriander or biscuit really smell or taste like in a beer? Expanding my knowledge about my palate and developing the language to describe it are going to be critical in this pursuit of a job in the beer industry.

I liked the group dynamic, being able to talk through the aromas and tastes. My notes on what we tried:

  1. Sleeman Cream Ale – Colour: golden, clear. Aroma: grape/wine. Flavour: low impact, slight biscuity/grain taste
  2. London Pride Pale Ale – Colour: clear honey, off-white foam. Aroma: toffee, apple, fig, honey. Flavour: low impact, slight nutty/grain taste, like grandma’s walnut bread.
  3. Guinness – Colour: black with ruby hints. Aroma: coffee, burnt oatmeal, molasses, smoke. Flavour: molasses, smokey campfire.
  4. Great Lakes Crazy Canuck – Colour: gold, hazy. Aroma: heavy citrus, pink grapefruit pith. Flavour: grapefruit peel. I had a real problem with this one. A sinus infection was making itself known and the headache was making me feel nauseous. It was all I could do get it down, between that and over-the-top (for me) grapefruit bitterness. It might be a while before I can drink anything like this again.

I took the transit home with two of my classmates, Jen from Ltd Supply Kitchen Brewery, a blog I’ve been reading for a while, and another Jen, this one from Beerlicious, the event group behind the Toronto Beer Festival and the Ontario Brewing Awards.

It was great to talk to women interested in beer as much as I am. I’m looking forward to more conversations.

Beer Day

Started my day with this announcement on Twitter:

 

1) Making Beer

Truthfully, I am not sure how this batch is going to turn out. You can only read so much about a new endeavour before you jump into it, but I think I would have benefitted from having someone experienced in home brewing on my speed-dial for the day. I tried not to over-think it, but that proved near impossible.

I made the White House honey ale that I ordered with the one-gallon brewing kit from TorontoBrewing.ca. It’s an all grain kit; I wonder if it would have been better to try an extract first.

It went great (or at least that’s what I’m telling myself). There were a few hiccups that have me questioning whether it will work or not.

  1. my thermometer broke. I was watching a bunch of YouTube videos, and a lot of the guys were using a cooking thermometer like this one that we used for our turkey, so I thought hey, why not. It would be easier to read and monitor than the glass mercury one that came with the kit. However, it went crazy at some point and now reads over 200F when at room temperature. Thankfully, I had the glass one to switch in, but I have no idea what happened before I did.
  2. there was no hot break. I drained the grain bag, turned up the heat under the kettle and waited, but got nothing even remotely resembling the pictures or videos I’ve seen. I did a quick Google search, and it doesn’t appear that it will wreck the batch, but I’m kind of disappointed to not see it.
  3. the stuff is boiling happily and it’s time to add the bittering hops with the finishing hops coming in after the hour-long boil. However, I have one package of hops. Cue over-thinking. Did I miss one when I opened the grain package? is it still in the grain bag? Yes, I did open the grain bag up and sift through the contents to find nothing. I did more Googling which confused me even more. Luckily, the guys at TorontoBrewing.ca answered their phone on a Sunday. “Use half now, half later.” Or at least I think that’s what he said. Hope so…that’s what I did anyway.
  4. I was very careful about sanitizing everything that came into contact with the post-boil liquid. Except, as I realize now, the thermometer that I used to check the temperature during the cool-down, the thermometer that I rested on the wet counter every single time. Sigh.

Now I wait.

2) Writing about beer

Ta da!

3) drinking beer

This Vanilla Porter from Mill Street is quickly becoming my go-to beer. And it goes really well with vanilla johnny cake.

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Fall Beer and Cider Fest

I’m going to have to revise my usual refrain of “I never win anything in contests”. Thanks to Canadian Beer News, I won two VIP tickets to the Fall Beer and Cider Fest at the Rhino!

I took my friend Daniel, and we set ourselves at the bar to try some beer and cider, talk technology and generally kill a Sunday in a wonderful way.

I started with the West Avenue Barrett Fuller’s Secret Bourbon-Barrel Aged Cider, and was very impressed. I’m not normally a big fan of ciders, but I did like the smooth warm notes that bourbon barrel imparted on it.  I moved to another warm spice taste, Granite’s The Chai Wallah Has A Moustache Oatmeal Stout. I don’t know if my tastes, or because it’s autumn, but I am really liking stouts and porters these days.

Next was Flying Monkey’s Rubus Acerbi American Wild Raspberry. This reminded me of the tart wild raspberries that grew behind the cottage we rented every year when I was a kid, where my friend Sandi and I would run wild for a few weeks and explore the edges of our world.

I followed this with another beer that seemed interesting, Beau’s Smoking Banana Peels Rauch Weissbier. I think the nicest thing I can say about it was that it was not to my taste. I got an aroma of smoked fish from it that I could just not get past. I tried the old smelly-cheese trick of holding your breath until I get a sip in my mouth to see if I could enjoy it without the smell overpowering me, but it was still too much. This interests me, as my friend Daniel also got the smoked fish, but other people I’ve spoken with had a totally different experience. I might re-visit this one again once I have a better understanding of my palate.

The last one of the night was the Nickel Brook Pie-Eyed Pumpkin Ale. I liked that the taste was more about the pumpkin and less about the pumpkin spice.

At this point we had to skedaddle and head to another event. A huge thanks to the Rhino for hosting, and for Canadian Beer News for the tickets! It was a great way to spend a Sunday!

Cask Days 2013

Cask Days 2013 is the first beer event I’ve gone to in about 8 years. The last one was at the Toronto Beer Festival when it was still at Old Fort York. I’d gone one year and had a great time with some friends tasting beer and enjoying the sunshine. The next year it should have been called Frat Boy Fest. I spent most of my time dodging drunken 20-somethings with 6-packs reconfigured as hats and avoiding the increasing puddles of sick as the afternoon went on.

I didn’t go again. To quote Danny Glover’s character in Lethal Weapon, I am too old for that shit.

Fast forward to now. I’d heard good things about Cask Days, and decided to try the casks on Saturday and volunteer on Sunday. I asked my beer-drinking friends if they wanted to join me for Session 1, but they all had plans. I’ll be honest, I was a bit uncomfortable at the thought of going on my own (yes, I’m a introvert with hermit-like tendencies), but I forced myself to go. I can only learn so much by sitting at home reading blogs on the internet. I printed out my tickets and a list of all the casks, highlighting those that  sounded interesting.

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I signed up for the First Access and Tasting session with Stephen Beaumont so I could get some guidance around the British casks that were on hand. It was worth every penny. I would have likely not tried any of these lovelies:

I didn’t take any notes at the Cask Days, a mistake I won’t make again. Middle-age memory is fickle. I enjoyed them all, but I do remember thinking that I enjoyed the Wells & Young Courage the most. Which is more than I thought I’d remember. You see, two of the cast members from my TV guilty pleasure, Lost Girl, were in the session as well. I found it hard to concentrate on the beer when I was busy trying not to act like a dorky fangirl in front of Kris Holden-Reid and Paul Amos.

I set out on my own after the session. I was quite happy to be on my own, as it allowed me to go where I wanted and be more open to random conversations. I talked to a Viking for a while, and ran into the Thirsty Wench who then introduced me to Nate Ferguson from the Brewmaster program at Niagara College. They introduced me to sour beers, and encouraged me to try the Storm Imperial Flanders, for which I will always be grateful. So delicious.

I found that asking people, “what’s the best beer you’ve tried so far?” was a perfect conversation starter. I soon abandoned my highlighted list, and tried many of the recommendations. I tasted a lot of novelty beers; Liberty Village’s Gummi Beer,  Grand River’s Beetifide Bohemian and Hockley’s Jaffa Cake all had interesting flavours at first sip but palled by the third or fourth. I met Cheezweezl and her husband by chance, and they directed me to the coffee goodness of Amsterdam’s Full City Double Tempest and its neighbour, Amsterdam’s El Jaguar, a chocolate chili stout that was so good I tweeted that I would marry it if I weren’t already married.

I ran into Andy, a former colleague, who has the same love of beer and punk rock as I do. Of course we would run into each other there. We compared notes and wondered what we would have to do to get the DJ to play more Clash.

Andy and I joking with the guys at the Quebec casks. Photo Credit: Connie Tsang (http://connietsangphotos.com)

The next day I volunteered and was working the Manitoba and Alberta casks. The day was still cold, but the rain held off, and the brief bursts of sunshine made the day wonderful. I had a chance to meet Ralph Morana of BarVolo and learn a bit about the proper care of a cask, and had a great time pouring the beer and talking to people.

I finished the weekend very impressed by the work and dedication of the Cask Days organizational team and the volunteers – it takes a lot of work to make these many pieces fall together effortlessly.

I can’t wait for next year.

A selection of beer tshirts that caught my eye.

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Found these in my pocket when I did laundry. Hopefully, I’ll remember where I stashed them when I head to Cask Days 2014.

The legend is black

You know what it’s like; I can’t be the only one to have experienced this. I was sitting in front of my computer, checking blogs or news stories, and I clicked a link to a YouTube video. I saw another related video in the sidebar that looks interesting, then another, and next thing I know, I’ve fallen down the YouTube Rabbit Hole.

And that’s when I saw this gem:

Man, that took me back. Black Label was my brand of beer from the time I started drinking beer at *cough* years old until sometime 1995 when I stopped drinking for a year.

It occurs to me now that I decided to drink Black Label not for what it was, but for what it wasn’t. And what it wasn’t was popular. Not at all.

I’d been going to parties and bringing Canadian or Blue, because that seemed to be the beer to bring to parties; the ads said so. However, I quickly got tired of bringing a twelve-pack, drinking two or three, and then finding the rest gone when I went for another, stolen by people who either never brought their own beer  or didn’t bring enough.

I switched to Black Label because I could bring a twelve-pack, drink five and still find seven in the fridge at the end of the night. I developed a taste for it. I got teased for drinking the “old man beer”, and responded that no, not even my dad would drink it.

Then I moved to Toronto, and partied in the punk/alternative scene where drinking Black Label was de rigueur. Whoever edited the Wikipedia page said it best:

… the tendency for people in alternative music bars on Queen Street West in Toronto to drink Black Label because it was cheap and as a way to dissociate themselves from mainstream people drinking mainstream beer.

It was short leap to cashing in on this. Advertisers created a series of print and tv ads with the slogan The Legend is Black. Everything was in black and white, with the only splash of colour being the red stripe in the label. It was successful ad campaign, but I’m not sure it helped them in the long run. Many of my friends stopped drinking it. Once something cool is marketed to the uncool, it becomes uncool by association. And so it goes.

I’d forgotten all about Black Label until I saw the YouTube video. When I re-introduced alcohol back into my life, it was with the motto drink less, but better. I started drinking different beers and cocktails. It became about the taste, not the inebriation.

I’d certainly forgotten about the ad campaign. I sat at my computer and watched them all. The Rooftop. The Beatnik. The Motorcycle, Flower Power and Forbidden Planet. While the Catacombs was closest to the scene I was in at the time, I think I liked the Forbidden Planet ad the best with all it’s 50’s pulp sci-fi silliness.

I should try Black Label again. Someday.