My LCBO Wish List

Our provincially-controlled liquor distribution system in Ontario affords us a sizeable choice of domestic and imported beer. Added to this is the selection of the privately-owned, but government-supervised Beer Store network.

Then there are the shops connected to Ontario breweries, many of which now deliver their product to the doorstep. And of course beer on draft, domestic and some imported.

While some may, and evidently our government masters do, consider this enough choice for the people, there are still countless beers many would like to see here, that aren’t. Thousands potentially. If the system was completely privatized, then each merchant would decide what to import, following the wishes of their clientele or own predilections.

This system of course exists in many countries world-wide. It exists for many American states, but not all – some are “control” states, as in Canada*

The desirability of privatization is self-evident to me. While I will devote another blog post, sooner or later, to that issue, one thing I want to say here is, people often say our beer is remarkably cheap, on average, compared to that of free-market jurisdictions.

Even if that is true, it is a complex question, as some beer will be cheaper, some the same, some more under privatization. What is often forgotten too is that quality and choice are additional components of a free market system, independent of price considerations.

 

 

In a nutshell, I may be willing to pay more to get what I want, and in a free market, should have that option. Put differently, it is not the function of the state to assure cheap beer for the people. Indeed this is so for a number of reasons, not just economic.

But anyway I’ll leave that discussion in its full amplitude for another day.

Here are 16 beers I’d like to see in Ontario.

  1. San Miguel Dark Beer (Philippines)
  2. Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (Ireland. And other Guinness line extensions never available here)
  3. Klosterbrauerei Andechs Doppelbock Dunkel (Germany. Ditto extensions)
  4. Kernel Export India Porter (England)
  5. Adnams Tally Ho Barley Wine (England)
  6. New Albion Ale (and Porter) (U.S.)
  7. McDouglas Scotch Ale (Belgium)
  8. Carnegie Porter (Sweden)
  9. Sinebrychoff Porter (Finland)
  10. Anchor Porter (U.S., + extensions)
  11. Ridgeway Oxfordshire IPA (England, + extensions)
  12. Cristal Alken lager (Belgium)
  13. Traquair House Ale (Scotland)
  14. Worthington White Shield (England)
  15. Left Hand Brewing Milk Stout (U.S. Plus extensions)
  16. Newcastle Brown Ale (U.S.-brewed version)

This is just a sampling. It could be another 16 as easily. It could be focused just on Canada outside Ontario. Or just on U.S., Germany, U.K., etc. It could be …

*Alberta is a special case, which I’ll discuss anon.

 

 

 

Pensées. Vol. 1.

Introduction

There are things I wish to say in a shorter compass than the usual blog post or magazine/journal article, but longer than a Tweet. I intend to use this new format of pensées (thoughts or reflections) as a vehicle for these observations, musings, call them what you will.

They will cover beer, food, and spirits certainly. They may cover other topics: music, politics, languages, etymology, and more. So a real pot pourri, to stick with my French naming motif.

Browse the titles to choose what may interest, be it one, two or “all of the below”.

Beer bar Future

Max Morin wrote an article recently for The Growler exploring the future of the beer bar (meaning here not just any beer-dispensing bar, but one that chooses and serves beer with discernment). He works for Godspeed Brewery in Toronto (sales, communications) and does occasional journalism.

The point that most resonated with me was made by George Milbrandt, who has run the estimable C’est What on Front Street in Toronto for decades.

He noted that beer devotees will always want to congregate in person to drink, learn, and talk about their favourite beverage. Challenges there are, as he also noted, exacerbated by the lingering pandemic.

But the bar business has always gone through cycles of good and harder times, for a variety of reasons.  The beer bar existed before craft started 40 years ago – I have chronicled numerous examples in these pages. It is probably as old as beer itself.

Numerous beer bars proper, excluding that is brewery “taps” and brewpubs, continue in business in metro Toronto and beyond in Ontario, some for many years.  I needn’t recite the names, they are well-known to the Toronto beer crowd. Whether new ones will arise, only time can tell.

I will say, the true beer obsessive was never legion, in this country or any other. It is very much a quirky interest, catered to by a passel of often quirky bars – and breweries, to be sure. The beer specialty bar existed but was not fashionable when craft beer started. It became fashionable, to a degree, with time.

It may be less fashionable now, in part due to the very success of craft beer. With good beer ever-more-available outside the confines of the beer bar (see article cited), the beer specialty house ceases to be the prime focus for select beer.

Recede in the background it may – possibly – but the beer bar will always have an audience. It will be with us 10 years from now, 20, forever.

Dystopian Downtown

Walking through downtown Toronto as I have regularly since the pandemic began in March 2020, I am shocked by the changes wrought to life and living there. The many towers with their interconnected underground shopping complex, known as “the Path”, have been rendered virtually a ghost town.

When bars and restaurants were open, as periodically since start of the pandemic, things were more lively, but in a relative sense only.

The few people visible now downtown seem to comprise mainly private security personnel, construction and utilities workers, a few on-premises office workers, and homeless and derelict people. Sirens regularly sound through the “core”, as it is known.

It is not quite what I’ve read of parts of Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, but if something doesn’t change quickly it will get there. Very disturbing.

Only a full return to normal operating conditions can reverse this, in my view. It must come soon, as the future seems already compromised to a degree.

Pictured is my al fresco lunch today. The sunshine made eating in below zero temperature tolerable, for three minutes, I’d say.

 

 

Those Quebec Cheese Curds

Quebec makes cheese curds, fromage en grains, that are small pieces of young cheddar separated from their whey. Famously the curds “squeak” in the mouth, which is only when they are very fresh. I bought a couple of packs at a convenience store in Montreal’s Central Station when taking the train back to Toronto recently.

The packs are sold warm, on the counter, which may seem odd with a cheese product. The clerk told me they can be kept 24 hours that way but must be refrigerated after that. I can see why they are sold at room temp – the full flavour emerges that way.

 

 

This brand was particularly good. The taste was mild but delicious and for once with cheese, not too salty. One can see too how this is “the” cheese for poutine, the type originally used and still best for the concoction.

I’ve never found the same thing in Toronto but possibly it is available here (if anyone knows…). Presumably the U.K. must sell cheese curds – certainly in the past this was so as we know from ancestral nursery rhyme.

Since the British invented cheddar, still considered by some the best anywhere, their cheese curds must be, as they say, brilliant. But who knows?

Maple Sports Ale

This is another beer from Kingston, Ontario, a couple of hundred miles down icy Lake Ontario from where I write; there is quite a crop of breweries there now (apparently contracted in this case). The packaging is everyman-attuned. Sports are a mania here, as most places, especially the iconic hockey.

The firm like many crafts sprouted within the last five years, and the beer shown is their specialty. Very good it is! Barley-malt, hops, water, yeast – that’s it.

Promo released when the company started in 2017 stated the brew is an Anglo-Canadian hybrid, using English hops. This ties in to my taste impressions below.

Being all-malt no fancy doodads are added (not that anything is wrong with that, done right). And no pasteurization. Solid work, which almost certainly recalls the firm, flavourful Canadian ales of the mid-20th century, before blandified by adjuncts and low finishing gravity.

I also liked the fact that you can taste the estery notes contributed by the top-fermentation yeast. The website says red apple but I get more a soft fruit quality, not tropical but say peach, plum, grape.

So often beer people read or say that top-fermentation produces this effect but when was the last time you actually tasted it in an ale? Here you can.

 

Fracture Imperial India Pale Ale – Current Release

I included in an earlier post today some capsule comments on Fracture, the Imperial IPA from Amsterdam Brewery in Toronto. I want to enlarge on those here, as the beer deserves a fuller consideration considering its high quality and the anticipation with which the annual release is greeted.

Fracture was first released in 2013, as attested by a news item from Canadian Beer News. It is a limited annual edition, and appears in recent years in the colder season, as a kind of winter warmer.

It was first issued at 9% abv, which the latest release is as well, but sometimes has borne the statement 9.1% abv – the same for practical purposes. Each year the beer seems slightly different, which makes sense with such a specialty.

It retains the same general lines each year, but to connoisseurs differences may be noted which make the successive releases all the more of interest.

Speaking generally, I would say in earlier years a grapefruit flavour, from one or more “C hops” (Cascade, Citra, Centennial, etc.) tended to dominate the beer. There were other hop flavours as well, pineapple and lemon come to mind, but I recall the beer as dominated by a fresh grapefruit note.

The hops in totality were (and remain) intense but were always balanced by a good malt character. In the period when the yellow fruit-white pith taste dominated, it did in much regular IPA as well.

IPA from its beginnings, and I am generalizing to a degree, featured this taste, inherited from earlier American pale ales and avatars such as Anchor Brewing’s Liberty Ale (iconic Anchor in San Francisco). The Cascade hop was instrumental here, released in the early 1970s.

 

 

Recently though, in part powered by the New England IPA phenomenon and continual arrival of new hop types, other flavours in IPA now manifest. These are often described compendiously as “tropical” in taste, so papaya, mango, pineapple and more.

Peach and apricot can feature as well, also gooseberry – often noticeable in the Antipodes’ Nelson Sauvin, say, and the orange of Amarillo. And on it goes.

This year’s Fracture seems more driven, to my taste anyway, by a peach or apricot note especially in the finish. There is some grapefruit still as well, but not as dominant as I recall in earlier years. (Check in the online rating sites Beer Advocate or Ratebeer and the term grapefruit regularly appears in earlier reviews).

Fracture is not a special form of New England IPA, I am not sure it is of West Coast IPA either as much of this style relied on caramel malt and often a dank note in the hops, dank and/or pine.

I don’t get dank or pine in Fracture, as it is now certainly, or a caramel sweetness. Fracture at this stage strikes me as a 19th century English pale ale type except built on 21st century hops and made extra-strong.

As to yeast, I can taste yeast in the background, but it seems not to obtrude in the palate. I sense no metallic notes as some British yeasts can demonstrate. I suspect a clean-tasting California yeast was used, which would fit the fresh burst of fruit flavours and rich but uncomplicated pale malt character.

In sum, the current version cements the beer’s status as a strong ale classic of the craft beer movement.

There is a lot of hopping in this beer, and some fine malt. But it is the way they are chosen and combined that makes all the difference between a good, middling, and superlative product. In my view Fracture is the last, superlative, as both its history but especially the current version make clear.

 

 

 

Miscellany of Beer Reviews, January 2022

Some quick notes Gatling-style on beers I haven’t mentioned on Twitter, or only summarily:

Duvel 666. One of the line extensions in recent years from Duvel (Moortgat) in Belgium. A famous golden ale, the bigger brother has an evident imprint in this lighter version (6.66% abv, with a revised hop bill).

To us, the Belgian yeast character dominates both. I call it clove, beer reviews in the rating sites state that as well, plus coriander, pepper, orange. I don’t get much hop character under the yeast, personally, and it appears no spices are added by the brewery. See its page on the beer. A point in its favour is dry-hopping (perhaps some character lifts off with export).

Body light and carbonic. Overrated in my view, as the bigger bro.

Kertsmis Bier, Amsterdam Brewery, Toronto. Described as a “Belgian Dark Ale”, at 10.5% abv. Revival of a brand dating from early 2000s (at least) although different in make-up then. Spices in recipe, see brewery page for description. Nice claret colour, the clove from the (presumed) Belgian yeast fits in well. Similar in style, I would say, to Belgian St-Feuillien Christmas Beer.  Any fan of Belgian ales will admire, but we are not fans of the Belgian yeast character.**

Ecossaise. Scottish-style beer from Alchimiste in Joliette, Quebec, a craft running for some 20 years now. Lightly aromatic, caramel-toned malt, possibly a light peated addition. An interesting acerbic tang, not sour but forecloses the malt richness many beers in this style have. 5.8% abv. See brewery page. Good effort, but not stellar, imo.

Guinness Extra Stout, Canadian licensed version. Interestingly, despite being brewed by the Labatt unit of AB InBev, this beer seems to change slightly from time to time – perhaps any beer does, made anywhere. (Quality control is less of a science than many are led to believe). This brew seems drier than the last batch I tasted with a more assertive roast malt character. The yeast background seems similar though to Irish Guinness which lends a largely uniform stamp (i.e., an experienced taster would see the Guinness signature). Still solid.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Classic early craft lager, exported here probably from Pennsylvania (label states brewed there or in Boston). Although I was just talking about seeming variations in established beers, this brew retains to a remarkable degree its character from the very first bottles all those years ago. A characteristic firmness from the yeast, and interesting hop smack – German with a twist, I’d say – are evident. Retains its darkish, Vienna-lager cast. See brewery page for more.

Trooper, Robinson’s, UK. British premium ale or bitter, 4.8% abv. The Bruce Dickinson (of Iron Maiden) collab with old-school brewer Robinson’s. Light body, decent hop character with a lemon citric emphasis. Some New World hop in there with Golding I understand. Reminded me of Meantime London Pale Ale in its relative mildness, but latter more craft-like. A good option for macro lager drinkers, as a transition brew. I’m sure it has many devotees in general, but not for me.

Spearhead Brewery Oatmeal Cream Ale, from Spearhead Brewing Company, Kingston, Ontario. I mentioned this on Twitter yesterday but will add here, the hop taste to my mind is on a trad UK vector. Combined with the rich malty character, almost like a top English special bitter.  Uses some unmalted grains per label but at no cost to the malty character. See Canadian Brewing News entry for more information.

Hop Valley Bubble Stash IPA Cryo Hops. From a unit of Molson-Coors, brewed at Creemore Brewery in Ontario. The hop is Mosaic and the concentrated effect of the cryo(genic) processing format is to lend an intense but clean, natural hop character, no doubt assisted by the specific hopping regime.*** Balanced by good sweet malt. Great effort, great beer, enough said.

Fracture Imperial IPA. From Amsterdam Brewing (see its site above in entry for Kertsmis Bier). 9% abv. Double dry-hopped for a very full yet clean hop character. Good malt sweetness to balance. This is a classic strong ale of the craft renaissance. At its most refined (a relative term) this year, New World hop character shines while eliding the feisty grapefruit tones of earlier years.*

*A welcome note of peach seems in lieu. Our next post discusses Fracture at greater length.

**Or more precisely, its uniformity and ubiquity in the market as I’ve gleaned it.

***For the lowdown on cryo hops, the latest form of lupulin-enhanced hops, see this recent article in Hop Culture.

Chimay Trappist Beer Today

I have written about Chimay numerous times, including for its strength in the 19th century, and all-malt character c. 1970.

The remarks below were composed a few months ago but I hadn’t gotten around to polishing it for publication, until today.

I am sampling Chimay Rouge, or red cap, still the best-known Trappist beer anywhere. Its fame was launched outside tiny connoisseur circles in Belgium and Holland by Michael Jackson’s 1977 The World Guide to Beer (Briton Jackson, the famous beer writer, 1942-2007).

Chimay, of all the Trappist beers and indeed all the Belgian beers, had an outsize influence in forming attitudes to Belgian beer in craft brewing circles between, say, 1980 and 2000.

The story of cloistered monks and brewing, for Chimay and other monastic brewers, was hard to resist. The beers’ distinctive character helped a lot too.

My history with Chimay started long before this blog inaugurated in 2015. My first Chimay was in a stone-flagged bar in Montreal, Quebec around 1980, served in the stemmed “chalice” long associated with the brand.

I was in Vieux Montréal, the oldest part of the city whose mix of old French and Victorian British architecture contrived to offer a “European” atmosphere (still does).

I still recall the perfumey, sweetish taste, which the beer (all labels) retains to this day. I visited the brewery’s taproom once, a pilgrimage well-worth making even if, as most, you won’t get into the monastery or brewhouse.

The beers were extra-good onsite, of course. The one thing they seemed to have over exported bottles was an extra-hoppy note, but otherwise it was the same Chimay.

Around me was a troop of ruddy, blue-smocked farmers, in from the green paysage surrounding, downing 7% abv beer like nobody’s business. Many preferred the white cap (Triple), I noticed.

A Belgian beer bar can be a hushed experience with classical music accompanying decorous sipping. The Chimay tap was anything but, that day, bustling and loud, monastery aside or no.

I feel, and I don’t think I’m alone, that the three main labels, red, blue, and white, went through a rough patch for quite a few years after the brewhouse was re-designed in the 1990s. Some speculate the yeast behaved differently in the new equipment.

The beers for a long time seemed yeasty with strong banana and phenolic notes – rather harsh in sum. The winey, blackcurrant note Michael Jackson lauded in his early books seemed all but lost. But lately the beers are much improved, to my mind certainly.

The red, in particular, reminds me of that first Chimay in Montreal 40 years ago. It is worthy of the Chimay name. Some readers know later iterations of Chimay: the Blue aged in a rum barrel, the spicy Gold label, maybe even the new Green label released last summer (haven’t tried it yet).

All Chimay is good and its sales do good work for the fathers’ mission. Nowadays when many types of businesses, not just breweries, promote social goals, it is well to remember that Chimay of Scourmont, with other abbey brewers, set the pattern – to the max.

That is a satisfaction that comes along with a taste produced since the 19th century, whether religion is your thing or not.

Pictured below is a handsome presentation of Chimay blue label. I took the photo in 2019 in Boulogne, France.

 

 

 

Porter and Paignton

The Taste of Café

The taste of any food or drink can evoke an endless series of impressions, allusions, feelings. They vary widely, too, since tasting is by definition personal. And everyone has, needless to say, a personal history.

As regimented as modern life can be, enforced to a degree by social institutions – not least social media of 2021 – everyone is rooted in a different history. Different family life, social-economic level, ethnic/national origin, education, and on it goes.

While tasting vocabulary for wine and beer has been standardized to a degree, this can never be a perfect system, nor should it. To communicate effectively, a core vocabulary has developed understood by initiates. A Rhone wine touched by “animal”, a beer touched by Brettanomyces, disclose a telltale barnyard scent.

Similarly, a “mineral” note in hops, or a gunflint taste in French white wine, convey meaningful data to the informed reader.

That said, much room is left to the personal again, for what taste discloses in a way so unique to the taster few or no others can twig to it.

An example results from a recent YouTube video, where an Englishman reviews a beer, Black Sheep Milk Stout. I posted another video by this person before, his channel bears the wry name “I’ve had Worse”.

He is always interesting to listen to, as he knows beer well but has no pretentions to technical knowledge. He has an easygoing, friendly manner, characteristic of many English people in my experience, or perhaps more a certain generation.*

The person filming, probably his domestic partner, throws in a comment or two that adds to the fun.

 

 

While I have not had this beer, his review conveys much good information. He finds the body somewhat light, which causes consternation. Earlier, he knew only Mackeson Stout, which he seems clearly to prefer. Also, the carbonation seems wrong to him, like the kind when jam starts to turn, he says.

Personally, I like this kind of “prickly” carbonation, which some cask beer has, but it is not to his taste clearly. These remarks, again, convey much to his audience (specialized or not) but then he hits one to left field.

He says the coffee note in the beer reminds him of a café in Paignton, when visiting his grandmother who lived in the town. Paignton is on the coast of Devon, a resort popular enough to earn the sobriquet English Riviera.

This beer from a northern brewer evoked for him the “lashing sea” and odours from a café on the beach. As he also noted “vanilla” in the beer, I don’t rule out that wayward draughts from confectionary and pub doorways contributed to his impression.

The beer was, of a sort, his Proustian madeleine. The taste of an English milk stout contrived, finally, to evoke a complex, highly personal association.

You can’t beat that. I’ve never been to Paignton. Even if I had, his experience is probably unique to himself. If a band of beer experts congregated in Paignton for a parley, it is doubtful any one would come up with that specific analogy.

It is his indelible personal history and experience that deliver a unique taste impression. I can’t confirm it, or of course disagree, but am fascinated to hear the record of it.

*Think also jaunty, cheerful.

Note re image: sourced from Wikipedia entry on Paignton linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed,

 

 

 

Creemore Discovery Series Imperial Stout

Creemore Batch on Victoria Street in Toronto, currently closed, was a brewpub of craft-style Creemore Brewery, long owned as many know by the mega-brewer Molson-Coors Beverage Co.

Creemore lager and its line extensions, as well as various ales and dark beers, have been brewed either in Creemore, Ontario, the small-town home of Creemore Brewery, or at Batch in Toronto when it operated.

The winter before Covid-19 got legs in March 2020 an Imperial Porter Winter Warmer was brewed at Batch, 8.6% abv according to its Ratebeer listing.

At the end of last year, Creemore released an Imperial Stout at 8.3% abv. I’d think the two beers are related in recipe, as they taste quite similar: silky, with a fine bitterness and chocolate overtones.

Creemore calls the new beer New World Style, but I don’t see that: there is no citric or tropical hop taste, more a classic, flinty-stone hopping that dances on the tongue in the aftertaste.

There are no fruited or other additions, such as coffee or cocoa, to suggest a New World influence.

However, I was slightly let down by the beer. While high quality in ingredients and the brewing itself, the total flavour impact is quite restrained, at least drunk cold from the fridge (I’ll try it again at room temperature).

To my mind, a beer even at this strength – an export or double stout style in old terms – should show more taste impact. Possibly the idea was not to offend customers, not to offer anything full-bore.

But I’ve had many porters at 5-6% abv with more taste impact than this beer. If the same flavours in the beer now were simply boosted, say by 20%, the beer would be outstanding.

For its part, the Creemore line (lager, pilsener, kolsch, etc.) has retained full flavour characteristics. Indeed as I recall it, the Imperial Porter Winter Warmer was more assertive than this Imperial Stout.

So it is not as if the brewery is chary to make its beers full-tasted, but for whatever reason, that is not the case here, as I see it.

 

Rum Reverie

It is the rainy season currently in Fiji Islands, where the rum shown was made, but much warmer than right now in Toronto! It is produced from Fijian sugar cane by a local distillery, Rum Co. of Fiji, and bottled by Maison Ferrand, the famous Cognac house of France.

The rum receives two years aging in Fiji, in bourbon casks. Thence it sails to France, through rocking warm seas, where Ferrand applies further aging in French oak.

The result is full of flavour – flowers, spice, grasses – with an evident heavy or pot still, if you will, component. More specifically, it is evident the rum, or a portion, is distilled to a relatively low proof, like bourbon, brandy, tequila, and malt whisky, hence retaining values from the fermentable material used.

Plantation is the name of a line of rums marketed by Ferrand. Others available in Ontario originate in Jamaica and Barbados.

Quality stuff here, and fairly priced too considering what spirits can fetch these days.

 

 

Good raw materials. Distilling expertise in distant Melanesia. French finesse at batch selection and maturation. All contrive to make a grateful drink, one appreciated by your writer, certainly, perhaps more so in these troubling times.

Somehow, finally, our winter sunshine, evanescent may it be, complements the sunny character of the rum as it goes down.

Pub ale or pub Bitter?

Just Make it Proper

There has been discussion on social media recently about a pub ale phenomenon, well, brewing in the United States. Some say a trend is manifest to sell an English-style, lower gravity (c. 4%) ale as “pub ale”. Some feel the term will be used to describe a pub’s basic ale offering, whether an English brewing approach is followed or not.

If the trend centres on an all-English malt and hopped brew I’m all for it, but I’ve had too many tepid examples – including in the U.K. – to be much excited.

I don’t mind the low ABV, but too many such beers show excessive caution both for hopping level and final gravity.* One may think this odd given the vigorous hopping evident in IPA over the years including in West Coast, latter-day East Coast, and Black IPA, but the idea is widespread in craft culture here that traditional English beer is “mild” in taste.

This idea derives, in fairness, from modern-day English brewing particularly export “keg” examples (filtered, pasteurised) and bottled or canned UK beer, which is a form of keg beer. This reflects to be a sure a world-wide trend in industrial brewing to reduce hop levels, which craft brewing has only partially corrected.

So all to say, if the trend bruited results in hopping with an eye more to historical levels, especially 19th and early 20th century, and finishing to a gravity where you can taste the malts, I’m in favour. I’ve called for it repeatedly over the years in these pages, most recently a few months ago.

On the marketing level, a discussion continues why the term bitter and its variants such as special bitter need replacement by euphemistic formulations such as “pub ale”. Once again the UK has lead the way with its “amber ale” phenomenon: most of the old-line bitter-labeled brands have been replaced by amber formulations.

(This is not quite the same as the anodyne “pub ale”, as “amber ale” or “amber beer” have a long, intermittent history in British brewing usage, but it’s broadly the same issue).

Certainly in export markets, British brewers were alert early on to attune names to market expectations. Boddington’s Pub Ale, a good seller in many markets is a stronger version of Boddington’s Bitter marketed for export since 1993.

Back in the 1980s the now defunct regional brewer Greenall Whitley sold a Cheshire English Pub Beer in the U.S. I recall it especially in the Northeastern market.

My recollection is of a good solid brew, yet I notice in his 1982 The Pocket Guide to Beer, legendary beer author Michael Jackson gave it a low score, adding the beer “has little to do with the resonance of its name”.

In the recess of my mind, something suggests the Cheshire English Pub Beer may have been a lager, but I cannot find any substantiation. I suspect Jackson wrote up the beer in the also-now-defunct U.S. beer magazine All About Beer, but its archive is no longer extant, or at least publicly available I understand.

Certainly in the 1980s Greenall’s marketed an ale as such in the U.S., Chester Golden Ale. It is mentioned in the 1988 Analysis of Beer prepared for assay purposes by the State of Connecticut. The Cheshire English Pub Beer is there too.

 

 

Were these the same beer, differently branded? Their abv was not quite the same. The Golden Ale was 5.43%, the English Pub Beer 5%. They may have been different ales, or the same with the Pub Beer lowered to 5% abv for that branding.

Or possibly again, the Pub Beer may have been a lager, a version of cleverly-named Grünhalle Lager, brewed by Warrington-based Greenall’s at the time. The self-descriptive Beer-Coasters site has a fine collection of Grünhalle labels and coasters.

Included is an amusing series in comedic pidgin (Germanified) English. Either way, lager or ale, the Cheshire English Pub beer had a fine, evocative label, as you see in this Untappd page.

It sold plenty of units, I recall seeing the beer for years in specialty retailers. I’d buy it again just for the label, pace St. Michael of beer writing.

Whether pub bitter, pub ale, pub beer, is down to marketing needs. I defer to the business call of the brewers on that. Just make it taste right, proper, if you will.

*Often too low, for my taste.

 

 

 

 

Dry January

The Long Hand of Max Weber?

A few words on Dry January, the movement to encourage abstinence from alcohol in January. I don’t practice it, personally. Sometimes I go for periods during the year without booze, and seem to manage fine. I don’t see the need to designate January for this.

I am all for it, for those who wish to do it. Anyone with a in-depth interest in alcohol has to be mindful (especially) not to overdo it. I feel I always have, or at least in my way I have. Getting older helps, simply because for many of us a built-in limitation kicks in.

A pint of beer is fine these days, two occasionally, but never more. It is just too much to digest beyond that. Somewhat in tune with this, in 2021 Dry January seems led by craft beer devotees, and no doubt their counterparts in wine and food generally.*

There is a good irony in that 30 years ago when lawyering on Bay Street in Toronto, I noticed that skipping alcohol in January was the not infrequent practice of an upper echelon.

I cannot recall any popular movement then to ape that custom. There was no advice in newspapers or other media to stow away the booze for dark January.

The elite did it to counter the Holiday over-indulgence, probably a facet of the old Protestant ethic still extant then. It was a counter also to the freewheeling, postwar martini culture, itself a reaction to Prohibition rectitude. (The cycle goes on forever).

I remember at the time some called it the “white month”, apparently after a Scandinavian term for a period on the wagon.

Forsaking booze for January showed where your priorities lay, finally. Over the years, the upper class habit percolated down to hipster circles, as not a few other fashions in food, wine, travel, and clothes. Parental influence undoubtedly played a big part in this.

Many keynote figures associated with wine and gastronomy have lived into their 90s. Some were lucky, some reached that exalted stage through lifestyle management.

That a drinking culture inherently harbors the spirit of abandon cannot be denied, but the less is more ethic proves its worth to many involved in the field.

You can have your pastry stout and drink it too, if you manage it right.

N.B. First link in text is to Wikipedia’s entry “The Protestant Ethic and Capitalism”. The second is to a recent article in Hop Culture.

*I elaborate in the Comments.