Cars, Craft, and Culture

Most of November was devoted to a major essay I posted on butter tarts history. I’m working with the editor of a food journal to have a referenced, expanded version in print early in 2019.

Currently I’m spending some extended time in south Florida. The car-dominant culture always makes an impression in the U.S. The whole way of living is built on it, certainly in endemic suburbia, in Canada too of course but nowhere is it more apparent than the south and southwest. Prolonged heat and a paucity of public transport make vehicles a necessity.

I’m not the first to say it, but it’s salutary to remind: the car and air-conditioning worked a social revolution here. Almost no one walks except to and from the car.

Jack Kerouac once said Americans have a characteristic lope from the way of walking on parking lots; it’s true.

Yesterday I did a two-hour jaunt through residential and light commercial Fort Lauderdale and didn’t pass another walker, not one. The only people I encountered were leaving or approaching vehicles. One or two were on bikes, but nothing to what you see in the urbanised north. Parts of Miami Beach and Miami are different, but the suburban pattern is widespread here.

Of course the areas are very attractive. It’s a way of life that, while earning the indifference or derision of some, is the envy of the world and has been emulated from Britain to Brisbane.

Even in my folk music phase in the 60s, shortlived as it was, I never bought into the jazz of “little boxes on the hillside, made of ticky-tacky”. My own family history disproved the proposition only too graphically.

Then too there is romantic truth, or exaggerating to make a point, and real truth.

I’ve purchased beer for four days straight here including in Total Wines, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, and ABC Wines and tasted pehaps a half-dozen.

I buy based on criteria important to me but probably opaque to many. Sometimes it’s 1970s classics such as the discovery of the trip so far, San Miguel Dark (Negra on the label), from Phillipines.

People say you can’t remember taste from 20 years ago, the only previous time I had it. It’s not true, it tastes exactly as I remember it, I think in Philadelphia. It’s no wonder a panel picked it as the top beer in a 1970s Business Week poll as mentioned by beer bard Michael Jackson.

I also buy for value, as it’s easy to find, say, of the 2,500 beers at Total Wines, something in the category you want at half the price of another. Take Bell’s Christmas Ale, a Scotch Ale going for just a couple of dollars; you can spend much more for similar beers. Ditto Anchor Brewing’s spiced Christmas beer also just out.

For 50 cents off you could buy Anchor’s 2017 edition, so I’ll have both to compare.

A six pack at Aldi of Wernesgruner, just eight weeks from packaging, tasted super-fresh and went for a song. A buck a beer, you know.

It had more grateful bitterness, in the finish, thank you, than most craft lagers I try day in day out.

But I will “spend” when I want to, I’ve long wanted to try the rum barrel version of Chimay Blue, the famous Trappist beer, so $25.00 later it’s in the bag. I’ll crack it with Dave Lee in Toronto when I get back in January.

And I bought a few craft beers in the higher price range just because I wanted to. Brewers are entitled to charge what they feel a beer is worth, and when I encounter a fine experience I am never sorry.

A Champagne Velvet lager from Upland Brewing in Indiana really impressed. An online review states it’s like Coors Light if made by a craft brewer which is kind of true, but the different slant makes all the difference.

All the flavour in the grains is preserved by the brewing attenuations of the 1930s and earlier, which I discussed in previous posts here.

A Baltimore IPA was really good too, Fast Faster and Disaster with every element in the cone. Cone, not zone. Fighter aircraft enthusiasts will get the reference from the Curtis-Wright P-40 on the hatgear.

After a couple of days with cap off in fridge I let it warm and it tasted like a high quality English cask beer…

I check out Budweiser too when in the States. The one I tried yesterday was terrible, the malt adjunct taste was unpleasant, and apart from that it tasted virtually like soda water.

The beer was much better in the 1970s as I well remember and beer writers of the time chronicled. What a comedown. A beer with a great history and heritage left to languish. The owner clearly focuses now on Stella Artois for the premium segment. Stella was better too decades ago, imo, but is still a decent quaff when fresh.

Finally, Guinness Extra Stout as currently imported from Dublin is a standout: rich, malty, bitter, everything a good porter should be. Many craft versions of stout and porter at around 5% abv fall quite short, but then taste is personal. We speak for our taste, here.

I’m meeting up with friend Gary Hodder at New Year’s in Naples and we’ll taste much of what I bought then. And if we run out I know where to get more, courtesy the amazing Total Wines.

Obs. The Mackeson stout is brewed in Florida by a long-established craft brewer, Florida Beer Co. in Cape Canaveral. Florida Beer was bought by the owners of Carib Brewery in Trinidad and Tobago a couple of years ago, and Carib has long brewed Mackeson under license. Hence the devolution to Florida Beer for the U.S. market. Ontario’s supply of Mackeson is still from Carib.





7 thoughts on “Cars, Craft, and Culture”

  1. Great job, Gary, someone among us has to do the unwanted task of cruising around in the Florida sun, tasting various beers and musing on the state of the world.

    I don’t/can’t drive so your comments on car culture resonate with me. My wife’s hometown of Melbourne VIC is similarly car oriented although public transport is not too bad. In London a car is a curse, not a blessing. It is my firm conviction never to drive a car in my life. So far so good.

    I always am interested in your views on ‘mainstream lagers’, especially because of your historical perspective. Your memory is a wonderful thing. Vey helpful.

    By contrast to your warm environs I have just got back myself from 3 days in Flanders/Vlaanderen. Oh yes. Xmas beers are in full effect. De Dolle Stille Nacht (a 2017 keg) on draft at Café Rose Red in Brugge made a strong impression of the highest quality.

    There is plenty of evidence in Belgium that the best brewers are consciously going ‘up-market’ and positioning their beer as a drink to challenge the finest wines and spirits – smart packaging of 75 and 150cl bottles and tap room upgrades are the obvious markers.

    The St Bernardus complex near Watou in West Vlaanderen is an astounding example – opened in the summer – glossy, confident and HUGE. We had a great lunch there, met the CEO and indulged in Xmas beer on draft and in purchasing magnums of Abt 12 (a very reasonable €16 – all vintages from 2012 onwards still available).

    A very happy day which (almost) made me forget about ‘the Brexit’.

    All the best, Gary, keep up the good work.

    • Thanks Ben, some very good counterpoint to what is happening here. Incidentally both regular and Xmas St. Bernardus are available here. The upmarket trend there is interesting and represents one difference I think with beer culture here which remains resolutely popular in nature. More soon on the blog in which I’ll reference some of your thoughts here.

      All best.


  2. I had always thought that Budweiser was a good American Lager but something changed after InBev bought them. It is clear they do not value the brand as they should.

    • I was very surprised at the current level of quality. Also, Michelob (plain original Mich, not Ultra, not light) is nowhere to be seen, not here anyway. I wonder if these have been de-emphasized to push Stella Artois more. Anyway, it’s a shame.

      • I see Stella Artois in the grocery stores around here, all the time. They are definitely promoting it. I just hate to see iconic brands that we grew up with degrades to such a degree.

  3. kind sir. if you try or see any hautey can you grab me some caps / crowns from the bottles. cheers. I will pay you for them. cheers

    • Dave, will do my best, I did see it somewhere, I know the brand. If I find it again I’ll send you a DM. All best.


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