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.

 

2 thoughts on “Pensées. Vol. 1.”

  1. I don’t know about Toronto, but where I live the neighborhoods that have mixed offices and retail/restaurants with a lot of residential have been strong, while areas designed purely for commuters have continued to struggle. This is true both downtown and in suburban office parks.

    Pure bars are hurting, especially if they can’t offer outdoor seating, but combination bar/restaurants in residential area seem to be doing solid business from takeout due to people working from home who no longer eat out before the commute home.

    Reply

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