Did You Miss Us?

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I’ve done a really bad job of documenting our beer endeavours lately. The good news is, we haven’t been drinking any less beer! But if blogging was like taking care of a plant or something, this flower would surely have croaked by now. So I’m sorry or whatever.

I could give you a detailed account of why Pat and I don’t get around to posting very much on this ol’ thing, but who cares and also chill out. Chilling out is exactly what we were just doing when we drank this yummy sour Farmhouse ale from Jolly Pumpkin. (Crazy internet troll critics aside) this brewery really can do no wrong.

Lately life has been all about work, and work is all about brewing beer, so when we go to sleep at night it’s just visions of fermentors (and sometimes exploding ones in my nightmares) that dance in our heads. It’s really nice to be so invested and enveloped in work that’s creative, interesting, and challenging. But honest to God, I don’t go on the internet to read about how great things are going for people so I’ll put a cork in it.

I go on the internet to see pictures of Kim Kardashian ballooning up, or GIFs of kids falling on skateboards, or to watch weird Japanese cooking shows on Youtube hosted by toy poodles.

So I present you with these gifts, that I assure you will just be the first of many in our much anticipated* return to the world wide fucking web.

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The Kardashians with some gifts from work. The other two should be pretty self-explanatory.

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*by my parents

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The Ol’ Pepsi Taste Challenge

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A few days ago at the bar a patron said to me, “You guys are selling Westy 12, eh. You know that’s the best beer in the world?” I gave him a diplomatic response, outlining both my understanding that it is very highly rated on forums like RateBeer and BeerAdvocate, but also that it’s lack of availability is surely reason for it’s lauded reputation, and lastly, that many of the beers I’ve tried in my relatively short career as a beer lover have more than trumped (in my humblest of opinions) the Westvleteren 12. Also, I said, like anything else in this world, people tend to qualify things as ‘best’ or ‘worst’ based solely on their own highly subjective preferences. He looked a little disappointed.

For a while now we’ve been meaning to do a blind tasting with the Westy 12, not so much to dispel it’s reputation or claims of superiority, but rather to test our own feelings about where it stands in the grand line up of good beers. Last week Patrick and I, along with our friend Billy, set up a vertical tasting of the Westvleteren 12, St. Bernardus Abt 12, and the Rochefort 10 to see what we thought. Beforehand, as we discussed quite literally our objectives for this whole charade, we came to the consensus that our goal wasn’t to try to single out the Westy. All we wanted to do was discover, without our observations being clouded by each others opinions or arbitrary internet rankings, what beer we thought tasted the best. Also, what beer would we like to fill a pool with and complete 40 lengths doing the butterfly?

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The process was pretty hilariously technical and secretive, as we took steps to ensure nobody would know which beers they were drinking until the reveal. Each beer had a folded up piece of paper taped to the bottom (that wasn’t see-through!) with the name of the beer that glass contained.

Right off the bat it was clear that each had its own distinctive aroma. There was a tart one, a chocolatey one, and then the last was decidedly less intense in all respects. As we sipped we started to realize that despite the marked differences, they were all very very similar (duh). After hemming and hawing I pushed one glass forward.

That’s my favourite, I said with conviction. Billy and Pat looked up from the depths of concentration and together we stared at the ounce or so left in the glass. Pat, pushed his choice forward, and then Billy.

And next came the fun part: The Reveal!

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St. Bernardus for the win, Westvleteren got the shiny silver medal, and Rochefort was definitely last. We all agreed that our first place choices won only marginally over second, but felt our choices sway once we realized which one was which (hence the point of drinking blind!).

All in all it was a fun way to drink beer, and a lesson in how to make your beer #1.

Next week, Coors Light vs. Club Soda. Is there a difference?

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here you go mom, a picture of his mohawk

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If the bat-shit crazy squirrels in our backyard or my growing obsession with former governor Arnold Swarzenegger (I NEED HIS NEW BOOK) are any indication, things have really been taking a turn for the loopy. Patrick and I are always promising ourselves that we’ll blog more, or start going to bed earlier, or fool our dull brains into thinking that kale is as good as potato chips — and yet, unless you really try, I’ve realized that life just tends towards the same old. So change is hard and here I am trying to make sure that we say hello to the internet a little more frequently.

But seriously guys, I’m fucking tired of kale.

I was talking to some fellow beer lovers last night about the sickness of hoarding. Though you don’t have to worry about busting into our apartment with a camera crew to find me rocking back and forth clutching a receipt for q-tips from 1998, we do have a stash of ‘special’ beer that sometimes can feel like a weight. I know that sounds snotty to say, but the problem is that when you (or the internet nerds) hype a beer up so much, you start to believe that no tangible Friday night will ever be worthy of such a bottle. But wait, what about birthdays or anniversaries? Well, is it an important birthday? Are you celebrating your anniversary on the very tip of the CN tower? IS YOUR THROAT LINED WITH GOLD IN PREPARATION FOR THIS DIVINE LIBATION?!? If you answered no to any of those, then perhaps you should just pick something up from the LCBO.

The beer in this post is not really even in the higher echelon of ‘special beers’, and yet I’ve never seen it before or since we bought it in New York, and it was especially delicious. So there.

This strange smoked red ale with juniper berries from Norway is supposed to be a take on a classic farm style that was brewed in the presence of wood stoves, inevitably imparting smokey flavours. I hated the first rauchbier I ever tasted, but have found lately that I gravitate to smoked beers and enjoy the savoury qualities so much.

This one in particular had lots of chunky bits and residue on the lid, but we decanted it the best we could and sipped on the smokey goodness. I can’t say that I tasted any juniper berries, but the general woodsy and toasty malt campfire flavours were totally delicious.

I’m glad we drank this and I’m glad that it didn’t taste disgusting after months of it just sitting and waiting for a special occasion. However, I must admit that since downing it we have bought, in two different countries, another 30 bottles or so — so don’t come patting me on the back about drinking the stash.

We are still very very sick people.

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Pantsing The Wolf (Los Tres Floydes) (Patrick Made Me Write Both Those Titles)

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This is a pretty epic beer to make a comeback with — and by comeback I mean sheepish post to say, I’m sorry we haven’t put anything up on this durn blog for so long. Our excuse is like everyone else’s, We were busy! And our jobs! Also we moved! It’s raining today! I don’t know. Work with me here…

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So The Arctic Panzer Wolf, a rare and endangered breed of beast that roams the frigid taigas of the north, surviving on fresh hop flowers and barley porridge, and eventually gives birth to little bottles of Imperial IPA that somehow find their way to my heart. This was actually the first post we’ve done in our new apartment, but we were scrambling to take pictures in the last minutes of daylight before the sun went down because we wasted time on the way home from work eating half priced wings.

The beer was a beautiful amber colour with moderate haze. Lots of marmeladey orange flavour and tons of bitterness against a strong malty/barley wine background.

It paired pretty well with the white nectarine I ate, despite believing that I could fit nothing more in my stomach after the wings. Perhaps I am a rare form of beast too?

Cheers to our new place and busy job and beers with names that sound like computer games!

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Pining For Beer

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A few mornings ago Patrick and I escaped to Algonquin to enjoy the simple sights and sounds of the forest. Because he’s like MacGyver, and could literally survive with some tin foil and a bobby pin, I wasn’t worried about my safety in the slightest — though I did still scream when I saw a snake. In defense of my street cred, I did pick up the wasp that was stinging me and hurtle it at the ground. So there’s that…

We saw a blue frog and a green moth and lots of butterflies (eating shit). I have about 50 mosquito bites while Patrick probably only has 3, so that means I win. We went swimming in Maggie lake, hiked about 24 km, and got to watch a very quiet sunset.

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On our drive home we talked a lot about what we’d like to eat upon our return to the city, and unanimously decided upon Mother India roti (curry chicken and saag paneer to be exact). We walked in the door and cracked open a beer and I felt like a million bucks.

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The Ruination IPA was super piney, with very little citrus fruit, and a decent malt presence. As I’ve written about before, I tend to like my IPAs pretty grapefruit-y and citrusy, but like most enjoyable events in life, satisfaction is really circumstantial. A deliciously cold, bitter, effervescent beer after long hot days in the wilderness — who could ask for more?

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Buffalo Mozzarella, NY

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Realizing that we had two days off in a row on both our work schedules, Patrick and I recently made a quick trip down to Buffalo. We had considered escaping to a beautiful place like Niagara-on-the-lake or going on a drive through rural southern Ontario, but our need for beer won out so upstate New York it was.

Even though people like to criticize Buffalo for being a bit of a dump, I thought all the old buildings and churches were quite beautiful. It’s strange, though, how many houses and warehouses are abandoned and all boarded up. I kept on asking Patrick if everything felt so different because we were in the US, or because I was telling myself, we’re in AMERICA! In a lot of ways, I find that whenever I end up in the states it feels a bit like the twilight zone — everything looks familiar and I understand the social queues more or less, but some intangible quality seems slightly off.

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At any rate, after taking pictures of ‘imported’ Labatt Blue signs and foggy steeples, we managed to arrive at Premier Gourmet in the final days of its big moving sale. On one hand this was fortuitous, as everything was marked 20% off, on the other hand, much of the selection had been picked over…Admittedly, the variety was still awe-inducing for us, so we shopped til we dropped and tried to push past our dangerously high heart palpitations.

Between PG and Village Beer Merchant we dropped a decent amount of dough, and then headed out to a few bars and restaurants in an effort to eat until we hated ourselves. At “Fat Bob’s” I asked how big the portions were and the waitress assured me that they “weren’t named Skinny Bob’s”, so we shared one behemoth pulled pork sandwich with a side of macaroni and cheese swimming leisurely in oil. I should mention at this point that the one night, I repeat the ONE NIGHT we are in Buffalo with the chance to try Dogfish head and the like on tap, I had a head cold and congestion so bad I literally couldn’t taste a thing. I couldn’t smell or taste and each time I ordered a beer Patrick had to explain the aromatics and flavours. It was sort of heartbreaking. Each one was like a fine alcoholic club soda…

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I think it’ll be nice to return to Buffalo when the new and improved Premier Gourmet is up and running, and when we’re living a lot closer (Niagara). God knows if Ontario will ever have a private liquor store with that kind of beer selection, but until then, my pagan pilgrimages will be made to “The City of Good Neighbours" where people call ‘hoppy’ beers, ‘haappy’.

And aren’t we all ‘haappy’ when drinking hoppy beers?

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On Eating Humble Pie

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I will admit that when we first started homebrewing I found the process fairly confounding. It’s not that I couldn’t wrap my head around the basic principles of fermentation — the combination of active yeast and sugary treats for said yeast — or that I didn’t enjoy the undertaking, simply that I found it difficult to differentiate between significant and insignificant steps in the affair. With no scientific background (save the two intensive years of highschool chemistry with an ice-queen teacher so terrifying I still have nightmares about her…) I was forced to approach things with the attitude I’ve come to adopt in life generally, one characterized by the fact that everything matters. This is not always the smartest approach.

All this to say we’re not suddenly experts, nor is the process a breeze, but things have become considerably easier, and with each new brew we learn an immense amount of practical knowledge. Almost hilariously now, when we begin a brew day we laugh at the previous one, making fun of how much it sucked when we did that sucky thing! Or many sucky things!

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For example, we now have a malt mill so that Patrick isn’t forced to fill Ziploc bags with grain and crush it with an Erdinger bottle employing a rolling pin motion. We also ‘filter’ the beer before it goes into primary so that if we do decide to rack to secondary, the wand doesn’t constantly get plugged up with the swamp muck/bog water/sludge monster that is suspended hops and proteins.

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Another reality, and our friend who brews on a commercial level confirmed this too, is that no matter how much prep you think you’ve done, some unforeseen problem always arises. It’s never something you anticipated could go wrong and I imagine that a brewmaster’s ability to troubleshoot these inopportune issues on the spot, without forfeiting or contaminating an entire batch is just one of the deciding factors that separates the good from the okay.

Ultimately though, the point of these blog posts is to refer my meandering ramblings back to OUR beer, so let me talk a little bit about our last few brews. After The Hoppy Adventure (which was a malt extract brew) we did another malt extract beer, a chocolate espresso (from our local cafe Capital) oatmeal imperial stout, that was a disaster. I will talk about it another day though, when we see how well the yeast we re-pitched into it fermented…

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The next beer was our first all-grain, a very traditional (read, don’t try to stick any god damn chocolate and oatmeal in there for kicks) german hefeweizen. We called it The Blind Woman and though it was a bit grainy tasting, as far as the efficiency of fermentation goes, it was quite successful. After consulting the two sources I read/listen to most on brew days (John Palmer’s “How To Brew" or podcasts, and The Mad Fermentationist blog) we decided not to rack to secondary, and bottled soon after the first stages of fermentation were complete. The beer was pretty enjoyable fresh and though I had flip flopped back and forth over whether or not I liked it, I just shared a bottle with Patrick and declared it pretty good. It has changed a lot over time. Unfortunately, and for reasons I still don’t fully understand, the head retention was particularly bad, which never looks good on a wheat beer.

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The next two beers after that were brewed in close succession (2 beers in 3 days), and though neither are bottled I feel confident about them. The first was a simple gallon batch of India Brown Ale, the second a 5 gallon batch of hoppy saison. Neither have been named, but both are moving along nicely, having been dry hopped last week, ultimately waiting to be bottled this Tuesday. I’m worried less about these guys because I don’t feel that we royally screwed anything up. I would actually go as far as saying we done good. This is progress, folks.

Going forward I know that these batches will one day seem so crappy and unrefined, but I’m totally okay with that. We’re at a certain level right now and everything we’ll learn at school or from our bosses will change that. I suppose all I’m trying to get across is that as a brewer (however amateur), you’re constantly learning how to do things (more) efficiently, creatively, or put quite simply — better. (Don’t worry mom, that wasn’t me saying I want to be ‘more better’, just better).

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There are so many variables in brewing that can go awry but I’m trying my best not to ruminate on any one mistake. And let me tell you, [me] not dwelling on mistakes is sort of a huge deal. What is my stupid point anyways, you ask? Am I going to spiral into some sort of self-obsessed period of enlightenment and try to publish a book called “Zen And The Art Of Brewing: My Fermented Path To Self Discovery”? No…unless I could actually make money off it.

Documenting our successes and failures along the way means we may never get to brag Sam Calagione style and say that our first beer, dry-hopped with lizards was a total success! It also gives us some sort of foundation to build from — one that will, further down the road, (hopefully) help to show how much we’ve improved.

So, I guess that means that one day I’ll have to tell you about the time Patrick tried to carbonate a stout with PopRocks…

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Model Citizens

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I really have no reasonable explanation for why we: a) haven’t posted anything lately, and b) documented ourselves walking down Queen street drinking a Maui Coconut Porter — but these are just some of those open-ended questions you can ponder wistfully along with the meaning of life. To be honest, we both work a lot and just started new jobs so, I dunno, lay off me! (I’m starving).

Maui Brewing Co. makes a lot of beers specific to the ‘terroir’ or land of Hawaii, which is a practice in beer I’m really interested in. The Mana Wheat uses “Maui Gold Pineapple”, the Coconut Porter “hand toasted coconut”, and so on. Ingredients venture into ginger, smoke, and even onions. I’m not sure what I think about that last one, but tying beers to a specific landscape is something I hope to do here in Canada. I think it gives a little more geographical identity to a brew, and ensures that it’s not so ubiquitous you could brew it anywhere in the world. 

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The great thing we realized about this beer — and my mom’s really gonna love this one — is that it looks like an energy drink or one of those chinese coffees, so as long as you drink it with conviction you don’t look suspect. 

This is the second Coconut Porter from Maui we’ve enjoyed (a gift from our friend Billy!) and it was decidedly more coconutty this time. Perhaps a bit warmer is why. I find the body to be pretty thin which makes it pretty sessionable, I suppose. There are some nice roasty and toasty malt qualities, and overall it’s good but not great. The fact that it’s described as “like hot chicks on the beach” only confuses me. Maybe it’s dry-hopped with babes. 

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There was one minor casualty…


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Punk Ass IPA

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Patrick and I have separated off several beers in our collection to drink before real summer hits soon. We’ve basically made a Need To Be Drank List with low ABV brews and stout/barleywines sitting at the top. We’ve had this Brewdog Punk IPA since December and, like me, it’s not getting any younger.

The past few days here in Toronto have been gorgeous (though chilly), and we’ve done our best to walk around the hood and absorb all the sunshine. Today we went to Sorauren Park and shared a little Post Modern Classic Pale Ale. Admittedly, the name is a little gaggy, but we both enjoyed the contents of the bottle. It’s also a bit weird to drink a relatively ‘normal’ sort of beer from a brewery that loves EXTREME styles, having provided us with the The End of History and Sink the Bismarck. No taxidermy animals encasing this one…

(If you want a good read, check out this post on how Flying Dog and Brewdog are teaming up to brew a ‘zero IBU IPA’. I didn’t think that was possible, but Brewdog certainly isn’t a brewery to shy away from seemingly insurmountable circumstances).

There was lots of fruit in the aroma that carried into the flavour — tangerine, mango, and perhaps a bit of floral lavender. A touch of malt in the nose but very little when we sipped it, just lots of citrusy hops — exactly how I like my IPA’s. In Vancouver (where we bought this bottle) they sell the Punk IPA in 4 packs, and I can totally understand why. This is a beer I’d like to have a couple of.

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A punk I found in the park.

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I encourage seeking out Brewdog beers whenever you travel outside of Ontario, even though (I think) certain releases veer off into gimmicks. The reality is, Brewdog still produces lots of quality beers (this one, 5 A.M. Saint), and in doing so, earns the credibility to attempt risky and sensational limited releases.

At any rate, try to track down this IPA — it’s delicious and easy to drink, and Scottish!

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Methode de Charlevoise

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When Patrick suggested that we drink the Charlevoix Sainte Reserve Brut on a recent sunny afternoon, my first reaction was, “But we have to wait for a special occassion!” The irony is that it was pretty special, being sunny and warm in the middle of March (in TORONTO), but I think there’s something to say for enjoying rather than hoarding your beer collection.

We travel far and wide risking soaked luggage and aggressive boarder crossing guards to get beer back to Ontario. (And when I say aggressive I mean separating the two of us and then interrogating us about our relationship to one another.

"Who is that guy?" 

"My boyfriend."

"Oh yeah. Really?"

"Yes."

"You sure about that. He’s your boyfriend?"

"Yes, unless you got him to break up with me in the last 20 seconds?")

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There’s also something satisfying about looking at a stacked wall of hard-to-find-beer and simply admiring all the work that went into seeking them out. And yet, that’s hardly the point of making and drinking craft beer. I recently read an interview that touched on this, where a brewer urged consumers to simply enjoy the beer rather than treat it like some precious commodity. Sure, it’s precious, but only if you’re gonna open the damn thing.

All this to say we opened the damn thing, and enjoyed the shit out of it. I really don’t like champagne and prosecco but using the ‘methode de champenoise’ in beer seems to produce a delicious beverage. I really loved that as it warmed a little lots of great yeast flavours came through.

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So go on and enjoy those beers you’ve been saving because you can always find others. You will find others. If you need to, call me and I’ll hold your hand as you sob about ‘the one that got away’.

I’ll introduce you to some real nice floozies in our fridge.

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We only hug for pictures.

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