Heineken vs. PBR

Please welcome our newest contributor, Mr. Dennis Hopper:

 

Chamomile Ale Review

Woah, I am really surprised by this one. Considering that it was my first attempt brewing beer at home using less than ideal equipment, I was sort of expecting a complete bomb but this really turned out to be quite good. Just as a reminder, this beer is made with unfiltered tap water, brown sugar, ginger root slices, dried chamomile blossoms and un-bittered brewery’s yeast. So in all honesty, this creation can’t legitimately be called beer because it contains no malt or hops. I don’t know what you would call this. I call it great.

This beer, adopted from an 18th century recipe, has an apricot color and is quite cloudy.The flavour is quite yeasty and a direct result from my inadequate straining methods (perhaps cheese cloth isn’t the greatest) but I sort of like it. Too often people forget that yeast has it’s own bitter and hearty flavour that could contribute quite a  bit of complexity to a beer. So, I’m glad that I didn’t strain it properly. Initially, there was a lot of carbonation that forms a light soda pop like fizz which quickly dissipates to a slow tangy hum on the tounge.

I feel like I should have added more ginger than I did, because you can’t really taste any zing. Although, it is possible that the flavours of Chamomile and ginger compliment each other so well that they blend together indestinguishably. I don’t know what’s really happening though. The sugar I knew would produce a cider-like sweetness, and this makes the beer (if it can even be called beer) light and summery. I should have tried making this beer next month, then it would have been the perfect temperature outside to enjoy it.

The level of Chamomile flavour in this is perfect. It it is fresh, bitter and explosively floral. Might be too strange for some palates, but I think it is really, really good. I’m satisfied with how this turned out, and I might try an adaptation of this recipe again sometime soon. Growler brewing has been a successfully experience, mostly. I know now that sterilization is a pretty big deal. I made 1.9L ofthis beer in total, but half of it developed some strange, white film on the top of while it was fermenting in a clear glass jar (I put a garbage bag over it to keep it out of the light, but that did nothing). I actually tried the brew to see if it was still alright, but it tasted like death. I really need to get a hold of some sanitizer for my next patch, because I kind of don’t want to see that happen again. Chamomile is naturally anti-bacterial, but apparently not as anti-fungal as would have been appreciated.

Cool stuff. Not sure what I am going to make next, but I’ll keep ya’ll posted.

Calamus Ale Version 2.0

I think B4B should start a YouTube channel…

I’ll post the videos and photos from the Grand Reserve bottling real soon.

Toronto Craft Beer

Fellow brew enthusiasts,

As some of you may know, I periodically contribute to a website called TransitHub. This morning, they published one of my articles (click to see). However, I felt that the article would be equally at home in Beers For Breakfast. Thus, here is a shameless repost:

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Toronto is, without the slightest doubt, a world-renown city. It draws its fame from its astoundingly high CN tower and the surprisingly low costs of its lunchtime meals; from having both the shortest ferry ride and the longest street in the world*; from having the most academically-inclined strippers and one of the worst commuting times in the world. But in a world of superlatives, where the most useless of attributes are enough to bring a city fame, Toronto stands out in a completely different way.

In its heart, Toronto is a city that cares less about being the most of anything, and more about doing things with skill, passion, care, and personality… and nothing proves its mantra better than a weekend spent exploring a vastly underappreciated aspect of Toronto: its craft beer scene.

As an Ontarian, the world of beer has me worried. If you take a look at the top-selling brands, it’s clear that the majority of beer purchases in Ontario are drawing money out of the province, or even the country. More importantly (and this even applies to Ontario breweries), they are drawing culture out of the province. A brewery should be an institution that brings people together; one that provides jobs for its cities; one that respects the area in which it’s located; one that gets to know its neighbours and facilitates community. In the past, this is how breweries were; in modern times, a small handful of breweries are growing to colossal proportions. The way in which brewing happens today (out of town, industrially) makes it hard to imagine a time when the town brewery was an important social institution, not just an economic one. But even amid the difficulties of today’s world, craft breweries do exist… and they may just be our city’s greatest assets.

In fact, last Friday, I spent the day walking around Toronto with an out-of-town friend of of mine. In one day, we managed to visit three craft breweries… and we did it all on foot! Here is a brief overview of three fantastic craft breweries that are definitely worth visiting.

1) Amsterdam Beer: Purity. Passion. Revelry. — 21 Bathurst Street, Toronto
Despite its name, the Amsterdam brewery is as local as it gets! I mean, they even have a beer called (416)! Their wide range of beers includes crowd-pleasers such as their Natural Blonde Lager, Big Wheel Deluxe Amber, and their Nut Brown Ale, as well as exciting seasonals like their Oranje-Weisse Premium White and Wee Heavy Scotch Ale. Make sure to stop by on Saturdays between 1 and 6 pm for a “tasting and product knowledge session” and pick up some of their delicious brews!

 

2) Steam Whistle: Do one thing really, really well. — 255 Bremner Boulevard, Toronto
Walking into the Steam Whistle brewery feels like arriving at exactly the right time to a party exclusively for awesome people. The decoration is lively, the people are chatting up a storm, and the staff is nothing short of hilarious! Load up on some merch, buy a generously-priced six-pack, drink a complimentary sample, and most fantastic of all: take the brewery tour! You’ll learn about everything from how they organize their events to why they chose their iconically thick-glassed, green bottle. You’ll even get a little something to take home! Come check out the free art gallery, attend their many events, or enjoy their expertly-crafted pilsner, straight from the source.

 

3) Mill St.: Great beer lives here. — 55 Mill Street, Toronto
The Distillery District is known for its cobblestone roads and its high-end art. It is a very flavourful and fancy part of Toronto. But among the art galleries and theatres lies another of Toronto’s hidden gems: The Mill St. Brewpub. With delicious dishes such as their Sausage Skillet or their Sweet Potato Fries, you’re guaranteed a tasty experience… and what better way to enjoy it than with a hearty winter beer, such as their Vanilla Porter, their Coffee Porter, or their Cobblestone Stout? All in good company, of course!

 

To me, the Toronto craft beer scene seems to embody the Toronto spirit; these breweries are not looking to become the leading brand of beer in the world; they see more value in giving you the opportunity to enjoy a delicious beer brewed right down the street from your house than in attempting to lay claim on a trivial world record. Torontonians didn’t seem discouraged by the construction of the Burj Khalifa in 2007, despite the fact that it exceeds the CN Tower by almost 300 metres. We know that it’s not about being the biggest; it’s about doing things with well.

And besides, the CN tower is beautiful! Especially after visiting these three breweries in a row. 😉

Cheers,
— Ionatan Waisgluss

For more musings about craft beer, home brewing, and having a good time, be sure to check out Beers For Breakfast, a collaborative effort started up by some friends of mine!
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* Yonge Street is not techinically the longest street in the world, as it is not synonymous with Highway 11. If it was, it would achieve this fabled status.

Ghosttown Stout

He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee. – Friedrich Nietzsche

Like a pride of malevolent cats, hiding behind a shelf of Great Lakes Brewery’s Pumpkin Ale, dozens of pairs of eyes stared me down as I crept my way around the Yonge & Wellesley LCBO. Patiently, they waited for me to spot them. As I filled up my basket with seasonal goodies, saving what I presumed to be the best shelf for last, I spotted a beer like none I had ever tried before… Brasseur De Montréal’s Ghosttown Stout.

Having never tried anything from this myserious brewery, I immediately looked up their selection of beers, all of which feature a pair of eyes on the bottle. I enjoyed this delicious beer in good company, deliberating the unusual flavours found within it.

Ghosttown stout is a self-proclaimed strong flavoured beer. It draws its repetoire of flavours from the controversial spirit absinthe. Absinthe (from the Greek apsínthion, “wormwood”) is a strong spirit made with various herbs, including anise and wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). Wormwood contains various semi-toxic volatile oils which are of use medicinally. An alcoholic extraction of these chemicals, particularly of thujone, has been said to be psychoactive, though the claims have been shown to be largely exaggerated. It seems unfair to blame wormwood for all this, given that wormwood is also used innocently in certain desserts, such as Korean rice cakes. In the 1840s, absinthe was given to French soldiers as a treatment and precaution for malaria. When the soldiers returned home, they brought back absinthe culture with them. Drinking absinthe was reported to makes its drinkers delirious, and would allegedly bring about distorted visions of the green fairy. Because of this, 5 pm came to be known as l’heure verte (the green hour) in absinthe-era France. Due to its controversy, absinthe was banned in many countries in the early 20th century. More recently, Absinthe is making a glorious comeback, thanks to companies like Lucid, the bottle of which looks quite a bit like our Ghosttown Stout…

Both bottles are, of course, green and black. The green probably comes from true absinthe’s usual colour, and its connection the green fairy, as well as the colour green’s toxic connotation. The black has more to do with darkness and mystery– two things which, in this beer, abound.

This beer is very complex, and definitely not something you could comfortably drink within ten minutes. Set aside a good half an hour, or more, to polish off a bottle. The tongue’s first impression is of coffee or chocolate, but that soon gives way to a very noticeable cigar-like copper, which in turn is followed by a smoky, herby complexity which goes beyond that of pure wormwood, or even the Lucid absinthe I recently got to try. According to the website, the recipe includes raisins, herbs, and profoundly-roasted malts. This beer keeps you on your toes with its “concerning amount of flavour.” It is extremely opaque, and possibly the darkest shade of brown known to man.

If you come across one of these bottles in your LCBO, I urge you to take one home. Be warned, however, that the taste is not for everyone… And please, tell the green fairy I say hello.

I would give this stout 3.5 heads out of 5

It Starts…

The other day I stopped into my friendly neighbourhood Liquor Depot to purchase a six-pack of Tankhouse that has miraculously made an appearance amongst the plethora of bland, mainstream beers that the Jackson Square store has to offer. Needless to say, I was more than pleasantly surprised to find that they still had Tankhouse, and also… Christmas gift sets! And St. Pete’s Winter Ale! WTF indeed! This is probably the best stock that this LC has ever and will ever have. I just did more than half of my Christmas shopping! Consumerism! Yes! Feels great. Although there’s still a few sets that I’m really looking forward to that usually make an appearance closer to the anniversary of the birth of Santa.

Lindemans Kriek

When it comes to beers, I like brews that are traditional yet unusual. Luckily, history is filled with traditions that seem strange to us. In ancient times, it was common practice to make a beer by mashing together the right ingredients and leaving the resulting soup open to the air. Compared to today’s practice of sterilizing every single piece of equipment used in beermaking, this seems like a bizarre thing to do. In the past, however, you could not buy yeast in little envelopes… you had to make do with your environment. Amazingly, yeast spores are everywhere, and it’s only a matter of time before your sugary soup turns into a breeding pool for Saccharomyces cerevisiae, our favourite microorganism.

Many cultures believed that the spirits had to blow life into the sugary soup, and once that happened, it would ferment into a tasty and nutritious beverage. They weren’t very far off. Replace spirits with wind, and think of fungi as life forms, and you could say they were on to something. Thanks to the microscope, we now have countless images of our favourite Saccharomyces species, and a fairly thorough understanding of how it makes its (pun alert) daily bread. This microcsopic fungus has two growth forms. It can grow as threads (like the soil fungi we’re so accustomed with), or it can grow in its budding form, which looks like little spheres that duplicate and snap off one another, colonizing liquid media at astonishing speeds. Over time, we have selectively bred yeast strains, just as we’ve bred big, juicy lettuces, to suit our needs and peculiarities. And just like there are wild lettuces in the wild, there are wild yeasts all around us, full of untamed brilliance.

Lindeman’s Lambic Kriek is made by taking a pure lambic beer (a beer made with spontaneous fermentation) of approximately six months, and then adding the pure juice of Schaerbeekse Cherries (a cherry chosen for its fruitiness and perfect about of sourness). The mix is left to ferment for up to a year more, resulting an a mouth-watering, amazing beverage that is quite the treat for sour cherry lovers.

The only other kriek I’ve had is Nickelbrook’s sour cherry kriek, which was also really good, very opaque and delicious. Unlike Nickelbrook’s kriek, this beer is very translucent, and a beautiful ruby red colour. The pleasantly sour notes that accompany this beer make you salivate like a dog— a feature not really found in Nickelbrook’s beer. My prognosis? Nickelbrook still has a long way to go before making a kriek of this calibre.

Note that this beer protects its delicious innards with both a cap AND a cork. You will need a whole arsenal of tools to get this beer into your belly. This is the first time I’ve seen this, but I completely understand. If you were this delicious, wouldn’t you be just as careful?

4.5 Paul Westerberg heads, without a doubt.