Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Canada's Craft Beer history (updated)

Here's a really interesting article on the history of 'craft' beer in Canada, how it almost disappeared in a giant vat of corn and rice, and the resurgence of the industry.

It also does a nice job of breaking down craft beer by regions in Canada and how 'micro' is growing within provincial borders. It is not a comprehensive list, but it's a good primer.

I'm often asked by people, friends and strangers alike, if perhaps the craft beer movement is becoming too saturated, that there is an ever-growing bubble that will eventually burst.

To this, I often quote the co-owner of Beau's All Natural Brewery, Steve Beauchesne, who once said "There is no bubble. It's the beer industry righting itself."
*furthermore, this article just came to my attention and speaks to the scene in Ottawa.

For years Canadians have been offered very little choice in beer. Sure, there are many brands of beer, but certainly not many styles.

Commercial big brands (macros) are largely lager or lager-hybrids, pilsners, and safe, malty ales. Stouts, porters, wits (wheat), hefeweizens, belgians, and real IPA's rarely graced the shelves of The Beer Store or the LCBO.

Imagine going to one of only three grocery stores, because that is all that was available in your town. You need some tomato soup, bread, and cereal. On the shelves are five different labels, all containing tomato soup. There may be four breads, but two are 'white' and two are 'brown'. Head to the cereal aisle and there may be more choices - at least 10 of them. But of the 10, four are just lighter versions of their originals. Not very exciting. Some would say bland. But that was what you were accustomed to, and without choices, you really didn't know what you were missing.

But then down the street, a new grocery store opens. This one is smaller, and overall their food is a bit more expensive. Not only do you have way more choices (not only tomato soup, but chicken noodle, vegetable, carrot and ginger), but there's a real sense of pride from the grocery store owner from supplying locally sourced food (the wheat from the bread is from a local farmer). You get a sense of community, maybe even ownership. That's what craft beer is. It's having the option of choosing something that was locally made, with passion, real ingredients, full of complexity and flavour!

And now the shelves at The Beer Store and LCBO are being stocked with way more varieties, because consumers have buying power, and they want to get in on the action. Nice to see them taking notice.

Sometimes I tease my macro-beer drinking friends, but I really don't judge, or try not to. Everyone is entitled to make their own choice. It's okay to prefer Kraft Dinner over homemade Mac N' Cheese, or McDonald's over a burger made in a kitchen. I've had both, and know what I like - and that's because I've tried both, I am given options, and I choose what's in my glass. I encourage you to do the same.


Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Ontario Macro vs. Micro system - explained, and how the big and little guys make beer, in GIF form

It's only been a little over five months since I've posted here. I can't blame you if you've lost interest - you've probably moved on, and I get that. But I want to make it up to you. I promise I'll do better. I won't disappear for so long again, at least without an explanation or a note to say I'm okay.

Okay, now that we've gotten that out of the way, truth be told I've been busy. Brewing, tours for BrewDonkey, of course family life takes a lot of my time (and their patience and understanding with me). There are other things happening that I'll one day share here as well.

But enough fore-play.

Two great articles peaked my reading interest on Twitter today. One was called Bud vs. Microbrew: How Beer is made (in GIFs!)

Why should you read it? Because in a very concise and clear way, and without passing judgement, it shows the reader some very big differences between how a macro brewer like Anheuser-Busch and a microbrewer like Perennial Artisan Ales brew beer.

The other article courtesy of The Windsor Star, I found very interesting and timely as well. It talks about The Beer Store - it's history, ownership and control of the beer market, and the struggles Ontario Craft Brewers face trying to get in front of consumers.

As a homebrewer and a part-time tour guide for BrewDonkey, I often get asked about the beer system in Ontario, how and why The Beer Store can have this 'monopoly' in the province. I find this article extremely well written and am more knowledgeable for it. I hope you do to - it's worth the read.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Great Gruit Revival

February 1st (or rather, feBREWary) is International Gruit Day. At least, that is what the good people at Beau's All Natural Brewery have proclaimed. And with more and more microbreweries getting on board, it may one day be a standard calendar entry.

So what is gruit? Quite simply, it is beer without hops. To take it one step further, it is a traditional, some say original, way to brew beer using herbs in lieu of hops. There's a pretty good article in The Globe and Mail about it.

The great thing about beer is that, if you ignore the Reinheitsgebot, or the Bavarian Purity Law (which states that beers must only contain barley, water, hops and yeast), it is really open to interpretation. That's much different than, say, wine, which tends to be more finicky and precise about how it is produced.

International Gruit Day is the brainchild of Steve Beauchesne and the people at Beau's. Started in 2013, it enters it's second year with more breweries on board, more gruits produced, and a lot more hype. Don't believe me? Check out #internationalgruitday on Twitter.

Gruit is not for everyone. But for beer lovers and history buffs alike, it's good to remember your roots, and if you picture Erik the Red enjoying ale after a good pillaging, he quite likely quenched his thirst with this hearty beverage.

I'll be brewing up my first - a Sandkicker Golden Gruit that will have, among other things, corriander seed, rosemary, sweet gale and yarrow in it.

If you get a chance, give this beer a try. You just might be surprised.

Gruit resources

Explains what gruit day is

A website dedicated to all things gruit.
The Bog Father - Beau's signature gruit-style beer.
History lesson. This guy really did his homework