Follow beer writer, Troy Burtch, as he explores the wonderful world of craft beer and the pubs that serve it. Great Canadian Beer is a place to come to catch up on beer news, read tasting notes, check out event listings, and for pub previews and reviews.


Friday, January 30, 2009

The Loud Drunk Bar Patron

I headed down to a fake Irish pub for lunch today to enjoy a pint before doing an interview with Global News about buying local beer. I grabbed a seat at the bar, ordered a pint of Mill Street Tankhouse and waited for the camera crew and interviewer to arrive.

Seated beside me at the bar was a middle aged man clutching a bottle of Budweiser and talking about the weather outside. "Say, it's friggin chilly outside. Not too bad, but chilly enough. Well, actually, it's probably just the wind." He continued, "what do you do for livin?" Before hitting on the bartender, who by the way was not diggin it. "Hey honey, honey, grab me another Bud, I'm heading out for a smoke." Upon re-entering he hollered, "how much for those bottles?" He was already on his fourth bottle and it just, and I mean it just, turned 12pm. He was loud, he was bothersome, and he was drunk.

There was no empty seats in the bar when I arrived, only the ones situated to this individuals right and to his left. No one wanted to sit near him. This must be hard on bartenders, putting up with these antics on a daily basis.

The part that I found the most difficult to swallow - the $5.25 price tag for a bottle of Budweiser. Ouch! A pint of Tankhouse is $6.10.

Interview on Global News tonight at 6pm for those interested - I tried not to sound to foolish.

Saturday Calls for Cask - Victory Cafe

As posted here earlier this month, the Victory Cafe will be hosting a cask festival tomorrow to help beat those winter blues. The cask list has been finalized and is looking terrific. I'll be heading that way around noon, hope to see some of you readers there.

Nickel Brook Cuvee '08, Better Bitters Brewing Company (Nickelbrook)
Winter Ale, Great Lakes Brewery
Neustadt 180, Neustadt Springs Brewery
StoneHammer Oatmeal Coffee Stout, F&M Brewery
Hopping Mad, Granite Brewery
Blak Katt Stout, County Durham Brewing Co
C'est What Old Town Brown, County Durham Brewing Co
Double Chocolate Stout, Black Oak Brewery
Jubilation Ale, Grand River Brewing
Peculiar, Granite Brewery
Red Dragon, County Durham Brewing Co
Scotch Ale, MacLean's Ales
Victory Café Compass Empire Ale, Better Bitters Brewing Company (Nickelbrook)

Beer samples will be offered by the half-pint measure, purchased with a beer ticket available at the festival. Hearty food suitable for the season will also be available with a food ticket.

Tickets can be purchased at the door:
$12 – admission, souvenir glass, two half-pint beer tickets, plus one food ticket
$8 – admission, souvenir glass, and two half-pint beer tickets
$4 – additional food ticket
$3 – additional beer ticket

The CASK! group will also be present at the festival, so stop by and sign up for membership if you have yet to do so.

Victory Cafe is located at , right in the heart of Mirvish Village. Come down and enjoy some terrific beer produced by some terrific Ontario brewers.

The festival will commence at 12pm and will run until 7pm.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Great Lakes Green Tea - Hitting Store Shelves Soon

Some interesting news came my way tonight when I learned that the Great Lakes Brewing Co. will be bottling their Green Tea ale for distribution, and it will be part of the LCBO's spring release.

"The Green Tea should be bottled shortly in a 650ml bottle that will feature a painted logo similar to that of the Pumpkin and Orange Peel Ales," stated Great Lakes President Peter Bulut Jr. as we had a drink at a nice little pub in Toronto by the name 'The Local'. "A batch is currently being brewed and should be ready for bottling very soon."

The Green Tea made its debut back in early 2008 and received much fanfare at the Toronto Festival of Beer. "We've seen how well the Pumpkin and the Orange Peel have done, so I guess we'll see how receptive customers will be with this new bottled product."

Great Lakes stuck to making generic lagers for years and only recently have they branched out and played with different styles packaged in bottles that weren't/aren't common in the Ontario brewing industry. The results have been terrific for the brewery in Etobicoke and in my opinion this is another step in the right direction.

Imperial Stout Taste Off - Guest Writer

One of the things I wanted to do with this blog was/is to allow readers to be able to have their thoughts, opinions and feelings heard; whether it be through the comments section, or an actual written submission for posting.

There have been a couple of stories written by some readers and I encourage those interested in participating to contact me at the email address listed above. Of course there is no money involved, I can just provide the field to showcase your views.

That being said, I met up with a reader one day to exchange some beer and he told me he was interested in doing a Imperial Stout taste off with some Canadian beauties. I thought it would be interesting to see what his conclusions were, so I asked if he'd be interested in submitting something. So, here they are, reviews of four well known Imperial Stouts, written by English expat and fellow Torontian Rob Symes.

Imperial stouts are the big hitters of the beer world, with intense dark malty flavours and warming alcohol levels. The malts are roasted for a long time, and can produce tastes of coffee, chocolate and dark fruit – all perfect for pairing with a Canadian winter.

On a cold January’s night I sat down, and sampled my way through four top-rate imperial stouts (purely for research sake of course). From Ottawa I had John By, a returning winter seasonal that proved a phenomenal success on its release last year. From Montreal, a beer that needs little introduction, Péché Mortel, one of the world’s most highly regarded brews. From Halifax a bottle of Propeller Revolution, with about a year of age on it. Finally, and the only non-Canadian offering, Sam Smith’s Imperial Stout from Yorkshire.

Péché Mortel: As it pours a slightly satanic aura emerges with a cloud of mocha bubbles transitioning to depths of midnight black. A super thick cake of a head leaves heavy sheets of lace all the way to the bottom of the glass. Aromas of coffee, cream, chocolate and caramel waft enticingly upwards and the first sip cannot come soon enough, but it is worth taking the time to appreciate the intense bouquet the brewer has crafted here. The taste is of an extremely smooth, and perhaps as divine as the aroma suggests - creamy coffee, with some cocoa and alcohol in the aftertaste. Dark fruits and Christmas memories linger in the background. The mouthfeel is just amazing - heavy and viscous, yet delightfully smooth.

John By: A truly excellent beer, and just as good as I remember. Pours pitch black with a generous milk chocolate head, leaving large amounts of lacing as the drink is consumed. Strong cocoa smell, accented with coffee. The taste reveals bittersweet chocolate and espresso, and as the drink warms, some of the fruitier more vinous qualities become evident. The body does not seem as heavy, but seems to increase from light to medium as the palate acclimatises. This beer really improves the more you drink - my first sip was worryingly underwhelming, but by the end of the second bottle I was craving another. While the bottle says imperial stout I feel that its a little unfair to compare it within the style. There are obviously a lot of similarities in the flavour, but the alcohol content and viscosity are simply not high enough. Regardless, in my opinion this is the best stout of any type currently made in Ontario.

Propeller Revolution: Black body with a small mocha mocha head that provides a decent lace. Delicious aroma of chocolate, dark pitted fruit and tobacco. Raisin, toffee, and chocolate flavours dominate a rich palate, before moving to a rich tobacco smokiness. The alcohol is very well hidden. Medium-heavy mouthfeel with restrained carbonation. Very nicely done imperial stout from this Halifax brewery. Based on experience, I would have to say this is one of the better imperial stouts in the country. In fact, the alcohol is so well-hidden that this stout could almost be sessioned, which is pretty dangerous!

Sam Smith’s: Practically midnight black pour with a beast of a tan head that settled to a finger of cap, and forgot to lace. Chocolate and coffee aromas are divine, and carefully balanced, pulling back from the all out aroma assault of some imperial stouts. Full on milk chocolate in the flavour swiftly followed up by a coffee with extra cream, along with some vanilla and dark fruit. This is really helped by the full creamy body, which accentuates the smoothness of the chocolate and coffee flavours. Like the John By, this seems a slightly different beast to most of the imperial stouts I’ve come across. The ABV is far more restrained and makes it easy to drink at the pace of a regular beer, and the flavours are also in a delightfully harmony, and its far less aggressive and boozy than other examples.

What did I learn from this tasting? Well, its advisable to drink lots of water and not repeat it on a work night. Also, that the Péché Mortel stood apart from the rest, and deserves all the acclaim it receives, and the John By and Revolution successfully held their own against one of the classic examples of the style. Canadian beers deserve a better reputation and better distribution. In a few months when the last John By disappears from the shelves of the LCBO, Ontario will once again be imperial stout free, not only that but it will be bereft of microbrews from other provinces.

In times like this we should be supporting our homegrown products, both of our own province and of our neighbours, yet my local store is awash in a sea of East European lager. Drive across the border and it’s a different story, but that’s for a different day.
**John By photo courtesy of Alan over at A Good Beer Blog (used with his permission).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Road Trip to Cole's Rare Beer Festival: Buffalo, NY

After spending a great afternoon at the Cloak and Dagger sipping some delicious Ontario brews, a buddy and I jumped in our rental car and started out for Buffalo to attend Cole’s Rare Beer Festival; a highly anticipated festival that received many excited comments on a recent Bar Towel thread.

We made it to the border in good time so we decided to make a pit stop at Consumer’s Beverage before continuing on to the bar. Consumer’s Beverage is a small store on an industrial strip off the I90 that sells both mass-produced beer and small craft beers along with some famous and well sought after imports. With cart in hand the two of us set out to pick up some tasty treats. Never had that one – in the cart, never heard of that – better pick up, this one’s on sale – better buy two; you get the just. As fantastic as it was seeing all those wonderful products, I felt a little let down. I was expecting more. I guess the hype got to me and I had expectations of walking into something like Beers of the World in Rochester, a place I visited and fell in love with back in November.

Back in the car (after my buddy spent $200USD), do we now head to Cole’s? Or should we check out Premier Gourmet? Premier Gourmet it was. After spending close to 45 minutes browsing the high shelves, we decided we had enough and proceeded to the checkout. I scored some wicked beers that I can’t wait to get into. Beers like Victory’s Le Freak, Jolly Pumpkin’s Bam Biere (Farmhouse Ale), Southern Tier Krampus (Imperial Helles), Cantillion and more. I love how the American breweries bottle their beers. Their big beers anyway. The colourful labels, the corked champagne bottles and the waxed caps; something more Canadian breweries should consider. Think of the folks who walk into the LCBO looking for something different. If priced right, the bottle could sell itself (and then the beer would have to win the customer over).

Anyways, back to the trip. Now that the back end of the rental was riding a little low, we realized that we were starving, so we hit the road and headed to Cole’s where fine food and an amazing line-up of American beers awaited us.

Once we secured a parking spot, we headed into the old bar, me, for the first time. The first thing I noticed was the height of the ceiling, and the wooden beams running from side to side above the seating area. A wooden partition with etched glass ran down the middle of the bar area - separating the bar from the seating section. The left side of the partition holds a number of wooden booths, tables and chairs and the right side takes you right up to the bar. On the very far left of the building is a more secluded dining area, but I won’t venture in there on this night. Up a flight of stairs towards the back is an upper level with seating that overlooks the entire bar. Up another flight of stairs and you end up in an event space - a space that was occupied by a group of students from the nearby University. The bar is decorated with old pennants from the area, cardboard cutouts of people like Albert Einstein, there is stained glass on the walls - much like the kind you'd find in a church, and lots of beer American beer memorabilia.

We take up a booth and order some food. But before the food, even though we were extremely hungry, we had to look at, and order from, the beer menu. Ommegang Obamagang Inauguration Ale 2009 was the first beer I saw and the first beer I had to sample. Delicious. The food arrived and with it another beer came. La Chouffe Houblon Dobbelen IPA Tripel. Outstanding. After that we shared a bottle of New Glarus Belgian Red Cherry Ale. Simply perfect. You see where I’m going with this.

Upstairs we headed where we took up a table (one of the tables overlooking the whole bar) and hung out with Mike Shatzel, co-owner of Cole’s and friend of my buddy’s. He provided us with some samples of Dogfish Red and White, Oskar Blues Whiskey Barrel Aged Ten Fidy, Troegs Nugget Nectar, Victory Yakima Twilight, Troeg’s Scotch #16, Jolly Pumpkin Weizen Bam, Sam Adams Utopias (2007) and more. Highlights belonged to..well, everyone. However, the Troegs Nugget Nectar was awesome. Wicked nose on the beer and the taste backed it up well too. The Oskar Blues was simply divine, a beer I would love to have a case off (next time).

When the crowd started to thin, we headed down to the bar and joined Shatzel’s close friends who were primed up for a long evening. Being close to the co-owner of the bar was pretty rewarding. Bottles just started to appear on the bar and glasses were filled. Shatzel provided me with a brief history lesson regarding Cole’s, but alas, I have forgotten most of it. I do remember that Cole’s has been around since the 1930’s and that Shatzel’s father purchased the place in the 70’s. It is a University bar, evident by the younger crowd walking around with bottles of Molson Canadian or Labatt Blue, but also features a ton of outstanding beers from all over the world.

As the night turned to morning, we were rounded up and headed to Shatzel’s house where we would stay over. The man’s beer collection is crazy. Beers from everywhere, of all ages, everywhere you look. Very jealous. The sleep didn’t last long as Shatzel had to be back at the bar for the Sunday session of the event, so we headed back to Cole’s and had breakfast. A great end to the crazy experience.

“I’ve got a long day ahead of me,” stated a weary Shatzel as my buddy and I headed to the car for the ride home. But before we left, Shatzel mentioned that for his next event (may have something to do with sour beers) he might look at getting a bus to accommodate all the Toronto residents who flock to Cole’s to support his endeavors.

I’m all for that.

A list of beers at the event:
Lost Abbey Gift of the Magi
Lost Abbey Inferno Ale
Jolly Pumpkin Weizen Bam
Dogfish Head Zwaanendale
Brooklyn Brewing Black Ops
Sonoran 100
Flying Bison Blizzard Bock
Malheur Brut Reserve

Sam Adams Utopias 2007

Troegs Nugget Nectar
Victory Yakima Twilight
Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA
Dogfish Head Fort
Dogfish Head World Wide Stout
Oskar Blues Whiskey Barrel Aged Gordon
Oskar Blues Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Chub
Oskar Blues Whiskey Barrel Aged Ten Fidy
Ommegang Obamagang (Inauguration Ale)
Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pabst Blue Ribbon or Old Vienna??

I came across this newspaper article today from the Windsor Star - Draught Beer Switch Earns Licence Suspension.

It appears that a bar in Windsor was serving Pabst Blue Ribbon (Sleeman) from the Old Vienna (Molson) draught line, using the Old Vienna tap handle, without telling any patrons who were ordering the OV.

According to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, the violation happened Sept. 10, 2008. Pabst Blue Ribbon beer was connected to the Old Vienna beer tap and the bartender didn't tell customers, the AGCO said in a news release.
The bar received a five day liquor licence suspension at the hands of the AGCO because the owner has shown remorse, but nowhere in the article does it say that it was a mistake. Was it? Or was it the work of a brewery sales rep? You know what I mean by that.

But the real question I have is: Did customers notice the difference between the two generic beers? And people still drink this stuff?

Georgepoolza 2009

The Cloak and Dagger was the place to be on Saturday afternoon as George Eagleson, the colourful brewer at F & M, hosted his annual get together with friends, family and close associates in the brewing industry.

For those of you who have never had the opportunity to meet Eagleson, let me tell you, he is the nicest person you'd ever meet. Sincere, energetic, hospitable and unbelievably passionate about beer; Eagleson is one of those people you love sharing stories with over some pints. He has been hosting this party for a number of years and due to bad timing on my part last year - this was to be my first Georgepoolza experience.

He greeted everyone at the door with a big hug and welcomed them into the pub, ushering them to the bar where invitees could try his Oatmeal Coffee Stout for the first time. It was fabulous. People attending the Cask Festival at Victory Cafe this weekend are in for a treat. Pitch black in colour, roasted coffee bean aromatics mingled with notes of dark cocoa with a rich and creamy mouthfeel. A medium body with very minimal carbonation, this beer was easily quaffable.

George and his partner Hannah had prepared a slideshow that captured everyone's attention. They also created some artwork made from recycled materials coming from craft brewers that were part of a raffle. All proceeds were earmarked for Habitat for Humanity.

There were many people from the Ontario brewing industry (brewers, beerlovers, beergeeks, brewerianists, writers) present all huddled together sharing their stories, trials and tribulations. I held down a booth with Cass Enright (Bar Towel) and Jonathan Graham (Cameron's - and his lovely wife) and sampled some fine beers, including Church Key's Holy Smoke (more balanced than I found last year's to be). It was a great afternoon with friends at the pub.

Unfortunately, the time to leave was approaching as I had a date with Cole's in Buffalo, so we shuffled out into the cold and headed down the QEW. More on that later.

Thanks to George and Hannah for hosting at great event. And kudo's to the Cloak staff for great service!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sam Adams Utopias

I did something I've never done before. I sampled the world's strongest beer this weekend in Buffalo at Coles. I was down for the Rare Beer Festival with Jon Graham (Cameron's Brewing Co.) and he just happened to see the lovely bottle behind the serving area.

He came back with a sniffer of Sam Adams Utopias (2007 Vintage), a 27% (not 24% as I previously mentioned - I wasn't sure of the year when I first posted) beer for us to share and what an experience! The nose on it was unbelievably strong, strong port like, traces of a bourbon. My palate was punched out when the liquid hit my tongue and a heat wave hit my body. Vanilla, raisins, candied fruits, booze, booze, booze, and hints of sweet wood floated around inside my mouth, overpowering but pleasant. The best thing about the Utopias was the aftertaste which lingered around for quite some time. As dry as it was, I didn't want to reach for my glass of water any time soon. I wanted to savour the taste. The second and third sips were just as nice, but that was enough for me.

It was then on to other strong potent beers, but they seemed subdued after the Utopias.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Visit to the Neighbour

It feels like I'm playing in a big important sports competition today. I'm not, but I'm priming myself for the night ahead. This afternoon, after spending some time over at the Cloak and Dagger having pints with some people in the industry, I'll be heading down to Buffalo to Cole's Rare Beer Festival to sample some amazing beers.

The beer list includes: Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, Dogfish Head World Wide Stout, Dogfish Fort, Harviestoun Ola Dubh 30 Yr, North Coast Old Stock Ale 2007, Oscar Blues Oak Aged Gordon, Oscar Blues Oak Aged Ten Fidy, Oscar Blues Oak Aged Old Chub, Lost Abbey Gift of the Magi, Le Proef & Allagash Les Deux Brasseurs, Jolly Pumpkin Weizen Bam, Malheur Brut Cuvee Royale 2006- Special Michael Jackson Commerative edition, Brooklyn Black Ops, Sonoran 100, and possibly more.

From the look of things on Bar Towel, the event will have a large contingent of Toronto beer drinkers, and together with the line-up of beer, it will make for a great time. Look for some notes on the weekend come Monday.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Meet Marek Mikunda: Steam Whistle Brewmaster

Meet Marek Mikunda, brewmaster for the popular Steam Whistle Brewing Company in Toronto, ON. Mikunda is a seasoned veteran who's spent almost 24 years (to date) brewing beer in many different countries -including Pilsner Urquell, the godfather of pilsners. His brewing talent brought him to Canada where he completed stints with Labatt and Creemore before taking over the reigns at Steam Whistle. Here's Mikunda:

How did you get into brewing beer?
My father’s advice was to stick with a career that guaranteed a lifetime of employment so I chose the food & beverage industry, specifically beer. I went to a technical high school for 4 years that allowed me to graduate as a brewer and thereafter went to University, The Prague Institute of Chemical Technology where I completed my Master Brewers studies in 5 years.

How many years have you been working in the industry?
I first entered the brewing industry when I was 15 (1984) working as an apprentice during my high school studies. So, almost 24 years total.

Out of those years, how many have you served as Brewmaster?
I began fulltime work after university (1993) with Pilsner Urquell. I started in their training program and worked my way up to Brewmaster. I worked for 2 years as a Brewmaster with Pilsner Urquell in the Czech Republic and then held a brewing consultancy position in Russia for Pilsner Urquell for one year. I worked as a Brewmaster at a small brewery in Brazil for a time. In Canada, although I worked both at Labatt’s and Creemore for a few years before coming to Steam Whistle I didn’t work at the Brewmaster capacity. I’ve been Brewmaster at Steam Whistle since the Fall of 2005.

What was it like brewing in the Czech Republic?
I am proud to have become a Brewmaster in the birthplace of Pilsners. There is a deep respect for and rich tradition of brewing there.

What is the difference between the Canadian and Czech Republic beer culture?
In the Czech Republic there is a major focus on beer – you socialize over it and have one with every meal. Beer is very prevalent. Beer is to the Czech Republic like wine is to France and perhaps what coffee is to Canadians – very available and very widely consumed.

What is the best aspect of working in the brewing industry?
I love beer! Simple.

Tell us something about Steam Whistle that not many people would know about.
The brewery is made up of a United Nations of employees which makes for a very interesting work environment where we share experiences from all over the world.

What meal does Steam Whistle Pilsner match the best?
For me, roast pig with good rye bread.

What do you do away from the brewery to decompress?
Play with my son, Jan Viktor, now 16 months.

Name your favourite non Steam Whistle beer?
Used to be Pilsner Urquell but now probably Creemore Springs Pilsner, out of respect for Gord, my old co-worker.

What has been the highlight of your brewing career?
Commissioning Steam Whistle’s new Brewhouse which was built in Hradec Králové CZ. It was a year long project of research and equipment commissioning.. We first achieved the deadline for installation (rare with capital projects) and were on budget. Then we had a very short learning curve for me and the brewers to learn how to operate it. I’m very proud of this project completion.

Best place to drink a beer?
Wherever good friends are.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

CAMRA Vancouver Announces Winners

The CAMRA Vancouver chapter recently held their annual general meeting at the Alibi Room in Gastown, BC, to vote on the President and executive positions and to hand out a bunch of awards to various BC craft brewers for a broad range of categories. The awards were determined after a members poll was conducted and is meant to recognize excellence in brewing and beer service.

“While it may seem curious that the best beer is in Surrey and the best brewery in Victoria, this year’s results reflect the growth in popularity of real ale in Vancouver,” explained CAMRA Vancouver President, Rick Green. “We are fortunate to have brewers throughout the province willing to meet the demand here.”
With permission from newly re-elected chapter President Rick Green, here is the list of winners.

Best Local Brewpub
Gold: Dix BBQ & Brewery
Silver: Central City Brewing
Bronze: Yaletown Brewing

Best Local Beer Cafe, Pub, or Restaurant
Gold: The Alibi Room
Silver: The Whip Restaurant & Gallery
Bronze: The Wolf & Hound

Best Local Liquor Store
Gold: Brewery Creek Cold Beer & Wine Store
Silver: Firefly Fine Wines and Ales
Bronze: BCLS Signature Store (39th & Cambie)

Best Local Beer Event
Gold: The Whip Real Ale Sundays
Silver: CAMRA On a Mission to Mission; Feast of Five Firkins (tie)

Best BC Brewery
Gold: Phillips Brewing Co., Victoria
Silver: Storm Brewing Ltd., Vancouver
Bronze: Crannóg Ales, Sorrento; R&B Brewing, Vancouver (tie)

Best BC Beer
Gold: Central City Empire IPA
Silver: Storm Black Plague Stout
Bronze: Crannóg Back Hand of God Stout

Best BC Seasonal Beer
Gold: Yaletown Oud Bruin
Silver: Steamworks The Grand espresso stout
Bronze: Granville Island Winter Ale

Read more about the event at Green's blog:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

TAPS: Winter Issue

With every issue of TAPS Beer Magazine that gets released, I post a teaser here on the blog outlining what articles are featured and who authored them.

Alan (A Good Beer Blog) has already written his thoughts regarding the latest issue and Chris (Love Good Beer {BC}) felt that the magazine is still a little to Ontario focused.

It's good to see people writing about the magazine, and the constructive criticism and suggestions are always welcome - it helps gauge what others are thinking. When TAPS was re-branded under new management just over one year ago, no one wanted anything to do with the magazine. The first issue was primarily filled with news and stories from Ontario, but we heard from readers and over time TAPS has added writers from the East and West Coasts. We're trying to accommodate each province, and readers from each province, and hopefully it will please the readers out there.

Back to the winter issue, which was released two weeks prior to Christmas. I'll start from the west and make my way eastward.

Connie Proteau takes readers on a ski and brewery tour of the Rocky Mountains and Kootenay region starting in western Alberta. Good read for beer lovers visiting the area's mentioned this winter.

Joe Wiebe discusses, and points out, the various BC craft brewers who keep us smiling through the snowy season with Winter beers. Phillips Hammer Imperial Stout please!

Kristina Santone provides readers with a behind the scene story on the Canadian Brewing Awards gala. She also has lunch with Neil Sharp of Innis and Gunn and tells us how it went.

Greg Clow tells everyone about one of the most respected styles of beer out there - Barley Wines, and does a good job naming some beauties.

Bill Perrie visits the Griffin Gastropub in Bracebridge, ON and has a great time.

Stephen Beaumont ponders a serious question: Who happens to be Canada's best beer-drinking city. You can make your own guess, or pick up a copy of the issue to find out what Beaumont thinks.

Bill White took a trip to Germany (thanks to his daughter) and lived to tell about it. White visits the famous breweries, structures and drinks the beer that has put Germany near the top of the brewing nations.

Sam Corbeil tells another tale from the brewing side of things - about learning from his mistakes.

I conducted an interview with Brooklyn's brewmaster and noted beer author Garrett Oliver when he was in town for a beer dinner featuring Brooklyn's beers. I also headed out to the Publican House Brewery, Peterborough's newest resident, for a profile, and I reviewed Nicholas Pashley revised Notes on a Beermat book.

Mirella Amato was busy in this issue. She interviewed Beerbistro's owner and chef Brian Morin, took an interesting look at where many of the now defunct Upper Canada Brewery employees ended up, and celebrates Dieu du Ciel's 10th anniversary.

Craig Pinhey interviews both Graham Kendall (brewer with Oland in Halifax and maker of Keith's Stout) and Andrew Oland, the President of Moosehand Breweries. He also wonders if there is such as thing as beer TOO bitter.

And that pretty much wraps it up. There is also a gift guide, a homebrewing recipe (courtesy of the dudes at Biergotter's) and beer reviews featuring Mill Street Barley Wine, Yukon Lead Dog Ale, Wild Rose Black Cherry Porter, Picaroon's Man's Best Friend Porter, McAuslan Oatmeal Stout and Hockley Valley Stout.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Castro's Lounge Belgian Beer Tasting

Sunday was miserable outside. Flurries coming down, people cleaning up mother nature's mess from the night before, cold and dark; so to beat the winter blues I headed down to Castro's Lounge to take part in their Belgian Beer tasting.

Castro's Lounge is located on Queen Street East, right in the heart of the beach(s). I paid a visit to the creatively decorated pub back in September of 2007 and it continues to be a place I frequently return to for a couple of pints.

Asim, owner of Castro's (and Sarah's Cafe) welcomed me into the tasting and informed me that Castro's plans to offer one tasting a month, focusing on different beer styles each time. "We performed one in October, one in November, took December off (just to busy) and started back up for January," stated Asim. "We figure this is a great way to introduce people to new beers while educating them on how the beers can best be enjoyed."

The $30 tasting got under way just shortly after 3pm as Chris (bartender and today's host) introduced himself and welcomed everybody to the pub. "We had 15 people RSVP this time, almost right after we announced the Belgian tasting. But due to the weather, it appears not everyone can make it," he announced. It didn't matter, just after 3:15 groups of people walked in from the street without reservations and packed the tasting, bringing the total numbers up over twenty and providing an energetic buzz. Chris briefly issued some instructions, laying out how the afternoon tasting would be structured.

After everyone was settled, the snowy jackets removed, the first flight of Belgian beer was brought out on trays and dispensed to each individual taster. The first round belonged to Wittekerke, a lightly spiced Belgian Wit. After the first taste, Chris spoke at length about the Wit style, the history of the Wit, what spices are typically associated with the beer and he shared glassware tips and proper pouring techniques. Tasters were encouraged to speak freely with one another, sharing what they were tasting.

Duvel was the next beer to be introduced to the crowd and some people in attendance stated that they have never heard of it. Yersekes Mosselbier came next and was then followed by the always delicious Westmalle Dubbel. During this time, Chris discussed tasting. How important the tongue is, what it picks up that the nose can't. He explained the receptors in the tongue and helped people understand where the sour, sweet, bitter and salty spots are located. After the Westmalle, which happened to be the fourth of the eight beers lined up for tasting, Chris stopped the event for a short recess.

We chatted briefly while people were socializing with each other and Chris mentioned that he hopes to one day attract more local breweries to Castro's to hold tastings of their own. "Cameron's has done a couple of tastings here before and they went well; hopefully we can get more in the future." He also told me that this was the largest group he's hosted before and that if things seemed a little hectic it was because Castro's isn't used to getting so many people. "Things will be a little more organized next time as we'll anticipate larger crowds," Chris said. I thought that things were going smoothly and I was impressed with his beer knowledge and presentation skills. He was talking passionately about the beers and the Belgian culture and it captured the attention of both the inexperienced drinker (there were a few) and the seasoned, well versed beer drinker (also a few).

Before coming back to the tasting, Chris asked everyone to either name their favourite beer or their favourite style and describe why. It was interesting to hear the responses. One guy said Bud, another said Kronenburg 1664, Labatt 50 was thrown out there as were some Imperial Stouts, and a Rochefort 8. I have been to my fair share of tastings before, both informal and formal, and this was the first time that I had ever heard the host ask people this question and I was totally interested in hearing from the group. Naming a favourit beer is always a tough question to manovere around, and one that I can't answer honestly, but it was amusing to hear why some of the individuals named the beers they did.

So, back to the last four beers. La Fin du Monde reared its beautiful head as the fifth beer. St. Louis Gueze and Petrus Oud Brun were the sixth and seventh beers, and probably the weakest of the bunch (in my opinion). The last beer belonged to Piraat, a wonderfully strong Belgian golden ale.

All in all the tasting was very well done with a good flight of beers. Chris was very good at keeping the tasting lively, yet somewhat professional and educational. Both Asim and Shelia (owners) were in attendance and they also took part in the tasting, which was great to see - owners connecting with the people who support their business.

What better way to spend a couple hours on a windy, wintery afternoon?

8 Beer Sampled:
Yersekes Mosselbier
Westmalle Dubbel
La Fin du Monde
St. Louis Gueze
Petrus Oud Brun

I'll have information on their next tasting when it becomes available.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Buy Local - Drink Local

Mike Laba, the promotions and marketing brainchild of Cameron's Brewing Co., recently read an article about the declining sales figures associated with the large multi-nationals breweries, and it got him thinking about the 'buy local' philosophy.

I am a big advocate for buying local. I'm not perfect, but I try my best to buy my meat from a local butcher, beer from a local brewer, coffee (sometimes) from a small locally owned cafe, and books from small retailers. Beer especially, and as an individual (Laba) who works in the craft brewing industry, this article seemed to have sparked some emotion.
I read this article this morning “Beer Sales Fall with Worldwide Economic Slump” and had to write about it.
His response to the article provided an interesting read. It's both encouraging and inspiring, and something I thought that readers of this blog would appreciate reading.

Here's a snippet of the post. To read the rest, head over to Cameron's Blog and enjoy.
I read this article this morning “Beer Sales Fall with Worldwide Economic Slump” and had to write about it. Blanket stories like this continue to paint a bleak economic picture, but for us - The Ontario Brewing Industry - this is an opportunity to communicate an effective message and now (more than ever), people are willing to listen. The difference is, we are finally starting to hear it back, which is very, very encouraging.

Perhaps one of the few upside’s to this economic meltdown will be the shift in people’s conscious when shopping and purchasing. Perhaps people are really starting to see the difference that buying local can make. I can visit a big box store and pick up a few things at once where my money will inevitably end up flowing out of the country…or…I can stop at those three or four local, independently run shops that I pass everyday and interact with the owner, get a better product and feel better knowing that my money will most likely stay within not just the country, but the community.

Although this shopping conscious may be off to a slow start, we are seeing it starting to gain traction. Because we are a small operation, we interact with every customer that walks through our door and we are seeing many new faces these days. Comments are starting to sound more familiar from these new faces. We are hearing things like,

"Support your locals"

West 50 Pourhouse: Mississauga, ON

I never get out to Mississauga, in fact I think I can count on one hand how many times I been there for something. Well, I had to head off to a hockey arena for a research project (my fiance's, not mine) a couple of months ago and used that for an excuse to visit the West 50 Pourhouse, giving me a chance to look over their 115 taps lines featuring 105 different beers.

The restaurant is attached to a large commercial building, making it tricky finding a way in. Once inside the building you go for a bit of a stroll before finding an escalator that leads you to the front entrance. Here you’ll be greeted by a lovely young hostess who will usher you inside the posh dining lounge.

I took a seat at the bar and within two minutes I had a pint in my hand. It wasn’t my first choice. Or my second. I had asked for a Delirium Tremens – out, and something else – out, so I went for a Cameron’s Auburn that was nice and fresh. I have heard some disparaging things about the freshness of West 50’s draught beer, but the Auburn was delightful. I briefly chatted with general manager Jason Joynt who confessed that while they do offer a large beer menu, it is sometimes difficult to ensure all 115 tap lines remain stocked all at one time. “It’s hard, but we have been doing a pretty good job making sure we are fully stocked, but busy nights sometimes put a strain on our inventory,” explained Joynt. I guess I arrived after a busy week.

All around us were middle-aged people dressed somewhat professional for a night out on the weekend. Joynt states that the clientele changes daily but it mainly consists of younger urban professionals looking to experience different beers in a more upscale setting than a traditional pub.
As mentioned, the West 50 is slick, very clean and features a polish appearance. It reminds me of the Esplanade’s Bier Markt without all the InBev logo’s on the wall. There are many snug booths to accommodate groups of four that line the far perimeter of the outside wall, situated below a handful of slanted windows overlooking Burnhamthorpe Rd. The dining area is in the shape of a ‘U’, which then reminds me of the restaurant atop the CN Tower. Candles provide lighting on all the tables and the restaurant was decorated with Christmas ornaments to compliment the season.

The bar is long. Very long. It starts at the front entrance of the restaurant and continues right to the back wall. Because of the ‘U’ shape dining area, the bar is also shaped like a horseshoe and tap handles line the back wall with lines coming from a state of the art keg storage room. A chrome bar top is so shiny that I can also see my reflection. Bar back stools line the bar, upwards of fifty or so. Televisions hang from the ceiling and are showing sports with muted volume, providing an almost sports bar feeling. But the music. Turn it down please, and turn off the Katy Perry. I know she kissed a girl and she liked it, but this type of music didn't fit the bill at an establishment like this.

I had the opportunity to check out that cold keg room later on during the visit and it was very organized with all the kegs and lines clearly identifiable . “We haven’t had the chance to clean out the empty kegs just yet, so it’s a little hectic, but you get the jest,” said another manager.

So, 115 tap lines featuring 105 beers. This has earned West 50 the distinction of having the most draught beer on tap in Canada. Sometimes more isn't necessarily better. Some of the beers aren't in stock, many are main-stream beers that you'd find at other chain establishments, and Joynt states that some of the beers have more than one tap locations. "Some of the biggest selling brands like Stella, Coors or Heineken have more than one tap only because they are the biggest sellers." Joynt mentions that while corporately owned and friendly to the national brewers, the West 50 is also working with local craft brewers and importers to make sure they have a wide variety of beers that would please everyone from the local beer enthusiast to the Bud drinkers. Beer cocktails are also on the drink menu, which I have yet to try and not sure if I want to. One thing that I did notice was the lack of beer knowledge the bartender displayed, something that is very essential in a place like this.

My final thoughts - good food, bad music, decent beer selection if available (and fresh) and a good spot to entertain guests coming from out of town. To be a true beer nirvana (instead of marketing the amount of draught lines), the West 50 should look into bringing in more seasonals, experimental local beers and maybe introducing customers to cask. For anyone who has ever been to one of the two Toronto Bier Markt's, you may find that the West 50 has many similar features in both appearance, atmosphere and business practices.

I have yet to really write about a beer bar that isn't independently owned and operated, but given the fact that there isn't much in means of beer destinations in Mississauga, I thought I could do so this one time. *West 50 is owned by Hip restaurants*

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Picture of the Month

Picture of the month belongs to Grand River Brewing Co.'s brewmaster Rob Creighton who had this snapped at GR's first tasting of the year.  Here's Creighton and GR owner Bob Hannenberg addressing the sold out crowd while they sample various winter warmers.

What a beautiful brewery, so rustic and rugged.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Ceili Cottage - Coming Soon to Leslieville: Toronto, ON

What is going on in Leslieville? Just the other day I posted about the upcoming opening of the Roy Public House, and yesterday I received word on another establishment to be opening in the area.

, world renowned oyster shucker and owner of Starfish Oyster Bed and Grill here in Toronto, has recently started a blog that has an announcement about a new pub that he'll be opening, also in March.

From his blog:
Coming in March 2009
ShuckerPaddy is busy building The Ceili Cottage, an Irish Local. Like the name implies, The Cottage will be an intimate spot for authentic Irish fare, of food, drink, music, and good old "craic".

There will be a 70 seat patio come summertime, to accompany the 70 seat Bar & Cottage, where you will find up to 20 taps, local, and Irish food - oysters, mussels, salmon, cured country ham, cheese, veg.

Trivia nights, live music, Literature, Hurling (and other sports on the tele), The Ceili Kilt Club, Matchmaker - ShuckerPaddy will lend a hand on a nightly basis, festivals, fun and frolicking.
I contacted Patrick today and he provided me with some more information - and boy, is it exciting!

McMurray has some big plans for this new endeavour. "My goal is to be open an Irish Local. Not a pub, restaurant or bar, but an Irish local," he said over the phone. "We'll feature Irish food in product and style and will have no deep fryer in the joint." He continued, "I want to create a community resting place that has a strong focus on the hospitable Irish culture while running it as a 'mom and pop' operation."

So what will the beer line-up look like? Well McMurray states that his personal goal is to have 20 draught lines, which would include a 'stout bar'. "I am entertaining the idea of a stout bar that would feature three Irish stouts and three Ontario/Quebec stouts that could see a bit of rotation."

That would leave fourteen open draught lines that McMurray would like to evenly split between ales and lagers from the small breweries of Ontario. "I have ten draught lines at Starfish that showcase many craft beers and the Ceili Cottage will be no different."

There will also be an Oyster Stout that Durham County produces for McMurray. "Bruce (owner/brewer of Durham) makes the Oyster Stout using his Black Katt stout. He adds oyster liquid to the beer and man, it sells well." It will also be available at the Cottage.

McMurray informed me that he has no plans to have bottled beer available at the local. "I would like to go strictly with kegs for a couple of reasons: 1- to cut down on excess waste, and 2- I want to offer the freshest beer available. I want to have the cold fridge right behind the bar, keeping short draught lines; shorter draught lines, fresher beer." "I also plan on serving real ale (cask conditioned beer) right from the start and hopefully I'll be able to add more casks down the line," stated McMurray while I wiped the drool from my chin.

While McMurray personally wants to have twenty beers on tap, he understands that he'll have to take it slow to see if the community will support so many choices. He'll also be entertaining the idea of beer dinners and tastings.

There's more. McMurray plans to create a Kilt club (incorporating a wee bit o' Scottish culture) that will meet regularly at the local over some pints. There will also be dancing, live Irish music, piano playing, and much more. "Irish locals are meant to establish communication between individuals, talking, socializing and being together. There will be 1 television, but it will only come on when there is a major event and even then the volume will be kept low."

So to recap; twenty draught lines proposed, a stout bar, Ontario craft beer, real Irish characteristics, independently owned and operated, dances, oyster shucking, kilt clubs and more. A true local coming to Leslieville and dangerously close to my home.

Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Taps Brewery on the Move

The Niagara Falls Review has released a story about a proposed change of address for the Taps Brewing Company, moving from their current location in a business park in Niagara on the Lake to a more in downtown Niagara Falls.

"Tourists have trouble finding us in the business park. They get to us, but we don't get as much drive-by trade, " said Bob Wallace to the NFR. "We've always been hoping to get some place more on a main route and a little more visible. This move to Niagara Falls should be great for that and what they're doing with the street there, revitalizing the whole Queen Street, it should be a good spot for us."

Taps plans to be open for business by the May 24 weekend (May 16 this year), which is typically the official start to the summer beer season. Taps produces three beers: Red Cream Ale, Charleston Lager and Premium Lager which can be purchased at select LCBO's or directly from Taps' retail store.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Coming Soon - The Roy Public House

I received a number of e-mails after I posted the story on finding $3 pints of Wellington at Kubo Radio in the Leslieville area of Toronto. The e-mails were about the news of Kubo shutting down to be replaced by a new pub.

My daily commute to work has me going right by the location and I noticed the signs in the window stating that The Roy Public House is slated to open in March and will feature 12 draught lines. I spoke with Mark Corbett, Publican and General Manager of the Roy Public House, who explained that the pub will be independently owned and operated by a group who were born and raised locally and make their homes in the Leslieville area. "We are very glad to be opening in the area we're in," stated Corbett, "This is such a great community and we like the idea of giving back to it."

As mentioned, the pub will have 12 draught lines that will feature a bunch of the UK imports along with a few local Ontario craft products (names haven't been released just yet). The Roy will have seating for 70 patrons and will feature a true pub menu, including a Sunday Brunch with Coronation Street on in the background (I wish more pubs offered a brunch). "Our target opening date is the first week in March," said Corbett.

The Roy Public House website is currently being worked on, but Corbett has an artist rendition of the proposed finished facade posted (see below). You can visit the website at

Canadian Readers - Your Help is Needed

I received an e-mail the other day from a gentleman who is currently putting together a book focusing on the history of beer and beer drinking in Canada; and he is looking for some help.  

Ian Coutts, a Toronto based writer and editor, has received the green light from a publisher in Vancouver to get this Draft of History project started.  "This book is going to be an illustrated history, which is why I am writing to you. I have found many old historical black and white pictures and lots of old advertisements, and  I have been busy with a photographer shooting one of the largest collections of breweriana in Canada. But what I don't have is many photos taken over the last few decades of bars and, more importantly, people drinking beer in bars.  I take it your readers are dedicated beer drinkers, so they might well have a visual record of their beer-related exploits over the years."

So this is where you, the dedicated reader and beer lover come into play.  Coutts is reaching out to individuals interested in submitting some of their beery photographs over the years.  Photographs of individuals having a couple of pints in a pub, playing a game in a pub, smoking in a pub and so on.  You get it, any picture that bares significant pub-drinking culture.

What do you get if you submit a photograph that Coutts chooses to use in the book?  Well, there is no money involved, but you will get a free copy of the finished book and you will also receive full photo credits.  

To submit a photograph, send me an e-mail () with your information: Name, phone number, address and a good description of the photograph.  Name the individuals in the photograph (if known), state the year the picture was taken and name the pub that the picture was taken in.  Throw in any other information that might be helpful.  

You can also send you photographs to Coutts directly by e-mailing him at . Should Coutts want to use your photograph, he would send you a permission letter which would need to be signed, thus allowing him to use it.

Judging from the many e-mails I receive weekly from individuals from coast to coast, I think the readers of this blog will pull through, which will help a local author create something we can all be proud off.

FYI - The book is due for publication in 2010.

**Photo above - Tomas Morana pouring a pint at Volo's 4th annual Cask Festival.

Reminder: Grand River Tasting Tomorrow Night

Grand River Brewing Co. is all set to hold their inaugral tasting tomorrow night, as they are hosting a group of 25 individuals to sample some select Winter Warmers.

Starting at 7pm, brewmaster Rob Creighton will crack open two Canadian produced winter beers to be followed up by two Americans and one from England. He will discuss the history of the breweries, the beer, point out the different flavours and characteristics behind each beer and talk a bit about the winter warmer segment. "It is shaping up to be a fun night sampling beer, talking about the beer and learning about the style," stated Creighton this morning.

The tasting is filling up quickly, but there is still room for more interested participants. To attend, you'll have to contact Jane at or by placing a call to the brewery at . There will be a $15 admission fee that will cover the cost of the beer and will also include a brewery tour and bar snacks that will help cleanse the palate in between samples. It should also be pointed out that there will be no charge for designated drivers.

Time 7:00 – 9:00 pm
Location: Brewery at Cambridge, Ontario.

Future Tastings:
Tuesday February 10, 2009 will show case India Pale Ales
Tuesday March 10, 2009 will present Stouts and Porters
Each session will be limited to 25.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Victory Cafe Cask Festival Line-Up Announced

After co-hosting a successful cask festival back on a hot July day, Victory Cafe announced plans to hold another festival (independent of the CASK! group) sometime during the winter months. Well, as most real ale fans already know, January 31st was the date picked and it is fast approaching.

The last festival was terrific. The beers were fabulous and well kept, the food was very good and the laid back atmosphere was excellent for a cask festival. There is no doubt that the good folks at the Victory will put on another amazing day and judging by the list of beers that will be available, I'll be in for a good day.

County Durham Brewing
Blak Katt Stout
Red Dragon
C'est What Old Town Brown

F&M Brewery
Stonehammer Oatmeal Coffee Stout

Granite Brewery
Keefe's Irish Stout

Nickel Brook
Cuvee '08
Compass Empire Ale

Grand River Brewing
Jubilation Ale


Great Lakes
TBD - Winter Ale?

Black Oak Brewing
TBD - Chocolate Cherry Stout or Nut Brown Ale

Maclean's Ales
Scotch Ale

Beer samples will be offered by the half-pint measure, purchased with a beer ticket available at the festival. Hearty food suitable for the season will also be available with a food ticket.

Tickets can be purchased at the door:
$12 – admission, souvenir glass, two half-pint beer tickets, plus one food ticket
$8 – admission, souvenir glass, and two half-pint beer tickets
$4 – additional food ticket
$3 – additional beer ticket

Victory Cafe is located at , right in the heart of Mirvish Village. Come down and enjoy some terrific beer produced by some terrific Ontario brewers.

The festival will commence at 12pm and will run until 7pm.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Bracebridge's Griffin Pub in the News

I like seeing small pub's being mentioned in the media, so it was nice to see Bill Perrie's review of Bracebridge's newest pub featured in the Winter issue of TAPS beer magazine. And yesterday the Gravenhurst Banner released a story about the pub of their own.

The Griffin Pub, opened in August, has to be the only place in the area that insists on strictly serving Ontario craft beers. The pub, owned by Jed Corbeil and Curt Dunlop, also hold monthly beer dinners on the last Sunday of the month that features a small Ontario craft brewery. The beer from that brewery will then be featured for the entire month. Back in November it was Grand River who was featured and just last week it was Mill Street, as Jed's brother and Mill Street brewer Sam Corbeil (who has guest posted here), visited the pub and helped educate customers on the quality of Mill Street's portfolio while matching the beers with specially prepared foods.

I have yet to visit the pub (sorry Jed, coming soon) due to different unforeseen reasons, but I have heard nothing but positive news and I expect the Griffin will be my type of pub and well worthy of a profile here.

Click here to read the story in the Gravenhurst Banner. "They (microbrewers) have a passion for their products," stated Corbeil to the Banner. "These guys devote their life to beer."

**Just a side note - the Griffin is currently closed for renovations with an anticipated re-opening on January 14th.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Meet the LCBO's Beer Category Manager

Things at work have been hectic lately which has put a strain on me writing some new stuff. So here is another past TAPS interview I conducted.

Almost a year ago I sat down with Leanne Rhee, Manager of the LCBO's Beer Category to conduct an interview for TAPS. We chatted for over an hour about sales, the LCBO structure, speculated where beer is heading and discussed how new beers get into LCBO stores. The interview was featured in the Spring issue of the magazine that helped shed some light into the LCBO, which sometimes seems like Fort Knox when trying to obtain information.

Some of the information may be a little dated (like the question on American craft beers), but most of the questions and answers are still relevant and interesting. Enjoy!

Eleven years after the Ontario Government abolished the Temperance Act, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, better known as the LCBO, opened sixteen outlets in the Province and would soon become one of two establishments in Ontario to sell alcoholic beverages. That was 1927, and by the end of the year there were 86 stores operating throughout the Province selling beer, wine and spirits in a set-up similar to that of today’s Beer Store. Today there are more than 600 LCBO stores around the Province generating billions of dollars and earning the distinction as the largest alcoholic purchasers in the world.

The LCBO has undergone an extensive turnaround in recent years when it comes to their beer section. Years ago who could expect to find a handful of imports, usually generic European lagers, and mainstream beers like Canadian, Blue and Bud. The scenery in the stores has changed to reflect the growing demand for quality craft beers and the diverse imported products from great brewing nations. The selection is ever changing, the consumers are better educated, and the LCBO has built a long-term vision for the future.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Leanne Rhee, Category Manager of Beer for the 600 plus stores in Ontario, to gain a better understanding of the person responsible for overseeing the improved beer selection and to get a glimpse into the future of the LCBO. Joining us was Manager of Media Relations, Chris Layton, who described himself as a beer lover and graciously provided insights into the spring/summer release.

(She laughs out loud) I enjoy fruit beer. Is that a cliché? A girl saying her favourite style is the fruit beer category? Regardless, I enjoy lambics, especially Krieks. It varies though, as I like to pair my beer with what I’m eating or sometimes it depends on what mood I’m in. There are so many terrific styles out there to choose from, but I’ll stick with fruit beers.

A Canadian favourite: McAuslan Apricot Wheat Ale. It’s a great beer for salads, chicken, eggs or warm summer nights.

I have worked with the LCBO for four years.

It has been two wonderful years working as the Category Manager of Beer. It has provided me with a great opportunity to meet some very interesting and creative people.

I am responsible and accountable for the achievement of sales and profit, assortment management (product mix, purchasing decisions, procurement), merchandising strategy development (product shelf representation), product and brand promotion, developing strategic/collaborative relationships with suppliers and industry partners, building relationships with retail, identifying and implementing growth opportunities.

I work in the beer industry! The people are great, their products are delicious and the environment is wonderful. I take great pride in the fact that I have been part of the ever-increasing craft brewing movement, which is the fastest growing segment at the LCBO.

Stronger than ever! Net sales increased by 9% this year. By the end of 2009, the beer category’s sales will have doubled in 10 years. We are attracting new drinkers all the time, offering fresh, unique and wall balanced beers.

Everyone knows about wine and food but I’m here to tell you that beer and food go together so well. TAPS readers are probably already aware of this though. We’re actually getting loads of feedback from customers who have told us how well a certain beer went with their roast beef, or how well it matched their desserts. There is a big difference between matching foods with beer and wine, and it is creating a whole new group of drinkers. These people are open to trying new beers in their recipes which helps push the craft beer market. I also think the craft brewers have done a great job promoting the qualities of beer and food pairings, and customers are quickly releasing the rewards.

Beer Guys and Beer Gals is a program operating in 100+ stores that have strong premium beer sales. Each store has one person, either a guy or a girl that looks after the beer section. Their role is to maintain the appearance of the section, educate new employees, speak with brewery people and assist the store manager with selection and ordering. They also provide product knowledge for customers who make inquiries and they can recommend what food goes well with certain beer.

The Beer Guys/Beer Gals from the 100+ stores attend a training seminar once a year where they’re taught about beer styles, pairings, presentation and entertaining habits and selling techniques, by both international and domestic brewers, agencies and others in the beer industry. They also learn about the LCBO’s annual beer strategy and how to effectively present it to the public. These staff members are key to educating consumers about the taste and qualities of the beer we sell and we hope to start rolling the program out to more stores in the near future.

What most of the public doesn’t know is that we plan our beer strategy a year in advance with the exception of the occasional special listings. To bring in a new listing we plan ahead by recognizing holes we need to fill. For example, if we plan to get stouts in for our winter season, we send out a ’product needs’ list to our partners asking them to submit their products. The product needs list would be based on consumer demands and market trends we’re witnessing. Our partners would submit their products for tasting where teams of highly trained and experienced tasters try the products they rate them based on taste, appearance, smell and colour. If the beer passes, other aspects like packaging, pricing, marketing plans, style and the beer’s sales history are taken into consideration. We then start the process of marketing; ensuring customers receive adequate information to make a valid purchase. Taste is where it all starts though.

Product consultants; people that have made a living learning as much as they can about the products we sell. We have an in-house product knowledge department that gathers resources for ongoing education, and they have spent years developing their palates.

By contacting the LCBO toll free hot line (1-800-ONT-LCBO) or by speaking with your local LCBO Store Manager.

Right now the LCBO is experiencing a large number of requests directly through stores and through our hot line for gluten free beers. When the requests first started coming in a few years ago we responded by bringing in Le Messanger from Quebec, and sales have been good so far. A lot of people are inquiring about Red Bridge, a gluten-free beer made by Anheuser Busch and we’re listening closely. Besides the gluten-free products, we get numerous requests for more Ontario Craft Beer and other craft beer from other countries like the United States and Provinces like Quebec. As mentioned earlier, beer and food pairings are also becoming a big trend. Cans are also becoming more and more popular.

Ontario has witnessed a tremendous growth in canned beer over the last 18 months. We first thought that it would continue to cater to ‘summer’ drinkers but it has evolved year round. They are convenient to handle, you can mix and match in our eight pack holders and they are easily recyclable. Canned products in the stores have largely been driven by customer demands; you ask, you received and it’s great to see more and more OCB products now being offered. It’s a great way to experiment.

Customers continue to purchase them in record numbers. An interesting fact though is that we haven’t added any German lagers in years. It is not something we are actively building on.

Our priority has been to work with and promote Ontario Craft Beers, and that will continue to be a priority for us. However, we have listened closely to all the feedback, requests and inquiries from consumers and we are currently looking at expanding our US Craft Beer selection in the next three to fives years. We have been speaking with US breweries and Ontario import agencies about getting some products listed in the future.

Yes. Although, it’s not as easy as people think. We don’t just call up a brewery and ask if the brewer can send beer to us. People sometimes forget that US Craft breweries are similar in size to Ontario Craft Breweries and can’t always supply demand for other markets. They are usually at limited capacity as is and can’t afford to expand past their home turf. They also have to comply with federal bilingual labeling requirements, which can be costly for smaller breweries. But yes, we have contacted them.

Some are very interested but tell us that they can’t commit at the moment. Some ask us to call back in a year, two years or five years to see if they would be able to work with us at that time. There is definitely interest to expand into a well-educated beer market.

That is something I’d rather not comment on. It was before my time as Category Manager and it wouldn’t be fair to provide a comment when I don’t know the whole story. I do know that it was very popular and did very well and it is a brewery that we have been looking at. (It has since been added to the LCBO’s general listing beginning in April - $2.25ea.)
*It is obvious to those of us living in Ontario that Dogfish Head didn't arrive in April, but arrive it eventually did. At the time of the interview it was anticipated the beer would be on the shelves by the May long weekend.

Well, we certainly have plans for bringing in more Unibroue products. As most readers may be aware of, we recently stopped carrying Unibroue six packs in favour of their 750ml bottles. Next on the list is to get their seasonal products into the stores. Their Ephemere Apple beer will hit the shelves for the summer release and we expect big things from it. As for other Canadian Craft Beers – we have also paid close attention to what has been happening across the country, and yes, we plan on looking at some for future releases.

We have forged a great working relationship with each other since they formed as an association. It feels great promoting locally produced quality beer and we have done a great job doing so. We noticed that consumers are starting to appreciate the freshness of the Ontario beers and are drinking more of it than ever.

It was very successful. Most stores sold out very very fast. It was a great way for people to try some OCB beers that they may not have tried otherwise. The LCBO expects a new Discovery Pack to be released in the fall.

Easily put – more craft and specialty beers. We find that more and more people are experimenting with imports or craft products, which are priced higher than domestic lagers from National breweries. The LCBO’s focus for the future will be to bring in a greater selection of these premium priced products.

(She laughs). An LCBO one or a private one?

The biggest misconception about the LCBO is that people associate it with government. Yes it’s a government agency but we operate it like a private business. This is a question best situated for the Provincial Government.

We try to differentiate from them by offering more craft products, more specialty beers, and the opportunity to see and choose what you want to drink by yourself. The LCBO currently accounts for 20% of the Ontario beer market and that number is expected to rise as we bring in most diverse products. We try to cater to every beer drinker out there and as I mentioned earlier, our sales have done very well in recent years.

Store manager’s control anywhere from 50-60% of product assortment in their store. Many tailor their product listings to meet the interests and demographics of the area their in or choose products to help fill a void in a particular style.

Yes, if it is part of the core product list. Meaning the product has to be listed at the LCBO.

Well that’s up to the breweries. They cover the price of the beer and pay a small ‘rental fee’ to set up. Most of that ‘rental fee’ goes to charities like We Care who fund raise for Easter Seals and Camp oochigeas (camps for children with cancer). The breweries can make arrangements for tastings everyday of the week with very little exceptions.

As a matter of fact yes, I am a reader. I check it out daily.

*Laughs* Some people are very opinionated but overall the site is very useful. It’s a great way to see what people are saying about some of the beer we sell. We take their comments into account, as they are very passionate and educated in craft beer.

Anytime! There is a beer for every occasion.

There you have it. Rhee is off on maternity leave right now so here's wishing her all the best!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Interview with Sam Calagione

Way back in May I wrote about the Dogfish Head dinner that I attended at beerbistro, which featured a 9 course meal with 10 Dogfish Head beers. Sam Calagione was in attendance and I had the opportunity to interview him for the Summer issue of TAPS: Canada's Beer Magazine. For those of you that didn't have the opportunity to purchase a copy, here is the interview in its entirety. Enjoy.

When the Dogfish Head Brewery in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware opened for business back in 1995, they were known as the smallest operating brewery in the United States of America. Today they are one of the fastest growing craft breweries and they’ve done so on the back of extreme beers like Worldwide Stout, 90 min IPA, Raison D’Etre and more, which all feature high alcohol content and bold flavours.

Sam Calagione, the charismatic owner, brewer and marketer of Dogfish Head (DFH), recently made his way to Toronto to take part in a nine course DFH beer and food pairing at Beerbistro, and to also celebrate DFH’s 60 min India Pale Ale’s addition to the LCBO’s general listing. Calagione’s passion for craft brewing is un-paralleled and he is often referred to as a brewing rock star and an inspiration to others. He is also the author of three beer books and is quite the entrepreneur outside the beer industry. Luckily for TAPS he graciously took time to answer some rapid-fire questions about his brewery, his beer and the man himself.

How did you get into brewing?
While working in a Mexican restaurant in New York during my college days, I became interested in all the styles of beer available and I took pride in recommending some to customers. Pretty soon I started home-brewing and experimenting with recipes and got hooked.

When did the light bulb go off for you – when did you know you wanted to be a brewer?
In the living room of my apartment after friends tried my first batch of cherry flavoured beer. They liked it, I was proud of it, and right then and there I knew I was gonna be a brewer.

What is the best part of owning/operating a craft brewery?
Experimentation. Experimentation my man. I love going into the kitchen and grabbing different ingredients to mix into a brew or heading to a library to look up old beer recipes and then trying to re-create their magic. I love wearing all hats, doing all the different jobs that go with running a craft brewery and the people are great in the industry. I have a ton of fun everyday, it beats looking at a computer all day.

Your marketing is very unique. Why don’t others emulate?
I love our marketing and I understand it is unique. I think others need to create their own niche and finding what it is, is very exciting. I wanted to create a logo and a brand that gets recognized everywhere and I think were getting there.

Why did you call your business Dogfish Head?
The name Dogfish Head comes from a small peninsula off Southport Island, Maine where my parents have a summer cabin that I spent many rambunctious childhood years. Also, I thought it was a great, unique, rustic name that people would remember and it would speak to our hard work in starting up a craft brewery.

When you’re away from the brewery, what do you do to decompress?
I love to row. I actually built my own row boat, so I love getting out on the water. I also love biking too. But spending time with my family is my ultimate method of relaxation.

How has the book tour gone? (Author of newly released “He Said Beer, She Said Wine”)
Very, very well. Better than expected. Sales have been great and it is getting a lot of great reviews from both wine people and beer people. It’s fun going into different cities to sign books and hear the positive remarks.

Why extreme beers?
I believed in brewing quality beers with quality ingredients when I first started out. Still do. I didn’t want to brew a flagship lager when I could brew a nicely balanced hopped beer for off-centred people. It put DFH on the map and opened up many doors for us. It gets people discussing our products, which leads to sampling, and that’s where brewing quality beers wins people over.

Are you a fan of Canadian craft breweries?
Yes I am. There are some terrific craft breweries in Canada. Unibroue is one of my absolute favourites. They do some cool s**t. I really enjoy Propeller’s English style beers from the East Coast. Tonight I enjoyed a Great Lakes Devil’s Pale Ale from the boys at Great Lakes (Toronto) and it was great. I like the beer from Cameron’s Brewing Co. (Oakville) too, especially the cream ale, very sessionable. And the guys there are great too. Fun times.

Goal for the Ontario market?
Push DFH 60min like crazy and get sales up. Then we’ll discuss options for bringing in more of our products. I like the idea of our Worldwide Stout as a vintage product in your liquor stores.

What was the dinner like?
One of the best DFH beer dinners I have EVER attended. Top three for sure. I have been to thousands since starting the brewery and this one blew me away.

Will you be back?
You betcha. I told Brian (Chef Brian Morin, owner of Beerbistro) that it would be cool to do one big dinner a year using different DFH beers.

*Photo - Sam on left, beerbistro owner/chef Brian Morin)

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