Tuesday Drink Night tears apart the LCBO’s spring beers release

5
Mar/09
0

As mentioned by Dr. Bamboo, Thursday Drink Nights exist as a means for like-minded individuals to gather in a chat room and trade and discuss cocktail recipes whilst actually making them with whatever they have stocked in their home bars. There’s usually a theme and apparently, amendments to proffered recipes can come fast and furious, with each one adding a different nuance and, of course, everyone gets shitfaced.

While I have yet to participate in one (my own bar is ill-suited to this kind of thing at the moment and it’d drive me crazy operating with the handicap a government monopoly leaves me with) I thing the idea is fantastic and I’ve often wished for company while trying out the latest purchase.

Taking advantage of some visiting friends, I handed them each a glass and we proceeded to get into the latest beer offerings from the LCBO. The drinking party was made up of Lowell, my brother with a rubber arm when it comes to alcohol; Rodney “The Professor” Snooks, my soon-to-be-ex roommate and philosopher and his girlfriend, Kate (I don’t know much about her but she seems nice and she’s originally from England so she’s gotta know something about beer).

pietraFirst up was Pietra, a “strong beer” from Corsica. Weighing in at 6% ABV, its claim to fame is the inclusion of chestnuts in the recipe. It’s also bottle-conditioned for eight weeks. I can’t think of many French beers I’ve liked beyond Kronenbourg 1664 (both Fischer and Boris were disappointments) but this was kind of different and I thought it might be interesting.

The first thing I noticed was the pineapple smell. It was lightly carbonated and I thought it had a bit of a metallic aftertaste. Lowell thought it tasted flat and it reminded him of a UK bitter. Neither of us could detect any chestnut flavor and thinking back, I can’t think of it as anything but mundane. I wouldn’t drink it again.

Next up was Stuart’s Natural Session Ale, a local beer from Scotch Irish Brewing. Billed as a light beer, it’s only 3.7% ABV and is bottled in a stubby which I’m always fond of. I also really liked the picture of the Scottie dog on the label. I’d never liked anything else they offered but I figured I’d give them one more chance.

stuartsUnfortunately, the beer was an epic fail for all of us. Rodney shook his head and walked away, saying “I don’t know…” (which proved to be the most positive thing any of us could find to say about it) and that’s all we got out of him for the rest of the night.

I noticed a slight taste of honey but this was overshadowed by a weird sour mouthfeel and it smelt kind of doggy. Lowell thought it tasted like “a wet newspaper at the bottom of a kennel” and Kate agreed, noting that it “lies there and dies on your tongue”. I drank it but I didn’t like it; I wouldn’t call it sessionable.

Wanting to get the hell out of our backyard, we moved across the ocean to Germany for Köstritzer’s Schwarzbier, a canned dark lager (4.8% ABV).

kostrikerLowell thought it smelt “cheesy” and Kate agreed. I didn’t pick up on that at all but my first sip packed a wallop of liquorice. While there was some chocolate in there, my overriding impression was of those nasty black candies that everyone leaves at the bottom of the bowl and I couldn’t shake it.  Lowell thought that it would probably taste better at the brewery and he’s probably right. Kate was happy that it tasted better than the ale that proceeded it and we could all get behind that.

To get the bad taste out of our mouths, we moved on to Hockley Stout which promised to save our tongues by pouring “like liquid midnight”, even from a can. With a relatively-low ABV (4.2%) I was hoping I might have a new stout to stock my fridge with.

hockleySmelling of caramel and chocolate, I found it light, smooth and refreshing with both notes of coffee and a continuation of the chocolate. I thought it was a perfectly acceptable stout and certainly better than Guinness.  Lowell disagreed, labelling it “foamy” and “vacuous”; like “a soda-pop with no fizz”. He liked the Schwarzbier better. Kate thought it was “complex” and she liked the smell of tamari that she was getting from it.

By this point, we were pretty drunk (despite portioning out the beer, we’d been drinking it pretty quickly) so we wrapped the evening up with Fuller’s London Porter. Porters generally differ from stouts in terms of strength so I was expecting something even smoother than the stout that had proceeded it.

fullersI wasn’t disappointed as the chocolate smell and taste was woven with this lovely creaminess which stretched out into a nice, long finish that reminded me of one of my mum’s chocolate malt pie. Like the Hockley Stout, the carbonation was mild and I could easily see myself drinking two or three of these over the course of a night. Lowell and Kate also liked it and even went so far as to proclaim it the best beer of the night. While the localist in me wants to get behind Hockley, I have to agree; the London Porter was exceptional and I’ll definitely go back for some more.

We never got into Young’s Double Chocolate Stout which I think beats all of the above handily but I’ll get into that next time, along with the second half of the LCBO’s spring beers release.

The battle to educate consumers on the content of their alcohol

9
Feb/09
0

Over at bevlog, they’re asking what readers think of a ongoing proposal by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to change the labels of all beer, wine and spirits by including “Servings Facts” information on each and every bottle.

monavie_nutritionBasically, it would indicate “typical serving size, number of servings per container, calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat”. It would also be divided into two sections, ingredients and alcohol facts.

Even though this is an initiative proposed by the TTB of the USA and doesn’t effect Canada (at least initially), I’m generally in favor of more information being released to consumers to help them make decisions about the products they want to purchase.

First and foremost, the “alcohol by volume” percentage which is already printed on the label is supplemented by a box informing you of the “fl oz of alcohol” per serving. Despite some comments declaring that this might be mathematically confusing for consumers, I think it’s a fairly important piece of information to be including on the product, especially when you think about how most people don’t know how much alcohol is in individual servings of whatever they’re consuming and this can vary from product to product.

Sure, there will be lots of people who won’t give a damn but a conscientious person who wants to monitor their intake because they have to drive will be able to measure that a whole lot better or refuse a drink that would put them over the legal limit.

The other boxes don’t really matter so much although I suppose some people monitor their calorie intake closely enough that a drink will make some difference and it could be argued that people don’t pay enough attention to the empty calories they consume through drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. The one exclusion that really catches my attention is the lack of any information concerning the amount of sugar in a product.

Surely this is a rather large oversight; sweeter drinks are often cheaper, mask the taste of alcohol and include more nasty congeners, the by-products of fermentation which are toxic and, along with dehydration, are largely responsible for hangovers. (On an unrelated note, I was surprised to find that bourbon drinkers like me are especially at risk; our favorite tipple contains thirty times as many congeners as vodka.)

Criticism of the proposed regulation has come from at least two different groups; another post on bevlog that featured Bluemont Vinery’s opposition from the viewpoint of a small business and a PDF posted on a government site by Wine America, a national association of wineries. Both of them are opposed because they claim adhering to these standards would result in untenable costs to smaller producers and lead to general consumer confusion due to excess labelling. They go on to state that because there is little variation in alcohol content and carbohydrates of most wines, there is no point in releasing this information and since most people already know how much they can generally handle, telling them how much pure alcohol is in a serving would also be unhelpful.

I call bullshit. I’m generally in favor of labeling for most food and drink. Most people now appreciate being able to determine the nutritional content of products they purchase at the grocery store and I would imagine they would feel the same about alcohol. Hell, I’d go further and add regulate the spread of GMOs as well as the food we’re served in restaurants but that’s another issue. As for the cost, I don’t see why it couldn’t be passed on in part to the consumers if this is something that people are truly interested in.

I’m well aware that regulations often favor the big guys like Diageo who have the money to spend on laboratory testing and label redesigns but I don’t see why both the American and Canadian (when the time comes) governments couldn’t subsidize the little guys with grants and tax breaks.

Bevlog also linked to a video of former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop talking about why adding this information to labels is important and although it’s rather dry, I agree with them; this video deserves some attention as well.

Madison Beer Review put together a great post talking about this issue and they presented several things I didn’t know at the time of writing this: one of the biggies is that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the group who originally petitioned the TTB to change these regulations has been accused of having a “neo-prohibitionist” stance by many “beer supporters” and is of the opinion that alcohol is ruining America. I don’t doubt that their voice would be moderated by the presence of health organizations and industry lobbyists but it’s still something to consider.

However, both sides have some explaining to do. It’s also pointed out that while the Beer Institute “objects to publishing alcohol content” because said content “in most beers is in a very narrow range” this is hardly true when one considers the beer “can range from less than 4% ABV (alcohol by volume) to over 20% ABV”. As we move away from the the narrower definitions of beer that its members (who include Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors and Heineken) generally espouse, it makes sense to include this information on the label without it hurting the same folks whose products warrant its inclusion.

Also, as Madison Beer Review notes, it’s hardly realistic to reduce serving portions proportionally in terms of the ABV-2 oz for a 20% ABV brew is just silly-it would make sense to consider how beers with a higher ABV are meant to be shared and incorporate that information onto the label somehow.

In the end, I agree with them. Full disclosure of ingredients would be a nice step and would also tie in nicely with the trend to more natural, healthy products. After all, I’d take a St. Peter’s Organic English Ale over a Smirnoff Ice cooler any day.