Saturday, September 22, 2012

Book Review: Brew North

I picked up Brew North at the local library at the beginning of Toronto Beer Week. There was another book that I picked at the same time and it will probably make another post. Brew North has an awesome cover that spoke to my inner hoser.

It traces the history of beer in Canada or maybe that is Canada as it was created because of brewing. The tone is light and flows. The pictures of breweriana (old beer stuff) are awesome. I often found that I was transported back to my Eastern Ontario roots as talks of taverns, cheap beer and painted barns went by.  In some ways this book is a conversation and love note to the good old days that seem to be coming back.

The point in this book echoes the point that is made in the next beer book that I will review, that the pub and beer have often been the centre of the community or small town life. There is a bit of lamentation around the tavern and how it used to be post office, hotel, community government and centre of the village in days gone by. I am not sure that Ian Coutts has spent enough time in the great vast small communities. Even twenty years ago, there was a tavern culture in Eastern Ontario that exists somewhat to now.

In Barry's Bay, there was the Balmoral where older gentlemen would drink their pints and younger ones just home from the bush or the work crews would have a quick one. Shuffleboard was still there and the requisite tables and chairs.

In Wilno, just a few klicks up the road, it has become the place for city folk to come and celebrate Kashubian (a region in Poland) culture. There is a live and thriving weekend scene that is dominated by booze, home cooking and smatterings of a language that was almost lost. You are as likely to hear a Polish dialect as English on those nights.

The second piece that struck me was his descriptions of the beer parlour. It is basically a dour place where you sit, order your beer through windows, and drink with no music or anything. I thought the description and pictures were hilarious. I think that an old style beer parlour serving only serious craft beers could make a go of it in Toronto - as a hipster post-ironic statement on the state of alcoholism and partying. It was that and the fact that it reminded me of some of the remnants of these windows that I have seen at many church bazaars and other converted restaurants along the byways of older communities.

I must thank Ian Coutts for writing this. I will be reading more from him, as the style was excellent and it took me down an understanding of current trends and where they came from. I often wondered about the disappearance of the big brewers but never thought to go further than the business pages. Thanks.

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