Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why Drink Mass Market Beer?

So, recently I have had a few mass market beers. The people that I was with were surprised by my choices and questioned my beer acumen. Also, got a little ribbing from untappd friends. It may surprise some people but I am not much of a beer snob in terms of not drinking this or that just because it is mass market. I'm the same way with food.

I would like to have the best of what's available but there has to be a way to enjoy what is in front of you. These applies to life in general. It does not mean settling or making do but rather to enjoy an experience on its own merits.

To put it another way, don't let the lack of good food and beer ruin a birthday barbeque for a friend. Relax, enjoy and soak it in. The friend is more important that drinking mediocre or even shitty beer. Next time, offer to bring a case of something that is close to the style of beer. Pass it around but don't be a douche. That's my job.

I tasted Bud Light Lime Mojito for the first time because I was curious how it became popular other than the marketing. After drinking it, it made me think of a poorly made Desperados or a beer cocktail. I get why people would like it. I get why people wouldn't make this concoction of lime, mint and splash of spirits at home. I didn't like it but at some summer dinner party, I would consider introducing a few people to a similar beer cocktail or a decently made punch bowl of mojitos.

Anyways, after all that ado, here is a list of reasons on why a craft beer drinker should try mass market beer.

  • it`s what is at the bar/wedding/party/mitzvah/bbq/whatever
  • you are broke
  • you are broke and want to get drunk
  • remind yourself why you like craft beer
  • important to understand why something is popular so that you can continue to be an evangelist for craft beer (there's a reason why the Catholics were really good at their conversion rates)
  • sometimes, it`s okay to have a refreshing beverage on a warm day and not to give a fuck
  • not be a douche bag when someone offers you something they genuinely enjoy. Figure it out.
  • keep an open mind and see what the big boys are doing (Alexander Keith`s Hop Series, Blue Moon, and Beer Academy) 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Hallowe'en Food

I have always loved Halloween. I have not had the best time celebrating it in the last few years and let me explain.

Growing up in a rural area meant driving around to houses of people that you more or less knew. You would get dressed up in your finery and pop out of the car and go to a house. Most times, the houses were too far apart and you would have to get back into the car to be driven a little more to get to the next house.

I remember a few missteps, like the time we thought the light was on at a house and it turned out to be the glow of a television of an elderly couple. We stood there waiting as they rummaged through their cupboards and came up with a small handful of peanuts for my sister and I.

Eventually, I moved to a big city and Halloween became a big deal where you dressed up and became something different. Everyday is Halloween became a mantra as we went from bar to house party and back home. The food at the party was always cheesy and good enough for twenty somethings eating drunk.

Skip forward. Married with kids in a really big city. Never having gone trick or treating here, I have left the taking of the kids out to my wife while I stand at the door giving out candy. I'm tired of not being involved in this pageant and parade. This year, I am taking my inner freak and going out with the kids. We will leave treats at the door and hope there is no fiend feeding frenzy on our steps. We hope not to see blissed out tricksters gorged when we come back, but you never know.

Every year there is a pre-spooking party where we have a selection of food that is definitely a step up from the food I had in my twenties. I can't help but feel that Halloween as a food holiday gets short shrift. Most of the food expressions are about how gross you can make something look. While that puts most of the foodie mantra of eating with your eyes on its head (eyes on the head sounds like a meatloaf presentation waiting to happen), there is still no specific dish that exemplifies the holidays.

Where is the turducken? Where is the Christmas cake? Where is the Easter ham? I mean there is plenty of candy but that just seems like a default lowest common denominator. If you don't have anything else, at least there is the candy.  See what I mean?

Strangely, I don't have anything but the observation. I would guess that it would have to be a fall dish that doesn't look very good but tastes amazing. Some type of witches brew of a stew to take before heading out to trick or treat.

But there is another option that has always held a special place for me and that is the more traditional festivals that takes place at this time. Samhain and All Soul's Day (Day of the Dead) occur around this time and it is for reflection on those who have passed. It is also the harvest season passing into winter darkness. Food and drink are left out for the departed to partake on these days. Since it the days of slaughter, meat is plentiful, and nuts and apples abound. Maybe this is the day to set out a plate for a loved one that has passed? A favourite meal of a recently departed may be the way to get back to the reflection on death, dying and then going out and lampooning with mummies, vampires, and zombies.

Have a safe and happy holiday.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Defining Bad Beer, Part 4


It has been a while since posts, so for those who can't follow the bouncing red ball or do not have photographic memories or are just showing up now, here is the recap. In the first part of this series on trying to define bad beer, I made the argument that unspoiled mass produced beer that did not taste bad was not enough to define bad beer. In the second part, I argued that aggregate sites such as bulletin boards, beeradvocate, ratebeer and untappd were biased towards micro and craft brews and at best could help you find a candidate for bad beer. In the third part, I took a look at beer judging and how its focus was to help brewers get better by judging the beer by the category that the brewer said it was looking to achieve.

Wow, that last post is a month past. I've had some time to reflect on where I thought this series was going to go and... well, it has been interesting. Two other bits that have added to my reflections are the study that came out about ratebeer and beeradvocate. Bunch o' links here...
Amateurs to Connoisseurs ,
Amateurs to Connoisseurs - The Powerpoint,
Understanding Rating Dimensions,
Understanding Rating Dimensions - The Slides
The papers are more on product and product recommendations but some of the conclusion of the first paper resonate with what was posted in the second part of this series.

The other bit adding to my reflections was a comment made by David Ort on his trailer for his Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook. He makes the personal observation that craft beer " delicious beer that's made by people who are proud to drink the beer and emphasize flavour over any other goal."

These two bits nicely bookend where I thought I was going with this series when I began it. At the end of the day, there is the drinker and the drink in front of them. What affects the individual drinker when drinking the brew and what affects the brewer when brewing the brew?


I suppose that a lot of what a person decides is based on their own experience and where they are in their journey towards expert drinkers. That is some of what the above papers are looking at but there is a whole raft of perceptual biases that affect one's ability to judge. In a large group, I suppose that biases will be dampened down somewhat. This isn't to defend the tyranny of the majority but it is to say that it is mostly inoffensive.

One of the more interesting experiments that I heard of recently (and can't find the link) where a person was given the same product and tasted both, would develop a preference between the two. It's just something we do as human beings.

The other factor that has perked my interest has been the idea of educating palates, whether it be ratebeer or a buddy telling you that you have to try this, and craft beer is a little about that. It drives the idea that anything in opposition to that is not good.

So for a drinker to define a bad beer, it will be:

  • in regards to the lowest thing that they have tasted, 
  • where they are in their experience, 
  • a bunch of other bias such as what was their first beer, last beer, worst beer memory, 
  • and what level of expertise they are at.

Why do brewer's brew beer? To drink and to make a profit. To suggest that craft beer exists only in terms of taste is to ignore a truth. If they can't make money, they won't be there long. Most small brewers charge a premium for their product because the market will pay it, the brewery is at capacity and the ingredients require a mark up.

Craft brewers often make a bad batch of beer due to issues of experiments gone wrong or production line issues. This doesn't make their beer bad.

A lot of words in this essay have been spilled on intention, as in does the beer meet the intention of the style or the brewer. On the whole, a beer can't be bad if it meets the style requirements. There are always exceptions and the most obvious one to this statement is wild beers. If you are making a brew based totally on the environmental factors, well, things might turn out the way the brewer intended but still taste good.

There are basically three considerations for the brewer in terms of this bad beer discussion: ingredients, profit, and taste. I figure that if some aspect is ignored, the result is bad beer or bankrupt brewer. So big corporations that look for the cheapest ingredients to maximize profits and decide mostly by boardroom then we are definitely looking at bad beer possibility.

What makes a beer bad?

I guess I have dithered long enough on this question, so here is my answer:

  • first priority profit with little regard to taste (beer by committee),
  • a good number of "ordinary" drinkers actively dislike beer with few people who like it,
  • and will probably not be on the shelf for long
So there it is. It seems that by this definition there is very little bad beer but probably a lot of mediocre brews. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Cask Days 2013 List

I just took the list from the website and put it into excel. I haven't yet made my picks for tomorrow. I will be attending Breakfast and Session 1.

Here it is.

Just click on the to Download button. Hope to see you there.

Monday, October 14, 2013


Somewhere along the line growing up, I have forgotten what Thanksgiving is all about. Sure, the one that we celebrate can be said to be on the backs of a genocide but there is something to be said for taking time out every year to be thankful.

There are many harvest festivals around the world that celebrate the end of summer and fall and the descent into winter. Thanking on one hand and preparing for the cold winter on the other. Every year brings births and deaths, new friends and old enemies.

Food is tied up in this festival as it is normally the time that the farmer's could afford to feast on all that could not be saved for the winter. If you have ever canned, you may remember cursing these long hot nights trying to get the jam done or getting those last few pickles down or cursing the last batch of zucchini relish. We are returning to this notion of seasonality and now that there is a season for everything. I have learned to be grateful for these small inconveniences as they will serve you well in the winter.

In the summer, many beer could not be made before the advent of refrigeration. Craft beer has moved to this model as well. Cask days will be coming soon as a celebration of that old style of brewing.

On a personal note, this past year has been rough but I think things are turning a corner. Last year, I got tendonitis in both my arms which impacted my Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. I found it hard to cook and do stuff with my kids. Maybe I went into too much of a shell. This fall, with physio and a change of outlook partially due to not being able to do things like throw a ball, hold a hockey stick or a knife, I am finding new joy in these things. For that I am thankful.

I am thankful for my family. I should say families. I am blessed to have a birth family minus a few members, my wife and my wife's family, and my family of friends. Some friends of mine are going through a tough time right now and it is easy to see some of the other typical things that winter often brings or symbolizes. This is a good time to be thankful for your friends and let them know you think of them often.

It is the end of summer and well into fall. Winter is coming. It brings its own rewards, cuddling with hot chocolate and kids, hockey games, skating and Christmas. Cookies and cakes followed by sledding when weather allows. While winter is survival, it is also of dormancy and thought.

I am thankful that winter is followed by spring and that many of the trials and hard times are often followed by a rebirth and growth leading back to fall. Be grateful for the summer and fall. They will see you through the winter.