Thursday, January 20, 2011

How Big is a Victoria "Pint"?

Two recent articles have reminded me of that great bone of contention for anally-retentive drinkers and tightwads the world over: the size of a "proper" pint.

The first article was Pete Brown's take on the possible introduction of a beer glass somewhere between the pint and the half pint in British pubs. I buy his argument: given the variety of alcohol content in contemporary beers and various levels of inebriation we seek out for medical, practical and hedonistic reasons — it makes perfect sense to allow us to binge drink in increments of our choice.

The second article hit closer to home and raised more irk in me: the OnBeer blog article about the interpretation of "pint" in Canada. The argument in this article is that, unlike in Britain "serving sizes are not regulated in Canada – a bartender can serve beer in whatever size glass suits their fancy."

Now Jason from OnBeer is not endorsing this sorry state of affairs. He is making the astute observation that Canadian pubs are not obligated to serve beers in specific sized glasses (fair enough), but also that some of them may actually offer "pints" or respond to orders of a "pint" with a serving that is anything but a pint (not fair enough).

Most Canadians seem to have bought into this conspiracy that "pint" just means "big glass". Most probably don't know that the Canadian Weights and Measures Act explicitly defines a pint as 1/8th Gallon (568ml = 20 imperial fluid ounces), which is the same as a British pint (as opposed to a US "pint" which is only 473ml = 16 US fluid ounces). Most don't care, they just drink the stuff. But you'd expect a barman to know, wouldn't you?

Being a smartass, smallbeer conducted an experiment to see how knowledgeable and scrutable our city's fine publicans are when it comes to selling stuff to drunk people.

To discover whether Victoria publicans know what a pint is, and whether they sell pints that are actually non-pints.

a. I put on a telemarketer's voice and phoned 16 of Victoria's pubs
b. I asked to be put through to the bar manager or a member of bar staff
c. I asked these three questions:

1. What serving sizes do you sell your beers in?

(If any of their answers were "pint", then:)

2. How many millimeters or ounces is in your pint?


3. Are you aware of the legal definition of a pint?

Missing data: Now, some of the bar staff either refused to or could not answer 2 or 3. Some also just said "16oz" or something other than "pint" in answer to question 1; god bless them for their honesty, but they ruined the rest of the research design. Some of them got upset when I said the word "legal" and hung up on me. Chillax people!

I decided therefore to keep the pubs' identities anonymous, as my intention was not to embarrass or annoy anyone. (However, if you're interested in the sample range, all but two of the pubs are listed on this site).

Here are the answers from each pub. (Just to be clear, a legal Canadian pint is 568ml = 20oz)

[[[ Before I discuss the results, I should remind you of one TOTALLY CONFUSING FACT: serving a federal legal pint (568ml) in BC is ILLEGAL, as the maximum allowable beer serving size in BC is 500ml (17.5oz). 

Isn't BC fucking WEIRD?

Only it isn't… it appears that is either an old rule or pure lies, as the new guide for primary liquor licensees actually states (p. 26):

Draught beer: You may serve draught beer in single servings
of no more than 24 oz (680 ml) or smaller servings of multiple
brands, provided the total served at one time is no more than 24
oz (680 ml).  For reference, a Canadian pint is 568ml.  Pitchers
or other multiple serving containers shared by two or more
patrons may contain no more than 1.5 litres of draught beer. 
But that doesn't deter many BC publicans from thinking that 500ml is the maximum they can serve, as this study partly shows…

Oh, and the same document clearly defines "sleeves" (that other massively variable measure of beer) as 14oz, so go figure. ]]]

Serving a "pint"
Well. Bearing in mind that the legal "pint" is 568ml=20oz, Victoria pubs do a fairly poor job. Of the 7 pubs who claimed to serve a "pint", only 2 served a legal pint. In a Victoria pub, a drink that is described openly as a pint may be as small as 14oz, or as large as a 20oz. Both pubs that claimed to serve sleeves (14oz) are guilty of under-serving (both serve 12oz).
Defining a "pint"
Out of 16 pubs, only 10 pubs agreed to guess what the legal definition of a "pint" is. 2 Pubs got it correct, but one of those pubs admitted to deliberately serving 2oz less than a pint. One pub thought that a 20oz serving was illegal, although I'll put that one down to the alleged older guidelines in BC pertaining to a 500ml upper-limit.

Draw your own… I'm not one of these die-hard Englishmen who insists on a "real" pint of beer. But I'd like to get a pint if that's what's being sold to me. OnBeer are correct — the size of a pint is legislated, but it probably isn't regulated too actively, judging by the scope of serving sizes that are passed off as a pint in Victoria.

Of course, the saddest and most upsetting part of this whole study is that I have learned over the last two hours that I am almost completely incapable of operating a spreadsheet program, and most certainly crippled in my ability to publish a spreadsheet to the internet in any sort of readable form.

I blame the BC Liquor Board.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Kidnapped by CAMRA

I went to my first CAMRA meeting on Tuesday. I've always been vaguely opposed to the organization. Not for any mature, rational reason, of course. But because I used to read the "Real Ale Twats" Viz comic strip, and because Pete Brown's observations of his local CAMRA members portray them every bit as arrogant and anally-retentive as the comic.

This blogging lark has brought me into contact with many a member of Victoria's CAMRA and I've found them all to be disappointingly pleasant and fun. I suppose that some CAMRA chapters defined themselves during some real struggles with the imminent death of cask ale, and are rightly very proud of their successful revival of the craft. But pride sours into self-importance in many of us, which probably explains Brown's anecdotes of deplorable CAMRA capes.

CAMRA Victoria is no stranger to success. Constant campaigning and promotion has  certainly contributed to the thriving cask scene on the island. But our chapter comes across as a much more easy-going club for beer-lovers, providing a passable excuse for board members to duck out of the house once a month and get plastered in the name of a good cause. I'm all for that.

I attended the Victoria Annual General Meeting mostly in the capacity of a wannabe journalist, hoping to score a story for our BeerOnTheRock website or our monthly Monday Magazine article. I also suspected (correctly) that, seeing as it was hosted at Swan's, there'd be a free beer or two in it for me. Little did I know how the evening would end...

I sat with maybe 40-50 jocular CAMRA members, including Dave and a handful of other beer friends, and watched the yearly report and election of board members with interest. It was nice when President Glen Stusek gave us props for our blog and Monday article. I sat there with a pseudo air of journalistic objectivity, but I found myself getting into it. The talkers were charming, the mood was great, and that Swans Yuletide Ale was going down very well indeed.

After the first round of presentations, we were given a ten minute break that warped into twenty-five minutes of swift drinking and talking with home brewers, brewery reps, and flirtatious septuagenarians. We got a lot of interest for Ian's proposed Vancouver Island beer tour. Armed with a Swans Extra IPA each Dave and I sat down for the membership vote.

CAMRA's membership in Victoria is up to the high 200s — which is fairly impressive for a city of our size, and marks a steady increase. That said, as the voting progressed it became apparent that a few members had stepped down after long periods on the board, and there were one or two positions left to be filled. "How are CAMRA going to pull this one off?" I thought, as the president repeatedly appealed for someone to step forward as Secretary. But soon enough someone volunteered. I'm not sure he'd operated a computer before, but raised his glass with confidence and the crowd roared their approval.

After a few more votes, they were calling for Directors-at-Large — the final positions needing to be filled. Dave, who had been out drinking for a good two hours longer than I, told me to nominate him. Drunker than I realized I was, I shouted "Dave!" — possibly before the president had finished asking for votes. Dave was hilariously voted in.

I rocked back in my chair and laughed a bit. How had Dave got himself into this mess? I thought. I drained my IPA and heard my name being called out. I was being asked to be a Director-at-Large as well. It was flattering, but I have my journalistic integrity to think about. So of course, I declined gracefully. Besides, I have no idea what a Director-at-Large actually is.

Somewhere inside me the booze-fueled self-destruction pixie shouted "fuck it".
"I'll do it!" I heard myself say.
They voted me in.
I'm officially a twat.

I suppose I had better get a membership now.

A twat

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Know Your Beer Blogger

Beer bloggers writing about beer blogging and beer bloggers is about the most indulgent thing you can do, but who else reads these things anyway? To prove there is literally no beginning to my originality, I present smallbeer's guide to the various species of beer bloggers that may be found making their home in the dense undergrowth of the webbynet.

Anyone who reads beer blogs, or blogs devoted to any subject really, quickly realizes that an abundance of motives, character flaws and mental illnesses drive people to write these things. This typology is in no way complete. I have omitted the most boring categories: namely those smart, witty, balanced folk who regularly turn out delightfully entertaining blogs with some true insights. And you may not find many bloggers who totally conform to each species, but admit it, we all know people who fit these descriptions to an extent. We may even recognize ourselves somewhere in this motley bunch...

The Narcissist
These fey folk stare longingly into their beer glasses, transfixed and in awe at the beauty of their own reflected images, haloed in lovely yellow bubbles. Beer is an accessory designed to display the captivating plumage of their own impeccable tastes. Often sad inside, they intersperse cutting-edge beer reports with appeals to their followers for love, attention and affirmation. 
How to spot: The narcissist will generally flock to whatever's hot, but can be found practically everywhere for fear of missing out on the latest "underground" beer trend. Their blogs will be linked on all the coolest breweries' websites, even if the narcissist had to hack the server to get it there. Spouts terms like "artisan", "cottage industry" and "pastoral" — always inappropriately. 
Natural habitat: Twitter, social net-working sites, any web-medium where their avant-garde appetites can be flaunted instantaneously.

The Trophy-Hunter
Beer reviews are this species' specialty, and LOTS of them. Their blogs are shrines to gluttony, and the reviews read like a FHM-reading bachelors' list of sexual exploits.
How to spot: Trophy-Hunters' blogs will feature a comprehensive list of reviewed beers that may be sorted by brewery, style, and percentage rating. Beers from all known brewers will be reviewed, and from time to time mysterious brown bottles marked "#37" or "prototype X" will surface, as the Trophy-Hunter's exhausted food supply is supplemented by as-yet-unreleased beers scavenged from fellow trophy-hunters and homebrewing friends.
Natural habitat: BeerAdvocate, Ratebeer, untappd, basically anywhere where conquests may be displayed, or 90x90 pixel beer-achievement medallions may be earned to post on your profile.

The Entrepreneur
A most nefarious, deceptive species — the entrepreneur beholds the craft beer movement as an untapped resource to exploit in its quest for riches and celebrity. Expect this blogger to post, tweet, and comment with nothing but vacuous, simpering, all-too-positive remarks about everything to do with beer, in an attempt to ingratiate itself with as many craft-beer folk as possible.
How to spot: The Entrepreneur will quickly seek to capitalize on its ill-gotten following by plastering its blog with advertisements, releasing a mobile telephony device "app", and developing "synergistic partnerships" with other people who view the craft beer scene as a "loyalty infrastructure". Expect endless tweets, retweets, exclusive tweets, limited edition tweets, all designed to increase traffic and boost blog's performance on all manner of corporate influence charts and whatnot. Refers to self as a "brand", "scene-leader", or "facilitator".
Natural habitat: Twitter, networking sites, and get-rich-quick seminars.

The Beer Geek
The love for beer is genuine and strong in this sturdy breed, but some deep compulsion drives the Beer Geek to obsess over knowledge and detail to the detriment of sanity, relationships, and personal hygiene.
How to spot: can identify any beer from its bottle cap or a 1cm-squared section of its label, and is likely to be able to give the year of its release and the full name of the person who put the cap on. Owns more bottles of beer than it could ever drink, yet considers its collection "woefully incomplete". 
Natural habitat: lurking on forums, accessing strange government archives about 1920s barley taxation, attending cask events alone.

The Redeemer
Reconciled to a fairly permanent addiction to the sauce, this creature has hit upon the idea of beer blogging as way to regain some dignity from their hopeless predicament. Like Paul Giamatti's character in (the excellent) Sideways, the redeemer is capable of great sensitivity and insight with regards to craft beer, but would gleefully neck Olde Englishe from the bottle if he thought no-one was watching. Tends to disappear from blogging for weeks at a time due to "blackouts". 
How to spot: The redeemer's blog will take on a rambling, inconsistent style. Promised blog posts may fail to materialize, and bursts of enthusiastic daily posting will be followed by terse, depressed tweets, and occasional lashing out at other types of bloggers in convoluted blog posts in order to feel better about some deep personal pain...
Natural habitat: chat-rooms populated by other career-drinkers, any medium that may result in a freebie, holding cells. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Top Ten Beers of 2010 That I Can Remember Tonight

Flavius, bless the sultry princess, posted a nice top ten of his favourite beers of 2010. I'm always impressed by people who can decide on top tens. I would struggle to list my ten favourite numbers under "11". I'm also too fickle (or spineless) to give a percentage grade to a beer. I just don't think I could present a compelling argument as to why this beer is precisely 1/100th better than that beer. And if I can't manage that, I'd just be lying to everyone if I pretended I could. Experience into numbers just doesn't go.

But I do think some beers are great, and under most circumstances I'd take them over others. Problem is, "some beers I like" is a weak opening gambit for any article, so I'm happy to play the top ten game for the sake of the new year spirit. Each one of the beers listed (in no particular order) below is at least 46% more delicious than a can of Carling, and up to 3 times more lovely than a Molson Canadian Cold Shots.

#1 Driftwood - Belle Royale
If I start talking about how much I loved this I won't stop. Read old review.

#2 Jolly Pumpkin - Oro de Calabaza
This was one of the first wilder ales I ever tried, and I have yet to top it. I took a bottle on recommendation from someone at Vancouver's Brewery Creek beer store. It was one of those staff recommendations where the guy held out the bottle, knowing he was doing the right thing in steering a loyal customer toward a great beer experience, but at the same time hating me for taking it out of his store because he loved it so damn much it HURTS. The most mysterious, disorienting beer I've ever tried.

#3 Oakham - Citra
Had this on tap at the Malt Shovel in England. A single-hopped golden ale brewed to session strength (low 4s I think), served out of a cask. Juicy lychees and marijuana hops, syrupy but not sweet, impeccable bitterness waters the mouth for endless sips. Just the most adorable all-dayer you will ever come across (pictured on the right, next to the also divine Hoggley's Solstice Stout).

#4 Pretty Things - Baby Tree
The world's second best "fruit" beer, possibly, from the always-outstanding Pretty Things gypsy brewery. I loved the rum-and-raisin character of this quad, which is brewed with dried California plums in the kettle. Quads are darkly fruity in any case, but the fruit treatment is far from superficial, and brings a chocolate-shiraz note to an otherwise perfectly made traditional quad.

#5 Brooklyn Brewery - Lager
Surprise factor played a part in this one. Novice to "vienna-style" lagers, I believed for a moment that this hop-heavy lager was an incorrectly labelled pale ale. Brooklyn have done a really good job with this beer, which delivers all the pucker and ether of a middleweight IPA, but with a clinically clean finish.

#6 Moon Under Water - Blue Moon Bitter (first batch)
Victoria's most recently-opened brewpub allowed me to take several bombers of their first batch of bitter home with me after I interviewed them on their premises. Three batches later, I returned to the brewpub to find the brewers still drinking the first batch because it was so darn good. Blue Moon Bitter is a wonderful session bitter in its final incarnation, but the fermentation gods smiled on that first batch and I still crave it from time to time. It was a lightly peppery, very dry bitter, with the most persistently earthy hop flavour I've ever come across. Smelled like fresh soil dug up with your hands. 

#7 Dominus Vobiscum - Hibernus
The sister beer to this one — the lovely "Belgian IPA" Lupulus — almost sneaked into this spot, but the Hibernus just tips it for me. Quebec's Charlevoix microbrasserie are generating a formidable reputation for big-but-classy beers, trading on the increasingly crowded genre of European traditional recipes given a North American twist. The Hibernus is a 10% Belgian strong ale with real character. The beer has a very velvety texture, and a really fat slug of dark fruits, mild mulled-wine spices, and a touch of absinthe. A beer for a special night.

#8 Pelican Brewpub - India Pelican Ale
The best of a very good bunch of IPAs that I generally obsess over. I already reviewed this one as part of my in-no-way-numerically-oriented "Top Ten IPAs of the Year" article.

#9 Brewdog - Sink the Bismark
I wouldn't say I wanted to hate this, but I expected it to be a throwaway experience, akin to a visit to a Victorian beer freak show, manned by a leering Scottish vagabond in a ringmaster's top hat, if only there were such a thing. How could a 41% abv IPA even resemble a "beer", let alone merit serious appreciation? I was very surprised. The Brewdog beer is the essence of IPA, and a remarkable liquer in its own right. If it were more affordable, I'd go as far as to say it should be in any well-stocked liquor cabinet. Raunchy with hops and syrup and searing heat, the Bismark is a fine drink.

#10 Brasserie Dieu du Ciel - Peche Mortel
I tried this gargantuan coffee-infused imperial stout in December 2009, but the aftertaste lingered well into the spring of 2010 so it warrants a place here. This is my favourite "dessert" beer. It is decadent, sweet, and mouth-invading. Many beers that go all out for impact, as 'Mortel (or "Mortal Sin") surely does, end up hopelessly muddled or just plain offensive. This one is manna.


So there you have it. I'm likely to give a different list if you asked me tomorrow, but I can say with 99% certainty that these are all outstanding beers and well worth your time. Happy New Year.