Monday, May 28, 2012

Halifax, NS Beer Scene Roundup

I am in Halifax for work. Rather than process my notes, it is probably just as instructive to post them in their entirety:-

Halifax beer notes: Day One.

Place: Henry House (3oz samplers followed by a pint of the red)

Best Bitter
Decent, malty, casked with usual character. Bit thin. Not bitter.

Best Bitter Special
As above but dry-hopped with fuggles. Not overly detectable in this small sampler. A larger glass might have opened the aromas, but otherwise identical.

Modeled on Theakston's. Award-winning, but award not specified. Is indeed rather malty. Scotch whisky coloured, moderately thick head. As drinkable as OP but without the leathery notes of the original.

Keefe's Irish Stout
Very light for a stout. Closer to a dark mild in colour. Redder than a porter. Nitro-tapped. Decent body. Roasted bitterness is too light, but probably within range for an irish style? Have to check. Smells mainly of dust, to be honest.

Despite a little vegetal character, probably the best of the lot so far. Light colour: toward pale honey. It's a pale blond ale (whatever that means) hopped with Oregon fuggles. Gently hoppy. Dry and mildly apple-ish in the finish. What might constitute a collection of small flaws actually combines in a very drinkable beer.

Propeller IPA
Bitter. Light side of orange. No detectable head. Presumably also casked as it's flattish. Bittering hops dominate, very little aroma or flavour. Wouldn't order another.

Haddock and chips. Batter is underdone and mealy. Fish seems decent quality. Fairly well priced at $14 for two medium sized fish. The chips are the best bit. Darkish, double-fryed, and curly, with occasional scabs of skin. Coleslaw (poor) and tartare (decent) in prepared plastic containers — one of the worst customs of pub food. Smacks of no attention, regardless of ingredient quality.

McAuslan Oatmeal Stout
Bit of a write-off. Nitro tap, but to its detriment. Guinness works due to the slight sourness. This is just bland. Nitro should be used carefully. THis beer is calling out for some zing, and if the ingredients don't have it, the CO2 better had.

Garrison Irish Red Ale
*first one in a pint pot.
CO2, red as you could expect. Slight odor of straw and subtle hops. Very light body, which is good, as the hop profile couldn't carry much weight. Perfect carbonation. Mild blackberry smell coming off this one. Mildly uriney smell. That said, it's still drinkable.

Service: very good. Amiable, not over-indulgent, spotted two samplers in response to my queries.  

Place: Rogue's Roost

Decent. Citrusy, mid bitterness. Red colour. Thought it was the red ale initially. Slightly sryupy, without the bitterness to carry it off. Decent pint. Better than the Propeller.

Place: Hart and Thistle

Double Citra SMASH IPA
Murky mid orange colour. 2mm head, but lacing apparent immediately on pour. Looks like a 355 pour in a pub that's half mall, half mock-tudor "english" pub. Very good. Bitter as fuck. Probably not the 100IBUs but close to (chalkboard says "100+IBUs 7.5%") Mildest hint of feta cheese on the nose. More piney than I'd expect from a pure citra hop brew. A hint of chamomile nose comes through the rest. Very clean and dry. Despite some syrup on the mouthfeel, I'd put this as well attenuated, perhaps down to 1.010 or less. Lacing is gloopy, sticky, but sparse.

From the Hart and Thistle Brewer's blog*: (by the way, check out the "Messie" series on this blog. Accoriding to one of the H&T chefs, #3 is landing in August rather than in two weeks as the blog suggests)
Vital Stats:
Gravity - 17.3 P/1.071
IBU's - 100+ (324 Calculated)
Hop Rate - 8.2 lbs/bbl
ABV - 7.5 %
Colour ~ 7.0 SRM
Malt - Pale Ale
Hops - Citra

Notes on the above:

7.5 abv is not quite apparent, which I credit the hops for (rather than a lack of actual abv). It is very bitter. Colour is misreported from my sample. Looking at the SRM chart, I'd put this at 13, possibly 14.

Rock Bottom
They may well have a selection of local brews (brewed by Nash who also brews at Hart and Thistle), but they also have Peche Mortel in bottles. Either way, they did not have the Coffee IPA reported on the brewer's blog (the fact that it was tapped on Saturday and is absent come Monday illustrates Halifax's craft beer fanboys are good and keen at least). Peche it is then. Goodnight.

*"Nash" brews — from what I can ascertain from his wonderfully scattered blogposts — a massively impressive range of weird and edgy beers. Please do visit H&T and RockBottom if you get the chance. Plus, he swooped for the email address, so it's chutzpahx10.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

LDB Privatization: Gift Horse or Trojan Horse?

Many BC drinkers will have read the extraordinary news that parts of our province's antiquated Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) are likely to be privatized by 2014. As someone who is already involved in a campaign to change the LDB, you might expect me to cheer. If this turns out well, it will save me a lot of time organizing and circulating E-petitions. But this is a very dangerous time! Be vigilant.

First of all it is important to understand what's being proposed. The LDB consists of liquor stores, warehouses, and administration. The 197 retail stores are not being touched at this time, but under the new system will presumably pay the same wholesale price as private liquor stores (BC LDB currently buys direct and marks up wholesale for private stores).

It is the warehouses that are to be sold. They currently serve 1400 retailers and 8000 bars and restaurants. BC Liberals are selling these assets off to balance the books, but also because the current system is a "dog's breakfast", in the words of BC Energy Minister Rich Coleman who is currently tasked with overseeing the LDB.

Whoever controls the warehouses controls the beer supply: what gets bought from brewers, what gets sold, where, and for how much.

What makes the LDB such a hound's brunch is that it is set up to penalize producers by depriving them of operating costs (currently, the LDB takes breweries' beer, sells it, and THEN pays them, after weeks if not months of wandering around with brewers' cash in their pockets). BC Liquor Stores are also run in a horrendous manner, with 12–foot sections of floorspace devoted to 6 packs, 12 packs, 18 packs, 24 packs etc of shitty US big-brand import beers, while local craft beer producers have to grovel to all-powerful portfolio managers just to get a single shelf spot for an entire line of products.

Beer Store: 247 Flavours of Not Good

So any reform is good, right? Well, not necessarily. Have you ever heard of Ontario's The Beer Store? It is a privately-owned retail/distribution operation that works alongside the LCBO and is afforded bizarre rights to control much of the beer sales in the whole province. What's worse is that The Beer Store's owners are — you guessed it — Anheuser-Busch InBev, Molson and (with a tiny share) Sleeman (Sapporo). So you have big corporate beer deciding how much craft beer gets sold. Unsurprisingly, a visit to one of the hellish Beer Stores reveals a dismal dearth of decent drink. Ask any Ontario craft beer drinker or producer and they will tell you that their system is brutal and certainly oppressive.

But that doesn't mean that BC's warehouses will end up in similar hands, does it? Maybe not, and what's being proposed currently is nothing like as significant as the Beer Store reforms — at least not yet… In the interests of some worst-case-scenario conjecture, let's do some quick sleuthing eh?
Can you see where I'm going with this?

Anyone who cares about beer, wine, music, love, or life itself, should pay careful attention to LDB privatization developments, and get ready to support a consumer-based campaign to make sure that any reforms are truly in the best interests of BC drinkers and producers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Review: Lighthouse Belgian Black

Lighthouse gave me a bottle of Belgian Black to review this week. This doesn't happen to me very often. I have long harboured a fantasy of utterly panning a freebie just to prove I have integrity. Maybe that's why I don't get too many. On this occasion, I'm happy to risk looking like a sell-out, because I really like this beer.

A belgian black called Belgian Black. Not much to go on here. I anticipate something like Trois Pistoles as it's the blackest belgian-style beer I regularly drink. That or a dark dark dubbel that's not actually that black once you get it out of the (attractive) matte black frosted bottle.

The beer is brewed with a Belgian Ardennes yeast strain: more evidence that Lighthouse is taking things seriously (they have a reputation for being yeast sticklers). I enjoy Keepers Stout, and I'll drink a Beacon IPA from time to time, but Lighthouse hadn't tempted me too much until they ramped up the quality and invention with the Big Flavour series. Deckhand was a lovely saison and Uncharted is practically the only "Belgian IPA" worth drinking.

So the Black comes with some pedigree, yet still puts the bar into near orbit. It has the charcoal, roasted qualities of an imperial stout — with seared walnuts and some dry cocoa. But where you'd expect a battering ram body to follow, BB is lighter, almost dainty, with a fresh plummy flavour. There's a fair bit of booziness, but it is sweet enough to carry it off. Although not of the same flavour, the mixture reminds me of blackcurrant-liquorice candies I ate as a child — a confectionary contradiction greater than the sum of its parts.

Not only is Belgian Black the best of the "Big Flavour" series (which has had high highs and middling lows), but the style strikes me as the most promising and necessary of all the North American/Belgian crossovers we are mercilessly subjected to. Lighthouse should be doubly commended for underlining that fact with some authority. Nice one.