Monday, 30 April 2012

Beer Label Art With A Purpose: A Crafty Use For Beer Labels

For quite some time now, I have been saving beer labels: peeling, drying, pressing, and saving.  Some thought my master plan to craft a collage was genius, others called me "obsessive."  Both may have an element of truth.

Yet, although it is mildy obsessive to not 'let go' of these fine labels (or poor labels for fine products), most of us have some similar attachment to that which we enjoy and some even collect bottles that take up huge amounts of space with no re-use (outside of home-brewing - which is different from standard bottle-collection).

Thus, in my obsessive ingenuity, I figured I should make collage beermats (that double as placemats) with my labels.

Alas, some of my favourite labels did not come easily or tore in removal, so though I am fond of many labels and beers that follow, there will always be more to come.

I have not laminated these yet, and the glare makes the images slightly less than perfect, but for those who watched me carefully peel labels at pubs and wished to observe the output, here are my first 4:

If you are curious, two decent hints to remove the labels are steaming or, oddly, the converse: soaking in icy cold wetness.  I suppose moisture is the common element.

I could offer some hints on a 'how to,' but I presume it to be straightforward as these four are not only the first beermat-label-collages I have ever made, they are the first four collages I have ever made and, with a few slight adjustments, I believe I did fine.

Let me know in the comments if you want more info or wish to pass on some unique labels!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

500 Rated Beers: First Substantive Milestone and Reflections on Reviewing

With some out-of-town company, I found myself at Dieu du Ciel again last night and I will share a few summaries and thoughts as I celebrate my personal 500-rated-beer-milestone.

Though just over a year ago I had rated only 250 beers and have since rated a further 250 doesn't mean I have had a year of rampant alcoholism.  In fact, at a few different events, I would have 15-30 tiny samples.  What it means is that I have been much more consistently systematic and original in my choices, having sought out more diverse options rather than standard, adored staples (though with consumption of a few of those too).

It is also worth noting that I distinguish between rated and reviewed.  A review requires some thought, some time, some privacy really, with me and my beer and a fair assessment as well as time to record these thoughts while not drinking more than one and socializing simultaneously.  A rating often has scant accompanying notes and is mainly a grade, though all of my 'reviewed' beers are also 'rated.'  Some of my 500 rated beers (maybe 100 or so of them) have had reviews as well, but when conditions aren't ideal only negligible notes remain.

In rating, not full review, I can offer the following from last night's (re)new(ed) tastes:

Rated Beer #497: Déesse Nocturne (Night Goddess) is a delectable dry stout with slightly bittering hops characteristics on the tongue, and a faint coffee quality.  Aromas are faintly of cocoa alongside deeply roasted maltiness expressed as nuttiness.  Dry, but still easy drinking and smooth/creamy if thick especially on nitro tap.  Grade: B+

Rated Beer #498: Rigor Mortis Blonde is a nice, smooth, enjoyable Abbey style blonde with sweaty pear aromas predominating alongside a much fruitier flavour that is sweeter despite an average ABV.  Grade: B+

Rated Beer #499: Revenante, a smoked porter, is a bold and unique, but very nice beer.  Most smoked porters seem to be only lightly smoked while rauchbiers tend to be too smoked for my tastes.  This is quite strongly smoked (almost like a rauch), offering aromas and flavours of campfires and tobacco, yet it is smoothed by the toasty malts and, for my tastes, it works more than many other smoked beers.  Grade: B+

Rated Beer #500: L'Herbe à Détourne, which DDC calls a "Citra Tripel," makes for a very nice fusion style by adding a tropical fruit and bittering hops to this classic style.  Though the fruits are strongly presented (and fit well with the style) the drying finish is a bit muted by the slightly excessive warming booziness and yeasty spiciness.  It is tasty, but probably a bit extreme in its representation of each of these (reinterpreted) style characteristics and would benefit from a smoother balance.  Enjoyable, but I can't drink two of them - and maybe even one should be shared, especially since its 10.2% comes across to both tongue and equilibrium!  Grade: B

Also, Péche Mortel is just as good as ever on nitro tap!

I don't know if is the nature of the review process or my academic-inspired understanding of critique, but I always feel I have to say the good and the bad in a review and hope that people grasp how far the good outweighs the bad, even if fairness demands commenting on that which could be improved.  Moreover, in the academic vein critique is most reserved for that which is praised or otherwise valued in order to strengthen that which shares common values and sentiment.

In that vein, I hope it is clear that I LOVE DDC, love their beers, love their brewpub, and always look forward to going back, but in the interest of fair reviewing and of provoking perfection out of excellence, I will say that I have been there three times since January and a few negative observations have arisen:

Service was best the first time (which was busy but not crazy busy and had one excellent server and one less solid one), was bad the second time despite being relatively empty, and was dreadful last night (at least table service, the barkeep was excellent before we got our table).  Yes, it was extremely busy and the staff was overworked and understaffed, though that seemed like only part of the problem as both table servers seemed extremely annoyed that we should even flag them down to ask for a drink and we were only once - upon our first seat procurement - solicited without taking countless attempts to flag them down.  I don't wholly fault the servers but, as this seems to be a continuing trend, increased staffing for weekend nights and an attempt to ensure we don't sit for over half-an-hour with empty drinks (as we twice did) alongside a friendly manner when happily flagged to remedy the situation would only keep me from adding these comments after praise for the quality of the product.

Also, though minor, all three (different) tables and two of the (perhaps different?) chairs I sat at during these visits were not even close to level.  Last night's barstool-chair rocked as much as an inch in either direction and it would be a true shame if this caused anyone to spill excellent beer.

I do enjoy the atmosphere and adore the beer (especially those you can only get there and the nitro tap) but a few minor tweaks could turn this from being one of the world's best brew-pubs into being an unparalleled marvel and an even greater Montreal landmark than it already is.  Even greatness can improve and I offer these to pursue that for a place that is already nearly atop my must-list for the city country.

Yet, I am thrilled to have rated my 500th beer here and I am sure there will be many  more!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Reorienting Myself

So, with an invite to share my (infrequent, but nonetheless occasional) baseball thoughts at Big Smoke Signals, combined with my move, I have decided to reconsider my beer focus slightly.  I'll address the specifics in turn below.

First, on baseball, though I will still link to my baseball posts here, when they do arise, I will post them at Big Smoke Signals (and will begin with my delayed Jays' pitchers thoughts for 2012 shortly).

Second, I will - for presumably obvious reasons - be drinking more Quebec beer and attending more Quebec beer events.  Thus, it seems only logical that there will be a disproportionate focus on Montreal area beers, breweries, bars, news, and events.  Though I have not blogged excessively about this yet, I am only beginning to orient myself towards the scene here.

However, I will not neglect those stories of note from elsewhere or those tastings for (Canadian or literal) imports, though they will likely diminish.  For those in Quebec, welcome to my blog; for those outside, I hope you visit and do so with anticipation of tasting beers mentioned herein!

Finally, though I still may periodically comment on politics and/or Linux, as I have yet to do so since I comment of politics for a living and on Linux on Facebook, I have removed this description from the blogroll.

That doesn't mean I won't retain my right to multi-task herein, but it means I have chosen to focus on the maltyness of the name and the pun may, from here-on-in, refer to my other interests and external expressions rather than the blog scope.

The links remain and shall!

Friday, 20 April 2012

The Case for Beer: And How I Lost 55 Pounds While Drinking Beer More Often

A friend passed along this excellent infographic, which led me to write my long-pondered thoughts on beer, health, and weight which follow after "the Case of for Beer."

Beer Infographic

Myself, I have consumed beer far more regularly in the last 16 months than in the previous years of my life.  Yes, I used to drink far more at a time, far more often, but since February 2011 I have both gone from around 250 rated beers to 492 while also losing around 55 pounds.


Well, not only do I rarely drink to excess (though when I do I still attempt to stay within my daily caloric allowance), but I typically have one beer most evenings and only when it won't push me over my daily calorie and carbohydrate allowances (which are determined by my goals and

Moreover, consider the following:

A typical pale ale has (12 oz bottle): 150 Calories, 14 grams carbohydrates (and nothing else, though stouts, porters, and browns often have 1-3 grams of protein also)

Average orange juice (12 oz): 164 calories, 1 gram fat, 37.5 grams carbohydrates, 33 grams sugar.

I am not going to say that beer is healthier than orange juice, but it is easier to drink - in moderation - while watching your weight, provided that you get your fruit and vegetable intake from whole foods.

Finally, exercise (both cardio and strength) and exercise harder after one of those rare excessive drinking nights.  Oddly enough, I have discovered that strenuous exercise is the best cure for a hangover (provided you properly hydrate while so so doing) and also allows me to lose weight and build muscle even during weeks of extremes (such as the holidays).

Beer, like all carbs, need not be cut from your diet if seeking to control your weight, but for me (as for many), keeping track of your consumption allows these pleasures in quantities that are conducive to a healthy enjoyment of life's finer pleasures!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

27 Beers Before Lunch and Still Coherent: Bienvenue au Quebec!

I love those days with a family trip to places like the Atwater Market that turn into pre-lunch beer tastings.  Yes, I have had 27 different beers today... before lunch... but they were basically all 1 oz samples, so it isn't really as bad as it sounds!

This weekend, La Fromagerie Atwater welcomed me to town with a Quebec craft brewery tasting (at the price of 3 x 1 oz samples for $1).  I made some friends with local reps and GL (the blogger for which lists local weekly beer specials - usually of poor macro-lagers, but I noticed a few McAuslan and Unibroue products on there I should buy on sale!)

Between those and the dozens of others I have tasted while lacking time recently, I will simply note some of the best of late (mostly from my new home in la belle province) so as not to (immensely) overburden the post and readers!

The absolute best of late is... surprise, surprise... an imperial stout.  This one brewed by Simple Malt (or Brasseurs Illimites).  This stellar 8.1% ABV, 61 IBU offering is very, very good, pouring a deep, dark oil brown with moderate head and retention that has but a slight, yet smooth/attractive lace.  Aroma-wise, it is more chocolate-centric, while the taste brings in deeper coffee/mocha alongside the chocolate (that creeps in as sips progress).  A nice creamy mouthfeel would only be complemented by a nitro tap.  My only critiques are the slightly too light body and the negligible head, but it is otherwise remarkably enjoyable!  Is it my favourite imperial stout?  Nope.  Is it phenomenal, especially considering its relatively lower price than some?  Hell, yes!  Buy one, you won't be disappointed!  Grade: A

To continue, with the recent 'best-of' porters, stouts, and imperial stouts in my tastings, I offer the following, all of which I have recently discovered:
1) Phillips Brewing The Hammer Imperial Stout which has a biscuity aroma and flavour, and which is sweeter than most imperial stouts, but it grows on you and smooths out with additional sips. Grade: B+
2) Nogne-O Imperial Stout (9% ABV and 75 IBU) which pours a midnight black with excellent head and retention that aerate a very rich chocolate/cocoa nose with dry coffee flavour alongside thick, yet creamy/smooth body.  A very, very nice product.  Grade: A-/A
3) Le Bilboquet's La Corriveau (an extra stout, but not imperial).  This is roasty on the nose, with biscuits and Choco-coffee hints, while being slightly sweet on the tongue and creamy, if a bit lighter bodied than desired, though it would be great on nitro-tap.  Grade: B+
4) Pit Caribou La Gaspésienne Robust Porter is a very nice, sweet yet nutty and creamy, yet full bodied  porter that is strong and waring, but not boozy and feels like a session beer, even if it isn't! Grade: A-
5) Yukon Brewing's Midnight Sun Espresso Stout is a very nice, very coffee-rich, creamy, drinkable stout that is awell balanced insofar as it is a touch sweet despite its coffee bitterness, yet leaves you sufficiently dry  A great beer!  Grade: A-

Red and Brown Ales:
1) Brasseurs de Montreal's Black Watch is an excellent American brown ale that is both nutty and chewy.  I promise to drink one again soon without company and without tasting numerous others so I can offer some nuance to this excellent first impression.  Grade: A
2) Brasseurs de Montreal make my A-list in this category again with their London Ruby (Red Ale) which is sweet and smooth, medium bodied and creamy.  It is a bit fruity and nutty, with no hints of hops.  Again, I promise to spend more time with another soon and report back in more detail.  Grade: A-
3) Finally, for this category, Nouvelle France's Messègere Red Ale is worth a mention as a very good gluten-free ale, even if not as good as some of my favourites.  Brewed with rice and buckwheat instead of barley, this beer is unique in design and flavour (especially since few gluten-free beers are red ales).  It does, indeed, have a woodsy flavour that is unusual but good (if not legendary).  Rating it is odd, since it is slightly different than typical style descriptors such hat it is not a unbelievable red, but it is a remarkable gluten-free ale as the best of its kind I have as yet consumed.

Pale Ales/IPAs:
1) Rogue Double Dead Guy.  I had this beer after many on a social occasion, but I enjoyed it far more than the original insofar as it had a nice spiciness to it that was unique and pleasant.  Grade: B+/A-
2) Mt. Begbie Nasty Habit IPA is a bit more PA than IPA, but is nice with a moderate balance for the style and offering both aromatics and flavours of more pine than citrus.  A fairly light body.  Grade: B+
3) Archibald La Chipie has a semi-sweet honeyish nose, with a slightly dry taste that comes in a balanced manner with little lingering dryness.  Sort of like a staple Mill Street Tankhouse to me, which has been a go-to beer, so quite pleasant if not award winning.  Grade: B+/A-
4) Archibald makes the list again with La Ciboire IPA.  Unlike La Chipie, this one brings a greater hop-punch alongside a quite nice, lingering, dry pine flavour and a sparkling mouthfeel.  Grade: B+/A-
5) L'Alchimiste India Pale Ale is a balanced and mild, if citrusy dry, beer.  It is perhaps a bit less extreme than many US IPAs, but it is more flavourful than many English examples and suits more moderate drinking tastes.  It is not remarkable, per se, but it is good and could sway a fence-sitter!  Grade: B+

Abbey Ales:
Microbrasserie Charlevoix's Dominus Vobiscum Tripel is the sole beer in this category and, though I don't typically enjoy tripels as much as the darker Belgian styles (dubbels, quads), it is worth the hype indeed, offering excellent pear aromas alongside sweaty yeast and a fine lingering flavour.  A very, very good tripel.  Though I'd still have a dubbel or quad more often, it tops many Belgian pales.  Grade: A-

As I am not usually much of a fan of this style, it is high praise indeed for Les Brasseurs de Montreal, indeed, to say that I enjoyed their La Belge Van Derbull, which shows the best of the style, bringing out yeasty/fruity aromas and flavours more exemplary of abbey beers than witbiers.  Perhaps not fully to style, but maybe that's why I think it's better!  Grade: B+ 

Recently, I have also had the following for the first time and can say more on any if desired, though I liked those above more.  Just let me know if you wish me to say more on any of them:
L'Assoiffé Dubbel
Garrison Irish Red Ale
Augustijn Brune
Brasseurs du Monde L'Assoiffé
Dieu di Ciel Corne du Diable
Chi (Brasseurs du Montreal)
La Barberie Rousse Bitter
St. Barnabé Colborne
Les Trois Mousquetaires Pale Ale Américaine
Les Trois Mousquetaires Sticke Alt
Les Trois Mousquetaires Maibock
Les Trois Mousquetaires Kellerbier
Dieu du Ciel Derniere Volanté
Nouvelle France Messègere Millet
Nouvelle France Ambrée de Sarrasin
Brasseurs de Montreal Griffintown Montrealaise
Archibald La Brise du Lac
Archibald La Matante
Brasserie Dunham IPA Anglaise
Brasserie Dunham Black IPA
Pit Caribou La Bonne Aventure Rousse
L'Alchimiste Eisbock
L'Alchimiste Imperial Stout
Bierbrier Pale Ale
Brasseurs du Monde Rousse
La Tour à Bières La Noire de Saint Antoine Stout
Aecht Schlenterla Rauchbier
Griffon Ale Rousse
Tord-Vis Maple Strong Beer

Til next time... cheers!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

If This is What They Call Dry, I Can't Wait Until it Gets Wet!

So my new neighbourhood in Verdun is, theoretically, a dry neighbourhood and has been so for about as long as anyone can recall, but essentially for the last century at least!  Yet, what is meant by 'dry' here is not quite what Toronto's Junction, for instance, had in mind - though the two districts currently follow a common trend I will explore in a moment.  Here, the dry neighbourhood/former City of Verdun allows drinking in restaurants - provided you order food - and has beer and wine for sale in every grocery store and dépanneur.  (My kinda dry, even if the pubs are non-existent, since pubs typically serve macro-lagers anyway and I am just a few subway stops from Dieu du Ciel, Vices et Versa, or a 30-minute walk from McAuslan, but having a 5-month old son keeps my beer consumption both down and indoors while limited to that one in the evening once he's asleep while I sit in front of the television, but I digress.)

Both the Junction and Verdun were historically working class neighbourhoods that are close enough to their respective downtowns such that their cheaper rents are encouraging gentrification processes (yes, I am part of the problem).  Yet while the Junction 'got wet' in 2000 and has seen an explosion in breweries, brewpubs, pubs, and more, Verdun is just dipping its toes (deeper) into the water now.  I say 'deeper' since my local supermarket has the single best beer selection I have yet found in Quebec (okay, the selection is tied with a very select few others, but with better prices) including seasonals, growlers, and gift-packs.  Yet Verdun has just decided to allow a single pub to open - a brewpub - as a test.  More specifically, the second location of Benelux Brasserie Artisinale et Café which is slated to open at 4026 rue Wellington near de l'Eglise in the old Bank of Montreal building at the end of May (or thereabouts - details to follow).

Thus, Benelux took part in this weekend's (and last's) Urban Sugar Shack and offered their Smoked Maple Porter (at 4.8%) for $1 samples and this enticed me to a visit.

There I met and chatted with the friendly and talented head brewer, Tico, who told me about the varied selection of beers brewed and served on rotation.  Benelux apparently brews 23 beers (on a schedule) and has 12 taps at their first location which rotate as these brews are, umm, brewed.  Their styles are both Belgian and American, with numerous saisons, a dubbel, a tripel, and then the imperial IPA, American Pale Ale, American Brown and more.

Having never been to the original Benelux location, nor having tasted their other beers, I obviously cannot comment on them, but I can say that their maple smoked porter is delicious!  The nose has a sweet toastiness that is intensified by the strong maple aromas and just a faint hint of smoke, while the smoke is absent on the tongue, yet the sweetness of the darkly roasted malt is similarly intensified by the maple sugar (which makes me fear the caloric content as much as I savour the flavour).  With this beer to entice me, I think you'll be able to find me 5 blocks from home as frequently as time and money allows!

I will post more details on this pending opening as they become available.