Friday, 28 June 2019

Bank Hotel: A Nearly Religious Experience

I don't even know where I am going to go with this post, except for a vague idea and, moreover, this post is only tangentially about Brasserie du Bas-Canada's marvelous IPA or the brewery itself (though I will review the former and nod to the latter).

This post, rather, is about an experience.

Early in my craft adventure, I read a few books (Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher and another I have forgotten). I remember, when discussing things to consider when assessing a beer, someone speaking not just of balance, style, etc, but also of the experience; that the best beer was the one with the best story, the one at a memorable time and place.

This is my best story, though again please note that as I've noted before about this blogs' purpose, these notes may be a better story personally than they are for others. And, I'm not sure I have the words to capture what this means to me intellectually. Nonetheless, here goes...

Remember that dress? The "what-color-is-that-dress" dress? Personally, I had seen that dress as purplish-blue and black and could not, for the life of me, understand how in the hell it could be seen otherwise... until I found a gif that slowly lightened and darkened the image. Suddenly, not only could I now see it as white and gold, but I could no longer see it as blue and black and couldn't even understand how I had seen it another way in the first place!

As a social theorist, I am deeply interested in discourse and the role of shared systems of signs that shape our perspectives on reality, on cosmology, on epistemology. Our discourses shape what we can perceive in the world, how we perceive it, and what takes on the appearance of truth, on what terms.

When I set out on my craft journey... shit, even when I started this blog... I was clueless, but while my perspective has evolved through the 5000-odd beers I have rated or reviewed, I know more, yet get stuck in discourses where I presume a perception to be (my own personal but nonetheless personally) factual experience. Yeah, yeah, palate fatigue or contamination exist, but barring those I almost always experience beers the same in every moment of consumption.

To put this another way, my discourse - my beer-geek discourse - shapes my experience, usually in ways I think of as better than the alternative.

So... what the fuck am I talking about, already?!?!?

I mean, if this is about Bank Hotel, my discourse MUST have come from the hype around this BBC brew and I must be saying I was tricked into liking it until I broke free?

Nope.

I thought I'd love it, and when visiting the brewpub a few weeks back (despite a pending trade bringing me a can that night), I filled a flight with several options including this exciting NEIPA.

I smelled it... and all I smelled was banana. I tasted it... and all I tasted was banana. I hate banana.

I didn't finish my pour. I drank the rest.

That night, alone in my hotel room - watching the Klaw, Spicy P, and Steady Freddy drop a surprise game one victory on the Warriors - I probably cracked more cans than I should have. And being a beer geek I wanted to mix it up and assess the can vs draught difference on this beer.

Once again, I smelled it... and all I smelled was banana.  I tasted it... and all I tasted was banana. I hate banana.

But I dug in. Remember, sometimes it takes more than a sample to get to a beer.

Someone sunk a three pointer (was it Green or VV? I forget now) and I sipped some more... and again a few minutes later...

And it clicked. Something changed.

I could no longer smell banana.

I could no longer taste banana.

There was a complexity that a smell (likely linked to memory) had blocked me from observing. As our smells can suggest, it made this beer into my colour-changing dress; I was blinded and unable to observe its nuance, but distracted from my presumptions, it changed. From that moment and for the remainder of the can (and the other can I have had since), its consumption was otherworldly, delightful, quasi-religious. I can't really put into words the uniqueness of this experience, but it was a night-and-day shift that my brain had entirely created going from dislike to love of a beer, and it is beyond my capacity to properly express - try though I may.

The nose offers an insane complexity for an IPA, for a two-hop (Sabro-Citra) IPA
at that. (Sabro has been called the new Citra, and Citra has been called "the cheating hop" as it's allegedly easy to get good flavour profiles with - but trust me, as a homebrewer, you still need to nail your recipe!) It wafts a depth of notes beyond what one could expect: I get tangerine, rind, grapefruit, pineapple, mango, melon, strawberries, flowers, and hint of mint, in varying moments as if the beer evolves before your nose.

In the mouth, it is similarly tropical, fruity, and floral with a touch more sharp bitterness than the HYPAs, yet somehow also offering greater balance alongside a substantial and supportive body. The carbonation is a touch sharper than I'd generally seek in the style, and yet its heft works with it.

Dammit this beer is good. It might be the best IPA in Quebec. Perhaps the best in the country. Perhaps as good as anything coming out of Trillium, or Bissell, or Treehouse, or Foam, or Hill... though I haven't had the opportunity to side-by-side and, moreover, beer is an experience... a moment...

And it's that moment I wish to return to. A moment so telling, not just of this beer but of the tricks our minds (perhaps triggered by aroma memories) play on us. A moment that flipped in a way I could no longer comprehend, nor have predicted.

I could no longer smell or taste bananas, as I could no longer see a blue-black dress.

In 5000-ish different beers, I have never had such a light-switch flip. It may sound hyperbolic or be hard to relate to, but for an atheist, this was like a religious moment for it was simultaneously both a switch from dislike to immense love (and regret that this experience would soon end), and also a switch from my perceived subjective (but objectively 'factual') assessment of the beer into a new horizon - a way beyond the limitations of my conscious mind, if you will.

Perhaps it was the distraction of the game that led me beyond the thoughts, memories, and perceptions that kept my appreciation at bay, but whatever it was...

I don't recall now whether it was Mosher or someone else who said that the best beer is the experience, the one you will always remember for its time, its place.

In 5000 unique beers, I'd never had this. On experience alone, this moment was the best beer I have ever had.

And while BBC often gets called great with a slight criticism of thinness or sweetness to their IPAs, this breaks that mold with a balance and depth I tip my hat to.

It isn't the best beer I have ever had objectively speaking (and whatever that means, Art, I'm looking at you), but it was my personal best experience for the intellectual challenge and perceptive delight it brought me, it was a new horizon, and it was oddly the closest to my conception of 'god' and the exposure of the effective pervasiveness and limitations of our own perceptions in a way I doubt I'll ever repeat (with beer), though I can repeat the beer and recapture that love nonetheless.

Cheers BBC, thanks for this moment, and WAY TO GO RAPS! (And Kawhi, if you stay, I'll send you a Bank Hotel come the next drop!)

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Craft Beer Predictions for 2019

Like most predictive posts, this one has serious belief twinged with hyperbolic projection. Nonetheless, I thought I'd share some of my visions of the coming year in craft beer.

Prediction 1: People will start to realize that milkshakes and bruts are no substitute for the hazy successor to the American IPA.

It ain't really about the haze, it's about the juice, but NEIPA aren't going anywhere. Brut and Milkshakes though? I know very few people who even like these styles at all or much, and certainly nowhere near the numbers of those who <3 the West Coast and New England versions of the American IPA. Yeah, maybe I just want milkshakes to die, and maybe they won't entirely. Nonetheless, though, I maintain that in five years we'll look back on them as we currently reflect on the Black IPA - even though those were far superior to all but the best milkshakes.

Prediction 2:  Before the milkshake madness ends, someone will brew a milkshake zwickel/keller/kölsch or some equally ridiculous nonsense contaminating a clean and/or Reinheitsgebot style.

I mean, it may well be a DDH zwickel (or gruit?!?!) or some other wacky pursuit of the new, but it will be a failure nonetheless.

In fact, it's likely to come from some brewery who pumps out 700 new beers annually rather than perfecting a current one.

Yeah, this prediction is half facetious... but only half. I mean, how far from beer can we go? How far from style? (Don't get me wrong of course: it is in innovation and transformation that new styles are born and I truly applaud this when done thoughtfully.) As much as I abhor sounding like those non-craft drinkers who lament craft beer for allegedly 'not tasting like beer' (when they have no historical understanding of the styles that predate their beloved corn-syrup-fueled race-to-the-bottom macro lager), but how far from beer will we go? Can we simply make good beer, not weird limited beer and try to focus on that?

Speaking of which...


Prediction 3: Brasserie Auval will release yet another great beer, alongside several decent but immensely overvalued ones.


While brewmaster Ben Couillard is an excellent brewer and while all of his products are at least solid (though I am not sure I understand Braggot or even Double Nordet), there is no perfect brewer. Yes, even Shaun Hill and Jean Van Roy have released products below their legendary bests.

Auval has some tremendous beers (*cough* Trifolium, Nordet, Grisettes *cough*) and the rest are generally good to very good (saisons, fruited sours, Super A), while a few are simply fine. They certainly beat many a shelf beer, even at their worst, yet that gets to the crux of the matter: the fact that they aren't found on shelves in Quebec's largest market converges nicely with a trend in craft beer that I hate - the ongoing pursuit of the rarest/newest beer over the best.

Don't get me wrong, I also seek new untappd beers and badges (and once foolishly traded Fou'Foune for a pastry stout), and appreciate the chance to buy a rare product, but a product shouldn't be seen as great or more valuable BECAUSE it's harder to get, but rather because it is superior (which then legitimately boosts value in conjunction with scarcity). I'm not saying Auval's product is all hype - much isn't - but the after-market value on these beers needs to simmer down.

The result here is decent beers (in abundance in some parts of the province) being traded for epic rarities of greater value (in cost, scarcity, and quality terms) because of uneven distribution compounded by beer geek overhype. If you think I'm wrong, Trifolium hit Montreal at 1 per person and sold out before launch due to massive lines, while a guy I entered in trade discussions with claims to have brought 48 bottles from the Gaspé and wanted BA Hill Farmstead for each one... AND THAT IS ONE OF THE GREAT AUVAL BEERS.

Hence, the other crucial part of my prediction: Auval will launch a great beer, but trading for it and 4 others at that price to determine which is the one perhaps worth the cost of entry is evidence of flawed perceptions - with no disrespect to a phenomenal brewer.

Prediction 4: Everyone will (pretend to be) shocked when ____________ sells to a macro.

I have no inside scoop, beyond any oft-repeated rumours, but you can fill in the blank and rest assured that as craft continues to boom, the macros will continue to pursue shelf, tap, and brand dominance with dollar figures that may be a pittance to them but offer lifetime security for the owners of small operations and their families.

Don't blame the seller though, blame the system. By that, I mean capitalism.

Prediction 5: My cellar will continue to grow despite my best intentions to shrink it - and I will not be alone.

Somehow I've got like 400 bottles/cans in my cellar. This was never the intention, and I've even now had beers go bad. Further, despite periodic attempts to keep the inventory up to date and to avoid spoilage, the reality of working/parent life keeps things from getting dwindled.

The chaos began when I'd have a chance to buy something like 48 PMB and I'd buy 48 (or more realistically 24). Then I'd drink and trade 12 and accumulations would ensue.

During the past 2 years or so, I have reduced my RIS purchases, for example, from 4+ bottles to 2 of high quality product (one to drink and one to age) or sometimes just one, but it bodes well for craft beer that there are simply more quality offerings to select.

When I moved to Quebec in 2012, there really was one imperial stout worth buying and so I'd hoard that BA delight. But now, there are many and I have switched from buying too many of one beer to buying one of far too many beers.

I don't know if this is a condition and therapeutic confession, but it is a warning: don't let good beer rot.


Anyway, I wish you all a happy new year, a frothy new beer, and nothing but the best in 2019. Cheers!