Monday, 13 July 2015

US Open Beer Championships

As far as I'm concerned, THIS is the US Open
that means the most!! No offence meant for
either golf or tennis followers but since I know
none of you are reading this, you can bite me!
Once a year, the best competitors from around the world converge on America with one goal in mind - to win the US Open. No, not the annual golf tournament... no, not the major tennis event - though both of those are certainly cute and adorable endeavours. I'm sorry, that sounded kinda condescending. (If you're a bowler, that means I'm talking down at y'all...)

No, I am, of course, talking about the US Open Beer Championship, which was held Independence Day in Oxford, Ohio. Oxford is ironically home to Miami University and has been since 1809 while Oxford University can be found in Oxford, England. Meanwhile, the University of Miami (they have a preposition for us - this one uses "of") is located in Coral Gables, Florida. The more you know... *starburst*

This year's brewers' bash was a big'un as 4,000 beers (and some ciders) were entered in 90 different classes (meaning roughly 45 entries per category), as well as offering the chance for homebrewers to go up against the pro breweries. That is, if they were a gold medal winner at the previous year's American Homebrewers Association's Homebrew Competition. And for the record, two homebrewers did win this year - a silver in the German Wheat class and a bronze in the Spice Cider categories. So you see, kids, dreams can come true... even if they involve *shudder* cider.
After winning three medals at the US Open
Beer Championship, Nickel Brook owner
John Romano celebrated by riding a
mechanical bull.  (Actually, I have no
idea why he's on this bull or even where
this picture came from. My files contain
any number of weird and wild pictures.)

Now when I tell you breweries come from far and wide to compete in this event, I'm not joking. We're talking world-wide. According to Dow Scoggins, the US Open Director, Josh Deitner of Shanghai Brewery in China "traveled 7,263 miles to deliver his beer personally." And despite the fact that the name Deitner is a little more, well, German than Chinese, the brewery snagged a silver for their Imperial American Brown Ale. Let's assume Josh's German brother, Ho Ming Cho, was also there to celebrate so it's all good.

And there were Ontario winners once again this year. Last year while my Burlington homeboys, Nickel Brook, took two awards, it was tiny Neustadt Springs Brewery that lead the Canuck Assault with four medals. This year the tables turned so while Neustadt won two, both Nickel Brook and the Niagara College Teaching Brewery won three. So before I salute my homeys, let's talk Niagara College and their impressive showing. In the Bitter division, they scored silver for their Butler's Bitter; they took gold for their Brewmaster Stout in the Foreign Stout category and finally a bronze in the American Imperial Pilsner with their Liqueur De Malt, proving definitively if you use French naming a beer, you will win an award. When I open a craft brewery, you will all enjoy my Oui Monsieur Imperial IPA, my Au Revoir Pilsner, my Qui Moi? Porter and of course, my triple-award-winning Qu'est-ce Que C'est Chocolate Cake Stout. For those not fluent in French, my beers are, in order: Yes Sir, Goodbye, Who Me? and What The Hell Is That? Just call them sure-fire award-winners.
This is the first time I've ever reviewed a
non-beer but since it won an award, I
suppose I should really give it the same
consideration that I would to its alcoholic
brethren. Okay, lessee... Very bubble
gummy on the nose, equally bubble
gummy on the tongue, this, too, is what
root beer tastes like? I'm guessing here.

As mentioned, Nickel Brook took to the podium three times, collecting a bronze for Equilibrium in the ESB division, another bronze for their Uber in the Belgian Lambic category (tying a brewery actually from Belgium) and finally a silver for Babbling Brook's in the Non-Alcoholic Root Beer class. Now, Brook is brewery owner John Romano's daughter whereas his son Nick is the Nickle in Nickel Brook. And I can attest to the fact that the siblings put their time in at the brewery. I met young Brook as she was labeling a specialty beer, contracted by a Quebec brewer one day whereas University of Waterloo student Nick has filled my growlers during Summer Break more times than he can even count. Which is saying something since he's majoring in Business and Economics. One day as I was coming in, I saw Nick manning the retail station while his Dad was within earshot. So I bellowed, "Good day, young Nick! I am here once again to pay your tuition!" That got a chuckle from John. (I was joking but in fact, when you shop at your local brewery, that is precisely what you are helping to do.)

At the US Open, Grand River Brewing out of Guelph collected a gold in the Mild British Ale with their Mill Race Mild while Neustadt Springs (Neustadt, Ontario) was right behind them, snagging a silver for their Ever Ard and then following that with a bronze for Mill Gap English Bitter in the Bitter race. Oakville's Cameron's Brewing (another favourite of mine) picked up a bronze in the Brown Ale division with their White Oat Savant while Gravenhurst's Sawdust City Brewing beat all comers in the German Kolsch category, taking gold, Jerry, gold for their Gateway Kolsch. Well done, boys!

This is one hoppy, delicious India Brown
Ale AND it has a spaceship on the label!!!
There are those out there who believe there is no such thing as coincidence (I'm one of them) so it was on July 4th that I popped open a Wellington Brewing (Guelph) Terrestrial India Brown Ale to raise a Canadian toast to America's Independence Day. (To my American readers, you were well-toasted on July 4th... as was I by the end of the day!) Now this takes a basic brown ale formula and puts a pretty unique spin on it. They start with the malts that are core to a good British brown ale but then Brewmaster Marvin Dyck tosses some Amarillo, Chinook, Centennial, Cascade and Sorachi Ace hops into the mix to goose it like a sheet-askew sorority girl staggering through a Toga Party and amping it up to 57 IBUs - international bitterness units. (Disclaimer: this blog does not advocate the goosing of anyone. Particularly me.) So suddenly a plain old brown ale becomes one with a solid 5.9% punch, giving you straight malt caramel richness on the nose but slyly hits the tongue with smoky hops. I was quite impressed with this outing. And within hours of me having it and enjoying the hell out of it, the same beer would be collecting a bronze at the US Open in the American Brown Ale division. Coincidence? I think not. (Now I'm not saying that I psychically willed the beer to win... but on the other hand, feel free to prove I didn't.) A damn tasty ale.

Worthy of note here is that with the exception of a Quebec cider-house, all Canadian winners came from Ontario. Given the strength of the craft beer industry in British Columbia, that surprised the heck out of me. The west coast province seriously kicked ass at the Canadian Brewing Awards just one month ago. Next year...
As well as pictures of the beers themselves, The Chive
website used this picture with their posting of the Top
Ten Canadian Beers to sip this summer. Drinkers will
 be very familiar with some of the winners on this. But
has no one told this young lady WHY we use a glass?

But there were more accolades for Canadian beers when well-known men's website, The Chive, (thechive.com) posted "The Ten Best Canadian Beers To Sip This Summer" on Thursday, complete with accompanying pictures. Veering a little away from their usual girls-in-bikinis-pics format (I check it out daily... so you don't have to. You're welcome), the site, read by four million people daily, looked at some of Canada's best with Ontario once again being the big winner. Singled out was Cameron's Rye Pale Ale ("Bittersweet in taste, totally sweet in existence"), Black Oak Nutcracker Porter ("The sweeter, less hoppy stout goes great with some figgy pudding"), King Pilsner ("One of the tastiest Czech-style brews north of the border") and Amsterdam's Oranje Weisse Premium White ("This brew's light, crisp taste is sweetened with orange and unfiltered") The Chive did slip up a little by relying too heavily on RateBeer when they added Denison's Weissbier, which for the past two years, we have known as Side Launch Wheat.

Here's the deal. When Denison founder Michael Hancock shut down his operation in 2003, he kept two of his beers - the Dunkel and the Weissbier - alive by contracting out their brewing. Why? Because those two beers scored so highly on RateBeer.
It's not Denison's Weissbier anymore. For the past two years, Side Launch
brewmaster (and Denison's founder) Michael Hancock has been brewing
this as Side Launch Wheat, just as his Dunkel is now Side Launch Dark...
So when he joined Collingwood's Side Launch Brewing as their brewmaster in 2013, he brought his two babies with him and they were renamed Side Launch Wheat and Dark. Same great taste, bright new packaging. What did The Chive think of the wheat? "A traditional Bavarian-style brew, the Weissbier is made from a special Bavarian yeast and has spent a decade atop the Hefeweizen category on RateBeer." Well, they're not wrong about that. And it's still just as good now as it was then.

Young Megan posted this Garrison Brewery paddle on
my Facebook wall just three days before the IIPA got
some serious praise on The Chive. Coincidence? Nope.
There is no such thing. The Beer Universe is specific.
But that's only five out of the ten beers. So what non-Ontario beers made the cut? I was thrilled to see one of my favourites, Central City Brewing's (Surrey, BC) Red Racer IPA on the list ("An imperial pale ale with a hoppier taste"). Perhaps Stevil St Evil and my favourite Canadian stout, St-Ambroise (Montreal) Oatmeal Stout cracked the list. I have been singing this stout's praises to anyone who will listen and so far, that's been two random guys at the bus shelter, who may or may not have been homeless. (Baby steps, people, Rome wasn't built in a day.) The Chive's description? "(The brewery) makes this nectar from above with 40% dark malt and roasted barley, along with some oatmeal to give it that gorgeous mocha-coloured head."

I wasn't a bit surprised to see at least one Unibroue (Chambly, Quebec) product on there and it turns out it was their strong 9% ale, La Fin du Monde. "Winning more awards and accolades than any Canadian competitor is a pretty good way to tell people they should try your beer." (This, too, is true.) Now before I continue, I should note I have had all of these beers and have praised them in this very spot. But there were two beers on The Chive's list that I haven't tried.
Garrison's Imperial IPA made The Chive's
list of Canadian Summer Beers You Must Drink

The first was Paddock Wood Brewing's (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan) Black Cat Lager, a dunkel that sounds like it's totally in my wheelhouse. "It comes with a hint of  'delicate coffee notes' which is pretty damn tasty."

But back to the whole "there are no coincidences" thing... Last Monday, my young friend Megan, who lives in Halifax, posted a picture on my Facebook wall of a paddle filled with Garrison Brewing beers (see above). On that paddle? Garrison's Imperial IPA, Nut Brown Ale, a cider that they started brewing two years ago on their 15th anniversary (all yours, Megs), their Seaport Blonde Ale (her Garrison stand-by) and their Raspberry Wheat (her new favourite.) Megan sang all their praises, though I suspect she thought, "That IIPA might be best left in Donny's hands." So which Garrison beer made The Chive's list? Well, that would be the Imperial IPA, (Me: "Be the IIPA. be the IIPA... yay, Chive! Another round of girls in bikinis to celebrate!!!") which was described thusly: "You better like hops to get into this next one. Garrison Brewing claims it is the 'hoppiest beer in Atlantic Canada.' We are willing to stand by that claim."

This weekend, the Burlington Beer Festival at Spencer
Smith Park. If you do NOT attend, let me just say this.
Stealing from Liam Neeson's speech in Taken, "I have a
particular set of skills I have acquired over a very long
career. If you attend, that will be the end of it. I will not
look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will
look for you, I will find you and I will make you drink..."
But Megan isn't going to let Garrison's recent victory stand. She told me (with authority), "With Garrison and Propellor Brewing (also Halifax) taking over the (craft beer) industry out here, I suggest perhaps an east-coast edition of Brew Ha Ha is due to shed the light on smaller, more beloved brands." Well, what the hell? I've done all I can do at that bus shelter with the homeless people so yeah, Megs, I will. This summer. Promise.

Okay, gang at Cheers, this weekend IS the beer event of the Summer - the Burlington Beer Festival. We're talking over 30 craft breweries, two cider-houses, two wine makers (that's a new and cool twist.) It's $35 to get into the best festival that the GTA has to offer and in the wonderful green grassy setting that is Spencer Smith Park in Burlington. Am I excited that this festival quite literally happens at the bottom of the street I live on? That's like asking if my Mom smoked during her pregnancy with me? Of course, she did! Not her fault at all because she was pretty hammered on gin and tonics at the time and we all make bad decisions when we're plastered. But I turned out fine. *Bangs head on wall for no apparent reason* Check it out at: burlingtonbeerfest.com. And if you want to see that salute to Canadian beers on the website, here it is: The Chive Toasts Canada But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...