Thursday, 15 October 2015

Sour power or dour sour?

As could be expected, the outspoken Scot, Liam
Mckenna, Brewmaster at YellowBelly Brewery
in St John's, Newfoundland, certainly had plenty
to say about the sale of Mill Street Brewing to
Labatt last Friday. Long story short? People
should drink whatever beer they want to drink.
As it turned out - and perhaps I shouldn't have been that surprised - the last blog that looked at the sale of Mill Street Brewing to goliath Labatt generated a bit of interest. Fair enough. It's not every day that a craft brewery gets snapped up by a big brewer in this country. Whereas it seems to be happening weekly in the United States, it's such a rarity north of the 49th Parallel that went it does happens, we all look to the example of Canadian actor Keanu Reeves and let out a collective, "Whoa..." (In actual fact, Keanu was born in Beirut, not Canada. While he was certainly raised here, I'm not entirely sure why we all think he's Canadian. Perhaps it's because being Canadian is such an excellent adventure?)

But (and never tell him I said this) I was stoked when a brewmaster weighed in with me on the big news. That would be my straight-shooting buddy, Liam Mckenna, the brewmaster at YellowBelly Brewery in St. John's, Newfoundland - a walking, talking No Bullshit Zone of a proud Scotsman. And being a craft brewer himself, his response was not entirely what I expected. But then again, it's Liam, man, so you never know what this guy is gonna say. You just grab some popcorn, sit back and enjoy the show.

"I would rather have my local brewery owned and appreciated by another brewery versus a bank or a group of self-serving shareholders. There. I said it." Does he think the new ownership might alter things at Mill Street? Nope. "Mill Street makes a great pint. I expect this will not change."
Mill Street Brewmaster Joel Manning has both a
big fan and an ally in Liam Mckenna, who believes
that this ownership transition will not affect the
quality or integrity of Mill Street's countless beers.
With a big nod to his Toronto counterpart, he continued, "(Mill Street brewmaster) Joel (Manning) is but one of many great brewers to have graced our presence. Our beer lives are that much more rich and diverse for their contribution. Their Tankhouse (Ale) has always been on my Top-10 'go-to' beers ever since my first encounter." (As well as Tankhouse, if I could add their 100th Meridian Amber Organic Lager, Coffee Porter and Vanilla Porter on there as my Mill Street go-to brews. You know, if anyone cares. I mean, it's not like it's my blog or anything. Okay, okay, geez, back to the guy who actually knows something about brewing.)

As for the fact that Mill Street can no longer be considered craft, due to the size of their new ownership, Mckenna has his own views. "Craft is a term that brings us together and drives us apart. I expect it will always be thus. Craft, in my estimation, embodies in (its) ethos of approach to beer that keeps it simple and embraces the local. Ingredients, bands, sports teams, art exhibitions, local development. It is fundamental to the success of the genre."

And while he has no problems with Mill Street's role in the Labatt purchase, he is blunt in the new owner's recent tactics in trying to pass off some of their products - oh, let's say their Shocktop and Goose Island lines - as craft beer.
My Beer Bro, Stevil St Evil, suggested that if Labatt is a
hands-off owner, perhaps their new property should only
make a subliminal reference to their new ownership. So he
Photoshopped their presence, lurking in the background.
"It aggravates me when those who are obviously not 'craft' try to climb on our coat-tails. Let me be clear in saying that I do not believe Mill Street to be (any) part of this issue. Nevertheless, their sale to a multinational reinvigorates certain issues (such as) misrepresentation, obfuscation, lack of ingredient labeling - whatever sticks in your 'crafty' craw."

But he veered back to beer in general at the end. "All beer is good beer. Some is, for all sorts of reasons, better than others. That subjective judgement (that beer drinkers have) is and as always will be just that - subjective. Drink the beer that you like. Think about the reasons you like it. That's all that I or any other reasonable brewer could expect."
Okay, if I'm gonna try to drink sour beer, you can be damn
sure that at least it'll be the ones from my hometown brew
crew at Nickel Brook. On the left, we have the Raspberry
Uber Berliner Weisse, on the right, the regular version of it
In case that's too subtle, what I think Liam is saying is if you like Mill Street, keep drinking Mill Street, ownership be damned. Radical concept - that whole drinking the beer you like thing. I hope it catches on.

As to those who used the internet to dump on both the deal and Mill Street with the harshest of words? "The vitriol is baseless and hurtful in regards to the future of Mill Street, I believe. I have suggested many times to the most vehement that they move out of their mother's basement. It continues to fall on deaf ears," he chuckled. So there you go, Mill Street, let the haters hate. You're not the Jackass Whisperers. Get together in the Mill Street conference room, everyone hoist a pint and yell in unison, "Unexpected plot twist!" Then you just keep on keeping on...

Okay then, as promised, the Sour Beer Challenge! Now you have to understand, sour beers are a very polarizing style. People either love them or hate them. Why? Because they're so damn sour! My friends are split down the middle on sour beer issue.
When I spent a few hour with Nickel Brook brewer
Patrick last March, he walked me through the
entire brewing process. Here he is in a room filled
with barrels of sour beer, a style he believes will be
the one that eventually replaces IPAs as the go-to
style of choice for the discerning craft beer lovers.
When I spent a few hours with Nickel Brook brewer Patrick back in March, he walked me through the brewing process, which is a lot more complicated than you may think. Lemme tell you this for free, drinking them is a helluva lot easier than brewing them. But after discussing every under the moon (hey, when a brewer is trapped with you for three hours, you pick his brain!), I finally asked him what he though the next big beer style would be. Thinking it over, he noted, "Hoppy IPAs are the thing now but I have a feeling that maybe sour beers will be the next big thing." Two other unabashed IPA fans agreed. My favourite beer technician at Rib Eye Jack's Ale House, the lovely Kylie, is a huge IPA lover but she has jumped on the sour bandwagon in a big way. It was love at first sip. Her boss, Rib Eye Jack's GM Steve, who actually takes trips to Vermont to find new single, double and triple IPAs, was a slower sell, admitting that he wasn't a fan at first but has come around and quite enjoys them now.

On the other side of the coin, we have everyone's favourite St John's brewer Liam, who didn't mince words. "Fuck sours! That may be a bit strong. Hah! I have been at tastings where the presenter was all poetic about a particular sour beer. Fast-forward to my notes, saying things like, 'Wet ass, shitty diaper, cheese, vomit, dog breath, horse blanket, mouse shit'. I could go on. I wish I was kidding. Obviously not a fan."
My face when I first tried a sour beer. I'll bet
this picture tells you some new things about me.
For starters, I am an infant and an Asian one, as
well. What the hell did my late father do when
 he was overseas, fighting in the Korean War???
Standing on Liam's side of the fence is Beer Bro Stevil St Evil, who weighed in from his perch in Wellington, New Zealand. "Good luck on the sour beer challenge. I have officially decided I do not like sours. At all. One bit. I did manage to tolerate one last weekend, a French one that had been aged properly so that most of the sourness had been banished. So it wasn't really a sour by sour standards. Sours are evil. The guy I was drinking with, 'British Ian', ranted about sours for a good five minutes, about how they are opposite and wrong for what a beer should be. I agreed" Also a renowned Hophead like myself, Kylie and Steve, he added with a chuckle, "I guess we now know how people react the first time they taste a proper hop-monster of an IPA when their taste-buds aren't ready for it. Shock! Awe! Horror!"

The first time I tried a sour, Kylie lucked out as I took one sip, grimaced, slid it in front of her and said, "All yours." At her urging, when Nickel Brook Brewing came out with a raspberry version of their Uber Berliner Weisse, I gave it another shot, buying a one-litre howler of it (as well as three two-litre growlers of Headstock IPA to wash away the taste, if need be.) It was... tolerable but man, that was sour! As an IPA drinker, I also learned there's a huge difference between bitter and sour. Huge! So finally, in an effort to be as fair as possible to the sour style, I bought a bottle of Nickel Brook Uber Berliner Weisse and the raspberry version to try them side-by-side.
Well, lookee, lookee at what finally landed in
local LCBOs - the Sawdust City Brewing's
outstanding Golden Beach Pale Ale. A real
favourite of my co-worker, Jay Dawg, we'll be
looking at it, as well as their Gateway Kolsch
and Old Woody Alt in the next edition of this.
While I will admit that with each progressive tasting, my absolute stand against them has become a little less adamant, it is probably not a style for me. That said, adding some fruit to the mix - in this case, raspberry - actually makes them slightly more palatable. Like porters and stouts that actually benefit from a little fruit infusion, I think sours are the same. If nothing else, the raspberry distracts you a little from the sourness. So while I may not be quite as emphatic in my distaste as Liam or Stevil, I will say with absolute certainty that I'm firmly on their side of the fence (where we have set up a table and are happily piling into top-notch red ales and IPAs.) Not my cup of tea. Certainly an interesting style, I will say that much. But for now, sours are off the table and by that, I mean the table directly in front of me where beers are placed.

However, I will likely try one again from time to time - spaced apart by months, no doubt - to see if either my taste-buds or opinion change. Like Stevil said, the first time I tried an IPA, I probably thought the top of my head was going to explode. Now I can't get enough of them. Beers are funny that way. It's like those people who say, "You don't need alcohol to have fun." Yeah, well, you don't need shoes to walk across gravel but it's a helluva lot better with shoes, isn't it?
The bat flip heard across an entire country. When Toronto Blue Jay Jose
Bautista hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning of their deciding
game against the Texas Rangers last night, he tossed that bat... LIKE A
BOSS! Texas players may not have been pleased but a nation cheered!!

Okay, coming up next, we have a bunch of goodies, including a look at Sawdust City Brewing's Gateway Kolsch and Old Woody Alt, as well as revisiting their Long Pine IPA, which recently won Brewmasters Choice for Best Beer at the 2015 Golden Tap Awards in Toronto and their outstanding Golden Beach Pale Ale, which wowed both myself and coworker Jay-Dawg at the summer Burlington Beer Festival. And don't forget about Rib Eye's Jack Beer Festival on Sunday, October 25 where they lock the doors from noon to 4 pm and for $25, there are 20 brewers in the house, as well as five separate food stations, prizes and a big-ass 30-ounce souvenir mug. And according to the flyer, there will be live music, courtesy of "Andrew Hill". I'm not sure why they put his name in quotation marks like that but I do suspect the Witness Relocation Plan might be the reason. Call the restaurant at 905-633-9929 but call them now. Tickets are nearly gone! Jay Dawg and I will be there but you can always stand on the other (safer) side of the restaurant. It's a big place. Okay guys and dolls, that's all, that's all and I am outta here!!! Until next time, I remain...