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When it comes to beer, you are what you drink
By ANDY HOLLOWAY
It's a dreary Friday afternoon when I pull up a bar stool in the Granite
Brewery & Restaurant. Known for its delicious homegrown beers and the
occasional cooking-with-beer event,
the Granite is the type of place where a couple of old farts can sit for hours
staring at the hundreds of bottles on the wall behind the bar.
As I'm getting comfortable, two old codgers swap stories about how many
different varieties they've got under their belts. "Have you tried that red
one three rows up and about six bottles in?" one of them asks. "Oh yeah,"
replies the other. "It was good. What about the one with the green-and-white
logo two shelves higher?"
Their banter provides a fitting backdrop for my final interview of the day.
My mood lifts as I sip my freshly drawn pint of Peculiar, one of the eight
Granite brews on tap that account for about 92% of the pub's sales. Its
unusual name may put off some people, but for those who like a "full- bodied
but slightly sweet" dark ale, it fits the bill. Thirsting for something a
little more mainstream? Try a Ringwood Ale, the Granite's most popular draft.
If you'd rather have something by Molson or Labatt... well, you're pretty much
out of luck: the Granite sells them only in bottles. Chuggers of formulaic
swill, beware梑eer snobs are embraced here.
A beer snob? Is there such a thing? Does the type of beer you serve or drink
actually illuminate something of your personality? "Absolutely," says Stephen
Beaumont. And he should know. The internationally renowned beer taster and
author of five beer-related books sampled more than 1,300 Canadian brews
while researching The Great Canadian Beer Guide, Second Edition. "What you
have available to drink definitely says something about you," he says as he
settles into his first pint, a cask-conditioned Best Bitter Special. "If I
had clients over, I'd make damn sure I had a selection of beers in the fridge,
maybe even a Canadian or Blue."
I nearly fall off my bar stool when I hear Beaumont recommend beer from a
major brewery. After all, in his reviews, he tends to favor craft beers and
imports, giving the major brands short shrift. As a self-confessed beer
snob梐nd someone who has beenknown to chastise Coors Light fans?nbsp;I was
expecting a little more support for my point of view. Beaumont typically
gives the big brands one star out of four, indicating a "standard but
unimaginative" brew. Likewise, those who drink such beers梐nd they comprise
the bulk of Canada's 10 million beer consumers梐re a largely uninspired lot.
"They are stuck in their ways," he says. Finally, the confirmation I'd been
looking for. "They typically buy one brand of major brewery beer, and it's
their beer," he continues. "They've been drinking it for years, and they
don't want to try something new. If you give them another beer, nine times
out of 10, they can't tell the difference."
It's no surprise that Molson and Labatt's mass-market offerings have a near
stranglehold on the Canadian beer market. Molson alone sold about 45% of the
20.7 million hectolitres (the equivalent of more than six billion bottles) of
beer consumed in Canada last year. But Beaumont believes the influence of the
majors is slipping as Canadian palates seek more sophisticated tastes. Even
the big two breweries are now focusing more on the imported brands. (Molson
distributes Heineken and Corona in Canada, while Labatt owner Interbrew has
brands like Stella Artois and Hoegaarden.)
Ultimately, an appreciation of craft beers will give rise to a micronation of
beer snobs, though there are a couple of incremental steps along the way.
Beaumont characterizes those who have made the switch to craft beers as
unafraid of experimenting with new things. Unlike the beer-swilling couch
potato who reaches for a Kokanee, these enlightened individuals have reached
a pivotal stage on the evolutionary beer ladder. Perhaps surprisingly, women
are just as likely to have reached this point. Unlike men, women don't have
any hang-ups about brand loyalty, says Beaumont. "If you're a single guy and
you go to a bar to meet interesting women, you could do a lot worse than
talking to a woman who's drinking a stout or a Belgian white," he says. At
this stage of the evolutionary ladder, it's not so much what you drink as
being open to new flavors.
What separates beer snobs from the masses is their appreciation for the
various tastes that craft beers offer. A beer snob understands that flavor
has less to do with alcohol content than with the care a brewer puts into
his art. A light beer doesn't have to be light in taste. In fact, many
full-bodied beers contain less than 5% alcohol, the standard level in Canada.
For instance, Guinness on tap, a rich-tasting and dark stout, has only 4.2%
alcohol. The major beer makers use a high-gravity brewing process that
creates beer with 7% to 8% alcohol, then water it down to 5% for regular
beer and 4% for light beer. It's fast, but it doesn't necessarily make for
Microbreweries, on the other hand, take more time with their beers, adding
various spices, herbs and other seasonings to the traditional water, barley,
yeast and a variety of hops. The mix is brewed in small batches so the
resulting brew is more flavorful. Beer made from hops has only been around
for 1,200 years. The first beers, which date back at least 6,000 years (and
are often credited to the Egyptians), were made with fermented fruit, spices
and herbs. People who look down their noses at fruit beers are probably
associating them with coolers, Beaumont surmises. But unlike those
concoctions, fruit beers are quite complex in flavor and not necessarily
sweet. La Barberie's Blanche Aux Agrumes from Quebec City is an orange,
grapefruit and lime wheat beer, which may sound strange but is pretty
conventional compared with other combinations. Beaumont has tried a Belgian
mint beer and even a North Carolina tobacco beer, which left his mouth
tasting like "the morning after smoking a cigar," he recalls.
Still, if you're willing to try tobacco beer, chances are you've already
evolved into a beer snob. That means you'll drink both crafts and imports梐nd
generally won't stick with one brand for longer than a case or even a pint.
During our three-hour interview, Beaumont consumes three different drafts: he
follows up the bitter with a Keefe's Irish Stout, then finishes off with an
IPA. If variety is indeed the spice of life, then Beaumont is the beer
lover's beer lover. He generally has a stock of 45 different beers in either
his fridge or cellar.
Us mere mortals will have to settle for having one or two brands in the
fridge at a time, sharing space with last night's leftovers. But whether
you like light beer, fruit beer or one of the 40 other types of brews, once
you've made the commitment to step out of the Molson and Labatt box, you're
well on your way to enjoying beer as it's meant to be. Beer snobbery is not
nearly as exclusive a club as its wine equivalent, and it doesn't require
you to learn ridiculous phrases like "the nose has a naughty bouquet." Even
better, you get to swallow your beer, whereas oenophiles have to spit out
their wine. This makes beer all the more accessible to common folk. "People
aren't scared by beer. You can be intimidated by selection, but if you
present a beer, it's a beer," Beaumont says. "Wine is a conversation stopper,
but I've never encountered someone who doesn't like talking about beer."
Loving beer, it seems, means never having to put a cork in it.
CARE FOR A BREWSKI?
The return of sunny days makes summer ideal for breaking out the patio
furniture, filling a cooler with beer and inviting friends and coworkers
over for a few brown pops. But if the beer you serve says something about
you, shouldn't you think before picking up 12 Canadian and 12 Export in a
Molson Pleasure Pack? The answer, of course, is yes.
No matter how many people you're entertaining, beer expert Stephen Beaumont
recommends having at least three or four brews on hand. Start with a simple
lager and ale. Choose labels that have a little more cachet than a big brand
name but are not too radical in terms of flavor. Beaumont gives a nod to ales
such as Big Rock Traditional, Sleeman Cream Ale, Bor閍le Rousse or
Mt. Begbie's High Country Kolsch, and lagers like Upper Canada Lager or
Steam Whistle. Then, he suggests, add something eclectic. Beaumont recommends
serving a St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, Wellington Arkell Best Bitter or a
Hermann's Dark Lager. Finally, pick something that may surprise your guests
or start a conversation, perhaps a Black Bear Ale or Blanche de Chambly, a
fruit beer like Kawartha Lakes Raspberry Wheat, or maybe a Belgium import
like La Chouffe.
Never serve just one beer, even if it's the most expensive one, and stay
away from the Molson or Labatt labels. "That's completely predictable; it's
not going to impress anybody," says Beaumont. "If you're entertaining clients
or your managers, it's likely their tastes have matured. Their days of
funneling beers are behind them." Cheers to that.
From Canadian Business
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