Saturday, February 27, 2010

Saturday Afternoon Beer: Rogue Brutal Bitter

Sorry, between curling, hockey and short track last night I wasn't about to boot up the computer for a beer review.

A Rogue product today, probably my favourite from them. They're a top-quality brewery in Oregon and I haven't tasted a single one of their beers that I don't enjoy.
Rogue Brutal Bitter
ESB, 6.2%
Rogue Ales
Newpot, Oregon
This is sort of an American ESB. ESBs are based on the Fuller's ESB, available in cans at the LCBO. One of my favourite styles, ESBs are English bitters on 'roids. All the flavours are bigger than your standard session ale.
Brutal Bitter pours a cloudy peach. Not a very big head. The beer is oily, and the foam settles pretty quickly.
All fresh North West hops on the nose. Grapefruit is the standout aroma with a touch of orange. Soft caramel malt lingers behind.
The balance of this beer makes it a standout among the Western ales. Citrus hops, like clementines, mingle nicely with the soft caramel evident in the aroma. Just a hint of a herbal taste that makes it a bit perfumy, I'd never noticed that before, but I don't think it's off. Bitterness takes over completely as it hits the back of the tongue. It leaves resinous hops allover the mouth.
Nicely carbonated. Smooth, but a bit of heat from the alcohol.
A great beer. Very flavourful. You can get this, their Hazelnut Nut Brown, and their Dead Guy in six packs at the LCBO. Seasonals like this one have been known to show up in the releases, hopefully the representative gets some good stuff in the near future.

Friday, February 26, 2010


Thought I'd pass along an absurdly useful tool to anyone in Ontario that enjoys a drink.

Ralphus, a poster at the Bar Towel Ontario beer forum created a program called drinkvine to help us beer hunters (and wine snobs).

Drinkvine takes the hassle out of trying to find a certain tipple. No more scanning 300 Ontario stores on the LCBO site for a bottle of beer. Just sign up (completely free, no catch), add your local LCBOs, put some beers or anything else on your watchlist, and when the product shows up in a store near you you'll get an e-mail about it. Easy peasy. It really is fantastic, I was just told that Brutal Bitter showed up at Rideau and that might just be the beer for tonight!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Has Mad Max Gone Rogue?

First, let me just say that Bernier should embrace the name "Mad Max". The perfect nickname for a CPC leadership contender.

Now, frankly I don't know what to think about Bernier's latest musings on global warming. There are two possibilities. One, Silver is right and Bernier really has gone rogue and is setting himself up for a leadership run as the candidate for the sociopathic grassroots of the Conservative Party. Imagine that, a Quebecer running as a crazy Albertan!

The second possibility is that Bernier's recent sorties into the realm of American conservatism have the full blessings of He Who Shall Not be Named. Is Harper floating trial balloons to see just where the public is at? Is he hoping the silly populism of the tea-baggers has drifted north? I'm leaning towards this possibility. The complete silence from the PMO on this is deafening. I understand they can't come out on either side of the issue for risk of alienating their base or, well, Canadians, but surely they have something they could say to pop Bernier.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Healthcare for the Rich

I don't usually comment on articles in The Sun because it's not a real paper. I'll break that rule here because Lorrie Goldstein's article today is a wonderful example of the stupidity of the anti-public healthcare arguments being made with regards to Danny Williams' heart surgery.

The argument is very simple and goes like this: all Canadians should have the right to do what Danny Williams' did in their own country and private insurance is the way to accomplish that.

It's incredibly dumb. What, friends, do you think the chances are of an American with an average insurance plan, getting shipped off to see a specific specialist in Miami who performs a cutting edge and experimental heart surgery? Hm? Do you suppose that Blue Shield regularly sends gas station attendants in Fargo to Mount Sinai for more expensive, and medically unnecessary, surgery? The fact is that had Canada "enjoyed" the benefits of a private insurance system this case would have played out no differently. The rich get whatever health service they want, and, if they're paying for it, I don't begrudge them that. But let's not pretend that Americans are being jetted off for cosmetic surgery in the world's finest hospitals by their insurers.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Night Beer: Drei Fonteinen Oude Geuze

Something a little different tonight. Unfortunately you won't find this beer in the LCBO, unfortunately you won't even find a good example of the style available for sale in Ontario. This beer came to me through a private order through a Quebec agency, it was then snuck across the Ottawa River so that I, and a handful of other Bytown beer geeks, could enjoy.
Lambics are one of the oldest beverages on earth. They're wild beers. Modern brewers have tamed yeast, or at least harnessed it, but in Belgium, lambic brewers still treat yeast as the miracle of the wild that it is. Lambics are beers fermented by the wild yeasts in the air. Belgian brewers have been known to protect cobwebs in their old breweries for fear that disturbing anything might have an effect on this incredible beer. They're right to be so protective.

The late Michael Jackson, the king of beer writers, describes them like this:
Wild is, by definition, exciting. Wild beer is live music versus recorded sound. Spontaneous fermentation erupts, bubbles and blows like a improvised solo: a Django Reinhardt riff, a taste of Toots Thielemens. And much more. Bebop versus baroque.
-Great Beers of Belgium

Chances you'll find a lambic in Canada are even lower than finding a gueuze. Lambics are traditionally served young straight from a Belgian cellar. Gueuze is a blend of lambics. Gueuzes undergo a second fermentation once blended and the result is a highly carbonated, almost Champagne-like, beer sold in corked wine bottles. These are like no other beers you have ever tasted. I won't pretend that everyone will enjoy them at first sip, but any lover of beer has to appreciate the complexity and tradition that is a gueuze or lambic.

Tonight's beer is from Drie Fonteinen. These blenders have been making gueuze just outside Brussels since 1887.
Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze
Drie Fonteinen
Old Gueuze
Beersel, Belgium

This is a blend of 1, 2, and 3 year old lambics. In the past Drie Fonteinen have used lambics from Boon, Lindemans, and Girardin. It comes in a wire corked green bottle. This undergoes fermentation in the bottle, and as soon as I twisted the wire the cork popped right off and a bit of beer spilled out.

Beer pours a deep, hazy peach. Massive snowy head balloons to the top. Thick, sticky lacings to the finish.

I like to describe gueuze as a combination of cider and Champagne. This is particularly fitting for the aroma. A big hit of sour Granny Smith's with a touch of crisp Champagne grapes lingering just behind. Finally, and most importantly, there's a hint of barnyard funk. To me, this makes lambics lambics. It's a wild, natural aroma that suggests a barn after heavy rain. I don't want to get too pretentious, but if you've been exposed to a lot of Belgian beers, or even farmhouse ciders, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Sour. Sour, sour, sour. That's the defining characteristic of these beers. You'll immediately pick up lemon juice and sour apple on the middle of the tongue while the lively carbonation plays on the tip. There's the tiniest bit of sweet malt. Incredibly dry all the way through, like a German white wine, or vintage Champagne. The finish is all barnyard flavours from the wild yeast, but you also get a taste of earth and vanilla from the oak that the lambics are aged in.

As I already said, carbonation is what makes a gueuze a gueuze. The second fermentation brings the lambics to life and lets the flavours explode in the mouth. The sourness is puckering at first, but you need to dig in and get to the base flavours.

Gueuze is an experience. If you ever have the opportunity to drink it, don't spit it out after the first sip. Consider the fact you're drinking something that's alive. Consider the ageing in the finest French oak. Consider the natural yeast strains at work to create hundreds of flavours. Consider the centuries of expertise passed from father to son in the art of lambic blending.

In all honesty, I didn't appreciate my first gueuze, only a short while ago. This is only the third bottle I have ever had the pleasure of trying, yet it's already growing on me. The first bottle I had, I mixed with Faro (a sweetened lambic for Belgian schoolchildren), the second I finished, but didn't really enjoy, but this time I think I finally got it. Truely one of the more special experiences in the world of food and drink.

CD Howe Institute, Right for Once

I'm not a "small government" kinda guy... mostly because that particular term doesn't actually mean anything. There's nothing quite as moronic as telling everyone that will listen that you're against too much government, or too much tax, or too much waste. No shit.

I think a robust public service is incredibly important. The policy capacity of a country is a vital component to well run government. The Liberals figured that out after Martin slashed and burned a wide swath of Ottawa, and so, for the past few years, the PS has undergone a revitalization, an attempt to make public servants proud to serve again. More importantly, an attempt to make people want to serve again. A key component of this has always been to offer benefits that one can't get in the private sector. To attract the best and brightest you need to provide work people want to do and perks that they can't get elsewhere. It's a pretty simple idea, and it's why the foaming at the mouth of conservatives at those pampered public servants has always been especially annoying to me. Frankly, I've always assumed it's just jealousy.

However, times change, and our times are shockingly different to the times of our parents and grandparents. It was once a given that employers would provide for their employees after a lifetime of service. Now, as anyone new to the workforce will tell you, you're beyond lucky to find an employer that will match your RRSP contributions.

The reality, as the C.D. Howe Institute is saying, is that the public service is now completely out of step with the rest of the job market. We can argue about whether their benefits are too good, or whether the private sector no longer provides enough, but in the end it doesn't really matter, the gulf is there. So, as the CPC turns towards the PS (I picture Harper and Flaherty sitting down together with fat red markers and Wagner playing in the background), I think that the pension deals struck with future bureaucrats are fair game. A significant increase in contributions is completely fair, not overly onerous on well-paid civil servants, and it certainly won't scare people off from applying to government jobs. When looking for savings, the government must trim the fat but stay well clear of the bone. This policy just makes sense.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

More Olympics...

Sorry, I've been completely sucked in. It's all Olympics all the time in the Shiner house and at the Shiner office. I do apologize.

As my previous post suggested, I've been pretty interested by the international, specifically British, press coverage during the Olympics. The Games have certainly had their problems, and there's a good deal of merit to some of the criticism. One of the memes though is completely out to lunch: Canada's Own the Podium program goes against the Olympic spirit and Canadians should be ashamed for our naked desire to win.

Excellent article on Slate about why this is garbage.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Mother Country is not Impressed

The British media has been shockingly savage in its coverage of Vancouver. In fact, only three days in and The Times were calling it a disaster.

So it was nice to read this from Rick Broadbent today.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Art of Olympic Broadcasting

Zalkovich is right on.

One of the best things about Olympic watching is the sense of constant action and getting an appreciation for the size of the Games. Unfortunately, with CTV, you just spend most of the time waiting for something to start. In years past I could just switch it to CBC and melt into my couch. This year I'm flipping between CTV, TSN, Sportsnet, and NBC for worry that I'm missing something. The good news, I guess, is that there are plenty of CTV promos that give me a chance to change the channel. Did anyone else wait, like, four hours to see Williams' interview with Katrina Groves?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Good on ya Vancouver

Well done Vancouver. I thought the opening ceremonies tonight were fantastic. A great showcase of Canada's people and culture... if not our engineers! :o

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Night Beer: Two Pales from Great Lakes

Great Lakes Brewery of Toronto is one of my favourite Ontario brewers. All their beers strike me as having a Canadian malt character, and there's something to be said for that since Canada isn't a traditional brewing nation. One of my favourite beers from them is their Devil's Pale Ale. I've also picked up a new West Coast Pale (read American hops) from GLB called Canuck Pale Ale, appropriate for the Olympics.

Devil's Pale Ale
Great Lakes Brewery
Toronto, Ontario
English Pale Ale

Like screw cap wine, canned beer has a bad rep. It shouldn't. And like wine, the reason it shouldn't is that it's better at keeping the beverage in top condition. Without exposure to light, canned beer is much less likely to become skunked. So don't be afraid to try canned beers... unless they say Budweiser on them.

Devil's pale pours a dark orange/red. This is atypical of pale ales, they're usually, well, pale. The darkest they usually get is a light red. Finger thick head, not much in the way of lacings.

Malt stands out on the nose. It's quite sweet, darker caramel tilting towards toffee, but there's also a touch of toasted malt, which gives off the aroma of fresh bread rather than the coffee notes of roasted malt.

Comes out with a nice hit of malt. It's an interesting malt profile. There's an English fruitiness to it, but it doesn't hold back on the burnt caramel flavours. It provides a great backbone to the beer and adds a nice complexity once the English hops kick in. Moderately hopped, slightly piney. The thin finish is a disappointment, all the flavour just seems to drop off right away.

Devil's is a standby for me. It's a distinctly Canadian take on a pale ale, combining characteristics of both English and American styles.

Canuck Pale Ale
Great Lakes Brewery
Toronto, Ontario
American Pale Ale

A new release from Great Lakes, just in time for the Olympics. Fantastic graphics on this bottle, love it. Should give you a good chance to contrast the American and English Pale Ales, it's not often you get the chance from the same brewery.

It's a beautiful beer. Pours a light amber, with a big marshmellowy head about two fingers thick. Lacings are thick and plentiful. Very visible carbonation.

Whereas the Devil's Pale Ale is all malt, this gives you a big hit of American hops on the nose. Piney with a touch of citrus, thinking grapefruit.

True to the aroma, this is a pretty straightforward beer, and I'm pretty sure it was built that way. It's hop heavy in the front, in fact it's pretty much just the back of the tongue active here, picking up some heavy, for Ontario, hop bitterness. It's difficult to pick out the malt here, a slight bit of caramel, but it's a bit unbalanced. Some have complained about strong diacetyl notes (diacetyl is a byproduct of fermentation that registers as butter or butterscotch), but I don't find it that bad, just slightly slippery. Like the Devil's, and other GLB brews, the beer is a bit thin in the finish and lacks any lasting aftertaste.

This is a rare beer for Ontario, the craft beer market has many English style Pale Ales, but very few highly hopped American ales. It's not a bad beer, I'd just like a little bit more grain to bolster the body. Very sessionable though, an easy drinker.

Enjoy the opening ceremonies!

Financial Luddites

One of the most frustrating things about contemporary politics is the counter-historical association of "fiscal conservatism" with Conservatives. Small-government types alternate between extremes in their failure to understand public finances. They have irrational fears of debt and deficits, certain that the complete collapse of the nation is just a billion dollars away. Yet they're also militantly anti-tax, insistent that tax rates are always on the wrong side of the Laffer curve.

And so we come to the unfortunate case of Ed Clark. Mr. Clark, CEO of TD Bank, is guilty of giving voice to a home economics level financial fact, if you're spending more than you're making, either spend less or make more. This had the Cons (or at least the ones on CPC HQ's e-mail list) salivating, and now Canadians are being told that Clark has spoken to Ignatieff, Clark wants taxes raised, ergo, Ignatieff will raise taxes.

I don't doubt that Ignatieff has consulted Clark, nor would I suggest that Clark, the head of the country's second largest bank, would be ignored in future Liberal economic consultations. My problem with this conversation is that the CPC refuses to address the substance of Clark's comments and the media just let them get away with it. Those CPC supporters, the ones that we're told are the fiscally responsible ones, blather on about the multi-millionaire Clark wanting to tax hard working Canadians, dutifully ignoring the question of whether taxes actually need to rise or not.

The kicker though, the thing that has me grinding my teeth, is that this has unfolded exactly as the CPC had hoped, and the inevitable attack ads linking Ignatieff to Clark and his higher taxes will convince a good chunk of Canadians that they must trust Harper, the fiscally conservative one, to run the country.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The CPC's Balancing Act

Ivison on the Conservative Party of Canada in the NP:

Power has brought a degree of discipline to this loose confederation of warring tribes but the differences between them remain and will inevitably resurface in due course.

This is one of the biggest questions in Canadian politics at the moment. How long can the CPC, or at least the CPC capable of forming government, last? We're told by one faction of the party that Canadians are really closet libertarians and are hankering for the chance to come out. The other faction has been telling us for years about the silent majority that hates homoexuals and wants to ban abortion. Yet anyone with an ounce of sense knows that a CPC that ran on a social conservative/libertarian agenda would be banished to the University of Calgary for a generation. The faction in charge knows how unpalatable they are to the Canadian people and so attempt to change the country in increments, hoping nobody will notice.

But how long can this last? With the Wild Rose stirring up the always angry Albertan populace and quickly becoming a provincial government in waiting, how long can the CPC keep up the illusion of centrism without pissing off its core? Can Harper distance himself from Wild Rose while his own caucus members publicly blow kisses at Smith? The yokels are increasingly jealous of the American tea-parties, and don't tell me there isn't a certain whiff of Palin about the "charasmatic" Rose leader.

I'm sure I'm not alone among progressives and conservatives in hoping that the CPC hangs a right in the next election. I expect there will be a good deal of noise coming from out west that Harper won't be able to ignore. Harper's success is based largely on his ability to keep the goofs in his party muzzled, but there's only so much temptation those dogs can take before they break their leashes and make a dash for some of that sweet libertarian love.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Palin Envy

Pity the poor Canadian journalist.

Ibbitson bemoans the fact that Canada doesn't have a tea party movement. With a sneer and upturned nose typical of Canada's professional political commentators, he chides the lowly Canadian for not being exciting enough. For not providing our own Palin. For not storming The Rock and burning the House of Assembly in St. John's to the ground.

Of course the truth is that Ibbitson, and any number of Canadian editorialists, aren't arguing that the American way is the way, that we'd all be better off if we were just more like our southern friends. No, what it really all comes down to is boredom. Ibbitson is bored. Coyne is bored. Hebert is bored. Gardner is bored. Cohen is bored. We have an entire profession consumed with a debilitating case of penis envy. Or Palin envy as the case may be. It's not that they think our standard of living would improve if we stormed The Hill, they just wish they had something more interesting to write about.

Prorogation, cabinet shuffles, and general apathy towards the medical care of the Premier of Newfoundland are so borrrring. Where are the legions of wingnuts waving tea bags and making nonsensical demands of the government? How long must we deal with peace, order and good(ish) government?

Have no worry though John. The Wild Rose is on the horizon. You'll no longer have to sit at the Hyatt bar with your head down, embarrassed to face your colleagues from CNN and FOX. You'll have your own crazies to talk about, genuine Canadian unrest. Not that you'll stop being ashamed of your chilly northern home, but at least you'll be able to impress those cute Congressional aides.

EDITED TO ADD: RedTory points out that Ibbitson doesn't actually fall on either side in his article. I could be wrong, but the article struck me as a bit passive-aggressive, or resentful, towards Canada.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Free Our Beer!

(Friday night beer is on hold, my girlfriend won't let me drink while I'm on anti-biotics, feel free to tell us what you're drinking in the comments)

That is the rallying cry for Ontario beer lovers (and the name of a darned good blog on the subject as well). Unfortunately for those of us who enjoy beer (or any alcoholic beverage for that matter), Ontarians suffer under a prohibition era, puritanical, alcohol distribution regime. There are two parts to this travesty, the government run Liquor Control Board of Ontario and the government sanctioned monopoly of the Brewer's Retail, The Beer Store.

For years, a small but vocal group of beer enthusiasts have lobbied the government to do away with our antiquated liquor retail system. The movement built up steam last year when the joke of a set up was featured in a series in the Toronto Star by Dana Flavelle (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Video). Flavelle rightfully focused on the Beer Store. Although I don't support the LCBO, I don't begrudge those that do. In fact it ensures incredible availability for smaller Ontario towns and, believe it or not, gives Ontarians enviable prices on many products. The same can't be said for Brewer's Retail. It should not exist, simple as that.

Up until a couple years ago, I, like most Ontarians I bet, believed the Beer Store was an agency of the Ontario government. It isn't. The Brewer's Retail was created as a kind of co-op for Ontario brewers. The idea was to protect local breweries from the multinationals. Today the Beer Store is owned by InBev, Coors, and Sapporo. These three non-Canadian companies are responsible for about 90% of beer sales in Ontario. Read that again. The Ontario government grants sole rights for the sale of 90% of the beer (both retail and commercial) in Ontario to three companies based in other countries.

The idea is absurd on its face. Unlike the LCBO, which is public (which generates revenues for the province, whose mission it is to serve the Ontario people, who open up their books for all Ontarians to see), Brewer's Retail is a completely private venture. We can't take a look at how much their owners are profiting from the monopoly. More than that though, it's clear that the Beer Store is abusing its position. Anyone have an "express" store near your house? These are built to benefit the major brewers (the owners) at the expense of local brewers and LCBO purchased imports. The set up discourages consumers from tasting new products. The marketing in any Beer Store features some beers more prominently than others (guess which ones). And the very nature of the provincewide retail operation means that stocking fees for small Ontario brewers are prohibitively expensive.

Imagine for a second if Diageo was given the rights to liquor sales in the province and suddenly Guinness, Crown Royal, and Bailey's were all you could seem to find anywhere. Or if Ford were given the rights to car sales and suddenly you were only able to find Mustangs.

It's a bad joke. Worse, the government knows it's a joke. They know it because their own study in 2005 told them so. The abuses of Brewer's Retail have been widely publicized, Brick Brewing of Waterloo has been especially vocal about its run ins with the beast. Same with Beau's in Ottawa, whose expensive bottles were being destroyed by the Beer Store despite the small brewer's attempts to have them returned.

All sorts of nonsense excuses are trotted out to justify the continued public support of the beer barons. It's for the environment. It's efficient. It's about Ontarian "values". Somebody think of the children! Meanwhile, the government allows certain wineries to open up their own boutique stores. But when the Ontario Craft Brewers request their own stores? Sorry, no. The Beer Store has sole rights to all domestic beer sales.

It's enough to make you cry. The stubborness of the Ontario government on this issue is very strange. What do we gain from Brewer's Retail? What is this hold that Labatt's and Molson have over the Government of Ontario that prevents them from looking at the system with just the tiniest bit of common sense?

The Politics of Child Care

So here we go again.

Ignatieff has put child care out there. We'll soon be inundated with the shield banging of working women and stay at home moms. The former will claim it a long overdue necessity for the modern age, the latter will perceive it as a direct insult.

For the record, I support a national child care plan. My 3 brothers and sister and I were all raised by our mother, so naturally I was on the other side at first. However, as with most policy issues, there's a wide range of data on the issue from other countries and I think any objective observer has to recognize that, given demographics and modern economies, the choice between child care and staying home is an increasingly rare luxury.

It's the demographics that will make this such an interesting battle. At some point our political parties need to turn away from the boomers and look to the next generation. Women now make up at least half of the Canadian workforce. We know that back in 2006 about half the population supported a national child care program, less in Quebec where they got to have their daycare and a nice cheque from the Conservatives at the same time. Going in to the next election I'm going to suggest that the numbers on support for a national system start to shift. The biggest reason is that even supporters of the CPC's paltry beer and popcorn money have by now realized just how useless that cash is for paying for child care. There's a serious shortage of daycare spaces in Canada's cities and it's affecting my demographic; young, educated professionals with mortgage payments and less benefits than their parents received 20 years ago. At some point ideology comes up against cold hard reality, and that reality is that my generation is having trouble affording child care and staying home is not an option.

At the moment, I don't think there's much of a downside on either side of this issue. However, going forward the Liberal position is where the smart money is and, framed correctly, can pay dividends as soon as the next election.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

About that Coalition...

Well if this isn't the stupidest...

Taber picks up the nonsense colleague Spector was spouting Monday and runs with it straight off a cliff. The new talking point, that I'm sure the CPC will hammer home in the coming weeks and definitely during an election, is that Liberal minority = coalition.

EKOS' latest seat projections (for what they're worth) give the LPC a minority government with 122 seats. Instead of saying that, and leaving it there, Taber suggests that it wouldn't be a LPC minority... it would be a LPC/NDP MAJORITY - er, wait, no - MINORITY!!! Taber doesn't tell us exactly what the LPC would gain from this that the tories don't already have with the current makeup of the House.

Taber writes, "The idea of a coalition fits with recent Tory spin."

No shit.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Coalition! Ignatieff!! Bloc!!! NDP!!!! Ignatieff!!!!! Coalition!!1!#

Am I the only one that doesn't get Spector's latest?

When I read it yesterday morning, I assumed I was just too tired to understand it. I read it again just now and I'm pretty sure it's the article itself that is tying my brain in knots.

After all the nonsense Spector has been spewing about prorogation, I think his frustration has boiled over, melted his brain, and this gibberish is the result.