Killing beer, LCBO style

Yeah, it’s a bit blurry, but not illegible. Take a look at the sticker on this bottle and guess why I’m sharing it.

Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca, at the King / Spadina LCBO
Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca, at the King / Spadina LCBO

If you didn’t figure it out already, here’s a hint: this photo was taken on October 23rd.

Yes, Jolly Pumpkin bottled this ten months ago.

Over the summer, Calabaza Blanca was my favourite beer. Untappd says I had six of them, but those are just the ones I checked in. I’m sure I consumed at least 10.

Most recently I paired one with my Thanksgiving meal. The lightness of this beer’s body does wonders to brighten up a somewhat dense Tofurky roast. I noticed then, though, that it didn’t taste the same as the ones I enjoyed in the summer. It was less refreshing. Also, despite a few days resting in my fridge door, the carbonation unleashed a fountain on my table when I popped the lid.

Calabaza Blanca, it should be noted, is barrel aged, then bottle conditioned, but at just 4.8% it’s not an obvious choice for cellaring.

Calabaza Blanca in better days, with vegan, black bean tacos, hop shoots, red cabbage sauerkraut and sprouted beans
Calabaza Blanca in better days, with my vegan, black bean tacos, hop shoots, red cabbage sauerkraut and sprouted beans

Unfortunately, the LCBO has its own aging program. It’s called negligence.

Even though Calabaza Blanca is produced year round, the current Ontario stock has been warehoused for too long. It’s not the way this beer is intended to be sold.

To be sure of that, I emailed Jolly Pumpkin. Brewmaster Ron Jeffries sent me this reply:

I don’t really recommend aging our beers, as the wild yeast will continue to work even refrigerated and given enough time the beers will become over carbonated.

That being said, they also continue to sour, and a lot of folks like that, and so do age them.

I, myself, enjoy most of the beers at about eight months in the bottle – or younger. I have had Blanca that was five years old before and it was delicious, but a completely different beer. It was sweeter and rounder with a very strong note of candied orange. I preferred the younger bottles, though, as I found them more refreshing and balanced.

So beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think other than over carbonation, you’d be pretty safe at one to two years.”

Safe, that is, if it’s properly stored. At last week’s Ontario Craft Brewers Conference, representatives for the LCBO confirmed the warehouse is not refrigerated. That explains why a good portion of my Thanksgiving beer ended up on my table, while the rest tasted less than expected.

Not that I hope for fewer beer options in Ontario (because, fuck…) but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jolly Pumpkin, which has a stellar reputation, chose not to send more. If my Thanksgiving bottle had been my first I’m not sure I would have been so enthusiastic about buying my next. Especially at $9.20 per bottle.

The provincial government continues to insist we, the commoners, are well served by our current retail options. We’re not.

It takes two separate rounds – literally several weeks – of Ontario lab testing delays before a brew gets even approved for sale to the LCBO.  The neglect that follows is just another indication the crown agency clearly doesn’t understand or appreciate beer.

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One thought on “Killing beer, LCBO style”

  1. Reblogged this on Schoolhouse Craft Beer and commented:
    If we are going to be stuck with the LCBO as the best option for craft beer in this province, they might want to consider hiring a few people who know a thing or two about the product they sell. There is an appalling lack of knowledge within that organization.

    That being said I have had the pleasure of teaching a few people from the LCBO in Prud’Homme classes, but not nearly enough of them are getting this sort of education. Dan has a few really great points about the LCBO here, hopefully someone in the organization is listening.

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