This guy needs an Ontario craft brewer to sponsor him.
A few months ago, while my wife was out of the country, I thought it would be a good idea to try my first Beer Mile. I wasn’t wrong.
My time wasn’t great, but I did have a great time. The best part though, was being in a field where one of the fastest Beer Miles ever was taking place.
The guy who did this is 21. In fact Lewis Kent still gets carded every time he buys the beer he needs to compete (sidenote: Andre De Grasse is still 20, and can’t legally purchase beer where he spends most of the year). Since October, Lewis has shaved more than a minute off his time, and continues to improve at a pace that could see him crowned World Champion as early as this year.
In a couple weeks he joins other members of Team Canada at the World Beer Mile Classic in San Francisco. You might already know Canadians invented the Beer Mile and claim a staggering number of the top times. This guy though… he’s something else.
Right now Lewis is looking for a sponsor – a brewery that wants to have the beer-of-record when the world mark falls. And take note: beermile.com isn’t updating as frequently as it should be, but they do list the beer in the stats.
To be eligible, the beer needs to be in 355ml packaging — ideally bottles — and should be at least (definitely not much more than) 5.0% ABV.
To get a sense of just how remarkable the Mississauga runner is, here’s a video taken last month, where Lewis (in yellow) set the 3rd fastest time ever. The guy behind him — Phil Parrot Migas, also drinking Amsterdam Blonde — set the 9th best mark in history.
They may have both fallen one place, as Australian Josh Harris awaits verification of his recently completed 4:56.2. Lewis tells me though, he expects to be under 4:55 before 2016 rolls around.
In the eleven years that I’ve been vegan I’ve witnessed an explosion in the range of vegetarian options, both in shops and restaurants. Off the top of my head, craft beer is the only industry I can think of that has probably outpaced veggie cuisine (though to be honest, I’m not really trying too hard to come up with others so save your comments).
When I made the decision to give up animal product I was lucky if I could get a dry, crumbly veggie burger to go with my Amsterdam Nut Brown (by far the preferred savior for brown, fake meat in 2003). Now, of course, I can go to dozens of restaurants with a generous selection of menu options that fit my chosen lifestyle.
Craft beer joints, meanwhile, are multiplying faster than the rabbits I don’t eat. It’s a pretty good time to be me.
What does suck however, is craft beer pubs generally have almost no decent vegan options and most vegetarian restaurants care little about beer.
When the Toronto Vegetarian Association (TVA) accepted my “Beer As Part of a Healthy Vegetarian Lifestyle” workshop proposal, I was thrilled. The Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival is the largest of its kind in North America. Just being given a time slot was a feather in my cap (metaphorically speaking… no birds were harmed in the awarding of presentations). I viewed this as a first step to helping other plant-based-diet advocates understand why an industry as dynamic and positive as beer largely ignores them. If more veg-heads appreciated beer and started demanding better options, maybe pubs and breweries would be more inclusive in their planning. Perhaps restaurants would stock more styles of beer.
Then Wednesday (four days before my workshop) I got an email from the Harbourfront Centre informing me Labatt has exclusivity on their premises. Other breweries’ beers are forbidden. “Perhaps Alexander Keiths beers could be used?”
Here’s the thing: it’s a food festival. It’s about flavour. It’s about options.
Cameron’s, when they learned I was participating, leaped at the chance to be part of it. When I wasn’t sure about the logistics (licensing, ID checking, etc), the Oakvillians were quick to assure me they were ready whenever I found out. And what styles would I like to serve? And do I need anything else? They tweeted the event, added it to their blog and Facebook page… generally made me feel like the success of my workshop was important to them as well. I wouldn’t cancel on such an enthusiastic sponsor days before the event, even if Labatt shipped cases of Goose Island to my door (which they’re welcome to try).
Forcing a festival presenter to pull stock from one brewery, whatever brewery, is ridiculous. It’s like telling a coyote he can only use ACME brand when he’s intent on nabbing a roadrunner.
I don’t begrudge Labatt gaining certain marketing considerations in exchange for shuffling funds into the Harbourfront Centre, but I do question the value of their sponsorship when they insist on painting an otherwise colourful venue beige.
I’ve already spoken to the TVA about doing a beer-focused event in the not-too-distant future. Stay tuned…
I haven’t put this in writing before – it seemed too much like commitment – but I’ve decided I really want to do a marathon… in ten weeks from now. I’m talking about the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Last week I ran a 21.3 km route (just ever-so-slightly beyond the half-marathon distance), so I figure I’m in pretty good shape as far as my training goes.
What I’ve learned about myself is that I’m a better runner because I don’t only run. Cycling, for instance, has strengthened my knees. In the past it was articulatio genus, not fatigue, that cut short my jogs. Not anymore, since biking built additional strength around my knees.
Also, because cycling is less strenuous and more sustained, the body allows its fat stores to be burned over long periods. I covered well over 500 km in The Netherlands and Belgium last summer and arrived back in Canada 15 lbs lighter despite drinking a remarkable amount of beer (always after riding). Carrying less body fat also makes running longer distances much less of a chore. (Drink Yourself Thin, the book, is in the works.)
These days, I’m also throwing yoga into the fitness mix. My flexibility is laughable and my balance is probably better after my second pint (calmness of mind, or whatever), so I’ve stuck to practicing in the privacy of my home until now. Like running and cycling, I typically view yoga as “me time,” but this weekend, that changes.
Despite being full-on veg for more than a decade I’ve never had a problem drinking my favourite beverage. I gave up on Guinness, but that was no great loss with St. Ambroise‘s Oatmeal Stout already in regular supply. Milk stouts, honey ales and obviously anything that has bacon is off limits, but I have a lot more difficulty finding new beer, than vegan beer.
Being a vegan generally means cooking for yourself from time to time, and for me beer has increasingly become a key ingredient. The results have been far better than I expected from my simple self. I’ve never been very creative in the kitchen, usually more concerned with making portions large enough to spread over several meals. Recently though, flavour has been inspiring me to be more experimental.
Two things I was told before I began:
Never cook with a beer you don’t enjoy.
Cooking intensifies the flavours found in the beer (which is why #1 is so important)
I started with bread, which worked so well – dense and chewy goodness inside a solid, rocky crust – that I’ve stopped buying loaves (my beer bread is actually better the second and third day, when it’s reheated in the toaster oven). At the time Black Creek Historic Brewery was producing Dray Horse Ale; a brown ale that had a very bready flavour. It was a natural.
From there I moved on to pancakes with Amsterdam Oranje Weisse. A wheat beer made sense as a complement to the recipe’s flour. What I didn’t expect was how much of the bright citrus flavour would come through. Again, it was a great success.
Over time I switched things up. Jalapeño, rosemary and black pepper are now regular additions to my bread and sometimes I’ll use all-purpose flour in place of whole wheat flour, ergo, I’ll use a beer with a lighter malt bill (Hacker-Pschorr Weiss is excellent).
For pancakes, which are now a weekly tradition, I switch it up between the Oranje Weisse (when it’s in season), KLB Raspberry Wheat and St. Ambroise Apricot Wheat – my wife’s favourite. A couple weeks ago I had no fruit beer so I used Side Launch Wheat, with its estery (fruity) character, and tossed in some freshly pummeled blueberries. It was delicious. Another time, while making breakfast in someone else’s kitchen, I had to make do with whatever beer was in their fridge and subbed in Beau’s All Natural Smokin’ Banana Peels. It contains no actual banana (or peels), but its distinctive flavour still came through.
Mostly I’m sticking to recipes I find online or in the Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook (David Ort, Whitecap Books), and making adjustments to either suit my vegan lifestyle or replace something the LCBO might not have in stock.
Knowing your way around beer helps. My first attempt at making beer nuts (from the Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook) could have been thwarted by the fact there wasn’t a rauchbier to be found within miles of my downtown Toronto home. Having had Church Key‘s and Aecht Schlenkerla‘s smoked beers on several occasions, I knew how dominant the smokiness was, so when I decided to substitute the elusive rauchbier with fruit beer I opted for Amsterdam Framboise. It’s brewed with actual raspberries (not syrup) giving it a more intense flavour. Had I picked something more subtle I likely would have had to use more than the prescribed 4 tsp, probably making a reduction before combining it with the other ingredients.
All of these recipes have been ridiculously easy, using a few, fairly common ingredients and involving minimal prep time. Other dead simple wins from the craft beer cookbook include sesame ginger edamame with a stout base, mustard made from an IIPA and wild beer vinegar (one ingredient!).
To be honest, not everything has gone well. My attempt at drunken vegan grilled cheese was a two-time failure. I’ve abandoned that one. There will be no photos.
But cheesy vegan dishes can still be made better with beer. Once, to make the sauce for my vegan mac’n’cheese, I added a flat bottle of jalapeño beer in place of water for some added kick. After some time in the oven I topped the cheesy macaroni with fresh jalapeño, green onion and chipotle chili powder for a spicy, beery dish that still makes my mouth water when I think about it. If jalapeño beer was easier to come by in Ontario, this would be a regular treat.
The most impressive result from my new found appreciation for beer cuisine was also the most involved. Vegan chocolate cheesecake, made with Sawdust City‘s Bloody Long Dark Voyage to Uranus (a raspberry imperial stout), was a two-day mission incorporating about a dozen ingredients, a couple electronic devices and plenty of dishes. Still, so worth it.
I wish there were more resources online to explain why certain beers work with the foods I want to prepare. I’m going mostly by intuition at this point, so if someone can point me to places to learn more, I’d sure appreciate it.
In the meantime, I’m grateful for all the websites that at least offer recipes. Good beer and veganism have both made my life better. The more ways I can find to bring the two together, the more I can help other vegans find a place in an industry that generally doesn’t recognize them.
Dan Grant reports on the winners, runners-up and the minor controvery at the 10th annual OBAs
If you passed by the Gladstone Hotel Tuesday evening, you might think beards – not beers – were being judged inside. They’re a furry lot, those brewers who occupied the Queen West landmark. Many resemble what I imagine the Gladstone’s original visitors looked like in 1889.
This mild, spring evening however, was indeed about handing out the Ontario Brewing Awards; a mostly celebratory affair (although one winner received a less-than-enthusiastic salute) that brought together many of the province’s better known and lesser known brewers for some good-natured networking and bragging rights.
Last year, just over 30 entrants submitted 160 beers for judging. This year, the 10th Anniversary of the OBAs, 46 breweries sent in close to 220 unique blends.
One of the chief architects of the annual event, Roger Mittag, says the OBAs have seen huge growth in the past three or four years, and 2014 should be even bigger, with about half a dozen new categories.
Best Barrel Aged beer, for one, will likely be split into more defined subdivisions. This year’s winner was Amsterdam’s Order & Chaos; a Belgian wheat beer aged in Chardonnay barrels. Runner-up honours went to Great Lakes’ 25th Anniversary Bourbon Ale, while Cameron’s VSPA (aged in Cognac barrels) took home bronze. Next year, expect to see barrel enhanced brews split between those done with wine, brandy, and whiskey notes.
Most of this year’s prize takers can be seen on the Ontario Brewing Awards website, although two of the big victors aren’t listed; top overall beer was awarded to Amsterdam Brewery, for its Spring Bock (a doppelbock), and best new brewery went to Ottawa’s Big Rig.
The low point in the evening was the announcement, or the reaction to the announcement (depending who you speak with) of Labatt winning best Belgian Style Wheat Beer for Shock Top. A low, protracted groan greeted the news, with several not-so-quiet mutterings of it not really being an Ontario beer.
Mittag begs to differ. “It’s made in Ontario.” Full stop.
At the mention of the Anheuser-Busch product primarily being brewed outside Canada, Mittag defends the judging, saying the rules are clear. “My point is, you could put Keith’s in, because Keith’s is made in Ontario. When we made the criteria for brewers to enter we made the criteria quite simple: you have to brew the beer for commercial purposes in Ontario.”
“It bothers me when people make comments like that, because everything I do, I do to open up the industry, so that big brewers and small brewers can share in the opportunity. Labatt is a very good quality brewer, and they make good beer. This is not a craft brewing award. This is a beer award,” stressed Mittag.
It’s worth noting all the beers were juried blindly, which makes it all that more interesting that the expert judging panel draped a gold medal not just around the neck of a bottle from Labatt, but also Niagara Teaching College (a school) and Magnotta (primarily a winery).
It’s also worth pointing out that the beers are being judged according to predefined criteria – how experts say a fruit beer should look, taste and feel – not on what your senses say. BlogTO’s Ben Johnson offers several more criticisms in his most recent blog post.
Generally though, as Johnson also acknowledges, this is a very well organized and positive event— and that’s testament to the goodwill the industry has cultivated. “It’s going to continue to grow,” insists Mittag. “That’s a cool thing. It really is about celebrating Ontario brewers, and we’ve got some really great beers and I think everybody needs to know that. It’s about celebrating beer as a whole.”
I’m not sure it’s even possible to spend an entire evening around Dundas & Ossington without hearing the Black Keys, Instagramming a fixie, or growing a beard. Other Toronto neighbourhoods could lay similar claims, but there’s something different about this intersection – Jays caps worn properly, lumberjacks with eReaders, ethical tacos – that makes D&O a destination unto its own.
It’s like Portlandia on poutine, where dobro players debate Songza vs. Spotify with your friend’s kid, and Wonderdick cries into his red wine over our collective shame (Garrison Creek).
Gentrified & Hipsterdom is a magical place, where Starbucks cups magically appear in city garbage bins, even though nobody is drinking Starbucks (wink, wink).
And if all that isn’t enough for it to warrant its own BIXI station, Little Portugal has something even more special to offer – some of the best, unique beers in the city.
A couple blocks south of the intersection you’ll find Bellwoods Brewery. Since opening little more than a year ago, the micro at Argyle and Ossington has been cited as the top brewery in Ontario by one of the country’s most respected beer writers, ranked the third best new brewery in the world by Ratebeer.com and collaborated on recipes with a couple of the planet’s more renowned craft brewers.
I mention to one of the co-founders how impressive this first year has been and Mike Clark pretty much shrugs off the honours, focusing instead on the partnerships. “Yeah, I’m sure we’ll do another collaboration with Luc,” Clark states, as though it’s just one of those things people do (the Luc in question being M. Lafontaine, former brewmaster at Montreal’s revered Dieu du Ciel!, who now mashes in Japan). “We actually have another sitting in barrels now; a sour stout we’ve done with Evil Twin. That one will be here, but it will also go down to Evil Twin’s new beer bar in Brooklyn. I’m sure we’ll do more with Ontario breweries too. We’ve been talking with Jason at the Indie Ale House about doing something with him.”
Along with Luke Pestl, Clark rolled open Bellwoods’ big garage door (the brewpub is located in a former auto shop) last April, and the pair has been greasing the wheels ever since. “I would say in our first year we did about 50 different recipes – this year we’re honing in on about 12 or 15 recipes we liked best.”
Clark says Bellwoods has no plans to sell in the LCBO or The Beer Store, but the attached retail store is open from noon to 11:00, Monday to Saturday; and noon to 6:00 on Sunday.
Just west of Ossington, on Dundas, Get Well Bar, opened even more recently, and with it came the country’s reigning top amateur homebrewer. Brad Clifford’s “Best In Show” designation at the 2012 Great Canadian Homebrew Competition was the second consecutive such honour he received from the Canadian Amateur Brewers Association.
Get Well offers up a 100% Ontario craft beer selection and has three taps set aside specifically for Clifford’s recipes. “Fantastic,” is how he describes the first six months. “When we first launched we ran out of beer in the first week or two. It went pretty quick. If anything, I’m just trying to keep up with demand.”
In addition to excellent beer, Get Well also has a free arcade (think Galaga, Gauntlet, pinball) to rest your pint glass on, while re-calibrating your wrist.
Like Bellwoods, the neighbour to the north is also into collaborations (including one with Indie Ale House) and it too has no plans to sell off site.
Opera Bob’sdoesn’t brew its own beers, but the pub just east of the intersection does lay claim to its own house tap. Bob’s Bearded Red is an Irish Red Ale developed by Mill Street’s head brewer, Joel Manning, who calls the Opera Bob’s his local.
Although the nitro-charged pint (which gives it the same cascading effect as Guinness, but in a beautiful, creamy, copper-blonde) has since been spotted at several other pubs around the province, BBR is as native to the neighbourhood as The Biblio-Mat.
You’re a dedicated beer drinker. You raise a pint while your friends sip Pinot. Their noses are sunk deep inside Burgundy glasses as the neck of a bottle reaches for your lips. Conversation turns to “terroir,” “tannins,” and “legs” while you’re cracking open your second. They’re detecting notes of “mocha” and “white pepper” and… wait… so are you?
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a brewski for what makes it uncomplicated. If there’s one huge advantage beer has over its viney cousin, it’s accessibility. You can buy dozens of really good and widely ranging styles without missing the rent. If one is your favourite just because it is, good on ya. Bottoms up, my friend!
I’m not scribbling down a bunch of notes for the Standard because I want to create malt snobs. In fact I worry the current paradigm shift to craft beer is going to create hordes of unbearable, hipster alumni, drinking Imperial fish taco ales with their little fingers in the air, sneering at me while I’m enjoying a Big Rock Traditional (the very drink that first turned me on to craft beer many, many hangovers ago).
I’ve been a beer habitué through three NHL work stoppages, but until recently I never gave much thought to what makes it my beverage of choice. The writer in me feels a strong romantic attachment (in fact there’s an Amsterdam Spring Bock currently disappearing next to my laptop, at about 40 wpm). As a Prairie boy-moved-to-the-big-city there’s plenty of nostalgia associated with hoisting a bottle in questionable social situations. As an Hibernophile, of course, there’s novels of imagery I don’t need to describe for you – though it might not hurt to tell you a Hibernophile is a lover of all things Irish. As a sports fan, well, beer’s just awesome.
Late last year, my wife (an angel, whose wings have brushed many a bar top) suggested I formalize my beer appreciation and enrol in the Prud’homme Beer Certification program. Merry Christmas to me! Yup, I’m Rodney Dangerfield in “Back To School,” loving every intoxicating drop of course material and doing a Triple Lindy into each lesson’s homework.
Beer, my friend, is beautiful. It’s history is as rich and far ranging as the many styles currently coming to market, and I can think of many worse ways to spend an afternoon than being Cliff Claven at the end of the bar, mouthing off about this beer and that.
To whet your own beer palette, five starter points to becoming a know-it-all (without becoming a dick):
1. You should always drink from a glass. Although I realizeI look far cooler swinging back a longneck while unleashing The Humpty Dance on an unsuspecting karaoke lounge, taking it straight from the bottle also forces carbonation into my gullet. That not only makes rapping more difficult, but also makes me bloated… which sucks when I’m “shakin’ and twitchin’ kinda like I was smokin’.”
Most breweries offer branded glasses, so grab one at the end of your next brewery tour (if you’re doing Steam Whistle’s be the hero that throws your hand up when they ask for volunteers… can’t tell you why, but trust me), and practice working it into your act during Rock Band.
2. Depending on the beer you’re drinking, look for “notes” the same way the wine folk do. Mocha is more common than white pepper, especially in porters and stouts, but there are usually some easy associations like “citrus” that go with American-style Pale Ales (if citrus gets too easy, smell specifically for grapefruit or tangerine – this almost definitely comes from the hops). Drinking a German bock? Look for banana, which comes from the yeast.
3. Speaking of Germanic things, the Reinheitsgebot is that which you likely know better as the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516. Your friends might know that it allows for only four ingredients (barley, hops, yeast and water), but they probably have no idea that in the 16th century, yeast was an unknown, naturally-occuring ingredient. The act originally allowed for just the other three contributants.
Here’s a choice barstool nugget: In 1986, a Munich brewer was charged with using chemicals in his beer in direct contravention to the purity law. So disgraced was Helmut Keininger, he killed himself in jail. Although the German Purity Law has since been replealed, many breweries right around the world – including Toronto’s Junction Craft Brewery – continue to adhere to the core four.
4. Germany gets another slow, reverential nod for helping to standardize and protect the Trappist designation, despite not having an active Trappist brewery. Mariawald still operates as a Trappist monastery in North Rhine-Westphalia, but hasn’t concocted a batch of beer in more than half a century. Still, in 1997, they got together with the seven other Trappist breweries of the day (six in Belgium, one in The Netherlands) to create the International Trappist Association; a group effort to protect the Trappist brand. Since than, Austria’s Engelszell has also earned the seal of approval, and another Dutch Trappist monastery is currently building an on-site brewery.
5. In nearby Ireland, meanwhile, you’ve likely heard blood donors and nursing moms are given iron-rich Guinness to boost their stores. As one that has given 65 pints of O-Negative myself, I’m not one to discourage a reward for the recently drained, but My Goodness, My Guinness actually contains less than 3% of an adult’s recommended daily intake!
New moms, on the other hand, still might want to reach for a bottle of their own. Hops and malt are both galactagogues (substances that promote lactation), so nursing becomes easier and the incessant screaming a bit more tolerable. Everything in moderation, of course, but I would suggest McAuslan’s St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, as it has a good amount of hops and the oatmeal is a better galactagogue than straight-up barley. Furthermore, it’s one of the most favourably reviewed stouts in the world.