“Bamboozling” and “Craft Beer”

Recently there has been a kerfuffle about big brewers “bamboozling” drinkers by dressing their products up to look like “craft beer.” Not that this is anything new. Marco has been clawing at the craft market for the last several years thought buying out breweries including Goose Island and Creemore Springs. The latest marketing leak, however, shows their intentions a little more clearly and has gotten some writers up in arms about misleading ad campaigns for AB-Inbev’s Shock Top brand.

The bamboozling is disheartening, but it’s also important to not completely demonize “Labatt” (owned by AB-Inbev) as Ben the Beer Blogger does (in tone at least). If consumers are aiming to support local or craft made products, then accidently buying one of these stealth bands (Keith’s, Rickard’s, Blue Moon, Shock Top, etc. or even India/Jockey/Black Horse/Blue Star/Dominion etc.) surely will be upsetting for them. I suspect if you care about the local/small part of the craft beer movement, you’ve already figured out a local brewery or two to support and if local matters to a consumer they are more than likely already somewhat educated about the products they buy.

I’m more concerned at their targeting Shock Top at those who think the whole craft thing is, as one lady walking by Volo the other day said, “Hipster beer.” Placing Shock Top as a “friendly” alternative is actually a pretty smart move for them. Craft beer advocates seem often to conflate the local/small/craft process with the beer product. These beers have all the taste and none of the pretention, right? And they are so much more available! But that’s where I find it gets troublesome. These companies have, historically, been very bad for a diversity of beer and breweries. While they have masterful quality control and techniques, they have tended to eliminate marginal brands in favour of more homogeneity.

That’s not, in itself, a bad thing and, perhaps, this time large multinational, publically traded corporations will produce a diversity of quality products. I’m skeptical. They can make excellent beer and, I believe, taste should be primary to provenance (the actual product over the mythified process), but it is disconcerting trusting these breweries to embrace diversity when they have often sought to eradicate it. Macro is not an inherent evil and it only feeds the perception of “craft” pretention if we act as if it is always to be eschewed, but certainly for me there are trust issues, particularly when they further malign any trust they may have gotten from providing a quality product through using branding trickery to mask the process.

These so-called “crafty” brands are like the McDonald’s healthy value menu. McDonald’s was, once upon a time, losing market share to more health conscious alternatives, so they introduced a menu filled with reasonable analogs of healthy food. Mostly salads with chicken; light and inoffensive. A win for healthy food! But I’m pretty sure in the phrase “healthy value menu” the word “menu” is, to McDonald’s, more important to the word “healthy.” Having an option in market is more important than the original (and, granted, often romanticised) movements that promoted and created that market to being with. If healthy food (somehow) stops being a concern, what is the fate of the “healthy value menu?” I suspect no better than the fate of these brands like Shock Top, also light and inoffensive, invented to appeal to the “craft” beer market niche. It is here, where valuing the product (good beer) in isolation from the process (gigantic multinational) becomes worrying for me.

I’m not so much enraged by this as I am interested. For now, I’ll keep trying everything and buying regularly from those who I trust will make beers I enjoy not just for now, but for as long as they can.

“Fairness” At the Pumps

There has been a lot of media coverage about the recent “Fairness at the Pump” act and I understand the initial indignation at the idea that unscrupulous publicans are trying to nickel and dime us out of a proper pint. I’ve seen those trick pint glasses that make 14 ounces of beer look like 16 ounces and I’m sure there are some bars and restaurants out there that use them. So let me restate: I agree with the basic intention of the law.

Image from the Honest Pint Project.

Image from the Honest Pint Project.

Where I get annoyed at the law is in its metrics. Especially since it’s not in metric. The infotastic webpage for the law states:

A pint contains 20 fl. oz. (568 ml) in Canada. The limit of error for 20 fl. oz. is 0.5 fl. oz.—the foam (head) is not included in the measurement.

In units that we actually use in this country, that means the error is 15 ml. Frankly, 2.5% error seems a little tight for sometimes frothy pumps, but alright. The foam not being included is one big issue. For most styles of beer foam is important to the appearance and even taste of the beer. You’re losing something in most foam-less pints, so it’s a bit silly to leave it out of the definition. Here, however, the measurements themselves are my real contention.

20 ounces of beer is an Imperial Pint. That’s an old English pub pint. The thing is, I’m not sure many craft breweries or better beer bars in Canada, or at least Ontario, have recently used definition of a standard pint. My general sense when I ordered a pint at a bar was that I was getting roughly 500 ml, half a liter. I generally have considered a “tall boy” can of beer to be a “pint” too and I’m even generous enough to consider the standard craft can size of 473 ml (16 ounces) that breweries like Muskoka use to be within the tolerance of my 500 ml, metric pint. So let’s say 500 ml plus or minus 25 ml. That’s a little more reasonable 5% room for error and, you know, foam.

Americans, for the most part, seem to be using 16 ounces to mean a pint. Heck, even look back up at that glass size awareness poster I posted above. That’s warning us of short pours of 14 ounces (~415 ml) when we order 16 ounces (~475 ml). Even the pint glass used to make consumers aware of fake pint glasses isn’t a pint glass by the Canadian government’s definition.

Now, I’ve got a lot of brewery branded glasses around my house which I generally use to serve people “pints” of my homebrew. But, as it turns out, I don’t even own a pint glass! Years of beer drinking and accumulating glasses and the Canadian government comes in to tell me that the industry has gotten it all wrong. I’ve been duping myself out of a proper pour!

To check this out I pulled out a couple of my most used what-I-thought-were-pint-glasses and my measuring cup and tried figuring out how much was held in each glass. Here are a couple examples.

500 mL in several "pint" glasses.

500 mL in several “pint” glasses.

Measuring out 50 cl into a Mill Street shaker pint, a St-Ambrose nonic, and a 2012 Cask Days glass (which nicely uses metric to measure a half pint as 250 ml and a quarter pint at 125 ml) shows that they all fit about a half liter of liquid with enough space for foam. If I put a “fill line” on them myself, I’d like it at around where the water hits in the above picture. When I pour myself a “pint” of beer, that’s where I stop.

A "fair" pint of 568 ml.

A “fair” pint of 568 ml.

Pouring the extra 68 ml into the glasses shows that, across at least this sample size, a “fair pint” is one that you are fairly certainly going to spill on yourself. It is also one that can have basically no foam. That is, at least in this small sample size of glasses. I’ve drank at many great beer bars and I don’t ever recall being poured a pint in something much larger than these fairly standard nonic glasses. Buy one from your nearest Dollar Store, I bet it’s the same 500 ml plus or minus about 25 ml, pint glass. A metric pint.

The whole thing makes me wonder who decided pints ought to be Imperial in Canada. I’d love to believe it was some well meaning CAMRA card-carrying bureaucrat who vacations in various tweedy English pubs and who just cannot stand this colonial pint nonsense. Another part of me, though, wonders if the folks who give beer away (those infamous illegal free kegs) the cheapest and who have the most money to throw at giving bars new glasses had anything to say about it. “Gotta get rid of those Black Oak glasses, but we’ve got a huge shipment of Rolling Rock branded ones in so we can pour some of these new fair pints.” I do wonder…

I still think the spirit of the fairness at the pumps act is right, but I don’t think they’ve got it right. And I don’t believe it’s fair. I do not believe that “A pint contains 20 fl. oz. (568 ml) in Canada.” I think it generally contains 500 ml plus or minus 25 ml to account for foam. I think the best outcome of this law won’t be better pours, but perhaps a realization that in Canada we don’t need the antiquated “pint” measurement in pubs anymore. We need new menus, not new glasses. We’re a metric nation and we drink half liters of beer.

Worthington’s White Shield (Review)

Molson (UK)
British IPA


Worthington’s White Shield is a classic, old-school British IPA. It’s alarmingly clear, with a soft fluffy head that has some staying power on top of the copper beer. The aroma is lemony and deeply earthy, leading into a taste of bright lemon and English-hop earth over a (particularly white) bready malt and slightly fruity yeast body. The bitterness has a nice mineral tang, with a lingering strawberry after-taste with some classic caramel and bready malts. A delicate beer, with lots of subtle flavour. Perhaps a little subdued for some, but a classic by all means. For Newfoundlanders Only: think of what Dominion Ale tastes like then take only the one best note from that, amplify it and surround it with lemony hops and earthy bitterness.

Dinner Jacket O’Red IPA (Review)

Arch Brewing (Ontario)
American IPA


Arch Brewing’s beer is contracted out of Wellington Brewery in Guelph and designed by the great Paul Dickey.  At first it’s somewhat reminiscent of Fire in the Rye, Double Trouble’s Paul Dickey-designed, Wellington Brewed rye pale ale, though past the hop characters and the colour they are very different beers. It is a red-amber beer with a big fluffy white head that slowly dissipates. I get citrus, floral, and earthy notes in the aroma, something like the centennial hop provides, though other hops might be involved. The taste is very sweet caramel, a little roasted, with spicy hop notes and a whopping, almost unbalanced, bitterness. It’s very creamy – likely due to the oats, perhaps the source of the ‘O’ in the name – with a smooth nitro-like carbonation, though there are notable hop acids (try chewing on a hop leaf) and a lingering bitterness. It’s a nice beer, though one that could do with some refining to boost the aroma, balance out the sweetness, and lower that ringing bitterness just a touch. Right now, it reads more as an American Strong Ale (a lighter Arrogant Bastard?) than anything else. Though, if you’re looking for that big, sweet, resinous out-of-control type beer toned down a little and without all the booze, this might be up your alley.

Alexander Keith’s Galaxy (Review)

Labatt Brewing
American Pale Ale


Alexander Keith’s Galaxy Hop Ale pours a clear copper-orange with a quickly dissipating, loose white head. The aroma is minimal, a little citrus and bread. The taste is substantially better with big notes of sweet bubblegum, mango, and citrus draped over a somewhat hollow baby food malt character and a bitter with a sharp, metallic tang. Medium bodied and well carbonated with a lasting tropical fruit (more banana than anything) aftertaste. The best of these hop series by far, though the malt, as always, feels desperately lacking substantial character. A fine gateway beer or a beer for beer blogers who like getting free beer to apologize about. Not I.