Category Archives: beer

Ron Pattinson, beer historian, on the quest to recreate ancient ales


Before I started writing about beer, I wrote a bit about history. As an undergrad and Masters student in Canadian history, I spent weeks in local archives scanning microfiche for clips on dirty hippies, draft dodgers, student protestors, Canadians fighting in Vietnam and vagabonds thumbing it across Canada.

I even made a road trip to the National Archives to access some files, most of which turned out to be useless, although I bet those blackened bits might have been interesting.

So I got all excited when I got to chat with a fellow history hound, primary-source sleuth, just-the-facts-man — Ron Pattinson, author and amateur beer historian for my latest Hopped Up column in The Grid. He devised the recipe for Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company Dubbel Koyt — a medieval Gruit made with  50 per cent oats — it’s on tap at a bunch of Ontario bars until Thursday or later if the keg hasn’t run out.

I read Ron’s blog, Shut Up About Barclay Perkins, from time to time, but even I have to admit, after scanning a few recipes for one particular historical style of beer brewed in a region, in a specific time period, my eyes glaze over a little. (Perhaps that lack of attention to detail is why us beer writers tend piss Pattinson off so much).

But I’m guessing, from spending time deep in the archives, immersed in a subject I was passionate about — that Pattinson’s own eyes probably glaze over a little after a few hours of photographing old brewing records and sifting through dusty files and microfiche. Yet the English-born, Amsterdam-based Pattinson has been at it so long he’s become the guy that the world’s top brewmasters go to when they want advice — or even a recipe — for brewing a historical beer style, or even a defunct beer from their own storied brewery. Most historians never get to see their ancient fascinations in the flesh — or taste them when they’re brought back to life — Pattinson does — and that’s just fascinating. So I’m posting our whole chat here:

How and when did you get into brewery history?

The thing that really started it all off was Porter. I wanted to know what Porter had been — it’s this legendary thing — I bought all these books and read about it and all the information was contradictory. And if you don’t know what sources they’ve used, how do you know whether what they’re saying is right or not? So I had to go to the primary research. I started looking at old brewing records. The London Metro Archives are amazing — it has brewing records from four of the large London breweries, and really long sets for three of them — for Whitbread it has a run of records from 1815 to 1975 — the complete set. I looked at almost all of them, almost every year.

Fullers have let me look at their records, I’ve been to Lees in Manchester, so I try and collect as much stuff as I can. I’m obsessive about all the primary information, I just had someone send me some more brewing records this week.

That is pretty obsessive. I didn’t realize you’d been at this for so long.

Yeah, I joined CAMRA on my 18th birthday in 1974, so I got interested in beer really early on. I bought my first Michael Jackson book and that really inspired me, in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s I started going around to places that Jackson had visited. He really taught me about whole foreign beer thing and when I moved to Amsterdam in 1988 and started reading in different languages — German and Dutch — I was able to access even more sources.

So, I know you also write beer guides for different countries, which you sell on your website — do you also have a day job?

Yes. Michael Jackson is the only person who’s ever made a full time living as a beer writer and historian. I have a normal job in IT that pays me enough that I can live.


So, last fall Beau’s Brewing asked you to come up with any Gruit recipe you wanted and then flew you in to brew the beer and talk historical brewing at their Oktoberfest. You chose the Dubbel Koyt — why?

They said they wanted something different. And I thought, ‘OK, well what’s the weirdest thing I’ve got? Hey! I’ve got a really dry book about brewing in Holland in industrial Holland and it happens to have some stuff about way the beers were put together in the Middle Ages…’

It was fun choice for two reasons — because I am coming from Holland so it’s nice to have a Dutch recipe, and two, it was a different type of beer. When I started finding out something about beer in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance in Belgium and Holland, the thing that surprised me was the grains that they made beer out of, and the grain combinations they used — a lot of recipes used 50 percent oats, which is quite odd. I mean you’d just have real trouble brewing with it.

And when we were brewing at Beau’s, some of the things I feared did happen. Plus it was hard work to brew with oatmeal. When I saw what the guys went through to brew it I generally felt really guilty. You should have seen what the mash looked like — a big lump of porridge. They had to poke it with a stick for half an hour to get it all broken up.

And you didn’t have the whole recipe handy, just had the grain bill, correct? So you had to fill in the rest of the pieces? 

Yeah, basically I just knew about the  Dutch way to brew Gruits. All a Gruit means in English is a beer that doesn’t have hops in it — so it was wide open to interpretation and I quite liked that because then you don’t have to worry about what the hopping level was, you can just have the herbs in there instead. It was such an interesting grain combination; it was worth doing the thing because it’s simply a beer that people don’t see nowadays.

So given that room for interpretation, how do you know you’re making a historically accurate example?

Normally I work with recipes where I’ve got the original brewing records, but even when you have those, you don’t have everything in there, so there’s always a bit of interpretation and guesswork because none have every single piece of information to reproduce exactly. Some stuff that isn’t there, so when I do a beer with Pretty Things, me and Dann have discussed beforehand about the beer and I explain about the ingredients and stuff, and we come up with a recipe. Sometimes  recipes can be quite vague about the ingredients — it’ll just say sugar — but I know from other things that I’ve read that it was likely this type of sugar, but it didn’t say that for sure, so you just have to make the best guess that you can…

We’re always very careful to say when you do these historic brews, it’s not a clone of the original beer, we’re trying to make it as true to the original as possible and give you an idea of the kind of beer that was brewed at the time.

It seems like a dream gig for a beer historian to be able to bring historical beers to life with breweries around the world — how did that all start with you, and do you work with breweries often?

It started with Shelton Brothers when I got in touch, and pitched idea, and said would you be interested in re-creating these beers, and I got them brewed for me. That was about six years ago, De Molen did those two beers.

Then the Pretty Things owners, Dann and his wife Martha, were heading back to the States and had unexpected layover in Amsterdam. They asked me down the pub for a drink, we got talking and the whole idea of doing some old recipes came up, so we put this thing together. I work with Fullers as well, they’ve got a series of historic beers, so I’ve worked with the brewers and I looked at the records, and that’s been quite fun. And God knows how many people have brewed the recipes off the blog.

So what does it feel like to taste these Ye Olde recipes that you’ve dug up and brought back to life?

It’s brilliant. It gives me genuine pleasure to drink the beer. And the fact that other people are interested is great and it’s nice that a lot of professional brewers are interested in it. That’s why I don’t brew myself because the professionals can make a much better job of it than me. I’ve made a couple of beers with Pretty Things that I’ve really, really liked so much — drinking them brings it all to life.

After all, it’s a whole lot of work with a lot of fairly boring records and I spend hours and hours and hours stuck in archives, taking photos of stuff… So getting to drink some of the beer makes it all worthwhile.

Living in Amsterdam, I imagine you don’t always get to be there for brew day with your collaborators?

No. In the middle of February I’m going to Boston and I’ll get to see Dann brew for the first time, the chance for once to be there when one of the beer is brewed will be great.

What kind of people read your blog?

Two groups, lots of homebrewers, and quite a few professional brewers as well because they’re interested in the recipe formulation and history, it’s how they’re trained. And just general people who are into beer, not necessarily in the trade.



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Charlie Bamforth on Beer & Terroir

Niagara vineyard, Ontario

Dr. Charlie Bamforth, an Anheuser-Busch endowed professor of brewing science at UC Davis, was my first beer guru, and remains a hero of mine. His book, Beer is Proof That God Loves Us: Reaching for the Soul of Beer and Brewing, was the first book about beer that I read. In it he shares decades of knowledge on brewing science, stripping down the jargon and turning up the interesting (salvation for a liberal-arts educated reader). He offers unflinching and educated opinions about the beer industry — many of them unpopular ones — and the best part, his love of the great malt beverage practically sings off of every page, proving that romance and science are not separate entities when it comes to loving beer.

When writing this story for The Globe and Mail on whether beer has terroir, I finally got my chance to hit him up for an interview, and despite the fact I only quoted him once, he has a lot to say on the subject, so I’m eager to share it with you here. As you can see, he practically interviews himself:

Does beer have terroir?

”The answer is yes, more so than wine not only in terms of water, but other things as well. Some of the great beers in the world were developed on basis of local water. Burton-on-Trent has phenomenally hard water with high levels of calcium, and the other extreme is Pilsen in the Czech Republic which has very, very soft water. The vast majority of beers are made up of at least 90 percent water. It is a critical component. But the brutal reality today is that you can adjust the water to anything you want, so if you’re interested in making the same product in different places around the globe, you can adjust the water to exactly match the water from the brewery’s original location.

“An accomplished brewer can make the same beer in a huge number of locations by adjusting things like the water so they can achieve real consistency. That doesn’t sit comfortably with some people. We like to tell stories. Winemakers don’t try and tweak things, they just use the local raw materials and tell stories about it, and say, ‘That’s terroir.’ Brewers can do that, but on the other extreme, we don’t have to leave things as they are…  We can adjust the water to whatever we want, for example, Burtonization is in the German Brewing Dictionary, it means adjusting water to match that in Burton-on-Trent.

“Is there terroir? Yes. But can I recreate that terroir in a different location by processing the water? Yes.”

Really, because I know quite a few breweries here in Canada that go on and on about their water as a distinctive aspect of their beer.

“It’s a marketing strategy about celebrating the water. It’s a very powerful marketing strategy, but it’s not true to say that I can’t recreate it. One of our local brewers here in Northern California they take the local water and de-ionize it — they take everything out and build up water composition to what they want. You can even recreate spring water, as long as you know what the content of that water is.

“The debate is: on the one hand we have the opportunity to highly control a process to produce a product that’s very, very consistent time in, and time out. The counter opinion is let’s take advantage of local differences to celebrate them, “Like, hey we’re using local water, grain, and growing our own hops… You can make beer excellently both ways, it’s all to do with passion and emotion.

“I used to work for BASS in the UK, and when I came over here 13 years ago I never drank it over here because it travels such a long way, and the beer goes stale and cardboardy.  These days, it’s brewed in New York they’ve taken the recipe and adjusted the water to meet specifications, but now because it’s not traveled across an ocean, it’s fresher and better than it would have been coming all the way from Burton-on-Trent.

Santiago’s Rothhammer Brewery uses German malts, and English and American hops to make all of their brews

So is the only true terroir in wild fermentation? It’s tough to reproduce those exact conditions.

“Yeah, so there would obviously be specific organisms in that particular beer that would have a significant contribution to the local environment, and that will make a difference — but we didn’t look at ten different places for different patterns of development of the different organisms, so we can’t actually say what the variation would be, but it’d be significant.

“There’s a book I read recently that made me angry, it’s by Alice Feiring, a wine writer, where she basically champions the terroir and importance of it to the extent of rubbishing the concept of adding yeast to a wine fermentation rather than taking advantage of the natural flora. That feeling — that everything should be spontaneous — and therefore we should ignore scientific understanding to achieve excellence every time would be naive.

“Now, it’s not as though I hate the idea of local ingredients and the locavore movement when it comes to making beer — on the contrary, I quite like it. There’s a brewery here in Sacramento called Rushtaller, which I’ve done some work with, and it celebrates the proud history of brewing in Sacramento and it’s working to resurrect local hop industry, which used to be very big. And their beers also use  locally-grown barley.

“The concept is wonderful and very appealing — and it appeals to me as well. There is a real beauty in that story. But when it comes down to could I take a beer from a local place and could I produce a pretty much perfect match for it thousands of miles away if I understand the water the specifications on the grain, the malt, the hops?  Yes, you can recreate the product.

“Do I think there’s anything magical about a given locality?  No.”

Well in terms of wine-making then, you’ve said that brewers have embraced scientific knowledge in the brewhouse in a way that winemakers have not, preferring to champion the terroir narrative. But could you, theoretically then, reproduce a match for a wine grown in a specific terroir?

“Well, I’m not an enologist, so it’s hard for me to say…

“Theoretically, is it possible to take a grape from different places and achieve a degree of consistency or match? I’d think it’d be worth exploring. If you understand the science of wine sufficiently should you be able to overcome differences from region to region? I would be amazed to think it could not be done. The chemistry of the grape is going to be complicated, but I don’t think there’s any magical molecules that you could get in some grapes that you can’t get in others, so by adjusting the process you should be able to bring grapes from two different places closer together…

“What brewers have done because of an increased understanding of the chemistry of raw materials is to make  adjustments and achieve consistency. The wine guys don’t even try to do that — instead they value the beauty of variation and of local terroir, and they champion and celebrate that — and it’s a perfectly valid approach. Brewing has achieved a far greater sophistication of science, but it’s possibly moved away from the romance associated with wine.

“Do I like the attempts being made by smaller brewers to make beers that exemplify local ingredients? Yes I do, I like that very much.”

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Great Lakes Brewery Celebrates 25 Years

Ontario’s craft beer scene is blowing out the candles on a bunch of anniversaries this year — Mill Street is celebrating their 10th anniversary tomorrow night, and they have a special anniversary six-pack at the LCBO for those not lucky enough to go to the Brewmaster’s dinner.

Peter Bulut Jr., president of Great Lakes Brewery has been celebrating all year, with four limited edition 750ml anniversary releases. Each has been stellar, exemplifying brewer Mike Lackey’s countless hours of brewing, inventiveness and love of bold flavour.

The latest release, an Imperial Black IPA, is the first of this style I’ve ever had from a Canadian brewer, and it’s fantastic.

The aromas are all big, bad grapefruit rind, with hints of chocolate, star anise and a smidgen of toffee. As it warms up juicy mango notes come out, and so does a warming boozy note (it’s 9.5%), after that one-two punch notes of chocolate and roast coffee come in for a dry, long lasting finish, with some of the hops sticking to your cheeks like red wine tannins.

The uber creamy feel of the brew is what makes it sing – a soft, silky body and creamy head lend a lusciousness that screams “I’m worth celebrating.”

But Great Lakes hasn’t always been doing celebration brews, seasonals and the range of one-offs that they are known for so today, it’s been a long evolution from a crisp lager brewery to an outfit with it’s own pilot system and a very big portfolio of brews.

I interviewed Mr. Bulut Jr. in September, 2011, for a story I was writing on the brewery’s evolution. He shared some of the brewery’s history with me, so I’m sharing that interview with you here:

You didn’t start off brewing the big, bold styles that you’re know for today, how did it all happen?

“We changed maybe a little later, at a time when consumers were looking for change. We had blonde lager, red lager and a black lager for a while and they were quite tasty beers but in the retail market we hard to cut through clutter when most beers were very similar to the ones beside them, so we started with a unique flavourful ale which was Devil’s Pale Ale. That started as a one-off, we brewed it at the Brew-Your-Own back then, in 2006.”

Some breweries swear by consistency, but your beers seem to have become bolder in flavour, and sometimes ABV, over the years, would you agree?

“It has gotten stronger. You know some breweries come up with a brand and they say, ‘Here it is world, take it.’ We have been evolving the brands as we get better at them. Like our Orange Peel Ale, we put a hit of essence in it, and  I hated to do it because it had the McDonald’s orange flavours and kept playing with oranges and we found a way to cut out the essence. We improved the Devil’s by tweaking hops and malt slightly, which balanced it out a little better.”

How did you get into brewing?

“It was a family decision. In 1991, my Dad decided to buy the company, I was just finishing up college.”

What did your Dad think about moving to the bigger beer styles?

“My Dad had a passion for business, he had an entrepreneurial spirit and he didn’t understand why we were coming out with these big flavourful beers. He knew beer as a 50-year-old when he bought the company, for that generation it was all mainstream swill, or lawnmower beer, and that’s what he was used to. He understood clean, crisp lagers. But when we started brewing Devil’s and Winter Ale he thought, ‘What is this?  Look at the numbers here, what’s happening?’ With our seasonals we started doubling in growth year after year since 2006.”

What does the future look like?

“We are expanding, in the last year we upgraded refrigeration and upgraded the brewery’s heating system, we have a bunch of new tanks coming in. We won’t be moving anytime soon, as we have enough real estate to keep growing — we’re less than 15,000 HL right now.”

Cheers to another 25 years.

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Beer and Cheese Pairing Workshop

Photo Credit: Ray Williams,

I love to write about beer, but I also love to taste and talk about it — that’s part of the reason I’m studying to become a beer sommelier under the Prudhomme (Canuck) and Cicerone (US) courses.

Practice makes perfect and all that, so last week I led two beer and cheese pairing workshops at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.  I wanted to use products from the cheese producers at the Fair, so I tasted and those first, and then I headed to the Royal’s craft beer bar, run by Jed Corbeil, propertier of the Griffin Gastropub, to see what Ontario craft brews he was pouring that I could match up with the cheese. Many thanks to all of the cheese and beer producers who kindly donated the samples for the workshop.

Photo Credit: Ray Williams,

Both of the workshops were extremely popular, organizers said they thought about 30 people would turn up to the Journey to Good Health Stage for the show, but over 80 came on each day, so thanks to my husband, brother-in-law and sister for volunteering to pour beer and slice a whole lot of cheese.

Photo Credit: Ray Williams,

At the beginning of each session, I surveyed the audience — both times nearly everyone had been to a wine and cheese, and many had hosted one at home. But no one had ever been to a beer and cheese event before — there were many questions on specific pairings and also on how to host one at home — so I hope this will soon change.

If you want to host one at home, I’d suggest setting up different stations, or sections of your table, so that people clearly know which beer goes with which cheese. Also, use small glasses, nice juice glasses or even wine glasses will do. It’s too tempting to fill up a whole pint, and if your guests do so, they’ll barely be able to taste anything by the fifth pairing… I think five to eight pairings are plenty, even three would be quite fun and instructive for guests. It’s also nice to encourage guests to play around with trying different beers with cheeses that they are not matched to — letting them stretch their tastebuds and find out what works f0r them. And there are probably quite a few different combos that will work together, I  heard one cheesemonger on a podcast say, “Good beer, good food, no bad hits.”

Why is that? Beer and cheese are natural bedfellows. They’re both farmhouse products, each one starts from a grass, both are fermented and aged. As well, they each balance sweetness and acidity or bitterness with fruitiness and funky fermentation flavours.

Still some pairings work better than others, so I put together a shortlist and then ran it past my Cicerone study group mate, Jesse Valllins, a former executive chef at Trevor Kitchen and Wine Bar and the Beer Bistro, who is currently teaching some classes at the Fromager program at George Brown College, including a Complex Cheese Pairing class in the spring.

Here’s what I came up with as the final list:

Scottish Pale Ale, Highlander Brewing Co. South River Ontario
Lindsay Clothbound Goat’s Cheddar, Mariposa Dairy, Lindsay, Ontario

Aroma, caramel, toast, touch of raisin and plum
Flavour:  burnt caramel almost molasses, fruity and nutty, raisin, date, graham cracker

Aged 18 months –
Award winner, took the ribbon at the Fair last year and beat out 1600 other cheeses to tie for Best in Show at the American Cheese Society Conference in 2011.
More on bandaging here.
Notes: Earthy, hay, tangy, almost a caramel sweetness at the finish.

EQUAL WEIGHT: heft with heft – a big bold cheddar would overwhelm this beer, need something with subtle depth of flavour that brings out sweetness in the beer. The cheese compliments the fruity/nutty notes in cheese. Sweetness emphasizes the grassy goatiness fruitiness in the cheese and contrasts nicely with the salt – beer is less cloying.

Hogsback Vintage Lager, Hogsback Brewing Co., Ottawa, Ontario
Devils’ Rock Creamy Blue Cheese, Thornloe Cheese Co., Thornloe, Ontario 

NOTES: Extremely salty, hints of sharp blue cheese. Lots of creamy texture, almost milky when it dissolves in mouth. Buttery finish, like blue cheese cake – has elements of sweet and salty.

Why is it so mild? Read more here.

Hogsback Brewing Company Vintage Lager
FLAVOUR: Warm, grainy, sweet honey notes – lots of sweetness and a hint of bitterness from floral, grassy hops  

Sweet bready grains highlight the sweet buttery notes, like bread & butter; and contrast with salt, helping to tame that salty note. Beer has enough creamyness to stand up to the blue. I like that the sharpness is accentuated, not toned down by this pairing.

What happens to cheese creamy texture with beer?
Carbonation! Bubbles scrub the palette clean and get rid of that sticky cream – and that’s something wine doesn’t have…

Mill Street Cobblestone Stout, Mill Street Brewery, Toronto, Ontario
Torta Surface Ripened Semi-Soft Cow Milk Cheese, Montforte Dairy

Flavours & Aromas of: Chocolate, medium roast coffee, roasted burnt bitterness lingers on the finish
Mouthfeel: super creamy head, but body is quite light
Note: this beer is now available in Nitrogen-charged cans at the LCBO, and the texture and creaminess of the beer is unbelievable. See how it works here.

A triple cream Camembert-style soft bloomy rind cheese. White, butter like consistency, very buttery and rich, with sheep milk, mushroom funk in background.

According to Jesse Vallins, “Stouts with bloomy rind cheeses are some of my favourite pairings.  The dry roastiness and bitterness in the Cobblestone will be a great contrast with the sweet creaminess of the Bliss. It’s like pairing coffee and ice cream, very much opposites, but very pleasant together.”

I love how both the creamy stout and creamy cheeses compliment the feel of one another, but the bitter roasted notes wash the creamy cheese from the mouth.

Photo Credit: Ray Williams,

Maple Smoked Comfort Cream, Upper Canada Cheese Company, Jordan Station, Ontario
Pommies Dry Cider, Caledon, Ontario 

Deep yellow, very creamy slightly slick almost cheese-slice consistency, lots of Maplewood smokey bbq on rind and nice creamy butter in middle, mild to medium saltiness, smoke and earth dominate. Them cheese is made with milk of Niagara herd of Guernsey cows cared for on the nearby Comfort family farm.

Quite sweet, Granny Smith Apple; Some white sugary sweetness. Bubbly, clean and sweet certainly not dry as claimed on the label… sparkling white-wine, highly carbonated mouthfeel

The sweetness and sharp, sparkling bubbles are strong enough to cut through this bold cheese. It stands up to the smoke, but the smokey maplewood lingers in your mouth, for an applewood smoked cheddar effect. Like a good BBQ sauce, you want sweet characteristics to balance the smokiness. Great example of carbonation scrubbing out the palette.

Crazy Canuck Pale Ale, Great Lakes Brewery, Etobicoke, Ontario (Wednesday session)
Augusta Ale, Kensington Brewing Co., Toronto, Ontario (Saturday session)
Colby Cheese with Hot Pepper,  Thornloe Cheese Co., Thornloe, Ontario 

Mild firm cheese, with milky sweetness and a seriously hot bite from crushed red peppers,

Crazy Canuck Pale Ale:
Aroma: all hops, fresh grapefruit all the way, clean
Flavour: quite bitter, punchy grapefruit peel, citrus and mango, croissant like sweetness
Mouthfeel: light and bubbly, airy, creamy head
Finish: grapefruit peel, citrus

WHY IT WORKS: I like how the citrus in the hops temporarily cools down the heat from the cheese and then it comes back, but both flavours stay in mouth. Hoppy bitterness emphasizes the heat.

Augusta Ale:
Clear, deep gold, white frothy head some lacing
Aroma: Mango and hint of caramel, citrus
Flavour: mango, juicy citrus, light and lovely, some sweetness, almost like a sweet Chinese bun
Mouthfeel: light and bubbly, airy, creamy head
Finish: mango and grapefruit

WHY IT WORKS:  Holy Cow! Does this accentuate the hot peppers, but the citrus cools it down in the finish. Sweet bready backbone matches the sweetness in the cheese.

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Beer and Terroir: Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch

Everything about beer fascinates me, but my lastest story, exploring beer and terroir for The Globe & Mail recently, has my head spinning.

The subject is only beginning to be explored by craft brewers, and I think that brewers are in the midst of redefining terroir in beer — as such, there are a lot of ideas, disagreements and some serious philosophising happening among beer drinkers, makers and marketers.

I tried to touch on the thrust of the debate in my story, but inevitably most of the indepth commentary from the people I spoke to had to be left out. So I am going to share the interviews here, beginning with a question I posed to Jim Koch on a visit to Samuel Adams brewery in Boston last week. (Note: I asked Koch this question after the story came out as it’s just so damn interesting).

Koch has a compelling take on the subject, with his outer hippie on full display.

The question: “Do you think that beer has terroir, and if so, does Samuel Adams have a particular terroir and what would that be?”


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Best beers to convert wine lovers

There are a lot of oenophiles out there — and it’s sometimes tough to convince them that beer can be just as complex and sip-able as a glass of their favourite vintage. In my experience, especially, a lot of those drinkers are women who got wasted off six-packs of Labatt Maximum Ice in high school and have since sworn off beer for life.

OK, so I don’t have any pictures of wine. Instead I’ll show the sophisticated side of beer-dom, food pairings! Here’s one from a Hacker Pschorr dinner at Toronto’s Beer Bistro, I wrote about it here:

That’s frustrating because the world of beer is as wild and wonderfully diverse as that of wine (I swear)! So to help convert wine-lovers into beer-swilling diehards I decided to recommend six very different craft beers to a series of wine styles for the August issue of ELLE magazine.

But then I realized I knew very little about wine, so I asked my curling buddy, and talented sommelier, David Black, who runs the Italian Wine Academy, to help me match some of my favourite Canadian craft beers to certain wine styles.

And the most sophisticated beer event on the Toronto scene, the annual Brewer’s Plate, my take on that is here:

I chose Paddock Wood’s Czech Mate Pilsner from Saskatoon, Montreal’s St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, Propeller’s Extra Special Bitter out of Halifax, Beau’s Lug Tread Lagered Ale from Vankleek Hill, Ontario, Red Racer India Pale Ale from Vancouver’s Central City and Blanche de Chambly from Unibroue in Quebec. To see which wine styles we matched to each of these brews, click on the pdf of the story.

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Beer and barbecue pairings

Jason Rees, Pork Ninjas

A couple of weeks back, The Grid had to cut my Hopped Up column, well, pretty brutally. I was writing about how to pair beer with barbecue, so I spoke to two men that love both things deeply: Ryan Donovan, the butcher at Marben, and Jason Rees, pitmaster of barbecue team, Pork Ninjas.

Sadly Rees was cut from the story (I’m sorry Jason!), he spends a lot of time smoking meat, and drinking craft beer, and I wanted to share his expertise here. I also gave both Donovan and Rees the challenge of pairing beers you can buy or drink in Toronto with their favourite BBQ — and I asked them to comment on one another’s suggestions — most of these were cut too.

So I’m pasting the entire article here for your barbecue-and-beer-pairing pleasure:

Ryan Donovan has the ultimate man cave: a brand-new walk-in keg fridge, its walls lined with barrels of craft brews like Muskoka, Beau’s and F&M. And in the centre, hanging from the ceiling, there’s usually one huge cut of meat or another—loin, ribs, flank. King West restaurant Marben (488 Wellington Street West) is known for its monthly pig roasts conducted under resident butcher Donovan’s watch, and he says the merger is fitting—any carnivore knows that ale and barbecue is a natural pairing.

Donovan, who ran the Healthy Butcher and worked at Cowbell before moving to Marben, learned what beers to match with barbecue from practice, and by talking to the brewers who supply his restaurant.

Donovan reccomends Muskoka’s Mad Tom IPA to cut through the rich, pink meat of a roasted pig. For lighter fare, like grilled fish or chicken, Donovan likes Muskoka’s Weissbier for its sweet banana character, or Duggan’s zingy, No. 5 Sorachi Lager. “When it’s hot outside it’s tough to drink a lot of beer,” he says, “so a lighter, effervescent lager is best.”

Some beers are better than others to drink with barbecue. And while there are some rules of thumb: go for brews that compliment, contrast or cut your food; a sweet taste should be paired with even sweeter beers, tart with tart — brewers, butchers and beer nerds don’t always play by them.

Jason Rees, for example, never serves lager with barbecue. The pitmaster for Pork Ninjas, a Toronto-based competitive barbecue team, Rees spends upwards of 16 hours over a cooker. And that’s when he relies on lager. “I love my double IPAs and imperial stouts but if I was to drink those for 12 to 16 hours, my palate would be completely polluted, and I wouldn’t be able to tell if my spicing was correct.” His go to? Anything by Muskoka, preferably in a can, or Yuengling Lager, which he picks up at Walmart in the States.

Like Donovan, Rees likes the IPA’s ability to cut through sweet, rich barbecue. But he also likes the complimentary pairing of a sweeter brown ale, like Neustadt 10W40, with spicy ribs smothered in brown sugar. What to serve to your Coors Light loving Dad? Try Black Oak Pale Ale, says Rees, “it doesn’t offend anyone.”

At your next dinner party, Rees advises, choosing six kinds of Ontario beer, giving everyone a small glass, and trying different beers throughout the meal, starting with lightest and moving to the heavier, more alcoholic beers.

“Beer is so much easier to pair with barbecue than wine, because when you serve the real spicy stuff, some wines can taste like vinegar. But even a poor beer pairing is still going to be drinkable,” he says.

Jason Rees’s beer and barbecue pairings, Ryan Donovan weighs in

Denison’s Weissbier with burger with goat cheese
Donovan: “I would pair this as well, but only if I could have two beers.”

Sweet and tangy baby back pork ribs with Muskoka Cream Ale
Donovan: “Mmmmmm tangy”

Smoked sausages with Kozliks German Style mustard with Church Key Holy Smoke Scotch Ale
Donovan: “Church Key is one of my favourite breweries, great choice.”

 Jerk Chicken with Muskoka Mad Tom IPA
Donovan: “British + India + Jamaica = Bracebridge.  A classic pairing.”

Grilled chocolate pound cake with scoop of chocolate ice cream & hot cherry sauce with Black Oak Double Chocolate Cherry Stout
Donovan: “I’ll bring the beer if you take care of cooking this.”

 Rib-eye steak rubbed with coffee, salt and pepper with Muskoka Dark Ale or Wellington County Dark Ale
Donovan: “Wellington County Dark is one the best beers I’ve ever had.”

Orange marmalade glazed duck breast cooked over Basques Charcoal, (made from sugar maple) with Lindemans Cuvee Rene Gueuze
Donovan: “Orange?????Duck Breast???????? can I have a beer now?”

Note: Most of these recipes are Rees’s and are on his website at

Ryan Donovan’s Beer & Barbecue Pairings, Jason Rees weighs in

Muskoka Mad Tom IPA with Patio Pig Roast
Rees:I absolutely love the Muskoka IPA, but I think it lends itself better to spicy food, and a whole hog has a lot of different delicate flavours. I’d rather see that paired with a pilsner.”

Muskoka Dark with fermented Thuringer
Rees: “The marjoram spice in this sausage would be very tasty with the Muskoka Dark Ale.”

Anchor Steam with BBQ Brisket from West Side Beef
Rees: “I think I would enjoy Anchor Steam with a brisket, but I usually pair it with raw oysters.”

Creemore with anything BBQ’d outside at The New Farm
Rees: “My theory that you need something easy drinking while bbq’ing seems evident from his pick of Creemore. I’ve done the same thing when I can’t find cans of Muskoka, I enjoy Creemore’s Kellerbeir more than their lager.”

Tsing Tao with #76 at Pho Phuong
Rees:I can barely get my nose into a Tsing Tao beer, so it must stay in the bottle and be served extra, extra cold so I can barely smell it. It’s just another large batch adjunct beer that I wouldn’t normally consume… but I will admit to consuming it as a last resort beer on many occasions in the many amazing Asian restaurants in the city.”

Beau’s Lug Tread Ale with a porchetta roast from The Healthy Butcher
Rees: “I have not tried the Healthy Butcher’s porchetta as I make my own, and mine has lots and lots of fennel seeds in it, is cooked over apple wood, and injected with apple juice brine. It would marry well with the Beau’s Lug Tread, but I have a serious love of pork and apple, so I usually drink my porchetta with Wapoos Cider from the County Cider Company.

Rogue Dead Guy IPA with Pulled Pork
Rees: “The Dead Guy IPA is a very well-balanced beer, and I’ve enjoyed it with pulled pork on several occasions.”

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