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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What variety of pumpkin is best for beer?

Pumpkin Beer Canada

I wrote a story for today’s Globe and Mail on our growing obsession with pumpkin beer in Canada. I started by talking to world-famous pumpkin grower, Danny Dill, who grows the giant pumpkin variety — Howard Dill’s Atlantic Giants — invented by his Dad, a farmer/mad scientist, in the ’70s. Dill Jr. also grows 50 other pumpkin varieties, and he doesn’t necessarily think Giants are the way to go when it comes to making a beer.

Here’s his advice:

“Well I really personally don’t think that Atlantic Giants are as good for pies or beer-making, they’re not as flavourful. But it depends on everything else you’re going to put into it.

“I grew a variety of pumpkin this year and it should be the top pumpkin to do stuff with, I’m already starting to hear some rave reviews. It’s called Winter Luxury, it’s a little larger than a pie pumpkin size, and it’s not really orange, but a tan, buff colour with netted skin, it’s an old time variety from 1862, and just the reviews of it convinced me to grow it.

A blind pumpkin beer tasting I did for the story


I get people coming here to buy pumpkins specifically for pies…   we have a dessert contest every fall and it lets people put pumpkins to the test. One chef told me it was incredibly awesome to work with these pumpkins.”


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Smokey beer is on the rise in Canada, here’s what to look for, and what to pair with rauchbier

My first time with a smoked beer was one of the most memorable sips of my life.

It was a Schlenkerla Rauchbier cracked around 5 p.m. on a porch, just as we were about to barbeque. As I wrote in yesterday’s Globe and Mail story on the smoked beer trend in Canada — it was a bit like taking a bite of a double bacon and smoked-meat sandwich on rye and washing it down with a swig of cola.

And boy was it divine with barbequed German sausage.


My story listed a few great smoked brews available in Canada, but I couldn’t fit them all in — so I wanted to mention some others I discovered here:

Central City Rauchbier
This German-style rauchbier is a big, bold Bamburg-inspired version, there’s still a little of the bacon-like spring seasonal on tap at the Surrey brewpub. $6.25/pint
Central City Brewing, 13450 102nd Avenue – Suite 190, Surrey, BC

Amsterdam & Utopia Smoked Peppercorn Wit
This collaboration brew from Utopia & Amsterdam Brewery was made by curing malt and tellicherry peppercorns over Utopia’s applewood smoker, lending this easy-drinking, citrusy Belgian-style witbier added depth.

I sipped this while drafting my bracket for the Ontario Brewmaster’s Cup contest — vote for your favourite Ontario brew at

At Half Pints Brewery in Winnipeg, brewmaster David Rudge makes Smoktoberfest, a German-style rauch, made with over 90 percent smoked malt, every fall. He says this year’s batch should be available at the brewery by mid-September and at MLCC Liquor Marts in later that month. The brewery is also bringing a batch with them to Toronto in October, I would guess that’s for Cask Days.

Food Pairings with Smoked Beer

I also wrangled some food pairing tips from the brewmasters I spoke to which I couldn’t always make room for, so here is some more of their widsom:

Matthias Trum, Schlenkerla‘s 6th generation-owner

“The traditional combination is hearty Franconian food, so Bamberg-style onions, sausages, beer knuckles — all the stuff you’d get at a Hofbräuhaus. It’s also interesting to combine it with smoked cheeses, venison, smoked fish, anything that has a strong flavour, you don’t want to have a mild flavour with Schlenkerla.

“One interesting recipe I’ve heard of is like an American beer-can chicken, only people are doing it by putting Schlenkerla party kegs inside a turkey — I’m told if you put that in the smoker it’s the perfect combination.”

Stephan Ostiguy, president at Dieu du Ciel! on pairing his Charbonniere (Coalwoman) rauchbier:

“Any red meat works, and it’s interesting with strong cheeses.”

Stephane Ostiguy and I at Dieu du Ciel!’s Montreal brewpub

John Graham owner and brewmaster at Church-Key Brewing on pairing his Holy Smoke, peat-smoked Scotch Ale:

“Pairings for this beer follows same rules as for others, it’s a versatile tipple, so you can serve it with smoked ham hocks or sausages to compliment the smoke, or juxtapose it by serving it with something fishy. I have a great recipe using Holy Smoke as the liquid to cook mussels in, and crumble blue cheese or gorgonzola in there to match the bold flavours of the brew.”

Greg Nash, brewmaster and BBQ-fiend, shared his recipe for Smoked Balticus Porter-marinated barbequed pork ribs:

“I will not tell a lie — I’ve taken home a couple of growlers before and marinated some pork in it over night and served it with Balticus. I  fortified Balticus Smoked Porter into a marinade with sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds, soy sauce, fresh-minced ginger, garlic and chillis. I marinated the ribs in that for 24 hours and it was almost a shocker when I tasted them cooked the next day, because the smoked Balticus notes were so intense. But once I had a sip of the porter, it all came together. A 24-hour marinade made it super-Balticy, for those who don’t want as intense a flavour, 10 to 12 hours should do.”

David Rudge at Half Pints Brewing, Winnipeg, says:

“In my experience, there is a huge range of smoked beers in the world and there is a huge range of bbq.  Saying that smoked beer goes well with bbq is like saying white wine goes well with fish – a completely nonsensical observation when one takes into account the vast array and availability of both (good and bad).

“I’ve really enjoyed the standard Shlenkerla Rauchbier with a mole poblano before.

“There was a lovely Gratzer (oak smoked Polish Wheat Beer) we had at last year’s national homebrewing competition that would have paired beautifully with the white poplar smoked kielbasa from the Ukrainian Co-Op in Regina.

“I find our own Smoktoberfest to go very well with a simple grilled brats and sauerkraut with lots juniper berries and bacon.”


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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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Canadian craft beers of summer

I got married! Yeah!

Returning from a five-week honeymoon in Peru and Chile (where it’s winter!) to heat-wave happy Toronto in July was a culture shock, in a very good way.

My first bike ride across town along Queen from the east to Bellwoods Brewery in the west was all tan lines, bikini tops, packed patios and people — lots and lots of people — even some that I know! I waved to my sister as she did her “booty camp” in the park, and then saw Mirella Amato walking her bike across Spadina and Dundas. When Canada’s biggest city begins to feel like a small town, you’ll never want to move again.

Another bonus of returning home after so long away was a pile of mail — including a few magazines with my stories in them.

In Tidings, a Canadian wine magazine that goes out to all Opimian Society members, I wrote an article profiling four Canadian craft brewers who got into their craft by accident. They also happen to be some of the most successful brewers in the country. To read the Q&A with Ellen Bounsall of McAuslan Brewery in Quebec, Franco Corno at Howe Sound Brewery in B.C., Steve Cavan at Paddock Wood in Saskatchewan, and Daniel Girard at Garrison Brewing in Halifax, click on the pdf here: Accidental_Brewers.

I also have two stories in ELLE Canada’s August “games” issue this month (not available online, you’ll have to buy the issue). The first is a trend piece exploring the rise of game playing in pop culture (and my own love/hate struggle with board games), and the second highlights six craft beers that Canadian women should be drinking this summer.

Next, I hope to write about my adventures in Chilean craft beer. I brought home 42 bottles of the stuff and sampled many, many more (with gloves on) and now, with my Beer Club I plan to see how it translates here at home. Ah, back to work.

Craft Beer In Chile, Santiago

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Spring Beer

Wet grass, new buds on trees, the return of bees and birdlife to the city all signal one thing to me — the return zingy, grassy spring beers.


A sampler of Olde Stone Brewing Company's four regular brews and their seasonal — a Cascadian IPA, in Peterborough.

This year’s LCBO haul of 15 spring beers is impressive, the buzz among the beer nerds is that it’s the best LCBO release in memory. I have to agree. I wrote about six of my favourites for my Hopped Up column in The Grid last week. In fact, I love Microbrasserie Charlevoix’s Sainte-Reserve Lupulus so much I’m serving it instead of champagne for the toast at my upcoming wedding this May.

Being a beer writer, I’m obviously into serving the stuff at my wedding — we’re pairing an Ontario beer with every course, and I’m thinking of having the cake designed to match a sour beer I like, instead of the other way around. Booze first, food later. I figured I wasn’t the only bride thinking this way, so I dug deeper into the craft beer wedding trend and came up with tons of stories from beer-loving couples — I’ll post a link here when it’s published.

I should also explain my lack of blogging — I’m designing a new website and blog that will be devoted to beer writing and drinking, so my attention’s been diverted over the last few months. Hoping to launch it within a month or so.


I’ve also made a pilgrimage to Buffalo with my beer club to drink at the Blue Monk, shop for American brews and watch one of our members take on the Buffalo Bandits (Go Colorado Mammoth!)


And I’ve been eating and drinking my way through nearby Port Credit, Kleinburg and Peterborough (great beer city!) for an upcoming Toronto Life guide called Neighbourhoods.

Barley's Angels Toronto Chapter

A real highlight was meeting a bunch of female beer enthusiasts, experts and bloggers at the Toronto chapter of Barley’s Angels last Sunday — we drank two litres of imported beer from McClelland Premium Imports, paired with traditional fare from the kitchen of The Town Crier.


Affligem Dubbel, my favourite beer of the night at the Barleys Angels beer pairing dinner with Guy McClelland

Tonight I’m off to The Mugshot Tavern in the Junction for a talk by a local hops grower and researcher, organized by one of my beer club dudes.  And I’m thinking ahead to Thursday when I’ll hit up Bar Volo’s total tap takeover by Beau’s Brewery and drink some of the beers that brewmaster Matt O’Hara recommends, including the gimmicky Peanut Butter Stout — I’m a sucker for a gimmicky beer that actually tastes delicious — and there’s only one way to find out.

If there are this many spring beer events, I’m a little terrified of summer.

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Thirsty & Miserable: Toronto’s newest beer bar

Opening up her own beer bar has been Katie Whittaker’s dream for years — and this week, in Kensington Market, the longtime bartender lit the tealights along the wood bar at Thirsty & Miserable on 197 Baldwin.

But dreams, once realized, aren’t always what they seem — not only does Whittaker, the sole proprietor, and for now at least, the only employee, get to chat to friendly patrons about all things beer — she also has to fend off loud drunks who haven’t quite figured out that this new bar isn’t the same as the old Cuban spot that used to serve up cheap bottles of Bud.


When I was there, a 6″4 50-something man lumbered over to the bar, towering over tiny Whittaker and demanded a beer.

“OK, what kind would you like?” she asks.


“OK, but what kind?”

“What’s cheapest?”

“Um.. well tap beers are about $6,” she replies

“OK. That.”

… Anyway you get the picture.

Whittaker handled it well, serving him an IPA in the hopes that it’s bitter punch would turn him off and persuade him to leave. The plan didn’t quite work out. He drank it like water, and then wandered to the back of the bar to socialize with some hipsters.

The whole thing doesn’t sound that scary — it’s regular stuff for bartenders and owners I suppose — but as a mere patron, it freaked me out to think of Whittaker behind the bar on a lonely night with a much more menacing drunk or two on her hands. I told her as much, and she agreed, but then pointed to a baseball bat she keeps beside the well-stocked bottle fridge. It’s hard to imagine her actually wielding the bat — it’s twice as thick as her arm.

But from the looks of a recent post on the bar’s facebook page, the native Cornwallian’s is keeping the  onslaught of rowdy patrons in line, at least somewhat:

Thirsty And Miserable: Sometimes you have to kick people out of your bar for harassing the ladies, and sometimes someone will bust your toilet flusher, and sometimes the blind guy and the weird slut with braces will drum on your bar screaming Deicide songs (even after you politely ask them to shut up) and then practically fuck in front of a full bar of people, and sometimes the kid from Bangladesh will drop his passport and steal her leather jacket, and sometimes the annoying guy will order pint after pint of Mad Tom without tipping but it’s alright when it happens in the company of friends.

But she does plan to hire more staff once things pick up, and the mix of her simple philosophy: serve good beer and her frugal nature means the bar is sure to be a hit with craft beer junkies on a budget. So basically every university student and artsy hipster in town.

The bar is charmingly divey — dark red walls lit by tealights, a few black and white photographs, a simple pared-down bar and lots of good, cheap bar — eight rotating taps and a double-door bottle fridge that Whittaker is adding to so fast she’s already scrawling new beers on the printed menu of over 30 bottles. Just in, eight bottles of Beau’s Coffee Dopplebock, a rarity from its Wild Oats series, which shows Whittaker is winning over beer reps quickly.

The biggest dive component is the aroma of the neatly kept but seriously fishy basement washrooms thanks to the fishmonger’s next door. That part is not so nice.

As for food, Whittaker hates bars that make you do things like eat and pay for it, so she offers four simple dishes, tucked in her freezer, at prices that will ensure patrons never order the stuff:


Mmm. Yummy, but I think I’ll stick to the Blue Cap Chimay.

Verdict: A tiny Kensington watering hole patronized by a crowd as eclectic as the ‘hood. The iconic Belgian imports and Canadian crafts on tap will satisfy most micro-beer palettes, and Whittaker knows her suds. Plus hot makeouts on the bar are allowed — makes me hanker for the POF-filled single days of old.


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