Category Archives: Canada

Making Mad Mead Part 5: Judgment(al) Day

For those following along at home, you can check out my mead series here

After initial hostilities and threats to my person, traditional mead makers seem to have accepted my presence in their midst, and I have come to see the interplay of their dominance battles within the tribe and the constant quest for honey  and authenticity with the detachment of a rational anthropologist. I can only hope to retain the trust of these gentle, beautiful creatures in the future. 

Jewel on the Columbia

With my mead clear, stable, sweet and carbonated to deliciousness, it was time to pack up the station wagon and head down to the Pacific Northwest Homebrew Conference. You may recall I was on the hook for a seminar on Meadmaking, one I chose to title, “Mead: Delicious Historic Beverage or Spoiled Bee Vomit?

It’s held in Vancouver Washington, which is immediately north of Portland Oregon, where most of the brewing clubs and a lot of the brewing action in the Pacific Northwest happens.

Why hold it in Washington if Portland is so darn awesome? Money: doing it in Portland would probably double costs as with popularity comes great price tags. Still, although Vancouver is a tiny little burg it’s not a bad place at all. Best of all it’s only about a 5-1/2 hour drive from Chaos Manor, just over the border from Washington in Canada. With a car full of jockey boxes, CO2 apparatus, kegs and bottles, I wedged a suitcase and a spouse in there for the journey.

That much happiness can only occur in the presence of donuts

Portland is not without its charms, and I killed a couple of days hitting Voodoo donuts, parks, museums and shopping. I was also lucky enough to have time for my friends Emily and JT, a delightful couple of Oregonians who not only make great beer, but are also cool in many other ways. That’s pretty much the best part of working in the industry I’m in: you meet so many wonderful, gracious and lovely people, and long after businesses are gone and deals are done, they’re the ones you remember.

Eventually I had to put the beer down and go to work. The seminar was a success, with a couple of dozen folks listening to my lecture (you can check out a copy of my presentation here), enjoying Ancient Fire Mead and my own creations. Everyone agreed that Ancient Fire‘s meads (generously donated, if you recall, by Jason and Margot Phelps) were superior examples of the craft, while my bone-standard traditional mead was (generously) described as ‘icky’.

The Barkshack was very well-received, with some participants asking for thirds, a very gratifying circumstance. I had a lot of really great questions from the crowd, who were keen to make their own mead, authentic and drinkable. While I’m only a winemaker trying to understand all kind of fermentation, I hope my message that mead–heck, any fermented beverage, for that matter–doesn’t exist in a vacuum on it’s own, but needs to be seen as part of the family of fermented drinks that we can all share, whether it’s dandelion wine, Russian Imperial Stout, or Cabernet Sauvignon. Tradition is great, because it teaches us where we come from and how we got to where we are, but it’s innovation and sharing ideas that will take us where we’re going next.

After the lecture was done, it was time for club night. If you’ve never been to a brewing conference club night, you’re really missing out. If you’ve been to the one at BrewCon (I was there the last time it was in San Diego) it’s a glorious riot of beer craziness. PNWHC club night is smaller, but they go all-out crazy with beautifully decorated booth, some of which are more like small brewpubs than little club gatherings.

Tim, Alvaro and Nathaniel, representing Vanbrewers and the Tri-Cities brewing clubs. Seems legit.

Our own booth was a bit more modest, as it was me straddling the fence for the Tri-Cities Brewing Club and for Vanbrewers, along with Alvaro and Nathaniel. We’d like to make a big show of it, but with the US exchange rate and transportation costs all of us were combining it with business trips or vacation time. We were up 50% in attendance year-over-year, a trend we hope will continue.

We were pouring Nathaniel’s Vickie’s Smoked Porter, a really solid porter made with Miss Vickie’s smoked potato chips, Alvaro’s Pisco Sour (I think it was a Saison base, but boy howdy was it delicious) as well as his new world Pilsner with modern German hop varieties, as well as my Barkshack Ginger mead.

My own prediction was that while the blockbuster Imperials and Double IPA’s were going to be early favorites with the crowd, the mead, balanced to off-dry, fruity and refreshing, would get more popular as the night progressed.

In the spirit of the thing! Glad you enjoyed it, Wendy!

Turns out I was right. By the end of the evening most of my keg was gone, with the folks enjoying it coming back for fourths and fifths (not to worry: everything took place in the hotel and nobody was driving anywhere, and there wasn’t anyone overserved–lots of little samples instead).

Straight-up legends, Mike ‘Tasty’ McDole and Denny Conn

Two very welcome visitors were Denny Conn and Mike McDole, who both tried the Barkshack and appeared to enjoy it. Denny’s comment was that it was the first mead he’d tasted in years, and that he didn’t mind it was the highest praise I could have asked for.

Obligatory fanboy picture

After that it was all over but for the packing and tidying and tripping back up to Canada. I’d like to think I learned something on my mead journey, both from making it, teaching people about the history of fermented honey, and the fallout from a tiny minority of mead makers who really took offense at me approaching ‘their’ beverage with humor and cynicism.

People love what they love. And we beer geeks, wine dorks and mead maniacs love what we do so passionately that we’re willing to share both our brews and our knowledge with others, so they can catch the bug and make it a part of their lives–or at least so they can understand something we consider amazing and wonderful.

That’s a thing worth investing your time, your passion and your self-identity into. And I’ll drink to that.

Cheers to you! 

 

 

 

Northern Brewer Canada

When you’re this Vintner, they call you Master

Since 2015 I’ve been working on the Master Vintner project for Northern Brewer/Midwest Supplies. As Technical Winemaking Advisor I’ve been incredibly happy putting my skills to good use, bringing out the first new kit introduced into the home winemaking in more than a decade. First we launched our Small Batch kits, along with Winemaker’s Reserve and Tropical Bliss, and now we’ve added Limited Edition and Sommelier Select.

After 25 years in the wine business, it’s immensely gratifying to be in a position where I don’t have compromise on anything. The vineyards I work with, the grapes I get, the winemakers who do the blending and packaging for me, they’re all the product of a process that has one straightforward goal–help people make great wine, every time.

It’s important to assert dominance.

Throw in a customer service team that really, truly gets what it’s all about (one bad experience and people never come back, so do your best always, and fix everything, every time)  and I’ve been in pretty much a state of work-related bliss. Heck, I’ve only worn a suit three times since I’ve been with the team–that’s bliss in itself. Plus, I now get to actually get back to beer, something that I couldn’t do for over 15 years. Oh beer, I’m sorry I was gone so long: I’ll never leave you again!

New Things

But there’s something coming. Something big, cool, exciting and wonderful: Northern Brewer Canada.

Putting the North into Northern Brewer

NB Canada is a full-service home beer and winemaking supply site. Soon we’ll have most of Northern Brewer USA‘s wonderful content and products, along with Master Vintner winemaking supplies and some special additions as well (mainly me!)

Will There Be a Local Shop?

Notice I said ‘site’: we’re mostly internetting it. Northern Brewer USA has some very nice brick and mortar stores, but they grew organically from local shops. Here we’re starting fresh and e-commerce is the goal.

But that doesn’t mean we’re an interwebs discount house. A lot of people in the industry who own consumer wine and beer making shops will have heard my lecture: “Don’t discount: a race to the bottom on prices hurts you, your business, your employees and ultimately your consumer when you can’t afford to expand or improve your selection and service.” (Actually, I usually said it a lot more colourfully, and with more emphasis.)

Not only do I stand by those words as staunchly as ever, so does Northern Brewer. From their company philosophy:

The future of homebrewing

We didn’t open six months ago to make a quick buck off a hobby that’s trendy right now; we are interested in the long-term health of homebrewing (. . .) . We dedicate a significant percentage of our profits to give back to the community and to create new homebrewers. When you shop with Northern Brewer, you are helping to make an investment in the future of homebrewing.

Fair prices

Northern Brewer has been serving homebrewers and winemakers for over 22 years, and we aren’t going anywhere. Rock-bottom, fire-sale price structures are unsustainable and create an uneven playing field that ultimately hurts the industry, hobby, and the community. Our price structure is competitive but built around sustainability, because our goal is to grow homebrewing as a hobby and industry, which will benefit the consumer by sustainable lower prices and improved selection through increased demand.

You can see how that suits the criteria of my value system. I know a lot of people in the industry, I helped quite a number of them open their stores, others I’ve simply enjoyed as peers and friends. I’m pleased to be in the boat with them, and not as a discounter just out to grab market share.

What’s Next

Yep, that’s how happy I get when I have beer. Unless I get happier.

Next, we get Northern Brewer Canada fully stocked. We keep adding products and content and give you great service and excellent value on innovative products. After that, you let me know: we’ve got a Limited Edition program, we’ll be bringing in some kick-butt clone recipe kits for beer (how do you feel about having a Pliny the Elder clone as your house beer?)

I’m looking forward to a great time bringing Northern Brewer to Canada and keeping Master Vintner hopping as well. Check out the Master Vintner blog and tune into our Instagram (@Nbrewcanada) and Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/northernbrewercanada/

Happy Canada Day

national-flag-canada-lge2

The true north, strong and free

Today is Canada Day, the 149th anniversary of the enactment of the Canadian constitution, Canada’s Birthday.

For those unfamiliar with our history, you can catch the whole thing on Wikipedia . The short version is that unlike countries that were former colonies that threw off the yoke of the oppressor through conflict, Canada did not go through war to become what it is. We actually just sort of happened when we smooshed up the former British colonies of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick with Upper and Lower Canada (now called Ontario and Quebec) into a Dominion.

dominion

Image courtesy edmaps.com

We weren’t quite a country of our own at that time, more a semi-independent kingdom still partly ruled through British parliament and the Cabinet, but in typical Canadian fashion we didn’t get too worried about it for the next century, but rather slowly shed the Queen’s oversight until 1982 when the Blessed Saint Pierre Trudeau (my the gods rest his soul) repatriated our constitution (by literally taking it from England back to Canada, no less).

As a country we’re a parliamentary democracy, although still nominally under the control of the British Crown: the head of our government is actually the Governor General, the Queen’s representative, who actually has the real, legal power to dissolve our democratically elected government should the situation arise.

johnson

The head of the Canadian government, The Governor General of Canada; His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston.

But that would be un-Canadian. Not the done thing, at all.

I got to musing on this as I was designated driver for a group this week, and one of the people there was on the verge of getting his Canadian citizenship as a recent immigrant. Fueled by a festive sense of the impending holiday (and several hours of an open bar at a wedding) he asked, ‘What is Canada day about, anyway? What does it mean to Canadians?’

sorry

Sorry for the ridiculous stereotype

It’s a fair question, and one that’s simultaneously easy, and yet impossible to answer. On the surface, Canadians take the day off and hang out at the cottage or the beach or at home. We grill (Americans, don’t listen to Canadians who say they barbecue: 99% of them are grilling. They mean well, but we have a long way to go to catch up to American ‘Q) and have a few beers, spend time with our family and generally don’t think too deeply about the greater meaning of the holiday, although we’ll wave a flag or wear a temporary Maple Leaf tattoo, and later we’ll go down to the park and watch some fireworks.

sparkler

Ooooh, aaaaah

Our fireworks are rarely as intense as American 4th of July pyrotechnics. I’ve always thought that it was partly because we’re more cautious, and partly because we’re like the guy on the cul-de-sac who lives next door to the house that has 100,000 Christmas lights that sync up to music and can be seen from outer space. You don’t compete with that, but you do show up and do your best.

If you pinned down a Canadian, however, and really got them to think about what it means to be a citizen of our country, you’d get an amazing array of answers, from the profoundly moving stories of people who came here are refugees from oppression, to the deeply nostalgic ones of people who fought for our country, both in wars and in the battle for social justice and inclusiveness that are part of our national identity, and even fiercely patriotic ones who see a shining light in the accomplishments of Canada as a nation and friend of nations.

amigos

I can hear theme music playing . . . image credit Reuters.

Here’s the thing: Canada doesn’t get a tonne of press, unless it’s people admiring our sleek new Prime Minister. A friend of mine coined a phrase that resonates deeply with me: Canada is the designated driver of North America. That’s a wee bit passive-aggressive, but the image of duty and a sober hand at the controls is accurate in many ways.

We’ve played important roles in both world wars, but  then we invented the concept of modern peacekeeping. Although it took a long time, we have recognised the wrongs we did to our Aboriginal populations and apologised, deeply and fully, and we’re now working on our reconciliation. We welcome immigrants from all over the world, but rather than demanding that they assimilate, we celebrate their diversity and culture, more like a tossed salad than a melting pot. We established the Division for Human Rights at the UN, and have been part of ever UN mission since 1957, and when America suffered a great tragedy on 9/11 our country took in hundreds of airplanes and opened our homes to American travelers.

I could go on, but that would be bragging, and that’s not the Canadian way. But I can tell you two things that summarise the way Canada really is.

rmc-flag

Nice enough, but a bit armor-y

First, the Maple Leaf flag was not the product of war, colonies uniting, or a struggle for independence. Instead, it was cribbed from the Royal Military’s college flag, that was red-white-red, but had a mailed fist clutching green maple leaves. Rather than the martial symbol, a single maple leaf was substituted.

american_travellers_posing_as_canadians

Go ahead, we’re cool with that.

It was then tacked up on a wall among other flag designs and in a classic Canadian move people were consulted, committees were formed and votes were taken, until it was finally adopted in 1964, to be stitched to the backpacks of Canadians travelling around the world. It’s a product of thoughtfulness, inclusiveness, compromise and, eventually, quiet pride.

Second, Canada’s national broadcaster, the excellent CBC Radio, held a contest to come up with a Canadian phrase to mirror the proudly American qualifier, “As American as apple pie”.

The winner? “As Canadian as . . . possible, under the circumstances”.

That’s my country. See you at the fireworks, let me know if you need a designated driver.