Sunday, December 4, 2016

2016 Advent Beer 4: Ticketybrew Rose Wheat

Another creative, non-hoppy beer, this time from England's delightfully named Ticketybrew Company. It's a wheat beer, the tabula rasa of the microbrew world, and very suitable to all sorts of flavours and tinkering. In this case, there is not only live yeast in play, but they have added rose petals and fresh ginger!

I opted to swirl the bottle a few times and decant some of the yeast sediment I could see in the bottom of the bottle, and ended up with a glass full of a cloudy, straw-coloured beer, topped by a thin layer of effervescing head.

In terms of smell, the yeast makes its presence known very quickly with its signature tanginess, followed by lemon citrus, the zip of ginger, and definitely the hint of some floral qualities, but nothing I could discern as particularly roselike.

The first sip definitely on the sour side of things, but not unpleasantly so. The live yeast gives it a pucker factor that is reminiscent of Alley Kat's Cloudy With a Chance of Lemon (lemon hefeweizen). If you prefer your beverages less tart, I would suggest a gentler pour and leaving the sediments undisturbed.

The wheat beer component is smooth and unassuming, and the ginger gives it a sharper finish, like a punctuation mark. The rose element is understated, and not perfumey in the least. Perhaps it would be more appreciated by someone with a more sophisticated palate or finer-tuned olfactory system.

The mild carbonation gives the whole affair a very pleasing tingle at the end, offsetting the initial rambunctiousness that sour brings to the back and sides of the tongue.

All in all, a very pleasant experiment, and refreshing quencher of a beer; a nice alternative to something hoppier. A great summer lunch experience could be had by serving up Ticketybrew's Rose Wheat with a grilled chicken caesar salad. Best of all, a bit of an adventure in the early days for this 2016 calendar!

2016 Advent Beer 3: Laiska Jaako

When I excavated today`s Advent Beer and looked at the label, I didn't exactly have to read the back of the label to know it was Finnish. Coming across such a beer one week to the day after meeting my favourite Finnish musicians felt a bit like kismet.

Laiska Jaako (or Lazy Jack to you and I) is from the Teerenpeli Brewery, one of the oldest in Finland, and (according to the label) brewed using the finest Finnish malts using ecological wood pellet energy.

It pours a deep, rich reddish brown, with a modest head, and the first aromas are characteristics of malt and dark fruit, tantalizingly familiar - black currants, perhaps? Raisin, maybe?

It is the calendar's most malt-fronted beer thus far this year, and the mild tangy breadiness is followed swiftly by the same dark fruits and mild sweetness promised by the scent. A crisp biscuity finish caps of the experience, and the excellent balance accompanied by a low ABV (4.5%) would make this an ideal session ale.

Well done, Finns!

Friday, December 2, 2016

2016 Advent Beer 2: Bavarian Winter

Today's selection comes from Camba Brewing, in Bavaria, appropriately enough. Unfortunately, when I poured the beer with the same angle as yesterday, it generated far more head, resulting in a bit of urgent foam slurping on my part, as well as a bit of spillage.

Bavarian Winter has the same lack of translucency as yesterday's APA, but tends more towards the orangey part of the gold spectrum in its cloudiness. The head, as already mentioned, is robust. The aroma is not terribly pungent but is fresh and citrusy, with zesty oranges taking the lead.

Unsurprisingly, from a beer with a hop flower featured prominently on the label, it is a very hop-forward beer, but not dauntingly so. There is an appropriate amount of carbonation and a clean mouthfeel, which, accompanied by the Centennial, Cascade, Chinook, and Citra hops, makes for a most refreshing beer. At 5.8% abv, it runs a little hot, but not in any distressing fashion.

It takes very little effort to imagine Bavarian Winter pairing excellently with seafood, particularly a planked salmon on a bed of orange slices, garnished with brown sugar and garlic.

The theme of this year's calendar is 'New World Beers, Old World Countries', and getting a Pacific Northwest Style IPA from Germany is probably a fair harbinger of things to come. Hopped-up fare like this is all the rage in North American brewing right now, and seeing some European takes on the style will be a treat. I've always been more of a malt-favourer myself, so I hope to see some darker styles as well. I would be willing to bet we encounter a couple of Russian Imperial Stouts or other high ABV beers as we continue our journey to Christmas Eve, and probably a couple of flavoured offerings that would have been considered heretical on the continent not long ago. I'm sure this voyage of discovery will be joyful either way, though.

2016 Advent Beer 1: APA by Birrificio del Doge

The most wonderful time of the beer has come around again at last, and so it was with tremendous anticipation and only moderate degrees of grogginess that I rolled out of bed this morning and traipsed to the basement in order to discover what awaited me behind the corrugated door.

A minimalist label greeted me, and a little perusal told this was the APA from Italy's Birrificio Del Doge. It becomes more fascinating the more I look at it though, and I find myself wondering if the gentleman in the cameo is wearing a Spanish or Italian hat, and whether or not that is a roller skate at the top of the design (probably not). APA is this instance stands for American Pale Ale, so you know you to prepare yourself for a hoppy ride.

Returning home tonight, I discover that this APA pours a cloudy gold, with hints of orange peering though. A classic head forms from from only a moderate pour, and citrusy hops greet the exploratory sniff, backed by a bit of yeasty tang.

The first sip unleashes a sharp, hop-forward beer, with hints of both grapefruit and orange zest, but followed by enough malt characteristics to balance things out. A crisp, bitter finish with a hint of sweetness rounds out the experience.

I immediately envisioned drinking this beer with a meal built around spiced meats, like chili, curry, or even charcuterie, and at 4.8% abv it wouldn't overpower you if you needed more than one for fire containment purposes.

A solid start to this year's Advent Calendar!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Return to Utopias: A Tale of Fortunate Happenstances

Back in the summer, I was fortunate enough to have a friend share with me what he called "the most sparkly of unicorns" in terms of rare beers, Sam Adams Utopias. It was a tremendous experience I am enormously grateful for, so when I discovered that 18 bottles of the 2015 bottling were going up for sale in Edmonton, I emailed Totty and Pete, known appreciators of such things, to make them aware.

At $200 a bottle (!), this was not something I saw myself going for personally, but when attesting to the desirability of the substance in question, I closed by saying I could certainly imagine paying for a share of a bottle.

"Sold!" rang the stereo exclamation, and so it was that I was soon purchasing three lottery tickets just for the opportunity to purchase said elixir.

Mike and Pete were entertaining out-of-towners that evening and so were unable to be present for the lottery, which I would attend as the sole representative of our libational compact. It turned out there was an associated beer sampling and cheese pairing, and knowing full well I was unlikely to get extra samples despite having multiple tickets, so I invited a friend from work and his son along.

Tonight was the lottery, in the tasting room at the Wine & Beyond location at MacTaggart Ridge (where the Co-Op Liquor used to be). There had been 35 tickets sold and about two dozen hopefuls in attendance, meaning I was not the only one there with high hopes and more than one entry into the draw.

A representative from Sam Adams walked us through the tasting and pairing. We tried the Boston Lager, their signature beer, paired with Oka, a semi-soft cheese I dearly love, followed by their Winter Lager and a smoked goat cheese, which was sharp but complemented the slightly sweet and strong lager perfectly. To wrap up, we had an aged cheddar with the Rebel IPA, which was another stellar pairing. My two companions, no stranger to craft beers or nice cheese, were both suitably impressed.

Then the cool thing happened.

After all the pairings were down, our host took a look at the room, and said, "Before we move on to the lottery, we do have the option of opening a bottle of the Utopias and letting everyone sample that, but because it reduces the number that can be sold, it can only be done if there is unanimous consent."

A number of hands shot up immediately, one of my companions murmuring "Oh, hell yes," and then some more, and while I was surveying the room, the last couple of hands were raised.

The Adams rep smiled. "That's great," he said, and began arranging the needed glasses.

In short order, we all had around an ounce of this legendary potable sitting before us in a snifter style glass. Without even lifting the glass from the table, the scent of the Utopias made its way to our olfactory receptors in short order, an intense, port-like aroma that set my mouth to watering.

After examining the color and taking some deep sniffs of the bouquet, discerning some of the dark fruits and burnt sugars that characterize the brew, we all took a sip, and it was just as magnificent and impactful as I remembered from the summer. Best of all, I got to appreciate the reactions of my two companions partaking of this nectar for the first time, and it was easy to see that they were as impressed as I was.

Then it was time for the draw, and thankfully, my three tickets did have one winner amongst them (although I am sure I would have found a home for all three if it had come to that).

Now it's time to arrange a time for the three of us stakeholders to get together and enjoy this remarkable beverage, which may be as great a challenge as obtaining it was!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

They Aren't Coming, They're Already Here

As Canadians, I think it is safe to say that we have tempered any jealousy we might feel towards our neighbours to the south with a certain degree of, well, smugness.

Sure, the U.S. might have an immensely powerful military and a gigantic economy, and are the only nation to put a man on the moon, but we can look over the tops of our spectacles at things like gun violence and a lack of affordable health care, cluck our tongues and say, "It's not like that could happen here." But sometimes we can hurt our arm patting ourselves on the back and kid ourselves that we don't have problems with things like racism in Canada, and that a populism born of intolerance could never happen here, and that is simply not true.

First of all, while we may not have had the institutionalized racism against blacks that the U.S. has had to grapple with, our country's government, aided by churches, participated in the attempted cultural genocide of our indigenous peoples, and we are only now beginning to come to grips with that.

Secondly, let's not forget that we've had our own share of intolerant and racist crackpots in Canada. Skinheads still march regularly in Edmonton and Calgary, and it doesn't feel like all that long ago that Terry Long tried to establish a compound for the Aryan Nations in nearby Caroline, Alberta, and burned a cross in Provost, Ku Klux Klan-style.

Third, and most importantly, there are plenty of people among us who long for the cultural homogeneity of days long past. People who look at those who have different-coloured skin (or maybe they worship differently, or love differently, whatever) and wishes those people were somewhere else. 

Earlier this week, the Edmonton Journal reported that posters had gone up downtown calling out 'anti-white propaganda'. They made claims like "It's only racist when white people do it" and told white supremacist sympathizers they are not alone.

Now, it's one thing to anonymously put up ugly monochromatic flyers with uglier ideas on them, but in the comments section of the article, I was astonished at just how much sympathy people were laying out for these notions; a complete embracing of reverse racism, anti-white sentiment, a wholesale rejection of the notion of white privilege, and scorn and admonishment for the 'social justice warriors' and 'libtards' who expressed indignation. And while a lot of the most inflammatory comments came from the fake profiles of anonymous trolls, many of these sentiments came out of everyday people's Facebook accounts.

So let's not kid ourselves: intolerance and racism are alive and well in our home and native land, and apparently nursing a great deal of discontent just below the surface.

And you have to think that some of those people are feeling pretty emboldened by the recent presidential election.

I was somewhat relieved when President-elect Trump actually did repudiate the 'alt-right' movement that had celebrated his unprecedented rise to power, but neither that, nor the fact that he has a Jewish son-in-law ("So automatically he can't be anti-Semitic!"), will make up for the fact that he is making Steve Bannon, the head of Breitbart News and a major figure in that movement, a White House counselor.

Nor will it change the fact that racist leaders like David Duke (former KKK Grand Wizard) and websites like Stormfront have been exalting Trump's victory like it was their own. At an alt-right symposium in D.C., Richard Spencer repeated his call for a 50 year moratorium on immigration, quoted Adolf Hitler in the original German, and was presented a bouquet of stiff-armed salutes by guileless whites chanting "Heil victory!"

So, yeah, there is cause for concern.

One of the most unfortunate side-effects of the recent election, to my mind, has been the evacuation of the middle ground in political discourse. The resultant polarization and lack of incentive to reach across the aisle has left the U.S. more divided than at any time except the Civil War. 

Most harmful is this pernicious idea that trying to reach common ground with one's political opponents is not only fruitless, but some degree of ideological heresy as well. I'm not saying you are going to change a white nationalists mind with some clever rhetoric, but the GOP vote was not a monolith. More than any other election, this one really was about voting against your least favourite candidate, or in Trump's case, for nostalgia, as a survey showed that 70% of his supporters thought the U.S. was better off in the 1950s. Which, I suppose, is pretty difficult to dispute, IF you are a straight, white, Christian, male; for everyone else, maybe not so much.

Less than a percentage point separated the Left from the Right in this election, and I'm sorry, I'm not ready to believe that every single person who voted for Trump is a racist, misogynist, backwards-thinking monster, any more than I believe that those who voted for Hillary are blinkered, socialist idealists, unwilling to examine her many serious flaws as a leader. If you don't start persuading some people on the other side to change their minds with good arguments, then all the "I-told-you-so"s in the world are not going to do you a whit of good in 4 years' time.

Meanwhile, north of the 49th, there is a different sound. "But we're Canada!" I hear you cry, "We're tolerant and inclusive and progressive! We're the mosaic, not the melting pot! We've even started taking steps towards reconciling with the aboriginal cultures we tried to destroy! That kind of populist swell could never happen here!"

Boy, I hope you're right.

But in the meantime, Conservative Party leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch has called Trump's poll-defying victory “an exciting message that needs to be delivered in Canada as well.” She would also like to see screening of immigrants and refugees for 'anti-Canadian values', similar to Trump's desire for 'extreme vetting' of potential newcomers of the Muslim faith.

At McMaster University, first posters went up promoting an alt-right website, followed by response posters decrying fascism and calling the alt-right neo-Nazis, before being removed by the administration.

Across the board, there is an ongoing debate about whether it is wise to allow a racist or quasi-racist, anti-Semitic or crypto-anti-Semitic movement with so much overlap to white separatists, white nationalists and full-on white supremacists to re-brand itself as the 'alt-right'. Some news organizations are simply referring to them as 'white nationalists' now, but a columnist for the Guardian has a blunter approach: see a Nazi, say a Nazi

From the same article as the previous comments:

But regardless of what we call them, they are here They have never not been here, but now they are getting ready to exert themselves. The most vocal of them have started making themselves heard in Facebook posts and news forums, and they advance a polemic that should be an anathema to most Canadians. 

This week, the first issue of the new Steve Rogers: Captain America comic dropped into the Marvel Unlimited app on my iPad. In it, they do a deft job of showing just how easy it is to sway people when times are tough, and humanize the thralls of HYDRA so capable of doing inhuman deeds at the behest of their masters. 

They spend a few pages showing how one young man goes from crime, to prison, to a halfway house and then laid off and falling prey to addiction before he is invited by another ex-con to hear a charismatic speaker.

The speaker, of course, turns out to be The Red Skull, Captain America's foremost nemesis, but he is not there to extoll the virtues of fascism, or offer glory in the service of one of the Marvel Universe's most prominent and fearful terrorist groups. He is there to express sympathy for these men who no longer find themselves at the pinnacle of American success and culture the way they once did. 

He seductively comforts them with appeals to their baser natures, wrapped in what feels like rational arguments.

And in the end, by absolving them from blame, giving them first a scapegoat and then a means of combating them, HYDRA gains another disciple.

Despite being entertainment, this comic book chilled my blood as much as nearly anything I read in the news this week. Steve Rogers: Captain America was originally published six months ago, and written well before that, but in depicting the ways in which ruthless manipulators can exploit malaise and dread and convert it into terrible action, I really felt like it captured a lot of the zeitgeist going around right now.

Six months ago, I think we would have been far more shocked to see flyers talking about anti-white racism posted downtown, or others telling turban wearers to go back to their own countries hanging in our province's largest campus.  

But now, following Brexit, following Trump's victory, looking at comments meant to dissuade us from sticking up for one another, it all feels chillingly familiar.

And it is a reminder that those who disagree with us, even vehemently, they believe they are doing the right thing, just as you and I do. There is something in their backstory that makes their current actions, as disagreeable as they might be, completely rational and reasonable to them. Take Steve Rogers' mother, for instance:

Try to remember that, in the end, given the right circumstances, practically anyone may be swayed to extremist thinking.


What can we do about it? Refute it wherever you find it. Speak up, even if it means making people uncomfortable. Don't browbeat, don't dismiss, don't assume, but firmly ask, "What do you mean by that?" 

Remind people that we really weren't better off 60 years ago. That, unless your heritage is indigenous Canadian, we all came here by immigration. People who believe white privilege isn't a real thing most likely haven't had it explained well enough to them (spoiler alert: even white privilege doesn't automatically make you a racist). 

Don't dump on them, win them over. Remind them that human purity is as mythical as the unicorn, and that diversity makes us stronger, even if it might make us uncomfortable to begin with.

And most especially, when you are talking to your friends and associates in the U.S., have some sympathy for them. Their country is balanced on a knife-edge of division right now, and facing an uncertain future.

Across the world, populism and xenophobia are making their marks on the democratic process, but if we can see them coming in time, we may yet dodge a bullet here in Canada.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Guns Below

I suppose that in a day where most of the warzone casualties we hear about are the result of things like drone strikes, air-deployed munitions, or improvised explosive devices, that a 105mm howitzer probably does seem a bit anachronistic. But it is a poignant reminder of the noise and fury of war, both past and present.

This year our rotating Remembrance Day observances took us back to the Legislature Grounds. The artillery battery for the 21 gun salute had moved from the west side of the building to lower down on the south side. There were a few people in attendance when we arrived, some availing themselves of the disposable earplugs being handed out by the military personnel in attendance.

An officer from the reserve artillery regiment running the event came around a few times to tell us that safety regulations required him to ask us to stay 50m away from the three guns.  He was also careful to add that he couldn't actually make us do that. The table and microphone were perhaps 25m away from the emplacement, and we ended up a short ways away from the table, so we could better hear the address.

Looking at the spades on the stanchions of the big guns, meant to dig into the ground to brace against recoil, Audrey asked, "How far back do those things go when they fire?"

"I'm not sure," I confessed, "Not too far, because they aren't actually throwing any mass, right? I mean, it's not like they are shelling Old Strathcona or the University..."

"How far could they reach?" she asked.

I squinted. "Across the river pretty easy," I mused, "Certainly to Whyte Avenue...after that I couldn't say."

A gentleman standing next to me handed me his smartphone. "I was wondering the same thing," he said, "There's the specs, if you want."

"Thanks," I said, looking at the display. The Wikipedia page for the M101 Howitzer listed the maximum firing range of over 11km. I handed the phone back, thinking about the scales in play.

This meant that these guns could conceivably throw a shell from the Leg grounds in the heart of the city to out past the Anthony Henday ring road. It's daunting to think about your city in such terms, but it does make one grateful for the privilege of living in peace.

The red dot is about where the Legislature grounds are.
There are a few reasons I appreciate the outdoor services on Remembrance Day. I like that they are a little less comfortable, and the speeches and addresses are often shorter as a result.  The proceedings feel a little less perfunctory than they sometimes do inside. It was gratifying to see a good-sized crowd turn out- in fact, they ran out of earplugs, forcing some attendees to use their fingers or cup their hands over their children's ears.

This year we got a really good address as well.  The regiment's chaplain spoke at length about the joy of service as well as the pain of loss; unapologetically referring to the military as a profession of arms, but without glorifying war. He closed off with an emotional recounting of a veteran's widow trying to pay him for officiating at a funeral, to which he said, "How can I possibly take your money when I owe so much to your husband, and to you?"

One of the big guns was fired to mark the start of the two minutes of silence, another to mark the end. During the 21 gun salute, poems were read; In Flanders Fields, of course, then a couple of unfamiliar ones. A verse or two, then a pause, followed by a barked command, and the next gun was fired. Once the smoke had drifted away and the ringing had fallen from the crisp autumn air, the reading would resume.

It took nearly half an hour to complete the salute, but amid the noise of these guns below, that meant time for reflection. In reflection come gratitude; gratitude for peace, at least where we are, and gratitude for those willing to give up their own safety to preserve it.

I pray for a future where olive drab trucks are even more out of place in the city centre, where howitzers such as these are only more dated, and where the only time my daughters hear them fired is in salutes on November 11th.