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2012: The Beer That Was

PW red hammer

Jason’s 2012 “Beer Crush”

This past week in magazines and newspapers (and websites) around the country, thousands of words have been spilled breaking down the year that was. The best/worst movies, biggest selling songs, political highlights/lowlights – you name it. Well, I was not spared, as not one, but of my two editors asked me to write up 2012 in review pieces. Each wanted something different, so the two columns are very different – plus each is focused on the local market in which it runs.

The first is Planet S Magazine, who ran a series of “12 for ’12” pieces in all of their sections. For me, 12 was a nice number to go with, being the traditional case size in western Canada. You can read the article here. I picked 12 things that marked the year for me – bests and worsts. Some are personal, like my latest beer crush (which is Paddock Wood Red Hammer, for those of you who haven’t clicked on the link), while others are general observations about the world of beer. The hits are short and allow me to talk about a few things that I hadn’t gotten around to yet, including the total stupidity of  aluminum bottles (hello, if it is aluminum it is NOT a bottle, Mr. Corporate Marketing Guys…) and the joys of drinking beer in the Duke of Duckworth (I still plan a post on that sometime soon).

Conversely, the Vue Weekly column (found here) is more universally upbeat, offering the five reasons why I think that 2012 was a pretty darned good year for beer in Edmonton. Much of it is stuff I have talked about in various other places – such as the new craft beer pubs, the start-up of Hog’s Head and the renewed creativity of Alley Kat and others. Still, it is a nice summary of the year that was, beer-wise.

I sometimes get a bit bored with annual retrospective pieces – especially in politics (it has only been 8 months, I think I remember the result of the election, thanks) but at least with beer you can explore the year that was in different ways beyond the “top stories” model. In part that is because the grand narrative in beer is always the same: boring corporate lagers dominated the market last year, but craft is the only growing segment, etc (Hmm. Some cynicism is creeping into the post today – editor). This means you need to be a bit more creative. Besides you get to drink beer while writing and reading it. Bonus.

Happy new year everyone, and here is hoping that the next 12-pack of months is as full of beer as last year.

5 comments to 2012: The Beer That Was

  • From your VUE column: “legitimate craft beer, like Sam Adams”

    Boston Beer company produced almost 3,000,000 hL last year. Since Big Rock (450,000 hL) and Great Western (150,000 hl) produced just a fraction of that amount, would you also consider them craft brewers?


    • beerguy

      Hi Greg,

      A fair question. I have said many times that I believe that size is not the issue in craft vs. non-craft. It is about integrity of process, honesty in marketing and a variety of other factors. I won’t recount them all in a comment (you can find multiple posts on the website), but will give you a direct, yet non-committal answer: their brewing size does not make BR or GW ineligible to be craft breweries. Whether either or both of those breweries are “craft”, I believe, is left to the eye of the beholder.

      Craft-ily yours,

  • My goodness, you’re starting to sound like a politician!

    Okay, here’s another one for you…

    If a bottle shaped container cannot be called a bottle because it is made of aluminum, can containers made of clay, or even plastic be called bottles? But as long as it can be resealed…..

    From Wikipedia: A bottle is a rigid container with a neck that is narrower than the body and a “mouth”. By contrast, a jar or jug has a relatively large mouth or opening. Bottles are often made of glass, clay, plastic, aluminum or other impervious materials, and typically used to store liquids

    • beerguy

      Okay, you got me on that one. I knew when I wrote it that it was not factually accurate, but I couldn’t resist the line. Sometimes a writer takes, umm, liberties to make his work more enjoyable to read. Good to know I can’t sneak anything past my readers.

  • Dave Graham

    Yes, 2012 has treated us relatively well, at least by the standards that we’ve traditionally accepted in this province. And yes, the increased availability of beers that aren’t brewed in batches of sufficient size to fill an Olympic swimming pool (hey, there’s a sponsorship idea for the closing ceremony) is positive. Beer is apparently trendy now, which leads to the inevitable influx of those who are more interested in cashing in than making a quality product.

    Places that select their staff primarily by looks and that rely heavily on mass-market beers, while haphazardly filling taps with products that they know little about — such as MKT with its Starbucks-esque “bold”, “robust”, “smooth”, “complex” arbitrary groupings — smack of opportunism. On the other hand, a place like Three Boars has arguably one of the most delicious and creative food menus in town, has a knowledgeable staff that loves to talk about beer, and consistently has one of the best and most focused beer lists in the province. That’s not to say that MKT isn’t an OK bar, but I doubt they care if customers gain new insights into beer. Until places like MKT are seen as the “Rickard’s Red” of bars (i.e. something that tastes different enough from the norm, but is in fact a mass-produced macrobrew that’s a weak imitation of a quality craft beer), then we’re resigned to having middling bars at the forefront of the beer scene and, as a result, having middling beer options.

    Not every beer is a special flower because it happens to be brewed in Alberta, either. With all due respect, breweries in Edmonton (and indeed around Alberta) are not all that special. While many “drinkable” beers are brewed in this province, there isn’t a single example of something that could be considered a great beer being made by Alberta microbreweries. I’ll focus on Alley Kat, as they’re at the receiving end of most of your praise, but my critiques apply to all Albreweries. While I appreciate the effort to “up their game”, the fact remains that their execution falls woefully short. Take, for example, their Dragon series: not only are the single-hopped varieties indiscernible from one another, but none comes even remotely close to what anyone with a beer palate would consider to be an Imperial IPA. If their so-called “spirit of adventure” is to get out of the house and take a walk around the block, then mission accomplished. But when they’re competing with IPAs that are veritable Himalayan excursions and readily available at Sherbrooke (e.g. 8-Wired’s Hop-Wired, Lagunitas’ Hop Stoopid, Rogue’s Yellow Snow, Mikkeller’s Single Hop series, etc.), then the newfound esprit of Alley Kat seems far too safe and boring by comparison. The same thing goes for any of their other Big Bottle series brews; when they’re competing against the line-up of similarly styled beers available at the more discerning liquor stores around town, they fall miserably short of the mark. Again, I love that our breweries are exploring new avenues, however I believe that they can do much, much better. And this needs to happen if breweries in Alberta are to be considered serious contenders to craft beers brewed outside of our province.

    Help your fellow beer enthusiasts out, Jason Foster. You’re supposed to be the voice of beer around this city. You do a great job of promoting beer and keeping the populace informed on all matters beer. But your unwillingness to challenge mediocre brews and establishments isn’t helping advance the beer scene in Alberta. You rarely offer constructive criticism of any of the local breweries, and pooh-pooh lazy tap lists such as those offered at Underground and MKT by calling them decent. All this accomplishes is to promote complacency; if the resident beer aficionado thinks it’s OK, then why bother improving? There’s nothing wrong with lighting a fire under people’s asses, pushing them to do better, and calling someone out when they’ve mailed in another ho-hum, uninspired effort. If you’re not going to hold the Alberta beer scene
    accountable, who will? The beer scene in Edmonton is improving, but that’s not exactly difficult with such a low baseline.

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