This week the annual “Drinks Issue” of the Saskatchewan magazines I write for, Planet S and Prairie Dog, came out (you can read it here – although you need to scroll down past the short blurb stuff to find my piece). The editors wanted a theme of drinks for famous people. I decided to take a slightly different take on that and pontificated on what the giants of brewing would drink if they were alive today.
The reality is that Alex (Keith), the three Johns (Molson, Labatt and Sleeman), Augustus (Busch) and Arthur (Guinness) in their time were serious brewers making real beer. The products that bear their name today have no resemblance to what they created 100+ years ago. Today, those beer are the consequence of decades of post-war corporate amalgamation, homogenization and excessive shallow marketing. Most of them are subtle variations of the same narrow style – North American Pale Lager. Guinness, of course, remains a stout, but even it is quieter and less assertive than the original 1700s version.
Because these six men were serious brewers I argue they would have a hard time stomaching their off-spring today. So, in spirit of the issue’s theme, I contemplated what beer they would drink if they were alive today. Now, because these are Saskatchewan papers, I was limited (mostly) to finding beer actually available in Saskatchewan. Meaning, my recommendations are more pedestrian than I might otherwise offer, although I am convinced they still fit the men involved.
However, here I have no such limitations. So let me contemplate what beer they might choose if they had the world (or at least that portion of the world I have actually sampled) at their disposal.
Alexander Keith: I am not sure I would change my initial thought on this one – Propeller IPA. When fresh a fantastic version of an English IPA. Keith, a loyal Scot, would not go for the modern, Americanized IPAs, but he would still be looking for some nice hop character and a balanced bitterness. Propeller fits the bill. Plus it is from Halifax which seems appropriate.
John Molson: I think Fuller’s London Pride might draw Mr. Molson’s attraction. Wonderfully balanced, not too heavy and decidedly English, it may be the closest relative to English Bitters of the 1800s.
John Labatt: Alas, I don’t think John Labatt would have much time for BrewDog’s quirky, experimental ales, being something of a traditionalist. He might, however, have a lot of time for Belhaven stuff. But I am going to go with a beer I tried in Portland recently. Hair of the Dog Will is a fantastic Scottish Ale, with a complex malt character and just enough dryness at the finish. I realize this is a hard to find beer from a brewery devoted to staying local. But really, trust me.
John Sleeman: I think the criminal Mr. Sleeman might take a liking to The Kernel Brown Ale, the new generation London brewer that is taking Britain by storm. We can’t get their beer in North America (I think), but we can hope. They have two versions of their brown ale; this one is a more traditional British interpretation and then there is their India Brown Ale which is much more American-influenced.
Augustus Busch: To continue with my suggestions of beer no one reading this blog can likely find, I argue the eldest Busch would horde bottles of Heater Allen Pils. I tried this Oregon beer while in Portland and was impressed with its take on the traditional Bohemian Pilsner style and just how close it came to being perfect. Refreshing but with a lovely, spicy hop character.
Arthur Guinness: There are any number of quality stouts available these days that can likely lay claim to the Guinness heritage more than today’s Guinness can. I could easily list a half-dozen beer here. But I am going to go off-chart and suggest Pike Brewing’s XXXXX Stout might find a warm place in Mr. Guinness’ heart. I have had it only once but was impressed by its full body yet surprisingly dry and easy finish.
It seems to me this experiment ended up being almost random. For each pioneer I could have picked a dozen or more beer that would have worked (maybe the limitations of Saskatchewan’s beer supply was a good thing). I will make no defences of my choices – any number of beer would have worked. So feel free to offer other ideas. I likely will agree.
I think the point is that there are many, many brewers who deservedly earn the legacy of these great men, brewers and entrepreneurs. Of course, none of them are connected to their names. Sadly.