We Have Your Beer

When I travelled to Toronto for work in March, my first impression was how I desperately needed new shoes and maybe a decent city coat not covered in lint and dust.

My second impression of Toronto was that of a beer wasteland.

Beer selection is controlled by the good people of the Ontario Government. You have two main choices—the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) and the Beer Store.

The Beer Store has precisely four interesting beers. My Czech friend, Richard, visited Ontario and told me how stoked he was to see a place called The Beer Store.

Salivating with anticipation, he entered, looked around, then declared to no one in particular “You do NOT have my beer”.

I found much better success at the Beer Bistro on Yonge and King. They definitely have my beer—American style IPAs, a variety of stouts, experimental beers and, my favourite, the sour Belgian ales.

The beer menu has detailed descriptions of each item and reads like soft beer porn to a thirsty northern traveller. This is one of the best beer bars I have been to in Canada—nary a Bud Light in sight.

The Whitehorse liquor store may very well have your beer. The beer selection has dramatically improved in the past couple of years.

Relatively new acquisitions include the tasty Russell Brewing series (Surrey, B.C.), including Angry Scotch Ale, Blood Alley extra special bitter and the Black Death porter.

This porter oozes chocolate and molasses. It has a lovely rich sweetness underpinned by subtle bitterness from the roasted malt and hops. There is a pleasant dryness in the finish, which tames the molasses.

I used to detest dark beers, but, similar to my misguided childhood hate-on for onions, mushrooms, beans, squash (and pretty much any food that wasn’t loaded with salt or sugar), I have learned to love them over time.

At 6.5 percent alcohol by volume, this is likely the alcohol level of the early porters sucked back by the British working class in the 18th century until increased taxes on malt forced brewers to use less and less malt in their recipes, reducing the alcohol content over time.

The porter style died out in Britain completely by World War II but has seen widespread resurrection as a style in North America and Europe since the late 1970s.

Recently, the Whitehorse liquor store brought in Dead Frog Brewing products (Aldergrove, B.C.).

The Dead Frog Pale Ale has aromas of toasted malt, caramel and tobacco with low hop aroma. The flavour is malty with an assertive bitterness.

I wanted to like this beer, but it lacks the cleanness of a well-brewed beer and there’s just something about it that doesn’t make me want to go back for seconds.

The Dead Frog Nut Brown ale has pleasant aromas of roasted malt and coffee. The flavour is of sweet malt witha low hop bitterness, as expected for the style.

There is some astringency, which is a dryness or puckering sensation, probably due to use of dark, roasted malt. Unfortunately, it tastes a little watery in the finish.

There aren’t any major brewing flaws in these beers. They are not terribly offensive, but they won’t be winning medals any time soon.

A perusal of the product list at the Whitehorse liquor store shows a reasonable breakdown of 56 percent lagers and 44 percent ales.

There are 14 countries represented. And yet, the single greatest brewing nation in the world—Belgium ( yes, I am waving the flag)—is represented, poorly, by one lager.

This is a nation with a third of the population of Canada known for thousands of different beers with a brewing tradition spanning hundreds of years.

Belgians have a deep respect for beer. I’m sorry, but Stella Artois just doesn’t cut it for me, despite those uber-hip television commercials.

We do have a good selection of Irish beer at the Whitehorse liquor store, which apparently is on par with Ireland itself.

My partner did a bike tour of western Ireland a couple of years ago and reported that the beer assimilation project was almost complete there. He encountered the same four or five beers on tap at every single pub he entered: Guinness (sometimes Beamish stout), Harp, Kilkenny, Smithwicks and Heineken.

A veritable potato famine of brewing proportions. Come on Ireland! Have you no pride?

Luckily, Yukoners have a good local brewery with staples for NHL playoffs, ice-fishing and post mountain-biking rehydration but, when the beer itch just won’t get scratched, I drive down to Haines and load up on some of the brash, irreverent micro-brewed beers from the United States.

Arrogant Bastard ale by Stone Brewing out of California taunts its drinkers with bottle scrawls suggesting the drinker doesn’t have the taste or sophistication to appreciate their beer—an odd, hazing type of marketing technique that strangely seems to work.

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