There’s been some murmurings on the craft beer vine recently about this whole “vented can” contraption that Molson’s come up with (or, more specifically, the multi-national brewing giant parent MolsonCoors). What’s the point of this bloody thing? Surely it’s to make shotgunning beer easier?
Hate to disappoint you, sports fans, but that’s not the case. You see, Molson is stuck with a horrible situation. They have a bland, boring product that is virtually indistinguishable from the competition, aside from packaging. In addition to this horrible fate, they’re losing market share at a steady–if not fatal–rate. Craft beer is slowly killing them.
Since all they know is marketing, the solution is of course more marketing, and that’s what we’re seeing here. Occasionally they invent some sort of minor tweak to their product strictly as an excuse to launch a massive marketing blitz.
Remember Molson M? Same thing. That production technique (“micro-carbonation”) was so innovative that they didn’t bother patenting it, nor could they describe what it did aside from to say just how very innovative it was. Good luck finding a case of M today. Molson Wheat, while demonstrably a different product from Canadian, is destined for a similar wither-on-the-vine and go away fate (only 156 six-packs in the LDB system as of today).
It’s not the new product and its associated advertising blitz that’s the goal here. It’s to make the masses forget the advertising blitz of the normal product so that it seems brand new and appealing when regular programming resumes. Sure, it’s only brand new and appealing to people with the memory recall of a caffeinated hamster, but that’s pretty much their target audience.
Now, how do you get all the advantages of a Molson M campaign without that nasty drawback of actually producing something different, which takes time, money, and more importantly confuses your afore-mentioned hamster-brained consumer base? There ya go, now you get it. Packaging changes. Vented cans.
It might be tempting to get in a tizzy and claim they’re encouraging people to chug their beer but, let’s face it, anyone who thinks chugging Molson out of a can to be a fun pastime is already doing it. The size of the vent is too small to significantly improve their slamming speed, and the finickiness of actually using it will guarantee most vents go un-opened. If they wanted people to chug their beer we’d be looking at a different packaging change.
The reality of the vented tab is that, honestly, it doesn’t do much of anything. Molson talks a good talk about an “enhanced pouring experience” but don’t mention what’s been enhanced about it, or elaborate upon what, exactly, a “pouring experience” is. Sound familiar?
Maybe they want to reduce the head of the beer in the glass? Well, that doesn’t work. The beer hitting the bottom of the glass causes most of the turbidity and CO2 release, not air gulping back into the can (also, if your beer is gulping out of the can, pour slower). Plus, the kind of person that can’t wait the three seconds it takes for excess head to dissipate from a poorly poured glass of crappy lager isn’t likely the same person that would bother pouring it into a glass in the first place.
After thinking on this long and hard (okay, thinking on this while browsing the internet and drinking coffee for ten minutes), I can think of one specific scenario where the vented can will make a difference, and I seriously hope it’s not what Molson intended.
Chuggers won’t be affected by the vent. Folks who drink until they fall over won’t be affected by the vent. People who drink a few beers at a party without keeping track of how many they’ve had, though, will.
You see, that vent doesn’t make enough difference in pour speed for the extreme beer consumers to even notice. The chugger will chug until the beer is gone (and then presumably crush the can against their skull). The drink-until-I-can’t-drink-anymore guy will do so regardless of the packaging. The guy in the middle, though, who sips at a can or four over the course of a house party while chatting with a girl… that guy is fucked.
A vent might make a causal sip of beer about 10% bigger. That casual guy will notice his beer’s empty sooner, and doing what any good party-goer does, he’ll go get another. Over the course of the evening, he might have one or two extra without even knowing it. He might even drink enough to enter that fuzzy “grey area” between slightly buzzed and full-on drunk, where suddenly getting completely pie-eyed seems like a grand idea.
Worst case scenario, he might be the kind of person that has three or four beers over the course of an evening and drives home (note: regardless of who you are, this is a terrible idea). Now he’s had five or six beers but doesn’t realize it, and he’s still driving home.
Of course, the people responsible for the vented tab are still people, and no one would actually deliberately intend any of this to happen. Molson strongly stresses the responsible consumption of their product (as would any liquor producer). I therefore choose to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the vented tab is a marketing ploy, pure and simple, and not an evil plot to kill innocent childern (although the notion of a Brewmeister Smith-esque super villain toiling away in an underground lab, emitting a lengthy “Mu-hahahahaha” is appealing in and of itself).
Just because you make horrible beer doesn’t mean you’re a horrible person.
It’s here. Singularity landed yesterday at private stores around the lower mainland (those lucky bastards in Victoria got it Friday). As a result, I spent a good chunk of my Monday evening going from LRS to LRS to buy the maximum they would sell me. As often is the case with these limited one-offs, the private stores put per-customer bottle limits in place to ensure more folk get a chance to buy some. Last year these limits were in the 4, 5 or 6 per person range. This year it’s more like 2 or 3. For future reference, this angers Chuck. Please let me buy it all, dammit!
Also notably, this is the first year that Driftwood has fessed up to the actual alcohol levels in Singularity. While previous years claimed either 11.9% or 11.8% to avoid a stiff tax increase at the 12% mark, the 2014 edition proudly calls out all 146 of its ABV points. Yup, this stuff is 14.6%. Tread with care, as even one bomber is far more than you should reasonably consume solo.
Is it worth the buzz? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s a very good beer (more on that below), but there are plenty of other, better Russian Imperial Stouts made in North America. The trick is that they’re just not available here. Walk into your local LRS and if you’re lucky, you’ll have three RIS’s to pick from: Howe Sound Pothole Filler, Parallel 49 RIS and this one. Sure, Singularity is the best of the bunch, but it’s not twice as good as P49′s quite decent–and still available–RIS.
Enough playing it down. How does it stack up against previous vintages? Well, I won’t dally with downplaying this beer anymore. This is perhaps the best Singularity vintage to date. All the best characteristics from previously vintages are here: deep chocolate, cherries, molasses notes from the malt, plus that smoothy, rich, creamy mouthfeel, plus a nice bourbon burn from the barrel aging. The nose and bourbon burn are a bit harsh, but those will be the first aspects to mellow with some time in the cellar. Even so, it drinks quite well right this instant. Well played, guys.
Special Mention: West Coast Liquor Kerrisdale is selling a 3 year vertical of Singularity. Love it!
Inky black, with a thin, quickly fading deep tan head. Low carb.
Liquorice, cassis, chocolate, plus a slightly unpleasant medicinal alcohol tone.
All the big hits for dark malt complexity: dark fruits (cassis, cherries), sweet chocolate, almost imperceptible liquorice. Bourbon and alcohol are strong now, but will fade with some cellaring.
14.6% ABV / ? IBU / Russian Imperial Stout / 5.7 standard drinks per bottle / 4oz serving size
Oh please. You already have.
|Style||Russian Imperial Stout|
|Does it taste like green apples?||Nope!|
|Availability||Widely available at LRS|
|Cost||~$13.50 per bomber|
|Similar BC Beers||Parallel 49 RIS, Phillips Hammer, Howe Sound Pothole Filler|
Stunning revelation time: beer has alcohol in it. I’m sure that you’re shocked to learn this, as I am. To be fair, though, we couldn’t be expected to know this, as it’s not like anyone in the industry goes out of their way to fess up. Bottle descriptions will tell you what types of hops are in the beer, and where they were grown. Some will list the grain bill. Most will talk about yeast and give you tasting notes, but none direct your attention to the small number at the bottom.
So I’ll do it. Beer has alcohol in it. Booze. Grog. Happy juice. Enabling fluid. Whatever you want to call it, it’s in beer, and every time you drink beer, you’re drinking alcohol. A lot of alcohol. In craft beer circles, no one wants to talk about this. It has become the elephant in the room.
Okay, fine. Maybe you’re smart and already knew this. Maybe you’re even are aware that, as fun as alcohol can be, it can be dangerous in large quantities. Perhaps you even know that Health Canada recommends drinking less than 15 beers a week, and you abide by that rule. (10 for women–for simplicity’s sake I’ll focus on men in this article, sorry ladies, but the numbers for women are 2/3 those of men)
Those 15 beers are divided nicely into 3 beers a day. What’s that? 3 beers a day means 21 a week? Well, folks, Health Canada recommends, gasp, not drinking every day. In fact, at least two days a week should be alcohol free, and you should definitely avoid downing more than 4 in a sitting.
“Okay, okay, fine,” you say, “I rarely drink five pints in a night anyways. For the sake of health, I guess I’ll skip Sunday and Wednesday, but every other day I’ll stop off at the bar and have my three pints of Fat Tug, call it a day, and go home to continue my newly healthy, long life.” Not so fast, skippy.
Here’s the kicker: Those 15 beers up there are cans of 5% ABV macro lager. Craft beer is a different beast entirely, and as the ABV wars have escalated the average alcohol content slowly over the years, craft beer drinkers have decidedly not adapted their drinking habits. Judging by the constant stream of Untappd checkins from people I follow, the craft beererati seem to be consuming about the same volumes of beer as their macro drinking counter-parts, and often even more.
Fat Tug, served in pints, breaks those guidelines in two important ways. First, a proper pint is a lot bigger than a can (67% bigger, in fact), and it’s a lot boozier as well (+40%). Factor those two things in and that 20oz pint of Fat Tug you’re sipping on becomes 2.3 standard drinks. Those three pints you were going to have? 6.9 drinks, or over a six pack of regular beer. That means you can only have one pint, my friend.
Some of you just scoffed at this. “Sure, but those guidelines are for wimps.” Maybe. Maybe not; consider this: compare “I’ll stop by the pub for a few pints” with “I’m gonna slam a six pack with a whiskey chaser.” One is the sort of thing said by a craft beer aficionado, and the other by a smelly skid row alcoholic on welfare Wednesday. Both people, though, are drinking the same amount of alcohol.
Let me say it again: those three pints of IPA are the booze equivalent of seven beers. Seven. Unless you’re 20 and it’s Friday, seven beers is not the best idea. Do it every day after work and you’re seriously flirting with alcoholism. Add a pint at lunch and you’re suddenly on Betty Ford’s Christmas card list. This doesn’t even include pulling a shift at your favourite pub on Friday and Saturday nights.
And that’s Fat Tug, which at 7% ABV is hardly the reigning heavy weight of local brews. Other IPAs are 8% or more, and non-IPA styles like Belgian Strongs are frequently in the 9%+ range. Local Imperial Stouts crest 10% and one example clocks in at a whopping 14.6%. That 14.6% stout, sold in a 650ml bomber, contains 5.7 standard drinks: more than a whole bottle of most wines. Health Canada recommends keeping any single evening to 4 drinks or under, meaning that drinking a bottle of Imperial Stout by yourself would make a doctor frown–opening a second one afterwards is right out.
So what is a standard drink? It’s about 17ml of pure alcohol. Since that’s not super helpful by itself, I’ve done the math for you, for a few local brews.
|Beer||ABV||Package Size||Drinks in Package||Appropriate Serving|
|Driftwood Fat Tug||7%||650ml||2.7||270ml (9.5oz)|
|Howe Sound Woolly Bugger||11%||341ml||2.2||155ml (5.5oz)|
|Phillips Hoperation||8%||650ml||3.0||213ml (7.5oz)|
|CC Imperial IPA||9%||650ml||3.4||191ml (6.7oz)|
|Driftwood Singularity||14.6%||650ml||5.7||115ml (4.0oz)|
Well, crap. What do we do about this? Demand that beer be sold in tiny, tiny bottles? Nope. We just need to be more aware of the amount of alcohol we’re consistently cramming down our pie holes. When you walk into a bar you need to realize that in the vast majority of cases a pint is not an appropriate serving size for craft beer, unless you plan on making it your only drink of the evening.
Be aware of what you’re consuming, and what’s in it. Try higher ABV beers in smaller sizes (the Alibi has both 10oz or 6oz sizes for just such a reason, in addition to reducing the size of their “large” glass for high ABV beers). At home, exercise some restraint and don’t drink the whole bottle. Crazy, I know, but open beer will last until tomorrow if you cap it (I’ll do some research on this and report back later).
Treat the higher ABV beers with the respect they deserve. These are painstakingly produced and deserve to be sipped and savoured. You should drink them on a timeline closer to a glass of wine than a can of shit lager, letting the flavours open up as the fluid warms and interacts with the air.
As well, if you want more than one pint of beer, try more of the increasingly popular sessional releases that are coming out from local breweries. These guys typically come in below 5%, meaning you can have more than one, or have the same amount and consume less booze. Phillips and Central City have India Session Ales, and sessional beers are increasingly on the menu at Brassneck (although, note that a 20oz pint of 4% session beer still is about 1.3 standard drinks).
Monitor how much and how often you drink. This one might seem a bit extreme on first reading, but no one consciously chooses to become an alcoholic. They just wake up that way one day. What’s worse is that it’s usually a few years later that they actually realize it, and a few more before they admit it to others.
In short, be an adult, and remember that while the drink in your hand is lovingly made in small batches, using quality ingredients, and costs a lot to buy, it’s still a drink.