Barley Mowat 

Of Brands and Men

with one comment

A strange thing happened this weekend: I realized I might just be a pompous ignoramus screaming unwarranted obscenities from the local craft beer sidelines. Oh wait, no. I realize that every weekend. Aside: The trick to really perfecting your ignoramus-ness, by the way, is to simultaneously realize it and simply not care.

No, the strange thing that happened is that I tried the much maligned (by me) “Best Scottish/Irish Ale in BC”: Lighthouse Race Rocks. I was up at the Harrison Beer Fest (stayed tuned for my review of that affair) and I availed myself of a no doubt fresh-as-possible glass of The Dread RR.

Why would I do this; what could I hope to be different? Well, before tasting it I read up on BJCP Style 9C, which is what Brewmaster Dean Mcleod entered RR as in this competition. So, instead of bracing myself for a beer I had prejudged as awful, I tried my best to clear my head and dive into this looking for the promised mild malt with kettle caramelization, earth tones and balanced bitterness.

Fuck me, it’s there. Race Rocks is a well balanced mild Scottish, and I just didn’t realize it before now. Is it Gold-good? I said it wasn’t on Untappd but, you know what, how the hell would I know? I didn’t try the other entrants in that category. I don’t even know who they were (aside from the other two medal winners). I simply don’t have enough info to make that call. In short, I was talking out of my ass (upon reflection, the “out of my ass” should really be considered implied whenever I am observed to be talking).

This revelation got me thinking, as beer often does, about how we all like to think of ourselves as reasonable, rational beings who are capable of making perfectly consistent judgement calls on a regular basis. The reality, though, is that we’re squishy meat bags of imperfection who are trained every day to like certain things and to hate others. Some of this training is very deliberate and blunt while much of the rest is just us being us.


Lightning? Fire? Dry Ice? Wailing electric guitar? An all-leather-clad, long-haired Michael Ironside using words like “power”? All those things are awesome! This beer must therefore ALSO BE AWESOME! Q.E.D.

The mere fact that Race Rocks came out of a Race Rocks can likely doomed it to a lower opinion from me because of my experiences with this beer in the distant past, when arguably it was the syrupy malt-water I remember it to be. Who knows what caused that initial impression? Maybe the beers I had were sitting on the shelf too long (malt-forward light ales do not do well in the liquor store)? Maybe the brewing wasn’t as tight before Dean showed up? Any one of a million variables could have changed it in the interim.

Maybe it was the biggest variable in the equation: me. It’s very possible that once I discovered more aggressive styles I reflexively labelled my previously favoured styles as bad. It’s very human thing to do, and that impression can be a very strong one to shake.

Here I am just 18 months ago doing a blind taste test on four beers, including Race Rocks. Note how words like “well balanced” show up in my notes. Sounds kinda like the beer I had above, right? (although, notably I did not get even a slight puff of DMS off it this time).

I know what some of you are thinking now: “But Chuck! It’s an Amber Ale! Calling a beer labelled ‘Amber Ale’ good because it tastes like a 80 Shilling Scottish is like calling a beer labelled ‘IPA’ good because it tastes like a light lager.” Fun trick: pick up a pack or can of Race Rocks and really take a good look at it. Find me the “Amber Ale.” I’ll wait.

It’s not there. It might have been there in the past, and it certainly is still there in the “Story Behind Lighthouse” section of their homepage (in 1998 the beer no doubt was marketed as a generic Amber Ale to a beer consuming public that considered beers to be one of lager, amber, pale and Guinness), but the only style label* on Race Rocks today is the one we put there in our minds.

Lastly, does this mean I’m a convert? Am I a Race Rocks Man now? Does such a thing exist? Hardly. Race Rocks is a well made beer, for its style. Ultimately, thought, this particular style won’t be one that I spend my limited beer money on. There are too many excellent examples of more aggressive, interesting, or just plain weird styles out there for me to do that. However, that’s the first thing you learn in Beer Judging 101: Just because you’re not a fan of a style doesn’t mean beers of that style are bad beers.


Except this one. Beers of this style are bad beers.

* — Side note: I don’t like un-styled beers. I want some indication of what’s in the bottle I’m buying, and unlabeled beer just screams of “generic beer” to me. As a fun experiment, I think Lighthouse should release Race Rocks in a 650ml bomber as a new beer: “Dean’s 80 Shilling Ale” complete with craft packaging and branding. I would absolutely love to watch the differences in review scores between that and RR in cans.

Written by chuck

October 28th, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Posted in Beers

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One Response to 'Of Brands and Men'

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  1. It is true that the can used to say “Amber Ale” at one time. I hate cans. I buy the mix pack just so that I can have RR in a bottle, although it is perfectly good to have some Tasman thrown in there too.

    Coniferous Gloom

    6 Nov 13 at 11:04

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