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Justice Might Be Blind But Taste Isn’t (Molson Review Part Three)

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I finally managed to gather up enough suckers last weekend to give this whole “blind taste test” thing a whirl. Due to the blog’s resident globe-trotting scientist being off well, trotting the globe, my methods were likely a bit sloppy and the lack of lab coats and protective eye-wear means safety had to be compromised a bit in the interests of expediency (seriously, though: Nature of Things better give Jenn back soon, otherwise I’ll start mixing beers at random just to see what happens).

The assembled panel had a fairly wide range of tastes, from folks nearly as beer-geeky as myself, through a few lager louts, all the way to someone who never drinks beer if at all possible. The beers selected for tasting likewise represented a wide range of options. Of course, both Molson Canadian and Molson M were present, but I also picked up some micro-brewed lagers: Howe Sound Lager (largely due to the can), and Lighthouse’s new Overboard Imperial Pilsner because why the fuck not? If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

I also threw in another macro because, let’s face it, Moslon is not competing with Howe Sound or Lighthouse. Thus I found myself picking up a tallboy of Bud. I gotta admit it, I felt really rather embarrassed and dirty buying this. I would up throwing the can into my bag and out of sight as soon as the transaction was complete, and then covering it up with a liberal dose of porn, lube, pantyhose and condoms in case someone looked.

My six guinea pigs were given unlabeled, randomly ordered samples of each. Aside from the Molson products, even the identity of the candidate beers was unknown until the conclusion of the test. They were then asked to rank each beer upon a variety of criteria, including “Ease of Drinking”, “Refreshment” and “Overall”.

Wow. Even I’m impressed with the professionalism.
And the lack of fire. OK, mostly the fire.

So how’d things stack up? Well, there are a few surprises here. Frankly, I didn’t think M and Canadian would score differently, and I somewhat suspected casual beer drinkers (or non drinkers) would have difficulty telling the ligher lagers apart, craft or no. Here’s some take-aways:

  • People either hated or loved the Lighthouse. It ranked first or last for nearly everyone (one put it at 2nd to last).
  • Canadian and M ranked similarly in all cases, often one immediately after another. However, M always–without exception–ranked lower than Canadian. In all categories.
  • Everyone, craft beer drinker or not, was able to distinguish the craft beer from the macros, and almost unanimously felt the craft beer was a better product, in all categories.
  • Budweiser ranked higher than either Molson product for 5/6 tasters. It even beat Howe Sound in 1/6.
  • The gap between craft and non-craft was fairly large (except Lighthouse, due to some folk just hating it), but curiously the gap between Bud/Canadian and M was just as large.
  • Only one person, the non-beer drinker, picked Molson first, and only Canadian. So, uh, I guess Canadian is the best beer if you hate beer?

So we’ve answered the original question. Is M different from Canadian? I have to admit it, I was wrong. It is demonstrably different after all. It turns out that Molson M is much, much worse.

Overall Rankings:

  • First: Howe Sound Lager (1.67 average score)
  • Second: Lighthouse Overboard (2.83 average score)
  • Third: Bud (3.08 average score)
  • Fourth: Molson Canadian (3.17 average score)
  • Fifth: Molson M (4.25 average score)

And that’s it. I’m done. No more Molson for me, which also means that the bums who collect the empties out of my alley are about to get a treat (or more specifically, 20 treats).

Written by chuck

May 27th, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Cuban Beer

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I was warned that one doesn’t travel to Cuba because of the beer, and my experiences there reinforced that prejudice. In fact, if one were to compile a list of reasons to travel to Cuba at all, beer would appear somewhere between “free elections” and “flawless upkeep of public infrastructure.”

I really wish this was a cherry picked extreme example. But hey, at least they didn’t vote for this.

However, I’m a beer guy, and I was in Cuba, so I tried the beer. Both of them. Yup, there are two kinds of beer in Cuba, Cristal and Bucanero. Now, I know both are brewed by the same brewery with only slight variations on the recipe, and yes I know that there are actually a few sub-variants of Bucanero which might technically count as different beers (and some minor regional variants-on-a-theme like Mayabe), but keep in mind that in an economy as tightly controlled as Cuba, it is possible to so efficiently hide an undesireable product that it effectively becomes invisible to tourists.

Attesting to this point, the only evidence I saw of the rumoured Bucanero “Max” was an half full can on the street still being clutched by an all-full local. Despite my inherent desire to sample all that Cuban brewing has to offer, I did not avail myself of this rare tasting opportunity.

So back to the contenders; both are manufactured by a subsidiary of InBev, and both have reached near-theoretical levels of both market penetration and near-ubiquitous availability. Basically anywhere that sells anything sells both Cristal and Bucanero, generally for CUC$1, which is so close to CANUCK$1 as to be not worth the distinction. Restaurants mark this up, sometimes all the way to $2.50.

As well, both are really quite bad. Cristal is fairly obviously made to be a native-produced drop-in replacement for Heineken, down to the clear green bottle and red-green colour scheme. Taste-wise I think they did quite well here, as I doubt I could pick up the nuanced subtleties that distinguish these two near-identical piles of schleck. Cristal might be a bit sweeter due to the odd Cuban desire to spike every damn thing they encounter with extra sugar, but confirming this would require another sample of Heineken and frankly it’s just not worth it.

Good luck telling them apart with the lights off. Or even just dimmed.

Bucanero, by contrast, was about 10x better (so a solid 0.010 / 10). The fact that it came in a proper anti-skunking brown bottle instantly gave it some points, but honestly with the sun and UV levels down there even brown glass wouldn’t put up much of a fight. Simultaneously the best and worst things I can say about this beer is that it tastes like Old Style Pilsner, again only sweeter. Given the choice, though, I spent most of my beer pesos on this guy. Plus, it has a jaunty pirate on the label. Beer labels need more pirates. (Lighthouse, I’m looking at you here)

Beyond those two choices, the only variety exists in the form of Cuba’s solitary brewpub. Located on the Plaza Vieja in Havana’s Old Town, they produce beer in three variants: Light, Amber and Dark. Not a good start. I feared that these beers would only vary by how much molasses they slipped into the kettle, but somewhat astonishingly they’re brewed using fairly different recipes. The lowdown:

  • Light – You know what? It’s not bad. It’s not good, but it’s not bad. If they’d just curtail the freaking sugar it might even be a decent Pilsner.
  • Amber – Oh wow. Imagine the worst pale ale you’ve ever had. Now add about a cup of sugar to it. Reaffirming my faith in humanity, this vile concoction seemed to be the most popular option with the assembled tourist. Even worse than Bucanero.
  • Dark – Again, not bad. A dark mild without a lot of character and, no surprise, way too much sugar, but still worth drinking.

Yup, that’s right. The best beer in Cuba gets a “meh.” Oh well, at least it wasn’t endless Corona. I guess there’s no surprise that as my time in Cuba went on, I ordered more and more rum-based drinks, and less and less beer? Or that my standard drink was two mojitos.

I call it the “Cuban Double Double.”

Written by chuck

May 24th, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Posted in Beer and You,Beers

May Beer of the Month: VCBW Collaboration Smokin’ Cherry Bomb Saison

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I know, I know, I said I was going on vacation and then I promptly throw up two posts. I’m really out of here after this, though. I mean it.

This is a bit early, since May doesn’t start until Sunday, but unless there’s a way to hook up two coconut halves to the internet of which I am unaware, you all will just have to suck it up.

I don’t think there’s any surprise about this beer pick. I love cherries, I love saisons, and I love collaboration brews, even if they can sometimes fall victim to the “too many chefs” problem. This particular specimen is produced by BC’s “Women of Craft Beer,” from Salt Spring, Crannog, and Big River. There are only five casks, the first of which is being served up tonight in Victoria.

I could have picked the other collaboration brew for VCBW, but honestly I’ll take a fruit saison over a regular boring CDA any time. Also, I’m working on a new post about CDAs which will be rant-a-riffic and I don’t want to out myself as the huge hypocrite that I am just yet.

It will be found on tap at a variety of VCBW events, of which I am attending none. Instead, I will be holding my own expat CBW. In Cuba. With lager. By myself. /sob

I will be back in town on May 14th and attempting to sniff out any remaining cherry saison, but if this beer is anywhere near as good as it could be, I highly doubt I will succeed.

Where to get it: Various VCBW events, and likely at the Alibi.
Where not to get it: Anywhere else. Especially after, oh, May 14th.

Written by chuck

April 28th, 2011 at 1:16 pm