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Oakes Weekly - May 22, 2003

Homebrew and Best of Lists...
Oakes Weekly May 22, 2003      
Written by Oakes

Vancouver, CANADA -

<P>The first thing I wanted to discuss this week was the Ratebeer Summer Party. We haven’t talked much about this of late, but it’s going on the last weekend in June, Friday through Sunday in Chicago. Never before have this many Ratebeerians massed together, so it should be intense. If you’re planning on attending, now is the time to firm up those plans so npdempse and the other Chicagoans can commence with finalizing the details.

<P>Second up…it’s kind of like shooting fish in a barrel for me to sit here and pick apart something like All About Beer’s 101 Must Have Beers List. After all, I have my favourites and they aren’t necessarily the same as everyone else’s. But at the end of the day it is silly to argue about which two or three barley wines (gueuzes, imperial stouts, pilsners, IPAs, etc.) need to be on the list. There are a lot of great choices, so unless you have my taste buds my list is no more valid than any other knowledgeable, experienced beer lover’s.

<P>I can say, however, that there are two things I don’t like about this list. One is that the world knowledge of beer is completely lacking. There are very few beers listed outside the major beer-producing countries. To an extent, this reflects reality – any list of the top 101 beers on Earth will be dominated by the same four countries (England, Belgium, Germany, United States), with another five or six chipping in the odd brand (Canada, France, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Scotland, maybe Ireland). But the serious beer lover should be encouraged to seek out great beers from other countries. There are micros all over the world making interesting product – in Argentina, Scandinavia, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and others. This isn’t to speak of the smattering of old-established products like Lion Stout, Nigerian Guinness or Cerveza Tovar which may be of some interest.

<P>It may seem slightly odd that I am preaching once again about the need to recognize that the world of beer encompasses the entire world, given the results of the new Ratebeer’s Best. But when even the English beers listed are largely big-name products, bottled and for sale in the US, something has to be said. I don’t buy the logic that one has to include mainly beers which are widely accessible. A “Best of” list should be just that. That’s just a difference of philosophy I guess, but that’s how I would do it.

When Alexander Keith’s, one of the nastiest, most poorly-produced batches of bongwater I’ve ever tasted, is one of only four Canadian beers to make the cut, there is a problem (and believe me Aussies will undoubtedly feel the same about their sole representative being the reprehensible Victoria Bitter).

<P>Every May I put together my top 100 brews, and have done so since the days when I only knew 500 of them. When I sit down to do this year’s list, I’ll have to see how the two stack up. I certainly won’t put Victoria Bitter, Red Stripe, Estella Galicia or Alexander Keith’s India Assjuice on my list.

<P>In other news, I went down to Buffalo last Saturday and had the chance to judge a little homebrew. I sat in as a third judge on the Belgian Pale/Saison/Bière de Garde category. It was interesting, to say the least. The first couple of brews had “issues”, if you know what I mean. After that things got interesting. The disparity in palates was quite something. I know I read ratings on Ratebeer that also show a lot of disparity, but we’re not supposed to be well-trained professionals. BJCP guys are. My favourite of the day was a Fantômish brew that dripped with flavour. Battling against the other two judges I at least got it to the next round, but even with a new judge on the panel it didn’t fly. It was three to one against me. Ouch.

<P>I talked to Lyle Ostrow, the beer buyer of Premier Gourmet and the man who invited me to judge, about the experience. Turns out it was his beer. It was made with freshly harvested Chinook hops (hence the robust bitterness) from his backyard, which happens to contain some interesting organisms. The beer was also dry-hopped with more of these Chinooks, allowing the organisms to make their way into the beer. A couple of months ago, they weren’t having an impact, but now the phenols are starting to take hold (I had a variation of this beer in the winter and a full bottle of it again this past weekend while at the cottage).

<P>Now, if a richly bitter, phenolic, saison made with fresh hops and influenced by wild micro-organisms sounds like a beer that sucks, you let me know. To me, that’s what I like to see in a saison…argh…is all beer judging like this? The most assertive, funky brews get slammed by judges with conservative palates? Anyway, one flight of one competition does not have a whole lot of statistical validity, but I just thought it was an interesting outcome of my experience.

<P>In the next round, we had the three best from my flight (all of them saisons) and three witbiers. In the end, an incredible, spot-on witbier advanced, so I don’t feel too bad. It was every bit as good as Lyle’s saison and fully deserving of the honour. More importantly, after starting with two problematic beers, it was very nice to see that there are some excellent homebrews out there, that stand up to the commercial world’s best (I should note that I also enjoyed a few weeks ago the saison from DaSilky1).

<P>Til next week…



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