29 November 2017
Are You Available?
If the world's best beer does indeed exist but you can't get your hands on it, is that really the best beer in the world to you then? I've been lucky enough to have friends and family put some of the most sought after craft beers in the world into my glass. From Pliny to Heady Topper to that latest Bellwoods release, I am truly a blessed guy when it comes to the generosity of others. But what if I had never had any of those and instead just drank what I could find locally, on one of my tours around the province or at the LCBO? Would that make those beers any less amazing or my life any less interesting? The truth is if you have never tried a beer or have no way of ever getting your hands on it then it really is just another release that doesn't impact your life outside of the fact that who doesn't want to try every legendary brew they can. Distribution matters when it comes to beer and perhaps that also is why we view those hard to get beers so differently than our close by, often better, craft selections.
I was once a guy who lusted after those whales, lamenting when I couldn't get them and feeling like I was missing out if I didn't find a way to grab a few to post about and enjoy. I was so wrapped up in finding and drinking those beers that I started losing sight of what was right in front of me, World class beers made right here, as good or better than anything else. It has only been through a long process of learning to let go of what I cannot control that I have come to appreciate what is happening right here and now. To be honest, as Canadians we have long looked south for validation and it continues with the beer. Not only does it apply to those amazing US craft beers but to those you cannot get up here by traditional means, needing a long road trip or a beer saint to get them to your fridge. We can establish some really good friendships by building a trust in trading beers but even then, you are going to miss out on something because that is just the way it is.
A great example of this is right down the highway to Toronto and the famous Bellwoods Brewery. This icon of innovation has really ramped up the releases this year with an array of IPAs, Milkshake and otherwise, which cause lineups and sellouts almost every time. With small bottle runs of a few thousand and a strict purchase limits, they create the perfect storm every time because the quality has been without reproach. I have been able to get a good chunk of them and can easily place most of them in the top of any list when we talk about Ontario Craft beer in 2017. An example of the problem arose when at the Golden Tap Awards, which are voted on by the general public in an open nomination online ballot, Beau's All Natural took home both best brewery and best beer for Lug Tread, a solid Lagered Ale. Scores of my beer pals were outraged and railed against a system they couldn't fathom wouldn't just give every award to their personal favourite brewery. For me I saw the wide distribution and excellent customer service combined with a willingness to take some chances on their beer that led to this recognition. Is Lug Tread better than Witchshark? In my eyes, that's not even a discussion because they are different styles and while I might review the latter, it behooves me to inform folks that if you can't get to T.O. then you are out of luck because that's the only place to get this amazing beer. If there are only 1200 bottles of a certain release and a limit of four per person then at best maybe five or six hundred people will experience that particular beer. That matters because if you cannot try a beer, does it really impact your life? I would put forth the notion that getting your beer into the most hands is also part of the discussion and being able to produce a great beer at a consistent and large volume has it's merits as well. I always say that brewing a great one-off is good but creating a beer that you can replicate with reliability is the holy grail. Add volume and you've got my attention.
The argument continues with the example I use more often than not. Great Lakes Brewery Canuck Pale ale is one of the most widely available and finest examples of the style I have found. Is it better than Jutsu from Bellwoods? I'll leave that to the experts but for me I can have a Canuck and know that it will give me the same great punch every time. Jutsu is an amazing pale ale too, but to get one involves a trip to the heart of Toronto and with the busy work or life schedule most people have, that is not always possible. So many beer lovers I know have neither the means nor the will to brave that drive for a beer, so they remain outside looking in.
For the majority of beer drinkers I know, most of the smaller/midsized breweries are still an unknown and that is something I'd like to see change. The move to online ordering is giving us access although the shipping costs can sometimes be onerous. Good friends who send us something we can't get in exchange for the same from us is another way to get these great beers into our fridges but that too can get expensive and time consuming. An idea floated by those much more in the know than me is that there should be a OCB controlled Craft beer store or perhaps allowing cross selling between the brewers themselves, a kind of cooperative effort that would lead to even more growth in an industry already heading to the stratosphere. I'd personally like to see a combo of the last two and would hope that the future of beer is more access not less. Availability matters and while I have learned to accept what I cannot have, I still have that little bit of hope that someday we can all share in the bounty that is Craft beer at it's finest. But until then, let's celebrate what we can get and enjoy it with gusto!
Raise your glass and your standards,
One Beer at a time.