By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish
One nice thing about living in Western New York is our proximity to another country. Although a trip to Canada won’t result in an overt amount of culture shock, there’s still a palpable difference on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. Highway signs read in kilometres. People as close as the opposite side of the Niagara River Gorge speak (and spell) with a noticeably different accent.
Canadians, however, gets overshadowed by its gargantuan neighbor to the south, and it has become something of a point of pride to nurture and develop all things Canadian in a quest for national and cultural identity. Bookstores in Canada showcase indigenous authors. U2 and Dave Matthews share the airwaves with the likes of Sloan, The Tragically Hip, and Spirit of the West. And then there’s the beer.
Whereas Americans have no problem making fun of our fizzy domestic lagers, Canadians tend to latch onto their brew with a fierce sense of civic pride. For the most part, Canadian mass-market lager is identical to ours, but it’s regarded as an expression of national culture by our friends north of the border.
And even though the Canadian beer industry has been gutted by takeovers, buyouts, and mergers, even though most Canadian beer has less character than Terrell Owens, even though there are some real duds (I’m talking to you, Alexander Keith’s “I.P.A.”), there are still some beers up there which really warrant a drive up to the duty-free shop.
Beers like Steam Whistle Pilsner. Brewed right at the base of Toronto’s CN Tower, in an old rail yard roundhouse that must have been murderously expensive to convert, Steam whistle has turned the microbrewery business model on its ear. They only make Pilsner, a technically demanding and comparatively expensive style to produce. They don’t have a restaurant or even a real bar, offering only tasting samples at the brewery.
What Steam Whistle does have is the best pilsner in North America. You could taste this, blindfolded, along with some of the finest from Czech and German pils, and have difficulty discerning which one comes from Canada. Now if only they’d start distributing in the friggin’ USA so we wouldn’t have to drive two hours to get our fix!
The other great Canadian brewery is Quebec’s Unibroue. They produce a range of excellent, mostly strong, francophonically-titled ales which are relatively common in this region’s beer bars. Our personal favorite is “Le Fin Du Monde,” which, roughly translated, means “Go Habs,” or something like that.
No, seriously, it means “The End of the World,” and that’s precisely what you’ll wish for if you drink this Belgian style strong ale to excess. A sweet, citrus aroma, rich tawny gold color, and peppery sweet flavor make it a sensual beer. The warm, alcoholic finish offers plenty of warning about what you’re getting into.
Le Fin du Monde is a fantastic pairing beer, a perfect complement to meat, sausage, and strongly flavored fish dishes. It would also go nicely with fruit-based desserts. However, at 9% alcohol by volume it’s most frequently, however, it gets paired with Ibuprofen, inappropriate comments, and the barroom floor.
These are just a couple prominent examples of what’s going on in Canada beyond the beer assembly lines of Molson and Labatt. There’s much more, and it’s best experienced on home turf in the frozen north (or frozen west, in our case). Personally, we feel that it’s important to get beyond all the stereotypes about Canada’s slightly socialist political stance, the idiosyncrasies of the Canadian accent, and their perceived obsession with hockey. What better way to do this than to go up and sample the nation’s beer?
Isn’t that what international cooperation is all aboot?
In other beers:
The Old Toad has just held a Beer and Dessert Pairing. Toad employee (and certified English girl) Katie Streets put together a five-course dessert flight, each cunningly paired with an appropriate, sometimes surprising beer. Among the highlights: Crème Brulee mated to Glenmorangie-infused Sam Smith Oatmeal Stout and Fresh Mint Chocolate chip Ice cream paired up with Brooklyn Chocolate Stout.
The desserts were made from scratch, the presentation excellent. It really highlighted the notion that beer is so much more than a buzz generator. Congrats to Katie and her fellow Toadies for going out on the limb,
Now if only they’d do a German beer and sausage pairing, but it’s doubtful that there’s much room for Old Jerry in this most English of pubs.
Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at http://beercraft.blogspot.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.