Several days ago, Sean McDonald from Com.motion (causeacommotion.com) invited foodiePrints to attend a sponsored luncheon and micro-brew beer tasting he and his client were organizing as part of the 250th Anniversary celebrations of Guinness’ flagship stout product. Jenn and I graciously accepted, warning he and his Managing Director, Ed Lee, that we knew precious little about beer.
The luncheon would also mark the beginning of Ottawa resident Simon Halpin’s coast-to-coast journey to meet Canada’s greatest brewers. Simon plans to document his experience through photos and a blog. He begins his journey at the ByWard Market’s Heart and Crown by meeting Fergal Murray, Guinness’ brew master, on a one day stopover from Ireland. Also assembled were
- brewer Mathew O’Hara from Beau’s All Natural Brewery
- brewer Donna Warner from Scotch Irish Brewing
- Christopher and Norah Rogers, owners of the Barley Days Brewery
Guinness’ 250th Anniversary celebrates founder Arthur Guinness’ signing of a 9000 year lease in 1759 at St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin. As part of its celebrations, Guinness held a contest, asking Canadians what they would consider to be a remarkable experience. Over 800 entries were submitted. Halpin’s winning request was to tour Canada’s local breweries and record the stories of the people who run them. Judges felt that this entry reflected the core characteristics of its founder: inspiration, dedication, ingenuity, and effort.
Even with my little understanding of beer, it was not difficult to see that Fergal Murray is a master of his craft, producing quality stout from a single recipe on a multi-national scale. From the tidbits I could decipher, the breweries that produce Guinness work extremely hard to ensure every fluid ounce produced conforms to an exacting standard. This ensures a uniformity of experience no matter where a pint is drawn. In Ireland, there are even inspectors who verify that Guinness is properly served. As Murray pointed out, their product is entrusted to the pubs that serve it, making imperative that it is served well. Accordingly, there must be the same passion from “keg to glass.”
Perhaps such is why Guinness has a world-wide following. Despite its operation being of the size that it “purchases 40% of the world’s hops”, every pint of Guinness should taste the same as if it were drawn in Dublin.
Then again, there is the flavour.
When I was introduced to Murray, Lee mentioned that I had never partaken of a pint of Guinness whether drawn correctly or served at the proper temperature. I thus had my first with direction from Guinness’ brew master himself.
Murray’s instructions involved taking a pint in my hand with my elbow up so I could angle the glass such that the nitrogen bubble head thins. Then, I drew a mouthful through the thinned head, trying not to take any of the head in the process. Drinking Guinness this way delivers its three characteristic flavours (sweet, bitter, and roasted malt) and a smooth aftertaste. With that, I became a statistic. I partook of one of the approximately “4 million pints of Guinness, draught or extra stout, served each day.”
Then, food was served and so were samples of beer from the micro-breweries, each brew master presenting theirs and each asking Murray his thoughts.
Beau’s All Natural
Among Murray’s comments were praise for the Beau’s brewing team, Beau’s bottle return program (Operation Come Home), their lagered ale (Lug Tread) and their alt (Festivale). However, he questioned how the local brewery, that is one of only two in Canada certified organic, can grow their business. The ceramic bottle for the Lug Tread is heavy, difficult to ship, poor for shelf life, and time consuming to clean. Likewise the alt is also heavily packaged.
In response, O’Hara pointed out that Beau’s is positioning itself to move to a bottled line possibly coming in October. Though, their intention remains to produce local products that are shipped and consumed as freshly as possible. This means that their beer currently doesn’t go past Kingston.
Murray remarked that he enjoyed the chocolate flavours of Scotch Irish’s porter and discussed with Warner various issues with yeast and how to ferment with multiple generations.
During the discussion, I was taken aback by how both the Guinness breweries and microbreweries nearby operate with similar standards, exacting precision, and documentation as accredited analytical laboratories. For instance, to produce consistent good beer, yeast has to be ensured an environment where the pH, temperature, and relative concentrations of sugars (glucose, fructose, and sucrose) are precise. Else, off flavors can be produced.
Murray discussed with Rogers how Barley Days’ golden pale ale developed such a remarkable golden colour. Then, the discussion turned to the subject of the Prince Edward County brewery’s seasonal ales from its spring time Sugar Shack Ale which employs maple sap to its Christmas-time Cherry Porter which employs sour cherries.
Rogers also recounted the rich history behind the name of his brewery. Here is a summary from the brewery’s website:
In the latter half of the nineteenth century (1860-1890) Prince Edward County enjoyed boom days. Bay barley, reputed to be the best malting barley available, along with hops, were grown in the County and exported across Lake Ontario to breweries in the United States. Farming, shipbuilding, and shipping prospered and this period became known in local history as The Barley Days.
In fact, the Wind and Sail dark ale’s artwork (pictured above) includes a schooner to pay homage to shipping barley to the United States.
As this is a food blog, food-wise we were served two fixed courses (an amuse bouche and a salad) and another dish of our choosing from the menu.
Bearing in mind that the Heart and Crown is a pub first and restaurant second, I have to make some allowances for from frozen pub fries. Unfortunately, I found the salad completely unbalanced with unwieldy flavours coming from the applewood cheddar.
I also have some misgivings about the Heart and Crown’s poutine (instant gravy that had skinned and coolish fries), which I ordered, but it meets the characteristics for poutine (fries, cheese curds, and gravy) and is served very generously.
In fact, the Guinness Brew Master was served it as a regional specialty of Eastern Ontario, his first poutine.
His reaction when he saw the plate: “Lads, I can’t possibly finish all of that.” After eating his fill of a third of the serving, he remarked that cheese goes remarkably well with “chips” and such a dish would be appropriate sustenance for a “guy going for a day’s soakage.”
I guess it was a day of two firsts and much enlightenment on my end in the world of brewing beer. To end, I have to echo Murray’s words to me as he shook my hand to leave, “Keep drinking Guinness!”
Heart and Crown
67 Clarence Street
Beau’s All Natural Brewery
10 Terry Fox Drive
Barley Days Brewery
13730 Loyalist Parkway ( Highway 33 )
Picton (Prince Edward County)
Scotch Irish Brewing
866 Campbell Ave.