About the Episode
Students, as a group, are justly famous for their ability to put away impressive amounts of cheap beer. With classes resuming in September, this show samples some of the less expensive beer available around Edmonton to find out if cheap price always equates to cheap taste. Shane Groendahl of Edmonton Beer Geeks Anonymous also joins in for a free range discussion about local beer, and has his first taste of hallowed hipster brew Pabst Blue Ribbon live on-air.
Coming to you live from the inside of a fermenting tank, this is the September episode of Talking Pints. I’m Lewis Kelly. Undergrads return to university campuses across Canada this month. With frosh week and frat parties and who knows what-all students socializing going on, an awful lot of cheap beer is gonna get consumed. Many cheap beers are derided by beer connoisseurs for their use of adjuncts. An adjunct is anything fermentable, other than barley or wheat, added to a beer during brewing. Use of adjuncts is actually a long-standing tradition. American colonial settlers often used pumpkins, and Belgian brewers have long added candy sugar to their beers to create flavours of raisin and caramel. But lots of super-popular loggers have grains cheaper than barley or wheat, like corn and rice, added to them to keep production costs down and profit margins up. Use of these kind of adjuncts also lightens the beers colour, and- and this is why the beer nerds don’t like them. The flavour, too. So on this show, I explore the world of cheap beer to find out if low cost always has to mean low flavour. I’m joined by Shane Groendahl of Edmonton Beer Geeks Anonymous for a wide-ranging talk on all things beer. We started with Pabst Blue Ribbon- the hipster’s beer of choice. The Pabst Brewing Company was founded in 1844 in Milwaukee and vied with Anheuser-Busch for dominance of the American market until the late 19th century. At the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, Pabst won a taste contest against Anheuser-Busch brews and celebrated by putting a blue ribbon on its packaging- hence the name. The packaging also says that “only the finest hops and grains are used,” but, unless you count corn as a grain, that’s not quite true, because there’s corn syrup in here, too. Here’s your can Shane. Good luck.
Good luck, yes indeed.
This is gonna be interesting… or educational, maybe? I don’t know.
Well, I will admit, I’ve not had it before.
I find that hard to believe.
Truthfully- truth be known, I’ve not had PBR before.
You went to university, didn’t you?
I did indeed. Though, I’ve managed to stay away. I will admit.
Well, what did you drink in university, then, if not PBR?
I was very fortunate to be in the latter stages, I guess, of my degree at the University of Alberta, in which time that there was the beautiful beer called You’ve Gone Red available on tab at Rat.
Ahh, anyway, so, for those of you who are listening at home —and haven’t had PBR— it’s extremely light looking, almost totally clear. Fairly, kind of, thin looking white head that disappears pretty quick. Down the hatch, here we go. Cheers.
So there’s little to no flavour there.
Yeah, I would say it’s not particularly punching the palate with anything.
Yeah, light, light straw overtones, kinda- almost a little bit sweet- very effervescent, pale, and…
Technically beer, yes. Alright, so while that’s percolating in our systems, why don’t you tell us a little bit about the beer geeks, I mean-
Yeah. Well, Beer Geeks Anonymous or, for short, EBGA , which is, in itself, a mouthful. Uh, we’ve been around for a couple of years now, and we’re a group primarily focused on promoting the organic growth of the local craft beer industry. And so what that means is we host a variety of different events around the city, primarily out of our, kind of, home base, which is at Wunderbar, which is a pub on Whyte Ave, but around the city for different varieties of events. So we’ve done all sorts of different things, kind of, from our premier event, which is Alberta’s Original Dedicated Cask Ale Festival, so for those of you that are familiar with Alley Kat products and their Cask Nights at either the Sugar Bow or at the Next Act Pub, that we have a premier event where we bring in many different brewers from across western Canada and promote their beer by showing off what they can do. We’re mainly focused on bringing the level of consumer knowledge up, so we want to introduce people to beer that has flavour, that is well-crafted, is well-made, has an air of, of- you know more authenticity to it, in respect that there’s somebody behind… the can, behind the label, behind the bottle, that you know has been sweating to make that beer. Brewing is not an easy process if you’re doing it in a smaller brewery- whereas Pabst is brewed in a big industrial complex. A brewery like Alley Kat or Hog’s Head, or Wild Rose in particular, they are not really mechanized, they’re not really automated, and so there’s a lot of, literally, back-breaking labour that goes on their.
When you have that empty mash that spent grain is heavy because it’s still soaked with water. We wanted to try to promote their effort and their hard work by a variety of different events. We’d host, you know different things like movie nights, to beer seminars, to beer pairing dinners, we’ve done a couple of different things, we did a particularly fun one that I enjoyed was Beer n’ Brunch, which is actually hosted at Cha Island, the tea company just off Whyte avenue.
So 2011 was the founding of the Beer Geeks?
2011- June 2011, Yeah.
Why then in particular?
That was kinda the time where Craig and I- Craig’s one of the owners of Wunderbar- he and I were discussing things, uh, we actually came to the conclusion that we wanted to do something that was new and original in the beer scene in Edmonton. Things were coming up, in that beer was becoming more popular in bars along Whyte ave but there were bars that weren’t particularly doing it very nicely or well.
You know, whether it be to support the local breweries- that’s something that we really aim to do- or whether it be, you know, profitably serve their beer, and so we wanted to, kind of, find an outlet that wasn’t being on the retail side of the market and wasn’t being on the sales rep side of the market, that we both could, kind of, cooperate on and find an event that- or a way to hold an event that really worked for both of us, and so we really just, kind of, exploded from there. Our very first event was with Yukon Brewing-
And we had, at the time, the first and only keg of their imperial IPA, come down from Whitehorse, so that was a very special event for us- we had this sales rep who is affectionately known as Yukon Dave-
We had him come and do a bit of a talk for us, and we, we had that as our initial kickoff. I also did a spot, a talk about our, kind of, bases, our principles, about how we want to focus on promoting local craft beer, the brewers, and the industry behind that, so-
Do you feel like the average Edmontonian knows more about beer because of your efforts over these last two years?
No, I don’t. Our, attendance (or patronage) is still rather small. We usually end up having about forty to fifty people, on a good night. So it is rather small and a lot of the faces are the same, though that is growing.
Recently, the Edmonton Craft Beer Festival, which was held at Northlands- we had a booth there, the Edmonton Beer Geeks Anonymous had a booth there. So we were first-time exhibitors, which was new for us, and kind of scary at the same time. But I think we spoke to each and every one of the eleven-thousand people that was through that day- or over the course of those two days.
Before we go too much further, we should try another beer, uh… I think we should have the Nelson After Dark Organic Brown Ale. This, like PBR, also comes in tins and, I think, cost about the same at Sherbrooke, it’s like… twelve or thirteen dollars for a six-pack, which is-
Yeah. So there you go, a tasty beer doesn’t have to be expensive.
Well, we haven’t tasted it yet-
Oh, I have before-
You’re jumping to conclusions-
Unlike PBR, I’ve have had Nelson After Dark previously.
[CAN TABS POPPING]
Pours out… brown, surprisingly, for a brown ale.
So there’s a good reason why beer comes in cans. Not only is it light tight, but it also seals better than the cap on beer bottle.
And it’s harder to break, I would think, too, like it doesn’t shatter.
Doesn’t shatter, but it, they still will puncture.
Cheers, thank you.
That’s nice, it’s got a bit more kind of malt to it than the PBR, obviously it’s much, much darker… Head’s a little bit thicker I would say, seems to stick around for a little bit longer.
Well, that’s uh, that’s due to the ingredients that are in it- darker malts, so you’re getting the colour from that, but you’re also getting- the head retention is a little bit from the fact that they don’t pasteurize their beers well.
It’s not too bad, comes from B.C., of course, in Nelson. Mmm.
A very good resource for beer geeks everywhere is something called Ratebeer.
You’ve probably heard of this.
Now, After Dark rates very low on the scale at twenty-six out of a hundred, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad beer. Now the thing about Ratebeer is that there’s a large quantity of people that are rating individual beer, so they’re-
We should say, this is ratebeer.com, a pretty popular…
For talking about beer, ranking beer a-
Anyways, uh, yeah, so the, say, lets say drinkership of the Nelson After Dark isn’t actually very diverse, and so that really effects the score. And number of people that rate it can be very harsh on the beer or it can not be very harsh on the beer and they- a lot of the raters don’t necessarily rate to style or some will rate it overall, so yeah.
You mean someone will penalize a beer like Nelson for not being an Imperial IPA or something like that-
Yes- Whereas some people will actually rate it as being, you know an English mild, or brown ale- there’s kind of a little bit of cross-over in that category as well. But, um, yes. There’s lots of really nice bitter, roasty notes in the beer as well. I get lots of bitter, dark chocolate- you kind of get that on the finish as well- fairly dry finish. Something that’s notable, probably even to the hipster crowd, on top of it coming in cans, is the fact that it’s a organic beer-
All of the beers from Nelson are organic- they’re certified organic. They’ve been around for a while, too, since 1991.
Organic means they’re probably saving the planet at the same time too.
That’s right, obviously. Yeah.
On the subject of beers available in Alberta- tell me, how do you think Alberta rates as far as beer culture, compared to other places in Western Canada? I mean, we’ve got great selection here, but we’ve got a fraction of the number of breweries that places like Victoria, or Portland, or Colorado does…
Now, those are, kind of, two separate questions. One being the availability of the product, the diverseness of the products that are available in the province.
Now, that’s- that’s huge. There’s no where else in the country that has the same number of products available to us, as we do in Alberta- so we’re very lucky in that respect. It means that it’s a consumer’s market, basically, so you have all these products available and you’re spoilt for choice and there’s new products coming in every week, and there’s– there’s a lot of people that make a lot of money on bringing new products in every week, because every- there’s the stereotypical beer geek that runs into the store on Friday afternoon or Friday after work and wants that brand new product that just hit the shelf and wants to be the first one to rate it, wants to be the first one to have it and etcetera. Though, when you’re talking about beer culture in Edmonton, or in Alberta, I think that it’s really growing. Though it does not compare to places like, of course, Portland, Seattle, Victoria, Denver. Last year, I was fortunate to visit both Seattle and- and Victoria, and – you can walk into any bar, no matter be it a sports bar and, uh- for example, in Victoria, you’re gonna find Driftwood on tap.
You’re gonna find Phillips on tap, you’re gonna find Lighthouse on tap. You walk into a bar, any sports bar in the city in Edmonton, you’re gonna probably be very hard-pressed to find something that’s brewed within- within Edmonton, if not within Alberta-
Save for the something that comes out of a big glass factory. Beer culture- if somebodies involved in beer culture, they’re the ones that are seeking it out, that like it, wanna be part of it, and they’re, kind of, the attendance of the EBGA-
Whereas the- the beer consumers, I think is, kind of, bearing a lot on what Alberta has a population base, and so- especially in Edmonton take, for example- we have very blue collar bases. If you wanted to compare that to Calgary, Calgary being a little more white collar than we are. So that might, as well, be a bias on what gets purchased. Younger businesspeople might wanna have the new beer, or wanna have something that’s a little bit more expensive to, kind of, show off-
But Victoria is famous for having the newly wedded and nearly dead, right? I mean-
Right, I guess I- I guess I digressed there. Right, but, so Victoria, really, it’s amazing, because they’re so much about being local- and this might be a bit of a hipster kind of thing, as well, is being local and supporting your local businesses, supporting the, the- the guy down the road.
And that’s a big part of the EBGA likes to do, as well, is we like- we want to showcase the people that are down the road to us and what they’re producing and how- how that compares to other things from around the world and around the province- for example: Yellowhead. They entered their beer in the Canadian Brewing Awards, uh, this past year and they came in bronze in the Premium Lager category, and that’s amazing.
They haven’t been around all that long as Yellowhead, but they’re making a beer that is top-tier, kind of thing, for their category. And so you know, they only make one beer, but they do really make it quite well. So beer culture is really growing. Beer culture has, has a foot hold here in Edmonton, and think that’s really evident in a lot of the new bars that are opening up.
So we’ve just seen the opening of Beer Revolution, the ongoing number of locations of Brewster’s Brew Pub, as well as, you know, MKT, and The Underground. All those places really showing what we’re becoming.
Like if there’s a city that can support a bar that has seventy-two different taps,uh- that’s pretty impressive. There’s a lot of work that goes into deciding what goes on next, and how much do you have in stock, and what do you need to order, and where’s it goin’- where are all the beers going? If there’s a market that can support that, then that’s definitely saying something about where we’ve come just from even, even two years ago.For example, two years ago, there was the Sugar Bowl, Next Act, Accent, and they’re still there, they’re still doing quite well, I mean Accent has had tap takeovers from places as big as Deschutes, and it’s been amazing, and- but they’re, kind of, getting lost by the wayside with all this, “Ooo,” hype, “look at me,” the big beer bars- There’s a little bit of the market that’s, kind of, capitalizing on that growing beer culture, but there’s also the places that have got in at ground floor, and they’re really, actually doing quite well.
These are all examples of things that show we have growing beer culture in Edmonton, but that’s not the same as catching up to places with, kind of, super-established and vibrant, possibly still growing beer scenes like Seattle or the other places you mentioned. Do you think Edmonton will ever catch up to places like Portland?
Think we’re gonna give it a good damn shot. Keep in mind, places like Victoria have a twenty-year head start on us- there’s a huge gap in the market there because- what we’re talking about is, you know, places like Spinnakers, which is original-
I believe it’s the first brew pub in Canada.
Yeah, in 1982, I think. Don’t quote me on that, but fantastic little place, and then… The diverse patronage of that bar, for example- we went there couple of times when we were in Victoria and very lucky to go there. They have a little pin of cask ale on every day. Their, their patronage range is from,you know, the very young, and the hip and happening crowd to the, you know, seniors that wanna just go for a pint in the afternoon.
Beer culture stretches across the whole demographic in Victoria, whereas I think we’re really targeting the demographic in Edmonton. I think that it’s really targeted at, you know, the -the eighteen to, you know, say thirty-five crowd.
What’s the typical turnout at the Edmonton Beer Geeks events, I mean, I know you said there’s about fifty people, but are they all, more or less, the same age and shape as you or what?
They- they generally are the younger demographic, and we’re talking early twenties, up through mid thirties, but we do have some that are a little bit older, some business-types, you know, lawyers and doctors, and- that are partaking, I think mainly because they are- they’ve maybe been spurred into it by a younger individual.
I don’t think they would normally have strayed from their- from their ways otherwise.
Let’s crack another one, here.
Alright, we’re pretty fast-paced.
Our final beer is Fort Gary Pale Ale from Fort Gary Brewing, of course, in Winnipeg. I think it’s slightly pricier than our previous two, but it’s still not beyond the budget of the typical university student, I would say.
However this one comes in a bottle, unlike- [CLINK]- the other two. A sweating bottle. It is hot in here.
[POURING – FIZZING]
There we are. Pours, kind of in between PBR and Nelson for colour, I would say, a kind of mild golden colour, fairly transparent, but not totally. Cheers, Shane.
Hmm. Actually, that’s not super- that’s not super flavourful, there’s a bit of a hint of hops at the end, but-
I’d say it’s a-
Fairly gentle on the palate-
It’s a good attempt at a English-style pale ale, rather than, it maybe a Northwestern.
So if this was a Northwestern, you’re expecting a big, capital “C”, hops- Centennial, Cascade, Columbus- hit in the face. Whereas this is a little bit more subdued, the hops are a little bit more fruity in their nature, the malt is a little bit sweeter than you might find in an American-style pale ale. Quite nicely, again the carbonation is pretty high on this one. The aroma is, uh- [SMELLS]- um, kind of soft, more biscuity malts.
Mhm. Tell me, if someone doesn’t have the kind of palate to identify biscuity malts, or the specific brand of hops, what’s the best way for them to fake it, in your experience.
For them to fake it?
Mhm. Just say everything tastes like Cascade hops, or what?
No. No, I would suggest, actually, not faking it. I would suggest- if you don’t know what it tastes like or you… okay… everybody has the ability to taste. The biggest problem when you’re tasting a beer, is the vocabulary. The ability to express what you’re tasting. Everybody can taste a grapefruit, and everybody can taste, you know, a lemon, or a lime, or an orange, and everybody can taste, you know, the cereally flavours, like a Cheerio, or everybody can taste what a fresh piece of baked bread tastes like. And they know what they taste like because they can express that in words. Now, everybody knows what a Cascade hop tastes like, that’s had a beer that has a Cascade hop in it, but they might not necessarily be able to express that in words. So, really, what you’re coming down to is- if you’re in a group of people that is tasting beer… You come around and you- if you want to, say, perhaps, taste a single-hopped IPA that’s hopped with Cascade, for example. You- you will know then that is Cascade, because it says it on the label, because it says… that’s what’s in the beer, but also because then you can- then you’re able to tie those specific flavour compounds to what you’re actually saying and tasting at the same time, so-
You’re gonna say, “Okay, there’s big citrus flavours in there,” or, “Oh, this hop has these kind of piney notes to it.” When you have a single-hopped IPA, you can associate those with those hops and it’s a really good way to be a) adventurous, and b) you can learn what you’re tasting, and so it’s a really good way to associate. But yeah, I really would suggest not faking it. Being a Beer Geek, there is a sense, and I guess a social stigma of arrogance in a Beer Geek. I mean, kind of synonymous with the Wine Snob.
And that’s fair. You know what, there are some people that are like that, and some of them embrace it, some of them really revel in that.
Alright, so what’s in the future for Beer Geeks Anonymous? You have plans to take over the world, or turn everyone in Edmonton into a Beer Snob, or what?
Many, many things. We want to continue to do a very wide variety of events, to keep things new and to keep things interesting. At the same time, we wanna continue to do a variety- the different events that we’re holding. There are some new brewers that are up-and-coming in the province. We aim to host them at our different events around, at Wunderbar, but we also want to continue along with our premier event, which is our Cask Ale Festival. We want to continue doing our series of, you know, informational seminars. But interspersed with that, we want to try to do different events, and whether that be, you know, like a beer and music pairing. Whether that- we took the traditional, you know, wine dinner, or beer dinner, and we turned that on its head and we said “you know, we’re gonna do a breakfast course for that,” so, you know, there’s a lot of different things we wanna do. Specifics, I’m not gonna get into, uh- primarily because I don’t know.
Yeah. Well thanks for comin’ on the show.
Thank you very kindly.
That’s it for this month’s episode of Talking Pints. This is Lewis Kelly, reminding you that loyalty to petrified beer never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.