Brewsday: 3 Alterna-beers to try before summer’s gone
It’s a funny thing I noticed last week, while I was drilling a few thousand screws into several hundred pounds of lumber.
No, not that I have allowed myself to dwindle away into a puny, puffy shadow of the once-fit individual I was, so long ago; no, not that swearing viciously at deck screws has no effect on how quickly or easily they will pass into pressure-treated wood; no, not that discussing the theory of building a gigantic deck in seven days is considerably less of a challenge than actually, you know, doing it.
But thanks, those were all great suggestions. My weakness, lack of skill and delusions of grandeur are all noted and well-documented.
Instead, what I discovered are two key facts:
- That despite it being a crap-ass summer here in Ontario for the first couple of months, August is the kind of bad-ass who chases that weak-ass rainy-cool shit out of here and no fooling. After a week outside, I have a red neck that would embarrass a Ruby Ridge rifle enthusiast, and a farmer’s tan that would qualify my arms for middle age instantly, if their wimpiness didn’t already.
- Good God Almighty, do amateur home construction and beer go hand-in-hand.
I realize that these aren’t exactly revelations to anyone who has, for example, been outdoors in the last two weeks or lifted a hammer in their entire lives — but I used to literally live in a basement. I have spoken the words, in all sincerity, “I’m not afraid of physical labor, I just don’t know how to do it.” I refer to the sun as “that strange ball of fire above us.” This sort of thing is news to me.
More importantly, I am arriving at these basic truths at a time in my life when I can fully appreciate their potential. For example, I am never signing up for an extensive home improvement project in the hottest month of the summer, ever again. As a younger person, I might have seen seven days of non-stop outdoor work as an opportunity to test my mettle and prove my endurance (indeed, during my days as a slave in Ontario Place’s parking lots, I did just that); but as I coast into my early 30s, I see it as unnecessary pain when there are all those other months in the year that aren’t actively trying to kill me.
And, while later in life I might have been content to settle for the lowest-calorie, least dollar-intensive beer to sate my well-earned thirst, I am still adventurous enough to view backyard work as my opportunity to branch out into new and exciting reward beverages.
Because that’s what your beer really is, after you’ve spent an afternoon digging in the muck or bolting something to another thing. It’s your prize for committing a constructive act, a cold and caloric incentive to reinforce your positive behaviour, and give you just one more spur to not roll out of bed on a Sunday morning only to collapse on the couch for the rest of the day. And when you come to think of it that way, doesn’t drinking just the same old dreck feel like a shame?
This is your moment of triumph! You have built that swing set! You have transferred that sod! You have dug out that garden, torn down that ivy, staked those tomatoes, mowed that lawn, trimmed those branches! You have accomplished home maintenance, and pushed that rock far enough up the hill that it won’t come rolling back at you until at least next weekend!
You deserve something different! So with that in mind, I present three different alternative beers that you should try before the summer is out. They may be slight differences from your norm, or they may be radical departures from your usual — but each of them has their own delights, and all of them can only enrich your little alcoholic reward to yourself.
I’ve talked about hemp beer here before, and have if anything entrenched myself more deeply in my paradoxical enjoyment of it.
On the one hand, pot-heavy branding gets up my nose: not only does it play a bit too heavily into the so-called “hemp culture” (the same one that buys a lot of glasswear, braided clothing and inexpensive snack foods), but it’s basically a sham. There’s nothing particularly barbituate about hemp beer, despite the four-leaf logos and winking ad copy. It’s just, well, hemp beer.
On the other hand, it’s really enjoyable. A good hemp beer is bright, hoppy and carries with it a slightly green flavor that grows on you. Because the brewers want that fundamental, balanced flavor to make it through, most hemp beers I’ve found are very simply brewed, which generally means you’re getting fresh stuff that isn’t likely to be old, chemical or funky.
Plus, it’s a nice departure from the norm without being a gigantic test of your palette. You aren’t going to sip hemp beer and wonder what the hell you opened up — it’s definitely beer, but made with a different basic ingredient that lends it a unique character.
Despite strawberry beers having been around for quite a while, it’s raspberry brews that I see popping up more and more lately. Whether that’s because they don’t quite have the same saccarine sweetness that raspberry does, or perhaps simply that the former berry is “out” and the latter is “in”, I couldn’t tell you.
What I will say is that raspberry feels, to me, like a more successful blend with the traditional flavor of an ale. It still comes across with a bit of a candy-pop taste when you first sip it, but the fruit flavor doesn’t overpower the beer’s natural body — there’s not nearly the risk of you feeling like you’ve somehow bought a pink wine cooler that ended up in the wrong type of bottle.
Now, that’s not to deny the facts: You are drinking pink beer when you pick up a framboise, and the more pink it is, the more authentic. Raspberry beers can be brewed with fruit juice as an ingredient in the fermentation, which will lend color, flavor and sweetness to the end product; however, the truly amibitious brewer will actually double ferment their beer with raspberry pulp, resulting in a slightly higher aclohol content and something closer to a blend of beer and a slightly sour fruit wine.
I know, all that’s left is to add some honey in there to make it mead, and then all the manly men in the audience will be able to talk freely about their feelings and know how to use 20-sided dice, right? But to deny yourself a raspberry beer is to turn down a truly fresh flavor that’s the perfect antidote to a working day.
Your Craziest Local Microbrew
I admit that this is generic, but there’s good reason for that — I can’t suggest to you beers that are brewed within 25 miles of me, because most of you will never have a hope of enjoying them. What’s the point of me telling you how great a local beer is, if you have to board a jet in order to fly over its source (probably on your way to somewhere fabulous and exciting)? You can look, you can read and you can think, “Huh, I bet he really liked that. I wonder what else is on the internet today?”
But not much else.
However, if you live anywhere even close to a metropolitan area in North America or Europe, you are absolutely guaranteed to have a small group of absolutely dedicated and crazy human beings making their own beer. And they will do anything to make it interesting, fun and worth your time.
Look, I know that micro-brewed beers have long been the territory of pretentious douchebags, but there’s only one way to chase them out and send them back to wine spritzer country — by outnumbering them. If we all just tried a new local beer every time we finished cutting the lawn, local brewers would flourish and jerk-asses would be banished to some other niche for eternity.
Porter beers? Clear-bottle ales? Flavored brews like pomegranite? Complex flavors? Seasonal beers, or drinks of the month? Ales with more alcohol content than some wines? Beers available only on tap, beers you can only buy directly from the brewery — which happens to be just a few blocks over from where you work?
Yep, there’s a premium to be paid, but think about how hard you worked. Aren’t you worth it?
Take as your guidance, but never limit yourself to:
We don’t have a lot of sunshine left, but as long as there are hot afternoons and endless outdoor chores, there are beers to reward us. But rather than finding the ones that you can buy in the highest volume for the lowest price, take this one opportunity to truly reward yourself — whether it’s with something countercultural, something fruity you’d never drink in mixed company, or one of the local favorites you can finally explore on your own.
Get out there and explore! You’ve earned it.