Twice a month, a good friend of mine does the 5 hour drive from Toronto to Michigan. Before you snicker, please realize that Michigan has a few things that we in Ontario do not have – one of which is a great beer selection. There’s been a fair amount of coverage about Ontario government’s monopoly and our lack of freedom to choice, and, without getting into the argument, the bottom line is this: a beer lover like me can’t try many world-class beer or discover some of the award-winning beer our US neighbours are producing. So average Joe’s like me are reduced to finding a
sherpa friend to bring back beer and re-fill my beer cellar.
This is how things usually transpire: my friend David tells me he’s going to Michigan for a few days. I get over-excited and send him a list of beer to look out for. He calls me at work and I get increasingly excited and end up mumbling “JUST BUY IT ALL!” repeatedly.
David’s cross-border trips have eliminated all of my LCBO and Beer Store purchases. Other than buying directly from breweries like Great Lakes Brewery, I have no need to choose the narrow selection you find at the LCBO. I have also been reunited with my true beer love: funky/sour beer. *beerswoon!*
You’re looking at my dream beer. My beer Xanadu, if you will. I present: De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva. I tried this 11 months ago in Antwerp on my birthday. It was a mouthful of barrel-aged heaven. Imagine an oaky Cherry Coke, but in the form of a slightly sour and delicious beer. I’ve spent the past 11 months trying to find a way to buy it in Ontario, New York or Michigan. Its an incredibly hard-to-find Belgian beer that supposedly wasn’t shipped to North America last year. My heart was broken…until I randomly asked David to see if the supermarket (yes, Ontario, civilized countries sell beer in supermarkets) had it. “They have four bottles and the beer manager just gave me a smile and the ‘thumbs up,’” he said. I now have a birthday present for the next four years. Thanks, David!
La Trappe Quadrupel Oak Aged – Batch 6 is a blend of beer aged in New Oak Medium Toast (20%) and White Wine used Oak (80%). The non-oak aged version of this is available in the LCBO once a year, but apparently, the flavours do not compare.
1809 Berliner Style Weiss was a beer suggested to us by the beer manager. Berliner weisse beer are the sourdough breads of the beer world. This was made with a traditional recipe and it should make a nice summer drink.
Jolly Pumpkin is one of my favourite US breweries. They use brettanomyces, which is a slow-fermenting wild yeast that results in a funky/sour/tart beer. Think of something between white wine, beer and lemonade. Some people don’t get it, but these are incredibly flavourful and complex beer. Coors Lite, it ain’t. Not only are these beer delicious, but I use the dregs to inoculate some of my home brews. It works amazingly well. Some of Jolly Pumpkin beer are aged in oak barrels, giving that delicious toasted, dark, woody flavour. As you can see from the above selection, Jolly Pumpkin with funk up any style, including stouts and ales (with cacao!!).
My panic email to David was about the beer on your left; its a sour, plum ale. How delicious does that sound! It was released at one grocery chain and limited to 3 bottles per person. Hot damn! He also found a bottle of their saison, which looks like it will taste and smell delicious.
Mikkeller Monk’s Elixir is a dark Belgian strong ale. I’m going to save this for the winter, since the 10% ABV might be too punchy for a hot summer day.
Leelanau is a Michigan brewery that ages their beer in – you guessed it – oak barrels. The Good Harbor Golden Ale is supposed to be deliciously sour, which makes sense, since oak barrels are a great source for souring yeast. The Whaleback White is supposed to be less tart, but funky nonetheless. Man, these are sexy looking bottles.
My beer cellar’s full yet again and the pack rat in me has to try to not squirrel all of these delicious beer away. While sour beer are almost impossible to find in Ontario (you can get Cantillon at Beer Bistro, but be warned about the price), they are part of the new wave of US beer. Sours and funky beer will eventually be brewed in Ontario. Until then, if you find yourself in Michigan, find yourself some Jolly Pumpkin. Chill the hell out of it before opening (or else you’ll need a mop for your floor), poor the beer into a wide-mouthed chalice, let it breathe and warm up and enjoy.
Photos and text by Richard