This week’s Canada’s Craft Beer post comes from our Ontario and Quebec craft beer guy, David Ort. Today you could say he’s looking at all the beers, everywhere, by interviewing Stephen Beaumont and Tim Webb, the co-authors of The World Atlas of Beer.
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Just as Ontario and Quebec are rich in breweries per capita, beer drinkers in Central Canada are also blessed with a long and varied list of writers who cover beer. Stephen Beaumont is one of the longest-serving and most prolific members of the group. He and Tim Webb have co-authored a new edition of their World Atlas of Beer and it's now on sale.
They generously took time out of the Toronto launch and book signing event (hosted on the second floor at Bar Hop Brewco) to chat with me about what’s changed in beer over the last few years and what that means for their new edition. Webb is based in Bristol, England and is one of the U.K.’s best known beer writers. The two perspectives helped give a transatlantic context to trends and changes.
I've edited our conversation down for length and made minor clarifications.
In 2016, what are the factors affecting beer globally?
Stephen Beaumont: Hop quality is becoming more and more of a differentiator. Breweries like Sierra Nevada in the bigger class are snapping all the best stuff and by the time you get to making an IPA in Italy or Chile the best quality isn’t there.
Thoughts on beer packaging.
Tim Webb: I have a religious problem with the can, which is that I've never seen a can improve a beer. There are some beers which are good enough to survive the can, but I've never seen a can improve a beer. I'm also concerned that in a lot of countries — not maybe Canada and the U.S. — the cold chain is not dependable and while a can keeps the light out it doesn't keep the heat out.
On the price of beer.
SB: The Italian craft beers are amongst the most expensive beers in the world and they established that from the start. It was always their intent — they knew they wouldn't get respect if they didn't. They said, "We're going after the wine drinker."
In Germany, Belgium and the Czech Republic beer is considered a right. So, you can't start taxing the heck out of beer. It is considered an inalienable right.
Looking forward to the near-term future.
TW: When things settle down in five or ten years, I hope North America will shed this desire to take beer styles from Europe and recreate them, repurpose them.
What's new for World Atlas of Beer 2.0?
SB: For one thing, it's larger, it has more pages. We got rid of all the beer reviews. In that banner where we had over 500 beers listed that's now insightful stuff about the countries.
Five hundred beers are not representative of what's going on in the world these days, so we said, "Let's get rid of all of that," and we put in instead descriptions of beer styles that are nationally relevant. We've got specific breweries to watch. And, in a couple cases, we talk to local beer pros. All the pertinent information for the beer traveler is contained in that banner at the bottom of the page.
What has happened for beer in Canada recently?
SB: in the intervening four years [since the first edition] Canada has come of age in terms of making beer. I think the Quebecois are still leading the way and doing their own thing. You can almost talk about a Quebec school of beer. They take everything, influences from Belgium, Germany, Eastern Europe and the United States. Then they look around Quebec and say, "Well, what can we use locally?" and they start experimenting. And I think that's why they make some of the most creative beer coming out of Canada.
So, if it's a school, who are the masters?
SB: Okay, first of all, the granddad is Unibroue. Unibroue started all of this. You go back to one beer, that beer is Maudite. (The second beer Unibroue made.) It's not a dubbel, it's not a typical spiced beer, it's not an abbey style. It's a Quebecois beer. It's taking Belgian influences and saying "Listen, we're going to make this our own."
The teachers now, I think, are Trois Mousquetaires, Dieu de Ciel and Trou du Diable, the names that you know. But then there are breweries that you don’t see outside Quebec very often: Castor, Dunham, à la Fut and Brasseurs du Temps that are doing some really spectacular stuff that's just Quebecois.
If Canada has improved as a brewing country is it more than a rising tide floating all boats or have we leveled up?
SB: We’ve established the confidence to make beer in the Canadian way. In English Canada, the heart and soul are in Toronto, Vancouver, broadly southern Ontario, southern mainland B.C., and Vancouver Island. We’re confident enough to make hoppy beers, to kettle sour, to put stuff into barrels and not just cross your fingers and hope it works out but also to think about what’s going to happen. It’s a big difference for seeing good beers come out of Canadian breweries.
The second edition of the World Atlas of Beer is out in bookstores now and available for ordering online.
Check out all our Canada’s Craft Beer articles.
David Ort writes about food, travel, and craft beer for various online and print publications. His first book, The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook, is in bookstores and available for purchase online. For more of his thoughts on all things edible and potable follow him on Twitter or get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.