Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Revised Comment Policy

In light of certain people's actions, and considering the general nature of comment sections on blogs and media sites, I have decided to implement a comment policy here.

Let's face it, the lowest form of on-line life (well, maybe slightly above lurers and child pornographers) is the anonymous on-line stalker commenter/weasel.

Unfortunately, my brother, who is a REAL WINE AND BEER WRITER, one who actually is educated and experienced and not really that opinionated, has acquired one or two of these sick little people in his life, and they seem to have associated he and I.   His work, much of which I really like (not all, he is my brother, after all and brothers do disagree at times) can be found here:

http://www.frogspad.ca/

Tim Bousquet, an occasional drinking buddy who is, again, unlike any random blogger, a REAL JOURNALIST, has implemented a comment policy on his new site The Halifax Examiner.  I totally recommend you go there and subscribe.  Especially if you live in Nova Scotia and care about whether the news and commentary you read is coloured by who advertises through that media outlet.

http://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/

I am "borrowing" part of Tim's comment policy, as follows:

1. All commenters must use their first and last name.

2. Exceptions to policy #1 will be made on a case-by-case basis, at my discretion. Typically these exceptions are granted to protect the identity of the commenter for reasons that go beyond simply wanting to remain anonymous. Anonymity is not a curtain designed to encourage slander, insult racism, or blunt stupidity.  While in such cases I may grant the use of anonymity or pseudonyms, I will do so only after I have ascertained the true full name of the commenter.

3. Comments will be held in moderation until I've had a chance to review them and accept them. I support comments that are productive and thoughtful, and won't publish disrespectful interaction between commenters. I don't mind debate or disagreement, as my blog IS opinionated. I respect the concept that other people have opinions as well, but I want them to be able to show respect for others, and for themselves, and openly take ownership of them.

4. I reserve the right to reject or remove comments without explanation.  

And in case you wonder if I've been anonymous all along, I think it's pretty easy to find out who I am.  I've never hidden.  

Jeff Pinhey




Wednesday, September 03, 2014

When can you call yourself an "expert"?

There is a growing debate online about just who is really qualified to write about food, wine, beer, whatever, in terms of what the difference is between an opinion and a valid critique. 

I've always operated under the assumption that expertise is something you just can't claim to possess.  There has to be some standard against which you can be measured.  Something that can support, in some clear manner, why your advice on a specific topic might have more validity, and value, than the loudmouth at the end of the bar who keeps proclaiming their love of Bud.  Or a new pub that proclaims itself a "gastropub" or a man who declares himself "handsome".  These are things OTHERS assign to you, and not things you can self proclaim.

This is a growing concern simply due to the openness and size of an audience afforded by the internet.  Anyone with a mouth, and an internet connection, can be a food blogger, or pretty well any kind of blogger.  But how do you separate the wheat from the chaff?  

There are two ways to acquire expertise.  Study and practice. Usually expertise works best when there is a combination of those two.

So, for those of you who might occasionally stop here and read what I have to say about wine and beer, here is a "resumé" of sorts for me in that regard.  So you at least know I am not just making things up as I go along.  

And if you want a real professional's take on things wine and beer related, visit my brother's site  www.frogspad.ca for  better writing, more informed opinion, and a better travelled and practiced wine palate.  He's got a pretty good beer palate too - but I'm not giving that up to him yet  ;-)

Anyway, I think the following tends to validate my opinion on wine and beer a bit more than the average person.  But that's not for me to decide.

Jeffrey Pinhey is a co-founder and active member of the Brewnosers Homebrewing and Beer Appreciation Club in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  He is one of the most experienced beer judges in Canada (BJCP National),and has overseen the sitting of two BJCP Exam Sessions as a proctor.  

He’s been Best of Show Beer Judge for the Great Canadian Homebrew Championship four times, judge at three National Final Round American Homebrewing Competitions, three time judge at the Canadian Brewing Awards (professional brewing), including two Best of Show tables in 2011 and 2013. He’s judged at numerous home brewing competitions including many times at the CABA March in Montreal can All About Ales competitions. Jeff was an invited Judge at the Minnesota Craft Brewers Competition, the World Beer Cup, several times a judge of the Garrison Brewing Category competition, judge of the Unibroue Look-a-like Competition, judge at Big Spruce Brewing’s first style category competition, and judge of Niagara College Brewing Program’s annual Student Competition.

In the wine world, Jeff has been a judge at the 2008 and 2009 Canadian Amateur Winemaking Championships, and is a regular judge at the Atlantic Canada Amateur Wine Awards. Judge at the 2006 and 2007 New Brunswick World Wine and Food Festival wine competitions. Twice Head Judge at the Atlantic Canadian Wine Awards, twice a judge, and recently a co-organizer of the ACWA’s. He was recently one of 10 judges of the first annual Lieutenant Governor’s Wine Awards in Nova Scotia.

Jeff is currently on the committee to establish the first ever Atlantic Canada Beer Awards. He is a long time Board Member of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers - Atlantic Chapter, and past member of the Board of the Canadian Amateur Brewers Association.

Mr. Pinhey has worked at and attended many wine and beer trade shows, including most Nova Scotia Port of Wines Festivals, Moncton World Wine and Food Festival, Toronto’s Gourmet Food and Wine Festival, Madison Wisconsin’s Great Taste of the Midwest, Mondiale du Biere in Montreal, the Chicago Cask Ale Fest, several cask ale festivals in the UK, and Octoberfest in Munich.

Jeff has travelled to various wine regions, spending time learning and understanding the terroir and meeting with numerous producers from those regions, which include the Okangan Valley, New York’s Finger Lakes, Niagara Ontario, Niagara New York State, Prince Edward County, Quebec’s Eastern Townships and Atlantic Canada.  The Alentejo and Algarve in Portugal, and Jerez de la Frontera in Spain. The Peljesac Peninsula in Croatia. Tuscany, Piedmonte, Umbria, Emiglie-Romagna, and Lombardia in Italy.  Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Pays d’Oc and Languedoc, Bandol, Alsace, and the Midi-Pyrenees in France. The Peloponnese in Greece.  The Constantia, Stellenbosch, Franshoek, Robertson, Paarl and Walker Bay areas in South Africa.

Mr. Pinhey consulted to a long time successful Halifax restaurant, “janes on the common” and currently assists a new successful restaurant in Halifax - “EDNA”  with their beverage and wine list.

Beverage Education

Master Class - Wines of Bordeaux, Bordeaux Wine Institute
Master Class - The Wines of Burgundy, International Sommelier Guild.
Master Class - Lambic Beers, Brewers Association of America
Master Class - Wines of South America, CAPS
Master Class - Wines of South Africa, Richard Kelley, MW
Master Class, Wines of Northern Italy, Michael Palij, MW

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Thoughts on the NHL Game and the Eyes of Cows

I am attempting to organize some thoughts, observations, and opinions from others that have been triggered by the recent online fracas related to the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins.  I know it's just a sport, and at this level its a game played by millionaire adults, for the most part.  But I am Canadian, and hockey as a game - not so much anymore as a fan of any particular team - is "in my blood".  I grew up a Bruins fan, from before Bobby Orr, but since Sidney Crosby's ascension into the league that allegiance is shared by the Penguins.  Maybe it's just for the same reason I liked the Bruins at age 6 - the black and yellow sweaters!

For background, I played organized hockey from about the age of 11 until I was 28.  I leaned to skate and play the game outside, on the frozen bay, local ponds, and outdoor rinks.  Later, at peewee age, I got to play indoors for the first time, the first ever game played at the Eleanor Pew Morris Memorial Arena in Chester.  As I grew, I became an OK player, I played two ways, could make passes better than most, and enjoyed a good assist as much as a goal. But I was small. Five foot one when I graduated from high school.  So even though I had been the leading scorer in the house league, I never even tried out for my high school team.  The game was just too violent for someone my size to be playing against guys who were full grown men.

I finally grew, the summer after high school, and continued to until I got to almost 5'10", still playing house league juvenile, and occasional Junior C.  But the extra size eventually allowed me to become competitive at levels where I'd been too small before, and in college, I made the varsity team.  That team played in two leagues, the Nova Scotia Small College league, and the Halifax Area Senior League.  I was able to compete at this level, but it was clear I'd reached my limit, and really I had no desire to continue in a game where I might end up hurt and missing months of my engineering job that required me to be physically active.  But those two years gave me an insight into the more violent aspects of the game, and the tools it took to play professionally, as opposed to my meagre abilities.  I sometimes refer to those years as my two years of "kill or be killed" hockey.

A telling moment for me was at the start of a game against the Moosehead Metro Mounties, a team that won the Allan Cup soon after, maybe 2 years later.  I recognized a friend, a guy who'd been in school with me earlier in my university days who was a very good player at the University varsity level.  He lined up opposite me to start the game.  I said hi!  No answer.  Hey ____!  Blank stare. I was wondering if it really was him. The puck dropped, he jammed his stick up between my legs, "can-openered" me to the ice, hit me with a cross check twice on the way down and skated over me.  I kinda wasn't ready for that.  After the game, (we'd lost, as usual to them) I brought the incident up with one of my teammates who also knew the guy back at university.  He'd played a lot more serious hockey than me, and several of his former teammates were playing pro hockey.  He said "yeah, all those guys who played serious hockey, or could have, they're cow-eyed".  I replied "Cow-eyed???",  "yeah", he said, "ever look into a cow's eye?"  I'd been to the Atlantic Winter Fair and actually could remember doing just that. "What did you see?" he went on.  "Nothing" I replied.   "Exactly!"

This separation of a fun person, sometimes a calm gentle, intelligent human being, one that can experience love, remorse, and conscience, from the modern day gladiator that a professional hockey player is on the ice, is a phenomena that most people watching the NHL on TV really cannot comprehend.  The level of controlled violence, more in some players, but existing in all of them (even the Swedes) at that level does not usually come through on the television.  When it does, the reaction from people "outside the game" is predictable and repetitive.

Like almost any facet of human society, the world of professional hockey has its own code, a code that the rest of us cannot hope to understand fully, and that a few of us only have had a glimpse of (like me and my friend who explained the cow-eyed thing).  I've observed several of these codes in other instances - the kids at the skate park adhere to a very sophisticated and egalitarian code of conduct and respect for each other, and for the younger members of their world.  Street corner beggars in most cities have a code and even a shift schedule for the prime locations.  Sometimes people come from outside their worlds, ignorant to the codes that exists, and they learn pretty quickly and bluntly about the need to conform.  I suspect you belong to some subset of the general population that has its own code, that I'd walk into and violate all to hell with my ignorance of it. Might be just a book club, but there is a code of things you "just don't do" and things that are accepted.

Those codes have developed over time, and co-exist with and in the greater concept of civilized behaviour, a code in itself, but one that is reinforced by laws.  There are times when they collide, and I can name a few from the examples I gave above, but let's go right to the Thornton "attack" on Brooks Orpik in the NHL.

To the uninformed, the video of Thornton's actions obviously shows one player grabbing another from behind, throwing him to the ice and punching him at least twice on or about the head.  The result was that Orpik suffered another concussion in his career, and is now out of the game for an indefinite period.  To the greater civil society, this is an assault, and if it had happened on the street corner, Thornton would be out on bail. And many fans online clearly only have that code with which to judge Thornton's actions.  There is nothing wrong with this, and anyone trying to explain this incident to them in light of the code within the game is wasting their time.

The code that has developed within the NHL has resulted in a primitive "threat and arms race" type of balance.  It's a tenuous one, one that involves players of several different styles of play, and levels of agression and violence.  There are the skill players, the diggers, the instigators, the stay at home defencemen, the defensive liabilities, the snipers, the punishers for mistakes, and the enforcers.  You may probably be able to add others.  In this game, pertinent to this incident, there were skill players, an agitator, punisher and enforcer.

I say skill players, because James Neal, Sidney Crosby, and Loui Erikkson are all involved. Neal is probably one of those guys who is very "cow-eyed", based on what he did to Marchand.  Crosby is an elite, but don't ever forget, he is playing in a brutal environment, and some of the things he is able to do in that world are things only he can do, pretty well.

The agitator is obviously Marchand. The modern day Ken Linseman (aka The Rat), a player other teams love to hate. That is his job. To get under people's skin and get them off their game.

The punisher is Orpik.  An American out of the US college hockey system from where hard hitting big defencemen commonly jump to the NHL, but where fighting is not a normal or important part of the game.  Orpik has a record of hurting people by recognizing when they are vulnerable coming up ice, and stepping up into them instead of falling back to defend the puck like many other defencemen do. This is legal in today's game. The classic practitioner of this style of play, in my lifetime, was Scott Stevens, the guy who ended Eric Lindros' career and probably that of several other players.

The enforcer is, obviously, Thornton.  His job is to provide a constant threat of retribution to opposing teams so that they know if they harm or even attempt to harm, his team's skill players, and even agitators, there will be, as the term goes "consequences".  It helps if he can play the game a little too, which he actually can.

This role of "enforcer" wasn't in the game I played as a youth.  We had guys who even as kids liked to be able to fight, almost as a release mechanism, and did so with some regularity, against other, like minded players from the other team.  I never really recognized this enforcer role until Wayne Gretzky came into the game. Prior to him, even the great players were very much capable of taking care of themselves. Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, and Bobby Hull could duke it out with anyone, and they did.

But Dave Semenko changed all that. His role, to protect Gretzky, could arguable be said to have been created by the mere presence, and success, of the Philadelphia Flyers' Broad Street Bullies.  

Soon enough, every team had a guy who, despite having marginal hockey skills, was making a damn good living standing up for people who couldn't or wouldn't stand up for themselves.  This was fuelled by the influx of players into the game from places other than Canadian Major Junior Hockey, many of them skilled, but from a culture where fighting on the ice simply did not happen. Other forms of violence did,  just not the "drop the gloves and have at it" settling of scores.

It almost makes sense that the current code in the NHL regards two men, dropping the gloves and waltzing around holding each other like drunken couples at the end of a danceathon, as an honourable means to settle a score, but tends to frown upon knees to the back of a head, slashes that break legs, checking someone from behind, and subtle spears to the abdomen as means for retribution.  The code has settled on the fighting part, probably because it cause less serious injury, normally.  When I played, my means of doing so was scoring a goal and then making sure the person on the other bench knew I felt that way about it. That often resulted in more physical forms of retribution.

This is where the NHL is at now.  And as much as I HATE to agree with anything Don Cherry says, at least I can agree that he is one place where you can obtain a direct insight into the code that the players adhere to.  That is, if you threaten, harm, or even attempt to harm a skill player, or even an agitator (Marchand is arguably a skilled player and an agitator) you will have to answer to the other team's enforcer.  In fact, I have felt that Pittsburgh doesn't provide Crosby with enough protection and that led to the cheap shots that nearly cost him his career.

In this case both Erikkson and Marchand had been headhunted by Penguins players. I am not going to argue about Orpik's hit, because it doesn't matter if it was legal or not - it took out a skilled player, a young man whose career may be ended. Under the code they operate under, Orpik has to know he's a marked man. Initial efforts to get to him resulted in a minor penalty to Thornton, as Orpik refused to respond to stickwork. Anyone who knows how that goes knew it wasn't over.

Then Neal manages to rekindle the fire via a sneaky knee to the back of Marchand's head. I know many people would prefer it were Marchand out indefinitely, but Shanahan wisely saw though the intent behind Neal's opportunistic move.  There was the hated Marchand, probably still yapping after having been clearly tripped by Crosby, with the back of his head in almost perfect alignment with Neal's kneepad.  A slight lean and adjustment and you might just rid the league of the pest for a while.    His response after the game was telling. "do you expect me to just skate around him?"

So now we have a guy, Thornton, whose job it is to invoke enough fear of retribution that these things are not supposed to happen, on the ice with both of the perpetrators, except Neal escapes to the bench.  He is probably very upset. And then right in front of him are the two 4's that make up Orpik's number.  So, let's examine what happened next, in light of the NHL code, and our "sidewalk" code outside the game.

1. Thornton approaches Orpik from behind, and without warning, pulls him backwards, tripping him to the ice with his skated foot.  This is not an action that falls within either code.  It is why a suspension was never questioned by anyone sane.

2.  Thornton holds Orpik as he goes to the ice, actually cushioning the impact - I don't think the helmet even struck the ice - while positioning Orpik for a smack to the head.  This is actually a good thing within the code on the ice, but is totally irrelevant to the sidewalk code, as the mere attack is already past social acceptance.

3.  With gloves still on (they cushion impacts of punches) Thornton swings a right at Orpik's face and  is bumped, causing him to miss.  But the follow though results in his elbow pad connecting, perfectly, one might say, with Orpik's chin.  Orpik immediately goes limp.  He's out cold from there on. Thornton would not feel that impact or even know it caused damage (look at a pair of $200 elbow pads some time), and attempts a second gloved punch which lands harmlessly on the side of Orpik's helmeted head.   In terms of the NHL code, we have an enforcer with an opponent in a vulnerable position, but he leaves his gloves on and attempts two punches. It's not a "repeated pummelling",  and it is clear that his intent was to cause pain - damn straight, he'd just had two of his friends hit hard in the head - but not to knock Orpik unconscious and cause serious injury. He is clearly puzzled as to what happened as he is leaving the scrum, having hardly even hit Orpik with his intended gloved punches.  In the NHL code this is an unfortunate accident.  In the sidewalk code, it's an assault.  We can argue this forever, but it's how it is.

So where does the league go from here?  The 15 game suspension was perhaps longer than most NHL players thought it would be, and the delay between the interview and announcement means something else was at stake, probably legal advice.  Some, notably homer broadcaster Joe Haggerty in Boston claim the league has now made it open season on skill players, as the enforcers run too great a penalty for doing "their job".  Dapper Don agrees and claims the league has lost control if they eliminate the retributive punishment an enforcer means for people who take shots at the skill players (the ones most often in the highlight reels who pay the bills).  I contend that the suspension is longer than the NHL code would result in alone, and has been lengthened by fears of having the greater, civil/legal code intrude upon the game.  Perhaps even by lawyers in the employ of the Penguins.

It's tough. There was a semblance of balance in the league until this.  I would not want to be a skill player like Phil Kessel, or a Sedin twin right now.  On the other hand, all those enforcers may soon be out of work.  What type of play will we see replacing theirs?  I'd suggest we look for a lot more five minute majors from stickwork, internal injuries, and broken bones, like the one Chris Kelly suffered from the stick of Pascal Dupuis in that same game, a play and injury that went unnoticed and unpenalized, but may have put someone out for longer than either concussion.  Is this a harbinger for a future NHL without the self enforcing code that has evolved in the game up until now?

For anyone who ever thinks the European game is more noble, I invite you to watch a game rinkside in Europe. The moment a referee turns his back, the knives come out.

It's all in the eyes, those cow's eyes.












Sunday, December 01, 2013

Liquor Licensing in NS - A letter to the people who run it.

Dear Person in Charge,

I am writing you to try to understand why old, poorly conceived and sometimes harmful and meaningless rules continue to be enforced upon the citizens of Nova Scotia. I am told you might know.

I am not financially associated with any licensed establishment in Nova Scotia, although I am a customer of many, and an advocate for responsible drinking in the Region. I am just an Environmental Engineer, but I daily have to deal with inexperienced, untrained young people interpreting legislation and regulations that were never, ever intended to apply to current environmental realities, and modern construction practices.

Unfortunately, I keep hearing of parallel silliness occurring in the administration and enforcement of the liquor license laws in our Province. 

I see blatant misleading of the media and the public, in spin-doctored press releases, and filtered communications by talking heads (some of whom I know personally) who upon leaving work, take themselves, apologetically but directly, to the same establishments their departments seem to be bent on putting out of business. Indeed, that may be one reason for some of the overdrinking in Nova Scotia - the collective guilt of civil servants being made to enforce laws and regulations they know to be childish, trivial, of no value, and in often hateful circumstances.

I am going to tell you something that is, apparently, a secret to your Department. When bad laws exist, and government still tries to enforce them, at first the public may try to obey, but soon enough, the moral authority of a government to govern dissolves, and you become irrelevant. That is what is happening now in Nova Scotia with alcohol service and consumption. The rules are just so silly, and irrelevant to modern living, that people are starting to ignore them. Everyone knows you can only afford to hire so many inspectors, and pay so much overtime. I believe that there are more speakeasies in Nova Scotia now than at any time in history, and far more breweries and wineries that are not licensed than licensed. And that is not because it is fun, but because the rules around them are silly, permits are expensive with no commensurate value, and most of the admin is so irrelevant it's easy to justify ignoring.

Here are some past examples of what I view as utter stupidity, and a blatant misdirection of my tax dollars.

EDNA restaurant opens, well, not really, they have a soft opening for only those people who invested in the restaurant. You can't just walk in and be served. But who shows up? Two of your inspectors. I guess they wanted to be hip and tell their friends they were there on opening night. Now put this in perspective - a new business, a restaurant, trying to show off to their investors that the investments were well placed, and that they could be trusted. Pretty stressful. But in comes the long blunt stupid arm of government to try to really ruin their day. If these were my employees, I would suspend them. If I ordered them to do this, I'd suspend myself.  You are annoying your clients, the public.

Obladee Wne Bar - if there is one place in Atlantic Canada you WANT people to bring their kids into so they can learn by example of how to drink without being an idiot, this is it. A place where wine, food, and responsible use of alcohol are primary. Here, the owner is not even allowed to bring her infant daughter in during open hours, let alone witness a healthy family experience happening with teenagers and parents or guardians enjoying wine responsibly. The reason? The very substantial, and common supper many patrons have there, a cheese, bread and charcuterie board (at $17) is not deemed to constitute a "meal" by, well, by who? Someone with no brain, that is clear. The total inanity of this is further illustrated by the fact that, at the time this license restriction was enforced, the bar across the street, Pogue Fado, perhaps the last place you'd want anyone to take their kids (strip joints offer better examples of public behaviour) allowed kids in with a $3 side of fries. A fine example of the promotion of healthy living? Well, no, it's a horrid example of how to encourage responsible drinking in NS. It is also a prime example of how a rule that really should not apply is applied in a such a manner as to twist its effect to encourage exactly the sort of thing it was intended to stop. For the same reason, a (poor) judgement call about what constitutes a full meal, this same bar cannot serve a single malt scotch. This, by the way, makes us look like backwards god fearing hypocrites to any tourists and visitors. They aren't laughing with us, they are laughing at us, and frankly, it's embarrassing. You are embarrassing your clients, the public.

Growler sales - perhaps the ultimate in hypocrisy and abominable policy writing. There were bars (Paddy's Pub in Kentville for one) who had to sell the beer to you at a back door, then make you walk all the way around, outside the building, to the front door and then go into the bar to pay for it. Others, like The Rock Bottom, ended up not being allowed to sell on the same day (??) making you call in an order the day before and pick it up overnight. Who wrote this? Some Baptist Minister who came back from Hell? I understand it has since been altered a bit, but the vary fact that someone was allowed to create such tripe in the first place is evidence in and of itself that someone does not know what they are doing, and should be given a job in some department where a grasp on reality is not required - HR perhaps? why not do what old conservative Alberta does, and just let bars sell beer how they choose to. You are being overbearing without reason to your clients, the public.

Even more recently, inspectors are out harassing (that's the only word for it) a young couple who have just gone out on a huge financial limb and started a new business, employing people in our tough times. They are being told they have to change all their business hours (and therefore printed media and websites and anything with their hours on it) because they have to open earlier in the day when there are no customers, to achieve some arbitrary set time so they can stay open until when their customers will actually be there. How stupid and intrusive is this rule when applied to a cosy little 35 seat family owned pub? If they want to open from 3 am to 7 am, I say good luck with that, I'll let them fail for their own reasons, not have my civil servants run them out of business for no reason. But really? What purpose could this silly rule ever serve in this context? You are harassing your clients, the public.

In any of these examples above, do you actually think the general public, your client, would support these draconian applications and interpretations of the laws you are charged with administering? Really? I cannot imagine a rational defence for any of those enforcement activities. You are wasting our money, that tax revenue we give you in trust to use for us, not against us.

Our food and beverage industry employs a lot of people, and generates over $700 million annually to our economy from the booze side alone. Most people would agree it requires some regulation and enforcement at times, but perhaps it is time we looked at our current approach and came up with something that actually encourages responsible drinking, common sense business practices, and a bit more of the "no harm, no foul" attitude that most Nova Scotians live the rest of their lives by. Unless you do, more people will ignore you to the end-game of redundancy.

This is about context and judgement, and it is, at its base, about our attitude here in NS. We have evolved a Culture of No in our regulatory environments, one where people who have some authority abuse it simply by starting at NO, and having to be convinced to get to OK. This is backwards. It should be all about getting to YES, helping people comply with regulations when they make sense to be applied, and having the means (a notwithstanding clause or easy ministerial exemption) to support new and better ways to serve the public in the hospitality business. Including alcohol related access and service.

We finally got rid of the publicly (politically) appointed liquor licensing board - I often wondered when they might all reach a common level of redundancy - now let's see some inkling of common sense returning to this world. Why is a liquor license for a building even still a Provincial role?That's a land use decision and should already be covered under the MGA.

Hey now, there's a novel cost savings idea - download something on the Municipalities they might actually want!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cask Conditioned Real Ale, Explained


It is pretty fun reading all the new, and different definitions of cask conditioned, or "real ale" in the media surrounding this event.  Fun, as in most of them are not quite right.

Like many traditional food stuffs, this is about a traditional method of preparing, in this case, a libation, that was born of necessity in times when there was little or no refrigeration, and the science behind fermentation was not well understood.  Beer was made in a brewery, but because it had to be kept fresh in order to drink, it was packaged while it was still fermenting (barely) which would keep it preserved under a blanket of CO2 given off by the yeast, in the latter stages of fermentation.

The keg (or cask) was delivered to a pub where the publican then took over responsibility for overseeing the completion of the fermentation, and waited for yeast and other suspended solids to settle out.  The artistry related to this role was almost lost, but has been revived in much the same way as we now have traditional breads, charcuterie and cheeses becoming available.  Some publicans would add more fermentable sugars to raise the alcohol, others would add hops for flavour, and to extend shelf life.  They would also often add finings to the beer, powders, or liquids that settle through the liquid, collecting protein and yeast solids as they settle, to help it clear, such that it would look better in a clear glass. It is these additions that can negate a beer's status as being vegan, as they often are made from animal proteins.

Nowadays, many people are further changing the beer by adding non-traditional, but usually fun ingredients to the cask.  The process is traditional, some of the things being added by the publican, or even by the brewer prior to delivery, may not be.  That, however has nothing to do with whether the beer (which is almost always an ale) is a "real ale".  To meet that test, it has to be still "alive", that is, the yeast has not been filtered out, removed, or killed off.  Most would be dormant, in the settled solids in the heel of the cask, meaning that you don't want to have to move it from the cellar until it's done, or you'll be serving cloudy beer.

Incidentally, this is also the source of the term cellar temperature - the temperature this beer was served at because no refrigeration was available.  Ice cold beer is usually too cold to taste its goodness anyway.  British ale is not served "warm".  It's served at about 12-14 C (54-57 F) and that is what most real stone or earthen cellars range in temperature if they are not left open to the summer heat.

Once tapped, kegs of beer are generally good for 3 to 5 days, after which the air that enters the keg to replace the volume of beer brings spoilage mechanisms with it, creating a distinct sour taste that most people find objectionable.  This temporary, naturally regulated window of drinkability is one of the charms of "real ale", but modern times have seen the amount and cost of the extra work required to create such a short window of opportunity, cause real ale to become a speciality item, often reserved for festivals, rather than a day to day libation.

Beer aficionados (geeks) welcome more of this style of service, recognizing the amount of work involved, and, perhaps more important, the cooperation and coordination required between brewery and publican in eventually getting drinkable beer to the glass.  It is not easy.

Well, it's easy to drink.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Conservation Design - Why and How we do it.

This post is for those of you who don't understand the fuss over Conservation Design, or Open Space Subdivision planning and development. It's not that complicated, but too often the reasons for doing it are overlooked, misunderstood, or held in suspicion by people who simply have not been properly shown what it's about.

In HRM, during the development of the Regional Plan, we took a good look at how this form of development might work, and planners attempted to write policy that would encourage it. Unfortunately, all that has really resulted is a clever, backhanded response by developers and their design consultants, to create the same unsustainable sprawl, with a commensurate lack of open space creation, as had been the rule before the Regional Plan implementation.

So, here, briefly, is a small example that shows the reasons why we should be doing this more. It's not because the result creates a more efficient way to live. It's not because it creates a more attractive place to live in. It's not because it results in better profit margins for the developer. And it's not because the result is a better environmental and public health outcome. It's because, done right, it's all of that and more.

Here is a sample piece of land mapping.
We have many things that are common to developing in Nova Scotia, especially in the areas of HRM under development pressure. Open, bare rock, lakes, wetland, places with some good soil, and land sloping to lakes.

To a developer, or anyone wanting to live here, that lakefront is the main draw. A developer wants to build a road to access that land, create as many lots along the lake as possible, and sell them quickly, with a minimal initial investment. Government, representing the public's desires, wants to limit the amount of road frontage per home to reduce future costs of maintenance, keep the sewage away from the lake, keep the sewage away from drinking water wells, and, where government is moderately enlightened, create open space that is connected to the lake, and other open space - a connectivity of open space that the deer and birds and other wildlife can use to get around without too much trouble from us.

Currently, the figure below shows the reflex reaction to this land by current development practice. Lots are limited in size individually because they will all have both a well and an on-site sewage disposal (septic)system on them. Their size is directly related to how good and deep the soil cover is on them.

Note the lots on the high side of the road have part of them in dirt, part on rock. That part with the dirt is for the septic system.
In this example, there are several septic systems that, although legally OK in terms of their clearance from a downslope well, are still above, and therefore upstream of someone else's well based drinking water supply. The road has to be extended is a long way in order to create the minimum frontage per lot required by the subdivision bylaws, and also to create a minimum width of a lot required by the Provincial Environment Regulations. Note also that there are 15 lots, and 6 have waterfront.

If this same land were treated as a clustered development, sharing water and sewer, it could be done quite differently.

In this layout, there are several major improvements. First, the number of lots is the same, and the number of waterfront lots is one more, but all the lots enjoy a common access to the lake. The road is much shorter, and therefore costs less to build and disrupts less land. Septic systems are not located all along the edge of the lake, but are replaced by a large shared system that can also become a part of a walking trail. There is, in this example, one well, shared among all the homes, and that is located far from the septic system, and in a location where perhaps even a dug well might work.

Most important, however, is the difference in land not taken over for development. The conservation of open space, mostly lands not that suitable for development anyway, and in a connected pattern, is far greater here. It's not logged and turned into lawns. It is available for wildlife, and for play.

This is a form of development that can result in a developer doing as well, or better from their land.  They can create a neighbourhood that, presumably, more people would want to live in.  The outcome should be at least the same number of lots, but with less investment in roads, and hopefully more lots in locations where people want their homes to be. The result, especially if practiced in a planned concerted effort with neighbouring land owners, should be development that maintains the connectivity of the ecosystem.  Servicing would be safer, and more reliable.  The cost of servicing could be less, and no more than 15 individual systems.  And it could be managed by the Municipal unit on a cost recovery basis, so we would know the system is actually working.

I have been a proponent of this approach, with central water supplied by a Municipality, for a long time.  As in: If you build it this way, we will allow access to "city water".  And if you build the sewage treatment to our specifications, we will take it over and pay for it with an area rate.  It's hard to believe how Halifax Water readily takes over huge expensive pumping stations that only add to their existing problems and costs at the waterfront treatment plants, and mean more effluent being discharged to the aquatic environment, but is apparently afraid of having to look after a small treatment plant with no outfall to a watercourse.  

We can and should use our expensive (geosmin laden) water supply as a carrot, or a beneficial tool, to direct development to where it is best for the Municipality, and not just for some quasi-independent water utility.   Shared sewage systems, operated on a cost recovery basis by the Municipality,  is the approach that is now taken in most North American jurisdictions, because it presents a far better environmental solution than simply connecting more people to the big treatment plants, sometimes miles away, that still don't work right, and never will get better.  In this case, the liquid effluent goes into the ground (as already suggested by existing design guidelines for sewage treatment), and the solids go to stabilization and composting.  Ultimately, they should return to the land as fertilizer, being free from the industrial concerns of a "Burnside mix" because this waste doesn't get added to the Big Pipe.  (If you are still afraid of fertilizer made from human waste, look up "Milorganite".)

All that is required is for our Governmental institutions to enter the 21st century and work at managing clusters of development on smaller, in-ground dispersal, sewage treatment systems.  Most other medium scale rural development such as condos, golf clubs, schools, rental cottages, camp grounds, and recreational facilities already rely on the same solutions.  In fact the Halifax Regional School Board is probably better at this that our illustrious Halifax Water utility, who have, apparently, not yet figured out that, in most things, Big is Stupid.  I mean, nothing could ever go wrong with a huge treatment plant serving all the peninsula, right?


Monday, July 29, 2013

Drinking, Driving and Arithmetic

There is a blip in the statistics associated with vehicle accidents involving young people who may or may not have been drinking prior to getting into the car. And certainly some were not wearing seat belts.

This brings me, once again, to a theory I have long believed, and not had disproved to me or been talked out of believing.

It's simple, really.  We all need to learn how to drink, before we learn how to drive.

There are all sorts of opinion available on the internet, but here is a frank one, from the University of Potsdam.


Instead of stigmatizing alcohol and trying to scare people into abstinence, we need to recognize that it is not alcohol itself but rather the abuse of alcohol that is the problem.  

Teaching about responsible use does not require student consumption of alcohol any more than teaching them world geography requires them to visit Nepal, or teaching them civics requires that they run for office or vote in presidential elections. We teach students civics to prepare them for the day when they can vote and assume other civic responsibilities if they choose to do so. Because either drinking in moderation or abstaining should both be equally acceptable options for adults, we must prepare students for either choice. To do otherwise is both irresponsible and ineffective, if not counterproductive. 
 

A recent study of the effectiveness of alcohol education programs compared those that present an abstinence-only message with those that present drinking in moderation as an option. It is clear that programs accepting responsible use are demonstrably more successful than are no-use-only programs.  In spite of noble intentions and the expenditure of massive amounts of time, energy, and money the best evidence shows that our current abstinence-oriented alcohol education is ineffective. 
 

Simply doing more of what is not working will not lead to success; it is essential that we re-think our approach to the problem. Our youth are too important and the stakes are too high to so otherwise.


I found that here:  http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/UnderageDrinking.html


My opinions come from personal experience.  I grew up in a home that did not hide booze from the kids, but did not include small amounts in our diet either.  I snuck around like all the other kids, and I survived.  Mostly because I was so afraid of being caught in a vehicle with the people I knew driving, not necessarily drunk, but just driving the way they did in St. Margarets Bay in the 70's. Adherence to the road right of way seemed optional.

It was normal to drink and drive back then.  People bragged about not being able to walk, but being "just fine" once they got into the drivers seat.  Of course we all knew that was wrong.  But eventually enough people we knew died, or came close to being killed, that it became somewhat uncool to drive after more than a few drinks.

But one thing for sure - we all went out and got drivers' licenses as soon as we could. At 16.5 years old we were good to go.

Of course it would take another two and a half years before I could get into a bar. And by that time, I can tell you I was a pretty good driver.  I knew I was OK at it.  I had driven a VW Bug,  a 5 ton truck, a Dodge Duster, and a VW Camper by that time.

But, you see, I wasn't really that good at drinking.  I'd get some from friends old enough to maybe pass at the liquor store, or stolen from their parents, or courtesy of an older brother or sister, and it was always not nice stuff.

Lemon gin, light rum, and Keith's.  Not the tastiest things to put into your mouth. Sometimes your body rejected them.

Then I went to Europe and learned about how hard it was to get a drivers' license there.  In Germany, usually not until you were 21, and so tough that many didn't bother.  By that time, people had been legally drinking for 5 years.  They were much better drinkers than me. They actually tasted their booze  They enjoyed the taste, not just the effects, of the alcohol. They also thought of driving on their government funded roads as a privilege, not a right.

And they knew one thing for certain by the time they got their license - someone who is impaired by alcohol can't do a lot of basic simple things well, and to even consider the complex task of driving was insanity.

I took two alcohol related lessons home with me.  One, beer and wine could taste amazing, so why waste your liver's processing ability on crap, drinking just for the effect and not the experience?  And two, how could you ever think about driving drunk when you know you can't do a lot of much simpler things well?

I then asked myself the one question I am still asking people today.  Why do we let our kids learn to drive before they learn to drink?

Shouldn't the ages be reversed?  16 to drink, 21 to drive?  How many people would be alive today if that were the case.  Granted, I'd extend the under 19 to just wine and beer, no 40% and up booze that you can kill yourself with.  But still, anyone who is knowledgeable about drinking, and knows how to drive, especially in todays social and legal environment, knows the answer to my question above is "a lot more than there are now."  Booze (at least wine and beer) on its own doesn't kill you. You usually are not going fast enough. It takes a vehicle to do that.

I still remember the thrill and near panic at how fast it felt to get my VW Bug up to 60 mph for the first time.  Had I already known how poorly I would be at anything involving hand/eye and timed decision making after 4 beers, I would have told you you were insane to think you could drive that fast while impaired even a little bit.  But I, like almost everyone my age, was already confident in my driving by the time I was allowed in a bar.  And like most people my age, at the time, I drove when I shouldn't have.

Anyone who knows me, knows I am an advocate for fine wine, beer, and spirits.  I seek quality.  "You put it in your mouth, don't you?"  I live where I can get a cab home that costs about the same as a drink plus tip.  The decision to call a cab involves the same cost as another drink. For me, the decision to have a third beer is the same decision as leaving the car where it is, if, by rare chance, I happen to have my car out.

We need to start bringing the great aspects of Italian and Greek culture into our own Canadian one.  A culture where wine is a part of a meal, from an early age.  Where it's not necessary to sneak around behind someone's back to have a sip.  Where wine and beer are simply a part of one's life and diet.  Where abusive drinkers are socially ostracized.

Driving after drinking is abuse of alcohol.  And worse, it extends your disrespect for yourself, and for what you consume, to other people you may not even know, via the hurtling speed of a 2 ton pile of metal, plastic, and rubber.

Learn to drink. Learn to appreciate the tastes of fine spirits, wines and beer.  Learn to include them with your meal. And learn when to stop.  Learn what a klutz you are when you're drunk. And don't let that klutz behind a wheel.

And wear your seatbelt. I am still here because I do.