Sunday, May 10, 2020

Professional Engineering and On-site Sewage Disposal in Nova Scotia

The On-site Sewage Disposal Systems Standard as it relates to the Practice of Professional Engineering.


The following is my personal interpretation of the Standard. I am a Professional Engineer who has been practicing in this field since 1985, and also teaches on-site sewage disposal to Engineers.  

The Standard describes minimum requirements for selection, design, and installation on on-site sewage treatment for sanitary sewage in Nova Scotia. It can be found here:

Only Engineers can design systems less than 1000 L/day
Only Engineers can design systems greater than 1500 L/day
Backwash from water treatment devices is only allowed when an Engineer has accepted them as part of a designed system.

Clearance distances are provided for parts of a system that apply to non-engineers in every case, except where the Standard allows non-engineers or non-geoscientists to design and specify groundwater cutoff membranes in order to protect water supplies and foundation drains from untreated effluent and lessen those clearances. (this is a questionable activity in relation to Nova Scotia Engineering and Geoscientist legislation). 

The Standard and Regulations allow non Professionals to select types of septic systems from pre-engineered tables, and then to certify that they are installed correctly. Currently, it is possible for an on-site sewage disposal system for a single family home to be selected, accepted by NSE, and installed, with no review by a Professional Engineer at any point. About half of Nova Scotians are served by these systems. If something goes wrong, like the effluent from a system contaminating groundwater and making people ill, the responsibility for this is undetermined, and may lie with the Municipal Engineer for the Municipality that issued a building permit, regardless of whether they, personally, even knew the system was going in.


There is a separate section that applies to Professional Engineers doing design for new systems.

A Professional Engineer must design a system using the “Low” permeability rates for ATU effluent in Table 3. There does not seem to be a release from this when a design manual for a product that uses a different soil classification system is applied. Table 3 should still apply, regardless, as it was developed for Nova Scotia conditions and uses the same classification system for soils as the Standard.

A non-engineer must use pipe hole spacings as provided in Table 12. An Engineer can design the pipe distribution system.

A Professional Engineer must use design criteria provided in a separate section of the Standard that non-engineers are not permitted to use or reference. This includes the design of systems that use engineered products (ATU’s) and sloping sand filters, a highly engineered type of sand filter. 

The normal design section for Engineers requires that there be enough capability on the property to infiltrate the design flow. No excess discharge is allowed. Clearances must be met to comply with the Standard. This is for new construction.


There is a separate section for addressing malfunctions and replacement or repair thereof. It is here that we see the main issues Professional Engineers have with the Provincial Department of Environment.

A non-engineer is permitted to do the work of assessing a malfunction and deciding if it can be repaired or needs to be replaced, and in cases where the lot size is adequate and all clearances can be met, they can propose a selected system solution. 

On properties where the land area does not allow the normal required clearances to be met, a Professional Engineer must design a system.

The Standard then details a series of conditions and a protocols that the Professional Engineer must follow in order to remain compliant with the Standard. Those conditions are laid out in the final four paragraphs. The direction given is similar to standard engineering design protocol for most disciplines, providing an orderly hierarchy of issues to be addressed in the design process, in order to remain compliant with the Standard. That hierarchy is as follows:

Protection of groundwater, and mitigation of treated effluent flow to bedrock or high permeability soils is primary. This is required. 

Horizontal clearance to water wells or surface watercourses is the secondary concern over other features where clearance is normally specified (i.e. lot lines).

When forced to compromise horizontal clearance distances to water supply and watercourses, locations where the effluent is released from the system to the natural environment are given priority over parts of the system where the intent is confinement. (i.e. keep effluent trench as far away from risk as possible, even if it means having a septic tank, pipe or pump chamber closer to a well or watercourse than the limits prescribe in a new system design).

If there is a case where none of the clearance distances can be met, they are to be maximized based on the above hierarchy. (do as good a job as you can).

Finally, and most wisely, the last paragraph of the Standard provides the ultimate direction to a Professional Engineer under the Standard, again, in order for the Engineer to remain compliant. 

“A professional engineer must consider site specific conditions and incorporate protective measures in the system design to ensure that the repair or replacement will not cause an adverse effect.”


With this final clause, the Standard becomes applicable to all possible situations. It guides Professionals and non-professionals alike in a clear and responsible manner when site conditions are normal and new systems are being constructed.  It provides a clear, cogent and orderly process for a Professional Engineer only to follow when addressing the rare instances when the normal requirements of the Standard cannot be meant. Most important, with the final clause, it acknowledges that, in some cases, all that remains to serve the public good, and protect the environment and public health, is the application of good engineering practice. 

What is important is that Professional Engineers experienced in this Engineering design work understand and interpret this last clause as clear direction from within the Standard that once they have exhausted all other options, and they can only design a system where treated effluent must discharge to a surface water location off the property, if they design to “ensure that the repair or replacement will not cause an adverse effect”, their work remains compliant to the Standard because they have followed the Standard. They are not only permitted, they are directed to practice Engineering in the Standard.

The problem facing Engineers Nova Scotia now is that inexperienced, or non-engineering staff, in the NS Environment Department are interpreting that this, the only solution short of abandoning the home, somehow lies outside the Standard, despite direction in the Standard that clearly licenses the Engineer to do as best as they can in applying Engineering Judgement and care. That is, to do their job. Recently the courts tossed out their attempts to charge a Professional Engineer for practicing Engineering, but did so without establishing a precedent to protect Engineers from such future malfeasance on the part of NSE (being laughed out of court is, unfortunately, not recorded for posterity). 

The distinction between when a design for an on-site sewage disposal system can proceed under a Notification or whether it requires an Approval can be simply described by the following test. If it is improving the environment and public health - for the public good - it is a Notification. If it isn't - allowing development where there is none now, and the standard (with no malfunction) cannot be met, then it has to be considered by the Minister for an Approval.  After all, the "do nothing" alternative would exist. In the case of a malfunction, it does not.

A Professional Engineer wrote the Standard. In it we see a carefully constructed document focussed on ensuring that malfunctioning systems of any type are addressed as soon as possible and not subject to long wait times for Approvals that cause adverse effects to continue unchecked. Interpreted as it was intended, the Standard can continue serve Nova Scotians well. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

How Dysfunctional can a Government Department Get?

The answer to the question posed in the title of this post is explained in episode form. This is just the experience of one company. I am sure it is repeated and amplified throughout Nova Scotia. 

This is the story of one Nova Scotia Environment Inspector and their interactions with one company in Southwest Nova Scotia and the Annapolis Valley.  If incredible waste of your tax dollars is something that sickens you, I suggest you stop reading now. If you don't have an appreciation of what a self governing profession is, I suggest you familiarize yourself before continuing. If you do, prepare to be amazed. The main thing to keep in mind here is that the NS Department of Environment is tasked with reducing the number and severity of adverse effects to the environment. That is their main objective. They have clearly lost their way.

Episode 1 - The Oil in the Well

Someone was unhappy with being evicted from their apartment building. That someone decided to get back at the landlord in a very irresponsible manner, by breaking the cap off the drilled well that served the building and dumping a quart of motor oil in. In time, people living there noticed and called the landlord, who called our Kentville office. This is a good reaction, as working in that office is a very experienced Professional Engineer, someone with a Masters Degree in Public Health Engineering, who had, for about 30 years, been the senior technical resource for all public health and environmental concerns for the Valley area in the Nova Scotia Department of Health and later, when the government stopped providing Public Health Engineering (you didn't know that, did you? NS is one of the few jurisdictions in North America without a chief public health engineer), with the NS Department of Environment.

That engineer went to the property and confirmed that there was a problem, and took samples that showed there was oil in the water. He then immediately advised the owner to open all the taps and pump the well down and keep pumping. This makes a lot of sense, because one quart of oil is not a lot, and most of it was probably not in the groundwater, and may never have left the casing of the well, other than to go into the plumbing.

In time, tests showed that there was no hydrocarbon residual and the Engineer, as the rules require, made up a report summarizing the event, the remediation, and documenting the success of the remediation.

This should have been the end of it. But in that office of the NS Department of the Environment, there exists someone apparently not very well versed in the technical aspects of their job, nor in an understanding of what a Professional Engineer is, and the laws and practices that govern the Profession of Engineering. This person, who we will call M, refused to accept the report because it was not done by a hydrogeologist. When it was pointed out to them that the qualifications of the Engineer in this case were more than enough to satisfy the regulations, instead of going, "ooops, my bad" they doubled down and dug in. Attempting to have the residents of the apartment building evicted and threatening to lay charges.

Their supervisor, the person who should have been there to bring common sense to the situation, was nowhere to be found. This despite their having worked with the Engineer for years and having relied upon them for similar advice for most all of that time. Instead, an unqualified new employee inspector was allowed to continue their baseless attempt to win some strange argument with the Profession of Engineering in Nova Scotia.

In the end, legal action and the direct involvement of Engineers Nova Scotia staff finally made this annoyance go away, but not until a lot of time, some of ours, and a lot more of the government employee's time (you were paying them to act like this) was wasted over nothing. There was a small adverse effect here that was properly addressed and mitigated by the actions of an experienced, qualified Professional. With no continuing impact. When that Professional signed their report, they were certifying that what was in it was true. There was no reason not to believe them.

Episode 2 - The Case of the Random Warning

This one actually involves me. It is without a doubt the most incredibly stupid thing I have witnessed in over 35 years of dealing with government. I really wish this had happened to more Engineers so that they would be more likely to believe me.

A good friend owns a farm, on which they were going to operate a small bakery. They would be generating about 5 gallons a day of water when washing up their pots and pans and work area. Knowing that I know a fair amount about septic systems, they asked me what they should do when they built the bakery. I told them that they could get an approval to hook a toilet and hand wash into their home septic system, but that the flour in the wash water would definitely plug up their field bed if allowed to go into that system. They asked what to do as they were considering just having a 5 gallon bucket and carrying it out to spread on the garden, but in winter that would not be practical. I suggested they might put in a holding tank for that sink only and have it pumped out on occasion. I gave them a sketch of what a holding tank would look like, and suggested that the Department of Agriculture might be able to help them to make sure that what they were doing was OK, as this is a farm ancillary business.

Flash forward to 6 months or so later, and I stop in to get some bread and visit. There is a nice new tank installed and I am advised that the neighbouring farmer come over twice a year to pump the tank out, and he mixes it with manure and spreads it on his hayfield. Very cool. Total proper sustainable agriculture and environmental responsibility to the point that it was a model of how to manage such a small, simple waste stream that really did not need to go to waste. They had had a local licensed installer put the tank in. So, as far as I knew they were kosher.

Then they decided they wanted to be able to sell bread at the roadside, to tourists and locals. Nice. But to do so, they were told by the licensing people that they had to have a proper toilet and hand wash. They had not yet done so. They built a piece on to their bakery, and I designed a way to connect that to the house system and it was approved. The flour water tank was there all along doing its job.

This approval prompted a visit from "the authorities", in their new police like uniforms.  Instead of being concerned about the actual system that had health and environmental concerns, the toilet waste, the NSE Inspector obsessed about the 5 gallon a day holding tank for the flour washwater. They went home and issued a directive stating that it had to be 1000 imperial gallons (it was, apparently only 1000 US Gallons) and directed that it be pumped not for re-use on a farm field with animal manure, but to a human septage lagoon where it would take up space intended for septic tank solids. The NS Department of Environment actually directed someone to take clean re-useable bakery waste and pollute it by adding it to a septage lagoon. They ordered the creation of what is, by definition, an adverse effect.

Not to be outdone, this inspector (did I mention it was M again?) saw that the baker had used the sketch I had given them of another holding tank, and that it had an unsigned, undated photocopy of my stamp on one corner. It was the sketch I had given her to show her what a holding tank looked like in general, but was not at all what they ended up installing.

This inspector called me, and I happily explained to them what I had, and had not done, and that I was working under the assumption that the baker had permission under the Department of Agriculture for their tank, and that in my opinion, an elegant solution had been worked out.  I said I would contact the baker and offer to help them with complying to this new (silly) order. I then immediately sent the baker an email to that effect.  Still, in absence of any evidence, with no other correspondence or application or communication from me, the Inspector decided to write up an official warning under the Environment Act to me directing that I essentially go on to private land owned by someone else, and fix this tank "problem". When I had yet to do anything related to the holding tank other than, years prior, suggest that might work.

I was moderately unhappy with this. After all, in 35 years of doing this work, I had received one warning, over something I did that was clearly better than the practice at the time, and that was subsequently adopted as standard practice when the Department (which had knowledgeable people running it at the time) realized my way was better.  I was upset, but I just blew it off to some junior ex-military inspector being overly officious and demonstrating no ability to exercise judgement or common sense, and let it go.

Having heard nothing back from my email to the baker, I sent another email. Still nothing.  Then one day they called me, telling me they were being interviewed by M who was trying to find a way to charge them and me, under the Environment Act. (remember, this is all about 5 gallons a day of flour detergent and water, basically what a camper throws over the lawn). Their attack on me was that I had lied to an Inspector because I had told them I would contact the baker to offer help but did not. I told the baker that yes, I had emailed them twice with no response, and assumed they had gone away for the season on a cooking gig. While we were talking they checked their email, and on my suggestion checked their junk mail. Oooops! There were my emails.

The baker then contacted the Department, showed them the emails, and told them what had happened. I had already copied one of them to the inspector, but they would not believe me. And this is important. As a Professional Engineer I have cannot mislead or lie to them under the Act that actually governs my practice. Yet this fool continued to try to entrap me, and wasted hours and hours of their time trying to enforce a directive that made things worse.

This is a case were was never any adverse effect nor was there ever any chance of one, yet one civil servant wasted days and days of time pursuing this tiny, environmentally responsible activity that performed far better than what they were trying to force upon the bakery.

Their supervisor, the person who should have been there to bring common sense to the situation, was nowhere to be found. It was all about their paper bureaucratic slavery to bureaucracy, and had nothing whatsoever to to with protecting the environment or serving the public. In spirit, anyway, this inspector was violating two Provincial Acts, the Public Service Act and The Environment Act, and, because they are not a professional Engineer, by trying to direct a Professional Engineer to do a specific task, possibly violating the Engineering Act.

I took this as far as the Deputy Minister, along with some other issues. When lip service was all we received, I followed up with the Department, accusing them of "dancing around a bonfire of bureaucracy". For this horrible statement, I did get a response, an hysterically funny warning terming that term to be abuse of their staff. I cherish that letter. It demonstrates how utterly useless and what a waste of time that Department now is.

And oh yes, this inspector is still at it. Apparently with full support of their masters.

Episode 3 - The Attack on the Cancer Kids

My company did the design of the road, some of the layout and the sewage treatment for Brigadoon Village children's camp at 50% rates - we don't have much cash to contribute, but sometimes we can do so "in kind".  Because the occupants of this facility are sometimes on active chemotherapy treatment, it has some design choices that are not normal and there is someone at the camp whose job it is to keep it working.

In discussions with the operator of the treatment plant, discussing ways to manage freezing of some elements during a cold winter, I mentioned that there was an inspector working out of Kentville that he should try to avoid. I mentioned that the guy was apparently ex-military and pretended like he was some super cop, looking for any tiny infraction. The response I received was telling.

Here is what the Brigadoon operator replied:
"I am very much aware about the Kentville office issues as we had a directive sent to our lawyers in regards to our water treatment system because the inspector did not notify me he was coming so when he showed up and I wasn’t here he wrote us up for not producing the paperwork! That is now resolved but he would not audit the septic (when he was here) because that is a different audit!"
The NSE representative (surprise! This is M again!) showed up unannounced at a cancer kids camp and because the part time operator was not there, they actually went to the crazy extreme of sending an official directive to their lawyers!  Can you imagine anyone so self important and officious as that? Their supervisor, the person who should have been there to bring common sense to the situation, was nowhere to be found.

Episode 4 - The Sneak Attack

Nova Scotia Environment has regions in which there is a Manager, and an Engineer for each. Our Mr. M works in one of those. No one there seems to be overseeing his work, or caring what he is spending his time on. And if they are, well then they share the blame here even more than I am assuming.

So our Mr. M either on his own initiative, or under some direction from someone not thinking straight, or legally, began what we call "dumpster diving" - going back looking at projects done by us that were done or almost done, and trying to uncover misdoings. This is a technician (maybe not even that trained) investigating Professional Engineers in a selective manner under the guise of the enforcement of an Act that does not govern their professional practice.

In doing so, while digging in files not in his own district, but on the other side of the Province, he found a number of on-site sewage disposal systems that had been installed with what appeared to be discharges to a ditch, done without an approval, but under a Notification. Clearly, not understanding the technical aspects of the job was not a hindrance, as he, without talking to the area Engineer whose office had accepted the submissions to the Department, our Mr. M revoked the notification approvals. And get this, these were for systems designed by a Professional Engineer, submitted based upon the correct protocols, and already installed and functioning properly. They were for systems that addressed an ongoing malfunction - a risk to the environment and public health, that were dealt with  properly (they had to be done by an Engineer), and were installed properly, and being happily used by homeowners.

No Professional Engineer with the Department with any experience in this field responded to any questions from the homeowners or the Engineer. (the Engineer who had the on-site program dropped into their lap has virtually no experience, and only a casual understanding of the field).  The owner has all the paper from the Department and the Engineer they ever need, yet our zealot assumed he could just cancel them after the fact. In complete ignorance of the difference between Professional Engineering and someone with a backhoe that NSE allows to choose and install a standard system, he then was then allowed (by who?) to actually lay charges against the Engineer for practicing Engineering while following the Standard laid out for them to follow in their own legislation. No one looked at it who actually knew anything, apparently. And this will be going to court (more waste of everyone's time). So no one will say anything because it is "before the courts".  And remember, this is where there was an environmental impact happening that was identified, confirmed, and then fixed with the best available solution by a licensed installer following plans done by a Professional Engineer with the most experience of doing this work of any on NS, and it resulted in the elimination of the impact on the environment and risk to public health.

So in short, the Department is appearing to sanction to prosecution of Professional Engineers who follow their Standard and act to eliminate environmental harm and public health risk in a timely manner. And in addition, is trying to tell homeowners they can't use their septic systems?

The local engineer just gives the Hogan's Heroes Schultz defence "I know nothing! I see nothing!"

This is a civil "servant" being paid, running around trying to plug holes that don't exist. Why he is left to spend his time in such a detrimental manner, to the reputation of the Department and to the waste of the Department's budget is inexplicable.

Continuing Episodes

Yes, there is more. Lots more. Some even worse, where The Department is deliberately misinterpreting their own rules, to try to make some obscure point of control and authority over the Profession of Engineering, something they have absolutely no business doing, and again, as always, at the expense of the Public and to the detriment of the environment that, it seems so long ago, they used to protect.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Everybody is a Beer Judge

The recent growth in the craft beer industry, and the inroads that small batch beer has made into the market, especially younger generations of people with their newly minted Liquor ID's is pretty great.  Those of use who've been drinking good beer for 30 years are happy to welcome the many new beers, and improved access to old favourites, that this trend has created.

If you've been one of the people like me who have long been advocating for better access to good beer, and recognition of the economic development activity that locally owned, small scale alcohol production generates, it's even better.

Beer is a very broad topic, with an equally broad and inclusive boundary of what, exactly, beer is. In my drinking lifetime, there was a time when beer was mostly categorized by which country it was produced in. The along came Michael Jackson (and others, but he led the way) to point out that beer has terroir, like wine, and could be traced back to a place, and was almost always of a "Style".   In particular, Jackson expounded on the pleasures of certain Belgian beer styles and their place in a meal, by a fire, or at a bar.

This would have been in the early 1980's.

Jump forward to today, and we generally live in a world where beer is categorized by style, with perhaps an adjective related to place, or sometimes method, that further defines what the beer is expected to look, smell, and taste like.  And how much alcohol one should expect.

In 1985, a bunch of homebrewers, mostly people involved with the American Homebrewers Association got together and started the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). The BJCP has since expanded to include judge resources and a certification program for cider and mead.  The goals of the BJCP are to:
  • Encourage knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of the world's diverse beer, mead, and cider styles;
  • Promote, recognize, and advance beer, mead, and cider tasting, evaluation, and communication skills; and
  • Develop standardized tools, methods, and processes for the structured evaluation, ranking and feedback of beer, mead, and cider.
This organization has been tooling along for 32 years, and has trained and certified a fair amount of people - over 10,000, of which a little over 6,000 are now active. There are ranks within the program, based on how well one does on exams (the exams are not difficult to pass for the knowledgeable beer geek, but are very difficult to score well enough to get to the "National" tier, of which only about 830 exist in the world; of those, only about 20 are in Canada.  You can learn about this organization at

The most interesting thing about the BJCP is that although it is incredibly rigorous, and is the organization that is the "keeper of the styles, but it's all run by volunteers.  The costs for the exams are minimal, for expenses only, yet the comprehensive information on beer, cider and mead on that website is free to anyone. There is also a beer styles app if you want to take it with you.

Long ago, back in 1991, after I'd been homebrewing for 6 years, I wrote the exam in Toronto, and did well enough that I probably will never need to write it again.  I was lucky I knew how to write exams, because back then I had no one to study with and my tasting exam wasn't very good. Since then, I've judged at over 50 sanctioned competitions, and several others. It's been fun, and I've learned a lot.

The world is now rapidly filling up with people getting on the beer bandwagon via whatever handle they can grasp. There are bloggers, photographers, podcasters, people sitting and rating beer in between burps, whatever.  And just like everything else these days, it seems, those of us who do know something are sometimes attacked, or derided for offering a contrary, but informed opinion on something beer related.

It can go like this:

Them: Here try our new Kolsch, it's delicious, refreshing, creamy, a sort of hybrid between lager and ale.

Me:  This is definitely not a Kolsch, do you think you should really be telling this to people? 

Them: Well that's what the recipe said it was.  And anyway how would you know?

Me: I've been to Köln. 

Them: What's that got to do with it? 

If you don't get the humour in that, for starters, you shouldn't be judging beer.

Homebrewers and professional brewers assume that because they can make beer, they can judge it.  Judging beer is not the same thing as just evaluating it, or deciding whether you like it. There is a standardized scoresheet, and the use of that sheet to fairly assess and compare beers to style guidelines is what separates judging from opinionated drinking.  The most opinionated drinkers are professional brewers, who have mostly all decided the beer they make is the best, and anything that doesn't taste like theirs cannot be good. (I'm only exaggerating a little).

But they still believe they can judge other people's beer.

Recently I got to read some typical uninformed comments on beer judging, and even on the value of competitions.  It's common to hear things like:

"I still maintain the stance that you do not NEED a BJCP certification to properly analyze a beer and don't subscribe to that elitist attitude. I'm personally not one of them, but I know a few folks that aren't BJCP certified, yet have been in the industry for a long time and are extremely good at dissecting a beer, spot flaws, off flavours, etc. Certainly no disrespect to those that are BJCP certified, but don't look down on those that aren't."

How's that for passive/aggressive ignorance.  This person thinks that "dissecting" and "analyzing" a beer are what judging is about. Certainly no one is looking down on anyone, but it's hard to escape the reality that you're either trained as a judge, and have passed the exams, or you're not (insert Yoda quote here). A BJCP Judge has to have passed an exam where they complete the judge sheet on 6 beers, and their exam is marked very carefully, in a completely anonymous manner.  The components they are judged on are given below and total 80% of their mark, with the remaining 20% a calculated percentage related to how close their assigned score for a beer was to the consensus score out of 50.

  1. Perception (20 points/beer): Points should be deducted for missed flaws and errors in aroma, appearance, flavor, and mouthfeel perception. The rubric formed by the proctors’ scoresheets enables the graders to make a correlation between the characteristics identified by the examinees and those noted by the proctors. 
  2. Descriptive Ability (20 points/beer): A beer judge should be able to describe the intensity and characteristics of the aroma, appearance, flavor, and mouthfeel using the proper terminology. The BJCP Style Guidelines serve as a reference for this aspect of the scoresheet.
  3. Feedback (20 points/beer): The brewer should receive useful and constructive feedback explaining how to adjust the recipe or brewing procedure in order to produce a beer that is closer to style. The comments should be constructive and consistent with the characteristics perceived by the examinee as well as with the score assigned to the beer. 
  4. Completeness/Communication (20 points/beer): A complete scoresheet should have well-organized, legible, and have informative comments that fill all available comment space. Checkboxes for stylistic accuracy, technical merit, and intangibles should also be marked. This aspect of the scoresheet is generally consistent with the level of descriptive information and feedback conveyed by the examinee.
The ability to perceive - the dissection and analysis that the opinionated non-judge sees judging to be, only counts for 1/5th of the exam mark.  That person who has been in the industry for a long time, drinking lots of beer, probably won't pass the exam on the ability to do that alone. A beer judge has to have the language, standardized, and legible, to provide information to the brewer about how the beer was perceived, what it looked, smelled and tasted like, and what might be done to improve it, if anything.

And this person "knows" things, or so they say...

"I know there have been a number of people judging in the 'BJCP sanctioned' events who should have nothing to do with judging beer. I also know of plenty non-BJCP judges that would be able to provide better/more accurate feedback than some BJCP judges."

Perhaps a little homework is in order. If someone can pass the exams, they have proven they know something about judging beer. A lot more than someone who hasn't passed anything but gas can prove. Sure, there are inexperienced judges, but they are still going to be of more use than an opinionated homebrewer. Go take the exam.

And sure, there are always going to be exceptions.  I can think of one or two people who were OK at judging before they got involved in the BJCP.  But even then, they didn't have the training to properly use the scoresheet.

So what's my point here?  All I am saying is that someone who has passed the judging exam should be able to give you better written feedback than someone who is unfamiliar with standardized beer judging protocol.  I mark some of the exams from fields afar now, and it's pretty easy to identify those written by people who "know beer" but don't know how to judge beer. It's like this. There are people who can skate. There are people who can figure skate. There are people who can judge figure skating events. It's nice that you can skate.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

When people don't understand beer, or economics, but get to write about both.

A former insurance salesman... okay, executive, who seems to have some people in this city believing that he understands business, wrote a very ill informed opinion piece about the craft brewing industry in Nova Scotia in this weekends paper that shall remain nameless. He sounded like a shill for "molbatt's".  But enough idiots are out there (see Canadians for Trump) that this warrants a response to try to ward off anyone taking this guy seriously.

Here is what he wrote:     Bill Black being a knob

Mr. Black needs to learn a bit about what he is pontificating on.

Most (by a large margin > 90%) of the beer consumed in NS is made by companies owned outside of Canada. We send money from our economy to theirs for something we can make better here. Has Mr. Black ever heard of the concept of import substitution? No, he probably never read Jane Jacobs, because he is an old white man.

One measurement I invite anyone to make is to calculate the jobs/litre that craft beer production creates compared to factory beer. And where those jobs are located. We have spent (blown) so much government assistance trying to force feed companies looking to set up in locations where they have a geographic disadvantage. But these new breweries are selling much of their product close to home, keeping all the money spent on beer consumed in their community (something that won't be stopped, even with prohibition) and the jobs created by making and distributing it, in that community. This is one of our very few industries where the majority of businesses are not in the metropolitan area.

Another factor seldom discussed, and possibly not well researched, is the almost certain benefits to the public health that craft beer provides in comparison to the alternative. Start with the (safe) assumption that people are going to drink beer, regardless of what you tell them is or isn't good for them. Craft beer consumption differs substantially from factory beer in several interesting ways.

The density, intensity of flavour, and "filling" aspects of craft beer almost always slow intake of alcohol compared to the almost frenetic drinking associated with factory beer and youth. Less total alcohol is ingested, and it is usually done so over a longer time period. This, over a lifetime, should result in less alcohol related health problems, and lower average degrees of intoxication that causes accidents - whether walking or driving.

The distribution of the craft beer production around the Province tends to encourage the direct purchase of local beer at the breweries, or at local shops or farmers markets. And it has triggered the opening of more local pubs. By definition, this will decrease the lengths of vehicle trips taken by people who have consumed beer or are on their way to do so. Those trip lengths will switch to walking or inexpensive cab trips and reduce the overall number of "drunk driving kilometres". Less time behind the wheel means less chance of an accident - drunk or sober.

The contents of a chemical free craft beer - normally water, malted and un-malted grains, yeast (AKA Vitamin B12), alcohol and other fermentation by-products, provides sustenance, and vitamins and minerals not always present in a highly filtered, preserved, stabilized, and otherwise manufactured, standardized product made in a factory. At least two of the larger craft breweries here are 100% organic, with another making some organic beer. It is difficult to argue that craft beer is not better for you, and not just much more interesting to taste and fun to experience.

The economic benefits of the jobs in the non-urban locations is something that Randy Delorey (who is supposed to be directing the operations of the NSLC as Minister of Finance, but appears to being led around by the nose by them) and his people appear to be acutely aware of, and perhaps there is even some recognition of the potential value to our society via the concept of people drinking less, but drinking better. Nova Scotians seem to be ready to recognize this same concept for other foods, after all. And now beer is just starting to generate spin off activity in agriculture and service industry - a new maltings has opened and a bottle washing business looks to be going ahead.

One cannot help but think that these aspects of the industry go a long way to offsetting the relatively small tax loss (did anyone count the new payroll and business taxes to be paid by all these new breweries?) that seems to have gotten under this commentator's skin. In this case, we may have the rare occurrence of the Government actually understanding a business better than a "businessman". How much are we talking about compared to the subsidies given in the past to factory breweries to set up and stay here, for pulp and paper companies and mines, and shipbuilding plants (how much $/job?). Where is the consideration of the value in taking people off the unemployment line and giving them work close to their homes and families, instead of seeing them leave Nova Scotia for work?

Finally, craft beer definitely brings variety to the local beer scene. And most would agree with the old maxim that variety is, indeed, the spice of life.

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:

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.

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 keyboard, 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 is best acquired when there is a combination of those two. I strongly believe that in the beverage world, practice includes travel. You cannot understand Burgundy unless you have been there.

So, for those of you who might question 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 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, is it?

Jeffrey Pinhey is a co-founder and member of the Brewnosers Homebrewing and Beer Appreciation Club in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  He is one of the most experienced beer judges in Canada - one of only 19 BJCP National level or higher judges in the country - and has overseen the sitting of seven BJCP Exam Sessions as a proctor.  He is also a BJCP Exam Grader, one of only three in Canada.

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, ten time judge at the Canadian Brewing Awards (professional brewing), including three Best of Show tables in 2012 and 2014 and 2017. He’s judged at numerous home brewing competitions including many times at the CABA March in Montreal and 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, the Big Spruce Invitational, the Boxing Rock Black Box Competition, and twice a 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, three times a judge, and recently a co-organizer of the ACWA’s. He is one of only 6 people to have judged all of the annual Lieutenant Governor’s Wine Awards in Nova Scotia.

Jeff was one of the original organizers of the Atlantic Canada Beer Awards and has judged them every year they have been held. He was 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, i4C in Niagara, 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, the Loire River Valley, and the Midi-Pyrenees in France. The Constantia, Stellenbosch, Franshoek, Robertson, Paarl, and Walker Bay regions in South Africa.

Mr. Pinhey consulted to a long time successful Halifax restaurant, “janes on the common” which changed how wine lists were done in the city. He has assisted three successful restaurants in Halifax - “EDNA", "Salvatores" and "Rinaldos" with their beverage and wine list.

In recent years, Jeff has been a part of the barrel tasting and blend selection process for Bachelder Wines, providing support and critique as part of the winemaker's approach to making some of the finest wine in Ontario.

Beverage Education

Master Class - Wines of South Africa - Will Predhomme, CAPS
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
Master Class - Wines of Chile, CAPS
Master Class - The Art of Spanish Wines, The Spanish Fine Wines Institute

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!