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 (70%) 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 make the 70% pass score on an 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 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 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 - one of only 16 BJCP National level judges in the country - and has overseen the sitting of three BJCP Exam Sessions as a proctor.  He is also a BJCP Exam Marker.

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, six 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, judge of the Unibroue Look-a-like Competition, judge at Big Spruce Brewing’s first two style category competitions, and 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 7 people to have judged all three 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, 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” which changed how wine lists were done in the city. He currently assists three successful restaurants in Halifax - “EDNA”, "Salvatores" and "StudioEast" with their beverage and wine list.

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

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.