I met Harry 8 years ago while playing squash with him and his wife. Harry is the first person who really opened my eyes up to beer and he remains to be my go-to person when seeking advice on beer and pubs both in and out of the country!
I though it would be most appropriate to ask Harry a few things about his beer journey:
1. When did you start getting into craft beer?
“Officially” it was back in 2003-2004; I joined RateBeer in May of 2005. In the 90s I was more into making my own beer at a very good “You Brew” in Leaside, that’s when I learned to loved real full-body roasty stouts … I remember Connor’s, John Labatt Classic and most of all, Creemore Springs – back in the day when they sold six-packs of 500ml bottles and the beer still had flavour.
2. How did it happen?
I used to “U Brew” back in the early 90s, and I enjoyed making, bottling and drinking my own beer, but I think it was when I accidentally wandered in to Smokeless Joe with an old friend in the summer of 1999 before a Jays game that I had the good beer switch thrown in my head – I remember what I had even now (Heather Ales Froach and Okocim Porter). We enjoyed it so much that we went back to Joe’s after the ballgame. That evolved into seeking out other good beer places, meeting a few die hard beer geeks, going to tastings where everyone brings a bottle or three of something special to share, and, ultimately, joining RateBeer and starting to actually rate the beers. This was back in 2004.
3. Since 2003/2004 when you started getting into beer, how have you seen the beer scene change in Ontario?
In many ways:
– the number of places selling craft beer in Toronto has gone from a handful to literally dozens;
– the small brewers in Ontario used to be terrified, with the exception of Perry at Scotch Irish, of attempting beers with actual FLAVOUR – hoppy IPAs were unheard of, they all seemed to be trying to make beer that Johnny Canuck Sixpack might enjoy;
– CASK BEER – thanks to Ralph at Volo, starting in 2005, this is probably the number one market for exciting craft cask beer outside of the UK – it used to be sporadically available here and there in Toronto, but now … every week some bar or restaurant is putting in a cask engine, and we actually have good brewers who are making full-flavoured beers that usually actually belong on cask;
– sheer variety of Ontario-made craft beer – when I started, there was Durham, Granite, Mill Street, Black Oak and a few others, most of whom would not try anything new (we had Denison’s of course, always great)
– now we are getting new micro and nano breweries every month, Volo’s House Ales are approaching 100 unique recipes brewed, Great Lakes has given us dozens of amazing hoppy beers, and now Mike and Adrian are experimenting with sours and saisons, Black Oak made the first true Ontario double IPA with their 10th anniversary beer (Ten Bitter Years), Muskoka and Flying Monkeys ramped their game up massively a couple of years ago;
– what I can buy in the LCBO – right now there are at least six solid hoppy beers I can buy off the shelf, either Ontario made, or from B.C. or Québec …and that’s incredible – I haven’t gone on a Buffalo buying run for almost four months, that’s the longest time between trips in almost eight years for me – did I mention I don’t own a car? When I go on a Buffalo run, I have to rent one. Dedication for you.
4. You mentioned you have use “U Brew” to brew your own beer, any other brewing experiences?
My friend Paul and I did all the actual work when we made “our” beer at Volo/House Ales – the infamous “Paul and Harrys O.F.A.” – our birthday beer … OFA stands for Old Farts’ Ale. That was hot, sweaty, back-aching work and frankly I will stick to drinking beer, thank you very much. Plus I live in a condo and doubt that the mess and smells associated with home brewing would fly very far with my wife.
5. This summer you took a trip to the UK – what were some of your favorite bars? How is the beer scene different there and what some things you experienced that you would like to experience here ?
I could go on forever about this. I have been visiting London for over ten years now, and have gotten to know the beer scene pretty well there. I would say that the “craft” scene (the Brits HATE that word) has changed at least as much there over the past 3-4 years as it has here – they discovered hops, and beers > 5% alcohol, and are running with it – new breweries opening weekly, a fantastic regional scene all over the UK and it’s not their Gramp’s best bitter any more, oh no.
I have many, many favourite pubs in London, and I will just list them – more or less best at the top, but it’s hard to rank them:
– The Rake
– The Red Lion (Pall Mall)
I would not presume to want us in Ontario to copy what they are doing in London – totally different worlds. There, you literally can’t walk a block without passing a pub, good bad or indifferent. We here tend to see going to the pub as an occasion, whereas there it’s just what you do after work.
I am happy to experience both worlds, really. I just wish I had more money and could spend more time in the UK with my England beer friends, drinkers and brewers alike.
6. Have you ever converted a ‘non-beer’ drinker to beer? What types of beers did you introduce them to?
Yes, several. My good friend Austin was adamant that he hated “all beer” – I convinced him to try Denison’s Weiss one time, and he allowed as it was drinkable – then I introduced him to Lindeman’s Kriek and New Glarus Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart and he has discovered he really does like fruit beers (not the really sour ones though). My older sister has been a wine lover most of her life, whenever she drank beer in the past she would get a massive headache the next day, so she avoided it. A couple of years ago she started crossing the border to Buffalo with me because she discovered she loved going to Cole’s for lunch and a beer or two – I steered her toward things like Ommegang Rouge, and the more vinous beers, which she liked, but two years ago she saw me really digging a goblet of a seasonal Victory hoppy beer, asked to try it, and discovered she LOVES hops. No headaches from those, and the crisp dry bitterness struck a cord with her, and when Flying Monkey’s Smashbomb appeared in sixpacks she was over the moon.
There are others who I have brought over to the dark side – it’s really just a matter of asking what they have tried before and loved or hated, what type of wine they like, what their tolerance to bitterness, acidity, alcohol, roast is … if you are friendly, enthusiastic in a restrained way, and willing to drink what they don’t like, you will usually succeed.
7. Where is your favorite spot to have a beer?
At home, in the summer, sitting on my balcony, watching the planes land at the Island airport and listening to music. I spend literally entire summer days doing this.
The place I experienced the most quiet joy drinking a beer was this summer on a hot, quiet Friday afternoon, sitting in the back beer garden of the Southampton Arms near Hampstead Heath (In London, UK), drinking pints and cask perry, eating outstanding pork pies … truly a magical afternoon, I can’t wait to do that again this summer.
8. What was your favorite new Ontario beer for 2011 – regular beer or a one off?
I really should say House Ales Paul and Harrys O.F.A. … but I might have to go with House Ales / Great Lakes California Love …. I love citra hops.
9. Any beer trends you predict for Canada 2012? Or any trends in beer you would like to see?
I see more variety, more market penetration of cross-Canada brewers (more Ontario beer in B.C., more Québec beer all over Canada). I see MolBatt getting more and more worried about losing the craft market share. I think there is even more room for growth in the variety and volume of hoppy beers in Ontario – the accepted wisdom that “hops won’t sell in Ontario” has been utterly exploded, just as we have always said (the average macro beer drinker deep down hates the taste of beer anyway, so why cater to a dead palate? There’s MONEY in craft beer, and people like something new – give it to them). On the downside, I think the per-pint price will keep going up, but mostly that’s not gouging , it’s the cost of ingredients and small batch sizes.
What I want to see is … more of the same, really. New venues, new brewers, new customers; I was at Volo on a Saturday recently for several hours – I didn’t recognize ONE PERSON, which is astounding, it’s always been a small and close-knit core of beer geeks in Toronto and that brought home to me how hip and successful craft beer culture has become over the past couple of years.
10. Lastly, top 5 beers you have ever had in your life? (if possible to list)
Oh, so tough. I have rated over 5,000 different beers, and I don’t just want to go by highest score. I will go by impact, how memorable they were.
– Westvleteren 12 (the holy grail of beers). The first one took me two hours to drink and rate, and that was a wonderful experience (on my balcony, from the proper Westy 12 chalice). I have had the beer several times since, and it has never matched up.
– Narke Kaggen Stormkatsporter (batch 1) – a good friend in London shared a bottle with me – the best beer rating experience of my life, and the best stout EVER.
– Alesmith IPA – if this were available here I might not buy or drink anything else – it’s the IPA I judge all other west coast IPAs by.
– Orval – is this the best widely available beer in the world? I don’t know, but I love me some Orval, that’s for sure.
That’s not a hard-and-fast top 5, ask me tomorrow and I might say Two-Hearted Ale, or The Kernel Citra, or Lagunitas A Lil Somethin Wild (on tap) …. too many good ones to really pick a few. And that’s why I love my beer hobby so much!