Follow beer writer, Troy Burtch, as he explores the wonderful world of craft beer and the pubs that serve it. Great Canadian Beer is a place to come to catch up on beer news, read tasting notes, check out event listings, and for pub previews and reviews.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Meet the Beer Bloggers - Greg Clow

Meet Greg Clow.  Greg is the author/creator of a number of beer and food related websites, a contributing writer for TAPS The Beer Magazine & Toronto's City Bites, and is well respected in the local beer community.

Describe the moment when you first saw the craft beer light?
I actually wrote quite an extensive answer to this question a couple of years ago when it was a topic in The Session, so I’ll simply cut and paste from there (with a bit of editing):

I attended the University of Waterloo from the fall of 1987 to the end of 1988, with the first wave of Canada’s modern craft brewing scene was just taking off, and a lot of the action in Ontario was centred around Waterloo and surrounding towns and cities such as Guelph and Cambridge. The Brick Brewery was located quite close to the campus, so some of the first beers I drank at the school were their lagers – although to be honest, I wasn’t an especially discriminating drinker, so I’d be just as likely to be seen pounding back Black Label or Molson Golden.

The first time I remember drinking a beer that seemed unique from the others in flavour and quality was during my final term when I was at my favourite hang-out, Phil’s Grandson’s Place, and the bartender recommended I try this new beer they’d just gotten in on tap called Sleeman Cream Ale. Compared to every other beer I’d had up to that point, it had a darker golden colour, a fuller body, and a slightly richer flavour. Certainly nothing exciting compared to what I drink today, but at the time, just the fact that it was noticeably different – not to mention pretty tasty – was enough to make me take notice.

Once I’d made the permanent move to Toronto, I continued to dabble in new beers fairly often. I still drank some mainstream brands, like Black Label (pretty much the official beer of Queen Street at the time, thanks to one of the earliest examples of viral marketing) and Molson Dry. But the micros of the day – Upper Canada, Conners, Creemore Springs, Formosa – were also regulars in the rotation. And hell, the very fact that I had a “rotation” and didn’t stick with one brand made me pretty unique.

This casual sampling continued for the next ten years or so, but then a couple of things happened in the late ’90s and early ’00s that caused my interest in craft beer to really spike.

First, in 1998 I read an article in Eye Weekly about the Belgian-style wheat beer Celis White, which Brick had just started brewing for Ontario on contract. Since Hoegaarden wasn’t yet the ubiquitous brand that it has since become, I was completely unfamiliar with the style, but the description of a beer brewed with spices and orange peel intrigued me, so I tried it, loved it, and ended up consuming a lot of it that summer. Soon after that, I somehow stumbled across The Bar Towel, which was a pretty quiet site at the time, but still lead me to beers and bars that I’d never heard of before.

And then in 2000, I went to Montreal for the first edition of the electronic music festival MUTEK. The last couple of days happened to overlap with Montreal’s renowned beer festival, Mondial de la Bière, so I headed down to check it out one afternoon, and proceeded to have my mind blown by the variety of beers available. That was the moment that I decided this beer thing was really for me. 

What made you decide to blog about beer?
I’ve always been the sort of person who needs to have something to occupy my time outside of my day job, and for many years, that something was activities related to electronic and experimental music: writing reviews, hosting a radio show, presenting concerts, running a small record label. But for a number of reasons, I “retired” from those things during 2005.

By that point, I’d already been keeping beer tasting notes and entering them on RateBeer for a few years, and in the early months of 2006, I offered to help Cass Enright with the news blog on Bar Towel, and also starting writing an occasional beer column for a local food and drink website called Gremolata. This ultimately inspired me to start up Beer Beats & Bites as my first blog.

In early 2007, my wife Sheryl Kirby and I launched Taste T.O. as a website and blog dedicated to anything and everything to do with food and drink in Toronto. While there were already a couple of sites covering aspects of this scene, none of them were doing it quite like we thought it should be done, so we figured we might as well just do it ourselves. One of the many things I do for the site is a weekly beer column.

A couple of years later, I decided to start Canadian Beer News, because while there were several Canadian beer blogs (including yours) that had occasional posts about new beer releases and other brewery news, there was no Canadian website like the American site that features exclusively beer news posts with little in the way of editorializing or personal opinion. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish with CBN.

How long have you been blogging about beer and how long do you think you'll continue?
Beer Beats & Bites was launched in July 2006, and Canadian Beer News in December 2008. I can’t predict if or when I’ll stop either of them, although I’ll admit that since the launches of Taste T.O. and CBN, my posts on BBB aren’t nearly as frequent as they used to be.

What has been the biggest change in the Ontario brewing industry since you started blogging?
I don’t know if I could pinpoint one particular change as being the “biggest” – there have been a lot of little changes that have added up to a much healthier and more exciting beer scene in Ontario than we’ve ever seen before.

But one of the most notable developments – and one which triggered, or contributed to, many of the others – was the establishment of the Ontario Craft Brewers. Their efforts have led to a marked increase in the sales and exposure of locally brewed craft beer throughout the province, and initiatives like the Discovery Pack series have been great successes. They’re doing good work, and I hope they continue.

If you could change one thing about the industry here in Ontario, what would it be?
Again, it’s hard to pick just one thing, but if pressed, I’d have to push for a reduction in the red tape that seems to be a part of doing pretty much anything related to beer in the province. As much as the LCBO has been improving things, especially in the seasonal releases, they and the AGCO are still government monoliths with way too many processes, procedures, rules and regulations, many of which seem ill-defined or even contradictory. Until these things are addressed, there are certain beers and styles that we’ll simply never see in Ontario.
What beer book would you recommend to someone looking to learn more about beer?
It’s probably the same answer you’ll be getting from many people, but I’ll say it anyway: You can’t go wrong with something by Michael Jackson.

My personal favourite book of his is “Great Beers of Belgium”, but that might be a bit too focussed for someone looking for something more general. In that case, I’d recommend either his “Great Beer Guide”, or the “Eyewitness Companions: Beer” volume that he completed editing just before he passed away.

(And by the way – if you ask me this question again in a year or so, I imagine that my answer will be “The Oxford Companion to Beer”, a book being compiled and edited by Garrett Oliver that I expect to find as comprehensive and encyclopaedic as other Oxford Companion volumes when it’s released in 2011.)

When you're not drinking, writing, or out at the pub, what else preoccupies your time?
Outside of my day job, most of my other waking hours are filled with things related to Taste T.O., whether it’s the fun stuff like going to restaurant openings and covering food and drink events, to the less fun stuff like tackling all the technical issues behind the scenes.

Aside from that, I watch TV and movies, and try to read when I can find the time. And I should find the time to also start exercising more, as all of the beer and food has really starting doing a number of my waistline...

Best beer festival or event you've attended?
The 2000 edition of Mondial de la Bière in Montreal that I mention above is a sentimental favourite due to it being one of the main events that solidified my interest in craft beer. But my pick for the best beer festival I’ve attended would go to the Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Festival, held each year in Ypsilanti, a small town near Ann Arbor. I’ve been down there twice, and it’s blown me away both times. It’s in a beautiful outdoor venue, features almost every craft brewery in Michigan - many of which brew special beers for the festival – and it has an awesomely friendly and mellow vibe. And best of all – no Bud, Coors or Miller in sight!

Name your favourite beer blogging experience
I’d say that the week I spent in New York City back in 2006 would be up there. I was down for a course related to my day job, and  managed to cram my evenings full of excellent beer adventures, including attending a trade and media tasting presented by a local importer and distributor that was so outstanding that it nearly made me weep with joy.

Best time for a pint?
What time is it now?

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