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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Meet the Beer Bloggers - Jordan St. John

Part 3 of the Meet the Ontario Beer Bloggers

Jordan St. John
St. John's Wort
Beer blogging: 10 Weeks

Meet Jordan St. John, one of Ontario's newest beer bloggers.  Jordan story is an interesting one.  After being put on the waiting list for the new Brewmaster & Brewery Operations Management Program at Niagara College Jordan decided he'd start a blog about his views on the beer industry.  It's been eleven weeks since he wrote his first post and he's done an incredible job keeping it fresh and insightful right from the start.

His blog features a number of 'rants' that I've found to be quite amusing, terrifically written and very thought out.  He also recently added audio podcasts to some of his posts offering his visitors an added element to his site.

Describe the moment when you first saw the craft beer light?
I think that it probably would have been in about 1996 or 1997, probably at the Kingston Brewing Company. Back in those days they were still brewing on premises instead of contracting out and the Dragon’s Breath Pale Ale was a quality product that was being distributed by Hart. The place has gone downhill pretty severely since, but in its heyday they did a really nice line of beers with rotating seasonals and decent food. I’d like to see someone step up and revivify the place, but they have no impetus to recapture their former glory because they get a huge student crowd year round. The prices are low and it’s still better than a lot of stuff you can drink in Kingston, as long as you don’t order the cask which doesn’t seem to turn over fast enough to ever be in condition.

I remember sitting in the courtyard patio out back of the pub in the sunshine with a Dragon’s Breath and a lamb burger, thinking “Hey, this is pretty good.” I’m certain I was underage at the time, but I haven’t really been carded since I was 16. I guess that I started out drinking craft beer in Ontario, and that fell by the wayside when I went to university in New Brunswick, where there were $5.50 pitchers of Moose Dry. Sometimes economy wins out, especially when your university football team loses its homecoming game 110-0 and the nearest city is Moncton and the municipal pastime is depression and birdwatching.

What made you decide to blog about beer?
Truly, I’m blogging because I applied to Niagara College, which is going to be the first brewing program in Canada. At some point I was reading Heat by Bill Buford which is about a reporter who decides that he’s going to join the kitchen workforce in New York City and document the process. He’s getting his ass kicked by Mario Batali and Marco Pierre White and someone’s Italian Nonna. I figured that if he can write about that, people might be interested in someone going in to the first Canadian brewing program. What’s more Canadian than giving up a career to go brew beer? There’s got to be an audience for that!

I set aside some blog space on Wordpress and I figured that I would eventually launch the thing, maybe a month before the course started. Problem is that I’m well down the waitlist for applicants, so it’s not likely to happen this year. And then I figured that next year they’re probably going to look at your credentials, so I decided to write about Ontario beer in order to gain some credentials. Essentially, I’m doing this to have a shot at going to Niagara College’s brewing program next year, which I admit is a roundabout way of doing things when I probably should have tried to bribe the registrar.

I kid. I’m sure he’s an honorable man and would never consider such a thing. Although, clearly, some publicity for the program couldn’t hurt. *cough*

How long have you been blogging about beer and how long do you think you'll continue?
Ten weeks, so far. I think I’m in this for the long term at this point, given that people seem to be reading the thing. I didn’t really think anyone would read the thing when I started. I wondered whether some of the verbiage would make it inaccessible.

What has been the biggest change in the Ontario brewing industry since you started blogging?
In the last eight weeks? Probably Ontario Craft Beer Week was the biggest thing, but mostly because of the amount of coverage it seemed to get. There were bloggers and reporters from the papers and a very small amount of TV coverage.

Currently it’s a little like Schrodingers Cat. The observation of the industry is changing the outcome, if only in a slow and nearly imperceptible manner.

If you could change one time about the industry here in Ontario, what would it be?
The majority of the brewers seem to have bought in to the idea that they need to compete on the terms of the large Macrobreweries: You need a lager. You need an amber. You need a light beer. You need an affordable downmarket lawnmower beer.

One of the things that I’m going to look at over the next year or so is a suspicion I have developed that competing in the lager or pilsner market is actually really bad for business in terms of competition. Craft brewers have to do things the large breweries cannot or will not do if they want to succeed in the long term. You can’t beat Molson Canadian at their game. You are never going to outsell Labatt Blue. At best, at the absolute best, you might create something that some people view as an alternative if they can get it and it doesn’t cost too much.

You have to change the game and you do that through a combination of defining the craft beer industry’s rhetoric and language and continuing to create new beers at a consistent quality. That’s what the Ontario Craft Brewers need to be doing. Guide the perception. Make it accessible. Give people a reason to drink the thing. You can’t take for granted that people want to drink craft beer. You have to give them a reason to do it. And when they get to the point where they’re actually trying a bottle of it, that bottle had better not be skunked or underfilled or diacetyl-y. It had better be exactly what it’s supposed to be and it had better do what it says on the label. The next five years are going to make or break the individual Ontario breweries and quality, consistency and media narrative are going to do it.

What beer book would you recommend to someone looking to learn more about beer?
For someone just starting out learning about beer, probably Nick Pashley’s superb Notes On A Beermat. There are more technical books, but if you get something written in America in the last decade or so it’s going to be biased to the American market. I’m assuming your hypothetical person is Canadian, and in that case Nick’s a good introduction since he’s entertaining and accessible and very funny. He’s not talking about the nuts and bolts of brewing beer or rating beer or even appreciating beer. He’s talking about the experience; the soul of the thing.

When you're not drinking, writing, or out at the pub, what else preoccupies your time?
I play some banjo and guitar. I read a lot. Currently I’m about halfway through books by David Foster Wallace, Mark Twain and Jerome K. Jerome. I cook pretty proficiently. I also do freelance voiceover work when I can get it. I listen to a lot of music, and I’m slowly getting back in to jazz. At one point I was considering being a professional musician, but it’s a hard life being a gigging trombonist.

I’ve also recently gotten back into the gym upon the realization that beer may actually contain calories. I’m trying to get my deadlift tonnage back up to 3000 pounds a set. I think it would be fun to try and flip a Smart Car when I get back to that point.

Best beer festival or event you've attended?
Mondial 2009. It was the first one I attended so it left an indelible impression on me. Plus, Aphrodisiaque on tap, man.

Name your favourite beer blogging experience. 
Trying to figure out how I was going to write about Broue-Ha-Ha in Montreal. I love the place for its eccentricity, but it’s hard to explain it to someone who’s never been there.

Best time for a pint?
The mid-afternoon: preferably before everyone else has gotten out of work so that you feel as though you’re getting away with something. It’s the kind of calculated idleness that makes life worth living.

1 comment:

Rob said...

Jordan's one funny guy - keep up the good work, fella!

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