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.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Meet the Beer Bloggers - Stephen Rich

Part Six of the Meet the Ontario Beer Bloggers

Stephen Rich
Definitive Ale
Beer Blogging: 6 Months

Meet Stephen Rich, the man behind Definitive Ale.  Rich, who recently left behind a life in the Finance career to embark on a beer adventure, has been blogging for six months and his website is full of tasting notes, event reviews, educational material (beer and cigar pairings) and more.

Describe the moment when you first saw the craft beer light?
I went through high school assuming that I was drinking great beer – I was drinking the higher end commercial beers and imports expecting that this was as good as it gets. Then, it took just that first sip of Schneider-Weisse Aventinus in 2004 and I was changed forever. I had no idea you could enjoy flavor like this from beer. The Aventinus, and the beers that followed it opened my palate, my mind and my heart to a spectrum of flavors that I didn’t even know existed! I went to see a movie on a Tuesday night with some friends. After, we were looking for a place to grab a beer. We must have passed 3 or 4 closed restaurants and pubs before we stepped into the recently opened (at the time) beerbistro. The Bar Manager and Part Owner, Dayna, was working, and charmingly enchanted us with stories of amazing beer. The first beer she served me was the Aventinus, and all of a sudden my –mouth and soul was filled with a rush a complex flavors that I had never known. This was a remarkable beer. Little did I know (until later that night), that there were hundreds, even thousands of beers that can do exactly that!

That was the beginning for me, but one beer truly got me hooked. It was a miraculous thing for me in 2004, the first time I ever tried an Innis & Gunn; I was enjoying a beer and a meal at my favorite restaurant and beer bar in Toronto, the beerbistro. At the time I was just getting into real beer, and the Beer Bistro was the catalyst for that new found passion (obsession). Around then I was just beginning to learn the differences between mass produced commercial beer and craft made beer; there was really no better place for me to do that either. Then one night not unlike any other a beer caught my eye on the expansive beer menu called Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer, which explained that it had been aged in previously used oak whisky barrels. Now, while this may sound very commonplace these days to the avid beer connoisseur, in 2004 oak ageing was still very fresh, and to me it was exceptionally exciting. There wasn’t really a question in my mind; I really loved whisky, so I had to try this beer. If the Beer Bistro was the catalyst for my ascent to beer appreciation, then the Innis & Gunn Original Oak Aged Beer without a question was my guide. The first time I enjoyed this beer (and still every time) it absolutely floored me! I was then beginning to learn about and appreciate all the flavors that beer could posses, and the Innis & Gunn came along and just swept me off my feet! I was speechless, even still I am in awe of how delicious and fantastic this beer is. In fact, I have spent the last 6 years introducing my friends to Innis & Gunn and explaining to them why it is so exceptional – and have easily converted commodity-grade beer drinkers into real beer aficionados! Thanks Innis & Gunn!

What made you decide to blog about beer?
In February I left the world of Finance, and my job with a Canadian Mutual Fund Company to turn my greatest passion into my livelihood. One of my original inspirations was Ken Woods, the owner of the Black Oak Brewery in Toronto. Ken had spent much of his life as a corporate accountant, but one day realized that he hated it, loved beer, and decided to open up a brewery; one of the breweries that taught me about what craft beer truly is. I am wholeheartedly entrenched in the world of real beer, and I knew if I did not make something of that with my life I would be left empty. Ken inspired me to make this move now, rather than waiting until I am 50.

Who long have you been blogging about beer and how long do you think you'll continue?
I have been blogging since the beginning of March, and have no plans to stop. The context in which I blog may change as my career path dictates, but whether I am a beer journalist, work for a brewery, or run a restaurant, I will continue to blog in one capacity or another about beer and how it can enrich your life.

What has been the biggest change in the Ontario brewing industry since you started blogging?
As stated, I have only been blogging for the five and a half months, so in the wide context of Ontario Craft Brewing not much has changed. On a smaller scale however we are seeing more and more people get passionately involved in the craft beer community. This year will mark the inaugural year for the Toronto Beer Week, and this was also the very first year of Session, A Craft Beer Festival. As well, Mike Duugan has opened an already popular Craft Brewery in Downtown Toronto, and Beaus beers from Vankleek Hill continue to gain popularity among beer fans and non alike. So I have not witnessed a significant change in the market in the past 5 months, however an increased enthusiasm for craft beer is always a notable accomplishment.

If you could change one time about the industry here in Ontario, what would it be?
I would loosen the immensely tight restrictions that exist on both Ontario Craft Brewers and Servers of beer in Ontario. There is a hectic amount of red tape that you must cross in order to produce and sell the beer you want to, or import and serve exciting beers. The LCBO’s beer selection is improving, but why can’t we hold onto some of the amazing products that are seasonal to us, but year-round for the producer? Why can’t we get larger ranges of brands from brewers who we are already importing one of their products – ie. Dogfish Head, Southern Tier, Affligem, Samuel Adams, Brooklyn, Rogue, Victory, Dieu Du Ciel, etc. 

What beer book would you recommend to someone looking to learn more about beer?
The Brewmasters Table by Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery is an amazing overview of beer history, production, style guidelines, how to pair it with food and more. It is a relatively large book, and may be more than what the average person wants to know about beer. But if you are truly interested in learning more about beer, how to appreciate beer, and how to understand beer, then Garret provides you with an enthusiastic, experience based tour through the wonderful world of real beer from the perfective of a brewmaster, foodie, and kid in a candy store.

When you're not drinking, writing, or out at the pub, what else preoccupies your time?
From September to late January I am completely obsessed with the NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I haven’t missed a Steelers game in 7 years, and every Sunday you can find me decked out in black and gold in front of multiple TV’s with a beer in hand. Beyond that I cook and bake everyday and consider it a huge passion of mine. I also love cars, baseball, cigars, whiskey and bodybuilding.

Best beer festival or event you've attended?
There are many on my “to-go-to” list, but the best that I have been to se far was the Vermont Brewers Festival in Burlington Vermont. It is located in a park against the water, and is filled with craft brewers from the NE United States, and parts of Canada. Vermont has a rich brewing community and a strong foodie culture. The city is absolutely beautiful and always provides my bugs and I a fantastic time. Also, the Beverage Outlet in Winooski has one of the best beer selections I have ever seen.

Name your favourite beer blogging experience
Hopefully there are many more to continually top my list as I move forward, but one of the greatest thrills in the last 4 months was when I received a bottle of the Stone, Victory, Dogfish Head collaboration beer Saison du BUFF completely unarranged. The great guys at Stone were nice enough to send it to me, and receiving it in the mail by surprise lit me up for days. 

Best time for a pint?

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