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Joan Sullivan: Pairs well with a good brew

Book cover
Book cover - Contributed

The Overcast’s Guide to Beers of Newfoundland:
The Definitive Guide to Beer on The Rock
Breakwater Books
$19.95  104 pages

I’m guessing most people, now and then, have a beer, with some partaking routinely. But likely most of us enjoy a cold brew on a hot afternoon with no more thought to it than, “Man, that hit the spot.” We probably don’t pause, consider, and intone: “Earthy and floral, with notes of one-cent candy.”

That’s where “The Overcast’s Guide to Beers of Newfoundland” comes in. That’s how they assess beer — in this case Storm Island Gold — by aroma and several other categories. We’ll get back to that in a second — there’s much, much more here. This volume investigates beer as, not just commodity, but as a community and even a culture.

The guide starts with the very foundation, the four building blocks of beer: water, hops, yeast, a starch grain. It explains the brewing process, its steps also numbering four: making malt from grain, making wort from malt, hopping the wort, and fermenting the hopped wort with yeast. Together these produce two types of beer: Lagers and ales. With these basic, universal notes, symphonies are composed.

This volume investigates beer as, not just commodity, but as a community and even a culture.

The book then covers the history of beer in Newfoundland. Bennet Brewing, Newfoundland Brewery, and Bavarian Brewing were the earliest major players, and though none still exits all extend influence into current preferences and markets.

“Blue Star was actually a creation of Bavarian Brewing, and won the Munich Gold Medal in Germany in 1954, so even the Germans loved Newfoundland’s German-influenced Newfoundland beer.” Its brewery on Leslie Street is now operated by Labatt’s. The guide then decodes impacting industrial purchases and mergers.

Micro-breweries trending

But the bulk of its pages are devoted to the growing trend of micro-breweries. These have been founded all over the province and are profiled here alphabetically. Each includes a history of the company, a look at its focus and direction, and a review of its products. If you read “The Overcast,” and we all do, you will recognize the textural tone: informative, nimble, witty, and sound.

A word about the design. It’s fantastic and completly supports and showcases the material. There are lots of photos and bright, bold colours everywhere. Some of the imagery, like the vintage labels and bottle, must have taken some serious archival research. The look is crisp and clean, with the slight drawback that the font, while attractive, is oddly difficult to read at times, as some punctuation marks seem to fade into the page. That aside, the layout is lively and lucid.

To take just one example, Yellowbelly Brewery, we learn, was established 2008 in St. John’s by Liam McKenna. Its nomenclature comes from the corner of George and Water Streets, known as Yellowbelly corner for the Wexford Irish who gathered there, no doubt for the most peaceable of reasons. The stone building also survived the 1892 Fire.

Like the other micro-brewery founders, who are deeply enthusiastic about their craft and love to experiment, McKenna “bang(s) out one-off small batch or seasonal beers all year long.”

He likes the independent quick-footedness of his own brewery, where “conception to actualization” can take just three weeks. “People still talk about his turnip pale ale.”

But Yellowbelly has four main, constant products: Fighting Irish Red, St. John’s Stout, Yellowbelly Pale Ale, and Wexford Wheat. Each is described by ABV & Type, Appearance, Aroma, Texture, Taste, and Behind the Beer. St. John’s Stout, for example, is “(b)lack like oil is, with a creamy head,” with an aroma of “(d)ark chocolate, coffee, fresh tobacco, vanilla, and roasted nuts,” with a texture that “goes down the hatch quite danger-easily for a stout.” In taste “it’s a mouthful of liquorice, coffee, dark chocolate, and burnt toast from the malt spectrum … If you really dive in, there’s some earthy notes.”

Yellowbelly Pale Ale “has a striking dark-amber bronze colour, with beautiful lustre and clarity. Plenty of foam head and so much lace it’s painting the pint glass … it’s full of piney-citrusy hop scents, that do not overwhelm … it does pack a wallop of expressive hop tastes … There’s an interesting fruit note in here from its fermentation: pineapple? Marmalade?”

The guide also makes food pairing recommendations, like this for Storm Brewing’s Coffee Porter: “Pair(s) well with Indian dishes, or Szechuan-based ones, as well as berry cheesecakes, or cheeses like Stilton, feta, and Roquefort.” What adventurous, seductive, scrumptious writing. It’s all good enough to eat, and of course drink.

Joan Sullivan is editor of Newfoundland Quarterly magazine. She reviews both fiction and non-fiction for The Telegram.


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