Monday, November 12, 2007

BEERNADA - Steam Whistle Pilsner

Do one thing really, really well?
by Zach Aromyces

Here at Johnada, we pride ourselves in knowing very little about a lot of things. However, when it comes to beer, we don't, as the kids say, F-around. That's why (after a difficult negotiation process) we're happy to have our very first beer column by our resident beer expert Zach Aromyces. And trust us when we say he knows a lot about beer! If you ask him about Michael Jackson, his first thought won’t be about children and monkeys. As a disclaimer before any Canadians read this post, we should make it clear that he hates most U.S. beers too, and he will write about a Canadian beer he likes in the next column. Cheers!

For my inaugural and long-awaited blog beer review, I thought I'd start with the most hyped craft brew in Toronto: Steam Whistle. Before moving here, I was really excited about this beer because Czech pilsners are one of the most satisfying beer styles on the planet, a fact clearly known to the Steam Whistle marketing division. What makes Czech pilsners so good? Not including the brilliant name of the style, which refers to the town of Pilsen (Plzen) where pilsner beer was first invented by Pilsner Urquell (the town was founded because the area was thought to be good for mushroom hunting - "pilz" means "mushroom"), this style of beer marries the delicate and sweet flavour of extremely pale barley malt with the crisp bitterness and grassy bouquet of Saaz (pronounced "zots") hops. At first, I was impressed by the faith Steam Whistle puts in the success of their only product. And, their pompous slogan especially whet my palate. I was in desperate hope of finding a respectable Pilsner Urquell replacement (although available in Canada, you'd think it was Don Perignon by the price!): Surely they brew a traditional Czech-style pilsner. Naturally, this was the first beer I sought upon recovering from a bout of food poisoning.

Here is a description of my first Steam Whistle:

Color: pale honey, clear as a diamond (well filtered)
Carbonation: slight, with small beads, just right for a pilsner
Nose: WHOA! Did someone just open the jar of pickled eggs? Is there an open sewer nearby? Did someone fart? This is not good. The signature aroma of Saaz was barely perceptible through the sulfurous cloud of overcooked green corn stank. What the??
Flavour: does it matter?

Clearly, something went terribly wrong at Steam Whistle, but so long as they keep lying over and over again, people will continue to think this is a palatable (er, I mean good) beer.

Is this the best craft brewery in Toronto?! What happened? Well, one thing you would expect a brewer who was trained at Pilsner Urquell to know, is that pilsners should never be made with hard water!!!! Although Lake Ontario water is of "moderate" hardness according to the City of Toronto, this is too hard for pilsners. Lager yeasts naturally produce dimethyl sulfide (DMS) as a byproduct of fermentation. In most lagers, the "lagering" (cold storage) eliminates most of this disgusting gas. But, when DMS production is really high, such as when the water source has a lot of dissolved mineral sulfates, it can be impossible to eliminate completely (unless you dump the beer out, which is recommended by me). This isn't a problem unique to Steam Whistle, but at least Premium doesn't suffer from delusions of grandeur.

None of this should have surprised me, though: A quick perusal of Steam Whistle's website shows that when they brag about how good their beer is, what they really mean is how nice the logo looks on that fancy green bottle (which, by the way, is what causes beer to go skunky-think Heineken), their trendy historic building, and their line of antique green delivery trucks!

What a shame, 'cause Canada has such a great reputation for high-quality lagers.

Final Verdict = 2 Molsons
Take a lesson from the Queen Mother, Ontario: Only brew ales!

Questions? Comments? Hatemail? Email Zach at


Gino said...

I think that if you are going to write about the beer you should do some background research.
Steam Whistle trucks their water in from a spring up north of the city. They do have a Czech brewmaster but make a Bavarian Style Pilsner so you wouldn't necessarily get the Saaz hops.
And this is just being picky, but UV makes beer go skunky, not green bottles.
I love to see reviews but if you claim to be a beer expert and want to write good reviews you should probably do some reading first.

Johnada said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johnada said...

Thanks for your comments! We're not above admitting that we may make mistakes, so we'll look into this and update the review, post-haste. 2008

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