Tag Archives: beer challenge

Jon Bubb Beer Challenge – The Results Please

Beer. It’s the best damn drink in the world. — Jack Nicholson

 2018 was the year of the challenge: the Biggish Bird Year, where I challenged myself to see 250 bird species in Ontario, and the Jon Bubb Birding Beer Challenge, where a mate challenged me to sample one beer for every species seen. As you have read in these pages in excruciating detail, I did manage to clock 278 bird species. So how did I fare on the beer challenge?

Beer Challenge: Fuller's London Pride. The best of the best.
Fuller’s London Pride. The best of the best.

Well as the Duke of Wellington said about the battle of Waterloo, it was a near-run thing. Throughout the year I was perennially in catch-up mode, as each time I started to make up some ground I ended up seeing new birds, necessitating even more beer species.  At the end of November I was 40 beers in arrears, but with the aid of some boon companions a late push got me just over the line. I spotted the 278th bird on December 29th, and downed the 278th beer on the 31st.

Beer Challenge: Beer #278
Mackinnon Brothers Eight Man English Pale Ale – beer #278.

It didn’t actually require a massive effort, just a certain amount of diligence. Even operating under self-imposed political constraints (no beers from fascist countries, from countries sliding towards fascism, or from countries run by populist demagogues) and even after losing the month of November to an unnamed plague virus, I still managed to get the job done. I even ended up with a few extras in the fridge to kick off the 2019 year list.

So we now have established that there are upwards of 300 beers available in Ontario, a happy and healthy increase from the days of my youth when there were about ten and they all tasted the same.

And by the way, the level of effort required to sit in comfy pubs or at home in my armchair sipping a cool one compares very favourably to the many hundreds of hours I spent out in the wind, rain, perishing cold and blazing heat searching for birds.

Carrying on the Quest

Beer Challenge: A trio of excellent beers.

A trio of excellent brews, from Kingston, Peterborough and the Laurentides.

So should anyone be inspired to replicate this noble challenge, I think that it should be quite possible to shoot for 300 in a year. The real limiting factor is finding sufficient stocks of new beers to try, but with diligence (that word again) and the help of friends it should be do-able. So I now throw down the gauntlet: a decent bottle of whisky to the first one of my readers to hit 300.

The Rules of the Game

Here are the rules, as codified by a panel of expert:

  • Sample Size. Ideally each beer should be imbibed in its natural form. For draft beers this means a pint glass; bottles or cans should be decanted into an appropriate-sized glass. Half pints are acceptable, as are flights of beers provided that the serving size is adequate to assess the quality of a beer.
  • Radlers may be included.
  • Neer beers (i.e. alcohol-free beers) may not be counted.

How to Approach the Challenge

As long as you stick to the rules the path to success is fairly simple (and should only cause mild annoyance among your friends):

  • When out on the town, try to steer your friends towards brew pubs or places with large beer menus.
  • Don’t just order the beer you like. Nerdishly search the list of available beers for new targets.
  • If in doubt, consult your year list, which should be on your phone.
  • Order a different beer with each round.
  • When out of town, never pass an LCBO without checking to see if they have any regional brews.
  • Drink beer when you might otherwise prefer wine or a cocktail.
Beer Challenge: Glassware is important.
Proper glassware is also important.


Along the way there were a number of people who helped (or in AA terms facilitated) this quest.

  • My brothers, who eagerly leapt into the spirit (so to speak).
  • Andrew and Mike, who supported the guiding philosophy of birds+beers during our road trip.
  • Brother-in-law Rob, who always had interesting bottles in stock when we came to visit.
  • Larry and Janice, my sister’s neighbours, who heard about the challenge and brought me back several Newfoundland specialties.
  • Bruce, who designatedly drove while I sampled the wares of Niagara-on-the-Lake.         
  • Christie and Zarko, who on their travels thoughtfully picked up a six-pack from an obscure craft brewery.
  • Brother-in-law James, who bravely took time off from Christmas Eve preparations to sink a few with me.

A shout out is also due to those virtuous bars that offer flights of beer: the Craft Beer Market in Ottawa, Mississauga’s Bier Markt, the Exchange Brew Pub in Niagara-on-the-Lake and Kingston’s own Stone City Ales.

The Ratings

Of 278 beers tasted, 97 received a star, signifying an interesting brew of high quality and drinkability – “more-ish” as the Brits would say. Stone City Ales had the highest score with five starred brews, followed by Collective Arts and Muskoka Brewery with four each.

Those that didn’t make the grade generally fell into two categories: boring (yet another Labatt’s Blue clone or over-hopped IPA) or weird. In the weird category I would count most of the sours.

Sours are the latest craze among brewers. They have a long history and, in the right circumstances (which normally include being in Belgium), they are an interesting diversion. But they generally fail on the quaffability and I-think-I’ll-have-another criteria.

In the Hall of Shame were eight brews rated as dreadful/never try again: Barley Days Wind and Sail Dark, Bennett’s Dominion Ale, Budweiser Light, Coors Banquet, Coors Light, Henderson’s Food Truck Blonde Ale, Puppers Letterkenny Lager, and Wolfe Island Brewery Out for a Sip. You have been warned.

Recommended Beers

Beer Challenge: MacKinnon Brothers Crosscut
This is the house ale chez nous.

My first post on this topic included a list of recommended beers. Here are a few more good ones for your delectation:

  • Amsterdam Brewery Space Invader IPA
  • Blyth Brewing Company Doc Perdue’s Bobcat
  • Benediktiner Hell
  • Beyond the Pale Pink Fuzz Pale Wheat Ale
  • Bicycle Craft Brewery Velocipede IPA
  • Braufactum Pale Ale
  • Brooklyn Lager
  • Collective Arts Jam up the Mash Dry-hopped Sour
  • Collective Arts Surround Sound Double Dry-hopped IPA
  • Hop City Brewing Co 8th Sin Black Lager
  • Kingston Brew Pub Dragon’s Breath
  • La Trou du Diable Saison du Tracteur
  • MacKinnon Brothers Eight Man English Pale Ale
  • Mill Street Tankhouse
  • Northwinds Rooster Tail American Pale Wheat
  • Robinsons Iron Maiden Trooper beer
  • Sons of Kent Brewing Co 8 Track IPA
  • St Mary Axe India Pagan Ale
  • Stone City 12 Star Session Ale
  • Stone City Shallow Grave American Stout
  • The Publican House Brewery Square Nail Pale Ale
  • Traquair Jacobite Ale
  • Whitewater Brewing Co Astrolabe Session IPA

And remember, as Benjamin Franklin didn’t say (but should have):

“Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy”

Birding Beer Challenge 2018

The Jon Bubb Beer Challenge

When I announced my intention to have a biggish birding year, one of my friends innocently(!) suggested that sampling a different beer for every bird seen was some sort of tradition. The provenance of this claim is unknown, but Jon is a straight shooter and former Royal Marine and thus trustworthy on the subject of drinking traditions, so I had little choice but to take on the birding beer challenge.

Simple enough, or so it seemed…

Birding and beers have a long and storied friendship. In the UK, where I cut my birding teeth, a visit to the pub was the normal end to a good day of birding. In Canada this is less true – stopping at Tim’s is more common (a poor substitute in my mind). But most birders can be talked into a post-ornithological pint with minimal arm-twisting.

We are also living in the golden age of craft beer, with hundreds of brews available and new micro-breweries popping up everywhere. So in principle there should be 250 beers available, even in our benighted province where the beer market is a government monopoly.

Oh, and I like beer.

There is a fly in this ointment, of course. On the best day so far this year (1 Jan, natch) I added 31 species to the year list. On no day this or any other year have I sampled 31 pints of beer. So I have been trying to play catch-up on the beer front while falling farther behind all the time.

Duchesse de Bourgogne - Jon Bubb Birding Beer Challenge.
Duchesse de Bourgogne – a fine example of a traditional top fermented reddish-brown ale from West-Flanders

However this post marks beer #100. I had planned to sample something special for the one hundredth beer species of the year, but due to poor accountancy skills I squandered the number 100 slot on the boringest of beers – Heineken. The pictured brew is more what I had in mind. It rings in at number 104.

A few general observations so far:

  • Why are Canadian craft beers unnecessarily strong? A session ale should be in the 3.5-4% range, especially if served in pints. The minimum for Canadian craft beers seems to be 5%, and 6+% is common. Lynn theorizes that this is because hipsters drink only one beer at a time and then waste their remaining in-pub hours debating its merits… 🙂
  • Yes, modern IPAs are interesting and voguish. But something close to 80% of available craft beers are IPAs. There are other beer styles known to humankind. Our local brew pub likes to brag about the number of craft brews they have on tap, but almost all of them are variations on IPA.
  • Where are the English-style bitters? A mere handful are being made. And again GUM Department Store the LCBO doesn’t help – on a typical day they will have one English bitter on sale, hemmed in by hordes of pedestrian imports and a plethora of nearly-identical IPAs. They once carried the excellent Propeller Extra Special Bitter from Halifax, but they have de-listed it in favour of Propeller IPA. Grrr.
  • Everything from Muskoka Brewery, Mill Street and Nickel Brook is good. Perth Brewery and Prince Eddy are very promising and will require further investigation.

The Best of the First 100

So I am 104 beers into the Beer Challenge and so far I have not tasted an actively bad brew. A few, however, stand out from the others and deserve mention. Herewith my recommendations. I have not attempted to rank them, save that the number one beer is my Number One Beer:

  1. Fuller’s London Pride
  2. (tie)
Prince Eddie’s Brewing Co Milk Shaka Stout
Skeleton Park Amber 6.6
Stone City 12 Star Session Ale
Spearhead Moroccan Brown Ale
Boshkung Brewing Company 35 & 118 Cream Ale
La Micro Brewing Co Conejo Mago IPA
Muskoka Brewery Mad Tom
Muskoka Brewery Moonlight Kettle
MacKinnon Brothers Crosscut
Boreale IPA
Boshkung Brewing Company North Country Kellerbier
Bobcaygeon Brewing Company Firestarter
MacKinnon Brothers Red Fox Ale
Black Creek Canada 150 Best Bitter
Fullers London Porter
Shepherd Neame Spitfire Kentish Ale
Manitoulin Brewing Co Cup and Saucer English Ale
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout
Creveceria Nacional Dominicana Presidente
Mill Street 100th Meridian
Muskoka Cream Ale
555 Brewing Co Footprint IPA
Muskoka Harvested Ale
Prince Eddy’s Milkshaka Stout
Granville Island Pale Ale
Four Fathers Brewing Co Shevchenko 9 Ukrainian dunkel
Manitoulin Brewing Co Cup and Saucer English ale
Railway City Brewing Co Black Coal stout
Nickel Brook Brewing Co Head Stock IPA
Nickel Brook Brewing Co Equilibrium English-style ale
Amsterdam Brewery Boneshaker unfiltered IPA
Waterloo Grapefruit Radler
Black Creek Canadian Frontier Best Bitter Ale
Mad and Noisy Orange Pale Ale
Chimay Blue Label
Upper Canada Repatriation Lager
Perth Brewery 25 Thistles Anniversary Ale
Br. Verhaege Vichte Duchesse de Bourgogne

Of course I cannot consider these results scientifically valid until I have replicated them…

Beer Challenge Rules (as determined by me):

  1. Sample Size. Ideally each beer should be imbibed in its natural form. For draft beers this means a pint glass; bottles or cans should be decanted into an appropriate-sized glass. I will allow half pints in a pinch, but samples do not count.
  2. Do radlers count? I deem that they do. Especially Waterloo’s Grapefruit Radler. Allowing the odd radler or shandy makes up for all those 7% IPAs.
  3. Neer beers (i.e. alcohol-free beers) do not count. That said, I can recommend two good ones: Grolsch and Molson’s Excel.
  4. In this era of trade wars and other sorts of strategic stupidity it is important to stand up for your friends and boycott the products of the countries that are intent on doing us harm. So rule number 4 is: no beers from fascist countries, from countries sliding towards fascism, and from countries run by populist demagogues.

To avoid offending anyone’s ancestral home (and to lessen the risk of hacking attacks) I will not name the offenders. Suffice it to say that I will have to continue the Beer Challenge without the help of Baltika, San Miguel, Tsingtao, and whatever swill they drink in Venezuela.  Peroni is no great loss anyway, but foregoing Zywiec is a blow. I will survive.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale remains on the list. For now.