by Allan Shewchuk

2019 May/Jun

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In the spirit of a time-honoured tradition, I recently asked my son out to have a beer with me. I wanted some quality bonding time and thought that meeting at a pub would be an easy way to get it. But my boy is a millennial, and nothing about going out for a drink is “easy” with that generation, as they must only frequent hotspots that serve kooky cocktails and bizarre beverages. He therefore insisted on meeting at a new micro-brewery, and I agreed, thinking that regardless of how “in” the place was, a beer is a beer and we could hoist a nice father-son pint together. Upon arrival, I discovered that in these new establishments, there are no big brand or familiar labels. Instead, all of the beer is made in-house and has to be wildly unconventional. And so what should have been a straightforward, pleasant evening soon turned into hipster hell, since I had been wrong: at millennial joints, a beer is never just a beer.

The trouble started at the menu. I recognized a few styles of brewing listed there, but every beer had a host of weird ingredients, like wild yeast and roasted heirloom wheat. The tasting profiles revealed beers with “notes of coffee” and “a finish of chocolate.” None of it sounded appealing, so I asked for some small tasters to try. The first sample was an IPA, which is a style I like. But this was not like any IPA I had ever sipped; it was so hoppy that when it crossed my taste buds, my jaw nearly popped out from the raging flood produced by my saliva glands. The next taste was stout, which again held promise but which had the colour, texture and taste of oil sands bitumen. In fact, if they tried to transport this beer in a pipeline, I have no doubt that environmentalists would be laying their bodies down across roads to protest the ecological damage that would be caused by a stout spill. The last sip was Wild Sour Ale, which had such a sour fruit taste that I concluded it must have been the brewer’s stomach contents.

At this point, I threw up the white flag and wished that I could just order a glass of wine. I thought that at least millennials couldn’t screw up wine with their crazy ideas and recipes. But it turns out, I was wrong about that, too, because I’ve discovered that the “hip” new drink craze is something called “orange wine.” My first thought was “Tropicana,” but once again, I was mistaken.

Orange wine is not made from oranges, but from white wine grapes that are mashed, stems and all, and left to ferment for as little time as four days or for as long as more than a year. Normally, white wines spend no time with their skins, but this method of leaving the crushed grapes without being separated from their skins turns the wine a darker colour than you see in white wine, ranging from golden straw yellow to Tony the Tiger orange. Orange wine can also be cloudy with sediment and usually has a tannic structure that is dry, like a red wine. Often it also has a harsh sourness, similar to a fruit beer. Apparently, with millennial tastes, all roads lead back to stomach contents. Stomach contents! Yum! (Said no one, ever….)

I sampled some orange wines and felt I was back sipping those microbrew beers, since the flavours varied from odd to off-putting. Notes on orange wines reveal the following “typical” tastes: jackfruit, brazil nut, bruised apples, dehydrated apricot, juniper, sourdough, linseed oil and wood varnish. Gosh! Just what we all want at the end of a busy day — a nice glass of wood varnish. (Said no one, ever….)

I felt wine snobbish about disliking orange wine until I read what the New York Times’ wine critic said about them. He tasted a bottle and took a shine to it, describing it as “cloudy pink with grippy tannins and beautiful aromas of mint.” He took it home and, upon popping the cork, said that it showed promise, as “on the palate it was focused and beautifully bitter.” But, shockingly, after being open for only an hour, the wine fell apart and took on the aroma of tires — as in steel-belted radials. So for now, along with avoiding weird craft beers, I’m going to pass on orange plonk. For me, in wine it’s important to taste a good year, not a Goodyear.

Allan Shewchuk is a lawyer, food writer and sought-after Italian food and wine guru. He currently has kitchens in both Calgary and Florence, Italy, but will drink wine pretty much anywhere.