Rowboat beers: The excellence of everyday beers

“Tasty beer, but I can only have a half-pint of it.” “What’s everyone drinking for National IPA Day?” “We’re right in the middle of triple imperial stout season.” “The horse blanket from the brett really slaps you in the face.”

The craft beer industry often props itself up on a wooden leg of insufferable pretense, doesn’t it? And craft beer sometimes needs to attract attention with an eye patch and parrot on its shoulder.

That’s fine. Everyone needs the occasional pirate movie—they entertain.

But what about the rowboat beers? These are the ones that get you from work to bed; distract the mind from the leftover turkey meatloaf that’s for dinner; and make an afternoon of fence-building with your oddball neighbour tolerable.

They also don’t change themselves for the sake of marketing. They don’t come in fancy bottles. And they definitely aren’t new “takes on an IPA”.

Obviously, finding these beers is an itch that I’ve needed to scratch for quite a while now. Organised by style, here are my favourite rowboat beers.

Extra-special bitter (or ESB) might be the most precariously balanced of the English styles. They are stronger in every dimension than a mild or an ordinary bitter and don’t put any of the elements in the coxswain’s seat the way an IPA, porter or vintage ale do. Most of all, they do great on cask.

Collingwood makes Kingpost, Beau’s has one and Nickel Brook strikes an Equilibrium. All are fine examples at the LCBO. Further afield, try Bob’s Best by Grain & Grit, Muddy York’s Major Small or Rurban’s New Johnstown’s Best Bitter.

Helles has replaced pilsner as my favourite lager style. It always takes at least three sips to figure out which way a good helles leans, and as many as three pints to discover its subtleties.

You probably don’t need me to tell you about Gaslight by Muddy York or Trainspotter by Junction or the one Wellington makes. But dig deeper with People’s Pint’s Helles Island, Checkmate by Grey Matter and Cannonball from Left Field.

Dortmunder is another German lager style that places the accent on balance, but with a bit stronger malt than helles. Beau’s has one in their Farm Table series, Market makes Beswick and, of course, there is Otsukaresama by Godspeed. Let’s have more of these, please!

Finally, grisette is the everyman of the saison family tree. Hell, the name even comes from the colour of dust-covered Belgian coal miners. How unromantic is that?

Not many of this low-octane Belgian style make it to the LCBO but Great Lakes, Fairweather, Town and Kensington all have versions in their back catalogue that I’d love to see more of.

As you enjoy your search for your own all-season beer, stay away from the shoals of trendiness and let me know what treasures you find.

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