Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Quaff Review #20: Olympia

It's enough to drive a man to drink, what's going on today - war and rumors of war, Rob Ford smashing the democratic process in Toronto, the rain that comes down so often in Metro Vancouver except when it doesn't. While I like to aim for what comes out of the microbreweries and the craft breweries, the fact is that the beer stores in downtown New Westminster don't exactly have a vast selection. Still, there are times when I go against the admonishment to drink good beer, times when I'm just looking for a six-pack of something to take the edge off. Most of the options I have over here are more or less unique to this end of the continent; I never saw so much as a discarded can of Olympia during all my time in Ontario.

Olympia Beer has a long history in the Pacific Northwest, going back to the 1890s when it was first brewed in Tumwater, Washington - near Olympia, so perhaps hence the name. Despite regional popularity, the makers fell on hard times and were bought out thirty years ago, to the point that its main production point today is a SABMiller plant in California. The cans for sale in British Columbia claim to have been brewed by the "Oly Brewing Company" in Saskatoon, but I can't find any reference to this supposed brewery that isn't some other review. I wouldn't be very surprised if it was produced in the United States and just relabeled; certainly, the only French on this can is that which identifies it as "bière."

That's enough of a history lesson, though - you can't drink history. You want to know how it is as a beer today, right? Well, the tagline for Olympia Beer is "it's the water," which I suspect derives from its use of water from artisanal wells back in the day. Today, though, "it's the water" is just plain honest; that's practically all that there is inside the can. It's the most accurate proof I've found yet of the "sex in a canoe" joke.

Remember to cut the plastic rings so turtles don't get their heads stuck in them and die!

After going through a six-pack of this stuff, I've had a good chance to reflect on the virtues of modern Olympia Beer - far more than when I review a craft beer based on a sole and solitary bottle - and I've come to the conclusion that there aren't really any. When it comes to taste, there isn't really any - the strongest element I can detect is the water. No bite, no kick, barely even a sharp reminder of the 5% alc./vol. that's supposedly in there. I find it not just bland, but offensively bland. Now that I've done my research, I'm not particularly surprised by this; it's made by a major multinational beer manufacturing conglomerate, so of course it's going to be shitty. In my experience, multinationals don't very much care about things like "taste" or "quality" or "inventiveness" - rather, they care about saturating the airwaves with advertisements for their product so that they can sell two-fours by the truckload.

What makes it even more galling is that of the multinational-owned swill for sale at the local bottle-o, it's not even the best value for money. Rainier Beer is something like fifty cents cheaper. Still, if you're looking for something of low price with no kick or aftertaste or anything that, just a suggestion of beer to take the edge off... try something else. Seriously. Go look for something that you've never seen advertised with a label that you don't recognize, or a bottle that says it was brewed in Portland. Don't put down your dollars on inferior beer.


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