From the grace of Vivian Maier to the mechanics of an engine (review of Pistonhead)

IMG_2718As I left my office, strapped myself into the seat of my ship and punched-in my destination, I rid myself of all my stress with a powerful deep breath and smiled at what would be a very beautiful evening. The Beergonette and I started our evening by feasting on black and white appetizers prepared by none other than Vivian Maier. Our evening began at the Stephen Bulger Gallery ( where the works of Vivian Maier, a best-kept secret photographer known for her delightful photography of people, Chicago and New York architecture, were featured. To be precise, the gallery highlighted her photography of children.

Maier worked as a nanny for most of her life and an unknown photography whose work would eventually be recognized as stunning, to say the least. It wasn’t until a Chicago historian and collector assessed the findings of film rolls that Maier’s work became worthy of critical acclaim and high price bids. She died on April 21, 2009, in Chicago. You can learn more about Vivian Maier by visiting her website;

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Our excursion to the gallery was followed by a quick bite at the Dog and Bear then by a visit to a kickass little dive bar called Sweaty Betty’s. We’ve walked in front, peeked-in a handful of times but it wasn’t until last night that we decided, “let’s go in for a drink”, maybe two… ended being three, that’s what happens when you meet interesting people and get lost in conversation.

I began my session with a Diet Coke, no shit, and that’s when I saw the poster for Pistonhead Lager. Pistonhead sent me a press release last year announcing its arrival in Canada but I hadn’t tried it yet. Last night, I decided it was also time to pay this beer a little review.

If you’ve read a few of my reviews, you may know that I’m not a big fan of lagers but last night, I gained a certain appreciation for the style. I enjoyed Pistonhead more than I thought I would and more than my peers give it credit for. Must be a context thing.

Look:  Piston poured a beautiful gold with good head and lacing. Looked like it might have been too much of a fuzzy beer but it wasn’t.

Smell:  The smell took me back to my childhood when we’d travel from Chateauguay to Montreal and would cross the Mercier Bridge, the first thing you noticed was the smell of the Seagram’s Distillery. Some loved the smell while others risked a speeding ticket to get away from it as fast as they could. Pistonhead smells like a distillery neighbourhood mixed with floral hints and, unfortunately a little bit of corn syrup, but I chose to appreciate the smell.

Taste: Again, I expected the veggie broth that I’ve come to find with lagers. Pistonhead surprised me, although there were hints of leaves and celery, it tasted refreshing, sweet yet noticeably spicy and floral with a good malty taste. Note that it is brewed using spalter select, Magnum and perle hops.

Finish: A little thin, a session beer with only 4.6% alcohol helped with that. The lager left me quenched, with little bitterness and a carbonation level that I found to be more moderate than many of my counter parts

Context: What can I say, I had just finished a feast for the eyes, a gorgeous cheeseburger, I was in good company and amongst friends I had never met. A lager with low alcohol level and quenching attribute worked for me.

Repeater: I had three. Don’t know that I would have it again necessarily but Pistonhead and I hocked up last night and it was sexy but I didn’t sleep over and didn’t give it my cell phone number.

Pairing: Fun food, chill out with burgers, poutine, BBQ chicken, ribs, wings. Be a guy.

Score: 72%

Price: 4-5$

Availability: All year round

Beer type: Lager

Alcohol/Vol.: 4.6%

Brewery: Brutal Brewing

Country / Region: Sweden

Positive mention: Nice branding! Good for you for committing and going with it. Rock on!

Photo credit: Image of the Vivian Maier Children Exhibit at the Stephen Bulger Gallery courtesy of Lisa Fox


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