The latest legacy of Canada’s wildfire smoke? Wisconsin’s new beer-and-burger pairing

WASHINGTON — Another fragrant, hazy phenomenon is turning heads in the United States — only this time, beer fans in Canada are happy to take the blame.

It’s one of the latest IPA offerings from G-Five Brewing Company in Beloit, a southern Wisconsin community of about 36,500 people, an hour’s drive southwest of Milwaukee, a city synonymous with suds.

“Blame Canada” – what else should you call it? – is an easy-drinking India Pale Ale inspired by the smoky skies that ravaged much of the Midwest and Northeast United States at the start of summer.

It’s the result of a collaboration with fellow Wisconsin brewers Rocky Reef, a partnership that happened coincidentally in mid-June when wildfire smoke was at its worst, said Tim Goers, G-Five’s head brewer.

“When you have a business that’s that cyclical, you don’t want your customers to be outside because of the air quality, so it hurts the business a little bit,” Goers said.

Then, of course, the conversation turned to 1999’s “South Park: The Movie” and the now anthemic song-and-dance number “Blame Canada” — a nod to the show’s wry penchant for making fun of Canadians.

“We were going to hold it out for a week, but it was sheer luck that the wildfire haze came back,” he said.

“We got to the point when we were kegring this beer, it was pretty awful outside. We thought, ‘This is too random – we can’t keep this beer.’ So we published it.

Then there was a proverbial wildfire.

Of the 12 options available, “it’s currently our #3 bestseller and hasn’t even been sold a full month.”

Even the label on the tin is something many Canadians could stand behind – a red silhouette of the well-known Toronto skyline ablaze, with a smoky mountain range and white Maple Leaf emblem in the background.

When the beer alone isn’t enough, patio diners can pair it with G-Five’s newest burger of the week, Canadian Wildfire, a ground-up ribeye burger topped with flavorful maple syrup, the necessary bacon, jalapenos, and pepper jack cheese.

“If you have an IPA or a hoppy beer – ours isn’t that crazy about hops – it helps reduce some of the spiciness of the burger. So in the end they were a really good match.”

Much of the U.S. is now getting respite from the smoke, though northern states like Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and parts of northern Wisconsin still have air quality problems, Environmental Protection Agency data shows.

Instead, most Americans will have to contend with a terrifying heatwave this week, which is already sweeping across much of the U.S. South and is expected to reach record-breaking highs of up to 49C in places.

And Goers said he was well aware that wildfire season had only just begun on both sides of the border.

“For us as a brewery, it’s an ironic and funny thing, but as a nation and for the people who are going through this, it’s pretty awful,” he said.

“It’s kind of sad for me — I have a lot of compassion (and) compassion for what the heck is going on … it’s July 14th and usually the dry season hasn’t even started.”

Previously, G-Five sourced some of its malted barley from Maker’s Malt, a specialty producer near Saskatoon that caters specifically to the craft beer industry. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, shipping issues and recent droughts, the brewery has been forced to switch to a supplier closer to home.

“It hurts to see that,” he said. “Well, does it hurt us to brew beer? No. But you know, that’s not all that surrounds my life.”

In the meantime, Goers said while he hopes the wildfires aren’t as severe as they were last month, G-Five will keep the Blame Canada recipe handy and retrigger it if circumstances change.

“I’m not the biggest ‘South Park’ connoisseur — maybe I watched a few[episodes]in high school just to talk things over with my friends,” Goers said.

But if a Canadian craft brewer, say, wanted to hit the ball back with a sour seasonal offer called “Team America: World Police,” he’d be all-in.

“That would be hilarious.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 15, 2023.

James McCarten, The Canadian Press


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