Founders Breakfast Stout

Okay, back to beer time.  I’m not under the influence this time around (beyond the half-glass I’ve consumed) so I’m less likely to go off on odd tangents, regardless of their justifiability.  In a defining moment of redundancy, I decided to put up a blog post about one of the most heavily reviewed beers in North America:  Founders’ double-chocolate, coffee and oatmeal stout referred to as their Breakfast Stout.

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Founders are a bit of a rarity around the northwest, especially in Canada, due to lack of nearby distribution.  Dedicated beer nerds find a way though.  Myself, I lucked out by having a friend bring this bottle back for me from his trip to Philly.  Naturally, it was on the bucket list so I’m very thankful for its being delivered to me.  Perhaps their KBS is a little more popular, but Breakfast Stout is right up there.  When I wandered over to BeerAdvocate I discovered a 100 rating both by user input and “The Bros”.  That’s about as impressive as it gets over there.

My review was -7.3% from the BA average, but that’s not because I didn’t like it.  I really, really like it.  I just don’t think it’s the be-all, end-all breakfast stout.  But jeez, it’s close.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about the appearance, because it’s a stout.  You can see above.  It’s fairly inky, though not thick as it pours.  Head is minimal.  Not notable.  However, things start to pick up on the aroma: bitter chocolate mixed with oats, and a huge fresh coffee presence, like sticking your face into a bag of fresh grounds.  It’s so fresh and prominent that you can really dig into the details about the beans and their roast:  the roast comes across pretty light, while the beans are fruity and nutty.  Most excellent.  This is the blur of a beer nerd and a coffee nerd’s delight.

Taste follows with baker’s chocolate coated granola bar on the front half, backed by some coffee towards the back end.  Not nearly as much coffee as the aroma, but still very much present.  Medium roast coffee I would say, not overly roasty.  The chocolate is pretty prominent but absolutely sugarless in flavour – there is very little sweetness and there is correspondingly very little bitterness to balance it off.

For me the surprise was the body of the beer, which was definitely on the thin side.  It was still creamy and rich and by no means bad, but it did not have the viscous quality I cross my fingers for in a big stout.  That’s okay though, it’s not like the beer needs it at all.  It drinks more like a coffee in terms of body.

I would love to have another and I’ve never had a breakfast stout so full of explosive flavour.  It’s not my favourite nor even in my top 5 stouts, but it’s still right up there and just awesome in its own right.

 

 

Intermission: Song review, Typhoon’s ‘Artificial Light’

This is a beer blog that I tend to, but I’ve had just enough tonight that I want to make a post not about beer but instead about music.  I like to believe the two go hand-in-hand, and while this isn’t untrue, its significance varies widely from individual to individual.  We may be united by our taste in beer, but our taste in music likely varies widely.

I like to think that good music will transcend genres, though that’s not really true at all.  As I drink my glass of Ten Fidy, I am revisiting a track I’ve listened to a whole lot recently – both on Rdio and on my turntable.  It is by the Portland band Typhoon, and it’s their first song on their recent release, called Artificial Light.

Portland does beer well, we all know this.  They also do music well – which is not surprising given the fact it is a city made up almost exclusively of artistic types.   Typhoon is a band that screams Portland to me – tons of members (because what else do they have to do?) all coming together in a way that emphasizes the end result, not individual gain.   They are an incredibly quiet band for their size, and I mean that as a sincere compliment.

I encourage you to mind the lyrics as you listen to this song, because they are fantastic and fortify the song strongly:  http://www.songlyrics.com/typhoon/artificial-light-lyrics/

A notable feature of this song is it changes tempo and reinvents itself at a couple points.  Crucial to its storyline and appealing from a sensory perspective.  I assume you’ve read the lyrics as you’ve listened along.  I hope you did, even if just to appease me.  Lead singer Kyle Morton has a unique, pitchy voice that may not appeal to everyone, though I think it’s brilliant.  Undeniably though, the song underneath is worth being told.

It’s a love story, which has been done a million times.  Kyle & band’s storytelling is a particularly eloquent rendition of the same old storyline, though.  We are brought from the “beginning” to current day shown the lengths that man has gone to appease his desire for happiness – from cosmology to advanced physics, we engross ourselves in the pursuit of knowledge and curiosity, all in the name of self-fulfillment.  In the context of this song, this is the “artificial light”.  In other words, it’s not the real deal.  But deeper into the song, the slowed-down lyrics “I woke up in the morning / To a pale light tangled in your hair / And I never wake before you / But this time, I caught you sleeping there” where Kyle finds the “true” source of light.  He then gushes about the finding.

The moral of the story was, of course, that genuine love is where this true self-fulfillment is found.  Of course, there’s a good chance I’m fabricating this metaphorical storyline but I stand by the fact that it’s a damn good one.  I also stand by Typhoon and their awesome music.  I have strong opinions on music as my extensive record collection will attest to, and Typhoon is a new addition to the collection I can’t get enough of.   Next, I would say go listen to some Horse Feathers.

The State of Stouts in BC

The (very) recent introduction of Oskar Blues’ famous canned stout Ten Fidy to the BC market has prompted me to post up about stouts.   Stouts in general, at least as they pertain to BC.  Ten Fidy is my favourite non barrel-aged stout, which is a pretty bold statement to make.  I like stouts, and there are a lot of good ones.

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Look at the colour of that head.  That is perhaps the most impressive part of this stout when it’s poured:  the head is a full shade darker than the dark tan head you’d find on a bottle of Old Rasputin, Narwhal, or any number of other Russian imperial stouts on the local market.  I’ll tell you another thing:  Ten Fidy is in another category altogether when it comes to body, too.  The stuff is thick, like motor oil thick.  But instead of being oily, it is sticky, like barely-dissolved sugar or molasses.  It is on the sweet side, and I know full well it’s probably too sweet for some folk’s palates, but for me it’s perfect.  It has that huge sweetness of chocolate, molasses, and burnt sugar but it’s also balanced off by a good hops presence as well.   There is a very powerful roast character along with the toffee sweetness.  Just awesome stuff, and the internet will back me up on that.

A lot of people get pretty defensive of their personal favourites in this department, for instance, North Coast’s Old Rasputin.  No doubt, Old Raspy is a golden standard of the style and I’m not knocking it.   Ten Fidy strikes a bit of a different balance:  more sugars, more viscosity.  It’s probably a personal thing.  But while Old Raspy is awesome, Ten Fidy is that much better for me.

I just finished a glass of another favourite:  Moa’s imperial stout.  The availability of Moa beers in BC has really expanded in the past few months, and this imperial stout in a 375mL corked bottle can be found any number of places now and for not too bad a price.  It has a rich roast with great hops and a good creamy body, though not quite Fidy-level.

So here are some fine locally available “regular” stouts I would recommend to anyone who likes stout:

  • Oskar Blues Ten Fidy
  • Moa Imperial Stout
  • 8Wired iStout
  • North Coast Old Rasputin
  • Sierra Nevada Narwhal

There are, of course, a slew of limited releases and barrel aged stouts locally available as well.  For instance, I’d recommend this year’s Black Butte XXV wholeheartedly while I’d say that Deschutes’ other annual stout release, Abyss, is actually runner up to the XXV*.  XXV showed a great balance between big chocolate and big bourbon this year; just delicious.  For a good bargain, Longwood’s Stoutnik is very drinkable.  Parallel 49 has released their Russian Imperial for the year, and just like last year it is good without being a must-have.

If you’re getting your growler filled, there are a few unique options available to you.   Brassneck’s Inertia stout is very tasty.  But my personal favourite, without a doubt, is Storm Brewing’s Vanilla Whisky stout.  Its availability is spotty but if the opportunity knocks, don’t pass it up.

* Technically Black Butte is a porter, not a stout.  I hold the opinion that porters are a sub-genre of stouts.  This is not an official stance.

The Bruery – Sour in the Rye

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This is a post about The Bruery.  Its primary focus is this beer I’m drinking right now, Sour in the Rye.  Within the last 48 hours I have also drank Oude Tart and Bois, so they are also fresh on my mind.  I’ll just go ahead and say it: I’m a Bruery fan-boy.  Shut up.

The Bruery is a well known contender in the west coast craft beer scene and undoubtedly they produce some of the more highly regarded seasonals:  Chocolate Rain and Black Tuesday for instance.  Unfortunately, those are two bottles considered too good for the Canadian market, but a select number of Bruery releases are trickling into BC with our ever-growing import selection.  Among those are: White Oak, Bois, Sour in the Rye, and Mischief.  From personal experience I can say they are all rather delicious.

The Bruery is somewhat known for batch infections and premium pricing, also.  They aren’t known for perfection every time.  But despite that I continue to be a fan-boy because my personal experiences continue to be nothing short of awesome.  Also I will admit I wanted them to be awesome because I find their bottles and their general image to be rather appealing.  This is kind of like my love for Hair of the Dog; I seem to go for the breweries known for high batch variance for some reason.

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Right, I came here to talk about Sour in the Rye.  Well, it’s quite a pretty beer in addition to the pretty bottle: a kind of tangerine orange/red/pink combination that is finely opaque as if there was glacial silt in the beer.  The head isn’t out of control in size but is quite fun to lace and watch break down slowly.  It smells intensely tart but with fruit sweetness as well, there is no funk here, just fresh, under-ripe and hugely tart berry fruit.  Taking a sip results in decent pucker, sort of a sour cherry meets a sweet but super tart lemon thing going on.  It does a great job of being full-on sour without giving up the sweetness, and it’s not cloying though it’s not far off.  The rye influence is on the back-burner and comes through towards the finish along with some oak dryness.  The carbonation is fine and lively, and really makes it all a pleasure to drink.

My immediate thought when I took a sip of this beer is that it has scratched an itch that only Belle Royale from Driftwood had previously scratched.  It lacks the complexity of say a Cantillon but I don’t care–this is really enjoyable stuff that manages to be refreshing while tingling my sour-loving taste buds.

Oh, and I mentioned I had Bois and Oude Tart recently.  Bois blew me away a little bit with its complexity, as it had a little bit of everything:  bourbon, red fruit, vanilla, oak, booze, and so on.  I know it’s one to age but it’s quite amazing already.  Oude Tart hit a great balance of raspberry / blackberry tartness that I was completely satisfied by.  No complaints at all.

Brassneck – Stockholm Syndrome

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Saisons with brettanomyces are pretty hip these days, though I swear my love for them has nothing to do with their popularity.  Brettanomyces, henceforth referred to as ‘brett’ for ease of typing, is a rather funky member of the yeast family which gets along famously with the tart, spicy nature of the farmhouse ale.  Its function is two-fold: it adds character and complexity to the base saison, and it adds a funky sourness as well.

Four Winds Brewing recently released a brett-laden saison which was the first of the style in Vancouver.  It was very exciting.  It was also very good stuff—perhaps not quite on par with Logsdon, but a very good first effort.  Brassneck has now come through with their crack at the challenging but rewarding style.

To answer the burning question of how it turned out, I would say it turned out really quite well.  I wouldn’t place it in Logsdon territory either, but it’s got great balance and really pleasant flavour.  I took some notes, though I preface that my note-taking is not incredibly insightful stuff:

Appearance:  Densely opaque, pale tangerine with that characteristic fluffy white head that leaves plenty of lacing behind.

Smell:  I’m getting apple skins, hay, earth, and maybe some clove-forward spices.

Taste: Bready wheat and sweet grapefruit citrus dominate the first portion of the palate while the long, long finish is dominated by the characteristic earthy funk that brett leaves.  It is reminiscent of Logsdon’s Seizoen Bretta though I find the Brassneck version to come across slightly heavier or denser.

Mouthfeel:  Rich body, carbonation falls a little short of perfect but it’s by all means good.

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Driftwood – Old Cellar Dweller 2013

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While I like them well enough, I’m not especially partial to barleywines.  If I were to list my favourite beer styles in order, barleywines would be mid-way through the list at best.  As a beer enthusiast, it’s expected that I’d hold them in high regard: they are several styles all combined to create one beast of a beer: huge hops character combined with lots of malt.  Like a pale ale that’s been taking steroids.  However, I usually end up finding them a little too harsh for my tastebuds.  Even 2013 Woolly Bugger from Howe Sound, which by all accounts is an amazing example of the style, is a little on the harsh side for me.  I have decided that I like my barleywines with some age on them to help round off those harsh peaks and enrich the body of the beer.

This year’s Old Cellar Dweller from Driftwood Brewery has thrown a wrench in that self-diagnosis because it’s nothing like I’ve come to expect from a barleywine.  Perhaps it’s a little off-base to call it a barleywine at all.  A similar sub-genre of beer, the barrel-aged double IPA, has a very special place in my heart.  A good example is Burton Baton from Dogfish Head.  It’s got the big hops character of a DIPA but with a sweet malt backbone.  This year’s Old Cellar Dweller is a departure from year’s past and follows very similarly to what I’d expect from a barrel-aged DIPA.  It is exactly what I love.

Instead of caramel in the malts though, Old Cellar Dweller is much more in line with honey sweetness.  Huge honey sweetness, in fact.  The hops are huge, citrus and floral in taste plus some great citrus pine on the nose, but their bitterness is astoundingly gentle.  More Sartori than Fat Tug.  Despite the 11.6% ABV, the alcohol is all but nonexistent.  There is none of the dark fruits or chocolate you might find in previous years.  2013 Old Cellar Dweller is bright, light, sweet, and (to keep the rhyme) a total delight.

A note on the packaging as well.  I think Driftwood has really stepped up their game on the waxing, taking cues from Dark Lord with the stringy runs of wax down the bottle.  It might be silly, but these runs of wax are icing on the cake when buying a cellar staple such as this.  For the first time in Old Cellar Dweller history though, I wonder if there’s any point in sitting on bottles of this for any length of time.  It’s just so good right now and there’s no harshness or booziness that needs time to settle.  That said I will sit on a couple anyway in the name of science, I just don’t think it’s likely to yield any great benefit.

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Portland Pilgrimage – December 2013

As a typical beer nerd, I make my way to Portland with my girlfriend (also known as beer mule) about twice a year.  Last trip was in the summer and I brought back all kinds of random things, as I couldn’t handle the awesomeness.  This time, since I still have half those beers in the cellar / cupboards / everywhere, I tried to stay more focused and not just peg the 8.5L per person limit.  I succeeded in being more focused, I think, but not as much on the second point – we were still basically at our legal border limit.

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My intention was to focus on fewer beers / breweries and bring back more multiples.  Multiples allow me to age while still drinking fresh, trade my duplicates locally, and share with friends while still having another to write up for the blog.  I had targeted beers in mind, limited to Bruery, Logsdon, Hair of the Dog, and Dogfish Head.  I was surprisingly successful in sticking to these breweries:  I did grab two cans of Ten Fidy (didn’t realize they were available on the west coast) and two Boulevard bottles (which I overpaid by buying in Bellingham).

I got exactly to the bottle what I intended to from Logsdon, Dogfish, and Bruery:  one bottle of Logsdon West Vlaming and Cerasus, two World Wide Stouts, four Burton Batons, two Oude Tarts, two Tart of Darkness, and one Saison Rue.  However, my Hair of the Dog purchases got a little out of hand, both in quantity and cost.  I intended to buy 2 Adams and 3 Freds.  I got my three Freds and didn’t buy any Adams.  However, I didn’t realize that I would be able to buy Bourbon Fred 2013, Otto from the Wood 2013, and a six-pack of vintage bottles (Cherry Adam, Michael, Pannepooch Reserva, Fred from the Wood, and Doggie Claws ’12) from the brewery (at a mere $80 for the 6-pack…).  So I bought all of those.  Hair of the Dog is known for having a bit too much variation in carbonation plus some infection issues, but I have had nothing but success personally so I took a bit of a risk and bought all this stuff from them.  Plus a T-shirt, growler, and poster.

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Here are some of the places I went to, some for the first time and others re-visiting:

Belmont Station:  Best bottle shop I’ve been to in Portland.  Sells out quicker than others for limited releases but great selection.  We stay near here too, so even better.  Plus they have wicked tap selections and are open late.

Hair of the Dog Brewhouse:  Awesome for beer nerding, though the food is mediocre.  In addition to the usual taps (including a From the Wood rotating tap), they have a selection of vintage bottles available:  I had a Batch 34 Fred which was bottled in 2000!  Amazingly, it was absolutely stunning even after all these years: rich red fruit goodness, licorice, vanilla, and still nice gentle carbonation.

Apex Bottle Shop / Bar:  Not at all my vibe (almost felt like a biker bar or something), full of aggressive dudes, but some gems hidden in the beer fridges.  However, the gems come at a price, which I think is why they remain there.  If you want a 2011 Cherry Adam you can get it here but you’ll pay $45 or something for it.

Deschutes Brewhouse:  The downtown Deschutes location does brew some of their beers, though many are brewed outside Portland.  This is a huge place and seems to always be busy.  The food is quite good (from my limited experience) and they have a nice selection of brewery-only or limited beers which are quite delicious, and a rotating Reserve series tap as well.  Tons of swag too.  Well worth visiting.

Cascade Brewery:  Over on the east side the sour-specialists Cascade have a decent little setup which serves their entire active lineup (mostly sours, though the odd non-sour too) and sells bottles.  We didn’t spend long here due to time constraints but it seemed pretty chill and their beer, though expensive, is pretty nice.

Bridgetown Bottleshop:  Up a bit further north on the east side of the river is Bridgetown, a small bottleshop with a decent selection of rarities and Oregon beers.  I wouldn’t say this is worth a special trip but the surrounding neighbourhood is pretty cool so it’s worth stopping in if you are already in the area.  Nothing close to the selection that you’ll find at Belmont.

We spent a lot of time east of the river this trip, much like last time.  Downtown is cool, but once you’ve done it, there is a lot of awesome parts of town to explore to the east – from down along Hawthorne to up on Alberta Street and beyond.  We found a lot of amazing places once again by just exploring and talking to people.  The best way to see Portland is with an open mind and open schedule, and just let it happen!

Russian River – Redemption

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Redemption is perhaps one of the least exotic Russian River brews.  It lacks the notoriety of Pliny and it doesn’t have the wildness (quite literally) of their impressive lineup of sours.  Redemption draws its inspiration from the Belgian single, which is notable in North America only by its nonexistence.  We’re a land wooed by imperializing all beer styles, and the decidedly weak Belgian single just doesn’t fit the bill.  It weighs in at just a hair over 5% ABV, after all.

Fortunately for me, I will buy any and all bottles I see with the Russian River moniker on them because there is nowhere short of an 8 hour drive that I can find them and Russian River has made a bit of a name for itself in the styles that I enjoy.  The Belgian single wasn’t one of them; I am referring to their highly acclaimed sours.

However I didn’t really know what a Belgian single was all about, other than assuming it would be a lighter version of the Belgian dubbel.  I don’t know how true to the style Redemption is, but I know that I like it, and I like it a lot.  It drinks a lot like a saison with some brettanomyces gently working their magic, and with a Belgian twist.

From my notebook:

Appearance:  Murky golden straw, head is off-white and fairly small, though great retention.  Good lacing.

Aroma:  Banana, apple, and some orange-citrus along with a bright Belgian yeast character.  Gentle spices.  Cross between a saison and dubbel here.

Palate:  Crisp body with apple, some clove-like spices, and a gentle funky undertone.  Slight caramel sweetness along with the earthy funk.

Feel:  Very crisp, dry, and light-bodied.

Overall Impression:  This is a great drinking beer!  There is plenty of complexity but it’s almost weightless.  The funkiness is just perfectly executed to really boost the complexity and add dryness without adding any real sourness to the beer at all.

Perhaps my enjoyment of the beer was boosted because of my careful compliance with the cork’s instruction.

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The Perfect Crime – Hollow Point

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Day 15 of the Craft Beer Advent Calender here, and this one’s been a personal favourite so far.  I haven’t really been good about updating the blog this month, but it’s not for lack of beer drinking.  While I’ve enjoyed a lot of the calender beers so far, this is the first one I felt I needed to give its own post.

Hollow Point is a quadruple, a Belgian style that is synonymous with strong – not just strong, but the strongest of strong.  Dubbels are in the 6.5-7.5% ABV range typically, while the Tripel can easily hit 9%.  The veritable quad is the boldest of them all at 10% to 12%.  While its gentler brethren are golden in huge, the quad is darker due to all that stuff they’ve packed into it.

This one’s certainly darker than your typical tripel.  It’s a kind of auburn orange, cloudy and with a head that is uncharacteristically dark considering the colour of the liquid.  The head is nice and dense and it sticks around, both good signs, as is the lacing that it leaves behind.

Smell is gentle fruit esters and breadiness, leaning towards sweetness all around but mildly.  The taste opens up a lot more and immediately won me over.  It’s not like a quad I’ve ever had before and I’m not certain the name fully fits, but it’s got lots of fruit (banana, apricot, plum, and so on), nice thick, textured malts, and a good earthy balance to the sweetness.  Despite the 10% ABV this doesn’t taste ‘hot’ like a lot of strong beers do.  It may have something to do with the 5 or so months in warm storage which has been to the detriment of many of the bottles in the calender – for this guy, it’s maybe actually time well spent.

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Parallel 49 – Braggot

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The first of Parallel 49’s “Barrel Aged Series” to be released this winter season is their mead and ale hybrid called Braggot.  Braggot is the name of the style for the record, not a name that Parallel 49 came up with to call this.  It’s an old style that dates back to the twelfth century or so.  A couple details on the bottle that allude to the use of bee’s honey that I enjoy:  the honeycomb pattern in the center of the logo and the use of beeswax to seal the top of the bottle (which smells fantastic!).

From the bottle, P49’s Braggot weighs in at 10.2% ABV and 8.5 IBU.  That 8.5 IBU came to mind when I took my first sniff through the opened cap, because otherwise I’d have swore I was smelling a barleywine.  But a barleywine has an IBU value much higher, typically 60 – 90 I’ll estimate.

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I’m going to say though that from colour to aroma to taste, this beer did remind me of a barleywine although it is certainly not one.  There are definitely differences too.  But there are similarities. It pours a deep crimson brown though the head is quite tame.  The smell is sweet, malty fruits like rum-soaked dates or figs, red licorice, and honey biscuits.  Taste follows quite closely with rich, sweet red fruits and a little bit of honey, then transfers to oak and earth towards the finish.  There is a slight bit of heat from the alcohol, like you’d get from a glass of wine.

This was very enjoyable, almost a dessert version of a barleywine.  I have a couple more bottles and from what I know about braggot and mead this should cellar quite well, so I will revisit one next winter and the last in probably 3 years.  That’s my go-to cellaring scheme for a 3-bottle purchase for many cellar-able styles, as it strikes a good balance between minimizing excess oxidization and providing aged results.

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The use of honey brings me to a related point.  I know there are endless causes out there, but please put the honeybee’s welfare on your list of things to care about if you haven’t already.  The bee plays such a huge and critical role in our lives and so too many do not value them enough.  As we all know, the bee helps plants pollinate.  This very much includes plants we depend on for food.  Without bees, we would have a lot less food, and we need all the food we can get with today’s world population.

It has been indisputably proven that the pesticides that many (well, probably all) big food corporations are using have adverse effects on bees – not surprising that a chemical designed to kill or deter insects is going to kill or deter a bee – and this is going to have huge impacts on the welfare of our food sources.  Use of pesticides is not to be taken lightly – once you’ve sprayed your crops, that soil has pesticide in it.  You can’t undo that.  You can’t grow an organic crop on that land next year, it’s been compromised for the long term.

I don’t use my blog as a political outlet typically but please be mindful of the bee’s welfare and be educated about what food companies you are supporting by buying their product.  Cheers!

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