Good morning, Canada. Can I interest you in a beer with your breakfast?
The World Cup is off to a fine start in South Africa, and the time zone of the host location means a cold reality for thirsty soccer fans here: deciding which brew goes best with bacon and eggs.
If the thought of booze in the forenoon strikes you as a slippery slurp to damnation, consider this: Even the Ontario government, vigilant guardian of our public peace, is on side. For the month-long tournament, bars have been granted the privilege of pouring an hour early, at 10 a.m.
Regrettably, no province has mandated flexible work hours for the tourney, but if you're going to stay home or sneak out for a pre-lunch pint - and please don't cite this column to human resources if you get caught - I have some suggestions.
As a professional taster who regularly samples wine in the morning as well as evening (yes, I spit when the boss is watching), I know that morning mouth can display a bias because of our hard-wired biological preferences. For example, an astringent, full-bodied cabernet never tastes as good before lunch as at dinner, whereas crisp whites and dry sparkling wines are the potable equivalent of that ubiquitous hotel brunch soundtrack, Vivaldi's Four Seasons: a gently rousing wake-up call.
The same is true of beer, which comes in an array of styles, and that raises a question: What to chug? I posed the dilemma to some beer experts.
Patrick Penman, co-owner of The Football Factory, a soccer-themed restaurant in Toronto with 15 TV screens, recommends an "easy-drinking" lager or red beer, such as Rickard's Red or his own Football Factory Red, made by Great Lakes Brewery of Toronto. At a kick-off celebration for the opening match between South Africa and Mexico there was not a dry seat in the house, so to speak.
"The whole place, every table, every person - it was mental," Mr. Penman said of the 10 a.m. beer call's popularity. To his surprise, some patrons ordered white Russians, vodka cocktails made, appropriately enough, with milk. Many others called more sensibly for Carlsberg or Dos Equis, the latter in honour of the Mexican team.
With less than 5 per cent alcohol, both Carlsberg and Dos Equis offer instruction. As in soccer, beer for breakfast has its rules, and the first concerns strength. "I would not suggest going for high-alcohol beers, for one," said George Milbrandt, owner of C'est What?, a Toronto pub-restaurant with 35 brews on tap, "unless it just happens to be the end of your day." Sorry, Rooney fans, that rules out English-style barley wine, which tends to range between 8 and 12 per cent by volume.
Ireland supporters will be happy to note that Guinness qualifies, unlike the Irish team leading into these World Cup finals. The deceptively dark stout carries just 4.2 per cent alcohol. And for what it's worth, Guinness is hugely popular across Africa.
The other general rule: Keep the taste light. "An extremely flavourful beer, especially a bitter beer, isn't ideal because it dulls your palate for the rest of the day," Mr. Milbrandt noted. "Where are you going to go from there?"
Styles to think twice about include India pale ales and West Coast pale ales, both typically brewed with lots of bitter hops. Paradoxically, an "English bitter" would be appropriate; it's relatively low on the hop scale. But I also like the refreshing quench of a light pilsner, such as Pilsner Urquell from the Czech Republic or Storm Precipitation Pilsner from Vancouver, which can veer toward the bitter.
My top choice for morning, though, is wheat beer, a light style typically infused with coriander and orange. That preference was endorsed by Nathan Cameron, beverage manager for Prime Restaurants, a national chain that includes the Fionn MacCool's and D'Arcy McGee's pubs.
"Start with light and refreshing, perhaps with flavours that you're already conditioned to eat in the morning," he suggested. "Wheat beers actually match up really well with eggs."
He also told me something I didn't know: The brewer's yeast used to make wheat beers yields a good dose of vitamin B in every pint, as much as 40 per cent of the recommended daily amount. Breakfast beer, indeed. Rickard's, the brand owned by Molson Coors, makes a widely distributed, easy-drinking Rickard's White. Unibroue of Quebec makes an excellent one called Blanche de Chambly.
For an even lighter option, as well as an added dose of vitamin C, Mr. Cameron suggests an unusual beer beverage served at his restaurants called Stiegl Radler. It's an Austrian product that contains 50-per-cent fruit juice and 2.5 per cent alcohol. You can mix a similar concoction at home with one part Stiegl lager (available in many liquor stores) and one part grapefruit juice. Or use any lager.
For adventurous imbibers, Canada's craft brewers make some niche products that almost sound like breakfast. Among them: Mill Street Coffee Porter from Toronto, brewed with real java. "I could just as easily do a coffee porter as a [bloody]Caesar," said Steve Abrams, Mill Street Brewery's co-founder.
I happen to like St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout from Quebec, Nelson Blackheart Oatmeal Stout from British Columbia and Pump House Blueberry Ale from New Brunswick.
Mr. Abrams also just launched Mill Street Lemon Tea Ale in Ontario (available at LCBO stores). His brewmaster, Joel Manning, worked for a month on the recipe. The wheat beer base is infused with Earl Grey and orange pekoe, then enhanced with lemon puree and organic cane sugar, the latter to balance the black-tea bitterness.
"You drink it while you're watching the England game," he said with a chuckle.
Well, the British lads could use all the symbolic support they can get.