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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 will happily take the blame.

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

It's one of the newest 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 would they call it? — is an easy-drinking session India pale ale inspired by the smoke-filled skies that were plaguing much of the U.S. Midwest and northeastern states earlier in the summer. 

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

"When you have a business that is cyclical like that, you don't want your patrons to be outside because of air quality, so it does hurt business a little bit," Goers said. 

Naturally, that's when the conversation turned to 1999's "South Park: The Movie" and that now-anthemic song-and-dance number, "Blame Canada" — a riff on the show's tongue-in-cheek fondness for making fun of Canadians.

"We were going to hold on to it for a week, but it was just dumb luck timing that the wildfire haze came back," he said. 

"We got to the point where when we kegged this beer up, it was pretty awful outside. We were, like, 'It's too coincidental — we can't hold on to this beer.' So we released it."

That's when it caught on like the proverbial wildfire. 

Out of 12 available options on tap, "it's our number 3 best-seller right now, and it hasn't even had a full month of sales."

Even the label on the can is one many Canadians could get behind — a red silhouette of the familiar Toronto skyline in flames, with a smoky mountain range and white Maple Leaf emblem in the background. 

If the beer alone isn't enough, patio patrons can pair it with G-Five's latest Burger of the Week, "Canadian Wildfire," a ground ribeye burger made with spicy maple syrup, the requisite back bacon, jalapenos and pepper jack cheese. 

"If you have an IPA or a hoppier beer — ours aren't, like, crazy hoppy — that will help cut some of the spice of the burger. So they actually ended up pairing really well together." 

Much of the U.S. is now getting a reprieve from the smoke, although there are still air quality issues in northern states including Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and parts of northern Wisconsin, Environmental Protection Agency data shows.

Instead, most Americans will be contending this week with a fearsome heat wave that's already punishing much of the southern U.S., with record-setting highs that are expected to reach 49 C in spots.   

And Goers said he's well aware that wildfire season on both sides of the border is only just getting started. 

"It's a tongue-in-cheek, fun thing for us as a brewery, but as a nation and for people that are going through it, it's pretty awful," he said. 

"It's kind of sad to me — I have a lot of empathy (and) sympathy for what the heck is going on ... it's the 14th of July, and typically the dry season hasn't even started." 

G-Five used to source some of its malt barley from Maker's Malt, a specialty producer near Saskatoon that caters specifically to the craft beer industry. But between 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," he said. "Now, does it hurt us brewing beer? No. But, you know, that's not all my life is surrounded by."

In the meantime, Goers said while he's hoping the wildfires don't flare up as badly as they did last month, G-Five will keep the "Blame Canada" recipe handy and break it out again if circumstances change.

"I'm not the biggest 'South Park' connoisseur — I might have watched a couple (episodes) in high school just so I could have something to talk about with my friends," Goers said. 

But if a Canadian craft brewer wanted to bat the ball back with a tart seasonal offering called "Team America: World Police," for instance, he'd be all in. 

"That would be hilarious." 

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

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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