Friday, 31 October 2014

Spooks Ale

To mark Halloween, I picked up a bottle of Spooks Ale, produced by Shepherd Neame Ltd. out of Faversham, Kent, England. According to the label on the 500mL bottle, this beer is the "Official Ghost Brew for All Hallows", a "Brew of Protection", and one that you should "Drink If You Dare". It's a tad low-octane at 4.7% alcohol, and pours a beautiful red-gold topped with a generous layer of creamy head.

There is a nose with a lot going on. There are notes of roasted malt, copper, bread, and a slight hop twist. The flavour is chiefly malt-driven, but also features some vaguely bloody iron elements and a classically British hop finish.

As usual for a beer with less than 5% alcohol, I'd have liked this stuff to be brewed a bit stronger. However, it's ably flavourful. A touch less focus on the iron/copper elements would have been nice, but the finish and the roasted malt breadiness made this an enjoyable piece of brewing.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Have a happy and hoppy Halloween!

Thursday, 30 October 2014


Warlock is an Imperial Stout brewed by Southern Tier Brewing Company in Lakewood, New York. According to the label on the 650mL bottle, this strong flavoured ale was intended to be a "counterpoint" to another of Southern Tier's fall seasonals, Imperial Pumking. It's a dark ale that looks like cola and pours with a timid tan head.

While this liver-bruising brew 8.6% beer contains numerous pumpkin pie-esque elements and spices, I don't think that there was any actual pumpkin in it. However, the flavour is all pumpkin pie all the time, with notes of clove and nutmeg. This stout is pretty sweet, but does have an understated hop kick as it goes down. It's possibly the most spiced beer I have ever consumed--Southern Tier must have broken the bank on cinnamon, cloves, and other aromatic spices.There is also just a hint of anise on the finish alongside a chunky nutmeg back. It has a gigantic aroma mostly dominated by the same fall spices, though there is a heavy dose of root beer and vanilla, as well.

Warlock is decidedly not a subtle beer. At times, such as when I took a big sip, it was a bit overwhelming. As a regular offering, Warlock too much and too big, but as a Halloween seasonal, tongue-pounding treat.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Imperial Pumking

Imperial Pumking is a burly bully of a strong pumpkin beer out of Lakewood, New York. It's brewed by the excellent beer artists at Southern Tier, where they pump this hazy, autumnally orange brew into 650mL bottles. Pumking contains a heavy duty 8.6% alcohol and pours with a cloud of off-white head. Pumking's ingredients list features pumpkin puree, spices, and sulphites. The bottle declares that this stuff is "bewitched and brewed with pagan spirit".

There was a substantial pumpkin scent that's warm and replete with nutmeg and clove. It was extremely sweet initially, though the sweetness pumped the brakes toward the back end to showcase a spicy and marginally hoppy finish that dried out nicely.

A number of people have raved to me about this beer over the last few years, so there was a lot of hype for this stuff to live up to. While I really enjoyed it, it didn't completely blow me away. There was loads of pumpkin pie seasoning and an alcoholic content that made the beer big and bracing, but this finish didn't totally satisfy me. I liked the hoppiness, but I found that there was a a vaguely chemical note that I found a bit disarming. Other than that though, this is a premier pumpkin beer that'll put treats in your loot bag.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

De Wallen

De Wallen is a "Barrel Aged Sour Framboise". It's brewed by Toronto, Ontario's Amsterdam Brewery. Having just read a novel set in De Wallen, Amsterdam's notorious Red Light District, when I saw this stuff on the shelf at my favourite liquor store, I jumped to buy it. It contains a solid 6.5% alcohol and comes in a 330mL bottle. According to the label, "Souring a beer is a risky endeavor, much like venturing into the red-light district of Amsterdam.

It's a cloudy, copper brew with definite reddish leanings. It has a very tart and yeasty sour cherry aroma. I think this stuff would make a nice introduction to sour beers--it's definitely tart, but it's not too sour. There are considerable fruit notes--raspberry, certainly, but also cherry--and a short finish.

This is a very nice take on the framboise. It's well worth your time.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Kilannan New Zealand Red

I had an unmarked, stamped silver 473mL can of Kilannan Brewing Company's New Zealand Red at Tallboys Craft Beer House--one of Toronto's finest suds dispensaries. The NZ Red contains 5.4% alcohol and comes from Owen Sound, Ontario.

It's a murky, ruddy ale that poured with a thick, but quickly fading off white head. Lovely brown sugar aroma is malty and has a gentle hop tinge. A surprisingly effervescent mouthfeel made for a nice surprise. Its flavour is sweetish, with a touch of ginger, brown sugar, and some latent but not insignificant hops towards the end.

This was a nice little beer from a brewery I'd previously never heard of and am now very fascinated by. I'd definitely recommend it. A touch more rambunctiousness in the flavour wouldn't go amiss though. I like my reds to be a tad more free wheelin'.

8.0 out of 10

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Wellington Island Hopper Pale Ale

I had a pint of Wellington Brewery's Island Hopper Pale Ale on tap based on a strong recommendation of my server at a rad board game bar in Toronto's Little Italy. It's a brassy, clear ale that showed up wearing a stylish chapeau of off-white head. It comes from Guelph, Ontario and contains a light 4.8% alcohol.

There is a mild but enjoyable aroma that precedes this beer and which tends toward a hoppy, evergreen feel. Island Hopper has a thin, smooth mouthfeel that is vaguely creamy. Its flavour is subtly pine-ful.

Not a bad session ale, but this beer is a bit wispy and not quite as robustly bitter as I'd have liked. That said, I'd definitely drink it again.

Rating: 7.0 out of 10

Monday, 20 October 2014

Hog Wild IPA

After an evening out on the town with one of my best men, I decided to swing by my local pub for a quick pint. I wasn't feeling too bad, so I figured a review was in order. What I hadn't counted on was Thursday being karaoke night. In between enthusiastic renditions of Billy Joel, Vanilla Ice, and a particularly vile take on Nirvana, I tried to make sense of my pint of Hogtown Brewers' Hog Wild IPA, from Toronto, Ontario.

I had a pint on tap and tried to lose myself in the beer, while fighting the strains of drunken power balladry and other sonic missteps.

Listed at 6.2%, I had a pint on tap. Hog Wild was a ruddy, hazy brew. It showed up with a creamy, off-white head that had decent staying power. The aroma was maltier than I expected, with some brown sugar preceding a mild but resinous hop feel. The flavour wasn't particularly robust, but it was well balanced, with  a malty introduction and a modestly bitter, earthy finish. Definitely a British style IPA.

Midway through my pint, a too keen karaoke-ist screamed out, mid song, "I love alcohol", before continuing to butcher some metal. Hog Wild went a long way toward staunching my bleeding ears, and for that, I am beyond grateful.

I'd love to try Hog Wild again in a calmer environment, but karaoke notwithstanding, I found it to be a serviceable strong ale. If I was pulling the strings, HW would have had a bit less malt up front, and a bit more distinction in the rear. This beer tasted like an amber ale in IPA clothing. Still, not bad at all. Though truthfully, compared to Hogtown Brewers' bread and butter Hogtown Ale, this stuff leaves much to be desired.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Saturday, 18 October 2014

G'Night Imperial Red IPA

G'Night Imperial Red IPA comes from the Oskar Blues Brewery in Brevard, North Carolina. I had a 16oz can of the stuff, which weighs in at a dastardly 8.7% alcohol. It was a clear, amber brew crowned with a solid ivory head.

There was a strong waft of hoppy, hempy aromas. This pungent brew trod the line between boozy sweetness and heavy bitterness. There was quite a bit more going on on the malt side of the spectrum than I expected. There were notes of raisin, hemp, toffee, and pine.

This full-flavoured beer packed quite a boozy wallop. It was sweeter that I'd have guessed, but definitely interesting.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Shacklands Farmhouse India Pale Ale

Shacklands Brewing Co. which is apparently operated out of the Junction Brewery in Toronto, Ontario, is the birth parent of Shacklands Farmhouse India Pale Ale. I enjoyed a smallish goblet on tap at barVolo, a revered Toronto brew house. It contains a burly 6.5% alcohol and, according to the Shacklands website, it clocks in at 60 IBUs. This Belgian-style IPA/Saison was an attractively murky orange-brown. It arrived with almost no head--just an off-white ring.

The Farmhouse India Pale Ale had a lively bitter aroma with some yeast and a glimmer of something fruity hailing from a warm climate--perhaps satsuma. Nowhere near as dry or effervescent as a typical saison/farmhouse, but not as robust and hop heavy as a conventional Belgian IPA. Also, less yeast-driven then the majority of the strong Belgian-style beers on the market. There was a bitter, modestly dry mouthfeel, with some hop heft at the close.

This beer has some boozy warmth, some crisp saison qualities, and a dry IPA finish.  However, the real star is the tropical sweets and tarts that live in the body of this brew. A nice beer with some style. I'd have liked a bit more Belgian yeast character and a bit more hop blast, but what I got was an innovative and finely made beer.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Houblon Chouffe

Houblon Chouffe comes from Brasserie D'Achouffe, in Achouffe, Belgium. I had a glass on tap at a beer bar that I've commuted past almost every day for the last several years, but never checked out until my streetcar was short-turned and there wasn't another coming by for ages. According to the tap list, this stuff is a Dobbelen IPA Tripel and contains a weighty 9% alcohol.

A hazy golden ale that arrived topped with a bright white head, but which subsided quickly. The aroma has big apple notes, considerable yeastiness, and rugged hop presence. This is a very easy-drinking strong beer. It has lots of Belgian elements--yeast, fruit notes, boozy blast. But it also has a spicy hop flavour that really drew me in.  Finish is very dry.

Fascinating little brew. A bit more hops aggression would have intrigued me further.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

100th Meridian Organic Amber Lager

The Mill St. Brewery in Toronto gave birth to 100th Meridian Organic Amber Lager. I had an afternoon pint on tap at a generic downtown Toronto Irish pub while waiting for my wife to get her hair cut. It arrived a clear, dirty gold brew topped with a nice eggshell head. I was a bit surprised by the colour--I think "amber" is a bit of a stretch.

The aroma is mild and comfortable. There is a modest roasted malt aroma and a whiff of copper. On tap, I found this beer to have an unexpectedly creamy and velvety mouthfeel--I wonder whether the bottled version is similar in this respect. This beer has a laid back taste--malty, toasty, and a tad bready. At the finish, there is a fragile hop swing that adds a measure of crispness. According to Mill St.'s website, this stuff clocks in at a standard 5% alcohol.

All in all, I liked this beer just fine. It's not particularly flavourful for an amber lager, but it's restrained taste is certainly enjoyable. It's not big enough to bring me back, but I can definitely see how other drinkers could find this stuff engaging. Fittingly, there was a Tragically Hip song playing as I finished my review. Not "At the Hundredth Meridian", but still.

Rating: 7.0 out of 10.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Bell's Porter

Check it--this is my 600th blog post!

Bell's Porter comes from Comstock, Michigan. It comes from the stable of Bell's Brewery Inc. Sold in 355mL bottles and weighing in at 5.6% alcohol. It's a deep, dark, practically opaque brown--midnight brown, I'd call it. It's topped with a quickly thinning tan head.

It's aroma speaks molasses with a slight mocha accent. There is a malt to bitter flavour progression. The initial taste is of not-quite-sweet molasses and on the back end, there is a pretty healthy dose of bitterness.

Bell's is not a standout porter--at least in the sense of it being flashy or flamboyant. Rather, what makes this beer worth drinking and worth writing about is that it quietly does exactly what I want a porter to do:
  • it has subtle notes of coffee and chocolate; 
  • it isn't too sweet; and 
  • it has a hop profile that can stand its own in a fight.
This beer didn't exactly blow me away, but it left me feeling almost completely satisfied.

Rating: 9.0 out of 10.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Brakeman's Session Ale

Born in the wilds of western Toronto at the Junction Craft Brewery, Brakeman's Session Ale contains a manageable 4.5% alcohol, but a flavour that punches well above that weight, as evidenced by the respectable 40 IBUs. According to the 473mL can, this beer is "bright, crisp and thirst quenching".

Brakeman's is a hazy reddish gold ale that pours with a nice layer of off-white foam. There are spicy hop aromatics along with a wee twist of citrus. As promised, I found the mouthfeel to be quite crisp, though maybe a touch thin. There's a respectable hop bill in the flavour, with a decent spicy bitterness holding down the fort. In truth, though, Ontario has had a rash of high hop/low alcohol session ales and American pale ales that I have found more intriguingly bitter.  Other than the hops, there is an earthy malt opening note.

Drinking this stuff after a dreadful softball defeat, refreshing was what I craved, and Brakeman's delivered. While the flavour wasn't entirely to my taste, this session ale made good on its commitment to provide a crisp, drinkable ale. It's not in the same league as Junction's mainstay, Conductor's Craft Ale, but it's none too shabby. Would I buy it again? You bet.

7.0 out of 10.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Natural Selections 6-Pack, Volume 2--The Bold

Home for the Bold Belgian Pale Ale is Albergrove British Columbia, where it's brewed by Dead Frog Brewery. It's sold in 341mL bottles, contains 5% alcohol and 27 IBUs. It's a very swampy brown ale that pours with a lot of yeast grit and a thick, tawny head.

It has a nose that blends bitterness with malty fruit qualities--there are notes of tart cherry and yeast. I found it to be pretty flavourful for a pale ale with a mere 5% alcohol. It moves from malty to to bitter. It's initially yeasty with some raisin notes, and finishes with spicy, slightly citric hops. It has a quite dry terminus.

If I was in charge, I'd have liked this beer to have a higher octane alcohol content and for it to have poured with little less sediment. That said, it's a nice BC take on a Belgian classic. If I'd tasted it bling, I wouldn't have been surprised to see that The Bold hailed from Antwerp or Bruges. While not exactly outstanding, this beer has a lot of things going for it.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Natural Selections 6-Pack, Volume 2--Four Winds Saison

Four Winds Brewery is located in Delta, British Columbia. I recently had a 330mL bottle of their Saison. The label has some undeniable old world charm and the beer contains 6.5% alcohol. Notably, there is also a fiesty 30 IBUs. F.W.S. is an incredibly heady, deep gold saison. In fact, it's a bit more golden and less yellow than I anticipated. Happily carbonated and hazy, one must pour this beer prudently.

A yeasty aroma is waist deep in fruity notes, with tart orange on top and banana in a close second. The flavour is tart, yeasty, and has unusual hop depth for a saison. This curious hop action inhabits a dry finish and, combined with the yeastiness, gives this beer a funky feel. At first, I found it enjoyable, but by the halfway point of my pint it had begun to lose some appeal.

This saison has a big flavour and tastes decidedly more "Belgian" than many of the other Canadian saisons that are popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm recently. If you offered me a hopped up saison, I'd jump at it, but I'm not totally wild about the way that this one was hopped.

Rating: 7.0 out of 10.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Natural Selections 6-Pack, Volume 2--Bear Paw Honey Lager

Whistler, British Columbia's Whistler Brewing Company is the source of Bear Paw Honey Lager,  a clear copper lager graced with a fluffy, off-white head and brewed with BC honey. It has a sweet fragrance that drips with nice honey attitude. The flavour, too, is all about the sweet stuff. Initially I was worried that the honey was overdone, but I quickly changed my mind. It actually makes for a nice, slow-sipping mug.  Other than the honey, there isn't much to write about. The underlying amber lager is little more than a honey showcase with some gentle roasted malt leanings. The mouthfeel is a touch syrupy, the finish sweet, and there is almost no bitterness.

I'd definitely drink this stuff again, but only one in a session and definitely early in the night, due to its thick body and sweet nature. It's far too sweet for drinking multiples and after a few pints, I suspect that this stuff could be pretty cloying.

Whistler's Bear Paw Honey Lager comes in a 330mL bottle with a neat shape that features a feasting bear on the label. It contains 5% alcohol. This was my second experience with Whistler--I also reviewed their interesting Paradise Valley Grapefruit Ale.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.