Sunday, 31 May 2015

Red Racer India Session Ale

Red Racer India Session Ale recently popped up in Ontario. Previously, I'd only been able to enjoy this stuff in British Columbia, where its brewed in Surrey by Central City Brewers + Distillers. My previous experience with this I.S.A. involved playing bocce with one of my best friends in a beautiful garden, just a stone's throw from the Pacific Ocean, so I might be a tad predisposed to like the stuff. It comes in neon green cans which contains 473mL of clear, cheery golden liquid described as light ale.

At just 4%, Red Racer's sessionable brew won't leave you in a state unless you really try. However, despite its low-alcohol birth weight it manages to pack in a respectable amount of aroma and an acceptable level of flavour. On the nose, there are juicy, squishy mango notes as well as a suggestion of decent hops. These same fruity and bitter elements come through as soon as the brew hits the tongue, though they depart before the party really starts to get good, leaving the finish thin and uninspired.

At 4%, it's gotta be tough to maintain big flavour and pleasing mouthfeel. For a sessionable beer, this stuff gets the job done admirably. I'd have liked a more assertive and imposing finish, though in truth that might have necessitated upping the booze level--something that would have pleased me, but which obviously defeats the purpose of the I.S.A. If you want light beer strength with more than an echo of I.P.A. character, Red Racer I.S.A. fills those specs to the letter. Just don't expect the hearty flavour of the Red Racer India Pale Ale.

Rating: 9.0 as a light beer; 7.5 overall.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout

Brewed in Boonville, California by the Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout has a very curious label. It's festooned with a brown bear sipping fresh water from an idyllic water course in a lush, green valley. However, on closer inspection, the bear has a trophy buck's antlers. No explanation is given. Barney Flats contains a rugged but refined 5.8% alcohol, which is probably for the best, since it comes in a hefty 650mL bottle. According to the cap, this deep brown ale is produced in a solar powered brewery. It pours with a layer of thick, sultry cream head.

The nose is pretty modest, and is made up of rounded malt notes and a whiff of molasses. Barney Flats has a velvety mouthfeel, and is a treat going down the ol' gullet. Like the aroma, the flavour is understated. It leans toward malty, with shades of molasses, caramel, and brown sugar. It finishes gently, with caramel sweetness and just a pinch of hops.

For me, this beer's strongest suit is its creamy smoothness. Otherwise, it has a lovely flavour, but one that seems shy. I'd have liked it to emote a bit more and assert its presence at centre stage. I also loved the label. What's the deal? Is it a "caribear"?

Rating: 7.0 out of 10.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

La Formidable American-Belgo IPA

According to the literature that accompanies La Formidable American-Belgo IPA, its birth parent is the Gigantic Brewing Company, "an independent, artisanal brewery located in the Southeast quadrant of the People's Republic of Portland", and its adopted parent is the B-Side Brewing Label, a Vankleek Hill, Ontario outfit (why yes, that is where Beau's comes from) that brands itself as "a portfolio of international brands of excellence being produced fresh and locally for the Ontario market".

La Formidable comes in 600mL bottles that feature a rampaging robot on the label. It contains 6.9% alcohol, which seems about right. From said bottle pours a hazy, dull golden ale topped with a vibrant off-white head. True to my expectations, La Formidable has a seriously funky aroma and flavour that stir together punchy India pale ale characteristics with barnyard grit and Belgian-style super-yeast. On the nose, we're talking evergreen forest after a rainstorm. On the palate, bitter and sweet cohabit relatively peacefully in the front parlour, while dank and yeasty bang pots and pans in the kitchen down the hall. While the beer tastes strong, it's more descriptive to say that it has a strong flavour--it certainly offers the taste buds a lot to process while it dulls the senses with potency. Citrus, must, spice, and floral hops all share the stage, but yeast steals the spotlight in a baffling climax before the curtain of a dry finish sends ticket holders home to their families.

Rolling papers?
Funky, funky stuff. Yeasty and bitter, vigorous and arid, tasty and turbulent, La Formidable is a strange brew. I liked it, was enticed by it, but didn't love it. I'd be keen to revisit it--but not tomorrow. Kudos, though, to the Gigantic/B-Side partnership for offering a beer that is genuinely unusual. It's a nice reminder of what a big world of beer there is out there. 700+ reviews in and I've barely scratched the surface.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Green Devil IPA

When I saw that Oakham Ales comes from Peterborough, I was initially excited to see another new edition to the Ontario craft brewing scene. However, I second glance told me that this Peterborough is in England. Still, new beer to try! Green Devil IPA is a clear golden brew that pours with a slight layer of white head that didn't last long enough even for me to photograph. I had a 500mL bottle in my backyard on a chilly day after a week of false spring weather.

Green Devil has a bitter nose that has citrus notes and which is really quite tinny. The flavour doesn't offer much up front, but does transmute into a very pleasing back end, with juicy fruit notes and a curt, semi-dry finish.

This beer finishes beautifully, but it lacks the assertive opening note needed to provide overall balance. I liked it, and I'll almost certainly buy it again, but it frustrated me because it was a near miss of something special. Not wasted potential, exactly,   since it tastes pretty good, but certainly a missed opportunity. It's also a bit too metallic for my tastes.

Rating: 7.0 out of 10.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Beer Barrel Bourbon

I've enjoyed my share of bourbon barrel aged beers, but this cheeky offering from New Holland Artisan Spirits turns that formula on its head--a bourbon aged in beer barrels. This 40% alcohol American whiskey's appearance at my local liquor store neatly coincided with my resurgent interest in amber spirits.  That, combined with enduring love off all things beer made Beer Barrel Bourbon practically leap of the shelf and into my bar, despite the nearly $60 sticker price for a 750mL bottle.

According to the label, this stuff is actually aged in American oak barrels before being piped into beer barrels for a three-month tour of duty that "lends biscuity notes and a smooth malt character to the robust whiskey tones of toffee and caramel." I can't pretend to be a bourbon aficionado--at best, I'm a zealous enthusiast--but I'll take a crack at describing the stuff. It's a honey-hued, faintly cloudy tipple that has a warm and boozy vanilla bean aroma. As billed, buttery toffee is a large component of the flavour, on top of a grainy body. I was expecting to be greeted with something notably beery, but that's not what this untrained and untested bourbon novice found.

New Holland Artisan Spirits is affiliated with the good folks at New Holland Brewing, out of Holland, Michigan--the outfit responsible for Dragon's Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout and The Poet Oatmeal Stout, both of which I quite enjoyed. As for their bourbon, it was also a quality product. At 40%, it's a little less potent than the bourbons I typically prefer, and at $58 and change, a touch on the pricy side, but I'm glad I bought it. It was a treat.  However, for an establishment that is a brewery first, I was surprised that they didn't include any information about the beer that was formerly housed in those barrels.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Motley Cru (2015)

The 2015 edition of Motley Cru from Toronto, Ontario's Bellwoods Brewery is labeled as a "sour red ale aged in barrels w/Ont. pinot noir grapes 1-3 year blend". Most interesting in that phrase (to me at least) is that I wasn't aware that anyone way growing pinot noir grapes in this province. This iteration of Motley Cru came to me by way of a regular squash opponent/cool guy. The 500mL bottle has a gnarly red and black label adorned with a cowled skeleton. The cloudy, auburn-brown liquid within contains 8.7% alcohol and pours with exactly no head.

The Cru has a tart aroma that blends cranberry and cherry notes. Red wine tannins compliment a flavour that is sour and fruity. Cranberry tastes are prominent, cut with a touch of sweetness. Hops are barely perceptible, but do pop up like a prairie dog as part of a dry, winey finish. Absent from the flavour is any real indication of this beer's potency. There's a lot going on with taste and aroma, but it doesn't feel like the liver punching booze bag that it is. An element that didn't reveal itself to me until my pint was half gone and the beer was warming slightly were the woody notes--sweet, oak-y, but not overwhelming.

The beer brains at Bellwoods did a grand job of barrel aging and then bottle conditioning this sour ale. It's got the flair of a Flanders red, but with some complicated wine leanings and Toronto pedigree. A fine brew, this Cru, though a touch of effervescence would have been nice.

8.5 out of 10

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Samuel Adams Rebel IPA

The first day of April 2015 was a bright and sunny affair in Toronto, and a relatively warm one, too--first in a while. Weather like that had me panting after a chipper, playful IPA. I reached for a 355mL bottle of Samuel Adams Rebel IPA, a 6.5% offering from the Boston Beer Company out of Boston, Massachusetts.

Rebel is a shiny orange gold liquid, with a slight haze to it, and a short-lived ivory head. On the nose, there are lime notes and hints of bitterness and boozy heft. Pretty crisp for an India Pale, the lime theme continues into the flavour, which is nice enough since lime seems to be an underused component on the citrus spectrum, more commonly found in offensively flavoured lite "beers". (Note: I had a momentary internal debate about whether to place quotation marks around the word lite, beer, or both--if you can sense my disdain, then I think I got it right.) Citrus hops are prominent, but a touch understated, and the finish is dry and brief.

Rebel IPA is a goodish offering. It's not memorable, but it was nowhere near disappointing either. It has a curious and pleasing taste, but suffers from a lack of depth and verve. Still, it's a decent IPA and it comes in sixes, so I'd buy it again. And with its place on the low end of the IPA booze scale, it'd be a good one to bring to a house party.

Rating: 7.0 out of 10.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Cabin Fever Imperial Black IPA

Taking in a little March Madness on a Sunday evening, I worked up quite a thirst watching my bracket disintegrate before my eyes. I did so poorly that it called for something strong and assertive, so I uncapped a 650mL bottle of Cabin Fever Imperial Black IPA. Cabin Fever is a 8.5% alcohol brute that pours coffee-black, beneath a fluffy off-white head. It's brewed by Victoria, British Columbia's Phillips Brewing Company.

While Cabin Fever doesn't have a strong aroma, it does give the impression that it's a powerful beer, with a suggestion of potent, dank bitterness. Here, flavour has much more depth than aroma, with pungent hops chops. It's murky and also has a big roasted malt presence.  Tastes pretty good to me.

Cabin Fever's label needs to be commented on--both complimented and criticized. On the happy side of the ledger, it's "made from 100% post consumer recycled materials. However, it should also be noted that the copy about the beer is a tad insensitive. It claims to be "crafted for the crazy in all of us", a "balanced beer for the unbalanced mind", and to have enough hops and malt to "satisfy all the voices in your head". Not exactly respectful or compassionate for persons with mental illness.

All in, it's a pretty decent imperial black IPA. Flavourful and robust. I'd buy it again if they changed the image.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Chiron American Pale Ale

Chiron American Pale Ale is brewed at the Riverside Brewery in Bakewell, UK by Thornbridge Brewery. Sold in 500mL bottles, the stuff contains a standard 5% alcohol. It's a faintly hazy, honey gold ale topped with a long-living fog of off-white head. Its fascinating aroma is enjoyably bitter with an uncommon fusion of metallic and tropical fruit notes. The flavour kicks off with a slightly disappointing and thin opening note. Thankfully, this quickly gives way to a reasonably robust and bitter finish that has lime, grapefruit, and passion fruit notes, and which is quite dry.

Chiron is a very drinkable pale ale with a delicate and charming flavour. It's not quite as compelling as another Thornbridge offering, Jaipur India Pale Ale, but a fine beer all the same.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Black Coal Stout

Long day at the office. Dreadful commute. Sleepy man. Friday. That recipe called for a dark beer on the double. I opted to crack into a 473mL can of Black Coal Stout, a 6% alcohol offering from St. Thomas, Ontario's own Railway City Brewing Company. According to the copy on the can, this brew is "for all the naughty boys and girls".

Coffee black and with a cappuccino foam of head, Black Coal looks the part. A mild nose packs a lot of nuance--chocolate milk, earthy and toasty malts, and a whiff of bitterness. The flavour is more bitter than I'd expected, and features a curl of pipe smoke and a drip of molasses, before it veers sweetly toward cocoa at the finish of each sip. And each sip is thick and creamy.

In my experience, 6% is a tough strength. Brewers and marketing jags often slap that "strong beer" label on a brew that often doesn't meet expectations. Sure, it might be actually stronger than the standard 5, but it doesn't taste any more formidable. However, I certainly don't object to those words being applied to Black Coal, since it actually tastes as though there is some gravitas. Not an exceptional stout, but really a delightfully good one. One I want again soon.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Big Dog Porter

While cooling my heels before attending a play, I visited Tallboys, Toronto's premier dispensary of canned libations. As is my wont, I was on the lookout for something unfamiliar to me, as well as something local to Ontario. Neustadt Springs Brewery's Big Dog Porter fit those requirements like a glove. I was provided with a silver 473mL can adorned with a simple sticker bearing the salient details--name, brewery, and strength (5.5%). The stuff comes from Neustadt, Ontario.

Big Dog proved to be a dark brownish Amber colour--quite light for a porter. It poured with a nice cover of light tan head and exudes an aroma of roasted malts and nuts.  It tastes about the same--malt over molasses, with some nut notes. There's a touch of hops evident at the finish.

Not a bad brew by a far measure, though it does fall short of the lofty standard set by 10W40. I feel like a beer called Big Dog should have a bit more bite--more strength and more bombast. However, this beer by any other name would still be a bit better than decent. 

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Trappistes Rochefort 10

Trappistes Rochefort 10 is a wildly strong abbey ale--it's potent like a trippel at 11.3%, but instead of a murky gold, it pours a dark, cloudy chestnut more characteristic of dubbels. It unbottles from its 330mL glass prison with a thin layer of cream-hued head, but this is short-lived. There is also a fair amount of sediment sitting at the bottom of my glass.

In terms of nose, 10 is fruity and warm, with raisin and berry notes--a very agreeable strawberry jam vibe was an unexpected treat. It's flavour is built on a malty, yeasty foundation. It's very gentle for such a strong ale--sweet, bashful fruit notes are plentiful, but nestled snugly and only begin to emerge as the beer warms. And speaking of warming, the alcohol lurks toward the finish, giving exhalations a boozy tint.

Born and bred in Rochefort, Belgium, and raised to maturity under the watchful eyes of Trappist monks at Abbaye St-Remy (it bears the "Authentic Trappist Product" emblem), 10 turned out to be a curious but cautious ale. Chalk-full of booze, it has a suggested playful quality, but uncapped, it is demure and restrained, with significant depth. A fine brew, 10 has more layers than an onion, and more alcohol than some pubs.

Rating: 9.0 out of 10.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Long, Dark Voyage to Uranus

Long, Dark Voyage to Uranus comes from those clever brewers at the Sawdust City Brewing Co., from Gravenhurst, Ontario. These suds pack a wallop, punching at 10.2% alcohol and 60 IBUs. According to the 473mL can, this stuff is a "Uranal Imperial Stout", though it has the hallmarks of a Russian one. Perhaps Uranus was in the atmosphere above Russia when this beer was conceived?

Lovely to look at, LDVTU is a black hole of an ale topped with a thick foam of brown head. It's nose is pushy and bitter, with tobacco and cocoa at the fore. The mouthfeel is pretty velvety for a strong beer, though it does have a bit of a crunch toward the end of each sip. It's taste isn't exactly overwhelming, and features a blanket of warm booze on top of tobacco, molasses, and chocotastic notes. It's bitter, too, but not overly so. It doesn't taste abrasively strong, but it is, so tread lightly. 10.2% isn't to be sneered at.

Conclusions after my Long, Dark Journey to Uranus? The flavour isn't as assertive as I was expecting (hoping for), but it is clearly well crafted ale made by expert beer-smiths. It's smooth and inviting, warm and chocolatey, strong and tasty. Plus, it isn't too sweet, which, when downing strong stouts, is a real risk. Buy it? Most definitely!

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Evil Conscience Black IPA

I was supposed to play squash on sunny, February Saturday afternoon, but as I neared the courts, I received a text from my prospective opponent to the effect that he'd overslept and wouldn't make it. Because he's a bum. With an unexpected few hours to fill, I first went to the farmer's market and bought some Québécois cheese, but after that, a powerful thirst drove me underground--down to C'est What?, one of Toronto's finest beer-drinking venues. Their draught list is always impressive, and after dithering for a few minutes, I settled on a cask black IPA from Granite Brewery.

Born in Toronto, Ontario, Evil Conscience Black IPA contains 6.1% alcohol and tips the scales at a hearty 65 IBUs. My pint was black as night, opaque, and covered with a foam of creamy head. I found Evil Conscience to be light on aroma, but big on flavour. It's nose had some piney bitterness, along with some roasty malt notes; both in restrained measure. In terms of taste, though, this beer let its hair down a bit more. There was a slice of espresso bitterness tangled up with evergreen hops. Roasted malt elements simmered underneath the surface as did a faint hint of anise.  A cask ale, Evil Conscience also displayed a very smooth, creamy mouthfeel.

Toronto's cask ale kings, Granite, delivered a real winner with Evil Conscience Black IPA. Packed with flavour, velvety, and lovely--I highly recommend it.

Rating: 9.0 out of 10.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Rogue Farms 7 Hop IPA

Rogue Farms 7 Hop IPA is dedicated, according to the label on the 650mL bottle, to "Farmers & Fermenters". Good folks. It's a swampy orange-gold grog that pours with a cream-coloured head. Born of Rogue Ales in Newport, Oregon, 7 Hop checks in at a hearty and extremely specific 8.02% alcohol.  An area code maybe? According to the bottle, there are seven varieties of hops grown at Rogue Farms in Independence, Oregon, and all seven feature in this India Pale.

Aromatically, this stuff is, not surprisingly, hop-focused, and veers off in a couple of directions. There are citrus notes, but also something a little murkier and more resinous. In terms of flavour, the stuff isn't actually as IBU-bound as I'd have expected, and contains a nice, roasty subtext. That's not to say that there aren't plenty of hops--they're ably represented, and give the beer a bitterness with grapefruit-y and spicy leanings, not to mention some earthy dankness.

7 Hop has a lot of activity for a single beer. There's a lot to smell, a lot to taste, and precious little to whine about. Rogue ales always seem to be well made, and 7 Hop is no exception. It's not as elite as Yellow Snow, my personal fave from the Rogue rolodex, but it's certainly a tasty brew.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Crazy Beard Wild Apple Ale

Crazy Beard Wild Apple Ale is a bit of a mystery. It's called an ale, but the can describes it as an "alcoholic malt beverage", and it smells and tastes like a cider. What gives?

Whatever it is, it contains 5.2% alcohol and comes in loud and lurid 473mL cans. The cans, which feature the somewhat insensitive slogan "crazy has never tasted so good", are adorned with a woolly gentleman wielding a pair of axes. It's brewed in Oakville, Ontario, by an outfit called Sage Mixology Bottle Manufacturing Inc. There's a story of Crazy Beard and his special ale, too, but I don't care enough to recount it.

According to the can, the ingredients include carbonated water, citric and malic acid, natural flavour, caramel, neutral spirit, and more. It also declares that there are no preservatives. Notably absent are apples.

Crazy Beard is a nice, very clear amber colour. It pours with no real head, and shows very little carbonation. It has a crisp, candied apple aroma that is more cider than beer. The flavour has a lot of sweet apple leanings, but also an unsettling aspartame vibe, particularly through the finish.

I did not care for Crazy Beard. It was thin, synthetic tasting, and most importantly, not anything like an ale. My wife described it as "rancid candy". While I wouldn't go that far, it certainly wasn't my cup of tea. It should be noted that I'm not a fan of ciders--someone who is might dig this stuff much more than I. The chief lesson here is not to say "ale" if you don't mean "ale".

Rating: 3.5 out of 10.