Thursday, 31 December 2015

Top Reviews of 2015

In 2015, I've had the great privilege to try, think about, and review some pretty swell suds. Here are my ten favourite beers that I have reviewed in 2015--last year I did five, but I'm aiming higher this year. Note that these aren't necessarily the beers with the highest scores I awarded. Rather, they're the brews that, after drunken reflection, I loved the most, and would most like to get after again and again and again and again ...

10. Fracture Imperial IPA
9. Wizard Wolf Session Ale
8. Thrust! An IPA
7. Trappistes Rochefort 10
6. Smuttynose Imperial Stout
5. Eephus Oatmeal Brown Ale
4. Omnipollo Fatamorgana
3. Short Walk, Long Pier Double IPA
2. Clifford Porter
1. Fire in the Rye Roasted Rye Pale Ale

Honourable Mentions:

Another Way to Rye
Viven Porter 
Hr. Frederiksen Imperial Stout

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Blind Man's Holiday Greensboro Pale Ale

Blind Man's Holiday Greensboro Pale Ale contains a hearty 6% alcohol and hits 42 on the IBU scale. It comes, unsurprisingly, from Greensboro, NC, where it's brewed up nice by Gibb's Hundred Brewing Company, a husband and wife operation that was closed while I was in town. Since the brewery is closed on Mondays, I had to get my taste of Blind Man's Holiday as a downtown bookseller called Scuppernong Books. Beer at a bookstore? How positively delightful.

I got me a pint of the stuff on draught. It turned up cloudy orange and nestled under a layer of off-white foam. It had a mild nose composed of tangy citrus and hops elements. I found the flavour to be a bit on the tart side, with lemon and grapefruit on the foreground and a slightly yeasty finish.

Blind Man's Holiday served me fairly well. It was easily drinkable and quite flavourful. However, as my pal K.C. pointed out, "it's nothing to write home about." But, since writing home about beer is basically how I travel, I felt compelled. This beer was all kinds of fine, but not much more. Still, it was well and deliberately made, with an almost Belgian-style finish, and made me curious about other Gibb's offerings.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Jam Session

Jam Session is yet another Charlottean ale that I downed on a recent trip to North Carolina. It's a pale ale brewed by the NoDa Brewing Company. At 5.1% it's a sessionable little brew that pours a sexy golden colour with a couple of inches of bright white head.

The Sesh has a mild but sunny nose--fruity, bitter, and a touch coppery. It's flavour is also quite unassuming, but in a well-made and considered kind of way. It's got tinny notes, as well as some peach and hops pops. Not an earth-shaking ale, but a darn good'un.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Bitter Waitress Black IPA

Happy holidays from the Stout Man! Have yourself a cold one, because you've earned it!

My first dance with an offering of the Shillow Beer Co., a Toronto beer-making establishment, was their Bitter Waitress Black IPA. Sold in cool looking 473mL cans, Bitter Waitress is a 6.5% ale. It proved to be a midnight black brew sporting a lush and fluffy tan head reminiscent of a stout.

Bitter Waitress displayed a bitter and slightly sweet roasted malt aroma. It's flavour kicked off smooth, well roasted, and malty up front, if perhaps a touch thin. However, the back end stormed the gates with a ribald hops profile that I found almost beguiling.

I'd never complain that the Ontario, or more specifically the Toronto beer scene is overcrowded. In the beer world, a busy marketplace is a drinker's dream. Based on the quality of Bitter Waitress, I get the impression that Shillow Beer Co. could be a welcome addition to the fold. Bitter and pushy, this black I.P.A. delivered a lot of the factors that I'm looking for from the style. The front end is a bit underwhelming, but the finish is bruising and verging on badass. Quality roasted malts throughout and dynamic hops make this beer well better than ordinary. I'll be keeping both eyes out for more Shillow brews to see whether this one was a rookie fluke or a harbinger of yet another strong contributor to craft brewing in the province I choose to inhabit.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Muskoka Winterweiss

I swapped a can of Muskoka Winterweiss from my ol' pal M.T. after an evening of Thai food, brews, and euchre. From Bracebridge, Ontario's Muskoka Brewery, it proved to be a cloudy brown dunkelweiss, that poured with a dramatic but short-lived cream head. Sold in 473mL cans, Winterweiss contained a standard 5% alcohol. It displayed a nutty, fruity aroma, with bunches of bananas and a hint of fruitcake. The flavour, slightly spicy, projected banana tones, as well as a malty base.

Enjoyable from start to finish, Winterweiss proved to be a charming Ontarian take on the dunkel, a dark German wheat beer. Seasonally appropriate on a chilly day at the dregs of November, it put a bit of fire in my belly, but did so in a mellow and agreeable way. While I'd have liked to see a touch more booze and body, particularly in terms of roasted malts, it showed itself to be an enjoyable grog.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Louis Cifer American Brown Ale

I got off work about an hour before my wife on a Wednesday evening and had to kill some time before date night, so I headed off in her direction and ducked into the Louis Cifer Brew Works, a relatively new brewpub on Toronto's east side. It was really early when I arrived, so the big place was almost empty which suited me fine. I grabbed a seat and ordered up a pint of their American Brown Ale, a 5.8% alcohol number brewed in house.

My pint turned up looking elegant--chestnut hued, clear, and created with a sudsy cream head. The ABA featured a quite pleasing aroma of nuts and roasted malt, backed with molasses. The flavour started slow, with a slightly flimsy, malty initial note, but picked up a bit of steam toward the finish, as roasted nut and malt asserted themselves a bit more emphatically. The finish even had a whisper of bitterness, though nowhere near at the level I was hoping for from an American brown.

If this stuff were simply offered as a brown ale, I'd have been a bit more keen on it, but by selling it as an American brown, I got my hops hopes up--my bitter bias riled--and found myself a trifle disappointed. LC's take on the style was not what I expected, though the beer I received did taste pretty good. A bit more noise from the front end and substantial bitterness to close and this stuff would have had me singing its praises. Instead, I'm merely speaking them.

Rating: 7.0 out of 10.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Twin Pines Imperial IPA

On this, my 31st birthday, I wanted to review something big, strong, and charming, just like me.

There was a Sawdust City Brewing Co. tap takeover going on during a recent visit to east end Toronto standout The Only Cafe. As I'm a longtime fan of Sawdust City's excellent Lone Pine IPA, the pride of Gravenhust, Ontario, I jumped at the chance to try a pour of Twin Pines Imperial IPA, it's big, bad relation. According to the Sawdust City website, this chunky IIPA clocks in at 8.8% alcohol and 88 IBUs.

Twin Pines arrived with a hazy, slightly rusty orange look. It came covered with a thick and very persistent cream head. It had a boisterous nose that blathered on about grapefruit, tropical, and bitter notes. Full bodied and boozy, Twin Pines had a formidable flavour--at times too sweet, but building to a dank, resinous "hopsplosion." There were juicy citrus notes, but it was really the sticky resin that made me sit up and take notice. Unlike Line Pine, there isn't a heavy focus here on evergreen notes, though it does appear as a whisper.

Twin Pines lacked the artful modesty of its Lone Pine forebear, but it certainly packed a heady punch and a ton of flavour into a pint of ale. Another beaut from one of the under appreciated, under the radar, bright lights of Ontario's always improving craft beer scene.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Lenoir Belgian Style Ale

Lenoir Belgian Style Ale is named for Jean J. Lenoir who, according to the 473mL can, is the Belgian engineer responsible for inventing the internal combustion engine. Bell City Brewing Co. is the driving force behind this beer from Brantford, Ontario, that is brewed using Belgian candi sugar and which contains 6.5% alcohol.

Lenoir is an almost clear, reddish-blonde ale. It pours with an off-white fog and is blessed with a rustic, yeasty aroma. The flavour isn't as assertive as most true Belgian ales, but it does feature some familiar elements--mild, fruity notes, substantial yeastiness, and a degree of boozy, dry ending.

While the can says "Belgian Style Ale", I'd like to be a bit more specific. I don't think this beer is strong enough or hearty enough to fall in the Abbey category. I'm more inclined to class it as either a Belgian-style pale ale or a Belgian-style blonde. Whatever class it falls into, I found Lenoir to be a very enjoyable ale. A bit mild, but with some charm.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Catherine Wheel Belgian IPA

Proving that Ontario breweries can do pretty passable Belgian-style ales is a beauty like Catherine Wheel Belgian IPA from Toronto's Bellwoods Brewery. At 7.2%, Catherine Wheel comes in 500mL bottles festooned with attractive and colourful labels. It's a cloudy golden orange beer topped with an effusive white head.

Catherine Wheel has some pretty funky, yeasty barnyard notes on the nose, alongside fruity and bitter elements. The brew has a tangy flavour, packed with ample hoppiness, stanky yeast, and a dry, brittle finish.

To my palate, this stuff is more "Belgian" than it is "IPA"--I'd have liked a better-developed hops profile to really guide the flavour. It delivers satisfying yeastiness, though, and an interesting flavour.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Hi-Wire Oatmeal Pale Ale

Hi-Wire Oatmeal Pale Ale comes from Asheville, North Carolina. It's a 4.5% alcohol product of The Three Ring Brewing Co. and also my first brush with a pale ale brewed with oatmeal.

Hi-Wire is a bright golden brew; it's hazy and pours with a thin white head. It's a thin-bodied ale, but also a pretty crisp one. It has a flowery, hop-forward scent. The flavour is a touch bitter and has a pleasant perfumed vibe. The finish is dry and quick.

This was a pretty tasty little ale, though I struggled to find much oatmeal character in it. Delicate, but a bit thin, this was a beer worth trying.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Jade IPA

The 750mL bottle that houses Jade IPA has a cool film noire look. The beer within contains 7.4% alcohol and a burly 86 IBUs. It's an almost clear golden ale that pours with a thick and creamy head. It has a juicy, tropical nose--mango and papaya, as well as some tart grapefruit. That fruitiness powers the flavour too, but backed by some serious hops goodness.

Juicy and tasty, Jade IPA is a beaut from Winston-Salem, North Carolina's Foothills Brewing. I'd gladly murder another of these animals any day of the week. Only complaint is that it's a bit thin for a strong ale.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Guilford Mover and Quaker Ale

I got a 7.8% rye IPA aged in bourbon soaked wood chips while in Greensboro--a gift from an awesome dude named Greg that I met during a trip to Davidson. Greg and his wife Jenn brewed this stuff as a wedding gift for a family member and Greg said that this charming ale was selected as the grand champ at a home brewing competition in Iowa. I asked Greg what he was calling their ale, and he responded that he wasn't much good at names, so I'm unilaterally calling  the heretofore unnamed beer a Guilford Mover and Quaker Ale. Hope that's OK ...

The "Mover and Quaker" is a swampy brown grog. It's a very sweet-smelling brew, with pleasant oaky notes. The flavour is quite powerful, sweet, and woodsy. There are vanilla-soaked bourbon elements and a beefy hops finish. What's missing is the promised rye heat and IPA bitterness. For me, this beer was closer to a dark ale or maybe a brown porter. 

Especially since this is a home brew effort, Greg and Jenn's beer was a pretty seriously impressive, but I'd have been pretty darn pleased if it were a commercial offering. It was boozy, flavourful, and well-made. I'm not going to assign it a rating, since it feels wrong to put a number on a gifted home brew, but it would have done well.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Hop Cakes Imperial India Pale Ale

Hop Cakes Imperial India Pale Ale is a behemoth at 10.2% alcohol. Plus, apparently it's "soaked in lots and lots of delicious Vermont maple syrup". I'm listening.

I was gifted a 16oz can of the stuff during a trip to North Carolina. It comes from Charlotte, where it's brewed by NoDa Brewing Company. According to the NoDa website, it's a member of their "NoDables" series. It's a hazy orange grog topped with a thin layer of off-white head. There is a sweet and powerfully boozy nose. The beer is thick and very sweet. There isn't a whole lot of overt maple in the flavour, but there is some sticky syrup sugariness. There is a layer of dank, resinous hops that brings some heat.

This beer is wildly strong and very flavourful. It's way too sweet by the end of pint, but tastes pretty decent until that point. My beer was also a bit heavy on sediment.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Hop Continuum No. 2 Mosaic Red IPA

DuClaw Brewing Co.'s Hop Continuum No. 2 Mosaic Red IPA is a very pretty beer from Baltimore, Maryland. It's a cloudy, ruddy brew--rusty and covered with a fog of creamy head. It came in a 12oz bottle and contains 6% alcohol. It packed a pungent aroma: floral, hoppy, and slightly coppery. The flavour walked the same line, with initial earthy maltiness, metallic and floral notes, and a classy hops finish.

Hop Continuum Two is a fine red IPA. A bit more ballast would help out, but this stuff doesn't need much assistance.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Keller Kölsch

Keller Kölsch comes from Greensboro, NC, where its brewed at Natty Greene's Brewing Company, a little brewpub located in downtown. According to the chalkboard at the bar, the Double K contains a modest 4.9% alcohol. It's a faintly hazy dull gold ale--nicely carbonated and topped with a sharp white head. It has an earthy, grainy nose that is nicely replicated in the flavour. I enjoyed a pint on tap fresh from the brewery. A pretty beer, though it has a tiny bit of sediment at the bottom.

The mouthfeel lacks the crispness that I wanted to see and it was quite thin. However, the flavour pops pretty nicely and left me reasonably satisfied.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Omnipollo Fatamorgana

Omnipollo Fatamorgana drew me in with its beautiful and simple label. The 12 oz bottle is adorned with a stylized moon reflecting on water. From Sweden, but brewed in Westminster, Maryland, Fatamorgana is an imperial India pale ale that is constructed, according to the label, by Pub Dog Brewing Co. It clocks in at a respectable 8% and pours hazily, cloudily orange with a chipper white head.

There is a juicy, bitter grapefruit nose that packs a potent punch. For a hearty imperial, the flavour is quite mild and nuanced. It's citrus-leaning, slightly sweet, and politely hoppy.

Truly a delicious beer, Fatamorgama has lots of great things to offer. It was pretty pricy for a single bottle, but well, well worth it. I downed my bottle just before sunset at a friend's lake house on Lake Tillery, just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, and it was glorious.

Rating: 9.0 out of 10.