Saturday, 30 January 2016

Christmas Eve at a New York City Hotel Room

Returning to Toronto after an xmas visit to New Brunswick, I found myself entirely starving and so ducked into Northern Belle, a little bar at the end of my street for a sandwich and a drink. While waiting some pulled pork, I tucked into an Imperial stout called Christmas Eve at a New York City Hotel Room--I was drawn in both by the Yuletide theme and by the sterling reputation of the brewer: Evil Twin Brewing--brewing this time out of Stratford, Connecticut. This beer was likely a bad idea to tear into on an empty stomach, as it contained a raunchy 10% alcohol. The only saving grace was that the bottle was only 355mL.

Jet black was the beer, opaque, and crowned with a quickly receding tan head. It had a malty aroma with deep notes of dark fruits--quite mild given the strength. The flavour proved to be quite interesting and not mild at all, with some heavy malty sweetness, raisin elements, and with a whiff of peat smoke that really sealed the deal. Bitterness was also well represented, particularly at the back end, where espresso and cacao flavours lurked. And, the stuff was boozy, but not oppressively.

This was really a lovely ale--warm, flavourful, and multifaceted. A great buy--well worth the $11 bucks I paid at the bar. Not as bitter as some Imperial stouts, but built around some lovely tastes.

Rating: 9.0 out of 10.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

La Buckdjeuve

The brewing scene in New Brunswick is starting to get pretty interesting. One of the newer players is Les Brasseurs du Petit-Sault, an outfit from Edmundston. While home in my birth province over Christmas, I had occasion to try a couple of their brews, including La Buckdjeuve. Sold in stubby 341mL bottles, this little number was billed as a "dark strong ale". It contains a potent 7.3% alcohol, 29 IBUs, and is made with "mythical spices." According to the label, La Buckdjeuve is a rarely seen forest-dwelling critter that lives in the Madawaska Forests--sorta like an Acadian jackalope.

The beer poured with a nice mahogany colour and a layer of fairly thin off-white head. It packed a punchy, warm nose, replete with clove notes and heavy maltiness. The flavour, too, was malt-powered and full of warm spice notes. Alongside were some slightly nutty elements, and a modestly bitter, chocolatey finish.

To my mind, La Buckdjeuve made for a delightful winter ale--strong, seasonally-spiced, and tasty. 

Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Red Racer Imperial India Pale Ale

On Christmas Night, sitting in my parents' kitchen long after the family went to bed and feeling melancholy, I reached for four things: a fine single malt, an old blues album, a good novel, and a strong ale. The ale I chose for my solitary Yuletide vigil was Red Racer Imperial India Pale Ale, the 9% alcohol, 90 IBU sibling of Surrey, British Columbia's Central City Brewers + Distillers' excellent Red Racer IPA, and cousin to the rest of the Red Racer family.

Sold in 650mL bottles, the Imperial version was clear and honey hued. It poured with a proud layer of off-white head. It's aroma spoke in a slightly slurred, liquor-soaked voice, about spicy pine notes and a toasty warm sweetness. The flavour was equally verbose and equally sauced, though much sweeter than the nose. According to the label, I was to expect "strong aromatics of grapefruit, tangerine and mango." This description didn't entirely square with my experience of the beer, which I found, underneath the boozy sweetness, to be piney and touch dank. Though, it should be said that as my glass of ale warmed, I did start to clue in to some fruitier notes than i initially detected. It finished merrily, with lingering hops pop.

Red Racer IIPA was a hearty, full-flavoured ale that delivered on my desires for a strong and satisfying beer. I found it to be a well made brew with a lot to compliment. On the other side of the ledger, I must admit that the sweetness attached to the big percentage wasn't nearly as well cloaked as I'd have liked and proved a bit distracting. All things considered, this was a grand ol' ale, and one I'm glad to have brought home. I'd buy it again in a heartbeat, though only in the fall or winter, because the sweet heat of this beer would be stifling in the sunnier months.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Louis XVII Amber Ale

Louis XVII Amber Ale comes from northern New Brunswick, where its brewed by Les Brasseurs du Petit-Sault. I had a goblet full on draught at Fredericton standout Isaac's Way while waiting for a tasty bowl of seafood chowder. According to the Petit-Sault website, this beer clocks in at 5.5% alcohol.

A bit dark for an amber ale, Lou 17 came my way clear, reddish brown, and topped with a thin off-white disc of head. It has a malty, coppery nose--mild but agreeable. On the flavour side of things, tastes are slightly fruity, malt-driven, and a tad metallic. Mouthfeel is smooth, but a bit thin.

There are some roasted elements that I liked, and a soft touch of tartness, too. Too thin by half, but an interesting little brew from my home province. Makes me want to try more of their offerings.

Rating: 7.0 out of 10.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Nosferatu Imperial Red Ale

Being known to your friends and family as a beer geek has its advantages. My recent natal day was spent hosting a beer and cheese party and receiving numerous beery gifts. One of these, flipped my way by the unsinkable M.T., was Nosferatu Imperial Red Ale, brewed by Cleveland's own Great Lakes Brewing Co. At a spine-tingling 8% and 70 IBUs, these strong red ale wasn't fooling around. Sold in 12oz bottles with a menacing vampiric label, this beer poured with a healthy, ruddy hue and a less than lustrous cream head. In my dark backyard, the stuff looked ominous, but held to a light, it was actually quite a luminous ruby ale.

Nosferatu had a warm, metallic aroma with some sweet fruity and malty notes. That's how the taste started out, too, before veering alarmingly toward bitter and hoptastic. From the nose, I was unsure how this beer could possibly contain such a high percentage and bitterness rating, but that was quickly made apparent with my first sip. While less bombastic than a double IPA or other hop monsters, this stuff had some life to it.

Despite the wicked handle, Nosferatu Imperial Red Ale proved to be a refined villain, more suave than evil. I found it very enjoyable. A bit more emphasis on the malty front end to match the scent would have been nice, but this was an otherwise outstanding brew.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Session Saison

Session Saison comes from Toronto, Ontario's Burdock Brewery. At just 4.8% alcohol, it's a crisp and light-bodied saison. According to the very plain label on the 500mL bottle, this little treat is brewed with raw and flaked wheat, buckwheat, and Ontario hops, along with barley.

It's a dull golden ale, chalk full of carbonation, and topped with a thin but determined white head. Session Saison has a chipper nose, built around yeast, but also slightly sharp with tartness. The beer has a fizzy, thin bod, with a very dry finish. Its chief flavour notes are green apple and Belgian-inspired yeast.

On the good side of the ledger, this beer is refreshing, interesting, and subtle. On the bad (or the less than good, as this is really a pretty decent little brew), there isn't enough flavour to match the punchy aroma and the stuff is a touch thin. I found it to be an agreeable beer and you might too. Plus, get off your Toronto butts and support a new local beer-maker!

Rating: 7.0 out of 10.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Charcoal Porter

In preparation for a beer and cheese party that I was hosting, I set out looking for something fairly specific: a stout or porter, made in Ontario, with a reasonably low IBU count and alcohol percentage, and that I had never tried before. Innocente Brewing Company's Charcoal Porter allowed me to check off all of those boxes. Sold in 500mL bottles, this brew comes from Waterloo, Ontario. According to the label, it's won medals at both the Ontario and Canadian Brewing Awards. The suds in question are made in collaboration with Beertown Public House, which sounds like a place I'd like to visit. At 5.1% and 21 IBUs, this beer is mild enough to be accessible to a wide variety of beer drinkers, which is exactly what I needed for my party.

More of a deep brown that black, Charcoal Porter has handsome amber highlights. It poured with a loose, sudsy layer of tan head. To my nose, there are elements of coffee, cocoa, leather, and raisin. Compared to the aroma, the flavour is considerably more bitter, with espresso and dark chocolate leading the way. All this and a sexy, smooth mouthfeel make for a lovely ale.

When I set out looking for a beer to pair with a cheese for my party, this beer was exactly what I was looking for, although I didn't know it yet. Going for a never-before-tried beer was a gamble, but in this case I was richly rewarded. Truthfully, I'd have liked a bit more booze, but this is a paltry complaint in the face of a grand little brew.

Rating: 9.0 out of 10.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Stone Hammer Oatmeal Coffee Stout

Stone Hammer Oatmeal Coffee Stout sprung of the liquor store shelf and into my waiting arms faster than you can say "unhealthy relationship with alcohol." Hailing from Guelph, Ontario, SHS is the progeny of Stone Hammer Brewing and a partnership with Planet Bean Coffee. According to the 473mL can, this beer is brewed up nice using a single origin coffee called Café Feminino. At a regulation 5%, this ale won't overawe with potency, but it does pack a saucy 30 IBUs. It poured coffee black, under a zealous tan head.

SHS has a heady, malt-driven aroma that boils up some nice café mocha notes, as well as a touch of sweets. However, like a fine cuppa, there is considerable bitterness laced throughout the flavour, experienced as both French roast and hops leanings. The finish is particularly punchy, with heavy-handed coffee elements.

This beer tastes considerably stronger than its 5% pedigree. According to the can, it's a five-time award winner, headlined by golds at the Ontario Brewing Awards. This is understandable, considering the lovely java tones that stoke SHS's fire. It could use a more boisterous opening note, but its nose and finish pack enough heft to make up for that minor shortcoming. It's been ages since I was able to try something new from Stone Hammer--their Dark was an early fave when I moved to Ontario five+ years ago, but since then, I've not seen much innovation. Hopefully this beaut of a beer is a herald of more things to come from this unsung Ontario brewer.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

J.P. Wiser's Hopped Dark Ale Style Whisky

J.P. Wiser's Hopped Dark Ale Style Whisky proved impossible for me to ignore. I was compelled to pick up a brown 750mL bottle of the stuff. According to the copy on the label, this 40% spirit is a "distinctive blend of J.P. Wiser' whisky and hops for a rich, dark ale finish."

The whisky is produced by Toronto, Ontario's J.P. Wiser Distillery Limited. It's a very pretty auburn tonic that has an unusually sweet, caramel tinged aroma. The hops added to the distillation aren't immediately evident, at least not in the sense of an India pale ale. However, there is a slight brown ale vibe here that I found fairly agreeable. More than that, though, I found there to be cola notes--caramel and vanilla.

I'm no kind of expert on brown spirits, though I know what I like and I have tried a fairly wide selection of whiskies, bourbons, and scotches. My take on Wiser's Hopped is that it is to be commended for its innovation, though the execution proved a bit too sweet for me, at least on its own. This whisky proved much more enjoyable over ice and mixed with ginger ale than straight up.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Hickson I.P.A.

From Terrebonne, Quebec comes Hickson I.P.A., a murky orange India pale ale topped with a gorgeously fluffy cream head. At 6.2% alcohol and 53 IBUs, this stuff lands on the milder end of the IPA spectrum, but still promises enough heat and hops to hold the interest. This beer comes from Brasserie Les 2 Frères and is sold in very attractive 500mL bottles. While the bottles, with their gold print and hand lettering are quite beguiling, it must be observed that they are, due to their tiny, shiny script, damned hard to read.

Hickson has a bright and bounteous nose that is rich in citrus notes and also packs a suggestion of pine. Interestingly, the flavour seems (to me at least) to be the inverse, with punchy pine notes on lead and silvery citrus tones playing rhythm. 

Despite its modest stats, this ale tastes much stronger and more bitter. As so often seems to be the case with Québécois brewing, I found myself pretty taken with this stuff. It's very nicely made, flavourful, and altogether delightful. I'll be buying it again for sure. Only a few more boozes and a slightly more developed finish could make this a better beer.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Donkey Venom

Donkey Venom is a wonderfully named beer from Toronto's superlative Bellwoods Brewery. It's billed as a "Brett Barrel Aged Porter" and comes in 500mL bottles that sport amazing labels. This stuff tips the scale at a bruising 9.5% alcohol. It's a heavy, midnight black beer that pours with a luscious tan head.

Donkey Venom has a sharp, almost tart aroma that blends winey, fruity, leathery, and boozy notes. The flavour is replete with tangy brettanomyces funk and a plethora of other tastes--dry red wine, dark malts, subtle hops, raisin, and alcohol. The result is a truly unusual and, in its way, enjoyable strong ale. It lacks the typical porter essence, but makes up for it with tart assertiveness.

This isn't the kind of beer that you'd drink at a party or while watching a movie. Rather, it's the sort that you'd brew to impress beer nerds and win medals at brewing competitions. There are a real wealth of fascinating flavours here, which make for an interesting and potent potion for occasional sipping. Much credit is due to the brewers at Bellwoods for creating an innovative and curious ale.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Dark Horse Stout

Cooking rotini primavera for dinner on a Monday evening, I worked up quite a thirst--one that I decided to quench with an oatmeal stout, specifically Dark Horse Stout, brewed in Ottawa, Ontario by the Broadhead Brewing Company. At 5.5%, it had enough pop to curry my favour, and it sure looked nice when poured out of its 473mL can--opaque black, topped with a saucy tan head.

Rich and malty to my nose, Dark Horse also had mocha elements as well as a whiff of hay. It delivered a velvety smooth mouthfeel that went a long way, and a mild flavour that aimed a bit lower. Less robust than I'd  wished for from an oatmeal stout, notes were primarily malty, with some cafe au lait and a touch of leather, as well as a bit of bitterness at the end (26 IBUs according to the can).

Dark Horse was a pretty nice little stout to keep me occupied while cooking up some rotini. It wasn't particularly flavourful, but it didn't hit any off notes either. With its smooth texture and wealthy aroma, I counted myself reasonably satisfied.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Burdock Brett Farmhouse Saison II

A good pal (I'll call him R.H.) brought me a mixed four-pack of beers from Burdock Brewery, a fairly new Torontonian establishment. Once again, writing a beer blog and having generous friends combined to make me a happy lad. Eventually, I'll review all four of these, but for now I'm going to focus on the Burdock Brett Farmhouse Saison II.

Sold in 500mL bottles, the beer was pale gold, lightly hazy, and covered with a thin white head. Its 6.2% alcohol piqued my interest and its pungent, yeasty nose drew me in. This brett saison is an odd beer in some ways--it has a large flavour but a very thin mouthfeel. Not nearly the champagne-like feel that I expected. It has a very yeasty taste, built up with grassy and fruity notes. While a bit too thin, this farmhouse ale delivers a satisfyingly dry finish. Another issue I had with the stuff is a shortage of brettanomyces tang--with Brett in the name, I expect tart notes to be in the fore.

The Burdock Brett Farmhouse Saison II was a pretty good introduction to the wares of a newish brewery I've been itching to try. It gave rise to a couple of significant critiques, but left me relatively pleased and my thirst thoroughly quenched.

Rating: 7.0 out of 10.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Grapefruit Sculpin India Pale Ale

Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits does their brewing in San Diego, California. Ballast Point's Grapefruit Sculpin India Pale Ale pretty much hopped out of the lake and into my cart at a North Carolinian bottle shop. At 7% alcohol, this ale made with natural grapefruit flavour pours a clear brassy colour under a sudsy off-white head.

As one would expect, pulpy grapefruit zest is front and center on the nose, scaffolded with heavy hops bitterness. The palate is treated to much the same combo, with sharp citrus as the dominant note and hops playing an enthusiastic backing band.    

Sweet but not stifling, tart but not sour, and flavoured but not cloyingly so, Sculpin Grapefruit is pretty well balanced. It's not as assertive an IPA as I'd have liked, but it does have a pretty solid booze bill. Typically I prefer my grapefruit notes to come from hops rather than from actual grapefruits, but this stuff was agreeable enough.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

#46 Parkdale Bomber

In the mood for something local and different, I jumped into a rad little place call Lipstick & Dynamite and ordered myself a pint of #46 Parkdale Bomber on tap. The Bomber is a clear and sprightly golden lager made by Toronto's Duggan's Brewery. My pint arrived looking fizzy and topped with a cloudy white head. Strong for a lager, the Bomber blasts livers at 7% alcohol.

Malty and fruity, the Bomber has notes of melon on the nose, as well some classic grain. It's almost crisp, but too strong to really fit that adjective. The flavour is sweet, grassy, and a touch fruity, again with melon leanings.

I quite enjoyed this stuff. I found it bouncy, bubbly and quite pleasant. It could have been a bit fuller-bodied, but it ended up being a virile lager with a lot in its favour.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10.