Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Left Field Brewery

During 2015's May long weekend, my wife capitulated and joined me on a trek to Toronto's east side to pay a visit to the Left Field Brewery, a long anticipated space that has recently opened its doors to the public.

Unfortunately, Left Field doesn't yet offer tours, so that wasn't an option, but on the plus side, I've been on enough brewery tours to know what they would've told me. The space is pretty cool--in keeping with the baseball theme, they have a working ballpark scoreboard that displays the brewery's hours. As well, they have a bottle shop where you can purchase bottles and cans of the good stuff on offer, and some pretty cool merch (although no shirts big enough for this portly beer geek--c'mon guys, know your audience!).

With lots of space, a neat alley location, and some cool baseball touches, Left Field Brewery has put together a a complete game three-hitter of a place, or if you prefer an offensive metaphor, they're a double away from the cycle. Either way, it's the kind of performance a player can be proud of and will be talking about for years to come. It's a bit out of the way, but well worth a journey.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Fire in the Rye Roasted Rye Pale Ale

With a mouthful of a handle, Fire in the Rye Roasted Rye Pale Ale hails from Guelph, Ontario where it's brewed by the excellent Double Trouble Brewing Co. Hearty, but not overpowering, a 473mL can of Fire in the Rye contains a swampy amber-brown liquid at 6.1% alcohol and 60 IBUs. It pours from the cool, retro, Catcher in the Rye-looking can with a thick and deep fog of cream head. And as the can states, this brew is "deliciously unfiltered".

Spicy rye aromatics link arms with rich caramel and citrus hop notes. The nose is understated, but really quite lovely. The roasted rye and the ample hop bill drive the full flavour of this pale ale. Beneath all of that, there are warm toffee notes a murmur of orange peel, and some notes of raisin.

This is an excellent Ontario beer. In fact, it appears in my previous post, the Five Ontario Beers that Own My Fridge. I was excited when I first saw it on the shelf, I've enjoyed it many times since, and I've not been disappointed one iota. Rye and hops fans will get enough bitterness and spice to keep them cheering, and there's also lots of depth in the flavour. I like this stuff a lot!

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Brazilian Brew: Colorado Demoiselle

A buddy of mine, the impossibly charming William Newcastle, has spent the last several months in Brazil. While there, he's found the opportunity to knock back the occasional brew, and in a show of generosity, has sent me a couple of reviews. Here's the first:

As you know, I’m in Sao Paulo for a few months. I thought your readers might like to hear about some of the more interesting beers that paulanistos like to drink.
The people here mostly drink four or five brands of domestic light pilsners, along with Budweiser, and Heineken. These beers are entirely predictable. Luckily, a reasonable variety of dark beers (cerveja escura), including several German brands augments that limited selection.
While the pilsners here are nothing to write home about, I will mention one neat thing about how they are consumed. In the many cafés and barzinhos here, people order 900 mL bottles of beer that come to the table in cozies or ice buckets. The locals then watch the street or the futebol match while sipping their drinks from 200 mL glasses. A most convivial way to drink socially.
The first beer I’ve picked to review is a strong porter called Demoiselle from a small brewer in Sao Paulo state named Colorado. Another Canadian here named Eddie helped me finish a bottle and write this review.
A rough translation of the back-of-bottle description of the beer says:
This porter, robust and laden with the aroma of coffee, has national and imported ingredients of the highest quality, used with artisanal method and with an exotic touch. The coffee used in making the beer comes from the Alta Mogiana region and was cold processed before being added to the beer, keeping intact all its complexity and wealth of flavor”
The beer pours with a light tan head that quickly dissipates. In the glass, the beer has a flat, off-black colour, somewhat darker and more opaque than cola.
Its nose is heavy on chocolate and coffee, with a subtle burnt sugar presence.
Unsurprisingly for a beer that advertises where it gets the coffee that it uses (an area close to the brewery in Riberão Preto, in the northeastern part of the state) the strongest taste to present itself is coffee. 
This beer is sweet for a porter, but is far from syrupy. It is sweet-ish. It is also refreshing with bright carbonation. Paradoxically, its finish definitely lingers – leaving notes of chocolate, smoke and woodsy-ness behind.
At 6% ABV, this strong beer is warming without being boozy.
It was worth picking up for its label art and local status alone, and it was definitely worth the try. However, given my limited time here I am not sure I’ll get it again in the face of all the other beer available.     
 Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Epiphany No. 2 Imperial Pilsner

Epiphany No. 2 Imperial Pilsner got its start in Toronto, Ontario, where it was lovingly crafted by the folks at Black Oak Brewing Co. A limited release which, according to the label on the 650mL bottle, is the second release in a series of brews "designed to highlight the creative talents of our brewers, featuring bold and interesting styles of beer." Well, they had me at "limited release". And if that hadn't, got me, the 7.7% alcohol would've.

Epiphany No. 2, or the Deuce, as I call it, was strongly recommended to me by a friend whose judgment I trust, so I ran right out to pick up a bottle of my own. When I cracked it open on a grey Friday evening in late May, its lazy, hazy golden hue picked me right up, while its Bermuda Triangle's worth of durable eggshell fog threatened to outdo the clouds in the sky.

The Deuce packs a mellow but serious aroma that is at once grainy, boozy, and bitter. It has a surprisingly subtle flavour that is replete with green apple notes, Sauvignon blanc notes, grass notes, dry hops notes, and alcohol notes. It's a veritable notepad of flavours! However, all said, the flavours are muted, particularly given the high booze content.

Dry, but not arid; strong, but not punishing; bitter, but not overbearing. The Deuce is a beer worth trying and one worth sipping slowly. An intemperate guzzle could cost you in the a.m. Nor would you want to hurry through the novelty of an Ontario-made Imperial pilsner. If you're partial to Steam Whistle and Urquell, this stuff might cause you fits unless you approach it with an open mind and a dose of caution. If you're an IPA fan, it'll underwhelm with bitterness, but intrigue with vigour. I have little experience with truly strong pilsners, so I run the risk of overstating, but I think that this is a fine example. Try it and let me know if you agree.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Pinball Wizard American Pale Ale

Clifford Brewing's Pinball Wizard American Pale Ale really stuck out to me on Bar Volo's always excellent draught list on a nice May evening, thanks in large part to my fervour for another of their offerings, the Clifford Porter. At 5.7% alcohol, this Wizard is nicely weighted, and with a dusty golden appearance, it looks the part. My draught arrived with a substantial layer of off-white head and a mild, citrus hop aroma.

With a thin, wispy body, Pinball Wizard doesn't feel substantial, though it sure is easy to drink. I was hoping to reference The Who's classic tune, and fortunately this beer made it easy, since "there has to be a twist"...of orange. It finishes bitterly with a fair bit of citrus rind moxie.

Crisp and fresh, this beer has a lot to offer, in a mild, unassertive package. Not as elite as the Porter, this stuff is still a solid offering from a strong brewery.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Thrust! An IPA

Thrust! An IPA is a beer that I've enjoyed many times before, but never in a setting fit for writing a review. Whether I was washing down some dinner with pals or late in the evening after a few too many, I've always enjoyed the stuff, but never had the right moment to take notes. That all changed recently, since Great Lakes Brewery managed to get Thrust! onto the shelf at my local liquor store. No more friends and merriment in my way--now I can have a sad, solitary pint of the stuff in my backyard on a work night. Yay?

Thrust! is an India pale ale by way of Toronto. A member of GLB's Tank Ten series, it's sold in 650mL bottles adorned with a goofy space travel scene. At 6.5% alcohol, it's neither too strong nor is it disappointingly soft. We're dealing here with a very murky, auburn-orange ale that pours with a thick and juicy cream-hued head. Juicy is a good adjective for this beer's nose too, as its bursting with papaya, mango, and peach notes, laid over a modestly hoppy foundation. According to the bottle, 72 IBUs are the name of the Thrust! game, though it doesn't feel quite that bitter. The flavour won't knock you out with fruity notes, but it might pack enough of a wallop to give you a fat lip or a black eye. Among other things, the bottle promised lychee, and they weren't lying. It's not particularly dry or crisp; rather, there is a jovial, bouncy mouthfeel. My only beef comes at the finish, where a bit more zeal could have clinched it--for all the verve out front, the back end it a tad ordinary. But just a tad.

While I was glad to spot bottles of Thrust! at the store for me to bring home and review, it's really a beer to be enjoyed in good company, making lots of noise. Boisterous, I'd call it. I've reviewed a lot of IPAs from GLB. While they tend to be very good (easily among Ontario's finest), Thrust! offers a little something different. It certainly doesn't taste like an Upper Canadian craft beer. With all of the fruit nectar coursing through this stuff, I'da guessed it hailed from the hop mad Oregon/Washington belt or someplace exotic like New Zealand. A saucy, sexy ale that you should buy. And we should all lobby GLB to make this stuff a part of their regular rotation.

Rating: 9.0 out of 10.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Brooklyn Dry Irish Stout

All the way from the hipster mecca of Brooklyn, New York comes Brooklyn Dry Irish Stout. This NYC brew has Irish leanings, featuring both orange and green elements on the label of the 355mL bottle. It's built by the Brooklyn Brewery and contains a low-level 4.7% alcohol. It's a nice looking ale, coloured like black coffee and topped with a quaint little tan head--though I was a tad disappointed by the head's staying power. Its aroma is sweet, malty, and well roasted, with a twist of mocha, too. The sweetness in the nose had me expecting sweetness on my tongue. However, what I found was a faint gust of molasses early on, and other than that, sweetness was minimal. The flavour was very mild for a stout--grainy and then a bit bitter toward the back end. Roasted malts were the predominant taste trend.

Not a bad little stout, it was very easy drinking, mellow, and more. It was nice, but not exciting.

Rating: 7.0 out of 10.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Grapefruit League Imperial Pale Ale

I've tried a lot of different beers in my young life, sold in a variety of formats and vessels, but Grapefruit League Imperial Pale Ale was the first I've ever tried that came in a waxed, swing top bottle. It's a weird choice, stylistically, since it looks decent when closed, but once you pop it, it's kinda gnarly. Not to mention the crumbled bits of green (?) wax that dropped off periodically. At 750mL, it's a great size, though.

Grapefruit League comes from the Ottawa outpost of the Mill St. Brewery, one of the major players in the Ontario craft beer scene. At 7% booze, I'm not sure that I'd have affixed the "Imperial" label to this pale ale, but it's decently strong. An attractive pint, GL pours clear copper, beneath a foamy cream chapeau. As expected from the name, the nose has a heady whiff of grapefruit, but it also has a resinous hops quality. Citrus and resin are the major players in the flavour as well. There's an admirable bitterness level, but what really stood out to me was the sultry, smooth mouthfeel. I was bracing myself for an IPA-style astringency, but got mellow, and mild-mannered. The finish proved to be a little wispy, but not regrettably so.

Grapefruit League Imperial Pale Ale was a curious ale--smooth, attractive, bitter, and oddly-packaged. I have no compunction stating that I liked it. It's not Mill St.'s finest, but it is an innovative and well-structured brew. It's a coup that Mill St. managed to boom out a beer named Grapefruit League before their fellow Ontario brewers, the baseball-themed Left Field managed to jump on it. To use a ballpark metaphor, they took away a sure-fire extra base hit from the opposing team.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Aequus Nox

Aequus Nox was strongly recommended to me by one of the extremely knowledgeable bartenders at the always excellent Bar Hop. From one of Ontario's more under appreciated breweries, the Burlingtonian Nickel Brook Brewing Co., A.N. was billed as a single-hopped North American IPA. At 6.6%, my 18oz pour of draught was just what I needed on a bright and cheery spring afternoon. My pint was cloudy and brassy. It showed up with a meager layer of off-white head and smelling of tropical fruit--pineapple and passion fruit. I'd love to know what the single hop is that made this stuff tick--the bartender thought it was something from New Zealand, but couldn't recall which.

Crisp and fresh, the mouthfeel was pleasant but definitely a tad thin. However, the flavour was all kinds of agreeable--very fruity, with a dry bitter streak to dry things out. There was a touch of something a bit swampy at the extreme back end that didn't quite gel with the rest of the vibe, but this was a minor complaint.

Aequus Nox is another quality entry from Nickel Brook. It bursts with fruit and hops and I liked it a lot. It'd be lovely if Nickel Brook would bottle this stuff for regular sale.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Trappist Achel Bruin Bier

Trappist Achel Bruin Bier is a certified Trappist ale out of Achel, Belgium. It's brewed by the challengingly-named Brouwerij der Sint-Benedictusabdij de Achelse Kluis (according to Wikipedia--there was an irritating sticker over that piece of info on my 330mL bottle).

This Belgian brown ale is an "Authentic Trappist Product" and contains a hearty 8% alcohol. It's a hazy brown grog that pours with a very substantial cloud of cream-coloured head. It's aroma certainly isn't shy, with forceful malt notes, big booze presence, and, above all, lots of orchard fruit character. There's also a pretty cheeky yeast aroma. A very sweet beer, Achel has strong fruit notes--apple, pear, and fig are well represented. Like you'd expect from a strong Belgian ale, it's yeasty, malty, and boozily warm.

One of the sweeter and fruitier of the Trappists that I've tried, Achel Bruin still manages to be a fairly approachable exemplar of the style for drinkers interested in accessing a strong Belgian brew. It has an engrossing flavour and very few bad qualities.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Heelch O'Hops Double India Pale Ale

When I first spotted Anderson Valley Brewing Co.'s Heelch O'Hops Double India Pale Ale on the shelf at my closest liquor vendor, I almost overlooked it. It's label looks an awful lot like that of their Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, right down to the antlered bear sipping from freshwater, and I thought, "Oh yeah. That stuff was pretty decent. Not this time." However, closer inspection made me wise to the fact that Heelch was something completely different. A double I.P.A., it clocks in at a vigorous 8.7% alcohol, and comes in a 650mL bottle. Heelch is a native of Boonville, California, and murkily pours the colour of new penny, 'neath a cloudy off-white head.

With a juicy satsuma and Florida orange nose, I got a preview of a big and bitter ale that was enticing and a bit playful. The flavour follows that pattern, debuting with syrupy citrus before swinging 'round toward an able hoppy finish. According to the Anderson Valley website, Heelch contains a staggering 100 IBUs.

Too sweet by degrees to be an elite strong beer, Heelch O'Hops Double India Pale Ale merely manages to be a good one--and I was perfectly happy with that. I'd have struck a balance with a bit more in terms of IBU count and dryness, and a little less emphasis on juiciness, but there wasn't much else to complain about.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Midtfyns Bryghus Double IPA

A strong ale from Årslev, Denmark, Midtfyns Bryghus Double IPA comes from Midtfyns Bryghus. It's a liver-battering brew of 9.2% alcohol that's sold in 500mL bottles adorned with an elephant. Dark auburn in colour, the MB Double IPA is hazy and pours with a thin, ecru head.

The aroma promises a boozy affair. It's warm and potent, with whiffs of citrus bitterness and resinous stank. In terms of flavour, there's a respectable but not overblown fruity sweetness from start to finish, but with is dwarfed by ample hops pop, particularly at the back end.  You'd never be fooled into believing that this beer was and weaker than its 9.2%, as it tastes wickedly powerful.

MB's Double IPA is a potent ('cause it's strong!) reminder that Danish brewing is more than Carlaberg and Tuborg. There is a healthy respect for hops bines in evidence in this ale, and a good deal of craft too. Liked it a great deal.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Lost River Baltic Porter

Lost River Baltic Porter followed me home from a recent trip to the Bellwoods Brewery bottle shop. I'd gone to the Torontonian suds supplier in search of IPAs and American Brown Ales, which I found in large measure, but as I turned to go, this sad little puppy looked so forlorn siting there in its refrigerator that I buckled and let it tag along.

At 7.6%, Lost River has some heft, it's sold in 500mL bottles, out of which comes a gush of opaque brown/black beer topped with a velour foam of cream head. Roasted malt is the commanding note in the aroma, though there are milky chocolate milk and molasses characteristics, too. A soft and creamy mouthfeel delicately grips roasty, malty flavour elements as well as some subtle chocolate and cafe con leche notes.

Generally, I like Bellwoods' hoppier and more assertively flavourful brews, but Lost River Baltic Porter offered a nice alternative. While still high in alcohol, it provided me with a mellow, melodic sipper that I savoured lazily on a Friday evening. This might not be Bellwoods' most unique or noteworthy beer and it doesn't have a "wow factor" (to use a greasy term), nor is it as revelatory as some of the porters I've been lucky enough to experience, but it is lovely offering all the same. 

Buy it. You'll like it!

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Hopraiser West Coast IPA

Hopraiser West Coast IPA takes its name (according to the label) from a historical term for a grower of hops, as well as from the long-defunct Squamish Valley Hop Raising Company. Hopraiser is a swampy gold brew that topples out of a mammoth 1L bottle with a fluffy eggshell head. The bottle comes capped and also features a swing top, adorably suggesting that I might not finish it all in one session. In fact, I was watching a Toronto Raptors playoff game when I pried the cap off of this stuff, so I was quite happy to have a beer large enough to save me from getting away from my TV for a good chunk of the game.

At 6% alcohol and 50 IBUs, this ale from Squamish, British Columbia isn't a bruiser by I.P.A. standards, though this offering from the Howe Sound Brewing Co. does have a pungent floral and citrus aroma. It's flavour is at times resinous, but it's mostly built around bitter grapefruit notes.

Hopraiser is a quality India pale ale--it's not a special or unusual beer, but it's clearly carefully and lovingly crafted. The result is a nice ale and, importantly, one that comes in a jumbo bottle.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Harbinger American Pale Ale

Harbinger American Pale Ale marks my first brush with a brew from Kitchener, Ontario's Descendants Beer & Beverage Co., and given the name, I'd be surprised if this isn't their first commercially available offering. Given my unabashed love for fantasy novels, the 473mL can, with its cowled, crystal-gazing figure, certainly caught my eye. Additionally, the copy on the back of the can led me to search for Stammtisch on Wikipedia, so it ended up being an educational pint.

At 5.5% alcohol, Harbinger has a good degree of heft for an APA. It's a bright gold, clear, and well carbonated ale that poured with a healthy though short-lived layer of white head. It's nose is built around toasty malt and a modest bitterness. The flavour, too, is toasty, though there is a bit of a paucity in the hops department. It's not that the beer la is bitterness, but rather that it's a wee bit short on definition and character. I was hoping for a sharp, almost abrupt APA in the style that's so de rigeur right now in Ontario (see Detour, Naughty Neighbour etc.), but found a slightly meandering ale. However, it should be reiterated that Harbinger does have a lovely, well toasted element that I really enjoyed, and it's a very handsome ale.

This is the kind of stuff that I'd bring to the beach or to a Saturday afternoon pool party--cheery beer with a mildly elevated booze bill, but one that won't overwhelm or obfuscate. Did I like it? Sure. Would I buy it again? Likely, though not until it warms up. But the takeaway for me is that Kitchener has a new brewery, and it's one that has demonstrated a little skill and creativity. I'll be watching out for more from Descendants--hopefully something with a bit more vigour.

Rating: 7.0 out of 10.