Thursday, 30 July 2015

Brazilian Brews--WÄLS Session!

The Continuing Travels of William Newcastle
A few weeks ago, I and my party traveled to the state of Minas Gerais. Everyone seems to have a relative in Minas and they invariably describe it as a place with great cooking and simple living. It is a place known for its cheese and sugar spirits.
We stayed in the exceptionally rural village of Pedralva. The street on which we took lodging was next to a pasture and hosted no less than four agricultural supply stores. Young men there wear cowboy hats.  Coffee and bananas are king and queen.
It was here that I acquired a bottle of WÄLS Session! by the WÄLS brewing company, a subsidiary of Tropical Juice Commercial and Industrial Beverages Ltd. This beer is advertised as having 30 IBUs and 3.9% ABV. It is supposed to be for combating the heat. It may be because I waited to drink this beer until fall in São Paulo, rather than using it to combat the heat of the summer in the hills of Minas Gerais that I found this to be a disappointing citrus IPA.
Its labelling could have come from the Flying Monkeys Brewery: a rabbit on mescaline seems to be promising a mountain of hops. It poured a pleasant clear honey colour with virtually no head. However, rather than citrus I could only detect cough candy on the nose. That flavour continued as I drank it and while it had the distinctive IPA kick, it was hard to pin down what flavour the hops gave off, although apple and banana we both present. Its carbonation was minimal.
Thankfully, this is a beer that it was possible to get used to and while it didn’t really reveal any nuances as we sipped, it became tolerable. However, because of its steep price – about nine dollars for a 600 mL bottle – it seems like a poor choice for long afternoon of drinking.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

State of Mind

Collective Arts Brewing's take on the session I.P.A. is a hazy golden number by the name of State of Mind. At just 4.4%, this Burlingtonian beer is easy on the liver, but doesn't give up too much flavour.

State of Mind has a delicious, citrus aroma that tends towards juicy orange. In terms of mouthfeel, this stuff tightropes precariously between crisp and thin. However, there's no shortage of flavour, with bitter citrus singing solo.

Session IPAs and their cousin the American pale ale are all the rage In Ontario right now, and State of Mind is yet another quality example of the style. Not as exquisite as Naughty Neighbour, it's neck and neck with Muskoka's Detour in the next tier. Sold in 355mL bottles that bear cool art from all over, it must be mentioned that Collective Arts' brews are easily among Ontario's best dressed.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Continental Drift Belgian Style Pale Ale

I got a 473mL can of Continental Drift Belgian Style Pale Ale in the Summer mixed 4-pack offered by Burlington, Ontario's Nickel Brook Brewing Company. According to the deets on the can, I was faced with a 5.6%, 40 IBU brew--nothing too daunting there. With a very cloudy, dull gold hue and a veritable mountain of vivid white head, Continental Drift did much to reassure me that Belgian yeasts were a prominent feature of these suds. This fact was further reinforced by the aroma, which, in addition to tropical fruit notes, has a dry, yeasty thoroughfare running north-south at a brisk clip.

CD proved to be both impressive and disappointing. Impressive because of the heaps of interesting flavours layered together: spicy, dank, bitter, fruity, and earthy to name a few. Disappointing, though, because of the thin mouthfeel. If you made a full-bodied, boozy, and brash version of this beer, I'd be awestruck. Instead, I had to settle for being quite satisfied--good, sure, but a near miss at remarkable.

People might be getting tired of me reminding them of the lousiness of Nickel Brook's Green Apple Pilsner, but I keep bringing it up because time and again they have shown me how much better they can be. With Naughty Neighbour and Headstock IPA leading the way, and more niche offerings like Bolshevik Bastard and now Continental Drift clambering for attention, Nickel Brook Brewing Company is fast becoming one of my top Ontario beer builders.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Death Valley

Emblazoned with a vulture atop a gnarled tree stump in the desert, the labels on corked 750mL bottles of Death Valley screams of dryness. According to the label, hops lovers ought rejoice, as this brew is unfiltered and dry-hopped with three strains: Bravo, Saaz, and Amarillo. DV is listed as both "Triple Hop" and as that Quebecois favourite, a strong beer on lees. I'm going to call it a Belgian-inspired pale ale. It contains 8% alcohol and pours a cloudy golden orange. Upon decanting, this beer gives rise to a vivacious fog of off-white head. It's brewed in Montreal, Quebec by Les Brasseurs RJ, an outfit that I'd never previously heard of, though after a quick internet search, I discovered that I have tried a few of their ales.

DV has a yeasty, hops-friendly aroma that walks a line between citrus and floral. Its flavour is unexpectedly muted for a beer that has a desert hellscape on the label--there are yeasty, fruity notes running a few metres ahead of a hopsy, dryish finish. It tastes like a strong ale, though perhaps not quite as muscular as 8%.

Worth mentioning is the low, low sticker price. I got a 750mL bottle of Death Valley for a practically obscene and nearly irresponsible $5.60. In terms of bang for your buck at Ontario liquor stores, Death Valley is a real contender for Grand Champion. Step aside South African "port" and Canadian "sherry". For the budget conscious connoisseur (say that three times fast), Death Valley is a major bargain! Given that it's a pretty agreeable brew, it's a hit. 

A nice brew from La Belle Province, DV combines craft ale sensibility with big heat. It's not as hoppy as I wanted it to be and the Belgian-style yeast is a bit heavy-handed, but I'd definitely buy it again.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Four Surfers of the Apocalypso

I was immediately drawn to to tiki-meets-SpongeBob look on the label of The Four Surfers of the Apocalypso, a "tropical strong beer" brewed in Shawinigan, Quebec by Le Trou du Diable. Sold in 600mL bottles that describe it as a combination of the "elegance of Belgian whites" and the "complex, hoppy character of American IPAs", Apocalypso contains 6.5% alcohol. It's a very cloudy orange brew with a fluffy white head--it does look a lot like a witbier.

The nose of this brew is quite mild, but suggestive of pineapple and juicy hops. The flavour, too, is on the mild side, but features a portfolio of tropical fruit notes. The bass line of this beer is its bitter, hoppy foundation, and this is particularly evident in the finish.

Four Surfers of the Apocalypso is a pretty lush little brew. It has lots of fresh, fruity flavours and a decent amount of kick. It isn't as flavourful as I wanted it to be though. It felt a bit restrained to me. That said, I definitely enjoyed the stuff and I would certainly buy it again.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, 20 July 2015

MacLean's India Pale Ale

MacLean's India Pale Ale is a product of Ontario's Grey County, where its crafted in Hanover by MacLean's Ales Inc. Sold in 500mL, Tusker-style bottles, this IPA contains a modest 6.5%. It has a tangy, bitter nose that is ably represented by notes of citrus rind and something faintly floral. With a pleasant, full-bodied vibe, this brew was just what the doctor ordered on a sunny and warm evening after an unseasonable cold snap. It has a juicy Valencia orange twist, some resinous leanings, and a dry, bitter finish.

MacLean's India Pale is a sexy, subtly hazy, golden-hued ale that pours with a fluffy layer of quickly fading eggshell head. I wasn't particularly impressed with my initial brush with MacLean's Ales, but this second one has me firmly back in their corner. There's not a lot on the down side of the ledger--a bit of yeasty sediment (but who really cares? Not the Stout Man!) and not a lot of malt gusto, but this was ultimately a very enjoyable pint of suds--500mL too, none of that 473mL bullshit.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Heller Highwater

I'm gonna say that Kichesippi Beer Co.'s Heller Highwater is the best-named beer I've downed in some time. A pale lager from Ottawa, Ontario, this helles is a yellow-gold colour, slightly hazy, and pours with a thick shroud of bright white head. It's sold in 473mL cans and contains a very quaffable if slightly low octane 4.8% alcohol.

H2 has an unexpectedly forceful nose. There are assertive notes of hay and sweet grass, built on a foundation of classic, restrained Bavarian hops. The flavour is agreeable, though a bit on the sweet side. This beer is basically hay liquified--it has a grainy, grassiness that calls to mind a horse pasture. There is a faint nod toward hops at the finish, but this is nearly imperceptible.

Grassy and bright, Heller Highwater is a well conceived and decently executed Ontarian take on the heller/helles style. It's too sweet to be crisp, but it is definitely refreshing. As my pint was winding down, I didn't find myself wishing for a second, which is generally a bad sign, but in this case, I don't think it'll stop me from revisiting this lager. It provides something that hasn't been well represented in this province's beery culture, so cheers to that.

Rating: 7.0 out of 10.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Terrestrial India Brown Ale

It's been a while since I've tried something new from Guelph, Ontario's stalwart Wellington Brewery, but on my way home recently I spotted a 750mL capped swing top bottle of Terrestrial India Brown Ale, and I had to make it my own.

Terrestrial is a 5.9%, oaky amber ale that hazily pours with a lusty cream head.  According to the label, it has a depth of 57 IBUs, which isn't unsubstantial. There is an earthy, nutty aroma that competes with an enjoyable hops vibe. The beer isn't as flavourful as I wanted it to be, but the notes present were quite pleasing. Toasted malt, nutty confectionery, and dank hops all vie for attention, though the hops wait in the wings until close to final curtain.

I find hybrid beers like this incredibly interesting, but also hard to assess. I guess the trick is to play it like the late, great Roger Ebert and rate them contextually, based on what I think they set out to achieve. Terrestrial is, to me, a brown ale with heavy-handed hopping, and I feel like that's what was intended. It's tasty and refined--though this means it's not as pushy or boozy as it could have been. I enjoyed it, and would gladly revisit it in short order. The name, though, gives me pause. Terrestrial? With a UFO on the label? Maybe I'm being too literal, but it doesn't work for me.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Release the Hounds

Release the Hounds, a black IPA from Kanata, Ontario, comes in a very eye-catching 473mL can. A tasty looking sheep is superimposed over the eyes of a menacing and stylized wolf. The stuff is churned out by Big Rig Brewery and contains a respectable, but not high octane, 6.2% alcohol.

Release is a stout-black brew topped with a fluffy nimbus of tan head.  It sports an aroma that partners roasted malts with dry, woodsy hops. Each sip partners roasty notes and a soupçon of licorice with a robust and faintly spicy bitterness to create a gloomy (in the most positive sense) ale that I found decidedly satisfying. It didn't leave me mesmerized, but thoroughly enjoyed my pint and lamented the lack of a second. It paired beautifully with a cheap cigar and Lucero's formidable Live from Atlanta album at the end of a long workweek.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Centurion Beer

Centurion Beer hails from South River, Ontario, where it is created by the folks at the Highlander Brew Co. (the directing minds behind the enjoyable Highlander Scottish Ale). The 341mL bottle sports a label that isn't particularly informative (ale or lager? I'm pretty sure it's an ale, btw), but it does indicate that the beer is made with spruce tips and contains a meaty 6.0% alcohol. Additionally, the label notes "#F4LBR", which was basically inscrutable, though when I googled it, I learned that it referred to the Friends for Life Bike Rally, in support of the People with AIDS Foundation. A little more digging led me to the knowledge that Centurion Beer was developed with with folks involved in the bike rally. Why they couldn't just say that, I'll never know. Is money going to the cause, or are they just pals? I did really enjoy the edgy Marvin the Martian on the label though.

The beer is clear, pale gold, and ably carbonated. It poured with a thin layer of pearly head. The nose is floral, and has, not surprisingly, an evergreen bent. It has a mellow, agreeable mouthfeel and an easy-going but interesting taste profile. There is a touch of Christmas tree, but only subtly. There are a lot of blonde ale qualities--malt and hops, both mild in equal measures, plus a smooth-sipping feel.

At 6.0%, this beer isn't overpowering, but it does pack a decent kick. The use of spruce tips was deftly handled, with restraint and class. The underlying beer is a smidge better than ordinary, but it's definitely palatable. I'd certainly consider buying it again, particularly since I think Highlander is a cool and promising brewery with a bright future.

Rating: 7.0 out of 10.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Goose IPA

The Goose Island Beer Co. is an established and celebrated Chicago microbrewery, though it has now been taken over by one of the giant international beer conglomerates. Fortunately for we the thirsty, to this point, the beer has remained tasty.

On a sunny but quickly chilling evening, I uncapped a bottle of Goose IPA, a 5.9%, 55 IBU ale that came in a 341mL bottle. Unbottled, I discovered a hazy beer with a colour somewhere between copper and gold. It poured with a thick and sudsy off-white head and exuded a lemony, hop-driven scent. For flavour, lemon is again in the driver's seat, with dry, piney hops riding shotgun.

According to the copy on the box my beers came in, these suds have medaled six times at the Great American Beer Festival. Truthfully, though, in my opinion, there's a paucity of the booze and a scarcity of the bitterness that'd make this IPA a Stout Man award winner. It's a fine brew and one I'll almost certainly buy again, but I don't think it'll be taking home any hardware on my watch.

Rating: 7.0 out of 10.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Saison From St-Feuillen

A Belgian saison, Saison From St-Feuillen hails from Roenlx, where it is brewed by by Brasserie St-Feuillen. It's listed as a Belgian farmhouse ale and clocks in at a punchy 6.5% alcohol. Sold in 330mL bottles, the stuff has sufficient life that it started foaming over as soon as I pried off the cap. The orange-brown is decidedly cloudy and looks a lot like a nice apple cider, except for a thick fog of ecru head.

Saison From St-Feuillen has a yeasty aroma that packs a tart, fruity essence. Its flavour is quite mild, yeasty, and buttressed by notes of apple. As expected, the mouthfeel is crisp and dry. The aftertaste is practically non-existent, but what little there is is dry, tart, and ever-so-faintly bitter.

I don't know where they're hiding the 6.5%, since it certainly doesn't taste that strong, but it's on the label, so it must be in there somewhere. What I'm saying is that the potency is expertly masked. The beer isn't quite as effervescent as I expected, but there is a hearty wallop of Belgian influence.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Engineer's India Pale Ale

"Bold, complex and finely balanced" reads the label of Engineer's India Pale Ale, the 6.2% alcohol Torontonian IPA from Junction Craft Brewing.

Engineer's is a hazy brass coloured ale that pours with a sudsy, off-white head. Its nose oscillates between evergreen and metallic, though there is also a touch of spice to the stuff. In terms of flavour, pine and citrus notes agree on bitterness, though at 60 IBUs, not overly astringent or overpowering. As with the aroma, there's a spice quality that adds a little panache.

So, is it, as promised by the label on the 500mL bottle, "bold, complex and finely balanced"? Somewhat. Bold is a bit of a stretch, particularly when compared to other Ontario IPAs that have a bit more pop and grit (Mad Tom and Boneshaker leap to mind). Complex, though, is a fair term. The stuff is undeniably nuanced and has a certain depth. As for finely balanced, there's not a lot of malt focus to equalize the scale, but for an IPA, that's pretty much fine by me.

Not as instantly likable as Junction's Conductor's Craft, this stuff definitely has a lot going for it all the same. I'd have liked a bit more booze and a tad more brash assertiveness, though I'll certainly be buying it again.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Eephus Oatmeal Brown Ale

I suspect it will be impossible for me to drink a pint of Left Field Brewery's Eephus Oatmeal Brown Ale without thinking about Richard Pryor in the role of down and out pitcher Montgomery Brewster in the cinematic classic Brewster's Millions. The slow, lazy, high-arcing pitch that Pryor/Brewster tosses to baffle opponents is the Eephus (though I don't recall the word ever being uttered in the film).

So we have a beer named in honour of a junk pitch that comes from a Torontonian brewery with a baseball hang up. I was immediately interested.

I purchased a sixer of 473mL cans at the brewery's bottle shop after a visit to the joint. Eephus pours a creamy deep brown, with amber highlights. It decanted with a nice layer of eggshell head, though it barely made it out of the first inning. There is a mellow but engrossing aroma that is reminiscent of warm cocoa and cool chocolate milk. Despite its pedigree as an American Brown Ale, Eephus' flavour is initially milk stout-like, with molasses and mocha notes dominating the front end, though there is a bitter, cigar smoke back end that keeps things interesting through the finish and prevents the beer from succumbing to over-sweetness.

At 5.5%, Eephus isn't troublesome, and combined with a velvety mouthfeel, it's definitely an easy-going brew. Its oatmeal is delivered through the inclusion of flaked oats. These provide a grainy, well roasted, and earthy quality that adds a bit of charm.

While Eephus isn't perfect, it sure is a winner. Like its namesake, this brew is a strikeout pitch that has the potential to leave even veteran hitters whirling around harmlessly in the batter's box. Give me a bit more nutty oomph and a touch more boozy heat if you please, but even failing that, this beer is on the verge of being genuinely remarkable.

Rating: 9.0 out of 10.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Resin Bag

During my recent stop at Toronto's Left Field Brewery, I had the opportunity to sample a 12oz pour of their formidable Resin Bag IPA. Clear and copper hued, R.B. arrived with a dusting of off-white head. At 6.9%, it's got a bit of a lift, and its 50 IBUs give it a moderately bitter buzz.

Resin Bag has a powerful, muddled citrus aroma that put a smile on my face. It has a flavour that is grapefruit-heavy and, yes, a touch resinous. Its progression is from fresh and fruity up front to arid and bitter out back.

A thoroughly enjoyable little brew, Resin Bag isn't exactly elite, but it's pretty close. The team at Left Field are clearly not a beer league squad--they're currently in Triple A, but awaiting their call up to the Show.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.