Thursday, 31 March 2016
I did my brother a tiny favour and he reciprocated by bringing me a bottle of Cheval Blanc Double Blanche, both a "strong wheat beer on lees" and a "Belgian style, dry-hopped IPA." The 750mL corked bottle contained a cloudy gold liquid that packed a respectable 6.2% alcohol. From Montreal, Quebec, Cheval Blanc is the product of Les Brasseurs RJ.
C.B. poured with a very lively layer of eggshell head. Through that cloud, a hearty aroma of yeast and dry bitterness emerged, as well as a faintly perfumed floral tone. In terms of flavour, the beer is amply hoppy (I'd have said it was more bitter than the 55 IBUs listed on the label) and very dry. There was a well-muscled yeast presence that left no illusions about the beer's Belgian-inspired roots.
I thought that Cheval Blanc was a pretty decent ale: good strength, strong flavour, and sold in a large format. It wasn't the Québécois interpretation of a Belgian ale I've ever tasted, but it sipped easily and left me feeling pretty cheery.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
Tuesday, 29 March 2016
Ransack the Universe Hemisphere IPA is born and bred in Hamilton, Ontario. Its proud parent is Collective Arts Brewing Ltd., and it's housed in 473mL cans with a variety of cool artistic expressions--mine had a stylized severed hand clutching a diamond over a body of water. At 6.8%, Ransack is pretty close to the median strength for an India Pale Ale. According to the can, the hops used in this little number come from Washington's Yakima Valley and from Victoria, Australia: Mosaic and Galaxy respectively.
Ransack pours a hazy, swampy orange gold, and it comes equipped with a durable, sudsy cream head. To my sniffer, the scent was quite mild, though there were suggestions of juicy citrus and sticky resin. The taste proved considerably fuller than the aroma, but walked the same line: juicy fruit and dank hops.
Not the bitterest IPA on the shelf, Ransack prefers to offer its drinkers a lush, tropical fruit salad of flavours backed a modest but steady hops presence. The result is a fresh and fun Ontario ale. It doesn't quite have the depth I wanted, but it's definitely an enjoyable product--one that's sure to bring me back to the well from time to time.
Rating: 8.0 out of 10.
Sunday, 27 March 2016
Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout is a little light on the alcohol for the "imperial" designation. More of a simple stout to me, given its 7% alcohol. At best a strong stout, which is actually how it is characterized on the back of the label. But whatever you call it, it's a handsome black ale topped with a luxe and extremely durable tan head. The stuff in question is brewed by Samuel Smith's at the "Old Brewery" in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, England and it's sold in 550mL bottles crowned with golden foil.
The beer has a sweet and heavy aroma that contains suggestions (assertions even) of molasses and roasted malt. This pattern is reproduced in the flavour, which is malty, and built with significant heft in the form of bittersweet molasses notes. There are also a few notes of leather and raisin somewhere in the mix.
This beer proved flavourful, but too sweet by half. I'd have liked to see a heartier hops profile in evidence toward the finish to really seal the deal. A well made brew nonetheless, and one I'd be happy to revisit periodically.
Rating: 7.0 out of 10.
Friday, 25 March 2016
I drank a can of Crosscut Canadian Ale in what I think were entirely appropriate conditions to drink a beer with a forestry image on the can--outdoors, -10C, wearing a plaid shirt.
The beer in question comes Mackinnon Brothers Brewing Co., which operates out of Bath, Ontario. Crosscut contains a respectable 5.2% alcohol. It comes in 473mL cans. Outside of the can, it proves to be a clear, copper-hued ale. It pours with a thin topping of off-white head. I know that I already used copper to describe the hue, but coppery is also a very apt adjective to describe the scent of this ale--it's metallic and quite pleasant to the nose. The flavour passes from a healthy toasted malt character into a faintly hoppy, tinny finish. Really enjoyable stuff, except that it's a tad thin of body.
According to the copy on the can, the Mackinnon Brothers' ancestors settled in Upper Canada in 1784 as farmers and the brothers are the 8th generation of the family to work the same parcel of land, and they've chosen to do so by operating a farm-based brewery. I love the idea of brewers who are that involved in the growing of their own ingredients. I'll be watching out for more of their beers for sure.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
Wednesday, 23 March 2016
The final installment of the mixed 4-pack of Burdock Brewery beers that I was gifted was their Dark Saison, a 7.5% brew that I was looking forward to a lot. It came in a very snazzy 500mL bottle, but the beer inside proved even better looking--porter dark ale beneath a sudsy, khaki head.
This Torontonian tipple featured a yeasty beast of a nose, supplemented with spicy and floral notes. The flavour was equally yeasty, but balanced with the roasted malt elements of a dark ale, and a slight touch of a bloody iron taste.
This was a grand saison--full-flavoured, well balanced, and unique. The mouthfeel wasn't quite as lively as I might have wanted, but then again, this bottle wasn't extremely fresh, having inhabited my refrigerator for a few weeks over the winter holidays. Of the four Burdock beers I was given, this was easily the crème de la crème.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
Monday, 21 March 2016
The 500mL bottles of Armchair Scotch Ale have an almost irresistible label--a simple design that features a cozy looking chair. The aesthetic of this beer puts comfort in front of mind, and that appeals to my slothful nature. Armchair comes from Hanover, Ontario, where it's brewed by Maclean's Ales Inc. A nicely boozy ale (it tips the scales at 7.5%), Armchair pours clearly, with a lovely dark amber colour and a valiant off-white head.
Its aroma is quite malty, with elements of toasted caramel and molasses. The flavour, too, is malt-dominated. The beer is rich without being particularly sweet, which appeals to me, as does its warm notes of caramel and bourbon.
I really enjoyed the time I spent sitting with Armchair Scotch Ale. Though it isn't listed on the label, there is a woody quality that suggest cask aging. The flavour is pleasant and full, but not overbearing or brash. And it's a pretty beer, too. A delight!
Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
Saturday, 19 March 2016
From the northern reaches of Sudbury, Ontario comes Impact Altbier, a 5.2% ale brewed by the creative minds at Stack Brewing. According to the 473mL can, the name Impact is a reference to "the colossal chunk of fiery rock" that slammed into terra firma 1.8 billion years ago (give or take), creating the Sudbury Basin.
At 5.2%, the old beer isn't terribly strong, but it ain't short on kick either. It's a clear, dark caramel ale, and it pours with a nice, but brief, off-white head. Impact's aroma is malty, nutty, and a touch metallic. It's flavour follows a similar pattern, with nutty and malty occupying the bow and coppery and a touch of bitter trying to man the stern. The mouthfeel of this little ale is smooth and creamy, with just a twist of firmness at the end to keep you on your toes.
Like all of the beer's I've sampled from Stack Brewing, Impact Altbier is a tasty and well-made brew--not exceptional, but always welcome in my fridge.
Rating: 8.0 out of 10.
Thursday, 17 March 2016
Perhaps unwisely, I cracked a can of Farmer's Daughter: A Blonde Ale on the coldest day (to that point) of February. While this ale was likely envisioned with summer sun in mind, I took the plunge anyway.
Immediately upon opening the can, I caught a blast of cereal aromas--grainy and slightly sweet. That's a reasonably apt description of the flavour, too, as it was characterized by sweet, grainy notes. There is just a faint burst of hops at the finish to keep the sweetness from running away with the whole damn thing.
The grassy, cereal elements of this beer were quite welcome, but ultimately I found it too sweet to be much better than not bad. I appreciate that this beer is an ale, and not looking to ape the pilsner style, but a bit more generous hopping in the manner of Czech lagers might have really assisted Farmer's Daughter. As well, drinking in a warmer season might have helped my own enjoyment.
Rating: 6.0 out of 10.
Tuesday, 15 March 2016
There are a lot of benefits that come with hosting semi-annual beer and cheese events. Chief among these is that there is often a King's ransom in leftover cheese that becomes the property of the house, through a combination my guests' generosity, sloth, or inebriation. In a similar fashion, leftover beer is a major perk, particularly when it involves something that is typically unavailable at Toronto liquor stores. Enter Embrr Rye Porter, a product of Ithaca, New York's Ithaca Beer Co., left in my care and stewardship by my great pal M.T.
Embrr is a dark brown ale that pushes the boundaries of black. It pours forth from its 355mL bottle with a handsome layer of tan suds. As with some wacky American ales, the percentage is not listed--a behavior entirely unheard of North of the Border. To my nose, Embrr packs a hearty, slightly sweet, malt driven scent with mocha notes and the promise of some bitterness. The flavour proves to have a lot of the touchstones of a classic porter: malty heft, molasses elements, and a whisper of coffee and chocolate. Less evident than I hoped for are rye notes. If it wasn't listed on the label, I'd never know there was the grain involved in the making of this ale, though seeking it out pointedly, I was able to detect a few spicy fingerprints under the Java notes of the finish.
While Embrr might not be a quality exemplar of rye flavours, it is definitely a tasty and agreeable ale. Rich and robust, with an interesting taste palate, it certainly agrees with me.
Rating: 8.0 out of 10.
Sunday, 13 March 2016
Revivale exhibits a fresh, pastoral nose, packing a fair few malt notes and a nice, faintly sweet grain profile. Its mouthfeel is creamy and agreeable, built around a mild flavour. Major tasting notes involve cereal grains, roasted malt, and sweet grass, in advance of a gently bitter finish.
Lost Craft's effort with Revivale is quite similar to another Ontarian lagered ale, Beau's Lug Tread, though it has a little bit less panache. That said, it is a nicely constructed and thoroughly enjoyable beer reminiscent of Cologne's finest. The first beer I've seen in Toronto's beer-selling establishments, I think it's a commendable first effort.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
Friday, 11 March 2016
KAPOW! is a North American IPA made by Toronto's own Rainhard Brewing Co. I had myself a nice 15oz. pour in tap at Bar Hop while killing some time waiting for my Pops and brother to join me for dinner. According to the tap list, this hazy amber ale contains a respectable 6.5% alcohol. My glass of ale showed up with a lush cap of sudsy off-white head that proved agreeably durable.
KAPOW! came at me with a nose full of tropical fruit aromas and the promise of resinous hops. Please excuse the pun, but there was a veritable "fruit punch" of flavour; juicy citrus and other fruit notes made the beer tick. As for hops, there was a pleasing dose of the little suckers, though not quite to the enamel-stripping levels I was after.
Quite sessionable for an IPA, KAPOW! left me feeling quite sated. Try it? Yes.
Rating: 8.0 out of 10.
Wednesday, 9 March 2016
A very kind colleague gave me a small bag of beer-flavoured jelly beans, so obviously I had to write them up. This niche candy is produced by the flavour-mad folks at Jelly Belly. The beans are golden, shiny, and have a slightly carbonated look that is actually pretty impressive.
So how did they taste? Fine, I guess. Not particularly beery, though there is a slight burst of maltiness. Mostly they taste sweet--like some kind of misguided wheat-flavoured candy. A strange treat that I'm glad to have tried, but won't be eager to ever revisit. It should be said that while I found them inoffensive, my partner took a tiny nibble of a single bean and immediately spit it out with extreme vigour.
Monday, 7 March 2016
A nice lad who makes his home in Victoria, British Columbia, and who I met through his romance with my pal, the incomparable KF, hooked me up with a bottle of Kelp Stout. This beer hails from Tofino, British Columbia, where its brewed up nice by the folks at the Tofino Brewing Co. True to its name, Kelp Stout is brewed using locally-harvested kelp. So that's cool. Sold in 650mL bottles, the label of this 6% alcohol ale is singularly impressive, featuring an inverted octopus rendered in a cool black and white tattoo style.
Coffee-black and with an attractive tan head, Kelp Stout doesn't have a particularly seaweed-y aroma. In fact, there's only the slightest whiff of the maritime in a nose that is otherwise characterized by mild notes of roasted malt. The flavour, too, is a bit muted, though it has some lovely subtle elements. Again, roasted malts are a driving force, but these are complemented with leather and espresso. As well, the presence of kelp shows itself a bit more in the flavour, particularly as the beer warms. This manifests as a slightly salty trait that gives the finish a gently briny quality that I quite liked.
Kelp Stout is an unusual ale, though a fairly agreeable one. I probably wouldn't want to bring a sixer of the stuff to a party, but a lone bomber hit the spot for me. As for critiques, a bit more hops bombast towards the finish would help give this beer some depth, and a bit more richness up front could possibly flesh it out a bit. All in all, this is a curious and enjoyable stout--one I'm quite glad to have sampled and which I would gladly revisit.
Rating: 8.0 out of 10.
Saturday, 5 March 2016
Living with Stout Man means a lot of adventures that involve ranking things, tasting things, and usually both. Never have I met someone who so loves to make top five lists. So it was not really surprising when he suggested a pilsner taste test - a thoughtful concession to basically the only kind of beer that I like (it is NOT his favourite).
Here's how it worked: Stout Man bought five pilsners (I was not told which ones), which he poured into numbered tasting glasses. I tasted each one, taking careful notes (of course), and then ranked them from favourite to least favourite. Stout Man then revealed the secret beer identities, and we marveled at how my unbiased preferences did or did not line up to my regular beer purchases. Yes, marriage can be this exciting! #saturdaynight
I am not a beer expert like Stout Man, and I really only drink pale lagers, so I don't have his meticulous process, but I do okay. I smelled each contender, sipped it carefully, and tried as much as possible to identify subtle notes of whatever. Here are my judgments, from least to most preferred:
5. Stone Hammer Pilsner
The colour was very light - the second palest overall. That's as detailed as I can get about colour, so deal with it.
Right away I noted a strong, sweet, fruity smell - like apples. This was underscored by a faint odor of burnt caramel; usually a pretty appealing feature, especially in concert with apples, but not what I'm looking for in a beer. The taste was also sweeter than I prefer, although mercifully there wasn't much of an aftertaste.
I know what I want in a pilsner - light, crisp, a little bit of body and some fizz (an area where this beer also came up short). Stone Hammer seemed like it was trying to be a different kind of beer. Altogether too sweet and bread-y for my taste. Like expecting a refreshing bite of apple and finding yourself with a mouthful of French toast instead.
You might recognize this one from the fun, colourful can - a hype to which the contents were sadly unable to live up. The smell of this one was clean, light and metallic - definitely promising. It was also pleasantly fizzy.
The metallic quality translated better into scent than taste, as it became the overwhelming feature on the palate. I'll just say it: this beer tastes uncomfortably like blood. I feel like taking my iron pill that day might have been overkill.
It's too bad, because Old Style had some of the best features of a pilsner - the fizziness was on point, it was light in colour, and crisp, with basically no aftertaste (in my notes I wrote, "not my fave taste but at least I'm not still tasting it.") Unfortunately, these good qualities were overwhelmed by the vampire lager quality.
This one was right in the middle of the five on the colour spectrum. It was the first one I tried, and I felt right away that I wasn't going to be very good at this because I could not detect a smell at all. I ended up snorting some into my nostrils (elegant). The smell is VERY faint, a thin citrus whiff.
In taste, the citrus promised by the scent is basically non-existent. This one has a malty flavour I wasn't thrilled by, but it only lasts a second. In fact, this beer has never heard of aftertaste - basically immediately after drinking it, I have forgotten it exists. In that sense it would probably make a good session beer, but I do prefer something more refreshing and with a bit more fizz.
I liked it - it was a bit bold in taste for a pilsner, which I admire, without being overwhelming. I needed a little more overall character though. I don't think I would remember ever tasting this if I wasn't writing it down right now.
Full disclosure: this is my go-to beer order, so I was relieved that it ended up placing so high. It was the darkest of the five in hue, with a very faint citrus smell not unlike the Creemore, although with a bit more follow through.
The taste was a little maltier than I would usually go for, with a great citrus back-kick. The words I used in my notes were "ambitious" and "well-constructed" and I stand by them. It tasted like it fancies itself a more full-bodied beer but isn't quite there (I also wrote "keep dreaming, little guy!").
The Steam Whistle had a perfect refreshing fizziness, and the citrus saved the more full taste that I wouldn't usually care for. I was surprised to find it was Steam Whistle, which I always felt had a skunk-y edge that I didn't taste here; Stout Man posited that the green bottle could have that effect, and for this test we were using tall cans.
My surprise favourite! I detected absolutely no smell (this might actually have been the one that went up my nose - or maybe that happened twice). Already I'm on board; no smell means light and sessionable.
The taste was a perfect pilsner balance: just fizzy enough, a very slight malty aftertaste to add some interest, along with a tiny skunk-y kick. This is what I thought Steam Whistle tasted like - who knew that all along, Pilsner Urquell was my favourite beer?
There's nothing else to say about this one because there is nothing else to it, and that's how I like my pilsners. Not quite forgettable - just inconsequential enough to make it easy to order another.
Bitter Wife (no, not that one!)
Thursday, 3 March 2016
Chocoholics take note: The Chocolate Manifesto by Barrie, Ontario's Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery is an over-indulgent blast of big booze and chocolatey splendour. Billed as a triple chocolate milk stout, this jumbo special edition ale combines three types of chocolate: shade-grown cacao nibs, roasted cacao powder, and chocolate malt (which is a stretch, as I don't believe it actually has anything to do with chocolate). Sold as a boxed 750mL bottle, this 10% elixir is clearly meant to be shared--be wary of doing what I did, which was drink the whole bottle myself before dinner on a Saturday afternoon. The box and bottle are both extremely busy, even by the wacky standards of Flying Monkeys, and uncommonly text-heavy. There is definitely some interesting stuff if you take the time to read through though. My three favourite gems are the plea to "Save the earth, it's the only planet with chocolate. And beer."; the exaltation that "Passion is such an important ingredient in craft beer, we should include it on the label."; and the admonition to not "mindlessly praise craft beer. Challenge Brewers to innovate."
On to the beer!
This ale is dark brown, with amber highlights. It pours with a fog warning's worth of loose tan head. It has an extremely sweet, chocotastic aroma. There are milk chocolate elements along with chocolate milk elements. As well, under the sugary exterior, there is a slice of cacao bitterness.
Almost like drinking an alcoholic dark chocolate bar, The Manifesto features a thick, syrupy mouthfeel, and a powerfully sweet, slightly bitter flavour that verges on obscene. At 10% alcohol, you'd expect off-the-charts boozy heat, but it is understated to a deadly level. You only really appreciate the amount of fire in this stuff when you reach out to refill your glass and notice a tremor in your pouring hand.
To me, this beer was more novelty than desirable, but that's not to say it wasn't innovative or well made. It's a formidably strong ale with an unapologetic degree of sweetness and chocolate levels that are off the charts. Seriously, with the amount of cacao in this bad boy, I'm surprised it poured at all. I almost expected to have to scoop it out with a ladle. So, to sum up my thoughts, this is a genuinely unique beer. It doesn't skimp on chocolate and delivers exactly what it promised to deliver. That I didn't love it is more a reflection of my beer preferences than any kind of defect. It does bear pointing out though, that without the oodles of chocolate, I'm not convinced that this is a particularly strong standalone stout.
I would be remiss not to mention that The Chocolate Manifesto was gifted to me by my one-of-a-kind brother, who is a real class act. And he's single, ladies!
Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
Tuesday, 1 March 2016
Waiting, as I often do, for my over-taxed spouse to get off work so that date night could begin, I sucked into The Wren, an east Toronto taproom and restaurant, for a pint or two. The first I selected was Half Bastard Stout. Half Bastard is brewed up nice by Nickel Brook Brewing Co., which operates out of Burlington, Ontario. HB is a junior sibling to two of Nickel Brook's more substantial stout offerings: Bolshevik Bastard, a Russian Imperial Stout, and Kentucky Bastard, its bourbon-laden counterpart.
Compared to its high octane relations, Half Bastard has a relatively low alcohol content: just 4.5% according to the tap list at The Wren. I had a pint on tap. It showed up looking stoutly--that is to say, nearly opaque black. As for head, there was disappointingly little, manifesting as a thin, sudsy ring. Through that, a nice, stalwart aroma wafted up: bitter, with notes of coffee, leather, and roasted malts. For a low-alcohol ale, the level of flavour packed into this stuff is quite remarkable. There are robust French roast coffee elements, layered over a well-roasted malt frame. These precede a decently hoppy finish.
On the down side of the ledger, the mouthfeel proved to be a little flimsy--not surprising given the low percentage, but mildly regrettable nonetheless. Really, though, that was one of the only things holding Half Bastard back from excellent beer status. It'll have to settle for very good. If you're in the mood for a sessionable stout, and you're not feeling a Guinness-style dry stout, give Half Bastard a chance. I'm confident that you'll dig it.
Rating: 9.0 out of 10.