3 Bottles + a Book: Three Musketeers, Brazilian Porter and a Book About Hops

Last week and over the weekend, I attended the 20th anniversary edition of the Mondial de la Bière in Montréal, and so the first two of this week’s bottles come from that experience.

I tried many new (to me, at least) brews from the brewers of Québec, but the one that stood out above the rest was the Sticke Alt from Les Trois Mousquetaires. Although the brewery’s website lists this as a lager rather than a lager-conditioned ale, it struck me as very much true-to-form, with an earthy, nutty aroma and a body that balances nicely a faintly raisiny and roasted nutshell maltiness with a drying but only slightly bitter hop. The gently warming finish might be a bit on the sharp side, but otherwise I was entirely captivated by this lovely brew.

On the visiting brewery front, I stuck principally to Brazilian beers, sampling several good ones from Bodebrown, Colorado and Coruja. My imagination was captured, however, by Cervejaria Way’s Cream Porter, a beer that certainly delivers on what it promises by its name, with a malted milk aroma and a creamy, sweet milk chocolaty body that reflects well its modest 5.6% alcohol and friendly, enjoyable character. There is drying in the finish, but not so much that the sweetness in the body seems at odds with it. All in all, a most delectable quaff.

(The 11.5% alcohol, cinnamon-spiced Coice, a doppelbock from Coruja, and Colorado’s new Guanabara Imperial Stout, both served at the terrific Thursday night beer dinner put on by the festival organizers, certainly stood out as well. But because they were tasted several courses and beers into the dinner, I didn’t take notes.)

Today’s third bottle comes from Toronto’s Mill Street Brewery, but it’s not a beer. Distillates made from beer might be more-or-less commonplace in some parts of the U.S. these days, but in Canada they are still rarities, hence my interest in the first output of Mill Street’s new distillery division, Mill Street Bierschnaps.

This is, as noted, the distillery’s first output, so perhaps some leniency is in order. But from my first nosing of this clear spirit I’m all too aware of the sharp alcohols contained therein, not in the “strong but soft” category of many higher proof spirits, but more the “no mercy, no quarter” variety. Depending on how you feel about sharp plummy-orange-bread notes mixed with ample booze, this might be a good or bad thing, but it does have me understanding why the bottle copy advises that it be served “frozen.”

The body confirms this suspicion, with a palate that starts strong and sharp and continues that way throughout, right to the frankly vodka-ish finish. (And not a subtle vodka, either.) Along the way, I get some light fruity notes of concentrated raspberry and perhaps apricot, but primarily a strong and curiously tobacco-y character. This one is distilled from the brewery’s pale ale, Tankhouse, so perhaps more complexity and subtlety will be found in future editions distilled from other beers.

The book this week is one of my absolute favourites from last year, For the Love of Hops by Stan Hieronymus. It is also, I must admit, not a book I have read cover to cover, but oneHops-book which I find myself dipping into on regular occasions, reading a page here or a chapter there and always coming away with some bit of insight.

If you are just a casual beer imbiber, Hops is probably not the book for you. But if you have even the slightest interest in what causes the beers you drink to taste the way they do, then you will find something of interest in this book. The evocative section on harvesting hops, for example, which takes you first through history, thence to several hop regions and finally to “A Brewer’s Guide to Evaluating and Selecting Hops,” all in a mere seventeen pages. Or the detailed section on dry hopping. Or, and perhaps most of all, the center section called “The Hop Store,” which details the characteristics of 105 hop varieties.

The ex-newspaper journalist Hieronymus – yes, another friend of mine – has the ability to write technical details in a decidedly non-technical way, which makes For the Love of Hops a most approachable book for even the non-beer obsessed. If you are inclined to read it based on the words written above, then I can almost guarantee it will bring greater understanding and enjoyment to your beer drinking.

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