Category Archives: beer style

Tasted!: 4 Hoppy Ales, 20 Words Each

I’ve a backlog of beers to review – not a bad thing, I’ll admit, but one that occasionally requires an unconventional approach. As a long-time admirer of Jim Anderson’s “back in the day” haiku beer reviews, I thought it might be interesting to see how brief I could be while still expressing the essential characters of four very different, but similarly styled beers. Hence the following…

(Beers listed in order of alcohol content. New Glarus alcohol content based upon what is listed at and, and really New Glarus, why not list the strength of your beers?)

New Glarus Hearty Hop (6.1% abv; USA): A meticulously crafted IPA, expressive rather than aggressive, and so quite quaffable. Session beers CAN be over 4%!

De Molen Vuur & Vlam (6.2%; Netherlands): When the foam finally subsides, canned peaches and apricots give way to grapefruit and dry walnut. Lovely segue of flavours.

Cameron’s Rye Pale Ale (6.6%; Canada): Smelling almost like rye bread without the breadiness, the rye notes barely survive an onslaught of peppery, citrus peel hoppiness.

Yeastie Boys Digital IPA (7%; New Zealand): NZ hops are pineappley in nose and flavour, from tropical fruitiness to back end bitterness. Harmony in a digital age.


Filed under beer reviews, beer style, tasted

Styles & Why They Do/Don’t Matter

Beer styles. God, but I’m tired of debating them. It’s gotten so we can’t even speak of something so simple as a “session beer” without some people getting the britches bunched up in apoplectic rage over the bar being set too high, or low. Certain folk want to quantify and categorize every last little ale or lager; others are free and easy and don’t really mind if you just call it “beer” and sod the stylistic nonsense.

Me, I’ll admit to freely vacillating between the two poles over the years, but more recently I’ve been steadily shifting away from categorization. Here’s why.

Beer styles help me educate others about beer, which is part of what I do to pay the mortgage. If someone knows nothing about, say, IPA, it is immeasurably helpful to have some sort of style guidelines to help them wrap their brains around it all, preferably mixed with a shot or two of history and a whole whack of context. Which is why I believe Michael Jackson defined two pages worth of “classical beer-styles” early in his seminal “World Guide to Beer,” first published in 1977.

Problems arise, however, when we attempt to create new categories for everything rather than defining them within the context of those style we already understand. Take the double IPA, for instance. A proper double IPA is a strong and very hoppy IPA, period. It doesn’t need any further definition, in this writer’s opinion, just as a coffee stout is a stout flavoured with coffee, rather than a singular entity on its own. A “session beer?” Well, that’s a lower alcohol beer suitable for drinking over the course of a “session,” which for me could be a 4% bitter or a 5.1% pilsner, or even a 7% Belgian ale, depending upon the time and context of the “session.”

In the end, there are probably two or three dozen or so styles we really need to acknowledge, with everything else slotting neatly into some variation on those themes. Experimentation? Innovation? “Moroccan” saisons?  Bring ’em on, says I. Beer is about variety, and variety is, you know, the spice of life. I like it spicy and so I shall embrace all comers, unless, of course, they suck. But I shall not imagine that each and every one of them is deserving of its own new category.


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Random Quotes From Today’s Beer Tasting

(All straight from this horse’s mouth. And yes, I do talk to myself when tasting alone.)

“This is what I think of when I imagine malty Scottish ales – plus vanilla and minus the thick molasses qualities of some, of course – full and satisfying, with just enough spicy hop character to keep it all interesting.” – Innis & Gunn Winter Beer 2011

“The nose is fragrant with burnt lemon zest – reminiscent of Dale DeGroff’s signature flaming twists – pine boughs and florals.” – New Belgium Snow Day

“The first thing you notice about this deep brown ale is that the nose actually evokes thoughts of Scottish whisky!” – St-Ambroise Scotch Ale

“In the middle, however, a surprising hoppiness arises – not nearly so much as, say, a Czech or German style pilsner, but certainly more than one would expect of a Mexican lager.” – Bohemia Clásica

“I’m used to talking about chocolaty flavours in dubbel-style ales, but this sets new standards!” – New Glarus Chocolate Abbey

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Gift Idea #6: New Belgium’s “Glass That Gives”

Off all the proprietary glassware that has been developed by North American breweries, the New Belgium glass is one of my favourites. Stylish and shapely, it is well-suited to any number of different beer styles and delivers the aromatics of its contents most ably. Plus, you don’t look like a geek drinking from it.

It stands to figure, then, that I would highly recommend it as a Christmas gift, preferably in the 16 ounce format. But New Belgium has made it just that much better still.

Order a holiday gift-pack of two glasses, winterized for shipping, and New Belgium will donate a dollar to one of four charities. What’s more, you even get to select which charity you would like your contribution to benefit. You can’t get much fairer than that!


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Gift Idea #3: Hops and Glory

Pete Brown’s story of transporting a keg of IPA from Burton-upon-Trent to India is not new. It’s coming up on three years old, in fact, which in the book publishing world makes it rather ancient. But I’m still going to tell you that if you know a beer aficionado who is even remotely literate, and they haven’t already read this book, then you should buy it for them, and they will love you for it.

Why? Simply because it is one of the most entertaining books ever written about beer, possibly THE most entertaining. And, as I noted in this review two and a half years ago, it’s not even really a “beer book” per se.

I won’t rehash my embarrassingly glowing review here, since I’m sure you’re capable of clicking the link if you so desire. And I’m not going to repeat my caveat about Pete (and his lovely wife Liz) being friends. I’ll just tell you again that it’s a damn fine read, and so you should buy it for someone close to you, and then get a second copy for yourself.


Filed under beer & travel, beer books, beer style, brewing history

A Trio of Very Different Holiday Beers

A cold I contracted towards the end of last month has severely slowed by holiday beer tasting – yes, I said “holiday” and not Christmas, not to be PC but for reasons that should shortly become obvious – so I’m doing my best to catch up before I take off on my annual winter sojourn to warmer climes. Here are three very different brews, representing three different countries and a couple of religions!

Deviator Doppelbock from Ontario, Canada’s Cameron’s Brewing Company is a rare foray into the style for brewers of this province, and so its arrival is quite welcome news. The nose of this deep brown beer is faintly cinnamony, sort of like overtoasted cinnamon toast, with rich toffee notes dominant. It hits the palate with a blast of licorice-edged sweetness, slowly segueing into a more malty, well-roasted body with less apparent sweetness and some burnt coffee-ish notes and a slightly bitter, moderately warming finish. Overall, I’d say that this is a good first attempt at a doppel, but overstates its case with a too-roasty body and a hoppiness that doesn’t quite allow the luxurious maltiness that should typify a doppelbock to fully express itself.]

From the United States, contract brewed in upstate New York, the He’brew Genesis 15:15 Barrel-Aged Harvest Barleywine Ale from Schmaltz Brewing is a 13.4% alcohol monster of a beer, and one that certainly needs some time to simmer down. Dark purple in colour, it’s brewed with pomegranate, fig, date and grape juice, and aged in used Sazarac Rye barrels. The nose is intense, with lots of spicy, oaky notes layered over top of the fruity background and a rather pronounced alcohol singeing the nostrils, while the no less assertive body is a tangled mix of fruity, roasty, bitter and alcoholic notes ending in a rather spirituous finish, all of which would almost certainly benefit from aging. Right now, however, this beer is a bruiser.

Finally, from Runcole Verdi di Busseto, Italy, we have Birrificio Del Ducato’s Winterlude, a bright gold, 8.8% alcohol brew with an aroma of tropical fruits – pineapple and mango, starfruit and a little gooseberry – along with a hint of almost minty herbaceousness. The flavour arrives with a mix of herbals and marmalade, developing quite quickly into a much more hop forward body with some candied sweetness, soft fruit notes and hints of brown spice lingering in the background. By the finish, it’s all moderately bitter, almost grassy (spring onions?) hop mixed with warming alcohol. Quite a curious beer, but a very good one.

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Thinking Hard About Miller Lite

Why, you might wonder, would I be thinking hard about Miller Lite? It is not, after all, a beer I sample with any sort of regularity – the last one I tasted probably belonged to the last century – and neither is it a brand I see as having any sort of defining presence in the marketplace. (The introduction in 2010 of the “vortex” bottle provided but a single upward blip in what has been the beer’s more-or-less steady decline over the past few years.)

But Lite popped up on my radar recently thanks to none other than Stan Hieronymus, he of Appellation Beer, who put not one, but two links to this ad into his blog. It took me a while to get to actually watching it, but once I did, an eyebrow was raised. Go watch it for yourself and see if you can guess what made my eyebrow twitchy.

No, it wasn’t that Lite has won the World Beer Cup gold for American-Style Light (Low Calorie) Lager four times. (The category is tailor made for such beers, so that comes as no surprise.) It wasn’t the caricature of beer judges as bizarrely facially haired gents and sour-puss ladies. (That part is kind of true, at least for the men, although few in the judge’s room would be so nattily attired.) And it certainly wasn’t the notion that Lite is hopped three times. (Hell, hop it a dozen times if you want, just don’t try to tell me it has any significant hop character.)

What got my attention was this line: “…and never watered down.” Taken at face value, this means that unlike the majority of convenience beers on the market today – and again, thanks Tim Webb for that great way to describe mass-market lagers – Miller Lite is not high-gravity brewed, or in other words, brewed to a higher alcohol content band then watered to the desired strength at the packaging line.

More than the cost of the hops, more than the price of malt and whatever adjuncts they may or may not use, and more even, I suspect, than the price of the vortex bottle, not high gravity brewing Lite would add extraordinarily to the cost of the beer’s production. And that is what i found this revelation to be, well, rather extraordinary.


Filed under beer & the web, beer advertising, beer blogs, beer industry, beer style