Category Archives: tasted

In Which I Sample Bud Light Platinum

(Scene: Beer Writer enters liquor store intent on purchasing wine. Pleasant young lady stands near the entrance offering small sample cups of Bud Light Platinum.)

Pleasant Young Lady: Would you like a sample of Bud Light Platinum?

Beer Writer: Why, yes. Yes, I would.

PYL: Here you go.

BW: (Holds transparent cup up to the light and eyes the almost water-pale liquid suspiciously. Sips once.)

PYL: So, what do you think?

BW: Well… (Sips beer again, noting faint grainy, vaguely grassy flavours in an otherwise astonishingly bland beer.)

PYL: Do you like it?

BW: No, I actually don’t at all.

PYL: That’s fine, everybody has their own taste.

BW: Yes, they do. Thank you.

(Beer Writer, sporting an amused grin, walks towards the French wine section and picks up a bottle of Chablis. Fade to black.)

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People Bring Me Beer, I Drink It

Or, at least, that is sometimes the way it works. On other occasions, I run around the world trying to find the best of the best, and occasionally breweries are good enough to ship me samples of something I’ve specifically requested from them, usually beers I can’t manage to get otherwise.

And then there are those beers that just randomly wind up on my doorstep. These are a few of them.

There’s been a bit of a buzz around Toronto today about the St. Ambroise Érable, presumably because the same sales rep who put a pair of bottles of the stuff into my hands did likewise for others, like Jordan and Chris. So I might as well chime in, and before I read what either has said about it, I might add.

Unlike other maple beers I’ve tried, there’s no doubting the maple-ness of this brew, even cold out of the fridge and from a foot away, it smells like maple candy crossed with the caramel fudge I used to make in my mom’s double-boiler when I was a kid. It hits the palate sweet and more caramelly than mapley, but turns progressively maple-accented as it warms in the mouth, eventually becoming almost spicy with a drying hop that lasts through the bittersweet and ever-so-slightly cloying finish.

McAuslan has been known to play with post-fermentation flavourings – their Apricot Wheat is, or at least was the last time I checked, flavoured with apricot after it’s pretty much otherwise finished – and I suspect that is the case here, as well. Not that there is anything wrong with that, mind you. I have no problem imagining enjoying this with ham or a bowl of vanilla ice cream, maybe even glazing the former and topping the latter with it, too.

(The bigger McAuslan development, in my opinion, is that they are now canning their workhorse St. Ambroise Pale Ale. This is good news, indeed.)

I also had dropped off a bottle of Great Lakes Brewing’s 25th Anniversary Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, and I’m quite happy for it. The best of the Ontario brewery’s quartet of anniversary releases, this is an engaging, if slightly simple, sipper that offers barrel notes in just the right balance with the prune, licorice and chocolate brownie flavours of the stout. It finishes a bit on the boozy side, but you should expect that of an 11% beer, and besides, the rest of it drinks far closer to single digit strength.

Oregon’s Deschutes Brewing sometimes sends me beer, bless their hearts, and one recent arrival was Hop Henge IPA. The polar opposite of the Red Chair NWPA I sampled from this brewery late last year, this 10.6% alcohol hop monster has a huge, herbal and resinous aroma – what those weed-smoking west coasters would call “dank” – and a big, hoppy, piney, grapefruit peel-ish flavour that marches over the palate, surprisingly without ripping it to shreds. That it feels more hoppy than bitter in the mouth you can attribute to a whole lot of fruity malt, but still, the hops rule every aspect of this beer.

I also have a bottle of Ontario beer importer Roland & Russell’s first foray into brewing, Stormy Monday, an 11% barley wine aged in calvados barrels and bottled under the imprint of the Bush Pilot Brewing Company. Brewed separately in two different breweries and then blended and barrel-aged, this ale has the aroma of a beery potpourri, with a huge perfume of clove and dried apple, some spicy florals and something curiously resembling Indian curry. (A check of the label reveals that to be cardamom, along with, I suspect, the figs and raisins. There are 25 ingredients in this beer, including seven malts, five hops, dried quince and juniper, for heaven’s sake!)

Unfortunately, the body doesn’t quite hold up to the complexity of the aroma. (Or maybe that should be “fortunately,” since that curry thing probably wouldn’t work too well in a barley wine.) First on the palate is a fairly simple caramel-fruity chocolate combination, and then the spices and mocha notes kick in – coffee and cocoa are two more ingredients – along with a decent hit of calvados and some spicy hoppiness. It doesn’t quite all come together for me, but it’s definitely going in the right direction.

The finish is my favourite part of this beer, not because it’s over but because it finally finds a cohesive flavour profile – brandy, raw cocoa, some sort of exotic, apple-accented coffee and lingering clove and alcohol.

Brewed in collaboration with Danish brewer Anders Kissmeyer, this is a beer to be faulted only for reaching too high, dreaming too big, and possibly having the contents of somebody’s spice cabinet accidentally tip into the brew kettle. Over time, I expect the spices will calm down a bit and create a more balanced whole, but that’s something for a future post.

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Tasted!: Great Lakes (Canada) 25th Anniversary Belgian Saison

This is, I believe, the second is what I expect will be a series of special edition beers celebrating the Toronto-based Great Lakes Brewing Company‘s silver anniversary.

My first impression of this medium golden brew is that I wish they had chosen a different name for it. I have nothing against spices in a saison — although they are not at all necessary, are they Brasserie Dupont? — but neither do I think that the use of a yeast classified as a “classic Belgian Saison yeast” necessarily means that you’re making a beer of that style. There needs to be more, in my opinion, like dryness. Like hops.

The GLB Belgian Saison — and just to add a quibble, it’s not really Belgian, is it? I mean, they didn’t go to Belgium to brew it, right? — is a perfectly enjoyable beer, spritely and spicy and, even at 6.5% alcohol, quite quaffable. In fact, it reminds me more of the unspiced, unsaison Brugse Zot than it does any other saison I’ve tasted in Belgium, and I’ve been known to enjoy a few glasses of that beer at a session. But is it a saison? No, I don’t really think so.

First off, there’s the sweet character of the grains of paradise used to spice the beer. It’s in the nose and in the body, and while it’s offset a bit by the coriander and pepper also used, it still serves to keep things on the sweeter side of spicy. Then there is the dryness, or rather the lack thereof. Maybe it will dry out more in a year or so, but let’s face it, most people will be drinking this in the summer of 2012, not 2013. And while there is some hoppiness on the finish, it isn’t quite sufficient to erase the thin, cloying, honey-ish sweetness that lingers on the back of the tongue.

All that said, this is a beer I enjoy and would pair happily with some soft and stinky cheese. It just isn’t a saison.

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Beer in Canada

I’ve been a bit busy running around, flying about and writing for money of late, so I’ve missed out on posting about some upcoming events and news items pertaining to beer in Canada. Here, then, is a quick round-up of interest to Canucks and those planning to visit my home and native land in the near future:

1) The big news of the summer is that Westvleteren is coming to town! Now, Westvleteren 12 might be the most over-hyped beer in history, but the monastery brewery is nonetheless exceptional at what they do, so this opportunity is nothing to sneeze at. Alberta-based Horizon Beers is the agency bringing it in, in the form of 6 bottle, 2 glass six-packs. The last I heard, allocations are going to Ontario and points west – sorry Maritimes & Quebec – and it should be arriving sometime in the very near future. Keep your eyes peeled!

2) For Torontonians, on the eve of Toronto’s Festival of Beer, comes word (via Canadian Beer News) that a new beer festival is headed your way. The Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival will take place August 11 and 12 in the area fronting Steam Whistle Brewing. Check here for details.

3) I won’t be around for the Roundhouse fest because I’ll be busy at the Halifax Seaport Beer Festival that weekend, hosting a beer dinner at Brussels Restaurant on Thursday and hanging at the fest Friday and Saturday. If you’re in or nearby to Nova Scotia, come on over and say hi!

4) The weekend following the Seaport fest, I’ll be in Ottawa for the National Capital Craft Beer Festival, speaking both Friday and Saturday. My buddy Jordan St. John will be there, too, so get yourself down to Marion Dewar Plaza on August 17 and 18 and harass him, will ya?

5) Finally, I’ve been sampling a bunch of Canadian beers of late, both established brands and new arrivals. Here are some thoughts in brief –

  • Waterloo Authentic Amber, from Brick Brewing, sold singly or as part of their sampler pack, shows caramelly malt and some vanilla notes from the oak chips used in its lagering. Not bad, but a bit too sweet and cloying for my tastes.
  • Brasseurs Sans Gluten’s Blonde Ale is a gluten-free winner, spicy and citrusy with a bone dry finish. A triumph for Celiac and gluten-sensitive beer drinkers.
  • Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company’s latest collaboration, Venskab, made with Anders Kissmeyer, is a fascinating creature, with bog myrtle, yuzu fruit and ice wine-soaked wood chips all figuring in its recipe. The result is a sweet-ish and somewhat winey tripel, reminiscent of a citrusy dry vermouth, with bitterness creeping around on the outskirts. We’ll be serving this at my beer dinner in Halifax.
  • Lastly, Moosehead sent me over some of their Cracked Canoe, a 3.5% alcohol light lager with a thin sweetness, not quite grainy, but far from caramel or toffee maltiness. All in all, a very light tasting lager with a sweetish edge to it.

 

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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 beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com, 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.

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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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Tasted!: Alley Kat Red Dragon Double IPA

It’s not every beer in Canada that comes with a warning on the label, much less a warning that “this beer is intended for Hop Heads.” There’s some stuff about IBUs there, too, but as I mentioned recently to Uncle Jack, I never talk about such things in print.

(And anyway, let’s face facts, IBUs listed in craft beer are theoretical. Say that again with me, theoretical. Meaning they have no real meaning in the world of taste, other than to say that this is a hoppy beer and perhaps also “my penis is bigger than that of other brewers hereabouts.”)

But I like Alley Kat and have a lot of time for brewer and owner Neil Herbst – who, for the record, has not once spoken to me about the size of his member – so let’s take a look, smell and taste of this baby. Copper-hued, it has a light haze, I suspect from proteins. The nose is very apricot-y, which I have found is not unusual among beers hopped with simcoe hops, as is this one. Other aromas mixed in there are a lightly acidic and tropical fruitiness – pomegranate? passionfruit? – and a vaguely peppery spiciness.

On the palate, this starts round and fruity, like a big bowl of fresh fruit salad, before some pine-y hoppiness comes to the party and starts rearranging the seating plan. Before you know it, the fruit is pushed aside and pine’s buddies lemon and grapefruit zest are dominating the show, sharing only a bit of the dancefloor with floral notes and the fruit salad’s candied kin. The finish, however, is all big-bodied hop and lingering tang.

Overall, this is a big IPA that flows nicely from fruit to spice to bitter, although leans a bit too heavily on the last. If my tongue wasn’t quite as abused once I’d swallowed the beer, I think I’d enjoy it a whole lot more.

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A Bunch of Beers…

Toronto Beer Week is about to kick off – actually, it already has, but I was on a plane when it officially started – and that means things around these parts are about to get pretty busy. Guess I should first write about the bunch of autumn/harvest/Oktoberfest themed beers that have recently crossed my desk, then.

Guinness Black Lager: This isn’t fall-themed, of course, but it is new and does have people talking. Me, I’m underwhelmed. I was expecting at least a decent take on a schwarzbier, but what I found instead in my glass is something more akin to Harp Lager with a hit of roasted malt added. The nose reminds me of the Kraft Chocolate Caramels I used to gobble every Halloween when I was a kid, and while the flavour leads with a decent bit of roastiness, that seems to be about all this one-trick brew has to offer, ending as it does with an unsatisfying and not even terribly refreshing thinness. I honestly can’t see Guinness loyalists going for it, and am pretty certain that light lager drinkers won’t be converted, so I have to wonder: Who does Diageo expect to buy this?

New Belgium Hoptober: I liked this so much when it arrived a couple of weeks back that I immediately settled on it as my “Beaumont’s Beer Pick” for an upcoming issue of Nation’s Restaurant News, for whom I’m the keeper of the “Beer, Wine & Spirits” page. The aroma is fresh, lightly citrusy and perfumey, while the body drinks lighter than its 6% alcohol, with fruity florals supported by a decent but never overwhelming shot of hoppiness. As I said in my NRN review, “A quaffable alternative to German brews this October.”

Newcastle Winter IPA: Newcastle sent me two beers, both special seasonals and both new. But as my sampling of the Werewolf left me singing “Is That All There Is?,” I was hoping for more from the IPA. Hoping, but not immediately receiving, as the first whiff is full on buttery diacetyl, while the second and third add only a bit of berry-like fruitiness to the mix. On the palate, I find caramelly fruit up front leading to a medium, faintly minerally bitterness in the body, finishing off-dry and mildly to moderately bitter. As an introduction to IPA, this richly copper-hued ale will no doubt sway some regular Newkie drinkers, but it’s not going to thrill the hoards drinking what is now the most popular craft beer style in the United States.

New Glarus Staghorn Octoberfest: The people behind New Glarus for some reason see logic in keeping me up-to-date on what they’re doing in Wisconsin, and bless them for it! As befits Dan Caray’s Bavarian brewing apprenticeship, this cool-fermented paean to autumn is a beer that can stand beside the best of German Oktoberfestbiers, and ahead of  many if not most of them! Rich gold with hints of rust, it has a clean, sweet, honey-ish nose with notes of the lightly peppery scent of fresh grain. The flavour starts sweet and grows drier by the second, progressing from flower honey to caramel graininess to a satisfying, biscuity finish. Only available in Wisconsin, sadly. Please send more!

Goose Island Harvest Ale: The first seasonal beer I’ve tasted from Goose Island since the – dum-dah-dah-dum! – dreaded Anheuser-Busch InBev takeover, and let me tell you, this ain’t no Stella! Reddish copper and a little hazy in the glass, the Cascade hops in this beer stand out in the aroma, but not so much in the stereotypical nose-full-of-citrus manner, more a perfumey-lemon-with-stalks-of-barley-swaying-in-the-background kind of thing. On the palate, the start is lightly sweet and evocative of canned mandarin orange sections, mixed with muesli, while the body mixes in some citrus peel, tannins, lightly candies fruit and a bit of indiscernible nuttiness, all finishing dry and rewarding. Quite different than the New Belgium Hoptober, but reaching the same conclusion.

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Tasted!: Alley Kat White Tail Hefeweizen

I don’t intend to linger on this beer, not because it’s unworthy — it’s quite nice, in fact — but because it’s my third tasting post of the day and I find these things start to get tedious around that level. And if I start getting bored writing them, I’m assuming you all must feel the same about reading them.

The White Tail from Edmonton’s Alley Kat Brewing, then, in a nutshell. (“Help, I’m a hefeweizen trapped in a nutshell. Get me out of here…”) It’s easy to get so used to explaining the banana-and-clove character of Bavarian style hefeweizens that sometimes you wind up overlooking those same traits in the beers you’re drinking. Not this one. Banana sundae hits the nose before the beer is even fully poured, adding pineapple and faintly peppery spice notes once it calms down a bit.

On the first sip, though, the banana is back, along with the pineapple and the mango and other bits and pieces of tropical fruitiness, before some light hoppiness and dryly citrus notes arrive to keep everything in check. The finish actually manages to be just off-dry and a little lemony, but because this is a well-bottle-conditioned beer – and without getting too graphic – when the inevitable burp arrives, well, the banana is back once again. Not for the fruit-phobic, but definitely a pleasant diversion for the summertime.

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Tasted!: Granville Island English Bay Pale Ale

Let’s get this straight first: This is not a new beer. But it is a new-to-Ontario beer, so the folks at Creemore, who are helping their fellow Molson-owned brewery with p.r. in this province, shipped over a six-pack for me to taste. I was happy to do so.

In case you missed it, I need to retreat to a line in that opening paragraph, specifically the phrase “fellow Molson-owned brewery.” Because after having passed through several hands since its launch as Canada’s original microbrewery, Granville Island, like Creemore Springs, is now fully owned by Molson Coors through their recently formed Six Pints Specialty Beer Company. That may not be a bad thing, mind you, since I believe Creemore’s brands have largely improved since Molson bought the brewery, and veteran Granville brewer Vern Lambourne is still in charge of things in Vancouver.

Deep amber in colour with a rich, nutty aroma holding hints of red apples and floral notes, along with some dry caramel, it is obvious from the get-go that this is not an American style pale ale. The start has only a light sweetness with hints of candied orange and lemon leading to a caramel-toffee malt body with lots of nuttiness and some of the same sort of red apple notes found in the aroma, plus very light hints of pepper and anise.

The finish is dry and lightly tannic, with toasted cereal notes and, once again, nuttiness. Overall, this reminds me of what Bass used to be, or a rather stripped down version of Fuller’s London Pride, or in other words, a most English-inspired take on best bitter/pale ale. Certainly a highly quaffable ale, I suspect this could be better still were it to have a little less strength and a less obvious maltiness.

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