Historic Hofbrau beer mugs!

In the summer of 2007, my wife and I did something that’s stuck with us ever since. Something which we hope to do again someday… soon! We visited Munich, our last stop along a whirlwind tour of southern Germany, and decided to take in a historic beer hall. In fact, I was indebted to a friend and quasi-family member (hi Sarah!) for suggesting it. After sending out a mass email to friends and family, telling them we would be in Munich for a few days, she came back and suggested we see the place.

Naturally, some background is needed to properly set the scene: established in 1589 by the Duke of Bavaria, Hofbrauhaus remains one of the oldest beer halls in Germany. Originally, it was established to serve the needs of the Royal House, which was located right around the corner from it and quickly expanded to serve the needs of the community. The beer quickly became famous, and even saved the city from annihilation during the 30 Years War.

I’m not kidding! When King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden invaded Bavaria in 1632, he agreed to leave the city in peace, but only if the citizens surrendered some hostages, and 600,000 barrels of Hofbräuhaus beer. In addition, Mozart is said to have composed the opera Idomeneo thanks to this beerhall. While struggling with his muse, he found that a few visits to this hall fortified him to the task.

In addition, the beerhall was also used by Hilter and the Nazis during the 1930s to conduct speeches to the general public. Though the little bastard and the odious Nazi party used this hall as one of many places to declare policy and hold functions, Hitler had never been known to frequent it for anything other than making speeches. Beer, meat and other such things were not his thing (take that tea-totaling vegetarians!)

Since that time, it has been visited by countless tourists, dignitaries and political figures, including John F Kennedy. It remains a major tourist draw to this day, owned by the state as a public brewery, restaurant and historic site rather than a private enterprise. It also runs the second largest tent during the annual Oktoberfest celebration and is one of the chief purveyors of beer for the occasion.

At the time of our visit, my wife and I were unaware of much of this history. In fact, we wandered through Munich checking out the various beer halls, and I wondered in each case if this was the site of the famous putsch. It was only afterwards that I learned that not only were we in the place where it happened, we were probably seated in the very section where a young Hitler made his speeches! Needless to say, I was both blown away and disgusted!

Which brings me, however circuitously, to the point of this post: this Christmas, I received one of the best gifts ever! A friend of my parents happened to be in possession of several Hofbrauhaus stone mugs that he managed to pick up while he was in Germany. Just recently, he had decided to contribute them to an auction, raising money for the Comox Valley Kitty Cat P.A.L.S. (Prevent A Litter Society). Naturally, my folks recognized the name and scooped them up. And given their inherent value, it was quite the deal!

Each one was made before the Berlin Wall fell and the country was reunited, as the stamps on the bottom will attest to. Each one says, in little black letters, Made In West Germany. Given the historical  significance of this place and the memories it brings back for me and my wife, we were both very pleased to get them! Kudos again to the parental units for procuring them!

Here are some photos:

If you ever find yourself in Munich, I strongly recommend stopping by. In addition, check out some of the other historic beer halls, all of which are associated with Oktoberfest and many of which are walking distance from the Hofbrauhaus. I guess the people of Munich like eating and drinking, and don’t like commuting. I know how they feel…

And of course, here’s the link to Hofbrauhaus’ website:


Rogue Brewery!

Many a time I’ve reviewed individual Rogue products and thought to myself, “damn, I need to do a full on review of the brewery, give credit to every beer I’ve ever had from them”. Hell, I think I’ve even said as much in a post here or there. Well, I’m finally putting my money where my mouth is – literally, since some of them were hard to obtain and involved the cost of travel to procure! And coupled with others that I’ve tried over the years, I’ve finally been able to prepare a full list. It’s been difficult given the fact that seasonals come and go, and one can scarcely remember everything one tries (especially when they drink like I do!), but I assure you, I’ve done my best. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

American Amber Ale: I’ve sampled many amber ales in my day, and I’ve come to expect a certain consistency from them. More often than not, they are smooth, light, tawny on the tongue, and are more malty than hoppy in terms of flavor. This is certainly the case with the American Amber. The taste is both complex, yet light, with smooth, slightly viscous malts and a light hop finish. An enjoyable beer when paired with food or as light-drinking fare. 3.75/5

Brutal IPA: This beer I sampled and reviewed last november, as part of my “Month of IPA’s”. And little’s changed since I reviewed it last! A year later and I still it a fitting examples of a west coast IPA, combining a crisp taste, powerful, floral hops and a good alcoholic bite! Definitely not for the faint of heart, as it more than lives up to its name! 4/5

Chipotle Ale: An interesting experiment in beer-making, and one which I just had to try. And I was not disappointed, nor particularly surprised. Overall, this is a perfectly fine ale and characteristic of rogue brewing, combing a good hoppy ale with the slight hint of peppers and a mild spicy aroma. Perhaps I was expecting something different, but with a name like Chipotle, one would expect more of a punch! However, this remains a very decent ale and given its mild bite, would be well-paired with spicey food. 3.75/5

Chocolate Stout: A first for me, in that it was the first time I had ever tried a chocolate stout. Since that time, it seems like everyone is doing a chocolate or coffee stout/porter. And having tried several, I can still honestly say that this one is my favorite. Whereas most stouts tend to have a bitter, almost burn like flavor to them due to the dark malts used (what is typically described as coffee notes), Rogue’s own manages to come off very smooth. And the chocolate notes are the result of real chocolate being used. No artificial flavors here! 4/5

Dead Guy Ale:One of Rogue’s most famous beers, and definitely the easiest to find here in Canada. Done in the style of German Maibock but still boasting a Pacific Northwest character, this beer is deep honey in color, has a rich, malty profile, a strong bite of hops and a relatively sweet profile. It’s also garnered several awards, including silver medals three years running at the World Beer Championships (from 2005 to 2007).4/5

Hazelnut Brown Nectar: I believe I’ve mentioned several times in the course of my reviews how craft brewing has been coming back into vogue in the last few decades. And if there’s one beer that is consistently becoming more popular, its the Brown Ale. True to form, Rogue recently released their own spin on the traditional Brown, combining the flavor or roasted nuts with brown malts in order produce this beer. Living in Victoria, nestled between so many great micro-breweries, each one producing its own exceptional browns, I felt this baby had some stiff competition. And yet it still came out with top marks!  Rich, dark and tawny, like a good brown, this baby is also smooth and boasts a true nut flavor that is paired well with deserts and Christmas cookies (recent experience will attest to this)! 4/5

Irish Lager: This is going back a ways, but many years back, I spotted this brew in my favorite LCBO located on Rideau street at the edge of downtown Ottawa. I believe I bought it as part of a Rogue taster pack, since this particular LCBO could always be counted on to stack plenty of Rogue products. At the time, I was relatively un-wowed, but that was before I developed an appreciation for lighter beers. Today, I would classify this as a nice, light fare, clean, crisp and refreshing, like a good lager! Its also good when paired with food, though it is also recommended for making Guinness floats. That I will have to try… (personally, I’d recommend using a different stout, but a good idea is a good idea!) 3/5

Juniper Pale Ale: Yet another rare one that I tried when visiting my sis and bro-in-law in Oregon. And, much like with the Yellow Snow IPA (see below) I’ve tried to get my hands on some ever since! It was seriously that good. A delicious ale, red in color, with strong, floral hops, a crisp bite, and a lingering finish that is highly reminiscent of juniper berries, this beer is an all around hit! If you can’t find some, I recommend finding a local beer store that’s been known to carry some Rogue products and putting it on order. 4/5

Yellow Snow IPA: The name might deter some, but for me, this beer is a classic, one which I discovered by accident when visiting Portland in 2004 with my sis and bro in law. The color is consistent with the name, a nice golden orange. Strong hops, a good bite, a long dry finish, and a rating of 80 IBU make this a genuine IPA. After trying it for the first time, I would struggle to get my hands on some here in Canada.  It’s not easy, but thanks to my sweetheart, I enjoyed a nice cold bottle this Christmas, and thanks to my folks, I enjoyed in a Hofbrauhaus stone mug! What a perfect experience! 5/5

Ah, and speaking of this Christmas, my darling bride was also able to procure for me some tasty samples from the Pike Brewery that I have been unable to get here in Canada as well. Expect a review dedicated to them as well soon. As with all my Christmas beers by Rogue, they too were enjoyed in a Hofbrauhaus stone mug!

As a finale note, here is a link to Rogue’s website, and a picture of Jack Joyce, the co-founder and CEO of Rogue which I happened to come across in the course of my research into them. Doesn’t he just look like a brewer?!


Jack Joyce, Co-Founder and CEO



Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout

Is it an imperial stout? Is it a barely wine? That’s what I wondered the moment I opened a bottle of this beer and gave it a whif. The aroma immediately reminded me of barley wine, that thick, syrupy smell that makes you think of pudding and molasses. Then came the taste, and the mystery continued…

I only recently came into contact with Brooklyn, a micro-brewery that has been making craft beer since the late 80’s. Having sampled their lager at a local eatery here in Victoria, I found that I was quite pleased. And after some research, I learned that they’ve earned a few awards for their products over the years. So when my bro-in-law got me some for Christmas (hi Isaac!), I was pretty pleased.

On the one hand, the use of dark malts give it a bitter, chocolatey flavor. On the other, the fact that it is an especially strong beer (10 % alc/vol) lends it the strong, sweet taste of a barley wine. An interesting combination if ever there was one, but the taste, smell and deleterious effects were nothing short of welcome. And as a fan of both chocolate stouts and barley wines, I could appreciate the combination.

You might not think these two would go together, but I’ve been wrong about combos before. Honey and beer and Pilsner and IPA come to mind, and that’s just off the top of my head! So if you’re in a private beer store and are fan of stouts, strong beers, or barley wines, I recommend you pick up a bottle of this seasonal stout! Perfect for the holidays, great when paired with deserts and decadent when used to make a beer float! 4/5


The Howe Sound lineup

Howe Sound, located in beautiful Sqaumish BC, has been making craft beer since the mid nineties. However, as with most BC beers, I only learned about shortly after I moved here. I believe I first spotted some of their signature bottles in a small liquor store in Duncan, and was quite impressed with their appearance. That first impression was surpassed only by the quality of the beer itself and they fast became one of my favorites. And the more of their products I’ve tried, the happier I am making them one of my go-to’s whenever it comes time to do some beer shopping.

And of course, like most established craft beer makers, they have a regular line-up and a line of seasonal releases. And both are growing and becoming more diverse, so there are a few I have yet to try. Give me time and I shall find them all! First up, their regular beers:

Garibaldi Honey Pale Ale: Originally, I was not a fan of honey beers. Sleeman’s Honey Brown Lager turned me around on that. However, a pale ale seems a bit of a stretch to me on that point. Balancing a hoppy, citrusy profile with the taste of honey (heavily sweet) just doesn’t work. This is not to say that this isn’t a good beer. It’s profile is light, slightly sweet, with a slightly hoppy finish. Named on honor of Mount Garibaldi (8,776 ft, 2,675 m) which was named for Italian hero Guiseppe Garibaldi, the man of two worlds, this beer also boasts three medals: the gold medal in the 2007 North American Beer Awards, the bronze for the 2010 North Americans, and the bronze for the 2011 Canadian Brewers Awards. 3.5/5

Rail Ale Nut Brown: One of the finer brown’s I’ve ever had and possibly one of the best browns in BC. Smooth, tawny, with a nutty flavor that lingers on the tongue. This beer is excellent on its own, with most dishes and as a light dessert beer, best when paired with dark chocolate. Named in honor of BC’s strong railway history, particularly Squamish’s own, this beer is also the 2009 silver medalist for the Canadian Brewers Awards. 5/5

Devil’s Elbow IPA: A nice, powerful India Pale Ale, combing a nice floral bouquet, a citrusy profile, and a dry, lingering finish. A deep, golden orange, heavy on the hops and relatively strong on the alcohol (6% alc/vol), this beer is still highly drinkable. A good food pair, and lovely on its own. It was also the Silver medalist in the 2010 North American Beer Awards, no small accomplishment given the competition! On a more modest note, it also won the prize for best IPA at a beer, cider and wine tasting hosted by our friends this past year (Hi Richard and Kim!). Guess who brought it? 4/5

Diamond Head Oatmeal Stout: Named for the razor’s edge ridge that comes off the south flank of Mount Garibaldi’s Atwell Peak, this beer is a fitting example of an oatmeal stout. Boasting strong flavors of roasted barley and oats, this beer also has a light hop bite and a smooth finish with lingering notes that are reminiscent of roasted coffee. In terms of awards, this beer has won both the Bronze in the 2007 North American Beer Awards and the Silver for the 2011 Canadian Brewers Awards. 4/5

Baldwin and Cooper Best Bitter: As Bitters go, this one is right up there, comparable to Swann’s, Spinnakers, and Longwood’s. I guess there’s just something about Vancouver Island, we know our British beers! And the critics seem to agree. This Bitter has won medals three years running now, securing the bronze medal in the 2009 North Americans and silver in the 2010, followed by another silver in the Canadian Brewers Awards for this past year. The name is also significant, in honor of Jim Baldwin & Ed Cooper, the first men to climb the Grand Wall of the Stawamus Chief (702 m) in July, 1961. But the taste is where its really at! Smooth, malty, with a nice dry hop finish, this beer also boasts a certain fruity character that makes it well paired with meat, seafood, spicey dishes, or just on its own. 4.5/5

Whitecap Wheat Ale: A Belgian-style wheat beer that contains the signature traces of orange zest and coriander, combining both wheat and barley malts that result in a clear, lightly colored beer with a spicey taste and clean finish. Delicious when served cold, best when paired with spicey food, light deserts, and most enjoyable on its own, especially on a hot day! 5/5

Bailout Bitter: A nice, dry, yet smooth and light tasting beer, highly remisicent of their Mettleman Copper (see their Seasonal Beers). This beer was a special release, apparently named in honor of the 2008 Banking Crisis and the resulting bailout, which had left plenty of people feeling bitter! I for one championed the release of this beer and drank it heartily, enjoying both nits smooth, dry taste and its message. F@Y%@ you  Wallstreet! 4/5

Coming up next, Howe Sound’s seasonal lineup. Stay tuned…

St. Ambroise Seasonals!

Hello again, and we’re back with the many delicious brews from Montreals award-winning purveyor of craft beers! Last time, I covered their regular lineup, including the beers that were were first for me and remain the best beers I’ve ever had in their respective categories (i.e. pale ales, oatmeal stouts, etc). Now, I’d like to get into their seasonal beers, of which they have many.

Most of these are relatively new to me, having just become available here in BC. And frankly, I sometimes wonder if I would be as crazy about St. Ambroise beers had they NOT been the ones to introduce me to certain varieties of beer. Well, I’m a much more seasoned beer drinker now, but I was still wholly impressed with the new additions to their lineup! Though they may not all be “the best”, they are certainly up there! Here goes…

St. Ambroise IPA: I saw this beer just a few months ago, located in one of my favorite liquor stores on the island (hey Beverly Street Liquor Store!). All I could say was, “’bout time!” and snatched some up. And after years of being heavily impressed with McAuslan, and as a huge fan of IPA’s, the bar was set pretty high on this one. However, McAuslan did it again! Though I’ve had some pretty damn good IPA’s in my time, this one was both impressive and rather unique! I thought I knew all there was to know about hops, but the combination of Golding and Willamette hops produces a flavor and an aroma which is both bitter and uniquely floral. In addition, the combination of the renowned Munich and Crystal malts allows for a degree of smoothness which balances very well with the bite and lingering hop aftertaste. Congrats, McAuslan, you’ve done it again! 5/5

St. Ambroise Scotch Ale: Done in the tradition of the “wee heavy” winter ales of Scotland, this beer boasts a strong, malty profile, a viscous taste that is balanced by a touch of sweetness, a good hop bite, and complex, lingering aftertaste that is reminiscent of vanilla and butterscotch. It’s like Scotland in a bottle! As a guy who doesn’t go in for the “wee heavies” much anymore, I still found this one a fitting example of a Scotch Ale and give it tops marks! 4/5

St. Ambroise Pumpkin Ale: Now here’s a variety that is becoming incredibly popular of late. Everywhere I turn, I see examples of pumpkin ales, the breweries of the Pacific Northwest, East, and everywhere in between producing their own version as a Fall Seasonal. And this baby is no slouch when compared to its competitors; in fact, I was quite impressed. Boasting a golden, caramel color, and smacking of pumpkin, cloves and allspice, this beer is a fitting accompaniment to Fall weather, thanksgiving feasts and as a Halloween treat! 4/5

St. Ambroise Raspberry Ale: Again, a popular example of fruit beers that have been making the rounds for over a decade, and a fitting follow-up to their Apricot Wheat Ale. In fact, I was somewhat surprised that it took this long for it to make an appearance, but I was happy with the end product. My wife, always the fan of rapsberry ales, is my go-to when it comes to comparisons, and this beer had some rather tough local competition (Longwood and Swann’s both brew their own faithful version of this). However, McAuslan’s faired well once again! This beer balances a good malty taste and a pleasant hop character with a strong infusion of raspberries, resulting in a flavor that is at once smooth, tart and semi-sweet. And the color… golden red. Nice touch! 4/5

St. Ambroise Vintage Ale: As I recently learned, St. Ambroise produces a Vintage Ale once a year that is of the same variety as their Millennial Ale (still the best beer I’ve ever had!) However, being outside of Quebec, I have a monster of a time trying to get my hands on some! Which is too bad, considering that this trend began shortly before I moved to the west coast. Apparently, due to high demand, McAuslan decided that beers such as their vaunted Millennial Ale needed to make more appearances, and do so almost every year now in the form of the Vintage. Much like their Millennial Ale, this ale is a combination of wheat and barley malts and hops that is fermented extra-long and then served unfiltered, resulting in a beer that is a deep rich color, smooth on the palate with a complex, semi-sweet flavor that calls to mind caramelized fruit and molasses. It’s time to call in favors! I want me some Vintage Ale for Christmas! 6/5 (again, I know it doesn’t make sense. It’s just that good!)

(The 2010 Release)

Yet to try: St. Ambroise Imperial Stout. Looking for it now…

St. Ambroise!

Located in Montreal, the McAuslan brewery is the purveyor of some awesome beers, not to mention my all time favorite. Yes, their Millennial Ale remains the best beer I’ve ever tasted, but their regular and seasonal are also pretty damn exceptional. In fact, of the six types of beer they now make, several of them are among the best beers I’ve had of that particular variety.

Oh, and here’s a few interesting tidbits. The brewery not only makes beers, but a whole line of culinary products, such as cheeses, mustard, sauerkraut, cupcakes and even soaps! The name of the brewery (McAuslan) often creates some confusion since the vast majority of the products are labelled St. Ambroise. During one of my many visits to Beerfest in Ottawa, a representative explained…

Apparently, marketing in Quebec can be a bit tricky with such an Anglo-Scottish name, so the name St.Ambroise (St. Ambrose of Milan, guy who converted St. Augustine) was seen as a good label name for all them French Catholics! And, interesting tidbit, it just happens to be the name of the street where their operations are located (Rue St. Ambroise, Montreal) Personally, I’m just glad these guys have been able to stay in business for all these years, especially given their extensive competition. If there’s one thing Quebecers know, its beer!

Check out their website while you’re at it: McAuslan Brewery
Okay, first up, their regular beers:

St. Ambroise Pale Ale: Definitely one of the best Pale Ales I’ve ever had. Crisp, refreshing, hoppy, balanced, and quite drinkable. Whenever there’s a mixer case in our house, my wife and I constantly compete over who get’s to drink the Pale Ales. For those new to Pale Ales, its also the perfect introduction, showing exactly what a true PA is all about. Rich color, floral aroma, a nice bite, a lingering finish, but still refreshing. In terms of official praise, this beer earned three stars in the Simon and Schuster Pocket Guide To Beer, and beer critic Michael Jackson described it as: “An outstanding ale… amber-red, clean and appetizing, with a very good hop character, from its bouquet to its long finish. Hoppy, fruity, and tasty all the way through.” I agree with everything except the three star rating! 5/5 baby!

Griffon Extra Pale Ale: Compared to the Pale Ale, the Griffon is quite light. And I mean quite light, seriously, the flavor is quite underwhelming as far as my palatte is concerned. However, this does mean the beer is extra drinkable, and even won a gold medal in the Golden Canadian Ale category at the 1996 World Beer Cup, apparently for its bright gold color, clean hop and malt flavor and “great drinkability”. Not a personal favorite, but a fine beer nontheless that is sure to please fans of lighter fare. 3.5/5

St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout: Yet another contender for the “best ever” category. St. Ambroise’s Oatmeal Stout is both a personal favorite and a first for me. Prior to being introduced to this beer, I had never before had an Oatmeal Stout. Shortly thereafter, it seemed like every micro-brewery I could find was making one of their own. Naturally, I learned that this is because this variety of stout is time-honored and with the resurgence in craft brewing, just about everyone would be making their own version of it. This does not change the fact that this baby was a first for me, and you never forget your first. In terms of awards, this baby was the runner up at the World Beer Championship in 1994, competing against over 200 beers in its category, and also won one of only nine platinum medals awarded. It’s dark colour, rich taste and aroma, with hints of chocolate and espresso make it a perfectly well-rounded stout. 5/5

St. Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale: Another first for me, this beer introduced me to the world of fruit beers, which is apparently a very rich, time-honored and lesser-known world. At least it was, until St. Ambroise and Kawartha Lakes Brewery came along (more on them later). And I can attest that the Apricot Wheat is one of St. Ambroise best-sellers, being light, malty, clean, and quite fruity in both its taste and aroma. Personally, I find the fruity character a bit overdone, the flavor giving the impression of artificial flavor. However, this does not prevent it from being very tasty. 4/5

Those I have yet to try in their regular beer category include: St. Ambroise Cream Ale, Griffon Red Ale (Griffon Rousse). However, as with many examples of fine Quebec brewing, the full lineup can be hard to find outside of Quebec (stupid prohibition-era laws!)