Phillips Mass Extinction

Winter is a time for many things. Cold weather, warm fires, celebrations to mark the new year, and strong drink with which to do it! In fact, barley wine, a long-standing favorite of mine, was created for just such a purpose. In order to keep people festive and plump during the hard, lean, winter months, barley wine was developed to be both tasty, nutritious and VERY strong, thus ensuring good health and good spirits!

And for the winter of 2012, Phillips Brewery, which can always be counted on to come up with interesting beers, has released an Ice Barley Wine to mark the season. Yes, that’s right, an ice barley wine, meaning they fermented it at ice-cold temperatures in addition to fermenting it longer and stronger. I have to admit, this is a new one for me, but given my love of bock beers (which includes Ice Bock), I was intrigued enough to buy some.

I should also note that, in keeping with the Phillips tradition of giving their beers comical names (especially their vintages), this one is aptly named Mass Extinction. How did they come up with this name you ask? Well, it could a reference to the ice fermentation process (i.e. ice age killed the dinosaurs) or the fact that it is VERY strong (at 12% alc/vol it is one of the strongest beers I’ve ever had!); but somehow, you just get the feeling that this beer was meant to be served chilled and could kill a large animal!

Overall, the taste is what one can expect from a faithful barley wine: syrupy, sweet, with a hint of maple, molasses and rich malts. However, this particular one manages to add a certain toasty, almost stout-like quality to the mix, which is not surprising given its dark color. Clearly, the barley was roasted nice and dark before they fermented and froze it to give its sweet, strong flavor.

And since it is a seasonal, I strongly recommend people get out there and sample this strong ale before… okay, my mind is filling up with bad puns and dinosaur jokes right now! Just try the beer! Winter is a time for strong ale and barley wines are no exception! 4/5

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Niagara Brewery

And I’m back with another installment in the “beers from the East” series. That’s what I’ve decided to call it, since calling it “Beers from Ottawa” would hardly be accurate. In truth, much of what I enjoyed when I lived there was from all over Southern Ontario, not to mention Quebec, the Maritimes, continental Europe and the US. However, whereas I still have access to most of those out-of-the-country varieties, I have next to no access to my old Ontario favorites.

Now where is the logic in that? How is it that I can walk over to my local BCL and buy any number of European brews, but a couple dozen of beers from a few provinces away are inaccessible? Sure, some would say its the convoluted issue of globalized brewery ownership that’s to blame, but believe it or not, old prohibition laws have way more to do with it. But that’s something for another post. Right now, I want to honor another of my old favorites.

So here she is: The Niagara Falls Brewery, located in Brampton Ontario! This beer has been around for several decades and made an impact on me on a few occasions. In addition to being a local favorite, it was also a purveyor of good, hoppy, and uniquely flavored beers.

Pale Ale: As Pale Ales go, Niagara’s is one of the cleaner one’s I’ve ever tasted. This is to say that it is less hoppy than you might expect, but also malty and slightly viscous, with a clean finish that is somewhat reminiscent of lager. Combined with a nice red-orange hue, it was one of the better taps that I enjoyed at my favorite pub in Ottawa (the Manx!). Can’t wait til I’m back on those velvet benches, drinking off those copper-skinned tables. I just hope this beer is still on tap! 4/5

Gritstone Premium Ale: The name kind of spoke to me once I had my first taste of this beer. With a name like Gritstone, you expect the beer to taste… I don’t know, gritty! And it does! In fact, much like their pale ale and strong, this beer has a tawny, almost sedimentary taste that makes you think of unfiltered/bottle fermented ale. Mildly hopped and also malty, its a highly enjoyable and quite unique experience, as ales go. 4/5

Olde Jack Strong Ale: An old favorite. This beer is dark, strong, highly malty, and with a toasty taste of tannins that lingers on the tongue. Toasty taste of tannins, try saying that three times fast! Also lightly hopped, this beer’s main strength comes from the rather unique flavor that makes one think of stone-ground bread and roasted barley soup, albeit with a smooth, stout-like quality. Definitely hope I can find this one again! 4.5/5

Millstone Lager: Admittedly, not one of my favorites. For some reason, many of my favorite breweries make lagers that just don’t seem to cut it with me. Perhaps its the fact that the lagers taste a little too malty and sweet to be thought of as true lagers, which in my opinion, must always be clean, sharp, and distinctly hoppy. Anything else, and you should have stuck to ale! Ah well, still a good beer, the Millstone is merely a bit light on the hops and sweet on the malts for my taste. Others may certainly enjoy though, as it is purely inoffensive and goes well with food! 3/5

Eisbock: This beer I discovered at the  same time as Creemore Urbock, and it went hand in hand with that beer in educated me on the subtleties and complexities of Bock beer. In conjunction with Bock beer, this number is produced during the winter months using select hops and barley and fermented at ice cold temperatures, resulting in a beer that is mildly syrupy, semi-sweet, quite strong, and just the slightest bit brackish tasting. This last aspect kind of bothered me, as it rendered the beer a little watery in the beginning, but sweet and syrupy in the end. You might say I thought this was a tad inconsistent. However, since this is a seasonal beer, my experience was limited to the earlier 2000 and something releases. Later vintages could and probably were entirely different. And overall, the Eisbock was a tasty and educational experience, and I’ve not hesitated to pick this one up an several occasions when I needed something festive for a party! 3.75/5

Naturally, there are only the beers that I can recall drinking. In total, Niagara Falls Brewery produced over a dozen brand names, some of which were ahead of their time. They included an Apple Ale, a Best Bitter, a Brown Maple Wheat, a Saaz Pilsner, a Scotch Ale, and a seasonal Weisse. However, it seems that in recent years they were forced scale back. In fact, upon writing this, I’m not even sure they are still in operation. What info I could find on them indicated that they were bought out by Moosehead some time ago, that their variety and standards seemed to have dropped, and at present, they don’t appear to have an operational website.

Could it be that the worse has happened? Could they have gone the way of Hart, first being bought out, then forced to purvey run of the mill beers, only to get axed anyway in the long run? Oh God, I hope not! But until I get to Ottawa and am able to ask/interrogate some people over at the local LCBO, I will know for sure! Niagara, if you’re out there, hang on a little longer! I have yet to re-sample thee and will be there soon!

Happy Winter Wassail Everybody!

“Waes Hail!” Translated from Old English, it means good health. In modern times, its an old pagan festival that celebrates the apple harvest of the year and ensures a good harvest for the next year. The traditions vary from region to region, but in general, the celebrations involve food, singing, a mummer’s play, and the drinking of cider. LOTS of cider!

And wouldn’t you know it? Last year my wife and I chanced upon a place that carries on in this Old English tradition, and it’s within biking distance (which is handy!) It’s called the Sea Cider cidery, and this past weekend, we went back for seconds. And just like last year, we enjoyed ourselves big time! So I thought it was about time I did a review of their cider lineup. That and the fact that we’ve been living within biking distance from them for the last two years!

Kings and Spies: A blended cider, made from both Kings and Northern Spies apples, producing an Italian-style cider that is crisp, slightly sweet, and has an effervescent quality. Quite the dose of bubbly, and good when paired with champagne-friendly foods, like cheese, olives and other lighter fare. I should also note that this cider has a social conscience, with the proceeds going to Lifecycles, a Victoria-based organization that promotes local food security. 4/5

Pippins: The sweetest of their regular lineup, this cider is the result of island-grown Winter Banana and Sunset apples. The result is a dry cider that boasts fresh, fruity notes that are reminiscent of pineapple and citrus. A definite accompaniment to pasta, stir fry or just on its own. 4.5/5

Perry: A very light and very dry pear cider that is in keeping with this venerated style. Not my favorite, but I know for a fact that its a genuine article. Those who dry whites will definitely approve, especially those of us from the island which is known to produce them. And, I should also note that I personally brought this cider to our friend’s 1st annual Wine, Cider and IPA party (It didn’t win, but what can you do?) 3/5

Rumrunner: In addition to home grown apples and champagne yeast, this cider has the added perk of being fermented in real Kentucky Bourbon barrels. The result is a sweet, strong cider that is dark in color and has a distinct note of rum/screech. Beware when consuming this one, its delicious flavor can mask the fact that it is quite powerful! A local favorite definitely, and I believe their best seller. 4/5

Wild English: The name refers to the wild yeast fermentation process, and the use of English bittersweet cider apples (all organic of course!). The result is a dry, crisp, and highly effervescent cider that tingles the nose and sparkles on the tongue. It also follows through with an earthy punch and a long, tart finish. Definitely one for the true cider enthusiast! 4/5

Pommeau: One of my personal favorites, probably because of its strength and challenging nature. Based on traditional Normandy-style cider that dates from the 1600’s, this aperitif cider is crafted from hand-pressed Snow apples. The result is a potent, delicious cider that is reminiscent of apple brandy and icewine. At 18% alc/vol, it is their strongest fare, but still deliciously sweet. A dangerous combination if ever there was one! 5/5!

Pomana: Named after the Roman Goddess of Apples, this cider is the result of freezing, then crushing crab apples, then allowing them to ferment. And the result is nothing short of delicious! Fans of icewine beware, this dessert-style cider will ween you off of grapes for certain! And like your stronger ice wines, it weighs in at a powerful 16% alc/vol. Delicious when served over ice cream, or just on its own, especially when chilled. 5/5!

Cyser: A new addition since last year. Cyser ciders are a combination of pressed, fermented, apples and pure honey. And here in Saanich, we produce some pretty spectacular organic honeys. It’s no surprise then that these folks would choose to combine the two and produce this fine dessert-style cider! Boasting a strong, sweet flavor with notes of honey, citrus and butter… it’s like… all three of those things! 4/5

Some varieties I have (regrettably) yet to try: Flagship, the eponymously named mainstay of their cider fleet. Wassail, a special release for this year’s festival. I will get on them this week or next, come hell, high-water or hangover!

*The link for Sea Cider’s event page:
Winter Wassail at Sea Cider

Creemore Springs!

In honor of my pending trip to Ottawa, I have decided to do a few reviews dedicated to some old favorites. In the course of my reviews, I’ve given a few shout-outs to faithful brand names. But as always, some got missed! And shout outs are hardly comprehensive. So I thought I’d dedicate to this first review to an old favorite, one which somehow got forgotten in the shuffle. So without further ado, I give you… Creemore Springs Brewery!

Creemore Premium Lager: A clean, crisp, amber lager that has a rich, malty profile, and a light hop bite that is reminiscent of Czech and Bavarian hops. Apparently, the local spring water also plays a part in giving its its rather unique flavor, which can best be describes as having a certain “minerality.” That’s a wine term I picked up while touring the Okanagan. Trust me, it’s legit! As I can attest from years of drinking this beverage, this beer is well paired with pasta and lighter fare, and is an excellent accompaniment to most desserts. It’s also just fine on its own, in cold weather or hot! 4/5

Creemore Urbock: Bock beer is a strong lager that comes to us from Germany of the 14th century. Being the beer of monks and aristocrats – the former looking for a more tasty, nutritious beverage, the latter looking for something fancy – this style of beer was brewed longer and using the choicest hops and barley. In addition, the name “Ur” designates this beer as the best of the batch, which means it was taken from the bottom of the barrel where the beer is richer, maltier, and more alcoholic. And on a personal note, this beer began my love affair with Bock beers! Years later, it remains my favorite bock, and one of the best beers I’ve ever had. Smooth, dark, matly, and tawny, this beer is a well-rounded winner with a light hop bite and a semi-sweet finish. 5/5

Waiting to try: Yes, Creemore has come up with some new varieties since I left town. Apparently, they now have four, including a Pilsner and a Kellerbier. I will be sure to try them just as soon as I can get my hands on some!

Link to the brewery website:
http://www.creemoresprings.com/

Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel

Wow, a name like that doesn’t exactly roll of the English tongue now does it? But amongst German beer enthusiasts, its kind of a big deal! Referring to the Weihenstephan Abbey, which is located in Freising district of Bavaria, Weihenstephan brewery is actually the world’s oldest commercially brewery. No kidding! Established in 725 by Benectine Monks, the monastery opened a commercial brewery in 1040 and has been a purveyor of beers ever since, making it the oldest brewery in the world that is still in operation.

It is even has its own entry on History of Beer archive, being a nexus between the ancient times when brewing was a cottage industry and modern Europe where it had grown into a full-blown enterprise. Today, they make a dozen varieties, most of which are wheat based, and export to thirty-five countries across the world. However, it is their Hefeweissbier Dunkel (Dark Wheat) which concerns me today, so let’s pack up the history lesson and get to some sampling.

Hefeweissbeir Dunkel: Upon opening the bottle, my nose was immediately graced by notes familiar to a weissbier. Smooth, malty, and yeasty, and with a deep color that was quite appetizing. But of course, being a wheat beer, it was also cloudy and translucent, a very good combination! And ultimately the flavor was a perfect combination of the Dunkel and Weiss, being both tawny and smooth, but also malty with a hint of fruit. the only thing that was lacking was spice; this beer has no traces of cloves, coriander or any of the other trace attributes other weissbiers are known for. However, this allows for an especially clean finish, so it all works out just fine! Perfect when enjoyed in a Hofbrauhaus mug, and since it comes in half liter bottles, I was able to fit two bottles to a stein quite perfectly (minus a little foam overflow of, course). If you can find it, try it! You shant be sorry! 4/5

An engraving of the brewery by Michael Wening, dating from about 1700:

And of course a link to the breweries website:
Weihenstephan Brauerei

Christmas Beer!

This holiday season, my sweetheart treated me to some new microbrews from the great state of Washington. For some time, I’ve known that there are beers from Pike, Rogue and others that are not available here in B.C. So when she decided to head down there with some girlfriends for a weekend getaway, I was sure to put in a request for as many tall boys as she could legally bring back. She did good! And considering that I got me some awesome mugs from Hofbrau, I had the perfect vessel with which to enjoy them. Here are some of the labels I enjoyed!

Pike Monk’s Uncle Tripel: The closest thing I’ve tasted to Unibroue’s La Fin Du Monde without being the real thing. Combining wheat and barley malts with a generous dose of hops and then triple fermented, this beer comes off as heavy, rich, yeasty, and with a distinctly Belgian flavor. It’s bite and its intoxicating nose are not to be underestimated, neither is its strength (9% alc/vol) 8.5/10

Odin’s Gift Juniper Ale: A delicious pale ale that my wife substituted for Rogue’s own Juniper Pale, which she could not find. This was an ample replacement however! Like a good pale ale, this beer is crisp, has a floral nose, a good hop bite and a lingering finish. It is complimented by the mild aroma and flavor of juniper berries, giving this beer just the slightest essence of gin. A nice twist on the a pale ale, and well paired with pastas and meats or just on its own. 9/10

Pike Dry Wit: I’ve had several wheat beers over the years, and this was definitely one of the most rare and complex! A strong flavor of wheat malts, a light spice palate that lingers and grows more intricate the deeper one drinks it. I noticed notes of coriander and orange on the first few sips, which is common in witbier. But gradually, I became aware of chamomile and lavender-like notes as well. A definite winner and a very interesting twist on the traditional wit. 9/10

Pike Old Bawdy Barley Wine: At 10% alc/vol, this beer definitely lives up to its name! Heavy, rich and very strong, this beer starts with a sugary nose, a rich malty sweetness, a good hop bite and a long, syrupy finish. Not for the faint of heart, but one of the best dessert beers I’ve had in recent years. 9/10

New Belgium Super Cru: A very interesting fruit beer, reminiscent of poached pears and distinctly Belgian in its flavor. In addition, it’s also very strong, 10% alc/vol, and that’s in spite of its light, fruity taste. Hard to believe they doubled the malts and the hops of the usual Fat Tire. Very good when paired with salads, cheeses, and lighter fare, and also pleasant on its own. 7.5/10