Damn straight it does! I purchased my copy for my iPad this morning and look forward to reading it.

Blogging at World of Beer

A couple of months ago, Evan Rail, a Prague-based writer of considerable merit, self-published a long essay — or mini-book, whichever you prefer — entitled “Why Beer Matters.” Well, “published” might not be quite the correct word, as it was and remains available in only e-book form, purchasable through Amazon for a mere $1.99.

I read Mr. McL’s review of it and was suitably impressed, but not to the point that I was willing to go out and get an ereader in order to view the thing. (I hate reading lengthy missives on my computer screen. Something to do with spending too much time in front of it on a daily basis, I think.) Some weeks later, I had reason to email Evan, who I have never met but have in the past communicated with electronically, and mentioned in passing his work, after which he kindly sent me a…

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Maredsous Tripel

After including Maredsous in my review of Belgian beers (More Belgians! – Nov. 24 2011), I promised myself that at some point, I’d be sure to try their tripel and their blonde as soon as I could. At the time, I assumed that I’d have to wait until I got back to Ottawa since I knew of no liquor stores or bars here that carry their lineup. However, much to my surprise, I happened to chance upon some at a local liquor store: Cascadia Liquor. Score one for local business!

And in case I didn’t describe them in much detail last time, Maredsous is an Abbey brewery located in the Belgian community of the same name. Their beer is brewed in accordance with the Benedictine tradition where beer is fermented first in the cask and then again in the bottle using active yeast cultures. Though not a Trappist operation, it is still an historic brewery that is steeped in tradition and renowned for making authentic, traditional Belgian beers that come in the distinctive stubby, tiered-neck bottles

So, thanks to the good folks who stock plenty local favorites, plus a respectable selection from down south and overseas, I am finally able to give the strongest beer from the Maredsous Brewery its due!

Maredsous Tripel: Triple beers, which refers to the triple fermentation process, are typically renowned for their strength, rich taste, and light color. At 10% alc/vol, this beer certainly has the strength aspect covered. However, I was surprised to notice that this particular triple was clear and a deep amber hue. I was also surprised by the nose, which was very sweet and sugary. In terms of taste, it comes on with strong malts and finishes dry, and has a slight touch of sweetness that is reminiscent of ice wine or strong cider. A truly interesting barley wine if ever there was one! 4.5/5

For those interested, I recommend checking out the Cascadia Liquor Store. The selection is quite broad, and they have a pretty damn awesome international selection which boasts several great Belgian beers:

Howe Sound Seasonals

Wouldn’t you know it? Months back, I did a review of the Howe Sound lineup, promised that I would cover their seasonal beers next, and then never got around to it! I’m not sure if this was the result of negligence, the fact that I needed more time to try more of them, or my literary ADHD. But in the end, I thought it was about time I got around to rectifying this error. And wouldn’t you know it, just the other night I finally finished off the last of their seasonal beers, so I’m ready to proceed. Here goes!

As I might have mentioned in my last post about Howe Sound, this brewery is located in the heart of the interior, in beautiful Squamish, BC. However, I have since learned that the operation was originally started by John Mitchell and Mr. Frank Appleton himself. This would be the same man that started the Swann brewery and apprenticed Hr. Hoyne himself, the man who started Hoyne’s Brewing and the Canoe Club. Quite the credentials, and it comes through in the product! Just about every beer they’ve ever made has received top marks from me, your humble snob, and a host of awards as well. But when it comes to the seasonals, I noted some serious risk-taking and experimentation, particularly when it came to the gravity, malts, and hop content of the beers.

So here is what I thought of their seasonal beers which, for the sake of convenience, are divided by the season. First up, Fall!

Fall Seasonal:
Pumpkin ales have become all the rage with the growth of craft brewing, especially when it comes to fall seasonals. There’s just something about pumpkins that screams autumn, isn’t there? In any case, this particular brew is of a higher gravity than most (meaning more dense). This comes through in the taste, which is heavier and maltier than your average pumpkin beer and contains a rich, spicey finish that is loaded with cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s like pumpkin pie in a glass. A very fitting addition to any Thanksgiving meal! 4/5

Winter Seasonal:
Father John’s Winter Ale:
A rich, dark and malty brew that is fashioned from many different types of malts and hops. The result is a heavier-tasting ale that comes on smooth and rich, but finishes with malts that are coarser, and toasty. Like a good winter ale, it also has a sweet, spicey finish that is made possible by longer fermentation and the addition of what I believe is allspice. If the Pumpkin Ale can be likened to Thanksgiving, this one would definitely be Christmas! 4/5

Pothole Filler Imperial Stout: At 9% alc/vol, this is a powerful stout that packs quite the wallop! Made from barley that is roasted extra dark and molasses, this beer comes on heavy with the flavor of toasted malts and finishes bitter with a slight touch of licorice. The combined alcohol content and dark malty profile can make it somewhat overpowering, but that’s part of its appeal. Some people just like a challenge! 3.75/5

Spring Seasonal:
Mettleman Copper Ale:
One of the smoothest and most refreshing ales I’ve ever tasted, and definitely a fitting addition to the coming of spring. Named in honor of Squamish BC’s “Test of Metal Mountain Bike Race”, this beer is a combination of smooth, cooper malts, dry, crisp hops, and a nice balanced finish. Especially good when drunk on a warm, sunny day, the time when the patio is finally cleared for lounging! 5/5

Three Beavers Imperial Red Ale: A strong, maltier take on the traditional red ale, this beer combines a smooth, creamy malt flavor with a coarser, heavier finish. And at 7.5% alc/vol, it’s kind of like a solid punch delivered in a velvet glove. What also comes through are the addition of Cascade hops with provide a slight bitter tang to the finish as well. Overall, In terms of pairing, this beer is well-paired with red meats, stews, and Cornish pastries. 3.75/5

Summer Seasonal:
Total Eclipse of the Hop:
The most recent of my samplings, this Imperial IPA is possibly the maltiest, hoppiest thing I’ve had in recent memory! But then again, that’s the point. As the latest addition to the John Mitchell series (named in honor of the venerated brewmaster), this beer comes on heavy and coarse, but then balances out with a big, citrusy hop finish that lingers long after its gulped down. Definitely not for the faint of heart, but the name is certainly indicative of that! 3.75/5

King Heffy Imperial Hefeweizen: Another strong take on the traditional hefeweizen. In addition to the usual wheat profile, which contains a distinct flavor of cloves and notes of banana, this beer boasts some powerful malts that come on coarse and (once again) pack a serious punch (7.7% alc/vol). Named in honor of the many climbers who dare to scale Squamish’s many walls and peaks, this beer is consistently malty and strong, like the rest of the series. 3.75/5

As you may have noticed, there are a lot of 3.75/5‘s here. That works out to roughly 75/100… aka. good, but not the greatest. That was my general impression when it came to this series. Compared to their regular lineup, these beers were a little too harsh and heavy for me. This was educational, making me realize that while I approve of heavier hops, I’m not that big a fan of heavier malts. This is not to say the seasonal lineup isn’t good, far from it! In fact, I highly recommend trying them all in addition to their year-round beers. They are a relatively unique experience, and very much in keeping with the tradition of “Imperial” beer! Consult your local beer store for more details 😉

New Beer!

Here are some recent sampling that I decided to add to my repertoire. As usual, the samplings were pretty diverse, covered a bunch of different breweries on several different continents.

Courage Directors: This product comes to us all the way from Bedford, England. Courtesy of the Charles Wells brewery, which I remember somewhat fondly from my youth. As a kid, Wells was a favorite camping item for my family, since it was their brewery alone that made beer that came in plastic torpedoes. You ever try getting cans or bottles into Algonquin Park, you’re gonna fail! In any case, Courage Director’s is a cask ale that is a deep amber and has rich, fruity malts and a light, dry hop bite that of is reminiscent of Czech hops. Clean and inoffensive, its a nice ale, though just a bit little unsurprising. 3.75/5

Pacific Western Swcharzbock: The name literally means “black bock”, meaning a very dark lager that’s been made using choice malt and hops. And I can attest to the fact that this is name is pretty accurate! In terms of color, the Schwarz is black, opaque, and virtually indistinguishable from stout. But whereas stouts tend towards the heavy and bitter, this beer is clean, smooth, and has a light hint of burnt sugar that calls to mind molasses, and this comes through in the aroma as well. A delightful surprise, and one which came highly recommended. Just be warned, at 8% alc/vol, this bock packs a punch which the taste manages to conceal! 4/5

Traquair Jacobite Ale: Here is a beer that I see plenty of, regardless of whether I’m at a BCL, or an LCBO, or a private liquor store. Maybe it’s luck, maybe this beer gets around. I don’t know, all I do know is that I had sampled this very beer back in Ottawa many years ago but forgot it’s defining characteristics. Luckily, I decided to buy another one recently and re-sampled it, making sure to take notes as I did. But first, some background… This beer is brewed by Traquair House, which is apparently the oldest “inhabited” house in Scotland, and was brewed in honor of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. And it’s also made based on a historic recipe that dates back to the 18th century. The result is a refreshing and clean-tasting dark beer that has rich malts, a nice smell that calls to mind fresh baked bread, and a herbal finish that includes the distinct taste of coriander. Not a bad addition, and definitely enough to pique my interest in this breweries regular lineup! 4/5

Wellington Brewery

Another Ontario beer maker, and one that I’ve come to feel pretty nostalgic about over the years. In fact, back in my university days, this label was one of the most popular items to be featured in my beer fridge. In addition, its popularity at the local bars meant that new additions did not remain put of my sampling range for long! It has been a few years since I’ve drank from their lineup, as they are not available in BC, and during my most recent trip, I really didn’t partake too much. But given my long-standing history with Wellington, I can tell you a great deal about them just from memory, most of it good!

Based in Guelph, Ontario – as a good many breweries seem to be – the Wellington brewery is renowned for producing many true British-style ales. I’ve tried all of them, with the exception of their wheat ale, and found that they were both authentic and highly enjoyable. All across Ontario, pubs boast many taps dedicated to their beers, and for good reason. Between the quality, the name and the image they carry, Wellington commands a certain air of respect amongst English-speaking Canadians who are proud of their heritage. But getting to specifics, here is their lineup, in alphabetical order:

Arkell Best Bitter: A light and dry beer, the Arkell is served in both the “real ale” (i.e. hand-pulled) and draft/bottle style. In both cases, it boasts a sweet malt taste and a light hop finish, combined with a light copper color and a grainy, nutty nose.Of course, the draft and bottled varieties also possess a degree of carbonation and a more refreshing finish, that goes for all beers that come in both cask and draft. Although not particular dry, bitter or tawny (like many of its peers) this beer is very appealing, refreshing, and well paired with your high-end pub grub, especially chicken pot pies or Beef Wellington. 4/5

Country Dark Ale: Clear, dark amber, smelling of oak and strong malts, this beer is a perfect example of a traditional dark ale. Nutty, with a sweet taste that is reminiscent of toffee and baked bread, it is well suited to heavier fare, such as roast beef, assorted red meats, and stews. 4/5

Imperial Stout: A stronger customer (at 8% alc/vol), this deep, black stout is a historic creation. Originally made by British breweries for export to Russia, Imperial stouts were renowned for being strong, rich, and heavy with coffee and chocolate-like characteristics. This beer achieves all that, with a slight, anise note that is discernible after just a few sips. Another 4/5!

Iron Duke Strong Ale: An unusual beer, at least to those not familiar with winter ales and barley wines. Named in honor of the Duke of Wellington himself, this seasonal ale boasts a dark burgundy color, is cloudy, and has a real viscous, malty quality that is apparent the second it hits the tongue. It’s nose is a rich cherry, and the taste is rich and slightly tawny, reminiscent of port or other fortified wines. A true Brit! Cheers! 4.5/5

Special Pale Ale: Another lighter beer, reminiscent of an ESB and Niagara Pale due to its dry hop, tawny quality. Although it is not as bitter or citrusy as many pale ales go, this too is an easy-drinker with a rich, sweet aroma and nice, balanced finish that is well paired with spicey dishes. 4/5

Trailhead Lager: Without a doubt, one of the lightest lagers I have ever tasted. Initially, I was taken aback by its nutty, clean, taste and very light hop finish (normally, I prefer a heftier dose). However, I soon learned to appreciate it for the simple reason that it was just so drinkable and well paired with spicey dishes. In addition, its subtle malt flavor and hop profile tend to become more discernible as time goes on, leading to a deeper appreciation. Hmm, that’s two spicey food beers from one brewery… I smell a revised “Beer that tames the fire” posting in the near future! 3.75/5

New and yet to try: Only one! Their Silver Wheat Ale came out since my departure, and which I shall be seeking out the next time I’m in town! Cheers to all!

More Beer!

In this last installment of my series dedicated to my hometown, I would like to address some of the miscellaneous beers I enjoyed during my most recent trip. They were several, and diverse, so no single brewery could be cited for exclusive praise. However, I shall do my best to give credit where credit is due. Here goes:

Barn Dog Ale: This beer is nominally known as Nickelbrook Draft, but which is made specially for Woody’s Bar and Grill on Elgin Street. This beer is naturally golden, has light malts and a light hop bite, this beer is unassuming, unpretentious, and a generally refreshing brew. Not the most complex or palatable beer I’ve ever had, but well-suited to easy drinking and well paired with pub grub. 3.5/5

Beaver River IPeh?: An interesting take on the traditional IPA’s, combing both British and American styles. Based in Vankleek Hill, Ontario, this brewery is a relatively new operation, and during my trip, I saw there beers just about everywhere I looked. However, once i cracked a bottle and got down to sampling it, I was somewhat unimpressed. IPA’s are renowned for being hoppy and bitter, but generally manage to balance that with citrus and floral notes. Unfortunately, this beer is heavy on the former, light on the latter. However, it does possess some dark, tawny malts that add to the aftertaste, which is just unfortunately a little too bitter for my liking. 3.5/5

Churchkey WCPA: Generally, I have nothing but nice things to say about Church Key brewery. However, this particular attempt at a West Coast Pale Ale was a bit of a misfire for me. Much like the IPeh? it was too bitter and not provide any balance to its strong hop bite. Although it too had some smooth malts, they did not balance the hops, which were too powerful and too bitter, and combined with a very light aftertaste, made for an experience which was kind of over and underwhelming at the same time. Oh well, can’t knock em all out of the park, can ya? 3/5

Kichessipi 1855: Located right in Ottawa, this brewery is a relatively new addition to the capitol’s beer scene. Naturally, I was sure to sample all that they had on tap before leaving, and was lucky in that there are only two for the time being. Of them, this beer was the lesser for me. Though it too had good malts, it was a bit underwhelming when it came to hop flavor and complexity. In short, it had a bitter start, a watery finish, and some maltiness to speak of but not enough to satisfy yours truly. 3.75/5

Kichessipi Blonde: As already noted, the better of the brewery’s two signature creations! Once again, we have a beer that boasts nice, smooth malts, a nice dry-hop bite that is reminiscent of Pilsner, and a certain minerality that is reminiscent of Creemore’s own Lager. I suspect that this is due to the use of natural spring water to make this beer, which I highly approve of! I will be looking for it and any additional Kichessipi products during my next visit. 4/5

Muskoka Dark Ale: A newer installment in Muskoka’s lineup, and comparable to everything else I used to enjoy by them. Much like Neustadt’s own 10w30, which I tried a few nights prior, this is an English-style brown ale. And like a good brown, it is smooth, dark, and tawny with discernible notes of chocolate and caramel amongst the malts. A delicious dinner or desert beer, well paired with meat, chocolate, or creme caramel. 4.5/5

Trafalgar ESB: From Oakville, nestled in the nook of Lake Ontario, Trafalgar Ales and Meads is a brewery that keeps popping up on my radar. Years back, I was regaled by their tallboys of Irish Ale. Crisp, clean, and slightly tawny, it was one of those beers that just goes great with spicy food or on its own after a tough workout! During my most recent visit, I was lucky enough to spot the newest addition to their lineup, the Trafalgar Extra Special Bitter. I can honestly say without exaggeration that it is one of the better bitters I have ever had. Like a good bitter, it is light in color and taste, but possess a smooth, tawny taste and dry hop bite that provide complexity. Good job Trafalgar! Can’t wait to try your meads! 4.5/5

Trafalgar Irish Ale: Now this one was a little less impressive, but still good as beers go. Typically, Irish Ales are smooth, creamy, and have a little bit of a bitter bite in addition to their tawny malts. However, this particular Trafalgar beer was particularly bitter to taste, with dark malts that contain coffee notes, and a rather underwhelming finish that was just the slightest bit watery. 3.5/5

Well, that was Ottawa! I still have more Ontario breweries to cover and compliment, but those are amongst my all-time favorites and fell outside of my sampling repertoire this trip. I look forward to our next trip, seeing our friends and sampling more beers. Preferably at the same time!

Chateau Jiahu

Not that long ago, I learned something interesting about the earliest alcoholic beverages ever made. According to archaeologists, the earliest alcohol was to be found in a small Neolitic village named Jiahu, in the Chinese province of Henan. Interestingly enough, it was made from fermented honey, fruit and assorted grains, classifying it as a sort of mead. Based on the latest carbon dating, this alcoholic beverage was being made around 9000 BC, at roughly the same time that beer and wine first began to appear in the Middle East.

Not uncoincidentally, the Dogfish Head brewery (producer of the infamous 90 Minute IPA) released their own version of this beer back in 2005. Apparently, they did it at the behest of Dr. Patrick McGovern, a professor of molecular archeology who worked for the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. Named in honor of the archaeological site, this beer is part of their Ancient Ale lineup (the more recent of which include Midas Touch and Theobroma).

Chateau Jiahu:
And like the original, it is made using honey, brown rice syrup, muscat grape, barley malt and hawthorn berry, and then slow-fermented using sake yeast. The result is a most unusual drink that is part beer, part mead, and very unique. In fact, its so far off the beaten trail for beer that I think a categorical breakdown might be necessary. So here it is, in terms of the big four:

Appearance: A clear, deep golden amber hue with light foam and not a lot of carbonation
Jiahu’s scent comes across as very fruity, reminiscent of citrus and grapes. There is also just the slightest touch of floral bouquet that is reminiscent of orange fruit and blossoms.
Taste: Diverse and sweet, highly reminiscent of meads or strong honey beers. The palate is also malty and combines several kinds of notes, including honey, syrup, and a variety of fruits (I noted sweet melon, passion fruit, and pineapple in the mix)
Aftertaste: Very clean, light notes of honey and fruit
Overall: 8.5/10
Serving Info: Best when served chilled, or, if you’re into historical accuracy, you could try it warm, as it would have been traditionally consumed. Also, best when enjoyed in a snifter or a specially designed Trappist ale or barley wine glass

The folks at the liquor store asked me to let them know what I thought. The bottle and label alone tend to draw the eye, and the description is certainly enough to pique some interest. However, the experimental look and price can tend to intimidate the average consumer. I will happy to report back to them that I enjoyed it’s unique, complex and experimental flavor just as soon as I’m back in their neck of the woods! Check out the company website for info on where to buy:

Neustadt Springs

And were back! After reviewing Winterlude’s Winter Beer and Icewine event, plus some of my favorite watering holes, I thought it high time for me to get back and review some of my favorite Ontario breweries. So today, I thought I’d cover a historic and memorable one, the Neustadt Brewery.

This one and I go back quite a ways. In fact, I’m not even sure when I first sampled this beer, but I imagine it was shortly after I became of legal drinking age ;). Not being cheeky; the way I remember it, I actually had a bit of a frame of reference when I first tried it. And what’s more, I’ve tried it several times since and have found plenty of things to appreciate about it.

Established in 1859, this brewery has the honor of operating on the grounds of the oldest craft brewery in Ontario. In addition (and not coincidentally) it just happens to be located over one of the finest sources of spring water in Ontario, which they use to make their craft beers. This is clear the moment you drink any one of their products, which have an added attribute which I can only describe as “minerality” (it’s a word, look it up!).

In any case, during my most recent visit to Ottawa, I was sure to pick up some beer that carried the Neustadt label. And wouldn’t you know it, they’ve actually added a few new beers to their catalog since the last time I sampled them. So here is what I thought of the Neustadt brewery’s products, taking into account their old classics, and the latest addition to their lineup.

Lager: Their flagship brew, done in the Belgian country style. This beer is crisp, refreshing and has a smoothness and deeper hue that make it distinct from your average lager. In addition, the malts have an exceptionally clean, effervescent quality that is reminiscent of spring water. A somewhat unusual experience when it comes to a beer, but definitely a worthy one which grows on you! 4/5

Scottish Ale: The brewery’s red label, which is actually the first beer the brewery ever produced. Brewed in the traditional Scottish “heavy” style, this beer is smoother than the lager with noticeable scotch malts that are reminiscent of whiskey. Notes of caramel, spice, and a nice hop finish top this one off. And of course the clean, pure taste of spring water is never far behind. 4/5

10w30 Brown Ale: Now this beer impressed me quite a bit! Made in the tradition of a true brown ale, this beer has plenty of flavor, but is smooth and tawny with subtle notes of coffee that reminded me of some of the best west coast browns I’ve ever had. In addition, the light touch of minerality makes for a perfect, complex finish. The first beer I had during my trip, and it happened to be one of the most memorable! 5/5

Man, I drank a lot of beer this trip! Not so much in terms of quantity as variety. But I shall do my best to cover them all in the days and weeks to come. Stay tuned… Up next, the Muskoka, Wellington, Church Key, Trafalgar and Magnotta breweries (not necessarily in that order!)