La Brew Ha Ha, Happy St. Jean-Baptiste Day Everyone!

Forgive me for getting in on this holiday late, but I’ve been busy with family these last few days. Lots of birthdays and visits happening! But now that I’m back, I thought I’d spend some time playing catch up. As usual, our trip up north took us through Duncan and some of the best beer shopping on the island.

And wouldn’t you know it, I happened to find a specialty beer that was brewed in honor of this day, at least for the residents of Squamish, BC. Known as La Brew Ha Ha by Howe Sound, this Belgian-style Blonde Ale is a strong customer that is consistent with the brewing traditions of the La Belle Provence! As someone who’s sampled many a Quebec brew, I can attest to the fact that traditional Belgian beers are quite the hot ticket there. And whether it is Unibroue, Brasseurs du Temps, McAuslan, or Dieu du Ciel!, they are adept at producing some pretty strong ales!

Appearance: Straw gold, cloudy and translucent
Nose: Distinct scent of bananas and Belgian yeast
Taste: Light malt taste, giving way to strong notes of banana
Aftertaste: Coarser malt flavor, mild clove spice, and lingering yeasty flavor
Overall: 8/10

Overall, I was reminded of La Fin Du Monde, but with a lighter flavor than its predecessor. It was also highly reminiscent of a strong white ale, in that it had some strong notes of banana and clove spice as well. And the fact that it combined these together in a faithful way is consistent with what I’ve come to expect from Howe Sound and their specialty lineup.

Happy belated St.Jean-Baptiste Day everybody! Stay tuned for my coming review in honor of Canada Day, dedicated to a beer that was brewed in honor of Canada Day: Innis and Gunn’s Canada Day 2012!

BrewDog 5 A.M. Saint

Not long ago, I was tasting this beer’s peer, known as the Dirty Blonde Pale Ale. I couldn’t help but mention this beer in that review, given its obvious quality. And so I went back to the beer store, picked up another 4 pack (which is their thing) and resampled it to make sure my impressions were fresh and informed!

According to the good people at BrewDog, the 5 a.m. Saint is “The Holy Grail of Ruby Ales”. Quite the bold statement, isn’t it? But it’s also in keeping with their commitment to quality in an industry that is still defined by quantity and big budget advertising. So it’s refreshing, no pun intended, to find people who’s commitment to craft brewing is almost… religious in nature. Okay, that pun was definitely intended! Onto the beer…

Appearance: Deep ruby, ever so slightly cloudy indicating high gravity
Nose: Deep tawny malt scent, notes of dry hops and caramel
Taste: Smooth malts with a gentle sweetness, giving way to dry hops
Aftertaste: Complex hop aftertaste, going from floral to dry and bitter
Overall: 10/10

A winner, big time! In fact, when I first tilted one back, I announced publicly that it was the best amber I’d ever had. Again, quite the statement, but it’s definitely a contender for a  spot on my list best pale ales! The only question is, which unlucky candidate will it knock out of the running…

Two Dead Frogs!

Many months ago, I found myself endlessly sampling West Coast IPA’s. This was done partly out of a general sense of affection, but also out a desire to see just how many decent varieties we seem to produce here in the Pacific Northwest. As part of this research, I picked up not one, but two IPA’s produced right here in BC.

Established back in 2006 in Aldergrove BC, Dead Frog quickly expanded to feature its four original varieties: a lager, a honey lager, a pale ale, and a nut brown. Since then, they’ve expanded this repertoire to include a number of fruit beers and several signature brews. It seems appropriate then that of these two IPAs, one is a regular item while the other is part of an experimental lineup, which fall under the name of “Fusion Hopped”.

Dead Frog Citra IPA:
This beer is a relatively new installment in the Dead Frog lineup, and one which appears to be a permanent addition in the 650 ml series. Overall, I would say that this beer is an inspired example of a West Coast IPA, blending Citra, Cascade and Columbus hops with North American and European malts. What results is something typical of IPA’s, with strong, slightly sweet malts, a floral, bitter, and citrusy hop bite that contains distinct notes of grapefruit. And of course, it balances all this with a higher than normal alcohol content (6.5 % alc/vol). A good spring or summer beer for folks who are accustomed to stronger beers or just love the taste of hops.

Appearance: Golden amber, at the lighter range of IPAs
Nose: Highly floral and fruity, reminiscent of strong herbs and citrus fruits
Taste: Comes on with rich malts, giving way to a fruity burst of citrusy, bitter hops
Aftertaste: Lingering hop bitterness and a touch of sweetness
Overall: 8/10

Dead Frog Fusion Hopped IPA:
Here we have a specialty brew which appears to be part of a growing group of beers known as the “Brewmaster Series”. This series seems to revolve around the concept of specially hopped beers, given the nature of their releases so far. This includes the new “Fusion Hopped Pilsner” and of course the beer which I am reviewing here, the “Fusion Hopped IPA”. This specialty IPA combines dry hops and heavier malts with characteristics typical of an India Pale Ale. The end result is a dark, slightly heavy beer that’s accented by a big hop taste that contains discernible traces of dry hops and bitter grapefruit. In this way, it blends some of the best aspects of a dark ale with an ESB and an IPA.

Appearance: Darker, clear and transparent, light foam
Nose: Floral hop notes, notes of citrus and grapefruits
Taste: Heavier, sweet malts, giving way to a dry, bitter hop bite with notes of grapefruit
Aftertaste: Lingering floral taste and hop bitterness
Overall: 7.5/10

For more info on Dead Frog’s signature beers and their regular lineup, check out

Honey Hefe

Just yesterday I was raving about the proliferation of wheat beers that are just in time for the summer. And then what happens? My favorite brewery puts out a seasonal wheat and we show up at the brewery just in time for its release. It’s true. Months back, I was able to speak to the good people at Hoyne about their products and was invited to come by and get some growlers. When my wife and I finally got around to popping in (today), we were told that a new beer was being released and it just happened to be on tap. Sampling ensued…

The friendly staff were on hand to guide us about. And of course, a few samples loosened my tongue and I began yammering to our lovely host about their beers and all the nice things I had to say about them. And wouldn’t you know it, the man himself was there to say hello! I wish I could have chatted with him some more but unfortunately he was busy with a number of things so I didn’t try to keep him. Just as well, I probably would’ve fawned and yammered some more. In any case, we also filled some growlers and brought them home. Drinking ensued…

But allow me to tell you what I thought of their Honey Hefe, as I feel I am in the unique position to speak about it before most other people will get a chance. Combining local honey from the Empress Hotel’s own beehives with a German-style hefewiezen, Hoyne has produced yet another winner which also happens to be a very refreshing take on the summer wheat.

Appearance: Light straw gold, translucent and very cloudy
Nose: light clove scent complimented by slight notes of honey and blossoms
light wheat malts, slight taste of cloves, mild honey sweetness
Aftertaste: mild clove bitterness and malts giving way to a very clean finish
Overall: 8.5/10 (perfect for hot summer weather!)

Yeah, somehow these guys just keep making great beer. Perhaps that’s why they’ve become my favorite brewery, at least locally (musn’t let the Ontario beers of my youth feel left out!). My wife and I have agreed that they shall be our near-exclusive supplier of beer this summer since the growler sales are such a deal! I recommend people drop by, sale hours are posted on their website:

Tree Madcap Wheat Ale

God, I love summer! The warm weather, the sunshine, the barbeques and beers on the patio. And beers specifically made for summer are a total delight, aren’t they? Nothing goes better with hot weather than a nice, cold, refreshing lager, summer ale or wheat beer. Hence my brewers like to release these as seasonals whenever the summer rolls around There’s just something about a golden-hued or cloudy orange beer that goes well with warm winds, hot sun and the smell of grilled meat and everything that’s in bloom.

And hence why I picked up Tree Brewing’s new white ale, which arrived a few weeks back in my community, just in time for summer. Unlike their hefewiezen from a few years back, this one is a distinctly Belgian style wit – unfiltered, unpasteurized, and made with what I can only assume is a Belgian strain of yeast. The taste certainly alludes to as much, and is consistent with some of the best wits I’ve had in recent years.

But of course, here are the specifics:

Appearance: A mix of straw gold and light orange, cloudy and translucent
Nose: Traces of cloves, wheat maltiness, a slight touch of pineapple
Taste: Definite presence of cloves, followed by a slight kick of citrus rind
Aftertaste: Clove spiciness giving way to a lingering bitterness
Overall: 9/10

Conclusion, a good summer beer! And I recommend you get some since, if their hefeweizen is any indication, this beer is strictly a summer affair. So find yourself a six pack, pull up a chair on the patio, and indulge!

Winners announced for the Canadian Brewing Awards 2012

Just the other night, the winners of the 2012 Canadian Brewing Awards were announced. It all took place in a gala ceremony in Montreal, the final event in a two day conference that also overlapped with part of the 19th annual Mondial de la Bière. As usual, the list is long and varied, but I’ve managed to procure the list with its many winners and honorees. Here they are, ordered by category and place. See if you can’t spot some of your favorites!

North American Style Lager

Gold: Brewhouse Pilsener, Great Western Brewing Co. (SK)
Silver: Sleeman Original Draught, Sleeman Breweries Ltd.
Bronze: Alpine Lager, Moosehead Breweries (NB)

North American Style Premium Lager
Gold: Vancouver Islander Lager, Vancouver Island Brewery (BC)
Silver: Muskoka Craft Lager, Muskoka Brewery (ON)
Bronze: Beach Blonde Lager, Tree Brewing Co. (BC)

European Style Lager (Pilsner)
Gold:  Steam Whistle Pilsner, Steam Whistle Brewing (ON)
Silver: Red Canoe Lager, Canoe Brewpub (BC)
Bronze: Steamworks Pilsner, Steamworks Brewing Co. (BC)

North American Style Amber Lager
Gold: Buzz Beer, Cool Beer Brewing Co. (ON)
Silver: Blue Buck Pale Ale, Phillips Brewing Co. (BC)
Bronze: Barking Squirrel Lager, Hop City Brewing Co. (ON)

North American Style Dark Lager
Gold: Hermann’s Dark Lager, Vancouver Island Brewing Co. (BC)
Silver: Okanagan Spring Brewmaster’s Black Lager, Sleeman Breweries
Bronze: King Dark Lager, King Brewery (ON)

Light (Calorie-Reduced) Lager  
Gold: Cracked Canoe Premium Light Lager, Moosehead Breweries (NB)
Silver: Moose Light, Moosehead Breweries (NB)
Bronze: Brewhouse Light, Great Western Brewing Co. (SK)

Bock – Traditional German Style
Gold: Deviator Doppelbock, Cameron’s Brewing Co. (ON)
Silver: Hermannator Ice Bock, Vancouver Island Brewing Co. (BC)
Bronze: Amsterdam Spring Bock, Amsterdam Brewing Co. (ON)

Gold: Kellerbier, Creemore Springs Brewery (ON)
Silver: Bohemian Lager, R&B Brewing Co. (BC)
Bronze: Festivale, Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. (ON)

Gold: Coffee Porter, R&B Brewing Co. (BC)
Silver: 25th Anniversary Robust Porter, Great Lakes Brewing Co. (ON)
Bronze: Coffee Stout, Phillips Brewing Co. (BC)

Strong Porter (Baltic)
Gold: Lost River Baltic Porter, Bellwoods Brewery (ON)
Silver: Grand Baltic Porter, Garrison Brewing Co. (NS)
Bronze: Okanagan Spring Porter, Sleeman Breweries

Cream Ale
Gold: Original 16, Great Western Brewing Co. (SK)
Silver: Portage Ale Cream Ale, Mill Street Brewery (ON)
Bronze: Begbie Cream Ale, Mt. Begbie Brewery (BC)

Gold: Lug Tread, Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. (ON)
Silver: Swans Arctic Ale, Swans Brewery (BC)
Bronze: Harvest Moon Organic Hemp Ale, Nelson Brewing Co. (BC)

North American Style Amber/Red Ale
Gold:  Red Racer ESB, Central City Brewing Co. (BC)
Silver: Thirsty Beaver Amber Ale, Tree Brewing Co. (BC)
Bronze: Lighthouse Race Rocks Ale, Lighthouse Brewing Co. (BC)

North American Style Blonde/Golden Ale
Gold: Boreale Blonde, Les Brasseurs du Nord (QC)
Silver: Picaroons Blonde, Picaroons Traditional Ales (NB)
Bronze: Kichesippi Natural Blonde, Kichesippi Beer Co. (ON)

Brown Ale
Gold: Iron Horse Brown Ale, Prince Edward Island Brewing Co. (PEI)
Silver: Beaver Brown Ale, Canoe Brewpub (BC)
Bronze: Nelson After Dark, Nelson Brewing Co. (BC)

American Style Black Ale
Gold: Terrestrial India Brown Ale, Wellington County Brewery (ON)
Silver: Black IPA, Brasserie Dunham (QC)
Bronze: Houblon Libre, Microbrasserie du Lac Saint-Jean (QC)

Scotch Ale
Gold: Swans Scotch Ale, Swans Brewery (BC)
Silver: Iron Duke, Wellington County Brewery (ON)
Bronze: St. Ambroise Scotch Ale, McAuslan Brewing Inc (QC)

English Style Pale Ale (Bitter)
Gold: Pale Ale, Yaletown Brewing Co. (BC)
Silver: St. Ambroise Pale Ale, McAuslan Brewing Inc (QC)
Bronze: River Rock Bitter, Canoe Brewpub (BC)

North American Style Pale Ale (Bitter)  
Gold: Steamworks Pale Ale, Steamworks Brewing Co. (BC)
Silver: Crazy Canuck Pale Ale, Great Lakes Brewing Co. (ON)
Bronze: Naughty Neighbour, Nickel Brook, (ON)

Wheat Beer – Belgian Style White/Wit
Gold: Cheval Blanc, Les Brasseurs RJ (QC)
Silver: Dominus Vobiscum Blanche, Microbrasserie Charlevoix (QC)
Bronze: Mons Abbey Witte, Brasserie Belgh Brasse (QC)

Wheat Beer – German Style Hefeweizen
Gold: N/A (no beer had high enough points to receive gold)
Silver: Beachcomber Summer Ale, Vancouver Island Brewing (BC)
Bronze: Hefeweizen Unfiltered Wheat Ale, Tree Brewing Co. (BC)

Wheat Beer – North American Style
Gold: Sungod Wheat Ale, R&B Brewing Co. (BC)
Silver: Sir John A’s Honey Wheat, Prince Edward Island Brewing Co. (PEI)
Bronze: Dooryard Summer Ale,  Picaroons Traditional Ales (NB)

Belgian Style Abbey Ale
Gold: Don Juan, Broadway Microbrasserie and Pub (QC)
Silver: Tchucke, Broadway Microbrasserie and Pub (QC)
Bronze: Dominus Vobiscum Double, Microbrasserie Charlevoix (QC)

Belgian Style Strong Specialty Ale
Gold: Tripe a Trois, A la Fut (QC)
Silver: Buteuse, Microbrasserie Le Trou du Diable (QC)
Bronze: 17 Grande Reserve, Unibroue (QC)

Barley Wine Style Ale
Gold: Woolly Bugger Barleywine, Howe Sound Brewing Co. (BC)
Silver: Thor’s Hammer Barleywine, Central City Brewing Co. (BC)
Bronze: Gaz de Course, Brouhaha (QC)

Gold: St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, McAuslan Brewing Inc. (QC)
Silver: Bete Noire, A La Fut (QC)
Bronze: Midnight Sun Espresso Stout, Yukon Brewing Co. (YT)

Imperial Stout
Gold: Stout Imperiale Russe, Brasserie Dunham (QC)
Silver: Fort Garry Kona Imperial Stout, Fort Garry Brewing Co. (MB)
Bronze: Hammer Imperial Stout, Phillips Brewing Co. (BC)

English Style India Pale Ale
Gold: Powell IPA, Coal Harbour Brewing Co. (BC)
Silver: Tranquility IPA, Moon Under Water Pub and Brewery (BC)
Bronze: Devil’s Elbow IPA, Howe Sound Brewing Co. (BC)

American Style India Pale Ale
Gold: Karma Citra, Great Lakes Brewing Co. (ON)
Silver: Rye Pale Ale, Cameron’s Brewing Co. (ON)
Bronze: Swans Extra IPA, Swans Brewery (BC)

Imperial India Pale Ale
Gold: Central City Imperial IPA, Central City Brewing Co. (BC)
Silver: Diable au Corps, Les Brasseurs du Temps (QC)
Bronze: Amnesiac Double IPA, Phillips Brewing Co. (BC)

French and Belgian Style Saison
Gold: Deliverance Saison, Great Lakes Brewing Co. (ON)
Silver: Nit Wit, Garrison Brewing Co. (NS)
Bronze: Patio Saison, Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. (ON)

Special Honey/Maple Lager or Ale
Gold: Royal York Stinger, Mill Street Brewery (ON)
Silver: Boreale Doree, Les Brasseurs du Nord (QC)
Bronze:  Cypress Honey Lager, Granville Island Brewing Co. (BC)

Fruit Beer
Gold: Mandarin Orange Amber Ale, Dead Frog Brewery (BC)
Silver: Pepper Lime Lager, Dead Frog Brewery (BC)
Bronze: Moose Light Lime, Moosehead Breweries (NB)

Fruit Wheat Beer
Gold: Amsterdam Framboise, Amsterdam Brewing Co. (ON)
Silver: Ephemere Pomme, Unibroue (QC)
Bronze: Crique, A La Fut (QC)

Pumpkin Beer
Gold: St. Ambroise Pumpkin Ale, McAuslan Brewing Inc. (QC)
Silver: Highballer Pumpkin Ale, Grand River Brewing Co. (ON)
Bronze: Pumpkineater, Howe Sound Brewing Co. (BC)

Wood and Barrel Aged Beer
Gold: 25th Anniversary Bourbon Barrel Aged Robust Porter, Great Lakes Brewing Co. (ON
Silver: Amsterdam Leipziger Gose, Amsterdam Brewing Co. (ON)
Bronze: Red Truck Ruby, Red Truck Beer Co. (BC)

Wood and Barrel Aged Strong Beer
Gold: Thor’s Hammer Bourbon Barrel Barley Wine, Central City Brewing Co. (BC)
Silver: Nectar of the Gods, Russell Brewing Co. (BC)
Bronze: Singularity Russian Imperial Stout, Driftwood Brewery (BC)

Wood and Barrel Aged Sour Beer
Gold: Co-Hop V,  A La Fut (QC)
Silver: Bird of Prey-Flanders Red, Driftwood Brewing Co. (BC)
Bronze: Vent d’Anges,  Broadway Microbrasserie and Pub (QC)

Experimental Beer
Gold: Dark Snout Bacon Stout, R&B Brewing Co. (BC)
Silver: Honey Lavender, Garrison Brewing Co. (NS)
Bronze: Harry Porter and the Bourbon Soaked Vanilla Beans, Great Lakes Brewing Co. (ON)

Beer of the Year – Co-Hop V, A La Fut (QC)
Brewery of the Year – Central City Brewing Co.

Central City Imperial IPA

Back from Ladysmith for the weekend, and I just happened to find myself some new beers while making a routine stop at one of Duncan’s many liquor stores. Man, that town is stocked! And this time around, I discovered a special feature. Brewed by Central City from Surrey, BC (the same makers as the famous Red Racer lineup), their Imperial IPA is what you might call an IPA on steroids, or a very strong IPA. Either description would be apt.

As an Imperial IPA, it is strong in terms of its alcohol content (9.5% alc/vol), hop content (90 IBU’s), and malt flavor. The end result is something that can be a bit overwhelming for the uninitiated, but which is a rewarding experience for fans of strong ales and IPA’s alike. And in many ways, the different strengths serve to round each other out, providing a drinking experience that is both challenging, yet strangely balanced.

Appearance: Deep amber, consistent with a true IPA
Nose: Scents of heavy malts, rich and toasted, mixed with a heavy floral hop presence
Taste: Sweet and heavy malts giving way to complex hops, viscous and syrupy
Aftertaste: Lingering hop bitterness giving way to even more lingering malt flavor
Overall: 8/10

In the end, this beer lives up to the advertising. When a beer includes the term “Imperial” in its title, it means a beer of greater strength and density. As such, one can expect a beer with some strong, coarser malts and real toasty flavor. And where IPA’s are involved, one can also expect plenty of hops and a flavor that gravitates between the floral, bitter and citrusy. And that’s exactly what this beer has going on! If you’re a fan of the strong, challenging, sweet, and bitter, pick yourself up a bottle before it goes back to the mainland.

Brewdog Trashy Blonde Ale

Hi again! Well I’m back with another new beer, this time from Brew Dog breweries, the famous craft brewer that comes to us from Fraserburgh, Scotland. Already I have tried their 5 A.M. Saint and felt it was one of the best Amber’s I have ever had. And as you can see, they have quite a lineup.

Unfortunately, we are somewhat limited in terms of what we can get here in BC. Aside from 5 AM and Trashy Blonde, I have yet to find another variety by them. Too bad too, because I’m sure I would enjoy it. But onto what the Trashy Blonde has to offer:

Appearance: Golden, pale and transparent, rather light for a pale ale
Nose: Coarse malts, reminiscent of a strong Belgian blonde
Taste: Distinct, Belgian-style malt, similar to Duval, giving way to a good, citrusy hop bite
Aftertaste: A long lingering bitter taste combined with a bitter malt finish
Overall: 8.5/10

Personally, I’ve never been too big of a fan of the type of coarse blonde ales Belgium has been known to produce. And yet, I found I enjoyed this one quite thoroughly. I’ll also have to be sure to pick up some more 5 AM because that baby deserves a stellar review too. Well, finding it won’t be hard since I now know of two places that it likes to hang out. Something to do this week I guess!

Naughty Hildegarde

And she’s back in town! I can recall drinking this beer sometime last summer. Unfortunately, I neglected to take notes, so when it came time to acknowledge Driftwood’s contributions to Island brewing, I was unable to say anything about this seasonal specialty.

Luckily, its available again and I’ve managed to secure several bottles. I might just stock up too in case I get a hankering for a strong ESB during the rainy winter months!

But I digress… Named in honor of the venerated nun who’s written works contain the first mention of hops in brewing, the Naughty Hildegarde is a stronger and especially hoppy take on the traditional ESB. In fact, it would be more accurate to describe it as a cross between an IPA and an ESB. Given that bitters are typically lower in alcohol content and dry hopped, this might seem like a contradiction. But as someone who loves both varieties, I can tell you they go quite well together!

Appearance: A dark amber, similar to an IPA
Nose: Citrusy and floral, consistent with Cascade and Citra hops
Taste: An immediate contrast in flavors, smooth tawny malts giving way to dry hops and then citrus notes
Aftertaste: Citrus notes are lingering and combine once again with a tawny aftertaste
Overall: 9/10

A winner all around, like all of their seasonals I’ve tried! As I said before, the combination might seem odd, but in the end, the characteristics are faithful and balance out quite nicely. I recommend it highly, but keep in mind that it’s a seasonal. So get a dose of Hildegarde before she’s gone!

Spinnakers Hefeweizen

Just in time for summer, Spinnakers has been bit by the witbier bug! And I for one am pretty happy about it. For one, I am a big fan of wheat beer so I generally approve when anyone chooses to release one. Second, Spinnakers is not only one of my favorite brewpubs, it is also located right here in my hometown of Victoria BC. So getting my hands on their beer is never that hard.

So naturally, I approached the arrival of this bottle at my local beer store with some excitement. And in spite of the fact that I;m still battling a cold, I chose to open it up and sample her! First impressions, she’s definitely a wheat beer and definitely in keeping with the best traditions of white ales. But here’s a more detailed breakdown:

Appearance: Cloudy golden orange, typical of a quality hefeweizen
Nose: Immediate traces of cloves, sweet wheat malts, traces of honey
Taste: Gentle malts giving way to clove spice, complex and bitter, but otherwise mild
Aftertaste: A lingering bitterness characterized by citrus rind
Overall: 8/10

Just about everything about this beer is consistent with a good witbier, and that goes for color, aroma and flavor. All that being said, it was a little light for my taste. I generally prefer my wheats to have a bit more of a kick, which usually takes the form of stronger malt that tastes of banana and more potent citrus notes. However, this beer is genuinely refreshing and quite authentic. What’s more, I plan to enjoy several of these before the summer is out. Either on my deck or at the pub itself. Cheers!