Spinnakers Hoptoria IPA

Congratulations Victoria on your 150th birthday and everything you do for the fine art of craft brewing. That appears to be what this new release from Spinnakers is all about, also known as Hoptoria India Pale Ale. And just in case the name wasn’t indication enough, this beer is a tribute to its hometown and even features a picture of the BC Legislature on its label, known to locals as the Ledge.

Brewed with a combination of local and international malts, an array of Northwestern hop varieties, and then dry-hopped for added flavor, this beer is a fitting example of a Pacific Northwestern (aka.Cascadian)  India Pale Ale. Combining hop strength, strong malts and a good alcohol content (6.8 alc/vol), it’s an all around great IPA that’s arrived on my doorstep just in time for summer!

Appearance: Light amber gold, slightly translucent and good head
Nose: Bitter hops, notes of citrus, sweet malts similar to barley wine
Taste: Comes on with slightly coarse and sweet malts punctuated by bitter-sweet hops
Aftertaste: Lingeringly bitter, giving way to a strong note of grapefruit rind
Overall: 8.5/10

It warms my heart when craft brewing is honored, but when my hometown is honored for its history and contribution to craft brewing, well that just heats my heart to a near-incendiary degree! And it doesn’t help that the very thing conveying those honors is a strong ale, as such beers have only been known to intensify the nostalgia factor for me 😉 Congratulations Spinnakers and here’s to ya, Victoria! Keep on brewing!

Spinnakers Jameson’s Scottish Ale

Next up in the weekend from Spinnaker’s lineup, we have the traditional cellar ale known as Jameson’s Scottish Ale. Though it is not a new brew, or particularly summery, it’s been some time since I sampled it last. As such, I could not resist picking it up so I could re-familiarize myself.

And for the most part, I was pleased and not the least bit surprised. But that’s a good thing in this case. For many years now, I’ve known Scottish Ales to be rich, heavy and malty affairs that generally come dry hopped and smack of the peat moss and smoky flavor of Scotch whiskey.

Named in honor of the Jameson clan who settled in Victoria in 1889, and grew rich of the tea, coffee and spice trades, this beer is a nice take on the traditional Scottish ale, being at once malty and complex, but lighter and less sweet than many of its stronger variants. In addition, the dry hop characteristics provide a slight bitterness that helps balance the flavor.

Appearance: Dark amber/brown and slightly translucent
Nose: Sweet and slightly smoky with a note of bananas
Taste: Heavy malt flavor, slightly coarse, giving way to slight hop bitterness
Aftertaste: A touch of smokiness with a mild bitter aftertaste
Overall: 7.5/10

Spinnaker’s India Session Pale Ale

Let the Summer Games begin! Hey all, the wife and I just got back from watching the Opening Ceremonies on our friend’s big-screen TV. And on the way home, we stopped by one of our favorite watering holes, Spinnakers Brewpub, for a little off-sale beer shopping. And it just so happens that they had some new arrivals to share…

The first is the India Session Pale Ale, a combination session/India Pale Ale that’s come just in time for the summer season. Combining a session’s drinkability with the long and venerated tradition of IPA’s here in the Pacific Northwest, this combination is one of many lighter ales that Spinnakers has been producing of late. Much like their Tour de Victoria and Discovery Ale, this beer is much lighter than their usual fare, but still manages to deliver flavor that will please the hop enthusiast.

Appearance: Light in color, golden and clear
Nose: Mild hop nose, very clean
Taste: Tangy, clean malts and mild but bitter hop delivery
Aftertaste: Slight, lingering hop bitterness
Overall: 8/10

Overall, this beer is light, refreshing, and highly drinkable, with just enough of a hop bite to avoid being classified as “close to water”. It seems well suited to hot weather and tilted beers on the patio with friends. Cheers, and hope the weekend finds you all well!

Red Racer ESB

Red Racer has been on my hot list lately. In fact, until recently it was one of craft brewing’s best kept secrets as far as I was concerned. Now, I know what just about every fan of micro-brewed beer knows, which is that this Vancouver brewery can output some seriously fine beer.

But before you think I’m fawning, let me assure you that this reputation is well earned. Usually, I like to sample at least three beers from a brewery before giving them a stamp of approval. Because, let’s face it, any brewery that makes a few fine products, but surrounds them in a deluge of watery or skunky beers isn’t worth its keep! However, when you begin to sample from a brewery and you find yourself approving of every beer you’ve had thus far, you got to assume they are doing something right.

Appearance: Deep amber hue, transparent and good head
Nose: Citrusy and dry, reminiscent of cascade hops
Taste: Immediate dry hope taste, giving way to floral notes and nuts
Aftertaste: Lingering bitterness and dry hop taste
Overall: 9/10

And just for an added treat, here is a clip from Red Racer’s own website with Garry Lohin, Red Racer’s brewmaster himself, describing the product. Enjoy!

Unibroue Grande Reserve 17

Don’t I feel privileged! It seems that I came into possession of a bottle of Unibroue’s Grande Reserve 17. Back in 2007, Unibroue commissioned this specialty brew in honor of their 17th anniversary. Seems a bit random, but who am I to complain?

Having looked into this beer’s background, it was apparent that it was not widely distributed. How to explain then how I just found it in a Cowichan Bay Liquor Plus right outside of town? I guess they got that distribution problem licked! Needless to say, I was intrigued, bought myself a bottle, and began sampling as soon as I got home.

To break it down succinctly, this is an extra strong brown ale (10% alc/vol) that is refermented in the bottle (much like all of Unibroue’s products) and also aged in French Oak. In many ways, I was reminded of Trois Pistoles, another extra strong brown ale made by Unibroue which has been known to kick things up a notch! But of course, they go a step further with this special reserve, aging it longer, and in oak, which makes for a stronger, suppler taste.

Appearance: Dark brown and translucent with a thick head
Nose: Sugary with notes of spice and toffee
Taste: Sweat malty taste, notes of molasses and brown sugar and spice
Aftertaste: Lingering spiciness and mild bitterness
Overall: 9/10

Yeah, I’ve come to approve of just about anything Unibroue produces. But that’s only because they have never disappointed me with any of their products. This latest installment in the growing lineup of Unibroue products that I’ve sampled only adds to the ball.

An Ode to Beer Boots!

How to describe the enviable experience of drinking beer out of a boot? Not any boot, mind you, I’m talking about a glass boot that’s literally filled to the brim with beer. How does one describe that? Well… the word unique comes to mind. And if you’re doing it all by yourself, so does challenging! Fun might come in a close third. We’re talking a lot of beer, and getting at the last of it requires some dexterity, which is hard since that’s when you’re tipsiest. But I digress…

According to legend, the tradition of drinking beer out of a boot goes back to 16th century Germany, where students enjoyed having a few beers, then dueling it out! As midnight neared, duelers laid down their swords and filled their boots with their favorite lagers. This is where the term “fill your boots!” became a popular saying, which loosely translates to “help yourself”.

Naturally, it wasn’t long before health-conscious craftsmen began to develop boots made of glass specifically for this challenge. Then, whenever young men felt like a challenge, they could ask for the boot to be filled and demonstrate their drinking prowess by drinking it down without spillage or vomiting. Apparently, drinking the incorrect way would result in having to “wear the boot home”… Ouch!

To my knowledge, there are only two places on Vancouver Island, possibly even in BC, that carry on this venerated tradition. The first is the Rathskeller Schnitzel Haus, located right in the heart of downtown Victoria. Here, beer can be enjoyed in a 2 liter boot, 1 liter boot, or the personal .5 liter boot. And of course, drinkers can treat themselves to anything on tap, which includes Hackser-Schorr, Warsteiner, Holsten Lager, Festbock and Maibock, Spatenbrau Heffeweizen, Spatenbrau Oktoberfest (available only in the fall), Schneider-Weisse, and Konig Ludwig.

The second is located at the Rim Rock Brewpub in Port Alberni, at the cross-roads of Vancouver Island. A relatively new operation, the Rim Rock has the added distinction of being attached to Nanaimo’s Longwood Brewpub, one of my personal favorites. Here they have the wort for their beer brewed, which is then transported to the pub in Port Alberni where it is fermented. Thus far, they have a lager and a pale ale on tap, both of which can be served in the boot!

Needless to say, I am eager to find more places that can provide this service to the thirsty beer snob! And I’m not much concerned if this journey should take me out of town, out of province, or out of country. There are more out there, I know it. Bavaria and Oktoberfest-themed restaurants can’t be the only places where this still goes on 😉

Russel VCBW Cascadian Brown Ale

Hello all and welcome back! It seems like it’s been a whle since I’ve tried new beer. Well, you can blame my new favorite brewery for that. Yes, Hoyne brewery sells growlers at pretty decent rates, so the wife and I have been simply getting them refilled week after week. Not a bad deal! However, I managed to get out to the beer store earlier this evening and managed to find some news one I haven’t tried yet.

Foremost amongst them was this contribution from Russell Brewing, a collaborative ale that was produced with 30 (yes, 30) other breweries in honor of Vancouver Craft Beer Week. Thanks to some of my peers in the beer tasting industry, I’ve already heard volumes about this awesome affair, so it’s nice to know that some of the beer is making it back this way…

Deep, dark brown!
Nose: Crisp hop notes augmented by a distinct coffee aroma
Taste: Starts bitter with the addition of cascade hops, giving way to notes of coffee and chestnuts
Aftertaste: Lingering hop and coffee bitterness
Overall: 9/10

Cascadia Brown’s certainly appear to be making the rounds these days. First there was Spinnakers , then Granville Island Brewery, and now this one. And I have to say that this is definitely my favorite of the lot! By bringing together characteristics of a Brown Ale with a Northwest Pale Ale, they’ve really struck gold. At once tawny, bitter, rich and malty, it’s definitely in keeping with the best traditions of Vancouver craft brewing. I still can’t believe 30 breweries were able to collaborate on this, but as long as they keep making em, I will keep buying em!

Innis and Gunn – Canada Day 2012

In honor of Canada Day, I’ve decided to review a beer that was also made in honor of Canada Day. Strangely, this Scottish brewery has been doing this every year for the past several years. Thought it is made and bottled overseas using overseas ingredients, the labor is apparently one of love for the Great White North.

As usual, Innis and Gunn age their beer in oak whiskey barrels and combine ale and barley malt with Golding hops to get a beer that is dark, rich, and kind of sweet. It also combines the characteristics of both a whiskey and a ruby ale, being both malty, smokey, mossy, and a little bitter.

Appearance: Deep ruby red, bordering on brown, and clear
Nose: Whiskey malts and peat moss
Taste: Sweet toffee, slight hop bitterness giving way to distinct whiskey flavor
Aftertaste: Peat flavor and lingering dryness
Overall: 7.5/10

Happy Canada to all! And to those Americans still waiting on Independence Day, know that Innis and Gunn has begun releasing another beer in honor of your national holiday as well. And the reviews are comparably good, from what I can tell! I shall have to make another trip to the beer store soon just to be sure 😉