Wooly Bugger Barley Wine

woolly-bugger-label_dec-2011Happy New Year all! Not sure how people are choosing to ring in the end of 2012, but for my money, a nice evening in with the wife, hot stew, some Halo co-op playing, and some barley wine are the perfect substitute for going out. And to fill the bill on that last item, I picked up a bottle of Howe Sound’s latest limited release for this winter: the 2012 edition of their Wooly Bugger Barley Wine!

And as far as first impressions go, I was mighty impressed with this beer. I have long been a fan of barely wine, ever since I tried St. Amboise’s Millennial Ale back in 2000 and few things have managed to rival it. But I tell ya, this beer came pretty close. Upon sampling it, I was immediately reminded of both it and Swan’s Legacy Ale, and trust me when I say that is a flattering comparison. Much like those predecessors, this beer struck a fine balance between sweet and coarse, combining sugary notes with strong malts and alcoholic content (11% alc/vol).

Appearance: Deep reddish brown, cloudy, average foam retention
Nose: Syrupy malt nose, sugars and floral hops
Taste: Strong, sweet start, hints of citrus hops, heavy notes of molasses and brown sugar, dates and prunes, giving way to slightly coarse malts and alcohol
Aftertaste: Slight bitterness and tang, coarse malts linger for some time
Overall: 10/10

All in all, the sweetness and strength of this beer, along with the notes of fruit and sugar, provide for a perfectly balanced, warming, and intoxicating drinking experience. And its profile makes it ideally paired with desserts or after dinner fare, especially when served in a snifter or Trappist beer glass, the way Brandy or other digestifs would be.

Personally, I’m very glad I happened upon at my old watering hole, because the picking for New Years were many and I really didn’t want to walk off with a huge haul. Wooly Bugger, ladies and gentlemen, one of my new favorites and a great investment for any New Years party or winter weather gathering!

Phillips Instigator Doppelbock

phillips_instigator_2012Winter beer is such a fun phenomena, mainly because it results in deep, rich ales that boast a lot of flavor but are still smooth and drinkable. And of course, they combine all this with a high alcohol content. Yes, winter beer reminds us of simpler times when the winter season was cold, windy, and people stayed warm by liquoring up with something which stuck to their ribs!

And in that respect, I have secured my latest winter seasonal, Phillips Instigator Doppelbock! In keeping with the Phillips tradition of limited releases and seasonal beers, Instigator is back for the winter of 2012. And much like its predecessors, it’s a dark, smooth, semi-sweet, and quite strong, everything one would expect from a Doppelbock!

Appearance: Dark brown/amber, transparent and mild foam retention
Nose: Rich malts, mild notes of caramel, brown sugar
Taste: Smooth malts, slight sweetness, hints of caramelized sugar
Aftertaste: Slight smokiness, tang, mild hop bite
Overall: 8.5/10

In many ways, I was reminded of Creemore Urbock and Hoyne’s Best Bock, and believe me, that’s a flattering comparison. Much like these other fine beer – both of which I look forward to drinking again very soon! – it boasted the right kind of smooth, semi-sweet flavor with a very clean, drinkable profile. Comparatively speaking, it was somewhat lighter, but still a winner in my book! Glad I picked it up at my local watering hole!

Trappistes Rochefort 10

https://i0.wp.com/www.theperfectlyhappyman.com/uploads/trappistes-rochefort-10.jpgHello again and welcome back to this celebration of Winter Beer and Trappist Ales! As we are coming up on the holidays, let me also wish everyone a very merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and any other holidays you choose to observe. May they be joyous, full of good food and drink, and may you be surrounded by loved ones for the duration!

Picking up where I left off the other day, I have yet another beer from the Trappistes Rochefort brewery. After sampling their 6 and more recently, their 8, I finally got a chance to resample their 10 and learn once again why I enjoy their lineup so much. Whereas the previous beers were a double and triple respectively, the lineup concludes with their “blue cap” quadruple ale; an extra-dark, extra strong (11.3% alc/vol), extra sugary beer with thick malts, a chewy mouth feel, and plenty of sugar, spice and fruit to go around.

Appearance: Dark brown, translucent, good foam retention
Nose: Rich malt nose, notes of dates, brown sugar and yeast
Taste: Sweet, heavy malts, viscous mouth feel, plums, raisins, dates
Aftertaste: Slight spice, sugars, slightly bitter finish
Overall: 9/10

Of the three, I have determined that the 8 is my favorite overall, mainly because it offers the best balance of fruit, spice and sugar. But that need not and will not apply to all people and palates. Sample the entire line and decide for yourself which possesses the most preferable characteristics. However, I must advise caution when drinking at this end of the Rochefort color spectrum. These beers are rich, sweet and very sugary, but that belies an intense strength which can knock you sideways. When compared to the red and green-colored caps, this last one can cause serious “Blue Shift”! Pour yourself one, preferably in a specialized Trappist glass, and savor. Savor!

Orval Trappist

https://i1.wp.com/www.orval.be/website/images/dbfiles/3662/large/0910088/Orval-Authentic--know-how.jpgContinuing in the great tradition of winter ales and Trappist beers, we now proceed to another great and venerable Belgian vintage. Much like its peers, this beer is a certified Trappist product, crafted by monks, that is in keeping with the centuries-long tradition of Monastery brewing!

Founded in 1931 as a way to finance the massive reconstruction project for the town of Orval. In keeping with monastic principles, all profits generated by the sale of the beer go to social welfare works and the maintenance of the monastic buildings. So when you drink this beer, your partaking in charitable works as well as enjoying an authentic beer!

But alas, the beer itself is the subject of my concern here. After learning of its existence over a decade ago in the fine cellars of Vineyards Bistro, Ottawa, it fast became one of my favorites. Originally, I enjoyed it as a dessert beer given its compatibility with sweet and fruity foods, but have since come to appreciate it for its food-pairing and all-around appeal.

Appearance: Orange, cloudy, good foam retention
Nose: Yeast, notes of sour cherry and oak
Taste: Light malt, giving way to robust oak and sour cherry
Aftertaste: Slight bitterness, tart fruit, red wine-like finish
Overall: 9/10

As I said, the hints of cherry and oak make it well suited to desert fare, much like a nice dry red wine. However, it is also well at home when it comes to pastas, pizzas, or mussels and frites, the good Belgian fare you can expect to find in a Euro-pub! And now that I have a line on where to get some (thank you again Cook St. Liquor), I plan to enjoy it often and test its versatility.

Trappistes Rochefort 8

Minolta DSCWinter season always seems like the perfect time for Trappist Ales! And thanks to my having discovered a place that is well stocked in my more obscure favorites (Cook Street Liquor Store), I was able to procure a few bottles in preparation for a little sample pack!

To start, I’ve decided to go back to some old favorites that I have not resampled in years. While I’ve found no shortage of Chimay labels and even the occasional Orval here in BC, I’ve been hard pressed to find any of their closely-related kin. Trappistes Rochefort is one such brewery, a renowned operation run by the Abbey St-Remy in Rochefort, Belgium. This Abbey and the brewery date back to the High Middle Ages and continues to produce true Trappist Ale to this very day.

Today, it’s the Trappist 8, the breweries triple-fermented ale and the second in their series of three ales. Colloquially, this one is known as the “green cap” because of the color of the bottle cap, is a brown ale, and weighs in at a hefty 9.2% alc/vol. Of the three beers produced by the brewery, this one is the most renowned and fits in the middle between sugary-sweet and spicier end of the spectrum.

Appearance: Cloudy, orange-brown, good foam retention
Nose: Mild fruit and yeast, notes of plum, cherry, and raisins
Taste: Strong malts, slightly sweet, caramel, raisins and plums
Aftertaste: Mild spicey finish, very nice and smooth
Overall: 9.5/10

Of the three, this one has been my favorite over the years. Whereas the Rochefort 6 is milder and smoother and the 10 is the most fruity and sugary, this one holds a place of honor in the middle. Balancing smooth malts, fruit, yeast and just the right amount of spice, its all around pleasure to drink and well paired with appetizer plates consisting of cheese, bread, fruit and pate, or with desserts featuring chocolate and fruit compote. If you can get your hands on some, do so!

Chatoe Rogue Dirtoir Black Lager

rogue_dirtoirJust in time for the holidays, and my local beerstore managed to snag a few cases of one of the limited releases in Rogue’s GYO (Grow Your Own) series. Named Chatoe Rogue Dirtoir Black Lager, this Schwartzbier-style lager was first introduced in 2010 and has the distinction of being one of the few beers in the Pacific Northwest that is fashioned partially with grains and hops that are grown by the brewery itself. These include the First Growth Risk Malts as well as the FG Independent and Revolution Hops. Taken the tradition of local brewing a step further, the GYO series is all about brewing beer with one’s own ingredients as well.

Being impenetrably dark and featuring a tan head, this beer is easily mistaken for a stout. It’s flavor is also quite similar, since it has some strong coffee notes that are rounded out by the toasted, smoothness of its malts. The addition of Oktoberfest yeast strains also lend it a certain Bavarian character. In fact, I was reminded of a strong Dunkel many times in the course of drinking it, though the flavors are stronger and more enhanced.

Appearance: Black as tar, opaque, dark foam with low retention
Nose: Stout-like aroma of roasted malts
Taste: Coffee-like bitterness, earthy, smooth toasted malty taste
Aftertaste: Mild hop bite and lingering bitter coffee notes
Overall: 9/10


An all around winner and a great intro for me to Rogue’s new GYO series, a lineup which includes a Pilsner, pale ale, pumpkin ale, Blonde, and a wet-hopped ale. And considering the accolades they have all received thus far, I imagine that’s going to be tasty drinking experience! To read more on the GYO series, follow the link below:




Hoyne’s Gratitude Winter Warmer

slider-gratitudeEarlier this evening, I made one of my regular trips to the Hoyne Brewery, but not just as part of one of my regular visits to refill my growlers. No, this time around, I also came heavily laden with bags full of clothes, since the brewery is taken donations of used clothing, canned goods and non-perishable items for the holiday season. So if you’re in the Rock Bay region and have some canned goods or clothes you don’t know what to do with, consider donating, because you know someone else could use more than yourself 😉

But of course, there was also a festive spirit in the air that had to do with something other than their generosity of spirit.There was also the availability of their special winter warmer, Gratitude, which has been making the rounds in the Victoria area of late. An extra-special limited release, this beer was not even available on tap, but only by the bottle – the paper-wrapped, specially labeled bottle that is. Yes, each bottle of this winter ale comes with a label that expresses the brewery’s thanks to all those who’ve supported them this past year and all the things that we all are thankful for during the holiday season.

And as winter warmers go, this beer is faithful to tradition and a pleasure to consume. Combining subtle spice notes with a strong, dark, malty base, the beer warms the gullet, ignites the palate, but is also smooth and appealing despite its strength (9% alc/vol). And surprisingly, the beer is quite clean despite its dark and rich character, something which is relatively rare in winter ales and barley wines.

Appearance: Dark amber/brown, transparent and good foam retention
Nose: Notes of clove, nutmeg, and figgy pudding
Taste: Opens with sweet malts and spices, cloves, all spice, plums and figs
Aftertaste: Slight tang, relatively clean finish, slight lingering notes of spice
Overall: 9/10

Congrats again Hoyne for creating something subtle, experimental, but altogether appealing and satisfying. Congrats also on your first great year, conveying quality craft beers to Victorians and people of the Pacific Northwest. Keep doing what you’re doing and don’t go changing to try and please people. I meant it, don’t change!

Dead Frog Winter Beeracle

deadfrog-winterbeeracleGuess what I just got in the mail? Yep, another sampler pack from the Dead Frog Brewery. And today, consistent with the Christmas season, is their latest version of Winter Beeracle. This year, they’ve altered the recipe somewhat, going from a spiced amber ale of last year to a dark ale with a different palate.

In this batch, the flavors of note are vanilla, which accent the chocolate malts quite well, and some orange peel that add actual citrus to the hop profile (Cascade and Perle). In the end, what comes of it is a gentle Winter Warmer with a flavor that compliments Christmas deserts quite well, is low in bitterness (25 IBUs), but still packs a respectable alcoholic punch (7.5% alc/vol).

WinterbeeracleAppearance: Very dark brown-red, transparent, light foam retention
Nose: Immediate notes of vanilla, slight zest
Taste: Strong vanilla accent, sweet malts, notes of chocolate
Aftertaste: Slightly bitter aftertaste, citrus hops and orange zest
Overall: 8/10

Not a bad winter warmer, Dead Frog. The flavor, strength and spices are all warm, inviting, tasty and sweet. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of mulled wine, hot spice cider, and other holiday beverages that combine fruit, spice and warm your ribs! I envision figgy pudding going very well with this, or chocolate chow mein cookies, or short breads dipped in chocolate. Damn, I need to start pressuring the family to start making Christmas cookies!

Lighthouse Siren Imperial Red Ale

Frosty glass of red beer isolated on a white background. File contains a path to cut.Hello and welcome to another installment in the Winter Beer series! Today’s feature is Lighthouse’s Siren Imperial Red Ale, a winter seasonal and the latest in their “Big Flavor” series. Since its inception, I’ve had mostly good things to say about the this expanded lineup, mainly because of the dedication it shows to craft brewing and experimentation. In fact, pretty much everything that has been coming out of the Lighthouse brewery in the last few years has been demonstrative of this commitment, including the Switchback IPA and Tasman Ale which have become part of their regular lineup.

But it’s really with the Big Flavor series that the brew masters at Lighthouse have been especially experimental and bold, combining various traditions and a wide array of ingredients to create distinct, challenging beers. And, consistent with the other members of the series – Deckhand Belgian Saison, Shipwrecked Triple IPA, Navigator Doppelbock, Overboard Imperial Pilsner, and Uncharted Belgian IPA – this beer has rich malts, generous hops, and at 8% alc/vol, packs a good punch!

Appearance: Dark red-amber, clear and low foam retention
Nose: Rich, floral and citrus hop aroma
Taste: Immediate burst of citrus, giving way to rich malts, viscous, semi-sweet
Aftertaste: Bitter finish, coarser malt taste and citrus rind
Overall: 9/10

Congratulations, Lighthouse. Of the eight beers in your Big Flavor series I have now sampled seven and highly approved of six. Only the Belgian Black was not my speed, and I plan to try the Dark Chocolate Porter soon. In the meantime, stay tuned for more winter beers, including some new reviews from Hoyne and Tree Frog!

Favorite Beers Found!

aventinusIt’s seems like there’s a change happening here in BC, and I take partial credit! As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I often lament the fact that certain beers (which happen to be personal favorites of mine) just don’t seem to be available here on the West Coast. In the course of going from private to public liquor stores and back again over the course of the past six years, I was repeatedly rebuffed when I asked for specific labels. Lately, however, that’s appears to be changing…

After succeeding in getting the Rathskeller restaurant to begin importing one of my favorite beers of all time, Aventinus Heffeweizen Doppelbock, I learned that some private liquor stores were actually carrying it. The first instance occurred the other day at one of my favorite local private liquor stores. I saw the purple bottle sitting on the shelf, but was somewhat disappointed to see that it was the Aventinus Eisbock. This is the stronger, ice-brewed variety of the double-fermented wheat bock, and call me a snob (I am) but it makes a difference! I’ve seen this before in BC, and never understood it. How can they carry Schneider-Weisse and the Aventinus Eisbock, but not the Aventinus? However, after a brief conversation with the manager, I learned that not only could he get it, but it would be at competitive pricing!

westmalle_tripelLess than a day later, while doing a beer run for a lovely Christmas party that was well-stocked on wine, but short on suds, I discovered that a not-so-local private store had Aventinus on their shelves. Imagine my surprise! The situation only became more intense when I noticed another personal favorite that I have not seen in years: Westmalle Trappist Tripel! It was this beer that became my favorite when, years back, McAuslan’s exceptional Vintage Ale for the year 2000 went out of stock. You can imagine how excited I got at that point. My friend began to laugh and told everyone back at the party that I was a kid in a candy store!

Brewdog_ipaAnd on top of all that, I found that this particular store – Cook Street Village Liquor – also stocked some of the more difficult-to-find items from Brewdog. For weeks, I’ve been dying to get my hands on their IPA, and they just happened to have some of that and the Tokyo Stout! After sampling their Trashy Blonde and their 5A.M. Saint Amber (one of the best Amber Ales I’ve ever tasted), I’ve been dying to see what their India Pale Ale is like. IPA’s are kind of my thing…

The only drawback to this situation is that this venerable liquor store that seems to take the time to stock my favorites is over forty minutes by car away. But then again, I’m going into town all the time. I think I just might be swinging by whenever I find myself in the area from now on…