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!

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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…

Phillips Trainwreck Barley Wine

Trainwreck-2012Next up in the winter beer series is a seasonal release by Phillips, one of their many, many limited releases that have graced the shelves of your local watering hole over the years! And it’s one that, I have to admit, this is one I have somehow neglected to sample thus far, in spite of the fact that it’s been available for what seems like a few years now.

And to boot, the 2012 vintage of the Trainwreck has the added surprise of being barrel-aged in bourbon casks, providing an extra layer of peat moss and whiskey flavor to what is already a dark and malty beverage.

*Sidenote: I should mention that they advise serving it at cellar temperatures, meaning just slightly chilled. However, I can tell you that served cold, the flavors of bourbon and barley still come through in spades, so decide for yourself how it will be served. I will be sure to procure a second bottle and be sure to indicate how that alters the overall profile.

Appearance: Dark brown/amber, transparent, good foam retention
Nose: Immediate notes of bourbon whiskey
Taste: Immediate burst of whiskey flavor, combined with slightly sweet malts
Aftertaste: Peaty finish, coarse malts, deep and lingering
Overall: 7.5/10

While I’m not a big fan of bourbon barrel-aged ales, I have to admit that this beer has some serious cajones! It might just be my imagination, but the alcoholic nature of the beer also seems just the slightest bit enhanced thanks to the infusion of bourbon flavor. Definitely a rib-tickler and heart warmer, and a winner if you love the taste of whiskey!

Odin’s Thor’s Equinox

Thor's_equinoxHello all and welcome back to my continuing series on winter beer! In honor of this occasion, I made a trip to one of my favorite local liquor stores and procured a fitting array of interesting (and strong) examples of cold weather brewing. The first of these to be sampled was Odin’s limited release Belgian-style Dark Ale.

This brewery came to my attention some years back when my darling wife brought me back a sample by the name of Odin’s Gift Juniper Ale. Not long after, I found some of their regular lineup available locally and tried their Freya’s Gold. This limited release now makes the third of their wares that I’ve tried, and it has some pretty stiff competition.

Dark, heavy, and with a chewy mouth feel, the beer also incorporates a spicy and discernibly Belgian feel that put me in mind of Aventinus. In many ways, it also resembles a stout or porter due to its strong, molasses-y nature and notes of nuts and spices.

Appearance: Deep brown red, translucent and good foam retention
Nose: Yeasty, smooth and tawny, similar to a brown ale
Taste: Immediate burst of yeast and banana, giving way to sweet note of molasses
Aftertaste: Slight taste of spice and nuts, noticeably bitter, alcohol finish
Overall: 9/10

Yes, this beer reminded me of some other top contenders, not the least of which was Aventinus (already mentioned) and Steamworks Espresso Stout. At once, this beer delivers a strong Belgian ale taste with the mouth feel of a hard-hitting stout, but it also leaves enough room for the subtler notes of a brown ale. Definitely a winter food companion, and a real warmer for those cold rainy days!

Spinnakers Festive Saison

spinnakers_festivesaisonSince I tried this one in the pub itself, I’ve been yearning to get my hands on a bottle so I could give it a proper review. Like many brews they produce, it can be a challenge to find some in a bottle. Luckily, this holiday season, some was retrievable at my favorite local watering hole. So here we are!

And as my second winter seasonal beer review, it was also quite impressive. To be fair, I’m not a huge fan of the Saison beer variety, but I do approve of a refreshing beer with notes of spice and fruit that is gentle on the palate and quite refreshing. And thought this one was a bit light for my taste, I still found plenty to enjoy about it.

Appearance: Light yellow, transparent and very mild foam retention
Nose: Belgian yeast, notes of coriander and clove spice
Taste: Light, slightly bitter tang, yeasty and clean
Aftertaste: Mild taste of coriander and clove spice, citrus rind
Overall: 7.5/10

Stay tuned! More holiday beer to come soon. And maybe a few more fall beers that didn’t quite make it out in time.

Parallel 49 Black Christmas C.D.A.

dark_aleWinter Beer season is here! And what better way to start this season of beer reviews off than with a newcomer to the beer scene! Known as Black Christmas CDA, this limited release by Parallel 49 is just in time for Christmas, and boasts a lot very Christmasy characteristics!

And interestingly enough, its probably the most normal, run-of-mill, and conventional beer Parallel 49 has yet produced. Compared to Watermelon Wits, Milk Stouts, Salty Scottish Ales, and Chocolate Pumpkin Porters, a Christmas Ale seems pretty… well, normal! And yet, they did a very good job of it and produced a beer which is highly reminiscent of other great Christmas beer I’ve had, the most noteworthy would be Anchor’s 2011 Christmas Ale.

Appearance: Deep brown, virtually opaque, mild foam retention
Nose: Light scent of molasses, caramelized sugar
Taste: Hint of smoke, mild tang, toffee-like undertones and figgy pudding
Aftertaste: Smooth finish, light but lingering bite of hops
Overall: 9/10

I’ve been craving the winter solstice for some time, largely because of the fine and fantastic beer it brings! Congratulations on being my first winter ale of the season, and for another fine beer in your ongoing lineup!