Ninkasi Believer Double Red Ale and Total Domination IPA

ninkasi_breweryHello great state of Oregon! It seems I have another two-fer that is the product of mere chance and good fortune. Recently, my local beer store began carrying some of Ninkasi’s product line, and given that I’ve seen it around several of my other haunts, I decided to give it a spin. In the past week, I’ve tried two of their regular lineup, a double red and an IPA, and was pretty impressed with both.

ninkasi_believerFirst up, the Believer Double Red Ale. As I said before, I was quite impressed with this first installment from their lineup. Immediately I noticed the interesting floral and sweet bouquet, which was also present in their IPA. And the flavor was consistent, delivering a hop flavor that smacks of your traditional Centennials, plus the Summit variety which are largely used in Barley Wines (another aspect that is apparent from the get go).

Combined with a deep, rich malt profile, this beer packs a bit of a double-whammy. It begins with a deep malty taste that is slightly sweet and syrupy, also reminiscent of barley wine, and a complex hop flavor that’s both citrusy and grassy. The flavor then transitions where the malts and hops deliver in the aftertaste department, becoming coarse and bitter respectively.

Deep red, high gravity, transparent, good foam and carbonation

Nose: Rich malts, discernible hoppiness, floral and citrusy
Taste: Deep malt flavor, slight sweetness, citrusy and grassy, then bitter
Aftertaste: Lingering bitterness, coarse malts and citrus rind
Overall: 8.5/10

ninkasi_total_dominationSecond, there is the Total Dominion IPA. Of the two, this was my favorite, though only by a small margin. Much like the Believer, it is a complex beer boasting a good strength (6.7% compared to the red ale’s 6.9% alc/vol) and a combination of hops that lend it a distinct aroma and flavor. But unlike the Believer, it is lighter in terms of appearance and malts. Light in color, relatively light in malts, the main thrust of this customer comes through in the hops.

Rated at 85 IBUs, its no secret that this IPA has a bitter hop profile! However, said profile has many layers to it and this is noticeable in the smell as well as the taste, consisting of Summit (once again), Amarillo and Crystal hops. In terms of taste, this results in a citrus bite, followed by notes of tropical fruit (I detected passion fruit and pineapple), followed by a long, lingering bitter finish.

Appearance: Deep gold, transparent, mild foam retention, good carbonation
Nose: Floral hoppy aroma, citrus, tropical fruit
Taste: Immediate burst of bitter and citrus hops, giving way to passion fruit and pineapple
Aftertaste: Bitterness once again, long and lingering
Overall: 9/10

Not a bad start for this operation, located in Eugene, Oregon and not far from where my sister and brother-in-law live. Perhaps I shall arrange for that road trip sooner other than later 😉 And that’s all for now. One of these days, I really MUST find the remaining beers on my winter list and polish that long document off! Otherwise, I’ll be transitioning into Spring seasonal beers before I ever complete it. How humiliating would that be?

Comfort Banana Pancakes!

SONY DSCThere are few things more appealing and comforting than a good breakfast! Especially when it consists of a stack of fluffy, chewy, delicious pancakes. And after tinkering with the recipe for some time, I think I’ve finally found the proper balance of basic ingredients.

And so here they are, my recipe for Comfort Banana Pancakes! Naturally, bananas are a good addition to any breakfast food. But when they are softened and added directly into the ingredients, in the form of banana bread, muffins, or this particular recipe, the result is a food that has consistency, is nutritious, and where the addition of the bananas natural starches provide an extra layer of flavor that seems at once dense but light. And of course, they are versatile, going well with all kinds of condiments!

250 ml flour
1 banana (frozen and then thawed)
175 ml milk
30 ml melted butter
1 egg
10 ml baking powder
7 ml sugar
5 ml all spice
2 ml salt

nutellaCombine all ingredients into a bowl and whisk until consistent and smooth. Heat frying pan and grease with vegetable oil or cooking spray. Spoon a good-sized helping into pan and flip as needed. And when it’s time to serve, they can be enjoyed any number of ways. My favorite toppings include butter and maple syrup, Yoghurt and maple syrup, and Nutella and yoghurt. Feel free to sub your own repertoire of toppings, you really can’t miss!
Until next time, stay warm and well fed my friends!

Salt Spring Island Snug IPA and Whale Tail

saltspring_alesToday, while I take a short break from my winter beer series, I thought I might publish two reviews that came pretty close together and were from the same brewery. And so I thought I’d a two-fer on the Salt Spring Island Brewery, which is, I have to admit, a craft brewing operation I have not sampled from for awhile.

So it’s fitting that I found two of their newest products at my local beer store recently and decided to partake. These would be the new Snug IPA and Whale Tail Amber, respectively. Both were fine products and indicative of their dedication to quality and organic ingredients. Basically, they are what one would expect from a Salt Spring Island operation.

saltspring_snugipaFirst up, their Snug IPA. Much like their other beers, I found this one quite light and smooth, entirely inoffensive, but still in keeping with what an IPA is all about. This included a strong, citrus profile indicative of cascade hops and a smooth, slightly sweet taste that’s telltale of crystal malts done right. And of course, it has a nice bitter finish, as any IPA worth a damn should! All around, a good balance of malt and hops and an overall clean character. Definitely a repeat purchase.

Appearance: Dark amber, slightly cloudy, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Mild floral, citrusy scent
Taste: Smooth malts, semi sweet, touch of caramel, notes of citrus and pine
Aftertaste: Mild bitterness, lingering malts and citrus rind
Overall: 8.5/10

saltspring_whaletaleNext up is their Whale Tale Amber ale, which was similarly good, and much like the rest, light and smooth. However, this ale is decidedly more complex than the others. For example, the malts are gentle and slightly sweet, delivering notes of caramel, toffee and sweet bread, and the hop profile provides a combination of slight bitterness and citrus along with a dry hop flavor that is more varied. Apparently, this is the brew masters favorite, which frankly seems like a likely story!

Appearance: Dark amber-brown, transparent, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Syrupy malts, mild hops, touch of citrus
Taste: Smooth malts, light body, dry hop taste and mild citrus flavor
Aftertaste: Lingering bitter finish
Overall: 8/10

And that concludes this two-fer! I do believe this constitutes the entire lineup of Salt Spring Island Ales, though I must admit, I don’t seem to have provided a review for their Fireside Ale or their Porter. Guess I’ve have to remedy that, and soon! Why, their Fireside is a Winter Warmer after all, and that seems like something I’d want to include in this years winter series! Back to the beer store it is!

Mill St. Barley Wine

Me, outside of Mill St.'s new location in Ottawa, ON

Me, outside of Mill St.’s new location in Ottawa, ON. Photo by Carla Jack

Ask, and ye shall find the beer ye be looking for! Or something like that… Yes, less than a day after I formulated my list of winter seasonal reviews, which came complete with the final three beers I wanted to try, I found the first amongst those final few. Yes, MIll St. Barley Wine now sits on my shelf, and the custom ceramic bottle is slowly emptying…

For some time, I’ve been generally lauding Mill St. for its creative endeavors. Their Tank House Pale Ale is one of the best I’ve ever had, and with few exceptions, their lineup is pretty impressive. And when it comes to barley wine, they release an annual batch that is contained in a ceramic, half-liter container and is very strong. This year’s comes in a black container and weighs in at a hefty 11.5 % alc/vol.

Appearance: Dark amber, touch of cloudiness, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Strong, syrupy malts, notes of citrus
Taste: Immediate touch of brown sugar giving way to coarse malts and slight bitterness
Aftertaste: Lingering coarse malt flavor, alcohol and slight hoppiness
Overall: 8/10

barley_wine2All in all, this beer was quite strong and I fear, somewhat overpowering. This is not so much a factor in alcohol content as taste, where the powerful, extra strong malt character leads to a coarse quality which pushes just about everything else to the side. The trace hops and sweetness are quite appealing, but they tend to get overshadowed, which is too bad. Still, this was a highly pleasurable beer and definitely a worthy addition to my winter lineup. And even though a single bottle can run you in excess of 20 dollars, I consider it a worthy investment.

The Winter of Beer 2012/13

Winter-BeersAs February gives way to March, we in the beer snob community bid adieu to the winter brewing season and prepare for the spring lineup. And I have to admit, 2012/13 was a pretty interesting year for winter brewing. Some creative, questionable, and classic things were created and I feel like taking stock. From barley wine to barrel-aged, from Belgian darks to bocks and trappists. There was plenty to choose from and all of it enjoyable.

Of course, I would be lying if I said I got to try everything I wanted to, and there are still a few I want to squeeze in before the winter is over. But overall, I’m pretty pleased with the range of samples I got to try and think that it constituted a pretty good range of styles, be they regional or historical. From the Pacific Northwest to Central and Western European, from the medieval to the modern.

And so here they are, listed from the first of the season to the most recent tried, with a few slots reserved for those that have yet to make the list for this year:

  1. Parallel 49 Christmas CDA – Dec. 1st 9/10
  2. Spinnakers Festive Saison – Dec. 1st 7.5/10
  3. Thor’s Equinox – Dec. 6th 9/10
  4. Philips Trainwreck Barley Wine – Dec. 6th 7.5/10
  5. Lighthouse Siren Red Ale – Dec. 9th 9/10
  6. Dead Frog Winter Beeracle – Dec. 13th 8/10
  7. Hoyne Gratitude Winter Warmer – Dec. 14th 9/10
  8. Chateau Rogue Dirtoir Black Lager – Dec. 18th 9/10
  9. La Rochefort Trappist 8 – Dec. 19th 9.5/10
  10. Orval Trappist – Dec. 21st 9/10
  11. La Rochefort Trappist 10 – Dec. 21st 9/10
  12. Phillips Instigator Doppelbock – Dec. 27th 8.5/10
  13. Howe Sound Wooly Bugger – Dec.31st 10/10
  14. Moon Under Water Potts Pils – Jan. 22nd 8.5/10
  15. Lost Coast Winterbraun – Jan. 26th 8.5/10
  16. VIB Storm Watcher Winter Lager – Jan. 29th 7.5/10
  17. Phillips Twisted Oak Scotch Ale – Jan. 29th 7.75/10
  18. Phillips Leviathan Milk Stout – Jan. 31st 8.5/10
  19. Parallel 49 Vow of Silence – Feb. 8th 7/10
  20. Steamworks Heroica Stout – Feb. 12th 8/10
  21. Howe Sound Wee Beastie Scotch Ale – Feb. 12th 7.75/10
  22. Driftwood Old Barrel Dweller – Feb. 13th 8/10
  23. Mill Street Barley wine – yet to try
  24. Steamworks Blitzen – yet to try
  25. Granville Island Barley Wine – yet to try

Perhaps it’s was simply to get a well-rounded list with 25 candidates, but the last three are ones I know I have access to and really want to try before it’s too late. And once I’ve finished with them, I will rate which one I enjoyed the most. The winner for the brewing season of 2012/13! Cheers, and here’s to the ongoing and venerated tradition of seasonal brewing!beer-cheers

Driftwood Old Barrel Dweller

oldbarreldwellerHey beer drinker! As I might have mentioned in my last post, I finally decided to take the plunge on this whole barrel-aged beer trend. Yes, it seems that brewers in the South Island region are determined to turn the 2012/13 winter season into a time of bourbon-infused beer. So who am I withhold my opinions?

And so in addition to Howe Sound’s Wee Beastie, I was sure to pick up a bottle of Old Barrel Dweller, Driftwood’s contribution to the season. Since it bears a strong resemblance to Phillips Trainwreck, another barley wine that was re-released for 2012 after being aged in barrels originally used for storing bourbon, I was highly resistant to giving it a try. But of course, curiosity and my duties as a beer reviewer got the best of me. And so here we are…

As expected, OBD builds on last years barley wine by adding some discernible notes of bourbon whiskey. But interestingly enough, its slightly weaker than its predecessor, being 11.8% alc/vol rather than a full on 12. Hence, the only real reason Driftwood chose to perform this little crossover was to add a layer to the flavor and present a smokier, peatier, more complex palate.

Appearance: Dark ruby red, slight cloudiness, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Sweet barley malts, mild tang, hint of smoke
Taste: Immediate hint of bourbon, sugary malts, touch of peat
Aftertaste: Lingering peaty moss taste, strong notes of alcohol
Overall: 8/10

Granted, I did not enjoy this beer as much as I did its predecessor – Old Cellar Dweller. Much like Trainwreck, I feel a barley wine has no business crossing paths with bourbon! And yet, I approve of this one far more than anything else produced this season. For one, it managed to merge the bourbon infused flavor without overpowering the barley wine base. But make no mistake, I still say the two are better off on their own! Next season, more barley wine, less bourbon!

Howe Sound Wee Beastie Scotch Ale

howesound_weebeastieMy oh my, this winter has certainly seem it’s fair share of oak barrel-aged ales, hasn’t it? From barrel-aged barley wines to bourbon infused stouts, and embracing just about every brewery in the South Island and Lower Mainland, it seems no craft brewer in the region has been immune to this trend. Well, I’ve been holding back long enough and decided it was about time I get over my initial misgiving with this trend and really (I apologize in advance!) jump in that barrel.

And after a visit to one of my many watering holes, I picked up a few bottles. Of particular interest was this latest release from Howe Sound, the Wee Beastie Oak Aged Scotch Ale. Released in honor of Robbie Burns Day (note the veiled reference to the poem To A Mouse on the label), this beer has also made it into the 2013 winter lineup of beers that are aged in oak barrels to achieve a deeper, more complex flavor. And as usual, I was not a huge fan, but was forced to acknowledge the creative and authentic character of the end result.

Appearance: Dark brown-red, transparent, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Smokey, notes of peat moss and roasted malt
Taste: Smooth malts, sweetness giving way to saltiness, hint of peat and nuts
Aftertaste: Lingering smoke flavor and peat bitterness
Overall: 7.5/10

Yes, I’ve never been a huge fan of smoke beer, which makes an ale aged in whiskey barrels less than appealing in my opinion. What’s more, wee heavies have a history of not quite agreeing with me, mainly because the palate they achieve seems odd and unappealing to me. But that’s the thing about beer and its many, many varieties. There’s always something out there to appeal to the individual palate, and a few things that are likely to seem displeasing. And I cant criticize a genuine product, especially when it’s done right!

Steamworks Heroica Oatmeal Stout

steamworksHello again fellow beer drinkers! As we slowly make our way through the month of February and the season of winter winds down, I continue in my efforts to tackle as many seasonal beers as possible. And adding to the already impressive lineup of Steamworks beers that I’ve tried, I managed to get my hand on a bottle of their Oatmeal Stout at last. This beer, I should mention, is one that has eluded me for months, and that’s in spite of a visit to the brewery itself! Lucky for me they deliver to the south island.

Needless to say, I had some high expectations going in. Having tried just about everything the brewery is renowned for, including their Espresso Stout – a beer thick as tar, just as black and loaded with caffeine and alcohol – I half-expected this one to a heavy hitter as well. However, I was surprised to find it was much the opposite. In addition to being 5% alc/vol, lower in gravity and with no caffeine to speak of, the Heroica is pretty light as stouts go.

Appearance: Molasses dark, slightly transparent, low foam and good carbonation
Nose: Mild coffee and chocolate notes, roasted malts
Taste: Slight tang, light hint of espresso, tawny roasted malts and slight dose of crisp hops
Aftertaste: Mild coffee bitterness, relatively clean finish
Overall: 8/10

Not a bad installment, Steamworks! I wish I could get my hands on every item in your lineup, as there are a few there that fit with the theme of winter beers so perfectly! I guess I’ll have to be content with the half dozen beers that are available in my neck of the woods, and which have ranked 8 or higher in my reviews. Woe is me!

Parallel 49 Vow of Silence

parallel49_labelsThe season of winter continues to throw rainy, icy and snowy weather at us here on the West Coast. And as it turns out, my favorite breweries are still churning out limited releases to mark the occasion. The latest comes from Parallel 49, who decided to greet winter at the halfway mark by doing – once again – something that was both experimental yet traditional.

It’s known as Vow of Silence, a Belgian Quadruple Strong Ale that boast a rather interesting array of flavors. On the one hand, you have a strong, syrupy malty base, reminiscent of bananas, sweet bread, and a touch of herbal infusion. On the other, you have the fortifying effect of candy sugar which adds to the overall alcohol content and lends it a certain candy floss, red licorice flavor. It may sound like an odd combination, but that’s because it is.

Appearance: Dark brown-orange, highly translucent, mild foam and carbonation
Nose: Sweet, malty nose, candy-floss like scent
Taste: Immediate sweetness, notes of banana, herbs, sugar
Aftertaste: Mild bitterness and lingering saccharine malts
Overall: 7/10

Yeah, this wasn’t my favorite example of Parallel 49’s brewing, but that’s what happens when you keep producing big hits. It’s called a success trap, you keep producing something exemplary and people will come to expect great things all the time. Not a bad beer, but somewhat ambivalent in terms of what it was trying to accomplish, and a little odd in terms of flavor combinations.

Visit to Pike Brewery!

Pike-SignHello all! I’ve just gotten back from an exciting trip to Seattle with the family. An annual, or semi-annual thing, the purpose of this trip  was to see my sister and brother-in-law and exchange our belated Christmas and birthday gifts. Due to the border between us, visits are not a regular occurrence, so every such trip is considered a very special occasion.

And in addition to spending time with the people I love, exchanging some choice swag and visiting a lot of interesting places, I finally got a chance to do some on-site sampling at the PIke Brewery this year. Last time I was in Seattle, I got to the front door, but was forced to double back with the rest of my troupe and wasn’t able to dine in. But this year, thanks in part to my darling wife, we managed to secure ourselves a table for some light lunch and some brews.

And let me tell you, it was an experience I would very much like to repeat. Not only is the decor very industrial-chic, punctuated by sculpted metal ceilings, columns, and art deco, it’s also got an unmistakably historic feel to it. Having been established in the early 80’s, only the third brewpub of its kind to open in North America before everybody and their brother was doing it, this place has been around for some time, but still manages to keep things honest.

pike_2Not only was our beer top shelf, we got some awesome food and some choice service. In fact, our server – Melanie, who’s kind of my hero right now – managed to score us some free pints because of a tiny error in our order. How cool was that? And just to return a small shred of that courtesy, I let her and the others know that they would be featured in this review. Hello Pike People! Anyhoo, onto our selection…

As those who follow this site may know, I have reviewed the bulk of Pike’s beers in another post, so I shan’t go over the same ground here. And while I did take the chance to resample some older favorites, I was sure to tackle a few I knew I hadn’t had the chance to review yet. They were…

Space Needle Golden Anniversary Vintage IPA:
Pike-Space-Needle-Golden-IPA-225x225Commemorating 50 years of the Space Needle being built, and roughly 30 years of independent brewing, this golden IPA is a multifaceted and pleasing take on the traditional India Pale Ale. Combining a variety of Yakima Valley hops – Cascade, Columbus, Centennial, Summit – the overall effect is an ale that is both citrusy, slightly sweet, floral and even tropical in nature. Since it is of such limited availability, I’m glad I got some while I could. No telling if it would be available north of the 49th parallel!

Appearance: Golden orange, cloudy, mild foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Varied hops, tropical and floral, heavy on the passion fruit
Taste: Immediate burst of hops, starting with citrus and moving to tropical, then bitter
Aftertaste: Lingering bitterness and citrus rind flavor
Overall: 9/10

Tandem Double Ale:
pike_tandem_labelNamed in honor of the Finkel’s tandem bicycle, this beer is a Belgian-style dubbel that is available year round. And like many dubbels, it is spiced with coriander and is double-fermented to get a deep, heavy flavor that is reminiscent of pudding and sweet breads. Though I’ve had this one before, I somehow failed to dedicate a review to it. Not sure why, seems so un-snob like of me! In any case, I made a special point to get some takeaway so I could give this standout its due!

Appearance: Deep brown, very cloudy and almost opaque, mild foam and carbonation
Nose: Ruddy malts, sugary and molasses-like, slight notes of spice
Taste: Immediate dose of mild spice, heavy malts, syrupy and pudding like, mild tang
Aftertaste: Slight notes of coriander and coarse malt
Overall: 8/10

Cask Conditioned IPA:
pike_ipa_labelThis beer was brought to me free of charge thanks to our heroic barwoman (Thanks again, Mel!), and was my choice for last call since Casks are the truest ales around, and hence the ultimate test of a brewer’s mettle. And I was very pleased that this beer was as consistently good with their standard IPA, but still managed to present a few surprises of its own. Served at cellar temperatures, low in foam and carbonation, unfiltered and unpasteurized, true ales are not for the uninitiated, but are a real pleasure once you get a taste for them.

Appearance: Deep amber, very cloudy, low foam and carbonation
Nose: Floral hops, slight citrus notes, mild malts
Taste:  Lighter malts, tawny and clean on the tongue, followed by notes of grapefruit
Aftertaste: Mild bitterness, relatively clean aftertaste
Overall: 9/10

wingsAnd of course, our food! As is customary for us whenever sampling lighter fare, my wife and I decided to get the chicken wings and the spinach salad. Naturally, Pike Brewery has their own twists on both, and they skyrocketed to the top of my list of the best wings I’ve had since moving to the West Coast! Baked, not fried, plump and juicy, with a spicy sauce that achieved a slow-to-build but powerful burn, and with a divine blue cheese dressing, these wings achieved a trifecta of wing perfection! I know nothing comparable to them except for what Craig Street Brewing used to do.

spinach_saladAnd the spinach salad was equally good, made up of mushrooms, pine nuts,sun dried tomatoes, garlic, Parmesan, dried bits of prosciutto, and a light vinaigrette. The merger of these elements achieved a sort of healthy, crunchy, salty goodness, equal parts health food and guilty pleasure! And as always, a good spinach salad is the perfect accompaniment to hot wings and beer!

All around, it was a great time and I’m glad my wife and I had the wherewithal to force the issue. There was no way we were going to miss out on this place a second time! And I look forward to going back someday. Hopefully it won’t take two more years this time!