G. Schneider und Sohn Wiesen Edel-Weisse

schneider_und_sohnWhat a day it’s been! After a rather long and weird haul, I was afforded a trip to my favorite liquor store in the downtown Victoria area, also known as Cook Street Liquor. Once more, I found the selection there quite impressive, coming many of the more inaccessible favorites I’ve come to know and love with plenty of brand names I have never heard of. Trust me when I say that there will be several interesting reviews to follow!

schneider_edel-weisseAnd this was one such find. While I’ve been raving about Schneider und Sohn’s Aventinus for quite some time, I never knew they also produced an organic wheat and barley-based beer that incorporates Cascade and Hallertauer hops. Apparently, this beer is brewed in honor of Georg Schneider himself, and commemorates the fact that he was able to take part in the world famous Munich Oktoberfest until 1942, when his renowned “Weisse Brauhaus im Tal, Munich” was destroyed. And I can honestly say that it is quite the interesting and unique drinking experience, delivering a beer that consists of light wheat malts, a piney, spruce-like hint of  flavor, and plenty of yeasty foam and carbonation.

Appearance: Amber golden, very cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Wheat malts, yeasty, trace hoppiness
Taste: Slight hint of spruce and pine, light wheat malts, mild tang and hint of lactic acid
Aftertaste: Lingering sourness and yeast, highly clean and refreshing
Overall: 8.5/10

It always appeals to me when I am able to find my way to some of the more obscure and rare treats in this wide, wide place known as the world of brewing! And I especially enjoy it when a local store chooses to stock plenty of these alongside my usual favorites. Given their track record, I wish I could find my way to all of G. Schneider und Sohn’s products, such as their Hopfeinweisse, Unser Original, and Kristall. I can’t tell you how appealing a stronger, hoppier, or clear wheat beer would be alongside everything else they make! Perhaps I should start lobbying to get more of their catalog imported. After all, I do claim some credit for getting Aventinus admitted to the region 😉

Corsendonk Pater Dubbel

corsendonk_paterA familiar name popped for me at the liquor store during my most recent visit. It goes by the name of Corsendonk, a Belgian brewery that I first encountered during my extensive time in the fine bistros of Vineyards and Pub Italia back in my hometown of Ottawa. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a beer by this brewery, or even which kind it was. So naturally, I snatched up one of their fine, 750ml corked bottles as soon as I could and set down to (re)sample it. In this case, it was the Corsendonk Pater, a double-fermented ale done in the traditional Belgian style of top-fermented, bottle conditioned beer.

I’ve had my share of Belgian dubbels in the past, but rarely have they been light, refreshing, and an fine example of clean drinking. But that’s the world of Belgian brewing, where a country with centuries of brewing traditions which boasts more breweries per square kilometer produces can still find ways to surprise you. So here’s what I thought of this traditional, yet surprising Belgian brew:

Appearance: Orange-brown, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Light, sugary malts, bouquet of raisins, apricots and yeast
Taste: Light, sweet malts, notes of raisins, plum fruit, champagne-like effervescence
Aftertaste: Very clean, mild taste of yeast and lingering malt
Overall: 8.5/10

Initially, I was hoping for something a little more sugary, and with stronger traces of raisins, plum fruits, and even spice. Basically, the stuff one expects from a strong Belgian ale. And yet, I couldn’t complain. Not only was it was refreshing and clean, the subtle nature of the taste was also quite pleasing. Moreover, it reminded of several other Belgian beers, such as Belle-Vue Gueze and others that incorporate champagne yeast into the fermentation process. At once bubbly, fruity, clean and mellow, this dubbel was quite the addition to my list of Belgian beers to sample!

Phillips Cabin Fever Imperial Black IPA

Cabin-Fever-Black-IPAIt’s a good thing when you and a major craft-brewery find yourself on the same page/ It seems that happened twice to me today, once with Driftwood’s latest release and again with Phillips. All this convergence which makes me wonder if some people in the local brewing industry have been reading my blog. I doubt it, but it’s nice to pretend. In any case, the second convergence between my thoughts and a brewers’ product came in the form of Phillips latest limited release, known as Cabin Fever Imperial Black IPA.

Brewed in honor of the change of the seasons, and consistent with Phillips time-tested philosophy of combining two or more styles together, this beer combines the deep roasted malt character of a black ale with the bitter, hoppy kick of an IPA. And to top it all off, they fermented it for an extended period of time to make it especially strong. Yes, on top of its  stout-like profile and heavily hopped character, it also weighs in at a hefty 8.5% alc/vol. And in the end, the flavors accent it each other very well, with the coffee notes of the dark ale playing well with the herbal, citrus bite of an IPA’s worth of hops.

Appearance: Black as tar, opaque, good foam retention and carbonationNose: Deep roasted malts, discernible bitter hop presence
Taste: Immediate burst of citrus malts, tawny malt flavor, herbal notes
Aftertaste: Lingering bitterness of coffee-like malts and citrus rind
Overall: 8.5/10

All in all, this beer was quite the interesting combination, and certainly made for a good all around drinking experience. Though definitely not for the faint of heart or the delicate of palette, it was one of the best dark IPA’s I’ve had of late. As I’m sure I’ve said before, this sort of combination has become quite popular in recent years, but this has to be the first time that it was so thematically consistent with the time of its release. Strong dark ale, citrusy IPA, it’s like winter and spring all rolled into one!

Driftwood Belle Royale Sour Cherry

driftwood_logoI have always been a fan of sour cherries, ever since I was a boy and my family planted one in our backyard. Another thing I am quite fond of is Flanders’ Red Ales, which are renowned or their sour and complex character. So you can imagine how pleased I was when I found out that their is a beer that combines these two sources of greatness into one whole. It’s called Driftwood’s Belle Royale, the latest in their Bird of Prey series.

bellelogo-sourEver since Driftwood began producing these limited releases, which started in 2011 with the Flanders Red and then followed up by their Mad Bruin this past fall, I have been hooked. And now, with their Belle Royale Sour Cherry, they have managed to tap into the stuff of my dreams. Whenever I drank one of their sours in the past, I was reminded of my favorite fruit and kept thinking how awesome it would be if they came as one. And thanks to this latest installment, now they do!

And like all of their Bird of Prey beers, this one comes unfiltered, is quite strong (8% alc/vol) and is matured for months in oak barrels – in this case, a good 18 months. However, I can attest to the fact that the wait is well worth it.

Appearance: Dark red, translucent, low foam and high carbonation
Nose: Dry sour scent, heavy on the oak and lactic acid
Taste: Immediate burst of sour flavor, giving way to tart cherry fruit and yeasty accents
Aftertaste: Lingering sourness, notes of heavy oak
Overall: 10/10

My compliments Driftwood on your best sour ale yet, at least in my humble, heavily nostalgic and biased opinion. You’ve made me smile and given my first taste of sour cherries since I moved to the West Coast. I wish they were just a little bit easier to procure out this way. I would kill for some sour cherry pie right about now, definitely with a scoop of vanilla ice cream! How perfect would that be with my current selection of beer?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

hops1Good morning folks and a happy St. Patrick’s Day to all! Not only is this day the perfect excuse to party, its also a time when people all over North America celebrate and honor their Irish roots. And what better way to do that than to tilt a glass of something craft made, local or foreign, that is done in the venerable tradition of Irish brewing. It doesn’t have to be all about Guinness, you know 😉 And so I’ve decided to mark this occasion by highlighting the many Irish-style brews that I’ve had over the years which were satisfying, appetizing, and just generally a pleasure to drink. But first, a note on beer styles that come to us from the Emerald Isle.

As part of the British Isles, Ireland shares many varieties and brewing processes in common with England, Scotland and Wales. But at the same time, Irish brewers have been very good at establishing signature styles and brands. And much like the other locales in the Isles, ales and stouts are favored over lagers and other “Continental” beers. Irish Stouts are very common, and are often associated with Ireland almost exclusively. Chock this up to a very successful marketing campaign by companies like Guinness and Murphy’s, both huge purveyors of Irish Stouts. Then there’s what is known as “Irish Red Ale”, a pale ale that is deep red in hue and quite malty. Here, it is companies like Smithwicks and Beamish Red that are most often associated with the style.

But of course, this is not representative of the entirety of Irish brewing. Today, there are no shortage of assorted Porter’s, Pale Ales, and other varieties to be found that bear the name “Irish”. And when it comes to the export market, there are far more than just the major brand names to choose from. And in my experience, these are the next best thing to actually going to Ireland and sampling locally. So I present my list of Irish-style beers that have made an impact on me over the years, all of which can be found right here in the Great White North.

Mill St. Valley Irish Ale:
Mill_ValleyIrishRedBrewed with a combination of pale, biscuit, chocolate and caramel malts, American and British hops, and even a touch of Lanark County maple syrup, Mill Street’s take on the traditional Irish Ale is a creamy, syrupy, and slightly smoky drinking experience. And of course, it’s name honors the Ottawa Valley’s long-standing Irish population. The smooth, malty character and clean finish of it also calls to mind such British classics as Boddingtons and Kilkenny, though I sincerely prefer this one when all is said and done. In addition to being more balanced and complex, it also appeals to my patriotic side, having grown up in the Ottawa Valley and owing a good deal of my heritage to Ireland!

Scotch-Irish Sergeant Major’s IPA:
sgt.majorsLocated in southern Ontario, the Scotch-Irish brewing company is one of the finest purveyors of ales, stouts and sessionals that I’ve ever experienced. And their Sergeant Major’s IPA stands out for me as the beer that familiarized me with what a real IPA should taste like. At once rich and thick in terms of its malts, it also packs a wallop on the hop front. The flavor here ranges from piney, to floral, to citrusy, and lingers on the tongue for quite some time. As a lover of hops, I was immediately charmed and sought this beer out whenever I could, especially when I returned to Ottawa to visit old friends. Imagine my disappointment then when I heard that the Scotch-Irish brewing company had been absorbed by the Kitchessipi operation. Though this sort of thing happens, it appalls me to see that the status of their traditional lineup is indeterminate at this time. I will have to investigate when I get back to Ottawa again…

Nelson Paddywhack IPA:
paddywhackThis beer I became acquainted with shortly after moving to BC. Crafted by Nelson Brewery, a purveyor of organic ales located in BC’s interior, this beer is not only the Gold Medal winner of the 2003 Canadian Brewing Awards but also the brewing staff’s favorite. Not hard to see why, since the beer is both heavily hopped but manages to achieve a good balance with a rather rich malt profile. Combining five varieties of American, British and German hops, the flavor is at once bitter, floral, citrusy and earthy, and stays with you long after your first sip.

Trafalgar Celtic Ale:
trafalgar_celticAh, and old favorite, and another beer which I seek out whenever I’m back East. Brewed by Trafalgar Beers and Meads, the Celtic Ale is a prime example of an Irish pale ale that emphasizes clean, smooth, and complex flavor over bitterness. Auburn in color, the scent is gentle and reminiscent of toasted breads and biscuits, while the flavor is quite light, yet deceptively complex and layered. In the end, it finishes clean and without any real lingering bitterness. At first, I was a little put off by the its lack of hoppy flavor, but was drawn back to it due to its undeniable charm and subtelty. Whenever I was looking for a good beer to pair with spicey food, after a hot workout, or just in the mood for something smooth and refreshing, I’d pick up a case of four tallboys, which is how they are packaged. I tell ya, just about everything with this beer is unique!

And so I say to you, beer snobs and beer enthusiasts, seek these beers out if and when you can. You will not be disappointed. Now let’s all get out to our favorite watering holes, turn up the Celtic music, and enjoy a fine pint in honor of St. Patrick and our collective heritage, whatever that may be!

The Season of IPA!

IPAMy apologies for the prolonged absence, fellow beer snobs. Unfortunately, the Spring season has not been kind to me, as it chose to greet me with the worst cold I’ve had in ages! Luckily, I’ve emerged from my self-imposed two week hiatus from all things alcoholic, and have chosen to do not one review, not a two-fer, but a three-fer! Alongside an older sampler from late last month, I managed to procure two entirely new beers that fit with my latest theme – Spring Seasonals. And since the venerable IPAs are now making the rounds, I thought I might also dedicate the rest of March to sampling as many new limited releases and old favorites as I can. Here’s what I’ve managed to try so far…

Driftwood Twenty Pounder IPA:
driftwood_20pounder_largeThis is now the third year in a row that Driftwood has released its signature double IPA. And lucky me, I finally got my hands on a bottle and sat down to give it a thorough tasting. Named in honor of Victoria’s proud naval tradition, where field guns that relied on 20 lbs cannon balls were deployed to defend the coast, this beer is an IPA that lives up to its name. Extra strong in alcohol content and employing a double dose of hops, it is surprisingly light in color but heavy on flavor and hardcore hop and citrus content!

Appearance: Light amber, transparent, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Highly floral and citrusy bouquet, notes of orange and grapefruit
Taste: Sweet malts, citrus hops, piney, touch of sweet grapefruit flavor
Aftertaste: Lingering piney bitterness, more notes of citrus
Overall: 9/10

Gigantic India Pale Ale:
Gigantic IPAThis beer and its brewery are entirely new to me, and comes to us from south of the border. Not surprisingly, it is brewed in Portland, Oregon, the state with more breweries per capita than any in the US. And what better place to start with their lineup, now that the season of IPA is upon us! And all in all, I was quite pleased with this beer. In every measurable way, it was a faithful and fitting example of a Northwestern IPA and craft brewing.

Appearance: Deep golden, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Strong hints of tropical fruit, light malts
Taste: Immediate burst of Cascade hop bitterness, light malts, little sweetness
Aftertaste: Lingering bitterness and taste of citrus rind
Overall: 8/10

Vancouver Island Absolute Darkness:
absolutedarknessLast but not least, there’s the latest release from Vancouver Island Brewery. As I’ve said before, I approve highly of the way they’ve started to incorporate limited releases into their lineup, effectively demonstrating a renewed committed to craft brewing. And with this beer, a combination Dark Ale, India Pale Ale, they’ve once again shown that they’re current. For the past few years, dark IPA’s (or Black IPAs as they are sometimes known) have been all the rage. And named in honor of Vancouver Island’s coal mining heritage, it combines stout-like characteristics with traditional IPA, resulting in a beer that is tawny, malty, hoppy, has some strong notes of coffee and some citrus.

Appearance: Deep black, good foam retention, dense with lower carbonation
Nose: Tawny malts, notes of coffee and Cascade hops
Taste: Immediate bitterness and citrus, giving way to coffee-like bitterness
Aftertaste: Long and lingering taste of dark toasted malts
Overall: 8.5/10

Parallel 49 Lord of the Hops

parallel49And we’re back with another installment in the coming of spring beer lineup, which today comes from Parallel 49. And despite that my last tasting from their brewery didn’t go quite so well (see Vow of Silence Quadruple), I’m always interested to see what they do next. Not only do the 49ers know their craft, they can always be counted on to be experimental and cutting edge!

But of course, they’ve been known to be pretty damn good when it comes to your more basic, straightforward products as well. And this IPA would definitely fall into that latter category. In terms of color, head, scent and taste, it has the aromatic and deliciously hoppy nature India Pale Ales are known for. What appear to be crystal malts provide for a rich, semi-sweet malt flavor. And a hefty dose of what is clearly Cascade and other Pacific Northwest varieties of hops provide for an abundance of citrus fruit and passion fruit that is delightful.

Appearance: Golden-amber, slightly cloudy, mild foam and carbonation
Nose: Very hoppy and floral, distinct tropical notes as well
Taste: Immediate hit of citrus and grassy hops, notes of passion fruit
Aftertaste: Slightly bitter finish, some herbal traces
Overall: 9/10

Good job, Parallel 49. You kind of had me worried with that last showing. I was starting to think you’re were getting into some weird territory there. Lucky for me, you guys seem to know you’re way around that area, and you also seem to know your way back!

Ninkasi Renewale 2013 ESB

ninkasiI think it’s fair to say the season of winter beer is officially over. Lately, I’ve been inundated with IPAs, Pales and Ambers that foretell the coming of Spring, much like the mild weather we’ve been experiencing.

ninkasi_esbAnd to break my fast on more inclement-weather beers, I’ve gone back to Eugene Oregon, or rather just sampled a beer from there. Known as their ReNEWale, this seasonal release meets the winter thaw with a beer that’s dry, malty, and has a complex hop flavor. True to its roots, its got everything an EBS is known for, combining pale Crystal, Pilsner, and Munich matls with East Kent Golding, Northern, and Nugget hops. All this combines to give it a a darker, syrupy character, with a decidedly light, bitter mouth feel.

Appearance: Dark amber, transparent, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Dry hop nose, slight syrupy and coarse malts
Taste: Immediate burst of dry, slightly bitter hopes, syrupy malts
Aftertaste: Dry finish, slightly bitter
Overall: 9/10

Another winner from the Ninkasi operation! However, having reviewed their list of beers, I am dubiously aware that I’ve barely scratched the surface. So many regular beers and so many seasonals… I’m both excited and bewildered at the same time! Stay tuned for more on the Spring Beer front!