Driftwood Old Cellar Dweller Barley Wine 2013

oldcellardweller_2013Now here is a holiday beer I was not expecting to sample. Usually when I see a beer I’ve had before, I do not feel particularly compelled to hurry up and try it again. But in this case, I heard tell from a friend and fellow zythophile (Hi Mike!) that it was quite different from its previous incarnations. This should really not have come as a surprise, as last year’s Old Barrel Dweller was quite a departure. Whereas 2011’s was the first Old Cellar I ever sampled, 2012’s was bourbon barrel-conditioned. I guess I just assumed this year’s would be back to its old self.

But as Mike pointed out, this year’s barley wine was actually quite different, in a way that made it seem more like an Imperial IPA. And in this, he was exactly right. Though it ranks in at a whopping 11.6% alc/vol, the similarities pretty much stop there. In terms of color, malt backbone, and hop content, an English-style barley wine is dark, slightly coarse, sugary, and contains strong traces of dark fruit (plums, dates, prunes, raisins, etc). This beer, on the other hand, is light in color, has a syrupy malt backbone, but is otherwise characterized by very strong hops and a powerful alcoholic bite.

Appearance: Amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Strong citrus nose, syrupy malts
Taste: Slightly sweet malt start, strong notes of pine, citrus, passion fruit
Aftertaste: Lingering bitterness and coarse malts
Overall: 8/10

All in all, the only thing that seemed consistent about this beer with its professed style is its alcoholic content. It is certainly not a bad vintage or a bad beer, but again I feel this is a case of a “barley wine” that was mislabeled. Strangely enough, the last one was also a BC beer (Scandal Brewing’s Mt. Everest) that produced a barley wine that seemed much more like a Maibock. I sincerely hope this is not the beginning of a trend!

Salt Spring Island Fireside Winter Ale

saltspring_alesDuring my most recent trip to the beer store, I decided to pick up a bottle of this seasonal release from Salt Spring Island Brewery.There were three reasons for the purchase, the most obvious being that it is a perfect example of a winter ale, name and all. The second is the fact that I can remember sampling this beer many years back, and couldn’t for the life of me recall if I gave it a review or not. And so I decided that for the latest review in this holiday segment, to take a second run at this seasonal brew.

saltspring_firesideYes, I could remember sampling it many years back, back when it came in a wide-bottom bottle with a stopper, and not the sleek 650 ml bottle it comes in today (see what I mean?) However, the style and flavor of the beer is just as I remembered it. Much like their other ales, this beer is fashioned with organic barley and spring water, and contains a malty profile that is clean, slightly sweet, and has a dry finish that is reminiscent of cider, as well as their seasonal Gruits. But above all, what one gets from this beer is a dark, syrupy ale that is fruity and slightly spicy.

Appearance: Dark ruby, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Tart, fruity malts, orchard fruit, cider-like
Taste: Slightly sweet, viscous malts, mild tang, notes of apricot, peaches
Aftertaste: Lingering malts and hints of spice and dry finish
Overall: 8/10

Only a few more days to go, and many more beers to try! Hope it’s finding everyone safe, warm, dry, and with plenty of good cheer. If not, winter beer has been known to help with all that!

Ommegang Take the Black Stout

OmmegangIf there’s one thing I can appreciate almost as much as beer, its an inspired yarn, the likes of which that authors like George R.R. Martin (aka. “The American Tolkien”) has been known to spin. So you can imagine how enthusiastic I was when I found out that a craft brewing operation from Cooperstown, New York was partnering with HBO to create a series of beers with a Game of Thrones theme.

And this week, as part of my series on holiday beers, I finally managed to get a bottle of their Take the Black Stout, the first beer in the series. Currently, the only other is their Iron Throne Blonde, with a third – Fire and Blood – due to come out in spring of 2014. In truth, the only reason I waited this long to get into this series is because I’ve been so backlogged with new beers and just haven’t found the time to try them all. But the holidays are a good time for imbibing and catching up on things!

Named in honor of the oath taken by all the Night’s Watch, the men who stand the Wall in the GOT series and defend the Realm against all the threats from the frozen north. The stout consists of a malt base composed of Caramel, Chocolate and roasted barley, as well as Northern Brewer and Columbus hops. It is then spiced with licorice root and star anise to give it a full-bodied flavor that is coarse, slightly sweet, and has a distinct Belgian yeast flavor. And of course, it ranks in at solid 7% alc/vol, making for a

game-of-thrones-beer-take-the-black-stout-zap2itAppearance: Dark black, opaque, thick lacy dark head and good carbonation
Nose: Roasted malts, espresso, licorice, mild yeast
Taste: Bitterness, yeast, anise and citrus hops, giving way to espresso beans
Aftertaste: Lingering bitterness giving way to hint of licorice
Overall: 8.5/10

Not a bad beer at all, and this is coming from a man who doesn’t normally enjoy extra strong stouts, especially ones flavored with licorice. In all honesty, it really didn’t make me think much of the Night’s Watch or the wall. Perhaps it’s because I’m a committed geek of the franchise, but I can’t imagine them enjoying a Belgian-style stout flavored with spices. That just seems to high-end for the Black Brothers! 😉

What I was reminded of was Unibroue, another Belgian-inspired operation that is also in the habit of serving its beer in three-quarter liter, corked bottles. And much like this Quebec-based operation, these folks do seem to appreciate traditional recipes while still remaining open to crossovers and experimentation. Onto the next beer and hopefully more in this brewery’s GOT series!

And be sure to check out the brewery’s website. It promises for some interesting reading 🙂

Scandal Mt. Everest Barleywine

mt.everest1

Holiday greetings to everyone! As this is the season, and since I’ve exhausted my neighbors supply of beer, I have decided to once again go shopping for beers that goes well with the holiday spread and spirit. And one such procurement was Scandal Brewing’s Mt. Everest Barley Wine. As part of their Seven Wonders series, this beer is Scandal’s strongest customer, and one which I’ve been meaning to try for some time. So far, all I’ve managed to sample from this brewery is their Organic Ale, part of their regular lineup. But given that it was a pleasant experience, I had to see what they could do with a limited release.

Weighing in at an impressive 9% alc/vol and a robust 65 IBUs, this beer is fashioned with organic two-row and crystal 60 malts, as well as German summit and hallertau tradition hops. And the addition of spring water also comes through with a slight mineral quality that comes through in the aftertaste. Though it is listed as a barley wine, this beer was more reminiscent to me of a Maibock, boasting the same kind of semi-sweet malts, good tang, and a mild hop bite. But being intensely strong, it also has a strong alcoholic punch, and a slightly spicy notes that are reminiscent of anise or allspice.

Appearance: Amber, clear, medium foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Notes of sugar and subtle, dry hops
Taste: Slightly sweet malts, strong tang, alcoholic bite, dry hops, hints of allspice
Aftertaste: Lingering tang and mild spice traces and minerality
Overall: 8.5/10

Not a bad brew at all, though I do think it was slightly mislabeled. In my experience, barley wines are dark, fruity, and rich, whereas this beer is on the lighter side in terms of color, and has a flavor profile far more consistent with a Maibock. Still, it was a very pleasant drinking experience and I look forward to seeing what else Scandal has to offer with its Seven Wonders series.

Historic Ales of Scotland (Concluded)

historic_ales_scotlandIt’s just one day to Christmas, and as expected, I finished the pack of Historic Ales early. Call me self-indulgent, but there was simply no way I couldn’t let my curiosity to get the better of me. It’s been many years since I drank from this pack, and my tastes have become somewhat refined in that time. And interestingly enough, I found that I actually enjoyed the experience more this time around. So without further ado, here are the last two samples from the Williams Brother’s historic lineup.

Ebulum:
ebulumMy favorite of the pack, the Ebulum Elderberry Black Ale is brewed in accordance with the Celtic tradition that was introduced to Scotland by Welsh druids in the 9th century. Traditionally, this ale was crafted and then passed between the people of the village during the Autumn festival. The recipe for this particular beer was taken from a 16th century record of domestic drinking in the Scottish Highlands and is brewed with roasted barley and chocolate malt, then infused with elderberries to deliver a dark, rich, malty beer with a stout-like flavor that also has some satisfying fruity notes. It is also the second strongest beer of the collection, weighing in at 6.5% alc/vol, making it an all around very pleasant drinking experience. Whenever I get a pack, I usually go for this one first. I feel my restraint this year is to be commended!

Appearance: Deep brown-black, clear, mild foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Dark malts, stout-like, mild fruit aroma
Taste: Rich malt start, hint of sweetness, discernible fruit
Aftertaste: Slight tartness and lingering dark malt flavor
Overall: 9/10

Fraoch:
fraochThe most ancient and venerated style in this collection, Fraoch takes it name from the Gaelic word for “Heather”, and just happens to be the oldest variety of beer still consumed today. For over four thousand years, this sort of beer has been brewed in the Highlands, and is often associated with the Picts who ruled Scotland until the 9th century (hence the label art, which is Pict-inspired). The beer a combination of boiled barely, sweet gale, and an infusion of heather flowers, a flora native to Scotland. Until the 18th century, when British law mandated that Scottish brewers begin using hops, it was extremely popular.  And although it is very understated and subtle, much like the Grozet, I can certainly see the appeal. In addition to being golden in color, the beer also has a sweet, honey-like smell and taste, with a touch of peaty flavor, and is one of their lighter beers, weighing in at 5% alc/vol.

Appearance: Deep gold, cloudy, mild foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Mild malts, notes of honey and flowers
Taste: Very mild malts, notes of honey, peat moss, mild pine
Aftertaste: Mild lingering honey taste, very clean finish
Overall: 8/10

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go get more Christmas beer. Somehow, my supply became mysteriously depleted… Merry Christmas to all and hope it finds you surrounded by friends, family and plenty of good food and spirits!

Hoyne’s Gratitude Winter Warmer 2013

slider-gratitudeLast year, the Hoyne brewery was barely out of the cradle when they produced their first-ever Christmas ale, known as the Gratitude Winter Warmer. Now, a year later, they have once again made this limited release available just in time for the holidays. And of course, I felt the need to grab a bottle and see how this year’s vintage compared to last years.

And just like it’s predecessor, this year’s Gratitude lived up to the name. In addition to being very smooth, malty, and balanced, it packed a nice spicy profile that was very pleasing to the palate and very warming to the body. I did note a certain creamy quality that was not there last year, one which reminded me of their Off the Grid Red Lager (which is currently my favorite from Hoyne’s lineup). Pound for pound though, I’d say its just as good as last year’s.

Appearance: Deep red-amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Spicy nose, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and sweet malts
Taste: Smooth, spicy start, creamy malts, mild tang, allspice, mild hops
Aftertaste: Lingering tang and spice, enduring malts
Overall: 9/10

I really do need to get back to the brewery and see what they are up to these days. Somehow, this fall season (what with all its sickness) has not been too conducive to growler drinking! But I shall remedy that soon enough. And I’m sure Hoyne is also taking donations of clothes and canned food this year, so be sure to swing by if you’ve got an overabundance of both. Tis the season for good beer and helping out, after all 😉

St. Ambroise Vintage Ale 2013

st.ambroise_vintageThis is a beer I purchased with great excitement, and not just because it was part of my holiday beer collection. As followers of this site are sure to know, the St. Ambroise Millennial Ale (brewed in 2000, this was the first vintage ale they ever produced) remains my favorite beer of all time, even to this day. Because of that, their Vintage Ale (Ale Millésimée en francais) is one I try to get my hands on whenever possible.

Last year, I managed to get my hands on two bottles of their Vintage Ale – their 2011 and 2012 respectively – and had mixed impressions. The first I sampled in Hull, Quebec last year when the wife and I attended the Taste of Winterlude Winter Beer and Wine show. The good people tending the McAuslan table were offering, among other things, samples of the last year’s vintage. At the time, I felt it was too coarse and had a gravity that was a little high for my taste. It was by no means poor or offensive, but it did seem to pale in comparison to their 2000 Millésimée.

A few months later, I purchased a bottle of their 2012 here in BC, and let it age for a few more months. When consumed, I noted that the malt profile was smoother than what I remember of the 2011, and allowed the full flavor profile of figs, raisins, and barley wine goodness to really come through. And once I spotted a bottle of the 2013 Millésimée at the same store (Cook Street Liquor), I grabbed it with the intention of seeing how it stacked up.

Appearance: Deep amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich aroma of sugars, raisins, dates, figs, and citrus hops
Taste: Very malty, immediate alcoholic bite, hints of sugar, molasses, fruit, and citrus
Aftertaste: Lingering alcoholic bitterness, citrus hops and coarse malts
Overall: 9/10

Not a bad vintage this year, McAuslan. Not bad at all! It’s a shame these are produced only once a year because I’m positive a year-round barley wine (or at least a seasonal that could be available for a few more months out of the year) would do very well for itself!

Historic Ales of Scotland – Continued…

Welcome back! Today, I thought I’d change things up and diverge from my plan to sample these beers in alphabetical order. So with that in mind, I drank the Grozet second and did a little research into its particular background and history. And what I found was really quite interesting, embracing Rennaissance brewing, the Scottish intelligentsia, and even Shakespeare itself.

I also perused through the Williams Brothers Brewery’s website and noted that their full lineup of products is really quite diverse and cool. Wish I had access to more of it here on the other side of “The Pond”! Be sure to check it out…

Grozet:
grozetNamed in accordance with the Auld Scots word for gooseberry, Grozet is another traditional beer that has been brewed in Scotland by monks and “Alewives” since the 16th century. Concocted with wheat malts, gooseberries and wild spice, this beer is very light in color, scent and taste, and was apparently a favorite amongst the 19th century Scottish literati, and was even described as “the most convivial of ales” by Shakespeare himself. Much like its cousins in the pack, this beer is quite light on head and carbonation, and has an subtle, but varied taste. And while its not my favorite of the pack, it is certainly and interesting brew and a very worthwhile experience, especially when one considers the historic significance it carries.

Appearance: Golden, slightly cloudy, mild foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Mild malts, wheat and a hint of spice
Taste: Mild wheat malts, hint of tartness, mild tang
Aftertaste: Lingering tartness and wheat malts
Overall: 7.5/10

Two down, two to go! And in the meantime, I thought I might crack my most precious bottle and give it a sample. A hint, its a reserve ale from my most favorite brewery back east…

Historic Ales From Scotland

historic_ales_scotland

It’s a remarkable process. You put in a request for an obscure beer at your local store, and they get it for you! And just in time for Christmas, my local watering hole was able to procure for me a pack of the Historic Ales From Scotland. This variety pack consists of Scottish beers that are made in accordance with traditions that predate the adoption of the Bavarian Purity Law in Scotland, all of which are brewed by the the Williams Brothers Brewing Company.

These include beers made with berries, heather flowers, spruce and even kelp (if you’re lucky enough to find a pack that includes it). And having had them before, I can honestly attest to their quality. Though they are surely not for the faint of heart or uninitiated, they are all fine examples of traditional ales which are sure to appeal to the discerning beer drinker.

And over the next few days, I’ll be reviewing each of the beers in turn. First up, their Alba Scots Pine Ale.

Alba:
albaIntroduced by the Vikings, spruce and pine ales were very popular in the Scottish Highlands until the end of the 19th century. Many early explorers, including Captain Cook, used spruce ale during long sea voyages since its natural vitamin C content prevented scurvy and ill health. Shetland spruce ale was said to “stimulate animal instincts” and give you twins. Alba is a triple style ale brewed to a traditional Highland recipe from Scots pine and spruce shoots pickled during early spring. Malted barley is boiled with the young sprigs of pine for several hours before the fresh shoots of spruce are added for a short infusion before fermentation. In this respect, spruce and pine are used much as wet and dry hopping are, and imbue the beer with a crisp, refreshing, piney taste. In terms of color and appearance, the beer is similar to a pale ale, but with little head to speak of, and clocks in at a robust 7.5% alc/vol.

Appearance: Amber, clear, mild foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Syrupy malt, sweetness, strong piney notes
Taste: Immediate sweet burst of malt, gentle spruce and pine flavor
Aftertaste: Lingering malt sweetness and spruce/pine flavor
Overall: 8.5/10

So far, its been a good season for beer. Tomorrow, its on to my favorite of the bunch: the Ebulum Elderberry Black Ale, followed shortly thereafter by the Fraoch Heather and the Grozet Gooseberry Ales. Stay tuned…

Parallel 49 Sahti Claws Finnish Sahti

p49sahti_clawsAnother seasonal beer has arrived in time for the holidays! And in true Parallel 49 fashion, their latest limited release is an interesting mix of brewing traditions, the likes of which I have tried only once before (that would be Odin’s Gift Juniper Pale Ale). It’s known as a Finnish Sahti, a Scandinavian style of beer that is made with rye, barley and juniper berries and served unfiltered. The good folks at P49 then added a dose of piney Chinook and Simcoe hops.

And of all their experimental brews, this is definitely one that works very well. The dose of piney hops are very complimentary to the crisp, bitter flavor provided by the rye and juniper. This is further complimented by the use of Pilsner, Munich, Crystal and Wheat malt, which provide a light, smooth backbone to it – which is surprising given its strength (7.7% alc/vol). It tops it all off with a smooth and creamy finish, and the cloudy, dark amber color is very appealing to the eye. Definitely a nice spin on the Sahti, combining this traditional style with some a little Pacific Northwest character.

Appearance: Dark amber, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Piney hops, dry, crisp rye notes
Taste: Immediate tang, smooth malt, piney hops, strong bitterness of rye and juniper
Aftertaste: Mild and varied bitterness, creamy finish
Overall: 9/10

Holiday drinking has been good so far! In the coming weeks, I will be getting into that pack of Historic Scottish Ales, McAuslan’s 2013 Millennial Ale, and grabbing as many limited holiday releases as possible. ‘Tis the season, after all!