2013 in Review!

Hey all! The good folks at WordPress have forwarded this year-end summary and I thought I’d make it public. To break it down succinctly, this site was viewed a total of 24,000 times in 2013, mostly by people in Canada, with visitors from the US and the UK following not far behind. In addition, I wrote 106 new posts, nearly doubling the amount of reviews on here, and uploaded 226 pictures. Wow, that’s a lot of beer!

Here’s to 2014 and the hope that it is equally prolific and enjoyable for us all!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 24,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Logsdon Seizoen Bretta

logsdon_seizon_brettaToday I have a special feature, a sour ale that comes from a brewery located in Hood River, Oregon. It’s known as Logsdon, a farmhouse operation that produces handcrafted beers using locally sourced ingredients, sometimes their own. Being a fan of sour ale, I noticed this beer at one of my favorite dispensers and immediately snatched it up. It’s quite the treat when something rare and truly local pops up!

And I can say without exception that I was very impressed with this ale. Much like other fine sours I’ve had of late (namely from Driftwood’s venerable Bird of Prey series), this beer boasted a truly lovely, wild, and spicy palate that was highly reminiscent of sour cherry fruit. On top of that, there were some specific notes that put me in mind of Chimay and other Trappist ales, specifically an oaky quality that complimented it so well.

Appearance: Golden orange, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Lactic acid, sour cherry, dry oak
Taste: Notes of oak and sour cherry, dry and spicy yeast
Aftertaste: Dry, lingering, traces of yeast and mild hops
Overall: 10/10

Yep, this beer was just that good! Like a true sour ale, which can only be produced from a farmhouse operation, it was loaded with all kinds of complimentary and complex notes. I wish I could find more from this brewery. Alas, I have a feeling the presence of this beer alone in my area was something of a rare occurrence. It was worth it!

Beer Class!

central_city.jpgGuess what? Thank to some interest and a little enabling from my peers in Taekwon-Do class, I’ve managed to secure the right to do a lecture and beer tasting class. Might sound like a strange thing to rave about, but as an educator and beer lover, it gives me the chance to combine two things that I love. And as a self-proclaimed beer snob, I get a warm feeling of self-satisfaction whenever I recruit someone! I’ve made two converts so far – my wife and friend Janice – and I plan to make more!

As per the idea of a History of Beer/Beer Tasting class, I’ve done this just once before. I was in Teacher’s College at the time. We were tasked with doing a five minute presentation and writing an official lesson plan to back it up. The subject could be anything of our choice, and I chose beer tasting since wine tasting was an example we were given. Since we were all adult, it was easy enough to get permission to bring in samples, and my peers drank from six bottles while I gave them a precis on the history of the craft.

beer_ancientThis covered the basics – from the rise of brewing with agriculture in ancient times to Classical Antiquity and the divide between beer and wine; from the introduction of hops and the Bavarian Purity Law in the Early and High Middle Ages, to the industrialization and rationalization of brewing in the Modern Age. And of course, the lesson would culminate with how beer is now the world’s most popular alcoholic beverage, and the third most popular behind water and tea. According to stats compiled in 2012, more than 228.4 billion liters (60 billion gallons) are sold per year, resulting in global revenues of roughly $294.5 billion.

This time around, I’ll be expanding my repertoire, speaking for more than five minute, and I expect sampling to go late into the night. There has to be a way to make money off of this, and I would die a happy man if I could get to teach this kind of class at an adult education center or college someday! Also, here is the list of beer I am considering presenting, which I feel represent the styles well and are likely to be available locally.

Pale Ale: Hoyne Down Easy Pale Ale or Brewdog 5 AM Saint
Pairing: Rich in hops and malts, a pale ale is good fare for pub foods – fish and chips, burgers, chicken wings, potato skins – foods that aren’t particularly rich and require a little kick for flavor. The crisp flavor and bitterness compliments just about anything where the flavors are subtler and non-spicy.

Lager: Hopworks Lager
Pairing: By nature, lagers are crisp, clean and refreshing, and do not possess an overabundance of hop flavor. Because of this, they are well suited with spicy and strongly-flavored foods. These include spicy Asian dishes, such as noodles, meat, rice and veggies; or smokey Central and Eastern European fare like Perogies and smoked meats.

Pilsner: Moon Under Water Potts Pils or Creemore Pilsner
Pairing: As a particularly crisp and hoppy variant of a lager, Pilsner’s are exceptionally well-paired with dishes where fish and shellfish are concerned, and can also be a good accompaniment to spicy dishes, such as sausage, chicken, or meatballs.

India Pale Ale: Fat Tug IPA or Dogfishhead 90 Minute IPA
Pairing: Especially rich in hops and malts, IPA’s are best paired with heavy foods that are either light on spices or straightforward in flavor. Again, pub fare is considered very appropriate given the sheer British-ness of the style, and the added citrus hop bite makes it especially good at cutting through greasy, meaty dishes!

Brown Ale: Howe Sound Rail Ale Nut Brown
Pairing: Brown Ales are essentially a darker, more roasted variation on the classic British ale.They are generally known for being smooth, subtle, and toasty, and often have notes of nuts, chocolate, or coffee. They are well suited to game dishes, chicken or beef with gravy, and meat with peppery sauces. In addition, they can be a delicious accompaniment to foods that mimic their flavors – i.e. chocolate, nuts, and deserts with caramel dressing.

Sour Ale: Logsdon Seizon Bretta or Bird of Prey Flanders Red
Pairing: Sour ales originate from north-eastern France and Belgium, and include the varieties known as Belgian lambics, gueuzes, and Flanders red ales. Each are an example of “farmhouse ale”, being made in small batches by cottage industry standards rather than by sterile, industrial processes. This includes aged the ale in barrels and allowing wild yeast to form in the brew, specifically types that lead to the creation of lactic acid, which in turn results in a tart and sour taste. Fruit is often added to enhance this flavor, resulting in the world renowned styles known as kriek (cherry-flavored) and framboise (raspberry flavored).

Porter: Philips Longboat Chocolate Porter
Pairing:
A rich, but smooth dark ale, Porters were designed with strength and substance in mind. As such, it is well paired with spicy foods that are also on the heavy side. Rich and creamy deserts are also well suited to this beer, most likely in the form pf chocolate, biscuits, and possibly ice cream.

Stout: St. Amboise Oatmeal Stout
Pairing: As the heavier version of a Porter, Stouts are often accompanied by heavy dishes involving meat, pastry, gravy and dark sauces. However, the chocolate and coffee notes also lend them to a desert pairing as well. Anything involving chocolate is a good choice, since the flavors will compliment each other. And the often bitter hop and malted oat taste is good with desert dishes involving cheese, whipped cream, or light frosting.

Bock: Creemore Urbock
Pairing: Though darker and maltier than your average ale, Bock beers possess a smooth, subtle character that is well suited to food with a pronounced taste. However, nothing too powerful, or you’ll likely miss the taste of the beer. Hence, beers with a slight smokey, salty, or spicy tone are ideal, but anything particularly powerful is not.

Hefeweizen: Aventinus Doppelbock or Moon Under Water This is Hefeweizen
Pairing: The light and yeasty character of wheat beer lends itself to the lighter variety of food, and this should generally be the kind of food that is subtle so it can be tasted. This might include chicken or pasta dishes with a white sauce or light gravy, but can also range as far as custard and creamier deserts where the flavors are understated.

Tripel: YOGN82/La Fin Du Monde/Westmalle
Pairing: As one of the strongest varieties of beer to be brewed, Belgian Tripels are a good digestif which go well with deserts. In addition, their complex and fruity flavors are often a good accompaniment to pre-dinner fare like assorted fruits – in this case, grapes, apples and dates – and strong cheese (cheddar, asiago, or gouda, etc).

Barleywine: Mill Street/Woolly Bugger
Pairing: As a particularly strong and powerful beer, barleywines are typically served on their own as an digestif or paired with equally strong flavored foods, like hard, dry cheese. Very little else will do, so its recommended to serve this last and in lieu of desserts.

Looking forward this one. Hope people don’t get too drunk too appreciate the extensive and amazingly rich cultural and historical significance of what they are drinking 😉

Delirium Tremens

delirium_tremensAh, its wonderful when old friends look you up and come by for a visit. Yes, that’s a bit of strange analogy for me finding this beer in my local store, but I think its apt. Brewed by the award-winning Huyghe Brewery in Melles, Belgium, Delirium is a world famous Golden Ale, and one of the many Belgian beers that I was treated to at Ottawa’s Vineyards Bistro as part of my early beer education.

As a result, it occupies a special place in my heart, and was one of the many beers that taught me about the wide, wide world of brewing and what it means exactly to be a Belgian ale. Basically, it involves some syrupy malts that range in color from blond to deep brown, yeasts that leave a distinctive taste and smell, and a flavor that is strong, a little coarse and tangy, and often effervescent and slightly sweet. And of course, it must be strong, generally in the 7% or higher range.

And Delirium is certainly no stranger to any of these qualities. It pours a light golden, has a great deal of yeasty effervescence, and packs a strong alcoholic punch (8.5% alc/vol). In short, between its golden hue, its bubbly characters, and strength, there’s a reason they call it Delirium! In addition to Westmalle, Aventinus, and McAuslan Vintage Ale, I can’t tell you how nice it to see my old favorites finding me where I live these days. Makes me miss my old home just a little less…

Appearance: Straw golden, slightly cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Belgian yeasts, rich malts, trace of sugars and honey
Taste: Effervescent yeasts, syrupy, semi-sweet malts, hint of citrus, honey, trace of oak
Aftertaste: Clean finish, lingering yeast, malt and mild oak flavor
Overall: 9.5/10

Dead Frog Valiant Belgian IPA

dead_frogvaliant-belgian-ipaDead Frog is back with another limited release, arriving on the heels of their Brazen IPA, Winter Beeracle and Fearless IPA. And with the exception of the Brazen, which I have yet to try, these limited releases have been quite impressive, in my opinion. Basically, they show that the spirit of craft brewing and experimentation are alive and well in yet another big Pacific Northwestern brewery.

As for this latest experiment in craft brewing, the Valiant is a twist on your classic Belgian Abbey ale, relying on Belgian yeast and a lengthy fermentation process to achieve a distinctly strong and flavorful ale. At the same time, they’ve incorporated a good dose of hops, the classic Pacific Northwestern IPA varieties of Centennial and Columbus, to achieve a strong bittering effect.

Appearance: Golden-orange, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Distinct Belgian yeast, notes of citrus hops
Taste: Immediate notes of wheat malt and yeast intermixed with hop bitterness 
Aftertaste: Tang and lingering bitterness, traces of Belgian yeast
Overall: 8.5/10

The result is something that is becoming increasingly common here in the Pacific Northwest, a merger between disparate traditions that work great on their own and are… interesting when combined. Like most Belgian IPA’s I’ve had, I found this one a little odd at first, but grew to like it with each sip. In the end, it really captured the essence of a strong Belgian Ale, and the bitter finish offers enough of a compliment without getting in the way.

Salt Spring Island Saturnalia Gruit

saltspring_alesI’m finding that there’s a certain Gulf Island brewery that is rapidly becoming known for its ability to experiment and keep it real. In case the title line hasn’t given it away, that brewery is Salt Spring Island Brewery! And in my most recent sampling from their wares, I came upon this, the Saturnalia Gruit, and instantly knew I had to try it. Not only is it new from this beer snob’s perspective, it is also special in that it pays tribute to an ancient and largely forgotten style of beer-making.

saltspring_saturnaliaIn short, the beer is named after the Roman festival which honored the deity of Saturn, during which time gifts were given, social norms were reversed or abandoned, and people feasted and partied for days on end. To help wash down their food and establish the right kind of “festive spirit”, people drank vast quantities of beer and wine. But since ordinary social norms were put aside, beer was not considered a plebeian drink on this day. The term Gruit, meanwhile, refers to the mixture of herbs which were used in ancient times to flavor beer, as hops had not yet been discovered as a stabilizing and flavoring agent.

So in the end, what you have with this latest addition to the Salt Spring Island lineup is a beer made with dark and rich malt, no hops, and a mixture of star anise, cinnamon and nutmeg as a flavoring agent. And what comes through is rather interesting, to say the least…

Appearance: Deep brown, opaque, mild foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Clear cinnamon and nutmeg traces, acidic notes, herbal infusion
Taste: Tartness, similar to mulled-apple cider, herbal notes reminiscent of Jagermeister
Aftertaste: Light finish,
lingering tart apple and herbal notes
Overall: 8/10

In sum, this beer is rather interesting and substantially different than anything your modern beer drinker has ever tried. In fact, there are those who could easily mistake it for something other than beer, were they to consume it in a blind taste test. And I have to admit, the flavor wasn’t exactly something I might ordinarily go in for. However, one has to expect that in cases like these, where styles veer away from the established norm and present something truly different, and in keeping with brewing trends that are no longer in use. So I give it high marks for authenticity, and recommend it for all beer snobs are required drinking!

Steamworks Saison

steamworkssaisonJust in time for… uh, Fall! Yes, I know this is not technically appropriate to the season, but the recent arrival of Steamworks Saison to one of the local dispensaries was not something I could very well ignore. More and more, I am seeing this Vancouver-based craft brewery’s good turning up here on the island, and its exciting. In fact, almost a year ago I took a trip to their brewery for the third time and sampled as much of their lineup as I could. I really must publish the results one of these days…

steamworks_saisonBut in the meantime, I am satisfied to sample their Saison, a tribute to the French-speaking province of Wallonia in southern Belgium where the style originated. Typically brewed in the colder, less active months of autumn, this variety of beer is generally milder and lighter than your typical Belgian ales – that is to say 7% alc/vol, as opposed to those with a heftier rating of 9% and above. And like many of its compatriot beers, Saisons tend to boast notes of fruit and spice, either the result of the specialized yeast that is used in fermentation or due to the additional of actual fruits and spices. In keeping with that tradition, Steamworks’ own Saison is made using a combination of wheat and barley malt, is light and yeasty, and slightly stronger than your average fare, clocking in at a respectable 6.5% alc/vol.

Appearance: Light blonde, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Distinct notes of Belgian yeast, dry, slightly spicy
Taste: Slightly bitter hops, strong yeasts, hints of coriander, fruit reminiscent of dry cider
Aftertaste: Lingering yeast and coriander flavor, mild bitterness
Overall: 8/10

Yes, this beer did much to enthrall and confound me. On the one hand, it was very consistent with what I’ve come to expect from a Belgian Saison, loaded with its distinct yeast and malt flavor with hints of coriander. At the same time, I was reminded of cider, another regional favorite, since the nose and flavor of it seemed dry and acidic. But like I said, Saison beers are renowned for being spicy and fruity, and this one certainly measures up in both regards! Islanders would be well advised to get some while they can…

G. Schneider und Sohn Hopfenweisse

hopfenweisseAnd I’m back, and this time, I brought a beer that is obscure even for my standards! Yes, this would a new product from the venerable Schneider Weisse brewery, an operation renowned for producing one of the greatest beers I have ever tasted! And much to my surprise, it seems they are creating new beers, things that fall outside their time-honored lineup, and even through collaborative efforts with comparatively recent craft brewers.

One such beer is the Hopfenweisse, a beer that was produced through the combined efforts of Schneider Weisse and the Brooklyn Brewery. And I can honestly attest it is one of the more unique varieties of beer I’ve ever tried. Though I felt myself sufficiently primed by Weisen Edel-Weisse, the drinking experience provided by this number was still packed with surprises!

Playing to their strengths, and yet stepping out of their comfort zone just a little, this wheat strong ale is brewed with a combination of wheat and barley malt and is hopped in just such a way to achieve a fruity aroma and aftertaste. On top of that, there are notes of some rather interesting herbs and a sugary quality that is similar to barley wine. Taken together, this leads to a rather weird, interesting, and appealing kind of acquired taste!

Appearance: Golden-yellow, cloudy and opaque, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Wheat malts and yeast, floral and barleywine-like sweetness
Taste: Combination of pine, lavender, yeasty burst, followed by mild sugars
Aftertaste: Slightly bitter finish, clean and notes of barley wine
Overall: 8/10

And interestingly enough, I am indebted to the private chain known as Liqour Plus for this new drinking experience. I certainly noticed it alongside an ample stock of Aventinus, which prompted me to ask how long they had been carrying it. They replied that it has only been with them for a few weeks, thus lending even more credence to my theory that I am responsible for stocking Victoria with Aventinus and other related Schneider Und Sohn products! To the people of Victoria, I say… you’re welcome 😉

Salt Spring Island Creme Brulee Vanilla Stout

saltspring_alesIt’s quite the experience when you wander off the beaten path and find something new, yet related to the things you know and like. That’s kind of how I felt when I wandered into one of the many Liqour Plus depots in Victoria that has been known to stock many of my personal favorites, plus a respectable selection of things I have not heard of from time to time.

saltspringisland_cremeAmongst the gems that appeared in this particular store was a new release  by Saltspring Island Breweries, one which was created through a collaboration with (wait for it) Liqour Plus! Yes, it seems that in addition to selling beer, wine and spirits, this particular chain of private distributors also has a hand in producing them. And this clearly-intended-for-after-dinner-pairings-with-your-dessert beer was the fruit of their labor.

Building on what is clearly becoming a tradition amongst craft brewers who produce stouts, the Creme Brulee Vanilla incorporates lactose into the brewing process to give the beer a highly smooth, almost milk-like profile. On top of that, there’s the addition of organic vanilla beans to add a dimension to the stout flavor which makes the beer live up to its name. Basically, its creamy, smooth, slightly sweet, yet full of all the characteristics true of a dark, roasted stout beer.

Appearance: Black and opaque, mild foam and carbonation
Nose: Deep, roasted malt character
Taste: Smooth, slightly sweet, hint of vanilla, mild espresso flavor
Aftertaste: Combination of vanilla and coffee-like bitterness
Overall: 8/10

I highly recommend this beer paired with an actual creme brulee. In fact, I hardly need an excuse to recommend eating creme brulee, especially when it’s infused with vanilla. Yes, I’m thinking there’s a certain restaurant up in Comox that specializes in one such desert (looking at you, Black Fin Pub) that ought to consider procuring some of this beer very soon. I shall await its arrival and time my next visit to coincide 😉

Chatoe Rogue Roguenbier Rye Ale

Rogue-Logorogue_ryeRye beer is one of those rare treats that few breweries ever attempt, except those that are really adventurous or dedicated to experimentation. So it was little surprise when I learned that Rogue had included a rye ale in their GYO (Grow Your Own) Chatoe Rogue series, a special lineup dedicated to farmers, fermenters and brewers that uses almost exclusively homegrown ingredients.

This is the second GYO beer that I’ve sampled now, the last being their Dirtoir Black Lager, which was quite the experience in itself. This one was a fine follow-up, being very much unique, experimental, and yet very true to the best traditions of craft brewing. In addition to using homegrown rye, Rogue also employed several of their own proprietary malts, hops, and a Weizen yeast, giving it a flavor that is something of a witbier, a dark ale, and a loaf of rye bread.

Appearance: Dark brown/amber, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Wheat-like malt aroma, sourness, hint of rye bread
Taste: Light, foamy malts, slight sourness, dark tawny notes, slight rye bitterness
Aftertaste: Yeasty finish and lingering bitterness
Overall: 8.5/10

Yes, quite the experience indeed! I look forward to sampling other beers in this lineup, provided I can find them of course. Might just be time for another road trip to Seattle!