World Top Marmalade Porter

worldtop_porterBrewer: World Top Brewery, Yorkshire, UK
Style: Porter
ABV: 5%
IBU: Unspecified

Description: Part of World Top’s regular lineup, this beer is fashioned in the traditional 18th-century English porter style, marrying dark roasted malts and oats to a slightly sweet kick and bitter notes of orange and roasted coffee.

Tasting Notes: This is the second time I’ve had a World Top product, and it comes to me courtesy of the Advent Beer Calendar (yep, still sampling my way through it). In any case, I did enjoy this one better than their IPA. A slightly bitter, but rich and dark malt base are nicely accompanied by notes of coffee, orange peel, roasted nuts, and some sugary molasses that make this porter live up to its name!

Appearance: Deep brown/black, clear, low foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Dark malt, orange zest, baked sweetbread, molasses
Taste: Bitter malt, tannin, bitter orange peel, notes of molasses, coffee, roasted oats
Aftertaste: Lingering dark malt flavor, coffee, orange rind
Overall: 8/10

Wold Top Scarborough Fair IPA

Scarborough_Body_LabelBrewer: Wold Top Brewery, Driffield, Northern England
Style: India Pale Ale/Real Ale
Alcohol/Volume: 6%

Description: Named in honor of the fair that originated in Scarborough, Yorkshire during the High Middle Ages, this beer commemorates India Pale Ales, which for centuries have been brewed in the various “Wolds” of England and exported to the world. In the tradition of “real ale”, it has little carbonation and produces little foam. And in a modern twist, it is fashioned with Maize and Barley that is extremely low in gluten (less than 20 ppm), which makes it certifiably gluten-free.

Tasting Notes: This beer is admittedly a bit odd in terms of taste. But the seasoned beer drinker, especially someone familiar with real ales and cask conditioned beer, will not be a total stranger to it. In addition to having low carbonation and little head, it has a rather subdued hop flavor, at least when compared to your average North American IPA. In many ways, it reminded me of a cross between Grozet and an ESB, the hops coming off as dry and the malt flavor tasting rather pronounced and slightly sweet.

Appearance: Light golden, slightly cloudy, mild foam retention and low carbonation
Nose: Strong hops, slightly sweet nose, fruity, syrupy malts, minerals
Taste: Dry hop flavor, tang, minerals, slight sweetness, cola-like
Aftertaste: Mild, lingering hop bitterness, otherwise clean and watery
Overall: 7/10

Salt Spring Island Heather Ale

saltspring_heatherAs the beer class I am hoping to teach nears, I have found myself feeling a little hard pressed to secure all the styles of beer I would need to make an effective presentation. After all, how can one accurately represent the history of beer when it’s so long, diverse and varied? Sure, there’s no shortage of British-style ales, German lagers, and Belgian ales here on the west coast. But what of beers that predate the Belgian Purity Law?

Lucky for me that Salt Spring Island specializing in creating beers of this kind. For awhile, I was hoarding bottles of Salt Spring Island’s Spring Fever Gruit, but as expected, they ran out. And while their Saturnalia Gruit is an equally fitting example of an ancient brew, it too suffers from seasonal availability. Lucky for me, their Heather Ale is year-round and I was able to grab a few, knowing that I could drink them and not fear that the supply would run dry.

And I thought that while I was doing that, I might finally give it a review. It goes without saying that Heather Ale is a renowned style of beer, one that is very popular in Scotland and abroad. It dates back to 4000 BC when it was introduced to Scotland by the Picts, and is therefore one of the most dated styles in existence. And Salt Spring Brewery, in tune with their commitment to organic brewing that’s faithful to its roots, produce a very nice and easy-drinking beer that has a subtle array of herbal notes and flavors that is very appealing, especially to people who are looking for a break from the hoppy beers the Pacific Northwest is famous for.

Appearance: Amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Mild malt, hints of flowers and honey
Taste: Smooth malt, mild tang, hint of vanilla, notes of honey
Aftertaste: Clean finish, lingering tang and minerality
Overall: 8.5/10

Though I am a big fan of the hops, I have to give high credit to this beer for its clean taste, mineral-like tang, vanilla and honey like flavor and gentle aroma. I naturally couldn’t help but compare it to Fraoch, the famous heather ale by the Williams Brothers Brewery. And honestly, I feel this one gives it a good run for its money. I hope those who attend my beer class can appreciate it too!

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…

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


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.

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…

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
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 😉

Innis and Gunn – Canada Day 2012

In honor of Canada Day, I’ve decided to review a beer that was also made in honor of Canada Day. Strangely, this Scottish brewery has been doing this every year for the past several years. Thought it is made and bottled overseas using overseas ingredients, the labor is apparently one of love for the Great White North.

As usual, Innis and Gunn age their beer in oak whiskey barrels and combine ale and barley malt with Golding hops to get a beer that is dark, rich, and kind of sweet. It also combines the characteristics of both a whiskey and a ruby ale, being both malty, smokey, mossy, and a little bitter.

Appearance: Deep ruby red, bordering on brown, and clear
Nose: Whiskey malts and peat moss
Taste: Sweet toffee, slight hop bitterness giving way to distinct whiskey flavor
Aftertaste: Peat flavor and lingering dryness
Overall: 7.5/10

Happy Canada to all! And to those Americans still waiting on Independence Day, know that Innis and Gunn has begun releasing another beer in honor of your national holiday as well. And the reviews are comparably good, from what I can tell! I shall have to make another trip to the beer store soon just to be sure 😉

BrewDog 5 A.M. Saint

Not long ago, I was tasting this beer’s peer, known as the Dirty Blonde Pale Ale. I couldn’t help but mention this beer in that review, given its obvious quality. And so I went back to the beer store, picked up another 4 pack (which is their thing) and resampled it to make sure my impressions were fresh and informed!

According to the good people at BrewDog, the 5 a.m. Saint is “The Holy Grail of Ruby Ales”. Quite the bold statement, isn’t it? But it’s also in keeping with their commitment to quality in an industry that is still defined by quantity and big budget advertising. So it’s refreshing, no pun intended, to find people who’s commitment to craft brewing is almost… religious in nature. Okay, that pun was definitely intended! Onto the beer…

Appearance: Deep ruby, ever so slightly cloudy indicating high gravity
Nose: Deep tawny malt scent, notes of dry hops and caramel
Taste: Smooth malts with a gentle sweetness, giving way to dry hops
Aftertaste: Complex hop aftertaste, going from floral to dry and bitter
Overall: 10/10

A winner, big time! In fact, when I first tilted one back, I announced publicly that it was the best amber I’d ever had. Again, quite the statement, but it’s definitely a contender for a  spot on my list best pale ales! The only question is, which unlucky candidate will it knock out of the running…