Big Rock Monkey’s Fist Imperial IPA

big-rock-iipaBrewer: Big Rock Brewery, Calgary, AB
Style: Imperial IPA
ABV: 7.5%
IBUs: 73

Description: This brew comes as part of the Family Jewels pack, and is otherwise known as their Dead Reckoning Imperial IPA when part of their Brewmaster’s Edition. In the traditional of Imperial IPAs, this brew is fashioned from a combination of Maris Otter, Caramel and Black malts, while bittered with English East Kent Golding, Challenger and Progress hops.

Tasting Notes: This is the last of my new samplings from the Big Rock’s Family Jewels pack. And similar to the others, it was somewhat lighter than what I am accustomed to of late. Being English in style, this brew had a good malt base and some varied but comparatively subtle hop flavor. This came through in some sugary, coarse malt and some strong citrus notes and deep earthy flavor. And yet, it finishes rather clean and mild.

Appearance: Deep amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich malt, burnt sugar, citrus and earthy hops
Taste: Strong malt, mild coarseness tang, citrus rind, dry hops, earthy tones
Aftertaste: Lingering citrus rind hop bitterness, malt flavor
Overall: 7.8/10

Big Rock Scottish Style Heavy Ale

big-rock-scottishBrewer: Big Rock Brewery, Calgary, AB
Style: Wee Heavy Ale
ABV: 7%
IBUs: Unlisted

Description: As part of their Signature Series, this Scottish ale is brewed in the “Wee Heavy” tradition, employing a combination of Pale, Caramel, Munich and Peated malt, and then bittered with Northern brewer hops.

Tasting Notes: This is my second sampling from the Family Jewels pack, and is one which I have had before (but didn’t review). Again, a but on the light side, but this brew certainly comes through in the flavor department. Like a good Wee Heavy, it has some rich malts, a touch of sweetness, hints of peat moss and whiskey, and a respectable 7% alcohol.

Appearance: Deep red, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich malt, syrup, sugars, smoked peat, whiskey
Taste: Sweet malt, hint of peat, syrup, biscuits, smoky tang
Aftertaste: Lingering malt, peat flavor, smoky and tangy finish
Overall: 8/10

Big Rock Gerstenmeister Marzen

big-rock-family-jewels_baseBrewer: Big Rock, Calgary AB
Style: Marzen
ABV: 5.5%
IBUs: Unlisted

Description: Consistent with the popular Oktoberfest-style of German Lager, the Gerstenmeister combines (what I believe are) Munich malts with a mild hopping, which is then aged for six months of cool confinement to effect a rich, malty, and mildy hoppy flavor.

Tasting Notes: As Marzen’s go, this beer was a little light for my taste. Still, it had all the right things going for it – a rich malt, base, smooth character, a light tang, and some sweet notes that reminded me of shortbread and toffee. And despite generally being on the lighter side, I have found Big Rock’s wares always comes through where it counts. This beer is the first sampling from my most recent procurement from the local beer stores post-holiday surpluses. It’s known as the Family Jewels Pack, and stay tuned, because there are a few more to come!

Appearance: Orange, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Mild malt, biscuits, toffee, mild floral hops, minerals
Taste: Sweet malt, mild tang, shortbread, toffee, mild dry hops, minerals
Aftertaste: Lingering malt flavor, minerals and mild tang
Overall: 7.8/10

Abandoned Abbey Belgian Style Dark Ale

bigrock_abbeyBrewer: Big Rock Brewery, Calgary AB
Style: Belgian Dark
ABV: 9.2%
IBU: 28

Description: As part of Big Rock’s Brewmaster’s edition, this dark ale is brewed in the venerable tradition of Belgian Abbeys and Monasteries. It is fashioned using Belgian Dark, Wheat, and Chocolate malts, then lightly hopped for a deep, rich, and complex brew.

Tasting Notes: Again, I am glad I was able to find a limited release beer from Big Rock, as its not readily available out here on Vancouver Island. And it was certainly enjoyable, reminding me of a good Belgian Dubbel with its rich malt, esters of dark fruit, notes of brown sugar, molasses, and plenty of yeast and spices.

Appearance: Deep brown, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Strong malt nose, molasses, sugars, yeast, dark fruits, spices
Taste: Rich malt, tang, yeasts, dates, raisins, brown sugar and molasses, spicy finish
Aftertaste: Lingering malts, spices, alcohol and yeasts
Overall: 8.2/10

Big Rock Anthea Wet Hop Ale 2014

bigrock_antheaBrewer: Big Rock, Calgary, AB
Style: Wet Hopped Pale Ale
ABV: 6%
IBUs: 39

Description: As part of the Alchemist Edition, a series of one-off, very limited release small batch brews, the Anthea is Big Rock’s contribution to move towards locally-sourced, wet-hopped beers. The name means “blossom” in Greek, and the brew is fashioned from Pale and Caramel Malt with Fresh Cascade hops sourced from the Yakima Valley in Washington state.

Tasting Notes: It’s rather difficult for me to find anything from Big Rock’s limited releases out here, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found this. Like most wet-hopped ales I’ve had, this one was rather subtle and easy drinking. The relatively crisp and smooth malt is balanced by hop flavor that has discernible citrus and grassy notes that are understated, but present throughout.

Appearance: Golden amber, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Gentle malts, mild floral and citrus hop notes
Taste: Crisp malt, hint of grapefruit, gentle hop bite, grassy and citrus notes
Aftertaste: Mild lingering hop flavor, crisp malt, refreshing finish
Overall: 7.7/10

Big Rock Fowl Mouth ESB

fowl_mouth_esbBrewer: Big Rock, Calgary AB
Style: Extra Special Bitter
Alc/Vol: 5.5%

Description: Part of the brewery’s Brewmaster Series, the Fowl Mouth is made in the “Cornish Bitter” fashion and combines Pale and Crystal malts with East Kent Golding and U.K. Fuggle Hops to create a dry-hopped English-style pale ale.

Tasting Notes: It’s been some time since I enjoyed a Big Rock beer. I can remember quite fondly when they first began to appear in pubs in Ottawa in the late 90s, and enjoyed many a pint of their Traditional Ale as they years went on. And these days, their product catalog only seems to be expanding, so I knew I had to start catching up. And as far as ESBs go, this one was quite refreshing, had a lovely malt profile, and was surprisingly fruity, in addition to the subtle, dry-hop profile. I definitely want to see more from the Brewmaster Edition and will do my best to review in the future.

Appearance: Copper, clear, milder foam retention and  carbonation
Nose: Rich malt, notes of orchard fruit, English hops
Taste: Smooth crystal malt, mild tang, sweet bread, hint of blackcurrant, dry hop finish
Aftertaste: Lingering malt, chewy bread, mild citrus and dry hop flavor
Overall: 9/10

Gahan Island Red Ale

gahan_redaleBrewer: Gahan Brewery, Charlottetown PEI
Style: Amber Ale
Alc/Vol: 5.3%

Description: Established in 1997 in Charlottetown, the Gahan Brewery and House Pub is the only brewery on Prince Edward Island that brews handcrafted, small batch beer. The Island Red is an English-style amber ale, and the flagship brew of their operation. It was the Gold Medal winner for the 2011 Canadian Brewing Awards.

Tasting Notes: This beer is entirely new to me, and was quite the lovely introduction to this Maritime brewery. The malt profile and hop profiles are quite subtle, calling to mind traditional English ambers, and is made using what I assume are pale malt, Golding and/or Fuggles hops. This results is an ale that is malt-forward, subtle and smooth, and has flavors of baked bread and dry herbs.

Appearance: Dark amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Syrupy, rich malts, mild, dry hops
Rich pale malt, baked bread, hint of sweetness, subtle, herbal hops
Aftertaste: Lingering malt flavor and mild bitterness
Overall: 9/10

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 😉

Keith’s Cascade Hop Ale

hop-series-ales-expandAs a rule, I’m always encouraged when a major brewery decides to show a commitment to craft brewing. These days, most breweries seem to be doing this through the creation of small-batch limited releases. Not only do these show that quality is winning out over quantity, it demonstrates that people are once again looking for new and local beers that offer them an authentic drinking experience. And even the largest operations appear to be noticing the writing on the wall…

So I really wasn’t that surprised when I noticed that Alexander Keith’s was coming out with a new series known as the Hop Series Ales. And during one of our visits to the local pub, I saw the opportunity to try the first beer in the series – known as the Cascade Hop Ale. And considering that I have often used Keith’s as an example of everything that’s wrong in the world of brewing, my expectations were not very high, but were my hopes were. Here’s what I thought…

Appearance: Light amber, clear, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Slight notes of pine and citrus
Taste: Light malts, smooth, quick burst of citrus hops
Aftertaste: Relatively watery finish, mild malt and hop traces
Overall: 7/10

In short, this first item in their Hop Series was not bad. In fact, in the course of drinking it, I generally felt that it was a drinkable and somewhat pleasurable ale to have. However, these feeling were mitigated by my suspicion that what I was tasting was really just regular Keiths with some added hops thrown in. Hence my rating of a flat seven out of ten. Not bad, but not great either. Pretty much what I was expecting to find…

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!