Goodbye, for now!

10665309_622255991216427_4513817090624373714_nHello beer lovers. Let me start by saying that I’ve loved using this site over the past few years to share my love of beer with fellow aficionados, or just anyone willing to read my drunken ramblings! 😉 However, due to time constraints and my busy schedule, it looks like I am having to put the GCBS on hiatus for the time being.

In some ways, this is good news. In the past few years, I quit my dayjob as a teacher and became a full-time science and astronomy journalist (for Universe Today). In addition, for the past 18 months, I have been writing a book which – as of last October – was picked up by a publisher! The book is tentatively scheduled for release this September. And since I signed a two-book deal with the publisher, I will be working hard on its sequel for many months to come!

But of course, the downside of all these developments is that I have had very little time to dedicate to beer. My reviews of late have been few and far between, and the sheer number of new beers coming out that deserve reviews has outstripped my ability to keep up with them. Hence, I figured it was best to put the GCBS on hold until I could actually give the current craft beer explosion its due.

Rest assured, I hope to come back to it in the future. Thanks everyone for their interest and support over the years. In the meantime, may your beer be cold, sudsy, and always handcrafted 🙂

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Off To The Beer Seminar!

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Today is a great day for beer appreciation, because it is the day that I finally get to host my long-overdue beer-tasting and history of beer seminar. Ten participants have signed on, the space has been reserved, and in a few hours time, I will be giving the attendees a quick (well not too quick) run-down on the history of the brewing craft, coupled with some generous sampling.

I’ve prepared the following list based on what I could find and what seemed indispensable to me as far as representing the history and full range of brewing was concerned. All told, they are divided by style more than historical period, but I will be presenting them in this order since it gives a pretty good idea of how the art evolved over time.

Ancient Beers:
Heather: Salt Spring Island Heather Ale (5% / 650 ml)
(I desperately wanted to find a bomber of Gruit as well, but that variety of beer is both hard to find and hopelessly out of season right now)

Abbey Beers:
Blonde: Affligem Blonde (6.8% / 330ml)
Tripel: Townsite Charleston Tripel (9% / 650 ml)
Sour: Driftwood Belle Royale (8% / 650 ml)

Anglo-American Beer:
Pale Ale: Hoyne’s Down Easy (5.2% / 650ml)
India Pale Ale: Driftwood Fat Tug IPA (7% / 650 ml)
Stout: Hopworks 7-Grain Stout (5.3% / 650 ml)
Barley Wine: Howe Sound Wooly Bugger (10.5% / 375 ml)

German Beer:
Lager: Ayinger Dortmunder Lager (5.5% / 500 ml)
Oktoberfest: Russel Marzen (5.5% / 650ml)
Hefeweizen: Schneider Weisse (5.4% / 500 ml)
Bock: Schneider Weisse Aventinus (8% / 500ml)
Smokebeer: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier (6.6% / 500 ml)

The seminar will begin with where and how beer became a cornerstone of civilization – emerging alongside agriculture and sedentary communities some 8000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent. I will then go on to how the rise of wine making introduced a sense of cultural distinction during Classical Antiquity, and the influence was largely confined to the parts of Europe where the Roman Empire had influence (France, Spain, Italy, the Mediterranean, but not Germany, the Low Countries, Eastern Europe, or the British Isles).

Then comes the Middle Ages, the establishment of Abbey/Monastery Brewing, the rise of hop use, the advent of Lager and the growing professionalization of the industry. Which then gives way to the industrial revolution and the emergence of brewing as a big business, followed of course by the modern era and the resurgence in craft brewing. It promises to be interesting, I just hope I can keep it down to 20 minutes. Leaves more time from sampling!

I’ll be sure to let you all know how it goes and I hope to repeat it in the very near future with some other (and larger) groups of people.

Back from Europe!

DSCF2624Last week at this time, the wife and I returned from a lovely two and a half week trip to Europe. Arranged by my folks, who’ve done the war tour three times between them now, the four of us spent that time in Belgium and Northern France as part of World War I centenary and our personal exploration of World War II sites. In addition to visiting the many museums, memorials, and cemeteries that honor the dead, we also drank a fair amount of beer.

Some of these were familiar to us already, but others were an entirely new drinking experience. And what they told us about the local drinking customs was interesting and even a little surprising. For starters, we already knew that in Belgium, beer is the drink of choice to have with your meals. And whereas we here in North America tend to drink from a pint glass and consider chalices, sleeves and fluted glassware to be something of a novelty. In Belgium, by constrast, the chalice is the standard glass and appears to come in either the 25 or 50 cl (250 and 500 ml) variety.

No surprises there, but I was surprised to see just how prevalent these same drinking customers were in Northern France. While I’ve known for some time that wine is the preferred south Normandy, Brittany and the Calais regions, I wasn’t aware just how fond they were of Abbey beers. Cider, certainly, but in these areas, blonde ales from Belgium and local Abbeys are the first thing you find on tap when you come to a bar. And in addition to some Bayeux cider, Pommeau, and a little Calvados, we drank our fill!

So here is the list of every beer we (or mainly I) sampled, arranged in alphabetical order:

Affligem Blonde: All over the Normandy region, this beer affligemcould be found on tap and was often the brewery of choice for find dining establishments. Given that Leffe is now a favorite of my folks, we were all quite interested in giving this one a try. I was especially interested seeing as how this beer has not yet made it to my neck of the woods. Consistent with the Trappist brewing tradition, this blonde is a crisp, clear, golden pale ale that is quite appetizing and refreshing. Subtle traces of fermenting sugar and yeast also provide a varied palette that is both grainy and slightly sweet.

Chimay Blue: This beer is exactly as I remembered it. But of course, it was a treat to drink one while dining out in Belgium. Basically, the Blue is a dark beer has a some powerful malt that is replete with notes of oak, caramel, yeast, and has a dry, peppery finish.

delirium_tremensDelirium Nocturnum: This is a beer I did not even know existed, let alone had the pleasure of trying, before I visited a lovely bar named The Mayflower in Paris. As the name suggests, this is the dark ale in their lineup. And as the style entails, this beer bears a deeper, fruitier taste than the Tremens. Much like a barley wine, it contains notes of plums, brown sugar, raisins, and a tangy, yeasty profile.

Grimbergen Blonde: Yet another Abbey Ale we got a chance to sample during our travels. Whereas Affligem was the ale of choice in Normandy, and Leffe in Ypres, this one was everywhere we turned while in Paris. Compared to its peers, it was the lightest in terms of flavor, but was still very refreshing and balanced.

Grimbergen Saison: Honestly, I was not a fan of this seasonal brew. It was an appealing concept, infusing their blonde ale with apples and spices, but the end result tasted a little too much like fruit punch. While it was pleasing at first, the taste quickly became both underwhelming and cloyingly sweet after a few sips. Not a good combination.

kwak-glassKwak: Known as the beer that comes in the interesting glass (a shortened version of a yard glass) Kwak is a Belgian beer from the Eastern Flemish town of Dendermonde. A lovely ruby-red in color, has a nice malty and semi-sweet base, and some light fruit esters that call to mind apple, cherry, and plums. The pint of this that I enjoyed in Paris was the first time I ever tried, or even heard of, this beer, and it was a most pleasant introduction!

Leffe Blonde: This beer I’ve had many times over, thanks to the brewery’s immense popularity and worldwide distribution. But it was nice to have it again while staying in the country of its birth. Compared to its peers, it is actually more flavorful, employing that rather unique combination of yeast, grainy malt and touch of honey that Abbey Blondes are renowned for.

Leffe_BlondeLeffe Brune: After enjoying multiple bottles of the blonde, my father eventually made his desire for the brewery’s brown ale known. And as luck would have it, the local stores just happened to stock the entire Leffe lineup. Much like their Blonde, this beer had the yeasty backbone and a hint of honey, but with a deeper, maltier base.

Maredsous Blonde: Back in Ottawa, I came to know of this brewery and enjoyed their Brune and Triple whenever I was looking for a strong, malty, and slightly sugary Belgian brew. However, this was the first time I ever tried their flagship Blonde, which is lighter, but has that characteristic yeasty, grainy flavor with a floral, slightly spicy finish.

Maredsous Tripel: As usual, this beer delivered in all the requisite departments, being deliciously malty, yeasty, smooth, and with a hint of sweetness that gives balance to its strong alcohol content. This beer was enjoyed (amongst others) at a Parisian bar named the Mayflower, where they are in the habit of pouring extra-strong Belgian ales into pint glasses for their patrons. A festive time ensued!

Orval Trappist: Another “old faithful” beer, I drank a bottle or two of this while dining out with the wife in Ypres, Belgium. As always, the dark, Trappist ale had some strong, crisp malts that were oaky, dry, and had a hint of cherry flavor. Always good to enjoy a favorite beer in the land of its birth!

page-24-reserve-hildegarde-blondePage 24 Reserve Hildegarde Blonde: Yet another regional blonde ale that I enjoyed while in Paris, the esoteric appeal of the name alone was worth the price. But in addition, it was also a pleasingly tasty and refreshing ale, with a nicely balanced flavor that is gently malty, lightly hoppy, yeast, and with a hint of spice. And unlike most of the other blondes enjoyed on this trip, this ale was actually brewed in France (St. Germain Brewery, Nord-Pas-de-Calais region), rather than being a Belgian import.

Passchendaele Blonde: This was another blonde I enjoyed while in Ypres, and for obvious reasons. In addition to wanting to drink the local beer, I thought it wonderfully appropriate to enjoy one that paid homage to the Great War. Brewed by the Van Honsebrouck Castle Brewery in honor of those who fell in the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, this ale is relatively light in color, alcohol content (5.2%), but still has that distinct, Abbey ale flavor, with grainy malt, yeasts, dry hops, and a slightly spicy aftertaste.

Pelforth Blonde: Definitely was not a fan of this one. I ordered it out of curiosity, at a restaurant where it was the only other beer on tap aside from Affligem. It was the cheaper option, and I could immediately see why. Basically, it had the taste of a generic beer, being both watery and flat in terms of flavor.

Primus Pilsner: During our final dinner in Ypres, whilst I enjoyed a Chimay Blue and an Orval, the wife enjoyed a tall glass of this fine pilsner. While it was certainly very light and not too heavy on the grainy malt and bitter hops Pilsner’s are known for, it certainly delivered in the drinkability and refreshing departments.

Tripel_KarmelietTripel Karmeliet: Also enjoyed at Mayflower, this beer was paired with a Maredsous Triple. It takes its name from the fact that monks of the Order of Carmel have been making it since the late 17th century, and from the three grains fermented to make it. These include wheat, oats and barley, which are then refermented in the bottle to fashion the golden ale. The end result is a syrupy, malty beer that has a hint of sugar sweetness, is slightly coarse, and pretty strong in the alcohol department (8.4% alc/vol).

Westmalle Tripel: This Belgian brew is already one of my all-time favorites. But there’s something to be said about being able to enjoy it in the country of its birth, not to mention being able to purchase it for less than 2 Euros (roughly three Dollars) a bottle! Best case of hotel room drinking I’ve experienced to date!

Obviously, this year’s journey to Europe was not for the purpose of “drinking in” the local culture. No, that was just a bonus to everything else we got to witness, experience, adn share. And as you can see, measured strictly in terms of the amount of beers sampled, it was a pretty wonderful time! I do hope to repeat the experience again someday and venture even further afield, perhaps visiting the abbeys and monasteries themselves, and also delving into those wonderful Flemish sours!

Moon Under Water Belgium Triple Wedding Ale

moonunderwater_weddingMoon Under Water has produced yet another limited release, and it sure took me long enough to secure a bottle! Yes, it seems like only yesterday that this brewery was celebrating its first anniversary with a wheat wine (a very good one, btw). But this brewery has been shown no signs of slowing down since its inception. And their penchant for experimentation has remained consistent throughout.

Brewed in honor of the brewmaster’s own marriage, this beer is a fitting example of an Abbey-style Triple Ale, and comes sealed in the bottle with white wax. It is a light golden color, has a thick, lacy foam, and was highly reminiscent of La Fin Du Monde in terms of flavor. But it is comparatively lighter, owing no doubt to the use of Bohemian Pilsner malts and wheat. But of course, it still packs a wallop, weighing in at 9% alc/vol and fermented using candi sugar.

Appearance: Golden, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Mild malts and yeast, sugary, mild hint of banana
Taste: Strong malts, slightly sweet and coarse, strong yeast, mild banana and spice
Aftertaste: Lingering yeasts, malt coarseness,
Overall: 8.5/10

Looking forward to the next limited release from this brewery. 2013 was a pretty good year for them. Here’s hoping 2014 continues to prove as fruitful and creative for them!

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.

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!

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 😉