Back from Ottawa!

Greeting all from the nation’s capital! Some interesting things have transpired since our arrival. Some friends came out, some pubs were visited, some pints were tilted. All good times! And as usual, I intend to write about it all, particularly all the beers we drank! Some old, some new, there were many brands that were drunk even thus far that have been worthy of a review. It will take me days to cover them all, so please, your indulgence as I try to do it all justice…

My first review is dedicated to the beers encountered at a timely and impressive event:The Winter Beers and Ice Wines event that took place during the weekend of the 17th/18th. Not only did it coincide with our visit nicely, my darling wife had the foresight to suggest we book some VIP tickets. As such, we got the deluxe experience! In addition to sampling many, many beers from the Quebec side of the border, we got a taste of some true culinary delights in an upscale atmosphere. It all went down at the Maison du Citoyen in Hull, Quebec, and here’s what I thought of what I tasted, by brand and name.

Brasseurs Du Temps:
Located in Gatineau, Quebec, this brewery was the only one at the tasting that had its own booth staffed by its own people. And given the fact that the sample glasses were also stamped with their company logo, I got the distinct impression they were hosting the thing. All of their brews were made in accordance with traditional European and (more specifically) Belgian brewing, at least the ones I tried. As such, they were strong, heavy, dark and deep! Not to mention flavorful.

Dumduminator: Named in honor of its creator, Dominique Gosselin (Dumdum to his friends), this dunkelweizenbock was a nice surprise, calling to mind one of my all time favorites: Aventinus! And like its predecessor, it was dark, strong, had a heady foam, and some rich wheat malts. However, the DD was different in that it had a distinct banana flavor in addition to its spicey notes. A nice opening to this tasting experience! 4/5

La Saison Basse: This seasonal beer, named in honor of the fall, is a blonde ale that boasts a variety of spices with an intense, distinctly Belgian taste. Overall, I was reminded of Duvel, another blonde done in the Belgian fashion that boasted some gruff malts. I should also note, in a move that is decidedly clever, this beer has an opposite known as La Saison Haute, a seasonal spring beer. Unfortunately, this one was not available at the tasting. Guess I’ll have to wait til next year! 3.75/5

Messe de Minuit, 2010: A holiday beer which, quite frankly, is like Christmas in a glass! The color is black, the smell is fruity and spicey, and the nose and taste are similar to a stout. Add to that a rich flavor that is reminiscent of figgy pudding, cloves and spices, and you get a pretty good picture of what this beer is all about. A great finish to this breweries lineup. 4.5/5

I just wish I could have sampled more. A quick perusal of their website would seem to indicate that there’s certainly no shortage! I wonder if they deliver…
http://www.brasseursdutemps.com/beers/our-full-range

IGA Famille Charles:
Said family is a major compact in Quebec which owns the Independent Grocers Association, a number of craft breweries, and the relative giants of Molson, Coors, and Rickards Brewing. Overall, I’d say I spent the majority of my time at this booth, trying their beer, talking to their patrons, and bugging their representatives for info! Here’s what I sampled and where it came from:

L’Assoiffe: brewed by Brasseurs du Monde, from St-Hyacinthe, Quebec, this beer’s name literally translates to “thirsty”. A double brown ale, brewed Belgian-style, it was expectedly strong and quite dark, combining a strong malty profile with the tawny character of a brown. Lightly scented but firmly flavored, it was quite the thirst quencher! 3.75/5

Trois-Mousquetaires Wiezenbock: this beer, I quickly realized, is something we have in BC. In fact, I can recall drinking one or two Mousquetaires not that long ago; luckily they weren’t the Wiezenbock so I didn’t consider this experience wasted! Brewed in Brossard, Quebec, Trois Mousquetaires is another Quebec craft brewery specializing in continental-style beer making. And at 10% alc/vol, this wheat beer was certainly a unique experience, combining strong wheat  malts with a very rich, very dark profile that called to mind brown sugar, molasses and a hint of smoke and bananas. Quite the powerful number, and definitely for the barley wine enthusiast, if not the casual beer drinker! 3.5/5

La Noblesse: Possibly my favorite from the IGA section, this beer was reminiscent of Chimay in a number of ways. For starters, its a dark amber, cloudy in appearance, and boasts a strong oaky flavor that reminds one of sour ale.  I was also told to be on the lookout for a touch of vanilla, though I admittedly took awhile to find it! Definitely something I’ll be on the lookout for in the future. 4/5

McAuslan Brewing:
Technically, the bar hosting McAuslan’s fine products was hosted by the radio station CKOI (104.7 Outaouais), but to me, they were the centerpiece so they might as well have been running it themselves. Several other brewers were represented here; unfortunately, I only got to try one other. Lucky for me, it was worth it since I finally got to try McAuslan’s latest Vintage Ale as well as the rather unique and intriguing Diablo. Of these:

Millesimee: This is the name of McAuslan’s 2010 Vintage Ale. Awhile back, I reviewed McAuslan and claimed that their Millennial Ale, the 2000 Vintage, was the best beer I’ve ever tried. Well that’s still true, but unfortunately, I’ve been unable to offer any opinions on any of the vintages they’ve produced since. Thanks to this event, those days are now behind me, even if it’s likely to be awhile before I can review any of their vintages again. That being said, I have to say that I was unimpressed with this latest vintage by the good folks at McAuslan. Unlike its Millennial predecessor, the 2010 Vintage was an amber ale, very strong, slightly sweet, and quite rough on the palatte. I was reminded of Scotch-Ale, the “Wee Heavy” style of beer that combines rich, heavy malts with a touch of sweetness and a bitter, highly viscous aftertaste. That’s what you got here, and I have to say that I do not think these different elements go together well. This is not to say that the beer is a bad contribution, far from it! In fact, its without a doubt a faithful adaptation of an extra-strong amber ale and an interesting choice for their latest vintage. It just didn’t agree with me personally. Mainly because the strong flavor has a way of really lingering. Seriously, after a glass of this, everything tasted rough and bitter! 3/5

El Diablo: Last of the festivals lineup comes to you from the Brasserie du Lievre located in Mont-Laurier, Quebec. And I can honestly say that my choice to try this over several others from this bar was thematically consistent, given the fact that it too was a strong amber, rough on the palatte, and quite rich and chewy. However, the Diablo combines all of this with a strong, vanilla flavor that is surprising and quite palatable. A touch of velvet you might say to an otherwise rough and tough brew. Little wonder then why they call it Diablo! 3.75/5

Well, that is all for now. Like I said, there were many drinking experiences during my Ottawa trip, and it will take some time to do it all justice. Lord knows I spent plenty of time this trip with a beer in one hand and my PDA in the other, constantly drinking and typing, hoping to get all my impressions down so I could do faithful reviews later.

Coming up next, the Mill Street Brewpub, a newly opened branch of the Toronto-based craft brewery!

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Happy Winter Wassail Everybody!

“Waes Hail!” Translated from Old English, it means good health. In modern times, its an old pagan festival that celebrates the apple harvest of the year and ensures a good harvest for the next year. The traditions vary from region to region, but in general, the celebrations involve food, singing, a mummer’s play, and the drinking of cider. LOTS of cider!

And wouldn’t you know it? Last year my wife and I chanced upon a place that carries on in this Old English tradition, and it’s within biking distance (which is handy!) It’s called the Sea Cider cidery, and this past weekend, we went back for seconds. And just like last year, we enjoyed ourselves big time! So I thought it was about time I did a review of their cider lineup. That and the fact that we’ve been living within biking distance from them for the last two years!

Kings and Spies: A blended cider, made from both Kings and Northern Spies apples, producing an Italian-style cider that is crisp, slightly sweet, and has an effervescent quality. Quite the dose of bubbly, and good when paired with champagne-friendly foods, like cheese, olives and other lighter fare. I should also note that this cider has a social conscience, with the proceeds going to Lifecycles, a Victoria-based organization that promotes local food security. 4/5

Pippins: The sweetest of their regular lineup, this cider is the result of island-grown Winter Banana and Sunset apples. The result is a dry cider that boasts fresh, fruity notes that are reminiscent of pineapple and citrus. A definite accompaniment to pasta, stir fry or just on its own. 4.5/5

Perry: A very light and very dry pear cider that is in keeping with this venerated style. Not my favorite, but I know for a fact that its a genuine article. Those who dry whites will definitely approve, especially those of us from the island which is known to produce them. And, I should also note that I personally brought this cider to our friend’s 1st annual Wine, Cider and IPA party (It didn’t win, but what can you do?) 3/5

Rumrunner: In addition to home grown apples and champagne yeast, this cider has the added perk of being fermented in real Kentucky Bourbon barrels. The result is a sweet, strong cider that is dark in color and has a distinct note of rum/screech. Beware when consuming this one, its delicious flavor can mask the fact that it is quite powerful! A local favorite definitely, and I believe their best seller. 4/5

Wild English: The name refers to the wild yeast fermentation process, and the use of English bittersweet cider apples (all organic of course!). The result is a dry, crisp, and highly effervescent cider that tingles the nose and sparkles on the tongue. It also follows through with an earthy punch and a long, tart finish. Definitely one for the true cider enthusiast! 4/5

Pommeau: One of my personal favorites, probably because of its strength and challenging nature. Based on traditional Normandy-style cider that dates from the 1600’s, this aperitif cider is crafted from hand-pressed Snow apples. The result is a potent, delicious cider that is reminiscent of apple brandy and icewine. At 18% alc/vol, it is their strongest fare, but still deliciously sweet. A dangerous combination if ever there was one! 5/5!

Pomana: Named after the Roman Goddess of Apples, this cider is the result of freezing, then crushing crab apples, then allowing them to ferment. And the result is nothing short of delicious! Fans of icewine beware, this dessert-style cider will ween you off of grapes for certain! And like your stronger ice wines, it weighs in at a powerful 16% alc/vol. Delicious when served over ice cream, or just on its own, especially when chilled. 5/5!

Cyser: A new addition since last year. Cyser ciders are a combination of pressed, fermented, apples and pure honey. And here in Saanich, we produce some pretty spectacular organic honeys. It’s no surprise then that these folks would choose to combine the two and produce this fine dessert-style cider! Boasting a strong, sweet flavor with notes of honey, citrus and butter… it’s like… all three of those things! 4/5

Some varieties I have (regrettably) yet to try: Flagship, the eponymously named mainstay of their cider fleet. Wassail, a special release for this year’s festival. I will get on them this week or next, come hell, high-water or hangover!

*The link for Sea Cider’s event page:
Winter Wassail at Sea Cider

New Beer and Cider!

After several months on sojourn, I came back in May 2011 with this post concerning some new beer and some rather delicious ciders! The latter were largely the result of us attending the Wassail celebration over at the Sea Cidery, which is just a short drive/bikeride away from us. In fact, there are two local cideries in our area, both of which are infinitely reachable. The second is mentioned here and is also a very good purveyor of ciders: the Merridale Cidery. Too bad they’re not within walking distance, that’d be really ideal! But I digress… Here’s the post:

Hello again! Boy, its been awhile since I reviewed any beer, which is surprising considering that I haven’t exactly been slowing down with the sampling lately. In fact, just the other week-end, my darling girl and I went to an IPA/cider/wine sampling party. Our generous hosts arranged the whole thing, with finger foods, multiple selections of each, and we even graded them and gave out prizes to whomever brought the winning selection.

Guess who won the award for best IPA? Do I need to ask? I mean, c’mon, read the title! Beer Snob, that’s who! And my entries were two favorites, Spinnakers IPA and Howe Sound Devil’s Elbow IPA. Both excellent ales in their own right, one lighter and infinitely drinkable, suitable for food pairing and the uninitiated; the other stronger and hoppier, floral in both taste and aroma and best when enjoyed on its own.

But there were other vintages that I think need some honorable mention. For instance, in terms of cider, we were treated to a series of local favorites, many of which came from either Merridale Cidery or Sea Cider. From the former, the Traditional Cider was the entry, and it was a big hit. This dry, smooth cider is a fine example of… well, traditional English cider! Not much more to say. And from the latter cidery, the party guests were treated to a taste of Pippins. This is a more sweet and scrumpy cider, named after the principal type of apple used to make it. I don’t believe this one won Best Cider, but dammit it should have! What didn’t make it in the lineup, but very well could have had my darling and I been able to show some restraint, was Sea Cider’s seasonal cider known eponymously as Perry. Like all perry ciders, its made from pears rather than apples, and the result in this case is a very dry, effervescent drink that’s perfect when paired with snacking foods like sharp cheeses and salty treats.

More to come, but first, I must review the names of some recently sampled Kolsch’s and Bitters. See ya soon!

FYI: I never did get around to reviewing Kolsch and bitters. What’s more, I should definitely dedicate some time to the wonderful Sea Cider plant and its products. That Wassail (an Old English tradition, wæs hæil meaning “good health”) was a good time! Oh well, something to do in the future!