Driftwood Old Cellar Dweller Barley Wine 2016

driftwood_ocd2016Brewer: Driftwood Brewing, Victoria, BC
Style: Barley Wine (apparently)
ABV: 11.2%
IBUs: Unlisted (but damn high!)

Description: This is the latest release of the Old Cellar Dweller, which is not quite seasonal, but intermittent throughout the year. The 2016 release coincides with the holiday season, and is brewed using a combination of Pale, Pilsner, Crystal malts, and then heavily bittered using Columbus and Cascade hops.

Tasting Notes: This year’s Old Cellar Dweller has been in keeping with what they’ve been doing in recent years, which is to produce an Imperial IPA and call it a barleywine. As is stated on their website –  “When young, it is a hoppy treat with plenty of citrus and pine; cellared for a few years and Cellar Dweller gracefully ages into a rich, round reward for patience, hinting at flavours of tawny port.” However, offering that were from 2012 and earlier were not required to undergo aging before they began to resemble actual barleywine. So… why do we wait for it to mature? And what’s with the mislabeling?

Appearance: Strong orange, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich malts, strong notes of citrus, pine and tropical fruit
Taste: Sweet and coarse malt, tang, notes of pine, pineapple, passion fruit
Aftertaste: Lingering coarse malt, hop bitterness, alcoholic warmth
Overall: 8/10

Phillips Trainwreck Oak Aged Barley Wine 2016

phillips_trainwreckBrewer: Philips Brewing, Victoria, BC
Style: Barley Wine
ABV: 10%
IBUs: Unlisted

Description: Phillips annual winter seasonal ale is back for another season! And this time around, they have chosen to age their barley wine in French and American oak. Basically, for 2016, they’ve brought back the barrels, but ditched the bourbon! However, this beer still packs a punch, and is recommended best served at cellar temperatures (8 °C).

Tasting Notes: This year’s Trainwreck was quite delightful! I have only ever had nice things to say about their barley wine on its own, and mixed things when it came to the bourbon-barrel aged variant. But an oak-aged Trainwreck certainly manages to get the job done and doesn’t offend along the way. In fact, its natural sugars and maltiness do well with some natural oak flavor, which restrains the sweetness but doesn’t overpower the flavor.

Appearance: Dark amber/brown, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich malt, brown sugars, raisins, dates, minerals, oak
Taste: Strong malt, oakiness, brown sugar, raisins, dates, mineral tang, alcoholic bite
Aftertaste: Lingering mineral tang, alcohol and oak notes
Overall: 8/10

Dieu du Ciel Solstice d’hiver

Dieuduciel_solsticehiver_verreBrewer: Brasserie Dieu du Ciel, Montreal, QC
Style: Barley Wine
ABV: 10.2%
IBUs: Unlisted

Description: This beer is part of the brewery’s Momentum Series, which is an annual cycle of twelve seasonal releases. As their winter release, this traditional English-style barley-wine style ale celebrates the winter solstice with a winter warmer.

Tasting Notes: I’m a fan of barley wine, and I considered trying the Solstice d’hiver necessary having sampled the Solstice d’ete not that long ago. But I have to say this particular barley wine was too on the coarse and strong side for me. It’s got the usual notes of dark fruit and sugars and is a shade of brown so deep and opaque that it could easily pass for a stout. But the alcohol in this beer is so potent that it overpowers just about everything else.

Appearance: Dark brown, translucent, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Dark malt, raisins, dates, sugars, strong alcoholic bite
Taste: Strong, coarse malt, hints of dates and raisins, brown sugar, alcoholic bite
Aftertaste: Lingering coarse malt and alcoholic bite
Overall: 7.5/10

Swans Legacy Ale Barley Wine (2014)

swans_legacyBrewer: Swans Brewery, Victoria BC
Style: Barley Wine
ABV: 10.3%
IBUs: unlisted

Description: An annual release that comes out every year on Swans anniversary, this barely wine is brewed in honor of Michael Williams – heritage conservationist and philanthropist who’s estate includes the Swans Hotel.

Tasting Notes: This beer has gone down in my personal drinking history as one of my personal top 10 favorites. The reason is simple: I have a weakness for barley wine that is done right, and which reminds me of my favorite beer of all time. While my tastes may have matured, a strong, dark, sugary beer with rich malts, a fair dosing of hops, and plenty of fruity flavor is still sure to warm my bones and make me smile!

Appearance: Deep ruby, clear, mild foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich malt, coarse, notes of demerara sugar, pineapple, alcohol
Taste: Strong malt, coarseness, brown sugar, raisins, figgy pudding and alcohol
Aftertaste: Lingering coarse malt, hop and alcoholic bitterness
Overall: 9/10

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.

Thor’s Hammer Barley Wine

thors-hammer-bottleBrewer: Central City Brewing, Vancouver BC
Style: Barley Wine
Alc/Vol: 11.5%

Description: This award-winning barley wine is an annual release from Central City, and is an especially strong take on this traditional English-style. In addition to choice malt, it is hopped using a combination of German Magnum, Horizon, Centennial, and Cascade, and then bottle conditioned for a year before release.

Tasting Notes: As barley wines go, this one was a real ass-kicker in all departments. That includes malt strength, sweetness, and alcoholic strength. In addition, it delivers in all the key aspects of flavor, which includes a rich, malt-forward character, strong notes of brown sugar and molasses, dark fruits, and a slightly hoppy finish. It’s high time that I got around to sampling this one!

Appearance: Mahogany-brown, very cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Sweet, slightly coarse malts, molasses, raisins, plums
Taste: Sugars, slight tang, brown sugar, molasses, dark fruit and walnuts
Aftertaste: Lingering molasses, smokiness, coarse malt and citrus
Overall: 9/10

Dieu du Ciel Rigor Mortis ABT

dieuduciel_rigormortisBrewer: Dieu du Ciel Brewery, St. Jerome, QB
Style: Quadruple
Alc/Vol: 10.5%

Description: This Ale Brune Tres Fort (very strong brown ale) is brewed in accordance with the qaudrupel tradition, in honor of the Belgian Trappist monks who invented it. Consistent with this style, the beer is extra strong, very malty, and has a distinct spicy quality due to the type of yeast used in fermentation. It is brewed only once a year and sold in winter from January until stocks run out.

Tasting Notes: This beer was very reminiscent of a barley wine, figgy pudding, and Christmas, all rolled into one. In short, it was a perfect example of an Abbey-style Quadrupel, packing the sugary and slightly coarse malt, the notes of raisins, plums and other dark fruits, the yeasty backbone, and a slightly spicy compliment to finish it all off. Yes, I think its fair to say at this point that I am fast becoming a fan of Dieu du Ciel!

Appearance: Deep ruby-brown, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich malts, brown sugar, molasses, hint of allspice
Taste: Sweet and slightly coarse malt, sugars, raisins, plums, yeast, spicy finish
Aftertaste: Lingering coarse malt, sugars and spice
Overall: 9.5/10

Swan’s Seven Swans a Swimming Tis the Saison

swans-seven1Brewer: Swan’s Brewery
Style: Belgian Saison
Alc/vol: 7%

Description: Seven Swans a Swimming is brewed in limited quantities in honor of the holiday season every year. The Belgian-style Saison ale is made in the farmhouse tradition, using barley, water, Belgian yeast strains, spices, and an infusion of raisins.

Tasting Notes: The beer is consistent with some of the best Saisons I’ve had in recent years. Like a good Saison, it is  distinctly yeasty, subtle in terms of malt flavor, and has a some discernible coriander spice and sweetness to it. The added raisins certainly helps in this latter regard, providing a slight sugary hint that is a little reminiscent of barley wine. Definitely reminded me of the holiday season.

Appearance: Golden orange, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Yeasty, subtle malt, hint of coriander spice
Taste: Immediate burst of yeast, slight sugary sweetness, coriander spice
Aftertaste: Mildly bitter, lingering spice and yeast flavor
Overall: 9/10

Woolly Bugger Barley Wine 2013

wooly_bugger_2013Back in the winter of 2012/13, I reviewed quite a few beers as part of what I called “The Winter of Beer”. And of all those that I sampled, Howe Sound’s Woolly Bugger Barley Wine was the best, and not just in terms of barley wines. In terms of color, aroma, taste, and finish, it was the best beer of the season, beating out Phillips, Hoyne, Rogue, Driftwood, and even such historic ales that I happened to find during this time (like La Rochefort Trappist 8, 10 and Orval).

So this season, I thought I’d revisit the Wooly Bugger since Howe Sound has chosen to release a new vintage. As you can see from the image, the label is somewhat different from what the last two annual releases sported. And for the most part, the beer has been consistently good as far as its taste was concerned, ranking as one of the season’s best winter ales. However, there were some difference that brought it down in my estimation, if only slightly.

For instance, the beer boasted a bigger, lacier head this year, whereas 2012’s was pretty subdued in terms of foam and carbonation. This year’s release was also discernibly more malt-forward, with little hop aroma or flavor that I could discern. It’s nose consisting heavily of fruity, sugary notes without the hint of citrus I noticed before, and this carried through in the taste which was dominated by sugars, coarse malt and alcohol, with a only hint of hop bitterness at the end.

Appearance: Amber-brown, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Strong, sugary malts, dates, raisins, and dark fruits
Taste: Molasses and brown sugar, giving way to coarse malt and bitter hop finish
Aftertaste: Lingering alcoholic bitterness and coarse malt
Overall: 9/10

In short, and with brutal honesty, this year’s Woolly Bugger was not as balanced as last year’s. However, it still scores a 9 out of 10 in my books for its delicious malty flavor, supple, sweet nose, chewy mouth feel and winter-warming character.

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!