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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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.

Trappistes Rochefort 8

Minolta DSCWinter season always seems like the perfect time for Trappist Ales! And thanks to my having discovered a place that is well stocked in my more obscure favorites (Cook Street Liquor Store), I was able to procure a few bottles in preparation for a little sample pack!

To start, I’ve decided to go back to some old favorites that I have not resampled in years. While I’ve found no shortage of Chimay labels and even the occasional Orval here in BC, I’ve been hard pressed to find any of their closely-related kin. Trappistes Rochefort is one such brewery, a renowned operation run by the Abbey St-Remy in Rochefort, Belgium. This Abbey and the brewery date back to the High Middle Ages and continues to produce true Trappist Ale to this very day.

Today, it’s the Trappist 8, the breweries triple-fermented ale and the second in their series of three ales. Colloquially, this one is known as the “green cap” because of the color of the bottle cap, is a brown ale, and weighs in at a hefty 9.2% alc/vol. Of the three beers produced by the brewery, this one is the most renowned and fits in the middle between sugary-sweet and spicier end of the spectrum.

Appearance: Cloudy, orange-brown, good foam retention
Nose: Mild fruit and yeast, notes of plum, cherry, and raisins
Taste: Strong malts, slightly sweet, caramel, raisins and plums
Aftertaste: Mild spicey finish, very nice and smooth
Overall: 9.5/10

Of the three, this one has been my favorite over the years. Whereas the Rochefort 6 is milder and smoother and the 10 is the most fruity and sugary, this one holds a place of honor in the middle. Balancing smooth malts, fruit, yeast and just the right amount of spice, its all around pleasure to drink and well paired with appetizer plates consisting of cheese, bread, fruit and pate, or with desserts featuring chocolate and fruit compote. If you can get your hands on some, do so!

Driftwood Brewery

Recently, I came to the realization that I had tried just about everything a local brewery had to offer, and yet I’d never given them a complete review! This seems to be a pattern with me, but rarely does it happen with a brewery in my own backyard. I am of course referring to the Driftwood Brewery, located right here in beautiful Victoria BC! Oft times I have praised an individual beer of theirs, and even used them as the meter stick when I needed to compare another beer to something. And after a recent visit to one of my favorite dispensaries, I realized that I tried their entire regular lineup. Not quite all their specialty, but dammit, they just make so many! Still, it’s high time I put all my thoughts on this establishment into one place. So here goes…

First off, a note on the brewery itself. Established back in 2008 by Jason Meyer and Kevin Hearsum, this brewery is a recent addition to craft brewing here on the island. However, in just four short years, these guys turned a start-up with a simple but popular selection into a powerhouse of microbrewing with a six beer lineup and a growing line of specialty beers. And they’ve got a memorable and geographically appropriate name to boot, so its easy to see why they’ve done well. Operating out of a former warehouse in Victoria’s Gorge area, they are joined by breweries like Hoyne, Spinnakers, Swans, and Moon Under Water.

Yeah, I’m thinking these guys aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. As for the beer, well…

Regular Lineup:
Driftwood Ale: A balanced and drinkable beer and a fitting example of a West Coast Pale Ale. Rich malt flavors are complimented by a good bite that has notes of grapefruit. This is due to the addition of (what I assume are) Cascade hops, which comes through in the finish. Good on its own, but also well paired with just about anything spicy, meaty, or saucy. 4/5

Farmhand Ale: A Belgian style farmhouse ale, which refers to the tradition of farm-based cottage breweries common to the Wallonia province in Belgium. Also known as “saison” beers, these are typically summer ales that are noted for being light, refreshing, and best when enjoyed in warm weather. Driftwood’s own is a faithful adaptation, relying on sour mash and pepper to accomplish a beer that is distinctly Belgian in flavor, has a light sour malt taste, and a mild hop finish that contains notes of pepper. 4/5 

White Bark Ale: A traditional wheat, as the name implies, which has the expected notes of citrus and coriander. However, this beer was remarkably light, even for a wheat beer, which was kind of disappointing. In many ways, I was reminded of Hoegaarden, another light take on the Belgian wheat. However, this isn’t to say that this beer isn’t both enjoyable and summery, like a good wheat should be! Best enjoyed with heavier fare like game, rich or spicy cuisine, its light taste not taking away from the complexity of its flavors. 3.5/5

Crooked Coast Amber Ale: An Altbier, or “old beer” – which refers to the Rhineland tradition of using top-fermenting yeast – this style predates lagers, but has evolved to include warm-temperature fermentation and cold temperature “lagering”. In keeping with traditional recipes, this beer also combines German noble hops and Munich malts. The end result is a beer that combines aspects of both pale ales and lagers, boasting complex flavors with a crisp, clean finish. Tawny, smooth notes gives way to a dry hop finish and refreshing clean aftertaste. A good candidate for my “go-to” list! 4/5

Fat Tug IPA: You ever wonder if a beer was made just for you? Well, I kind of wondered if someone over at the Driftwood Brewery had a direct line to my hop tooth the moment I tasted this beer! One of the best IPA’s I’ve had in recent years, and a proud entry to my “Best IPA’s” of all time list. Much like the Driftwood Ale, this beer boasts a dose of Cascadia and other varieties of hops, but in doses that make the notes of grapefruit especially fragrant and powerful! The malts are lighter, allowing the hops to really come through and linger long after the last sip. At 7% alc/vol and 80 IBU (international bitterness units) this beer is also a true example of a Northwestern IPA. 5/5

Seasonals:
Bird of Prey Flanders Red: Ordinarily, I’m not a huge fan of sour ales. In fact, I’ve had a few at this point and found them generally disappointing. However, that changed BIG TIME when I sampled this beer for the first time last November. As a historian and lover of all things pertaining to Canada’s involvement in WWI and II, I could not turn down a beer that boasted the name Flanders! I assumed (and still do) that it was a seasonal ale brewed in honor of Flanders Fields. But as if that wasn’t enough, the taste brought me back to it several times over! Brewed in the traditional Flanders style, this beer is a Belgian red that is made using special strands of yeast and then aged in oak barrels for up to a year. Ultimately, what comes out of this is a beer that is reddish in hue and has a complex, sour flavor and rich aroma that is reminiscent of sour cherries, plums and apricots – a true delight for the senses. Oh, how I lamented its disappearance when fall gave way to winter! 5/5!

Old Cellar Dweller: I recall reviewing this one back in December of 2010, during my “Month of Doppelbock” series. And I can recall with some fondness when I first found this beer on the shelf and learned that it was a Driftwood product. Faithful to the tradition of Barley Wine, this beer is dark, sugary, and very powerful – at 12% alc/vol, it isn’t pulling any punches! However, its intense strength and sweetness can be a little overwhelming at times, which is why I highly recommend that this beer be served in a snifter and enjoyed sparingly. Under those conditions, its tawny finish and strong notes of molasses, brown sugar and light hop bite can be appreciated fully. 4/5

Son of the Morning: The most recent Driftwood beer to grace my table. When I first set my eyes on it, I knew instantly that it and I would get along just fine! The label said strong golden ale, and the details emphasized that it was a Belgian-style ale. Man, these guys love their Belgians; but then again, so do I! We get along fine. And, much like their Belgian predecessors, this strong ale is made using coriander and sugar to intensify the flavor and alcohol content. The end is result is what I would describe as a cross between La Fin Du Monde and Duvel, two shining examples of Belgian-style beer-making. In addition to its obvious strength (10% alc/vol) the beer is also distinctly Belgian, spicey, viscous, and finishes with a coarse bite. Not for anyone who’s into light beer, but definitely for fans of true Belgian brewing! 4/5

And like I said before, these guys put out a lot of special beers! In fact, I do believe their signature creations outnumber their regular lineup by a wide margin. As it turns out, I have tried some of the ones which are below, but at the moment they are unavailable to me and I can’t for the life of me remember what they were like. Not enough to give them a full and just review. So let me list them off as those I have yet to try and will get to later:

Blackstone Porter

Cuvee D’Hiver
Naughty Hildegard ESB
Singularity Stout
Spring Rite
Twenty Pounder Double IPA

Quite the list, but then again, these guys have been busy! Kudos Driftwood. You keep making em, I’ll keep drinking em!

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!

Hoyne’s Brewing (part II)

And we’re back with more Hoyne! Today, I will be reviewing the second half of their starting lineup, featuring all the flavors I wasn’t able to get my hands on before. But first, I should mention that after my last review, I heard from the brewers themselves!

Well… actually I wrote to them and told them I was impressed with their wares. But to my surprise, they wrote back and even invited me and my darling bride to come by their base of operations and try some samplers. Oh, and they also let me know that they are open for growler sales on Thurs and Fri from 3 – 6 pm and Sat from noon – 6, information I now pass onto you, the consumer!  Do what you like with that, but I for one plan to go! My car has a surprising capacity, and I bet I could fit several growlers in the back…

But I digress. Here’s Hoyne’s Pale Ale and their Pilsner, both of which were consistent with their Bock and IPA (i.e. kick-ass!)

Down Easy Pale Ale: The name pretty much says it all. Pale Ale has a reputation for being hoppy, yet crisp and drinkable, at least when it’s the good kind. And I can honestly say, without doubt or exaggeration, that this beer is true to that legacy. When my wife and I tilted some in our favorite Hofbrauhaus mugs, our first words to each other were “oooooh”. Crisp, clean, drinkable, yet still with a good hop bite and a strong aroma, this beer is an easy-drinker, but still maintains all that is right about a pale ale. Another big hit! 5/5

Hoyner Pilsner: Last but certainly not least. This beer impressed the heck out of me, mainly because it accomplished all that a pilsner usually does, but still found room to go above and beyond. Allow me to explain. Pilsner’s are typically crisp and clean tasting, but have a rather distinct and lingering taste that some would qualify as skunky. However, this beer manages to pull all that off – being crisp, clean and hoppy – but without any skunky aftertaste. In fact, the flavor is quite subtle, combining a light hop bite with a gentle, lingering aftertaste. Which makes for an especially refreshing drink. I’m looking forward to this summer when my wife and I can finally open our patio and invite some friends over! 5/5

Okay, that’s Hoyne’s starting lineup covered. I’m looking forward to any additional beers and seasonals they might choose to release in the near future. Given their performance so far, I imagine they will be appropriately kick-ass. So… hintedy hint hint Hoyne 😉

Creemore Springs!

In honor of my pending trip to Ottawa, I have decided to do a few reviews dedicated to some old favorites. In the course of my reviews, I’ve given a few shout-outs to faithful brand names. But as always, some got missed! And shout outs are hardly comprehensive. So I thought I’d dedicate to this first review to an old favorite, one which somehow got forgotten in the shuffle. So without further ado, I give you… Creemore Springs Brewery!

Creemore Premium Lager: A clean, crisp, amber lager that has a rich, malty profile, and a light hop bite that is reminiscent of Czech and Bavarian hops. Apparently, the local spring water also plays a part in giving its its rather unique flavor, which can best be describes as having a certain “minerality.” That’s a wine term I picked up while touring the Okanagan. Trust me, it’s legit! As I can attest from years of drinking this beverage, this beer is well paired with pasta and lighter fare, and is an excellent accompaniment to most desserts. It’s also just fine on its own, in cold weather or hot! 4/5

Creemore Urbock: Bock beer is a strong lager that comes to us from Germany of the 14th century. Being the beer of monks and aristocrats – the former looking for a more tasty, nutritious beverage, the latter looking for something fancy – this style of beer was brewed longer and using the choicest hops and barley. In addition, the name “Ur” designates this beer as the best of the batch, which means it was taken from the bottom of the barrel where the beer is richer, maltier, and more alcoholic. And on a personal note, this beer began my love affair with Bock beers! Years later, it remains my favorite bock, and one of the best beers I’ve ever had. Smooth, dark, matly, and tawny, this beer is a well-rounded winner with a light hop bite and a semi-sweet finish. 5/5

Waiting to try: Yes, Creemore has come up with some new varieties since I left town. Apparently, they now have four, including a Pilsner and a Kellerbier. I will be sure to try them just as soon as I can get my hands on some!

Link to the brewery website:
http://www.creemoresprings.com/