Phillips Electric Unicorn

The other day, I made a promise that I would be reviewing Phillips Dr. Funk. Yeah, its seems I lied. Turns out Phillips has released yet another specialty brew. Known as Electric Unicorn, this beer is a Belgian IPA, merging the disparate styles of Witbier with an India Pale Ale. This might sound the slightest bit familiar, seeing as how Vancouver Island Brewing released something very similar in there White Tanker White IPA. Guess the style is catching on…

In any case, when it comes right down to it, these two beers were actually quite different. In merging a Belgian-style wheat beer with a generous dose of Northwestern hops, the Belgian wheat clearly came out on top. Though a hop presence was discernible, the smooth wheat malts and notes of fruit and spices were the most noticeable elements.

Appearance: Deep yellow, cloudy and translucent, mild head
Nose: Clove spice, slight traces of citrusy hops
Taste: Smooth wheat malt taste, mild touch of cloves
Aftertaste: Slight bitterness, mild herbal flavors and hint of pine
Overall: 7.5/10

Smooth and enjoyable, I was kind of left wondering what the point of this merger was. In the end, it was far more of a wheat than an IPA, to the point where the IPA characteristics were barely noticeable. Still, a good beer and I hope it does well on its short run. Phillips loves these temporary releases, I hear! Speaking of which, expect my review of Phillips Dr. Funk and The 11th Hour very soon!

Spinnakers Hefeweizen

Just in time for summer, Spinnakers has been bit by the witbier bug! And I for one am pretty happy about it. For one, I am a big fan of wheat beer so I generally approve when anyone chooses to release one. Second, Spinnakers is not only one of my favorite brewpubs, it is also located right here in my hometown of Victoria BC. So getting my hands on their beer is never that hard.

So naturally, I approached the arrival of this bottle at my local beer store with some excitement. And in spite of the fact that I;m still battling a cold, I chose to open it up and sample her! First impressions, she’s definitely a wheat beer and definitely in keeping with the best traditions of white ales. But here’s a more detailed breakdown:

Appearance: Cloudy golden orange, typical of a quality hefeweizen
Nose: Immediate traces of cloves, sweet wheat malts, traces of honey
Taste: Gentle malts giving way to clove spice, complex and bitter, but otherwise mild
Aftertaste: A lingering bitterness characterized by citrus rind
Overall: 8/10

Just about everything about this beer is consistent with a good witbier, and that goes for color, aroma and flavor. All that being said, it was a little light for my taste. I generally prefer my wheats to have a bit more of a kick, which usually takes the form of stronger malt that tastes of banana and more potent citrus notes. However, this beer is genuinely refreshing and quite authentic. What’s more, I plan to enjoy several of these before the summer is out. Either on my deck or at the pub itself. Cheers!

Cannery Brewery

Here we have yet another brewery that’s been right under my nose for years. And wouldn’t you know it, I’ve sampled most of their beers over the years. Fortunately, I managed to procure some samples a few weeks ago and began resampling them, one by one, to discern their distinctive characteristics.

But first, a little background on this fine brewery. Located in Penticton, BC, the Cannery Brewery is named in honor of the Old Aylmer Fruit and Vegetable Cannery where it is located. Since it first opened in 2001, they’ve graduated from selling growlers and single liter bottles to exporting a regular lineup of cans and tall boys and their lineup has become quite respectable. Thus far, here’s what I’ve managed to sample:

Anarchist Amber:
One of Cannery’s first creations, this beer is a fitting example of a smooth and malty West Coast pale ale. Light, reddish and clear in hue, this amber boasts a subtle malty aroma. It comes on smooth and tawny with a slight syrupy feel and then finishes with a hop bite that is slightly bitter and lingering. 7.5/10

Blackberry Porter:
Well, this beer is about what one would expect from one bearing its description. But given what that is, this is a good thing! For starters, it combines the smooth, mellow and slightly bitter taste of a porter with a subtle, sweet tang of blackberries. These also linger on the tongue long after the hop bitterness and tawny malts have faded, leading to an all-around pleasurable drinking experience. 8.5/10

Cannery IPA:
One of two IPA’s to be produced by Cannery in recent years, this one is rather unique, blending the characteristics of a strong ale and and India Pale. For starters, it is a clear and amber in color, similar to an IPA, but has a sweet nose that is reminiscent of a barley wine. The flavor is rich and malty, boasting a heavy, syrupy and viscous profile that contains a touch of sweetness, again reminiscent of barley wine. This gives way to a bitter after taste, due to the combination of four Northwestern hop varieties, which help accentuate the malts and give it a floral, citrusy finish. 8.5/10

Lakeport Lager:
Brewed in tribute to the S.S. Sicamous, which was in operation from 1914 to 1935, this vessel is one of Penticton’s historical landmarks and the largest of four steam-driven stern wheeled lake vessels that have been restored in Canada. What’s more, it is a fitting example of a light golden lager, one that boasts some discernible Munich-style yeast and hops and some slight notes of apple. It manages to finish quite clean, with some lingering hop flavor. 7.5/10

Naramata Nut Brown:
Another one of Cannery’s original creations, this beer was also the silver medalist in the 2010 Canadian Brewing Awards. It’s also one of the smoothest browns I’ve had to date, and was a personal favorite of my darling bride! Dark and almost stout like in color, this brown is very smooth, does the tawny dance on the tongue and rounds out the hop finish with some well-placed chocolate notes. And consistent with its name, it also has a slight nutty profile that calls to mind the taste of cashews. 9/10

Wildfire IPA:
And last, but certainly not least, we have the Wildfire IPA, a black India Pale that honors BC’s firefighters and which is fittingly black as night. Alongside Tree Brewery’s own Black IPA, this is fast becoming a trend with BC brewers, and I’m happy to be getting in on the ground floor! In short, this black IPA combines the characters of an IPA, being heavily hopped and stronger in alcohol content, with a dark ale’s smooth profile and rich, tawny flavor. The end result is a beer that comes on with smooth malts, has a good hop kick, then lingers between the sweet and tawny and bitter for some time to come. Definitely a worthy combination! 8/10

Well that’s one more BC brewery down. Who’s next? Well, I actually have that planned. In honor of the summer season which appears to be on us, I intend to dedicate the coming weeks and months to summer brews and hot weather appropriate beers. And if there’s time and I’m not too hungover, maybe I’ll cover Phillips, Dead Frog and a few others I’ve been meaning to cover. Happy Summer Season to all!

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!

Howe Sound Seasonals

Wouldn’t you know it? Months back, I did a review of the Howe Sound lineup, promised that I would cover their seasonal beers next, and then never got around to it! I’m not sure if this was the result of negligence, the fact that I needed more time to try more of them, or my literary ADHD. But in the end, I thought it was about time I got around to rectifying this error. And wouldn’t you know it, just the other night I finally finished off the last of their seasonal beers, so I’m ready to proceed. Here goes!

As I might have mentioned in my last post about Howe Sound, this brewery is located in the heart of the interior, in beautiful Squamish, BC. However, I have since learned that the operation was originally started by John Mitchell and Mr. Frank Appleton himself. This would be the same man that started the Swann brewery and apprenticed Hr. Hoyne himself, the man who started Hoyne’s Brewing and the Canoe Club. Quite the credentials, and it comes through in the product! Just about every beer they’ve ever made has received top marks from me, your humble snob, and a host of awards as well. But when it comes to the seasonals, I noted some serious risk-taking and experimentation, particularly when it came to the gravity, malts, and hop content of the beers.

So here is what I thought of their seasonal beers which, for the sake of convenience, are divided by the season. First up, Fall!

Fall Seasonal:
Pumpkineater:
Pumpkin ales have become all the rage with the growth of craft brewing, especially when it comes to fall seasonals. There’s just something about pumpkins that screams autumn, isn’t there? In any case, this particular brew is of a higher gravity than most (meaning more dense). This comes through in the taste, which is heavier and maltier than your average pumpkin beer and contains a rich, spicey finish that is loaded with cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s like pumpkin pie in a glass. A very fitting addition to any Thanksgiving meal! 4/5

Winter Seasonal:
Father John’s Winter Ale:
A rich, dark and malty brew that is fashioned from many different types of malts and hops. The result is a heavier-tasting ale that comes on smooth and rich, but finishes with malts that are coarser, and toasty. Like a good winter ale, it also has a sweet, spicey finish that is made possible by longer fermentation and the addition of what I believe is allspice. If the Pumpkin Ale can be likened to Thanksgiving, this one would definitely be Christmas! 4/5

Pothole Filler Imperial Stout: At 9% alc/vol, this is a powerful stout that packs quite the wallop! Made from barley that is roasted extra dark and molasses, this beer comes on heavy with the flavor of toasted malts and finishes bitter with a slight touch of licorice. The combined alcohol content and dark malty profile can make it somewhat overpowering, but that’s part of its appeal. Some people just like a challenge! 3.75/5

Spring Seasonal:
Mettleman Copper Ale:
One of the smoothest and most refreshing ales I’ve ever tasted, and definitely a fitting addition to the coming of spring. Named in honor of Squamish BC’s “Test of Metal Mountain Bike Race”, this beer is a combination of smooth, cooper malts, dry, crisp hops, and a nice balanced finish. Especially good when drunk on a warm, sunny day, the time when the patio is finally cleared for lounging! 5/5

Three Beavers Imperial Red Ale: A strong, maltier take on the traditional red ale, this beer combines a smooth, creamy malt flavor with a coarser, heavier finish. And at 7.5% alc/vol, it’s kind of like a solid punch delivered in a velvet glove. What also comes through are the addition of Cascade hops with provide a slight bitter tang to the finish as well. Overall, In terms of pairing, this beer is well-paired with red meats, stews, and Cornish pastries. 3.75/5

Summer Seasonal:
Total Eclipse of the Hop:
The most recent of my samplings, this Imperial IPA is possibly the maltiest, hoppiest thing I’ve had in recent memory! But then again, that’s the point. As the latest addition to the John Mitchell series (named in honor of the venerated brewmaster), this beer comes on heavy and coarse, but then balances out with a big, citrusy hop finish that lingers long after its gulped down. Definitely not for the faint of heart, but the name is certainly indicative of that! 3.75/5

King Heffy Imperial Hefeweizen: Another strong take on the traditional hefeweizen. In addition to the usual wheat profile, which contains a distinct flavor of cloves and notes of banana, this beer boasts some powerful malts that come on coarse and (once again) pack a serious punch (7.7% alc/vol). Named in honor of the many climbers who dare to scale Squamish’s many walls and peaks, this beer is consistently malty and strong, like the rest of the series. 3.75/5

As you may have noticed, there are a lot of 3.75/5‘s here. That works out to roughly 75/100… aka. good, but not the greatest. That was my general impression when it came to this series. Compared to their regular lineup, these beers were a little too harsh and heavy for me. This was educational, making me realize that while I approve of heavier hops, I’m not that big a fan of heavier malts. This is not to say the seasonal lineup isn’t good, far from it! In fact, I highly recommend trying them all in addition to their year-round beers. They are a relatively unique experience, and very much in keeping with the tradition of “Imperial” beer! Consult your local beer store for more details 😉

Neustadt Springs

And were back! After reviewing Winterlude’s Winter Beer and Icewine event, plus some of my favorite watering holes, I thought it high time for me to get back and review some of my favorite Ontario breweries. So today, I thought I’d cover a historic and memorable one, the Neustadt Brewery.

This one and I go back quite a ways. In fact, I’m not even sure when I first sampled this beer, but I imagine it was shortly after I became of legal drinking age ;). Not being cheeky; the way I remember it, I actually had a bit of a frame of reference when I first tried it. And what’s more, I’ve tried it several times since and have found plenty of things to appreciate about it.

Established in 1859, this brewery has the honor of operating on the grounds of the oldest craft brewery in Ontario. In addition (and not coincidentally) it just happens to be located over one of the finest sources of spring water in Ontario, which they use to make their craft beers. This is clear the moment you drink any one of their products, which have an added attribute which I can only describe as “minerality” (it’s a word, look it up!).

In any case, during my most recent visit to Ottawa, I was sure to pick up some beer that carried the Neustadt label. And wouldn’t you know it, they’ve actually added a few new beers to their catalog since the last time I sampled them. So here is what I thought of the Neustadt brewery’s products, taking into account their old classics, and the latest addition to their lineup.

Lager: Their flagship brew, done in the Belgian country style. This beer is crisp, refreshing and has a smoothness and deeper hue that make it distinct from your average lager. In addition, the malts have an exceptionally clean, effervescent quality that is reminiscent of spring water. A somewhat unusual experience when it comes to a beer, but definitely a worthy one which grows on you! 4/5

Scottish Ale: The brewery’s red label, which is actually the first beer the brewery ever produced. Brewed in the traditional Scottish “heavy” style, this beer is smoother than the lager with noticeable scotch malts that are reminiscent of whiskey. Notes of caramel, spice, and a nice hop finish top this one off. And of course the clean, pure taste of spring water is never far behind. 4/5

10w30 Brown Ale: Now this beer impressed me quite a bit! Made in the tradition of a true brown ale, this beer has plenty of flavor, but is smooth and tawny with subtle notes of coffee that reminded me of some of the best west coast browns I’ve ever had. In addition, the light touch of minerality makes for a perfect, complex finish. The first beer I had during my trip, and it happened to be one of the most memorable! 5/5

Man, I drank a lot of beer this trip! Not so much in terms of quantity as variety. But I shall do my best to cover them all in the days and weeks to come. Stay tuned… Up next, the Muskoka, Wellington, Church Key, Trafalgar and Magnotta breweries (not necessarily in that order!)

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 😉