Salt Spring Island Fireside Winter Ale

saltspring_alesDuring my most recent trip to the beer store, I decided to pick up a bottle of this seasonal release from Salt Spring Island Brewery.There were three reasons for the purchase, the most obvious being that it is a perfect example of a winter ale, name and all. The second is the fact that I can remember sampling this beer many years back, and couldn’t for the life of me recall if I gave it a review or not. And so I decided that for the latest review in this holiday segment, to take a second run at this seasonal brew.

saltspring_firesideYes, I could remember sampling it many years back, back when it came in a wide-bottom bottle with a stopper, and not the sleek 650 ml bottle it comes in today (see what I mean?) However, the style and flavor of the beer is just as I remembered it. Much like their other ales, this beer is fashioned with organic barley and spring water, and contains a malty profile that is clean, slightly sweet, and has a dry finish that is reminiscent of cider, as well as their seasonal Gruits. But above all, what one gets from this beer is a dark, syrupy ale that is fruity and slightly spicy.

Appearance: Dark ruby, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Tart, fruity malts, orchard fruit, cider-like
Taste: Slightly sweet, viscous malts, mild tang, notes of apricot, peaches
Aftertaste: Lingering malts and hints of spice and dry finish
Overall: 8/10

Only a few more days to go, and many more beers to try! Hope it’s finding everyone safe, warm, dry, and with plenty of good cheer. If not, winter beer has been known to help with all that!

Salt Spring Island Spring Fever Gruit

saltspring_gruitThough it may seem like I’m late to the party with this beer, let me assure my readers that I’ve had a bottle of this in my possession for some time. After last year’s Saturnalia Gruit, I was both curious and hesitant to try it. On the one hand, I wanted to sample another example of brewing that predates the Bavarian Purity Law. On the other, I was gearing up for a History of Beer class that I’ve been planning on teaching. As a seasonal limited release, this beer comes and goes, and I wanted to make sure I had at least one bottle in reserve before it went out of stock. Well, lucky for me, my local store has kept several bottles in reserve, so I grabbed some more and treated myself!

Much like the Saturnalia, this beer is definitely for the experimentally minded who appreciate authenticity and examples of historic brewing. It pours a deep amber, is clear, and has relatively little foam or carbonation to speak of. The nose is sweet, fruity, and effervescent, calling to mind orchard fruit and apple cider. The flavor is consistent with this, being tangy, sweet, slightly sour, and quite fruity. If one were not informed in advance what this brew is, they might very assume that it was a dry cider flavored with apricots, plums and sour cherries.

Appearance: Amber, clear, mild foam retention and good carbonation
Nose: Sweet malts, apricots, reminiscent of dry cider
Taste: Immediate tang, hint of apples, apricot, plum, cherries, slight sourness
Aftertaste: Very clean, hints of fruit and dry-cider
Overall: 8.5/10

Now that I’ve got a bottle of gruit beer safe and secure, and had a chance to sample it thoroughly, I’m really looking forward to that beer class. Call me a dunce for not buying two bottles in advance, but after thirteen other samples, providing others with a comprehensive education of the history of beer can get expensive!

Happy Wassail 2013 Everybody!

Sea-Cider-In what is fast becoming an annual family tradition, my wife and I were sure to head over the Sea Cider Farm And Cider House this weekend for the Winter Wassail! For those who don’t know, this is the ancient English tradition of reigning in another year and another successful apple harvest with plenty of food, cider, and good cheer! And as a burgeoning purveyor of excellent apple cider, the Sea Cidery marks this festival by opening their doors to the public to learn about the tradition, and share in a few rounds!

This consists of warm, mulled, and spices cider, combined with finger foods that are provided by local catering companies. And of course, there are plenty of cider samples to be tried, which will include some of their more popular regular items, and an annual Wassail cider made with apples, star anise, cinnamon, cardamom, mint, and orange zest. Tours are also held so people can learn a bit about operations around the cidery, a Mummer’s Play is performed by members of the local English country dance troupe, and people are able to take part in the ancient festival of placing cider-infused bread on the apple trees to ensure an good harvest for next year.

1850 wassailThis was our third time there and I can tell you from personal experience, the occasion does not disappoint! In fact, it is the one time of year that I break from my usual trend of sampling beer and dedicate myself to exclusively to English and European style ciders, which like beer have a long and rich history. And this year, we treated ourselves to several samples of Pippin, Rumrunner, and I was sure to grab myself a bottle of the Pommeau Normandy style strong cider before we left.

As for food, we were delighted by one of the catering companies ample supply of miniature pies. For sup, they had a chicken, apple, bacon and thyme pie which was absolutely delicious! For those who are nutritionally minded and/or vegetarian/vegan, they had a vegetable curry pie which consisted of veggies, apple, yams, and curry sauce. And for desert, traditional apple pie, where the only thing missing was a dollop of vanilla ice cream!

At the other table, they were serving a lamb stew, which we refused to partake of since my wife spent much of her childhood raising sheepies. And I, well, just haven’t been able to eat lamb since I learned that they were in fact baby sheep and some of the cutest creatures on Earth! But they did have a lovely spread of bread pudding muffins with cream cheese ice cream that was scrum-diddly-umptious!

Looking forward to next year. Hopefully, we can actually ride our bikes there and not have to worry about “overdoing it”! Kudos to you Sea Cider, and keep doing what you do best!


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!