Howe Sound Anvil Island Dark Lager

Anvil+Island+with+Pint+GlassBrewer: Howe Sound Brewery, Squamish, BC
Style: Dark Lager
Alc/Vol: 5.5%
IBU: 21

Description: As part of their series of limited release beers, the Anvil Dark Lager takes its name from the third-largest island in Howe Sound, and is made using dark crystal malts as well as German and Polish hops. Consistent with their reputation for bringing home awards, the Anvil Dark Lager won the gold medal from the North American Beer Awards in the Munich-style Dark category.

Tasting Notes: I’ve rarely met a Howe I didn’t like. And unfortunately, I’ve been somewhat negligent in my sampling from this brewery in recent years. Anyway, as dark lagers go, this beer was no slouch and had all the right things going for it. These included toasted malts, hints of chocolate and coffee, a light hop and roasted malt bitterness, and a nice, clean finish. Definitely one of their hits!

Appearance: Dark brown/red, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Deep roasted malt, hints of smoke, coffee, leather
Taste: Toasted malts, mild tang, hints of smoke, coffee, crisp hop bitterness
Aftertaste: Lingering roasted malt flavor, coffee, but otherwise clean
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.

Howe Sound Father John’s Winter Ale

father_john_winteraeAnother Christmas beer that graced my doorstep, courtesy of my friendly neighbor! And this is one that I’ve certainly had in the past, but which I neglected to do a review for thus far. What can I say, this blog didn’t always exist, and I certainly did brink beer in my pre-blogging days. But I’m nothing if not a fan of Howe Sound, and I’m always interested in anything that was inspired by (or named after) John Mitchell, the venerable brewmaster who started the Howe Sound operation. That is where this beer takes its name from, fyi, as part of the breweries extensive John Mitchell series.

As part of said series, this beer is a fitting example of something inspired by Mitchell, being a particularly malty, English-style winter brew. Made with four different malts, a mild dose of Nugget & Hallertau hops, and a hint of spice, the beer calls to mind both the holiday season and an English pub ale that is rich in toffee-style malts and has a nice, Christmasy finish.

Appearance: Dark amber-brown, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Strong malts, good toffee notes, mild spices, alcohol
Taste: Sweet malt, good tang, notes of toffee, allspice, reminiscent of figgy pudding
Aftertaste: Lingering spice notes, toffee malt, and hint of bitterness
Overall: 8.5/10

Always good to resample old beers and give them their due. I sincerely hope I can remember all the beers I ever drank so that I might one day give them all a faithful review. Might take some time, but I’m willing to do the legwork!

New from Howe Sound!

howesoundOn one of my recent trips up island, I had the chance to stop in at the town of Duncan, my wife’s old hometown, and do some shopping. As usual, the Blackberry Liquor Store was one of the stops on our tour, and I managed to find some new and interesting beers to bring home with me. This time around, all three happened to be new releases (new to me at least) from Howe Sound Brewery. These include their Bay Ale, Loose Cannon Dark Lager, and You’re My Boy Blue.

For awhile now, I feel like I’ve been neglecting this BC brewery, one which has been a favorite of mine for years. As I’m sure I’ve explained before, it was at Howe Sound that Frank Appleton, who went on to become brewmaster at Swan’s brewpub, got his start. And it was here that Sean Hoyne himself got his start, apprenticing under Appleton before going forth to establish the Canoe Club and Hoyne Brewing. So this brewery is not only a great purveyor of beer, its also part of proud genealogy that embraces some of my favorite breweries and brewpubs here on the island.

Loose Cannon Dark Lager:
Loose+Cannon+Botl+with+pint+glass+(2)The commercial description lists this beer as a “lightly-hopped, medium bodies lager”. But in many ways, this lager is akin to a stout, with a very dark profile and some serious traces of roasted malt, smoke and bitter chocolate. At the same time, it manages to finish quite clean and has a relatively mild, light flavor overall.

All of this comes down to the combination of dark crystal and chocolate malts with German and Polish hops. Clearly, the name was chosen with this interest mix of characters and profiles in mind! And in a market where dark lagers are pretty well represented, its not a bad contender. Hoping to see more like it from Howe Sound soon.

Appearance: Dark brown, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Deep toasted malts, mild hops, smoke
Taste: Dark roasted malt, notes of coffee, bitter chocolate
Aftertaste: Mild bitterness, relatively clean, mild hop finish
Overall: 9/10

Troller Bay Ale:
Bay+Ale+botl+image+with+pint+(3)Apparently, this beer harkens back to when John Mitchell first opened Howe Sound pub back in 82 and was looking to create a true English-style amber ale. And this beer certainly fits that profile, combining smooth, toffee-like malts, mild hops, and subtlety, but with undeniable BC character.

This is made possible thanks to the combination of Fuggles and Nugget hops and London ale yeast with Canadian barley malt and West Coast water. And according to legend, the brewery promptly sold out of the ale soon after it was released. But given its smooth, drinkable nature, that really shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Appearance: Dark amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Syrupy malts, toffee, crisp, mild hops
Taste: Mild tang, crisp, smooth, lightly toasted malts, dry hops
Aftertaste: Trace minerality, grassy hop finish and lingering tang
Overall: 9/10

You’re My Boy Blue:
Boy+Blue+Botl+with+pint+glass+(1)
Now this was a surprising addition! Ordinarily, one tends to find raspberries, cherries, or even apricots wherever fruit is married to wheat ales. But blueberries? That’s a new one as far as I can tell! But in the end, the marriage worked quite well, with smooth, yeasty wheat malt flavors complimented by the slightly tart, slightly sweet character of fresh blueberries.

And much like most fruit-infused wheat ales, this beer is cloudy, unfiltered, and has a slightly pink tint to it. And given the unseasonably hot weather we’ve been enduring here this summer, its a welcome addition to any beer drinkers sampling lineup.

Appearance: Purple, translucent, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Subtle wheat malts, yeast, mild fruit tartness
Taste: Smooth, mild tartness and sweet traces of blueberry, discernible yeasts
Aftertaste: Very clean, lingering fruit flavor
Overall: 8.5/10

Not a bad re-introduction to an old favorite. And I am glad they are moving away from the high gravity, very strong, very malty special releases that have dominated their lineup in recent years. While I respect the fact that they were honoring John Mitchell with many, if not most, of these specialty brews, I was getting a little overwhelmed by all the Imperial Ales and strong stouts that were coming out, one after the other. A man cannot live on heavy malts alone, you know! 😉

Driftwood Old Barrel Dweller

oldbarreldwellerHey beer drinker! As I might have mentioned in my last post, I finally decided to take the plunge on this whole barrel-aged beer trend. Yes, it seems that brewers in the South Island region are determined to turn the 2012/13 winter season into a time of bourbon-infused beer. So who am I withhold my opinions?

And so in addition to Howe Sound’s Wee Beastie, I was sure to pick up a bottle of Old Barrel Dweller, Driftwood’s contribution to the season. Since it bears a strong resemblance to Phillips Trainwreck, another barley wine that was re-released for 2012 after being aged in barrels originally used for storing bourbon, I was highly resistant to giving it a try. But of course, curiosity and my duties as a beer reviewer got the best of me. And so here we are…

As expected, OBD builds on last years barley wine by adding some discernible notes of bourbon whiskey. But interestingly enough, its slightly weaker than its predecessor, being 11.8% alc/vol rather than a full on 12. Hence, the only real reason Driftwood chose to perform this little crossover was to add a layer to the flavor and present a smokier, peatier, more complex palate.

Appearance: Dark ruby red, slight cloudiness, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Sweet barley malts, mild tang, hint of smoke
Taste: Immediate hint of bourbon, sugary malts, touch of peat
Aftertaste: Lingering peaty moss taste, strong notes of alcohol
Overall: 8/10

Granted, I did not enjoy this beer as much as I did its predecessor – Old Cellar Dweller. Much like Trainwreck, I feel a barley wine has no business crossing paths with bourbon! And yet, I approve of this one far more than anything else produced this season. For one, it managed to merge the bourbon infused flavor without overpowering the barley wine base. But make no mistake, I still say the two are better off on their own! Next season, more barley wine, less bourbon!

Howe Sound Wee Beastie Scotch Ale

howesound_weebeastieMy oh my, this winter has certainly seem it’s fair share of oak barrel-aged ales, hasn’t it? From barrel-aged barley wines to bourbon infused stouts, and embracing just about every brewery in the South Island and Lower Mainland, it seems no craft brewer in the region has been immune to this trend. Well, I’ve been holding back long enough and decided it was about time I get over my initial misgiving with this trend and really (I apologize in advance!) jump in that barrel.

And after a visit to one of my many watering holes, I picked up a few bottles. Of particular interest was this latest release from Howe Sound, the Wee Beastie Oak Aged Scotch Ale. Released in honor of Robbie Burns Day (note the veiled reference to the poem To A Mouse on the label), this beer has also made it into the 2013 winter lineup of beers that are aged in oak barrels to achieve a deeper, more complex flavor. And as usual, I was not a huge fan, but was forced to acknowledge the creative and authentic character of the end result.

Appearance: Dark brown-red, transparent, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Smokey, notes of peat moss and roasted malt
Taste: Smooth malts, sweetness giving way to saltiness, hint of peat and nuts
Aftertaste: Lingering smoke flavor and peat bitterness
Overall: 7.5/10

Yes, I’ve never been a huge fan of smoke beer, which makes an ale aged in whiskey barrels less than appealing in my opinion. What’s more, wee heavies have a history of not quite agreeing with me, mainly because the palate they achieve seems odd and unappealing to me. But that’s the thing about beer and its many, many varieties. There’s always something out there to appeal to the individual palate, and a few things that are likely to seem displeasing. And I cant criticize a genuine product, especially when it’s done right!

Wooly Bugger Barley Wine

woolly-bugger-label_dec-2011Happy New Year all! Not sure how people are choosing to ring in the end of 2012, but for my money, a nice evening in with the wife, hot stew, some Halo co-op playing, and some barley wine are the perfect substitute for going out. And to fill the bill on that last item, I picked up a bottle of Howe Sound’s latest limited release for this winter: the 2012 edition of their Wooly Bugger Barley Wine!

And as far as first impressions go, I was mighty impressed with this beer. I have long been a fan of barely wine, ever since I tried St. Amboise’s Millennial Ale back in 2000 and few things have managed to rival it. But I tell ya, this beer came pretty close. Upon sampling it, I was immediately reminded of both it and Swan’s Legacy Ale, and trust me when I say that is a flattering comparison. Much like those predecessors, this beer struck a fine balance between sweet and coarse, combining sugary notes with strong malts and alcoholic content (11% alc/vol).

Appearance: Deep reddish brown, cloudy, average foam retention
Nose: Syrupy malt nose, sugars and floral hops
Taste: Strong, sweet start, hints of citrus hops, heavy notes of molasses and brown sugar, dates and prunes, giving way to slightly coarse malts and alcohol
Aftertaste: Slight bitterness and tang, coarse malts linger for some time
Overall: 10/10

All in all, the sweetness and strength of this beer, along with the notes of fruit and sugar, provide for a perfectly balanced, warming, and intoxicating drinking experience. And its profile makes it ideally paired with desserts or after dinner fare, especially when served in a snifter or Trappist beer glass, the way Brandy or other digestifs would be.

Personally, I’m very glad I happened upon at my old watering hole, because the picking for New Years were many and I really didn’t want to walk off with a huge haul. Wooly Bugger, ladies and gentlemen, one of my new favorites and a great investment for any New Years party or winter weather gathering!

La Brew Ha Ha, Happy St. Jean-Baptiste Day Everyone!

Forgive me for getting in on this holiday late, but I’ve been busy with family these last few days. Lots of birthdays and visits happening! But now that I’m back, I thought I’d spend some time playing catch up. As usual, our trip up north took us through Duncan and some of the best beer shopping on the island.

And wouldn’t you know it, I happened to find a specialty beer that was brewed in honor of this day, at least for the residents of Squamish, BC. Known as La Brew Ha Ha by Howe Sound, this Belgian-style Blonde Ale is a strong customer that is consistent with the brewing traditions of the La Belle Provence! As someone who’s sampled many a Quebec brew, I can attest to the fact that traditional Belgian beers are quite the hot ticket there. And whether it is Unibroue, Brasseurs du Temps, McAuslan, or Dieu du Ciel!, they are adept at producing some pretty strong ales!

Appearance: Straw gold, cloudy and translucent
Nose: Distinct scent of bananas and Belgian yeast
Taste: Light malt taste, giving way to strong notes of banana
Aftertaste: Coarser malt flavor, mild clove spice, and lingering yeasty flavor
Overall: 8/10

Overall, I was reminded of La Fin Du Monde, but with a lighter flavor than its predecessor. It was also highly reminiscent of a strong white ale, in that it had some strong notes of banana and clove spice as well. And the fact that it combined these together in a faithful way is consistent with what I’ve come to expect from Howe Sound and their specialty lineup.

Happy belated St.Jean-Baptiste Day everybody! Stay tuned for my coming review in honor of Canada Day, dedicated to a beer that was brewed in honor of Canada Day: Innis and Gunn’s Canada Day 2012!

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 😉

The Howe Sound lineup

Howe Sound, located in beautiful Sqaumish BC, has been making craft beer since the mid nineties. However, as with most BC beers, I only learned about shortly after I moved here. I believe I first spotted some of their signature bottles in a small liquor store in Duncan, and was quite impressed with their appearance. That first impression was surpassed only by the quality of the beer itself and they fast became one of my favorites. And the more of their products I’ve tried, the happier I am making them one of my go-to’s whenever it comes time to do some beer shopping.

And of course, like most established craft beer makers, they have a regular line-up and a line of seasonal releases. And both are growing and becoming more diverse, so there are a few I have yet to try. Give me time and I shall find them all! First up, their regular beers:

Garibaldi Honey Pale Ale: Originally, I was not a fan of honey beers. Sleeman’s Honey Brown Lager turned me around on that. However, a pale ale seems a bit of a stretch to me on that point. Balancing a hoppy, citrusy profile with the taste of honey (heavily sweet) just doesn’t work. This is not to say that this isn’t a good beer. It’s profile is light, slightly sweet, with a slightly hoppy finish. Named on honor of Mount Garibaldi (8,776 ft, 2,675 m) which was named for Italian hero Guiseppe Garibaldi, the man of two worlds, this beer also boasts three medals: the gold medal in the 2007 North American Beer Awards, the bronze for the 2010 North Americans, and the bronze for the 2011 Canadian Brewers Awards. 3.5/5

Rail Ale Nut Brown: One of the finer brown’s I’ve ever had and possibly one of the best browns in BC. Smooth, tawny, with a nutty flavor that lingers on the tongue. This beer is excellent on its own, with most dishes and as a light dessert beer, best when paired with dark chocolate. Named in honor of BC’s strong railway history, particularly Squamish’s own, this beer is also the 2009 silver medalist for the Canadian Brewers Awards. 5/5

Devil’s Elbow IPA: A nice, powerful India Pale Ale, combing a nice floral bouquet, a citrusy profile, and a dry, lingering finish. A deep, golden orange, heavy on the hops and relatively strong on the alcohol (6% alc/vol), this beer is still highly drinkable. A good food pair, and lovely on its own. It was also the Silver medalist in the 2010 North American Beer Awards, no small accomplishment given the competition! On a more modest note, it also won the prize for best IPA at a beer, cider and wine tasting hosted by our friends this past year (Hi Richard and Kim!). Guess who brought it? 4/5

Diamond Head Oatmeal Stout: Named for the razor’s edge ridge that comes off the south flank of Mount Garibaldi’s Atwell Peak, this beer is a fitting example of an oatmeal stout. Boasting strong flavors of roasted barley and oats, this beer also has a light hop bite and a smooth finish with lingering notes that are reminiscent of roasted coffee. In terms of awards, this beer has won both the Bronze in the 2007 North American Beer Awards and the Silver for the 2011 Canadian Brewers Awards. 4/5

Baldwin and Cooper Best Bitter: As Bitters go, this one is right up there, comparable to Swann’s, Spinnakers, and Longwood’s. I guess there’s just something about Vancouver Island, we know our British beers! And the critics seem to agree. This Bitter has won medals three years running now, securing the bronze medal in the 2009 North Americans and silver in the 2010, followed by another silver in the Canadian Brewers Awards for this past year. The name is also significant, in honor of Jim Baldwin & Ed Cooper, the first men to climb the Grand Wall of the Stawamus Chief (702 m) in July, 1961. But the taste is where its really at! Smooth, malty, with a nice dry hop finish, this beer also boasts a certain fruity character that makes it well paired with meat, seafood, spicey dishes, or just on its own. 4.5/5

Whitecap Wheat Ale: A Belgian-style wheat beer that contains the signature traces of orange zest and coriander, combining both wheat and barley malts that result in a clear, lightly colored beer with a spicey taste and clean finish. Delicious when served cold, best when paired with spicey food, light deserts, and most enjoyable on its own, especially on a hot day! 5/5

Bailout Bitter: A nice, dry, yet smooth and light tasting beer, highly remisicent of their Mettleman Copper (see their Seasonal Beers). This beer was a special release, apparently named in honor of the 2008 Banking Crisis and the resulting bailout, which had left plenty of people feeling bitter! I for one championed the release of this beer and drank it heartily, enjoying both nits smooth, dry taste and its message. F@Y%@ you  Wallstreet! 4/5

Coming up next, Howe Sound’s seasonal lineup. Stay tuned…