Category 12 R&D 1 Belgian Golden Strong Ale

category12_logoBrewer: Category 12 Brewing, Central Saanich, BC
Style: Belgian Blonde Strong Ale
ABV: 11.2%
IBUs: Unlisted

Description: Earlier this year, Category 12 launched a new series of limited release, single keg beers known as their R&D series. One installment in this series was their Belgian Strong Ale, a 10% abv Belgian-style golden ale that was brewed during Victoria Beer Week in collaboration with a group of local homebrewers led by Russ Huband.. And with the lessons learned from this previous release, C12 tweaked the recipe, re-crafted the beer, and has re-released it as their R&D 1 Belgian Golden Strong Ale.

Tasting Notes: How to describe the flavor of this beer? It was like La Fin Du Monde (a favorite Tripel of mine), except on steroids! A strong golden malt base is accentuated by notes of candi sugar, honey, mild citrus, and some serious yeasty notes. And of course, the alcoholic bite, which weighs in at a hefty 11.2%! I feel privileged that I got to sample this brew while it was still available months back, and even more so to have got a Boston Round of it today, on their official re-release day!

Appearance: Deep golden, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich malt, sugars, hint of honey, floral notes, mild citrus
Taste: Crisp malt, yeasty backbone, hint of oak, candi sugar, alcoholic bite
Aftertaste: Lingering malt bitterness, alcohol, oak and sugary sweetness
Overall: 10/10

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Moon Under Water Belgium Triple Wedding Ale

moonunderwater_weddingMoon Under Water has produced yet another limited release, and it sure took me long enough to secure a bottle! Yes, it seems like only yesterday that this brewery was celebrating its first anniversary with a wheat wine (a very good one, btw). But this brewery has been shown no signs of slowing down since its inception. And their penchant for experimentation has remained consistent throughout.

Brewed in honor of the brewmaster’s own marriage, this beer is a fitting example of an Abbey-style Triple Ale, and comes sealed in the bottle with white wax. It is a light golden color, has a thick, lacy foam, and was highly reminiscent of La Fin Du Monde in terms of flavor. But it is comparatively lighter, owing no doubt to the use of Bohemian Pilsner malts and wheat. But of course, it still packs a wallop, weighing in at 9% alc/vol and fermented using candi sugar.

Appearance: Golden, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Mild malts and yeast, sugary, mild hint of banana
Taste: Strong malts, slightly sweet and coarse, strong yeast, mild banana and spice
Aftertaste: Lingering yeasts, malt coarseness,
Overall: 8.5/10

Looking forward to the next limited release from this brewery. 2013 was a pretty good year for them. Here’s hoping 2014 continues to prove as fruitful and creative for them!

Steamworks Blitzen

steamworks_paleYears back, while in Vancouver, the wife and I had a chance to visit the brewpub and I can recall enjoying a tall, frosty Trappist glass of this winter ale. Since that time, it has been damn near impossible to find  bottle of it on the island. As a tribute to the style of Belgian Tripel ales, it was not only strong, malty, and highly yeasty, it was highly reminiscent of one of my favorite beers of all time – La Fin Du Monde.

The beer is golden blonde, slightly cloudy, spicy, malty, mildly hoppy (20 IBUs), and has a strong alcoholic punch (9% alc/vol). Brewed with Pilsner malt, flavored with Fuggles and Sterling hops, this beer is also = in true-Belgian fashion – fermented with some added candi sugar. The end result is a strong ale that has both subtle and saccharine malts, calls to mind the flavors of a Bavarian lager as well as a good-old fashioned Belgian Tripel, with just a hint of Duvel.

Appearance: Golden, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Belgian yeast, semi-sweet, sharp and spicy malts
Taste: Strong malt start, mild tang, spicy yeast notes, mild hop bite and alcohol
Aftertaste: Mild yeast and lingering malt flavor, sharp and clean
Overall: 8.5/10

Glad I could finally find some of this beer in the bottle. As always, seasonal beers are a rare and delightful treat, and Steamworks has generally been known to produce some pretty impressive seasonal specialties in addition to their regular lineup.

Townsite Brewing Has Arrived!

townsite-logo-Ever since my wife and I landed in Powell River as part of our summer trip last year, hiking the Sunshine Coast Trail, we were surprised and impressed to find a craft brewing operation in the heart of town that catered to the Sunshine Coast. Not only were they well-situated as an operation, they seemed to know what they were doing when it came to producing quality beers. I can still remember sampling their Pale Ale, Blonde Ale, Porter, and the summer seasonal, a Blackberry Wheat that honored the city’s annual Blackberry Festival.

Unfortunately, I lamented the fact that, at the time, their products were not available on Vancouver Island. With the exception of Comox, which is a short ferry ride away, not a single beer store on the island was known to carry their lineup. Sure, you could find it up and down the Sunshine Coast, in Vancouver, and even parts of Washington State. But not in Victoria or the Southern Island, no sir!

Well, as it turns out, that is no longer the case. A number of private stores (such as Metro and Cascadia Liquor) have begun stocking their full lineup. That includes their Tin Hat IPA, Zunga Blonde Ale, Suncoast Pale, Pow Town Porter, Westview Wheat, and the latest, the YOGN 82 Belgian Triple. And with the exception of a few labels, I can attest to the quality of these beers. I even had a chance to sample some of the latest now that they are available locally. Here’s what I had to try most recently:

Said the Ale Belgian Pale Ale:
townsite_said_the_aleA special release from the Townsite Brewery, this beer has a rather interesting origin story. Apparently, the beer is part of a commitment on behalf of BC brewers to produce beer in honor of various Canadian bands. In this case, the Townsite brewery made this beer in honor of Said The Whale, a Canadian indie rock group that has was recently featured on CBC radio.

Appearance: Deep red/amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Distinctive Belgian yeast, mild notes of bitter hops
Taste: Immediate burst of Belgian yeast, rich malts, snap of piney hops
Aftertaste: Quite clean, mild tang, lingering yeasts and mild citrus
Overall: 8.5/10

As a Belgian Pale Ale, this beer combines aspects of the most famous variety of beer to be brewed in the Pacific Northwest and is fermented using a specific strain of Belgian yeast. The result is an interesting brew that boasts a yeasty nose and flavor with the rich malts and sharp, hoppy taste of a pale ale. In keeping with the recent trend of Belgian IPAs, this Belgian Pale Ale is quite refreshing and balanced in terms of flavor and quite appealing to the palate.

YOGN 82 Belgian Triple:
townsite_yogn82Brewed in honor of Cedric, the Townsite Brewer Engineer who hails from Belgium, and “the Hulks” – the concrete ships that make up the town’s breakwater – the YOGN 82 is the brewery’s latest triple-fermented Belgian-style beer. The second in the series, after last year’s Charleston Triple, this beer weighs in at a hefty 9% alc/vol and has all the characteristics a Belgian Tripel is famous for.

This includes a golden blonde hue, a distinct yeasty nose, strong alcohol content, strong malts, and a distinct oaky flavor. And like each Hulk beer, it features a label created by a Powell River artist; this year’s featuring the art of Emma Bell.

Appearance: Dark golden, light cloudiness, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Distinctive Belgian yeast, strong notes of banana, sugars
Taste: Sweet malts and Belgian yeast, burst of banana and citrus fruit and oaky notes
Aftertaste: Sweetness giving way to coarse flavor, slight bitterness and alcohol
Overall: 9.5/10

Overall, I was strongly reminded of La Fin Du Monde, another famous Belgian-style Tripel which also possesses some serious Belgian-yeast flavor, strong malts and an oaky undertone. The difference here is in the level of fruit flavor and sweetness, in that this one possesses a good deal more of it. In addition to some serious sugars, there was also a strong hint of banana that played well with the strong alcohol content, oak and yeastiness of the beer. Might seem a little overpowering to some, but I enjoyed it very much. In fact, it might just be the best Belgian Tripel I have had in recent memory!

In short, not a bad set of additions to their overall lineup. I’m pretty pleased that the brewery is available here in my corner of the world, especially since I learned that they were turning out seasonal and special releases that I had no access to! It’s not like I can pop over to Vancouver every time they release a new beer, you know!

Unibroue (or, the Belgian Inspired)

I might have mentioned when I announced the theme for this month that Belgian inspired beers would make it into the mix. And you can’t talk about Belgian-inspired beer without paying due respect to the most famous Belgian-style beer maker of all: Unibroue!

Based in Chambly Quebec, this brewery has been making true Belgian beers for many years. They just don’t happen to be in Belgium, hence why they have to hyphenate. And, interestingly enough, they even managed to beat out Belgium’s top brewers during a recent annual competition. Needless to say, the Belgians weren’t pleased, some even cried foul by pointing out that Chambly isn’t in Belgium! Crybabies…

In any case, Unibroue’s list of beers is long and diverse. I have yet to try them all, but some are downright hard to find unless you live in or near Quebec. But I continue to keep an eye out whenever I’m in Ottawa, and as the list shows, I’ve done a fair job. Most are available in large bottles that are corked rather than capped, keeping with the brewery’s emphasis on tradition and commitment to Belgian Abbey-style brewing. The more common varieties can be found in beer bottle form; however, I highly recommend buying the corked bottles and taking an evening to enjoy the whole thing.

Anyway, here they are in order of commonality – aka. how easy they are to find. Those at the top of the list you are likely to be able to find at any government or private liquor store, but the latter ones are not likely to be available outside of Quebec, unless you know a dedicated private store that specializes in Belgian-style beers!

La Fin Du Monde: A triple fermented strong ale, weighing in at 9% alc/vol. with a thick head and a taste that combines faint traces of citrus, honey and strong malts. One of my all-time favorites, but definitely not for the uninitiated. It’s not a beer that works well in small quantities and a pint or more has been known to floor people with weak tolerances. Light beer drinkers beware! Oh, and its also a fine treat as a beer float. 5/5

Maudite: This is a strong amber ale that is 8% alc/vol, and certainly lives up to its name (which basically translates to Goddamn!). Overall, the flavor is sharp and spicy, with a strong malty taste and a crisp hop finish. Think of it as an amber on steroids! Not a personal favorite, but a fine beer nevertheless. 3.75/5

Blanche De Chambly: A beer who’s name means White of Chambly, referring to the fact that its a wheat ale. And this is definitely one of the best wheat ales I’ve ever tasted, with a strong orange flavor and notes of cloves. It’s also one of their lighter fare – being only 5% alc/vol, it is accessible and is enjoyable with food or even on its own. A great hot weather beer! 4/5

Trois Pistoles: Another triple fermented beer, but which is dark and malty with a a spicy, semi-sweet aftertaste. It is this last point that makes this last beer one of my favorites, putting it right up there with Westmalle and St. Ambroise Millenial Ale. Like La Fin du Monde, it also has a rich head, a complex aroma, and is definitely not for the faint of heart! 5/5

Ephemere Apple: This is a special line of Unibroue product, a fruit-infused wheat beer that actually comes in several flavors. However, the apple is the flagship ephemere product and the easiest to find. Light and fruity, golden in color, this beer has a strong apple nose and a slightly sweet taste that is (of course) highly reminiscent of apples. Definitely nice as an aperitif or a hot weather beer. 3.75/5

Ephemere Blackcurrant: This is one I’ve tried only on one or two occasions, but I was clearly impressed enough to remember it. The color, smell and taste are all highly indicative of the fruit, being a light purple, slightly sweet and tangy, and with a light clean finish. Between it and the Apple, I tend to prefer this one, mainly because the flavor seems more natural. 4/5

Don de Dieu: This beer recently scored a 97 and a “Best Buy” rating from the “Wine Enthusiast’s Buying Guide”. No faint praise there, and I can attest to it being well deserved. This triple fermented wheat ale is similar to La Fin Du Monde, except that it brings a wheat character to the table. Golden in color, and reminiscent of cloves and citrus. Definitely worth sampling! 5/5

Noire de Chambly: A Belgian-style black ale, and not that easy to find! But in my opinion, people aren’t missing much with this one. The color is deep black, much like stout, but the flavor and head set it apart. Rather than being smooth, its sharp, bitter, and has a long, smoky aftertaste that probably won’t appeal to people unless they are fans of smoke beer. 3/5

Terrible: Part of their specialty beer line, this one is not easy to find outside of Quebec. And the name is definitely well-deserved, being 10.5 alc/vol, but with a sweet taste that is similar to Trois Pistoles, but with stronger notes of fruit and barley wine. Worth picking up, if only you can find some! 4/5

Quelque Chose: Another specialty beer, and one that is also hard to find outside of Quebec. In short, this cherry beer is a blend of brown ale and Belgian Kriek ale that is ruby red in color and has a strong cherry taste. Definitely a good fruit beer, but a little on the strong side for my (ahem!) experienced palette. However, people unaccustomed to Kriek and Belgian fruit beer’s acquired taste will probably love it. 3.75/5

There are several other specialty beers, nine in total, and a line of lagers that I have yet to try. All of these can be viewed on Unibroue’s website: http://www.unibroue.com/en/home/

Joseph

My second review, which was originally posted back in November of 2010. For this particular one, I chose a relatively obscure number that can be found at Liqour Plus, but which no one in that particular store had tried just yet. It’s called Joseph, a spelt-based Belgian beer. Much like La Messagere, made right here in Canada, it’s a gluten-free beer made from a grain that is neither wheat nor barley. Hey, what can I say? It’s a new age and with gluten becoming non-grata, it’s only natural that beer would be following the path of bread, pasta, cookies, and all other traditionally gluten-based products. By I digress, the beer…

My first impression was how it was similar to la Fin du Monde. Much like this famous Belgian-style beer (fyi, also Canadian), it comes in a corked bottle and is bottle fermented. However, unlike its compatriots and Belgian-style counterparts, this beer weights in at a light 5 % alcohol per volume. The spelt also provides some relatively unique flavors, experienced both initially and with the aftertaste. The best way to describe it is semi-sweet with a dry finish. In total, I give it a 4 out of 5.

Joseph can be found at Liqour Plus stores that make a point of carrying it. I have yet to find it at the BCL or any other private store, to my knowledge. I will be looking though!

For more info on gluten-free beers, here’s a list (Joseph not included):

Gluten-free diet goods

Sidenote: be careful when opening this bottle, especially after some serious cold chilling! An impromptu attempt by my wife at removing the metal tie led to an explosive reaction, literally! Ever seen a cork riqouchet off the ceiling and land in the cat’s dish? Wouldn’t recommend it!