St. Ambroise Vintage Ale 2013

st.ambroise_vintageThis is a beer I purchased with great excitement, and not just because it was part of my holiday beer collection. As followers of this site are sure to know, the St. Ambroise Millennial Ale (brewed in 2000, this was the first vintage ale they ever produced) remains my favorite beer of all time, even to this day. Because of that, their Vintage Ale (Ale Millésimée en francais) is one I try to get my hands on whenever possible.

Last year, I managed to get my hands on two bottles of their Vintage Ale – their 2011 and 2012 respectively – and had mixed impressions. The first I sampled in Hull, Quebec last year when the wife and I attended the Taste of Winterlude Winter Beer and Wine show. The good people tending the McAuslan table were offering, among other things, samples of the last year’s vintage. At the time, I felt it was too coarse and had a gravity that was a little high for my taste. It was by no means poor or offensive, but it did seem to pale in comparison to their 2000 Millésimée.

A few months later, I purchased a bottle of their 2012 here in BC, and let it age for a few more months. When consumed, I noted that the malt profile was smoother than what I remember of the 2011, and allowed the full flavor profile of figs, raisins, and barley wine goodness to really come through. And once I spotted a bottle of the 2013 Millésimée at the same store (Cook Street Liquor), I grabbed it with the intention of seeing how it stacked up.

Appearance: Deep amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich aroma of sugars, raisins, dates, figs, and citrus hops
Taste: Very malty, immediate alcoholic bite, hints of sugar, molasses, fruit, and citrus
Aftertaste: Lingering alcoholic bitterness, citrus hops and coarse malts
Overall: 9/10

Not a bad vintage this year, McAuslan. Not bad at all! It’s a shame these are produced only once a year because I’m positive a year-round barley wine (or at least a seasonal that could be available for a few more months out of the year) would do very well for itself!

Ottawa Trip 2013

trafalgarHi folks! As it is time for the ife and I to do our biannual trip to my old hometown of Ottawa, Ontario, I will be offline for a few days. However, I expect to return to this site in a week’s time with plenty of new reviews since we’ll be visiting several old haunts and new while we’re there. These will include the Clocktower Brewhouse, an old favorite of mine which has expanded since I left; the Beyond The Pale Brewery, another brewpub operation that has several locations across town; and of course, the Mill Street Brewpub and Vineyards Bistro, two old favorites I would like to find myself in again.

And of course, I will be sure to sample the latest from Ontario’s craft brewers of late. These include just about anything from the Wellington Brewery, the Trafalgar Brewery, the McAuslan Brewery, the Muskoka Brewery, and Creemore Springs. And given our proximity to Quebec, I’m sure I’ll be dipping into anything from La Brasseurs Du Temps, Dieu Du Ciel, and Unibroue as well!

Have yourselves a great post-Thankgiving weekend and get out to enjoy this fall weather as much as possible. And see you all when I get back!

Comfort Burgers!

Well, its no secret that it’s getting colder outside. And unless culinary traditions from all over the world have lied to me, the most time-honored remedy to this problem is hot food and stiff drink! And so I’m back with more recommendations for comfort food, and this one comes from one of my favorite places in the whole entire world. The backyard grill!

Williams’ Onion and Garlic Beef Burger:
1 onion, finely chopped
1 pound lean ground beef
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon teriyaki sauce
1 bunch leaf lettuce
1 beefsteak tomato
1 red onion
, sliced

Combine ingredients in a bowl, mix until consistent, then start grabbing handfuls and shape them into patties. Depending on your preference, you should get three large-sized burgers, or four regular ones. Place on the grill and flip regularly, cook until lightly charred.

Beer Pairing:
As far as burgers go, you can’t miss with a good hoppy ale. In my experience, hops accompany grilled meat quite well, especially when it’s not delicately spiced. And burgers are all about rustic taste and appeal, so the beer that comes with should be of similar character.

Hence why I would recommend either a good stiff Pale or a solid IPA. And when it comes to Pales, I gotta go with an old favorite – McAuslan’s St. Ambroise Pale Ale! Not only does it have a deliciously hoppy bite, its got the perfect balance of citrus and floral notes to accompany the bite of onions, garlic and garnish that are characteristic of burgers.

Good eats, good drinking, and see you next time! Hoping to find a food that pares well with a winter ale, because Halleluiah, those beers are arriving in store as we speak!

Of the Rise in Craft Brewing

A long time ago, I did an article for this site addressing what I saw as a criminal trend in the brewing industry. Not just any crime mind you, but a crime against nature itself, as far as I was concerned! I was referring to the expansion of major brand names and how it seemed to be leading to an overall dip in quality.

To illustrate, I referred to how some of my favorite craft brewers from over the years had been altering their recipes, mainly so they could achieve mass appeal and expand their sales. Others, also personal favorites of mine, had closed down instead, unable to compete in a mass market dominated by major names and low standards. Not a happy article. But if I’ve realized anything in the past two years, it is that this trend has swung sharply in the other direction.

Yes, craft brewing is becoming more and more popular, and may I say that it’s about bloody time! Whether its an upsurge in the number of micro-breweries or the adoption of a craft beer line by major breweries, the trend seems consistent. Granted this is all based on my own anecdotal experience, but when you notice it happening everywhere, you have to assume you’re onto something!

First, as I said, is the expansion in craft brewing. Of all the micro breweries that I’ve discovered since moving to BC, few seem to have opened their doors before the year 2000. For those that did, you’d be hard pressed to find one that’s been in operation since before the late 90’s. This is true of the Driftwood Brewery, the Cannery Brewery, Moon Under Water, Phillips, Old Yale, Hoyne, Dead Frog, Surgenor, Longwood, Swan’s, Spinnakers, and a host of others that I’ve sampled over the years. Back in Ontario, this is similarly true. It was only in the late 90’s and early millennium that the spectacular operations of McAuslan’s, Creemore, Scotch-Irish, Mill St., Heritage, Cameron’s, Muskoka, and a slew of others were established. And their ongoing success is a testament to fact that the popularity of craft brewing is on the rise.

As for the adoption of special, small-batch product lines adopted by larger operations, I am satisfied to say that this trend seems to be catching on, particularly with breweries that I noticed were watering down the wares. In recent years, the Vancouver Island Brewery, Granville Island Brewery, the Lighthouse Brewery have all began releasing signature or limited release beers that are not part of their regular lineups, and take advantage of the small batch production methods that ensure better quality.

This is also true of such giants as Keith’s, which has expanded its lineup by incorporating a white, an amber and a dark ale. This began in recent years, and represents a complete 180 from what they’ve been doing for the generations now – producing a single, watery ale that bears no resemblance to a real IPA. And Sleeman’s, a major operation in its own right, has even expanded its repertoire by introducing an IPA and a Porter to their lineup.

Granted, brewery ownership is still concentrated in the hands of a few major multinationals, and the vast majority of beer consumed today consists of mass produced, flat and flavorless numbers. Still, the trend towards authenticity and flavor seems to be clear. Consumers are demanding beer that is made locally, in small batches, and in accordance with traditional standards. And for beer snobs, who insist on authenticity over accessibility, this can only be seen as great news. Great news indeed!

So when you’re out next weekend, find yourself a local microbrew, a brewpub, and drink up! And be sure to tip your barmaid. Cheers!

St. Ambroise Citrouille

Fall’s here, and you know what that means… Pumpkin Ale! And much to my delight, St. Ambroise has once again released its seasonal, otherwise known as St. Ambroise Citrouille. For some time, I’ve been looking to get my hands on this one again so I could give it a more thorough review. And when it comes to pumpkin ales, there are few as deserving as this one!

As I’ve said before, pumpkin ales are becoming all the rage when it comes to craft brewing. Every year, more and more microbreweries seem to be producing their own variant of the pumpkin, and I was quite thrilled when St. Ambroise produced their own. More than most, they have captured the essence and appeal of this seasonal ale, which is basically pumpkin pie in a glass!

Appearance: Dark orange and transparent
Nose: Strong hints of clove and pumpkin
Taste: An immediate burst of sweet pumpkin, giving way to cloves and cinnamon spice
Aftertaste: Slight bitterness and lingering notes of cinnamon
Overall: 9/10

St. Ambroise Framboise

Don’t you just love beers that have a rhyme in their name? Venturing a little farther to pick tonight’s sampling, I went to the waterfront, where Spinnaker’s own liquor store is located. Always well stocked with a diverse array of beer, wine and liquor, I found a few favorites and some oft-unavailable items. This beer was the first to be added to my haul!

Yes, I reviewed this beer awhile back as part of my appraisal of St. Ambroise seasonals. However, that was before I adopted my current style of evaluation, one which calls for a four-point review. It seems only fair, now that this beer is available and where I can get at it, and once again give it the ol’ college try!

Appearance: Deep red and cloudy
Nose: Strong raspberry nose
Taste: Starts with a supple fruit and slight tartness, mingling with mild hop bitterness
Aftertaste: Clean finish with some lingering tartness
Overall: 9/10
Another winner, McAuslan! When I think of potential reasons for moving to Montreal, being closer to the brewery is definitely at the top of the list! A close second is the ready supply of fresh Montreal smoked meat, bagels and lox spread, which I believe would be well paired with some of your beers.

The Manx Pub, Ottawa

Welcome back and hope you’re enjoying my series on Ontario Beers and where to drink them when you find yourself in the nations capital. Today, I would like to pay homage to one of my most favorite pubs (in part because of their many, many taps). As the title line suggests, I am referring to The Manx Pub, located at the cozy intersection of Elgin Street and Frank, right next to that venerable institution, the Elgin Street Diner!

I was first introduced to this pub back in the early 2000’s. I was told in advance that it was good, that it was popular, and I immediately saw why. As soon as you walk in to this basement-level pub, you are hit with a warm, cozy feeling that is augmented by the decor. In addition, they also have artwork and photographs on the walls, showcasing the work of independent artists. I tell ya, it’s like a cross between an updated Tudor-era pub and a Bohemian artists wet dream!

But what I liked especially was the friendly atmosphere and the many taps they boasted. Not only that, but if you were a regular in the old days, they’d let you bring in a mug of your own, hang it behind the bar, and you serve you out of it whenever you came in. Mine was an Alexander Keith’s porcelain mug, and it hung there for a little over two years (since renovating, they had to discontinue this trend, but hopefully they’ll pick it up again soon).

In 2004, when I moved into an apartment just up the road, I made the Manx my go-to place for dinner and drinks. Many an evening I would spend their with friends, my writing note-book, or just a stack of papers that needed marking. Since moving to BC, I make it a point to go back there anytime I’m in town. My wife and friends became easy converts to the place, seduced by the atmosphere, food, and great beer!

The Great Beer:
Of their taps, the following names have typically enjoyed a home there.
McAuslan Brewery: the St. Amboise Pale Ale and Oatmeal Stout have had a home at the Manx for as long as I can remember. Good thing too!
Churchkey Brewery: Another popular customer at the Manx, particularly their Northumberland Ale. However, others seem to be making it into the lineup all the time.
Scotch-Irish Brewery: An old favorite that I keep returning to, and one the Manx has been known to rotate in every now and then.
Niagara Brewery: I can recall many occasions when Niagara was on tap, particularly the Gritstone or the Olde Jack.
Creemore Springs: the lager is available year-round and the Urbock is brought out during the winter season. Every winter, I’m sure to get on that!

The Food:
In addition to all that, I’ve found that they make the best burger in town! Competition on that front has been intense since our most recent visit, especially since the burger joint known as Hindengburger set up shop! Nevertheless, my feelings on this issue stand!

One can always find their daily burger creation listed on the specials board. Everyday there’s something new and creative, but the core principle always revolves around a burger with a hand-made patty of thick beef, a toasted kaiser, and the usual fresh fixings. Not to mention the potato-wedge fries with garlic aioli, which is frankly to die for! The most recent special (which we enjoyed during our visit) featured a Kim Chi twist (Korean pickled/spiced cabbage). I can also remember one incarnation from years back that involved Brie cheese. Others involved shaved beets, cucumber, white cheddar, back bacon… the list goes on!

Aside from that, their special board always includes a Naan pizza (always different), soup, pasta and a main dish which are often vegetarian, but which will sometimes feature steak, ribs, or duck. Portabello mushrooms, seasonal vegetables, and different types of cheese will usually make it into the mix as well. And their regular menu is definitely worth checking out as well. Since it keeps changing and I tend to visit only once every few years, I cannot attest to the contents with any real accuracy. But always the ingredients are fresh, the combinations creative, and the result well worth the price. Word around the campfire is that they do a fantastic brunch too!

The Atmosphere:
When one walks into the bar, one is immediately struck by the old-world feel of the place. Whether it is the dark wood tables, beams, and bar, the warm lighting, or the stucco walls, one can help but think they are in a Victorian or even Tudor-era pub (updated for the current century obviously). In addition to that, adding to the creature comfort factor, are the plush red velvet booths and couches and copper-skinned tables. Where else but on Elgin street could someone find such a place, I often wonder. Ecclectic and artistic, traditional yet trendy-modern. With friendly staff, great beer and good eats to accompany, its little wonder why the place is always packed.

This latter aspect is something that can be a bit uncomfortable about the place. It’s size and popularity lend themselves to a packed a tight mentality. What one person finds cozy, another might find claustrophobic. Live music is often featured, but again, space is not at a premium which means noise levels can get a bit oppressive too. In addition, the food can be pricey as well. Still, once you get your seat and have your meal, you’ll feel that your time and money were well spent!

My thanks to the Manx staff for having us back again this trip! To my fellow Beer Snobs, I say to you that if you find yourself in Ottawa and are looking for good taps and a quality establishment, get yourself a table at this here place. Come early or call ahead, as the place tends to fill up quickly during the dinner and drinking hours! Cheers and keep on tilting!