Muskoka Detour Sessional IPA

muskoka_detourBrewer: Muskoka Brewery, Bracebridge, Ontario
Style: Sessional IPA
ABV:
4.3%
IBUs: 30

Description: This beer takes it name from the fact that it is a departure from the regular North American style India Pale Ale. In addition to being dry-hopped, it is also sessionable, creating a lighter, more accessible IPA that is easy drinking.

Tasting Notes: This was one of my first sampling from 2015 trip to Ottawa. Muskoka is an old favorite when it comes to craft brewing, and it seems they have been getting better and more experimental in my absence. This was a neat take on a traditional IPA, and not just because its subtler and lighter. It also has some very interesting flavor notes – which include orchard fruits you don’t normal expect in an IPA. And that accompanies the usual citrus and grassy hops. Quite an interesting take.

Appearance: Golden, slightly cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Smooth malts, subtle hops, fruity esters, apricot

Taste: Crisp malt, mineral tang, notes of citrus, grassy hops, orchard fruit 
Aftertaste: Lingering fruit esters, hop bitterness, grassy hops and citrus
Overall: 8.3/10

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Muskoka Winter Beard Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout

muskoka_beardBrewer: Muskoka Brewery, Bracebridge ON
Style: Strong Stout
ABV: 8%

Description: Muskoka’s Winter seasonal beer, this stout is brewed using dark roasted chocolate malts which are then infused with cocoa, 70% dark chocolate, and freshly harvested local cranberries. The result is a strong stout with hints of sweetness and a smooth backing.

Tasting Notes: This is one of those “long time coming” drinking experiences. I can recall seeing this beer on the shelves back when I visited Ottawa, and made a mental note to try it once I saw that it was available here in BC. It took awhile, but I finally managed to get my hands on one and give it a go. And the combination was pretty pleasing. Tart and sweet cranberry flavor play well with a strong stout, cutting the bitter malt flavor, while chocolate provide an undertone of smoothness.

Appearance: Black, opaque, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich, roasted malt, chocolate, hint of espresso, licorice
Taste: Dark, rich malts, cocoa and espresso, hint of tartness and sugary finish
Aftertaste: Lingering roasted malt flavor, chocolate and espresso, licorice
Overall: 8.5/10

Muskoka Legendary Oddity

muskoka_oddityBrewer: Muskoka Brewery, Bracebridge ON
Style: Vintage Ale
Alc/Vol: 8%

Description: This limited release Spring-seasonal ale pays homage to the legends of the lumberjacks and furtraders who experienced the mysterious culture and wildlife of the North during the 1800’s. Brewed in the Belgian style, it brings together a combination of North American malts, Noble hops, heather tips, juniper berries and sweet orange peel shavings, before being fermented with Belgian yeast and fortified with Candi sugar. The end results is then bottled and cellar aged to bring the flavors together to maturity.

Tasting Notes: This beer brought to mind many drinking experiences, all of them pleasant. First, there are the distinctive Belgian-style elements, which are similar to a good Tripel; a barley-wine in terms of the sweet and sugary notes; and a juniper pale ale with the infusion of gin-like flavor and a crisp finish. I am always happy when I get to reconnect with breweries from back east that I don’t always have access to. And this beer was definitely a lovely and worthy addition to Muskoka’s lineup.

Appearance: Gold/orange, clear with sediment, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich malt, sugary nose, barley wine-like, floral, citrus, Belgian yeasts
Taste: Strong malts, sugars, Belgian yeast, citrus rind, crisp finish, hint of juniper
Aftertaste: Lingering coarse malt and yeast bitterness, juniper berry, citrus rind
Overall: 9.5/10

Pub Italia Visit 2013

pub_italia

In the past few weeks, I have been struggling to get over the flu so that I might be able to keep up with this season’s latest releases. At the same time, I find myself backlogged with beer reviews from my recent trip to Ottawa. Which is really not good considering that some of the best and most adventurous sampling I did this year has remained unmentioned. I choose to remedy that here and now by mentioning my most recent visit (it was the first time I’ve been back in years really) to Pub Italia.

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

Located in Ottawa’s Little Italy on Preston Street (aka. Corso Italia), this landmark is a combination Italian trattoria and Irish pub designed to look like the interior of a Monastery. This is in keeping with the Pub’s ethos, of how in the Middle Ages, Monasteries were the place where fine beer was crafted, while pubs and trattorias were the designated places for consuming them. In addition to their menu, which includes pub fair as well as Italian favorites, they also boast some thirty taps and a vast array (I’m talking vast!) of bottled beers from around the world. All of these are listen in their Beer Bible, a leather-bound tome the size of a first edition and almost as thick!

In the old days, Pub Italia was a place of Ciceronian education for me, and the one place that could give Vineyards a run for its money! Since we found ourselves in Little Italy this year for the better part of a day, I knew we had to stop in and sample the local wares. Here’s what the wife and I had to drink and what I had to say about it:

Dylan’s Killer Red:
churchkey_dylanskilleredBrewed by Ontario’s own Church Key Brewery, this Irish Red Ale is made especially for Pub Italia. It was my wife’s pint of choice, but of course I had to sample some for myself. And while it certainly was reminiscent of a good Irish Red, the beer’s flavor was both a little understated and a little too much for me. While the malt is rich and syrupy, providing a good mouthfeel, the flavor was a bit off. Ordinarily, an Irish red or any variation of this pale should remind one of baked bread or slightly burnt sugar, not raw dough. And the hop bite was quite absent, to the point that it had no real aftertaste to speak of. Not the best Irish Red I’ve tried to date, but not a lost effort either.

Appearance: Amber red, clear, medium foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Thick, syrupy malt, reminiscent of uncooked dough
Taste: Light tang, hint of sweetness, viscous malt, spring water
Aftertaste: Very clean and somewhat watery
Overall: 7/10

Muskoka Mad Tom IPA:
muskoka_madtomipaWhat would an Ottawa trip be without an additional installment from the Muskoka Brewery? Though I’m sure I’ve enjoyed the Mad Tom before, a cursory glance at this blog of mine revealed that I failed to take any tasting notes. Hence, all previous samplings don’t count, and any other excuse I need to drink some more! In any case, a  tall pint of Mad Tom went quite well with our visit, as it is both immensely malty and hoppy, and dry-hopped with large quantities of Centennial and Chinook hops. The end result is rich in malt and heavily bitter, though perhaps a little too so. A little variation in hops, or perhaps some conventional in addition to the dry-hopping would have provided an added dimension to the flavor. Still, a very good IPA in my opinion.

Appearance: Golden amber, slightly cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich hop bouquet, floral, tropical, and citrusy
Taste: Semi-sweet, coarse malts, piney hop bitterness, grapefruit rind
Aftertaste: Lingering grapefruit bitterness
Overall: 8/10

Spearhead Hawaiian Style Pale Ale:
spearhead_hawaiianAnd last, but not least, was this experimental concoction from the Spearhead brewery. Located in Toronto, Ontario, Spearhead is the same brewery that produce the Moroccan brown ale which I sampled at the Manx this year and had nothing but good things to say about. Combining the tropical sweet flavor of pineapple with a pale ale foundation, the Hawaiian-style manages to combine an easy drinking experience with a citrus bite that comes from a respectable dose of dry hops. According to their website, this beer has won numerous awards on the national and international stage, due in no small part to their “ballsy” combinations.

Appearance: Golden, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Citrus hops, pale malt, tropical fruit and sugars
Taste: Immediate hop bitterness, mild pineapple sweetness, smooth malt
Aftertaste: Lingering hop bitterness
Overall: 8/10

And that was my visit to Pub Italia for this year. Next year, I shall be just as eager to go back, as I’ve missed out on the opportunity to visit this old, favorite haunt in recent years. A man cannot live on bottles and cans alone, after all, and if one haunt is being honored, the rest must be as well. So sayeth the beer snob code!

Manx Visit 2013!

manx_tapsAs is our custom whenever visiting Ottawa, the wife and I chose to stop by the Manx Pub this year in order to sample from their vast array of taps. In addition to their fine food (I still think they make the best burger in town), the Manx has always been known to host a vast array of local craft breweries. And this year, I managed to find a whole slew of new beers to choose from. I tell ya, its not easy fitting five pints into one evening, but somehow I managed!

And if you get a chance, stop by their new website which went online just a few months ago. Lord knows they took their time putting one up, but that’s part of their charm. They’re not into trends, just good food and drink. And now that they’ve entered the realm of “the internets”, more people can learn about them and see what they’re all about. In any case, here’s what was on tap for me in 2013…

Broadhead Maddog IPA:
broadhead_beerAn old friend from high school recommended I try this one (hi Chris!), not that I needed much encouragement. Since arriving in Ottawa this year, Broadhead was a label that kept popping up whenever I went to a bar or to the LCBO. So naturally I was eager to try it and see what the hubbub was all about. I started with their Maddog IPA, which was a fitting example of a India Pale Ale brewed and fashioned by the good people of the Valley. In addition to a good amber hue, a nose rich in malts and hops, the flavor was both refreshing and clean while still malty and varied in terms of hop bitterness. An all around mouth-pleaser!

Appearance: Amber, lightly cloudy, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Rich syrupy malts, subtle citrus hops
Taste: Semi-sweet, rich malt, citrus and piney hops
Aftertaste: Mild, lingering hop bitterness, relatively clean
Overall: 8.5/10

Muskoka Harvest Ale:
muskoka_harvest_aleNext up was my latest sampling from the venerable Muskoka brewery. During our last visit, I was pretty blown away by their Dark Ale – a smooth, rich and chocolatey take on an English brown. So I was naturally interested to see what they did with this seasonal installment. As the first in an emerging lineup of limited run beers, this beer is a strong twist on a Fall Harvest Ale, being dark in colour, dry-hopped, and weighing in at a respectable 7% alc/vol. This proved a bit much for me, as the beer was quite bitter and had notes of espresso and smoke on top of its already noticeable hop bitterness. Not a bad beer by any means, and certainly not a bad start to their limited runs, but it did prove a little out of character to me.

Dry hopped and brewed using a selection of premium local ingredients, this ale has a rich malt backbone and a subtle grassy character reminiscent of the freshly cut harvest. It’s our way of celebrating another prosperous growing season. – See more at: http://www.muskokabrewery.com/harvest-ale.php#sthash.HPvSpDdv.dpuf
Dry hopped and brewed using a selection of premium local ingredients, this ale has a rich malt backbone and a subtle grassy character reminiscent of the freshly cut harvest. It’s our way of celebrating another prosperous growing season. – See more at: http://www.muskokabrewery.com/harvest-ale.php#sthash.HPvSpDdv.dpuf
Dry hopped and brewed using a selection of premium local ingredients, this ale has a rich malt backbone and a subtle grassy character reminiscent of the freshly cut harvest. It’s our way of celebrating another prosperous growing season. – See more at: http://www.muskokabrewery.com/harvest-ale.php#sthash.HPvSpDdv.dpuf

Appearance: Dark amber-brown, slightly cloudy, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Roasted malts, mild grassy hops
Taste: Rich malt, notes of espresso, smoke, citrusy hops, mild skunk
Aftertaste: Lingering malt flavor and espresso bitterness
Overall: 7.5/10

Spearhead Morroccan Ale:
Moroccan-Brown-Ale-199x300
Now this beer proved to be one of two that I managed to sample from this brewery while in Ottawa. And in both cases, they were indicative of the experimental spirit that so clearly characterizes the brewery. In all cases, they appear to be about marrying disparate flavors and traditions, not unlike BC’s own Parallel 49. Basically, it is a brew that merges the spirit of the Maghreb to the style of an English brown ale. And the results are quite pleasing and appetizing, bringing together dark brown malt, subtle dried fruits (raisins, figs, dates) and a mild spice palate. It also weighs in at a slightly stronger than usual 6% alc/vol, and is highly refreshing in addition to being rather sweet and tasty.

Appearance: Dark brown, opaque, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Dark roasted malt, hints of fruit, hint of cinnamon spice
Taste: Rich, syrupy malt, hint of raisins, figs, dates and cinnamon
Aftertaste: Lingering spice and mild malt sweetness
Overall: 9/10

Beyond The Pale Pink Fuzz:
beyond_the_pale_pinkfuzzThese next two samples come from one of Ottawa’s newest breweries, the Beyond The Pale operation that I was surprised to learn about. After many years of starts and stops, it now seems that Ottawa is exploding on the craft brewing scene. And from what I’ve seen from their website, it looks like they are off to a very good start with their product lineup. As for this beer, it was a very nice introduction to what they have to offer.

And as their name suggests, they are committed to making beers that go beyond your basic pale ales and into the realm of the experimental. Nowhere is this more clear than with their grapefruit wheat, a slight twist on a traditional hefeweizen. Light gold in color, it has a gentle wheat malt nose that is imbued with citrus fruit, and has a flavor to match. Overall, it is very light and refreshing, but of course possesses a strong citrus tang that is a great accompaniment to lighter dishes.

Appearance: Golden, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Mild grapefruit and citrus nose
Taste: Immediate tang, grapefruit and citrus flavor
Aftertaste: Lingering citrus rind, quite clean
Overall: 8/10

Beyond the Pale Darkness:
beyond_the_pale_darknessThis second sampling was better than the first. As the breweries take on a traditional oatmeal stout, this beer manages to bring all that’s right about this classic British style into good balance. In addition to being pitch black and opaque, the nose boasts plenty of coffee and dark roasted malts and bitter hops. This carries through into the flavor department, being at once smooth, smokey, creamy and malty, and complexly bitter. It then rounds everything out with a flavorful but relatively clean finish, which is surprising with an oatmeal stout. While not one of their more experimental brews, it was certainly a fitting example of what they can do. Not a bad intro to Beyond The Pale, I must say!

Appearance: Pitch black, opaque, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Notes of coffee, bitter hops, and dark roasted malt
Taste: Smooth, smokey malts, creamy head, discernible hop and coffee bitterness
Aftertaste: Lingering coffee and malt flavor, quite clean
Overall: 8.5/10

And that’s all I managed to sample on that particular outing. More are coming, as the wife and I were sure to visiting other favorite haunts (such as Pub Italia) and managed to do some sampling on our own between lengthy walks through my old hometown. Stay tuned!

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!

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!