Beau’s The Tom Green Beer! Milk Stout

tom-green-beerBrewer: Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co., Vankleek Hill, ON
Style: Milk Stout
ABV: 5%
IBUs: 27

Description: Beau’s and Canadian actor and comedian Tom Green have collaborated to create The Tom Green Beer. A milk stout, The Tom Green Beer displays flavours of chocolate and coffee, while delivering a creamy, velvety texture, and finishing with a mild sweetness. Malts: 2 Row, Munich, Oats, Caramel 120, Roasted, Chocolate, Black; Hops: Perle, Hersbrucker.

Tasting Notes: This was a relatively light beer, as milk stouts go. It pours a black that is not opaque and smells of toasted malts, dark chocolate and espresso. And it has a taste that is both smooth, but possessed of the chocolate and espresso notes. Still, the end result is quite refreshing and nicely balanced.

Hop City Barking Squirrel Lager

hopcity_lagerBrewer: Hop City Brewing, Brampton, ON
Style: Lager
ABV: 5%
IBUs: 24

Description: This lager, which is Hop City’s flagship beer, is brewed using a combination of of Pale Two-Row, Crystal, Dark Crystal , Munich, and Torrified Wheat malts, which are then bittered with Hallertau Mittelfrueh and Saaz hops.

Tasting Notes: This is the second time I’ve sampled Barking Squirrel, the first time being during my 2013 trip to Ottawa. Somehow, my review card was full and I neglected to give it a proper write-up, which I am corrected now! This is very much a good, clean-drinking lager, with some maltier notes that are reminiscent of a good Marzen. A crisp and slightly sweet malt base with notes of sweet bread and caramel combine with a dry, noble hop flavor to create a very quaffable and drinkable lager.

Appearance: Amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Sharp and grainy malt nose, noble hops, dry grasses and herbs
Taste: Clean, crisp malts, sweet bread, caramel, grassy and herbal hops, minerals
Aftertaste: Lingering hop bitterness, grainy and sweet malt flavor
Overall: 8/10

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!

Wellington Brewery

Another Ontario beer maker, and one that I’ve come to feel pretty nostalgic about over the years. In fact, back in my university days, this label was one of the most popular items to be featured in my beer fridge. In addition, its popularity at the local bars meant that new additions did not remain put of my sampling range for long! It has been a few years since I’ve drank from their lineup, as they are not available in BC, and during my most recent trip, I really didn’t partake too much. But given my long-standing history with Wellington, I can tell you a great deal about them just from memory, most of it good!

Based in Guelph, Ontario – as a good many breweries seem to be – the Wellington brewery is renowned for producing many true British-style ales. I’ve tried all of them, with the exception of their wheat ale, and found that they were both authentic and highly enjoyable. All across Ontario, pubs boast many taps dedicated to their beers, and for good reason. Between the quality, the name and the image they carry, Wellington commands a certain air of respect amongst English-speaking Canadians who are proud of their heritage. But getting to specifics, here is their lineup, in alphabetical order:

Arkell Best Bitter: A light and dry beer, the Arkell is served in both the “real ale” (i.e. hand-pulled) and draft/bottle style. In both cases, it boasts a sweet malt taste and a light hop finish, combined with a light copper color and a grainy, nutty nose.Of course, the draft and bottled varieties also possess a degree of carbonation and a more refreshing finish, that goes for all beers that come in both cask and draft. Although not particular dry, bitter or tawny (like many of its peers) this beer is very appealing, refreshing, and well paired with your high-end pub grub, especially chicken pot pies or Beef Wellington. 4/5

Country Dark Ale: Clear, dark amber, smelling of oak and strong malts, this beer is a perfect example of a traditional dark ale. Nutty, with a sweet taste that is reminiscent of toffee and baked bread, it is well suited to heavier fare, such as roast beef, assorted red meats, and stews. 4/5

Imperial Stout: A stronger customer (at 8% alc/vol), this deep, black stout is a historic creation. Originally made by British breweries for export to Russia, Imperial stouts were renowned for being strong, rich, and heavy with coffee and chocolate-like characteristics. This beer achieves all that, with a slight, anise note that is discernible after just a few sips. Another 4/5!

Iron Duke Strong Ale: An unusual beer, at least to those not familiar with winter ales and barley wines. Named in honor of the Duke of Wellington himself, this seasonal ale boasts a dark burgundy color, is cloudy, and has a real viscous, malty quality that is apparent the second it hits the tongue. It’s nose is a rich cherry, and the taste is rich and slightly tawny, reminiscent of port or other fortified wines. A true Brit! Cheers! 4.5/5

Special Pale Ale: Another lighter beer, reminiscent of an ESB and Niagara Pale due to its dry hop, tawny quality. Although it is not as bitter or citrusy as many pale ales go, this too is an easy-drinker with a rich, sweet aroma and nice, balanced finish that is well paired with spicey dishes. 4/5

Trailhead Lager: Without a doubt, one of the lightest lagers I have ever tasted. Initially, I was taken aback by its nutty, clean, taste and very light hop finish (normally, I prefer a heftier dose). However, I soon learned to appreciate it for the simple reason that it was just so drinkable and well paired with spicey dishes. In addition, its subtle malt flavor and hop profile tend to become more discernible as time goes on, leading to a deeper appreciation. Hmm, that’s two spicey food beers from one brewery… I smell a revised “Beer that tames the fire” posting in the near future! 3.75/5

New and yet to try: Only one! Their Silver Wheat Ale came out since my departure, and which I shall be seeking out the next time I’m in town! Cheers to all!

Neustadt Springs

And were back! After reviewing Winterlude’s Winter Beer and Icewine event, plus some of my favorite watering holes, I thought it high time for me to get back and review some of my favorite Ontario breweries. So today, I thought I’d cover a historic and memorable one, the Neustadt Brewery.

This one and I go back quite a ways. In fact, I’m not even sure when I first sampled this beer, but I imagine it was shortly after I became of legal drinking age ;). Not being cheeky; the way I remember it, I actually had a bit of a frame of reference when I first tried it. And what’s more, I’ve tried it several times since and have found plenty of things to appreciate about it.

Established in 1859, this brewery has the honor of operating on the grounds of the oldest craft brewery in Ontario. In addition (and not coincidentally) it just happens to be located over one of the finest sources of spring water in Ontario, which they use to make their craft beers. This is clear the moment you drink any one of their products, which have an added attribute which I can only describe as “minerality” (it’s a word, look it up!).

In any case, during my most recent visit to Ottawa, I was sure to pick up some beer that carried the Neustadt label. And wouldn’t you know it, they’ve actually added a few new beers to their catalog since the last time I sampled them. So here is what I thought of the Neustadt brewery’s products, taking into account their old classics, and the latest addition to their lineup.

Lager: Their flagship brew, done in the Belgian country style. This beer is crisp, refreshing and has a smoothness and deeper hue that make it distinct from your average lager. In addition, the malts have an exceptionally clean, effervescent quality that is reminiscent of spring water. A somewhat unusual experience when it comes to a beer, but definitely a worthy one which grows on you! 4/5

Scottish Ale: The brewery’s red label, which is actually the first beer the brewery ever produced. Brewed in the traditional Scottish “heavy” style, this beer is smoother than the lager with noticeable scotch malts that are reminiscent of whiskey. Notes of caramel, spice, and a nice hop finish top this one off. And of course the clean, pure taste of spring water is never far behind. 4/5

10w30 Brown Ale: Now this beer impressed me quite a bit! Made in the tradition of a true brown ale, this beer has plenty of flavor, but is smooth and tawny with subtle notes of coffee that reminded me of some of the best west coast browns I’ve ever had. In addition, the light touch of minerality makes for a perfect, complex finish. The first beer I had during my trip, and it happened to be one of the most memorable! 5/5

Man, I drank a lot of beer this trip! Not so much in terms of quantity as variety. But I shall do my best to cover them all in the days and weeks to come. Stay tuned… Up next, the Muskoka, Wellington, Church Key, Trafalgar and Magnotta breweries (not necessarily in that order!)

Niagara Brewery

And I’m back with another installment in the “beers from the East” series. That’s what I’ve decided to call it, since calling it “Beers from Ottawa” would hardly be accurate. In truth, much of what I enjoyed when I lived there was from all over Southern Ontario, not to mention Quebec, the Maritimes, continental Europe and the US. However, whereas I still have access to most of those out-of-the-country varieties, I have next to no access to my old Ontario favorites.

Now where is the logic in that? How is it that I can walk over to my local BCL and buy any number of European brews, but a couple dozen of beers from a few provinces away are inaccessible? Sure, some would say its the convoluted issue of globalized brewery ownership that’s to blame, but believe it or not, old prohibition laws have way more to do with it. But that’s something for another post. Right now, I want to honor another of my old favorites.

So here she is: The Niagara Falls Brewery, located in Brampton Ontario! This beer has been around for several decades and made an impact on me on a few occasions. In addition to being a local favorite, it was also a purveyor of good, hoppy, and uniquely flavored beers.

Pale Ale: As Pale Ales go, Niagara’s is one of the cleaner one’s I’ve ever tasted. This is to say that it is less hoppy than you might expect, but also malty and slightly viscous, with a clean finish that is somewhat reminiscent of lager. Combined with a nice red-orange hue, it was one of the better taps that I enjoyed at my favorite pub in Ottawa (the Manx!). Can’t wait til I’m back on those velvet benches, drinking off those copper-skinned tables. I just hope this beer is still on tap! 4/5

Gritstone Premium Ale: The name kind of spoke to me once I had my first taste of this beer. With a name like Gritstone, you expect the beer to taste… I don’t know, gritty! And it does! In fact, much like their pale ale and strong, this beer has a tawny, almost sedimentary taste that makes you think of unfiltered/bottle fermented ale. Mildly hopped and also malty, its a highly enjoyable and quite unique experience, as ales go. 4/5

Olde Jack Strong Ale: An old favorite. This beer is dark, strong, highly malty, and with a toasty taste of tannins that lingers on the tongue. Toasty taste of tannins, try saying that three times fast! Also lightly hopped, this beer’s main strength comes from the rather unique flavor that makes one think of stone-ground bread and roasted barley soup, albeit with a smooth, stout-like quality. Definitely hope I can find this one again! 4.5/5

Millstone Lager: Admittedly, not one of my favorites. For some reason, many of my favorite breweries make lagers that just don’t seem to cut it with me. Perhaps its the fact that the lagers taste a little too malty and sweet to be thought of as true lagers, which in my opinion, must always be clean, sharp, and distinctly hoppy. Anything else, and you should have stuck to ale! Ah well, still a good beer, the Millstone is merely a bit light on the hops and sweet on the malts for my taste. Others may certainly enjoy though, as it is purely inoffensive and goes well with food! 3/5

Eisbock: This beer I discovered at the  same time as Creemore Urbock, and it went hand in hand with that beer in educated me on the subtleties and complexities of Bock beer. In conjunction with Bock beer, this number is produced during the winter months using select hops and barley and fermented at ice cold temperatures, resulting in a beer that is mildly syrupy, semi-sweet, quite strong, and just the slightest bit brackish tasting. This last aspect kind of bothered me, as it rendered the beer a little watery in the beginning, but sweet and syrupy in the end. You might say I thought this was a tad inconsistent. However, since this is a seasonal beer, my experience was limited to the earlier 2000 and something releases. Later vintages could and probably were entirely different. And overall, the Eisbock was a tasty and educational experience, and I’ve not hesitated to pick this one up an several occasions when I needed something festive for a party! 3.75/5

Naturally, there are only the beers that I can recall drinking. In total, Niagara Falls Brewery produced over a dozen brand names, some of which were ahead of their time. They included an Apple Ale, a Best Bitter, a Brown Maple Wheat, a Saaz Pilsner, a Scotch Ale, and a seasonal Weisse. However, it seems that in recent years they were forced scale back. In fact, upon writing this, I’m not even sure they are still in operation. What info I could find on them indicated that they were bought out by Moosehead some time ago, that their variety and standards seemed to have dropped, and at present, they don’t appear to have an operational website.

Could it be that the worse has happened? Could they have gone the way of Hart, first being bought out, then forced to purvey run of the mill beers, only to get axed anyway in the long run? Oh God, I hope not! But until I get to Ottawa and am able to ask/interrogate some people over at the local LCBO, I will know for sure! Niagara, if you’re out there, hang on a little longer! I have yet to re-sample thee and will be there soon!