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!

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Back from Ottawa!

DSCF1285As promised, I am back from the east with plenty of beers to rave about! Much like last trip, and the one before that, ad infinitum… I managed to secure some beers from several new breweries, seasonals, and special releases that can only be found in the nation’s capitol. Whether it was on tap, in a can, or a bottle, and found at the local LCBO, bar, or bistro, I had a number of great drinking experiences this trip. And what better place to start than with the latest from Beau’s All Natural Brewing and the Creemore Brewery?

Beau’s Night Marzen Oktoberfest Lager:
beaus_marzenBack in 2012, I saw Beau’s long-necked beers at an Ottawa LCBO, and for some reason didn’t buy one. Perhaps my cart was overloaded, who knows? Luckily, I rectified my mistake this year and promptly picked up a bottle of their seasonal Marzen Oktoberfest. And I was quite pleased, though admittedly I am a fan of this seasonal lager. Compared to your average lager, Marzens are often darker and orange in hue, a heavier, maltier body, and a crisp finish. However, the Beau’s manages to adds to that with a relatively good dose of hops which yield a more bitter, complex and even lemony flavor than I was expecting. This is all complimented by a good, clean finish that manages to round things out. Not your light lager by any means, but a pleaser as far as I am concerned!

Appearance: Orange-amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Grassy, piney notes, subtle malts
Taste: Immediate burst of bitter, piney hops, lemon, grainy malts
Aftertaste: Lingering bitterness and citrus rind
Overall: 8.5/10

Creemore Altbier:
creemore_altbierCreemore is without a doubt one of my favorite microbreweries in Ontario. Not only are they the purveyor of one of my favorite beers of all time – Creemore Urbock, one of the finest bocks ever made – I also consider their Pilsner, Lager and Kellerbier to be exceptional. So it was exciting to see that they had produced a collaboration ale that honors the venerable German style known as altbier – “old beer”, which refers to the pre-lager days when German brewers made ales. Produced in conjunction with the brewers at Zum Schlüssel in Dusseldorf, an historic brewery specializing in alts, this beer was released for their 25th anniversary and is now back by popular demand. And much like their other beers, it was very subtle, clean, and highly refreshing.


Appearance:
Dark amber-brown, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Mild, toasty malts, mild hops and smokiness
Taste: Smooth, gentle malts, slight tang, hint of grassy hops and smoke
Aftertaste: Mild bitterness, clean, touch of minerality
Overall: 8.5/10

More to follow from my trip! Stay tuned…

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!

Month of Doppelbock!

December 2010, much like November of 2010 for me, was dedicated to a specific type of beer. As usual, I went on a whim and decided to pick the very thing that seemed to be making inroads as far as craft brewing was concerned. In addition, it just happened to be seasonally appropriate. As the title suggests, that choice was Doppelbock! Enjoy!

Bock is a type of strong lager developed in Germany during the Middle Ages. It was considered the aristocrats beer of choice, beating even wine for the privilege of being the snob’s choice of libation. Doppelbock is the stronger version of this beer, meaning double, as in double-fermented. In the last few centuries, countless varieties of Bock and Doppelbock have been produced, and no one person could ever enjoy them all. But I will do my best!

Aventinus: (5/5) By Schneider-Weisse breweries, this wheat doppelbock is one of my favorite beers of all time. It is only fitting then that I dedicate my first review to it. It’s long been a source of consternation for me that I can’t find it here in BC, but since I’ve drank so many over the years, I hardly have to drink it again in order to give it a good review. For starters, this beer is a complex, challenging brew that requires some education before it can be fully appreciated. First, one should familiarize themselves with the rather unique flavor of wheat beer (weissbier or hefeweizen), and second, become familiar with the deep and rich flavor typical of doppelbock. Then, and only then, should someone try to drink this beer!

I recall ordering my first one at the Vineyards establishment, located in the Byward Market of Ottawa. I was new and asked for something tall, dark, and German (with the addendum that I wasn’t a gay man out for a fun time!). The barkeep handed my an Aventinus, which just happened to be the brew masters favorite. It struck me as odd, being fruity, malty, with notes of chocolate and a tang that was reminiscent of Jagermeister. But in time, it came to be one of my favorites, and every time I go to Ottawa for a visit, I’m sure to stock up! Available in half-liter bottles, and at 8 percent alcohol per volume, it’s also highly intoxicating! Drink up!