Spinnakers Quince Sour Saison

Spinnakers_quincesourBrewer: Spinnakers Brewery
Style: Sour Saison Ale
ABV: 5.0%
IBUs: 5

Description: Brewed in honor of Spinnaker’s 32nd anniversary, this sour ale is made using backyard quince fruit, which is then fermented with wild yeast strains and aged in tequila barrels.

Tasting Notes: I say this all the time, but this beer is an interesting combination. At first, I was turned off by the label, being somewhat tired by all the sour offerings of late, and not  a huge fan of tequila. And the first sip was heavy on the sour side. However, this beer does grow on you with each successive drink. In the end, what you get is an ale with strong notes of sour lemon, a hint of saison spicy yeast, a hint of dry apple, and some smooth tequila backing. Definitely a gamble that paid off!

Appearance: Yellow-amber, very cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Strong notes of acid, lemon juice, yeast, spice
Taste: Mild malt, strong yeast tang, sour lemon, yeast, hint of tequila
Aftertaste: Lingering sour lemon flavor, yeasty bite
Overall: 8/10

Deep Cove Sun Kissed Tea Saison Ale

sunkissed_saisonBrewer: Deep Cover, Vancouver, BC
Style: Saison
Alc/Vol: 5%

Description: A summer seasonal release, this pale ale is made in the Belgian farmhouse Saison style, and is then infused with a blend of apple, mango and papaya Rooibos teas.

Tasting Notes: As Saisons go, this one was a rather interesting mix and was definitely very refreshing, not to mention a good accompaniment to the coming summer weather. In addition to the mild malt, hints of spice and yeast, it has a delicate infusion of fruit flavor and a tea backing that plays nicely on the tongue, and a nice refreshing finish to boot.

Appearance: Golden orange, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Grainy malt, yeast, mild hints of apple and tropical fruits
Taste: Light malts, discernible yeasts and spice, hint of apple and mango
Aftertaste: Mild malt and yeast aftertaste, some tea, clean finish
Overall: 8.5/10

Townsite’s Latest

townsite-logo-Back with some new beers from the Townsite Brewery of scenic Powell River BC! Since it first opened less than two years ago, they’ve been producing hit after hit. From their regular lineup, to their seasonal (their Blackberry Festivale was the first I tried while staying there in the summer of ’12), to their YOGN 82 (best Tripel I’ve had in years!), there’s very little that this brewery has produced that I didn’t find highly impressive.

I’m especially happy about this for a couple of reasons. For one, they are a local brewing operation, which is a mark of sophistication for any community that has one. Second, it is very convenient to be able to find great beer on one’s own doorstep! And third, all too often, craft brewers find themselves unable to compete in a market dominated by major and not-so-micro operations. Knowing that they are producing an extensive lineup of really good beer gives me confidence that they will be around for some time to come…

So here are the latest Townsite beers that I’ve managed to sample and what I had to say about them!

7800 Saison:
Townsite_7800_SaisonThe 7800 is named in honor of the distance that lies between the Townsite Brewery of Powell River and the brewmaster’s home in Horrues, Belgium. Brewed in the Saison farmhouse fashion, once again owing to the brewmaster’s Belgian roots, this beer is made with a combination of barley, spelt, oats, and rye. The end result is cloudy in appearance, golden orange, and has the characteristic Saison flavors. These include a spicy, yeasty character, but also some complex malt flavor that is more bitter than usual. This is due to the admixture of rye, oats and spelt, which achieve a bite that is somewhat reminiscent of an oatmeal stout or rye ale, unexpected but certainly welcome to the mix.

Appearance: Golden-orange, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Distinctive yeasty and spicy notes
Taste: Smooth malts, spicy yeast backbone, giving way to bitter, grainy bite
Aftertaste: Lingering bitterness, rye flavor, yeast
Overall: 8.5/10

Shiny Penny Belgium IPA:
townsite_shinypennyThe beer is named after the gastropub that brewmaster Cédric Dauchot and his wife (and brewery manager) Chloe Smith, planned to open in Saskatoon. As their take on a new style that is becoming all the rage, the Belgian IPA is a marriage of Belgian yeasts and strength with the characteristic hoppyness and higher malt gravity of a Pacific Northwest IPA. And when you drink it, that is precisely what you get: a rich, malty brew that boast plenty of citrus and tropical fruit. The appearance is consistent with an Imperial IPA, dark amber, but has little head or carbonation to speak of. The total gravity is 21.5 Plato, and the alcohol strength is just shy of a Tripel (8.5% alc/vol). A very interesting and, as usual, awesome product from this brewery!

Appearance: Dark amber, slightly cloudy, mild foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Floral, citrus hops, thick, syrupy malts
Taste: Heavy malts, slight sweetness, Belgian yeast, citrus hops, coarse malt flavor
Aftertaste: Lingering hop and malt bitterness, passion fruit, yeast and sugars
Overall: 9/10

With these two down, there are only two seasonals that remain to be had. This includes their Perfect Storm Oatmeal Stout, and their Beer D’Hiver Winter Ale. Man, these guys are productive as hell! I hope I can keep up…

Base Camp Brewery Has Arrived!

basecamp_ipl
It seems there’s no end to the amount of beer coming up from the south lately. In addition to American, Diamond Knot, and Skagit, a great deal of hubbub is also being made by the operation known as Base Camp Brewing, which like many stellar brewing operations comes to us from Portland, Oregon. I was immediately drawn to their spot in the aisle when I noticed that they store their beer in aluminum tallboys, much like Surgenor brewing – may she rest in peace – used to do.

As it stands, only two beers in their lineup are available locally. And after having tried both, I was quite impressed. This included their IPA and Pilsner, which combined some serious authenticity with just enough experimentation to make them surprising.

In-Tents Lager:
in-tents_IPLThe flagship beer of the brewery, this beer is one of the few that makes it to export. And unlike many India Pale Lagers I’ve tasted in recent years, this beer manages to marry the best of both worlds – rich malts and a strong hop bite with the clean-tasting, refreshing qualities of a lager – without compromising on either. According to the commercial description, this beer is dry-hopped with a combination of Pacific Northwest hops and aged in caskets of toasted white and red oak. The end product is then lagered, which creates a beer that is at once malty, dry, fruity and sugary, but also refreshing and crisp. The play on words that is this beer’s name is clearly well-deserved.


Appearance:
Orange-amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation

Nose: Strong malts, sweet, citrusy hops, ruby red grapefruit
Taste: Sweet and sugary malts, strong citrus, pine, passion fruit hops
Aftertaste: Lingering bitterness, mild fruity notes
Overall: 9/10

Ripstop Rye PIls:
ripstop-rye-pilsAnother beer that is available for export, the Ripstop Rye Pils is the breweries reinterpretation of the classic pilsner lager beer. Basically, this beer is a marriage of traditional Pilsner with west coast hops and toasted rye malt. This results in a beer that smells of European malt and noble-type hops are discernible, as are some interesting traces of orchard fruits. In terms of flavor, the characteristic Pilsner taste mingles with some spicy rye notes, added fruit, and some grassy hops. And of course, it all finishes off crisp, clean, with a little lingering spice for emphasis. Quite the pleasing and refreshing hot weather beer and well paired with spicy foods. I think this one just might be a contender for my “Beer that tames the fire” list.

Appearance: Light golden blonde, slightly cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Sharp hops, mild fruit, notes of peach and plum
Taste: Immediate tang, slightly bitter, grassy hops, rye spice, touch of peach
Aftertaste: Lingering crisp hop flavor, discernible rye aftertaste
Overall: 9/10

From just a passing glance at their website, I can see there are many left to try. Apparently, their expanded lineup includes 19 beers, ranging from a Pale Ale to a Sessional, from a Saison to a Doppelbock. I can only assume that many of these are only available on tap and not for sale outside of the local brewpubs. Guess I’ll just have to arrange a road trip!

Parallel 49 Humphrey Biere de Garde

parallel49As anyone familiar with BC craft beers would know by now, the Vancouver-based Parallel 49 brewery is renowned for their interesting and weird combinations, producing beer that is both appealing to drink and esoterically complex. And they seem to know no limits when it comes to variation and experimentation, combining different processes, ingredients, and merging disparate styles to create something new every few weeks. And whenever they decide on a new combination, it comes in the form of a limited release.

P49_humphreyThe latest is Humphrey’s Biere de Garde, a malt-forward twist on a traditional style of beer that, similar to Saison, is a farmhouse beer that comes to us from northeastern France. A cottage industry for the longest time, large-scale breweries have taken to producing Biere de Gardes in recent years, especially craft-brewing operations. So it is little wonder why Parallel 49 chose to tackle this beer, which is also a seasonal variety that was typically brewed during the spring and stored for the summer months. The twist, which is to be expected when dealing with P49, comes in the form of rosewater, which was added to provide another dimension of flavor. Typically used to scent and flavor foods, perfumes and ointments, the admixture of this syrupy, fragrant liquid provides for a drinking experience which is at once traditional and at the same time odd and interesting…

Appearance: Amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich malts, hint of sweetness
Taste: Semi sweet malts, syrupy and viscous, slight floral, herbal infusion,
Aftertaste: Lingering sweetness, chewy mouthfeel, relatively clean
Overall: 8/10

As you may be able to tell, it was quite difficult to describe the flavor of this beer. All throughout, I had the feeling that I was getting notes of something sweet, distinct, and not really consistent with malt or hops. I wasn’t sure how to describe this, and didn’t want to fall back on the all-too-convenient “like rosewater”, especially since I’ve never tasted it before. But the end result of this beer is certainly something that most beer drinkers will at least partially recognize – a malt forward beer that is reminiscent of a nice amber ale that also comes with a herbal/floral taste provided by a rosewater tincture. Not P49s best beer by my measure, but definitely worth sampling.

Steamworks Saison

steamworkssaisonJust in time for… uh, Fall! Yes, I know this is not technically appropriate to the season, but the recent arrival of Steamworks Saison to one of the local dispensaries was not something I could very well ignore. More and more, I am seeing this Vancouver-based craft brewery’s good turning up here on the island, and its exciting. In fact, almost a year ago I took a trip to their brewery for the third time and sampled as much of their lineup as I could. I really must publish the results one of these days…

steamworks_saisonBut in the meantime, I am satisfied to sample their Saison, a tribute to the French-speaking province of Wallonia in southern Belgium where the style originated. Typically brewed in the colder, less active months of autumn, this variety of beer is generally milder and lighter than your typical Belgian ales – that is to say 7% alc/vol, as opposed to those with a heftier rating of 9% and above. And like many of its compatriot beers, Saisons tend to boast notes of fruit and spice, either the result of the specialized yeast that is used in fermentation or due to the additional of actual fruits and spices. In keeping with that tradition, Steamworks’ own Saison is made using a combination of wheat and barley malt, is light and yeasty, and slightly stronger than your average fare, clocking in at a respectable 6.5% alc/vol.

Appearance: Light blonde, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Distinct notes of Belgian yeast, dry, slightly spicy
Taste: Slightly bitter hops, strong yeasts, hints of coriander, fruit reminiscent of dry cider
Aftertaste: Lingering yeast and coriander flavor, mild bitterness
Overall: 8/10

Yes, this beer did much to enthrall and confound me. On the one hand, it was very consistent with what I’ve come to expect from a Belgian Saison, loaded with its distinct yeast and malt flavor with hints of coriander. At the same time, I was reminded of cider, another regional favorite, since the nose and flavor of it seemed dry and acidic. But like I said, Saison beers are renowned for being spicy and fruity, and this one certainly measures up in both regards! Islanders would be well advised to get some while they can…

Spinnakers Festive Saison

spinnakers_festivesaisonSince I tried this one in the pub itself, I’ve been yearning to get my hands on a bottle so I could give it a proper review. Like many brews they produce, it can be a challenge to find some in a bottle. Luckily, this holiday season, some was retrievable at my favorite local watering hole. So here we are!

And as my second winter seasonal beer review, it was also quite impressive. To be fair, I’m not a huge fan of the Saison beer variety, but I do approve of a refreshing beer with notes of spice and fruit that is gentle on the palate and quite refreshing. And thought this one was a bit light for my taste, I still found plenty to enjoy about it.

Appearance: Light yellow, transparent and very mild foam retention
Nose: Belgian yeast, notes of coriander and clove spice
Taste: Light, slightly bitter tang, yeasty and clean
Aftertaste: Mild taste of coriander and clove spice, citrus rind
Overall: 7.5/10

Stay tuned! More holiday beer to come soon. And maybe a few more fall beers that didn’t quite make it out in time.

Driftwood Brewery

Recently, I came to the realization that I had tried just about everything a local brewery had to offer, and yet I’d never given them a complete review! This seems to be a pattern with me, but rarely does it happen with a brewery in my own backyard. I am of course referring to the Driftwood Brewery, located right here in beautiful Victoria BC! Oft times I have praised an individual beer of theirs, and even used them as the meter stick when I needed to compare another beer to something. And after a recent visit to one of my favorite dispensaries, I realized that I tried their entire regular lineup. Not quite all their specialty, but dammit, they just make so many! Still, it’s high time I put all my thoughts on this establishment into one place. So here goes…

First off, a note on the brewery itself. Established back in 2008 by Jason Meyer and Kevin Hearsum, this brewery is a recent addition to craft brewing here on the island. However, in just four short years, these guys turned a start-up with a simple but popular selection into a powerhouse of microbrewing with a six beer lineup and a growing line of specialty beers. And they’ve got a memorable and geographically appropriate name to boot, so its easy to see why they’ve done well. Operating out of a former warehouse in Victoria’s Gorge area, they are joined by breweries like Hoyne, Spinnakers, Swans, and Moon Under Water.

Yeah, I’m thinking these guys aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. As for the beer, well…

Regular Lineup:
Driftwood Ale: A balanced and drinkable beer and a fitting example of a West Coast Pale Ale. Rich malt flavors are complimented by a good bite that has notes of grapefruit. This is due to the addition of (what I assume are) Cascade hops, which comes through in the finish. Good on its own, but also well paired with just about anything spicy, meaty, or saucy. 4/5

Farmhand Ale: A Belgian style farmhouse ale, which refers to the tradition of farm-based cottage breweries common to the Wallonia province in Belgium. Also known as “saison” beers, these are typically summer ales that are noted for being light, refreshing, and best when enjoyed in warm weather. Driftwood’s own is a faithful adaptation, relying on sour mash and pepper to accomplish a beer that is distinctly Belgian in flavor, has a light sour malt taste, and a mild hop finish that contains notes of pepper. 4/5 

White Bark Ale: A traditional wheat, as the name implies, which has the expected notes of citrus and coriander. However, this beer was remarkably light, even for a wheat beer, which was kind of disappointing. In many ways, I was reminded of Hoegaarden, another light take on the Belgian wheat. However, this isn’t to say that this beer isn’t both enjoyable and summery, like a good wheat should be! Best enjoyed with heavier fare like game, rich or spicy cuisine, its light taste not taking away from the complexity of its flavors. 3.5/5

Crooked Coast Amber Ale: An Altbier, or “old beer” – which refers to the Rhineland tradition of using top-fermenting yeast – this style predates lagers, but has evolved to include warm-temperature fermentation and cold temperature “lagering”. In keeping with traditional recipes, this beer also combines German noble hops and Munich malts. The end result is a beer that combines aspects of both pale ales and lagers, boasting complex flavors with a crisp, clean finish. Tawny, smooth notes gives way to a dry hop finish and refreshing clean aftertaste. A good candidate for my “go-to” list! 4/5

Fat Tug IPA: You ever wonder if a beer was made just for you? Well, I kind of wondered if someone over at the Driftwood Brewery had a direct line to my hop tooth the moment I tasted this beer! One of the best IPA’s I’ve had in recent years, and a proud entry to my “Best IPA’s” of all time list. Much like the Driftwood Ale, this beer boasts a dose of Cascadia and other varieties of hops, but in doses that make the notes of grapefruit especially fragrant and powerful! The malts are lighter, allowing the hops to really come through and linger long after the last sip. At 7% alc/vol and 80 IBU (international bitterness units) this beer is also a true example of a Northwestern IPA. 5/5

Seasonals:
Bird of Prey Flanders Red: Ordinarily, I’m not a huge fan of sour ales. In fact, I’ve had a few at this point and found them generally disappointing. However, that changed BIG TIME when I sampled this beer for the first time last November. As a historian and lover of all things pertaining to Canada’s involvement in WWI and II, I could not turn down a beer that boasted the name Flanders! I assumed (and still do) that it was a seasonal ale brewed in honor of Flanders Fields. But as if that wasn’t enough, the taste brought me back to it several times over! Brewed in the traditional Flanders style, this beer is a Belgian red that is made using special strands of yeast and then aged in oak barrels for up to a year. Ultimately, what comes out of this is a beer that is reddish in hue and has a complex, sour flavor and rich aroma that is reminiscent of sour cherries, plums and apricots – a true delight for the senses. Oh, how I lamented its disappearance when fall gave way to winter! 5/5!

Old Cellar Dweller: I recall reviewing this one back in December of 2010, during my “Month of Doppelbock” series. And I can recall with some fondness when I first found this beer on the shelf and learned that it was a Driftwood product. Faithful to the tradition of Barley Wine, this beer is dark, sugary, and very powerful – at 12% alc/vol, it isn’t pulling any punches! However, its intense strength and sweetness can be a little overwhelming at times, which is why I highly recommend that this beer be served in a snifter and enjoyed sparingly. Under those conditions, its tawny finish and strong notes of molasses, brown sugar and light hop bite can be appreciated fully. 4/5

Son of the Morning: The most recent Driftwood beer to grace my table. When I first set my eyes on it, I knew instantly that it and I would get along just fine! The label said strong golden ale, and the details emphasized that it was a Belgian-style ale. Man, these guys love their Belgians; but then again, so do I! We get along fine. And, much like their Belgian predecessors, this strong ale is made using coriander and sugar to intensify the flavor and alcohol content. The end is result is what I would describe as a cross between La Fin Du Monde and Duvel, two shining examples of Belgian-style beer-making. In addition to its obvious strength (10% alc/vol) the beer is also distinctly Belgian, spicey, viscous, and finishes with a coarse bite. Not for anyone who’s into light beer, but definitely for fans of true Belgian brewing! 4/5

And like I said before, these guys put out a lot of special beers! In fact, I do believe their signature creations outnumber their regular lineup by a wide margin. As it turns out, I have tried some of the ones which are below, but at the moment they are unavailable to me and I can’t for the life of me remember what they were like. Not enough to give them a full and just review. So let me list them off as those I have yet to try and will get to later:

Blackstone Porter

Cuvee D’Hiver
Naughty Hildegard ESB
Singularity Stout
Spring Rite
Twenty Pounder Double IPA

Quite the list, but then again, these guys have been busy! Kudos Driftwood. You keep making em, I’ll keep drinking em!