Salt Spring Island Heather Ale

saltspring_heatherAs the beer class I am hoping to teach nears, I have found myself feeling a little hard pressed to secure all the styles of beer I would need to make an effective presentation. After all, how can one accurately represent the history of beer when it’s so long, diverse and varied? Sure, there’s no shortage of British-style ales, German lagers, and Belgian ales here on the west coast. But what of beers that predate the Belgian Purity Law?

Lucky for me that Salt Spring Island specializing in creating beers of this kind. For awhile, I was hoarding bottles of Salt Spring Island’s Spring Fever Gruit, but as expected, they ran out. And while their Saturnalia Gruit is an equally fitting example of an ancient brew, it too suffers from seasonal availability. Lucky for me, their Heather Ale is year-round and I was able to grab a few, knowing that I could drink them and not fear that the supply would run dry.

And I thought that while I was doing that, I might finally give it a review. It goes without saying that Heather Ale is a renowned style of beer, one that is very popular in Scotland and abroad. It dates back to 4000 BC when it was introduced to Scotland by the Picts, and is therefore one of the most dated styles in existence. And Salt Spring Brewery, in tune with their commitment to organic brewing that’s faithful to its roots, produce a very nice and easy-drinking beer that has a subtle array of herbal notes and flavors that is very appealing, especially to people who are looking for a break from the hoppy beers the Pacific Northwest is famous for.

Appearance: Amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Mild malt, hints of flowers and honey
Taste: Smooth malt, mild tang, hint of vanilla, notes of honey
Aftertaste: Clean finish, lingering tang and minerality
Overall: 8.5/10

Though I am a big fan of the hops, I have to give high credit to this beer for its clean taste, mineral-like tang, vanilla and honey like flavor and gentle aroma. I naturally couldn’t help but compare it to Fraoch, the famous heather ale by the Williams Brothers Brewery. And honestly, I feel this one gives it a good run for its money. I hope those who attend my beer class can appreciate it too!

Salt Spring Island Spring Fever Gruit

saltspring_gruitThough it may seem like I’m late to the party with this beer, let me assure my readers that I’ve had a bottle of this in my possession for some time. After last year’s Saturnalia Gruit, I was both curious and hesitant to try it. On the one hand, I wanted to sample another example of brewing that predates the Bavarian Purity Law. On the other, I was gearing up for a History of Beer class that I’ve been planning on teaching. As a seasonal limited release, this beer comes and goes, and I wanted to make sure I had at least one bottle in reserve before it went out of stock. Well, lucky for me, my local store has kept several bottles in reserve, so I grabbed some more and treated myself!

Much like the Saturnalia, this beer is definitely for the experimentally minded who appreciate authenticity and examples of historic brewing. It pours a deep amber, is clear, and has relatively little foam or carbonation to speak of. The nose is sweet, fruity, and effervescent, calling to mind orchard fruit and apple cider. The flavor is consistent with this, being tangy, sweet, slightly sour, and quite fruity. If one were not informed in advance what this brew is, they might very assume that it was a dry cider flavored with apricots, plums and sour cherries.

Appearance: Amber, clear, mild foam retention and good carbonation
Nose: Sweet malts, apricots, reminiscent of dry cider
Taste: Immediate tang, hint of apples, apricot, plum, cherries, slight sourness
Aftertaste: Very clean, hints of fruit and dry-cider
Overall: 8.5/10

Now that I’ve got a bottle of gruit beer safe and secure, and had a chance to sample it thoroughly, I’m really looking forward to that beer class. Call me a dunce for not buying two bottles in advance, but after thirteen other samples, providing others with a comprehensive education of the history of beer can get expensive!

Salt Spring Island Saturnalia Gruit

saltspring_alesI’m finding that there’s a certain Gulf Island brewery that is rapidly becoming known for its ability to experiment and keep it real. In case the title line hasn’t given it away, that brewery is Salt Spring Island Brewery! And in my most recent sampling from their wares, I came upon this, the Saturnalia Gruit, and instantly knew I had to try it. Not only is it new from this beer snob’s perspective, it is also special in that it pays tribute to an ancient and largely forgotten style of beer-making.

saltspring_saturnaliaIn short, the beer is named after the Roman festival which honored the deity of Saturn, during which time gifts were given, social norms were reversed or abandoned, and people feasted and partied for days on end. To help wash down their food and establish the right kind of “festive spirit”, people drank vast quantities of beer and wine. But since ordinary social norms were put aside, beer was not considered a plebeian drink on this day. The term Gruit, meanwhile, refers to the mixture of herbs which were used in ancient times to flavor beer, as hops had not yet been discovered as a stabilizing and flavoring agent.

So in the end, what you have with this latest addition to the Salt Spring Island lineup is a beer made with dark and rich malt, no hops, and a mixture of star anise, cinnamon and nutmeg as a flavoring agent. And what comes through is rather interesting, to say the least…

Appearance: Deep brown, opaque, mild foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Clear cinnamon and nutmeg traces, acidic notes, herbal infusion
Taste: Tartness, similar to mulled-apple cider, herbal notes reminiscent of Jagermeister
Aftertaste: Light finish,
lingering tart apple and herbal notes
Overall: 8/10

In sum, this beer is rather interesting and substantially different than anything your modern beer drinker has ever tried. In fact, there are those who could easily mistake it for something other than beer, were they to consume it in a blind taste test. And I have to admit, the flavor wasn’t exactly something I might ordinarily go in for. However, one has to expect that in cases like these, where styles veer away from the established norm and present something truly different, and in keeping with brewing trends that are no longer in use. So I give it high marks for authenticity, and recommend it for all beer snobs are required drinking!

Salt Spring Island Creme Brulee Vanilla Stout

saltspring_alesIt’s quite the experience when you wander off the beaten path and find something new, yet related to the things you know and like. That’s kind of how I felt when I wandered into one of the many Liqour Plus depots in Victoria that has been known to stock many of my personal favorites, plus a respectable selection of things I have not heard of from time to time.

saltspringisland_cremeAmongst the gems that appeared in this particular store was a new release  by Saltspring Island Breweries, one which was created through a collaboration with (wait for it) Liqour Plus! Yes, it seems that in addition to selling beer, wine and spirits, this particular chain of private distributors also has a hand in producing them. And this clearly-intended-for-after-dinner-pairings-with-your-dessert beer was the fruit of their labor.

Building on what is clearly becoming a tradition amongst craft brewers who produce stouts, the Creme Brulee Vanilla incorporates lactose into the brewing process to give the beer a highly smooth, almost milk-like profile. On top of that, there’s the addition of organic vanilla beans to add a dimension to the stout flavor which makes the beer live up to its name. Basically, its creamy, smooth, slightly sweet, yet full of all the characteristics true of a dark, roasted stout beer.

Appearance: Black and opaque, mild foam and carbonation
Nose: Deep, roasted malt character
Taste: Smooth, slightly sweet, hint of vanilla, mild espresso flavor
Aftertaste: Combination of vanilla and coffee-like bitterness
Overall: 8/10

I highly recommend this beer paired with an actual creme brulee. In fact, I hardly need an excuse to recommend eating creme brulee, especially when it’s infused with vanilla. Yes, I’m thinking there’s a certain restaurant up in Comox that specializes in one such desert (looking at you, Black Fin Pub) that ought to consider procuring some of this beer very soon. I shall await its arrival and time my next visit to coincide 😉

Salt Spring Island Snug IPA and Whale Tail

saltspring_alesToday, while I take a short break from my winter beer series, I thought I might publish two reviews that came pretty close together and were from the same brewery. And so I thought I’d a two-fer on the Salt Spring Island Brewery, which is, I have to admit, a craft brewing operation I have not sampled from for awhile.

So it’s fitting that I found two of their newest products at my local beer store recently and decided to partake. These would be the new Snug IPA and Whale Tail Amber, respectively. Both were fine products and indicative of their dedication to quality and organic ingredients. Basically, they are what one would expect from a Salt Spring Island operation.

saltspring_snugipaFirst up, their Snug IPA. Much like their other beers, I found this one quite light and smooth, entirely inoffensive, but still in keeping with what an IPA is all about. This included a strong, citrus profile indicative of cascade hops and a smooth, slightly sweet taste that’s telltale of crystal malts done right. And of course, it has a nice bitter finish, as any IPA worth a damn should! All around, a good balance of malt and hops and an overall clean character. Definitely a repeat purchase.

Appearance: Dark amber, slightly cloudy, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Mild floral, citrusy scent
Taste: Smooth malts, semi sweet, touch of caramel, notes of citrus and pine
Aftertaste: Mild bitterness, lingering malts and citrus rind
Overall: 8.5/10

saltspring_whaletaleNext up is their Whale Tale Amber ale, which was similarly good, and much like the rest, light and smooth. However, this ale is decidedly more complex than the others. For example, the malts are gentle and slightly sweet, delivering notes of caramel, toffee and sweet bread, and the hop profile provides a combination of slight bitterness and citrus along with a dry hop flavor that is more varied. Apparently, this is the brew masters favorite, which frankly seems like a likely story!

Appearance: Dark amber-brown, transparent, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Syrupy malts, mild hops, touch of citrus
Taste: Smooth malts, light body, dry hop taste and mild citrus flavor
Aftertaste: Lingering bitter finish
Overall: 8/10

And that concludes this two-fer! I do believe this constitutes the entire lineup of Salt Spring Island Ales, though I must admit, I don’t seem to have provided a review for their Fireside Ale or their Porter. Guess I’ve have to remedy that, and soon! Why, their Fireside is a Winter Warmer after all, and that seems like something I’d want to include in this years winter series! Back to the beer store it is!