Salt Spring Island Fireside Winter Ale

saltspring_alesDuring my most recent trip to the beer store, I decided to pick up a bottle of this seasonal release from Salt Spring Island Brewery.There were three reasons for the purchase, the most obvious being that it is a perfect example of a winter ale, name and all. The second is the fact that I can remember sampling this beer many years back, and couldn’t for the life of me recall if I gave it a review or not. And so I decided that for the latest review in this holiday segment, to take a second run at this seasonal brew.

saltspring_firesideYes, I could remember sampling it many years back, back when it came in a wide-bottom bottle with a stopper, and not the sleek 650 ml bottle it comes in today (see what I mean?) However, the style and flavor of the beer is just as I remembered it. Much like their other ales, this beer is fashioned with organic barley and spring water, and contains a malty profile that is clean, slightly sweet, and has a dry finish that is reminiscent of cider, as well as their seasonal Gruits. But above all, what one gets from this beer is a dark, syrupy ale that is fruity and slightly spicy.

Appearance: Dark ruby, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Tart, fruity malts, orchard fruit, cider-like
Taste: Slightly sweet, viscous malts, mild tang, notes of apricot, peaches
Aftertaste: Lingering malts and hints of spice and dry finish
Overall: 8/10

Only a few more days to go, and many more beers to try! Hope it’s finding everyone safe, warm, dry, and with plenty of good cheer. If not, winter beer has been known to help with all that!

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 đŸ˜‰

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!