Howe Sound Seasonals

Wouldn’t you know it? Months back, I did a review of the Howe Sound lineup, promised that I would cover their seasonal beers next, and then never got around to it! I’m not sure if this was the result of negligence, the fact that I needed more time to try more of them, or my literary ADHD. But in the end, I thought it was about time I got around to rectifying this error. And wouldn’t you know it, just the other night I finally finished off the last of their seasonal beers, so I’m ready to proceed. Here goes!

As I might have mentioned in my last post about Howe Sound, this brewery is located in the heart of the interior, in beautiful Squamish, BC. However, I have since learned that the operation was originally started by John Mitchell and Mr. Frank Appleton himself. This would be the same man that started the Swann brewery and apprenticed Hr. Hoyne himself, the man who started Hoyne’s Brewing and the Canoe Club. Quite the credentials, and it comes through in the product! Just about every beer they’ve ever made has received top marks from me, your humble snob, and a host of awards as well. But when it comes to the seasonals, I noted some serious risk-taking and experimentation, particularly when it came to the gravity, malts, and hop content of the beers.

So here is what I thought of their seasonal beers which, for the sake of convenience, are divided by the season. First up, Fall!

Fall Seasonal:
Pumpkin ales have become all the rage with the growth of craft brewing, especially when it comes to fall seasonals. There’s just something about pumpkins that screams autumn, isn’t there? In any case, this particular brew is of a higher gravity than most (meaning more dense). This comes through in the taste, which is heavier and maltier than your average pumpkin beer and contains a rich, spicey finish that is loaded with cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s like pumpkin pie in a glass. A very fitting addition to any Thanksgiving meal! 4/5

Winter Seasonal:
Father John’s Winter Ale:
A rich, dark and malty brew that is fashioned from many different types of malts and hops. The result is a heavier-tasting ale that comes on smooth and rich, but finishes with malts that are coarser, and toasty. Like a good winter ale, it also has a sweet, spicey finish that is made possible by longer fermentation and the addition of what I believe is allspice. If the Pumpkin Ale can be likened to Thanksgiving, this one would definitely be Christmas! 4/5

Pothole Filler Imperial Stout: At 9% alc/vol, this is a powerful stout that packs quite the wallop! Made from barley that is roasted extra dark and molasses, this beer comes on heavy with the flavor of toasted malts and finishes bitter with a slight touch of licorice. The combined alcohol content and dark malty profile can make it somewhat overpowering, but that’s part of its appeal. Some people just like a challenge! 3.75/5

Spring Seasonal:
Mettleman Copper Ale:
One of the smoothest and most refreshing ales I’ve ever tasted, and definitely a fitting addition to the coming of spring. Named in honor of Squamish BC’s “Test of Metal Mountain Bike Race”, this beer is a combination of smooth, cooper malts, dry, crisp hops, and a nice balanced finish. Especially good when drunk on a warm, sunny day, the time when the patio is finally cleared for lounging! 5/5

Three Beavers Imperial Red Ale: A strong, maltier take on the traditional red ale, this beer combines a smooth, creamy malt flavor with a coarser, heavier finish. And at 7.5% alc/vol, it’s kind of like a solid punch delivered in a velvet glove. What also comes through are the addition of Cascade hops with provide a slight bitter tang to the finish as well. Overall, In terms of pairing, this beer is well-paired with red meats, stews, and Cornish pastries. 3.75/5

Summer Seasonal:
Total Eclipse of the Hop:
The most recent of my samplings, this Imperial IPA is possibly the maltiest, hoppiest thing I’ve had in recent memory! But then again, that’s the point. As the latest addition to the John Mitchell series (named in honor of the venerated brewmaster), this beer comes on heavy and coarse, but then balances out with a big, citrusy hop finish that lingers long after its gulped down. Definitely not for the faint of heart, but the name is certainly indicative of that! 3.75/5

King Heffy Imperial Hefeweizen: Another strong take on the traditional hefeweizen. In addition to the usual wheat profile, which contains a distinct flavor of cloves and notes of banana, this beer boasts some powerful malts that come on coarse and (once again) pack a serious punch (7.7% alc/vol). Named in honor of the many climbers who dare to scale Squamish’s many walls and peaks, this beer is consistently malty and strong, like the rest of the series. 3.75/5

As you may have noticed, there are a lot of 3.75/5‘s here. That works out to roughly 75/100… aka. good, but not the greatest. That was my general impression when it came to this series. Compared to their regular lineup, these beers were a little too harsh and heavy for me. This was educational, making me realize that while I approve of heavier hops, I’m not that big a fan of heavier malts. This is not to say the seasonal lineup isn’t good, far from it! In fact, I highly recommend trying them all in addition to their year-round beers. They are a relatively unique experience, and very much in keeping with the tradition of “Imperial” beer! Consult your local beer store for more details 😉

The Howe Sound lineup

Howe Sound, located in beautiful Sqaumish BC, has been making craft beer since the mid nineties. However, as with most BC beers, I only learned about shortly after I moved here. I believe I first spotted some of their signature bottles in a small liquor store in Duncan, and was quite impressed with their appearance. That first impression was surpassed only by the quality of the beer itself and they fast became one of my favorites. And the more of their products I’ve tried, the happier I am making them one of my go-to’s whenever it comes time to do some beer shopping.

And of course, like most established craft beer makers, they have a regular line-up and a line of seasonal releases. And both are growing and becoming more diverse, so there are a few I have yet to try. Give me time and I shall find them all! First up, their regular beers:

Garibaldi Honey Pale Ale: Originally, I was not a fan of honey beers. Sleeman’s Honey Brown Lager turned me around on that. However, a pale ale seems a bit of a stretch to me on that point. Balancing a hoppy, citrusy profile with the taste of honey (heavily sweet) just doesn’t work. This is not to say that this isn’t a good beer. It’s profile is light, slightly sweet, with a slightly hoppy finish. Named on honor of Mount Garibaldi (8,776 ft, 2,675 m) which was named for Italian hero Guiseppe Garibaldi, the man of two worlds, this beer also boasts three medals: the gold medal in the 2007 North American Beer Awards, the bronze for the 2010 North Americans, and the bronze for the 2011 Canadian Brewers Awards. 3.5/5

Rail Ale Nut Brown: One of the finer brown’s I’ve ever had and possibly one of the best browns in BC. Smooth, tawny, with a nutty flavor that lingers on the tongue. This beer is excellent on its own, with most dishes and as a light dessert beer, best when paired with dark chocolate. Named in honor of BC’s strong railway history, particularly Squamish’s own, this beer is also the 2009 silver medalist for the Canadian Brewers Awards. 5/5

Devil’s Elbow IPA: A nice, powerful India Pale Ale, combing a nice floral bouquet, a citrusy profile, and a dry, lingering finish. A deep, golden orange, heavy on the hops and relatively strong on the alcohol (6% alc/vol), this beer is still highly drinkable. A good food pair, and lovely on its own. It was also the Silver medalist in the 2010 North American Beer Awards, no small accomplishment given the competition! On a more modest note, it also won the prize for best IPA at a beer, cider and wine tasting hosted by our friends this past year (Hi Richard and Kim!). Guess who brought it? 4/5

Diamond Head Oatmeal Stout: Named for the razor’s edge ridge that comes off the south flank of Mount Garibaldi’s Atwell Peak, this beer is a fitting example of an oatmeal stout. Boasting strong flavors of roasted barley and oats, this beer also has a light hop bite and a smooth finish with lingering notes that are reminiscent of roasted coffee. In terms of awards, this beer has won both the Bronze in the 2007 North American Beer Awards and the Silver for the 2011 Canadian Brewers Awards. 4/5

Baldwin and Cooper Best Bitter: As Bitters go, this one is right up there, comparable to Swann’s, Spinnakers, and Longwood’s. I guess there’s just something about Vancouver Island, we know our British beers! And the critics seem to agree. This Bitter has won medals three years running now, securing the bronze medal in the 2009 North Americans and silver in the 2010, followed by another silver in the Canadian Brewers Awards for this past year. The name is also significant, in honor of Jim Baldwin & Ed Cooper, the first men to climb the Grand Wall of the Stawamus Chief (702 m) in July, 1961. But the taste is where its really at! Smooth, malty, with a nice dry hop finish, this beer also boasts a certain fruity character that makes it well paired with meat, seafood, spicey dishes, or just on its own. 4.5/5

Whitecap Wheat Ale: A Belgian-style wheat beer that contains the signature traces of orange zest and coriander, combining both wheat and barley malts that result in a clear, lightly colored beer with a spicey taste and clean finish. Delicious when served cold, best when paired with spicey food, light deserts, and most enjoyable on its own, especially on a hot day! 5/5

Bailout Bitter: A nice, dry, yet smooth and light tasting beer, highly remisicent of their Mettleman Copper (see their Seasonal Beers). This beer was a special release, apparently named in honor of the 2008 Banking Crisis and the resulting bailout, which had left plenty of people feeling bitter! I for one championed the release of this beer and drank it heartily, enjoying both nits smooth, dry taste and its message. F@Y%@ you  Wallstreet! 4/5

Coming up next, Howe Sound’s seasonal lineup. Stay tuned…