Swan’s Pumpkin Ale 2016

swans_pumpkinBrewer:Swan’s Brewpub, Victoria, BC
Style:
Pumpkin Ale
ABV:
6%
IBUs: Unlisted

Description: Swan’s seasonal ale is back, and this year’s Pumpkin ale is fashioned in the usual way. Pale malts are combined with a mild hopping, then spiced with nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and cinnamon. And of course, there’s the fresh baked pumpkin to finish the mix.

Tasting Notes: A nice, balanced pumpkin ale that has a smooth start, some powerful (but not overpowering) spice notes, and a lingering, spicy finish. I remember this one from year’s back and it’s still a nice way to ring in the Fall season.

Appearance: Deep amber, slightly cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Smooth malt, rich notes of allspice, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie
Taste: Smooth, crisp malt, ginger zest, cinnamon snap, allspice, pumpkin flesh
Aftertaste: Lingering pumpkin and spice flavor, mild ginger bitterness
Overall: 8/10

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Swans Legacy Ale Barley Wine (2014)

swans_legacyBrewer: Swans Brewery, Victoria BC
Style: Barley Wine
ABV: 10.3%
IBUs: unlisted

Description: An annual release that comes out every year on Swans anniversary, this barely wine is brewed in honor of Michael Williams – heritage conservationist and philanthropist who’s estate includes the Swans Hotel.

Tasting Notes: This beer has gone down in my personal drinking history as one of my personal top 10 favorites. The reason is simple: I have a weakness for barley wine that is done right, and which reminds me of my favorite beer of all time. While my tastes may have matured, a strong, dark, sugary beer with rich malts, a fair dosing of hops, and plenty of fruity flavor is still sure to warm my bones and make me smile!

Appearance: Deep ruby, clear, mild foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich malt, coarse, notes of demerara sugar, pineapple, alcohol
Taste: Strong malt, coarseness, brown sugar, raisins, figgy pudding and alcohol
Aftertaste: Lingering coarse malt, hop and alcoholic bitterness
Overall: 9/10

New from Howe Sound!

howesoundOn one of my recent trips up island, I had the chance to stop in at the town of Duncan, my wife’s old hometown, and do some shopping. As usual, the Blackberry Liquor Store was one of the stops on our tour, and I managed to find some new and interesting beers to bring home with me. This time around, all three happened to be new releases (new to me at least) from Howe Sound Brewery. These include their Bay Ale, Loose Cannon Dark Lager, and You’re My Boy Blue.

For awhile now, I feel like I’ve been neglecting this BC brewery, one which has been a favorite of mine for years. As I’m sure I’ve explained before, it was at Howe Sound that Frank Appleton, who went on to become brewmaster at Swan’s brewpub, got his start. And it was here that Sean Hoyne himself got his start, apprenticing under Appleton before going forth to establish the Canoe Club and Hoyne Brewing. So this brewery is not only a great purveyor of beer, its also part of proud genealogy that embraces some of my favorite breweries and brewpubs here on the island.

Loose Cannon Dark Lager:
Loose+Cannon+Botl+with+pint+glass+(2)The commercial description lists this beer as a “lightly-hopped, medium bodies lager”. But in many ways, this lager is akin to a stout, with a very dark profile and some serious traces of roasted malt, smoke and bitter chocolate. At the same time, it manages to finish quite clean and has a relatively mild, light flavor overall.

All of this comes down to the combination of dark crystal and chocolate malts with German and Polish hops. Clearly, the name was chosen with this interest mix of characters and profiles in mind! And in a market where dark lagers are pretty well represented, its not a bad contender. Hoping to see more like it from Howe Sound soon.

Appearance: Dark brown, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Deep toasted malts, mild hops, smoke
Taste: Dark roasted malt, notes of coffee, bitter chocolate
Aftertaste: Mild bitterness, relatively clean, mild hop finish
Overall: 9/10

Troller Bay Ale:
Bay+Ale+botl+image+with+pint+(3)Apparently, this beer harkens back to when John Mitchell first opened Howe Sound pub back in 82 and was looking to create a true English-style amber ale. And this beer certainly fits that profile, combining smooth, toffee-like malts, mild hops, and subtlety, but with undeniable BC character.

This is made possible thanks to the combination of Fuggles and Nugget hops and London ale yeast with Canadian barley malt and West Coast water. And according to legend, the brewery promptly sold out of the ale soon after it was released. But given its smooth, drinkable nature, that really shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Appearance: Dark amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Syrupy malts, toffee, crisp, mild hops
Taste: Mild tang, crisp, smooth, lightly toasted malts, dry hops
Aftertaste: Trace minerality, grassy hop finish and lingering tang
Overall: 9/10

You’re My Boy Blue:
Boy+Blue+Botl+with+pint+glass+(1)
Now this was a surprising addition! Ordinarily, one tends to find raspberries, cherries, or even apricots wherever fruit is married to wheat ales. But blueberries? That’s a new one as far as I can tell! But in the end, the marriage worked quite well, with smooth, yeasty wheat malt flavors complimented by the slightly tart, slightly sweet character of fresh blueberries.

And much like most fruit-infused wheat ales, this beer is cloudy, unfiltered, and has a slightly pink tint to it. And given the unseasonably hot weather we’ve been enduring here this summer, its a welcome addition to any beer drinkers sampling lineup.

Appearance: Purple, translucent, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Subtle wheat malts, yeast, mild fruit tartness
Taste: Smooth, mild tartness and sweet traces of blueberry, discernible yeasts
Aftertaste: Very clean, lingering fruit flavor
Overall: 8.5/10

Not a bad re-introduction to an old favorite. And I am glad they are moving away from the high gravity, very strong, very malty special releases that have dominated their lineup in recent years. While I respect the fact that they were honoring John Mitchell with many, if not most, of these specialty brews, I was getting a little overwhelmed by all the Imperial Ales and strong stouts that were coming out, one after the other. A man cannot live on heavy malts alone, you know! 😉

Swan’s Brewpub

Looking back this weekend, I realized that I have yet to dedicate a review to some of my favorite watering holes here in Victoria. Sure, I’ve mentioned them, maybe even rated their wings, but where’s the page dedicated to them? Time to remedy this! And I shall start with the place me and wife know as “Old Faithful”. Swan’s Brewpub.

I can remember when I was a young man and living in Ottawa, some friends of mine who were from Victoria and periodically came back to visit family would always bring some Swan’s beer home with them. Yeah, it was always a treat to enjoy a few frosty Swans and watch some our favorite shows in those days. If they’re reading this, hi Aaron, hi Megan! Miss you guys!

Since moving to the west coast, dining in at Swan’s has been a recurring treat. Not only are their beers faithful examples of craft brewing, their food is also a tasty treat. It’s little wonder then why my wife and I refer to this place as “Old Faithful”. Alas, some specific examples feel necessary. First up, the taps!

Appleton Brown Ale: A nice, tawny, smooth ale that is in keeping with a London-style dark ale. Highly drinkable, smooth and yet complex. 4/5

Arctic Ale: Definitely one of the lightest beers I’ve ever had, and certainly the lightest produced by Swans. Named in honor of Canadian-style beers, apparently, this beer is clean tasting, has a quick, light finish, and is completely inoffensive. However, that is not necessarily a good thing, not when you’re me at any rate. Nothing wrong with it, but not my favorite either. 3.5/5

Buckerfield’s Bitter: One of my favorite ESB’s (Extra Special Bitter) to date. Copper colored, clean tasting, with a nice dry hop finish; this bitter taught me what this beer is all about! A favorite I routinely order! 5/5

Extra IPA: A true India Pale Ale, at 6.8% alc/vol and full of hops! The color is a rich orange, the nose is floral, and the flavor both sweet, dry and lingering. I’ve had so many I think I’ve OD’d! Best enjoyed with food and in moderation, unless your an IPA lover like me! 4/5

Old Towne Bavarian Lager: A fitting accompaniment to spicey food or on its own as a nice light drink. This beer is a faithful lager, combing a clean taste, crisp hops and a lingering finish. Its color is also clear and golden, reminiscent of traditional lagers found in your famed Munich beer halls. 4/5

Pandora Pale Ale: Probably the most faithful brew offered by Swans, I can attest to both its popularity and its drinkability. Golden amber, with a nice hop nose, clean taste and short, sharp finish, this beer is their flagship brew for a good reason! 4.5/5

Raspberry Ale: My wife and I agree, there are few who do fruit beers up right. These guys would be one of them! This ale combines a nice drinkable ale with a tart and semi-sweet touch that is both refreshing and is well paired with deserts or just on its own. It’s especially refreshing when enjoyed on your patio during a hot summer’s day. The taste also manages to conceal the fact that its actually quite strong, at 7% alc/vol! 4/5

Riley’s Scotch Ales: A traditional ale done in the “wee-heavy” style, meaning of high alcohol content. And this customer is no exception, being 8% alc/vol and possessing a strong, malty flavor, a big dose of hops and a sweet finish. Definitely not for the unititiated or the faint of heart. Definitely not for light beer drinkers! 4/5

Swan’s Oatmeal Stout: Swan’s was one of the first microbreweries in my experience to incorporate the Oatmeal Stout into their lineup. And there stout is definitely among the best I’ve had. Well rounded, creamy smooth, but with a nice, bitter bite for a finish. Stout lovers will approve! 4/5

Legacy Ale: This ale you won’t find on the regular menu. It’s an anniversary ale, which means it was made in honor of the brewery’s anniversary back in 2007. Hence, it is only available periodically, and let me tell you… it is one of the best beers I’ve ever had! Comparable only to McAuslin’s Millennial Ale, this Barley Wine has it all. Rich, mahogany color, smooth malty goodness, and a semi-sweet touch with just the right hop finish. I give this beer 6/5. Yes, I know that doesn’t make any sense, but who cares? I love it!

You might have noticed, most of these beers are rated pretty close to each other. But that’s a testament to their quality. And now, the food! However, know that the menu has changed since we ate there last, so some of these items might be out of date.

Chicken Wings: Not the best wings on the island, but definitely faithful and consistently good. The wings themselves are not plump, but not emaciated either, and the sauce is simply Frank’s Red, but they get the job done. Especially with beer! 3.5/5

Yam Fries: Now I’ve had several version of yam fries over the years, especially since I moved to BC (seems to be a local thing!). However, this remains the place that does it best, in my humble opinion. Sweet, lightly dusted with Cajun spice, granulated salt and accompanied by a kick-ass chipotle mayo! 5/5

Chicken Focaccia: A very decent sandwich! The focaccia bread is the perfect accompaniment to a chicken breast, don’t ask me why, and the veggies, red onions, and mayo compliment the flavor perfectly. 4/5

Buckerfield’s Burger: One of the best burgers I’ve had since moving to the island. Hand made patties, cheese, bacon, grilled mushrooms and onions and a smokey bbq sauce. This burger is exceptional when pared with a Pale Ale and some yam fries! 5/5

Apple Pie: Apple pie is just one those things. It’s hard to screw up,  but its still nice to find a place that does it especially well. And as you can imagine, this is one such place. The pastry is hearty, the apples sweet and spiced just right with loads of cinnamon! And of course, the accompanying dollop of vanilla ice cream, ya can’t go wrong! 4/5

Creme Caramel: It has always been a source of consternation to me that Swans doesn’t do a creme brulee. However, their creme caramel is a fitting stand in! Creamy, rich, sweet, but not overpowering, this desert is the perfect end to an evening of fine beer and fine dining! 4/5

Hmm, seems I did it again with the food. Just about all them score within the eighty-percentile. But hey, that’s how it is. Good food, good beer, good times. If you’re interested, here’s a link to Swan’s full and updated menu. Check it out, preferably in person!

Swans Brewpub

Wings!

Here is an old review, dated May 2011, of my favorite haunts to get chicken wings on the island. Be warned, I get a little fanatical when it comes to my wings. So if you don’t agree with my assessment… well, then let me know and I’ll be sure to check out any place you deem fit! Having a good wing is more important to me than being right ;):

Great wings on the island!  Yep, I’m dedicating an entire entry on the subject of chicken wings, and who does em right!  I know there are other wing enthusiasts out there and I hope they will appreciate this info.  For simplicity sake, I use a simple grading scale. 1-5, with one being the worst and 5 being the best.  Okay?  Here goes:

Avenue, Comox: 3/5  Okay, technically they’re not wings.  They are “chicken drummettes”.  What’s the difference you ask?  You pay a lot more for them and there aren’t that many!  But they are nevertheless tasty and satisfying, both in terms of meatiness and flavor.

Christie Carriage House, Victoria: 3.5/5  Not bad, both the Louisiana and the Five Alarm are spicy and relatively plump.  Except on Wing Night!  Then they get a bit skinny, but everybody knows wing night when they get rid of their B-grade stuff, and its cheap, so you pretty much get what you pay for!  Otherwise, not the best I’ve had, but pretty good overall!  Also best when enjoyed with a nice cold brew, and the house has many taps!

Craig Street Brewery, Duncan: 5/5 Yep, best wings I’ve had on the island.  Not only is the chicken healthy (that is to say, neither the hormone-fed tasteless variety, nor the skinny kind), the sauce is awesome.  My favorite is the suicide hot!  Holy crap it’s hot!  And best when washed down with a few of their microbrews.

Fat Teddy’s, Mount Washington: 2.5/5  What can I say?  You get what you pay for, and Fat Teddy’s isn’t exactly gourmet.  It’s a nice place to sit and have an after-ski beer, and these wings fit that bill just fine.  And they got a relatively nice spicy number, though I suspect its just Franks Red.

Longwood Brewpub, Nanaimo: 4.5/5  Runner up to the Craig’s.  Plump and delicious, and the beer-b-q sauce is one of the best I’ve ever had.  It comes in at a close second for one reason only, no spicy flavors!  I need a little kick in my wings.

Lorne Pub, Comox: 1/5  Worst wings I’ve had since moving to the island, possibly ever!  Not only were the wings dry and emaciated, they were over fried and the sauce came on the side!  And it was obviously just a cup of tabasco!  What the hell man!

Spinnakers, Victoria: 3.5/5  Not bad, definitely not bad.  But not exactly stellar given the ostentatious nature of their menu and beer.  The beer-b-q sauce sure is decent enough, and the chicken is neither too plump nor too skinny.  But dang it if I don’t want a spicier flavor on the menu!

Swan’s Brewpub, Victoria: 3/5  Nothing to write home about, but they’re not offensive, /just not very special.  They aren’t very plump, and the sauces, while somewhat creative (beer-b-q flavor is never a bad idea!), don’t put them over the top.

The Black Fin, Comox: 3.5/5  These are a little harder to rank.  Pound for pound, the Fin makes a damn good wing.  They’re plump and the Louisiana sauce is hot, hot, hot!  On the other hand, they don’t always add up to a pound!  Ten bucks is a lot to pay for a mere hand-full.  If they get this squared away, they can expect a better review.

Note: this list has seen been updated due to some changes and one instance of fire. To the Lorne, my humble apologies for criticizing your wings. Had I know Comox’s most historic building was about to burn down, I would have kept my mouth shut and warned you about the impending crisis! Rest In Peace!