Manx Visit 2013!

manx_tapsAs is our custom whenever visiting Ottawa, the wife and I chose to stop by the Manx Pub this year in order to sample from their vast array of taps. In addition to their fine food (I still think they make the best burger in town), the Manx has always been known to host a vast array of local craft breweries. And this year, I managed to find a whole slew of new beers to choose from. I tell ya, its not easy fitting five pints into one evening, but somehow I managed!

And if you get a chance, stop by their new website which went online just a few months ago. Lord knows they took their time putting one up, but that’s part of their charm. They’re not into trends, just good food and drink. And now that they’ve entered the realm of “the internets”, more people can learn about them and see what they’re all about. In any case, here’s what was on tap for me in 2013…

Broadhead Maddog IPA:
broadhead_beerAn old friend from high school recommended I try this one (hi Chris!), not that I needed much encouragement. Since arriving in Ottawa this year, Broadhead was a label that kept popping up whenever I went to a bar or to the LCBO. So naturally I was eager to try it and see what the hubbub was all about. I started with their Maddog IPA, which was a fitting example of a India Pale Ale brewed and fashioned by the good people of the Valley. In addition to a good amber hue, a nose rich in malts and hops, the flavor was both refreshing and clean while still malty and varied in terms of hop bitterness. An all around mouth-pleaser!

Appearance: Amber, lightly cloudy, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Rich syrupy malts, subtle citrus hops
Taste: Semi-sweet, rich malt, citrus and piney hops
Aftertaste: Mild, lingering hop bitterness, relatively clean
Overall: 8.5/10

Muskoka Harvest Ale:
muskoka_harvest_aleNext up was my latest sampling from the venerable Muskoka brewery. During our last visit, I was pretty blown away by their Dark Ale – a smooth, rich and chocolatey take on an English brown. So I was naturally interested to see what they did with this seasonal installment. As the first in an emerging lineup of limited run beers, this beer is a strong twist on a Fall Harvest Ale, being dark in colour, dry-hopped, and weighing in at a respectable 7% alc/vol. This proved a bit much for me, as the beer was quite bitter and had notes of espresso and smoke on top of its already noticeable hop bitterness. Not a bad beer by any means, and certainly not a bad start to their limited runs, but it did prove a little out of character to me.

Dry hopped and brewed using a selection of premium local ingredients, this ale has a rich malt backbone and a subtle grassy character reminiscent of the freshly cut harvest. It’s our way of celebrating another prosperous growing season. – See more at: http://www.muskokabrewery.com/harvest-ale.php#sthash.HPvSpDdv.dpuf
Dry hopped and brewed using a selection of premium local ingredients, this ale has a rich malt backbone and a subtle grassy character reminiscent of the freshly cut harvest. It’s our way of celebrating another prosperous growing season. – See more at: http://www.muskokabrewery.com/harvest-ale.php#sthash.HPvSpDdv.dpuf
Dry hopped and brewed using a selection of premium local ingredients, this ale has a rich malt backbone and a subtle grassy character reminiscent of the freshly cut harvest. It’s our way of celebrating another prosperous growing season. – See more at: http://www.muskokabrewery.com/harvest-ale.php#sthash.HPvSpDdv.dpuf

Appearance: Dark amber-brown, slightly cloudy, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Roasted malts, mild grassy hops
Taste: Rich malt, notes of espresso, smoke, citrusy hops, mild skunk
Aftertaste: Lingering malt flavor and espresso bitterness
Overall: 7.5/10

Spearhead Morroccan Ale:
Moroccan-Brown-Ale-199x300
Now this beer proved to be one of two that I managed to sample from this brewery while in Ottawa. And in both cases, they were indicative of the experimental spirit that so clearly characterizes the brewery. In all cases, they appear to be about marrying disparate flavors and traditions, not unlike BC’s own Parallel 49. Basically, it is a brew that merges the spirit of the Maghreb to the style of an English brown ale. And the results are quite pleasing and appetizing, bringing together dark brown malt, subtle dried fruits (raisins, figs, dates) and a mild spice palate. It also weighs in at a slightly stronger than usual 6% alc/vol, and is highly refreshing in addition to being rather sweet and tasty.

Appearance: Dark brown, opaque, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Dark roasted malt, hints of fruit, hint of cinnamon spice
Taste: Rich, syrupy malt, hint of raisins, figs, dates and cinnamon
Aftertaste: Lingering spice and mild malt sweetness
Overall: 9/10

Beyond The Pale Pink Fuzz:
beyond_the_pale_pinkfuzzThese next two samples come from one of Ottawa’s newest breweries, the Beyond The Pale operation that I was surprised to learn about. After many years of starts and stops, it now seems that Ottawa is exploding on the craft brewing scene. And from what I’ve seen from their website, it looks like they are off to a very good start with their product lineup. As for this beer, it was a very nice introduction to what they have to offer.

And as their name suggests, they are committed to making beers that go beyond your basic pale ales and into the realm of the experimental. Nowhere is this more clear than with their grapefruit wheat, a slight twist on a traditional hefeweizen. Light gold in color, it has a gentle wheat malt nose that is imbued with citrus fruit, and has a flavor to match. Overall, it is very light and refreshing, but of course possesses a strong citrus tang that is a great accompaniment to lighter dishes.

Appearance: Golden, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Mild grapefruit and citrus nose
Taste: Immediate tang, grapefruit and citrus flavor
Aftertaste: Lingering citrus rind, quite clean
Overall: 8/10

Beyond the Pale Darkness:
beyond_the_pale_darknessThis second sampling was better than the first. As the breweries take on a traditional oatmeal stout, this beer manages to bring all that’s right about this classic British style into good balance. In addition to being pitch black and opaque, the nose boasts plenty of coffee and dark roasted malts and bitter hops. This carries through into the flavor department, being at once smooth, smokey, creamy and malty, and complexly bitter. It then rounds everything out with a flavorful but relatively clean finish, which is surprising with an oatmeal stout. While not one of their more experimental brews, it was certainly a fitting example of what they can do. Not a bad intro to Beyond The Pale, I must say!

Appearance: Pitch black, opaque, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Notes of coffee, bitter hops, and dark roasted malt
Taste: Smooth, smokey malts, creamy head, discernible hop and coffee bitterness
Aftertaste: Lingering coffee and malt flavor, quite clean
Overall: 8.5/10

And that’s all I managed to sample on that particular outing. More are coming, as the wife and I were sure to visiting other favorite haunts (such as Pub Italia) and managed to do some sampling on our own between lengthy walks through my old hometown. Stay tuned!

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Niagara Brewery

And I’m back with another installment in the “beers from the East” series. That’s what I’ve decided to call it, since calling it “Beers from Ottawa” would hardly be accurate. In truth, much of what I enjoyed when I lived there was from all over Southern Ontario, not to mention Quebec, the Maritimes, continental Europe and the US. However, whereas I still have access to most of those out-of-the-country varieties, I have next to no access to my old Ontario favorites.

Now where is the logic in that? How is it that I can walk over to my local BCL and buy any number of European brews, but a couple dozen of beers from a few provinces away are inaccessible? Sure, some would say its the convoluted issue of globalized brewery ownership that’s to blame, but believe it or not, old prohibition laws have way more to do with it. But that’s something for another post. Right now, I want to honor another of my old favorites.

So here she is: The Niagara Falls Brewery, located in Brampton Ontario! This beer has been around for several decades and made an impact on me on a few occasions. In addition to being a local favorite, it was also a purveyor of good, hoppy, and uniquely flavored beers.

Pale Ale: As Pale Ales go, Niagara’s is one of the cleaner one’s I’ve ever tasted. This is to say that it is less hoppy than you might expect, but also malty and slightly viscous, with a clean finish that is somewhat reminiscent of lager. Combined with a nice red-orange hue, it was one of the better taps that I enjoyed at my favorite pub in Ottawa (the Manx!). Can’t wait til I’m back on those velvet benches, drinking off those copper-skinned tables. I just hope this beer is still on tap! 4/5

Gritstone Premium Ale: The name kind of spoke to me once I had my first taste of this beer. With a name like Gritstone, you expect the beer to taste… I don’t know, gritty! And it does! In fact, much like their pale ale and strong, this beer has a tawny, almost sedimentary taste that makes you think of unfiltered/bottle fermented ale. Mildly hopped and also malty, its a highly enjoyable and quite unique experience, as ales go. 4/5

Olde Jack Strong Ale: An old favorite. This beer is dark, strong, highly malty, and with a toasty taste of tannins that lingers on the tongue. Toasty taste of tannins, try saying that three times fast! Also lightly hopped, this beer’s main strength comes from the rather unique flavor that makes one think of stone-ground bread and roasted barley soup, albeit with a smooth, stout-like quality. Definitely hope I can find this one again! 4.5/5

Millstone Lager: Admittedly, not one of my favorites. For some reason, many of my favorite breweries make lagers that just don’t seem to cut it with me. Perhaps its the fact that the lagers taste a little too malty and sweet to be thought of as true lagers, which in my opinion, must always be clean, sharp, and distinctly hoppy. Anything else, and you should have stuck to ale! Ah well, still a good beer, the Millstone is merely a bit light on the hops and sweet on the malts for my taste. Others may certainly enjoy though, as it is purely inoffensive and goes well with food! 3/5

Eisbock: This beer I discovered at the  same time as Creemore Urbock, and it went hand in hand with that beer in educated me on the subtleties and complexities of Bock beer. In conjunction with Bock beer, this number is produced during the winter months using select hops and barley and fermented at ice cold temperatures, resulting in a beer that is mildly syrupy, semi-sweet, quite strong, and just the slightest bit brackish tasting. This last aspect kind of bothered me, as it rendered the beer a little watery in the beginning, but sweet and syrupy in the end. You might say I thought this was a tad inconsistent. However, since this is a seasonal beer, my experience was limited to the earlier 2000 and something releases. Later vintages could and probably were entirely different. And overall, the Eisbock was a tasty and educational experience, and I’ve not hesitated to pick this one up an several occasions when I needed something festive for a party! 3.75/5

Naturally, there are only the beers that I can recall drinking. In total, Niagara Falls Brewery produced over a dozen brand names, some of which were ahead of their time. They included an Apple Ale, a Best Bitter, a Brown Maple Wheat, a Saaz Pilsner, a Scotch Ale, and a seasonal Weisse. However, it seems that in recent years they were forced scale back. In fact, upon writing this, I’m not even sure they are still in operation. What info I could find on them indicated that they were bought out by Moosehead some time ago, that their variety and standards seemed to have dropped, and at present, they don’t appear to have an operational website.

Could it be that the worse has happened? Could they have gone the way of Hart, first being bought out, then forced to purvey run of the mill beers, only to get axed anyway in the long run? Oh God, I hope not! But until I get to Ottawa and am able to ask/interrogate some people over at the local LCBO, I will know for sure! Niagara, if you’re out there, hang on a little longer! I have yet to re-sample thee and will be there soon!