Longwood Berried Alive Raspberry Ale

longwood_berried_aliveHello folks. Today, I managed to snag another brew from one of my favorite Island operations, and one which has been undergoing a bit of rebranding as of late. I refer of course to the Longwood Brewery located in Nanaimo, BC, a venerable brewpub that has been expanding its distribution in the past year and creating some new brands to share. I was quite excited to hear about this, since its damn near impossible to find any Longwood products outside of the Nanaimo area.

berried-alive-bottle-isolatedHowever, that excitement has since abated somewhat due to a number of reasons. For one, I still await the arrival of the free samples of the full lineup that were promised to me months ago. Back then, I was contacted by an advertiser who works with the brewery who offered to ship me some; and to this date, none have arrived. Second, thus far, the majority of their beers I have managed to get my hands on have been very light, mild, and generally in tune with British-style ales and not so much the Pacific Northwest.

Here on the West Coast, we tend to like our beers hoppier, stronger and more flavorful than your average British operation. I can certainly see the value in trying new things, but I would like to remind Longwood that Moon Under Water did the same thing with their sessionals, and that didn’t go so well. However, this does not meant that I’ve been unimpressed with their newer brews, and the lineup is still evolving, so its really too soon to assume what direction the brewery is taking. And with this latest sample, I am just one beer short of having tried everything they’ve produced so far. Here’s what I thought:

Appearance: Dark red, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Tart berry nose, mild malts
Taste: Immediate tartness, slight transition to mild wheat malts
Aftertaste: Mild bitterness and lingering tart berry flavor, quite clean
Overall: 7.75/10

Overall, it was a refreshing and fruity brew, but again, a little light for my taste. This is due to the combination of wheat and barley malts, which lends it a mixed malty profile that is neither particularly effervescent, yeasty, or syrupy. This certainly works in the refreshing department, but leaves it a little high and dry in the flavor department. In terms of fruit, there’s plenty of tartness, but very little sweetness or complexity. In short, it’s good, but I think they can do better.

Townsite Brewing Has Arrived!

townsite-logo-Ever since my wife and I landed in Powell River as part of our summer trip last year, hiking the Sunshine Coast Trail, we were surprised and impressed to find a craft brewing operation in the heart of town that catered to the Sunshine Coast. Not only were they well-situated as an operation, they seemed to know what they were doing when it came to producing quality beers. I can still remember sampling their Pale Ale, Blonde Ale, Porter, and the summer seasonal, a Blackberry Wheat that honored the city’s annual Blackberry Festival.

Unfortunately, I lamented the fact that, at the time, their products were not available on Vancouver Island. With the exception of Comox, which is a short ferry ride away, not a single beer store on the island was known to carry their lineup. Sure, you could find it up and down the Sunshine Coast, in Vancouver, and even parts of Washington State. But not in Victoria or the Southern Island, no sir!

Well, as it turns out, that is no longer the case. A number of private stores (such as Metro and Cascadia Liquor) have begun stocking their full lineup. That includes their Tin Hat IPA, Zunga Blonde Ale, Suncoast Pale, Pow Town Porter, Westview Wheat, and the latest, the YOGN 82 Belgian Triple. And with the exception of a few labels, I can attest to the quality of these beers. I even had a chance to sample some of the latest now that they are available locally. Here’s what I had to try most recently:

Said the Ale Belgian Pale Ale:
townsite_said_the_aleA special release from the Townsite Brewery, this beer has a rather interesting origin story. Apparently, the beer is part of a commitment on behalf of BC brewers to produce beer in honor of various Canadian bands. In this case, the Townsite brewery made this beer in honor of Said The Whale, a Canadian indie rock group that has was recently featured on CBC radio.

Appearance: Deep red/amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Distinctive Belgian yeast, mild notes of bitter hops
Taste: Immediate burst of Belgian yeast, rich malts, snap of piney hops
Aftertaste: Quite clean, mild tang, lingering yeasts and mild citrus
Overall: 8.5/10

As a Belgian Pale Ale, this beer combines aspects of the most famous variety of beer to be brewed in the Pacific Northwest and is fermented using a specific strain of Belgian yeast. The result is an interesting brew that boasts a yeasty nose and flavor with the rich malts and sharp, hoppy taste of a pale ale. In keeping with the recent trend of Belgian IPAs, this Belgian Pale Ale is quite refreshing and balanced in terms of flavor and quite appealing to the palate.

YOGN 82 Belgian Triple:
townsite_yogn82Brewed in honor of Cedric, the Townsite Brewer Engineer who hails from Belgium, and “the Hulks” – the concrete ships that make up the town’s breakwater – the YOGN 82 is the brewery’s latest triple-fermented Belgian-style beer. The second in the series, after last year’s Charleston Triple, this beer weighs in at a hefty 9% alc/vol and has all the characteristics a Belgian Tripel is famous for.

This includes a golden blonde hue, a distinct yeasty nose, strong alcohol content, strong malts, and a distinct oaky flavor. And like each Hulk beer, it features a label created by a Powell River artist; this year’s featuring the art of Emma Bell.

Appearance: Dark golden, light cloudiness, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Distinctive Belgian yeast, strong notes of banana, sugars
Taste: Sweet malts and Belgian yeast, burst of banana and citrus fruit and oaky notes
Aftertaste: Sweetness giving way to coarse flavor, slight bitterness and alcohol
Overall: 9.5/10

Overall, I was strongly reminded of La Fin Du Monde, another famous Belgian-style Tripel which also possesses some serious Belgian-yeast flavor, strong malts and an oaky undertone. The difference here is in the level of fruit flavor and sweetness, in that this one possesses a good deal more of it. In addition to some serious sugars, there was also a strong hint of banana that played well with the strong alcohol content, oak and yeastiness of the beer. Might seem a little overpowering to some, but I enjoyed it very much. In fact, it might just be the best Belgian Tripel I have had in recent memory!

In short, not a bad set of additions to their overall lineup. I’m pretty pleased that the brewery is available here in my corner of the world, especially since I learned that they were turning out seasonal and special releases that I had no access to! It’s not like I can pop over to Vancouver every time they release a new beer, you know!

Steamworks Saison

steamworkssaisonJust in time for… uh, Fall! Yes, I know this is not technically appropriate to the season, but the recent arrival of Steamworks Saison to one of the local dispensaries was not something I could very well ignore. More and more, I am seeing this Vancouver-based craft brewery’s good turning up here on the island, and its exciting. In fact, almost a year ago I took a trip to their brewery for the third time and sampled as much of their lineup as I could. I really must publish the results one of these days…

steamworks_saisonBut in the meantime, I am satisfied to sample their Saison, a tribute to the French-speaking province of Wallonia in southern Belgium where the style originated. Typically brewed in the colder, less active months of autumn, this variety of beer is generally milder and lighter than your typical Belgian ales – that is to say 7% alc/vol, as opposed to those with a heftier rating of 9% and above. And like many of its compatriot beers, Saisons tend to boast notes of fruit and spice, either the result of the specialized yeast that is used in fermentation or due to the additional of actual fruits and spices. In keeping with that tradition, Steamworks’ own Saison is made using a combination of wheat and barley malt, is light and yeasty, and slightly stronger than your average fare, clocking in at a respectable 6.5% alc/vol.

Appearance: Light blonde, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Distinct notes of Belgian yeast, dry, slightly spicy
Taste: Slightly bitter hops, strong yeasts, hints of coriander, fruit reminiscent of dry cider
Aftertaste: Lingering yeast and coriander flavor, mild bitterness
Overall: 8/10

Yes, this beer did much to enthrall and confound me. On the one hand, it was very consistent with what I’ve come to expect from a Belgian Saison, loaded with its distinct yeast and malt flavor with hints of coriander. At the same time, I was reminded of cider, another regional favorite, since the nose and flavor of it seemed dry and acidic. But like I said, Saison beers are renowned for being spicy and fruity, and this one certainly measures up in both regards! Islanders would be well advised to get some while they can…

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…