Fernie Black Mammoth Winter Ale

Fernie_blackBrewery: Fernie Brewing, Fernie, BC
Style: Winter Black Ale
ABV: 8%
IBU: 25

Description: This winter ale began production in winter of 2013 in honor of Fernie Brewing’s 10th anniversary. It is brewed with chocolate malt and spiced with an infusion of cocoa and curacao orange peel before being lightly hopped.

Tasting Notes: This beer put me in mind of other well-known black BC brews, not the least of which are VIB’s Hermann’s Dark Lager and Hoyne’s Dark Matter. The dark, roasted malt comes through with notes of chocolate and espresso, while the curacao peel lends it a mildly sweet, slightly citrus taste that compliments the roasted flavor quite well. Not a bad seasonal at all, and definitely a good winter warmer.

Appearance: Black, opaque, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Roasted malt nose, notes of espresso and dark chocolate
Taste: Roasted malt, hint of sweetness, dark chocolate, espresso, mild citrus
Aftertaste: Lingering chocolate and espresso, roasted malt flavor
Overall: 8.5/10

Hoyne Gratitude Winter Warmer 2014

beer-gratitudeBrewer: Hoyne Brewery, Victoria BC
Style: Winter Ale
ABV: 9%

Description: Hoyne is back with there third annual Gratitude Winter Warmer, which began as a holiday expression of gratitude to all those who’ve supported them. As with previous years releases, this special limited-release comes in individual bombers wrapped in paper.

Tasting Notes: This is the third sampling I’ve done of Gratitude, and I have noted that the recipe has been changing over the years. Either that, or my tastes have been evolving and I’ve been noticing different things. In any case, this year’s offering seemed lighter than the previous two. While it maintains its smooth malty base, a hint of spice and a very well-balanced character, it was more reminiscent of a Marzen to me than a Christmas ale (though I did get some traces of Urbock as well). For the third time, a big hit and one I would like to try again before it goes out of stock!

Appearance: Dark amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich malt, minerality, mild sugars, allspice, mild hops
Taste: Smooth malt, mild tang, hint of sweetness, brown sugar, allspice
Aftertaste: Lingering tang and minerality, lingering spice palate
Overall: 8.75/10

Double Mountain Fa La La La La Winter Ale

DoubleMountain_WinterBrewer: Double Mountain, Hood River, OR
Style: Winter Warmer Ale
Alc/Vol: 7.5%
IBU: 85

Description: One of Double Mountain Brewery’s older seasonal beers, the Fa La La La is a Winter Warmer brewed annually for the holiday season. Like a traditional Winter Ale, it has a slightly sweet and coarse malt profile. But the ale also has some distinct Northwestern characteristics, which in this case takes the form of a generous dose of Centennial hops.

Tasting Notes: This beer was a bit of a surprise, taking what is typically a malt-forward variety of beer and adding some serious, bitter hop flavor. The end result was not so much balanced as conflicted, lovely in appearance and bouquet, but somewhat muddled in the flavor department. Initially, it is slightly sweet and floral, but becomes quite strong towards the end with a heaping dose of bitter grapefruit flavor. A good beer, but perhaps a little heavy on the IBUs, under the circumstances.

Appearance: Dark red-amber, translucent, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich hop nose, sugary, floral and citrus notes
Taste: Rich malts, slightly coarse, hint of brown sugar, raisins, citrus rind
Aftertaste: Lingering citrus rind and coarse malt bitterness
Overall: 7.5/10

Woolly Bugger Barley Wine 2013

wooly_bugger_2013Back in the winter of 2012/13, I reviewed quite a few beers as part of what I called “The Winter of Beer”. And of all those that I sampled, Howe Sound’s Woolly Bugger Barley Wine was the best, and not just in terms of barley wines. In terms of color, aroma, taste, and finish, it was the best beer of the season, beating out Phillips, Hoyne, Rogue, Driftwood, and even such historic ales that I happened to find during this time (like La Rochefort Trappist 8, 10 and Orval).

So this season, I thought I’d revisit the Wooly Bugger since Howe Sound has chosen to release a new vintage. As you can see from the image, the label is somewhat different from what the last two annual releases sported. And for the most part, the beer has been consistently good as far as its taste was concerned, ranking as one of the season’s best winter ales. However, there were some difference that brought it down in my estimation, if only slightly.

For instance, the beer boasted a bigger, lacier head this year, whereas 2012’s was pretty subdued in terms of foam and carbonation. This year’s release was also discernibly more malt-forward, with little hop aroma or flavor that I could discern. It’s nose consisting heavily of fruity, sugary notes without the hint of citrus I noticed before, and this carried through in the taste which was dominated by sugars, coarse malt and alcohol, with a only hint of hop bitterness at the end.

Appearance: Amber-brown, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Strong, sugary malts, dates, raisins, and dark fruits
Taste: Molasses and brown sugar, giving way to coarse malt and bitter hop finish
Aftertaste: Lingering alcoholic bitterness and coarse malt
Overall: 9/10

In short, and with brutal honesty, this year’s Woolly Bugger was not as balanced as last year’s. However, it still scores a 9 out of 10 in my books for its delicious malty flavor, supple, sweet nose, chewy mouth feel and winter-warming character.

Townsite Biere D’Hiver Winter Ale

townsite_dhiverIt has taken me some time, but I appear to be closing in on my goal of trying every single beer the Townsite brewery has yet produced. It hasn’t been easy keeping up with them, thanks to their prolific nature and the fact that they only recently started distributing to the island. But I still consider it a lucky break that I finally managed to secure a bottle of this seasonal beer before winter officially ended and it would no longer be available.

Another beer that was inspired by local legend, the Biere D’Hiver is another Belgian-style brew that is dark, yeasty, has a sugar and dark fruit malt taste, and is spiced with coriander, star anise & brewmaster’s own hand-made Candi Sugar. The end result is something that seems like a cross between a winter warmer, an extra strong Belgian brown, and a spiced Wit. And of course, it has some serious strength (7.5% alc/vol).

Appearance: Dark molasses brown, virtually opaque, strong foam and carbonation
Nose: Notes of caramelized sugar, plums, dates, and coriander
Taste: Immediate spice and malt sweetness, coriander and sugars, strong yeast
Aftertaste: Slight coarse malt bitterness, lingering sugars and spice
Overall: 9/10

Between this and their Shiny Penny Belgian IPA (another winner!), and this latest installment, I am now just two beers away from sampling everything Townsite has ever produced. That would include their Perfect Storm Oatmeal Stout and their Time Warp Wet Hopped Pale Ale. My kudos to Cédric for his endlessly inventive spirit!

 

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!

Trainwreck Barley Wine 2013

TRAINWRECK-2013-LABELJust in time for the holidays, Phillips is once again back with their annual Trainwreack Barley Wine. This year, much like last, they have decided to release their extra strong ale to a bourbon barrel-aging process in order to produce an ale that is strong (10% alc/vol), yet smooth, and has a strong whiskey tang. This is the second year in a row that they have gone this route, whereas their 2011 was just the barley wine without any whiskey-infusion. As I’ve said before, I preferred the original and feel that Phillips has been on an inexplicable Bourbon kick for the past few years.

Nevertheless, they seem committing to making ales that have that extra kick. And the end result is hardly unpleasing or unappetizing, and is pretty much what one would expect from a faithful example of an American Barley Wine that is infused with a bit of Bourbon flavor. It pours out dark and clear, has a good head and carbonation, has some smooth malt the tastes of molasses, dark sugar, dark fruits (dates, plums and raisins), and is of course punctuated by a strong whiskey tang and bite.

Appearance: Dark brown amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Strong whiskey notes, dark malt, brown sugar and molasses
Taste: Dark malt, molasses, dark fruits, strong burst of bourbon tang and bitterness
Aftertaste: Lingering malt and whiskey notes, slight sourness and bitterness
Overall: 7.5/10

Definitely something to keep you warm around the fire! Between two annual barley wines, their Twisted Oak Red Ale and Bock, they’ve managed to barrel-age four limited release so far. Can’t imagine what they’ll do next…

Steamworks Blitzen

steamworks_paleYears back, while in Vancouver, the wife and I had a chance to visit the brewpub and I can recall enjoying a tall, frosty Trappist glass of this winter ale. Since that time, it has been damn near impossible to find  bottle of it on the island. As a tribute to the style of Belgian Tripel ales, it was not only strong, malty, and highly yeasty, it was highly reminiscent of one of my favorite beers of all time – La Fin Du Monde.

The beer is golden blonde, slightly cloudy, spicy, malty, mildly hoppy (20 IBUs), and has a strong alcoholic punch (9% alc/vol). Brewed with Pilsner malt, flavored with Fuggles and Sterling hops, this beer is also = in true-Belgian fashion – fermented with some added candi sugar. The end result is a strong ale that has both subtle and saccharine malts, calls to mind the flavors of a Bavarian lager as well as a good-old fashioned Belgian Tripel, with just a hint of Duvel.

Appearance: Golden, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Belgian yeast, semi-sweet, sharp and spicy malts
Taste: Strong malt start, mild tang, spicy yeast notes, mild hop bite and alcohol
Aftertaste: Mild yeast and lingering malt flavor, sharp and clean
Overall: 8.5/10

Glad I could finally find some of this beer in the bottle. As always, seasonal beers are a rare and delightful treat, and Steamworks has generally been known to produce some pretty impressive seasonal specialties in addition to their regular lineup.

Lost Coast Winterbraun

LostCoastBrew_Color_LogoIn the course of my beer sampling, I rarely get farther south than the great state of Oregon. However, once in awhile I am afforded the opportunity to sample from as far south as California, the Golden Coast and beyond. And I am rarely disappointed or left feeling less rich for the experience.

Tonight was one such time. In my neck of the woods, the Lost Coast lineup has been making the rounds and I find myself wanting to include them in my repertoire. And since I’ve been determined to sample as many winter beers, this one seemed perfectly appropriate. And it was certainly no slouch when it came to delivering in both the flavor or balance of flavors department. Combining a brown ale with the stronger character of a winter beer (8% alc/vol) and roast chocolate, Lost Coast created something that warmed my ribs and tickled my fancy!

Appearance: Deep brown amber, transparent and good foam retentionNose: Strong notes of sugary malts, molasses and brown sugar
Taste: Sweet malts, giving way to crisp dose of hops, roasted nuts and dark cocoa
Aftertaste: Slight coarseness and lingering bitter finish
Overall: 8.5/10

winterbraunOne of the nicest things about this winter beer was the fact that the chocolate comes through in a subtler tones, rather than being heavily overt. What’s more, the dark brown profile and rich, sugary flavor are very appealing and combine with with the beer’s decidedly strong alcohol content. I’ve already earmarked some of their regular fruit-infused beers for consumption, and will be back with some of those just as soon as the right kind of weather rolls around. Somehow, it’s just got to be warm and sunny in order for fruit beer to be appropriate… Wait for it!

Hoyne’s Gratitude Winter Warmer

slider-gratitudeEarlier this evening, I made one of my regular trips to the Hoyne Brewery, but not just as part of one of my regular visits to refill my growlers. No, this time around, I also came heavily laden with bags full of clothes, since the brewery is taken donations of used clothing, canned goods and non-perishable items for the holiday season. So if you’re in the Rock Bay region and have some canned goods or clothes you don’t know what to do with, consider donating, because you know someone else could use more than yourself 😉

But of course, there was also a festive spirit in the air that had to do with something other than their generosity of spirit.There was also the availability of their special winter warmer, Gratitude, which has been making the rounds in the Victoria area of late. An extra-special limited release, this beer was not even available on tap, but only by the bottle – the paper-wrapped, specially labeled bottle that is. Yes, each bottle of this winter ale comes with a label that expresses the brewery’s thanks to all those who’ve supported them this past year and all the things that we all are thankful for during the holiday season.

And as winter warmers go, this beer is faithful to tradition and a pleasure to consume. Combining subtle spice notes with a strong, dark, malty base, the beer warms the gullet, ignites the palate, but is also smooth and appealing despite its strength (9% alc/vol). And surprisingly, the beer is quite clean despite its dark and rich character, something which is relatively rare in winter ales and barley wines.

Appearance: Dark amber/brown, transparent and good foam retention
Nose: Notes of clove, nutmeg, and figgy pudding
Taste: Opens with sweet malts and spices, cloves, all spice, plums and figs
Aftertaste: Slight tang, relatively clean finish, slight lingering notes of spice
Overall: 9/10

Congrats again Hoyne for creating something subtle, experimental, but altogether appealing and satisfying. Congrats also on your first great year, conveying quality craft beers to Victorians and people of the Pacific Northwest. Keep doing what you’re doing and don’t go changing to try and please people. I meant it, don’t change!