Garrison Brewing Company — Double Jack Imperial Pumpkin Ale

IMG_1984.PNGI’ve always been kind of iffy on pumpkin ales. They tend to have a compost aroma, and don’t actually taste much like pumpkin—“cloying nutmeg” would generally be a more accurate way to describe them. Garrison, however, never disappoints me, so I was willing to give the pumpkin-beer craze another shot. As the name suggests, it’s more of an imperial ale than a pumpkin one, and that works out just fine.

From the brewery: Lordy, Lordy, Garrison gets “Gourdy” with this scary big brew. Daniel carved up “Cinderella” pumpkins from the Dill Family Farm in Windsor, then added cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg to create pure, pumpkiny perfection! For a limited time, choose “treat” and get to know “Double Jack” Boo!

Appearance: Double Jack is a beautiful pour—deep rusty copper with a frothy white head and abundant lacing. It’s gorgeous in the glass.

Aroma: There’s a nice, but not overpowering, hit of cloves and nutmeg right off the top, followed by a bigger whiff of hops than you normally get from a pumpkin ale.

Taste: That spiciness tweaks the tongue first. It screamed cloves at me, but my wife tasted a whole bunch of cinnamon. The pumpkins join with four different malts (Maritime Pale Ale, Kiln Amber, Munich and Crystal) to create a flavour like sweet potato and marshmallow casserole. The Millennium hops show up during the long slow finish, ending the taste with a grassy but not bitter note.

Overall: This is a pumpkin ale for serious beer lovers. It’s nicely balanced—not too sweet, not too spicy, not too pumpkiny. It all combines for a beer that’s unique, well crafted and a grade above most pumpkin ales.

85/100

You can find Garrison on the web, Facebook, and Twitter.

Regular contributor and guest reviewer Trevor J. Adams is senior editor with Metro Guide Publishing and the editor of Halifax Magazine. In 2012, he published his first solo book, Long Shots: The Curious Story of the Four Maritime Teams That Played for the Stanley Cup (Nimbus Publishing).

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Muwin Estate Wines — Bulwark Traditional Craft Cider

IMG_1983.JPGHere in Nova Scotia, where the Annapolis Valley produces some of the world’s finest apples, you’d think well crafted artisanal ciders would abound. That wasn’t the case for a long time (I well remember when Strongbow was as good as you were going to do) but as the craft-beer scene has taken off, so has local craft cider. Bulwark isn’t Nova Scotia’s first craft cider, but it’s my favourite.

From the cidery: Our signature cider, Bulwark Original, is a handcrafted traditional cider, which is dry, crisp, and refreshing. It has a faint hint of spice followed by the Bulwark Original signature flavour that is achieved through our careful blending of five varieties of freshly pressed Nova Scotia apples grown in the famed Annapolis Valley. The dry start is quite complex without the intense sharpness often associated with many traditional dry ciders. It moves quickly from dry to an almost wine-like and slightly mineral fruitiness before relaxing into a nutty floral finish. Great on its own or on ice!

Appearance: Golden straw colour, with bubbles and carbonation that would make champagne jealous. Ciders generally aren’t much to look at, but lively carbonation coupled with the (read on) robust nose promised something special here.

Aroma: Apples. Just plain, wholesome, delicious apples. Take a nice crisp granny smith, cut it up and inhale—that’s it. None of the artificial sticky sweetness that bedevils the aroma of lesser ciders.

Taste: Good craft beers can be subtle and layered, with flavour profiles that sneak up on you, and go in unexpected directions. Good cider isn’t like that. A good cider is as crisp and straightforward as a punch in the face. This is a very good cider. Take a bite of a really crisp little green apple. That’s what Bulwark is like. There’s a very brief hit of sweetness, followed by a smooth, crisp finish, that’s not quite as dry as you might expect. Some online reviewers describe a spiciness here, but I had two bottles and didn’t get a bit of that—just perfect, delicious apples. It’s also available on tap, so that might account for the difference.

Overall: This is the cider I’ve been seeking for years. It’s beautifully balanced, tart but not too tart, and amazingly refreshing. It pairs wonderfully with a fiery Thai curry, and is a nice palate-cleanser after a robust beer.

87/100

Bulwark Cider can be found on the web, Facebook, and Twitter.

Regular contributor and guest reviewer Trevor J. Adams is senior editor with Metro Guide Publishing and the editor of Halifax Magazine. In 2012, he published his first solo book, Long Shots: The Curious Story of the Four Maritime Teams That Played for the Stanley Cup (Nimbus Publishing).

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Stylizing Beer

Some beer styles are the result of geography, history or culture, others seem to have been dreamed up out of thin air. Bodies like the BJCP or Brewers Association often define them, and sometime they are just called beer. (In Belgium, for instance, there were no historic beer styles. They varied from town to town, family to family, based largely on local preference.)

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Defining beer styles is useful, though, because it gives us a common frame of reference. If I tell you I have an IPA or a stout, you have a pretty good idea what I’m talking about without tasting it. It also makes comparing and contrasting beers much easier. Mike Dixon (Communications Director, BJCP) explains. “Let’s remove all beer styles and names and just give them numbers from one to infinity,” he says. “How would you ever decide what to drink? Often consumers may see a style they do not know, but it allows them to eventually understand the bitterness to be expected from an IPA or the roasty nature in a stout.”

The BJCP has defined and redefined beer styles based on historical and modern beers. It attempts to define what home brewers are currently doing, to create a level playing field. “Where the style guidelines really come into play is at competition,” Dixon says. “I don’t see the guidelines influencing brewers unless they are entering competition.”

Jamil Zainasheff (author of Brewing Classic Styles, style columnist of Brew Your Own magazine and “Chief Heretic” at Heretic Brewing) agrees. “I don’t think very many pro brewers let style determine what they brew,” he says. “They might start off with an idea of what they want based on a style, but then often take it in their own direction.”

Marketing usually affects people’s beer choices more than style itself. The old English IPA style is a good example. As more brewers had success with it, more brewers embraced it. Each wanted its IPA to stay out, so IPAs got bigger, bolder, hoppier. Soon there were Double or Imperial IPAs (DIPA or IIPA), Rye IPA, Belgian IPA, Black IPA, White IPAs and so on. The label “IPA” was a way to sell the beer to consumers; the only thing these beers have in common is that they’re hoppy.

“Most pro brewers rely on style descriptions to sell beer to their customers,” Zainasheff says. “Sometimes the beer labeled X style has no resemblance of that style, but drinkers assume that it is an example of the style. If you label anything IPA, then it sells better. Doesn’t matter what beer it is, it just sells more. Are all of these beers IPAs? No, but that is what affects purchasing trends.”

Consider the International Trappist Association (ITA), which voted to relabel its centuries-old beers as IPAs. “Though we are pious servants to the Lord first and foremost, we are also running a business here,” says Orval brewmaster Father Nelson. “So, in the end, we must give the customer what they want, and apparently what they really want is just to see those three letters printed on the bottle somewhere.”

The producers of Big Beer have responded to the craft beer swing in consumer tastes with faux craft beers. Coors produces Blue Moon and AB-InBev (makers of Budweiser) makes Shock Top. Dixon doesn’t think that approach will work. “Once people taste craft flavour they don’t want a macro lager as often as they did before,” he says. “Soon enough those people find other beers to try and we have new fans of craft beer adding to the craft market share.”

The next big thing might actually be a return to basics. “There are all sorts of crazy things being brewed,” Zainasheff says. “I think there might be some beers that stick around from it, but in general I think people are going to get a little tired of the extremely weird beer. I think there might be a bit of a refocus on some old standards. Wouldn’t you like to see a brewery offer a nice, ordinary pale ale? It is getting near impossible to find them anymore on the West Coast.” That swing may already be happening, as session beers (low to moderate strength beers, 3-5% ABV) rise in popularity, bucking the previous trend of high-octane IPAs.

Whatever happens, small craft brewers will brew what they like to drink, experimenting along the way, and beer drinkers with adventurous palates will keep trying their creations. The good ones will stick around as other brewers emulate them, including the macro brewers who are starting to feel that market dominance slip away, bit by bit.

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Cannery Brewing Company – Wildfire IPA

IMG_1955.JPGRarely have I sampled a beer I’ve been so excited to try. For starters, Cascadian dark ales don’t exactly abound out here in the Maritimes. And ever since my brother moved to British Columbia, I’ve been listening to him rave about the great craft-beer scene out there. One of his favourites is the Cannery Brewing Company in Pentincton. I found some of their Skaha Summer Ale in Moncton last summer—just enough to pique my interest. So recently, I prevailed upon my brother to send me “their most unique beer.”

From the brewery: This unique black India Pale Ale is a tribute to the firefighters and emergency service workers who help fight our Canadian wildfires each year. Wildfire IPA is intensely dark and smooth. This black IPA has complex hops that rage through to the finish. Fierce hop, gentle bite! A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this beer go to the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

Appearance: A beautiful inky black pour—it looks like midnight in a glass. A rich aromatic head, with thick off-white froth and lacing that goes on for days.

Aroma: A little hit of wildflowers at first, followed by strong roasty smell—think burnt toast with a hint of sweet malt.

Taste: That burnt-toast sensation carries over into the first taste, but quickly gives way to big waves of grassy hops, one after the other. With lively carbonation and a light mouthfeel, it’s much easier-drinking than the aroma or appearance would suggest.

Overall: Complex without being overwhelming, deliciously hoppy without going too far—this is a well crafted, nuanced and surprisingly subtle beer. It was a fantastic introduction to the style, and well worth the wait.

86/100

Cannery Brewing Company can be found on the web, Facebook, and Twitter.

Guest reviewer Trevor J. Adams is senior editor with Metro Guide Publishing and the editor of Halifax Magazine. In 2012, he published his first solo book, Long Shots: The Curious Story of the Four Maritime Teams That Played for the Stanley Cup (Nimbus Publishing).

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Brooklyn Brewery – Sorachi Ace

IMG_1945.JPGBrooklyn Brewery is world renowned for producing award winning beers, and this is no exception. Sorachi Ace is named after the single hop that is used in this beer. The hop was first produced in Japan in 1984 by one of Japans largest beer companies, but was deemed to be a bit odd. Because of its flavour profile it wasn’t widely produced until a farm in Washington state revived it in 2008. Giving a distinct lemon peel, lemongrass flavour and aroma, it’s a standout hop different from all others.

From the brewery: “Dry, sharp, and crackling with flavor, Brooklyn Sorachi Ace is reminiscent of lemongrass, verbena, dill and lemon peels … sunshine in a glass, a shining example of the versatility of one of the world’s most intriguing hops. This beer is a superstar at the table, and we enjoy it with seafood dishes, fresh cheeses, poultry, barbecue, and even tomato-based pasta sauces. All by itself it puts on a great solo performance too, and we can honestly say that you’ve never tasted any beer quite like it.”

And what did I think?

Appearance: The colour is golden and clear. Appears to be well carbonated as its quite effervescent. Pours with a fluffy white head that is long lasting.

Aroma: Interesting. Had a hard time picking out what this reminded me of, but I knew it was something from my grandmothers house as a child. The aroma is of lemon grass and is wheat-like and floral. Its fairly perfumey with lemon peel and lemon oil. Reminiscent of Lemon Pledge, but not in a bad way (that was what my gram used).

Taste: Very unique flavour. The Sorachi Ace hops used are different from any other. There is lots of lemon flavours, best described as peel and lemongrass. There is, once you get past the hops, a nice malt flavour that is supportive and balancing to the hops.

Mouthfeel: The body light, lightened by the high level of carbonation. This is an effervescent beer and is a bit prickly on the tongue.

Overall: I found this beer to be very impressive. The use of such a unique hop, a showcase even, is unheard of. It’s a bold statement fro Brooklyn Brewery for sure, but they are no strangers to that. A very refreshing beer and an experience every beer lover should have.

88/100

You can find Brooklyn Brewery on the web, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Big Spruce – Hoppily Remarried Harvest DIPA

IMG_1992.JPGBig Spruce Brewery is a small brewery located on an organic farm located in Nyanza on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. This award-winning brewery can hardly keep up with the demand for their beers. Selling their beers in local farmer’s markets, from the brewery store, and at select tap accounts, this is one small brewery with a big future.

From the brewery: “Brewed in early September and after weeks of hard work harvesting hops from our hop yard, this is a wet hopped beer that is all about featuring the best of the hops from our hop yard.”

And what did I think?

Appearance: This beer pours with a nice, but short lived off-white, creamy head. It has a great bit of lacing and is dark red-orange.

Aroma: The aroma is hoppy with fragrances of pine and a slight citrus. The smell showcases how fresh this beer is and the wet hops used.

Taste: Upfront it’s the hops. The flavour is bitter, orange peal, resin, pine, woody, and tobacco. It really is hops right through and a nice fresh flavour. It leans a bit more towards the pine as it warms slightly and becomes better – the hops are still there, but mellow and smooth out.

Mouthfeel: The body is medium with a light carbonation. There is a bit of a slickness from hops.

Overall: A very nice IPA, smooth and drinkable, even with the elevated alcohol. Each drink begs for another. Its bitter, but not a palate killer – the more I drink the better this gets. This is worth the trip to Cape Breton. Well done!

87/100

You can find Big Spruce on the web, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Amsterdam Brewery – Boneshaker India Pale Ale

IMG_1845.JPGStarted as a brew pub in Toronto, Ontario in 1986, Amsterdam Brewery has continued to expand and produce many fine beers. Mostly available in Ontario, their distribution has started to expand – and this is good news for beer lovers. Making a varied array of year-round and seasonal ales and lagers, Amsterdam is a brewery to look for.

From the brewery: “Our very first batch of Boneshaker was brewed for a local IPA challenge. Our brewers poured copious amounts of hops into the brew, balanced it out with over 5 different malts, decided to leave it unfiltered it and allowed to naturally carbonate. The result? A truly unique taste experience and an award winning IPA! Expect fresh grapefruit & pine aromas followed by massive hop flavours!”

And what did I think?

Appearance: This ale pours with a dense, rocky, off-white, big head. The colour is a burnt, dark orange and is a bit hazy, but it is heavy on the hops and unfiltered.

Aroma: The first thing that is in the nose is the hops. There is a citrus aroma, most dominated by orange. There are some sweet, toffee-like notes.

Taste: The flavour is of bitter orange – the hops are dominate up front. The flavour fades to a malt sweetness with a slight leather flavour.

Mouthfeel: The body is medium-light and it’s well carbonated. The body is lightened by the carbonation.

Overall: Great balance in this beer. The hops are definitely there, but there is a nice malt backbone to balance everything else. Its a pretty easy drinking beer – not a hop-head’s dream, but certainly an IPA to try.

78/100

You can find Amsterdam Brewery on the web, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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