Amsterdam Brewing – Oranje Weisse

IMG_2015.JPGAmsterdam Brewing is fast becoming a favourite of mine. I’ve had a few of their brews and none have disappointed, and this Oranje Weisse is no exception. This Canadian take on a traditional Belgian style is certainly meant for a hot summers day, but no one would fault you for drinking it any time of year.

From the brewery: A refreshing flemish style white beer brewed with two types of orange peel, coriander, and a touch of ainse. A truly unique flavour combination of citrus and light spice. All natural ingredients, unpasteurized.

Appearance: It pours beautiful. Great big, fluffy white head. Its golden in colour and slight haze – trademarks of a witbier.

Aroma: The aroma is bready/yeasty. There is a dominance of wheat, with a slight slight funk and a bit of malt.

Taste: The flavour is mainly of the wheat, but there is a good amount of orange peal coming through, with a slight spice and some coriander, bread, and lemon flavours. Very much in the traditional witbier style.

Mouthfeel: The body is light and the carbonation is moderate. Not as spritzy as some witbiers, but still light on the palate.

Overall: This is really a nice beer. Probably best on a hot day, but I think I could enjoy it all year. It’s light, refreshing and quite tasty. Quite pleasant.

79/100

Bad Apple Brewhouse – Barrel Aged Black and Tackle Russian Imperial Stout

IMG_2038.JPGBad Apple Brewhouse is a new brewery on the Nova Scotian craft beer scene that’s making a big splash. Located in Somerset, N.S., it’s recently taken home some hardware from the Atlantic Canadian Beer Awards, including Brewery of the Year. It’s Black and Tackle Russian Imperial Stout is also a winner, taking a Silver and a Bronze.

From the Brewery: “Our Black and Tackle RIS is truly a flavour adventure. Very dark with a creamy head this brew has distinct tones of espresso and cocoa giving it a bold rich taste that is sure to impress.”

Appearance: Inky black, the only way I could see light through it at all is looking through it as I poured a thin stream. Slight head that is tan in colour. Some lacing, but the head fades.

Aroma: There’s a big hit of alcohol in the nose right up front, like a smack in the face. The whiskey barrel aging comes through with lots of the whiskey in the aroma. There are notes of liquorice and some of the malt does come though. These a slight fruity note as well, maybe a yeast character.

Taste: First impression is how smooth this beer is for being so big (11.6% ABV). The alcohol is there, but its not hot at all and displays the whiskey traits. There is some roast, but its rather subdued and the hop bitterness is balancing. Neither sweet nor overly bitter. Some hop flavours come though as a slight fruity/floral back-note to the beer. Malt shines as a bready/biscuit flavour holding together the other flavours. A complex beer.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, light carbonation.

Overall: Well done, a well made beer showing off the skills of the brewmaster. In high demand for good reason; if you find it, buy it. Sip and enjoy. Smooth: pace yourself.

89/100

You can find Bad Apple on the web, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Microbrasserie Charlevoix – La Vache Folle – Imperial Milk Stout

IMG_1996.JPGThere is a great number of micro breweries throughout Quebec that are producing outstanding Belgian styled beers for many years. But there are now an ever growing number of breweries producing excellent English styled beers, and MicroBrasserie Charlevoix – La Vache Folle (translates to The Mad Cow) is following that path. Their take on a milk stout (also known as a sweet stout, its a less roast-more body version of a stout that utilizes lactose (milk sugar) for body and sweetness) crosses the threshold from ordinary to big and bold.

Appearance: Black, nearly completely opaque. Pours with a nice, dense, creamy, tan head. Great lacing on the glass – right front top to bottom.

Aroma: The aroma is of sweet malt with a bit of chocolate and dark fruit. There’s hints of spice and roast and just a faint note of floral hops, barely enough to say it is there.

Taste: The first thing that hits is the alcohol, its right up front – not burning, but smooth – you know this is a high-test beer. Next comes the sweet malt flavours, not to say this is a sweet beer, but it is not like a dry stout or a hoppy imperial stout either. The flavour is of bread and stone fruit, with slight hint of roast. There is a bit of milk chocolate mixed with hits of dark chocolate.

Mouthfeel: The body is creamy, medium body – maybe a little thiner than I expected, but that lets this big beer be quite drinkable and not heavy. The carbonation is fairly light letting the beer keep the creamy texture.

Overall: Not too bad. It gets a bit better as it warmed up a little and allowed the alcohol notes fade slightly. Be warned, this can be a little dangerous because it is rather easy to drink, but at 9% ABV you might just find things becoming a little wobbly.

82/100

MicroBrasserie Charlevoix can be found on the web, Facebook, and Twitter.

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 ~Cheers!

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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For Love Of Beer.

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