Category Archives: craft beer

Pumphouse – Stonefire Ale

IMG_2142.JPGWith 15 years under its belt, Pump House Brewery & Restaurant in Moncton, New Brunswick is one of the originators of the East Coast craft brew scene. This fall, it marked its anniversary with its Stonefire Ale, in a limited release of just 4,000 750 millilitre bottles. Stonefire is a dark amber Steinbier—a traditional German technique in which brewers dunk red-hot stones into the wort to make it boil quickly. That caramelizes and burns the sugars, giving the beer a unique sweet profile. Matt and Trevor both sampled Stonefire lately, so we’re joining forces for a tag-team review. Matt’s bottle was 408 of the 4,000 produced, while Trevor had number 3,116.

Appearance: We were struck by what an attractive pour this beer is. It has a rich burnt orange colour, and slight head, with lively carbonation.

Aroma: Matt found it clean and malty, with slight grassy notes. Trevor, who seemed to get more head on his pour than Matt, was struck by a big unexpected nose of overripe oranges.

Taste: We were both expecting this to be a heavy and rich beer, perhaps something like an Irish red. We were astonished when what we tasted was more like a saison than anything else. Matt found it light and refreshing, with a hint of spice and orange-zest bitterness to finish. Trevor also got a big orange hit, but found a bit of creaminess—“This tastes like a tart creamsicle.” Very slight malts to finish.

Mouthfeel: With a light to medium body, this is a well carbonated beer. Trevor found it a touch fizzy; Matt didn’t.

Overall: This was the first Steinbier either of us had tasted, so we can’t tell you how well it represents the style, but it sure wasn’t what we were expecting. When we compared tasting notes, we saw that we’d both used the word “saison” over and over. It’s a unique, nuanced beer, shockingly easy to drink, yet rich in flavour. Trevor found it paired well with spicy fried pepperoni.

Matt: 82/100
Trevor: 84/100

You can find Pump House Brewery on the web, Facebook, and Twitter.

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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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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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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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