Warming up with Winter Beers at Firefly

Tuesday night was only my second ever ‘La Table Commune’ event at Firefly Fine Wine and Ales. I know, I know, how come a beer geek such as myself is not a regular at any and every beer event in the lower mainland. Well to be honest I often feel like I have tried so many different beers that I am becoming a challenge to impress; however, ‘Winter beers’ was an impossible temptation for me to pass up. As a lover of all beers dark, liquory and spicy especially as the temperature drops and the sun sets earlier, I was ready to be wowed with something new to add into my rotation. First up a little background on the beer selection courtesy of our hostess Lundy from Firefly. Winter warmer beers tend to be higher in alcohol, heavier in spices, roastier (?) in malt and generally all around bigger and bolder versions of our everyday ales. Styles can run the gamut but winter beers tend to work best with stouts, porters, barley wines, eisbocks and scotch ales as there starting points. Eisbocks were new to me so I will give you a bit more detail on this style before proceeding with the tasting notes. Eisbocks are doppelbocks that are frozen and then the ice is removed to concentrate the flavour and the alcohol. Eisbocks are lagers in the sense that they undergo a cold fermentation to clear the beer. This is analogous to the process for making ice wine. Now back to the matters at hand. I would like to introduce our evening’s line-up and offer some of my tasting notes:

Samuel Smith Winter Welcome 6.0% ABV IBU 32 – This beer is clear and copper in colour with a nice cream coloured head. I get sour malt with a bit of apple on the nose. There is a caramel sweetness when drinking and a bitter hop aftertaste. It is smooth and well-balanced. Improves as it warms up closer to room temperature.

Mission Springs Mr. Brown’s Mashed Pumpkin 8.0% ABV – This ale is golden amber with very little head. It has the most distinctive root beer nose I have ever encountered. Light in body but heavy in allspice/nutmeg/cinnamon. There is a bitter almost burnt finish.

Howe Sound Father John’s Winter Ale 7.0% ABV IBU 17 – Amber to red in appearance with minimal head. I really get a floral (lilac) nose with sweet malt. There is a tinge of sourness to this beer, which plays off the heavy malts and spices. Also, a sherry-like quality.

R&B Auld Nick Winter Ale 6.5% ABV IBU 18 – Deep amber to brown coloured ale with average head retention. There is a sweet crystal malt nose and a bit of molasses. A heavy bodied beer and you can really taste the molasses. Slight hop bitterness on the finish and a scotch element as the beer warms up.

Samuel Smith Taddy Porter 5.8% ABV – A deep brown relatively clear beer with a large caramel coloured head. You get sweet caramel/malt, raisin and sherry on the nose. Christmas cake spices and sweet liquor dominate the mouthfeel. Very smooth and well-balanced.

Vancouver Island Brewery Hermannator (Eisbock) 9.5% ABV – A deep amber to brown coloured beer with a small amount of head. Sweet malt is the dominate element on the nose. It is light in body, almost tepid, with a syrupy quality. Powerful liquor taste. This beer would cellar quite well.

Howe Sound Pot-Hole Filler Imperial Stout 9.0% ABV IBU 65 – Deep black stout with a dark caramel coloured head on this ale. The nose is a mix of crystal malt and roasted barley. It is a very heavy and smooth beer with subtle coffee and molasses elements.

Pike Old Bawdy Barley Wine 9-10% ABV – Clear and amber in appearance with a stiff ivory head. Malt is very present on the nose of this beer. It is smooth and dry with a fair amount of hop bitterness at the finish.

Brooklyn Monster Barley Wine 9-10% ABV – Similar in appearance to the Pike. You get a sweet malt nose and some liquor vapour as well. It is extremely well-balanced with no discernible bitter aftertaste. Drinks like a spirit.

Overall it was a fun, albeit cramped, winter beer tasting. Perhaps ‘La Table Commune’ really intends for you to embrace your new beer friends by tightly packing you into a small space. Diligent note-taking and photograph-happy beer geeks be forewarned that you may inadvertently clear the table in your attempts to document the evening (sorry about the glass Lundy). Our hostess was both knowledgeable and considerate offering up some of her own cellared beers for the event and making non-regulars such as myself feel most welcome. I am definitely looking forward to another tasting event at Firefly. To wrap this post up in a neat little (Christmas) package my picks for the best winter tipplers for the season are:

1. Samuel Smith Taddy Porter

2. V.I.B. Hermannator

3. Brooklyn Monster Barley Wine

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