Category Archives: Pale Ale

And monkeys will fly…

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In honour of my über talented hubby and his newfound passion for restoring vintage audio equipment tonight I am trying out Stereovision an American Kristall Wheat beer from Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery based out of Barrie, Ontario.

First up I have to say a few words on the very cool label on this bottle; psychedelic colour scheme, trippy metallic font and a big eyeball staring back at ya from the bottle all tying perfectly into the beer name and the brewery ethos ‘Bee Beer Differently’.

Stereovision pours a bright gold colour with tons of white head and tons of carbonation. It is all wheat beer on the nose with the requisite banana and clove but when you take a few sips you realize this is not your standard wheat beer. The flavour is more pale ale with malt at the front and a slightly bitter finish but you do still get some wheat beer qualities; a nice depth, medium body and some spices. I like that the inclusion of elements of a ‘North American late-hopped beer’ (as described on the label) separates this beer from your standard wheat beer.

Overall a great way to cap off a night at the fair and a much better option than the Molson or Coors on tap in the beer garden!

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New Brew Friday Spearhead Hawaiian Style Pale Ale

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It’s my first official new brew Friday from the East and I have stockpiled enough new (to me) beer to keep me in ‘new brews’ for quite some time to come!

Hawaiian Pale Ale from Spearhead Brewing Company pours cloudy pale orange with tons of thick white head that clings to the glass. Lots of big citrus hops on the nose. First few sips are a bit jarring, it is like a citrus forward IPA with an almost sour like taste from the pineapple. As you drink the pineapple presence becomes less distracting the sweeter malts emerge, tropical fruit tastes come through in better balance but there is still a slight soured quality that lingers on the finish and it feels out of place. Overall, This beer is smooth to drink, light in body and dry on the finish but while it sounds great on paper -who doesn’t love pineapple- it did not quite come together for me.


Beer from the Rock

Growlers

Well as Murphy’s Law dictates if you plan to move at the end of any given month during the last week of said month a craft brewery will finally open within walking distance.

To further rub salt in the wound said brewery will be adjacent to your hairdresser so you will have been patiently biding your time, watching the slow progress as the brewery moved in equipment, put up a cryptic sign referencing beer, proceeded to paper all the windows all on your regular trips to the area while never knowing for sure when the doors would open.

White Rock Beach Beer Company

But enough whining on my end, the White Rock Beach Beer Company has finally opened its’ doors (door actually) and I paid them a first on their inaugural weekend.

The White Rock Beach Beer Company was started by a trio of fellows Rob Kwalheim (Brewmaster), Peter Adams and Bill Haddow (Marketing), a couple of whom were local teachers (can you think of any better motivator to lead you to beer?). While there is not a whole lot to describe about this tiny brewery, they do have some swag emblazoned with the brewery logo, growlers and half-growlers for fill, and a standing-room only tasting space. Personally, the brewery branding is not really my style I do like that they managed to incorporate that giant White Rock we are all so fond of …(cough, cough).

Beer on the Wall

One thing myself and my entourage noticed were the bricks in the wall, not in the anti-establishment kind of way but the tangible bricks bearing peoples names. Turns out when this brewery was a mere idea the proprietors shopped the concept around to people and got some of them to put their money where their mouth was so to speak and turn the dream of craft beer in White Rock into a reality. To honour those early supporters they get their names proudly displayed, swag AND they get dibs on some free growler fill-ups.

Oh, and  there are some interesting opening beers as well.

Menu

Menu

Currently there are three options on tap a pale ale, a nut brown ale and a porter, granted these are pretty safe choices but they are done well. I sampled all three at the brewery and me and the gang took a growler of the pale ale home for further dissection.

The East Beach Nut was in fact quite nutty, which sounds like I am being trite but in fact I often find the nut brown ales miss the mark by not keeping that nut flavour at the forefront. While I generally like this style for blending with other beers it is quite drinkable in its’ own right. The Border Porter was decent as well but I would really have needed a bigger pour to offer any fleshed out opinion.

The West Beach Fruit really surprised me because pale ales are so not my thing but I have to say I really enjoyed this beer. It was sessionable, well-balanced and like the nut brown kept the fruit character at the forefront. It was much more of a stone fruit taste and not an overt sweetness, there was a bit of hop character but nothing over-powering.

Beer Superfans

So if you find yourself at the Rock stop in for a growler before you hit the beach.

 


Crowd Surfing at Brassneck Brewery

More beer

On my recent pilgrimage back to the city I stopped to try another new Vancouver beer hot spot Brassneck Brewery, which just happens to be the progeny of some serious local beer pedigree, Nigel Springthorpe (of The Alibi Room) and Conrad Gsomer (former brewer at Steamworks).

The Growler Wall

Brassneck Artwork

Brassneck is located on Main Street just north of many great food spots, quirky used book stores, trendy coffee shops and local clothing merchants, in other words in a pretty great neighbourhood.

The brewery, growler fill station and tasting room are housed in a rather nondescript building but it has a big glass front allowing people the chance to see the brewers in action and to see the depth of the line-up at the growler fill counter.

Barely open two weeks when I stopped by, the hubby and I just squeezed into the seating area under the max capacity allowance.

A View to the Room

Brassneck Entrance

Food Truck

Nice touch

The long narrow tasting room is, well, woody, which for some reason seems to be the decor choice of many a brewery. A giant communal table extends from the end of the bar and the other half of the room has equally cozy tables where drinking with your neighbour is somewhat unavoidable – the exception being one table tucked away at the back for secret meetings and brewery espionage (I presume). Little cutout windows afford patrons a view behind the scenes.

The aesthetic here seems to be studied quirkiness (very Main Street) with pen and ink sketches for the beer ‘labels’, underwear branded with the brewery name and, of course, a food truck parked in front – oh, and a grain sack for a garbage.

Behind the scenes it looks like most breweries lots of stainless steel, plastic bucks and an endless nest of hoses running here and there.

More behind the scenesBeer, Beer and more Beer

The Maze

Beer, beer, beer…

They have a lot on tap for a new brewery, ten beers in fact. Oddly though the taster flights come in fours so this begs the inevitable question what to leave out? I decided to let the guy pulling the taps make that decision for me so I would not discriminate uninformedly (not sure this is a real word).

One other thing that seemed like an ‘ironing out the kinks’ kind of issue is that there is no means to differentiate the beers in your flight other than the whirlwind recount from your server. So when you are forgetful like me (or you’ve had one too many beers) this lack of labelling makes it hard to remember what is what and I noticed more than one beer geek (myself included) with the beer order jotted down on a scrap of paper.

Flight of the Beer

Flight of the Beer part two

While we were at Brassneck we tried:

Small Wonder – A table saison meaning a light and accesible drink to be shared. Light pale gold gold in colour, just a little head and the tiniest bit of funkiness to remind you that this is indeed a saison style brew. A good starter beer.

Kingmaker – A clear golden coloured pils with a light skim of head. A slight yeasty nose and a bit of nutty flavour, which is pretty typical for the style. An okay beer but I wasn’t loving it.

Brassneck Ale – Moving along the colour chart we have a clear light amber ale. A little bit more flavour and depth that the first two beers. Some toasted elements, a hint of bitter and a bit of a coppery taste.

Blichmann’s Finger – We are now onto the golden ale, which in appearance is pretty close to the Brassneck, perhaps a bit darker in colour. Hoppy on the nose and in flavour with equal parts maltiness.

Old Bitch – Cloudy reddish-brown in appearance with very little head. A very tepid and thin beer lacking the malt flavour I expected. A bitter finish but overall really lacking in character.

Passive Aggressive – Bright cloudy orange pale ale with nice lacing. Big floral hop nose with some piney notes. Lots of sweet malt flavour and even more hoppiness as you drink -perhaps more IPA than pale ale. Dry bitter finish. This one is the best of the bunch so far.

Barn Burner – Dark black-brown with some mocha coloured head. This dark saison has a sweet and funky nose, nice roasted malt and leather flavours and a dry finish.

The Geezer – Last but not least the porter. A dark black-brown beer with mocha coloured head. Chocolate and roastiness on the nose, lots of roasted malt flavour. Chocolate is dominant, coffee notes very slight, making this porter not too bitter but it is quite thin. Dry finish.

What's on Tap


33 Acres Brewing Company

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This past weekend I paid my first visit to 33 Acres Brewing Company one of the many new breweries and tasting rooms popping up all over the Lower Mainland. 33 Acres is centrally located where east meets west on 8th Avenue in Vancouver.

33 Acres Brewing Company

The tasting room is housed in a somewhat spartan space that feels a bit like the people from a J.Crew catalogue met for a beer at a Restoration Hardware.

White everywhere, silver and wood accents and the occasional succulent dot the tasting room and, to be truthful, I felt just a little too old and a little too un-hipster to be drinking in this space but I did because I liked what I tried at the Great Canadian Beer Festival and what the hey, we are all beer geeks inside.

All in all it is not the most warm or inviting tasting room I have ever been in but at the same time the staff were informative and accommodating letting me take a peek behind the scenes and showing me their in-progress kitchen area and mentioning plans to have a rotation of food trucks available for patrons – waffle Sundays anyone?

Also, I have to say 33 Acres has really nice, if expensive, merchandising (ceramic growlers and surf boards) and clearly they have a cohesive vision for the aesthetic of their brewery.

33 Acres Bar

 

33 Acres Interior

33 Acres Merch

33 Acres Brewing Equip

But really I have been to tasting rooms that are little more than old garages and dingy basements so when it comes right down to it it is all about the beer you are pouring…

While I was there 33 Acres was serving 33 Acres of Life California Common and 33 Acres of Ocean West Coast Pale Ale both of which were available to GCBF patrons though word has it another seasonal is in the works (they had a seasonal called 33 Acres of Sunshine at the GCBF) but I could not get any more details than that.

33 Acres Samples

33 Acres of Life (4.8%) pours a bright copper penny colour with just a little white head and some lacing. Very good clarity and carbonation to this beer. You get a burnt sweetness on the nose and a rich caramel flavour as you drink with just the slightest bitterness. Fairly light in body. The finish is fairly sweet. Overall a very approachable beer though not terribly memorable.

33 Acres of Ocean (5.3%) pours a lighter amber/copper colour with a little white head, some lacing and very good clarity. In appearance remarkably similar to Life but just a lighter colour. One sniff of the nose tells you this is an entirely different beer. Sweet and piney hop-forward nose with an undercurrent of citrus. Light bodied, hoppy in flavour but not over-poweringly so and a clean finish. Overall a very nice pale ale that retains a West Coast character while not being a hop-bomb.

33 Acres Beer


New Brew (belated) Friday

It’s the weekend again beer folks and that means time to celebrate with what else, a new craft beer!

This time out I am trying a new brew from a new-to-me brewery Flemish Kiss from The Commons Brewery a 6.5% pale ale with Brett. In case you haven’t met him Brett is the guy that makes a good beer better or a least a little funkier.

 

Flemish Kiss from The Commons

 

Flemish Kiss pours a very hazy burnt orange colour with tons of white head and lots of lacing on the glass. You get that barnyard funk nose right away belaying the Brett within priming me for some big flavours but this beer is quite a bit lighter all-around than I expected. There is a touch of sweetness as you drink and Brett comes back in on the finish. Light bodied like a good pale ale should be, quite crisp and drinkable. Flemish Kiss is a pale ale that dipped a toe in the Brett pool. Personally, I can handle the big Brett beers but they are most definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. Overall an interesting beer that makes me want to sample more from this brewery.

As an aesthetic aside I really love the bottling, labels and general concept of The Commons Brewery ‘Gather around beer’. They have a neat Old World feel and it is a perfect fit with the type of beers they are brewing up.


You Down with OCB?

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In Canada, liquor laws are strange and intangible phenomena wherein each province seems to literally be marching to the beat of its own drum when it comes to craft beer.

In British Columbia, we have private and provincially run liquor stores and this provides us with a pretty impressive selection of Canadian and American craft brews. In Ontario however there are just two types of provincially operated liquor stores; the misnamed beer store and the LCBO. Beer stores are like a Costco for your average two-four toting, pick-up truck driving, ball-cap wearing kinda crowd. You pick your beer from the ‘beer wall’, pay at the cashier and said beer rolls out on a conveyor belt –no frills here folks. The LCBO fares a little better in terms of selection but they do not stray far outside provincial boundaries and the selection of 650ml’s is just sad.

 

Undeterred and partly to make up for missing the entire Vancouver Craft Beer Week (and oddly enough the Ontario Craft Beer Week as well) I managed to console myself with a number of interesting looking Ontario Craft Beers (OCB). Before I get to the beer allow me one caveat, largely unable to adjust to the hot and humid Ontario weather I tended to stick to the lighter end of the beer spectrum so no porters or stouts this time out.

Some of the beer I tried included Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co.’s Lug Tread Lagered Ale, Nickel Brook Brewing’s Organic Lager, F&M Brewing/Stone Hammer Beer’s Stone Hammer Pilsner, Black Creek Historic Brewery’s Pale Ale, Trafalgar Ales & Meads Paddy’s Irish Red, Grand River Brewing’s Galt Knife Old Style Lager, Cameron’s Brewing Dark 266, Amsterdam Brewing Co.’s Boneshaker Unfiltered, Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery’s Smashbomb Atomic IPA and Muskoka Brewery’s The Legendary Spring Oddity.

 

Some of the beer highlights were:

Lug Tread – Clear, straw gold lager/ale with a decent amount of stiff white head. Not the best nose on this beer, just a hint of skunky, but I tend to feel that way about most lagers so it could just be me. Very light in body, easy to drink and a slight nutty flavour on the finish. A great all-round ball-park kind of beer, something to reach for on a hot summer’s day.

Boneshaker (Unfiltered) – A cloudy, orange IPA with very little head. Strong citrus hop nose, flavour and finish but well balanced by the relatively high ABV of 7.1%. I really liked the complexity of flavours in this beer it was not just a straight up hop bomb. Love the label (or lack of) depicting a gold skeleton riding his bike.

The Legendary Spring Oddity – A challenging Belgian-esque beer with many complex flavours. Gold and hazy with lots of head and a sweet malty, slighty fruity nose. Kind of like a hefe meets abbey ale. Very drinkable with medium body, strong alcohol notes and a touch of bitterness on the finish. Sad to say this is a seasonal offering. Another great label showing a chimera like creature.

Smashbomb Atomic IPA – Deep orange in colour with a ton of cream coloured head. Like the Boneshaker, big on the citrus hop notes. Light in body, very crisp and easy to drink. Hoppy but not excessively so. Super fun graphics coming out of this brewery as the name suggests.

 

Several of the beers I tried during my visit are part of the Ontario Craft Beer six pack, which showcases the offerings from local breweries. I think this is fantastic way to sample the diversity of beers being brewed in the province and a good way to familiarize yourself with breweries you want to explore further. All and all a great trip back east, and while I would not hold the Ontario craft beer scene up with the BC craft beer scene I think there are some really great things brewing!


Who (or where) Brews it Best?

Tuesday night was fight night at Firefly Fine Wine and Ales as Lundy Dale from Pink Pints led a group of raucous beer geeks in a blind taste test to determine just where the best beer styles are coming from. Are European breweries with their distinguished pedigrees, years of brewing experience and matter-of-fact labeling making the best beers on the market? Or are the new-kids-on-the-tap North American microbreweries with their assertive ingredients, style bending combinations and cheeky labelling defining craft beer styles for future generations?

 

The nights line-up consisted of head-to-head match-ups in four common beer styles; Bohemian Pilsners, Belgian Tripels, English IPA’s and London Porters:

 

Bohemian Pilsners are a type of pale lager that originated in 1842 in the Czech town of Pilsen. Pilsners are a bottom fermented beer, which means a bottom-cropping yeast is used to produce the ale at low temperatures. They should be burnished gold in colour with notes of caramel and spice. Pilsners are hoppy and bitter but clean drinking. This is one of those cases where a singular beer defines the style.

For the blind taste test we sampled the grandfather of all pilsners Pilsner Urquell (Czech Republic) and Paddock Wood Brewing Company’s Czech Mate (Saskatoon).

Belgian Tripels, or Belgian Abbey Tripels, are Belgian beers with styles similar to Trappist ales but brewed by secular commercial breweries. Generally, Belgian beers favour malt flavours over hoppiness and have a unique flavour imparted by the regional yeast strain. Tripels are malty, spicy and highly carbonated. They are strong and have a honey like sweetness with a dry finish.

Our tasters were St. Bernadus (Belgium) and Unibroue’s La Fin Du Monde (Quebec).

 

English India Pale Ales are very close to the bitter beer style but tend to have more substance with tons of malt character while still maintaining the UK hop profile. Descended from October beers brewed in the English country side. English IPA’s are nutty and spicy in flavour with a bitter finish.

 

We tried Thornbridge Brewery’s Jaipur (UK) and Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s IPA (California).

 

London Porters are dark brown beers with roasted malt character and subtle hops. A diverse and hard-to-define style, Porters are considered to be the first industrialized beers. I like to think of them as stout’s kid brother but since they came around first I guess Porter are more like stout’s frail grandparent; this is merely to say they are lighter in body and often lower in ABV than their robust stout offspring.

Last up was Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter (UK) and Propeller Porter from Propeller Brewing Co. (Halifax).

 

It was not that easy to tell these beers apart in a side-by-side comparison, which speaks volumes about the overall quality of the craft beers being produced on both sides of the pond. Being a student of history and a fervent adherent to the adage ‘they don’t make em’ like they used to’, I assumed the European beers would be the exemplars of the styles with the North American brews being adequate representations BUT I was pleasantly reprimanded by the beers I tried.

Particularly impressive for me was Unibroue’s La Fin Du Monde, which could pass for a ‘true’ Belgian without question. Another interesting surprise was Thornbridge’s Jaipur, which on appearance alone did not even seem like it belonged in the IPA family yet it had a strong hop profile and nice dry finish. A very informative and challenging event!


Some Extra Special Blogging or Thoughts on Hops

I have mentioned this before but it bears repeating that every once in a while I get hop fatigued from all the big, brash IPA’s here on the West Coast, not to mention the generous hop profile of almost every other beer style out this way. When this ennui sets in I want something with just a touch of hoppy bitterness, or dare I say subtlety, while still maintaining the light bodied crispness of the pale ale family. Now before you start throwing holy water on me and shoving crucifixes in my face I absolutely have a place in my beer stockpile for the hop bombs but this time out I want to delve into the diversity of the bitter family.

 

Pale Ales and Bitters comprise one of those beer families where the style names tend to be used freely and interchangeably. According to Mosher in Tasting Beer, the term Pale Ale typically applies to bottled beers on the strong end of the range while Bitter generally refers to drafts of all strengths. Add into the mix the qualifiers “Ordinary”, “Best”, “Special” and “Extra Special Bitter or ESB” and we are not really that much further ahead in our understanding. For quite some time I simply thought IPA=USA and ESB=UK but this is a bit too simplistic.

At the heart of the style lay the common elements of lightly kilned pale ale malt, which imparts that subtle nutty flavour and just a bit of toastiness, and hops in varying quantities to add the requisite bitterness. India Pale Ales comprise the far end of the hop spectrum while the English Pale Ales and Bitters offer a more balanced profile but tend to blur the style boundaries. Turning back to Mosher, he suggests, English Pales Ales tend to be more substantial beers than bitters, can be brewed with all-malt versions and must display the English hop character (especially important to the aroma). I guess this leaves the term Bitter to denote everything else.

According to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Guidelines the English Pale Ales are divided into three styles Standard/Ordinary Bitter, Special/Best/Premium Bitter and Extra Special/Strong Bitter. I have included the ‘Overall Impressions’ provided in the guidelines to give you a rough idea of what differentiates the three bitters apart from adjectives:

Standard/Ordinary Bitter – Low gravity, low alcohol levels and low carbonation make this an easy-drinking beer. Some examples can be more malt balanced, but this should not override the overall bitter impression. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales.

Special/Best/Premium Bitter – A flavorful, yet refreshing, session beer. Some examples can be more malt balanced, but this should not override the overall bitter impression. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales.

Extra Special/Strong Bitter – An average-strength to moderately-strong English ale. The balance may be fairly even between malt and hops to somewhat bitter. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales. A rather broad style that allows for considerable interpretation by the brewer.

 

Got that? Me neither, so let me try to put this into terms that speak to what really matters to beer geeks …what do I put in my fridge?

 

For this portion of the show I present two examples of the style for your considerations. The first is East Side Bitter from R & B Brewing Co. This beer is named after a vibrant area in Vancouver, and the bottle sports a great label featuring street signs, a transformer and shoes hanging from the power lines. Rick and Barry (R & B) describe the beer as “not your typical English Extra Special Bitter. Northwest hops and lots of them added to the kettle and a ridiculous amount added post fermentation give this beer its unique aroma and crisp refreshing finish.” The second beer is Extra Special Barney from Full Sail Brewing Company. This beer is the part of the Brewer’s Share series from Full Sail; four times a year the brewery lets the brewers create at will and then the winner’s brew is shared with the “entire beer-geekosphere”. Extra Special Barney is the winning creation from brewer Barney Brennan. The beer is described as “a nicely balanced small batch bitter…featuring five different specialty malts and aromatic Challenger hops.”

Before I move onto my reviews can I just say kudos to both brewers for their clever use of acronyms, as a geek in general (not just a beer geek) I appreciate the word play.

East Side Bitter – A clear, copper/amber coloured beer with tons of cream coloured head that sticks around. Very hop heavy on the nose with pine notes and some floral elements. Bitter taste at the front of the mouth and a slightly sticky mouthfeel. The hop character seems to be all in the mouthfeel with a surprisingly subtle finish. Settles nicely, becoming smoother as it warms in the glass. An ABV of 5.5%. Overall 3.5/5

Extra Special Barney – Pours clear light amber with a small amount of white head. Subtle malt on the nose and a caramel, fruit sweetness in the mouthfeel. Some hops come through in the flavour but not overwhelmingly so. Medium bodied with a bitter, burnt toast, finish. Like the East Side Bitter it warms nicely in the glass smoothing out the flavours. An ABV of 6.5%. Overall 4/5


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