Category Archives: Red Ale

A Pint fit for a Vulcan



I am sure by now everyone has heard of Leonard Nimoy’s passing. A relatively recent Trek convert, I actually saw Mr. Nimoy speak at a convention before I had even watched the original Star Trek series. I was impressed with his humour, warmth and obvious love for his fans. Stories of his cast mates hiding his bicycle during show tapings highlighted Mr. Nimoy’s good nature, and hearing him speak fondly of his friendship with William Shatner made him seem genuine and down-to-earth (no pun intended). Seeing Mr. Nimoy’s self-deferential cameos on Futurama and The Simpsons showed he could playfully poke fun at that blurry line between the man and the character he made famous. I’ll have to admit I was becoming a Spock fan.

After I returned home I embarked, with my ever-so-nerdy hubby, on my own little “trek” to figure out just why people loved the show so much. Much to my surprise I found it campy and fun with the Spock and Kirk bromance imparting a sense of heart. So in the end I joined the legions before me who have enjoyed the final frontier. 

When me husband shared the news with me that Mr. Nimoy had died he and I both felt someone unique was gone. That evening he and I shared our own form of remembrance. The hubby put on some Leonard Nimoy vinyl and I finally got around to opening my can of Vulcan Ale so I could raise a pint to his memory.

Vulcan Ale, brewed by Harvest Moon Brewing in honour of the 2013 centennial celebration of Vulcan Alberta, is an Irish red ale that pours a nice dark reddish chestnut colour with a light cream coloured head and a slightly sweet nose. Right out of the fridge this beer is pretty good though when you have to add the caveat ‘drink cold’ it does not really bode well. Pretty standard in flavour profile, malt forward, a bit of caramel sweetness and a slight toasted character. As it warmed this one seemed a little off to me but in fairness this beer may have been lingering in my fridge a little too long. Overall it was an okay beer, not bad per se but nothing I would add to my regular rotation more of a silly one-off appealing to my inner nerd.

In the end the man was far more memorable than the Vulcan Ale raised to his memory. 

Boldly go Mr. Nimoy, you are missed…









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Can you dig it?

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Well it is official I am East and that means it is time to begin exploring a whole new craft beer scene.

Since Ontario is controlled by the Big Brother of beer aka The Beer Store and the LCBO the choice is somewhat less diverse and less abundant than the options available to BC beer geeks (we are spoiled and don’t forget it).

Nonetheless I did manage to locate a mixed up six of various interesting looking local beers five of which came in cans -very throwback eh.

First up is Spark House Red Ale from Lake of the Bays Brewing Company based in Baysville, Ontario. Spark House pours a very clear reddish brown with lots of cream coloured head. The nose is very slight with overtones of chocolate and a slight funkiness. First few sips are very light bodied with lots of chocolate malt flavour. As you drink the malts continue to be the main feature giving this beer a sweetness that at times borders on cloying. It wraps up with a sweet malty finish. Not the typical red ale profile I was expecting but interesting nonetheless and quite session able at 5% ABV.


Don’t Drink Green, Go Red Instead!

Russell Luck of the Irish

 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day beer lovers!

While the masses may be reaching for pints of green-hued lagers the craft beer legions know that real geeks celebrate the day by eschewing green and going red instead.

Red ales are malt-forward, light-bodied, often session-like, slightly sweet brews that just beg to be served by the pitcher.

 

Luck of the Irish

 

I am marking the day with Luck of the Irish from Russell Brewing Company, a 5% ABV Red Ale.

Luck of the Irish pours a lovely clear red (duh) colour with lots of cream coloured head and great head retention. As always Russell impresses with their bottle, which is a no-label painted bottle using varying green tones and simple well-placed graphics. There are subtle notes of roasted grain on the nose and maybe a bit of sweetness. This red ale is a thin brew with sweet caramel and toasted grain flavours. It is very clean on the finish with just the tiniest hint at bitterness.

Overall a very sessionable, and thereby drinkable, beer that is a great way to start a night that inevitably must end with a big bold stout 😉

 

Red Ale


New Brew Friday

It’s the end of the week again (funny how that happens with such regularity) and that means it is time for a new brew review. I spent the start of my week in Seattle so I thought I would offer up a review of a local beer from Epic Ales.

 

Rooibos Red

 

Rooibos Red 7% ABV is a “hearty malty west coast red, made complex with loads of rooibos tea”.

Rooibos Red pours a very cloudy ice tea colour with lots of carbonation and just a little bright white airy head. There is a lot of cold tea aroma on the nose and some maltiness. A thin bodied beer with tons of tea flavour, a little like tea that has been steeped a bit too long, lots of malt, a bit of smokiness and just a touch of sweet. The finish is quite tannin heavy as well. Conceptually I like this idea and I like the quality tea imparts on beer making it somewhat tepid; however, I found this one a bit of a miss.


They say you can’t go home again

Philosophically speaking this rings true but when visiting the place of one’s birth you can take time to try lots of different beers so in a way (a somewhat obscure way) you can make it feel like home again by bringing your wonderful beer geekiness with you in your travels.

Okay so that probably doesn’t make sense but I am stretching for an introduction to highlight the fact I am back from Ontario after an extended visit with the family and while there I visited a couple of local tap rooms and tried lots of interesting craft beers that never make their way out west.

Specifically, I was in Peterborough, Ontario a mid-size city that boasts a couple of breweries, The Old Stone Brewing Co. and The Publican House Brewery and a couple of tap rooms St. Veronus Cafe and Tap Room and  Ashburnham Ale House.

Each time I come home I make a concerted effort to try all the Ontario and Eastern US beers I can find as well as visit anything new that falls on my radar.

Ashburnham Ale House

Ashburnham Ale House is new to Peterborough and it is located in the old part of town known historically as Ashburnham (now East City). I was really excited when I read about this tap room, local beers, rotating taps, eco decor and a great location. The Ale House is a large space heavy on the wood and leather accents and equally heavy on the meat menu. Seeing that me and the vegan hubby were not going to be eating we decided to head on over to the bar to enjoy some craft beer.

Ashburnham Ale House

Ashburnham Ale House

In an almost completely empty space we were seated, immediately asked what we wanted and then left to fend for ourselves. Inquiring about the rotating taps we were told the names of the beers and the ABV with no real description, when I asked again another server gave me a totally different ABV -do people really only pick a beer based on the alcohol content???

The bottles were listed on the menu but no descriptions were provided. Somehow I expected the staff to be a bit more enthusiastic about the beer in a tap room! After looking over the bottle and tap selection we decided to try a flight of everything on tap but sadly they have no flights and no small pours.

Overall, I was really disappointed in Ashburnham Ale House and I hope they get some passionate beer geeks to make this space come alive.

 

Thankfully we were able to head to St. Veronus Cafe and Tap Room, which beer for beer may be one of the best tap rooms I have ever been to. Their beer menu is extensive focusing on Belgian beer but also boasting a nice selection of Canadian options. They always manage to find something unique to have on tap and the rare bottles are numerous (the photo below is one of three pages!).

St. Veronus

St. Veronus

While there the hubby and I tried a couple of Rodenbachs a (mildy) sour Flanders Red Ale, the Bacchus a Flanders Oud Bruin described (accurately) as tasting like flat coke and the Gueuze Fond Tradition a tart unsweetened lambic. All the beers were interesting and the server really knew his stuff. Oh and did I mention the food? Well it is incredible, savoury, filling and creative with options to fit even the pickiest eater in our party.

Stay tuned for more of my beer explorations in Ontario…


P.E.I. has B.E.E.R

It has been awhile since I have blogged due mostly to the unscheduled removal of my appendix and the resulting doctor imposed dry-spell, which put a serious damper on my craft beer sampling not to mention the challenges imposed on my mental faculties by taking heavy-duty pain killers.

 

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Thankfully I am feeling much more like my old self so I celebrated this emergence from liminality by sampling a quartet of craft brews from Gahan House Brewery  courtesy of some very good friends who remembered that, when you travel, beer makes the best souvenir for the beer geek in your life!

 

Gahan House, originally known as Murphy’s Brewing Co., opened in March 1997 and currently it is P.E.I.’s only brewery (it’s a small island for those who have not visited). As the brewery’s popularity grew they relocated to the Gahan House in Old Charlottetown to meet production needs. In 2000 the brewery changed their name to reflect their connection to the Island’s history; according to the brewery’s website John Gahan was a prominent merchant who imported teas, wines and family groceries. By 2008 Gahan House had begun bottling two of its’ handcrafted ales, Island Red Premium Ale and Sir John A’s Honey Wheat Ale.

 

Iron Horse Brown Ale 1772 IPA

Island Red Premium Red Ale

Sir John A's Honey Wheat Ale

 

 

There are seven beers in the Gahan House line-up, four of which are available bottled. After trying all four of their beers one word comes to mind …safe. Now this is not meant to disparage but rather to comment on the fact that this brewery makes four very consistent beers that typify their style while not pushing any boundaries per se. All four beers shared a few features in common, they are very clean, clear, light and drinkable. Of the four I enjoyed the Island Red and the 1772 IPA the most. Gahan House is one of those brewery’s you could readily take a ‘big’ beer drinker to if you wanted to ease them into the world of craft beer.

 

Overall a nice line-up of beers, not mind-blowing, but very drinkable and I really like their commitment to reflecting their historical ties to the Island, specifically and Canadian history, broadly.


Baby, why are you so Sour?

Somewhat contrary to my fellow beer geeks, when I first started exploring craft beer one of the more challenging styles quickly emerged as my favourite and that style is soured beer. I  know this category of beer is not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ and in fact many people are initially turned off by the often over-powering tartness of  a gueze or an oud bruin but if you think you are not a fan of wild ales you really do not know what you are missing.

 

Sour Beer from Cascade Barrel House

Sour Beer from Cascade Barrel House

 

Sour beer is technically not a style in and of itself, rather it is a process of using bacterial infection to impart tartness while fermenting and/or beer, as such under this broad category there is a range of flavours and, well, sourness from sweet and fruity lambics, to the deep and rich sour brown ales, to the accessible Flanders red ales, to the straight lambics, which offer no apologies for their tart kick.

Historically, lambic beers (a style of beer brewed with aged hops and a high proportion of unmalted wheat) were spontaneously fermented. That is to say you basically do the opposite of everything you learned in homebrew school and intentionally infect your wort with some of the many microscopic critter floating around in the air. The different resultant bacterial infections all work to ferment the beer while it ages in wooden barrels (the wooden barrel being a natural haven for microbes). Ensuring consistency is near impossible for the sour beer brewer so the resultant batches are blended to achieve the desired tartness levels.

According to Mosher in Tasting Beer, when Lindemans expanded their brewery they took a portion of their old wall and bolted it in their new building in order to preserve their signature mix of beneficial bugs.

 

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In modern times, the souring of beer is less by chance i.e. opening a window and hoping for the best but really not by much.

Bacterial agents like lactobacillus, brettanomyces and pediococcus are systematically introduced to the fermentation process; however, the outcome remains somewhat unpredictable and the time commitment to brew a sour beer is significant compared pretty much any other beer style think years versus months. Blending remains the most viable means to ensure the sourness of your beer is at a level that is drinkable.

 

Beet Sour Beer from Epic Ales

Beet Sour Beer from Epic Ales

 

Once the sole domain of dedicated Belgian brewers devoted to the art of brewing sour beers, wild ales are carving out an impressive niche in Europe and North America. Russian River, Cascade Brewing, Jolly Pumpkin and Epic Ales are all making a name for themselves in pursuit of excellent sourness.

A little more north Oud Bruin from Yaletown Brewing Company and Driftwood’s Bird of Prey Flanders Red are showing Canadian brewers are also getting on the sour bandwagon.

 

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Is sour beer the next big thing in the craft beer world? Well, not to self-promote (too much) I have to say I saw this one coming for quite sometime now. I even wrote a post called ‘Love is a Sour Delight’ back in February of 2011 espousing the wonder that is sour beer. If you require further confirmation, you just need walk into any decent beer store and observe the number of barrel-aged, wild and wine-blended beers now on the market.

As we move into warmer weather I urge my fellow beer geeks to crack open a bottle of sour beer on a warm summer night and tell me this isn’t one of the best affirmations they have ever had that craft beer will one day rule the world.

 


Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

shamrock

St. Patrick’s Day celebrates the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick, and his arrival, along with Christianity, to Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day in the seventeenth century. Celebrations frequently include parades, festivals, the wearing of the green, tributes to Irish culture and Church services for the religious.

 

Where does Beer fit in?

For those that commemorate the religious aspect of the holiday, on St. Patrick’s Day Lenten restrictions are lifted so people are free to indulge (or overindulge) in feasting and drinking alcohol.

 

And why are we colouring our Beer green again?

The ‘wearing of the green’ originally referred to the act of pinning a shamrock to your clothing for the holiday. It is believed that Saint Patrick explained the Holy Trinity to people using the shamrock as an example. From this humble tradition emerged an explosion of green-hued everything to mark the day.

 

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Don’t drink green drink red instead.

For those less than keen to add an infusion of green food colouring to their favourite brew I encourage you to think red instead as there are many great Irish Red Ales out there to help you feel a little more Irish today.

 

Beer Advocate describes Irish Red Ales as follows:

A bit sweet, with a lightly hopped tea-like flavor, and an even dextrinous body, Irish Red Ales are easy to please. Look for well-rounded and balanced flavors, and a pleasant toasted malt character in many examples. A drying finish is common.

 

Some beer choices to ponder:

3 Floyds Brian Boru Irish Brand Red Ale

Great Lakes Brewing Conway’s Irish Ale

Granville Island Brewing Irish Red

Boulevard Brewing Irish Ale

Boundary Bay Irish Red

Russell Brewing Company Luck of the Irish Red Ale

Silver City Ridgetop Red

 

Slainte!


A Little Taste of Italian Beer

Recently I had the chance to sample several Italian craft beers, courtesy of my more worldly beer geek friends, and it was an interesting opportunity to see the direction craft beer is taking outside of the more familiar beer loving countries.

Craft beer seems to be fostering a niche for itself in new locations by fitting into the existing culture in quirky and unexpected ways.

For instance, the Italian craft brews we sampled were purchased at a beer and book store (this may be as close to heaven on earth as it gets for me). While the store may not be able to boast about volume there was definitely enough variety to give pause to even the most ardent wine lover. Also, targeting book nerds in an effort to re-direct a bit of that nerdiness towards craft beer …brilliant.

 

An ad from one of the breweries we tried:

As I have long maintained, at their hearts beer geeks are, well, geeks; they appreciate quality over quantity, quirky over conventional, personal over generic and in this sense tapping into a previously untapped craft beer market may not be that complicated after all.

Look at the Italian Bruton  Beer, who according to John Curtis from Eating Las Vegas, are creating beers that “are Belgian-inspired, but highly idiosyncratic and slap-my-ass-and-call-me-Sally delicious.”

Really, I could not say it any better myself.

 

But as always I digress so I will get back to the beer; apologies in advance for my inept Italian I am sure I have garbled the beer names to the point of near illegibility:

 

Birra Amacord Tosca Chiara Doppio Malto [Lager] – Gold in colour, cloudy with a small amount of white head. Heavy on the malt and hop flavours compared to a North American Lager.

Piccolo birrificio clandestino Cinque E Cinque [Blonde] – Deep gold in colour and cloudy with white head. Sweet malt flavour and very smooth to drink.

Birrificio Bruton Stone [Blonde] – Gold and cloudy with white head. A very sweet and malty blonde. A blonde with a bit of a kick.

Piccolo birrificio clandestino Santa Giulia [American Brown Ale] – Brown and sediment heavy with caramel notes on the nose. Well-balanced with sweet malts and a bitter hoppy finish. Medium to full bodied beer.

Birrificio Bruton Lilith [Red Ale] – Red colour with lots of head. Hop heavy on the nose and fairly light bodied.

Birrificio Math LA 16 – Lots of caramel nose, very cloudy, amber colour and quite a decent amount of hop.

 

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Overall Italian brewers seems to be embracing Belgian-inspired, cloudy, malt-forward beers with hops introduced to bitter the finish. The Italian beer we sampled played it safe flavour-wise (no watermelon anchovy beers here) and appeared to prioritize high-quality ingredients and subtle character.

 

Craft beer is definitely making inroads into new areas and expanding the beer geek legion in the process but I do not think wine has any need to be afraid of being replaced as Italians’ drink of choice …not yet anyway (mwah ha ha).


Drowning in a Sea of Green in Seattle

Elysian Brewing Co. Research

 

This St. Patrick’s Day long weekend (well I took a long weekend anyway) found me sipping my way around some of Seattle’s breweries and maxing out my cross-border beer allowance. There is always a great energy in Seattle, and this trip was no exception as Pike Place Market was awash with live music, tourists and emerald clad runners looking to put back on any calories they may have burned off during the morning’s run.

 

First stop for us was The Pike Brewing Co. a veritable Seattle institution. It was beyond packed thanks in part to the fact they were serving three dollar pints of Naughty Nellie and Kilt Lifter at a cash-bar located in the brewery basement. Deciding to opt-out of the hour-long wait for an actual table we saddled up to the bar to do a little reconnaissance. After flagging down the harried barkeep we worked our way through The Pike Sampler, which proffers the standard six offerings from Pike:

Naughty Nellie is a Golden Organic Artisan Ale named for the madam at LaSalle where Pike was founded (beer and brothels together at last). A crisp, light ale with a 4.7% ABV and IBU of 24. Safe choice for the hard-drinking St. Paddy’s crowd since it was very quaffable or as Pike puts it ‘light and curvy with plenty of sex appeal’.

Pike Pale Ale an heirloom amber, 5.0% ABV and IBU 32, with that classic nutty character and reddish-brown colour. Apparently this is the first beer Pike brewed in 1989.

Pike IPA India Pale Ale for those residing is some sort of beer exile for the last two hundred years- a golden amber pour with lots of in-your-face hop character; a little bit flower and a little bit soap. An ABV of 6.3% and IBU of 62. Rumour has it this beer is one of the ‘300 Beers to Try Before You Die’. Mark it off my bucket list then.

Pike Kilt Lifter a lovely Scotch Ale that is ruby-amber and full of sweet malt elements. ABV of 6.5% and IBU of 27, Kilt Lifter is well-balanced with some bitter hops and a bit of a smoky character.

Pike XXXXX Extra Stout boasts a 7.0% ABV and IBU 65. ‘Sensuous and X rated’ this deep amber black beer has a ton of roast coffee flavour, a little bit of sweet chocolate and a nice burnt aftertaste.

Pike Monk’s Uncle is a Tripel (read Belgian) Ale with the heftiest ABV at 9.0% and IBU 34. Yeasty and sweet, whoa boy is this one sweet, brewed with organic candy sugar. A bit of fruit and a dry finish but I think the sugars ate all the yeast (and it is not even supposed to work that way).

 

Pike Thoughts: Kilt Lifter and the Pale Ale were my favourite beers, great brewpub with a great location in the market, cool beer swag and fun atmosphere – I would like to offer a shout out to the very drunk Southern gentleman drinking solo at the bar and trying to read the script on my tattoo upside down; you just can’t stage those kind of Kodak moments.

 

Next stop was Elysian Brewing Company’s brewpub in the Capitol Hill district; another great location in a trendy little region of the city boasting lots of coffee, foodie joints and general hipster-ness. We managed to work our way through two taster flights this time round and the rule is the resident beer geek does the selecting for you …fun!

From the regular line-up we tried The Immortal IPA, Mens’ Room Red, Dragonstooth Stout, Wise ESB, Avatar Jasmine IPA and Idiot Sauvin IPA. From the specialty beer line-up we sampled:

Bifrost Winter Ale a 7.6% hop-heavy beer balanced with a couple of different malts. ‘Bold, hoppy and smooth’ is the description from the brewers. For those who have not watched Thor, Bifrost is the mythical bridge connecting the mortal world to the heavens in Norse mythology.

Ryezome a 6.2% ABV beer aptly described as a ‘hoppy red rye’. Tons of bitterness tempered with that distinctive soured sweetness, which is the hallmark of rye.

Loki Lager ‘a smooth Dortmund-style lager’ with 4.8% ABV. Golden in colour with that elusive balance of malt and hop that makes a highly drinkable ball-park beer. Named for the Norse god and jester Loki.

Mongrel ‘Cascadian dark saison’ weighing in at a respectable 8.2% ABV. A little earthiness to this one, lots of malt and an extremely dry finish but somehow not quite reaching that saison benchmark.

Cocoa Mole from New Belgium Brewing Co. A 9% ABV monster chock full of chocolate and heat but surprisingly easy to drink with sweet malts and decent body to temper the chili peppers.

 

Elysian Thoughts: I really loved the beers we tried especially the Avatar and Loki BUT (notice this is a big but) the whole experience was tainted by the awful food, we left it virtually untouched but were charged nonetheless, and by the very mediocre service, I don’t think we ever saw the same server twice. I was surprised to see how much my view of the beer selection was impacted by the rest of my visit.

 

In addition to our brewery visits, we went to Full Throttle Bottles for the first time to do a little beer shopping and it was a pretty amazing little store. Situated in an up-and-coming part of Seattle this store was overflowing with ambience, wicked beer selections, and knowledgeable staff more than willing to talk shop with fellow beer geeks. I highly recommend taking the time to visit this beer shop next time you are in the Seattle area.

Some other recommendations from my beer shopping include Adam and Fred from Hair of the Dog (two separate beers) and Noble Rot from Dogfish Head. All three were outstanding beers.

 

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