Category Archives: Saison

Kawartha Craft Beer Festival

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It has been quite some time since I have had the opportunity to put my beer skills to work so when I saw a local beer festival advertised I heard the hoppy siren song…

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The Kawartha Craft Beer Festival took place in Peterborough Ontario this weekend. The venue was Millennium Park, which is located alongside the river in the city’s downtown. The park provided a picturesque setting with lots of green space to sit and sip. The organizers had several food options, live music and a total of eleven brewers and one cidery in participation. So while technically it was the smallest beer festival I ever attended they put on a good show nonetheless.

 

I am still really getting to know the Ontario craft beer scene so there were lots of new-to-me breweries to explore (one of the best things about beer fests) as well as some familiar faces.

A lot of the breweries stepped up on their serving options, maybe to compensate for the smaller size of the festival, with multiple booths pouring from kegs, bottles and cans.

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Compared to many other festivals I have attended this was a pretty subdued drinking crowd; I do not recall seeing a single drindl or even a person in costume! To be fair this is only the festival’s second year so give it time for the fanboys and fangirls to come out en masse and I definitely was not the only note-taking, picture-snapping, beer geek in attendance so just a heads up Peterborough.

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A few of the standout brews for me were the festival-only option from Port Perry’s Old Flame Brewing Company, a regular line-up beer brewed with stone fruit and the Saison from Bobcaygen Brewing Company based out of, well c’mon guess, Bobcaygen.

I also have to give an honourable mention to Church-Key Brewing Company from Campbellford who brought a Brett beer, which I was so happy to see …for this sour gal it was like finding a long lost friend. Sadly, this Brett brew did not pack the funky, sour wallop I had hoped for but kudos for bringing some sourness to the province.

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My gluten-free hubby (who also happens to be my only hubby) made do with the two offerings from County Cider Company, who brought a Ginger Peach Cider and their very nice, dry Waupoos cider. He also indulged in some olfactory appreciation of my selections.

Overall a pleasant evening spent sipping beer alongside the river and a great reminder of what I have been missing as of late. Perhaps I have been away too long, beer my old friend…

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Saison Saturday

I am finally coming back around to saison style beers.

Initially farmhouse beers were one of my favourite styles but as more and more breweries tried their hand at crafting their own version I found myself sampling more and more misses than hits. After which I became a bit burnt out on the whole concept so like any diligent beer geek I quit cold turkey.

Perhaps it was my recent uprooting that got me (re)thinking that it was time to check back in or perhaps it was the fact that hot Ontario summers demand a different kind of beer but I got curious to see just what kind of saisons are brewing now.

So as I sit outside on this very warm and breezy Saturday listening to my neighbours blare music with lyrics like "Country girl, shake it for me" I am indulging in Saison from Black Oak Brewing Co. based in Toronto.

This unfiltered Belgian style ale pours a hazy, well carbonated orange colour with some airy white head. This beer has a big yeasty nose with lots of coriander. First few sips are light bodied, very orange flavoured with a slight funky taste. As you drink the citrus really stays at the forefront. Not a challenging saison but a perfect thirst quencher for a sunny Saturday. It is like a wheat beer infused with oranges, more than that little slice on the side of your glass usually imparts. The coriander and clove spiciness hits the back of your throat the more you drink while the finish brings the yeast back into the mix. Overall a very, very nice beer one that is making me think I stayed away from saisons a little too long…

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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


A Beer for all Saisons

A couple of years back now, and many posts ago, I wrote about the history of saison beers. At the time saisons or farmhouse ales were somewhat of a novelty but like many great fads saisons appear to be enjoying a bit of a renaissance this craft beer season.

So here is a bit of my original post on the origins of the style.

Saison is French for season and it was believed saison style ales were brewed in the autumn or winter for consumption during the following summer’s harvest.

However, according to Mosher’s Tasting Beer the current story about saisons being brewed to sustain workers  during the labour season, while quaint, is not exactly historically accurate. Rather the term saison applied to the eccentric beers of Liège as well as the beers of Mons in an area now known as the Saison region.

The commonalities uniting these beers were the ingredients used, saisons being brewed with a regional yeast strains, malt, wheat, oats, spelt and even buckwheat or broad beans, and not the coalitions of thirsty farmers and their intrepid beer-brewing wives – though personally I find the farmer version much more romantic.

Mosher suggests that fast forward to the twentieth century and the modern day versions of these saison beers may or may not contain wheat, tend to be bottle conditioned and have a higher ABV. One of the defining elements of this newly named style is the yeast, a ‘slow cranky’ strain believed to be related to red wine yeast.  This yeast is quite heat tolerant and produces lots of peppery phenols.  Spices are optional but pepper, orange, malts and grains of paradise are sometimes added.

A Saison Darkly

While I don’t have much new to report on the historical origins front I have tried a saison worth blogging about, A Saison Darkly from Stillwater Artisinal Ales.

This is the first beer I have tried from this brewery but I am a long-time admirer of the incredible artwork adorning the labels of their beers and I was intrigued enough by the promise of a dark take on the saison style to bring one home.

A Saison Darkly 8% ABV (great beer name to go with a gorgeous label) pours dark brown black with lots of mocha coloured head on the initial pour. There is pretty decent head retention on this beer. Lots of sediment remains in the bottom of the bottle, most decidedly the mark of a good saison, and there is a bit of cloudiness and sediment in the glass. A funky yeasty nose but there is also a coffee chocolate dark beer element to the nose. First couple of sips and this beer speaks more to the dark beer character rather than the farmhouse. I find the saison style gets a bit overwhelmed by the roasty malty character of this beer but that does not necessarily mean this is an inequitable partnership. As you drink the yeastiness comes through now and then reminding you you are not drinking a straight-up porter. Overall I think this is a great blending of styles and I look forward to sampling more from the Stillwater line-up.


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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Still Drinking My Way Around BC …Patience is a Virtue

I have been dutifully continuing with my plan to become a craft beer locavore by sampling another three beers brewed right here in beautiful British Columbia – I also put in some time at St. Augustine’s purely for research’s sake.

In terms of BC beer selection this time out I bought my brews from the provincial liquor store so I am not skewing my education by only shopping at the Central City Liquor Store.

So what’s on the agenda this time around? Deckhand Belgian Saison from Lighthouse Brewing Company in Victoria, Dark Star Oatmeal Stout by R&B Brewing Company from Vancouver and French Oaked Stiff Stout from Dead Frog Brewing in Aldergrove.

Deckhand Belgian Saison: Pours straw gold with a ton of white head that quickly dissipates. Beer label is a neat idea, Sailor Jerry tattoo style designed by a local artist, but the overall aesthetics are not my favourite. Requisite amount of cloudiness for the style. Strong sour yeast nose with an almost chalky mouthfeel on the first sip. Gives way to competing notes of bitter and pepper that generally work well in a saison but tend to overpower this beer since it is quite light bodied. All the flavour seems to some at you right away but no element lingers for an aftertaste. Mellowed out when it warmed easing up the sharp tastes.

Dark Star Oatmeal Stout: Pours a lovely dark chestnut/black, clear with a minimal amount of caramel coloured head. An okay bottle graphic nothing memorable. Very astringent on the nose, almost rubbing alcohol like, but thankfully this disperses as the beer sits out. Nose evolves into roasted coffee notes. Very light in body for a stout and not a lot of flavour in the mouthfeel besides coffee. Reminds me Mill St. Coffee Porter. Much like the first beer, Dark Star improves with a bit of warming giving the beer a bit of depth.

French Oaked Stiff Stout: Pours deepest black stout, clear with a rapidly disappearing head. Not a fan of the Dead Frog labels but to each their own. This oaked beer is part of their “Beer Master Series”. The Stiff Stout has an oaky, sweet nose and a sticky mouthfeel. A bit more depth in the body compared to the Dark Star. Complex flavours that warms well. There is nice sweet malt on the finish.

The Verdict – I give this round to Dead Frog’s French Oaked Stiff Stout.


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