Tag Archives: Beer Reviews

New Brew Friday

TGIF fellow beer enthusiasts.

In honour of the end of the week and the dawn of the weekend I thought I would offer up a review of a weekend beer – read big bottle, complex flavours and higher ABV.

 

This week I am reviewing a beer from one of my favourite breweries BrewDog’s Dogma a 7.8% ale brewed with honey, kola nut (a caffeine-containing nut), poppy seed and guarana (a fruit with twice the caffeine of a coffee bean).

 

BrewDog Dogma

 

Dogma pours a cloudy, rusty orange colour with lots of off-white head.  The head dies off to a light skim with some nice lacing. There is a ton of malt coming through on the nose with a slight raw nut aroma. Like the nose belies this beer is about as malt forward as you can get from first sip to finish the palate is dominated with a rich, cloying sweetness and roastiness. There is a nice amount of body to this beer, which allows it to carry the big tastes and at the same time giving Dogma a slight warming quality. There is also a honeyed sweetness you can taste as you drink. As I mentioned the finish is malty but fairly subtle all in all.

Like many other beers brewed with multiple add-ins (I keep picturing the Baskin Robbins sundae bar) I feel like I cannot untangle what exactly each addition brings to the beer but setting aside the ingredient over-enthusiasm as a malt forward beer I quite like Dogma and would recommend it to fellow malt enthusiasts or those looking to get their caffeine fix sans coffee.

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Putting the ‘I’ in beer review?

Recently I read a blog post on the importance of maintaining standards in beer reviews. By using established terminologies in a consistent manner when we assess beer we are being fair to the breweries while ensuring the integrity of reviewers and educating our readership.

 

In many ways I see their point, if we all employ a common vocabulary brewers can feel assured their beers are given due consideration regardless of whether the reviewer personally likes or dislikes a particular style (or brewery) and beer would be held to task for how well it meets style standards. To sum, it would be a hands-round-the-world kind of place where every beer was indiscriminately judged solely on the contents of its bottle.

Luckily an arena already exists for this dispassionate evaluation of beer. We call it beer judging. In this forum, everyone has access to the same playbook, the points are more or less agreed upon, and beers are submitted to be held up to these agreed upon standards. The outcomes are not arbitrary and there is an expectation that bias will be minimized to the extent that it is humanly possible. Such standards are a form of quality control and generally function to ensure the craft beer world remains at the top of its game. We essentially bestow grades upon beers and let the people drink accordingly.

 

But is this really what we want when we turn to the internet to find out what someone thinks about any given beer? Do we merely want a reiteration of the technical specs we can readily obtain from the bottler or a numerical assessment of how well a beer conforms? Or are we looking for something a little less tangible and a lot more personal?

 

Obviously beer judging and beer reviews are not necessarily one in the same. While judging strives for an unbiased neutrality, reviews are the vehicle for the personal expression of taste. Anyone can drink any beer they want, turn to social media and tell the world what they think. Beer reviews offer no pretense of non-bias rather they are biased by nature yet I would also argue if we are going to be honest neither format is truly ever void of the influence of the reviewer and I do not think this is a bad thing.

We must be cognizant of the fact that there is no such thing as neutral writing and consequently there can be no truly unbiased assessments  We all bring to the table years of learned behaviours, assumptions and attitudes, sometimes these opinions are apparent to us and sometimes they are so ingrained we are almost unaware of their very existence. Failure to situate ourselves in any form of narrative does not equal the absence of our influence.

 

So what does all my rambling mean? Should we trust what reviewers are telling us? Well, I guess it all depends on what you want from a beer review. If you want consensus of popular opinion go to rate beer and if you want informed critical opinion follow the beer judges but if you want a peek at the reviewer behind the beer you have an endless world of possibilities.

 

For me, when it comes to beer reviews I do want to know what people think, how they feel and why. I want to find the writer in the review, to understand another person’s way of knowing the world. I want one person to make an impassioned case for why they love something while another person offers an equally impassioned argument for the opposite view. I want to see the writer’s quirky neurosis laid bare, for them to opine correctly or incorrectly about any and every facet of the craft beer world. It is called freedom of expression and it is what makes blogging so much fun because in the end it is about the formation of a relationship between a writer and a reader. It is letting someone else into your head and sharing your point of view with them. So take what I write with a proverbial grain of salt, don’t always expect me to like what you like or for me to follow popular consensus but do know behind every review is me.

 

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Pumpkin Beer Eight, A Good First Date

Day 8. I am starting to wonder if I will ever be able to reach into my fridge and drink one of my many non-pumpkin offerings ever again, this makes me a little sad, but I soldier on for the greater good …the greater good.

 

 

St. Ambroise Pumpkin Ale is deep amber coloured ale with lots of head on the initial pour. This ale has amazing clarity and your standard complement of pumpkin spices on the nose tinged with just a little bit of sourness. Malt and spices are the dominate flavours when you drink. As it warms the earthy pumpkin element comes to the forefront. Overall a very clean drinking beer; it is pretty light bodied and tastes uber filtered. Not a lot of finish to this beer but I really don’t mind the simplicity makes this one.

 

St. Ambroise Pumpkin Ale is an excellent starter pumpkin beer; a well-balanced ale with all the right pumpkin and pumpkin pie notes plus it is available at the BC Liqour Stores so you can get it pretty much anywhere.

 

I give this one eight candy corns out of a possible ten.

 

 

 

The world’s fastest time to carve a face into a pumpkin is 20.1 seconds, by David Finkle (UK), on October 7, 2010 – Guinness World Records


Pumpkin Beer Seven, A Little Taste of Heaven

Punkin Ale from Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales marks one week into my kooky pumpkin project and since I am still enjoying the ales I sample that is a pretty good sign I just might make it all the way to Halloween.

 

 

Punkin Ale pours a very clear deep orange with a small amount of white head that has really good retention. There is lots of pumpkin pie spice on the nose, definitely all spice and nutmeg, and a little caramel sweetness. It is very smooth in the mouthfeel with just enough body to carry the big flavours. Taste wise this one is more pumpkin pie than real pumpkin but there is a touch of earthiness that reassures you there were pumpkins in the brew. The flavours carry through to the finish but there is no lingering aftertaste. Punkin Ale is imminently drinkable.

 

This is my second go with Punkin Ale; the first time I had it I was not a big fan but this time out …wow. Punkin Ale may just rival Southern Tier’s Pumking as my favourite pumpkin ale this year but I’ll hold off on a final verdict until the bittersweet end.

 

I give Punkin Ale nine candy corns out of a possible ten.

 

 

 

 

“Because the movie Halloween (1978) was on such a tight budget, they had to use the cheapest mask they could find for the character Michael Meyers, which turned out to be a William Shatner Star Trek mask. Shatner initially didn’t know the mask was in his likeness, but when he found out years later, he said he was honored” 

Halloween Facts from http://facts.randomhistory.com/halloween-facts.html


Pumpkin Beer Two, A Brew I Thought I Knew

The second beer on my pumpkin quest is Steamworks Brewing Co. Pumpkin Ale.

Steamworks Pumpkin Ale is not new to me, in fact I have been known to espouse the wonders of this beer from time to time on this very blog BUT this is my first time trying it in the bottle so I will temper my bias when I get to the review segment of the show.

 

 

Steamworks Pumpkin Ale pours a deep amber red colour with good clarity. There is a decent amount of cream coloured head that lingers for sometime. Initially there is very little on the nose but as it warms a subtle spiciness comes through. Flavour wise this beer is akin to a good brown ale but the pumpkin element seems somewhat lacking. Raising the temperature helps but I find the pumpkin flavours far too mild. Oddly this beer gets a bit of banana on the nose as it warms up. It is pretty light bodied all in all and the finish has some maltiness to it but nothing lasting. I also tried Steamworks Pumpkin Ale in a growler this year and I prefer the draught form to the bottled version, though the bottle is really cool looking.

 

 

Overall I give this one six candy corns out of a possible ten.


A Pumpkin (Beer) a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

 

Hallowe’en is one of my favourite holidays – dressing up as someone or something else, eating too much candy corn, watching cheesy horror movies and, of course, the arrival of pumpkin beers!

To honour this holiday in the best beer geek fashion I am going to do a series of blogs reviewing a different pumpkin beer everyday until Hallowe’en.

I have a pretty decent selection in the fridge but I will need some recommendations to meet my goal so feel free to add your favourites to the comments section…

 

Pumpkin Beers on Deck

Phillips Crooked Tooth Pumpkin Ale

Tree Brewing Co. Jumpin Jack Pumpkin Ale

Parallel 49 Lost Souls Chocolate Pumpkin Porter

Steamworks Pumpkin Ale

Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale

Fernie Brewing Co. Pumpkin Head Pumpkin Brown Ale

Parallel 49 Schadenfreude Pumpkin Oktoberfest

St. Ambroise The Great Pumpkin Ale

Epic Brewing Fermentation without Representation Imperial Pumpkin Porter

Two Beers Brewing Co. Pumpkin Spice Ale

Elysian Dark O’ the Moon Pumpkin Stout

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

Pike Brewing Co. Harlot’s Harvest Pike Pumpkin Ale

Southern Tier Pumking Ale


Raspberry vs Blackberry – It’s Gonna Get Fruity in Beer

Steamworks Brewing Company Frambozen

Steamworks? In Bottles? Oh yes, you read that correctly. For those days when you just don’t want to haul your growler to Gastown for a refill, you can now pop into your favourite craft beer retailer and pick up a 650ml.

 

Here is a bit of information from the press release:

“Available for purchase August 27, 2012, Steamworks Pale Ale and the Steamworks Pilsner aim to bring the brewpub experience home with their refreshing and crisp craft brews. On a seasonal basis, Steamworks Brewing Company will also be releasing limited edition beers in 650mL bottles, including popular Frambozen, Wheat Ale, Heroica Oatmeal Stout and its highly coveted Pumpkin Ale.”

 

 

As any review of Steamworks new bottled brews would be amiss if it did not give recognition to their incredible label (or no-label) design work, here is a bit more from the press release:

“Adding to the excitement, Steamworks Brewing Company also enters the market as the first beer to feature the design of esteemed creative team, Laurie Millotte and Bernie Hadley-Beauregard of Brandever, one of the country’s most irreverent and popular wine label designers. Brandever’s work includes designs for Blasted Church winery, Monster Vineyards and Laughing Stock. In stores this week, Steamworks bottles feature whimsical and stylized Steampunk inspired images combined with Vancouver landmarks, brewery nuances and of course, steam.”

As an aside, I think I am going to make these bottles into Christmas lights -they are just that cool!

 

 

Oh yeah and there is beer in the bottles as well so let’s get our fruit on…

Frambozen pours a brilliant red colour with golden tones and very little head, which quickly departs. It is all about the berry on the nose, it is very light bodied, clean to drink with just the slightest hint of bitterness on the finish. Like the nose, raspberry really dominates everything else palate wise. I wish there had been more body to this beer and some tartness from the berries. Somehow the raspberry takes on an almost artificial quality, like raspberry flavour instead of real berry taste, but that’s an issue I have with lots of fruit beers. I had tried Frambozen at the Great Canadian Beer Festival and I really liked it so I assumed I would still enjoy it but somehow the bottled experience did not quite live up to the freshly tapped keg. Overall not a bad beer, a good summer sipper, but I would probably try it on draught over bottle.

 

Townsite Brewing Blackberry Festivale

So what is the new brewer on the block bringing to the table? A Blackberry Wheat Beer called Blackberry Festivale.

For those of you in self-imposed beer exile, Townsite Brewing Inc. is located in a historic building in the beautiful town of Powell River, British Columbia. The inaugural keg tapped on March of this year. They have four core beers in their line-up a Porter, a Wheat, an IPA and a Golden Blonde with seasonal offerings like the Blackberry reviewed below. According to their (fantastic) website the people behind Townsite are committed to:

1. Brew world-class beers
2. Promote beer culture and the responsible enjoyment of beer
3. Use sustainable business practices
4. Promote local economy and regional self-reliance
5. Support environmental stewardship and social responsibility
6. Kindle social, environmental and cultural change

 

 

First up, I have to give Townsite kudos for their vintage, art nouveau-esque label that incorporates lots of fun elements, nice fonts and an image of the historic building where the brewery is located. I love that all the newbies popping up throughout BC have made an effort to brew great beer and package it in great bottles. For me, this berry rumble almost became a battle of bottle aesthetics but I am easily distracted by pretty colours.

Blackberry Festivale comes in a 650ml and weighs in at 5.5% ABV. It is a wheat beer at heart. Festivale pours a cloudy amber gold with tons of white head (and I mean REALLY white head, like unearthly, glow-in-the-dark, Hollywood actress teeth white) that never really wants to leave. You get the requisite wheat beer nose with lots of yeast and spicy notes. Flavour wise you still are pretty much solidly in the wheat beer realm with this cloying sweetness that must be the blackberry influence; however, my entourage all agreed that this is a ‘barely berry’ beer. By this I mean unless I saw the raining blackberries on the label I might have missed the fact it was a fruit beer and I definitely could not discern blackberry as the fruit involved. Yeasty on the finish. Not bad as a wheat beer but I am not feeling this ‘just add fruit’ mantra since I find the wheat character often overpowers other elements.

 

Ding, ding, ding, our winner is…

If you feel the need to go berry, I have to give my recommendation to Steamworks Frambozen.


C’mon Washington, throw me a Bone!

Sunny Saturday found me hiking in Washington State’s beautiful Larabee Park and then cruising down scenic Chuckanut Drive to Mount Vernon where I decided to stop by North Sound Brewing Company.

 

According to their website, NSB (I love breweries with good acronyms btw) focuses on “Old world inspired, unfiltered small batch ales”. This is an excellent mantra and one that made me curious to visit this brewery.

North Sound Brewing is pretty easy to find since there is really only one bridge connecting the town of Mount Vernon. Head west over the bridge and keep driving until you think you may have missed it and then look for the unassuming warehouse/garage with barbed wire fencing – I was pretty excited to think the beer was so good it needed protection!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a nice sized patio out front; lots of flowers, wooden picnic tables and even some music. Inside is pretty darn tiny with the bar and about four or five tables. They do not serve food but offer nibbles (chips, nuts) and let you order in food as you drink; one table got pizza while we were there.

Despite the small size, there were an impressive nine beers on tap and one cask offering. Since they boast a generous pour size we decided to split the ten beers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before I get to the beers I would like to say they have some of the friendliest staff I have ever encountered at a brewery. It makes a big impression on me when the employees take an interest in making sure the customer gets the most out of their visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beer

Big Bend Blonde – Pale blonde in colour, very light bodied and easy to drink. Blondes are always a great way to start a taster tray by getting your beer senses slightly primed for the onslaught of flavours to come.

Mystery Wheat – Very pale gold in colour. Quite light in body and not much in the way of spiciness. Reminded me a bit of a pilsner but I did not really get the full-spectrum of wheat beer character.

Cherry Wheat (Cask) – Wheat ale brewed with Jolly Ranchers(?). Pretty rose gold colour, cloudy but far too tepid with an artificial cherry flavour. Lacking the depth and character casking usually imparts to ale. This one was a misfire for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bitter Rain ESB – I am a BIG fan of bitters but this one did not really do it for me. Brown in colour, some head and a bit of cloudiness. Bitter on the finish. Hop dominant without enough malt to really balance this one out for me.

Goosetown Brown – Lots of coffee on the nose, which was a surprise for a brown. Very sweet with an almost sticky mouthfeel. Smooth with a decent amount of body. Overall one of the better beers in the line-up.

Slainte Stout – Deep black brown with caramel coloured head. Foamy, smooth almost dry, reminds me of Guinness draught. Not the kind of stout I gravitate towards but for those that like a starter stout this would be a good option.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

North Sound Imperial Porter – Deep black brown in colour with caramel hued head. I get a slightly herbal taste from this one, almost medicinal, which never sits well with me.

Hop Chops IPA – Bright gold with clean white head with some lacing. Lots of citrus nose, bitter finish. A middle of the road IPA that won’t scare hop-o-phobes or enrapture hop heads but works for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opie IPA – Rose gold in colour with some white head and lacing. Strong bitterness on the finish with that distinctive pungency imparted by rye. Not bad but not remarkable.

To Hell in a Hop Basket Imperial IPA – Almost amber in colour with white head and lacing. Very sweet on the nose. A touch sweet in flavour and a nice bitter finish. I think this is the best of the IPA’s we tried.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well to sum up I am not sure what to say but Washington breweries and I have been a little hit and miss as of late. Part of me wants to embrace and support every new kid on the block; the resurgence and continued strength of real ale is a cause obviously near and dear to my heart BUT on the other hand I want to be forthright about the places I recommend.

Would I recommend you visit North Sound Brewing Company? I would say try it but with the caveat that I am not sure you will be blown away by their beers. There are many great things about this littler brewery and if I were a local I am sure I would keep them on my radar; however, I doubt I would make another trip to Mount Vernon just to visit NSB.


Revisiting Früli Two Years On…

The Original Post from June 28th 2010

So this is the first beer I have chosen to review for a couple of reasons; first, it’s officially summer and nothing says summer like strawberries and second, this beer literally stopped me in my tracks when I saw the description in the window of a local restaurant.  I love white beers and I love fruit beers so combining the two makes it twice as great right?  Well short answer yes with an ‘if’ and long answer no with a ‘but’…this beer looks amazing in the glass a dark pinkish colour and very effervescent.  It smells wonderful as well.  It is easy to drink and excellent when served very cold.  It is quite sweet and light on the alcohol, basically if beer was a made into a cocktail it would be Früli.  To be honest I would be hard pressed to label this a beer during a blind taste test.  At first swig I thought I would never tire of drinking this beer however I soon found that I had a tolerance for about two before I started to feel a little overwhelmed by the sheer sweetness of it.  Additionally, I did not find this beer paired well with food (or at least the foods I was consuming at the time things somewhat more savoury and acidic).  I have had this beer in draft form and by the bottle and while there is no a huge discernable difference I slightly prefer the draft form.  This is the perfect après or after dinner sipper best enjoyed on a hot night after a long day at the beach and sitting on a patio surrounded by beautiful smelling flowers.

Out of a possible five I would give this beer a 4.5

 

And Now?

Two years later and I am looking back at this post and thinking, well, what was I thinking? I cannot believe how much my beer tastes have changed in two years; the evolution of the beer geek merits scientific study or at least a PhD dissertation. It is not that I hate fruit beers or that I think Früli is too trendy but I just no longer like the taste -too sweet, too light and too strawberry. As a gung-ho enthusiast two years back I bought an entire case from the BC liqour store thinking I would never tire of this beer. About one third of my way into the case, and countless craft brews later, I was trying to figure out ways to alter Früli to make it more palatable. Lo and behold I found out that a touch of Fruli went lovely with a robust coffee/chocolate stout and added a touch of sweetness to a crisp lager or pils. So thankfully my case was not a total write-off.

 

Looking back I find my original post pretty amusing but also immensely useful in charting how my tastes have developed along certain lines leading me to finally feel secure in knowing what it is I like and more importantly what I want in a beer.

 

What beers were your first loves? How do you remember them tasting? How do they taste to you now?


Does Beer Geek ≠ Foodie?

I always assumed that craft beer was a natural extension of foodie culture. Love of quality ingredients, focus on the art of preparation, the desire to know where you food comes from and who makes it, all seem like tenets that marry well with beer geek culture BUT lately a number of brewpubs seem to have set out to disprove my theory. I know that beer and pub grub (think nachos, deep fried whatever, shepherd’s pie) have a long and well-established relationship and you go to a pub for the beer not the gourmet cuisine blah, blah, blah but craft beer is an entirely different animal right?

 

The pride and quality that goes into producing small batches of unique beer should not be hindered by pairing said beer with mediocre food offerings more suited to a case of the late-night munchies at the 7-11. I am not saying I need complicated or elaborate courses served at the breweries but I do want the quality of food to be a reflection of the quality of the beer. I want food that compliments and enhances the character of the beers, and I have to believe I cannot be the only one.

 

Luckily here in Vancouver we have many awesome tasting rooms like Alibi Room and Bitter Tasting Room that provide finely honed menus to suit their craft beer offerings. In Beervana aka Portland I have also had the pleasure of visiting brewpubs with stellar food selection like Cascade Brewing Barrel House and Hopworks Urban Brewery. These places manage to put a foodie twist on pub staples, toss in some unexpected items, have menu diversity and just generally keep the quality of ingredients very high.

 

Sadly this has not always been the case with other brewpubs.

 

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On Thursday I visited Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen in Bellingham Washington. The brewery and tasting areas are housed in a typical warehouse-like buildings situated beside a small river in the heart of downtown. Displayed along the entrance way are the numerous awards bestowed upon Chuckanut craft brews; I was particularly excited to try their much lauded Kolsch. There is a small seating area by the bar, a large seating area in front of an open kitchen, and a patio with a few tables along the water. I also noticed a back patio, which I assume plays host to events or tastings at the brewery. It is a pretty nice layout all-in-all with lots of flowers lining the fence along the patio.

 

When we got the menus I was happy to see that all the food is prepared fresh as you order. Not a lot in the way of veg friendly options and a pretty standard line-up of brewpub fare like Bangers and Mash, BLT’s and Burgers. Faced with two choices, hummus or yam fries, we opted to split an order of fries to accompany our sampler of the six beers. Our food came quickly, so quickly in fact that I saw the fries sitting on the counter about two minutes after my partner order (warning bells alert me that fresh made in two minutes violates the laws of physics). Needless to say the food was pretty bad, well really bad actually, kind of like eating day old fries that attempt to make up for their questionable freshness with tons of salt. The food went back and we opted to focus on the beer sans nourishment – our waitress was not too happy and pretty much ignored us for the remainder of our visit so we probably could not have tried something else from the menu anyway.

 

But this is a beer blog so I will get on with the beer assessment. I inadvertently learned the Kolsch was a no-show when I found a British IPA in its place –bummer. The other five beers we sampled were the Pilsner, Yellow Card Ale, Rauch Lager, Golden Ale and the Smoke Porter. The Pils was very pale gold and effervescent. It was very dry, light in body with a bitter hoppy finish; would have benefited from a slightly colder serving temperature. The Yellow Card and the Golden were somewhat similar in appearance with the Yellow Card Ale being stronger and hoppier with some fruity element on the nose. The Golden Ale was milder with a nutty flavour. The British IPA was orange-gold in colour with lots of stiff bright white head. It was very smooth but quite dry again with a subtle hop character. The Rauchbier and the Smoke Porter both had a lot of hickory (sweet but smoky) flavour almost like applewood smoking. In the Rauch this smoked flavour dominates the palate while in the porter it adds another dimension to a fuller bodied beer. I wish the porter had more of a rosted quality to it. I think both of these beers would be fun for food pairings since they have a lot of character. If I visit again I would get the British IPA and try the Kolsch.

 

So you can take what you will from this rant; either it is about the beer and food is just a side-note or craft beer and foodie culture really make great bedfellows. I think as the craft beer market continues to define its place in the world, the food breweries choose to serve alongside their beers must not be an afterthought but rather a compliment to and a reflection on the care and passion put into each and every beer being served.


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