Tag Archives: Belgian Beer

New Brew Friday Southern Tier Imperial Compass


It is a warm and sunny September afternoon here in middle Canada. The mosquitos are mostly gone, the leaves are a myriad of beautiful colours and that makes it a perfect Friday for sipping some beers on the patio.

A recent trip to the LCBO was quite fruitful as I found not one but two Southern Tier brews nestled amongst the regular beer line-up. One was even new to me, which is the best case scenario for any true beer geek.

This new brew Friday is showcasing my find of the year, Southern Tier Imperial Compass a bottle conditioned sparkling ale brewed with rose hips and citrusy hops. As the description suggests this beer pours a bubbly deep gold with some bright white head and a big citrus hoppy nose. First few sips are sweet and hoppy with some yeast character and the slightest floral note. A big warming beer at 9% this one reminds me of a Belgian crossed with an IPA. Not too much to dislike about this beer, well balanced and easy to drink. As you continue drinking the flavours remain consistent and the head has impressive staying power. The finish leaves a nice lingering hop aftertaste.

I have yet to be disappointed by Southern Tier so no big surprise that I am a fan of this beer. If there is any critique it is some Southern Tier beers can be over the top, think Creme Brûlée, but Imperial Compass hits all the right points (bad pun Friday indeed). Have a great weekend!


Ontario Craft Beer, As Advertised – Beer 5

Wayward Son

The Wayward Son from Radical Road Brewing Co. (7.5%) Belgian Golden Ale.

Okay can we take a minute to talk about the box? You see the box right? This box rocks. What beautiful presentation. How nice would this look sitting under my (or any other beer geek’s) Christmas tree with a bow on top?

Once I got over my rapturous euphoria I actually opened the box to find an equally pleasing bottle and label. So far I was quite impressed now did what’s inside live up to its proverbial cover?

The Wayward Son pours a deep gold colour, hazy and sediment heavy with some bright white head. Lots of yeast on the nose, sweetness and a slight fruitiness. Medium bodied and smooth with a touch of alcoholiness coming through. Lots of malt flavour, some spice, coriander perhaps, and a bit of hop bitterness something kind of earthy or even herbally. There is good carbonation in this Belgian making it quite drinkable. A subtle finish that is woody (oaky?) and slightly bittered. Overall not the best example of the style I have tried though to be fair the competition in this field is pretty pedigreed.

Cali or Bust – Part 1

I recently returned from my road trip to San Francisco and while the primary purpose of my vacation was to (finally) marry my handsome and charming boyfriend, as any self-respecting beer geek would do I also planned to fit in lots of brewery visits and craft beer sampling along the way.


California is one of those states blessed with a disproportionate number of amazing breweries and, more importantly, it is the home of my all-time favourite brewery Russian River Brewing Company located in the historic town of Santa Rosa (also the birthplace of Charles Schultz). To me, getting the chance to visit Russian River was akin to some sort of pilgrimage and needless to say my expectations were sky-high. I even wrote an open love letter to the brewery but alas they never responded.

For anyone who may have been living under a rock, in a cave, on a deserted island, Russian River Brewing Company creates some of the most memorable belgian beers (read barrel-aged sours) and IPA’s in the world. Beer for beer, Pliny the Elder, Supplication and Temptation may just form the triumvirate of just how good beer can get. The time and craft that goes into creating these beers painted a picture (in my mind) of the type of tap room and brewery that produces such wondrous libations.

Russian River Front

So did the real live Russian River retain its’ cherished place on the pedestal when I visited? Well, no.


Granted I did visit the pub on Cinqo de Mayo, but it felt kind of like visiting Boston Pizza loud, busy, full of pretty drunk patrons, lots of crazy crap on the walls, given a blinking coaster to signal an available table. Now to be clear I am not a complete fossil who wants to sip and spit from champagne flutes whilst I sit in a cellar full of oak barrels BUT I did kind of expect an environment where people paid more attention to the beer that was served up in their pints. The wait staff did not seem keen to chat beer and while they served up flights with great presentation you were kind of left to do your own thing. At the very least I expected our server to follow-up on this massive flight to see what we liked or did not like.

Russian River Flight

Concerned that the boisterous college crowd may have coloured my first perception we returned the next day in the morning to pick up some bottles. Oddly enough it was already full of early morning drinkers and once again getting beer from the bartender was more of a chore than any sort of interaction i.e. most staff just walk by you while you try to get someone’s attention.

I am not really sure what I expected but somehow I expected more.

Russian River Inside

Get Out of my Cellar and into my Glass



Anyone who has taken a look at my ‘What’s in the Fridge’ page will know that I have been aging beer pretty much since I began drinking craft beer. You also may have noticed that in previous posts I have commented on my reluctance to crack open bottles from this collection since the aged beers seem too special to drink on just any old occasion and really, if I have waited this long perhaps I should wait just a little bit longer (they might taste just a little bit better).


But lately I feel like the time has come to start enjoying some of my well-cared for stash and as such I am going to start a series of posts where I review aged beers and discuss the changes that have taken place, especially for those beers that I have tried when they were just young ‘uns.


Cellared Beers


Just a quick recap for those who have not read my post Maturing Beer, unlike mass market beer many styles of craft beer are brewed with the intention that they will be stored for some time before consumption. Strong beer with high ABV’s, Imperial Stouts, Barley Wines, Belgian Quads, Barrel-aged Porters, and basically any other robust style of beer can benefit from some time in the cellar. Breweries like Deschutes are even taking the initiative by posting best-after dates on their bottles. Basically the stronger your beer the longer you can age it. Also, if you are a really big beer nerd you can cellar different years of the same beer and hold a vertical tasting and actually taste the changes that are occurring.


Currently in my cellar (which is really my cupboard) I have:

Brooklyn Monster Ale 2007

Brooklyn Brewery Brooklyn Black Ops

Driftwood Old Cellar Dweller

Driftwood Old Barrel Dweller

Driftwood Singularity 2011, 2012

Dogfish Head Forte

Deschutes Black Butte

Deschutes Collage Conflux

Deschutes The Abyss 2009, 2012

Deschutes Dissident

Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws

Rogue Old Crustacean Barley Wine

VIB Hermannator Ice Bock

VIB Hermannator Ice Bock 25th Anniversary

These are a few of my Favourite Things

Raindrops on hop bines and whiskey-casked porters

Bright copper kettles and barley wine snifters

Brown paper packages enclosing 650’s

These are a few of my favorite things


Cream colored hefes and crisp golden pils

Fruit beers and Belgians with sweetness and fizz

Wild yeast strains imparting most sour tings

These are a few of my favorite things


Fat mugs of stout with hints of molasses

Brettanomyces lingers in the bottom of glasses

Bright white head and natural water from springs

These are a few of my favorite things


What you may ask inspired me to butcher a Christmas classic in this way?

It was a beer description so delicious that I literally (well okay not literally but close) could not wait to crack the bottle and give it a try. Belgian quad, coffee cherries, date, Lips of Faith, 10% …beer geek overload!


Cascara Quad

There are times that I do my best to restrain my beer purchases, when life offers up other things for me to spend my money on (cough, cough, wedding) so I do my diligence and only buy those beers I really, REALLY have to have like Cascara Quad from Lips of Faith.

When one of these ESB’s (extra special beers) make it home with me they are place on a figurative pedestal such that when I do try them they have some mighty high expectations to live up to.


So how did Cascara Quad do?

Cascara pours a cloudy reddish orange with lots of creamy off-white head on the initial pour. The head dies down after a bit into a thick skim with some nice lacing. There is quite a bit of yeastiness on the nose and as it warms you get some banana-like notes from the nose. It is very smooth mouthfeel wise with a bit of body but all in all not as big as I expected from a quad. Cascara is quite sweet at the front and a little tart on the finish. There is a real smokey almost leathery flavour that comes through as you sip. If I had to describe this beer in one word I would have to say young; by this I mean it feels like I should have let this one age a bit to really bring all the flavours into a better balance. I liked this beer, I drank this beer but I just did not love it they way I had hoped…

Lips of Faith Cascara Quad

Becoming a Lost Abbey Convert

Though I am pretty new to this brewery I have quickly become a devoted convert to The Lost Abbey. Since their beers are not available in Canada (sadly) I had been eye-balling them on visits south of the border; literally because of their fantastic label art work and also because of their hefty price tag. I’ll admit It took me awhile to want to shell out $17 dollars for a small bottle of beer but oh boy am I glad I made that leap of faith.



As their name suggest, Lost Abbey brewers focus on monastic and Belgian brewing traditions “for the enjoyment of Sinners and Saints alike”. They have a standard line-up of six beers -Avant Garde, Devotion, Inferno, Judgement Day, Lost and Found and Red Barn; five seasonal beers – Carnevale, Gift of the Magi, Seprent’s Stout, The Ten Commandments and Witch’s Wit; and finally, my favourites, five non-denominational barrel aged ales – Cuvee de Tomme, Deliverance, Duck Duck Gooze, Red Poppy Ale and The Angel’s Share.



What I love about this Brewery…

Everything. No seriously, I think they have a fantastic core of beers bolstered by some of the best barrel aged beers I have ever had. I am a huge fan of Belgian beers and it can be challenging style to emulate, after all you are following breweries that have been at the game for hundreds of years. I like the incorporation of an over-arching theme running through the brewery name, back story, homage, art work and labels and beer names. This easily identifiable signature makes it simple to walk into a beer store and pick out the Lost Abbey selections. They also have an informative and fun website with tons of affirmations, a brewcam and all kinds of brewery information. For instance:



Our Ten Commandments

1.The most imaginative beers are our crusade

2.We believe we are all in this together

3.We strive for honesty and integrity in our lives like you

4.Fresh beer is great, aged beer is better

5.Now that you have found us help us spread the message

6.There is good and evil in the world – our beers are good

7.Passion isn’t something you can buy at the corner store

8.We believe an inspired life is worth living

9.Life is about choices, The Lost Abbey is a great choice

10.We are not perfect, but no one is

I definitely have not had the pleasure of trying their entire line-up (I’m working on it) but I have tasted several Lost Abbey beers including Judgement Day, Devotion Ale, Red Barn Ale, The Ten Commandments, Deliverance and The Angel’s Share. Out of the beers I have tried I have to highly recommend The Angel’s Share and The Ten Commandments though you really could not go wrong trying anything from this brewer.


Youth Bowling and Belgians

For my birthday weekend I decided to do further beer reconnaissance by visiting a couple of local ale purveyors, Yaletown Brewing Company (YBC) and BierCraft.

YBC, as I learned, is not just Youth Bowling Canada (insert varying images of my nerdy upbringing) but also a brew pub located in the heart of Yaletown in Vancouver, BC. A large space with a big patio, lots of flat screens, and a generous helping of bar stools. Yaletown Brewing Company reminds of chain microbreweries, like McMenamins pubs in Portland OR, and the requisite sports bar found in every hamlet/town/city in North America. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon but I was informed we could not drink on the patio unless we ordered food so we pulled up a stool at the bar. The ambiance is not really my taste but it seems like a lively place to grab a starter beer(s).

YBC has seven of the usual beer suspects in their line-up supplemented by one cask brew and a couple of seasonal ales – Oud Bruin and Framboise at the time of our visit. I had tried the seasonals (both very good) at Alibi Room so I opted for Mainland Lager and my drinking buddy opted for Downtown Brown. We both felt the beers were good but not great. Granted it is probably quite tough to brew an inspired lager but we had higher hopes for the Downtown Brown after trying the Oud Bruin. YBC seems like a great place to take your skittish mainstream beer drinking friends to ease them gently into the world of craft beer.

BierCraft on the other hand is not for the craft beer newbie. This stellar Belgian beer house boasts an impressive bottle list and a pretty decent tap list as well. The décor, well at least at the Cambie Street locale, is somewhat confused with a huge projector screen showing sports juxtaposed with intimate tables and a teeny-tiny patio. Honestly it felt like a bit of an identity crisis was going on – am I a sports bar or a tap house or both? However, the beers make up for any shortcomings in ambiance.

Navigating the beer menu can be a bit daunting so it is helpful they offer ‘flights to Belgium’ where you can sample four beers before making a serious commitment. All the Belgian-i-ness is buoyed with a smattering of local craft brews on tap and by the bottle for all those who may be panicked to locate an IPA. I have yet to meet a Belgian beer I don’t like so it is tough for me to comment on what to order but eight samples in and I was a pretty happy camper. Did I mention they have Belgian fries to nibble on with your beer? Nice.

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!

Beer fit for a Queen (who is visiting Canada)

The Great Canadian Beer Fest (less than two weeks away now) has been on my mind and it has got me to thinking about Victoria, the city some have called more British than Britain. What to springs to mind when you think Britain? Why the Queen of course. So what would the Queen most likely drink on her visit to the colony? I came up with two Island options Spinnakers Fog Fighter, there’s lots of fog in London, and Driftwood’s Spring Rite, well Rite of Spring is technically Russian but I am sure there are many rites held in the UK what with stone henge and all. Now on to the beer…

First up I tried Fog Fighter from Spinnakers Brewery a fairly strong, 8% ABV, blonde Belgian ale. For the more discerning of you out there this particular bottle came from batch 21. Fog Fighter pours a coppery gold, slightly hazy with a minimal amount of head. There is no real nose to speak of and the mouthfeel is somewhere between sweet and sticky. Interestingly this ale has an almost sour lambic taste to it but at the same time it is very tepid with no effervescence to speak of. The taste tends to linger at the back of your mouth. Sometimes I feel like beers should not put Belgian on their labels because it sets me up with great expectations that few New World beers seem to meet; not that this is a bad thing but rather the beer over here has a taste all its own just not a Belgian taste. It is kind of like French fries that needed to be covered in gravy and cheese curd before they became a truly Canadian experience. Oh well c’est la vie!

Overall I would give Spinnakers Fog Fighter 3 out of 5

Next up, Spring Rite from Driftwood, abbey ale brewed with malt grown on the Saanich peninsula. This 7% ale pours a golden to slightly copper colour with a nice citrus hop nose. There is a little cloudiness to this beer and an average amount of head. Nice balance of bitter hop and sweet malt in the mouthfeel but sadly the taste is pretty fleeting. Okay, so here is the ‘thing’ for me again I am not sure I would call this a strong ale per se. What really characterizes a strong ale for me is an almost liquor like quality to the beer; that slight heaviness you get when you swirl it in your glass and it lingers on the sides, the kind of ale that needs to breathe and improves in taste when it is warmed by your hands. I know, I know picky, picky, picky but like I said in the former review it is really tough to capture that Belgian quality after all they have been brewing beer since the Middle Ages.

Overall I would give Driftwood’s Spring Rite 3.5 out of 5 (edging into a 4 for the creative name)

BTW If the Queen were to imbibe on a regular basis she may acutally swig Duchy Originals Oragnic Ale brewed with barley from Prince Charles’ own farm but you know you have to be able to count on support from your Mum.

A Belgian on the West Coast

In Belgium the brewing process is considered artisanal and by extension the brewer is considered an artist.  Since the brewer is not bound by any sense of duty to conform to pre-existing beer styles there is a huge variety of strengths, colours and textures all defined as Belgian beer.  The one element that unites this class of beers is the distinctive yeast which imparts a unique flavour encouraged by high temperature fermentation.  In fact, you can take any wort ferment it with Belgian yeast and create a Belgian-tasting beer.

There are several sub-groups under the broad umbrella of Belgian Beer including Abbey ales, which are similar to Trappist beers but brewed by secular breweries instead of monasteries.  Abbey beers exist in greater numbers and tend to stick with the convention of brown Dubbel or Blond Tripel.  The Belgian Abbey Tripel originated in Westmalle Abbey in the 1930’s as a reaction to pale-ale trends.  The Tripel is characterized by a complex clean maltiness, spicy depth, a touch of sweetness, highly carbonated but dry with a clean finish.


Exportation has always been an important component of British Brewing but the really famous part of the export story starts in the middle of the eighteenth century.  During this period there were large contingents of British soldiers, traders and administrators in India who demanded a taste of home, namely beer.  In the early 1780’s, a London brewer named Hodgson started exporting casks of highly hopped ale designed for long-keeping; however, after forty years of success the relationship between Hodgson and the East India Company deteriorated largely due to greed.

Meanwhile brewers in Burton-on-Trent had been expanding their shipment routes into Russia trading their signature sweet, dark beer.  Once Hodgson’s relationship with India fell through and Russian tariffs curtailed exports the market was wide open for Burton to try it’s hand at creating their own version of an India Ale.  Burton’s Allsopp brewery worked out a recipe, in a teacup, to create pale, crisp, highly hopped ale.  At some point the local public caught on to this India Pale Ale and it was received with great acclaim replacing porter as the new fashionable beer.

Moving to the New World there is some disagreement out there about whether the American version of the IPA is a distinct variant or an offshoot of the British IPA style but this is not an area I feel qualified to weigh in on so I will just leave you with the following descriptor:  The IPA is characterized by fresh hops, bready maltiness and a clean, crisp, bitter finish.


So what do get when you cross a Belgian Tripel with a North West Coast style IPA?  Victoria-based Phillips Brewing’s Hoperation Tripel Cross. This is aggressively hopped golden ale that pours with minimal head and a pine like aroma.  A malty sweetness also comes through on the nose.  There is cloudiness to this beer largely due to the active sediment, which remains suspended throughout the glass.  In the mouth the beer has a somewhat sticky character and the strength of the Tripel comes through at the front.  The bitterness of the hops tends to linger after you swallow.  It is not quite as smooth as a Tripel to drink but the Belgian yeast imparts a unique element to yet another addition to the extensive IPA family.   The bottle is a large 650ml format with an ABV of 8%.  The label deserves its own blog entry; a cross between a war propaganda poster and an art deco advertisement the label depicts an old bomber plane soaring through the air dropping hop bombs all rendered in a deco-esque palette of reds, teals and greens.


Overall I would give this beer a 4 out 5.


*Mosher, Randy 2009 Tasting Beer An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink. Storey Publishing North Adams MA.

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