Tag Archives: Casked Beers

Back on the Chain Gang

For the second time in my beer drinking career I tried my hand at the other end of the keg serving up casked ales at Central City Brewing Company’s Summer Cask Fest held on June 30th. While it may have been ‘summer’ only in the mindset of local beer enthusiasts, thirty-one cask creations ensured that no one was too sad to spend their Saturday indoors.



This time around I opted to volunteer for the morning shift so I could ensure I had the afternoon open to sample all must must-tries before they were tapped out. Beer geeks are not what you might consider morning people so once the doors opened at 11:00am we weren’t exactly swamped with thirsty customers but luckily the pace picked up quickly and some live blues music from Brandon Issak got the fest into full swing. To fill the lull times my station co-volunteer nicely offered me information on everything beer and brewing in case I was not quite up to snuff on my geek speak.

I was in charge of the Pale Ales, not the most popular station I’ll admit, but busy enough to get some socializing in and to afford me enough free time to try my hand at serving at a couple of the other stations (here I learned the hard way that not all kegs pour the same way and spilled beer is quite alarming to the masses). The brews at my station were Dead Frog’s Dry Hopped French Oaked Pale Ale, Howe Sound Green Tea Pale Ale and Lighthouse Tasman Ale. For educational purposes I had to sample all three so I could converse with token bearers. See the line-up section below for some brief tasting notes.


Looking back on the day as a volunteer, I enjoyed the morning shift for many reasons not the least was the fact that the majority of patrons were still lucid and the kegs were still pouring well –insert quasi-disastrous images of people ‘volunteering’ to tip near-empty kegs to drain the last drops of beer, which nicely encapsulates my experiences during the Winter Cask Festival as an afternoon drone. After my shift, my afternoon was happily spent ticking off all the beers I wanted to try and sampling from the menu. For the record I want to say that Central City treats its volunteers real nice (I even got an extra token from brew maestro Gary Lohin after my shift!) offering us five free tokens, Red Racer gear, food and an after-fest party so the remaining kegs did not go to waste! If you have never taken the time to volunteer at a craft beer event I highly recommend it.


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The Full Line-up

Alameda Yellow Wolf IPA

Big River Dry Hopped ESB

Cannery Oak Aged Port Porter – A nice surprise; rich and sweet but light in body.

Canoe Summer Chocolate Honey Wheat Ale – Far too light bodied with a watery chocolate flavour and honeyed finish.

Central City Brewing Citra Dry Hopped ESB – Well-balanced bitter with lots of citra hop on the nose and in the flavour. Clean drinking with a bitter finish.

Central City Brewing Hibiscus Cherry Ale – Too sweet for me but the hibiscus adds a nice tepid quality. Summery.

Coal Harbour Imperial Smoke Ale

Crannog Mead – Very mild and flat with fruit and honey notes. Seems like it could benefit from additional aging.

Dead Frog Dry Hopped French Oaked Pale Ale – Similar to the one they bottle in the 650ml, a little sweet and a bit more of a hop bite. Did not inspire much in the way of feedback (at least to the pourer).

Elysian Brewing Splitshot Coffee Milk Stout – Sold Out during the morning shift : (

Granville Island GI Bitter

Howe Sound Green Tea Pale Ale – Nice palate cleanser with that tepid green tea flavour. Mixed feedback from my customers on this one though.

Lighthouse Tasman Ale – Interesting with the citrus forward Tasman (New Zealand) hop profile. Lots of good feedback on this one.

Longwood Port Alberni’s Brewers Gold Dry Hopped IPA – A lot of citrus elements on the nose and in the flavour, almost like a touch of tang in your beer. Light bodied and very still.

Odin Brewing Thor’s Oakuinox – Sold Out during the morning shift : (

Parallel 49 Brewing Dry Hopped Ruby Tears – A flat, hoppy bitter but not one of my fest favourites.

Port Townsend IPA

R&B Smoked Hop IPA

Russell Graetzer Polish Smoked Wheat Ale

Salt Spring Brewing Dry Hopped ESB

Spinnakers Spicy Mandarin Hefeweizen – Orange notes on the nose, light bodied and typical hefe mix of citrus and spice.

Steamworks Ginger Beer – Told this one was for ginger lovers but I found it pretty mild.

Storm Raspberry ESB – Lots of raspberry flavour playing off the hoppy bitterness; so not too sweet. One of my favourites!

Storm (Daniel Knibbs) Ginger Rye Saison – A mild saison, light on the barnyard, but nice hints of ginger and spice.

Swans Dry Hopped ESB – A nicely balanced bitter with some extra hop kick from the regular 650ml.

Taylor’s Crossing Manhattan Brew – Strong candied cherry notes and heavy on the liquor taste. One of my favourites!

Tin Whistle Dry Hopped Scorpion Double IPA

Tofino Brewing Sitka Spruce Tip IPA – Resiny hop taste with a bit of sweetness. Seems to be taking a run at the Big Dog Pliny and a respectable effort. One of my favourites!

Vancouver Island Hopfenweisse

Whistler Brewhouse Oaked Amarillo Dry Hopped IPA

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.


Behind the Keg …A New Angle on the Beer Fest

My Kegs

Hi, my name is Sara, long-time patron, first time volunteer. Yesterday I attended Central  City Brewing’s Winter Cask Festival and for the first time ever I took up post behind the keg as a volunteer server. My partner and I headed over to Central City a bit early to sample a few of the casks before our shifts started. Nice turnout of local, BC and Washington State brewers with casks coming from Central City (of course), Storm, Tofino Brewing, Parallel 49, Cannery, Salt Spring Brewing, Spinnakers, Port Townsend and Boundary Bay just to name a few. Central City was packed to rafters with every conceivable inch of space taken up by a beer geek, a table of beer geeks or a row of kegs and a server. Beers were mapped out by style in small stations circling the pub.

The Scotch Ales

One of the great things about beer fests is they afford brewers a chance to try something really creative in a relatively small sample; for instance, Parallel 49 offered a Campfire Smores Stout, Spinnakers had a Peppercorn Saison and Canoe an Asian Fusion Pale Ale. As a patron it is fun to try some of these more challenging flavour combinations in a small pour instead of committing to a whole pint or god-forbid an entire six pack. Often these out-there beers are something I would only want in a small sample as they probably wouldn’t make their way into my regular rotation. Some of the stand-outs for me were Tofino Brewing’s Bourbon Coffee Porter, Russell’s JD Barrel Aged Scotch Ale, Canoe’s Asian Fusion Pale Ale (think ginger and pear), Lighthouse Houblonic Plague and for something clean and easy on the palate Steamworks Pilsner.

ESB's and IPA's

So will I be offering up my skills as a beer server at another beer fest? Absolutely. It was so much fun being behind the scenes chatting with brewers, servers and fellow beer geeks. The volunteers were treated very well by the folks at Central City, we were fed, given t-shirts, admission and tokens. Everybody seemed to be having a really good time, which made the 3.5 hour shift fly by in no time. Working the keg allowed me to gleam invaluable on-fly-assessments of the different beers as well as being to privy to opinions on everything from the best place to shop for beer cross-border, how to open a new brewery, fashion advice and everything in between. In the same way that brewing your own beer only heightens your appreciation for the craft, I would highly recommend that every beer enthusiast tries their hand at working the taps at least once it really does give you an entirely different perspective on how beer fests are organized and run. Cheers to the folks at Central City for a great event!

The Assorted Room

Staring into The Abyss

The Abyss 2010 Reserve

It has been awhile since I wrote a post entirely devoted to one beer but it has also been awhile since I had a beer so memorable that I wanted to devote a post entirely to said ale – the proverbial chicken and the egg paradox for beer if you will. I have been staring at my bottle of The Abyss for quite some time now waiting patiently for the best after date to come about. Every time I opened the cupboard there it was but no I could not drink it yet; so I waited, and waited, and then on a cold and rainy Saturday I finally opened it. Here is the description from Deschutes: “It’s dark. It’s deep. It’s mysterious. This imperial stout has immeasurable depth inviting you to explore and discover its rich complex profile. The flavour of this special brew draws you in further and further with each sip. The Abyss beckons. Enjoy the journey.”

The Abyss 2010 Reserve from Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon is a stout brewed with liquorice and molasses with 33% aged in oak and oak bourbon barrels. This stout clocks in at a hefty ‘winter warmer’ 11% ABV, and the beer comes in a black wax sealed bottle with a best after date so the drinker can enjoy the benefits of the bourbon cask aging. The Abyss has a great label, which gives the impression that fine aged ale lay within through its interesting use of texture and colour as well as the spartan amount of detail. It is one of the bottles that you just have to pick up and read. The Abyss pours a deep black with a big caramel head. Immediately you get a sweet molasses nose with hints of roasted coffee and something reminiscent of the nose on a nice whiskey. The mouthfeel is cloyingly sticky and heavy with a big molasses taste; full bodied is an understatement here. Interestingly the molasses flavour lingers in your mouth long after you finish. This is one of those beers that really needs to breathe and warm up to be fully appreciated. As time passes more subtle tastes come to the forefront such as, sweet liquor and earthiness. There is a real bitterness to this stout that mellows out as you drink. The high ABV can really stand up to the strength of the molasses where a lesser beer could easily have been overwhelmed. Overall a near-perfect winter quaff the kind that warms you from the inside out and feels like a meal in a glass.


‘Kick you down the stairs’ Beer

Awhile back I was perusing the selection at O’Hares liquor store when the manager recommended DeuS Brut des Flandres as a beer that would ‘kick me down the stairs’. Intrigued and slightly confused by the sales pitch I promptly bought a bottle. What I learned later is that DeuS is a nice example of a strong Belgian Ale; the ‘kick you down the stairs’ adjective comes from the relatively high ABV of 11.5%.  Using this as a launching point I thought I would devote this post to an exploration of strong beers.

Strength in the brewing world refers to both alcohol (the main product of fermentation) and gravity (the amount of solids in the unfermented wort). More malt brings more alcohol and more malt requires more hops in what can become a delicate dance between strength and drinkability. Gravity is used as a rough measure of the amount of alcohol that may end up in the finished beer; however, not every wort of the same gravity will end up as a beer with the same alcohol content. A whole other host of variables comes into play before we get our final ABV including the brewing process, yeast strain, sugar used, fermentation temperature etc. Brewers use the concept of apparent attenuation -finishing gravity divided by starting gravity subtracted from one hundred- to arrive at an approximate, if not entirely accurate, idea of beer strength. Real attenuation can only be assessed through the labour intensive process of distilling the alcohol out of a small sample but this is not commonly done. The higher the apparent attenuation the more of the beer’s extract has been turned into alcohol and voila we have a strong beer.

As a quick historical aside, the quest to make strong beer is not solely a modern endeavor in fact there are several Old English terms for strong beer including Stingo, Huffcap, Nipitatum, Clamber-skull, Dragon’s milk, Mad-dog, Lift-leg, Angel’s food and Stride-wide.

Back to modern brewing; beer styles such as barley wines, stouts, quadruples and double IPA’s all enter into this strong beer realm and a few brave brewers have ventured beyond into the ‘ultra-strong experimental’ kingdom. When it comes to taste these beers really have much more in common with fine liquors like scotch or cognac and they should be sampled as such; small pours in proper glassware, served as aperitifs and shared amongst friends. Some notable examples include:

Brewer Beer Name Beer Style/Description ABV
BrewDog Tokyo Intergalactic fantastic oak aged stout 18.2%
BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin Beer for the dedicated 32%
BrewDog Sink the Bismark IPA for the dedicated 41%
BrewDog End of History Belgian blond infused with nettles and juniper berries 55%
The Bruery Black Tuesday Imperial Stout 19.5%
Dogfish Head Fort Belgian ale brewed with a ridiculous amount of raspberries 15-18%
Dogfish Head World Wide Stout A very dark beer brewed with a ridiculous amount of barley 15-20%
Fouders Brewing Devil Dancer Triple IPA 12%
Kleinbrauerei Schorschbrau Schorschbock 40 Whisky like brew 40%
Mikkeller Big V Barley Wine 15%
The Refrigerated Ship Start the Future Drink it like a cocktail 60%
Samuel Adams Utopias Barrel aged beers 24-27%


As one might suspect the quest for the title of world’s strongest beer has become a somewhat farcical game of one-up-man-ship; please see the following video by BrewDog for your consideration.

*Thanks to Mosher, Randy 2009 Tasting Beer An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink.

Love is a Sour Delight*

In honour of Valentine’s Day I thought I would do a review of my recent visit to Cascade Brewing Barrel House the destination for all things tart and tantalizing.  The Barrel House had a number of casked ales and draught options; the casks were embedded in the wall behind the bar, each sporting a spigot to sample straight from the barrel.  There were nineteen beers on the menu ranging from safe options like Cascade Pale and Colonial IPA to more adventurous choices like the ‘strong sour’ Vlad the Impaler and the ‘staff only’ Chocolate Raspberry.  To a sour beer aficionado such as me the options were a little overwhelming but luckily the two dollar taster glasses afforded me the chance to sate my curiosity.  The atmosphere was cozy with a row of seats at the bar for direct contact with your server, cozy private booths lining one wall and the rest of the room taken up with long tables and benches affording you the opportunity to converse with other beer-ophiles.  There was also an impressive outdoor seating area that unfortunately was purely vestigial in North West Coast winters (aka the rain season).

Now on to the beer… I sampled the menu quite extensively so I will try to give each it’s due.  First up the Chocolate Raspberry Ale, a blend of their Fresh Hop Porter and Busta Nut Brown mixed with raspberry infused bourbonic.  A nice deep reddish brown that poured with a large head, heavy lacing lingered on the sides of the glass.  I found both the raspberry and chocolate elements to be quite subtle but to be fair the first sour beer tends to set your palate for the tartness to come.  The Beck Berry was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ blend of tripels and strong blondes fermented and aged with blackberries in oak.  A second inoculation was done and sour cherry added to give it some ‘pucker’.  This ale poured a bright gold (despite the berry name) with minimal head; it was crisp, sharp ale, highly drinkable with the strength of a Belgian complimented with tart berry notes.  Next up the ‘one off’ Blauw Van Der Jon Berry which was a soured wheat coupled with blueberries.  This beer was the colour of blueberries with just a little head.  Blueberry is an inspired choice in a sour ale since the blueberry has a touch of sweetness that nicely balances the sour elements as opposed to increasing the tartness.  Trekking out of sour territory I sampled McShagger Scottish Strong Ale a mix of sweet malt, chocolate, coffee and just a hint of whiskey to warm the tummy,  Nice, nice, nice a deep brown ale with a lingering, creamy head and lots of lacing.  Strong malts come through with that distinctive liquor taste, which makes it a Scot drink.

From here it gets a little more complicated… flash forward to my second visit (the following day) and a rowdy patron breaks their taster glass on the floor.  Perhaps worried other patrons may frown upon such rowdiness on a Sunday afternoon the most excellent bartender offers up free samples to placate the crowd.  In a move near and dear to my heart the server does an impromptu blending of the various casks such that many of my samplings were unique mixes.  Some of the ales I tried include Glueh Kriek a spiced mulled sour cherry ale served piping in the glass.  This was truly a magnificent Christmas brew strong and liqoury, spicy and tinged with just the right amount of sour pie cherry. Vlad the Impaler was a blend of quads and tripels aged in oak and bourbon barrels then blended further with spiced blondes; this one was strong bringing the heavy hitting Belgians to the forefront and tempering it with sour and spice.  Sang Rouge was a blend of many reds aged up to thirty months.  A deep red like a fine merlot, this beer became a fantastic base for the addition of some of the berry heavy sours.  Sang Noir was a dark double red aged in pinot and whiskey barrels; cherry elements come through this complex sour ale which was like a young version of the Sang Rouge.  The Vine was Cascade’s answer to the white wine, a soured blend of tripel, blonde and golden ales fermented with white wine grapes.  Like a white wine this ale was crisp and drinkable, best served quite cold.  All in all a fantastic venue to showcase the incredible range and variety of sour beers; a place where the sour-phobic become converts and the sour-lovers fall even deeper.  The true highlights were the blends and I highly recommend trying a range of tasters, picking your favourites and asking the server to mix it up!

As a watering hole I give Cascade Brewing Barrel House a 5 out 5.

*The name of this post comes from Thomas Watson’s The Hekatompathia, or Passionate Centurie of Love, Sonnet XVIII (1582).

An Open Love Letter to Russian River Brewing Co.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways… Okay so perhaps this is a touch melodramatic but I have developed a rather one-sided infatuation with Russian River Brewing Co.  Reflecting back to an earlier review of Supplication, which I then proclaimed in earnest to be the best beer ever, I now must revisit this rather bold proclamation in light of the fact I have had the exquisite pleasure of sampling even more of Russian River’s line-up.  At a local Whole Foods I found a bottle of Temptation (rather fitting for the tone of this review me thinks) blonde ale aged in French oak chardonnay barrels. Noticing my exuberant death grip on a bottle the nice beer guy let me in on a well-kept store secret, bottles of Pliny the Elder were tucked away in the back for VIP’s and beer connoisseurs.  I had no idea what this beer was but I said I would take it; turns out Pliny the Elder is a double IPA.  Finally, I picked myself up a bottle of Consecration, ale aged in oak barrels with currants added, to accompany me home to Canada.

Now down to the good stuff.  I will start with Pliny since he stood out a little from the rest.  This is the most unique beer I have had in a long time; it looked like an IPA and smelled like an IPA but wow it tasted like a pine tree or possibly a pine tree air freshener for your car – albeit I have never actually distilled and drank one.  Anyway, I was not sure I loved this ale but it really grew on me.  The hop flavour is so distinctive that it makes the drinking experience memorable.  It is somewhat strong but overall quite crisp and clean to drink.  Pliny pours a nice golden colour with a fair amount of carbonation.  There was also something appealing about being allowed to try this highly coveted ale –the cashier gave me the third degree on how I was actually able to secure a bottle.  I tried the Temptation next and it was fantastic, wonderful, orgasmic… my vocab fails me here for I cannot find the words to say how much I loved this Belgian.  This ale is crisp and dry like a chardonnay, it has a hint of sourness that does not overwhelm the beer, it is very bubbly and the ale literally tingles as you drink.  I bought a second bottle to ensure I was not delirious and guess what the repeat experience did not disappoint (contented sigh).  Finally, I tried my much anticipated bottle of Consecration the other evening.  This ale is quite sour with a pronounced currant and red wine elements.  It pours a rich dark red colour and has a fruity nose.  Sour beers are a somewhat acquired taste, personally I really enjoy them, they can be tricky to pair with food and you have to judge them for the type of beer they are…they probably won’t be serving this at your local hockey game.  To be fair I am not a big fan of currant or cassis so this was not my favourite sour ale, I prefer the cherry tinged Supplication, but it was still great.  Based on my samplings I would never hesitate to pick up anything from this brewery’s line-up.  I have no other but a woman’s reason…

FYI – Pliny the Elder was a Roman author, naturalist and philosopher.

Out of a possible five I would give Pliny the Elder a 4.5, Temptation a permanent place in my home I mean a 5, and Consecration a 4.

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Supplication: A Humble Entreaty

Okay so this is a bit of a retroactive review but as the cherry tree in my backyard is coming to fruition it got me thinking about some of the fabulous cherry beers I have sampled including the clear-cut stand-out Supplication.

This ale is strong and sour; it has been fermented and pours out a bubbly dark cherry colour –pretty much the colour of a piece of nicely aged cherry wood.  The beer has a Flemish ale quality with grape and cherry flavours subtly enhancing the experience.  However unlike some other sour ales this one is easy to drink as the sourness does not overwhelm the other tastes.  This beer truly has the complexity of a fine wine with different flavours emerging as you finish the bottle.

Here I wish I could be more detailed but as I mentioned earlier this review is retroactive and I don’t have any more bottles seeing it is only sold in the US =-(.  For those concerned with the aesthetics of their bottle I must admit that I bought this beer partly for the very interesting looking contraption? device?  tool? on the label; this consideration  was working against my better instincts of not paying thirteen dollars for one small bottle of brew.  All in all Supplication remains my undisputed favourite beer (in my mind at least, though rate beer also gave it a score of 100).

Out of a possible five I would give this beer a 5

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