Tag Archives: Firefly Fine Wine and Ales

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!

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Granville Island; The Best Irish Beer? Priming for St. Paddy’s Day at Firefly

 

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Last night I went to Firefly’s La Table Commune for a crash course in all things Irish and beer; kind of like a “dry” run for beer geek’s Christmas also known as St. Patrick’s Day. And no, before you comment, ask aloud or even form the thought in your brain we did not have any green beer, and no, green food colouring does not enhance the drinking process until at least six pints into the evening. In the place of emerald brews we sampled beers from Ireland and not just Guinness – apparently there are other beers in Ireland, who knew???

 

The evenings line-up included Ireland’s most popular beer Harp Lager (blanched Guinness …kidding), Kilkenny Cream Ale (best Irish name), Granville Island Irish Red (re-christened Granville Isle for the evening – at least in my mind), Smithwicks Ale (the ‘w’ is silent -thanks Lundy I don’t want to sound like a rookie), Magners Irish Cider (not beer at all), Half & Half (a cocktail of Harp and Guinness), Innis & Gunn Scotch Stout (comes in a green box!) and last but not least and not unexpected Guinness Dry Stout (aka Guinness for light weights). Our Irish beers were accompanied by a nice selection of cheese including Guinness cheese AND an amazing beer truffle from Cocoa Nymph.

 

We got some interesting background information on the evening’s theme:

  • For instance, even though Ireland=Guinness=Stout in the minds of many 63% of the beer sold in the country is lager – perhaps this is why Harp is brewed by Guinness.
  • At the beginning of the 19th century there were over two hundred breweries, today there are fewer than twelve.
  • Historically Ireland produces ales without hops because the hop is not native to Ireland.
  • Popular Irish beer styles include Lagers, Cream Ales, Red Ales and of course stout.
  • Guinness pioneered the use of the ‘widget’ (that thing rattling around in the bottom of your beer can) in the late 1980’s to maintain that creamy draught character.
  • Guinness is actually the lightest of the beer selection served in terms of calories and alcohol content. Guinness for health indeed!

 

HARP LAGER: Clear and golden with lots of stiff white head; grape and apple on the nose with a hint of nuttiness; light bodied and crisp with the ever so slightest bitter finish; drinkable but not remarkable.

KILKENNY CREAM ALE: Light amber, clear with a decent amount of head; a little sweet malt on the nose; clean and creamy in the mouthfeel but very flat.

SMITHWICKS RED ALE: Reddish amber with cream coloured head and good clarity; touch of sour and sweet on the nose; nice malt/hop balance and a bit of depth body wise; subtle bitter finish.

GRANVILLE ISLAND IRISH RED ALE: Deeper red colour with lots of white head; definite hop on the nose; smooth to drink with caramel notes and a soapy hop quality; bitter finish.

MAGNERS IRISH CIDER: Very, very pale gold, effervescent and clear; sweet apple nose; crisp and easy to drink; sweet finish but not cloyingly so more refreshing and not cooler like, which is a definite bonus.

INNIS & GUNN STOUT: Dark reddish brown with a quickly dissipating caramel coloured head; sweet, oaky nose; smooth in body, smoky overtones, lots of whisky flavour; liquor-like finish.

GUINNESS DRY STOUT: Deep black and tan with lots of creamy head; roastiness on the nose; very light in body and dry but with lots of flavour notes like coffee, chocolate and roast cereal; bitter finish.

HARP AND GUINNESS (Half and Half): Points go to this one for awesome aesthetics for this cocktail; a layered drink with the dark Guinness floating atop the light Harp.

HARP AND MAGNERS (Snakebite): I’m a big fan of this ‘radler’ style of mixing lager with something sweet like cider, soda or lemonade; reminds me of picnics and sunshine.

 


I Love Beer! I Love Chocolate! Chocolate Beer …I Love You

 

In case you missed the title, this post is all about the union of two of the best food groups in the world -beer and chocolate. To honour this joining, my sweetie and I attended Firefly Fine Wines and Ales beer and chocolate tasting and (over)indulged in a flight of eight beers paired with a trio of chocolates from Cocoa Nymph Chocolates & Confections.

 

Now wait a minute beer and chocolate? Together? Can that work? Survey says a resounding yes. If you stop and think about it beer and chocolate are not that dissimilar with their composition of sweet and bitter elements. Chocolates can be sweet and milky, bitter and roasty, enhanced with herbs and spices and this is equally true for beers. We already know how well chocolate works when it is brewed into robust stouts and coffee porters so it was fun to see what happens when you put the two together in a tasting session.

 

 

The Chocolate Line-Up

Classic Dark Nymph – 64% dark chocolate with a subtle bitterness.

Sea Nymph – 64% dark with fleur de sel and toffee.

Twilight Nymph – 45% creamy milk chocolate.

Urban Nymph – 45% milk chocolate with coffee and caramelized cocoa nibs.

Garden Nymph – Rich white chocolate with tart dried cherries

 

 

The Beer Line-Up

Coney Island’s Albino Python – Lager meets hefeweizen; strong notes of ginger and fennel balanced with malt.

Tin Whistle’s Chocolate Cherry Porter – Light bodied Porter with lots of fruit on the nose.

Mort Subite Framboise –Bright, sweet lambic with a hint of tartness.

Youngs Double Chocolate – Rich chocolate nose and roast flavour with a bitter finish.

La Vache Folle Imperial Milk Stout – Lots of malt and yeastiness on the nose with a creamy mouthfeel.

Rogue Hazelnut Nutbrown Ale –Ton of nuttiness on the nose, clean and sweet to drink.

Cannery Brewing Maple Stout – Way too syrupy for the amount of body. Intensely sweet.

R&B Brewing Spirit Coffee Porter – Subtle coffee nose, tepid with a bit of a bitter finish.

 

 

Each taster glass was sampled with three pieces of chocolate chosen to draw attention to how different qualities in the beer are altered when paired with chocolates. At times I had difficulty discerning whether I did not like the taste of a particular beer or particular chocolate or the combination of the two but through some trial and error I perfected the technique of sipping the beer, then water, a bit of chocolate, then water, and finally the two together. It was hard work but someone had to step up!

 

Some of the pairings that worked particularly well include: Chocolate Cherry Porter and the Urban Nymph, Albino Python and Twilight Nymph, Mort Subite Framboise and Garden Nymph, Youngs Double Chocolate and Urban Nymph, Imperial Milk Stout and Twilight Nymph, and Hazelnut Nutbrown Ale and Twilight. A notable few that did NOT work well include: Spirit Coffee Porter and Garden Nymph, Hazelnut Nutbrown Ale and Urban Nymph, and Albino Python and Garden Nymph.

 

 

Overall thoughts on the evening: Some beers like the lambic and the maple stout are so flavourful that pairing is challenging since the beer can completely dominate the chocolate. White chocolate was particularly tough to pair successfully while the dark chocolate went well with everything but did little to enhance any of the beers. When pairing beer and chocolate complementary elements seemed to work best as opposed to drawing out bitterness with sweetness. The heavier the beer the more amicable it was to various pairings while the flavours in the lager were noticeably altered by each chocolate. Some pairings just did not work diminishing the tasting experience of both the beer and the chocolate but when it worked it was fantastic.

 


Warming up with Winter Beers at Firefly

Tuesday night was only my second ever ‘La Table Commune’ event at Firefly Fine Wine and Ales. I know, I know, how come a beer geek such as myself is not a regular at any and every beer event in the lower mainland. Well to be honest I often feel like I have tried so many different beers that I am becoming a challenge to impress; however, ‘Winter beers’ was an impossible temptation for me to pass up. As a lover of all beers dark, liquory and spicy especially as the temperature drops and the sun sets earlier, I was ready to be wowed with something new to add into my rotation. First up a little background on the beer selection courtesy of our hostess Lundy from Firefly. Winter warmer beers tend to be higher in alcohol, heavier in spices, roastier (?) in malt and generally all around bigger and bolder versions of our everyday ales. Styles can run the gamut but winter beers tend to work best with stouts, porters, barley wines, eisbocks and scotch ales as there starting points. Eisbocks were new to me so I will give you a bit more detail on this style before proceeding with the tasting notes. Eisbocks are doppelbocks that are frozen and then the ice is removed to concentrate the flavour and the alcohol. Eisbocks are lagers in the sense that they undergo a cold fermentation to clear the beer. This is analogous to the process for making ice wine. Now back to the matters at hand. I would like to introduce our evening’s line-up and offer some of my tasting notes:

Samuel Smith Winter Welcome 6.0% ABV IBU 32 – This beer is clear and copper in colour with a nice cream coloured head. I get sour malt with a bit of apple on the nose. There is a caramel sweetness when drinking and a bitter hop aftertaste. It is smooth and well-balanced. Improves as it warms up closer to room temperature.

Mission Springs Mr. Brown’s Mashed Pumpkin 8.0% ABV – This ale is golden amber with very little head. It has the most distinctive root beer nose I have ever encountered. Light in body but heavy in allspice/nutmeg/cinnamon. There is a bitter almost burnt finish.

Howe Sound Father John’s Winter Ale 7.0% ABV IBU 17 – Amber to red in appearance with minimal head. I really get a floral (lilac) nose with sweet malt. There is a tinge of sourness to this beer, which plays off the heavy malts and spices. Also, a sherry-like quality.

R&B Auld Nick Winter Ale 6.5% ABV IBU 18 – Deep amber to brown coloured ale with average head retention. There is a sweet crystal malt nose and a bit of molasses. A heavy bodied beer and you can really taste the molasses. Slight hop bitterness on the finish and a scotch element as the beer warms up.

Samuel Smith Taddy Porter 5.8% ABV – A deep brown relatively clear beer with a large caramel coloured head. You get sweet caramel/malt, raisin and sherry on the nose. Christmas cake spices and sweet liquor dominate the mouthfeel. Very smooth and well-balanced.

Vancouver Island Brewery Hermannator (Eisbock) 9.5% ABV – A deep amber to brown coloured beer with a small amount of head. Sweet malt is the dominate element on the nose. It is light in body, almost tepid, with a syrupy quality. Powerful liquor taste. This beer would cellar quite well.

Howe Sound Pot-Hole Filler Imperial Stout 9.0% ABV IBU 65 – Deep black stout with a dark caramel coloured head on this ale. The nose is a mix of crystal malt and roasted barley. It is a very heavy and smooth beer with subtle coffee and molasses elements.

Pike Old Bawdy Barley Wine 9-10% ABV – Clear and amber in appearance with a stiff ivory head. Malt is very present on the nose of this beer. It is smooth and dry with a fair amount of hop bitterness at the finish.

Brooklyn Monster Barley Wine 9-10% ABV – Similar in appearance to the Pike. You get a sweet malt nose and some liquor vapour as well. It is extremely well-balanced with no discernible bitter aftertaste. Drinks like a spirit.

Overall it was a fun, albeit cramped, winter beer tasting. Perhaps ‘La Table Commune’ really intends for you to embrace your new beer friends by tightly packing you into a small space. Diligent note-taking and photograph-happy beer geeks be forewarned that you may inadvertently clear the table in your attempts to document the evening (sorry about the glass Lundy). Our hostess was both knowledgeable and considerate offering up some of her own cellared beers for the event and making non-regulars such as myself feel most welcome. I am definitely looking forward to another tasting event at Firefly. To wrap this post up in a neat little (Christmas) package my picks for the best winter tipplers for the season are:

1. Samuel Smith Taddy Porter

2. V.I.B. Hermannator

3. Brooklyn Monster Barley Wine


Beer with Drawbacks?

The table commune at Firefly Fine Wine and Ales is hosting a tasting event entitled ‘Beer with Benefits’ showcasing the many diverse flavours cropping up in our ales.  From chocolate to pumpkin to acai berry to mint there seems to be no element too unusual to combine with beer.  This got me to thinking about some of the less than stellar beer blends I have tried as of late – while the following beers may not have been my favourites I must commend the brewers for pushing the boundaries of taste and convention.

First up, Lyli a ‘Malt beverage brewed with Tea’ by Epic Ales from Seattle.  This ale pours a golden orange with a very minimal amount of head.  The beer is cloudy and sediment heavy.  The nose has a distinct sweetness and an element of burnt toast.  Malt dominates the palate while a tannin-like taste lingers after you swallow.  This tannin character reminds me of black tea that has been allowed to steep for too long; it is almost bitter.  While I could drink this ale my drinking companions were much more put off by this bitter aftertaste.  The best part of this beer is the amazing ingenuity of the label.  That being said I am completely game to try some more of the Epic line-up especially the spearmint beer, which came highly recommended but alas was sold out when I tried the Lyli.

Overall I would give this beer  2 out of 5

Second, Dead Frog’s Chocolate Mint Brown Ale brewed nearby in Aldergrove, British Columbia.  Did you ever know one of those kids when you were little, you know, the one that always wanted that bright green mint chocolate chip ice cream or the PEP instead of a ‘regular’ chocolate bar? Well I was one of those oddities; I love all things mint and chocolate so once again without really thinking through the taste implications I saw Chocolate Mint Beer and thought TOGETHER AT LAST! This ale is an opaque tawny brown with no real head to speak of.  The nose is quite complex; sweetness, mint and nuttiness all come through yet the mouthfeel is somewhat disappointing.  The beer does not have the depth of a typical brown ale and it is quite ‘lite’ in character despite the opacity.  The mint taste is very synthetic and there are no lingering elements.  I even paired this beer with vegan brownies coconut ice cream thinking it would make an excellent dessert companion but the beer could not hold its own.

Overall I would give this beer 2.5 out of 5


Firefly ‘La Table Commune’ Introduction to Craft Beer

Forces out of my control, namely surgery, sightseeing and Stieg Larsson, have conspired against me and my blog resulting in an inexcusable absentia from any sort of posting regularity.  Nonetheless now I am back and focused with a rather daunting amount of material to work through.  The first review I want to do is more of a synopsis of a relatively recent beer tasting night at Firefly Fine Wines and Ales.  During this intro to craft beer session a smallish group of people learned about the beer basics from malts, to hops, to brewing processes and beer familial relations.  This informative chat was followed by a sampling of eight different ales: Industrial Lager (the mystery mass produced beer), R&B Red Devil Pale Ale, Wells Bombardier Ale, Moylans IPA, Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale, Dupont Saison, Cantillion Kriek, and last but definitely not least Brew Dog ‘TNP’.  For the sake of brevity I will offer a few comments on each of the offerings.  The industrial lager was your average ball park beer, you know the beer you get when there is only one option on the menu or when you are underage and some nice relative offers to go to the beer store for you, a somewhat watered down but drinkable bevie that you learn later bears little to no semblance to what the rest of the world considers beer.  Though in all honesty it was fun to guess which ‘big box brand’ we were sipping –turns out my partner knows his crappy beers!  Moving along, Red Devil was easy drinking crisp pale ale; I found it light on the hops compared to other IPA’s but this worked well for me.  The Wells ale was more complex with many different flavours emerging from blended hops, to spices and caramel overtones.  The cheat sheet described the next offering, Moylans, as provocative but I though it tasted a bit like lilac soap.  This IPA was hoppy, a little too hoppy for me, but the other non-biased IPA lovers seemed to really enjoy it.  I really liked the Samuel Smith and I did not think I would.  The ale was a rich reddish brown hue and had a really nice nutty flavour with an apple aftertaste.  The Saison is highly carbonated ale with definite floral tones and heavy sediment.  Saison beer is a somewhat unique style and once you have tried one you will become a fan or not.  I personally like Saisons but I enjoy unfiltered, lambic, gueze, unpasteurized etc. so this style suits my palate.  Next up the Cantillion, now if you put Kriek on the label I am in so I may not be that objective here.  The Kriek is a beautiful red ale that is tart and challenging -the notes mentioned barnyard aroma but I ignored that.  These types of beers cellar well and the longer the age the better the cherry flavour gets as it ferments in the bottle.  The coup de grace of the evening was the tactical nuclear penguin a 32%, yes that is correct 32%, beer banned from its native Scotland due to concerns about the high alcohol content.  We split one small bottle between twelve people and I could not have finished anymore than that, wow, this beer is one tough cookie it tastes and looks more like a scotch than a beer.  It would be fantastic with a rich dessert since it has a slight butterscotch nose and is very rich.  The TNP from Brew Dog rounded out our evening.  The best thing about TNP was the story behind the creation of this beer and its successors Sink the Bismark and End of History which comes to you in a dead squirrel -yep a squirrel.  Please check out their fantastic website for the story.  Overall great night, lots of great beer and great company I think I will be back to participate in the sour beer tasting event.


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