Tag Archives: Flavoured Beer

Beer One Hit Wonders

There are a lot of beers out there pushing the envelope when it comes to flavour combinations. Bacon, chai, mint, liquorice, grapefruit, heather, watermelon, fir, oyster, ginger, chipotle, rose petals and well you get the idea, dream up a flavour, add it to beer and voila!

Now I know you can add almost any flavour into beer but the question becomes why.  Is it a gimmick? A brewing challenge? Increased brand exposure? Generally, these one-off beers are seasonal offerings, something that makes a brief appearance on the shelf or on tap before passing into limbo or wherever it is that passé beers go to die so why bother?

Well I would like to put forward a few theories for your consideration. The rise of the craft beer industry has spawned a knowledgeable but dare I say easily bored (or easily swayed) league of followers that needs to be continually sated with an ever-evolving selection of “new” beer. In order to keep your beer geek interested you need to keep a big, juicy rhizome dangling out front so they will always stick with your brewery. “Hey, chocolate, lime beer brewed with crickets I bet none of the other bloggers have tried this yet!”

On the other hand, touting exotic beers with non-traditional flavours may assist in the creation of a new beer geek (and by extension a new customer). For instance, random non-beer drinker walks into a bar and sees Voodoo Donut Bacon Maple Beer, they pause and think I like bacon, I like donuts, I should try this and pshh (sound of a bottle opening) another beer geek gets his or her wings. At the same time posting all your flavours up front on the bottle makes it a no-brainer for those on the fence about craft beer since they are being told exactly what to expect. Chocolate Cherry Porter, no surprises there.

Perhaps brewers just like to experiment, to push stylistic boundaries and see if they can create something truly innovative. Once the brewing basics have been mastered, the classic ale and lager, why not explore which ingredients pair well enhancing bitterness or sweetness, changing the grain, fermenting with different sugars. Perhaps the allure of the next great beer style is always just around the corner.

But in all seriousness is a one hit wonder ever really a good thing? Do we reflect back on “Can’t Touch This” and lament the fact we did not stick it out with MC Hammer for the long haul or did we just pass him over for the next catchy tune? Do any of these one-off beers have real staying power or generate repeat business? Maybe these oddball beers draw drinkers to a brewery but I doubt you could find a beer geek who makes regular shelf space for bacon or chai beers.

On the flip side you have Trappist breweries devoting hundreds of years to perfecting a singular beer style. In this instance, love of the craft does not equate to a line-up of fifty different ales but painstaking attention to making the best beer they can brew.

And why do I need to be told what flavours are in my beer just by looking at the name on the label? Beers have always been flavoured; dark beers can have coffee, roasted cereal grains and sweetness simply by nature of the style in the same way hefeweizens have citrus and spice elements and lambics have a fruit profile. Isn’t part of the tasting experience allowing the consumer to discern what tastes emerge as they drink? Of course keep the list of ingredients but let the drinker have the pleasure of discovering what makes your beer truly great and what they enjoy in a brew.

I think I am finished now.

The Greatest of Expectations

I have been counting down the days until Steamworks Brewing Company’s Great Pumpkin Ale was finally on tap. Much like Linus I was going out at night looking up at the sky and asking where are you Great Pumpkin (Ale)? Steamworks’ fall seasonal was my favourite beer two years running at the Great Canadian Beer Fest. I loved that it actually tasted like pumpkin pie, the spices were just right, the sweetness bang on and somehow it managed to be a great beer at the foundation of it all. After GCBF 2010 I just missed the last of the pumpkin ale at Steamworks and I was pretty bummed out. This year I vowed to myself and the beer saints (yup all of them …Gambrinus, Arnold, Brigid you name em’ and I invoked them) that I would not make the same mistake twice.

Making good on my idle promises, yesterday I headed to Gastown to pick up my growler and I was good to go or so I thought… Here is the issue, I have been looking forward to this beer for so long that when I finally got it home and poured myself a pint I was a little underwhelmed. Naturally this got the left side of my brain thinking about all the reasons a beer may not live up to my expectations. There are many variables that can affect your drinking experience including beer temperature, glassware, food pairings, pour size, environment, company, state of mind etc. Psychology also obviously comes into play in the sense we often remember things as being better than they actually were; anticipation can be hard to live up to. So what follows are two reviews of the beer, one on Saturday and one on Sunday, in my attempt to account for some of the variables that enter into the drinking experience.

Beer Day 1: Steamworks Great Pumpkin Ale pours an autumnal reddish brown with minimal head. It is very clear and still. I had my pint very cold; the beer elements (hops, malt) immediately come to the forefront but I felt like the spiciness was somewhat lacking. The nose is malty but not overpowering. There is a bit of strength to the ale, not sure of the ABV, which makes it a nice choice a fall seasonal. I tried the ale immediately after a meal, and spicy dessert, and I drank it pretty much in one sitting. Overall a really nice red ale but I am not sure it is remarkable as a flavoured beer. I feel somewhat let down by the lack of complexity.

Re-visiting the Beer Day 2: After thinking too much about all of the reasons the beer was not quite as I remembered I thought I’d give it another go today to see if my opinion had changed. This afternoon I tried a couple more pints of the Great Pumpkin Ale and I have to admit it is starting to win its way back into my heart. I tried the ale on its own, no food accompaniments, and I left it out to warm up (just a bit) on the counter. This definitely helped bring out the pumpkin pie spices and improved the creamy mouthfeel. I drank it intermittently while doing a gazillion other Sunday-type things. As I sit here draining the bottom of my glass, and the end of my growler, I think I am firmly back in the ‘I love Great Pumpkin Ale’ camp but perhaps I am not the fervent right-wing lover I once was.

Overall I would give Steamworks Great Pumpkin Ale 4.5 out of 5

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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

Rogue Encounters

On a recent trip to Portland I had the opportunity to visit several local breweries and pubs including the Rogue Distillery and Public House.  Even though the Rogue brewery is not situated in Portland the brewery has left its indelible and unmistakable mark on the city.  In fact, I first became aware of Rogue a few years back at Portland’s Saturday Market where I was amazed to find beer samples amongst tooled leather (Ben Milam you rock)and hand knittables.  This time I was floored once again to learn Rogue has expanded their line-up to include spirits; pink gin, dead guy whiskey and white rum to name a few.  Learning we could not sample spirits in the open air market we decided to head over to their public house to sample some libations.

The Distillery and Public House is located in a pretty standard Portland building generously decorated with banners and flags.  Inside this ‘more is more’ philosophy permeates every square inch of the pub, which has Rogue surfboards, placards, Growlers, beer ephemera, overstock and I haven’t even mentioned the gift room.  There is also an adjacent area where visitors can sample the liquors and tour the distillery on select days.   But this is a beer blog so I will try to minimize my aesthetic reservations and get to the good stuff.  The waitress brought us a binder loaded with tons of information on the entire Rogue line-up and then little Photostats of the taster trays to write out our official selections.  Did I mention that a quick query about our age resulted in two free samples arriving at our table…nice touch!  After much soul searching, and a couple of misfires, I selected the Chamomellow, Buckman’s Ginger Ale (a guest brewer), Honey Orange Wheat and Chipotle Ale.

First up the Chamomellow, a very light and tepid ale that has a slight hop element.  Like the name suggests this beer is somewhat akin to a Chamomile tea being mellow to drink with a slight floral note.  The colour is pale and there is little in the way of head.  This ale is quite nice really and I can see it being an excellent sipper when served quite cold.  Next up the ginger ale, this beer has a very thick head that lingers long after pouring but I find the ginger is not strong enough for my tastes.  Much like the rest of the Rogue line-up, and perhaps all of the Northwest, the hops tend to dominate other flavours.  The Honey Orange Wheat has the lovely cloudiness of a wheat beer, a nice amount of head and slight carbonation.  Not to sound too repetitive, but I feel the honey taste is too mild yet the orange really comes through.  A strong hopiness is there to remind you that yep, you’re drinking a Rogue Ale.  Finally, I round out my taster tray with the Chipotle Ale.  Spicy beers are a bit of a novelty for me, less an everyday drinker and more of a whip this out to surprise company kind of beer.  This ale pours with very little head and has a clear golden colour.  It is clean to drink with the heat coming through after you swallow.  Overall good times had by all but a warning to other vegans stick to the ales and don’t come expecting to sample the food menu.

Out of a possible five I would give this Pub a 4.0

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The Great Canadian Beer Festival 2010

Friday morning saw me crossing the Salish Sea to attend the Great Canadian Beer Festival in Victoria BC.  The somewhat tedious trip on the ferry gave me plenty of time to review the impressive line-up of brewers, pick my must-haves and plot my route.  I decided that I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, fruit beers and lambics, and try some brews that would challenge my palette and broaden my horizons.

First stop was at Driftwood Brewery to try the ‘Friday Only’ ‘once in a lifetime’ Old Cellar Dweller 2009.  This 12% barley wine was casked in November especially for the festival and it did not disappoint –even after dinging me for two tokens, ouch!  This golden-amber slightly cloudy beer was strong and hoppy with little to no head and a strong liquor taste.  In retrospect a good pour to end, not start, the day with as the successors seemed not to deliver quite the same kick.  Undeterred I headed to Merridale Ciderworks from Cobble Hill BC.  I had never tried a hard cider – not being much of a cooler gal– I opted for Scrumpy their ‘famous rough farmhouse cider with a rich tannic body’.  This drink is tart, sharp and flat, which I apparently quite like in a cider.  The taste is something like a crab apple wine, challenging but satisfying to sip.  Interesting start to my day…note to future self do not begin with a 12% beer…and the fest was a nice amount of busy with just the right mix of costumed characters.

Taking a sharp left, figuratively and perhaps literally, I journeyed back to beer land with the Swans ‘Brewcifer IPA’ and ‘Coconut Porter’.  The Brewcifer is a piquant ale brewed with jalapeno, lime and black pepper, which despite initial concerns for the welfare of my taste buds surprised the heck out of me –in a good way.  The beer had an amazing jalapeno nose and it was easy to drink peppery with subtle amounts of lime and a lingering heat that emerged long after you swallow.  It was Mexican beer all heat and citrus and yummy.  Before I continue I should provide a caveat to my next review, I do not like coconut, the very thought of a Pina Colada or Malibu make me a little nauseous, but I was lovin’ Swans coconut porter.  This porter looked dark almost like a stout but it goes down like a lager; it had a crisp freshness and the coconut was a really authentic taste, not at all like the sickly sweet aforementioned coconut concoctions.  The cold is becoming somewhat noticeable and the need for sustenance weighs heavily on my brain; off to the samosas.

Continuing on with my tour I headed to Steamworks where they threw down the gauntlet with their Great Pumpkin Ale (sorry Howe Sound Brewing) an almost unanimous favourite amongst our entourage.  There are many pumpkin ales out there and when one takes a chance and cracks a bottle they immediately conjure up the sights, tastes and smells of their favourite pumpkin pie before even taking that first sip.  I do not know if the cold biting weather played a role but this beer met and exceeded all my expectations.  Dark amber/orange in my sipper glass this brew had an incredible spicy nose and just the right amount of effervescence.  It was slightly sweet with a strong ginger flavour; it was so good that we circled back at the end of our day to finish off with another taster.  The proportional relationship between a good beer and a good mood is critical in situations where respite is port-a-potties that are rapidly deteriorating in quality and quantity -even the men’s communal is filling at an alarming rate!

It is always hard to follow an amazing taste experience so I may be a little ‘bitchy’ in my review of Russell Brewing Lemon Ale, which was a tepid, light ale strong on lemon taste with nutty overtones.  This beer had no carbonation and may have been much better on a sweltering day but today it just didn’t it.  Unfortunately I followed one disappointment with another when I sampled Three Skulls Ales Blood Orange Wit.  Another tepid, light beer that was seriously lacking in the tastes that make a wit so enjoyable and sadly I could not discern any blood orange flavour.  Down but not out I broke my own rules and headed to R&B Brewing to drown my sorrows in the limited edition Brent’s Black Raspberry Lambic.  If there are foodie equivalents in the beer world (beeries?) then that’s me with regards to lambic beers; in other words I have a very particular taste that I enjoy cultivated through extensive research (tasting).  This lambic was good not great, lacking somewhat in the liveliness of a traditional bacteria filled brew but with a beautiful berry colour and good balance between the sweet and the tart.  Okay so three mediocre samples equates to a heightened perception of mud, cold and drunken university boys with an unfortunate spell of what they colloquially labelled the ‘beer farts’…sigh.

I began to wind down the day when as I sauntered over to Bravo Beers to try Sara Silenrieux’s brother Jospeh Silenrieux.  This offering was really great, bubbly and crisp, the perfect amount of head, and subtle fruit overtones that did not detract from the Belgian wheat lager at its heart.  This may have been the perfect festival opener just lightly awakening the palette and cleansing it for the heavy hitting flavours yet to come.  Another nice middle of the roader was Barley Mill Brewpub’s Red Clover Honey Ale a mildly hopped beer that was tempered with the sweetness of the honey and fruit infusions.  A dry ale that was clean drinking and would be fantastic on a warm summer evening.  Cheered immensely by an infusion of bubbles and despite being the subject of an impromptu beer shower I headed back to the token booth for one round.  Last token firmly in hand I decided to try one of my perennial favourites Upright Brewing. Like an old friend that is reliable, familiar and consistent I have yet to be let down by you guys plus you’re from Portland…truly you rock.  For this my penultimate sample I tried Six a dark rye beer, which was tart and sweet at the same time.  Caramel came through as did cherry; flavours that supported the strength of the rye base.  A gorgeous mahogany colour, strong and warming what can I say but loved it.

*Sincere regrets to Lighthouse Brewing’s Espresso Vodka Infused Imperial Stout and Vancouver Island Brewery’s Black Rock Chipotle Rauchbier, I wanted to drink you, I really did but alas you went and got yourselves sold-out…sigh.

Out of a possible five I would give this event a 5.0+ can’t wait til next year

Dogfish Head Fort

The Dogfish Head Brewery website describes this as Belgian ale “brewed with a ridiculous amount of pureed raspberries (over a ton of them)” but perhaps what needs to be proclaimed a little more front and centre is the impressive 18% ABV.  I was holidaying stateside when I came across this beer in the local grocer and picked one up since Dogfish Head is always one of my go to breweries from whom I can try pretty much anything and not be disappointed.  After a quick review of the label for the alcohol content my partner and I decided how strong could it really be?  Of course we can split it before bed?!?…well consider yourself forewarned this is not the kind of beer you want to consume to top off your three mojito day.  Don’t get me wrong this ale was fantastic, a distinct liquor taste, lovely dark red colour, with just the right amount of sweet/tart to balance it out.  Ideally I would have split this bottle four ways; it would lend itself well to being swirled in a beautiful whisky glass and sipped not swilled.  I think that Dogfish’s recommendation to cellar a few bottles is a great idea as fort would only get better with age.  Another standout beer from a standout brewery and I am hoping to see this beer on our side of the border soon – it already has a bilingual label going on.

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


Peach Cream Ale from Tin Whistle Brewing Company

Still mired in the summer fruit vibe and fresh back from berry picking I cracked this bottle of peach cream ale.  First thought this beer is light…light in colour and light in flavour.  It is pale coloured ale, bubbly but with very little head.  The ale is very clean to drink almost to the point of being too watery for my liking.  The peach is very subtle but present however I am not sure the cream portion ever came through as a taste element.  At the same time I am not even sure the ale taste really came through.   It was quite middle of the road for me kind of a set my mind on auto pilot can drink this with anything kind of beer.  I love to drink local but I do not think I would go out of my way to try this again.  If this beer was a song it would be one of those catchy summer pop numbers that enjoys a brief moment in the sun only if you do not look to closely at the lyrics or the lip syncing – anyone remember that Summer Girls song by LFO…lol.

Out of a possible five I would give this beer a 3.5

Warming up for the Firefly Craft Beer Tasting Night

This is not so much one review but rather an overview of my sampling of several beers in an attempt to broaden my palette before attending the craft beer tasting at Firefly Fine Wine and Ales.  Worried about appearing like a beer ‘rookie’ in a sea of cicerones I had a couple of friends over to assist me in a little research ie. ordering pizza and drinking beer.   With all good intentions to carefully document the evening I instead found myself staring at a counter full of empty bottles trying to recall the differences between beer 1 and beer 10.  So instead of doing a disservice to any of the bevies I tried I am going to offer some thoughts on what I liked…I think…If I remember correctly.

We commenced the evening with a ‘What the Huck’ Huckleberry wheat ale from Fernie Brewing Co – great name!  Yet another summer fruit varietal this one being more on the tart than sweet side.  The liquid is, well, the colour one might expect from a berry beer slightly purplish with a golden undertone.  This ale is very light only 5% making it a nice starter beer for the night.  We followed up with Brooklyn Local 2 a nice crisp ale with honey and citrus peel.  It almost has a flavour like a Hefeweizen but based in strong ale.  The honey flavour was nice and mild, not overpowering, and in the glass the beer is a dark orange-red hue with a dark foam head.   At the same time we cracked Cannery Brewing’s Apricot Wheat Ale which I enjoyed but was not blown away with.  Apricot is a subtle flavour and competing with the Brooklyn Local 2 I found I was not drawing a lot of taste from this beer – but to be fair had I tried this first off my opinion may have swayed.  Moving right along, the White Bark Wheat Ale from Driftwood Brewery and just to get this out up front –this beer has a fantastic label, as do all the Driftwood beers.  This white beer puts itself up against the myriads of Belgian style wit beers on the market and it fairs well against the competition.  Not to overstate the obvious but I like white beers and this did not disappoint.  It remained cloudy in the glass, nice head, and a good ‘bite’ from the coriander and orange – I personally like that these elements play against creamy texture of white ale.  So my astuteness tends to slip slide a little downhill after this as I moved onto to a couple entries from Hitachino Nest, the Weizen and the White Ale.  While I usually really enjoy this brewery I was disappointed with the Weizen.   The beer had a really odd sweet and sour quality to it that I did not enjoy almost like it should have been drunk as an aperitif.  The white ale on the other hand was good -granted at that point in the evening my vocabulary did not extend much past this beer good that beer bad- not the best white beer but not the worst; it claims to have nutmeg so if you like ginger snaps give it a go.

Now a word or two from the dark side, I am a lightweight not only in amount I can drink but also in the strength and viscosity of my beers so my obliging better half took on Pretty Things Sylvan Stout by Pretty Things Beer and Ale, the Raven’s Eye Imperial Stout (Organic) by Eel River Brewing Company, and Madrugada Obscura Dark Dawn Stout by Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales.  Coincidentally enough he ranked them 1, 2, 3 in the order listed.  Some further thoughts…Pretty Things was a java stout, heavy on the coffee but not a thick stout, while Raven’s Eye was similar with less obvious coffee overtones.  The Madrugada Obscura on the other hand was very unique it had a fermented ‘bubbly’ quality, which is somewhat challenging in a stout.  Being the last beer of the evening it may have unfairly been given the short shrift but hey whatcha gonna do?

Früli “A high quality Belgian white beer blended with pure strawberry juice”.

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

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