Tag Archives: Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project

It’s Lager Time!

Summer is great; more hours of sunshine, warmer temperatures, less clothing, BBQ dinners, nights on the patio, wearing sunglasses, eating gelato, going on holidays, swimming in the ocean, watching fireworks …need I continue?  With this advent of sunny weather, and the resultant increase in endorphins, comes an inevitable change in the beers we want to stock in our fridges. Out are the ‘winter warmers’,  the dark porters, strong barley wines and robust stouts that warm us from the inside out while providing a days’ worth of calories, and in are the fruit beers, the IPA’s and the lagers.

Lagers are probably the most common style of beer in the world in terms of sheer quantity. Quite arguably the quintessential summer drink, and long the staple of ballparks and stadiums, lagers range in colour, hopiness and strength but share the defining characteristic of being fermented and stored at cool temperatures. In its perfect form (to me anyway) lagers are light bodied, crisp and refreshing; something you can drink ice cold and something that is safe to consume in multiples.

As always, I would like to give some background so you can to get to know your lagers a little better.

Moving from Dark to Light…

According to Randy Mosher in Tasting Beer, the origin of lagers is somewhat murky but generally the story goes that brewers in Bavaria were perfecting their craft by fermenting beer in natural caves or cellars dug into the limestone hillsides. Gradually, a new yeast strain emerged adapted to this cold weather brewing process. Flash forward five hundred or so years and Bavaria style lagers, and brewing practices, were transported to the New World with German immigrants.

The first lagers being produced in North America were dark brown beers and probably had little resemblance to the straw gold brews we have come to know today. We have Anton Schwartz, a brewing scientist, to thank for developing the cooking technique in the 1870’s, which afforded the use of lightening ingredients such as corn and rice. Couple with this the development of machine bottling and refrigeration and the stage is set for the birth of the modern lager.

A Bit about the Style

In terms of taste, cold-temperature and long fermentation times means less (or no) fruity esters in the beer, which ideally produces a clean, crisp taste focusing solely on the malts and hops. One of the great things about lagers is this simplicity; with only the choice of malt and hop determining the flavour profile subtle characteristics can emerge in the beer from honey and caramel to mint and herb. Mosher suggests that for this style any hint of fruitiness may indicate a too-warm fermentation temperature but subtle sulphur or DMS notes may be acceptable.

Some of the styles falling under the lager umbrella include: Pilsners, American Lagers, Malt Liqour, Dunkel, Oktoberfest, Bocks, Rauchbier and many other variations within. When you think about the vast range of tastes and appearances represented in these styles it is pretty amazing to believe all these beers are classified as lagers, a style essentially defined by a couple of strains of cold-temperature tolerant yeast!

The Best of the Best

I guess it is only fair to warn you that due to the mass popularity of the style, there are a lot of bad lagers out there. In fact, while I was perusing Rate Beer’s 50 Worst Beers list I noticed a disproportionate number of the bottom feeders were in fact lagers. But be brave and be perseverant because there is gold in ‘dem dar hills. Some notable lagers include:

Rate Beer – Mikkeller The American Dream, Pretty Things Lovely Saint Winefride, Pilsner Urquell Kvasnicový, Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock, Avery The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest, Dogfish Head Liquor de Malt, Surly SurlyFest, The Bruery Humulus Lager.

Beer Advocate – Snoqualmie Summer Beer, Fort George 1811 Pre-Prohibition Lager, Rogue Morimoto Imperial Pilsner, Full Sail Session Lager, Anchor Steam Beer, Brooklyn Lager, La Trappe Bockbier, Samuel Smith’s Organically Produced Lager Beer

World Beer Awards (2011) – Samuel Adams Double Bock, Bernard Dark, Samuel Adams Double Bock, APU Borgio, SA Damm Keler 18, Chatoe Rogue Dirtoir Black Lager, Egils Gull, International Breweries Australian Max, Hop City Barking Squirrel Lager, Eisenbahn Rauchbier

In my Fridge

Brooklyn Lager pours clear reddish gold with lots of off-white head that lingers. Slight carbonation in the glass. Sweet malt on the nose and citrus notes as well. Light bodied and very clean to drink. Taste wise there is some caramel and citrus with a bit of hoppy bitterness at the finish.

A Christmas Buying Guide for the Beer Geek in your Life

There are only nine shopping days left to find that perfect gift for the craft beer enthusiast in your life. So I thought I would do my part to ease the shopping burden and offer up some of the most coveted things on my list this year as well as some recommendations based on a few of my favourite things:

1.Serpent’s Stout from The Lost Abbey. A winter warmer with French roast coffee, dark chocolate, deep malt and a touch of vanilla.

2.Recycled Beer Glasses from Uncommon Goods. Handmade in Columbia from discarded, recycled and re-purposed glasses.

3. The Ontario Craft Brewers Discovery Pack from the LCBO. Six of Ontario’s finest beers.

4. Handmade Brew Slate Coasters from BadLuckArtCo. Super fun beer mats mounted on slate and completely waterproof. Fantastic Idea.

5. Stone Brewing Co. Tour. The tours are free and include a guided beer tasting. Or if you really love the Beer Geek in your life a whole tour of the Cali Brewing Scene followed by a little surfing (hint, hint).

6. Gift certificate(s) to participate in one of the many great beer tasting events happening in BC’s Lower Mainland, shop at one of our great independent liquor stores and/or  imbibe at a great tap houses.

7. A Beerquet from 99 Bottles; like flowers but drinkable! A hand-selected assortment of six beers from their stellar collection AND a gift card to boot. Who says you need to say it with flowers.

8. Beer Gear like “Stay Pretty & Drink Real Beer” T-shirt or Brewelry (jewellery handmade from old kegs) from Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project.

9. Home-brewing Course at the Vancouver Pastry School (extract brewing for the beginner and all grain brewing for the advanced) or a home-brewing start-up kit from Dan’s Home-brewing for those adventurous sorts that just like to wing it!

10. Antique Irish Guinness Beer Pulls, Bar Taps, from Stoneybatter Pub, Dublin, Ireland.

11. Beer Books. There are quite a few good ones but for an all-round great and easy read with lots of information on all things beer related you can’t beat Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer. For something more in tune with the season try Christmas Beer by Don Russell.

12. Vintage Retro Inspired Rustic Cast Iron Bottle Opener from the Shabby Shak. Never go searching for your bottle opener again (Etsy listing).

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The Art of the Beer Label

I have a confession to make: when I am unsure about which new beer to try I often pick the one with the most creative label and conversely (and perhaps more detrimentally) I often avoid brewers with less-than-stellar aesthetic sensibilities. Despite how often we are plied with the euphemism to not judge a book by its cover we just darn go ahead and do it anyway. Part of this is necessity; if we were allowed to pour a sample glass before buying a bottle or can we could judge a beer using all of our available senses. But this is perhaps the fevered dream of an as-yet-unbuilt beer utopia… As such this post will be grounded in cold hard truths of reality and entirely devoted to some of my favourite beer labels.

Taste is subjective. What I appreciate in a beer label may not be what you enjoy, and this is good thing since brewers express themselves in a myriad of ways from the fairy-tale beauty of Pretty Things, to the adverserial taunting of Stone, to the medeival nerdiness of Russian River. So what do I like in beer labels? I am not sure I can put my finger on any unifying stylistic elements but I do admire many differing qualities including but not limited to simplicity, clean lines, creative use of colour, witty banter, historical references, an overarching theme and perhaps above all an effort to stand out from the (six) pack. What follows are some of my favourites in no particular order:

Shedding Light on the Saison Story

I’m going to try something new this time around and give some background on the beer style I am reviewing before I opine on the merits of the ale.  So what the heck is a Saison beer?  Saison is French for season because these ales were traditionally brewed in the autumn or winter for consumption during the late summer harvest.  According to Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer the current story about Saisons coming from Flanders and being brewed to sustain workers  during the labour season is not exactly historically accurate.   Rather the term Saison was applied to the very eccentric beers of Liège as well as the beers of Mons in an area now known as the Saison region (hence the name Saison).  The Liège beers were brewed with malt, wheat, oats, spelt and even buckwheat or broad beans.  Fast forward to the twentieth century and the modern day versions may or may not contain wheat, tend to be bottle conditioned and have a higher ABV. One of the defining elements of this newly named style is the yeast, a ‘slow cranky’ strain believed to be related to red wine yeast.  This yeast is quite heat tolerant and produces lots of peppery phenols.  Spices are optional but pepper, orange, malts and grains of paradise are sometimes added.

So what do they taste like?  Pretty Things Jack D’Or is a ‘Saison American’ brewed in Westport MA.  I sampled batch 11 bottled February 2010, which has a 6.5% ABV.  This saison pours a cloudy gold with a thick creamy head.  There is a strong peppery nose with some subtle malt (or yeast) elements wafting through.  It is quite dry with a bitter hop bite lingering after you swallow.  Despite the cloudiness there is a real effervescence to Jack D’Or, the ale bubbles away in the glass long after it has left the bottle.  Speaking of the bottle I would amiss if I did not mention the amazingly creative labels that adorn the Pretty Things bottles.

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.

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?

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