Tag Archives: R and B Brewing

Some Extra Special Blogging or Thoughts on Hops

I have mentioned this before but it bears repeating that every once in a while I get hop fatigued from all the big, brash IPA’s here on the West Coast, not to mention the generous hop profile of almost every other beer style out this way. When this ennui sets in I want something with just a touch of hoppy bitterness, or dare I say subtlety, while still maintaining the light bodied crispness of the pale ale family. Now before you start throwing holy water on me and shoving crucifixes in my face I absolutely have a place in my beer stockpile for the hop bombs but this time out I want to delve into the diversity of the bitter family.


Pale Ales and Bitters comprise one of those beer families where the style names tend to be used freely and interchangeably. According to Mosher in Tasting Beer, the term Pale Ale typically applies to bottled beers on the strong end of the range while Bitter generally refers to drafts of all strengths. Add into the mix the qualifiers “Ordinary”, “Best”, “Special” and “Extra Special Bitter or ESB” and we are not really that much further ahead in our understanding. For quite some time I simply thought IPA=USA and ESB=UK but this is a bit too simplistic.

At the heart of the style lay the common elements of lightly kilned pale ale malt, which imparts that subtle nutty flavour and just a bit of toastiness, and hops in varying quantities to add the requisite bitterness. India Pale Ales comprise the far end of the hop spectrum while the English Pale Ales and Bitters offer a more balanced profile but tend to blur the style boundaries. Turning back to Mosher, he suggests, English Pales Ales tend to be more substantial beers than bitters, can be brewed with all-malt versions and must display the English hop character (especially important to the aroma). I guess this leaves the term Bitter to denote everything else.

According to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Guidelines the English Pale Ales are divided into three styles Standard/Ordinary Bitter, Special/Best/Premium Bitter and Extra Special/Strong Bitter. I have included the ‘Overall Impressions’ provided in the guidelines to give you a rough idea of what differentiates the three bitters apart from adjectives:

Standard/Ordinary Bitter – Low gravity, low alcohol levels and low carbonation make this an easy-drinking beer. Some examples can be more malt balanced, but this should not override the overall bitter impression. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales.

Special/Best/Premium Bitter – A flavorful, yet refreshing, session beer. Some examples can be more malt balanced, but this should not override the overall bitter impression. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales.

Extra Special/Strong Bitter – An average-strength to moderately-strong English ale. The balance may be fairly even between malt and hops to somewhat bitter. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales. A rather broad style that allows for considerable interpretation by the brewer.


Got that? Me neither, so let me try to put this into terms that speak to what really matters to beer geeks …what do I put in my fridge?


For this portion of the show I present two examples of the style for your considerations. The first is East Side Bitter from R & B Brewing Co. This beer is named after a vibrant area in Vancouver, and the bottle sports a great label featuring street signs, a transformer and shoes hanging from the power lines. Rick and Barry (R & B) describe the beer as “not your typical English Extra Special Bitter. Northwest hops and lots of them added to the kettle and a ridiculous amount added post fermentation give this beer its unique aroma and crisp refreshing finish.” The second beer is Extra Special Barney from Full Sail Brewing Company. This beer is the part of the Brewer’s Share series from Full Sail; four times a year the brewery lets the brewers create at will and then the winner’s brew is shared with the “entire beer-geekosphere”. Extra Special Barney is the winning creation from brewer Barney Brennan. The beer is described as “a nicely balanced small batch bitter…featuring five different specialty malts and aromatic Challenger hops.”

Before I move onto my reviews can I just say kudos to both brewers for their clever use of acronyms, as a geek in general (not just a beer geek) I appreciate the word play.

East Side Bitter – A clear, copper/amber coloured beer with tons of cream coloured head that sticks around. Very hop heavy on the nose with pine notes and some floral elements. Bitter taste at the front of the mouth and a slightly sticky mouthfeel. The hop character seems to be all in the mouthfeel with a surprisingly subtle finish. Settles nicely, becoming smoother as it warms in the glass. An ABV of 5.5%. Overall 3.5/5

Extra Special Barney – Pours clear light amber with a small amount of white head. Subtle malt on the nose and a caramel, fruit sweetness in the mouthfeel. Some hops come through in the flavour but not overwhelmingly so. Medium bodied with a bitter, burnt toast, finish. Like the East Side Bitter it warms nicely in the glass smoothing out the flavours. An ABV of 6.5%. Overall 4/5


Still Drinking My Way Around BC …Patience is a Virtue

I have been dutifully continuing with my plan to become a craft beer locavore by sampling another three beers brewed right here in beautiful British Columbia – I also put in some time at St. Augustine’s purely for research’s sake.

In terms of BC beer selection this time out I bought my brews from the provincial liquor store so I am not skewing my education by only shopping at the Central City Liquor Store.

So what’s on the agenda this time around? Deckhand Belgian Saison from Lighthouse Brewing Company in Victoria, Dark Star Oatmeal Stout by R&B Brewing Company from Vancouver and French Oaked Stiff Stout from Dead Frog Brewing in Aldergrove.

Deckhand Belgian Saison: Pours straw gold with a ton of white head that quickly dissipates. Beer label is a neat idea, Sailor Jerry tattoo style designed by a local artist, but the overall aesthetics are not my favourite. Requisite amount of cloudiness for the style. Strong sour yeast nose with an almost chalky mouthfeel on the first sip. Gives way to competing notes of bitter and pepper that generally work well in a saison but tend to overpower this beer since it is quite light bodied. All the flavour seems to some at you right away but no element lingers for an aftertaste. Mellowed out when it warmed easing up the sharp tastes.

Dark Star Oatmeal Stout: Pours a lovely dark chestnut/black, clear with a minimal amount of caramel coloured head. An okay bottle graphic nothing memorable. Very astringent on the nose, almost rubbing alcohol like, but thankfully this disperses as the beer sits out. Nose evolves into roasted coffee notes. Very light in body for a stout and not a lot of flavour in the mouthfeel besides coffee. Reminds me Mill St. Coffee Porter. Much like the first beer, Dark Star improves with a bit of warming giving the beer a bit of depth.

French Oaked Stiff Stout: Pours deepest black stout, clear with a rapidly disappearing head. Not a fan of the Dead Frog labels but to each their own. This oaked beer is part of their “Beer Master Series”. The Stiff Stout has an oaky, sweet nose and a sticky mouthfeel. A bit more depth in the body compared to the Dark Star. Complex flavours that warms well. There is nice sweet malt on the finish.

The Verdict – I give this round to Dead Frog’s French Oaked Stiff Stout.

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

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (for Beer!)

It is dark, cold and rainy in Vancouver and that can only mean good news for beer enthusiasts because the seasonal ales are finally here again. The fast approaching holiday season seems to bring out the kid in all of us -beer drinkers and brewers alike. That time when we want to spice things up, ramp up the roasted malts, kick up the ABV, lovingly cask our beers in winter spirits like rum and brandy, sprinkle in a little dried fruit and add a titch of vanilla to create those ever so wondrous winter ales. Not to mention the plethora of fantastic (and cheeky) beer names and labels that adorn these seasonal creations. To kick off a series of blog posts relating to the wonder that is winter beer I thought I would give my top twelve seasonal beer names (not to be confused with my top twelve stocking stuffers):

1)      Ridgeway Santa’s Butt Holiday Porter AND Lump of Coal Dark Holiday Stout AND Seriously Bad Elf (three-way tie from the creative folks at Ridgeway)

2)      BrewDog There is No Santa

3)      Full Sail Wassail

4)      Blue Ridge Snowball’s Chance Winter Ale

5)      Deschutes Jubelale

6)      Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve AND Yellow Snow

7)      Moylan’s White Christmas

8)      Boulder Never Summer Ale

9)      Odell Brewing Company’s Isolation Ale

10)   R&B Brewing Co. Iceholes Celebration Lager

11)   Leavenworth Snowblind

12)   Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig

*Honourable mention to the Hanukkah themed He’Brew Jewbelation

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