Tag Archives: Scotch Ale

Malt Heads and Liquid Bread

Now I know for many the changing seasons are marked by the arrival of pumpkin beer, which are now as ubiquitous as pumpkin spice lattes but for me it is not  the beer with pie spices that signals ‘winter is coming’ rather it is beer that unabashedly showcases malt front-and-centre or to put it another way liquid bread.

There are those who live for hops year-round and in the warmer months I do love me a West Coast style IPA as much as the next beer geek but once I see my first snowflake I am a full on convert to the malt head camp.

And really what’s not to like about liquid bread? It is cold and crisp outside, the sun sets before the work day ends and rises after it begins, so what if we console ourselves with a meal in glass?

My recent relocation to Ottawa aka the coldest city in Canada (well not technically but for a BC girl it pretty much feels like a truth) has only deepened my love for rich, caramel, roasty brews and as luck would have it I have recently tried a couple of great examples.

Cameron's Dopplebock

Cameron’s Oak Aged Dopplebock (Ontario) pours a deep dark brown with dense mocha coloured head that clings to the sides of your glass. The nose is sweet and oh so very malty. Not really roasted malt on the nose but caramel rich malt that reminds me of toffee. First few sips are much like the nose belies sweet at the front, bready and even a bit earthy in the middle and just a little roasted bitterness on the finish. This beer is deceptively light bodied but strong and warming at 8.6%. You really kind of ease into this beer as it improves with some warming and exposure in the glass. Overall a very impressive Dopplebock from Cameron’s.

Simple Malt Wee Heavy

Brasseurs Illimités Simple Malt Wee Heavy (Quebec) pours dark reddish brown with just a light skin of beige head. BIG sweet scotch nose that has a nice alcoholiness. First few sips are thin but rich and caramel flavoured giving way to a nice roasted grain character. As you drink this is a warming beer that really benefits from both warming up and breathing in the glass. It remains a slightly sweet beer but it does not veer into cloying. The big alcohol content kind of keeps everything in check. The finish has a slight harshness that I enjoy, makes you feel like you are having a grown-up beer. I am eager to try some more from the Simple Malt line-up after this Wee Heavy.

 

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New Brew Friday

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Happy Valentine’s Day! It is a day for lovers, beer lovers that is, so when you and your sweetie are indulging in some decadent dessert don’t forget to pair it with a worthy craft beer.

Accompanying our hazelnut torte with chocolate mousse the hubby and I cracked open our Joseph James 5th Anniversary Barrel Aged Smoked Wee Heavy, a 14% warmer that makes a lovely after dinner tipple.

This wee heavy pours a very darkest brown black with just a ring of head and nice legs. Big smoky sweet nose with lots of malt. First few sips are viscous and slightly harsh but as you drink the bourbon and vanilla flavours bring things back into balance. Nice oaky character reminding you this one spent lots of time in the barrel. Very warming on the finish, rich and sweet. Overall, There is a lot to like here and I think this beer would be a fantastic cellar candidate.

Also, I have say I really love their label (hope they don’t get sued by Joseph and his Amazing lawyer) with the beer name turned into a fox tail and the black/silver colour scheme. The silver wax seal was a nice touch and I would definitely gift this beer.


Scotch Off – Round 1

Autumn Leaves

There is something about the onset of autumn that makes me want to reach for a different kind of beer. Gone are the fruit beers, the wheat beers and the pils and in come the browns, the porters and the scotch ales.

Ahhh, scotch ales those lovely beers that are just a little maltier, a little heavier and a little sweeter than your summer fare and, most importantly, THEY ARE NOT PUMPKIN BEERS!

Before we get down to our head-to-head beer off here is a bit of background on the style from a previous post.

 

Scotch or Scottish Ale can be a bit of a confusing term; does it refer to a brewing style unique to Scotland, a style of beer heavy on malt but light on hops, or a reference to ale casked in scotch whiskey barrels? Well to be honest it can be all of the above. Luckily, like all great mysteries, the answers can be found in books, so let’s get a bit of a history lesson to figure out what the heck is going on.

Scotland has a long (think 5000 years old) tradition of brewing ales and the first beers produced were not really that dissimilar from the pale ales being brewed by their English cousins. In fact, the traditional Scotch Ales would have more in common with India Pale Ales than the sweet, ruby brews now tagged with the term ‘scotch’. The quintessential Scottish elements we have come to know really had more to do with geography than with intentional stylistic roguery. Hops did not grow as well in the north, beers were fermented at cooler temperatures and peat may have been used to dry the malt and/or imparted through the water.

Interestingly, the Scottish brewers saw these elements as flaws to be corrected out of the beer while modern beer geeks have embraced these ‘flaws’ (smokiness, peatiness, maltiness) as flavours to be celebrated.

 

Now for your consideration I now present the contenders:

Renaissance Stonecutter Scotch Ale

 

Renaissance Stonecutter Scotch Ale weighing in at 7.1% ABV . Described by the brewery as follows “We use nine malts blended together to produce layers of caramel, toffee, liquorice, chocolate and roasty flavours. These layers are balanced by a tart, raisiny fruitiness that gradually gives way to give this dark beer a lingering dry finish. Rich, full bodied, warming and moreish…”

Renaissance pours a deep mahogany with very little head and no lacing. There is some opaqueness to this beer kind of like sweet tea. A big smoky sweet nose that gives way to a fairly light-bodied beer that has leather, butterscotch and caramel notes. Stoncutter is very tepid, no carbonation, giving it a liqour like viscosity. On the finish the smokiness comes back through.

vs.

 

Phillips Scotch Ale

 

Phillips Twisted Oak Stillage Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale weighing in at 6.8% ABV. Described by the brewery as “a rich, creamy strong ale, it is allowed to rest in wood barrels to mature and develop flavors slowly and naturally. The nose combines bourbon, American oak, and cotton candy aromas. Complex malt flavors framed in oak, with hints of vanilla, tobacco, and toffee.”

Phillips pours a dark copper colour with very little head and no lacing. The nose on Twisted Oak Scotch Ale is more earthy and a bit nutty while still belaying some caramel notes. Light to medium bodied and quite dry. As you drink the oaken character really comes through giving this one an almost sour tinge (maybe not the right term but a taste I can’t quite put my finger on). There is sweetness to this one and some richer butterscotch and even tobacco like notes.

 

The winner of this round…

Renaissance Stonecutter Scotch Ale by a peat.


Hey, there’s Scotch in my Beer!

Scotch or Scottish Ale can be a bit of a confusing term; does it refer to a brewing style unique to Scotland, a style of beer heavy on malt but light on hops, or a reference to ale casked in scotch whiskey barrels? Well to be honest it can be all of the above. Luckily, like all great mysteries, the answers can be found in books, so let’s get a bit of a history lesson to figure out what the heck is going on.

Scotland has a long (think 5000 years old) tradition of brewing ales and the first beers produced were not really that dissimilar from the pale ales being brewed by their English cousins. In fact, the traditional Scotch Ales would have more in common with India Pale Ales than the sweet, ruby brews now tagged with the term ‘scotch’. The quintessential Scottish elements we have come to know really had more to do with geography than with intentional stylistic roguery. Hops did not grow as well in the north, beers were fermented at cooler temperatures and peat may have been used to dry the malt and/or imparted through the water.

Interestingly, the Scottish brewers saw these elements as flaws to be corrected out of the beer while modern beer geeks have embraced these ‘flaws’ (smokiness, peatiness, maltiness) as flavours to be celebrated.

Another interesting historical tidbit with regards to Scotch Ales is the nomenclature designating ale strength in shillings. The shilling categories were based on the price charged per hogshead (54 Imperial gallons). Stronger beers naturally cost more so Scotch Ales were labelled as Light (60/-), Heavy (70/-), Export (80/-) and Wee Heavy (120/-) – if you want to blow the minds of your beer geek friends ask for a pint of eighty bob! While the shilling terminology has fallen out of favour the strength designations live on to help us distinguish between the different types of Scotch Ale.

In order to try a cross-section of the style, I conducted a little mini blind taste test of three scotch ales; Rogue’s McRogue Scotch Ale XS (OR), not much description on the bottle but fyi I aged this for just over a year, Phillips Double Barrel Scotch Ale (BC), aged in Tennessee whiskey barrels and then in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, and Le Bilbouquet MacKroken Scotch Ale (QC) brewed with thistle and wildflower honey.

Thoughts on the Beers…

Rogue McRogue Scotch Ale XS

Beer Geek Girl: Deep orange with lots of sediment and some creamy coloured head. Sweet barley wine like nose and a strong sweet casked flavour. Lots of body, almost chewy but quite smooth to drink. Strong liqoury finish.

Beer Geek Boy: Cloudy with a sweet barley wine nose. Has an aged quality to it, and smooth to drink.

Phillips Double Barrel Scotch Ale

Beer Geek Girl: Deep orange and very clear with quickly dissipating head. Subtle sweetness on the nose. Quite light bodied with sweet mallet flavours and an ever so slightly bitter finish.

Beer Geek Boy: Nose and flavour fairly similar to an Extra Special Bitter (ESB). Very clear. A little sweet with mild hop flavours and an easy finish.

Le Bilboquet MacKroken Scotch Ale with Honey

Beer Geek Girl: Red, clear, carbonated with lots of creamy colour head that sticks around. Very sweet honeyed nose and a sweet floral flavour. Medium body, liqoury with a ton of caramel (burnt almost) notes.

Beer Geek Boy: Darkest colour of the three with some head. Has the appearance and nose of what I am familiar with for a Scotch Ale. Not a lot of nose but sweetness. Malty in flavour, heavy and strong.

*Thanks to Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer and the ever-informative Wikipedia for assistance (but not with the drinking part)


One Night in Bellingham

Last night I paid my first visit to Boundary Bay Brewery in Bellingham WA for dinner and a taster tray of their beer line-up. Housed in the mandatory brewpub façade of old warehouse meets hipster décor (think local art and Christmas lights), my partner and I took our place in an impressive Firday night que. This gave us lots of time to peruse the menu, scope out the beer swag and people watch. One cool item I noticed on the way in was the digital frame showing pictures of the beers, customers, events etc., which I though was a neat touch. Boundary Bay also has one of the biggest selections of brew pub clothing I have ever seen – pick a colour, any colour, and they have a logo’d t-shirt for you.

The pub is divided into two seating areas. One room, where the bar is located, has lots of picnic table seating, televisions and natural light since it faces the street. The second area has standard seating and feels very isolated from the rest of the brew pub by the huge white wall dividing the two sections. It is an incredibly animated and kid-friendly environment, not a place to sip beer contemplatively since at times I could not even hear the person across the table from me. The staff was all very friendly, if harried, and beer comes to your table quickly. The food was just okay for me; the usual mix of pub grub (nachos, sandwiches, one-off ethnic dishes) and they even mix in a few vegan options, which was appreciated. In retrospect I wish I had chosen something from their dinner specials, which seemed to feature locally sourced and seasonal items.

Now onto the beer. We ordered a taster tray of their standard six, Blonde Ale, ESB, Amber Ale, IPA, Scotch Ale and Oatmeal Stout, with a supplement of three seasonals, Imperial IPA, Belgian Tripel and Irish Red. Generally speaking whenever I order a taster tray I dutifully work my way through the light beers in order to get to the big boys i.e. the stouts, porters and double IPA’s BUT Boundary Bay threw me a curveball and for the first time ever I actually found myself enjoying the lighter end of their beer spectrum more than the dark side.

Tasting Highlights

The Regular Line-Up

The Blonde Ale was clean tasting, light bodied and generous with the hops. The ESB had the requisite bitter finish, a slight nutty character and smooth mouthfeel. The Amber Ale was quite hop heavy for the style but maintained a nice drink-ability. The Scotch Ale is medium bodied and sweet, a bit of bitterness and a very smooth finish. The IPA was not that balanced, the hops completely dominated the beer for me, and the hop blend was not my favourite. The Oatmeal Stout had a bit of a saccharine sweetness, a subtle coffee nose and a grainy flavour.

The Seasonals

The Irish Red had a creamy mouthfeel and a nutty character similar to the ESB, though in taste it was most similar to the Amber Ale. The Belgian Tripel was problematic for me, way too sweet and too light for the style it emulates -a very hard beer to brew I imagine. The Imperial IPA was again far too hop heavy for my taste to the detriment of any other character emerging in this beer.

Overall, I was impressed with the smoothness maintained throughout Boundary Bay’s beers. There is a very drinkable quality to all of them even the ones that I felt were lacking in other areas. They brew with a hop profile that I do not really enjoy and this tended to taint my impressions of any of the hop dominant beers in their line-up. On that same note, I found an almost artificially sweet taste in some of the beers that stood out as being out of place. I would have to say that the Scotch Ale and the Blonde Ale were my favourite ales of the evening. I would also like to add that I know you cannot properly evaluate a beer through a 5oz sample and food pairings can have a dramatic impact on the character of any beer so the opinions provided should be heeded with that caveat in mind.

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Church-Key Brewing Co.

I have been intrigued by Church-Key Brewing ever since I saw a brief reference to this small scale brewery in a craft beer documentary.  The program showed a tiny red brick Church situated in rural Ontario, which housed an equally tiny ‘micro’ brewing operation.  Here small batches of carefully selected, uniquely flavoured ales were lovingly brewed in limited quantities for the most discerning and daring palates.

Now I’ll be the first to admit I tend to over-romanticize the small-scale brewer by envisioning a David versus Goliath struggle of the beer purist struggling against the tyrannical beer-opolies (you know who I mean); the proverbial ‘little guy’ who cares more about the craft than the cash. So during my trip to Ontario I planned to visit the facilities and find out for myself just what was brewing at Church-Key.

The Church-Key Brewing Co. is located in an old Methodist Church dating to 1878. I am told the brewer consulted with the good people of Campbellford to ensure there would be no objections to opening the brewery in a former Church. The brewing equipment is located inside the common area of the church where an old wooden staircase winds up to an office. Countless bottles lining the walls attest to the brewer’s interest in all things ale related while beer names like The Great Gatsbeer, Catch Her in the Rye, Riders of the Purple Loosestrife and The Scarlet Pilsner indicate a love of literature. The guide informs me little has been done to the original layout of the Church and indeed the fermenting tanks and kettles seem like an extension of the existing architecture -I am not even sure how they got in or could get back out. My father assures me, and the tour guide, even the original ceiling materials are still in place. The retail portion of the brewery is located in an addition adjacent to the Church, and the entire tour takes about five minutes to walk from one end to the other.

An interesting fact I learned is despite the obvious link to the physical Church the name Church-Key actually refers to various types of bottle and can openers some of which resemble a simple key.

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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).


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