Tag Archives: Stout

Ontario Craft Beer, As Advertised – Beer 3

Ghosttown Stout

Ghosttown Stout from Les Brasseurs de Montreal (6.6%).

Okay so this is one of those ‘weird’ beers I just could not resist taking home. Stout with absinthe herbs and roots? Well I have to know how (if?) that comes together. And in keeping with the theme of these posts, as advertised, it came together exactly like you might expect.

Ghosttown pours deepest black with very minimal tan coloured head. HUGE liqourice and minty (herbally) nose that may or may not have some other notes in there but I wouldn’t stake my reputation on it. Tastes include roasted malt, chocolate, anise, coffee and fennel flavours as well as some sweetness. If you have had absinthe and you have had an imperial stout well you get the idea add a little from column A to a little of column B and mix. Ghosttown is full bodied and somewhat warming with roasted almost burnt malt flavour on the finish.

All in all, a bit of an oddball beer something I would only really want once and even then I am not sure I would have wanted the whole bottle to myself. That being said Ghosttown would make a great conversation piece at a beer tasting.

The Great Dark Beer Taste Test

One thing you need to know about beer geeks is that we like to subject others to our endless stream of knowledge on all things ale. Taking this one step further we like to use our friends like laboratory mice and subject them to various tasting experiments –oh wait maybe that is just me. Well either way I had so much fun with my blind test taste of craft versus commercial beers that I decided to put people to the test with their stouts.

The Great Dark Beer Taste Test consisted of a selection of 9 stouts representing various styles  –Oatmeal, Foreign Extra, American and Russian Imperial- and different brewing regions –Canada, US and UK. I wanted to see if people could taste the regional and stylistic differences in this most robust of beer styles. Before I continue with my analysis of the evening I would like to proffer this little pearl of wisdom; nine is too many stouts to sample in one sitting so do not try this at home. Despite this error in estimating my alcohol tolerance I think the evening offered some interesting insights but first let me provide a little information on the stout styles, the contenders, the tasters and the taste test:


Oatmeal Stout – A very dark, full-bodied, roasty, malty ale with a complementary oatmeal flavour.

Foreign Extra Stout – A very dark, moderately strong, roasty ale. Tropical varieties can be quite sweet, while export versions can be drier and fairly robust.

American Stout – A hoppy, bitter, strongly roasted foreign style stout of the export variety.

Russian Imperial Stout – An intensely flavoured, big, dark ale. Roasty, fruity and bittersweet with a noticeable alcohol presence. Dark fruit flavours meld with roasty, burnt or almost tar-like sensations. Like a black barley wine with every dimension of flavour coming into play.



Southern Tier Brewing Company Mokah (American Double/Imperial Stout) 11.2% ABV; North Coast Brewing Co. Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout 9% ABV; Spinnakers Titanic Stout (Foreign Stout) 7.5% ABV (X2); Fort Garry Brewing Co. Kona Imperial Stout 6.5% ABV; BrewDog Rip Tide Twisted Merciless Stout (Imperial Stout) 8% ABV; McAusian Brewing St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout 5% ABV; Le Bilboquet Brasseur Artisan La Corriveau 5.5% ABV


Leanne Fawcett, lover of Goody hair accessories and ardent supporter of the continued use of suspenders.

Brick Rodgers, audiophile unable to commit to just one hair band and fervent devotee to the use of macramé.

Catherine Carveth, ironic lover of Motely Crue and fan of rainbow coloured suspenders.

Delbert Davis, former drummer for the Shitty Beatles and proud sporter of a beer gut not requiring any apparatus to keep his pants vertical.

How it all went down…

In order to make this tasting as blind as possible I wrapped all the bottles in paper bags taping them tightly and covering the caps in masking tape. I let someone else uncap and pour the beer so I did not see what bottle was being poured, and we set out three samples at a time so we could undertake a little cross-comparison. Being the consummate beer geek I am, I asked (coerced) everyone into keeping notes on appearance, aroma, flavour and finish as well as make their best educated case at the region and style of stout. I provided the Beer Judge Style Guide notes on the style we were sampling as a point of reference. Then the fun part began the tasting!

Now for some of the broad gleanings from the evening, aside from nine stouts being too many. A lot of the character of a dark beer is contained in the mouthfeel. It felt a little redundant describing the deep brown/black colour with tan head, and often the stouts had very similar coffee and/or chocolate noses but it was in the actual tasting that the differences truly emerged. It seems like the style of stout tended to fall into two broad categories; the after dinner dessert like stout that was viscous, sweet, heavy and high in ABV and the more quaffable cold coffee, lighter-bodied, almost carbonated style or stout. Interestingly we all scored very well on guessing the region of the stout but a little more hit and miss on determining the style.

The top beers of the evening were:

  1. Southern Tier Mokah
  2. BrewDog Rip Tide
  3. Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout
  4. St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout

A Bit About Stout and a Trip to Tokyo

One of my favourite beer styles has to be the stout. As a novice beer geek I tended to shy away from these heavy dark beers but the more I tried them the more I loved them and now I can’t imagine my beer cupboard without them. There is an amazing diversity to the beers that are classed as stouts so I thought I would delve a bit into the history and hallmarks of the style.

Stout beers, as we have come to know them, evolved from the Porter family. According to Mosher, the word stout, meaning a strong black beer, dates to 1630 where it was applied to “stout butt beers”. During the late seventeenth century the term stout was applied to any strong beer until almost a generation later when the term stout settled into its accepted definition as a strong porter. Porters and stouts share many similar elements such as, roasted malts and a deep brown/black colour but stouts differ due to their increased strength. Interestingly, in the past dark beer had a prominent hop quality but this is something that has diminished over time in almost all variations of the style.

Some of the stout sub-styles include Irish Dry Stouts – characterized by the use of roasted barley (think Guinness), Oatmeal Stouts – mmm… cookie (think St. Ambroise), Milk Stouts/Sweet Stouts – originally a drink for invalids (think Rogue Creamery), Extra Stout –fancy stout for export (think XXXXX Pike) and Imperial Stouts – loved by the Russians (think Old Rasputin).

What am I drinking?


Tokyo Intergalactic Fantastic Oak Aged Stout by BrewDog.

The wordsmiths at BrewDog more describe this beer as, “imperial stout brewed with copious amounts of speciality malts, jasmine and cranberries. After fermentation we then dry-hop this killer stout with a bucket load of our favourite hops before carefully aging the beer on French toasted oak chips. Everything in moderation, including moderation itself. What logically follows is that you must, from time [to time], have excess. This beer is for those times”.

I would sum this beer up as an 18.2% knock you over the head then kick you when you’re down, kind of stout. Tokyo pours a deep brown/black with zero clarity. There is so much sediment it looks like bubble tea before it settles down. The bottom of the bottle poured out like spent motor oil – a good sign yeah. Very little head retention. All malt and molasses on the nose with a bit of sweetness. Very creamy mouthfeel and very potent liquor taste. The flavours, much like the nose, are dominated with sweet roasted malt and that subtle sweetness imparted by the casking. Best sipped and served at room temperature. Fantastic occasion beer but not something I could drink all the time.

Staring into The Abyss

The Abyss 2010 Reserve

It has been awhile since I wrote a post entirely devoted to one beer but it has also been awhile since I had a beer so memorable that I wanted to devote a post entirely to said ale – the proverbial chicken and the egg paradox for beer if you will. I have been staring at my bottle of The Abyss for quite some time now waiting patiently for the best after date to come about. Every time I opened the cupboard there it was but no I could not drink it yet; so I waited, and waited, and then on a cold and rainy Saturday I finally opened it. Here is the description from Deschutes: “It’s dark. It’s deep. It’s mysterious. This imperial stout has immeasurable depth inviting you to explore and discover its rich complex profile. The flavour of this special brew draws you in further and further with each sip. The Abyss beckons. Enjoy the journey.”

The Abyss 2010 Reserve from Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon is a stout brewed with liquorice and molasses with 33% aged in oak and oak bourbon barrels. This stout clocks in at a hefty ‘winter warmer’ 11% ABV, and the beer comes in a black wax sealed bottle with a best after date so the drinker can enjoy the benefits of the bourbon cask aging. The Abyss has a great label, which gives the impression that fine aged ale lay within through its interesting use of texture and colour as well as the spartan amount of detail. It is one of the bottles that you just have to pick up and read. The Abyss pours a deep black with a big caramel head. Immediately you get a sweet molasses nose with hints of roasted coffee and something reminiscent of the nose on a nice whiskey. The mouthfeel is cloyingly sticky and heavy with a big molasses taste; full bodied is an understatement here. Interestingly the molasses flavour lingers in your mouth long after you finish. This is one of those beers that really needs to breathe and warm up to be fully appreciated. As time passes more subtle tastes come to the forefront such as, sweet liquor and earthiness. There is a real bitterness to this stout that mellows out as you drink. The high ABV can really stand up to the strength of the molasses where a lesser beer could easily have been overwhelmed. Overall a near-perfect winter quaff the kind that warms you from the inside out and feels like a meal in a glass.


Adventures in Home brewing continued

Last night I attended the second class in my home brewing course at the Vancouver Pastry School. We learned how to prime our beer (how to make our beer carbonated by adding sugar), we transferred our beer from the secondary (carboy) back to the primary (five gallon paint pail), and we got down to the business of bottling. As a group we swapped stories on our individual adventures in brewing. Luckily no one had any major catastrophes – at least none they were willing to fess up to. However, it seems we all had a tough time cooling our wort and managing our time so we weren’t brewing well into the morning. Temperature regulation was a bit of an issue since it is pretty difficult to maintain a constant temperature when the Vancouver weather is doing silly things. The bottling, though monotonous, is not too complicated and having a mini assembly line of classmates definitely sped things up. We all tried our hands at filling and capping and yet more sanitising. After our class brew was put to bed so to speak we got down to other beer geekiness such as learning about fermentation temperatures, how to get rid of head the sample in your hydrometer (just use an oily finger), beer judging criteria and using beer software to create our own home brew recipes. Look out world (and Russian River) I am making an IPA and a coffee stout.

With respect to beer evaluation, we sampled two wit (white) beers (one home brew and one commercial) to explore the different facets of what makes a good beer. According to our instructor Adam, home brews are assessed using the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) guidelines, which look at Aroma, Appearance, Flavour, Mouthfeel and Overall Impressions for each style of beer. This was an interesting exercise to do as a class because it really highlights the differences in people’s palates and the usefulness of having a standard by which to measure a beer. Left to our own devices there would be an unending list of tastes and smells that people perceive in their beers. Notably we all seemed to prefer the homebrew to the commercial beer. It seems like home brews have both a freshness and a subtlety that can be lacking in commercial brews – perhaps fear of ruining a batch lets the home brewer err on the side less is more when adding flavour elements or perhaps the smaller scale contributes to the difference. More tasting is required to be sure.

Now back to the business or brewing: This morning I transferred my beer from the primary to the secondary. This step can be skipped but it contributes to the clarity when you siphon the beer off and leave the gunk in the bottom of your container. Hauling all the equipment around can be a bit of a challenge so make sure you intersperse your home brewing with trips to the gym, and if you have too much space and too much money get yourself a giant sink to bath all your brewing paraphernalia. I set my primary on the counter and the carboy on the floor to assist the laws of physics. I practiced siphoning with my sanitizer, which does not really taste that great despite being food safe. Then I got my beer going into the carboy and it was a beautiful thing; my brew had been hidden away in the primary for so long I had forgotten how lovely it looked. Transferring was quick and easy and I managed to avoid sucking up the spent yeast in the bottom of the pail. I had a little trouble getting my airlock to fit in the carboy, it seems to want to pop back out, but a heavy text book has taken care of the issue. The amount of beer looks good right around the top line on the carboy before it tapers. I liked this quick and easy step and here’s hoping bottling goes well …stay tuned.

*Warning: With the rising price of gas and my newfound talent at siphoning I would like to extend fair warning to my neighbours to keep their garages locked at night : )

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‘Kick you down the stairs’ Beer

Awhile back I was perusing the selection at O’Hares liquor store when the manager recommended DeuS Brut des Flandres as a beer that would ‘kick me down the stairs’. Intrigued and slightly confused by the sales pitch I promptly bought a bottle. What I learned later is that DeuS is a nice example of a strong Belgian Ale; the ‘kick you down the stairs’ adjective comes from the relatively high ABV of 11.5%.  Using this as a launching point I thought I would devote this post to an exploration of strong beers.

Strength in the brewing world refers to both alcohol (the main product of fermentation) and gravity (the amount of solids in the unfermented wort). More malt brings more alcohol and more malt requires more hops in what can become a delicate dance between strength and drinkability. Gravity is used as a rough measure of the amount of alcohol that may end up in the finished beer; however, not every wort of the same gravity will end up as a beer with the same alcohol content. A whole other host of variables comes into play before we get our final ABV including the brewing process, yeast strain, sugar used, fermentation temperature etc. Brewers use the concept of apparent attenuation -finishing gravity divided by starting gravity subtracted from one hundred- to arrive at an approximate, if not entirely accurate, idea of beer strength. Real attenuation can only be assessed through the labour intensive process of distilling the alcohol out of a small sample but this is not commonly done. The higher the apparent attenuation the more of the beer’s extract has been turned into alcohol and voila we have a strong beer.

As a quick historical aside, the quest to make strong beer is not solely a modern endeavor in fact there are several Old English terms for strong beer including Stingo, Huffcap, Nipitatum, Clamber-skull, Dragon’s milk, Mad-dog, Lift-leg, Angel’s food and Stride-wide.

Back to modern brewing; beer styles such as barley wines, stouts, quadruples and double IPA’s all enter into this strong beer realm and a few brave brewers have ventured beyond into the ‘ultra-strong experimental’ kingdom. When it comes to taste these beers really have much more in common with fine liquors like scotch or cognac and they should be sampled as such; small pours in proper glassware, served as aperitifs and shared amongst friends. Some notable examples include:

Brewer Beer Name Beer Style/Description ABV
BrewDog Tokyo Intergalactic fantastic oak aged stout 18.2%
BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin Beer for the dedicated 32%
BrewDog Sink the Bismark IPA for the dedicated 41%
BrewDog End of History Belgian blond infused with nettles and juniper berries 55%
The Bruery Black Tuesday Imperial Stout 19.5%
Dogfish Head Fort Belgian ale brewed with a ridiculous amount of raspberries 15-18%
Dogfish Head World Wide Stout A very dark beer brewed with a ridiculous amount of barley 15-20%
Fouders Brewing Devil Dancer Triple IPA 12%
Kleinbrauerei Schorschbrau Schorschbock 40 Whisky like brew 40%
Mikkeller Big V Barley Wine 15%
The Refrigerated Ship Start the Future Drink it like a cocktail 60%
Samuel Adams Utopias Barrel aged beers 24-27%


As one might suspect the quest for the title of world’s strongest beer has become a somewhat farcical game of one-up-man-ship; please see the following video by BrewDog for your consideration.

*Thanks to Mosher, Randy 2009 Tasting Beer An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink.

Maturing Beer

No, this not a post about going all ‘Pygmalion’ on drunken frat boys to give beer a more sophisticated reputation but rather a blog on cellaring beer. Recently, I was having a conversation with friends on just how long to store some of my speciality beers. While it has become somewhat common knowledge that high alcohol and/or casked beers can be matured much like wine less seems to be known about the best time to uncap these bottles. If left too long can you ruin a perfectly good beer? Is there a peak time to ensure optional taste? Following our conversation my friend called my attention to Coates Law of Maturity. The law states that a wine will maintain its optimal drinking qualities for a period of time equal to the time it took to reach its optimal state.  For instance, if a wine matures to its peak in five years, it will stay at its peak for five years before its quality begins to degrade. So I decided to do a little research into optimal aging times for beers.

First things first, what can go wrong with a beer if you store it too long? According to Randy Mosher author of Tasting Beer, beer is never a fixed thing it is constantly evolving and sadly for the majority of beers this change is not good. The mortal enemy of beer is heat. Flavour is the first thing to leave the bottle; oxidation means the hop aroma dissipates, malt dulls, bitterness declines and fruits fade and all this happens in five to six months (beware there is no standardization on marking best before dates). For the vast majority of commercial beers this is the equivalent of a taste death sentence. Luckily there is a caveat here since some beers are meant to be aged and the stronger the beer the longer they can reside on your shelf. General things to look for in a potential candidate for aging include high ABV (7% and up), bottle-conditioned beers, lambics and sours, barley wines and any beer with a best after date. An interesting historical aside, Mosher mentions an eighteenth century English custom of brewing an extra-strong ‘double’ beer to celebrate the birth of a son, and then to drink it when he reached the age of majority at eighteen. The diagram that follows is a reproduction of the aging table given in Mosher’s book:

Beer Type Alcohol Percentage Maximum Aging Time
Belgian Dubbel 6.5-7.5 1-3 years
Belgian Tripel 7.5-9.5 1-4 years
English or US Strong Ale 7-9 1-5 years
Belgian Dark 8.5-11 2-12 years
Imperial Pale/Brown/Red 7.5-10 1-7 years
Barley Wine, Imperial Stout 8.5-12 3-20 years
Ultra-strong Ales 16.26 5-100 years

So what’s in it for me? Those same processes that wreak havoc on your average lager can bring about a whole new level of complexity to your cellared ales. As it ages the beer will become less sweet and more vinous (taking on the characteristics of wine). As mentioned earlier, fragile hop and floral notes dissipate allowing malt to come to the forefront. Oxidation then adds a leathery, nutty or sherry-like layer of flavour.  The yeast component of bottle-conditioned or live beers undergoes a process called autolysis as it breaks down, which imparts a meaty or umami element (too much can be not so good, think soy sauce). Mosher answers the why age question nicely, “The brewers who make great beer for us put their hearts and souls into it. Let’s honour that artistry by doing all we can to bring it to the table in a way that allows it to really shine”.

*Thanks to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coates_Law_of_Maturity and Mosher, Randy 2009 Tasting Beer An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink.

Been There Drank That

So lately I have been looking at my fridge and feeling a sense of been there done that with regards to my beer selection. I have tried the standards (classic ales, lagers and pilsners), sampled the varieties of styles (lambics, barley wines, IPA’s, ESB’s, white ales, sours, stouts, porters), branched out to the one-offs (chocolate mint, oyster stout, cookie beer), sipped the spectrum of brewing methods (trappist, casked, cellared, draft) and come full circle to my beer roots (ahh Belgian Beer) but as any serious beer lover needs to ask now and then I wondered now what? Well aptly enough the answer came from the very fridge, which was causing my ennui; I saw a lonely little Fruli hanging out with the remainder of my winter stouts and this got me thinking why not try mixing some beers together?

Heavy strong Brooklyn Chocolate Stout meet the sweet pink fruity Fruli. So how do these two beers interact? Well there is a reason chocolate dipped strawberries are the dessert gold standard. The light sweetness of the Fruli cuts the heaviness of the stout making this combination immensely drinkable. The bite of the high alcohol Brooklyn stout is nullified by
strawberry when you take a sip and, in fact, the kick of the stout does not hit you until well after you have finished an entire glass. The colour and clarity of the stout remain after mixing and the head is pretty much negated. These two beers really bring out the best in each other. I find the Fruli too sweet on its own lacking in beer taste if you will -bordering on a cooler- while the Brooklyn is almost too strong for me unless it is a particularly nippy winter’s day and I am cuddled up in front of a roaring fireplace with a good book. This combination really makes the stout a viable summer option.

Overall I would give my new creation (Bruli? Frooklyn?) a 4.5 out of 5

Rating the Great Eight

Saturday marked a milestone in my beer drinking endeavours; I have now tried the entire line-up from the stellar Driftwood Brewery.  A consistent favourite of mine, one of those rare breweries that doesn’t ever seem to have an outlier, a steady beacon for those in unfamiliar waters –not sure what to order, don’t want to be disappointed, try a Driftwood.  In this case their motto sums it up quite nicely ‘We Live Great Beer’.  So what to do with this unwavering standard of excellence… well I thought perhaps it’s time to assess the ranks and rate the great eight.

First things first a little about the beers: Driftwood currently offers Driftwood Ale, Farmhand Ale, White Bark Ale, Blackstone Porter, Crooked Coast Amber Ale, Old Cellar Dwellar Barley Wine, Fat Tug IPA and Singularity Russian Imperial Stout.  Tasting points indicate that Driftwood is a classic ale with ‘restrained malt character allows the hops to shine through’; Farmhand is an ‘interpretation of a Southern-Belgian farmhouse ale, which uses a partial sour-mash and the addition of freshly ground black pepper’; White Bark is ‘traditional Belgian-style wheat ale is brewed with the addition of freshly ground coriander and curacao orange peel’; Crooked Coast is ‘original Alt-style beer of Dusseldorf, Crooked Coast brings together the aromas of  German noble hops and Munich malt’; Old Cellar Dwellar is ‘three times the malt bill and five times the hops of a normal strength beer’; Fat Tug is ‘a northwest style India Pale Ale that is characterized by an intense hop profile of grapefruit and melon and restrained malt notes’; Singularity is ‘a beer of infinite density spending four months in Kentucky Bourbon barrels’.

Okay so here goes, my attempt at a ranking based solely on my palate, predilections and place in the universe…

8. Crooked Coast Amber Ale

7. White Bark Ale

6. Fat Tug IPA

5. Singularity Russian Imperial Stout

4. Old Cellar Dweller Barley Wine

3. Driftwood Ale

2. Blackstone Porter

1. Farmhand Ale

Stout n’ About

Christmas is many things to many people but one of the holiday truisms is the abundance and indulgence especially when it comes to rich foods and sumptuous desserts.  So what better to accompany this calorie-laden fete than a heavy, viscous and equally rich beer?  Now before you default to the tried and true (cough, cough …Guinness) how about taking a chance on something a little bit different…

First up is Southern Tier’s Imperial Creme Brulee Stout heavy ale that pours a rich deep black with dark caramel head.  The smell alone is worth the purchase; the burnt crème scent so distinctive to the dessert namesake wafts strongly from the glass before you even get a sip.  Initially this beer has an almost bitter quality, a coffee essence if you will or strong roast malt, but this is countered as you continue to drink with the sweetness.  Definitely one to savour after a meal and I think you would want to serve this cool but not cold as it seems to mellow as you drink it.

Second, the Brooklyn Chocolate Stout another strong, dark and heavy ale that pours near black.  This one has a staggering 10% ABV so be warned… I thought it was important to put that out there early in the review since the sheer awesomeness of this beer makes one (me for instance) want to drink it down (too) quickly.  This ale has all the hallmarks of a great stout viscosity, colour, depth, chocolate, coffee and lots of malty goodness.  My go to stout for the season.  Like the Creme Brulee stout this beer does not want to be ‘Coors lite mountain cold’ but rather prefers to linger at a cool-ish room temperature.

The last quaff is God Jul from Norway a dark seasonal more like a porter than a stout.  I would love to give a bit of a description from the brewer here but alas I do not speak Norwegian and I have no idea what the bottle says.  So onto my evaluation –just so you know I did not select this beer blind as I had sampled their stout earlier and was very impressed. God Jul did not disappoint.  An opaque, effervescent and sediment heavy beer, what my partner dubbed used motor oil, God Jul has a fruity, apple cider nose and the strength of a Belgian.  The beer pours dark with an impressive amount of lacing, which lingers on the sides of your glass.  There is a definite spice element and a burnt aftertaste.

So who is our holiday winner?  Which beer will be left out for Santa with a plate of gingerbread?   Drum roll please…  oh gosh I can’t pick between them they are all great in their own way so 4.5’s all around for Southern Tier Creme Brulee, Brooklyn Chocolate Stout and God Jul.

Happy Holidays!!!

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