Category Archives: Currently Drinking

CURRENTLY DRINKING: Two Beers, One Province

As the travel, along with the huge amounts of stress and panic brought on by the ultimately rewarding privilege of working on a second book (MAY 20TH, FOLKS!) has officially died down, I’m finding myself looking towards my own fridge for inspiration, and finding that over the years I really haven’t been short of that. Here are two reviews of a couple of rather unique Ontario beers.

TYRANNOSAURUS GRUIT
Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co, Vankleek Hill, ON
5.8 % ABV

Those who are aware of Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. out of Vankleek Hill tend to know at-rex gruit few things about them. There is of course the fact that they have one of the best corporate cultures among their staff and that their eye-catching branding really makes you want to seek them out. They have an almost cult-like following, which is in part due to the fact that they come out with a new one-off or seasonal beer roughly every week or two. Going at that rate, it’s not unsurprising that Beau’s is one of the first breweries Canadians tend to think of when it comes to going a little wild, good or bad, with ingredients. A beer made with rosemary, thyme, and lavender? They’ve done it. A beer made with beetroot powder, spruce tips, juniper berries, and hibiscus flowers?

Well, as it turns out, that’s the beer I’m drinking right now. Tyrannosaurus Gruit was a beer that capped off their annual FeBREWary, a solid month of beer releases and events. It’s made with the ingredients listed above and is part of the brewery’s obsession with gruits (that is, beer brewed without the use of hops, not a terrible misspelling of our favourite tree-like character).

LOOK: Red. Red red red. Very red. Damned red. There’s beetroot powder and hibiscus in this. I would be concerned and a little frightened if it wasn’t red.

AROMA: The beetroot dominates this one. Slight hint of spruce tips and just a touch of juniper near the end of the aroma, but this smells like it’s going to be pretty beet-forward.

TASTE: …And I was right. Up front is nothing but beets, but it’s followed up quickly by a peppery character and a lightly sweetened tang, before moving in for a dry finish. Oddly, and I don’t mean this in a bad way at all, it’s kind of like biting into a pickled beet. You get the choice ingredient, followed by the pepper, and a somewhat bittersweet note in the end. At the finish, like with having a piece of beet, you kind of want to go in for another. Chilled it has a really nice crisp note making an appearance.

AFTERTASTE: The dry note lasts throughout, and of course the overpowering beets still linger, but I feel the aftertaste is where the hibiscus tends to shine a bit brighter. Light cranberry flavour comes in nicely, making the experience quite pleasant.

OVERALL: Personally I think the beetroot notes, while wonderful to taste, was a little too overpowering on this one and I would have liked to have seen the hibiscus celebrated a bit more, or at the very least something that could dance with the beet a little better. Something sweet and tart, like raspberries, probably would have brought this out a little better. That said, I really enjoy the flavour profile of this beer and I’m glad that there’s a beet beer made on a fairly larger scale. It’s an ingredient that I’d like to see more of.

* SESSION SAISON
The Exchange Brewery, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON
5% ABV

exbI was recently in Niagara Falls with some time on my hands and, accompanied by the incredible Jill Currie and YouTube beer reviewer the Albino Rhino (whose festival, The Albino Rhino Beer Fest, which has proceeds going to the Ronald McDonald House, is coming up on May 27th), I took my first visit to the Exchange Brewery, and it was way past due. Head Brewer Sam Maxbauer, formally of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales in Michigan has been bringing his experience into the inventive beers this brewery produces and while only a year old, have established a barrel-aging program and a yeast cultivation effort (no doubt headed up by former Louis Cifer brew master Christine Nagy, who is a master with yeast), that is producing some wonderful results. They’ve also been getting some recognition on a non-local scale, taking home the title of Canadian Brewery of the Year at this year’s New York International Beer Competition. The space itself takes its name from the telephone exchange that the building once housed and the brewery has obviously kept with the theme, with many of their beers being numbers and symbols usually found on an old phone.

The * Session Saison runs at 5% ABV and comes in a beautiful 750ml bottle.

LOOK: Before getting to the appearance, a word of caution: open this over the sink. It may not gush out, but the carbonation is very aggressive when first opened. The upshot of this is remarkable head retention [post-writing note, it’s been over a half an hour since I poured and the large, foamy head is still there. Damn.]. Now, as for the look, you have what looks to be a medium to dark gold colour that glows remarkably when put up to even a minimal amount of light. It’s quite a hazy beer, making it damn near impossible to see what’s behind the glass.

AROMA: It’s a very light aroma, with light hints of white pepper, belgian candi, and just a dash of cloves.

TASTE: In mouthfeel it’s pretty light, but that shouldn’t lead one to believe that it’s a simple beer. There’s quite a journey here, starting with that white pepper note addressed in the aroma and leading towards something more, a kind of earthy, herbal note with a hint of cloves that makes way for its slow finish, that has a nice, cedar-like dryness.

AFTERTASTE: The cedar-like dryness stays with you in the finish, but as that fades over time, I find that I’m still getting the odd bit of clove in there. It’s not overpowering, just a murmur. Quite nice!

OVERALL: I can’t question the quality of this beer, as it’s very well-made. I feel like this would make for a good drink to introduce folks to the concept of highly complex flavours in beer without having to give them an imperial sour whatever. Its light body and wonderful flavour profile makes me wish I had more of this beer.

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TRUTHSEEKER ALERT: NEW LEGENDARY MUSKOKA ODDITY SIGHTING!!!!

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Up here in Ontario there was some excitement on my part when I found out that Muskoka Brewery’s Legendary Oddity, formally the Spring Oddity, a Belgian Ale made with Heather Tips, Juniper Berries, Sweet Orange Peel, and Candi Sugar has not only come back to the brewery’s lineup, but also evolved from their giant 750ml wine bottle to a respectable tallboy can. I was happy about this for two reasons. Firstly, that particular beer, which itself was an oddity by being one of the early Belgian-style beers in Ontario, always marked the arrival of the spring season for me. so getting it on a day where the grey clouds actually parted to reveal sunny and mildly warm weather behind them made me feel all good. As erratic as it’s been, it was a long winter.

oddddddityThe second reason I got excited was because Muskoka’s marketing for it has leaned heavily on the Cryptozoology aspect of the beer which considering its mascot, a large eagle with antlers called a “Reineagle”, is absolutely perfect to create a story and social media campaign behind. The brewery has even gone so far as to make up some photos of Oddity “sightings” which I think are really cute (Above is my own discovery, from when I was hiking in the woods).

For those who don’t know, Cryptozoology is, in absolute basic terms, the study of animals that have very little evidence of their existence, but have been seen in legends and folklore of the locality. Think the Loch Ness Monster, El Chupacabras, The Jersey Devil, Mothman, and everybody’s favourite party animal, Bigfoot.

I love Cryptozoology. Not just because it’s taking a look at local lore and seeing if there is any substance to it, but also because in this day of cynicism, where there are all sorts of conspiracy theories over governments trying to destroy the population or personally attempting to bring forth the end of times…it’s just pleasant and downright heartwarming to know there’s someone out there looking for Bigfoot just to confirm that he exists. Like, maybe for some financial gain, but mostly just doing it to see if he’s real. Reading stuff on Cryptozoology is a good way to take a break and realize that there’s a more wholesome and optimistic type of fanatic out there.

In doing some research I was disappointed to find that, while Ontario has some legendary creatures of our own, they don’t seem to excite many folks in the cryptozoological community. We have a bunch of lake monsters reported as far back as the 1800s and the odd Sasquatch kicking around, but that’s about it.

Well…actually there is one.

Wendigo1The only creature that really sticks out is the famous Wendigo, a half-man-half-monster that has its origins in the belief system of the Ojibwe, Cree, Naskapi, and Innu people and has been spotted around Northern Ontario, particularly near Kenora (Note to self, call up Lake of the Woods Brewery up there). While the legend itself varies, one thing is common, a person could transform into a Wendigo by taking part in cannibalism, a strong taboo in the Algonquian cultures, even in dire circumstances such as needing to survive the cold. The transformation would leave that person as a horrible creature of pure malevolence, obsessed with the consumption of human flesh.

For further reading on Cryptozoology, check out American Monsters by Linda Godfreys. While it puts its focus on the States, it is fun to read about creatures of air, land, and water in the regions.

Now. On to the beer.

To be honest, it’s been awhile since I’ve tried this beer. It’s been on hiatus for a while and my tasting notes are lost to time. I’m happy to note that the flavour is really….well, bright is the only way to put it. The juniper berries provide a nice tart note along with a gin-like mouthfeel (not surprising, since the berries are a key ingredient in gin), while the heather tips and orange peel do the heavy lifting making for some wonderful bitter notes. The candi sugar wraps it all up in a lovely sweet blanket and there’s a gentle jab of warmth and a fairly dry mouthfeel. All in all, it’s definitely a great welcome in to the Spring season.

Muskoka’s Legendary Oddity will be out in LCBOs on April 1.

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An Unexpected Brewery – Central City’s Hobbit Beers

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Considering that I’m writing this post with the Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack playing and a replica of the One Ring To Rule Them All hanging from a silver chain around my neck, I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’m a fan of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work. The world, the languages, the beautiful stories that go on throughout his books are nothing short of masterpieces for me. While my preference tends to lie with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it’s children’s book sibling, The Hobbit, has a special place in my heart as a book that I would escape to when the trials and pressures of being a Grade Fiver would get to me (not a joke, there were plenty). So when a movie trilogy based on the book was being made I was optimistic. The movies are great. They’re no Lord of the Rings (Extended OR theatrical), but they’re fantastic films all the same, that capture many of the characters, in particular the company of Dwarves, in a way that really made the fifth grader in me smile.

So it’s with that same level of optimism I had when I learned that Central City Brewers + Distillers out of Surrey, B.C. would be making a series of beers based on The Hobbit films. The beers would essentially be a Canadian version of Olympia, Washington brewer Fish Brewing Co.‘s Hobbit beers, with Central City using their recipe. So Canada would have a beer based on a movie based on a book that is based on an American beer based on a movie based on a book. The thought of adaptation in this is very interesting and I’m sure that Central City adapted as well as changed slightly to create a series of beers that is altogether unique.

I’m actually a huge fan of beers based on franchises, since the name attached tends to, not totally unlike Bilbo Baggins, get people not inclined to be adventurous with beer to try something new. However, there were a few hurdles to overcome, the big one of these being timing. Fish Brewing came out with their beers in the Fall of last year, which left Central City racing to get their beers finished and out in time for the release of the final Hobbit film. And as an Ontario resident I’d like to add my personal gripe of the beers being available in all provinces of Canada EXCEPT Ontario, with the LCBO deciding not to go with it for reasons that I can only speculate on (hooray).

But anyways! You aren’t here to read my Ontario Retail System slashfic, you came to read about these Hobbit beers! Let’s get to them!

Bolg Belgian Tripel (9.5% ABV): The albino Orc Azog is one of the primary antagonists in the Hobbit film, having killed Thorin Oakensheild’s grandfather, the king under the mountain by beheading him. Thorin managed to cut off his arm, but Azog merely retreated and was able to hunt down his nemesis Thorin with his son Bolg. But the movie actually demoted Bolg, whose father is long dead and is merely mentioned by name in the book, with his son actually being the Orc leader of the Misty Mountains and leader of the Goblins of Moria.

All that to mean that for whatever reason, Bolg’s role in The Hobbit is one of the more problematic and ill-conceived (at least in the movie version). He doesn’t totally work and, I’m afraid, the beer, a belgian tripel, doesn’t either. To its credit, it starts out with promise. Both aroma and taste have some lovely notes of honey, dried fruit, and cloves in them. But the taste falls apart at the end, when things get far, far too bitter.

The Precious Pils (5% ABV): Oooooh we likes it, Precious! We likes it! The colour is golden like the Precious! Golden, Precious! Very balanced, it is, with slight grainses and a clean finish, Precious! The dry note at the end is especially good!

*Gollum! Gollum!*

As it warms the dryness grows, but we still likes it, Precious! We likes it! All ours! Forever and ever!

*Gollum! Gollum!*

Smaug Stout (8.5 ABV): “Revenge! Revenge! The King under the Mountain is dead and where are his kin that dare seek revenge? Girion Lord of Dale is dead, and I have eaten his people like a wolf among sheep, and where are his sons’ sons that dare approach me? I kill where I wish and none dare resist. I laid low the warriors of old and their like is not in the world today. Then I was but young and tender. Now I am old and strong, strong, strong, Thief in the Shadows!”

With a quote like that, you would expect that a beer named after a huge, heavily armoured dragon, especially Smaug, to be pretty damn big. So it’s with no surprise whatsoever that it’s an 8.5% ABV Imperial Stout with Habanero Chilis was created to honour the Dragon who took over the Lonely Mountain.

The aroma sets up a really good expectation, as the chilis come out very prominently, followed closely with its friends cocoa and coffee. The taste is incredibly creamy and smooth. Very well-balanced. A bit disappointing, as the chili notes in the flavour was a lot more subtle than the aroma led me to think it would be, but that aside, it’s an incredibly well put together stout.

All in all, two of the three offerings blew me away. The pilsner is a thing of beauty and the Smaug Stout is an incredibly close second.

Now go gather some of your close Dwarf and Hobbit friends, pour a drink, and sing a song. Or read the book together. Whichever works.

The-Hobbit-Dwarves-Drinking-Dragonlord-1

“Hey, ho, to the bottle I go,
To heal my heart and drown my woe!
Rain may fall and wind may blow,
But there still beeeeee many miles to go!

Sweet is the sound of the pouring rain,
And stream that falls from hill to plain!
Better than rain or rippling brook,
Is a mug of beer inside this Took!

Strange and dark is the world outside,
But in the pub we’ve naught to hide!
With lots of ale, and barley wine,
This evenin’ is surpassin’ fine!

Harvest’s in and cold without,
An’ hobbits strong are hobbits stout!
Naught to fear, and naught to think,
For hobbits nowwww have ale to drink!”

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In Space No One Can Hear You Review A Beer: Half Pints Brewing Co.’s Black Galaxy

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Whenever friends of mine let me know they’re heading to Winnipeg to see friends (And dear god, that happens more than you would think), they always ask for a local brewery recommendation and with no pause whatsoever my response is always “Half Pints Brewing”. There are others in Winnipeg and definitely in the whole province of Manitoba, but Half Pints is the one I always suggest because they have been leading the charge on well-crafted beers since 2006 when co-owners Nicole Barry and David Rudge opened their doors as part of a grand plan to open a brewery by their early 30s.

With Rudge as Brewmaster and Barry putting her extensive accounting and business administration background to good use as the brewery’s CEO, Half Pints have slowly and steadily made their mark on the minds of beer drinkers in the province of Manitoba and beyond. From being fiercely active in their local community (one instance of note is creating “Queer Beer”, a special beer for the Winnipeg Pride Festival with proceeds of sales going to Pride Winnipeg), to consistently coming out with new and exciting beers, Half Pints stands as a good example of creative brewing and cunning business sense.

Flagships include St. James Pale Ale, Bulldog Amber Ale, Stir Stick Stout, and the incredibly popular Little Scrapper IPA. Their market includes Saskatchewan, BC, Alberta, and of course Manitoba, with the occasional feature in the eastern provinces as well. If you find yourself in Winnipeg, the brewery also does tours every Saturday starting at 1pm.

1601307_681922288535481_1551725549_nI was lucky enough to get my hands on a bottle of their newest limited release, the Black Galaxy, a Black IPA finished off with, you guessed it, Galaxy Hops. The beer has been a popular March feature since it first came out in 2012 and has had Half Pints fans shaking with anticipation ever since. The beer is about 6% ABV and is being sold at the brewery itself along with selected stores while quantities last.

…And I have to say that it’s a comfortable and strong beer. Normally when I have a Black IPA I get a lot of roasted coffee notes at the end, and while I certainly start to get the malty notes as it warms in the glass, if I was blinded in an accident and drank this beer I wouldn’t guess that it was so dark in colour. I say this because despite its colour  it’s a very bright beer. The tropical fruit notes of the Galaxy hops comes out nicely in the aroma, and those same notes come out strongly in the taste. I have to admit, I didn’t know what to think of a dark beer release so close to Spring, but I’ll be damned if this doesn’t fit the season nicely. If I’m going to borrow from the space theme this beer takes on, the aroma and taste are two bright stars in an otherwise dark space.

It’s fun to see this beer unwrap itself while drinking it, going from a bright and tropical IPA while cold and ending up as a slightly roasted hoppy dark beer as it warms.

This isn’t the first time a Half Pints beer has made me smile at my glass and say “Well, look at you!” and I doubt it will be the last. While I have no clue when I’ll next be in Winnipeg, I’ll be sure to keep this on my list of destinations when I’m there.

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The Quest For Fire: Ginger Beers (featuring Liberty Village Brewing Co.)

When I was a kid and went to the grocery store with my dad to help (which I think at that time was trying to charm him in to buying a box of Count Chocula), we would always get a few bottles of Ginger Beer. It was non-alcoholic of course, and the name of our favourite brand escapes me. It came in little stubby bottles and I think there was a sea captain or a pirate on the logo. We would always have it with a spicy dish, or sometimes even with my mom’s famous Crackers Chicken, where the fiery burn of the ginger would go perfectly with the slight hint of squeezed lemon from the chicken. My dad and I would have a sort of contest to see how much of the ginger beer we could drink in one go before the burn would finally get to us and we would cough with tears in our eyes. I always lost. Well, come on I was like, FIVE.

Anyone who knows me in person knows that while I really love beers with such graceful and subtle tasting notes, I also love an assault on my senses. A beer that makes your eyes bulge and leaves you whimpering for some water. A somewhat recent example was in October at Cask Days where one of my favourite beers there was “Call of Brewty Black Chipotle Schwarzbier” by Black Oak. Basically, the brewer, Alan Brown, just dumped a crap load of smoked Chipotle in to about 40 litres of beer. The end result was something that cleared the senses, dissolved any phlegm or foodstuff in your throat and made you gasp for breath. I really enjoyed it and after my initial half pint I went back for a full one.

Okay, so there’s some context for this.

With all that said, I’ve found it quite difficult to find an alcoholic Ginger Beer that I love. Which really sucks, since spring is sorta-kinda here and the nice warmth of the ginger in a beer can really match the season well. I can’t even find something that meets me halfway and provides a mild, ginger-forward burn. Crabbie’s? Might as well be soda pop. Wychwood’s Ginger Beard? A sugary disappointment. I’m sure there are good ones out there in the world, but being in Ontario with fun little laws about that stuff, I can’t really get access to it.

Annoyed by the lack of great ginger beers available to me, I did what almost every person in their 20s in North America does when they have a minor gripe: I complained on twitter.

I was genuinely surprised that Ginger Beers weren’t a thing in the province let alone the city of Toronto but, always eager to be corrected or proved wrong, I asked if anyone had any leads. It was then that the folks at Liberty Village Brewing Co. responded.

Liberty Village Brewing are a new brewery here in Toronto and are named after the beautiful old district of the city where they will also be located soon. With their first batch, 504 Pale Ale, just having been put on kegs early this week after brewing it at Junction Craft Brewing, the beer promises to be an excellent addition to the Toronto beer scene along with several homebrew efforts that will make it out as one-offs or seasonals. Among them a beer made with Gummi Bears, a Gose and…a Black Ginger Beer named “Exodus”.

Intrigued, I met up with Steve Combes from the brewery, who gave me a bottle of Exodus and told me a little bit about it, how it was a tribute to Reggae music and that the opinion of some at the brewery was that the ginger notes were too harsh. I was excited and tried it that night.

And you know…it was really interesting and the closest I’ve come to the flavours that I seek in a good Ginger Beer. The darkness of the beer was a bit of a wild card and very interesting to experience, as was the coffee and slight chocolate notes that came with it and, really, were the star of the show, but right in the back there, almost like a harsh, burning ember keeping a fire alive, or a slumbering old god waiting, was the ginger in all it’s strong and firey glory. Although things may have changed since I last talked with Steve, but apparently this beer may be a one-off they include in their very diverse line and I will definitely be excited to go to their location for a glass.

But I’m not going to let the journey end there. I have an intention to at least try out a recipe of my own for a Ginger Beer (Actually thinking of a Ginger Weiss) and will always be on the lookout for a damn good ginger beer. If you have any suggestions, I don’t care where you live, please post them in the comments section. And if you’re a brewer here in Ontario, don’t make me beg for a one-off (seriously though, I will totally beg).

Alright, I think I’ve talked enough for now. Take care, folks.

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CURRENTLY DRINKING: Eephus by Left Field Brewery

Left Field is a new brewery out of Toronto (though currently contracting out of Grand River Brewing in Cambridge). As you can probably guess from their name, they are Baseball themed, which goes well with baseball season arriving soon. Started by Niagara College brewing program graduate Mark Murphy and his wife Mandie, their first offering is Eephus Oatmeal Brown Ale. What is an Eephus? Well, it’s described as a “seldom-thrown and unexpected pitch”, usually at slow velocity (55mph, as opposed to a regular pitch, which is about 80-100mph), which throws the batter off guard.

The arrival of the brewery comes at a good time, as not only is baseball season starting up here, but there’s also a renewal of interest in the game, since the Toronto Blue Jays went through some changes.

For Toronto folk, they have a launch coming up April 5th at 3030 (3030 Dundas St. West) at 7:07pm.

On to the review.

Eephus Oatmeal Brown Ale by Left Field Brewery (Toronto, ON) – 5.5%ABV

photoCOLOUR: Dark brown. No head whatsoever.

AROMA: Warm, earthy malt notes.

TASTE: Nice caramel notes with a a slight bitterness all rounded out well with the creaminess of the oatmeal. Carbonation is pretty minimal and I feel like I’m missing out on things a bit there, as it’s tasting a bit flat.

VERDICT: I’d drink this while spending a day in watching a game (bonus if it’s a particularly chilly and rainy day). All in all, it’s a pretty comfortable Brown Ale that is quite enjoyable!

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CURRENTLY DRINKING: Ramblin’ Road Country Pilsner

ramblin_road_logo

And here we are, my first beer review of 2013.

Since first hearing about them, I’ve been excited to try the offerings of Ramblin’ Road Brewery Farm out of  Norfolk County. What caught my eye on them initially was that they are Ontario’s first and only “Brewery Farm”, which is to mean that they are a functioning farm and produce the ingredients going in to the small batches of beer they make. While they don’t grow their grains (yet), they do have a full hop garden and draw spring water from their own land. On top of that the brewery also does its best to be a part of the community by continuously promoting events and places taking place in “Ontario’s Garden”, Norfolk County.

The three beers on offer by the brewery, led by Brewmaster/Farmer John Picard, are Country Pilsner, Country Lager and Country Ale. The reputation that the brewery farm has amassed from the festivals they’ve showcased their beers at has been hard to ignore, so it’s no wonder that I’ve been looking forward to trying one of their products.

And once they finally finished bottling their beer the folks at Ramblin’ Road were incredibly nice enough to send me the Country Pilsner. Shall we take a look at it? I think we should.

RAMBLINColour – very clear bright yellow. Not too big a white head that eases down in to a thin layer.

Aroma – Nice earthy scent of the grains hitting you along with a slight hop aroma quietly lurking in the shadows behind it.

Taste – Now this…is interesting. Obvious earthy malt characters are coming up to the forefront, but the hops has disappeared from the shadows and is now walking with the malt as an equal. The bitterness of the hops is complimenting the earthiness of the grains very well… Though what makes this beer for me is the slight twist of sweetness at the end. Aftertaste is slightly bitter and warming. The grains are all that’s left.

Verdict – A damn refreshing beer that celebrates the Pilsner style very well. The sweetness at the end is enough to make me want to try more and this is indeed something I would love to drink at the end of a tough day out in the garden.

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