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A Musical Beer Collaboration: Flying Monkeys BNL Imperial Chocolate Stout


Around September Canadian beer lovers and music fans alike were excited to learn of a collaboration beer being made with Ontario brewery Flying Monkeys and the iconic Canadian band the Barenaked Ladies. For those not familiar with the group, they’re basically the ultimate “local boys do good” story here where I live, the Toronto suburb of Scarborough. Everyone here has sung along to “If I Had a Million Dollars” and “One Week” at least ten times in their life, have hung out in their preferred hangout of the Scarborough Town Centre and well…let’s just say that the Barenaked Ladies are kind of a big deal here. Even ignoring their hits, my international readers will probably best know them with the song “Get in Line” from King of the Hill or even more popularly, the theme song for The Big Bang Theory. So if you’ve heard their music with it’s naturally quirky nature, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that they would team up with a brewery called Flying Monkeys.

What makes this fun is that BNL Imperial Chocolate Stout, due to hit stores across the country to coincide with the “Symphony Barenaked” Canada tour starting November 30th, isn’t just a matter of the boys sticking their names on the beer and leaving it be. They kept well connected with the folks at Flying Monkeys, working out what they wanted the beer to represent, supplied box and label art by band member Kevin Hearn and even showed up for the first day of brewing. “The guys got a crash course in the brewhouse. Honestly, we’ve never collaborated with a better bunch of guys!” says Flying Monkeys founder and brewer Peter Chiodo.

The Ladies themselves had an amazing time. “It was incredible there,” says drummer Tyler Stewart. “The folks at Flying Monkeys, they love what they make and they’re so in to it and have a great time. And we love them because they are what they are, making high quality stuff that people love and isn’t crappy. That really matches the BNL philosophy.”

Let’s talk about the beer a bit. BNL Strong Beer is an Imperial Chocolate Stout made with organic Ecuadorian Cocoa Nibs. “And it’s at 10% (ABV), so this isn’t a beer you can quaff, but instead sip and really appreciate.” says Stewart.

Now. On to the review. To enhance the experience I’ve asked Tyler what Barenaked Ladies songs he’d pair this beer with and he suggests two. The first being “Ordinary” from their 2010 album All In Good Time “I think ordinary matches because the song has this really upbeat tone, but very intense lyrics, so the song isn’t what it seems to be. Just like this beer, while on the surface is an ordinary drink, it is anything but ordinary.” He also suggests the hit “Pinch Me” from 2000’s Maroon album. “It’s time to wake up and try some beer!” he says with a laugh. (I’ve put the songs up below this post, so feel free to listen and read)

COLOUR: A beautiful black with a decent mocha head that sticks around for the party.

AROMA: Chocolate fudge cake all the way and it hits you when you first open the bottle. You can smell the chocolate two feet away. Slightly fruity. I would have no problem letting this sit so the smell could take over my room.

TASTE: As expected, there’s a HUGE bitter and delicious cocoa presence at the front with a sweetness that makes this taste almost like chocolate milk but more like a good and dense chocolate cake. After that comes a hint of molasses with a slight fruity taste hitting the back with the gentle burn of the alcohol. Or maybe this warmth is from the cocoa. Hm. Mouthfeel is very creamy with little carbonation. Tyler was right in saying this is not a drink to be quaffed. I couldn’t quaff this if I tried (and I did try for, uh, the sake of experimentation).  The heaviness of this beer makes me almost feel like I’m sipping a cocoa liquer. I kind of wish I had some ice cream or raspberries to compliment this.

VERDICT: Love it. It’s heavy, full of delicious cocoa and creates a comfortable warmth that matches the season, and the music of the Barenaked Ladies, perfectly. This is obviously a dessert beer for me, but can be enjoyed any time. I’ll be looking forward to getting more of this, one bottle for aging and another for an especially cold winter night.

And now I’m going to have “One Week” in my head for…well, maybe about a week.

photos courtesy of Flying Monkeys Brewery, except the one of the box which is mine.



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CURRENTLY DRINKING: Flying Monkeys SuperCollider Double IPA

This is a beer that I’ve been looking forward to try out for a while.  Flying Monkeys Brewery up in Barrie, ON announced this beer over the summer and while it was supposed to be released with the Autumn seasonals in September…the LCBO, I guess, just didn’t feel like it and sent it out early this week.

I really have to say that the label design is just beautiful on this.  I love that it’s a beer that is Science-themed, I love that there are some horrible but snigger-worthy science/beer puns on it and I adore that there’s a quote by Oliver W. Holmes on it.

It also packs an INCREDIBLY strong punch at 12.4%ABV.  At risk of sounding unprofessional, by the end of a single bottle I was feeling alright with the world and giggled a lot.

But really, this was a beer I was excited about.  I’ve always been a fan of Flying Monkey’s beers and well, I love Double IPAs so this seemed a match in heaven.  Here’s the notes I wrote down while I was tasting it.

COLOUR – A BEAUTIFUL dark Cherry Oak colour with a very strong thin white head to it.  Really is a thing of beauty to see dark bubbles rise up in that gorgeous dark colour.

AROMA – The malt hits me first.  Hints of toffee and/or caramel with of course the hops.  Nice citrus tone to it.

TASTE – Sweet lord, is that hoppy.  Though like the aroma, the malts hit first very quickly. Quite sweet.  Really like the aroma hint of toffee/caramel flavours similar to that of the aroma, but it feels like the malts only came to this party to say hello to a few people and leave.  The hops and alcohol content, however are clearly here for the night (and even brought their party mixtape).  This is a very, very hoppy drink.  The hops bring the nice citrusy tones to it, but boy does it pack a punch.

VERDICT – A really wonderful effort from one Ontario’s great craft breweries, but in the end I was disappointed that there didn’t seem to be much of a balance between hops and malts.  One gets the impression of hoppiness for the sake of hoppiness which…to be honest is something I really admire about Flying Monkeys, but when compared to their other brews, Hoptical Illusion, Netherworld Dark Cascadian Ale and Smashbomb Atomic IPA (all beers that have a great balance between the malts and hops) I just feel this one comes off a little short.  If nothing else, buy it for the bottle design and the interesting flavour.

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FIELD TRIP: Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery (Barrie, ON)

A couple of weeks ago the family and I were on our way to a wedding in Barrie, ON.  There had been talk of either before or after the bride and groom kissed that we’d get to visit and perhaps go on the tour of one of my favorite Ontario breweries the Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery.  Due to time constraints it looked like we weren’t going to be able to even visit, but upon looking at the map and noticing that the brewery was EXACTLY one block away from where the happy couple were tying the knot, we made an exception and took a visit.

Formally known as the Robert Simpson Brewery (According to the official announcement of the name change the reason they gave was “Because being named for a dead white guy just isn’t very exciting. Where’s the fun in that? Beer is supposed to be way more fun than a history class.”), this Ontario brewery is known for it’s wonderful design sense, twisted humour and, most importantly, it’s love of just screwing around with beer and coming up with some wonderful brews.  With five year-long brews in constant production along with a long list of specialty brews, these guys keep busy and they love to mess around.

Before visiting the brewery, I was already a fan of the two brews that made them famous. Hoptical Illusion Almost Pale Ale,a beer hoppier than most Ontario brews with hints of citrus, and Netherworld Cascadian Dark Ale, which was originally Netherworld Imperial India Porter, but due to a batch that ended up having coffee tones that smothered any other flavours, was dry-hopped to hell with Cascade hops and…well, that was the result.

Flying Monkeys has also been the source of some recent controversy when the application to put their latest IPA, Smashomb Atomic IPA, on shelves in the LCBO was rejected due to its name and the picture of an explosion on the label.  This reopened the conversation over the social responsibility that the LCBO should or shouldn’t have, whether or not breweries should be censored in their works and the (I’ll admit getting better) short stick that smaller breweries get in a board where companies like Molson and Coors have a tight grip.

Right, there’s the background.  Let’s get to the brewery itself.

I don’t know why, maybe it’s because every week for most of my childhood the LeBlanc Family Car would zoom past the giant Molson Brewery, or maybe that I took a tour of the temple-like Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam, but my mind always assumes that a brewery that provides beer to outside the town’s borders should be freakin’ huge.  I KNOW this isn’t true, as I visited the Brooklyn Brewery which was pretty damn small, but I still seem to fall in to that trap and end up being surprised.

Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery is no exception in this surprise.  Where I expected to see a giant factory by the lake, I instead saw what looked like a quaint store in between two others.  I could easily pass by this place thinking they just sold some beer products and that was it. Inside there’s a few tables, a fridge for their beers, a sampling bar, and a wall devoted to merchandise, which is primarily shirts, glasses and bottle openers.

Sadly, we didn’t have time to go on the one hour tour, but we did have time to sample some of the beers there and talk to the lovely lady tending the bar.  It was also there where I was able to try out the notorious Atomic Smashbomb IPA and talk about it a bit.  And…wow.  An explosion of flavours such as grapefruit, pineapple, melon and citrus with a HUGE punch of hops.  Well…you’d have to have that punch of hops.  Afterall, it was hopped NINE times to get it.  Damned fine beer.  So wonderful that I had two pints of it.  And guess what? Flying Monkeys has been working closely with the LCBO since the media attention Smashbomb got and it has been agreed that, with a change in packaging, LCBOs will be carrying this wonderful brew within the next month or so. And just in time for summer!

I couldn’t leave without getting some merch.  I left with a t-shirt and a pint glass.  My father picked up two shirts and later wished he got more.

My mother and coworker Brian both loved the Anti-Gravity Light Ale and Flying Monkeys Amber Ale, my father loved Hoptical Illusion and ADORED the Smashbomb Atomic IPA, and I was strongly considering buying a keg of Smashbomb (that being the only way it can be bought at the moment).

Before we left I went in to the brewing area with my coworker Brian and excitedly pointed out the kettles, fermentors and other devices and what their purpose was for.  It was an exciting moment for me.  But, like all fun moments, it had to come to an end and we had to save our alcohol-consuming glands for the wedding reception.  We parted with our merch, a six pack of Hoptical Illusion, a bottle of Amber Ale and Anti Gravity Light Ale and a promise to return.

(Should be noted that just down the corner from the brewery was a Chip Truck called Jerry’s Fries, which has the biggest portions ever (I ordered a small and it was about the size of a large) and has the best chips in Ontario.  I’ll testify to that. The man who runs that truck really loves his work.)


Note: Do you like what I’m doing here?  Would you like to buy me a beer?  Would you like to throw in a few pennies that can lead towards buying me a beer?  Or do you want to make sure that I can go to a craft beer event? If so, head on over to the newly created TIP JAR. I’d certainly appreciate it!

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