Tag Archives: imperial stout

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.

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“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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The Blood of Cthulhu – A Lovecraftian Beer Review

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So before I go in to it here, I should offer some explanation. I was offered to sample a beer for consideration of a review and, based on the name and label design, I immediately said yes. The beer is called The Blood of Cthulhu. It’s put out by Sawdust City Brewing Co. from Gravenhurst, Ontario and is in collaboration with Bar Hop from right here in Toronto. It’s a 9.5% ABV Imperial Stout with raspberries, cranberries, and tart cherries. It will officially be launching at Sawdust City’s brewery location (with limited availability in bottles) and at Bar Hop’s annual Black & Orange Halloween celebration on October 31st at 5pm. Should be said too that Bar Hop’s Black & Orange will have a series of multiple collaborations with other breweries and it’ll be a hellishly good time.

IMG_0456So as for this beer specifically…you know, when I approach this time of year I find I start reading a good bit of horror fiction. Of course one can’t really go in to that genre without catching references to the famous H.P. Lovecraft, creator of the Cthulhu mythos among other incredible stories that leave the imagination reeling. Upon hearing of this beer, I thought it would be a fitting tribute (not to mention fun as hell) to write a review in the style of a short H.P. Lovecraft story. I should note as well that while much of this story is original, I did in some cases directly pull from Lovecraft’s famous story The Call of Cthulhu.

Here it is.

——————-

Tuesday, October 28, 2014
I have just been notified by Samuel Corbeil, noted brewer of Sawdust City Brewing Company and former Professor of Brewmaster and Brewery Relations at the Niagara College of Applied Arts and Technology in Niagara, Ontario that there is a certain item he wishes me to appraise. A dark liquid of strange and dark origins encased in a receptacle with sharp engravings that surpasses the knowledge of noted historians and archeologists of his acquaintance. Normally in cases with such profound mystery as this, Prof. Corbeil would not hesitate to defer to his associate, head brewer and creative liaison Aaron Spinney whose experiences in his search for the more esoteric pleasures of the world have, despite his reputation in polite society, required him to associate with the strange and arcane. However, recent events have found Mr. Spinney to be missing without a trace, the last Corbeil seeing him being before he departed on an expedition to the South Pacific some six months ago. There was, however, a recent correspondence in the form of a telegram, which was delivered to Corbeil in September. It has been speculated that this strange item may have been indeed sent by Mr. Spinney, though Prof. Corbeil is unsure of how it came to be in his study or who in fact delivered it.

On seeing my old friend nearing the end of his wits, I have agreed to appraise the item and have arranged for it to be sent to me at my home address. Included with it will be Mr. Spinney’s final communication and notes that precluded his mysterious disappearance, which I hope will provide some insight in to the location of his whereabouts.

I look forward to discovering what secrets this strange item may hold and will, of course, be writing my findings with the intent to publish.

October 29, 2014
After a rather tiring day of running errands throughout the city, I arrived at home to find the parcel from Prof. Corbeil along with the accompanying notes of the missing Aaron Spinney as well as his letters of correspondence. The item which has been the source of mystery for my colleagues is a strange, dark, receptacle. While obviously a bottle of dark glass, the etchings all around it seem to be that of a language with the cryptic regularity which lurks in prehistoric writings. Equally curious is a figure in the glass that can only be described as a monster or symbol only a diseased fancy could conceive. At a cursory glance, this appears to be a container for a divine drink used for particular rituals. But as for what god this is in reference to, I can not even speculate at this moment.

The accompanying notes included comments on secret societies and hidden cults, accounts of queer dreams, and cuttings alluding to outbreaks of group mania in the spring of 2013. They also tell the tale of a Mr. Robert Pingitore, A man of known genius but great eccentricity and the owner of the now-famous Bar Hop on King Street West. He arrived at the office of Mr. Spinney one night troubled and requesting insight from his trusted friend. Mr. Spinney’s response was curt, as he was deep in to his research on a current project. Pingitore’s rejoinder, though, impressed him enough to record their fantastical conversation. It transpired that the night before there had been a slight earth tremor and Pingitore’s imagination had been keenly affected. Upon retiring, he had an unprecedented dream of great Cyclopean cities of titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths, all dripping with ooze as red as cranberries and sinister with latent horror under a sky that was as black as the darkest of chocolates. Hieroglyphics had covered the walls and pillars, and from some undetermined point below had come a voice that was not a voice; a chaotic sensation which only fancy could transmute into sound, but which he attempted to render by the almost unpronounceable jumble of letters, “Cthulhu fhtagn”.

Photo 2014-10-29, 6 12 10 PMIt is in this moment that I pause to note the striking coincidence in the jumble of letters that Mr. Pingitore dreamed of that Mr. Spinney recalls in his last telegram. It reads: “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”. These words only appear one other time throughout his notes, alongside an image not unlike the bizarre creature etched in the mysterious bottle. Underneath this crude sketch are what I can only conclude is the translation of the words. “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming”.

With this new information, I turned once more to the mysterious bottle, now seeming to be the center of this particular chain of events. I decided to take a chance by opening the bottle so that I may study its contents.

what poured out was a liquid as dark and black as obsidian. Despite the dark colour leading to the expectancy of a rather potent, syrupy smell, all that is on the aroma of the liquid is rather light, with hints of raspberries and an ever slight presence of chocolate. What possessed me, I know not, but I took a sip of this libation and found that the expectations that the aroma presented me with were not only met, but exceeded upon. My senses came alive with the swirling chaos of flavours. The prominent essence of raspberry, followed by the mild bitterness of cranberries, and the subtle note of tart cherries, all bound together by the warm, calming notes of high quality cocoa and the overall texture of rich cream.

As I snapped out of this transcendental state of flavour and pleasure, I noticed that I had lost several hours and that the contents of the bottle were diminished to mere drops. With a light head and the memories of the pleasant gratification of the senses, I will retire to my chambers for the night.

October 30, 2014
Whether it was a result of my imagination being affected by my findings the day before or some other cause, upon retiring last night I was constantly in a state of unrest due to the most bizarre dreams that haunt me still in my waking hours.

I was aboard the Intrepid, the ship that Mr. Spinney and his expedition sailed on with intentions of heading towards the South Pacific. The sky was a deep blood red and the wind harsh. As I looked around, the ship appeared to be in a state of long abandon, with mould, barnacles, and rust prominently covering the area. What can be described as a rushing sound came from beyond the hull and I made my way towards the area to investigate the cause of such a noise. I found that something was arising from the depths of the ocean and there was very little water separating it from the world above. What rose were structures of weed and ooze-covered Cyclopean masonry which can be nothing less than the tangible substance of earth’s supreme terror. The construct that Spinney’s scripture alluded to in his notes and what I now know to be the nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh, that was built in measureless aeons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars.

And through the depths of that poison city it arose. The Thing of the idols, the green, sticky spawn of the stars, had awaked to claim his own. Once again the stars were right and the dreaded high priest, the monstrous creature governed by laws that are not of this earth and whose description defies sanity, Cthulhu, was on the loose once more!

I awoke screaming, and it took a not insignificant amount of time to console myself that what I saw was the result of an overactive imagination and not a vision of the horrors to come brought on by the divine elixir, what I now refer to as the Blood of Cthulhu, which was used in practices relating to this horrific being. I must confess though, a hesitancy to accept this comforting thought.

I have been left shaken and, satisfied that I have solved some portion of the mystery of the object that has confounded Prof. Corbeil, return the items he provided me with. With them shall go this record of mine – this test of my own sanity, wherein is pieced together that which I hope may never be pieced together again. I have looked upon all that the universe has to hold of horror, and even the skies of spring and the flowers of summer must ever afterward be poison to me.

I must conclude that it was a harsh storm that overtook The Intrepid and with it Mr. Spinney, or else the world would by now be screaming with fright and frenzy. But who knows the end? Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men. What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise again.

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Lock it in the Basement: Aging Beers

Aging: It’s not just for wines, whiskeys and people who aren’t me.

So I’ve decided to take the next step in my beer appreciation learnings and start doing what I’ve wanted to do ever since I tried some beer that had undergone this process. I’m going to start aging beer. I think my first instance in trying some aged beer was at Dogfish Head’s brewpub, where I had a World Wide Stout that had been aged for one year and…dear LORD, it was amazing. Ever since then I’ve been thinking about it. Last week, when Amsterdam Brewery released Tempest Imperial Stout (a delicious one-off originally brewed last year) I decided to buy a few to be the first test subjects in my beer cellar. Lucky thing I got them too, as all 1400 bottles produced sold out within two days. Also, thank heavens, I was able to get the last Muskoka “Winter Beard” Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout from Muskoka Brewery’s retail store.

But how the hell do I get to aging these things? Well, I’m still reading on the subject, but here’s what I’ve learned so far…

–       The beers have to be stored at a cool 10-20°c in a dark, semi-dry room. A basement, garage or cave will do in a pinch. A closet for apartment dwellers also works.

–       The beers have to be bottle-conditioned, which is to say that there are active yeasts in the bottles allowing the beer to further ferment.

–       Beers heavy in malts like Stouts, Porters, Barley Wines and Belgian Ales are best for aging for long periods of time. This makes sense, since the more malts (sugars) the more of a meal the yeasts have which will allow them to do their thing (eat sugar, poop alcohol).

–       Hoppy beers aren’t that great for aging over long periods of time, as the hops break down after a while and create a kind of skunky, dreadful drink.

–       The higher the alcohol content, the more benefits the beer will have to being aged. The agreed upon rule seems to be “8% ABV or higher”, although many Beglian beers with low ABV percentages have also benefited greatly from aging.

–       If the beer contains Brettanomyces, a Belgian yeast that is usually added near bottling time, you’re able to age it. This yeast does a lot in a few months or years (see Goose Island’s Matilda, which can be aged for five years). Having this yeast isn’t needed, this is just a “if you see a beer with this in it, go for it” kind of tip.

–       While there is some argument on this, it is advised to always store the beer in the upright position rather than on its side. The debate is mainly over how to store beer that has been corked, as laying it on the side will prevent the cork from drying out. Although a way around THAT can be to dip the top of the bottle with wax. You know what, I’ll just leave it to one’s discretion.

The advantage of aging beers? Well, there are certain strong flavours in beers that mellow out over time and bring a rise to flavours you may not have noticed before. In Imperial Stouts, for instance, the alcohol bite goes down along with the heavy coffee overtones and presents a sweeter, almost creamier beer. So it highlights complexities to a beer that you didn’t know were there. That’s a good enough reason for me, at any rate.

Beers can be aged for years and years too. I’ve heard plenty of stories of people opening a bottle of Chimay from 1986  and even a beer that was discovered to have been stored since 1869! Madness? Probably. Worth it? Most definitely.

You can also age beer in things like Oak whiskey barrels to add a wonderful flavour and depth to the beers, but since I’m not Mme. Moneybucks McGee (Of the Southampton McGees), I’m going to discuss bottle aging for now.

Right, so now on to my little project.

It was easy to pick the location (the basement of my cottage in Muskoka). It’s dark, it’s cold and it’s dry, but not dry enough to give me a nosebleed or chapped lips. It also has shelf space, so if a flood happens down there (Give me a break, it IS a cottage. It happens) then I have no fear of water touching my precious bottles. I also have something covering it, so no burglers will sneak in to the house in the middle of the night and find it.

It’s important to label what year your beers are from (see above picture) so you’ll remember. And don’t think you will, because unless you’re some kind of savant or only aging one beer you’ll have at least a bit of difficulty remembering. Just do it that way. To add a fun bit of nostalgia to it, I may also write down a few details of how my life is currently going, so I can look back on it. But hey, do what you want.

So now it’s set up in complete, cold darkness and is FAR AWAY from me. I’ll admit, one of my biggest concerns is the will power it takes to just WAIT. Because now I have some fantastic beers in that room and what’s the harm in just having one? See, this is why I chose the cottage. I go up there about 4-5 times a year now, so the chance of me getting to it is pretty minimal. My other biggest concern is how the room will be in the winter time. If it ends up being too cold, I may have to move them. But I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, eh?

So here’s the score with the beers I have on your right. I have three bottles of this year’s Tempest Imperial Stout, which according to the brewer, can be aged for up to three years. One will be aged for one year, another for two and the final for a third year. The Tempest wrapped in a white top has already been aged for a year and a half (came with a six pack of the beer as a gift) and will be brewed for an additional year and a half. If more Temptests come out every year, I’ll be buying some to age. The Muskoka Winter Beard will be aged for a year. There is also a plan to age some Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, Goose Island Matilda and Dogfish Head World Wide Stout. We’ll see how those go. Regardless I am going to try to have at least three beers in there at any given time for several years.

And that’s that. If any of you readers have suggestions for beers to age, I’d sure appreciate it! If I can get a hold of it, I’ll try!

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A Teaser of a Tempest

Woah now! Who are THESE two hot kids on the block? Well, it’s a bottle of Amsterdam Brewery’s Tempest Imperial Stout. One bottle of this year’s batch (just released today at the brewery’s retail store only) and one bottle of the same beer aged for a year.

What’s going to happen with these beers? Why are they here (other than the fact that Tempest is an amazing beer that blew me away when it made its debut on cask during Toronto Beer Week)?

Well, you’ll just have to wait until Tuesday after the long weekend, as I have a few other pictures to take and some further things to research.

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