Tag Archives: session

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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The Kinda-Sorta Rise of Session Beers

So these days the words “Session Beers” are entering the mindset of beer geeks and casual beer drinkers more frequently. This isn’t a new thing at all, Session Beers are a very common type of beer, but small breweries are deciding to take a break from their usual projects to create the perfect one and the public eye is wondering just what the hell a Session Beer is.

A Session Beer is, essentially, a beer that is low in alcohol (Usually about 4.5-5% ABV or under) and thus a beer that you can drink frequently during a drinking “session”, which is a period of time where you are having several drinks.  So my version of the perfect session would be sitting on the top of my friend’s apartment building in Bushwick and splitting a six-pack of a beer that barely leaves me buzzed by the end. But really, a session can be spent alone or with friends, at a bar or in the comfort of your own home. Wherever good times are had. There are other aspects to what makes an arguably good session beer, such as balance of flavour and reasonable price and so on, but they are by no means strict rules that one must follow (although I will agree that they are somewhat in line with the spirit of the social aspect).

If you’ve had beers like Guinness, Pilsner Urquell, Newcastle Brown, or even Blue Moon, you’ve had a session beer before. They’re nothing new (Like I said, it’s just an alcohol level). So why am I telling you this?

Because in a craft beer climate where breweries seem to be looking for the next Big Beer (Here, have this Imperial Belgian Stout aged in Bourbon & Absinthe barrels that is roughly 12% ABV!), it pays to know that it is possible to have something simple and finely crafted. Don’t get me wrong, I adore geeking out over over a sample of rum-barrel aged barleywines or basking in the beautiful aromas of an Imperial IPA, but at the end of a particularly tiring day of work, I tend to go for a beer that doesn’t get me buzzed after half a glass and is something I have the option of not thinking about if I don’t want to. The latter is particularly important to me if I really just want to relax. Also, it may be just me, but I think that Sessionable beers have a better chance of “converting” folks on to the smaller breweries than the sensory explosions do. Not that the big ABV lads don’t pull their weight, it’s just I’ve often found the smaller alcohol beers that are made very well end up being great Gateway Beers. It’s for that reason that I think small breweries are starting to put some nice session beers in to their brewing schedules lately.

One such beer that is making the rounds up here in Ontario is Detour Session IPA by Muskoka Brewery and it pretty much matches my criteria for a great session beer. At 4.3% ABV and hopped with Eldorado, Sorachi, and Citra hops, this is a beer with gorgeous, subtle, citrus aromas, a subtle note of mandarin oranges in the taste and a quick dry finish. It’s a very well balanced beer, hoppy enough for you to take notice, but not too hoppy so you’ll end up thinking about it too much. Were we not having lousy Smarch weather right now, I’d be out on the porch slowly sipping this beer. Instead I’ll settle for sipping this at the end of the day in my office and know that I have something to look forward to in the brutal heat of summer.

GoToIPA_6packIn Amerika, the big one that has exploded right now is Stone Brewery’s Go To IPA, which at first was a bit weird to think that Stone would do a 4.5% beer, but then I remembered that they have their Levitation Ale which is 0.1% lower (HUGE difference, I know…).

For more information on some amazing international Session Beers out there, I can’t recommend The Session Beer Project enough. This site has been going on with sporadic updates since 2009 and has been an absolute joy to go through. Be sure to subscribe to it or just flip through the archives.

So when you hear someone say that their beer is really “sessionable”, what they mean is that you can drink a few of them without having to worry about waking up in a city you’ve never been in married to someone you’ve never met. Sometimes that’s a really good thing and after a long day where all you want to do is chill out a bit, it’s the perfect thing.

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Session Toronto 2013

 

Well now. Session.

This past Saturday was the Session Craft Beer Festival, which is more or less an after party to the Ontario Craft Beer Week festivities. Last year featured some of the best and brightest breweries from all over Ontario showcasing special one-offs and this year was no different. The festival included a wonderful selection including beers for consideration in the in-fest competition Collaboration Nation, where breweries teamed up with Ontario celebrities like the badass TV personality Ed the Sock, Well-known horse masturbator Tom Green, Canadian Singer-Songwriter City & Colour and Toronto Star Beer Columnist Josh Rubin for a chance of their beer being picked up by a handful of LCBO stores.

This year’s event was packed. More than a thousand arrived for the event at Wychwood Barns and the event was shoulder to shoulder. Amazing for the organizers and for anyone looking for a sign that craft beer is only going to get bigger.

My one big suggestion to the organizers for next year (and one that they are very well aware of by now, I’d wager) would be to find a bigger place so folks can spread out a bit better and even separate if there are individual things going on. Beer Writer and Prud’homme Beer Sommelier Crystal Luxmore, who I deeply admire and look up to for her insightful view on the drink we love, led a tasting with hot dogs and a selection of beers. Although the talk was wonderful, I feel it would have been better in an area with better acoustics. Equally so with Black Oak Brewery’s Sonja North and Erica Campbell’s talk on IPAs. In the end I got the sense that, with two stages for live music/talks, food trucks galore, a volleyball court and incredible beer, the organizers planned big but, to be on the safe side, chose a space that was too small.

Don’t get me wrong though, of all the problems that a festival can get, “too crowded” is a really good one to have. I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of beer lovers for this event and seeing the overwhelming love for quality beer was incredible. In the crowds I managed to strike up conversations with some fantastic people (including an adorable couple that met during Ontario Craft Beer Week) and got a good insight in to the general public’s way of looking at beer. Session is a festival that keeps showing the rise of the Beer Geek in popular culture and I love the hell out of it.

Although the winner of the Collaboration Nation competition was The Tom Green Beer, a milk stout by Beau’s All Natural Brewing and Tom Green, I had many highlights, including  “Allison Brier”, a Raspberry Saision by Sawdust City Brewing and Edge 102’s Fearless Fred, “Lion Grass”, an earthy beer made with lemongrass and Dandelion leaves by Highlander Brew Co. and Durham Tourism Manager Kerri King and “Red on Red”, a stunning Imperial Red Ale by Flying Monkeys and Central City Brewing.

It was a fun, inspiring, and above all an optimistic day.

…there was also a scary clown.

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