Tag Archives: stone brewing

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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Filed under Gateway Beers, Learning, Tips

Best of Winter (Providing It’s Gone)

Don’t know about you folks, but up here our weather has been…well, let’s put it this way: Last week in a single day we had snow, rain, snow, hail, rain and ending with some snow overnight. Now it’s practically t-shirt weather with forecasts saying the temperature will more than double tomorrow.

So screw it, I’m calling it. Winter is over.

I think I’m going to make up a very quick list of some of my highlight beers of Winter. If this were a television show, it would be a clip show episode, but as it is I’m just going to list the beers. These are in no particular order and some of them aren’t even seasonals, but beers I’ve just tried over the winter. It SHOULD be noted that during the winter I primarily drink stouts and porters, because it’s cold and my natural instinct is to drink something that seems like a meal (my rule with stouts is that it’s good if I can put a pencil in the middle of the glass, let go and the beer keeps it up). While there are some exceptions in the list, these are mainly black-as-my-soul beers.

1. Winter Beard Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout by Muskoka Brewery – An absolute treat to have both in bottles and on cask. Cranberry taste is a bit too subtle, but it more than makes up for it in the chocolate taste.

2. Lava Smoked Imperial Stout by Ölvisholt Brugghús – This also was a regular visitor to the LeBlanc house. The coffee and chocolate tastes along with the  liquid smoke makes this beer and is a meal all on itself.

3. Wych Craft Blonde Ale by Wychwood – Noticed this turning up more and more in LCBOs this winter, and have to say, rather crisp and refreshing!

4. Double Chocolate Cherry Stout by Black Oak Brewing Co. – The tartness of the cherries just makes this beer a wonderful treat and the chocolate taste adds a wonderful warmth to it. I was really lucky to try it for the first time on cask, which all in all gave a warmth that I needed that particular night. Will be having some more this week.

5. Infinium by Samuel Adams and Weihenstephan – Slight romantic memory behind this one, because The Fella bought me a bottle of this rather wonderful beer that came in a Champagne bottle. Very clean beer with the taste of a nice, somewhat sweet Belgian Tripel. Needs to be consumed in a champagne flute and it matters on the type of company you have with this drink (mine of course, was wonderful).

6. World Wide Stout (Aged for 1 year) by Dogfish Head Brewery – Hahahaha….man. Visiting one of the brewpubs owned by Dogfish Head was such a TREAT. And part of that treat was having this amazing beer, aged for a solid year.  At about 19%ABV had a lovely chocolaty taste with a slight burn I would normally get from an Imperial Russian Stout. But wonderful. WONDERFUL.

7. Tokyo Imperial Stout by BrewDog – Thanks to a wonderful donation to the Tip Jar from reader Raymond Conlon (you could all learn something from him. HINT HINT), I got to try this $24 Imperial Stout at around 14% ABV (though I’m sure it’s cheaper anywhere but here). INCREDIBLY sweet, which was unexpected for its alcohol content. Wonderful taste of cranberries and chocolate in there. I’d go so far as to say it would make an excellent dessert beer.

8. Sublimely Self Righteous Ale by Stone Brewery – What turned me on to Black IPAs. This was a birthday gift from The Fella, who brought it all the way from the states and…wow.  SO. MUCH. HOPPINESS. Drinking it is like putting a handful of fresh hops right in your mouth. Just wonderful. The Fella, who is a malt fiend, could not finish his share. It is my go-to beer whenever I am in the states now.

9. Black Chocolate Stout by Brooklyn Brewery – Tried this during a 5-hour layover in New York City where I met up with friends Rachael Fox and Eddie McShane and we found a decent watering hole to sit down, have a few drinks and have the most wonderful conversation about photography. This beer, which had a WONDERFUL bittersweet chocolate taste and a creaminess. was a perfect match for the night.

10. Spruce Beer by Garrison Brewing Co. – Most of you have read my review in which I talk about this beer, so will keep this short. But I’ll say this: What a wonderful treat it was to have this beer.  A drink that did an amazing job of invoking the spirit of winter. Loved it.

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Judging a Beer By Its Label (part 1 of 2)

It’s a very risky game.  Sometimes it pays off brilliantly, other times…you end up spitting out the beer and pouring it down the sink.  But picking a beer just by the label design alone can be a really fun way to discover new types of beers and learn more about your own personal tastes.  Plus every time you buy a beer based on its design, a graphic designer gets its wings.  Or something like that.

There are too many beers to list on which ones have been a success, a failure and a surprise, so I’ll just list a few highlights. This entry is going to be separated in to two parts.  The first one the good beers with good designs and the second being on the bad beers with good designs as well as the surprises I’ve had.

GOOD DESIGN, GOOD BEER

Hobgoblin Ale – It’s been mentioned here plenty of times before and I SWEAR this will be the last time I mention this beer from Wychwood Brewery for a while, but it’s important! This was the first beer I felt that I HAD to buy on the design alone and not look at any of the details that point out alcohol content or taste notes.  I believe it was 2004 or so and at the time I was really in to fantasy novels.  While “preparing” for a weekend trip to the cottage with a few friends I came across this beer and found myself really impressed with the design of both the label and the bottle.  At the time, I hadn’t seen any designs that went beyond a crappy logo and standard beer bottle (or even a “stubby” which was a rare treat at the Beer Store).  And as you all know, this beer my stand-by drink to this day.  Hell, I had one on tap (the beer has an AWESOME custom tap by the way) just last week and it hasn’t lost anything in taste for me.

Boneshaker Unfiltered IPA – I found this beauty about a year ago when I made a trip to the Amsterdam Brewery here in Toronto and the label just blew me away.  But then again, I love William Cheselden’s Osteographia, so whatever.  The colour scheme, smooth bottle design and yes, the choice of typeface all contributed in making me wonder what this beer was all about.  I picked up three bottles on the spot.  Turns out, it’s a DAMN good IPA.  So hopped up that you can actually taste a kind of earthiness and so bitter that it is still the only beer that can make my throat go dry.  And as you folks out there who either read this blog or know me in person know, that’s just the kind of bitterness I like.

This brew very recently (about two months ago) went on tap and has been a pretty good success.  In fact, it was hearing about one of the few bars that carried this that led me to find the Town Crier/Halfway Beer House, which is now my favorite pub in all the city (more on that place in a later post).

Arrogant Bastard Ale – I like this design because it matches perfectly with the reputation that the folks at Stone Brewing Co. wants it to have.  It’s aggressive, it’s mean, it will spot a weakness in you and exploit it to the point where you leave the room crying.  Even by tasting the beer, with it’s strong punch of hops, one can tell that this is a beer for Tough People and I think the design puts forth that image incredibly well.

But aside from the design, what REALLY won me over was the copywriting on the bottle.  Here’s how it reads:  “This is an aggressive ale. You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth. We would suggest that you stick to safer and more familiar territory–maybe something with a multi-million dollar ad campaign aimed at convincing you it’s made in a little brewery, or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beverage will give you more sex appeal. Perhaps you think multi-million dollar ad campaigns make things taste better. Perhaps you’re mouthing your words as you read this.  

DON’T YOU JUST WANT TO DRINK THAT?

Coney Island Lager – The label is in more detail at the head of this post.  This I think was one of the first craft brews I picked up when I went to New York City and actually had an appreciation for beer.  The label alone was enough to make me wonder what the hell this drink was about because, quite frankly, a pants-shittingly terrifying Carny on the label (which also reminds me of the good ‘ol fashioned Carnival signs back in the day when people didn’t think stuff like that looked terrifying at all) is enough to make me laugh and pick up the bottle.  It could taste like brown sugar in water, I don’t care.  You have to try it and you’d be half-tempted to keep the bottle as a souvenir. The same goes for most of the labels put out by Shmaltz Brewing Company.

But as it turns out, it was a pretty damn refreshing drink.  Very nice malt and earth flavours with an very nice aroma that just worked.  I definitely wouldn’t say no to this brew on a hot summer day.

So that’s it for this post.  Toon in soon for part 2 where I discuss the good designs with bad tasting beer as well as the surprises I had.  I might throw in a third post, but we’ll see.

But hey, I can personally taste and try so many beers, so if you have any DAMN good brews with some equally DAMN good designs on the labels (or heck, if you just want to suggest a brew to me) e-mail me at robin@therobinleBlanc.com! Or, you know, COMMENT.  Because that’s even easier.

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