Thursday, April 27, 2017

Packing Up With a Brown Van

When I started my Beer O'Clock blog, I wanted to review at least one beer each week, to try a brew that I hadn't had before and share my views with you.

If you follow my blog—and I thank you for that—you'll have noticed that beer reviews are far and few between.

Beer O'Clock began on my main blog, The Brown Knowser, as a periodic review of beers that I came across at the LCBO, at beer events, and abroad. For a while, it was a weekly segment to the usual shenanigans of that blog.

Starting in May, that's where my beer reviews will return.

Thank you to all of you who have read this blog: I hope you continue to enjoy my reviews from where they originated.

To wrap up this blog, I'm going to look at a relatively new Ottawa brewery, one that made its debut through taps at scattered Ottawa pubs and has since made its way to the LCBO and has earned international recognition.

I was first introduced to a Kölsch-style beer a few years ago at another Ottawa brewery and I have to say that I didn't like it very much. It came off as high in steely minerals and off-balanced. I was reluctant to have it again.

And then, a couple of summers ago, while on vacation, I ventured to try another Kölsch from a small brewery outside Owen Sound, and it gave me an appreciation for the Cologne (Köln) brew. A variation of Kölsch by Cowbell Brewing made me a convert.

But I wasn't sure if I had tried a true German-styled Kölsch, so when I heard that an Ottawa brewery had won an award for their ale, that it was designed on a Cologne style, I had to first look up what characteristics to expect from this beer.

And then I opened a can.
Kolsch (4.8% ABV)
Brown Van Brewing
Ottawa, ON
Brown Van operates out of Kichesippi Beer's Campbell Avenue home. Kichesippi, itself, celebrates its seventh anniversary, this week, to which I tip my had. Brown Van, for now, only makes its Kölsch: it seems to work for Steam Whistle, so why not for this fledgling brewery?

Appearance: a clear, straw-yellow tint with a foamy-white head that clung to the inside of the glass as it settled to a razor-thin cap.

Nose: a light mix of wheat, grass, and pear, with subtle malts.

Palate: flint, black pepper, and malt, with a nice carbonation in the mouth. The finish is clean, with a slight bitterness that cleanses the palate.

Overall impression: as a Cologne-styled Kölsch, it's spot on with what my research showed. I expected to detect more fruit in the nose—perhaps some cherry—but I was able to get some pear notes as the glass opened up. The flintiness is consistent with the steel flavour that I was expecting, and I found this Kölsch to be extremely satisfying.

Recently, Brown Van earned the 2017 top rank for a Kölsch and was awarded a gold medal at the Chicago World Beer Championship, and I can see why. It's something that I can see myself enjoying on a patio, this summer.

Truth be told, I have had this ale a few times over the past six months or so. I first had it at CRAFT Beer Market, at Lansdowne, and I have also bought a few cans at the LCBO. Earlier this week, I chatted with one of the brewery's reps at a beer event, and he did hint that the brewery will have more offerings in the future.

I look forward to seeing what comes for this brew company. But first, I think they need to find a home of their own. When that happens, I'll be happy to share another review on The Brown Knowser.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4.5


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Express Yourself

I know, I know. Long time, no review. Do you even remember this blog?

It's not that I haven't been trying new beer over the past few months: I have. I've taken notes. I've photographed the evidence.

It's just that at the end of the day, I never found the time to give the attention to this blog that it deserves. I've also thought more about video reviews and how I can reduce the review to a five-minute maximum, and in the coming months I'll create something new.

And now that most of the snow has disappeared and flowers are just beginning to spring up, my thoughts are turning to beers that make me want to enjoy the outdoors—on a patio, on my front step, or at a festival.

One beer that I found in my local LCBO that piqued my curiosity was one by St.Thomas brewery, Railway City. These are the guys who bring you a great pale ale, Dead Elephant, as well as other treasures such as The Witty Traveller and Black Coal Stout, and seasonals, such as their maple bock. This new offering is an India Session Lager.

I'm familiar with India Session Ales, which started popping up a couple of years ago, where they were hop-forward but low in alcohol. I was curious how this style would translate to a lager.
Express India Session Ale (4.8% ABV)
Railway City Brewing Company
St. Thomas, ON
Appearance: a clear, pale amber-gold hue, topped with a foamy, white head that creates a thin cap that transitions to a dense lace.

Nose: intense orange and pink grapefruit that hints at a candied bouquet. It's beautiful and makes you want to pause and appreciate the craftmanship. Beautiful!

Palate: while the nose has you anticipate solid hops in the mouth, the malt and fruit hit the taste buds first. The malt is light; the fruit, clean and refreshing. The hops only make their appearance as a refreshing finish that cleanses the palate, rather than exhibit a bitterness.

Overall impression: flavourful and easy-drinking, Express is a lager that would be welcome as a refreshing brew on a hot summer day. I'm glad that Railway City has made this ISL a part of their regular lineup.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4  

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Russian Imperial Stouts—A Video Review

Happy New Year, beer lovers!

To start 2017, I've decided to produce a video review and present two different Russian Imperial Stouts from 2013, which have been aging in my basement over the past couple of years.

There's not much that I can write in this post that isn't said in the video, so if you have some time, sit back and enjoy this video. It's a little long—almost 20 minutes—but it is a detailed review of two stouts and includes the kind of tasting notes that you've come to expect at Beer O'Clock.

Considering it's unscripted, I'm surprised I was able to shut up in the 19 minutes of recording.

The Russian Imperial Stouts are by
I hope you enjoy this video review. If you do, let me know by leaving a comment. If there's enough interest, I may make video reviews a monthly thing.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Advent Beer

When you're grown up, you tend to miss out on many traditions that you followed, as a kid, during the holiday season. Writing letters to Santa and waiting in long lines in shopping malls to tell him what you want. And advent calendars that helped you count down the days until Christmas, being rewarded by tiny pieces of substandard chocolate.

Okay, maybe miss is a strong word.

For the second year, I've participated in a sharing event with my fellow Ottawa beer aficionados: Advent Beer. Our names are put in to a lot and randomly drawn. You're given a name and you have to collect 24 different cans or bottles of beer, and wrap them with a number. Before December, we met to exchange our pseudo-calendars.

Last year, being my first time participating in this event, I set out to find beer that I had tried and liked. Many of the bottles and cans that I collected were from past beer reviews or were purchased after visiting a few breweries, so I knew what I was giving.

I would never give away a beer that I wouldn't enjoy drinking, myself.

The person who chose my name, however, was a veteran of the event and had a penchant for throwing a couple of dogs into the mix.

On the fifth day, last year, I was treated (?) to a 1.5L can of Labatt's Blue. I took a sip, let my daughters try it (they gagged), and then promptly poured the rest down the drain.

Later, in the coming days, I found a bottle of Shock Top in the mix. Again, I took a sip, to be polite, and then pitched the rest. I didn't even subject my girls to that one.

All the while, I asked my friend, Dave, what I had done to offend him. He just rubbed his hands together and murmured, "Mwah-ha-ha!"

For this year, I drew a new name: Melanie. I didn't know anything about her and she knew nothing of me. That was okay: we'd get to meet down the road and she had nothing to fear from me. I never give away a beer that I wouldn't enjoy myself.

Dave, for his part, drew my name again. In the days leading up to our exchange, he taunted me, saying that he hoped I liked Blue, liked Olde English.

So far, Dave has given me some very nice beer. Brews from Stalwart, Kichesippi, Collective Arts, Nickel Brook, and Big Rig. All the time, I've been waiting for the boot to drop.

Yesterday, for Day 7, I was given a rare treat, and I enjoyed it so much that I was inspired to review it (I bet you were wondering when I'd get to that, weren't you?).

It was delicious.
Delicious IPA (7.7% ABV)
Stone Brewing
Escondido CA
Appearance: a deep, rich, unfiltered apricot with a creamy, off-white head that stayed thick around the rim and left a dense lace in the centre of the glass.

Nose: tropical fruit—pineapple and mango, and faint hops.

Palate: alcohol lead the way, followed closely by bitter grapefruit, and a strong finish of bitter hops that stretch out. I burped fresh grapefruit juice.

Overall impression: while the grapefruit seems to dominate any other citrus flavour, the bitterness seems to be Stone's signature. It's a serious IPA, with a massive punch, backed up by the 7.7 percent alcohol content.

The first mouthful was a sucker punch of booze and bitterness. But secondary sips seemed to balance everything out, and as I got to the end of the glass, I was loving the stuff. And that wasn't just the booze talking.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4

This year's advent calendar is proving that Dave likes me and wants me to drink good beer. That said, maybe he gave me such a great Stone ale because he's setting me up for the next one. The boots haven't dropped yet, and there are still 17 days left.

If you're interested in following my beer exploits, check out my Untappd profile or follow me on Twitter, using the hashtag #AdventBeers.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Flight Delay

I think it's time we stopped using sex to sell products.

I'm hard-wired to look at women, but I find, these days, that I catch myself and become ashamed when I see a woman being used to sell a product. Women are not accessories, and it's high time that we, as a society, recognize that very important fact.

I saw the illustration of the buxom, curvy, '50s-era woman, in the short-shorts, dressed more like she was ready for the open seas than for the sky, and I was disappointed by the brewery's choice for marketing. I didn't pick up the can.

I didn't pick it up the second or third time that I saw it in the LCBO. But finally, I was curious about the contents inside, whether this IPA would make me forget the packaging.

I read the side of the can and learned that it was a west-coast IPA, and because I had such good luck with another of these tropical-fruit brews, I took it home.
Flight Delay IPA (6.5% ABV)
Barnstormer Brewing Co.
Barrie ON
Appearance: clear, copper-amber colour with a creamy, taupe head that pours thick and slowly settles to a firm cap.

Nose: caramel, malt, light, tropical fruit, and mild hops holding them all together.

Palate: those hops hit you right away and are strong, so much so that they overshadow flavours of citrus—under-ripe orange and bitter grapefruit.

Overall impression: if I were to design the label, instead of the saluting woman, I would have designed a flexed, muscle-bulging arm, clenching a wrench in a powerful hand. I find the strength of the hops and bitterness dominate this ale. There is no finesse, no other distinctive, tropical flavour that I've experienced in other west-coast IPAs.

The artwork on the can kept me from buying the ale for weeks. The contents will keep me from buying it again. And, sadly, it's the woman on the can that seems to be Barnstormer's logo, so I don't know how long it will be before I pick up another of their brews.

Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Québec Beer

I know: it's been a while since I've posted a beer review. And I've been meaning to, but as always happens in life, life gets in the way. If you're also a reader of The Brown Knowser, you know that I've been occupied with house renovations, which often leaves me tired. Not too tired to have a beer, mind you: just too tired to write about it.

I have been trying lots of new beers, and in order to catch up, I'm going to review two of them in this post.

Lately, I've pulled away from buying my lunch at the cafeteria at work, partly because it's not inexpensive and also because the short-order cook has difficulties, at times, putting together a club sandwich. Also, she talks to me with a baby voice that I find off-putting in a person that is about my age.

Instead, I take about the same amount of time at lunch to drive to a nearby IGA, and I prefer to do this because I get to choose exactly what I want to eat without having it botched (or, if it is, that's totally on me) and it costs a lot less for a lot more.

But there's an even better reason to go to this independent grocer: beer.

Working in Québec, every single grocery store has an extensive selection of beer; especially, craft beer that is not readily available in Ontario. And while some Ontario grocery stores are now selling beer and wine, these stores are either out of my way or are situated close to an LCBO, my preferred venue for finding great craft brews.

In the IGA near work, I find that in addition to a great craft beer selection, there are lots of variety packs that allow me to try several styles of beer that a brewer offers without committing to a six pack of a single type of beer.

And, as an added bonus, some of these beers go on sale, so I can usually find something new at a buck or so off the regular price.

I've tried quite a few over the past few months, from my favourites, Dieu du Ciel and McAuslan, to Archibald and les Brasseurs RJ.

One of the best beers that I've tried from my grocery-store visits is a beer from a brewery that I was introduced to a couple of years ago, as I was waiting for a flight at the Montréal airport. This brewery has a pub in the Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport, but also has a great selection of their beer in my IGA.

Let's look at their IPA.
La Ciboire IPA (6% ABV)
Archibald microbrasserie
Québec, QC
Appearance: slightly unfiltered, bright apricot with a dense, foamy off-white head.

Nose: orange, grapefruit, and tropical notes like mango and pineapple.

Palate: candied grapefruit and tangerine. There are pronounced hops but they are not overly bitter. Orange rind and bitterness make their appearance in the long, satisfying finish.

Overall impression: this is a very nice, fruity IPA that is well-balanced between those fruit flavours and the finishing bitterness. This is an IPA lover's IPA.

Absolutely delicious.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4.5

I said, earlier, that McAuslan is one of my favourite Québec microbreweries. They have an outstanding IPA and make the best pumpkin and maple ales out there. There isn't a brew that they've produced that I haven't liked.

Until now. And I can't exactly say that I don't like this selection; rather, I was disappointed at how it didn't blow me away, particularly after I had just revelled in the oak-aged pale ale that I had picked up at the IGA only a week before.

Let's take a look:
St-Ambroise Session IPA (4.5% ABV)
Brasserie McAuslan
Montréal, QC
Appearance: unfiltered, pale grapefruit juice or pineapple juice in appearance, with a creamy white head that settles to a thin cap.

Nose: lots of fresh hops, with lemon citrus notes.

Palate: an astringent citrus—unripened grapefruit, with big hops and grass. The hops hit the roof of the mouth like you are sucking on a dry tea bag and the finish lingers, giving this ale an extremely dry feel.

Overall impression: this is a tough one to suss out. I like the hops but not the astringent fruit. I like the dryness but not how it feels on the roof of my mouth.

For a session IPA, it's good but there are better ones out there, and that's what disappoints me. Normally, I see a McAuslan beer and I know that I'm getting something good. With this selection, I'd drink it again but I don't think I'll buy more.

Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5

I'll review more brews from la belle provence as the months go on. Cheers!

Thursday, September 8, 2016


I always find a bit of redundancy in labeling an English IPA. England is the home of the first IPAs, when brewers shipped strong ales that could handle the long journey, by ship, to the colonies in India. I can understand an American IPA or a Canadian IPA, with their own twist on this hoppy style of beer, but by definition, an IPA is English in nature, unless otherwise indicated.

Nevertheless, when I drink an IPA, all that I care about is that it carries the essential characteristics of an India Pale Ale.

Nita Beer Company, in the commercial and industrial area of Colonnade Road, in Nepean, has been around for about two years and has already made a name for itself, occupying taps in many pubs around Ottawa. I first tried their beer, last summer, at The Arrow & Loon, where I enjoyed El Hefe and OPA, and at CRAFT Beer Market, where both my wife and I fell in love with Mr. Brown Has Gone Coconuts.

Last Friday, Nita launched a new English IPA, and within hours I was paying the brewery a visit to pick some up.
Chauncey English IPA (6.8% ABV)
Nita Beer Company
Ottawa ON
Appearance: unfiltered, burnt apricot, with a creamy, off-white head that settles to a medium lace.

Nose: a slight hint of freshly shucked corn and orange rind. Not the creamy corn aroma that I associate with a flaw, but more green from the husk.

Palate: there's a good balance of malt and hops, with a bitter, acidic follow up to the finish. Orange rind carries through on subsequent sips and builds, as does the alcohol at the back of the tongue. It's a bit boozy, but thankfully there are good flavours to back it up.

Overall impression: Chauncey is a good beer to enjoy when you're not planning on going anywhere. The 6.8 percent alcohol content compels you to drink responsibly. It's a hefty, bull-dog IPA.

Maybe, that's where the English comes in.

Grab some from the brewery or check around Ottawa to see where you can get it on tap.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5