Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Beer Destiny

Some of you may recall that I love stout ales; in particular, milk stout.

My favourite beer of all time is one that is really hard to find. In fact, I haven't seen it anywhere above the Mason-Dixon Line. But, in my humble opinion, it is the best. Beer. Ever.

Or, possibly, was.

Since I had The Duck Rabbit Milk Stout, I have been in search of a milk stout to either match or rival that fine beverage.

This weekend, I think I've found it.
The Chocolate Manifesto
Triple Chocolate Milk Stout (10% ABV)
Flying Monkeys Craft Brewing
Barrie, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 5
Appearance: deep walnut with a creamy, deep-taupe head that settles to a thin cap.

Nose: an incredible, intense chocolate, like a malted milkshake, with a hint of sweet chocolate syrup.

Palate: rich, malted chocolate and a light touch of licorice. A full finish with a definite taste of alcohol that does not overpower the other flavours.

Overall impression: I am in love! This is an incredible, creamy, chocolate treat. Where I felt I could eat chocolate-chip cookies and wash them down with The Duck Rabbit, this creamy-smooth stout has the chocolate-chip cookies in the milk.

Brewed with chocolate nibs, cacao powder, and chocolate malt, this is a decadent treat. It's rich without being sickeningly rich; sweet without being cloyingly sweet; and high in alcohol without being boozy. It's well-balanced.

It's perfect.

Because it comes in a 750ml bottle, it's also perfect for sharing, especially at this time of year.

This is a seasonal that I hope the folks at Flying Monkeys brings back, and brings back often. With so few truly exceptional milk stouts, it would be a shame to make people search.

Cheers! And Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Twenty Bottles


Sometimes, there's just too many craft beers out there to drink, and you have so little time. Sometimes, you wish you could try many different beers but to do so would leave you intoxicated, unable to do anything else.

For times like that, I recommend joining a group of beer drinkers and sharing bottles.

This weekend, the second Ottawa Bottle Share was held with 20 craft beers from across North America. The premise is that everyone brings a bottle that is not easily acquired: you can't get it in the LCBO, nor can you find it in great supply.

It might sound like a lot of beer to drink in one sitting, and true, by the end of it all, your taste buds are exhausted. But because you pour no more than an ounce or so of each beer (sometimes, I put much less in my tasting cup), and you drink for about three hours, you have less than two pints.

For this tasting, I calculated that I drank, at most, one pint.

But what a tasting.

The majority of beers at this bottle share were stouts and porters, with a couple of Scotch ales, pale ales, and barley wines. My favourites of the afternoon were the MacKroken Flower Reserve Scotch Ale, the Barley Days Yuletide Cherry Porter, the Dogfish Head American Beauty, and the Heady Topper.

Not to toot my own horn, but I brought a taste of Ottawa brewing history that held its own with the other samples: a 2005 Tsarina Katarina Imperial Stout. Yes, that's an eight-year-old stout, from my friend, Perry Mason, of the gone-but-not-forgotten Scotch-Irish Brewing Company.

This is the beer that made me want to start reviewing beer. I first wrote about this Imperial stout two years ago, when I couldn't believe a beer could last for six years. Two years later, it still holds its body and flavour, with very little hint of its nine-percent alcohol level. For me, it was a treat to revisit.

I wish to thank Sasha and Matt for opening their house to this tasting, and to all the participants who brought amazing beer. I can't wait to do this again.

For those of you who wish to attend the next Ottawa Bottle Share, follow the Ottawa Beer Events blog.

Cheers!

Monday, December 9, 2013

'Tis The Season

Okay, the Christmas Season can officially begin.

When I think of the Christmas holidays, I think of spending time away from the office and of spending quality time with family and friends. When I think of Christmas, I think of gently falling snow, of fireplaces, of lights and music, and of the smell of festive trees and fresh-baked treats.

The smell of gingerbread is intoxicating.

Big Rig Brewery gets that.


Jeff O'Reilly (left) and Brewmaster Lon Ladell

On Friday, the local brewery released a festive ale that is a collaboration with Brewmaster Lon Ladell and beer aficionado, Jeff O'Reilly. And they released this ale in two versions.


Gingerbread Porter (5.6% ABV)
Big Rig Brewery
Ottawa ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 4

Appearance: caramel brown with red highlights and a creamy taupe head that dissipates quickly.

Nose: while the ale was closed at first (it pours too cold for this style of beer: best to let it warm up), I was able to discern molasses and spice. When the beer nears room temperature, it has a definite bouquet of fresh-baked gingerbread cookies.

Palate: ginger, cinnamon, and molasses, that culminates in a warm, malty beverage. It is well-balanced, with lots of rich flavour and comes to a good, solid finish.

Overall impression: while this is a flavoured porter, it does not display the characteristics of a traditional porter. Rather, the porter is more of a template from which the gingerbread was designed. With vanilla pods, sticks of cinnamon, and organic ginger added during the conditioning process, the resulting flavours make this beverage an instant holiday classic. It's a heart-warming, palate-pleasing ale that I will enjoy for as long as it lasts.

Lon and Jeff brewed 1,100 litres of Gingerbread Porter, so expect it to be gone by Christmas.

One beer that did not last was a one-off, cask-conditioned version of the Gingerbread Porter. On steroids. Jeff added crème de menthe, cherry brandy, Kahlua, and Goldschlager to the mix. What resulted was a gingerbread cookie in a glass, with candy cane sprinkled on top. There was a distinct, candied nose and lots of mint on the palate, making this sweet version (clocked in at an estimated 7.5% ABV) an extra treat.


Lon pours the cask-conditioned version.

While the cask-conditioned porter didn't make it through the night, you can enjoy the regular Gingerbread Porter at Big Rig. It's also available in growlers, which you can purchase at the brew pub or you can have it delivered to your door, using Ottawa's newest service, Brew Donkey. This company is dedicated to bringing the best Ottawa-area craft beer to your door. They also organize tours, so you can get to the breweries.

Beer life in Ottawa gets better all the time.

In Other Beer News

Interested in craft beer and want to become a certified aficionado? The next level-1 Prud'homme Beer Certification course will be held at The Clocktower Brew Pub, on Bank Street, for four evenings, starting January 20. For more information and to register, go here.

Cheers!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Best of Both Worlds

My first official foray into the world of craft beer happened when my friend, Perry Mason, introduced me to the first beer he made for his brewery, The Scotch-Irish Brewing Company. It was simply called Session Ale and was modeled after the British ales that where light in alcohol but still maintained a full flavour and good balance between malt and hops.

In Perry's words, his Session Ale was "the best beer the British never made."

I loved that ale and drank it every chance I got, which meant that I spent a lot of time at the Arrow & Loon pub.

I miss that beer.

As I became more and more familiar with various styles of beer, my preference leaned towards stouts and porters, one of my favourites again being Perry's porter (pee-pee, for short), Black Irish Porter.

While I've never wondered what a beer would taste like if a session ale and a stout were combined, I now never have to wonder, because I've now tried one.
Grognard Session Stout (3.8% ABV)
Bellwoods Brewery
Toronto ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5
Appearance: dark brown—almost black, with a lush, creamy taupe head that creates peaks as it settles.

Nose: coffee, tobacco, and is slightly herbal.

Palate: rich coffee and cedar; definite hops that come to a clean finish.

Overall impression: I'm surprised at the body, given the low alcohol level. It's a good, well-balanced session ale mixed with a light stout.

This is the first beer that I've had from Bellwoods. Sadly, it's not available in the LCBO. It's availability seems limited to the Toronto area: specifically, the brewery. Luckily, my wife was in TO last weekend and brought me back five different offerings from the brewery.

My first "session" was a success and I can't wait to try the others. And, if this brewery gets its ales in the LCBO, I will surely be a regular customer.

I also give points on it bringing my memories back to my early days of enjoying craft beer.

Cheers!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Late Harvest Ale

Though the snow has fallen in Ottawa, it's still officially autumn. And though the harvest is in, we're still reaping the benefits of that harvest.

In ale.
Autumn Hop Harvest Ale (5.6% ABV)
Amsterdam Brewing Company
Toronto ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: a pale amber with a creamy, off-white head that settles to a thin cap.

Nose: tangerine, pink grapefruit, and hops.

Palate: bitter orange rind and grapefruit, with significant hops that give lots of flavour but do not overpower the other flavours in the beer. There's a lovely, full finish.

Overall impression: this is a great ale to quaff on a cold day. I rewarded myself with a pint of Autumn Hop after shovelling my driveway for the second time, after the snowplow came through my street. It is flavourful from start to finish and is perfectly balanced.

I enjoy the beers that Amsterdam Brewery produces. I've had their Boneshaker IPA many times, though I've never reviewed it. I first enjoyed the Autumn Hop a few weeks ago, when I hosted a tweetup at D'Arcy McGee's, on Sparks Street. I enjoyed it so much that I was hoping to find more of it to review.

If you live in Ottawa, a pub like D'Arcy's is a good place to enjoy a pint of this harvest ale. Otherwise, you can still find it in the LCBO.

Go ahead: enjoy a late harvest.

Cheers!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Calling It Like It Is

In a world where very little is as it seems, it's nice to discover a beer that delivers on its name.
Banana Bread Beer (5.2% ABV)
Wells & Young's Brewing Company
Bedford UK
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: a clear amber-orange with an off-white, creamy head that comes to a full, lingering cap.

Nose: bananas, yeast, cinnamon, and a hint of clove.

Palate: ripe bananas and moist spice cake.

Overall impression: as per its name, this beer delivers exactly as advertised. This is liquid banana bread. This beer has good body, full flavour, and a good, solid finish.

I gave it a rating of 4 because the beer delivered. It claimed to taste like banana bread and it did.

While it's a good beer, I feel it's a novelty item. I enjoyed drinking it and would happily do so again, but it's not something I would drink on a regular basis. It more of a rare treat.

After all, who wants to eat banana bread every day?

Cheers!

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Collaborative Effort

One of the consequences of reviewing beer at home is that I don't have anyone with which I can share the experiences. My wife doesn't mind beer but she's not a lover like I am, and while she will sometimes partake of the beer I'm reviewing, she will take hours to finish a glass of beer, if she finishes it at all.

She prefers wine (we took the sommelier course together at Algonquin College).

This weekend, however, I found a sampler pack that the two of us could share and enjoy, and Lori actually helped perform reviews. You see, as much as she would rather review wine, she enjoys cider. And, for the holidays, one brewery produced a pack of both beer and cider.

Waterloo Brewing Company (aka Brick Brewing), which is a partner of Seagram, has released a holiday pack that includes three cans of beer and three ciders: something for everyone.



Because Lori doesn't drink beer, she was unfamiliar with my format for reviewing. I told her to review the cider the same way she used to review wine, and all would be well. I explained how the rating system worked (you can see it in the right-hand column) and to give it a point rating based on how she felt about the beer overall.

Over the course of the weekend, we each drank our beverages and made our notes. I then compiled them and here they are for you.
Waterloo Authentic Amber (6.8% ABV)
Waterloo Brewing Company
Kitchener ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 3
Appearance: pours a clear, rich, reddish amber with a foamy beige head that lingers.

Nose: grassy malt and light, citrus hops.

Palate: caramel and malt, with light coffee. The alcohol comes out in the finish but is nicely balanced.

Overall impression: this is a good lager, overall. Good body and flavourful, and not filling. A general, easy-drinking beer.
Seagram Amber Cider (5.3% ABV)
Waterloo Distillery
Kitchener ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5
Appearance: amber—the colour of maple syrup. Slightly sparkling.

Nose: caramel notes and sweet cider.

Palate: the nose presented itself in the taste, with sweet caramel notes. The alcohol comes through.

Overall impression: tasty if you like sweet cider (Lori does not).


Waterloo Original Dark (5% ABV)
Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5
Appearance: dark brown with red highlights. A sudsy taupe head that settles to a thin but foamy cap.

Nose: cocoa and licorice.

Palate: a sourness hits the mouth, with mild coffee and a watery but clean finish.

Overall impression: I used to drink this brown ale whenever I was in a pub that didn't offer Guinness. It's a light, good alternative.

Now that I'm reviewing it critically, I would drink it in a pub when no other darks are on hand. It's good but leaves me craving something more fulfilling.


Seagram Apple Cider (5.3% ABV)
Beer O'Clock rating: 3
Appearance: pale straw.

Nose: light apple, slightly sweet.

Palate: light, slightly off-dry.

Overall impression: an enjoyable cider.


Waterloo Union Mills Porter (7% ABV)
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: deep walnut with slightly red highlights. A creamy taupe head that stays.

Nose: dark chocolate and rich, dark-roasted coffee.

Palate: creamy chocolate and malt, with an easy finish. The alcohol does not overpower at all.

Overall impression: I could drink this porter all day. It has good body throughout. I hope it's available on its own, because I would easily keep this at home.


Seagram Pear Cider (5.3% ABV)
Beer O'Clock rating: 2
Appearance: golden yellow.

Nose: sweet pear.

Palate: sweet pear.

Overall impression: it has a lovely pear flavour but is too sweet.

So, there is my first review collaboration with Lori, on a sampler pack that is a cider-beer collaboration. While Lori is short on words, she does know what she likes in cider. If it's not dry, she's not particularly interested. But she says anyone with a hankering for sweet cooler-like beverages, these ciders would be worth a try.

Cheers!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Not Green Tom Beer

I've never really cared for Tom Green.

Of the few times that I saw him on TV, I never once laughed. I thought his comedy to be more along the lines of obnoxious behaviour rather than humourous antics.

So, when I heard that the Ottawa native had collaborated with Beau's to create a beer, I was initially dismissive. That is, until I heard that the beer was a milk stout.

I love milk stouts.

And, because I have a fondness for the weird one-offs of this Vankleek Hill brewery, I knew I had to give it a try. To give Tom Green a fair shake.
The Tom Green Beer! (5% ABV)
Beau's All Natural Brewing Company
Vankleek Hill ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: dark walnut with a deep beige head that vanishes within a minute of being poured.

Nose: chocolate, coffee, and a slight hint of cedar.

Palate: semi-sweet chocolate, medium-roast coffee, and a mild finish.

Overall impression: this is a great milk stout with a good balance of chocolate and coffee. The body is light, which makes this stout extremely easy to drink.

As a milk stout, however, I would have liked to have experienced more body and robustness: possibly, a higher alcohol content may have helped. If you are familiar with the milk stout that is produced by Charlevoix (La Vache Folle), you'll know what I mean.

Beau's never ceases to surprise me with how they are willing to go out on a limb to produce some ales that are out of the ordinary. Bringing Tom Green into the mix raised my opinion of our local comedian: I now take him a little more seriously (I don't know how that helps his comedy, but for me there's nothing funny about beer).

It was good to see Tom promote the beer and give a shout out to Beau's last week on the Jimmy Fallon show.

Stock up on this great beer while you can.

Cheers!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

I'm a Weizen Guy

When the weather starts to cool, as fall is in full swing, the last thing I want to drink is a light beer, like a wheat ale or saison. At this time of year, I prefer something full-bodied.

Mill Street has released an autumn sampler, which includes some of my favourite of their beers: Tankhouse Ale, Cobblestone Stout, and Vanilla Porter. It also includes an old English-styled ale, Distillery, and one of their oldest brews, the Organic Lager.

But one beer that comes in the six pack, a beer that I truly wish came in a six pack of its own, is a wonderful German-styled bock that is perfect for the season.
Weizenbock (7.5% ABV)
Mill Street Brewery
Toronto ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: an unfiltered, murky toffee with a taupe head that settles almost immediately to a fine lace.

Nose: malt, yeast, and a distinct banana-walnut bread.

Palate: bananas, raisins, and burnt caramel, that come to a finish that leaves you feeling warm all over.

Overall impression: I love this beer. There is lots of body, lots of flavour, and is well-balanced. It drinks very well on its own or with a meal: the first time I tried this bock was at the last Brewmaster's Dinner at Mill Street, and it was perfectly paired with a roasted leg of lamb. But I've also enjoyed it with a beef burger too.

You can find Weizenbock in the latest Seasonal Sampler, available at the LCBO, or you can also get it on tap at the Mill Street Brew Pubs in Ottawa and Toronto. It's also available at select pubs that specialize in craft beers. Check your local watering hole: if it doesn't have it on tap, you're not going to the right places.

I find that the draft version of Weizenbock to be a bit creamier, and rate it at 4.5. But either on tap or in a bottle, it's a beer that's not to be missed.

Cheers!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Great Expectations

For some reason, I started thinking of Charles Dickens when I sat down to write this review.

I thought of Oliver Twist, with the famous "Please, sir, I want more," line, which then led to another of his works for the title of my post.

That's how this beer left me.

I had great expectations for this beer. In September, I tried a seasonal selection from this brewery that blew me away. There were intense flavours that left me wanting more. So, when the next seasonal for this brewery hit the shelves of the LCBO, I was excited about trying it.

I had great expectations.
Resurrection Roggenbier (5.2% ABV)
Cameron's Brewing Company
Oakville ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5
Appearance: a murky caramel with a foamy, taupe head.

Nose: oaked malt, raisins, and toffee.

Palate: yeast, butter, malt, and light toffee, which culminate and then drop off into a watery finish.

Overall impression: I was really hoping for lots of flavour. This is a rye-styled ale, after all. The label is bold, but the beer is not. It's good, but after having Cameron's Obsidian Imperial Porter (hmm... that post also played on Dickens), I expected better.

As it is, Resurrection is an easy-going ale. But I wanted more: more flavour, more intensity.

I had great expectations. They weren't met.

It was good, and if you like beer that's not mainstream, this is worth a try. For myself, however, I won't be having more. But I certainly will try more beer from Cameron's.

Cheers!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Unforgettable

Over the summer, I pulled a bottle of beer from my cellar and thoroughly enjoyed it. Even though I had decided that I was going to discontinue my Beer O'Clock blog, I made notes and took a photo of the beer. But somehow, I can't find any record of having consumed the wonderful beverage.

Thankfully, I am blessed to have a wonderful memory when it comes to flavours, be it with food, or wine, or beer.
Just thinking about a beer I've had will bring the flavours to my mouth. I will remember where I had it, who I was with, and what I thought of the beer.

When I was invited to try a beer that hadn't been released, wouldn't be released until today (November 4), I couldn't say no. I can never say no to good craft beer. And though this beer is a new release, I've had it before: that is to say, I've had previous vintages of it.
 
Yes, today's beer review is about a vintage ale. A Russian Imperial Stout.
St-Ambroise Stout Impériale Russe 2013 (9.2% ABV)
McAuslan Brewing Inc.
Montréal QC
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: a deep walnut that allows no light to pass through (my test: shining the flashlight on my iPhone through it. I saw nothing come through), with a light cocoa-brown head that comes on strong and foamy but settles to a thin, bubbly cap.
 
Nose: intense cocoa, plump raisins, and bourbon.
 
Palate: dark-roasted coffee, prunes, and bitter, dark chocolate. It finishes with a heady, whisky-like mouth; over time, a trace of vanilla can be felt on the tongue.
 
Overall impression: it's no secret that McAuslan is one of my favourite breweries. There is nothing they make that I don't like, or love. That's because they do nothing half-way.
 
This in an intense Imperial stout with loads of flavour and a strength that will ensure its longevity. When I originally tried the 2012 vintage, I knew that this ale will be something that you can set down for several years and it will hold up well.

It's unforgettable.

I still have a bottle of the 2012, and have added a 2013 to the collection. In a few years, I will hold a step tasting and will see how each vintage has matured.
 
But, in the meantime, I suggest that you stock up now, because this wonderful stout is available in limited quantities only. I got mine at Bières du Monde, in Aylmer, where I plan to pick up more. They also sell a special McAuslan beer glass, specifically designed for the stout. Get yours before they're all gone.

You can also find it in the LCBO.
 
Cheers!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Share?

I love to share.

Be it a good meal, a great bottle of wine, or excellent beer, I find the experience of it is heightened when you have someone sharing it with you.

Or a group of folks sharing it.


Yesterday, I had the honour of sharing 13 different bottles of wine at Ottawa Bottle Share, an event that was organized by the folks of Ottawa Beer Events, my friends Katy Watts and Sasha Dunfield. Drawing on a similar event that is held in Toronto (and most likely other cities around the globe), Bottle share gets beer enthusiasts to gather in a casual setting and offer a beer that is not commonly available.

Each person arrives with a bottle that is big enough to share with everyone at the table (if the bottles are small, say 341 ml, two bottles are brought). The ideal amount is 600 to 750 ml. The beer must be uncommon, rare, or not easily obtainable in the region from which the event is held. For us in Ottawa, it can't be from the LCBO or from any of the Gatineau beer stores.

We had beer from all over the United States and a couple from Nova Scotia. We did have one beer from an Ottawa brewery, but it was one that was a limited edition and was no longer available.


I don't want to write about each of these beers and I won't provide a review. When I brought Beer O'Clock back from the dead, I promised myself that I wouldn't write about beers that the bulk of my readers wouldn't have access to. For me, it's like I'd be rubbing your noses into the fact that I had something and you didn't.

But the purpose of this post is to notify you, my wonderful readers, that you should keep your eyes out for future Bottle Share events, be it in Ottawa or in whatever city you live in. Because you can enjoy some pretty special beer.

Ottawa Bottle Share will be coming back in November, and there is limited seating. To learn about the next event, follow the Ottawa Beer Events blog. On Twitter, follow Katy and Sasha, and follow the #OTTBottleShare hashtag. And I hope to share with you next time.


Cheers!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bringing a Favourite Home

There are some flavours, some foods, that once you've tasted, you never forget.

At the very first Brewmaster's Dinner that I attended, in the spring of 2012, at Mill Street Brew Pub, I had the pleasure of eating a lobster bisque that made me remember what true love is. It was rich, flavourful, and silky smooth. One of the ingredients that made this lobster bisque stand out from any other that I've had was a touch of vanilla.

The beer that was paired with this culinary masterpiece was the brewery's Vanilla Porter.

This seasonal had only been available on tap at the brew pub and select drinking establishments. But this weekend, it became available in nitrogen-charged cans at the LCBO.

Vanilla Porter (5% ABV)
Mill Street Brewery
Toronto, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 5

Appearance: a clear, dark brown with red highlights, almost like root beer, with a dense, creamy taupe head that sticks around with a thick cap.

Nose: vanilla, faint licorice.

Palate: vanilla, maple syrup, light chocolate, and a light espresso finish.

Overall impression: this is a well-balanced ale with imposing vanilla, warm malts, and a slightly hopped finish. It tastes sweet without cloying, but finishes dry. It is a true treat.

I have missed that lobster bisque ever since I had it, more than a year and a half ago. And I miss the vanilla porter when it leaves the taps at Mill Street. But at least now I won't have to miss one of them anymore. (You're making the cans available year-round, aren't you, Mill Street?)

Best to play it safe and stock up.

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Tale of Two Breweries

Living on the Ontario-Québec border, I have a great advantage when it comes to finding great craft beer. I can go to my neighbourhood LCBO, where I have a good selection of Ontario beer, and I can go to places, such as Bières du Monde, where the selection of awesome Québec microbrasseries is abundant.

That's exactly what I did last week: I went to both places and found two imperial porters. But which province's brewers delivered the best beer?

Let's take a look:
Obsidian Imperial Porter—Oak Aged Series—Rum Barrel (9.2% ABV)
Cameron's Brewing Company
Oakville ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: deep brown to black, with a creamy, deep taupe head that settles to a dense foam cap.

Nose: rum and coke, dark chocolate, and rich malt.

Palate: oak, cedar, cigar, coffee, and bitter cocoa, which culminate in a roasted malt and espresso finish. There is not much alcohol picked up on the palate at first, but it does build without overpowering.

Overall impression: this is a rich, decadent porter, possibly one of the best I've had in a while. All of the flavours work, and I savoured every drop.

This was the first beer I've had from Cameron's: it won't be my last.

Later in the week, I paid Ryan, of Bières du Monde, a visit, and walked out of his shop with more porter.
Porter Baltique Grande Cuvée—Black Lager (10% ABV)
Les Trois Mousquetaires
Brossard QC
Beer O'Clock rating: 3
Appearance: deep walnut with a fizzy taupe head that settles to a fine lace.

Nose: coffee, prunes.

Palate: more prunes, cedar, eucalyptus, sour cherry, and bitter malt. This porter finished with lots of alcohol and dark chocolate.

Overall impression: this is an intense, serious porter. It is definitely one to share (it came in a 750ml bottle and was too much for me to finish by myself). I found that the alcohol overpowered the other flavours and would have liked to see it better balanced.

Still, I enjoyed it and will drink it again.

As you can see, I enjoyed the Obsidian over the Baltique, though I do recommend both to anyone who loves porter.

Cheers!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Last Beer of Summer/First Beer of Autumn

When I think of Morocco, I think of heat: Arabian nights and the Moroccan Desert. I also think of the wonderful food, with its spices and dried fruits, namely, raisins and figs. A Moroccan-styled ale, I thought, would be a perfect summer beverage.

But when I think of a brown ale, I often think of cool weather, mostly the damp, cool climes of England. I think of sweaters and hearty meals. Brown ales, for me, are best enjoyed when the temperature starts to drop.

So, when my eyes settled on a six pack from Spearhead Brewing Company, I thought I was in store for an interesting blend. And with the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, what better time than to try their Moroccan Brown Ale.
Moroccan Brown Ale (6% ABV)
Spearhead Brewing Company
Toronto, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5
Appearance: a toffee-brown with a taupe head that settles to a fine lace. This ale is unfiltered.

Nose: slightly closed, but with patience you can pull out hints of dried fruit and spice.

Palate: the real flavours come through in the mouth, with mild toffee, raisins, and a black pepper and cinnamon finish.

Overall impression: this brown ale is tasty but I would have liked to smell more aromas and taste more flavours. Maybe a little more spice and fig, with a tad more body. That said, this beer drinks like a light beer, suited to the heat of Morocco, with its spices, yet gives a little more body and the toffee goodness of a brown ale, which I like for warming me up when the weather is cool.

It's a beer that can be enjoyed year-round. For me, it was the last beer that I drank for the summer of 2013; it was also the first beer that I enjoyed for the fall.

I'm really liking the beer that is coming out of Spearhead and can't wait to see what they have next.

Cheers!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Taste of Norway

This weekend was my first time in an LCBO for more than a month. Unless, of course, you count the time in Merrickville, when I was on my canoe vacation, and had been paddling for six days without any beer. That evening, I bought two cans of Hop City's Pale Ale but made such short work of them that they seemed like a dream.

Good stuff, by the way.

But this weekend was the first time since before I shut down Beer O'Clock that I walked into an LCBO, thinking to myself, "I need a beer to review."

For the first time in even longer, I left my local shop, empty-handed, uninspired by what I saw.

Still determined to find something, I went to the next-closest LCBO, at Merivale and Hunt Club. It's a good store and can usually be counted upon to have one or two obscure beers. I was also happy to find that it was still fully stocked with the Red Racer Summer Sampler that I reviewed last week.

I found something.

I used to shy away from saison ales, but over the past year I've taken a shining to them. So, when I saw one from a Norwegian brewery, one that I've heard of, heard it was good, I had to try it.
Saison (6/5% ABV)
Nøgne Ø (imported by Roland + Russell)
Grimstad, Norway
Beer O'Clock rating: 3
Appearance: an unfiltered, glowing apricot with a creamy, white head that settles to a thin cap.

Nose: grass, light ginger.

Palate: flinty, white pepper and malt, with a slight metallic finish.

Overall impression: most saisons that I have tried have displayed citrus characteristics with distinct fruit on the nose and in the mouth.

Not so with this ale. Its dryness reminds me of the difference between an off-dry, lychee-laden Ontario Gewurztraminer and a flinty, bone-dry Gewurz from Alsace. With these wines, you have one grape but two distinct products. And both of them are great, although I prefer the Ontario style.

The Nøgne Ø saison is a good beer, worth drinking for what it is, but I prefer the fruity interpretations of this style of ale.

Cheers!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Who Doesn't Like a Redhead on a Bicycle?

As the summer comes to a close, I reflect on the beer I enjoyed this season and will miss with a strong fondness.

As much as I love stouts and IPAs, sometimes I find them a little much on a really hot day. And while I tend to shy away from lighter-bodied beer, I couldn't help but be drawn to a few.

Surprisingly, my favourite beer of this summer was a Belgian-style witbier from a British Columbia brewery.

Central City Brewing Company, from Surrey, launched a summer six-pack sampler of three of the beers from its Red Racer series. Packaged in cans that feature a sultry, long-legged redhead who is riding a bicycle, it was hard not to be drawn to the beer.



Who doesn't like a redhead on a bicycle? But it's always what's inside that counts, and I was determined to discover the liquid in the can.
Red Racer White Ale (5% ABV)
Central City Brewing Co.
Surrey, BC
Beer O'Clock rating: 5
Appearance: a murky, lemon-yellow with a frothy-white head that settles down to a foamy cap.

Nose: candied citrus—lemon and blood orange.

Palate: fresh lemon and caramel with a creamy finish.

Overall opinion: this is the very definition of a summer beer. I drank many cans of this witbier over the summer, especially outdoors (on my front steps, at cottages). When I considered packing beer for my canoe vacation, this was the ale that I wanted to take.

It's a great cottage-party ale that will be missed when the summer is gone.

The Red Racer White Ale is not the only offering in Central City's summer pack. The other two samples are also worth examining.
Red Racer Pilsner (5% ABV)
Beer O'Clock rating: 3
Appearance: deep gold and crystal-clear, with a white foam head that settles to a thin cap.

Nose: malt and honey.

Palate: grassy hops that come to a light, clean finish.

Overall impression: somewhere along the road, I lost my taste for pilsners, but I found Red Racer's offering to be easy-drinking and well-balanced. Although it was always the last can that I pulled from the six-pack, I never pulled the can out with reluctance and I would easily drink it again. If you're a pilsner lover, you will love this beer.
Red Racer Pale Ale (5% ABV)
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5
Appearance: deep apricot with a thick, creamy, off-white head.

Nose: honey dew and oranges.

Palate: orange and grapefruit; assertive, but not overbearing hops, and a nice malt finish.

Overall impression: this is a very pleasant pale ale that has a classic taste; that is, it's not crazy-bitter.

For someone who may want to ease into bold, bitter IPAs or APAs, without being scared off, this is the one pale ale that I would recommend for dipping your tongue into.

It's been a couple of weeks since I picked up a Red Racer Summer Sampler, and I'm hoping that the LCBO still has some. If it does, I recommend that you stock up: summer's almost over and it may be a while until we see that red-headed biker again.

Cheers!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Got Milk Stout?

In Ottawa, we're lucky to have a couple of good brew pubs in the area. We have The Clocktower, Ashton Brew Pub, and, in Gatineau, BDT. And, of course, there's my favourite brew pub, Mill Street.

But the closest brew pub to my place, which offers some great suds, is Big Rig Brewery, near the IKEA at Pinecrest and Iris. For months, my Twitter friends and I would meet at Big Rig for Thursday Pints, a weekly gathering, but of late we've moved around a bit. I think that's a good idea, as we always look for locations that have good craft beer, and by moving around we can mix it up a bit.

And, while I think Big Rig's IPA is one of the best in the city, I find the majority of their other selections to be good, but nothing to get excited about. Sure, last fall's pumpkin stout was interesting, but it didn't leave me craving it. I didn't even add it to my review of the season's pumpkin ales.

So, when the brewery announced last week that it was releasing another seasonal, a milk stout, I immediately looked forward to it, but had some reservations. I approached the pub, hopeful, but was determined not to set myself up for disappointment.

You see, I love milk stouts. My favourite milk stout, by The Duck Rabbit, is not only my favourite milk stout but is also my favourite beer. Ever.

I also love the milk stout by Québec microbrewers, Charlevoix, so I have expectations when it comes to milk stout. Big Rig had some pretty big boots to fill.
Double-Chocolate Milk Stout (6.5% ABV)
Big Rig Brewery
Ottawa ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 3
Appearance: deep walnut with a taupe head that dissipates to a fine lace.

Nose: because the beer was served cold... far too cold for a stout... the nose was closed, but I could, over time, detect faint traces of chocolate.

Palate: dark chocolate and coffee with a creaminess that doesn't particularly exude richness but is easy-drinking. A raisin finish, almost like sour hops, that is typical with the other milk stouts I've had. The finish ends somewhat watery.

Overall impression: I really had trouble tasting this stout and it all came down to the fact that it was too cold. I suppose that if I waited long enough, the warming would have brought out more in the nose and on the palate. But being that I was sharing company over just the one pint, as I assume many people will experience with visiting a brew pub, I didn't have the time to wait, nor did I feel that anyone should wait so long after receiving a drink to actually enjoy it.

It took me more than a half an hour to finish this pint, and with every sip I held it in my mouth, hoping it would warm enough to pull flavour. There is good chocolate and coffee, but I was disappointed about the thin finish.

It's a good effort, but I wanted more.

If you like stouts, chocolate stouts, or milk stouts, this seasonal is worth trying. If you drool at the prospect of a great milk stout, this one, while good, is a bit disappointing for the temperature and finish.

Cheers!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tis the Season for a Saison and an IPA

Ryan, of Bières du Monde, is one smart man. One may say, a marketing genious.

He already knows that I love his beer shop, in the Galeries d'Aylmer, and am happy to recommend it as a place to find some amazing Québec microbreweries. It's a little bit out of my way when driving home from work, but the detour is always well worth the added time.

To entice his clients, Ryan has set up a Facebook page, on which he advertises the latest beers to fill his shelves. He also offers discounts on various bottles, and specials, such as free beer glasses with purchases.

I go for the beer, but I'll always find room for a new glass.

When Ryan contacted me the other week and asked me if I'd like to review a couple of beers that he had in stock, I jumped at the offer. But then I wondered, for someone who doesn't make this beer, why would a review of it be beneficial to him? And reviewing a beer, I made no promises that I would give a good review if I didn't like the beer.

I'm dreadfully honest when I review a beer, and if I don't like it, I'm not afraid to admit it, or even show me pouring it down the drain.

Sure, a good review of a beer would get folks visiting Bières du Monde and emptying the shelves of those beers, but no matter what the outcome of my tastings, I was still going to give Ryan free advertising for his shop.

So here it is: for a great selection of Québec craft beer, Bières du Monde is the place to go. If you don't check out the extensive variety, you're missing out. And both Ryan and André are great guys.

Luckily, when I tried the beer that Ryan offered, I liked them both. And so, for my first post on the return of my Beer O'Clock blog, I'd like to share my thoughts on two ales that are available at Bières du Monde.
La Saison du Tracteur Farmer's Strong Ale (6% ABV)
Le Trou du Diable
Shawinigan QC
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: an unfiltered, deep gold with hints of orange; a thick, foamy white head that leaves a moustache and never goes away.

Nose: luscious pineapple and yeast.

Palate: a creamy citrus and bitter mango, with a malt finish. As I drank, the taste of alcohol becomes stronger.

Overall impression: as a caution, there is lots of sediment in the bottle that made its way in my glass and danced with the bubbles. If you don't like drinking sediment, either pour slowly and stop before you get to the bottom of the bottle or sip slowly from your glass and don't finish the last mouthful or two.

This is a very pleasant ale with lots of flavour and a great blend of bitterness and malt. I would have liked to taste less alcohol, which grew more dominant in the finish as I emptied my glass.

With summer coming to a close, this is a beer with which I would take advantage of the waning patio season.

The other ale that Ryan invited me to try was an IPA that I've been meaning to try all summer, but never took the opportunity to pick up. For this opportunity, I say thank you, Ryan!
Yakima IPA (6.5% ABV)
Microbrasserie Le Castor
Rigaud QC
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: an unfiltered, pale amber with a foamy white head.

Nose: big hops, bold grapefruit.

Palate: intense, but not overpowering hops; bitter grapefruit that takes you to a lengthy finish.

Overall impression: I was first introduced to Le Castor earlier this year, with an oatmeal stout that received less than a stellar review. It was Ryan who suggested that the bottle I tried was off, and he replaced the beer. He was right, and I redeemed the oatmeal stout in a second review.

This offering from Le Castor is a classic IPA, something that you can drink anytime, anywhere.

While you can find beer by Trou du Diable at the LCBO, the saison is not the one you can get. And there are no beers by Le Castor on the LCBO site. If you want to try these ales, and I recommend that you do, go to Bières du Monde.

And tell them I sent you.

Cheers!


And now, a word about Beer O'Clock:

I have decided that I will only review beer that is available in the greater Ottawa area and Gatineau, or is listed through the LCBO. One of the things that I didn't like about the blog is that I would write a review on beer that wasn't available to the majority of my readers (or, at least, the ones who encouraged me to revive the blog).

If I find I'm cutting out readers who live outside the National Capital Region, I'll broaden my range accordingly. Your comments are always welcome.

I hope you enjoy the beer.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Coming Back

It's a tough blog to keep down.

A lot of my friends and Twitter buddies have contacted me over the months, since I published what I thought would be the last post on Beer O'Clock, telling me how much they liked the blog and were sorry to see it go. Some asked me to reconsider shutting it down.

I have posted a couple of beer reviews on my other blog, The Brown Knowser, but sometimes I have a few beers that I want to share and I don't want to limit myself to once a week, or once every couple of weeks.

I want to feel that I can post a beer review whenever the mood strikes me. And I don't want to use Brown Knowser real estate to do it.

And so, Beer O'Clock is coming back, starting Monday, September 9, with two reviews from some fabulous Québec brews. Later in the week, I'll post a long-overdue review of a great BC brewery that offers what I consider to be my favourite brew of the summer.

Stay tuned.

Cheers!