Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sledgehammer Stout

I found a treasure in my basement today. I found a beer that I had all but forgotten I had.

And on a vicious winter's day, with a ton of snow falling on our city, I felt it was high time I tried this beer.
World Wide Stout (18% ABV)
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Milton DE, U.S.A.
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Colour: deep, walnut brown with a dark brown head that dissipated like cola in a glass.

Nose: chocolate, malt.

Palate: raisins, dates, toffee, and alcohol that meld into a black licorice finish with bold hops.

Overall impression: the bottle states, "A very dark beer brewed with a ridiculous amount of barley." It should also say "And a shitload of alcohol." But although the ABV is mind-blowing, the alcohol taste isn't. The dried fruit, burnt sweetness of toffee, and licorice all marry well and deliver massive flavour.

Flavour that hits you like a sledgehammer.

This is a special stout that should be shared with friends. I regret that I did not do that when I drank mine, but I will seek more out the next time I'm in the States and will share then.


Monday, February 25, 2013

The Waiting Is Not The Hardest Part

Right after last week's WinterBrewed festival, I got sick. Hardly surprising, considering how much time I spent outdoors in the frigid cold.

Monday, I stayed home with a migraine and felt run down with a sore throat and cough.

On Tuesday, I went to work but that cough persisted. I didn't let it slow me down, and I even got a chance to check out a beer shop that opened last November but that I hadn't heard of until that very day. It's called Bières du Monde and is located in the Galeries d'Aylmer, which is much closer to my office than Broue Ha Ha.

And, thanks to some friends on Twitter, I learned that it stocked a beer that I tried at WinterBrewed and was now desperate to get my hands on.

The owner of the shop is friendly and chatty: so much so that it probably would have taken me about the same time to go to Broue Ha Ha and collect the same beer. Those folks are helpful but have never talked my ear off.

Less than two minutes to find the beer I sought; almost 30 minutes to leave the store.

When I mentioned to the proprietor that I have a love for oatmeal stouts, he immediately pointed one out and told me it was his favourite and that it never lasted long on his shelves.

So I picked it up.

On Wednesday, as I worked from home, I began feeling achy and developed chills. That evening, I had a fever and was in bed.

Thursday and Friday are a blur; Saturday was slow and rough.

On Sunday, I awoke feeling that I had lost about 10 pounds and was light-headed, vaguely remembering what it was like as a teen, taking my first drag off a cigarette. The cough persisted and I was tired, but was mostly tired of feeling tired.

In the afternoon, I thought, because I haven't posted a blog since Tuesday evening, I had to get back to it.

And so I pulled out that lone bottle of beer that was recommended to me.
Oatmeal Stout (5% ABV)
Microbrasserie Le Castor
Rigaud, QC
Beer O'Clock rating: 2
Colour: this is the lightest-coloured oatmeal stout I've seen. A clear but dark walnut colour with slightly red highlights, this stout reminded me of an A&W root beer, with its thick, dense, taupe foam.

Nose: coffee, toasted malts, and sharp cedar.

Palate: bitter espresso, burnt wood, smoke, with a vague hint of chocolate in the short finish.

Overall impression: I have to say I'm disappointed. As I drank this stout, the charred wood grew stronger, until that's all I could taste. Where I thought I tasted chocolate in the finish of the first few sips ended up more like the coating of a burned marshmallow. And though the alcohol level isn't high at all, I started tasting it as I fought to find something else on the tongue.

Not even halfway into my pint, I felt like I had finished smoking a dried-out cigar.

At the halfway mark, I poured the rest down the sink. I have never done that with a stout before.

I'm not saying that you should avoid this stout, but I will in the future. If you decide to try it and you like it, let me know. Maybe I can chalk my experience up to the fact that I was recovering from a flu bug and that perhaps this was not the beer to pick when returning to tasting.

But when I look at this beer I tell myself that I could have waited more than five days to have it.

And as for Bières du Monde? I'll definitely return. The selection is incredible. I'll just have to refrain from making conversation if I'm in a rush.

And I'm picking my own damned beer.

UPDATE: Since I first posted this review, I have heard feedback from many who have said that they have not detected the charred wood; instead, they have tasted intense chocolate. I'm starting to wonder if I had a bottle that was flawed (though I didn't detect any faults with the beer itself).

I'm persuaded to pick up a second bottle (I usually do but for some reason did not this time) some time later this week. I'll give it a second tasting and will let you know how the stout fares.

I do this because of my love for stout: I have yet to try one that I truly dislike (though there was that one raspberry stout in Buffalo last year... ).


Monday, February 18, 2013

On WinterBrewed

Attention: residents of Ottawa and visitors.

If our city hosts a beer event—any beer event—and you want to go, do it early.

We Ottawans are a thirsty lot. We'll polish off the beer in good time and we'll go for the popular ones first.

A crowded Saturday
It's fair to say that the first WinterBrewed Festival on Sparks Street was an overwhelming success. Despite the frigid temperatures—Sunday saw wind chills in the minus 20s—the mall and booths were packed. On Saturday, unexpected crowds saw lots of long lineups at the ticket booths. One of my friends, who I saw on Saturday evening, told me it took her 40 minutes to get through the line and she had purchased advanced tickets.

More ticket booths were put in place on Sunday and lines were shorter. And the only challenge that the cold seemed to bring was freezing beer lines. The cold did not keep the beer fans away.

Pork Of Yore
There were some amazing foods and beers to try. Among my favourite dishes were the sausage from Pork of Yore and the ragout from Mill Street. And while I didn't try it, the Maple Floss (maple-flavoured candy floss) smelled extraordinary.

Maple was not only in the candy floss, but also at a sugar shack and in beer. My favourite beer of the show was the St-Ambroise Érable, a maple ale from McAuslin. The colour of light maple syrup, this special ale held strong flavours of maple sugar without the overpowering sweetness. It was about as Canadian as you can get at this time of year.

To have some of it, though, you had to be at the festival on Saturday. By that evening, it was gone.

Other favourite brews of the festival include (in no particular order) the following:
    Hot beer
  • from Muskoka Brewery—a cask-conditioned version of their Winter Beard Double-Chocolate Cranberry Stout; I even tried a hot version of this ale, which tasted like hot chocolate with a kick of rum.
  • from Beau's All Natural Brewing Company—Dubbel Koyt Oatmeal Gruit, The Bog Father Imperial Gruit, Burnt Rock Vanilla Porter, and a black IPA whose name escapes me; I also had another hot beer, Butter Beer, which blended their Winterbrewed coffee ale with a concoction from the festival's president, J.P. Fournier. The result was a creamy beverage that tasted like a caramelized egg nog: delicious!
  • from Cassel Brewery Company—a cask-conditioned IPA and their stout: wonderful.
  • from HogsBack Brewing Company—the Aporkalypse Now Oatmeal Bacon Stout (which sold out on Saturday) and their Full Monty English Brown Ale.
  • from Ashton Brewing Company—a beautiful coffee porter.
  • from Spearhead Brewing Company—a Belgian stout that I will review when I get my hands on it again.
Am I missing anybody? Probably. As the event's official photographer, I wandered up and down the blocks of Sparks Street between Elgin and O'Connor for more than eight hours on Saturday and about five or six hours on Sunday. I passed all the tents and stopped at practically every single one. But I took no notes; I only locked the ones that blew me away in my head.

J.P. can feel proud that he did Ottawa proud with this Winterlude event. Ottawans can rest assured that their city has a seemingly insatiable love for craft beer.

A love that shows that it pays to get to an event early. 

Just a friendly reminder: if any vendors are interested in using any of my photos, please contact me. The photos are my property and require permission to be used. Thanks.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Getting Naked

Doubly so.

On Monday, on my other blog, I talked about my fear of waiting too long to open a bottle of beer. I purchased some beer last July and didn't actually open it until this past Saturday.

The beer was great, but the building sediment in the glass made me fear it was past its prime and was coming apart, much the way old wine can.

I decided to take no chances and delved into the other bottle I stashed.
Double Naked Fish
Imperial Chocolate Raspberry Stout (7.6% ABV)
DuClaw Brewing Company
Abingdon, MD, U.S.A.
Beer O'Clock rating: 4.5
Colour: dark, light-absorbing walnut with possible red highlights; a foamy, taupe to deep beige head.

Nose: Dark chocolate, coffee, malt, and a hint of fruit.

Palate: Fresh raspberries and dark chocolate with a dry, rich coffee finish; some hops come through (54 IBUs) and the chocolate returns in the lingering finish.

Overall impression: this is perhaps a nearly perfect stout. There is a great balance between the chocolate, the coffee, and the fruit. The amount of raspberry is perfect: not too tart, not too sweet. It's distinct without overpowering.

What would make this stout perfect? It took me a while to figure that out. I like stouts with a dry finish, like my favourite oatmeal stout, St-Ambroise. But I'm not sure I like a dry finish in a chocolate stout; particularly, a raspberry-chocolate stout. I think this beer deserves something more decadent, creamy, slightly cloying. I think my nose and taste buds anticipated something sweeter while the beer rolled about my mouth.

Don't get me wrong: this is an amazing stout. I'm now anxious to get my hands on more (I wish I lived closer to Maryland). I loved it from the first few mouthfuls to the end, but as I drank I wished the finish was as rich as the start. It starts full and ends with a cliffhanger-like ending.

But that suspense leaves you wanting more.

And as for the aging? It wasn't an issue at all. This is a beer that held up easily over the seven months.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Last month, I reviewed a wonderful stout from New Zealand, the first beer that I've ever had from that land far, far away.

When I saw that the LCBO had another offering from this brewery, I had to have it.
Elemental Porter Ale (6% ABV)
Renaissence Brewing Company
Marlborough, New Zealand
Beer O'Clock rating: 3/5
Colour: dark, chocolate brown with a foamy, deep taupe head.

Nose: dark chocolate and prunes.

Palate: raisin, dark-toasted espresso, cocoa powder, with a sharp, bitter, cedar finish.

Overall impression: I found that the hops in this ale are sharp and powerful, compared with the creaminess of its fellow stout. I found this was a good porter, but for me it was a little too powerful. I did, however, love the chocolate notes.

For me, this porter is good, but not great. I would drink it again (I do have a second bottle) but I don't know that I would seek it out again. I'm happy for the experience.


Monday, February 11, 2013

A Little Help Here?

This isn't a beer review, but this post is beer related and could lead to future beer reviews.

In May, I'll be heading out on a road trip to New York City. I'll be driving from Ottawa, crossing into the U.S. via Hill Island and taking the I-81 through New York State and Pennsylvania, changing onto the I-80 and into New Jersey.

While I plan on making few stops on the way down (for fuel, coffee, and washroom only), I do plan on making one or two on the return journey.

And here's where I need your help: on the way home, I'd like to stop at a couple of breweries to try samples and pick up favourites for reviewing. Not knowing many American craft breweries, I could use some recommendations.

I'd like to stay as close as possible to my route, which means if a brewery takes me more than 15 minutes off track (getting to it), I'm going to keep driving. Also, because of my schedule, the brewery may not even be open.

Driving down, I'll leave home before 5:00 on a Friday morning. If traffic cooperates, I should arrive in The Big Apple by 1:00, which means that I'll be passing most breweries before they open. And that's why I don't plan to make any stops along the way.

However, if you know of any stores that are worth visiting, please speak up.

On the way home, I want to be underway on Sunday around lunchtime. I'd like to be home by 8 or 9. This means that I'll be on the road when many breweries and beer stores will be open. (I was hoping to make a stop at Cortland Brewing Company, but they're closed on Sundays.)

So, dear beer lovers, where should I go? What breweries or beer stores are a must on my journey?

Please leave your suggestions in the Comments section of this post. I'll check out every one of them and will pick two or three from them. If I use your recommendation, I'll acknowledge you in the review of any beer I bring back.

Please submit your suggestions before April 28, 2013.

Cheers, and thanks!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Bacon & Beer? Seriously??


When HogsBack Brewing announced that they would be collaborating with another local brewery, Broadhead, to release a bacon-flavoured stout, I got all tingly in my nether regions. I love stout. I love bacon. I firmly believe that life would be less exciting without them.

But the more I thought about this combination, the more I started thinking: do I really want bacon in my stout?

The tingly feelings stopped.

What if I didn't like bacon-flavoured stout? What if trying it turned me off of stout, turned me against bacon?

Highly unlikely.
Aporkalypse Now Oatmeal Bacon Stout
Hogsback Brewing Company (with Broadhead Brewing Company), Ottawa ON
ABV: 5.5%
Beer O'Clock rating: 4.5/5
Colour: deep, dark walnut brown that lets no light pass through; the pale, beige head is creamy and dissipates quickly but leaves a fine lace.

Nose: smoky, toasted malts and rich, roasted coffee; as it opens, the bacon comes through and makes me salivate.

Palate: charred wood and smoke that projected images of crispy bacon in my mind. The beer coats the tongue and the toasted malts follow to the finish and lingers. The smoke, at the back of my throat, reminds me of an Islay malt.

Overall impression: this is a great oatmeal stout. I am somewhat reminded of McAuslin's St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, but there is something more to it. And in a way, a little too much more.

As I said, this is a great stout. But when I first tasted it, I thought that something was missing: food. This is a great beer to enjoy with food; on its own, I felt the smokiness was a little overwhelming.

But because I was reviewing the beer over lunch, that solution was quickly put into place. And because I was working from home yesterday, I had many lunch resources at my disposal.

I decided to make a sandwich that I refer to as my Borg sandwich: a Borgwich. It is perfection and it is unbelievable with Aporkalypse (aBorgalyptic).

Ross' Borgwich consists of the following:
  • a handful of baby spinach, raw and washed
  • fresh tomato, thinly sliced
  • extra-old cheddar cheese (I use a brick of Black Diamond, cut about 2 mm thick and enough to cover a slice of bread
  • multigrain bread (the more grains and seeds, the better)
  • 2 eggs, fried in lots of butter, over easy (but not too runny; just enough to drizzle without running all over the place)
  • 3 strips of bacon, cooked to taste (I prefer medium to crispy)
  • dried dill and pepper, to taste
  • spicy barbecue sauce, to taste
In a skillet, cook the bacon. Do this step so that the bacon is essentially finished cooking before you fry the eggs.

Heat a small fry pan at medium heat and melt about a tablespoon of butter (I use a cast-iron pan with a 6-inch diameter). Place the toast in the toaster on a light setting (enough to crisp the outer face of the bread but still soft on the inside—about 4 minutes, depending on your toaster). Crack the two eggs in the fry pan, carefully, not to break the yolks. Add dill and pepper.

When the egg whites have cooked but the yolks are still runny, carefully flip them (again, don't break the yolks). Leave the pan on the burner but turn off the heat.

Assemble the sandwich in the following order, from bottom to top: first slice of bread; bacon, cheese, eggs (you may need to fold edges of white to make it fit); barbecue sauce; spinach; tomato; second slice of bread.

Cut the sandwich so that both yolks break. If you've cooked them properly, the yolk will ooze, not run.

Eat and enjoy with a nice glass of Aporkalypse Now.

Yes, this is a decadent sandwich. I don't even want to think about how many calories it holds. But Aporkalypse is a decadent beer. I don't expect you'll have it often.

But have it as much as you can, while it's around. You can start by attending the stout's release, this Friday, February 8, from 5–7 pm at The Heart and Crown on Preston Street. Assuming it stays around, it will also be on tap at the WinterBrewed festival on Sparks Street, February 16–17.

Bacon and beer? Absolutely! Aporkalypse Now rekindles my love for both of them. And like my Borgwich, this stout strives to embody perfection.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Something Extra Special

Mill Street has many seasonal beers on tap at the moment. So many, I find, that it's hard to choose one to drink because of the fear of missing out on the others.

That said, there is one seasonal that you should not miss out on.
Father John Extra Special Bitter
Mill Street Brew Pub
Ottawa, ON
ABV: 6.3%
Beer O'Clock rating: 4.5
Appearance: clear, deep amber with a creamy, beige head that thins but lingers.

Nose: creamy malts with light, candied citrus and orange rind.

Palate: orange, full-bodied hops, spices (cumin?); a bitter, caramel finish.

Overall impression: this is a bold ESB. I first had it at the Ottawa Mill Street Brew Pub and I loved it right away (and not just because head brewer, Adam Rader, was sitting with me). This ale warms the soul on a cold winter's day.

It's available in growlers and 750 ml bottles from the brew pub's shop. Grab some to take home. That way, you can still enjoy the other seasonals at the bar.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Gruit: It Tastes Better Than It Sounds

Gruit: it sounds like "fruit" but with a G.

While the name might not sound pleasing to the hear, gruit is actually quite nice. It's a mixture of herbs that is added to beer to provide flavour and was used more commonly before hops were introduced to the beer-making process. Ivy, heather, juniper, and ginger are just some of the herbs that were traditionally added for flavouring.

A couple of weeks ago, I tried some Scottish ales that used such herbs, and they were delicious.

The first time I learned of and tried a gruit ale was more than a year ago, when I reviewed a wonderful brew called Bog Water from Beau's All Natural Brewing Company. I wasn't giving beer any ratings back then, but that gruit, which uses sweet gale, a wild bog myrtle, that grows naturally near the brewery, would have rated between 4 and 5 out of 5.

It was that good.

This year, for its feBREWary celebrations, Beau's started off with another gruit.
Oiseau de Nuit Pumpkin Gruit
Beau's All Natural Brewing Company
Vankleek Hill, ON
5.1% ABV
Beer O'Clock rating: 4/5
Colour: clear, deep apricot, copper; a white head that dissipates quickly

Nose: ginger, buckwheat honey, clove, light pumpkin

Taste: mild hops, light spice, light finish

Overall notes: this is an easy-drinking ale that I could sip all afternoon long. I had the pleasure of enjoying it on International Gruit Day, on Friday. I'm glad I didn't wait. But I would have liked to have tasted a little more body on this ale, a little more pumpkin. I loved Bog Water and I especially loved the Weiss O'Lantern Pumpkin Wheat Ale. I was hoping for a blend of the two: this fell slightly short.

Because Beau's is planning a series of one-offs for this month, get to a pub to try some of the Pumpkin Gruit before it's gone. Beau's Web site provides a list of establishments that carries these beers.