Friday, March 29, 2013

Beer & Food: A (Mostly) Visual Post

All week long, I've been trying to come up with a post that would do justice to the Ottawa Beer TAP Society dinner that was held last Monday at the Copper Pot Café, on Bronson Avenue.

I wanted to talk about how the host, J.P. Fournier (of National Capital Craft Beer Week and WinterBrewed), offered some of his lovely beer and had it paired with some truly marvelous food, and how it was great to learn that this was going to be the last of such dinners before J.P. went professional, starting Turtle Island Brewing Company in the next month or so. This has been a dream of J.P.'s for many years, and I'm thrilled to be a witness to that dream coming to fruition.

I can't wait to be there for Turtle Island Brewing's grand opening. You can expect a big post then. (And, J.P., I want a private tour. Think you can talk to someone to make that happen?)

I also wanted to talk about the great people I met at the OBTS dinner, such as some of my Twitter friends, Darrel from West End Chiles (forgive me if I misspelled your name, but it wasn't on your business card or on your Web site), food critic and blogger for the Ottawa Citizen, Ron Eade, and the head brewer for Ottawa's Mill Street Brew Pub, Adam Rader. There were lots of beer lovers at the dinner, ranging from newbies to experts in the field.

I'm somewhere closer to the former.

I wanted to go into great depth in describing the dishes and the beers, offering my opinion on each course, but I thought that it might drag on. Sort of like how this supposedly visual post is not so visual.

Let me just say that every dish was a masterpiece. I was even eating things that I don't generally like, such as mushrooms (I don't eat fungus) and beets. My favourite dish of the lot was the maple-pepper haddock fillet with snow pea tips, baby bok choy, and dumplings in a miso broth. The pairing was with my favourite beer of the evening, J.P.'s dark honey brown ale.

You'd better be brewing that one at Turtle Island, my friend!

I also loved the Black IPA. I would have loved to spend more time with it but by that late part of the evening, my taste buds were tired.

Here are the highlights of the dinner.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Hop Head

My taste in beer has evolved over the past year or so, where I've gained an affinity for the bitter, hoppy flavours of a bold IPA. But over this weekend, my desire for more bitterness was blown away by a powerful rye wine from a Québec microbrewery.
The Red Sashes 2012 Rye Wine (11% ABV)
Brasserie Dunham
Dunham, QC
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: a heavily sedimented, reddish amber (almost caramel) with a creamy white head that lasted throughout my tasting.

Nose: toffee, a hint of vanilla, grapefruit, and an extreme waft of hops.

Palate: the hops punch you squarely in the mouth and mix with a creamy citrus spice that blows you away. There is a long, hoppy finish that leaves a strong bitterness.

Overall impression: this is the most bitter beer I've ever had, at a whopping 148 IBUs. It reminds me of a barley wine but tastes much better with the fruit flavours. Although it's a strong beer at 11 percent ABV, the alcohol is not what blew me away.

This is an extreme ale that is well worth trying if you like lots of hops and lots of bitterness, but it's not a cheap drink. At $5.49, plus taxes (Bières du Monde has it but is running low) for a 341ml bottle, it's one of the pricier beers out there. But I found it worth the cost, so get some while you can.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sinful Pleasure

Each time I try a new beer from a Québec microbrewery, I am more and more impressed. These microbrasseries really produce craft beers of substance. They don't seem to shy away from making bold statements in producing flavourful, high-alcohol, seductive ales.

Take, for example, Dieu du Ciel. I have only tried three of their beers, and I've loved each of them. They are bold, flavourful, and often have an alcohol level that teeters near or surpasses the 10-percent mark. But they are balanced and a brew to savour.

This week, I tried one of their offerings that I once saw in an article by Ross Scarano, about the 100 beers you had to try before dying. I had already tried 10 of the beers in that list: I can make this one my eleventh.
Péché Mortel (Mortal Sin) Imperial Coffee Stout (9.5% ABV)
Brasserie Dieu du Ciel!
St-Jérôme, QC
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5
Appearance: a deep mahogany that allows no light to pass through, with a taupe head that dissipates to a fine lace.

Nose: espresso, chocolate, and a hint of iodine.

Palate: bourbon, malted chocolate, and coffee, which ends in a strong alcoholic finish.

Overall impression: this is a serious stout that cannot be consumed lightly. It's well-balanced for the most part, but I found that I had to savour it in small sips, not large mouthfuls, lest the alcohol bite me. The trace of iodine gave it a slight medicinal aroma, which at first was a little off-putting, but it did ease up and allow the coffee to open up.

I picked up a six pack of this beer at Bières du Monde but I have also seen it in Broue Ha Ha and La Trappe a Fromage. It's not available in Ontario.

But crossing the border to pick this up is well worth the trip. Think of it as a sinful pleasure.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

'Scuse Me, Waiter, There's a Dead Guy in My Glass

While drinking the latest beer for my review, I couldn't help but think of a few one-liners.

"I'm enjoying a Dead Guy." (Yes, there's a definite 'ew' factor to that one.)

"This Dead Guy is an Oregon donor."

And, of course, the classic play on the dead-fly-in-the-soup gag, as used in the title of this post.

But all kidding aside, there's a great maibock that has made its way to the shelves of my local LCBO that I thought I'd share with you.
Dead Guy Ale (6.5% ABV)
Rogue Ales
Newport, OR
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: light to medium amber with a whitish head.

Nose: malt and honey.

Palate: slightly burnt butter, malt, and wild honey that carry through to a flavourful, nicely hopped finish.

Overall impression: while drinking this ale (which I drank from a fluted glass), I couldn't help but think of butter and honey on toast. As this is a spring ale, I might also have enjoyed it with breakfast.

Dead Guy goes down nicely... ugh... I mean, this ALE goes down nicely and is easy-drinking, despite its alcohol content. Although the alcohol levels might account for the fact that I inadvertently deleted the photos that I shot of the bottle and my freshly poured glass.

Go out and grab a Dead Guy before it's gone from the stores... ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

No bones about it!


Friday, March 15, 2013

Grab Box 4

Talk about going out with a bang.

I pulled the final bottle from my Best of Beau's Mix Pack (yes, I can name it now that I've had them all). Last night, the beer with the biggest flavour, highest ABV and IBUs passed over my lips, into my mouth, around my tongue, and down my throat.

When I put it that way, it sounds disgusting.

But this beer was far from that.

Screamin' Beaver Oak-Aged Double IPA (9.9% ABV)
Beau's All Natural Brewing Company
Vankleek Hill, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5

Appearance: deep copper-amber with a creamy beige head that slowly dissipates.

Nose: toffee and oak.

Palate: bourbon, oak, toffee, heady alcohol, intense hops that end in a dark-roasted coffee finish.

Overall impression: at first, I was blown away by the overpowering alcohol flavours of the bourbon and hops (it's a whopping 99 IBUs!). I couldn't get around that intensity and I was tempted to do something I rarely and loathe to do: dump my glass into the sink.

However, as I sipped it, the beer opened up and the flavours mellowed and blended. The IPA still packed a punch but the blows got softer (with the alcohol level, maybe I was mellowing out?). The more I drank it, the more I liked it.

Screamin' Beaver, despite what Beau's says on its Web site, is not "incredibly drinkable." To say that is to assume that anyone can enjoy this ale. But make no mistake: this brew is for the serious connoisseur of extreme craft beer.

I liked this final bottle in my mix but I wouldn't serve it to just anybody. This is a beer-lovers beer. It's a special-occasion beer for a special kind of beer drinker.

If you're up to it, seek out this beer and have it as a special treat.

And now that I've finished the set, I can't help but ask myself: which of the four samples was my favourite? I'd have to say the first one that I had: Farm Table. Of the four, it was the most flavourful and the easiest to drink. It's the one that I could pull out on any occasion. While I liked the other three, Farm Table will end up as the most memorable.

When this mix pack becomes available again, treat yourself to some unique-tasting Eastern Ontario ales.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Grab Box 3

I'm into the final half of my holiday sampler from Beau's and it dawned on me that I've posted a review every day this week.

I don't have a drinking problem. I drink: no problem.

On any given evening, I enjoy a pint, maybe two. But I never drink to excess. I drink responsibly. As I once wrote on Twitter: I don't get drunk. I get fortified.

But I digress.

I had only one bottle of beer yesterday and I actually sipped it over a couple of hours. After all, it was a 600-ml bottle. It was another bottle from the holiday assortment of Beau's special releases. For the past three days, I've randomly grabbed from the gift pack that I bought before Christmas, and then promptly forgot about them, forgot what beers lay inside.

To read the review on the first bottle I pulled from the box, click here; for the second one, click here.

Here's the third bottle that I pulled from the pack:
Patio Saison (Belgian-style harvest ale; 6.3% ABV)
Beau's All Natural Brewing Company
Vankleek Hill, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 3
Appearance: pale, murky caramel to a deep grapefruit juice colour, with a whitish, foamy head that lasted about an hour.

Nose: citrus and floral notes.

Palate: mild orange citrus, traces of black pepper and clove, with a short, dry finish.

Overall impression: I could see myself quaffing this ale on a hot summer's day after mowing the lawn. This ale, served cool, would go down nicely. As it's name suggests, it's great for patio season too.

I'm pleased to say that the label on this bottle was in great shape (the previous two labels were a bit of a dog's breakfast). But I didn't get the Santa cap on the sun (it's not on the label shown on Beau's Web page).

My opinion of Beau's is changing. I used to think of them as a hit-and-miss brewery. I liked about half of the beer I tried, but clearly I hadn't tried enough of their products. At WinterBrewed, I had some phenomenal beer, such as their Winterbrewed, Bog Father, Burnt Rock, and Strong Patrick. During their FeBREWary season, I loved Oiseau de Nuit and Dubbel Koyt.

And of the three beers I've had of this four-pack grab box, I've enjoyed them all.

Good on you, Beau's.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Grab Box 2

Yesterday, I wrote about how I decided to open a neglected holiday gift pack of Beau's, that it had been so long since I had looked at the four-pack that I couldn't remember what was in it, and that I was going to blindly pull out a bottle each night until it was gone.

You can read that post here. My tasting started off on a high.

Last night, I once again reached into the box and grabbed a bottle without looking. Here's what came out:
Matt's Sleepy Time Belgian Imperial Stout (8% ABV)
Beau's All Natural Brewing Company
Vankleek Hill, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 3
Appearance: besides the bottle, which had a mutilated label that was hard to read in some places (especially in places that had valuable information), the beer itself poured a dark brown with walnut highlights and a creamy, taupe head that followed the stout to the bottom of the glass.

Nose: dark chocolate, malt, with a touch of hops. At one point, I thought I smelled coconut, but that's just crazy talk.

Palate: walnuts, coffee, some bitter hops, and a cocoa finish.

Overall impression: lousy labelling aside, I liked this stout. It had great flavours and went down well. Despite the high alcohol content, this imperial stout was well balanced with the bitterness of the hops, the walnuts, and the cocoa.

Sadly, because this ale was the first of the brewery's Wild Oats series, only 1,000 bottles were made for its March 19, 2011 release. I'm surprised I even was able to get my hands on one in December, 2012, but it seems that the lads put some in this gift pack for a special release.

Oh well.

Hopefully, this brew will come out again, and if it does, grab some.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Grab Box

I'm still accumulating beer in my cellar faster than I'm drinking it, but I'm doing my best to change that situation.

Before Christmas, I bought a gift pack of Beau's ales. I'm not going to say what came in the box other than it was a four-pack of their 600ml bottles. Because, I've forgotten what came in the box.

Last night, I reached into the box without looking and pulled out the first bottle I could grab. I figured that over the next while, that is what I'm going to do until the box is empty.

Here's what I grabbed last night:
Farm Table Belgian Pale Ale (4.5% ABV)
Beau's All Natural Brewing Company
Vankleek Hill, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5
Appearance: a cloudy, creamy amber with a thick, lively, foamy, light-beige head that stayed through most of the way down to the bottom of the glass.

Nose: herbs, spice, and yeast, with faint traces of citrus.

Palate: light grapefruit, hops, and dough. There is a nice, mildly bitter finish, which is short; however, over the course of drinking, the flavour opened and the grapefruit became more pronounced, like fresh pink grapefruit.

Overall impression: the more I drank this ale, the more I liked it. This Belgian-styled pale ale is extremely easy to drink; it would be perfectly quaffable on a hot summer day, preferably on a patio. And at a light ABV rating, it would be easy to have a few.

I'm not sure if this ale is still available at the LCBO (I suspect not and haven't seen any since the holidays were over) but you can always check directly with Beau's. Their Web site lists several pubs throughout the province that offers this brew.

And one thing I have to say to Beau's: if you read this review, which I hope you do, I wish your labelling technique was better. The last few bottles I had came with torn, poorly affixed, crooked, bent, or loose labels. Just sayin'.

I guess it's inside that counts, right?

I can't wait to grab the next bottle from this mystery box.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Maple Season

With the pre-spring thaw in the Ottawa area, we are firmly planted in what is often known as maple-syrup season. What better way to break in this season with some beer?

Last month, during the WinterBrewed festival, I had the privilege of trying some outstanding craft ale. Among my favourite tastes was one by a favourite brewery of mine, McAuslan. Among their standard fare of fine ales (their St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout and IPA are among my favourite beers of all time), they had a special seasonal that, to this date, is not available in Ottawa or in most locations in Ottawa.

Luckily, I live on the border of the brewery's home province of Québec, and I work a short distance of beer shops that stock it.

But what I didn't realize until I started my quest for this special ale was that other breweries craft a similar brew.

That beer is maple ale.

Over the last couple of weeks (and especially, this weekend), I came across and sought out more maple-flavoured ales and decided to conduct a comparison.

I found four, and over the weekend I tried all of them, which I will share with you now.

The first beer I tried this weekend comes courtesy of my favourite Ontario brewery, and came to me as a birthday gift. Mill Street has recently launched a spring sampler pack, with three bocks, called Spring Imp, and three maple ales, which lead my tasting for this review.

Spring Thaw Maple Ale (5.3% ABV)
Mill Street Brewery
Toronto, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 3
Colour: deep amber to a copper orange, with a foamy beige head that dissipates but maintains a thin coating over the top of the glass.

Nose: a pumpkin-like citrus and maple, with a bit of a freshly baked bagel.

Palate: fresh citrus and very mild honey; the maple grows in the mouth but stays dry through the finish.

Overall impression: this is a fresh, easy-drinking ale with just a kiss of maple. While it is highly enjoyable, I was reminded of the pumpkin ale and, to an extent, the Tartan Scotch Ale. I liked this beer but was starting to wonder if this breweries seasonals were taking on a familiar theme, based on a single recipe with a few differences.

Still, I really liked the beer and looked forward to the remaining bottles in the pack.

Next, I went to the beer that I sought out and that started my whole maple kick.
St-Ambroise Erable (4.5% ABV)
Brasserie McAuslan
Montréal, QC
Beer O'Clock rating: 5
Appearance: tawny-amber with a whitish-beige head that vanishes quickly.

Nose: candied fruit with definite tones of maple syrup.

Palate: intense maple without the cloying sweetness of syrup.

Overall impression: I love—LOVE—this ale. I could happily pour it over my pancakes (though I'd have to add some sugar). The maple clearly comes through. This is the best maple beer I've ever had.

Next, I went for something different but right up my alley.
Maple Porter (6% ABV)
Nickel Brook (Better Bitters Brewing Company)
Burlington, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: dark walnut-brown that allows no light to pass through it; a foamy taupe head that dissipates but coats the top of the pint.

Nose: coffee and chocolate malt.

Palate: definite maple off the top with chocolate and coffee backing it up. It's rich with a mild sweetness in the finish.

Overall impression: this is an incredibly balanced porter. There are rich flavours of a great porter that happens to have a touch of maple syrup. I could drink this ale all day. It's beautiful.

Finally, I tried a beer that was recommended to me by a fellow Ottawa blogger and Twitter friend, who warned me that this ale was "crazy sweet." He said it was like drinking a Wurther's Original. Reluctantly, I picked it up.
Spring Maple Belgian Blonde Ale (7% ABV)
Lake of Bays Brewing Company
Baysville, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 2
Appearance: honey gold with a white foam that vanishes immediately.

Nose: honey, orange citrus, lemongrass, and candied fruit.

Palate: grassy hops with very little maple.

Overall impression: this ale was nothing like I expected. It was very grassy in the mouth and quite herbal, but I found no cloying sweetness. In fact, my taste buds worked very hard to find any sweetness at all. I did find a touch, but it was overwhelmed by the grassiness of the hops. And I really didn't get enough maple to consider this selection a maple ale.

While there was nothing wrong with this beer, it wasn't to my taste and I don't think I would drink it again. But it did round out my sample of maple ales.

So I think my appetite for maple ales is satiated. I will stock up on St-Ambroise and Nickel Brook and will enjoy Mill Street's offering while I can.


Thursday, March 7, 2013


Seriously, I'm not saying this because the bottle was given to me on the house.

My readers have spoken out and I have given a beer another chance.

Last week, I reviewed an oatmeal stout on the recommendation of someone working in a craft beer boutique that I visited for the first time. But before I say more, I want to back up a bit and make a clarification.

In my review, I may have given the impression that I was unhappy with the man in the boutique because his chat kept me in the store for far longer than I had planned to stay.

That part is true.

The man was a friendly, knowledgeable, helpful person who obviously loves craft beer and likes to talk about it.

It was also evident that the man liked to talk about many subjects, as our conversation moved from one topic to the next. At one point, I wondered when he was going to wrap up, but it became clear after nearly 30 minutes that if, given the chance, he would have chatted with me all afternoon, or until another client would require his help.

I want to make it clear that if I had had the afternoon to chat, I would have done so. The man is a warm, delightful person who is, as I said, friendly and knowledgeable. But the initial purpose of my visit to his store, Bières du Monde, was to quickly go to A) check it out, B) grab a beer that I knew was there, and C) get back to work.

For me, a trip to Bières du Monde should take far less time than a similar trip to Broue Ha Ha, which is where I had been going prior to learning about this closer shop. From where I work, I can drive to Bières du Monde and back in less time than it would take me just to get to Broue Ha Ha.

On Tuesday morning, as I was preparing to go to work, I checked my e-mail and learned that I had received a comment on my post about the oatmeal stout. And Bières du Monde. It was an apology, from the owner of this boutique, for my feelings about the stout and about his chattiness. He also wanted to give me another bottle of Le Castor to try again.

And this time, he added, when I came in, he wouldn't talk my ear off.

He signed his name, Ryan.

After work, on Tuesday, I paid Ryan a visit. I wanted to apologize, to his face, for unwittingly painting him in a bad light. When I arrived, I saw a young man behind the counter and I asked him if Ryan was in.

"I'm Ryan," he said.

"Really?" I replied. "I'm Ross."

He looked at me and said he didn't recognize me. "That's because you're not the person I met last time I was here," I said.

He instantly knew who I had written about. His name is André.

I apologized for the tone of my post, but wanted to make it absolutely clear that I did think André was a great guy, was very helpful, and that I would continue to visit the store.

Ryan, true to his word, gave me a complimentary bottle of Le Castor to try again.

Last night, I cracked open the bottle and poured a glass, approaching the stout with a clean slate. 

Let's begin, again.
Oatmeal Stout (5% ABV)
Microbrasserie Le Castor
Rigaud, QC
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5
Colour: this is the lightest-coloured oatmeal stout I've ever 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. The appearance is the only aspect of my tasting that remained the same.

Nose: coffee, roasted malts, and a hint of chocolate.

Palate: rich, dark chocolate, espresso, with a touch of smoke in the finish.

Overall impression: Much better. While I did not suspect a fault in the first bottle I tried, I did think there was something wrong with the stout. And I blamed the brewer. To him, I also owe an apology. This is a seductive oatmeal stout with great flavours from beginning to end. It's exactly what I expected an oatmeal stout to be with a little bit more.

There was no charred wood taste, whatsoever, in this bottle. Le Castor is creamy smooth in the mouth with the right amount of smoke at the end.

Thank you to my readers for encouraging me to take another look at this ale. You've opened my eyes. Le Castor is a keeper.

And I'd like to send a special thank you to Ryan, for his kindness and generosity. Though I was planning to be a repeat customer before we met, he has solidified my commitment to his shop.

If any of my readers has not yet visited Bières du Monde, do so as soon as you can.

And tell Ryan or André, when you see them, that I sent you.

Cheers! Santé!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Beer Amongst Friends

I love travelling and finding obscure beer to bring home, to try and share with my friends and family, and to review and tell you all about.

But I also love when friends also travel, and think of me, and return with more obscure beer to try.

And when I use the term obscure, I mean obscure to me.

This weekend, I had the honour of hosting one of my oldest and dearest friends, Stuart, and his wife and daughter. Stuart is an associate professor of history at the University of Guelph. He is an extremely knowledgeable and interesting person who can talk at great length about the history of coffee—and make it sound fascinating.

As part of Stu's research, he gets to travel the world. Recently, his work took him to southern Brazil, and so when he came to visit this weekend, he brought me a most generous gift: beer.
Demoiselle Porter (6% ABV)
Cerveja Colorado
São Paulo, Brazil
Beer O'Clock rating: 3
Colour: deep brown with a thick, rich, foamy, taupe head that lasts.

Nose: mild chocolate and coffee, malt, honey, and freshly cut wood.

Palate: bittersweet chocolate and oak, which carries through to the finish and mixes with coffee.

Overall impression: this is a pleasant, easy-drinking porter. While I find that wood is perhaps a little over-dominant in the nose and on the palate, it's not unpleasant because the coffee in the finish gives it a rich roast flavour.

Thanks, Stu. This was a treat! Keep travelling!