Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Buffalo Beer Oasis

As hard as it is to believe, when I was away this past weekend in Buffalo, I drank only one pint of beer and I brought no beer home with me.

I'm still in disbelief myself.

Fortunately, for the one place that I went for a beer, I went to possibly the best place in the city to try beer.

It wasn't a brew pub: they did not make any beer themselves. But they did support a lot of craft brewers, and to me that's even better.

Coles Restaurant & Bar has been operating in Buffalo since 1934 and is touted as the friendliest bar in the city. I can believe it: being there with two young kids and my wife, the staff made us feel perfectly welcome. It's spacious hall design lent itself to a louder crowd (not that my kids are especially noisy), so kids wouldn't stand out.

The staff knows its beer, which is plentiful. There are 36 craft beers on tap, with countless more in bottles. Because I'm on an IPA kick these days, I was recommended two on tap, and because I couldn't make up my mind, our server, Jen, was happy to bring me samples of both.

I chose the one that came from a brewery that I visited last fall when my family and I toured the Finger Lakes region.
Flower Power American IPA (7.5% ABV)
Ithaca Beer Company
Ithaca, NY
Beer O'Clock rating: 4.5
Appearance: a slightly hazy, deep wheat-gold, with a white head that dissipates to a fine lace.

Nose: strong lemon citrus and orange peel.

Palate: sour grapefruit that is supported by solid, refreshing hops that come together in a light, fresh finish.

Overall impression: I should have picked up a ton of this beer when I visited the brewery in October. This is an extremely refreshing IPA with tons of flavour and the right amount of bitterness.

So if you can find it, grab it.

If you're in Buffalo, go to Coles, sit down with a good meal (the food is fresh and delicious, and the portions are generous). I thought I would end this post with some images I captured as I enjoyed my dining and drinking experience.

If I were to rate the restaurant on a similar scale to my beer ratings, I'd give Coles a 5.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Bit of the Devil's Horn

I'm sure that after a long day, flogging the wretched in the fiery bowels of Hell, Satan needs a good, cold brew.

In my search for the perfect IPA, I found myself back at a growing favourite, Dieu du Ciel!

(After today's review, I'm dropping the exclamation mark from the brewery's name.)

Corne du diable (The Devil's Horn; 6.5% ABV)
Brasserie Dieu du Ciel!
St-Jérôme, QC
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5

Appearance: deep copper with a foamy, beige head. When I opened the bottle, which had been sitting in my cellar for a couple of weeks, the foam overflowed (wrath of Lucifer?).

Nose: soap, mild citrus, and honey.

Palate: oranges, toffee, with good hops that didn't overpower (surprisingly); there is almost a sweet finish that ends with the alcohol coming through.

Overall impression: this is a good IPA for when you simply want to enjoy a pint and not work for it. Corne du diable is well-balanced in body, though I didn't care for the flavour of alcohol at the end. For me, the finish could have used a little more flavour.

But I would definitely drink more and I do recommend it. I certainly wouldn't want to mess with The Devil.

My quest for the best IPA continues. Cheers!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On An IPA Kick

Lately, I've been on the hunt for some great India Pale Ales, and even the notion of sampling a variety of IPAs could keep me going forever. There are just so many of them.

I thought I would focus on some IPAs that are crafted by some small or obscure microbreweries and then see where my search would take me. And, by me, I mean us.

Ryan Bellerive, owner of Bières du Monde in Aylmer, heard of my quest for a great IPA (when I told him), he quickly directed me to a display in his store and told me that this particular IPA was his favourite. So what better way to start my quest?

IPA Américaine (7% ABV)
Microbrasserie Pit Caribou
Anse-à-Beaufils, QC
Beer O'Clock rating: 4

Appearance: a murky, golden amber with a dense, whitish head that lingers.

Nose: grapefruit and orange, with a tinge of candied fruit.

Palate: bold grapefruit and massive hops that culminate in an intense finish.

Overall impression: this is a big-league IPA from a small brewery just south of Percé. At 77 IBUs, there is lots of bitterness, but the fruit and alcohol blend nicely. That said, I would have liked to have tasted a little more grapefruit and a little less bitterness.

The was a very nice IPA to start my journey. Thanks for the recommendation, Ryan!


Monday, April 22, 2013

Best. Beer. Ever.

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Untappd, this will not be news to you.

If you read my Brown Knowser blog post of my favourite beers of 2012, this will not be news to you.

Last summer, when I was in Washington, D.C., I visited a Whole Foods store and discovered a wonderful beer section that had shelves and shelves of local craft beer, beer that I had never seen before. I stocked up on some of Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA and some other brews that I had never seen before, like Double D Double IPA and Double Naked Fish Imperial Chocolate Raspberry Stout.

I also picked up a six-pack of another beer that caught my eye with its label and name: The Duck-Rabbit.

The beer was a milk stout, which I had never tried before. In a nutshell, it's a stout that has had lactose added to it to give the beer a creamier taste. Adding whole milk to a stout or porter was actually a common practice in the 1800s, but my (uneducated) guess is that with strict international laws on pasteurization, adding whole milk these days is a no-no.

When I first tried The Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout, back in the fall, I loved it. I shared it with some friends but I really savoured it when I was relaxing at home. In my 2012 list of favourite beers, I said that I thought Milk Stout may very well be my favourite beer of all time.

When I ran out, I was heart-broken, feeling like some lover had left me.

Last week, my friend, Chris, returned from the U.S. with a few beers that he collected for me, including more Duck-Rabbit. I figured that I should give this stout a proper review, so here goes.
Milk Stout (5.7% ABV)
The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery
Farmville, NC, U.S.A.
Beer O'Clock rating: 5
Appearance: deep mahogany with red highlights, almost like root beer but without the big bubbles; a taupe, foamy head gradually dissipates to a thin but dense blanket over the beer. (BTW: I served this stout in my favourite glass, which is slightly skewed, like me.)

Nose: dark chocolate, cedar, and a rich espresso.

Palate: chocolate milk and coffee coat the mouth and culminate in a short, dry finish.

Overall impression: this stout seriously tastes like I'm drinking a chocolate-chip cookie, washed down with a dark-roasted coffee. It is creamy but not sweet. It coats the tongue but is not cloying. It is rich without overpowering.

This is what a stout should be. This tasting has reaffirmed my belief that Duck-Rabbit is my favourite stout. Ever.

Sadly, I'm out again. Of the four bottles that Chris gave me, I gave two to friends, I enjoyed one on Saturday night, and I had my last bottle yesterday for this review.

My hope is that this North-Carolina brewery ships its brew as far north as New York City, where I'll be in a few weeks. If so, I'm stocking up.

But I don't know if I'll be as generous in sharing it out again.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Pompous and Bitter

No, not me.

Not even the brewery that I visited this weekend. Quite to the contrary, in fact.

When I walked into the reception area of this nearly 26-year-old brewery with my two young daughters, I was met by a pretty, friendly woman named Alison. I explained that I was visiting from Ottawa and that I was hoping to try something new and special.

She politely told me that I needed to come back on Thursday, that the brewery would be releasing two one-off brews. Nothing else, besides their regular line and their seasonal, an orange ale, were available.

Crest-fallen, I told her that I was only in the area for the weekend and that I would be heading back to Ottawa on Sunday. I added that I ran a beer blog and was hoping to have something special to review.

"Give me a second," she said, and left the room.

I wandered the reception area, which also had two tables in the centre that were set up for tastings. Two pitchers with their seasonal were sitting atop; signs warned that it was not a self-serve area. I saw shelves of awards and a fridge that stocked all of their available beers.

When Alison returned, she had two large bottles and two aluminum cans with her. "You have to promise me that you won't say anything about these beers until Thursday," she cautioned me.

I promised. I told her that I would try the beer before Thursday and, if I liked it, I would write a review that would be posted on Thursday.

So here we are.

The brewery is Great Lakes: the one-offs, both pale ales.
Pompous Ass English Pale Ale (4.2% ABV)
Great Lakes Brewery
Toronto, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: Alison gave me cans that hadn't even been labelled. She had to show me a demo can, which I captured with my iPhone. At home, pouring it into my glass, a lightly filtered, deep gold ale provided a white, foamy head that eventually settled into a thin lace.

Nose: fresh grapefruit. Lots of grapefruit.

Palate: big hops, but not overpowering, were the first flavours to greet me. I also tasted citrus and a hint of honey (though, not sweet). This EPA is wonderfully balanced that has a nice, short finish that, despite the low alcohol content, leaves a bit of alcohol on the tongue.

Overall impression: this is a big EPA that doesn't overwhelm; rather, it pleases my senses. I don't find it pompous at all. In fact, if I had this in an English pub, it would be hard to drag me away. Now that I've had it, I want more.

The other beer that Alison gave me came in a 650-ml bottle, complete with label and information painted around it.
My Bitter Wife IPA (7% ABV)
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5
Appearance: also lightly filtered, it pours a brilliant amber-resin colour with a dense-foamed, light-beige head.

Nose: powerful citrus and a tinge of toffee.

Palate: orange rind, nuts, and hops culminate into a massive, clean, dry finish.

Overall impression: I am reminded of the huge-flavoured IPAs of Amsterdam Boneshaker and Muskoka's Twice-As-Mad Tom. This is not an ale for the feint-hearted. This is a heavyweight.

My only problem with these beers, as is often the case with the Toronto-area breweries, is that they probably won't make their way to the Ottawa market—and we're a thirsty bunch. I'm already out and am craving more.

What's a guy to do, Alison?

Given that Great Lakes is only releasing these ales today (April 18) at 4 PM, I suggest that those of you in the GTA get your hands on it, pronto.

And if you're coming to Ottawa, bring me some, won't you? Maybe you could deliver it in Great Lakes Brewery's set of wheels?


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What Was Wrong with My Name?

It was no secret that this beer was coming.

Mill Street's Facebook page was building up a buzz around the Ottawa pub's upcoming seasonal: a cherry ale. The only thing that was missing was a name for this new brew.

Being a regular of their pub (they sometimes refer to me as their in-house writer), I would sit with head brewer, Adam Rader, and share in his excitement for this beer. Eighty kilos of frozen, sour cherries were added to the mash. Fourty percent of the brew would be wheat malt. And, with many of Adam's creations, it was going to be a strong beer.

Adam delivered.

Nineteen kegs of this ale were created, and I wouldn't be surprised if it went fast.
Big Red Cherry Wheat Ale (7% ABV)
Mill Street Brew Pub
Ottawa, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 4.5
Appearance: crimson red with copper highlights and a pinkish-beige head that dissipates quickly.

Nose: as Adam pointed out, the initial scent is reminiscent of what you get when you open a fresh package of Twizzlers red licorice. I found it also made me think of cherry cola: there was a sweet, intense fruitiness to the bouquet.

Palate: a definite sour cherry that coated the tongue and held on for a full, dry finish. There is no sweetness in the mouth, but there is intense fruit.

Overall impression: although I'm not generally one for fruit-infused beer, I love the flavour in this ale. This is a well-balanced, full bodied beer that would be perfect for patio season. It's a keeper beer, even though it won't last long in the pub and won't return again for some time.

But you will be counting the days for when it does come back.

Why do I not give this ale a perfect score? I'd like to say it's because of the name. When Mill Street started a contest where fans would suggest names on their Facebook page, I offered Adam my suggestion: Cherry Blossom. I thought it would coincide with the time of year, when cherry trees are not far from blooming. I posted my suggestion on their page, and judging by the other entries, I felt my name was a sure thing.

Big Red? Really?

I love the beer: hate the name.

Get some while you can. Cheers!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Credit Where Old Credit is Due

I was out of town for the latter part of last week and this past weekend, and though my purpose for being away from home was to cheer on my daughters and their dance school for a competition, I did manage to squeak in a couple of hours to explore craft breweries in the area.

Luckily, there were two microbreweries within a 15-minute distance of my hotel. One, I had heard of and have sampled and reviewed in the past. I will review more beer from that brewery later this week.

The other brewery was new to me; in fact, I had never even heard of it before, and so I became excited when I learned that it would be open during a break in my kids' dance numbers and when I wasn't needed to help move props.

The microbrewery is the Old Credit Brewing Company.

This 19-year-old, family-operated craft brewery is tucked away, just south of a ritzy neighbourhood, in a small building that houses its copper kettle in the front. Because of its size, it offers only three types of beer: a lager, an amber ale, and a honey ale.

At the brewery, two of their brews were available to sample: the lager and the amber ale. After trying the two, I made my decision about what to bring home. I'll start with the first one.
Amber Ale (5% ABV)
Old Credit Brewing Company
Port Credit, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5
Appearance: deep amber to copper with a white head that pours to only a pinky-finger thickness and dissipates to a thin lace.

Nose: caramel and citrus.

Palate: a slightly soapy, burnt caramel with a grassy finish that lingered to what I describe as a flat, dry root beer.

Overall impression: this is an easy-drinking and flavourful ale, but I'm not sure that I would want to add it to my repertoire of regular beers. It is a beer that may have a wide appeal to anyone looking to start into the world of craft beer, but to those who come to expect lots of character, it falls a little short.

That said, it is definitely worth a try.

The second beer that I brought home was not one that I was able to try at the brewery (they had plenty in stock; why not crack one open?). But because it was advertised as being made with Billy Bee honey (who doesn't like Billy Bee?), I really wanted to try it.
Holiday Honey (5% ABV)
Beer O'Clock rating: 3
Appearance: amber-orange with a thick, foamy-white head that dissipated quickly and disappeared completely before my glass was empty.

Nose: orange citrus.

Palate: citrus, hops, and a touch of honey in the light, medium finish.

Overall impression: like the Amber Ale, the Holiday Honey (what holiday are they celebrating?) is easy drinking and will most likely appeal to the masses who may be looking for more than the Molson and Labatt products. But for a craft beer from a 19-year-old brewery, I felt that this ale lacked any true character.

I did like this honey-flavoured ale and would drink it again, but I don't think I would seek it out.

Not that I've ever seen it in any Ottawa LCBO.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Spring Saison

I should never drink beer while painting.

It's not that I'm worried about becoming impaired and spilling paint on the floor—or worse, in my beer—or about some other mishap. I'm also not worried about getting paint on my face—I can do that without drinking.

The problem with me painting a room (in this case, my ensuite bathroom) is that I tend to focus on the job, taking as few breaks as possible. And so, with this weekend's reno, where I spent a couple of hours painting, I shouldn't have poured myself a glass of beer because it took almost four hours to drink it.

Luckily, the beer held up the entire time. I also had another bottle, that I could enjoy last night, after the painting was done.

My friend and fellow beer blogger, Katy Watts, was recently in New York and brought me a seasonal that will most likely be gone by the time I hit the Big Apple in May.
Sorachi Ace (7.6% ABV)
Brooklyn Brewery
Brooklyn, NY, U.S.A.
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5
Appearance: rich gold and cloudy, with a thick, foamy-white head that dissipates slowly and leaves a fine lace.

Nose: pineapple and orange, with a touch of honey.

Palate: orange rind, spices, flint, with dry hops and another touch of honey in the finish.

Overall impression: this traditional Belgian-styled saison, which is fermented in its 750-ml bottle, is a refreshing ale that will welcome in the spring, hopefully in time for patio season. This saison, along with the recent one I tried from Beau's, are changing my mind about this type of ale, which I tended to shy away from.

If you can find some (none in the LCBO), stock up. Savour it. Just like I did when I was painting, and the next evening.


In a follow-up to my review of the Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, I wanted to let you know that I had my second bottle on Saturday, at breakfast. My wife made me a fried-egg sandwich with Swiss cheese and tomatoes. We didn't have any bacon or other tasty meats, which I typically add to these sandwiches, but I didn't need it. The beer more than made up for its absence.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the beer with my breakfast sandwich, I can't say the same for the accompanying fruit. Smoke beer does not go well with sweet, ripe, freshly chopped pineapple. The sweetness and acidity clashed with the smoky bitterness.

But it was a worthwhile experience.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Breakfast Beer

It's true that I've tried a lot of beer, but that doesn't make me an expert on all beer. There is far too much beer, too many styles, that I haven't tried.

Last week, at the Ottawa Beer TAP Society dinner, Mill Street's head brewer, Adam Rader, was surprised that I hadn't tried a particular style of German beer.

"What do you mean, you haven't had it?" he asked, "It's available everywhere." Everywhere, meaning all or most LCBO outlets. "We stock it at the bar," he continued, meaning his brew pub, "the next time you're in, I'll split one with you."

True to his word, the next day (the same day that Hannah gave me a bottle of Rosée d'Hibiscus), Adam and I sat at the bar, and Pete served us up a few bottles of this ale. It was the first time that I had consumed a beer that wasn't from Mill Street in their brew pub.

And I loved it.

Adam has never steered me wrong on beer.

When I left the pub, I went straight to my neighbourhood LCBO and purchased two bottles. It was a start.

Here's the beer:
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier (Smoke beer; 5.1% ABV)
Brauerei Heller
Bamberg, Germany
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: deep toffee, dark copper body with a full, creamy beige head that pours thick (the brewery recommends that the beer be poured so that a third of the glass is all head) and slowly dissipates to a thin lace that coats the top of the beer.

Nose: loads of smoked sausage or barbecued pork, and a rich malt.

Palate: intense smoke, caramelized oats, and a mild Oktoberfest sausage that drops off to a mild, short finish.

Overall impression: I could easily enjoy this beer at breakfast, using it to wash down one of my Borg sandwiches. Only, I wouldn't need any meat in the sandwich; the beer would cover that ingredient. There is a unique flavour to this beer; I have never experienced anything that gets me salivating like this smoke beer does.

The brewery's Web site provides plenty of information about this beer, from how it is made to how it's meant to be served. As with any brewery Web site, I avoid reading any description or tasting notes about the beer I'm about to review, but I'm glad I visited the serving page: it told me the proper temperature at which to serve it and the proper glass that is used to hold it.

Some people might find the smoke aromas and flavours overpowering, but with the easy-drinkability (look: I just made up a word! and it's long, just like they do in Germany!), I find there's a perfect balance that makes this an enjoyable beer, and something that I'd happily have again.

And if I don't want to drink it at home, I know where I can get some and enjoy it with good company.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Girly Beer

I mean no offense toward the women who read my beer blog, but this is a beer that I think is designed with you in mind.

This is not the kind of beer with which I associate guys drinking while watching a hockey game or playing poker, smoking cigars. I realize that I'm going to be doing some stereotyping in this post, but please take my words with a grain of salt, as I am writing this post with my tongue firmly pressed into my cheek.

I rewrote this post after I received some comments that pointed accusations of sexism. I left the comments in place, despite my reworking of this post, because some of my thoughts will still seem somewhat tasteless.

I do believe that the brewers of the beer in this review had women in mind when they crafted it. And I don't think that's a bad thing. There are plenty of products on the market that are gender-biased and I don't think that beer is exempt from this gender targetting. 

I don't think I would have picked this beer unless I felt some influence from a female friend and after the reaction I witnessed from some women that had sampled a similar-styled ale the day earlier. I think that other men, after looking at the label and understanding the main ingredient that is added, may pass on it.

I made a joke that some guys may drink it but wouldn't want their friends to know that they had. That was a joke. It was, perhaps, not one of my funnier or more clever jokes, but I try.

Sometimes, I fail.

Let's get on with the review. As a craft-beer lover and beer blogger, I feel I have a certain obligation to try many beer styles that I won't typically drink, but should be acquainted with.

I first heard about this beer at WinterBrewed, when my friend from Mill Street Brew Pub, Hannah, described a beer from her favourite Québec microbrewery, Dieu du Ciel! She told me the name, but sadly, over the course of that festival, the name escaped me.

Last week, on what is now my regular stop at Bières du Monde, I looked at a few bottles by this St-Jèrôme brewery. I saw some of the offerings that I have reviewed in the past, and some new ones. One, that was made with hibiscus, reminded me of a beer I tried last week, at the Ottawa Beer TAP Society dinner, which was also made with hibiscus, and I thought I would try it. I bought two bottles and then headed to my regular Tuesday haunt, Mill Street.

When I arrived at the pub, I was greeted by Pete, the bartender, Adam, the head brewer, and Hannah, who also tends the bar. Hannah told me that she had something for me, and quickly disappeared from the bar. When she returned, she told me that she had been to her cottage on the previous weekend and had found her favourite beer at the local dépanneur. She handed me a brown paper bag, and in it was the beer that I had just purchased.
Rosée d'Hibiscus Spiced Strong Beer with Hibiscus (5.9% ABV)
Brasserie Dieu du Ciel!
St-Jérôme, QC
Beer O'Clock rating: 3
Appearance: a murky pink, much like an unfiltered rosé wine, with a while head that quickly dissipates to a fine lace.

Nose: fragrant roses and strawberries.

Palate: the taste buds are first hit with a honeyed, crisp flavour that then turns faintly sour with a hint of peach and white pepper and takes you to a light finish.

Overall impression: this is a refreshing ale that would be perfect during patio season. It goes down easy on its own but would also pair well with a light salad of mixed greens and a raspberry vinaigrette.

From the packaging (a woman, with flowers in her hair), to the colour, to the nose, to the light, slightly sweet and fruity taste, I get the impression that this is a feminine beer.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, I believe that beer is gender-neutral. But every once in a while, I encounter a beer that is light and fruity, and I think (as I did with Rosée d'Hibiscus) that it is a "pretty" beer.

Just as when I see a smokey, bitter, high-alcohol beer (especially when there's a seductive-looking woman on the label) I think that the ale is aimed at men.

That's just the impression I get. Right or wrong.

When I opened my first bottle, I logged on to the Untappd application on my iPhone and checked in with this beer. Shortly after, one of my lady friends, Miriam, told me it was her favourite beer from Dieu du Ciel, that she had had it in Montréal and loved it.

So I have two friends, both women, who have tried and loved this beer.

If any of my male friends love this beer, they are welcome to tell me to STFU.

It's a fine beer and I appreciate it for what it is. I'm glad I tried it. Will I have it again? Probably not, but only because I prefer stouts and big IPAs: you know, manly beers (that's another joke—laugh a little).

Ladies: I believe his beer is made with you in mind. Enjoy it.