Friday, May 31, 2013

This Is Not the Beer I Wanted

I have a bone to pick with Brooklyn Brewery. Sort of.

One of my "must dos" of visiting New York City last weekend was to pay a visit to this long-standing craft brewery. Until then, I had only tried two of their beers: one, I liked a lot; the other, not so much. In going directly to the source, I would try a few of their offerings and make a decision as to whether I would give them any more of my attention.

Brooklyn Brewery is located in Williamsburg, a neighbourhood of Brooklyn, where Brewmaster Garrett Oliver has been creating liquid gold since 1989. The main brewery boasts a large, open beer hall that accommodates 150 or so people and is bare bones as far as ambiance. But for the beer lover, we don't always need a pretty environment in which to consume our beer, so long as the beer is worth drinking.

And Brooklyn Brewery's beer is certainly worth drinking.

During my stay in NYC, I tried their Lager (liked it), Summer Ale (liked it), IPA (really liked it), and their one-off, Blast IPA (loved it).

At the brewery, I purchased five tokens for $20 and got in line for the bar. The line was quite long, but moved quickly. In the hall were many long tables and a few lounge chairs, so my friend and I figured we would be able to find a place to sit and try whatever selections we chose. After having consumed many pints the previous night, and after having reviewed six samplers during lunch, we decided to share three pints with the five tokens. Our choices: the Scorcher #366 IPA, the Silver Anniversary Lager, and the Blast.

While I enjoyed the Silver Anniversary Lager (2013 marks the 25th anniversary of the brewery) and the Scorcher, I really loved the hoppy bitterness and refreshing flavours of the Blast. When my friend and I had finished our glasses, I decided that I would pick up a few bottles and do a proper review when I returned home.

It was at the merchandise counter that I learned that Blast was only available on tap. Oh, the horror!

The woman behind the counter recommended that I try another beer, the BamBoozle, and she proceeded to describe it (I won't do it here, but you can read about it here). I ordered four bottles.

Sadly, on my way from the brewery to the subway, one of those bottles didn't survive the journey. As I set it on the ground to purchase a subway ticket, the cork that sealed the bottle blew and the contents flowed out like an angry volcano. With a heavy heart, and jeans smelling of a beer hall, I threw the spent bottle out and poured its contents from the plastic bag into a waste container.

Last night, after having carefully carted the remaining bottles home, I pulled one out to conduct a review. Only to find that it was I who had been bamboozled.

The bottles that the woman sold me were not this honeyed, malted brew I had been persuaded to take: instead, I found three bottles of the Silver Anniversary Lager, the beer that I had liked but not as much as the others.

Bait and switch much, Brooklyn?

I'd show them: I'd give this beer a proper review. So here goes.

Silver Anniversary Lager (9% ABV)

Appearance: a deep apricot colour with reddish-brown tones, and a thick, foamy head that leaves a thin cap.

Nose: mild, orange citrus and light hops.

Palate: orange rind, lightly burnt toffee, with a mild coffee finish that is well-balanced between a hoppy bitterness and a malty sweetness.

Overall impression: this is a rich-bodied dobblebock lager for a serious session. The high alcohol content doesn't come out at first, but after a couple of sips it begins to linger in the finish, though not enough to overpower. Instead, it culminates to a raspy honey aftertaste.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5

Well-played, Brooklyn. I had nothing bad to say about this lager while I was drinking it in your establishment, but I found the other ales I tried had blown it away. Now that I had it on its own, I discovered it was even better than when I had it on Saturday.

Perhaps my disappointment in not having the talked-up BamBoozle has been alleviated with this second chance. I'm glad I had the opportunity to give this lager a fair shake. It may not have been the beer I had thought was being sold to me, but I'm happy it was the beer I was given. Of course, now I also want to try the BamBoozle.

If only I could be compensated for the bottle that popped on my way back to the hotel... (hint, hint).


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Road Trip: NYC

I don't often go on road trips with beer in mind: beer just comes along inevitably. 

But this weekend, I went to New York City to spend some time with friends and to search for some good beer—beer that I typically can't find in Ottawa.

And I hit pay dirt. In the two-and-a-half days that I was away, I visited three craft breweries and sampled 15 different beers. That's not saying how many glasses of beer I drank: what happens in New York, stays in New York!

On my first night, I devoted my time to my friends, so even though we went to a restaurant and then to a basement pub, where the beer was aplenty, I only made mental notes of the ales I tried: no written notes.

Of the four beers I drank that night, one stood out: Racer 5 India Pale Ale, from California brewery, Bear Republic. It was a wonderfully citric and hoppy IPA, the kind that gets me remembering the taste days later, and craving more. I looked for it in the beer section of Whole Foods, but sadly I found none.

On Saturday, I had a couple of breweries in mind, and so my buddy, Stuart, and I ventured to one for lunch. I'll review that brew pub today: the other, I'll talk about in the next day or two.

The first brewery we hit was the Heartland Brewery, near Union Square (across from the market). This two-story establishment is only one of the seven locations for the pub. I'm not sure if all locations boast breweries, but the Union Square location certainly did. Originally, I had wanted to visit the South Street Seaport location, but according to their Web site, it's closed due to Hurricane Sandy.

Stu and I were seated on the upper level, which looked down towards the main-floor bar and the brewing facilities. The pub was smartly decorated and gave the feeling of a warm and inviting setting.

I ordered the six-glass sampler of their regular lineup, preferring to leave their seasonals and special beers for another visit (yes, I decided before I tried any of their beer that I would probably return). And, after trying the sampler and eating their food (the pumpkin and sage ravioli was incredible), I know I will be back.

Here's the lineup of samplers, in the recommended tasting order:

Harvest Wheat Beer (5.0 % ABV)
  • Appearance: a slightly hazy, deep gold with a white, foamy head that slowly dissipated to a solid cap.
  • Nose: closed, not much was offered (possibly, too cold?).
  • Palate: definite oranges and grass, with a nice, delicately hopped finish.
  • Overall impression: this was a great start to the tasting. This ale is light and fresh but has good, solid flavours.
  • Beer O'Clock rating: 3

Cornhusker Lager (5.0 % ABV)
  • Appearance: a clear version of the Indian River (the colour and the head).
  • Nose: again, the aromas seemed closed, perhaps due to the cool temperature of the sample. Eventually, the bouquet released hints of citrus and grass.
  • Palate: my mouth felt as though I had filled it with a Molson or Labatt product. Images of university campus beer halls filled my head as I struggled to swallow it. The finish left me with intense, grassy malts.
  • Overall impression: I didn't like this one at all. After my first sip, I put the glass down and never touched it again.
  • Beer O'Clock rating: 1.5
Indian River Light Ale (3.9 % ABV)
  • Appearance: a cloudy, golden yellow with a white, lacy head. Served with a lemon wedge.
  • Nose: creamy citrus.
  • Palate: the initial flavours are of a lemon creamcicle, with wheat on the tongue and light malts that culminate in a short finish of cilantro.
  • Overall impression: this was a nice palate-cleansing beer that was nice to have at the midpoint of the tasting, so that my taste buds could make way for the heavy-hitter beers.
  • Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5

Red Rooster Ale (5.5% ABV)
  • Appearance: a murky toffee-brown with a light taupe head that dissipated to a fine lace.
  • Nose: once again, the nose offered little. I would suggest that the pub not serve its ales so cold.
  • Palate: burnt caramel, rich malt, and hints of an espresso roast in the finish, which is nice but I found that it dropped off a little too quickly.
  • Overall impression: this is a nice, rich, well-balanced ale that I could easily drink again.
  • Beer O'Clock rating: 3
Indiana Pale Ale (5.9% ABV)
  • Appearance: an unfiltered, deep gold.
  • Nose: grapefruit rind and strong hops. This was better.
  • Palate: tea-like tannins and intense hops, though not as intense as some Ontario IPAs like Mad Tom or Hoptical Illusion. And lots of grapefruit.
  • Overall impression: this is a classic IPA. I'd drink this ale any day.
  • Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5
Farmer Jon's Oatmeal Stout (6.0% ABV)
  • Appearance: a clear mahogany brown with red highlights, and a taupe head that dissipated quickly.
  • Nose: roasted malt, coffee, and a hint of chocolate.
  • Palate: a creamy chocolate with coffee and a mild, malty finish that not only drops of quickly, but leaves a watery feeling in the mouth.
  • Overall impression: while this is a beautiful stout, it could have been perfect if not for the watery finish. Typically, a beer will leave me wanting to taste more; this one left nothing behind. Still, I really enjoyed the intense flavours at the start and the aromas.
  • Beer O'Clock rating: 4
This was a nice overall offering from Heartland. I really loved the stout and IPA, and the red was worth having another pint at a future visit. I would, however, suggest a change to the tasting order: instead of moving through the lineup from lightest to darkest colours, and lowest to highest alcohol content, I would recommend that Heartland place the IPA at the end. The flavours are so intense that they may have interfered with my tasting of the stout. An intense flavour should go last.

I'm definitely going to return to Heartland in the future, possibly trying out their other locations. If you're in NYC, give them a try for yourself.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

To The Max

My manager isn't going to like this post.

Last week, I popped into the Mill Street Brew Pub because... well... I'm there almost every week. But when I was there, one of the assistant managers, Kyle, saw me and said, "You should have been at last week's Brewmaster's Dinner. We had a beer that won't be available here. It'll only be available at the beer hall." That's Mill Street's new Beer Hall, which just opened in the Distillery District in Toronto.

My manager won't like this post because he won't be able to get his hands on this beer easily.

Kyle then added, "Actually, we still have some. Hang on." He disappeared for a few minutes, and when he returned he had a growler in his hand. He plunked it down on the bar in front of me. "It's on me," he said.

I have good friends at Mill Street.

But, just because Kyle gave me a growler of beer, I do not feel under any obligation to give a good review. Luckily, for me and for them, I really enjoyed it.
Minimus Dubbel (8.3% ABV)
Mill Street Brewing Company
Toronto, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5
Appearance: deep-toffee brown with red highlights, and a whitish head that dissipates quickly to a fine lace.

Nose: toffee pudding and bananas.

Palate: fresh banana loaf with walnuts and raisins, and a long, toffee finish.

Overall impression: this Belgian-styled dubbel reminds me of a festive toffee pudding. With its subtle sweetness, it's almost a dessert. It is well-balanced, and despite the high alcohol content you can't taste the booze.

This is a great beer that Mill Street should seriously consider sending up to its Ottawa brew pub. Seriously, folks: celebrate your beer hall with it, and then send it along.

If not for me, do it for my manager.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Beer Treats

I love it when my friends travel and think of me when they're gone.

I mean, it would be kinda creepy if I was in their thoughts when they were away from home. It's nice to be missed, but only when I've been away and my friends haven't seen me, are wondering what I'm up to, and are wishing me well. If they're the ones who left Ottawa, and they missed me, that would be kind of weird, wouldn't it?

But no, I like it when my friends are travelling and they come across a beer and they think of me. And they think: I bet Ross would like this. I'll bring him some.

That's the best way to think of me when they're gone.

Not that long ago, two of my friends went down to The States, on separate trips, and kept me in mind when they were beer shopping. One of them returned with my favourite beer of all time, plus a couple of extras. I'd like to look at one of them now, especially because of my hankering for IPAs.

India Pale Ale (6.2% ABV)
Wagner Valley Brewing Company
Lodi, NY (Finger Lakes)
Beer O'Clock rating: 3

Appearance: copper-orange with an off-white head that quickly dissipates to a fine lace.

Nose: whisky, oak, and orange zest.

Palate: an oaked, bourbon punch with a nice balance between the citrus flavours and hops.

Overall impression: there's something about this ale that reminds me of a rustic farm scene, much the way that some old red Bordeaux wines have an air of barnyard. This is not a bad trait: some of the best French wines have this classic tone. I think the barrel fermentation lends to these classic flavours, especially in the oak (surprise, surprise) and to the whisky-bourbon flavours.

This is a truly enjoyable IPA that is a must-try. I will keep my eye out for more when I next travel through the Finger Lakes region.

The other IPA came with an outrageous name, and because I didn't know what style of beer it was until I did some digging, I was glad that it fit in with my latest brew kick.

Lagunitas Sucks Brown Shugga' Substitute Ale (7.85% ABV)
The Lagunitas Brewing Company
Petaluma, CA
Beer O'Clock rating: 3

Appearance: an effervescent, clear deep gold, with a lively, foamy, sudsy head.

Nose: pineapple, honey, and mild hops.

Palate: solid hop flavours with mild citric grapefruit in the finish.

Overall impression: this is a solid American double/Imperial IPA. While it is a memorable beer and worth trying, I think I'll remember it more for its name than how it went down. Unlike how its name suggests, this IPA does not suck.

That's the best kind of false advertising.

This is the type of review that my manager dislikes. He reads my blog from time to time, but he gets discouraged when a beer attracts him, only for him to learn that he can't get it here.

But if you're in an area that offers these selections, get your hands on some.

And thanks to Katy and Chris for bringing these beer treats to my attention.