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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.