Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Beer Destiny

Some of you may recall that I love stout ales; in particular, milk stout.

My favourite beer of all time is one that is really hard to find. In fact, I haven't seen it anywhere above the Mason-Dixon Line. But, in my humble opinion, it is the best. Beer. Ever.

Or, possibly, was.

Since I had The Duck Rabbit Milk Stout, I have been in search of a milk stout to either match or rival that fine beverage.

This weekend, I think I've found it.
The Chocolate Manifesto
Triple Chocolate Milk Stout (10% ABV)
Flying Monkeys Craft Brewing
Barrie, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 5
Appearance: deep walnut with a creamy, deep-taupe head that settles to a thin cap.

Nose: an incredible, intense chocolate, like a malted milkshake, with a hint of sweet chocolate syrup.

Palate: rich, malted chocolate and a light touch of licorice. A full finish with a definite taste of alcohol that does not overpower the other flavours.

Overall impression: I am in love! This is an incredible, creamy, chocolate treat. Where I felt I could eat chocolate-chip cookies and wash them down with The Duck Rabbit, this creamy-smooth stout has the chocolate-chip cookies in the milk.

Brewed with chocolate nibs, cacao powder, and chocolate malt, this is a decadent treat. It's rich without being sickeningly rich; sweet without being cloyingly sweet; and high in alcohol without being boozy. It's well-balanced.

It's perfect.

Because it comes in a 750ml bottle, it's also perfect for sharing, especially at this time of year.

This is a seasonal that I hope the folks at Flying Monkeys brings back, and brings back often. With so few truly exceptional milk stouts, it would be a shame to make people search.

Cheers! And Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Twenty Bottles

Sometimes, there's just too many craft beers out there to drink, and you have so little time. Sometimes, you wish you could try many different beers but to do so would leave you intoxicated, unable to do anything else.

For times like that, I recommend joining a group of beer drinkers and sharing bottles.

This weekend, the second Ottawa Bottle Share was held with 20 craft beers from across North America. The premise is that everyone brings a bottle that is not easily acquired: you can't get it in the LCBO, nor can you find it in great supply.

It might sound like a lot of beer to drink in one sitting, and true, by the end of it all, your taste buds are exhausted. But because you pour no more than an ounce or so of each beer (sometimes, I put much less in my tasting cup), and you drink for about three hours, you have less than two pints.

For this tasting, I calculated that I drank, at most, one pint.

But what a tasting.

The majority of beers at this bottle share were stouts and porters, with a couple of Scotch ales, pale ales, and barley wines. My favourites of the afternoon were the MacKroken Flower Reserve Scotch Ale, the Barley Days Yuletide Cherry Porter, the Dogfish Head American Beauty, and the Heady Topper.

Not to toot my own horn, but I brought a taste of Ottawa brewing history that held its own with the other samples: a 2005 Tsarina Katarina Imperial Stout. Yes, that's an eight-year-old stout, from my friend, Perry Mason, of the gone-but-not-forgotten Scotch-Irish Brewing Company.

This is the beer that made me want to start reviewing beer. I first wrote about this Imperial stout two years ago, when I couldn't believe a beer could last for six years. Two years later, it still holds its body and flavour, with very little hint of its nine-percent alcohol level. For me, it was a treat to revisit.

I wish to thank Sasha and Matt for opening their house to this tasting, and to all the participants who brought amazing beer. I can't wait to do this again.

For those of you who wish to attend the next Ottawa Bottle Share, follow the Ottawa Beer Events blog.


Monday, December 9, 2013

'Tis The Season

Okay, the Christmas Season can officially begin.

When I think of the Christmas holidays, I think of spending time away from the office and of spending quality time with family and friends. When I think of Christmas, I think of gently falling snow, of fireplaces, of lights and music, and of the smell of festive trees and fresh-baked treats.

The smell of gingerbread is intoxicating.

Big Rig Brewery gets that.

Jeff O'Reilly (left) and Brewmaster Lon Ladell

On Friday, the local brewery released a festive ale that is a collaboration with Brewmaster Lon Ladell and beer aficionado, Jeff O'Reilly. And they released this ale in two versions.

Gingerbread Porter (5.6% ABV)
Big Rig Brewery
Ottawa ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 4

Appearance: caramel brown with red highlights and a creamy taupe head that dissipates quickly.

Nose: while the ale was closed at first (it pours too cold for this style of beer: best to let it warm up), I was able to discern molasses and spice. When the beer nears room temperature, it has a definite bouquet of fresh-baked gingerbread cookies.

Palate: ginger, cinnamon, and molasses, that culminates in a warm, malty beverage. It is well-balanced, with lots of rich flavour and comes to a good, solid finish.

Overall impression: while this is a flavoured porter, it does not display the characteristics of a traditional porter. Rather, the porter is more of a template from which the gingerbread was designed. With vanilla pods, sticks of cinnamon, and organic ginger added during the conditioning process, the resulting flavours make this beverage an instant holiday classic. It's a heart-warming, palate-pleasing ale that I will enjoy for as long as it lasts.

Lon and Jeff brewed 1,100 litres of Gingerbread Porter, so expect it to be gone by Christmas.

One beer that did not last was a one-off, cask-conditioned version of the Gingerbread Porter. On steroids. Jeff added crème de menthe, cherry brandy, Kahlua, and Goldschlager to the mix. What resulted was a gingerbread cookie in a glass, with candy cane sprinkled on top. There was a distinct, candied nose and lots of mint on the palate, making this sweet version (clocked in at an estimated 7.5% ABV) an extra treat.

Lon pours the cask-conditioned version.

While the cask-conditioned porter didn't make it through the night, you can enjoy the regular Gingerbread Porter at Big Rig. It's also available in growlers, which you can purchase at the brew pub or you can have it delivered to your door, using Ottawa's newest service, Brew Donkey. This company is dedicated to bringing the best Ottawa-area craft beer to your door. They also organize tours, so you can get to the breweries.

Beer life in Ottawa gets better all the time.

In Other Beer News

Interested in craft beer and want to become a certified aficionado? The next level-1 Prud'homme Beer Certification course will be held at The Clocktower Brew Pub, on Bank Street, for four evenings, starting January 20. For more information and to register, go here.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Best of Both Worlds

My first official foray into the world of craft beer happened when my friend, Perry Mason, introduced me to the first beer he made for his brewery, The Scotch-Irish Brewing Company. It was simply called Session Ale and was modeled after the British ales that where light in alcohol but still maintained a full flavour and good balance between malt and hops.

In Perry's words, his Session Ale was "the best beer the British never made."

I loved that ale and drank it every chance I got, which meant that I spent a lot of time at the Arrow & Loon pub.

I miss that beer.

As I became more and more familiar with various styles of beer, my preference leaned towards stouts and porters, one of my favourites again being Perry's porter (pee-pee, for short), Black Irish Porter.

While I've never wondered what a beer would taste like if a session ale and a stout were combined, I now never have to wonder, because I've now tried one.
Grognard Session Stout (3.8% ABV)
Bellwoods Brewery
Toronto ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5
Appearance: dark brown—almost black, with a lush, creamy taupe head that creates peaks as it settles.

Nose: coffee, tobacco, and is slightly herbal.

Palate: rich coffee and cedar; definite hops that come to a clean finish.

Overall impression: I'm surprised at the body, given the low alcohol level. It's a good, well-balanced session ale mixed with a light stout.

This is the first beer that I've had from Bellwoods. Sadly, it's not available in the LCBO. It's availability seems limited to the Toronto area: specifically, the brewery. Luckily, my wife was in TO last weekend and brought me back five different offerings from the brewery.

My first "session" was a success and I can't wait to try the others. And, if this brewery gets its ales in the LCBO, I will surely be a regular customer.

I also give points on it bringing my memories back to my early days of enjoying craft beer.