Monday, October 6, 2014

New Kid in Town

Ottawa's beer scene is thriving: sometimes, it's hard to keep count.

To date, I've counted about 18 breweries in the Ottawa region, from Pembroke in the west to Vankleek Hill in the east and from Gatineau to Merrickville—north to south, respectively.

It's a good thing we craft-beer lovers are so darned thirsty. There still seems to be plenty of room on our palates.

Enter the latest brewery to hit Ottawa, and I have two reasons to love them: one, they make good beer; two, the brewery is owned by cycling enthusiasts.

Bicycle Craft Brewery (12-850 Industrial Avenue) has been open for only two weeks, and seems to have both wheels firmly on the ground. Owners Fariborz Behzadi and his wife, Laura, took their love of travel to explore the world of craft beer, and they recently moved to Ottawa to make the capital richer with the knowledge that they gained.

The brewery currently offers four staples and two seasonals. While I visited their brewery a day early of their latest seasonal, a pumpkin ale, I did have the opportunity to try everything else. Some, I loved, others I liked. One, I did not care for.

Here's a quick rundown of my findings:

Isodore's Harvest Ale (4.9% ABV, 42 IBU)
I loved the richness of aroma on the nose and the balance of hops and malt in the body. This is a great autumn ale and my only regret is that I didn't leave the brewery with a growler of the stuff. It was my second-favourite beer that the brewery offers.

My Beer O'Clock rating: 4

Belle River Blonde (4.7% ABV, 22 IBU)
This is a light and refreshing ale, and while I myself don't care for this style of beer, I have to say that I appreciated it for what it was. If you like blonde ales, this is definitely one to try.

My Beer O'Clock rating: 3

Base Camp Oatmeal Porter (5.1% ABV, 30 IBU)
I liked this porter so much I brought some home to give a proper review, so let's do it:

Appearance: dark walnut to black, with red highlights and a creamy taupe head.

Nose: rich espresso coffee and tobacco.

Palate: dark-roasted coffee and cedar, with a higher bitterness than the IBUs would suggest. It all mellows in a medium-bodied finish.

Overall impression: while I don't get the relationship between this porter's name and cycling (sounds like a name that I'd associate with mountain climbing or hiking), I do get the easy-drinkingness (new word) of this porter. The flavours come off immediately as bold but then mellow out to an intensity that I associate with a classic porter—that is, not overpowering. This is a great ale.

My Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5

Abyss Chocolate Stout (5.7% ABV, 31 IBU)
When I learned that this brewery's pumpkin ale wasn't available on the day that I planned to visit, I was tempted to go to the LCBO to pick up my weekend beer. But when I learned that they made a chocolate stout, I had a change of heart. Stouts are my favourite beer style: chocolate is an added bonus.

One of the things that I noticed straight away, when Fariborz poured me a sample, was that the stout appeared to be flat. Had the half-growler been open a long time, I asked? No, was the answer: this stout was made with little carbonation by design, Fariborz told me.

That was a shame. I found that the stout was not only flat in the glass, it felt lifeless in my mouth. While there were still good flavours of malt and chocolate, I feel that carbonation helps a stout feel creamier in the mouth, and I missed that in my sample.

I did not care for that design. Had the stout been infused with gas, I feel it had the potential to be so much better.

My Beer O'Clock rating: 2

Velocipede India Pale Ale (6% ABV, 70 IBU)
Of the brews that were available, this IPA, by far, was my favourite. Like the porter, I brought some home to conduct a full review (oh, what I do for my readers).

Appearance: an unfiltered, deep caramel, with a creamy beige head that had an orange tint.

Nose: orange citrus and lush hops.

Palate: creamy orange, almost like a Creamsicle from my childhood, but without any sweetness. There is rich fruit with intense hops that balance beautifully. There is bitterness without having that teabag feeling on the roof of your mouth. The long finish is incredibly satisfying.

Overall impression: this IPA is a definite keeper and should be Bicycle Craft Brewery's flagship ale. As a direct appeal to Fariborz and Laura—change nothing about this beer: it's a gem.

My Beer O'Clock rating: 5

Bicycle Craft Brewery is a welcome addition to the Ottawa brewing community. For myself, I especially like that they are well-situated (not exactly in my end of town, but not much of a detour from my commute between work and home). I am excited to try the pumpkin ale and I look forward to watching Fariborz and Laura grow their business.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Rhyme & Reason

This summer has turned out to be a great one so far, with lots of sunshine, near-perfect temperatures, and plenty of excellent beer to go with it.

Also, when I think of summer, I think of getting out and enjoying the outdoors, with concerts, festivals, and all that the community has to offer. That's why, when I saw the colourful six pack from Collective Arts Brewing, I thought I might have found another perfect summer beer.

And I was right.

This Burlington brewery is founded on the belief that creativity inspires more creativity, and that art manifests itself in all of our culture: through music, through film, through visual art, and through brewing.

Craft brewing is an art form in which I thoroughly believe.

I think their video, on their Web site, says it all:

In keeping with Collective Arts' philosophy, the brewery incorporates art into their labels, each bottle in their six pack showing a different artist's work.

They truly have some of the most beautiful bottles I've ever seen. (Although, they do need to work on that sticker on the bottle neck: four of the six bottles in my pack had those little circles lifting off.)

But it's what's inside that counts, and I was eager to give them a try.
Rhyme & Reason Extra Pale Ale (5.7 % ABV)
Collective Arts Brewing Ltd.
Burlington, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 5
Appearance: a dull, murky (that is, unfiltered) apricot and a creamy head the color of grapefruit rind.

Nose: intense tangerine and honeydew, with a hint of honeyed sweetness and a touch of malt.

Palate: bitter grapefruit and a fine balance of hops and malt. The finish is clean and thirst-quenching, and left me wanting more.

This is an excellent summer-patio beer. Though it has a higher alcohol content than many session ales, it reminded me of the Muskoka Brewery session ale that I've been drinking this summer. It's full bodied but clean, making it seem deceptively light.

I could see myself sipping a pint of Rhyme & Reason while enjoying an outdoor concert or at a film festival (I'm going to one this weekend: too bad they won't allow alcohol in the theatre).

One thing is for certain: I now have two favourite summer ales. My cellar is going to be well-stocked this season.

Rhyme & Reason is available at the LCBO.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Coffee & Beer

If you know anything about me, you know that I can't go for long without either beer or coffee. They are staples in my life: rarely a day goes by where I don't drink coffee; rarely a couple of days go by where I don't have a bottle or pint of beer.

And when beer and coffee mix, it's like sex in a glass.

Again, if you know me, you know that my two favourite styles of beer are stouts and IPAs. And, this weekend, I had the opportunity of sampling both, beautifully flavoured with coffee.

Because it's been a while since I've written a review for Beer O'Clock, I thought I would share both of these outstanding ales in one post. This is not a comparison, because that wouldn't be fair. I could never compare an IPA with a stout: it would be like me comparing coffee to beer.

Both the coffee'd IPA and stout are from fairly new, local craft breweries. One, I have reviewed before, the other, I have tried before but have never taken the time to examine closely. I'm glad I now have.

Newly opened this spring, Covered Bridge Brewing Company has already made waves with Ottawa craft-beer lovers. Owner and brewer, John VanDyk has brought his ales to WinterBrewed, to the Ottawa Beer Market, and just recently, to the Watson's Mill Craft Beer Event. His microbrewery, located in Stittsville, has a great selection of regular offerings, such as The Dirty Blonde and Bridge Over the River "Chai," as well as some one-offs, like the Raspberry Princess, and some seasonals, like the sweet La cabane à sucre.

But my favourite of the Covered Bridge beers that I have had so far is their coffee and chocolate stout, Double-Double.
The Covered Bridge Double-Double (7.4% ABV)
Covered Bridge Brewing Company
Stittsville, ON (Ottawa)
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: dark walnut with a cocoa head that pours to a fine lace and then quickly disappears.

Nose: dark chocolate and sweet coffee.

Palate: rich chocolate, mild prunes, dates. A lengthy coffee finish that accumulates into a solid taste of alcohol.

While this Double-Double may be as sweet as it's Tim Horton's counterpart, the coffee flavour puts the giant coffee chain to shame. The coffee flavours in this stout are richer and more satisfying than anything that Tim's puts out. The chocolate is sweet and cloying, but not overpowering, and the alcohol cuts down the overall richness.

I have to admit, the first time I tried this stout at the brewery, and then again at the event at Watson's Mill, I detected more of a creamy richness. The bottle that I drank two weeks after picking it up from the brewery had more of the dates and prunes, and the alcohol finish was more pronounced. But it was still incredible.

The other coffee ale I tried this weekend came from Whitewater Brewing Company,  farther up the Ottawa Valley. I met two of the brewers, both named Chris Thompson, at this year's WinterBrewed Festival. I told Chris "Low Tower" that I would visit his brewery, and two weekends ago, I kept that promise.

While neither Chris was there, I did meet a third brewer, Sierra, who introduced me to a fabulous seasonal that I couldn't resist. Nor could I leave without.
Jacked Rabbit Espresso IPA (6% ABV)
Whitewater Brewing Company
Foresters Falls, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: steeped Orange Pekoe tea—a reddish toffee brown, with a creamy beige head that holds a good cap almost all the way down the glass.

Nose: rich, dark-roasted coffee, malt, and mild chocolate.

Palate: coffee and hops, perfectly balanced, though I would have liked to taste a slightly fuller finish. The finish is, though, clean, with no strong alcohol flavours. Though this beer was brewed to a bitter 95 IBUs, the addition of the cold-steeped espresso—from Neat Café—after brewing, mellows the hops.

In fact, the coffee is strong in this beer. So much so, that at times I felt I was drinking a beer-infused espresso, rather than a coffee-flavoured IPA.

Not that there was anything wrong with that.

I loved this IPA and hope that the folks at Whitewater keep this seasonal in their repertoire.

Yes, coffee is a wonderful thing, as is beer. And when you bring them together, as Covered Bridge and Whitewater have done, magic happens.


Friday, June 6, 2014

Stealthy Brew

Many of the beers that I drink and like are bold, with lots of flavour. Take a full-bodied stout, a hoppy IPA, or a malty scotch ale. Big, in-your-face ales that hit you right away.

If a beer's flavours are light, almost watery, you can bet that my review of that beer won't be favourable. If I even choose to write about it at all.

(Lately, I'm reluctant to write about beer that I've rated as a 2, or lower.)

There are some beers that don't grab me right away but sneak up as I drink them.

Such as the latest flavoured beer I tried.
Ginja Ninja (5.5% ABV)
Granville Island Brewing
Vancouver, BC
Beer O'Clock rating: 3
Appearance: pale apricot with a white head that leaves a fine lace and a solid collar.

Nose: ginger and honey.

Palate: light hops, ginger; slightly yeasty, with a light finish that at first came off as thin.

I like non-alcoholic ginger beer but I often find the alcohol version too sweet, too cloying. Not so with Ginja Ninja. The ginger is there (it's 100 percent real ginger) and the aroma of honey gives it good flavour, but I found this ale quite tame in the mouth. With my first few sips, I found the flavour subtle, almost washed out.

But this ale builds as you drink, and I found that the finish stayed longer the more I consumed. It's almost like the beer snuck up on me, stealthy-like.

Like a ninja.

Where I thought I would be disappointed, I ended up enjoying this ale. On a hot day, it's a refreshing choice. It's not about to be a favourite with me, but I'd happily drink it again.

This is a seasonal beer and, having come out in the LCBO only within the past few weeks, I imagine it will be around for the next couple of months. Then, like a ninja, it will disappear without a trace.


Friday, May 30, 2014

Another Path

The first session ale that I ever drank was from my friend's brewery.

The beer, Session Ale, was Perry Mason's first offering and flagship ale for the Scotch-Irish Brewing Company. I still remember the first time I had it: it was in the summer, and my wife and I were sitting on the patio at Wilfred's, in the Chateau Laurier.

I remember the bold flavours and the crisp, clean finish that filled my mouth with lush, wonderful hops. At the time, it was the hoppiest beer I had ever tried. And it was wonderful.

I was also amazed that such a full-tasting beer could be so low in alcohol: I believe it was either 4.2 or 4.3 percent ABV.

It was the perfect summer, patio-season brew.

More than a decade later, on a hot afternoon, I tried another session ale from an Ontario craft brewery, and the memories of that first experience came back.
Detour (4.3% ABV)
Muskoka Brewery
Bracebridge ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 5
Appearance: slightly cloudy (it's unfiltered); deep gold to pale apricot, with a white head that settles to a thin but complete cap.

Nose: grapefruit, honey, canteloupe.

Palate: citrus hops, orange-pekoe tea, and honeydew; full body in the mouth but settles to a light, flavourful finish.

I shared my first six-pack of this session ale with a couple of my fellow dance dads, when we were moving props for our kids' dance recital. On our first sip, we were all blown away by the incredible citrus flavours and solid body. Having worked up a sweat with moving props on and off the stage, this ale hit the spot perfectly.

Later, in the comfort of my front steps, sitting in my Muskoka chair (appropriate), I thought, this can easily be my go-to summer ale. And it is.

This is my early pick for summer beer. It has all the refreshing flavours and is low in alcohol, so it is perfect for enjoying on a hot summer day. It makes me think of happy times, drinking great beer, and reminds me of that first, great session ale by my friend.

Stock up on this brew, which is available at the LCBO. I have a feeling it's going to move fast when it gets on the shelves.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

All Aboard! Next Stop, Summer

As spring enters its last phase and temperatures make us want to hit a patio, I start thinking of the perfect summer brew.

For me, I like something that is fresh and palate-cleansing, but still has a full body and lots of flavour. It's almost an oxymoron: something that feels light going down but maintains its taste.

It's not hard to find at all. Many saisons, pale ales, and session ales can be light and full at the same time. In the case of session ales, they are light in alcohol but the best ones still pack a punch in the mouth.

And on a hot day, it's hard to beat a cool pale ale.

Which brings me to a beer by the Toronto brewers at Junction Craft Brewing.
Conductor's Craft Ale (5.3% ABV)
Junction Craft Brewing
Toronto ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: a clear, deep amber with a creamy, light-beige head that hops a thick cap.

Nose: light citrus and ginger.

Palate: malty caramel; sharp, but not overpowering hops; full mouth flavours, firm body, and a lasting finish.

I had been meaning to try this ale since one of my Twitter followers first put me on to the brewery, last summer. Unfortunately, at the time, Conductor's Craft Ale was only available at select pubs in the Toronto area.

Luckily, it is now available at the LCBO. I first tried the pale ale, on tap, at February's WinterBrewed Festival. I loved it right away, and was eager to get my hands on some cans, when I could review it in the comfort of my home.

I also wanted to wait until the weather warmed, because I thought that this ale would be perfect for a patio. Or enjoying on my front steps.

I was right. This is a fresh, crisp ale that goes down easy but presents plenty of flavour. On a hot day, I could drink this beer all day long.

If you haven't tried it yet, get on board. If you love pale ales, this one is sure to please.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

10 Great Ottawa Patio Pubs

Yesterday, one of my Twitter followers, Lori, asked me if I knew the best beer patio in Ottawa. I was about to respond with "Mine," but I knew that wouldn't be helpful. Instead, I told her I would answer her question with a blog post of my favourite pubs with outdoor patios.

In truth, I spend very little time during the summer on patios. In the spring, when flowers bloom and trees open up, the pollen kills me. If I'm going to be outside, I don't want bees or other pests bothering me. And if there's a wind, I prefer not to hold down my glass.

But on warm sunny days when the weather is right and the bugs are at bay, nothing beats enjoying a cold one outdoors. So, in no particular order, here are my top 10 patio picks for Ottawa.

Mill Street Brew Pub (555 Wellington St. at the Portage Bridge): You must have known I'd bring up this place off the top. It's my favourite pub in the city, and they have two great patios. And with the historic mill as a view, it's a cozy spot to drink a wide assortment of craft beer, some of which is made on the premises. During Bluesfest, you can sit on the patio and hear some of the performers, depending on the stage. The acoustics are such that the sound echos off Mill Street's parking garage: I was there last summer and could hear the live music perfectly.

Earl of Sussex (Byward Market, 431 Sussex Drive): This pub has been around forever and has a great patio on the corner that is shaded with trees. Right near the National Gallery, the patio offers views of Major's Hill Park and Nepean Point.

D'arcy Mcgee's Pub (44 Sparks Street, at Elgin): Another great patio with a view, D'arcy's outdoor space wraps around Sparks and Elgin, offering a great view of the War Memorial and the Chateau Laurier. There are great beers on tap, with many seasonals and featured beer changing all the time. This is one of my favourite places, year 'round.

Arrow & Loon (99 Fifth Avenue, at Bank Street, in the Glebe): This is the first Ottawa pub that featured local craft beer. My friend's brewery, Scotch-Irish Brewing Company, first offered his beers on tap at this pub, and many local craft beers can still be found here. While the patio doesn't have the greatest view, you are very close to Lansdowne, Ottawa South, and downtown. I go for the fabulous beer.

Sir John A (284 Elgin Street, at MacLaren): In the heart of Centretown, you are guaranteed to see lots of night life from the patio of this pub. There is great beer to be had here, including local craft beer and fine imported ales.

Heart & Crown (Byward Market, 67 Clarence Street): This pub is part of five interconnected pubs, known as the Irish Village, with patios both outside and within inner courtyards. For me, the best place to sit is at the corner of Clarence and Parent Avenue, where you have the best view of the heart of the Byward Market. If you prefer a more private setting, the inner courtyard patio is also great.

Heart & Crown (353 B Preston Street): Owned by the same folks as the Byward Market location, the Little Italy H&C is close to Dow's Lake. Don't be surprised to see the occasional Ferrari drive by.

Highlander Pub (115 Rideau Street): I tend to go to the Highlander for its outstanding and unmatched selection of single-malt whiskies, but the beer selection isn't bad either. Situated between the Rideau Centre and the Byward Market, the Highlander is close to many attractions.

The Clocktower Pub (418 Richmond Road, Westboro): The beer and food is hit and miss at this brew pub, but the patio is large and gets plenty of sunshine, and the pub is located in one of the trendiest neighbourhoods in the city.

The Lieutenant's Pump (361 Elgin Street, Centretown): Again, in the heart of Centretown, this pub has great Ontario craft beer on tap and the food is pretty good. The patio isn't huge but it does offer a great view of one of the city's great streets.

Those are my picks. If you go to any of these pubs you can't go wrong. (Good luck, Lori!)

If you have a favourite patio pub in Ottawa, please share it by leaving a comment.


Friday, May 9, 2014

The Logical Ale

Every once in a while, when I'm in the LCBO, searching for a new beer to try, one will jump out at me and scream, "Buy me. Drink me."

It's not something that I say often, but I'm a big Star Trek fan. Like, really big. I have seen every episode of the original series, countless times; seen every episode of The Next Generation, countless times; every episode of Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. As a child, I saw a few episodes of the animated series, but it wasn't readily available after its first run. But I'd watch it now, if given the opportunity.

I've read several Star Trek novels. I've seen every movie. I have even owned Star Trek mugs, utensils, and action figures (I even had the bridge of the Enterprise for the action figures, complete with transporter). I have built many models of the U.S.S. Enterprise—stashed in my basement are three starships (the original NCC-1701, A, and D), mounted together on a stand that looks like The Next Generation insignia/communicator.

I even had a Star Fleet uniform from The Next Generation, which I wore for Hallowe'en over a couple of years.

I'm an unapologetic Star Trek geek.

So, when I entered an LCBO in the Quinte Mall, in Belleville, and saw a particular can of ale, with a hand raised,  palm outward, fingers spread to make a V, I had to have it.

It was the only logical thing to do.
Vulcan Ale (5.4% ABV)
Pluto's Moon Beer Company
Calgary AB
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5
Appearance: deep amber with brownish-red highlights, much like the surface of Vulcan. A deep-taupe head that starts as a thick foam and settles to a creamy cap.

Nose: orange citrus with mild hops and a milder malt. A hint of caramel.

Palate: big, malted body, with caramel, apricot, and a slight pine finish that is lightly bitter.

Overall impression: all of the flavours meld into a mind-blowing, cohesive, full-bodied ale. This variation of an Irish Red is the logical choice for relaxing at home with friends, but it's tough to keep your emotions in check.

Vulcan ale was brewed to celebrate the 2013 centennial of the town of Vulcan, Alberta. That's where they have a honkin' model of the Enterprise.

Live long and prosper (I mean, cheers!).

Monday, April 21, 2014


In a world where so many craft breweries are trying to do so many things to their beer, it's nice to see complex flavours come together.

That cannot be said for many breweries. Fortunately, it can be said about the latest seasonal from Beau's.

Channel Ocho, the latest from the Vankeek Hill brewery's Wild Oats series blends spices, chocolate, and hot peppers into a Mexican-inspired concoction.
Channel Ocho (8.9% ABV)
Beau's All Natural Brewing Company
Vankleek Hill, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 4.5
Appearance: dark-chocolate brown with red highlights, and a creamy, beige head that settles to a thin cap and stays most of the way down the glass.

Nose: chocolate, cinnamon, and cloves.

Palate: hot peppers (chipotle and sweet chili), chocolate, and spice, which start somewhat astringent in the first sips but grow complex as you swish the ale in your mouth. The finish is full and slightly boozy (not surprising, given the alcohol content), but is satisfyingly balanced, overall.

Overall impression: this is a serious strong, dark ale. It is complex beer without being overbearing. Though it is a strong beer, it does not overwhelm; there is no overkill in the flavours. The various ingredients marry well and make this an extremely enjoyable seasonal that I would gladly drink again.

I like a little zing in my life.

Channel Ocho is available at the brewery, at select pubs in the Ottawa area, and can also be obtained by Beau's BYBO service.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Comfort Beer

It's been a long time since I've written a beer review, but it's not because I haven't been drinking beer.

I just haven't had any beer worth writing about.

I'm not saying that the beer I've been drinking is bad. Not at all. I've liked just about every new beer I've tried this year. But nothing has really grabbed me, made me say "Wow!"

Actually, that's not entirely true: I have been enjoying the Diablo Palomar at Mill Street. It's a delicious variant on Mill Street's Palomar, that was released last summer, with a bit of chocolate added to it and a higher but well-balanced alcohol level (about 10% ABV).

But my last review highlighted a Mill Street beer and I didn't want to do a back-to-back review.

And so I've kept my opinions about other beers I've tried to myself.

I've also been drinking a lot of my comfort beers. My standard, go-to beers that have received less attention over the years, as I've been reaching for new beverages.

One of my comfort beers is one that is not always available in the LCBO, but I always pick it up when I see it on the shelves.

I first encountered this beer when I travelled to Edinburgh, in 2010, with my best friend, Stu. He was in Scotland for a history conference; I was there to do research for the sequel to my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary.

One evening, we met up at the Oxford Bar, a pub frequented by one of my favourite authors, Ian Rankin, and the stomping ground of Rankin's famous detective, John Rebus. It was here, in Edinburgh, where I discovered a great cream ale.

I liked it so much that I used it as the go-to beer for my fictional character, Roland Axam, in the opening chapter to Gyeosunim.
Belhaven Best Cream Ale (4.8% ABV)
Belhaven Brewery
Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: amber-orange with a creamy, beige head.

Nose: corn, malt, and orange.

Palate: a creamy malt flavour with a light body that carries through to a clean finish.

Overall impression: this is an extremely drinkable beer, one that goes down light and clean. While I usually prefer a fuller-bodied, darker ale, this cream ale is great when you want to stay in or hit a patio in the summer.

And, with the nitro-charged can, you can enjoy the same pour as that Edinburgh pub. (I just wish the can was large enough to fill my glass.)

It is the perfect session ale.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Heavy Hitter

Adam Rader admitted to me that he isn't a fan of baseball. The head brewer of the Ottawa Mill Street Brew Pub just likes to make good beer.

That didn't stop the marketing folks at Mill Street, who learned that Adam's latest brew has all about grapefruit, from launching this Imperial Pale Ale on the opening day of baseball's Grapefruit League spring training or from giving that name.

Whether Adam likes baseball or not, he hit this one out of the park.
Grapefruit League Imperial Pale Ale (7% ABV)
Mill Street Brew Pub
Ottawa, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 4.5
Appearance: amber-orange with a foamy, beige head that starts big and settles to a thin cap.

Nose: orange rind and hops.

Palate: intense grapefruit rind, acidic grapefruit, and sharp hops bring this ale to a big finish. Like a grand slam.

Overall impression: this heavy hitter will be a home run for those who enjoy a big pale ale with lots of hops. Adam used lots of Cascade hops in this brew, and I'm reminded of Amsterdam's Bone Shaker or Flying Monkeys' Smash Bomb. Grapefruit League is bitter without overpowering.

You can enjoy this ale, on tap, at the Ottawa brew pub, where you can also pick up a growler. But for a limited time only.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

German and Irish

When I think of Germany and Ireland, I think that the two countries have nothing in common. Their language, their culture, and their climate is pretty different.

But both Germans and the Irish are known for their beer, and their best beer, I find is dark and malted.

Also, there are a lot of Germans and Irish in Canada.

So, when a southern-Ontario brewer came out with a spring doppelbock in time for St. Paddy's Day, I was all over it.
Sham-Bock (6.9% ABV)
Railway City Brewing Company
St. Thomas, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance:  walnut-brown with red highlights; a creamy, beige head that pours to an ample foam and settles to a solid, thick cap.

Nose: chocolate, corn syrup, lots of malt.

Palate: rich malts with a slightly sweet maple-syrup flavour and a touch of herbs. A full body that ends in a rich finish.

Overall impression: this is an excellent bock, with tons of flavour and a rich, full body that delivers from beginning to end. With our winter hanging on and no sign of spring in sight, this is an ale that warms you inside.

Because Sham-Bock is a seasonal, you're going to have to search the LCBO for it, but lots of outlets have plenty in stock, so grab some while you can. And, for St. Paddy's Day, go for a dark beer with a difference.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Not How I Remembered It

Is it a coincidence that after I open a bottle of beer that features a curling rink on its label that Canada wins the gold medal in both the men's and women's curling?

I think not.

And while I was looking forward to enjoying this vanilla porter from Canadian craft brewers, Beau's All Natural Brewing Company, I was in for a bronze medal.

It's a winner, but not the best. It's not what I remember it to be, that is.

I first tried this porter about a year ago, at the 2013 WinterBrewed festival. That year, the event was held on Sparks Street in downtown Ottawa, and the festival ran over one of the coldest weekends of the season. Patrons of the festival huddled around outdoor heaters and fire pits while vendors struggled with hair dryers to thaw their frozen tap lines. As the photographer of the event, I had to constantly swap the battery from my camera, warming the cold battery under my arm while the other tried to maintain its charge.

When I visited the Beau's kiosk, not far from its ice bar, I was pleased to find their vanilla porter flowing. I remember the taste and marvelling at the fresh vanilla flavour. As it was frigid outdoors and the porter was colder than it should have been, I could hold the liquid in my mouth and draw out the flavours as it warmed.

I loved it.

Flash forward to today, when I opened a bottle of this ale, which had been sitting in my basement since the Christmas holidays. After the 2014 WinterBrewed, I was ready to try this porter that had warmed my heart a year earlier.
Burnt Rock Vanilla Porter (4.9% ABV)
Beau's All Natural Brewing Company
Vankleek Hill, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 3
Appearance: deep brown to black, with a foamy, taupe head that settles to a thin cap.

Nose: dark-roasted espresso and full malts, with hints of dark chocolate.

Palate: burnt vanilla and oak, with a dash of clove. There is a light, almost watery finish.

Overall impression: I don't know if the recipe has changed since last year's batch, but I don't remember the finish dropping off as sharply, and I found it disappointing to have such a strong start, with its robust aroma and initial mouth feel. This porter starts high and ends on a bit of a low.

But it's still a great porter, worthy of a try. It can still be found at the brewery, and some LCBO stores may still have the festival four pack on their shelves. Shop around.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Magic at Midnight

In a time where beers are becoming more and more complex, with flavours most unnatural for a traditional ale—peanut butter, maple syrup, bacon, banana, crème brulée—it's good to go back to the basics.

As many of you know, I prefer a stout to any other style of beer. And, as many of the above ingredients are added to stouts and porters, I really prefer a simple, dry stout. If you're going to add anything to a stout, oatmeal, in my humble opinion, is the way to go.

At this year's WinterBrewed festival, I had the privilege of trying a wide variety of ales, and my favourite of the event was an oatmeal stout by a relatively new craft brewery that has created a little magic.
Midnight Oatmeal Stout (4.5% ABV)
Whitewater Brewing Company
Foresters Falls, ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: walnut brown with a creamy, dark taupe head that settles that remains for a good portion of your glass as you drain it. For my review, the growler had been opened for a while and the head dissipated to a fine lace.

Nose: smoked oysters, dark-roasted coffee, and cocoa.

Palate: smoked sausage, reminiscent of one of my favourite smoke beers.

Overall impression: for a simple oatmeal stout, Midnight Oatmeal is incredibly complex, lots of smoke, ample body with a great balance of malt and hops, Whitewater has made my favourite style of beer simply magical.

This microbrewery, located in the heart of whitewater rafting country, along the Ottawa River, is the dream of three adventurous buddies: James Innes, Chris Thompson, and Chris Thompson (no, that's not a typo—there are two Chris Thompsons, and I had the honour of meeting both of them at WinterBrewed). While on a rafting trip, the three pals decided to start a brewery, and Whitewater is already off with a rush.

Their beer can be purchased directly from the brewery, but if you don't want to drive that far up the Ottawa Valley, they can be found at various pubs in Ottawa and the surrounding area. Check their Web site.

I also tried and enjoyed their IPA, and I look forward to trying their other offerings. I suggest you seek them out and treat yourself to some magic in a bottle (or pint glass).


Monday, February 17, 2014

Nothing Like a Festival to Bring Me Back

I know: I've been negligent.

It's been more than five weeks since my last review and I've kept a low key over the weeks when it's come to beer. I haven't been at any beer-related events in more than six weeks, have only been at my regular haunt a couple of times since the holidays. I haven't even been in an LCBO yet this year.

But I'm back, and this week I plan to review a couple of brews.

And, this weekend, I attended the second WinterBrewed festival.

This year, the event was held indoors, for which I'm sure many of the vendors were thankful. No frozen lines, no shivering behind the counters, and no one complaining that they couldn't taste the beer because it was too damned cold!

It was great to see some new craft breweries that have joined the growing community: Sawdust City, Turtle Island, Junction, Perth, Covered Bridge, and Whitewater. I enjoyed meeting the new brewers and tasting their creations. Most notably, I enjoyed the Bridge Over the River Chai, a beautifully spiced brown ale, the rich Black Velvet Lager, the mind-blowing On Her Majesty's Imperial Stout, and (my personal favourite) a smoky Oatmeal Stout that I will be reviewing in full later this week.

Some unusual but enjoyable stouts came from Sawdust City: a peanut-butter stout and a chocolate-almond biscotti stout. They delivered exactly what they advertised and I enjoyed the experience.

In addition to the new breweries, I was pleased to see some well-established breweries return: the two big breweries of our region, Beau's and Mill Street, plus Beyond The Pale, Cassel, Broadhead, Flying Monkeys, Muskoka, and Amsterdam. I enjoyed the return of Beau's vanilla porter (again, a review is forthcoming), loved a bourbon-barrel-aged Imperial IPA, and a kick-ass brown.

But I also noticed that some local breweries were missing: most notably, Ashton Brewing Company. And where was Big Rig? Where was McAuslan?

As it was, the Fifth Avenue Court was packed with vendors and beer lovers, and there was lots to enjoy. If you didn't get a chance to come out this weekend, you have to add the beer festivals of the National Capital to your must-do list in the future.

As the photographer of the event, I took so many photos of the event that it will take me a while to get through them all. You can see more of them, on Wednesday, at The Brown Knowser. I will also be creating a Flickr photo album, where you can see many, many more.

Thanks to everyone who stopped to chat with me, to the breweries that shared their wonderful brews, and for the great conversations.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Lost and Found

I've been incredibly negligent in my beer reviewing, since Christmas. After reviewing a stellar chocolate milk stout, I had a Belgian IPA that did very little for me (and so, I didn't review it), then overindulged on one of my favourite beers, and then settled right down, drinking only three wee bottles of beer for the rest of the holidays.

I did have some amazing wine with friends, as we celebrated the new year, and a spectacular 1991 Tokaji Aszú (pronounced toke-eye ah-zoo, it's a sweet Hungarian dessert wine) that my wife and I had stashed in our cellar but finally opened and shared, with family, on Christmas Day.

But I digress.

All this to say I didn't have much in the way of beer over the past couple of weeks. But, last night, I decided that a review was overdue. And I had two good reasons to break out a bottle: two friends were celebrating birthdays, so I promised that I would raise a glass to one and dedicate a beer review to the other.

Cheers to you both! To Miriam, The Merry Runner, and Marissa, The Beer Gypsy!

As it turned out, the beer that I chose to review is a favourite of Marissa's, so there's an added bonus to opening it. Actually, I should have suspected as much, because I believe it was Marissa who brought a bottle of this Baltic porter to the last Ottawa Bottle Share. At that time, I only had a small sip of it: this time, I had an entire bottle to savour for myself.

Let's take a look:
Lost River Baltic Porter (ABV 8.5%)
Bellwoods Brewery
Toronto ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5
Appearance: deep walnut with a creamy, dark taupe head that settles to a full cap.

Nose: dark chocolate, fresh, ground walnuts, and prunes.

Palate: dark-roasted coffee, prunes, and cedar, with a bitter, slightly alcoholic but well-balanced finish. As the porter opens up, the alcohol becomes less-defined.

Overall impression: this is a bold and bitter porter with distinct, roasted notes. It's a celebratory ale that would pair well with a good cigar—which is appropriate for my tasting.

For me, Baltic porters have larger-than-life flavours and come off as being boozy. The Porter Baltique Grande Cuvée by Les Trois Mousquetaires is a classic example of a heady porter. But while Lost River is big in flavour, it lacks in the boozy characteristic.

And, for me, that puts it heads above the other Baltic porters.

While this brew is not available through the LCBO, you can get it directly from the brewery. And because I don't live in Toronto, that makes me sad. I can only hope that Bellwoods gets its product in the stores and in Ottawa.

Because, when I want to toast my friends on their birthday, I want easy access to good beer.