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.