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.