Monday, February 23, 2015

Return to the Beginning

The first time I tried a beer from Cameron's Brewing, from Oakville, Ontario, I picked up a couple of bottles of their seasonal Imperial porter, Obsidian. And because I measure the worth of a brewery by how they make my favourite types of ale—IPA or stout/porter—I held this brewery in high regard.

I loved the richness and full flavours of this Imperial porter. And because I usually pick up at least one bottle of beer when I plan to review it, I decided to put the second bottle away.

And now, it's time to return to the first Cameron's beer I had, to return to where my appreciation of this brewery began.

Almost a year and a half after picking up this beer, I was more than ready for my second bottle. And what I found out by looking at my new tasting notes and my old tasting notes surprised me.

I have a good memory when it comes to taste. When I think back to a beer I've had and enjoyed, I can almost taste it, as though I had drawn a swig from a fresh bottle. When I prepared myself for this second sampling, I expected to get lots of rum, chocolate, and malt off the nose. I expected my taste buds to be greeted by wood, cigar, and coffee. I knew there would be alcohol in the finish, and that the presence of the 9.2 percent would build as I drank more.

I was ready. Let's see my new notes.
Obsidian Imperial Porter—Oak Aged Series—Rum Barrel (9.2% ABV)
Cameron's Brewing Company
Oakville ON
Appearance: deep walnut with a creamy, taupe head that settles to a thick cap. (No change in its look.)

Nose: rum, prunes, and black licorice. (The rum is still there but the other aromas have intensified into richer fruit and strong candy.)

Palate: chocolate comes on strong from the start, followed by rich espresso and toasted malts. There is a nice balance between the oakiness and the alcohol, which culminate in a full finish. (The wood seems to have mellowed and the cigar flavour has dropped away, giving prominence to the coffee. While there is still a presence in rum-laden oak, it warms the mouth in a lingering finish.)

Overall impression: this Imperial porter has aged well in the time since I first tried it. For a strong beer, it is extremely drinkable, in that it goes down easy. There is loads of flavour without overpowering the taste buds. I would say that I can probably stay down in a cellar for another year or two without losing its robustness.

Sadly, I only bought two: luckily, it's readily available now, in the LCBO.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4

So, while my memory of this beer stays intact, the order of the flavours needs an update. Not a total do-over, but a return to the beginning.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tempest in a Beer Bottle

The first time I tried Tempest Imperial Stout, more than a year ago, I thought it was a boozy ale that was overpowering in flavour. When I saw that there was a year added to the label, I figured that it was meant to be laid down, not consumed right away. Because I had purchased two bottles, that's exactly what I did. I figured that this strong stout needed some time to settle down.
I was right.
Tempest Imperial Stout, 2013 (9% ABV)
Amsterdam Brewing Company
Toronto ON
Appearance: dark walnut with a taupe head that quickly settles to a dense lace or thin cap.

Nose: licorice and prunes.

Palate: burnt malt and charred wood; coffee and alcohol come through in the finish.

Overall impression: this stormy brew still packs a punch and still needs more time to settle down. The flavours come together and make its name appropriate—this is a tempest, for sure.

But I enjoyed it more than I remember from my first bottle, and I only wish I had another 2013 to store in my beer/wine cellar. I think 2018 would be a good year to try it again.

If you have any, hang onto it, unless you like intense, unbridled flavours and strong alcohol.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5 


Monday, February 9, 2015

Friends with Benefits

I think one of the marks of friendship is the ability to share not only interests but also aspirations. It's something special to have a friend confide in their hopes and dreams, and as their friend, your job is to listen and support his or her support of whatever that dream is.

I have two friends who told me of their aspirations for owning a brewery and creating some tasty craft beer, and I have supported them, if not in action, in spirit. It takes a special person to put themselves out there, to toil and sweat and make something to share with the public, and to have that public scrutinize that creation.

When I met Perry Mason, he was managing an Ontario wine boutique and teaching wine-appreciation courses on the side, but at heart he was a beer lover who had been making home brews for decades. He had forgotten more about beer than most people would learn over a lifetime, and he hadn't forgotten much.

When he opened the Scotch-Irish Brewing Company in 1998, four years after I had first heard of his dream to be a brewmaster, I was living in Korea and was unable to share in his success. It wasn't until April of 1999 that I was able to try his flagship beer, Session Ale.

And I knew that his years of hard work had paid off.

In December, 2005, Perry created his first Imperial stout, and when he delivered my first case to me, he said that he suspected that this creation would last 10 years. I kept him at his word.

I drank Tsarina Katarina regularly into the spring of 2006, but didn't have any again until December, 2011, on the brew's sixth anniversary. Since then, I've had it again in December of 2013 and this past December, and I'm happy to say that on its ninth anniversary, drinking it with Perry and some Ottawa beer aficionados, the Imperial stout was still holding strong.

And for my review of Imperial stouts, I thought I would give it another official review.
Tsarina Katarina Imperial Stout, 2005 (9% ABV)
Scotch-Irish Brewing Company (no longer open)
Fitzroy Harbour ON
Appearance: deep walnut to black. No light comes through. A thick, foamy, dark taupe head still poured thick but quickly settled to a solid cap, and then a thin cap, and finally a full, tight lace.

Nose: sweet dates and ripe prunes, with a hint of licorice. The nose drops off after a few minutes but does not entirely go away.

Palate: bitter chocolate and rich malt, with some fruit. The beer has mellowed but all the elements are still there. There is a full, cedar and eucalyptus finish.

Overall impression: I am amazed at this beer, but not surprised: amazed, that a beer can hold on for so long and still run strong with a younger crowd; not surprise, that this beer met the expectations that my friend said it would fulfill.

I have only one bottle of this treasure left. I shall open it in December of this year, on its tenth anniversary. I look forward to finishing the end of a great era of a great brewmaster.

Beer O'Clock rating: 5

Another friend of mine, someone I have only know for a few years, also expressed his desire to own a brewing company before he actually brought his dream to fruition. And his beer is already off to a great start.

J.P. Fournier has made some interesting beers in less than two years with his brewery, Turtle Island. He has made a sour-cherry ale, a hibiscus ale, and the strongest dessert beer-liqueur I've ever had. But there is method in J.P.'s madness.

When J.P. created his Imperial stout, in 2013, he introduced it at a beer market in Manotick, and it won the distinction of best beer of the event. In 2014, and the same event, he presented a cask from the same vintage, and again, his Imperial stout was deemed the best of the show.

Being a good friend, he gave me a couple of bottled versions. This weekend, I opened one of them.
H.M.S Imperial Maple Stout (14% ABV)
Turtle Island Brewing Company
Ottawa ON
Appearance: black—I think light was getting sucked into the glass, as everything around it seemed to darken (I had to overexpose the photo by more than two stops to capture it properly). A creamy, mid-light-taupe head sustained good depth as I drank it.

Nose: I didn't get much off the nose. This baby was holding onto its secrets like family jewels.

Palate: BAM! Lots of alcohol with strong flavours of prunes and cedar. The maple comes through in the finish and tastes slightly burnt, like the caramelization in a crème brulée.

Overall impression: if you're at home and only want one beer, this one is it. The alcohol will hit you by the time you reach the end of your glass, and you ain't goin' nowhere. This is a royal stout that is a little to heady to quaff all night long. This ship fires all guns at will, and it will sink you.

But it does hold up an intense flavour that should balance it out as it ages. I'm going to set my second bottle down and try it again in a few years.

Maybe, with Perry.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4

When you love Imperial stout, like I do, it's good to have friends in the beer industry, who have followed their dreams and produced wonderful ales.

The beers are a good thing. The friendship is the true benefit.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Emperor of Beers

When the temperature drops, I tend to seek the warmth of the indoors, where I can relax, share time with family and friends, and enjoy a good pint.

My choice of beer over the winter months is a good stout or porter, and there is no shortage at this time of year. And the king of dark ales is the Imperial stout.

Over the past few years, I have collected a variety of these powerful ales, and this month, I've decided that I cannot wait any longer to try them. And so, for the next few weeks, I plan to share my opinions of these Imperial stouts.

Some of these ales were purchased as recently as a couple of weeks ago; many have been held for a year or two. One is entering its tenth year in the bottle. So, most of these beers are not available in stores.

Why share my opinion, you may say? Why write about beer that you cannot seek? I'm hoping that, in showing how these strong stouts age over time, you may want to conduct a similar experiment, may want to age beers yourself, so that, when you finally crack one open, you can enjoy a similar experience.

That, or maybe I'm just rubbing in what I have and you may not.

I have nine Imperial stouts from eight different breweries. Seven of these breweries are from Ontario (though one of them no longer exists); one brewery is in Québec, and one more is in New York state. I will review anywhere from one to four ales in a post.

So get ready for some heavy drinking on an empirical level.

I decided to start with an ale that I picked up just a few weeks ago and is still available in the LCBO. I have had this stout many times before but thought I should share my thoughts.
Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout (9% ABV)
Nickel Brook Brewing Company
Burlington ON
Appearance: dark walnut to black, with a creamy, deep-taupe head that has rusty highlights, and settles to a thin cap.

Nose: dark-roasted coffee, cedar, and a tinge of turpentine.

Palate: rich coffee with a mild, black licorice, and a hint of cocoa. A good balance of malt and alcohol, with a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Overall opinion: this is a rich but easy-to-drink Imperial stout. It exhibits complex flavours, while being pleasing on the palate. It's a great start to my exploration of strong stouts and will help keep me warm on cold nights.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5

I know I've been lax in my reviews of late. But rest assured, February will be full of beer, and I will be sure to share my thoughts on more styles of ale over the year.