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.

Cheers!

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