Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Kingston Beer Fest

A beer festival is an expensive way to get drunk.

If you factor in the price of admission and what it costs for tickets to sample, the price adds up. Even if you only take advantage of the tickets that are included in the cost of admission, it can be some of the most expensive beer you've ever had.

And yet, every time, at every festival, there are one or two people who do just that. And then they try to chum up with you, and ask you to take a picture of them for your "magazine."

Take this weekend's beer festival at The Brooklyn, in Kingston. All in, the tickets, with taxes and surcharges, cost a little more than $30. With admission, I received a 6-ounce glass and 10 tickets for samples. Assuming I drink all 10 samples with a 5-ounce pour, in a three-hour session I will have consumed 50 oz, or two-and-a-half standard pints.

I don't like to think that I would pay more than $12 for a pint of anything.

(I did have 10 samples, but two of them were poured out after a sip and one was a repeat.)

Luckily, the majority of the samples were great, the people behind the taps were friendly and knowledgeable, and I had the opportunity to try some one-off selections that made the whole experience worthwhile.

And, I shared the experience with one of my good friends and beer mavens, Perry Mason, former brewmaster and owner of the Scotch-Irish Brewing Company.

There were some new breweries at the event, such as Bobcaygeon Brewing, who had a nice pale ale (Bitter Warrior), and Stone City Ales, with their extremely hoppy Kauzmonaught black session ale. Other great offerings included Detroit's Atwater Brewery, who had a lovely Vanilla Java Porter, and Junction Craft Brewery had a tasty black lager.

But by far, the winner of the event, in my opinion, was a one-off, tenth-anniversary cinnamon Dopplebock, brewed by Tia and Jon of Muskoka Brewery. If I had tried that beer at the start of the session, I would have stayed there and spent all of my tickets.

It would have been a very expensive session. As it was, it was money well-spent.

Here are some memories of the event.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lay Me Down, Baby

Like a fine wine, some beer is meant to be stored, set down so that it can fully mature. And Imperial stouts fall firmly into that category.

Not all Imperial stouts require aging. I've been able to bring a bottle back from the store, open it up, and savour it. For example, in this series of reviews, I opened a Bolshevik Bastard shortly after I picked up the four-pack at the LCBO, and I enjoyed the flavours as they presented themselves. I also picked up another Imperial stout that is meant to be consumed straight away—a Long, Dark Voyage to Uranus, by Sawdust City Brewing Company—and savoured it that very night, and again, a couple of weeks later.

I liked it, but didn't include it in this series of reviews because I had already chosen my list. I'll review it some other time, perhaps.

But what has really struck me, over the past couple of months (has it been that long??), is that not all Imperial stouts are created equally, and while some can be polished off on the night they left the liquor store, some must not.

Some must be put away and forgotten.

To wrap up my series of Imperial stout reviews, I was going to compare two ales that have been in my cellar for at least a year. They were by the same brewery and I thought it would be good to compare how they had aged.

When I did the last review of this Imperial stout, I thought it would be a good idea to let them age. I didn't let them age long enough.

The beer was a Russian Imperial stout, by McAuslan.

I brought my bottle from 2012 and 2013 up from the cellar. I decided to try the 2012 first, figuring it would have mellowed a little more, and I didn't want the 2013 to overpower my taste buds.
St-Ambroise Special Reserve 2012
Bourbon Wood-Aged Russian Imperial Stout (9.2% ABV)
McAuslan Brewing, Inc.
Montreal QC
Appearance: a murky, coffee brown with a light, creamy, cocoa-brown head that settles to a thin cap.

Nose: bourbon and oak, burnt toffee and cocoa.

Palate: big-time, toasty bourbon, prunes, and alcohol, with a boozy, charred-wood finish.

Overall impression: an Imperial stout that is as intense as this needed time before I could properly form an opinion. My taste buds needed time to adjust, because at first, I didn't like it. It was too much, too strong, too harsh. But I nursed the glass for a couple of hours, and as it opened up, ever so slightly, I gained an appreciation for it. I saw its potential, saw what it could become, if only I had left it in my cellar longer. Much longer.

Enjoying such an Imperial stout is like enjoying a good single-malt scotch. It is meant to be sipped, to be savoured.

It's also meant to age, for far longer than two years.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3 (for now)

When my friend, Perry, first gave me a case of his Russian Imperial stout, he told me that he thought it could stand up for 10 years. I was surprised, but I learned in drinking it, nine years on, that he was right. And I will finish my last bottle on its tenth anniversary.

The McAuslan stout is the same. It could last 10 years. It certainly shouldn't be released from its bottle before it turns five. I regret opening this bottle too soon, but I can redeem myself.

I placed the bottle of 2013 back in the cellar, promising myself to hold onto it until at least 2018 or 2020.

Or longer.

This is my last Imperial stout review until my friend's beer hits 10. I probably won't have another Imperial stout until then, as my palate craves something different.

I'll have another review next week. Cheers!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Devils & Dragons

The more I drink Imperial stouts, I have found in the weeks that I have been reviewing stored and aged bottles from my cellar, that I'm not as big a fan of Imperial stouts as I am of regular stouts and porters.

They're serious ales, and I'm not a serious guy.

An Imperial stout is something that should be enjoyed once in a while: I don't think it's something that you should drink on a regular basis, unless you enjoy having your taste buds blown away and like a lot of alcohol. For myself, it takes at least an hour to drink one of these bad boys, more, if the bottle is a big one.

But as I go through my cellar, I'm depleting my collection, all in the interest of seeing what it's like to age some heavy ales. This week, I opened two bottles: one, that I purchased late last fall; the other, that my wife brought home for me in the autumn of 2013. Let's see how they drank.
Dragonslayer Imperial Stout (9.5% ABV)
Middle Ages Brewing Company
Syracuse, NY
Appearance: cavernous black with a deep-taupe head that quickly forms to a full lace.

Nose: espresso and chocolate malt that is as rich as a dragon's lair; bits of cedar.

Palate: dark chocolate and rich, full-bodied coffee. The alcohol comes through in the finish and leaves you with a fire-breathing dragon's breath.

Overall impression: this is a classic Imperial stout—neither dull nor spell-binding. I enjoyed drinking it but wouldn't want it all the time. After all, a dragon is fascinating to see, but you wouldn't want one roaming your neighbourhood. I bought this bottle last fall, directly from the brewery. I tried a couple of their brews once I got them home: I'm glad I hung onto this one.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3

The next beer is something that I almost forgot I had. When my wife went to Toronto, to enjoy a ladies' weekend with her closest friends, I asked her to visit one of the city's newest breweries (at the time). I had never been, and only knew of their beer by reputation, from the opinions of other Ottawa beer bloggers. I didn't know what would be available, but I asked my wife to grab a sample.

When she included an Imperial stout in the awesome mix, I thought I would lay it down for a year or so and see how it would fare. And over that year, as I enjoyed all of the other brews she had given me, I had great expectations.

I had a devil of a time with it.
Hellwoods Imperial Stout 2013 (10% ABV)
Bellwoods Brewery
Toronto, ON
Appearance: black as Hell with toffee-like sediment that sank to the bottom of the glass. A dark-taupe head quickly settled to a thin cap.

Nose: alcohol, chocolate, and a sinfully sweet caramel.

Palate: burnt wood, espresso beans (the beans, not the coffee), alcohol. The initial sipping experience had me feeling like I was being tormented, punished for the life I had lived so far. Perhaps, I had resisted the temptation of drinking it right away, and now I was paying for that sin. It went down as though I had swallowed a pitchfork: over time, however, the ale opened up and was more drinkable.

Overall impression: it's hard to tell if I was drinking this Imperial stout too early, too late, or during some awkward transitional phase. At one point, I was tempted to dump the remaining contents down the drain. But, because I was sipping it over several hours, I became accustomed to it's flavours. They lulled me—one sip called for another. I even swallowed the dregs.

This was the ale that made me think that perhaps an Imperial stout should be taken less regularly. Like, once a month. To be savoured for what it is, and then to move on to a pale ale, or a session ale.

Beer O'Clock rating: 1.5 (at first); 2.5 (overall)

I have two more of these beers to sample, and then I think I'll declare Imperial-stout season over.

For me, at least.