Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Radler Season

If you're a craft brewery and are in the process of creating your first radler, and you haven't yet come up with a name, I have two words for you.

Sabre Radler.

You're welcome.

I performed a search of this name on Untappd, and it doesn't exist. For me, it was a no-brainer: a clean-tasting, beer and citrus fruit beverage that cuts through your thirst. If you do decide to use the name, all I expect in return is to be one of the first that gets to try it. Okay?

I first tried a radler last fall, and I really liked the sweet grapefruit flavours. I shared it with my wife, who isn't a big beer fan, and she was hooked. She drinks them fairly often now, and, to help her, I have sought out different brands and styles, hoping that she would settle on a favourite.

And, for me, not being able to resist a taste test, was all over the radlers that are available at the LCBO.

I chose five radlers: two that are European and three that are from Ontario, one of them being from right here in Ottawa. And I was pleasantly surprised that they each had a distinct characteristic.

Let's examine them in the order in which I drank them.
Stiegl Salzburger Grapefruit Radler (2.5% ABV)
Stieglbrauerei Zu Salzberg
Salzberg, Austria
Appearance: a murky orange-grapefruit yellow with a fizzy white head that settles quickly to nothing. It looks exactly like a sparkling grapefruit juice.

Nose: candied grapefruit.

Palate: it tastes exactly like a sparkling grapefruit juice. Highly effervescent, there is no trace of alcohol—I could drink this radler for breakfast. It's sweet, but not cloyingly so. It's fresh and delightful.

Overall impression: working in the garden on a hot day, I would prefer to drink this beverage over an ice-cold glass of lemonade. My 14-year-old daughter took a sip from my glass, as we sat on our front porch (the prefect place to enjoy this radler), and she loved it.

I told her that if she was ever going to raid my beer cellar, that she should take one of these over one of my stored ales. At 2.5% alcohol, she would never get wasted.

(I am in no way promoting under-aged drinking, and I made that clear to her.)

Beer O'Clock rating: 4.5
Radler—Flavoured Light Beer (3% ABV)
Kichesippi Beer Company
Ottawa ON
Appearance: unfiltered orange-yellow, with lots of effervescence, a bubbly, white foam head that vanishes quickly.

Nose: pear and applesauce.

Palate: your tastebuds are immediately met with barley and a light, candied orange-grapefruit, with a beer flavour that is reminiscent of a pale ale. There is a light finish with barley overtones.

Overall impression: I like that you can actually taste the beer and that the sweetness is at a minimum, but the fruit tastes artificial—grapefruit soda and concentrated grapefruit, plus added flavour, do not seem natural for this special beverage.

I think that the connection between the invention of the radler and the Ottawa Bicycle Club, as written on the side of the can, is a huge stretch, but hey, I'd welcome a cold radler like this after a long bike ride (and, being a member of that bike club, I appreciated the shout out).

Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5
Sweetwater Squeeze Blood Orange Radler (3.8% ABV)
Amsterdam Brewery
Toronto, ON
Appearance: pinkish orange juice with soda water and a white head that vanished as soon as it was poured. Effervescent on the pour but settles right down in minutes.

Nose: oranges and a slightly grass and malty aroma.

Palate: grassy ale with orange on the finish. A malty body—you can clearly taste the beer, and there is a touch of yeast in the mouth.

Overall impression: if you want beer to stand out from the fruit juice, this is a good choice.

Made with home-made soda and blood orange juice, this radler is a nice variation and a good summer thirst-quencher.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5
Schöfferhofer Grapefruit Wheat Beer Mix (2.5% ABV)
Schöfferhofer Welzenbier GmbH
Frankfurt, Germany
Appearance: apricot-pink grapefruit with a foamy-white head that leaves a thin lace around the miniscus.

Nose: ruby-red grapefruit.

Palate: intense grapefruit. Sweet, but not cloying, like a sparkling grapefruit soda. A bit of tartness comes out in the finish.

Overall impression: refreshing as a soda but hard to imagine as a form of beer, as there is neither an ale flavour nor a detection of any alcohol.

I would happily take this radler over a lemonade when I'm working in the garden on a hot summer day. It figures that the Germans, who invented the radler, would know how to perfect it.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Waterloo Grapefruit Radler (3.1% ABV)
Waterloo Brewing Company
Kitchener, ON
Appearance: unfiltered, deep gold. Effervescent (moreso than the other five radlers) with a white foam that vanishes immediately.

Nose: candied grapefruit.

Palate: sweet grapefruit soda—possibly the sweetest of the bunch. Clean and refreshing, with no discernible beer flavour.

Overall impression: again, this radler is a good substitute for lemonade. I say that a lot because lemonade has been my go-to beverage when I'm working up a sweat, mowing the lawn or pulling weeds. But I think that this summer, I'll keep radlers in the fridge to have when I work up a sweat on my property.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5

So, which of the radlers did I like the most?

I did like them all, and I did like how they were all distinct. From a not-so sweet Austrian radler, to a strong barley ale flavour; from a well-balanced, beer-fruit beverage, to a fruit soda. They all have qualities that I like, but if I'm going to stock my fridge over the summer, I think I'd lean more toward the Stiegl radler as a not-so sweet thirst-quencher. I also liked the Amsterdam radler for its unique blood-orange blend and its ale flavours. And I did like the Schöfferhofer as an alternative to lemonade or soda.

If you haven't had a radler, make it something that you do this summer.

And keep your eye out for a Sabre Radler. You'll know who suggested the name. Cheers!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

More Raspberries

Patio season has been open for more than a month, now, and yet I have only been on a patio once. I'm still looking to put together a list of the best patios in Ottawa, so I had better get out there and start using them.

I have, however, sat on my front porch, enjoying the setting sun, watching the bees in the garden and the kids playing out in our circle. My porch is great: set back from the garage, I'm hidden from cars that approach our cul-de-sac but I have an unobstructed view of the houses and people in our quiet suburban circle. And I can watch the setting sun.

It was a comfortably cool evening on Tuesday and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to try the latest seasonal by Ottawa craft brewers, Bicycle. It had been a couple of seasons since I dropped in on brewers Fariborz and Laura, and it was high time that I paid a visit.

I'm glad I did.
Recumbent Raspberry (4.6% ABV)
Bicycle Craft Brewery
Ottawa ON
Appearance: a murky peach-orange with good effervescence, considering it came in a growler; a foamy white heat that picks up a pinkish hue and settles to a dense lace.

Nose: lush raspberries, light malt, and a hint of candied fruit.

Palate: tart raspberries with a nice balance between the fruit and hops (19 IBU) and a slightly sour finish.

Overall impression: I used to not be a fan of wheat ales, but it is just such a witbier that is bringing me around on the style. Well-balanced, fresh fruit flavours (although, these raspberries came from California), and a lingering finish—though I don't really care for sour beer—make this a very nice summer ale.

And, while I detected some sourness at first, as I drank more, the sourness mellowed and came across as more like tart raspberry, which is what I wanted.

The raspberry is an absolutely authentic flavour, so much so that I could actually believe that I was eating raw, fresh-grown raspberries while sipping this refreshing ale. There is no sweetness to this beer, just intense raspberry flavour.

And that's a very good thing.

I enjoyed drinking this beer, and enjoyed it all the more that I was having it outdoors, on my porch, with my cat for company.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5

Now that we're in the right season for drinking outdoors, do yourself a favour: pick up a growler of Recumbent Raspberries, sit out on your patio or front steps, and enjoy.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Finding Balance

I have always liked the beers that have come from Delaware brewery, Dogfish Head, and because they're not readily available in Ontario, I always keep my eyes open for the easy-to-recognize logo.

When I was on a recent trip to New York City, I was pleasantly surprised to see a wide selection of Dogfish Head beers at Eataly, in the Flatiron district. I saw my favourite 90-Minute IPA and the 60-Minute IPA, but I wanted to go with something different. A fella could go nuts, trying to find just the right beer to bring home, and I sought serenity in finding something unique.

I found it.
Namaste (4.8% ABV)
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Milton, DE, U.S.A.
Appearance: a pale golden, effervescent colour (like ginger ale) with a foamy, pure-white head that stays thick for most of the pour, settling to a solid cap.

Nose: hints of ginger, grass, and citrus.

Palate: herbal with slight citrus notes. A light body with a balanced, spiced finish. The bottle states that Namaste is brewed with orange slices, but the citrus is not distinct; there is lemongrass, coriander, and peppercorn, but the coriander is so subtle that I could not taste it and the peppercorn was not strong, either.

Overall impression: while this witbier has a fresh taste in the initial mouth feel, as the aftertaste lingers, the grassiness becomes reminiscent of lower-quality, mass-produced ales, like Molson Canadian. A tough criticism from me, who would rather drink a gallon-sized kale kefir smoothie than take a sip of a Molson product. I think that the lemongrass and coriander blend in a way that comes out simply as grass.

My impressions leave me at odds. I like Dogfish Head a lot, love their hoppy and interesting flavours. With Namaste, I enjoy the aromas and initial flavours, but I don't like the aftertaste and I'm not inclined to drink more than one bottle in a sitting. But I will drink the other bottles in my six pack, eventually.

Namaste was worth a try but, given the myriad offerings by this brewery, I think I would choose something else next time.

Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5

Namaste... err, cheers!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Where Are The Raspberries?

Cycling the rural environs of this city, I have seen the farmers tilling their soil, getting in the crops. Usually, by this time, the raspberry bushes are full, the branches becoming heavy with the red berries that I love so much. But this year, I haven't seen a single raspberry field, have not read any signs by the side of the road, offering lush baskets.

Either the raspberry season is late, or it's not coming at all.

Luckily, the folks at Amsterdam Brewery are making up for the shortfall.

With their blend of Belgian wheat malts and a healthy dose of raspberries, one of my favourite Ontario breweries has produced a flavourful seasonal beer. Here's my review:
Framboise (6.5% ABV)
Amsterdam Brewery
Toronto, ON
Appearance: red amber with a foamy, pale-pink head that settles to a solid cap.

Nose: intense raspberries and light malt.

Palate: slightly sour raspberries that are reminiscent of a raspberry yogurt drink. A fruity finish with hints of lime. Not sweet at all.

Overall impression: if you love raspberries, and I do, this is a great ale to enjoy outside, on a warm spring day. And, because it's a seasonal, you won't get tired of it--you'll look forward to next year when it comes back.

However, as good as this fruit beer is, it's not something that I felt I could drink a lot of. It was sort of like drinking a fruit smoothie (with alcohol). One was good, but I couldn't have a second bottle (650 ml is plenty). Not in one sitting.

If you love raspberry, this ale is definitely one to have. Especially this year, when this may be your only way to get your raspberry fix.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5