Thursday, July 30, 2015


Last month, when I was reviewing radlers, I always imagined these fruity, low-alcohol beers being served on sunny pub patios, umbrellas shading the sun-glasses-clad, beautiful people who were enjoying the heat of the day.

I almost exclusively sipped these cold, refreshing brews on my patio, taking refuge in shade, admiring the shimmering sunlight coming through my neighbour's small-leafed tree; sometimes, watching the glowing sky of the setting sun.

Radlers are for summer.

There's a new radler that I tried this week: nowhere on the can is the word radler written on it, but there's no doubt that this is exactly what it is. It's name does not make me think of summer patios: rather, it makes me think of beaches, at sunset, with a bonfire burning on the shoreline, women in bikinis and men in swim shorts, playing volleyball or singing along with someone who is strumming an acoustic guitar, another paddling a percussion instrument that goes by the name of this beverage.
Bongo Grapefruit Ginger Lager (2.9% ABV)
Big Rig Brewery
Ottawa ON
Appearance: a murky, pinkish-orange, like ruby-red grapefruit juice, with a foamy, white head that settles to an effervescent lace and a lingering collar.

Nose: candied citrus with barley overtones.

Palate: sweet, sparkling grapefruit juice with distinct barley flavour. Although ginger is used, it's not discernible in the mouth: only after you're more than halfway through your glass can you taste a trace of ginger in the throat. This fruit-flavoured lager, with its barley flavour, actually tastes like a beer. There is a good, well-balanced finish.

Overall impression: this is a really good radler (yes, I'm going to insist on calling it what it is). There is a sweetness, but it's subtle and is no sweeter than my favourite radler, Stiegl. I like the barley, which lets you know that you are drinking a beer, not a summer pop.

Big Rig hasn't been one of my favourite breweries, as I find it to be hit-and-miss, with more misses than hits, and with hits that seem to come rarely. Bongo, fortunately, is a solid hit. Of the radlers that I've enjoyed this summer, this one comes a very close second.

Unfortunately, if you live outside Ottawa, Bongo is out of your reach: it's only available at Big Rig, which is a shame because it's perfectly packaged for transport, with its shiny copper-and-black cans.

Brewmaster Lon Ladell told me that he's hoping to get them in the LCBO for next summer, and if it does get there, you would do yourself a favour to grab it.

And then, hit the beach.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Black Coal Stout

Sometimes, during the summer, with all of the session ales, wheat ales, and other light-bodied, low-alcohol beers, I tend to neglect my favourite style of beer, the good ol' stouts. Sometimes, a stout can be full-bodied and somewhat cloying, and in the heat you might overlook them for something that goes down as more thirst-quenching.

And then, you come across a dark ale that does just that.
Black Coal Stout (6% ABV)
Railway City Brewing Company
St. Thomas, ON
Appearance: motor-oil black with a foamy, taupe head that settles to a thin, espresso-brown cap.

Nose: strong, black licorice, prunes, chocolate nibs, and a hint of bourbon.

Palate: mild espresso or dark-roast coffee, burnt malts, cocoa, with a watery finish.

Overall impression: this stout starts big and finishes light, which is both positive and negative. The aroma and initial taste are intense, alluring. But because I'm still somewhat recovering from my Imperial stout binge from earlier this year, I feared that I would be tired of this ale, my taste buds blown out, before I finished a few sips of this ale.

The finish is light and drops off, and is refreshing and palate-cleansing, and it leaves me wanting to take another sip. It may seem unbalanced in this way, but it actually works.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Dinner Jacket O'Red IPA

When I think of a dinner-jacket affair, with a tie—perhaps, tails—I do not think of beer. Instead, I think of champagne and caviar.

But one look at this can and you think outdoors, the great wilderness, and beer.

The "dinner" jacket that dons this beer can is a lumberjack plaid.

The folks at Arch Brewing, in Guelph, are brewing under contract through Wellington Brewery, and have concocted an Irish Red-India Pale Ale hybrid that delivers a unique taste.
Dinner Jacket O'Red IPA (6.3% ABV)
Arch Brewing Company
Guelph ON
Appearance: amber-red with an ample, foamy beige head that clings to the sides of the glass as it settles to a solid, foam cap.

Nose: light toffee, subtle citrus, and malt.

Palate: caramel, toasted malt, and bitter hops that appear in the finish. Alcohol builds in the aftertaste.

Overall impression: this is an interesting take of an Irish Red ale, with more body and bigger hops (though not overpowering). It starts off well-balanced but I could taste more alcohol in the finish with subsequent sips. The alcohol doesn't overwhelm the finish but it's distinct, and I would have liked to taste a little less of it.

Still, it's a good, solid ale, and if you enjoy Irish Reds, you'll enjoy this ale. No dinner jacket required.

Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Red Racer ISA

I'm seeing a pattern. I might be wrong, but I'm calling it as I see it.

A couple of years ago, as the craft-beer market exploded on the Canadian map, these budding breweries tended to focus on hops, producing some of the bitterest brews I had ever tasted. Two years ago, it seemed that everyone was putting out a massive IPA: tons of hops, a higher alcohol level, and big-bodied.

I loved it. I'm a big IPA fan, and these breweries delivered in spades. But the thing with an IPA is that if you want to drink other styles of beer at the same time, you had to drink an IPA last because you would blow out your taste buds and wouldn't taste anything else afterward.

But even when drinking IPAs together, you had to be careful. One time, I enjoyed a Class V IPA, by Whitewater Brewing, and then followed up with a Nickel Brook Naughty Neighbour. After one sip, I had to send the Nickel Brook back: not because there was anything wrong with the Naughty Neighbour, but because the hops of the Class V overpowered the flavours of the less-bitter follow-up pint.

Thankfully, the pub replaced the Naughty Neighbour with another Class V, at no cost. That's the mark of a good pub.

Last year, the IPAs seemed to be overshadowed by light-bodied session ales: Muskoka's Detour and Rhyme and Reason, by Collective Arts, come to mind. They were great summer ales: light in alcohol, full on flavour, but milder hops than the big IPAs of the previous year. It was like the breweries went in the opposite direction, and it was a good direction.

This year, the pattern has gone back towards IPAs but brought the session ale style with them. This year, they're calling them session IPAs or India Session Ales.

Whatever they're calling them, they are the best of both worlds.

Earlier this week, I reviewed a session IPA from Collective Arts. Today, I'm looking to the west coast of Canada and examine an ISA.
Red Racer India Session Ale (4% ABV)
Central City Brewers
Surrey, BC
Appearance: a crystal-clear amber with an ample, foamy head that stays thick.

Nose: floral hops and light citrus.

Palate: orange citrus with a definite presence of hops, but not bitter. Almost like an unsweetened iced tea, with a mild finish.

Overall impression: if you want to try an IPA but are not keen on bitter hops, this ISA is your answer.

I really like this summer addition to the Red Racer line. And I find I like session IPAs. They have a low alcohol level but good hops: not as light as a session ale, and not as boldly bitter as some IPAs. This is the kind of beer that you want to enjoy on a warm summer evening, on a pub patio or on your front porch.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5

We'll see what trend comes next. Because no matter what direction the craft brewers are going in, I'm enjoying the journey.


Monday, July 6, 2015

A Summer State of Mind

While autumn is my favourite time of year, weather-wise, I have to say that summer is my favourite time for beer. It is one of the few seasons of the year when you can truly enjoy the great outdoors with a pint in your hand, on a patio, at a picnic, at a cottage, or on your front steps.

Summer is also a time of year when I look for a brew that is truly thirst-quenching and easy to drink, something that I can go to on that hot afternoon.

Summer puts me in that outdoors, beer-sipping state of mind.

And, I've found a great, easy-drinking ale for summer.
State of Mind Session IPA (4.4% ABV)
Collective Arts Brewing
Burlington, ON
Appearance: a slightly unfiltered, golden yellow with a foamy white head that settles to a fine lace.

Nose: honeyed citrus and light hops.

Palate: a light body with firm but unassertive hops and a clean finish. There is a medium, hoppy aftertaste.

Overall impression: State of Mind is a well-rounded, easy-drinking ale that goes perfectly with the summer. It has a good amount of hops without the bitterness. As with many session ales, I enjoyed drinking this beer on my front steps, often watching the sun set behind my neighbour's houses while kids played in our street.

It's that kind of neighbourhood.

This is the third beer from Collective Arts that I've had, and I have to say that not one of them has disappointed me, and any of them would make a great summer bevvy. Plus, they have the most interesting labels (and every one in a six pack is unique).

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5