Thursday, October 29, 2015

Tooth and Nail

It seems that every couple of months, a new brewery opens up in Ottawa. And while I make every effort to get to all of them, it's not always easy. Some are off the beaten path. Others are nowhere near my route to and from work, or near places I tend to frequent.

Not so with our city's newest brew house. It's in Hintonburg, so it's not too far off from one of my routes to the office. It's also in a neighbourhood where I sometimes meet friends for Thursday Pints, and I think we should make this place one of our venues.

Tooth and Nail Brewing Company opened its doors just over a month ago, and already it's creating a buzz on the Ottawa beer scene. Located on Irving Avenue, just off of Wellington, the brewery has a long, inviting tasting bar, a few tables, and a friendly atmosphere. They are licensed to sell beer by the pint, as well as samplers.

You can also take some of their beer home, in cans. When I was there, last week, small cans of their stout and pilsner were available, plus they could fill and seal a monster can of their Belgian session ale, nearly one litre!

I decided to stay and try a sampler of all of their offerings: six 5-oz glasses. I took my time, enjoyed each in due course. I did swap the order of the last two ales—the stout and the IPA—and I'm glad I did. With the bold flavours and hops of the IPA, you want to drink it last.

Here, with a brief description, is each:

Housewarmer Multigrain Ale (5.1% ABV)

Appearance: pale straw.
Nose: wheat, like fresh-baked bread.
Palate: light body with a flavour that I can best describe as marshmallow. A good, clean finish.
Overall impression: this reminded me somewhat of Beau's Lug Tread, but with finer flavours. This ale is a collaboration with Beau's, so I did expect some influence from the Vankleek Hill brewery.
Beer O'Clock rating: 3

Stamina Belgian Session Ale (5.2% ABV)

Appearance: an unfiltered gold.
Nose: slight ginger spice and candied fruit.
Palate: more spice and alcohol but well-balanced.
Overall impression: this ale has a nice body that holds up well from start to finish. It was one of my favourite of the bunch (hence the monster can that I took home).
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5

Vim & Vigor Unfiltered Pilsner (5.2% ABV)

Appearance: light gold.
Nose: I found no bouquet. It held its aroma close to its chest.
Palate: toasted hops and warm malt, with a good finish.
Overall impression: I'm not generally a fan of pilsners, but I did like this one. It's well-balanced with a good body and a nice finish. I would drink it again.
Beer O'Clock rating: 3

Tenacity Pale Ale (5.8% ABV)

Appearance: a clear, warm gold to amber.
Nose: grapefruit.
Palate: orange citrus and light hops, with a lightly bitter finish.
Overall impression: I felt somewhat disappointed by this pale ale. I anticipated great flavour with the grapefruit aroma and orange taste, but it seemed to fall away, with little hops. I wanted more on that front.
Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5

Fortitude Stout (5.3% ABV)

Appearance: brown with red highlights (similar to root beer).
Nose: coffee and cocoa.
Palate: dark chocolate and espresso, with toasted malt.
Overall impression: this is a very good stout—one that I could drink all night long. I brought four cans home but I fear that's not enough. This was my favourite pour of the lot.
Beer O'Clock rating: 4

Rabble Rouser IPA (6.8% ABV)

Appearance: a clear, deep gold.
Nose: this ale, like the Vim & Vigor, gave me no aromas.
Palate: burnt caramel and orange, with big hops and a lingering finish.
Overall impression: I'm glad I saved this IPA for last. With its bold, delicious flavours and long finish, I could taste this ale long after I finished the sampler. I was disappointed that it wasn't available in cans, because I would have liked to stock my cellar with it.
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5

If this is how Tooth and Nail starts, I'm very excited to see how the brewers do once they get their groove and settle into the community. If you haven't been to see them, do yourself a favour and go. You can also follow them on Facebook.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Straw Hat Matt & A La Mode

When I learned that a new brewery was opening, this summer, in a small town in Southern Ontario, I was thrilled. First, because it was opening in one of the prettiest towns in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, and second, because I was going to be visiting some friends in Guelph, and we were a very short drive away, which meant that there was no way that I was going to pass through the area without dropping in.

Elora is about 20 minutes or so north of the centre of Guelph and lies along the Grand River. There's a majestic gorge that cuts through a beautiful conservation area. Over the years, Elora has evolved into an artisan town, with its bakeries, craft shops, restaurants, and ice-cream parlors. It is picturesque and friendly, and worth a stop any time you're in the area.

The brewing company, located in the heart of Elora, also houses a gastropub, which serves up-scale pub-grub made by a world-trained chef. Even the ketchup is homemade.

When I visited the pub, I tried a sampler of the brewery's four signature brews. You can see a brief review of them, along with some other beer finds, in a previous post. And while I loved their flavourful IPA, I wasn't prepared to bring a growler all the way back to Ottawa (so I drank it with my friends, in Guelph, that evening). I did, however, manage to snag a couple of their ales that are offered in 500ml bottles, and this week, I finally got a chance to sit down properly with them.

The first selection is a wheat ale, or weisse.
Straw Hat Matt (4.3% ABV)
Elora Brewing Company
Elora, ON
Appearance: a pale apricot, unfiltered murkiness, almost like grapefruit juice, but slightly darker. An effervescent, white head starts thick but quickly settles to a half-cap.

Nose: fresh citrus fruit, yeast, mild hops, and a creamy malt. Enticing, to say the least. I spent a long time just breathing in the aromas.

Palate: light and creamy, with some fruit that I wished came out more. The finish brought out a tone of banana, and was clean.

Overall impression: this is an easy-drinking weisse that goes down well and leaves you longing for that next sip. It's well-balanced with a light body, something that would quench your thirst after working a good day in the fields.

Or in whatever field in which you work.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5

The second ale that I brought back to Ottawa was perfect for this time of year. And no, I'm not talking about another pumpkin ale. Though, there is definitely a pie element.
A La Mode (3.9% ABV)
Appearance: a hazy (slightly unfiltered), deep-gold to amber-orange glow, with an off-white, foamy head that settles to a thin cap, and then to a fine lace.

Nose: cinnamon and baked apple, complete with a fresh-baked crust.

Palate: all-spice, more cinnamon, and apple. This ale has a big mouth feel, as though you've taken a bite of dessert. There's an essence of sweetness without actually being sweet: it's more of a tart apple pie, but not too tart.

Overall impression: this ale tastes exactly like a home-baked apple pie. It's a liquid pie. At a time where pumpkin seems to rule, this is a welcome change.

Though this is a regular offering at Elora Brewing, I think that it would be made more special and be more sought if it was offered only as a fall seasonal. During my family Thanksgiving dinners, we always end the feast with a selection of both pumpkin and apple pie.

And I usually have a little of both.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4

Congratulations to Elora Brewing: you seem to be off to a great start. I hope you make your way to Ottawa LCBO stores. Mind you, I now have one more reason to visit my friends in Guelph.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

City Hops and Other Great Ales

I almost had a panic attack, last night.

I was starting up my computer, ready to sit down and write this post, when the unthinkable happened: I couldn't find my notebook.

It's a simple notebook, with a hard, brown cover. The inside pages are blank, unlined. The only thing in this book are the notes that I have taken with the beers that I have consumed, with the intention of reviewing them. Everything that has been written for the past year in this blog is contained within the opening pages.

And I misplaced the book.

I ran around the house, looking in every place that I would possibly put this book, without success. And I was freaking out: sure, I could write future reviews in any old book, but I had reviews in this book that I haven't yet published.

And today's review was important.

I found the book, eventually, near the computer, tucked behind the monitor. I must have tucked it there earlier, when I was working from home, with my office laptop stacked on my personal one, and I had made room for office notes.

I'm so glad that I found these notes, because recreating them would have meant that I would have to replace the beer that I had consumed and start from scratch. Not that that would have been so bad: I could easily drink this beer again.

But it was just over a year ago that I first reviewed this Ottawa brewery, and now that these brewers have just surpassed their one-year anniversary in Ottawa, I wanted to pay tribute to them again.

With Bicycle Craft Brewery's first anniversary, I have seen Fariborz Behzadi and his wife, Laura, grow this excellent brew house to the success that it is today, with their five mainstay brews and their countless seasonals and one-offs. While I was sorry to miss their anniversary party, I was lucky enough to try five recent seasonals.

All of them were excellent: two of them, Isidore's Harvest Ale and Pumpkin Spice Ale, I enjoyed last year and was keen to have them again. The Pumpkin Spice Ale is the best in the city, and is the only pumpkin ale that I'm going to drink this season (I've reviewed too many over the past couple of years and am pumpkinned out, except for this one).

One nice fruit ale that came out this season was Edgewood Avenue. I enjoyed it the day after my Thanksgiving feast, with a cold turkey sandwich, and it was a marriage made in heaven, with the nice malt and slightly tart fruit, mixed with the poultry and stuffing (yes, I put stuffing in my turkey sandwich!). Yum!

On The Lam was released at the anniversary party, and is a delicious IPA that does not overpower the bitter taste sensors, but provides a great balance of hops and citrus. It's an ale that I could drink all day long—a half-growler was not enough.

But my favourite of their seasonal ales is the one that I will focus on for this review, and now that I've found my notes, let's get to it.
City Hops (4.9% ABV)
Bicycle Craft Brewery
Ottawa ON
Appearance: dried apricot, with good effervescence; a creamy, off-white head that stays to a thick, solid cap.

Nose: mild, citrus hops; slightly herbal.

Palate: slightly tart with grassy notes that grow to fully bitter hops and a full finish.

Overall impression: this ale got better and better with each sip, and it started off great. It's an ale that needs to open up and when it does, it's brilliant.

I didn't need my notes to remember that this harvest ale needs to be snapped up while it's available (please say it's still available, Fariborz and Laura!).

Beer O'Clock rating: 4

Grab the other seasonals while they last, too, and wish the folks at Bicycle Craft a happy first anniversary, with many more ahead.


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Remembering Oktoberfests

Would it surprise you to learn that I have only been to three Oktoberfest celebrations in my entire 50 years of existence?

And the first time doesn't count, because I was a kid, much too young to be drinking beer (although, I wouldn't be surprised if my father gave me a sip). My sisters and I were stuffed in the back seat of our car, as my parents drove us down to Whiteface Mountain, in the Finger Lakes district of New York State. We were part of the Porsche Club of Canada, part of a long line of these exotic German sports cars, and while my parents reminded me that we weren't crammed into our orange 912, my sisters and I remember the 911s, the 356 tubs, and the 914s in the convoy.

I remember the beer hall, in Wilmington, the polka music, the clinking steins, and the green, feathered hats. I don't remember how long we were there, I don't remember how we whiled away the hours, and I barely remember our late-night drive home. But that was my first Oktoberfest.

I almost spent my second Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, in 2009. Almost. I saw the fair grounds, saw the peaked, white tents of the festival grounds. I was about 2,500 feet above it, in a plane, on my final approach to the Munich airport.

My family and I had vacationed in Italy, having visited Rome, Tuscany, Pisa, and Venice. I had flown on points and, while we travelled from Ottawa to Rome together, my return flight was different from the rest of my family's. They flew from Rome, to Frankfurt, and then straight back to Ottawa. I, on the other hand, had to leave Rome shortly before them, to Munich, where I would catch a connecting flight to Frankfurt, where I would meet them and continue home, together.

My flight to Munich only allowed 20 minutes for my connection, which was crazy, but I thought that if Air Canada would allow it, it was possible. Only, my departure from Rome was 10 minutes late.

The plan with my family was simple: if they didn't see me in Frankfurt, they were to assume that I missed my Munich connection and continue home without me. I was an experienced traveller: I would find my way home.

Approaching Munich, I was panicking. I didn't want to miss my connection. I would be alone in a city I didn't know. Flying over the Oktoberfest grounds and realizing that I would be in Munich during a beer festival, my mood changed. There were worse things that could happen to me. I would be more than okay.

While we had flown over the Alps, the flight attendant had informed me that we would be disembarking the plane on a tarmac and boarding a bus that would take us to the same gate from where my connection flight would be leaving. All I had to do was get off the bus, go through the doors, climb the stairs, and make a 180-degree turn to be at my boarding gate.

I made my flight, with no waiting. Most of the passengers were boarding. Even my luggage made the connection.

But I was disappointed that I would be missing a truly authentic Oktoberfest.

My first Oktoberfest as an adult was only about three years ago. I was invited to be the official photographer at the festival in Barrhaven, and I was privileged to meet the one and only George Wendt (Norm, from Cheers!) and the very funny Shawn Majumder. The beer was great and was flowing freely for the photographer, and I had a great time over the two-and-a-half days.

On Saturday, I attended the Oktoberfest in Vankleek Hill, some 100 kilometres east of Ottawa. The event was hosted by craft brewery extraordinaire, Beau's. When I arrived, I knew it was going to be big but I didn't expect it to be as big as it was. Two stage areas, massive tents, halls, bleachers, skateboard park, and games areas. The music seemed to run non-stop, broken only by comedian-host, Elvira Kurt.

I cycled to the festival as part of the fundraiser for the United Way of Ottawa. Some 200 cyclers had signed up for the 100-km journey, but I doubt everybody participated. While we had mild temperatures and sunny skies, we faced an incessant 30-kph headwind that would often increase to 50 kph, gusting to nearly 60.

I don't like to cycle in the wind. I would much rather have rain than wind. At Carlsbad Springs, at the 25-km mark or so, I found the ride a challenge. Passing through Cheney, I was no longer having fun. I was cycling with a beer friend, Katy, and I was thinking that when we reached the halfway point, at Bourget, if Katy wanted to continue, I would. My wife was meeting us at the rest area, where she had decided she would start the ride, and the three of us would slog it through to the end. But if Katy wanted to stop, I would stop.

Before we entered the Bourget town limits, it didn't matter to me whether Katy wanted to keep going. I was tired. I didn't enjoy the prospect of reaching Vankleek Hill and being too tired to enjoy the festival, or worse: too tired to want to drink.

And I hadn't had a beer since September 7.

I saw my wife, standing by the road, watching out for us. I waved. She smiled, relieved to see us. We were almost an hour later than we had anticipated, and she was afraid we had run into trouble.

"I'm done," said Katy. I sighed a big relief.

"Me, too," I said, and then to Lori, "tag: you're it." I told my wife that it was a hard ride, but that she could do it. She could do what Katy and I had done.

Katy and I threw our bikes into my van and we made the rest of our way to Vankleek Hill.

It was a great festival, though the wind still raged. Standing in the shade, unless you were packed in a tent with the other hundreds of party-goers, was chilling. But the beer was great and I was able to try a wide variety of ales. Here's what I had:
  • Rumtopf Pale Ale (Beau's)—malty and flavourful, with nicely balanced hops, this was my first beer of the event and my first beer in almost a month. It went down nicely as a secondary recovery drink. Beer O'Clock rating: 3
  • Farm Table Märzen (Beau's)—clean and light-bodied, it went well with fish and chips. Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5
  • Return of the Mumme (Beau's)—this was my wife's choice, and she liked it so much that she stuck with it for the rest of the day. Easy-drinking and light in body. Beer O'Clock rating: 3
  • Shawi Beach (Le Trou du Diable)—my favourite of the day, this west-coast IPA had beautiful tropical flavours with lush hops. If I had tried this ale first, I may have stuck to it for the rest of the day. Beer O'Clock rating: 4
  • Achterbahn Dunkel (Junction Craft Brewing)—this was good dark lager but it didn't really stand out. My wife didn't enjoy her sip of it, and when I was halfway through it, I was looking forward to moving on. That said, I was looking forward to starting the Shawi Beach, which I ordered at the same time and had already sniffed. Beer O'Clock rating: 3
  • One Ping Only (Beau's)—this Nordik porter was a great beer on which to end the day. Rich coffee flavours and not overpowering, I would love to give this ale a proper review sometime. Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5
One of the advantages of having the van in Vankleek Hill was that we wouldn't have to wait for the bus that Beau's had provided to get the cyclists home, and we could keep our bikes with us. I wasn't in a condition to drive, but my wife had only tried a couple of samples, and was more than fine.

Would I do the ride again? Maybe. At this time of year, the weather is a bit of a crap-shoot, and there's nothing worse than being cold, or wet, or, as it was this weekend, wind-swept. I would have to be better prepared.

Would I go to Beau's Oktoberfest again? Oh, yeah! Absolutely.

With only two Oktoberfest celebrations under my adult belt, I have more celebrating of the harvest season left in me.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Maclean's Pale Ale

One of the many perks of travelling is that you not only enjoy the sights but also the flavours that the region offers, even when you haven't left your home province.

The LCBO is good at bringing local craft beer to its shelves, but with the explosion of Ontario craft breweries, it's hard to put every brewer in every store. More times than not, you will see the beer from the breweries that are closest to your home. And while this is not a bad thing in of itself, it does mean that you may not get the opportunity to discover the smaller producers that are farther afield.

About a month ago, in the week leading up to my beer hiatus, I had the opportunity of discovering some of the breweries that are not widely known in the Ottawa area. One of these breweries is MacLean's Ales.

This Grey County brewery models itself on English-styled ales that brewer Charles MacLean discovered on a motorcycle ride across England. And while I travelled around the Bruce Peninsula, I tried two of his ales: his IPA and his pale ale.

The IPA was fine, went down well on a hot, sunny afternoon, but I found that for an India Pale Ale, the hops weren't as prominent as I would have expected. It was good, but it was safe, too.

With an IPA, I'm not interested in being safe. I want bold, distinctive.

I enjoyed the pale ale more, and so I'll focus on it.
MacLean's Pale Ale (5.2% ABV)
MacLean's Ales
Hanover, ON
Appearance: amber-copper with a beige head that settles to a dense lace. It was a tad darker and more red than I would have expected in a pale ale, but it still looked good in the glass.

Nose: grass, malt, and a mix between caramel and corn syrup (a malty sweetness).

Palate: I detected more malt than hops, but there is still a nice balance, blended with good flavour. While I understand that a pale ale is not typically as bitter as an IPA, I would have liked to have tasted more bitterness. The finish fades quickly.

Overall impression: this is not a bad pale ale, but it actually reminded me more of a lager, rather than an ale. But if you're looking for something to quench your thirst on a hot summer afternoon, this pale ale went down nicely.

Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5

I was really glad to get out to another part of my province, where I could experience craft brewers that I don't typically see in my home LCBO. With the selection that I had on my vacation, I want to get out and try even more.