Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Eureka Moment

When I pick up a beer that I intend to review, I try not to read too much of the label. I avoid the sides or the back, and if I see paragraphs of text, I look away. I don't want to be influenced by what the brewer has to say about the flavours, colour, or aromas.

That's for me to work out.

When that can or bottle catches my eye, for whatever reason, I look to see what style of beer is contained within, who made the beer, and where the brewery is located. I don't want to know the alcohol content or what types of malts or hops were used.

I want to come by my opinion honestly.

A couple of weeks ago, when my family and I were in Toronto, I visited the LCBO that was around the corner from our hotel. I went in there, specifically looking for beer that was made in the GTA and that I haven't seen in any of the stores in Ottawa. I was looking for breweries that I didn't recognize, and with the explosion of craft brewers in Ontario, that isn't hard to do.

I found three breweries that fit my criteria. You can read my reviews of those ales from last week and the week before. The third brewery, from Brantford, rounds out these finds.

Bell City Brewing opened its doors in February of this year and currently has one of its ales in cans, in the LCBO. I presume that this beer is the company's flagship ale, as I also presume that the can shows Alexander Graham Bell, experimenting with one of his inventions. Bell lived, for some time, in Brantford.

What I saw, smelled, and tasted did not meet my expectations, and I'm glad that I didn't read the back of the can or visit the brewery's Web site until I finished my review. Here's why:
Eureka Cream Ale (5.8% ABV)
Bell City Brewing Company
Brantford, ON
Appearance: a clear, deep amber with red highlights and a beige head that forms a solid cap. I had to re-read the can to make sure that I was drinking a cream ale, and not a red.

Nose: caramel and rich malt. There was a sweetness in the aroma that I did not expect. It was at this point that I knew that I was in for something different, and I had to check once again that this was, indeed, a cream ale.

Palate: more caramel, barley, and mild hops. The ale is full-bodied, with a rich mouth feel and a satisfying finish. But the flavours, although enjoyable, did not match with what I expected. The more I drank, the more I  was reminded of a red ale.

Overall impression: while I was trying this beer, I was feeling chilled in my cooled house (I'm a little stingy with the thermostat and I'm fighting a cold that is aggressively trying to claim squatter's rights in my head), but after a couple of sips, I felt warmed, comforted. The alcohol content, though modest, was beginning to show itself more prominently, but not overpowering. In fact, the cream ale seemed to open my sinuses and give that cold a shot over the bow.

While this cream ale doesn't seem to have much of a creamy mouth feel, its richness made me feel like my tongue was receiving a warm hug.

After I recorded my impressions of this cream ale, I finally read the back of the can, which states that Bell City had crafted this ale according to a pre-prohibition style. As they put it, this offering "is NOT your typical lawnmower cream ale."

They have that right (though, in truth, I have no idea what a "lawnmower" cream ale is).

I had to think: was this ale what I expected? No. Was it what the brewer expected? Probably.

This was my eureka moment.

It is a good ale: it's not your traditional cream ale, and that's okay. It's more than okay.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3

At the time of reviewing this ale, my house, cooled as it was, was also filled with the aroma of a slow-cooked, barbecue pulled pork, and all I could think of was how this beer and that meat would make a perfect combination. And so I enjoyed a second can at dinner.

If you can find this ale in your LCBO, pick it up and try something different.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hopsta La Vista

You know that adage, if you say you're cool, you're not?

That saying can be applied to a brewery or a beer.

In all fairness, this Toronto brewery doesn't actually say that it's cool, but their busy can does try very hard to look cool, with it's picture of brewer, Jimmy Peat, and the claim that this "fun-loving" brewery has created a recipe that will remind you that "beer is awesome."

"... you'll be back!" they add. The play is on Arnold Schwarzenegger, as The Terminator, telling a police sergent, "I'll be back." The name of this IPA also comes from a play on another quip from that iconic movie.

But is this a killer beer? Is it even cool? Let's see.
Hopsta La Vista India Pale Ale (6.5% ABV)
Longslice Brewery
Toronto ON
Appearance: bright, clear, orange-amber with a creamy, off-white head that pours thick and collapses to a solid foam cap.

Nose: earthy caramel and a slightly citrus aroma, though I found most of the bouquet was closed.

Palate: some malt, some hops, and little else. There is balance to the two main ingredients, but I would have liked to find more flavour. Where was the grapefruit? The alcohol comes out in the finish but is more palate-cleansing than boozy (which is a good thing).

Overall impression: I drank this IPA while I worked from home, during a conference call. The meeting was dull, so I made my notes in between following my computer screen and listening to the conversations.

The meeting wasn't the only thing that I found dull.

This ale may appeal to those who want to break from the doldrums of Molson and Labatt products. It has more mouth feel and packs a bit of a punch. But for craft-beer enthusiasts, it may come off as being pretty bland (in my view, of course). As an IPA-lover, I find this one ho-hum.

My first impression, from the design of the can, is that Longslice is trying too hard to appear cool, which isn't cool. (Visiting their Web site, my suspicions were confirmed.)

As for the "... you'll be back!"? No, I won't.

Beer O'Clock rating: 2


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Bitter Waitress

I've never met a bitter waitress.

Sure, I have been served by an impatient waiter, a waitress who has had a bad day and isn't all smiles, but bitter? Never.

If you're going to have a bad attitude, serving the public is not your calling.

For the most part, I've had decent servers. I've been lucky enough to have outstanding servers. I even had a regular server, who knew my name, knew what I wanted, would bring me my first drink, already in hand, when she came to my table to greet me. She would always return with a fresh drink, just as I was finishing the last one. Her deliveries would continue until, on her latest visit, I would point to that newly arrived glass and say, "this is my last one."

I loved her.

Not that puppy love, the kind where you look desperate, longing for love and attention, to have those feelings requited. I loved her, but rarely thought of her outside of the context of the restaurant that I frequented.

I would ask her to marry me every time I showed up and took my usual table. She would say no, knowing that I wasn't serious, though she would occasionally respond with a, "careful: one of these days, I might say 'yes.'"

I loved her like a good friend. She was somebody with whom I cared, would watch out for. When I think of favourite servers, she has always been right at the top.

I also tipped her very well. She was worth it.

So no, I have never met a bitter waitress. Until now.
Bitter Waitress Black IPA (6.5% ABV)
Shillow Beer Company
Oakville, ON
Appearance: deep walnut-brown with a creamy, dark-taupe head that creates a solid cap. Only through bright light can you see this ale's colour.

Nose: coffee, dark chocolate, prunes, and black licorice.

Palate: the licorice carries through in the mouth and is dominant, with the prunes and strong coffee following along. There is a long finish that is balanced by malt and hops, though the hops win out in the end.

Overall impression: this black IPA is enjoyable, though it's not an ale that I could see myself drinking in abundance—rather, it is one that I can see myself having only one can of, in one sitting, perhaps to finish off the evening, and even then, not after having more than one or two lighter ales. Bitter Waitress is slightly heady, at 6.5% ABV, and is slightly filling.

At my old restaurant, as my favourite waitress brought me my second-last drink, I would have to say something like, "I'm wrapping up," which would be her cue to bring me a glass of this ale to finish the evening.

Not a bad way to end the night, for sure.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3

Shillow is one of the beer companies that I discovered on a recent visit to Toronto, where I checked out the local craft breweries in a downtown LCBO. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll examine the other beers that I haven't seen in Ottawa.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Revenge of the Ginger

It sounds like a cheesy B movie.

The bespectacled, copper-bearded man on the can looks psychotic.

But it really is what's inside that counts, right?

On the day before I went on my nearly month-long hiatus from booze, I partook in various beverages that were stored in my basement from earlier in the summer. I had meant to do a beer review at the time, but because these beers were going to be my last for a while, I put down my camera, set aside my notebook and pen, and just savoured the flavours.

One beer stood out, and I promised that when I had the chance, I would give it a proper review.

That day has come.

Though this brewery is located in Guelph, I actually didn't get a chance to visit it when I was there, seeing some old friends, only the day before I first sipped this ale.
Revenge of the Ginger Kickin' Ginger Red IPA (6.2% ABV)
Double Trouble Brewing Company
Guelph ON
Appearance: unfiltered, deep amber-orange with slightly red highlights; a creamy, beige head that pours thick and settles to a solid cap.

Nose: candied ginger, pineapple, and spices (clove and cinnamon).

Palate: spiced malts hit the taste buds right away and reminded me of nut loaf. The ginger becomes more distinctive in the second sip and stays with you through the glass. There is good balance between the malt and the ginger, with very little bitterness that I expect from an IPA. There's a solid, distinct finish.

Overall impression: you've heard of comfort food, right? Well, this is comfort beer. It's full-bodied without being heavy, it cools you on a hot day or warms you on a cool day, and its easy drinkability makes it something that you could drink all night.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4

Here's the kicker, and perhaps where some revenge comes into play. This ale is a summer release, so unless your local LCBO still has some on the shelves, you'll have to wait until next year to try it.

It's worth the wait.