Monday, February 29, 2016

Naughty Otter

When you're always on the lookout for new flavours in craft beer, it's easy to forget that there are folks who just want something simple, something familiar. There are those who don't want to get fancy, who don't want brewers to get experimental or artsy-fartsy.

I respect the folks who know what they like and don't want to change. And there are some craft brewers who are catering to those tried-and-true methods to give those people what they want.

Enter a small Ontario town along the St.Lawrence River, Gananoque (pronounced "gan-ann-awk-way"), not far from Kingston, and its brewery of the same name. This brewery, which started up in 2011, makes a lager that everyone can enjoy.

Full disclosure: I am personally not a fan of lagers, but I can still drink one and appreciate it for what it is. My personal rating for this beer has been put aside and I have delivered a Beer O'Clock rating that I feel closely relates to what a lager-lover would rate this beer.

My tasting notes are my tasting notes, exactly as I tried the brew.
Naughty Otter Lager (5.2% ABV)
Gananoque Brewing Co.
Gananoque ON
Appearance: deep gold with a white head that settles to a fine lace.

Nose: grass, light citrus, and mild yeast.

Palate: a slight caramel or corn syrup flavour, mixed with light lemongrass. It has a well-balanced feeling in the mouth and leaves a medium finish.

Overall impression: I was reminded of an elevated Molson or Labatt product--if Blue or Canadian are your go-to beers, but you want to branch out into craft beer, this is definitely one to consider. It has mainstream flavours but with a bit more bite. It's exactly what I expect from a lager, so if a lager is your beer, this one should satisfy your thirst.

Would I try another brew from Gananoque? Absolutely. They can kick mainstream up a notch, and if they can deliver on a lager, I'm anxious to see what they can do with an IPA.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Stranger Than Fiction

"Life goes on. .. Ever immune to prediction
And life can be strange
But love can be stranger than fiction
Only love can be stranger than fiction."—Joe Jackson, Stranger Than Fiction

I love cans.

Not big cans, mind you. I like the ones that aren't more than you can handle with one hand. Not too big, not too small. Somewhere in between.

Just right.

I'm talking about beer cans. (Geez... what did you think I was talking about?)

As much as I love to support local breweries and bring home samples of their latest brew, or pick up some of my favourites, I'm starting to dislike growlers. With a growler, because the 64-ounce glass jug is either filled at the time you pick it up or had been recently filled and stuck in a fridge, you have to drink the brew within a week to appreciate the full flavour. Opening a growler after a couple of weeks could likely leave you with a flat beer. And once you've cracked that puppy open, you really need to consume it in a couple of days, or less, or suffer the same consequence.

Half-sized growlers, I find, have an even shorter shelf life.

I also hate having the burden of returning a growler. Because you pay a $4 or $5 deposit on the jug, you can't simply return it with your other empties at The Beer Store. You either have to return them to the brewery from where you bought it or to a brewery that participates in a growler exchange, sometimes getting less than the deposit amount for their trouble of returning it to the rightful brewery.

Personally, I also feel guilty if I return an empty growler but don't want a replacement jug. I feel pressure from the brewery (and it's on me, not them) to grab another one.

Which brings me back to where I started: with a big glass jug that takes up space in my garage.

I have a growler from when I bought beer in Buffalo, NY. I'm never getting my deposit back for that one.

One of the things I love about Tooth and Nail, in Ottawa, is that they will put their beer in cans for you. No deposit, no need to return.

So, lately, I've stopped buying growlers and have opted for cans. (I still buy traditional bottles at the LCBO.)

Luckily, many of my local brew pubs have caught on and have started canning their popular brews, and I hope that that trend grows so that I can also pick up all that they offer. 

One Ontario brewery that I have enjoyed in bottled six packs has released one of its ales in cans and, because I have recently been on a can-collecting spree, I was eager to add this to the mix.

And then promptly drink it. (I bet you were wondering when I'd get to the review part of this post, weren't you?)

The name of this porter always puts a certain Joe Jackson song in my head, though I hardly find that the name suits the brew.
Stranger Than Fiction Porter (5.5% ABV)
Collective Arts Brewing Ltd.
Hamilton ON
Appearance: deep walnut to black, with a foamy, dark-taupe head that leaves a solid cap.

Nose: coffee, cocoa, prunes, with a touch of vanilla and marzipan.

Palate: dark-roasted coffee and dark chocolate. This porter comes close to resembling an Imperial stout, without crossing the border into harsh bitters and high alcohol. The body is rich and well-balanced, and the finish is clean, with the malt flavours lingering for no more than they should: that is, long enough to savour, yet short enough to make you crave that next sip.

Overall impression: Collective Arts never disappoints. They have a great range of styles that satisfy. As with their other ales, I would gladly drink Stranger Than Fiction over and over again. This is the fourth of their six beer offerings that I have tried, and I haven't had one that I didn't like.

However, I'm not sure what the folks at Collective Arts were thinking when they named this porter. It's not strange: there is nothing unusual about this porter. It's a solid, flavourful dark ale with no unexpected flavours. They didn't add vanilla bean, or raspberry, or oysters. It's simply porter: an excellent porter, but a plain one.

The expression "stranger than fiction" implies that something is unbelievable, that it sounds made up. Did the folks who named it mean to imply that this porter is too good to be true? It's a bit of a stretch, if that's the case. It's really good, but I've come to expect that from Collective Arts.

Enough about the name. I don't want to spoil the review.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4

This is the first Collective Arts beer that I've had from a can. Like their bottles, the cans come with a variety of artistic labels. It kind of makes you want to collect them all.

I'm excited to try the other brews from this brewery, and someday, I hope to make my way to Hamilton to visit the brewery itself.

I'll continue with my review of canned beer in the coming weeks.