Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Final Frontier

If you know anything about me, you know that I'm a big-time STAR TREK nerd. I love anything and everything about the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise and all of the spinoffs, and I'm not ashamed to don some pointed ears, or wear a uniform, or make the Vulcan salute.

Last weekend, I put that claim to the test by checking out the Starfleet Academy Experience, at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. I pinned on my Next Generation communicator and did what any cadet would do, including commanding a starship for the Kobayashi Maru test.

I didn't cheat, like James T. Kirk did, but I did manage to save my own ship and rescue 30 members of the ill-fated Maru before it was destroyed.

But, enough geek talk.

I also took advantage of the long weekend to indulge in another of my passions: beer. And, with a STAR TREK-inspired beer available, my weekend seemed to be looking up.

Just in time for a STAR TREK gala at the museum and for the 2016 Ottawa Comiccon, The Clocktower Brew Pub, in partnership with the Federation of Beer (Pluto's Moon Beer Company), have created a red ale concoction that uses (quadro)triticale with an old nineteenth-century recipe.

Sort of like the past meets the future.

The question I had, was, is this ale from the twenty-first century, made with a nineteenth-century recipe and twentieth-century grains, good enough for the twenty-third century?

Let's boldly go, shall we?
The Final Frontier (5.3% ABV)
Clocktower Brew Pub/Federation of Beer
Ottawa ON
Appearance: dark amber with orangy-red highlights and a creamy, light-beige head that pours a thick foam and settles to a solid cap.

Nose: floral malt, caramel, grass, and yeast, with just a touch of hops and something I couldn't quite put my finger on. Because this Kentucky Common style is made with triticale—something with which I'm unfamiliar—that could be what I'm picking up.

Palate: malty corn syrup with a grassiness that I typically associate with beer of lesser quality (think Canadian or Blue). The finish lingers, possibly well into the future.

Overall impression: there is an oxymoron quality about this beer—it pays tribute to the future by following a recipe from the past, but the grain swap that is used to tie it to STAR TREK doesn't quite seem to work. It's goes down easy enough, but there are some flavours that just don't seem right or are a little too simple for the theme.

To me, the brewers didn't seem to take much risk in brewing this ale to make it stand out, to be worthy of time and space. They didn't quote Captain Kirk when he said, "Risk is our business." I think it's a great mantra by which brewers and space explorers should live.

This ale does not boldly go. We can only hope that centuries from now, futuristic brewers come by this recipe and improve it, or fire photon torpedoes at it.

If you're a fan of STAR TREK and like simple red ales, this one may be worth a try. Make it so.

Otherwise, resist (it's not futile).

Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5

Engage... I mean, Cheers!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Release The Hounds

If there's one thing that you can say about Lon Ladell of Big Rig, he doesn't do things half-way.

The Ottawa brewery's brewmaster tends to aim for big flavours, be it his IPA, his chocolate milk stout, his one-offs and seasonals, and even his radler-style beverage, Bongo, Lon likes flavourful ales.

Who doesn't?

Late last summer, I found a Big Rig ale, sitting among the chilled cans in the LCBO, and I picked it up. I hadn't seen it before and the name intrigued me, and it was a style that liked. And, although I wrote this review way back then, I decided to hold onto it, to save it for a rainy day, for when I found myself in a position where I was unable to drink beer, whatever reason it may be.

I didn't intend to hang onto this review for this long, but here we are and here it is.
Release The Hounds Black IPA (6.2% ABV)
Big Rig Brewery
Ottawa ON
Appearance: coffee-black with a creamy, taupe head that pours foamy but settles to a thin but solid cap.

Nose: dark-roasted coffee and sweet prunes and a touch of black licorice.

Palate: bitter hops and coffee. It's clean and light, with a full but short-lived finish. I found a slight sourness at the back of the throat.

Overall impression: was this a sheep in wolf's clothing? Not really. While the "hounds" on the can look menacing, and while I found the body light for an IPA, the hops and coffee give this ale a bite that is not easily forgotten. At the same time, it's an easy-drinking IPA that should appeal to a wide audience.

It's a hound dog, all right. Release it from it's container.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Another Craft Watering Hole

Ottawa is not a place that has run out of craft brewers, which means that we're far from over when it comes to places in which to enjoy them.

CRAFT Beer Market finally opened its doors this week, much to the pleasure of the thirsty crowds. They announced a soft opening for lunch on Tuesday and held an invitation-only grand opening last night, opening the doors to the public after 7.

Today, she's fully open for business.

Located at Lansdowne, between Whole Foods and the Bank Street Bridge, the pub boasts more than 100 brews on tap, including many local craft breweries and hard-to-get ales from around the world. I saw Ashton Craft Brewery, Bicycle Craft Brewery, Broadhead, Calabogie, Covered Bridge, and Whiprsnapr, among others. I even was able to enjoy a California rarity, Arrogant Bastard, which I had a few weeks ago, in San Diego.

CRAFT founder, PJ L’Heureux, was on hand to welcome visitors and declare the pub officially open. Hors d'oeuvres were served (the chicken waffles were delicious) and the place was packed. While the servers were still getting their groove and bar tenders still figuring out the taps, I felt the pub was off to a great start and I look forward to returning, in a few weeks, when all of the kinks are ironed out.

Give them a try the next time you want to head out for an evening or find yourself in the Glebe.

A big thanks goes to my Twitter/Untappd buddy, John McNab, for bringing me along to last night's opening. It was nice to share some brews together, chat, and get to know each other better. Without you, this post wouldn't have happened.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

West Coast IPA

I have a long-overdue review to do in this post, but first, I have some business to take care of.

Last week, I did something that I haven't done in more than a decade: perhaps, two.

I bought a beer book.

Two great beer bloggers and authors have combined forces to put together a comprehensive guide to Ontario craft breweries and brew pubs, aptly named The Ontario Craft Beer Guide. Authors Robin LeBlanc (The Thirsty Wench) and Jordan St. John (St. John's Wort) have listed every brewery and as many brew pubs and craft-beer watering holes that they could find in Ontario, which is a daunting task, considering that a new brewery seems to pop up every week in our province. This duo kept track until late 2015.

The book comes in a nice hand-held format and lists everything in alphabetical order, with ratings for most of the breweries' signature selections. I started ticking off the brews that I've tried, and I've learned that I have a lot of beer to discover.

I also learned that for the beers that I have tried, my rating for the beer is very close to those of LeBlanc's and St. John's, which is assuring. As a result of this finding, I have modified my rating scale, somewhat, based on some of the criteria that is used in their book. I'm not copying it, as my ratings were very close. I just enhanced my descriptions for these ratings.

And now, to put my review skills to good use...

I would like to say that I owe Mill Street Brewery an apology. This Toronto craft brewer became my favourite more than five years ago, when I first tried their flagship brew, Tankhouse. When the brewery expanded and set up a brew pub in Ottawa, I was there on the very day that they opened their doors (I followed them, anxiously, while the old mill underwent renovations for them). I was a regular of the Ottawa pub, showing up at least once a week for the first three years.

Mill Street Brew Pub was my second home. Almost every server, bartender, and manager knew me, by name. I frequently hung out with the head brewer. I was invited to brew launches and brewmaster dinners. I earned my Master of Beer Appreciation (a now-defunct loyalty program) three times. I had a pint glass with my name engraved on it, which was served to me on my visits.

I celebrated birthdays and other special occasions at the pub. I organized tweetups and other social gatherings on many occasions.

Heck, one of the photos that I shot of the Ottawa brew pub hangs prominently on the wall in their Pearson International Airport pub, in Toronto.

I don't know what made me visit the pub less frequently. I started seeing other bars, trying other beer. When the core of the management staff left, I didn't come as often. I didn't have as many people to chat with. When the head brewer, Adam Rader, left unexpectedly, I became worried about what would happen to the brews that he came up with. The replacement brewer was fine, but I found that I was losing enthusiasm for the new releases.

And then, almost a year ago, I stopped going altogether.

And then, Labatt bought Mill Street.

I was worried about what would happen to the brews that I loved so much: Tankhouse, Cobblestone, Vanilla Porter, and so many others.

I'm glad Mill Street had its big break, is now able to produce and distribute nation-wide. I just wish it was without the help of one of the mass brewers that I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot mash paddle.

Last week, when I visited my local LCBO, I saw a new can with a familiar logo and I thought, why have I forsaken Mill Street?

Forsaken no more: I picked up a couple of cans and anxiously awaited a good time to open them. And here's the review:
West Coast Style IPA (6.6% ABV)
Mill Street Brewery
Toronto ON
Appearance: unfiltered, deep apricot, which reminded me of orange juice. The head was a creamy off-white and settled to a thick cap and remained all the way to the bottom of the glass.

Nose: ripe orange citrus and fresh hops.

Palate: the hops come up quickly to greet you but are immediately backed up with creamy citrus flavours that seem almost sweet. The bitterness carries through to the finish but does not dominate the taste buds.

Overall impression: this is a beautifully balanced IPA—typical of other west-coast styles that I've tried. It's a gentle but well-defined ale; anyone can enjoy this beer and should try it.

West Coast Style IPA is a warm welcome to me for all the Mill Street offerings that I've missed over the past year. It has reminded me that this brewery is a leader in Ontario and a commanding force in Canada.

Do you forgive me, Mill Street?

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5