Thursday, June 30, 2016

Some Über Beer for Solstice d'été

In summer, it's not uncommon for me to find lighter, thirst-quenching beer. After all, I'm outside more—mowing the lawn, weeding the garden, cycling, or just hanging out on my front porch, trying to beat the heat.

I'm less likely to drink a stout than a session ale, or saison, or radler. And now, I may just reach for another thirst-satisfying brew: a raspberry ale.

But which raspberry ale would I reach for first? Over the past couple of weeks, I've had a chance to try two: one, which was given to me by my 13-year-old daughter, who picked out the bottle on her own, to give to me for Father's Day; the other, a raspberry beer that I picked out in a Gatineau shop, to enjoy as I celebrated St-Jean Baptiste Day (a Québec holiday, but for me, a day to relax and sip great ale).

It's an Ontario ale over a Québec beer.

In this post, I examined each of these tart treats in great detail, and we shall see which one beats out the other.

I started with the ale that my daughter bought me.
Raspberry Über Berliner Style Weisse (3.8% ABV)
Nickel Brook Brewing Company
Burlington, ON
Appearance: a murky, pinkish-red, like a ruby-red grapefruit cocktail, or red Kool-Aid, or a red sangria with a pink fruit juice and a splash or red wine. The head is a bright pink that fizzes and bubbles, and sat on top like a fresh-poured soda and vanished just as quickly. After the bubbles let go of the side of the glass, you're left with a faint effervescence. Some sediment was left at the bottom of the bottle.

Nose: candied raspberries.

Palate: sweet and tart raspberries come on strong. And even though fresh Ontario raspberries are used in the brewing process, I felt that I could taste something artificial, as though something more was added to enhance the fruit flavour. This flavour did not detract from the overall enjoyment of this German-styled ale—it is solidly enjoyable: tasty, refreshing, and clean, with no cloying finish.

Overall impression: my darling daughter chose this ale for me, and she chose well. When I first tried it, I knew that this would be a great beverage to quench my thirst on a hot day. This is a perfect alternative to a grapefruit or lemon radler, and I recommend this for a great summer beer.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4

The second raspberry beer comes from one of my favourite Québec brewers. I knew I was going to like it because I haven't had a beer from this company that I didn't like. But would I love it? And, would I love it more than the Nickel Brook raspberry beer?

Let's find out.
Solstice d'été Raspberry Strong Beer (5.9% ABV)
Brasserie Dieu du Ciel!
St-Jérôme, QC
Appearance: unfiltered, bright-red, with a brilliant, pink head that also settles to nothing, like soda. Lots of large bubbles cling to the sides of the glass (do I need to clean my glasses better?), and when they're gone, all that's left is a fine effervescence. Small pieces of actual raspberry fruit settle at the bottom of the glass.

Nose: this brew was fairly closed, at first, but slowly revealed its fresh raspberries.

Palate: sour, tart raspberries, which carry all the way to the finish. No alcohol is detected, which could make this a dangerous brew if you're used to lighter fruit ales and radlers. This drinks like a fizzy raspberry soda, without any sweetness. The sourness makes the fruit pop in your mouth, and if you bite into a piece of the fruit, the raspberry flavour is amplified. I looked forward to finding a piece in my mouth as I sipped my drink.

Overall impression: I'm not typically a fan of sour ales, but with the tart raspberries, I can't imagine this ale any other way. I loved those pieces of raspberries. This ale, as its name states, is a summer-solstice-inspired treat, and is made especially for this season.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4.5

So, which raspberry beer did I prefer? As you can see, the Dieu du Ciel choice squeaked ahead in the ratings, but only because of that sour punch and the real-fruit flavour burst when I chewed on the raspberry bits. But I would happily grab for both in the liquor store. I didn't see Über in Broue Ha Ha*, where I bought the Dieu du Ciel; likewise, I didn't see Solstice d'été in the LCBO. So it all comes down to where I pick up my beer—on which side of the border I shop.

Either way, you can't lose.


* Broue Ha Ha is open on Canada Day; the LCBO isn't.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Oak-Aged Cream Ale

Happy Anniversary, Muskoka Brewery!

It's hard to imagine any craft brewery in Ontario that is 20 years old and is still around or hasn't been swallowed up by one of the big, nasty, multinational corporations. Is there any Ontario craft brewer that's older than you, which has remained small like you?

Never change, my friends!

For this Bracebridge, Ontario, craft brewer's 20th anniversary, the folks have brewed a limited-edition, oak-aged version of their flagship cream ale. And for this year's Father's Day, without any prompting, my 13-year-old daughter asked her mother to take her to the LCBO to pick out some beer for me, and this is one of the three bottles that she chose.

She knows me so well and has great taste in beer.

Let's take a look at this one:
20th Anniversary Oak-Aged Cream Ale (5% ABV)
Muskoka Brewery
Bracebridge, ON
Appearance: I love the colour of this ale—deep amber with red highlights and a creamy-beige head that keeps a thick, silky cap.

Nose: malty oak and toasted caramel.

Palate: oaked malt with a slightly astringent, yet toasty finish. There's a slight bitterness on the sides and back of the tongue and a good, solid body.

Overall impression: the oak adds a nice complexity to what is otherwise a common cream ale. That is to say, I've always liked their cream ale but I tend to not reach for it when I'm shopping for this style of beer. The oak-aged version, on the other hand, reminds be of another ale—one that I do reach for every once and a while: the classic, Innis & Gunn Original.

Muskoka's anniversary cream ale is rich, creamy, and is easily drinkable. I would definitely reach for it when I'm in the LCBO. And because it's a limited edition, I suggest you reach for it soon.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4

Congratulations to Muskoka Brewery for 20 successful years. I'm raising my glass and wishing you at least another 20 more.


Friday, June 17, 2016

The Princess Wears Girlpants

For the past five months, I've been living the beer-swilling good life. Since February, I have had beer delivered to my door, in quantities of 12 to 14 tall cans.

To my door, folks!

The Brew Box Company, an Ontario-wide beer-delivery service, collaborates with some of our province's fine breweries to bring a mixed box of suds each month. You can select from breweries like Beau's, Collingwood, Silversmith, or a mix of all of them. I chose one of my favourite breweries from last year, Sawdust City.

In addition to the cans of beer, you receive a beer glass, free tickets to beer events, and tasting cards for the brews that are securely packed in the case. It's a pretty good deal.

But after five months, I've decided to end the beer-of-the-month-styled club. Not because I didn't like the service: it was great. I mean, who doesn't like great beer delivered to your door? Not because I've grown bored with my brewery selection: I really have come to think of Sawdust City as one of Ontario's best breweries.

No, after five months, I've missed going to my local LCBO and trying new breweries. I've missed checking out the latest offerings at the breweries in Ottawa. And, I'm accumulating a lot of beer in my basement.

I don't drink a lot of beer at home, it seems.

So, to cap off the end to my Brew Box club membership, I'm going to review my favourite of all the Sawdust City ales. It's one that I tried, when I visited the Muskoka-region brewery, last summer, but was unable to bring any home because they were sold out of cans.

I'm savouring the few that they sent me.
The Princess Wears Girlpants (9% ABV)
Sawdust City Brewing Company
Gravenhurst ON
Appearance: slightly unfiltered, golden-yellow, with a foamy-white head that pours thick and settles to a solid, near-creamy cap. There is lots of effervescence during the pour.

Nose: slightly floral and tropical, with a mix of pineapple, tangerine, and a kiss of hops.

Palate: flint and white pepper, grapefruit, mango, and pineapple. There's an acidic finish where the alcohol meets a slight banana flavour (yes, I'm using slight a lot: don't know why). 

Overall impression: there is so much going on with this ale. There is a complexity of aromas and flavours that makes me want to drink more and more. Of course, with the high alcohol content, one can per sitting is enough for me.

This is a unique Belgian-style golden ale that can be hard to track down, but if you can find it, pick it up. It's a keeper. I'm just sad that I didn't receive more of these cans in my Brew Box.

In Ottawa, it can be found sometimes at The Arrow & Loon Pub.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4


Thursday, June 9, 2016

Ransack the Universe

I have never tried a Collective Arts beer that I didn't like, if not love. Their flavours are bold, fresh, and tasty, and they always go down so well.

Their latest brew is no exception.

What more needs to be said?
Ransack the Universe Hemisphere IPA (6.8% ABV)
Collective Arts Brewing, Ltd.
Hamilton, ON
Appearance: unfiltered, deep amber to orange, with a foamy, beige head that pours thick and clings to the side of the glass as it settles to a solid cap. Even as the beer goes down in the glass (and down my throat), a thin but solid cap remains.

Nose: bitter hops, with orange rind and a touch of pine.

Palate: the bitterness continues, mixed with strong orange peel. The finish is long and bold, and screams IPA.

Overall impression: this is a classic strong IPA with big flavour. It's easy to drink if you're serious about your bitter ales, but you'll want to do so responsibly, given the 6.8% ABV. A friend of mine had two pints of Ransack on Saturday night and even though she's a seasoned beer drinker, she felt them.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5

It's getting to a point where I'm getting nervous about seeing another Collective Arts can on the LCBO shelves. I see the varied artwork, I remember the good experiences with the previous brews, and I worry as though I'm playing Russian roulette. Eventually, I'll find one that will disappoint me.

But not today. Hopefully, not ever.


Thursday, June 2, 2016

Octopus Wants to Fight

Over the past couple of years, Toronto brewer Great Lakes Brewery has come out with some pretty snazzy artwork on their cans, and in today's saturated craft-beer market, that's a good thing: having a package that stands out, that grabs your attention, is important if you want to get picked up.

But it's what's inside that counts if you want that product to have a chance of getting repeat buyers.

The octopus with boxing gloves was certainly an attention-getter. The name of the beer put a smile on my face, and I said to myself, "What the hell: I haven't had a GLB beer in about a year, so I might as well give it a try."

I'm glad I did.
Octopus Wants to Fight IPA (6.2% ABV)
Great Lakes Brewery
Etobicoke (Toronto), ON
Appearance: slightly unfiltered, deep gold to amber, with a foamy, off-white head that settles to a dense lace.

Nose: highly aromatic pine resin and grapefruit rind. It's slightly candied, with a touch of eucalyptus.

Palate: hops come in with a 1-2 punch. There's a bitter uppercut of grapefruit rind and a jab of flint. A peppery finish comes in for the K.O.

Overall impression: yup, this is one in-your-face IPA that comes out swinging and gracefully dances around your mouth. There's a lot of hoppiness but some solid citrus fruit.

Octopus Wants to Fight is a heavyweight IPA with which I wouldn't want to go more than a couple of rounds at one time, but it is a definite contender for future sessions. The packaging is unmistakable, but it's what's inside that makes this ale a keeper.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5