Above all else, in order to bring that beer lover back and to establish itself firmly in the market, that brew must be a product with solid, consistent quality.
I first visited Whiprsnapr Brewing Company during its grand opening, in the fall of 2014. It's humble production facility and tasting shop, in the industrial park in Bells Corners, was packed with eager aficionados, anxious to try Ottawa's newest brewery. I was impressed with their lineup of ales and lagers, of their sitting areas, of their merchandise—I picked up a t-shirt of their flagship brew, Root of Evil, with the word evil placed inside the mathematical square-root sign, even though, for that grand opening, that flagship product wasn't available. A problem during production, I was told, one that would be fixed in the next batch, which would be available in the next couple of weeks. I did sample everything else that was on tap and even took a couple of mini growlers home, fully intending to review them all.
I never reviewed them. When I got home and had poured the beer into my own glasses, I noticed that the beer didn't quite taste like I remembered them in the brewery. I looked at my quickly scribbled tasting notes to see if I missed something, but I hadn't. My notes from the taps at the grand opening did not match my notes from the growlers.
There wasn't anything wrong with the beer: it just didn't seem consistent.
I chose to put off a review for the time being. I would wait until my taste buds had begun to forget what they had sensed (I never completely forget the taste of a beer) and try again. Besides, I really wanted to review the beer whose name emblazoned the t-shirt I had.
And then I went on a hiatus of more than four months, where I wasn't reviewing any beer. I was still drinking it, still writing notes, but I wasn't sharing my impressions. It was just me, enjoying my pints.
Whiprsnapr, by then, was just another of the many breweries I had known, and had moved on. I still always meant to try Root of Evil, but I was also coming to a point where I was reluctant to buy growlers because of my inability to return them. To this day, I'm sitting on a small fortune of empty jugs from almost every Ottawa brewery, including the growlers I bought at Whiprsnapr's grand opening.
It wasn't until the brewery was putting their product into cans, where they sold at the LCBO. A couple of months ago, I saw black cans with evil inside the square-root sign, and I knew it was the time to give this lager a try. I picked up a couple of cans and brought them home.
When I opened the first can, I wore my Whiprsnapr t-shirt. I planned to take a photo of myself, in that shirt, sipping a glass of the yellow-gold beverage.
After my first sip, I knew something was wrong: I detected distinct tones of buttered popcorn, which is often a sign of a flaw in the beer. Perhaps it was a bad can—it happens from time to time and is the main reason that I always buy at least two of every beer I bring home. I poured out the can and reached for the second one.
The buttered popcorn was still there, but I also noticed that the second can didn't taste like the first one, either. Many similarities, but not the same and neither of them good. That's how they made it, I told myself as I dumped the second can.
I don't like to write bad reviews, especially of local brewers. I have met the founder and brewer, Ian McMartin, a couple of times, had actually cycled with him before he opened his brewery. He was a good guy, loved the outdoors, and was passionate about beer.
After tossing out the two cans, I sent a tweet, warning that I had a review for Whiprsnapr, and that it would be "evil." Ian responded right away, asking me what was wrong. I told him what I had detected in my beer and he admitted that he had let out a batch that had problems, but they were brewing a new batch, and were even altering the recipe a bit. He'd have this batch in a couple of weeks.
I told him that I would hold off on my review until the new batch was ready, when I would come to the brewery and pick up the cans from him.
In the brewery, Ian poured me a sample from the tap. It was cold, clean, and refreshing, and I found nothing out of sorts with a lager. Ian gave me my replacement cans, and I was on my way, ready to give this brew its due respect.
As soon as I was home, I pulled out my best glass, set up my camera, and shot the beer on my front porch. It looked good. It smelled good.
I didn't like the taste.
Maybe it was me. Maybe I had built up the beer in my head and had unrealistic expectations.
I poured the rest of the glass down the drain and placed the second can in the fridge. I would take a break, drop any preconceived notions, and treat the next can like I've never had this beer before.
A couple of weeks later, in the LCBO, I saw another can of beer by Whiprsnapr. I had had this beer—an IPA—at the grand opening and from one of the growlers that I had brought home. I remembered liking it, so I thought that I would review this ale with the second can of lager that sat in my fridge. I would take a look at these two offerings in a single review, see which I preferred.
I opened the lager first. Here's my official review:
Root of Evil Prohibition Lager (4.5% ABV)Appearance: deep gold with a white, foamy head that quickly settles to a dense lace. The clear liquid dances with the tiny pearls that rise to the surface.
Whiprsnapr Brewing Company
Nose: buttered popcorn and dry grass. For me, it's okay if a beer smells like popcorn, as long as it doesn't taste like it.
Palate: good, toasted malt with a little bit of hops on the finish, mixed with flavours of creamed corn.
Overall impression: Root of Evil is brewed with corn as a main ingredient, so it's no surprise that I pick it up on the nose and in the mouth. But I don't think I'm a fan of that grain in my beer. For me, it seems a little pedestrian. That said, the lager was well-balanced, with the malts leading the charge and the hops right behind it.
It's not a bad lager; indeed, it's a far step up from any mass-produced lager and would most likely be a welcome change from those who drink Labatt's. But for me, in a time when so many microbreweries are fighting to be the leader, I can't get around the inconsistencies I've tasted with this beer.
For me, inconsistency is the root of evil.
Beer O'Clock rating: 2
How did their IPA fare? Let's see...
Inukshuk Canadian IPA (5.5% ABV)Appearance: burnt orange with red highlights. A foamy, beige head that settles to a thin cap. I found the colour to be gorgeous.
Nose: orange peel and a touch of pine. There are the classic notes of an IPA but with a Canadian flair.
Palate: orange rind and sharp hops, plus a bit of malt on the tongue. There was also a tinge of grassiness that didn't quite seem in step with a traditional IPA.
Overall impression: this is a pretty good IPA that is easy enough to drink, even while sitting outside on a hot, muggy, mid-30°C afternoon. While I didn't find all the flavours fit into my idea of an India Pale Ale, the can clearly reads Canadian IPA, and I think Ian came through on a local take on one of my favourite styles.
Beer O'Clock rating: 3
While I still like my t-shirt, I think I'll pass on any more of this lager. As much as I like the brewer, I can't trust what I'll get in the can. But I would drink Inukshuk again. It's an ale that speaks to my outdoor Canadian self.