Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Year's Eve and Quality Beer

Life's too short to drink bad beer, and there is little time left in 2011 to enjoy quality brews.  My plans follow, though I'd love to hear yours in the comments!

Though I have written less than I'd like and owe a few pending reviews, the holidays and my current time in Montreal have been prosperous on the beer front, with a trip to Dieu du Ciel brewpub last night, and supplies of Rochefort 8, Rochefort 10, and St. Bernardus Abt 12 for New Year's and beyond (I mean, some must age, right?)

Reviews of the 10, the Bernardus, and the Oak-Aged release from Cameron's hopefully coming later today, but the in-laws are keeping me (pleasantly) busy!  Sadly, I won't (immediately) be reviewing the Dieu du Ciel's from last night because, well, I had company and took less notes and, frankly, I had quite a few!  But maybe I'll review the pub as I intend to start doing with Toronto's bars.

What are you drinking beer-wise for New Year's Eve?  Let me know in the comments!

Happy New Year to all, btw!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Wellington and Great Lakes (US) Offering Some Promising Special Releases

Wellington Brewery is currently offering a very limited Welly Mammoth Winter Stout as part of their Welly One-Off Series.  This high alcohol (9% ABV) beast sounds both as legendary as the creature it's named after and as rich (in flavour) as those who successfully clone one will become (in fame and fortune?).  Wellington also assures us it will be extinct soon and is only available while limited quantities last at their retail store in Guelph, Ontario.

Great Lakes Brewing, in Cleveland, OH, is also making a limited time offering available in their Barrel-Aged Blackout Stout, another strong (9.5% ABV) special stout, this one aged in oak bourbon barrels.  A very affordably-priced special event on January 16th marks its release and offers the first public sales.

As I am unlikely to get to Guelph or Cleveland anytime soon, I just thought I'd remind you that there is a special place in beer heaven (right by the all-you-can-drink Westvleteren bar) for those who pick me up limited releases like this for review (especially since, of course, I'd be drinking them solely as a public service to offer ratings and assuredly not for personal enjoyment)!

More soon!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Coffee, Not Darkness, is the Common Thread: Péché Mortel and LB Mocha Porter

Yesterday turned into a stout/porter evening but the commonalities were more from the coffee infusions than the styles (a porter and an imperial stout), though both were drank from an imperial pint glass.

The Mocha Porter, a seasonal offering from Lake of Bays Brewing, was the lighter of the two in many ways beginning with a 5.2% ABV.  It pours a dark brown with a very attractive creamy brown-ish (not to say mocha!) head that has a medium-light lacing.  On the nose, cereal and fruity maltiness is more prevalent than the lesser notes of coffee, chocolate, and cherries.  Flavor-wise, it is again closer to an original porter with a nice fruity graininess alongside biscuits and only a moderate and well-balanced mocha addition.  This nuanced flavor is in contrast to the bolder coffee porters of trend that often overdo the coffee, at times to the detriment of the beer itself.  On the tongue, it is smooth yet chewy while fairly full bodied.  A very nice porter, all-in-all, that is reflective of the style more broadly while still with those chocolately-coffee notes to appeal to a wider (and at times more specific) audience.  I would gladly drink this beer again!  Grade: A-

Dieu du Ciel's (Translation: God in Heaven!) famed imperial coffee stout, Péché Mortel (Mortal Sin) finally arrived at the LCBO and allowed me a simple chance to try it.  To begin, let me just say that this beer is bold in every way, but also deserving of the very high praise it has received!

Into the glass, this mortal sin pours a jet black that seems almost thick and creamy, resembling motor oil in more than color but, fear not, not in consumptive appreciation!  An excellent foamy, yet creamy brown/mocha head with superb retention and a good lace arises.  Indeed, this beer offers an excellent head that allows deep expression of the aromas, which are dominated by bold, deeply roasted coffee notes with hints of stout malts exemplified by oats, though these are very negligible in contrast to the overwhelming coffee aroma that would be near indistinguishable from a freshly brewed espresso.  On the tongue, this delicious, but bold, strong (9.5% ABV), and bitter beer begins with light oak and oat notes, though these are quickly eradicated by the bitter drying of extremely strong coffee flavours that entirely mask the alcohol.  Some chocolate alongside hoppy dryness is discernible if considered explicitly, but everything is muted by the force of the bittering coffee.  Everything one would expect from the style.  Quintessential.  Not for everyone, but near perfect for those who'd like it! Grade: A

That's all for now folks, though my delivery of Cameron's Oak Aged seasonal offering arrives today and I promise to share my thoughts soon, though lengthy holiday travel-times tomorrow may postpone the next review slightly!

Monday, 26 December 2011

Some More Innis & Gunn Special Releases

This season's Innis & Gunn pack contains two new (or limited?) releases as well as the original and a glass.  The first is a winter warmer style ale, entitled Winter Beer 2011 (at 7.4% ABV), while the other is a Spiced Rum Finish on the original product (at 6.9% ABV).

The Winter Beer 2011 pours a decently thick, fizzy white head with light-to-moderate lace and fair to light retention.  Color-wise, it presents a festive dark copper/reddish color with little visible carbonation outside of the head.  Aromas of fruity malt, orange rind, and toffee are more present than the faint traces of vanilla, cloves, oak, nutmeg, and butterscotch (appearing in diminishing strengths in that order).  The flavor is much more balanced than an original I&G'S with a drying finish to a sweet but fruity smooth flavor that evens out with equal parts of oak and winter spices, such as nutmeg and cloves.  It is, indeed, warming, but not excessively so and is mostly smooth on the tongue without excessive carbonation.  Similar to the original but more of a 'beer' for those who feel the original is not enough of one to count.  Grade: B+ (though admittedly this is less of a true winter warmer than it is an I&G, so as a WW it would be more like a B-)

The Spiced Rum Finish offers a nice creamy, yet frothy white head with moderate retention yet negligible lace.  It is amber in color, while clear with only thin wisps of visible carbonation, darker than the original but much lighter than the Rum Cask product.  Aroma-wise, this ale is only slightly more spiced than the original, but this goes along with the expected caramel, vanilla, toffee, and oak notes that are essentially this brewery's signature.  The flavor starts out similarly but finishes more spicy and balanced.  Yet, part of what makes Innis & Gunn exciting is its extreme imbalance and this may be slightly more akin to other beer, but also less remarkable, since there are many better 'other beers' as there are many better Innis & Gunns.  Not as rum-like as the Rum Cask, but spicier, so if you think that is what the Rum Cask product lacks, this beer might be perfect for you.  Fairly light-bodied and crisp.  Nice but not incredible.  Though I would gladly drink it again, I prefer both the Rum Cask and the whiskey notes in the original, though its spiciness almost gives it a festive winter-warmer resemblance.  It might have better fit that style than the one above, oddly enough.  Grade: B

Apologies for being brief, but my two-month old needs me.  (It is actually his exact two-month birthday today!)

Watch for tomorrow's pending reviews of two fine beers: Lake of Bays Mocha Porter and Dieu du Ciel's Péché Mortel, which are both very, very good beers to say the least!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Bah Humbug: More Belgians, a Hefe-Dunkel, and a Winter Warmer

In honour of the holiday season, I have been festively enjoying many beers and writing less than I should.  I will, hence, catch up by posting my brief review notes for four beers: Wychwood's winter warmer, Bah Humbug, Bruegel Amber Ale, Maredsous Brune/8, and Weihenstephaner's highly praised Hefeweissbier Dunkel.

Bah Humbug: This Winter Warmer style ale is perfect for the holidays, in name, style, and flavour! It pours a thich, smooth, creamy, ever-so-slightly off-white head with a bit of lace.  The beer itself is reddish in colour.  While darker than copper, the redness means it could hardly be called brown (20 SRM I would estimate).  A bit milder on the nose than the style generally offers, Bah Humbug exudes only faint spice traces in the aroma, with a malty/fruity primacy.  Hints of clove, nutmeg, and very slight trace of cinnamon are present.  The flavour is initially a bit sweeter/fruitier than through the middle and finish when a mild hops and spicy dryness kicks in that lingers a fair while.  Ironically, it tastes/feels quite warming despite lacking the strength of some examples of this style (at 5% ABV).  It is medium bodied and lively while fairly dry, as typical of the style, if a bit less spicy and warming.  Perhaps not quintessential of the style, but enjoyable in consumption and aesthetics! Grade: B

Bruegel Amber Ale: The head from this beer is ever-so-slightly off-white while fairly thick and frothy, as one would expect.  It maintains a moderate lace, but has relatively poor head retention.  The body is a golden to light amber color with good clarity and a steady initial stream of carbonation release that diminishes fairly rapidly.  Aromas are negligible but the slight scents present are fruity ranging between pear and pineapple.  The flavor is initially fairly sweet, but finishes with a sort of acidic and acetic bitterness that doesn't so much dry out as damage the flavor and linger poorly.  It is light-bodied with a prickly carbonation (that as noted diminishes) while feeling quite thin.  This is to Belgian Ales what a "premium lager" made by a major brewery is to a craft pilsner: not as bad as it could get, but not very flattering to the potential of the style.  I didn't dislike it, but it only made me want to drink another Belgian tonight in order to redeem my faith!  Grade: C

Maredous 8 (or Maredsous Brune): Like some others, I have had this beer before, but also before I had developed the palate and vocabulary to say something sophisticated about it.  Insofar as an LCBO pack of all three Maredsous ales (plus a goblet glass) was in my stores, I figured the dubbel would redeem my faith in the Belgian.  This abbey ale pours a nice, beige, creamy yet rocky head with solid retention and thick lace (the lace possibly being the finest I have ever explicitly considered as it erodes halfway upon movement with remarkable retention of the remainder).  The beer itself is a beautiful deep red in colour.  Aromas offer hints of fruity esters, especially of cherry and banana, alongside that yeasty/malty mixture of sweetened cloves and spices, and even a faint hint of licorice.  The flavour is also sweet, but more balanced than is typical of the style with a strong dryness bordering on astringency.  Flavourwise, one gets hints of raisin and sweet malty fruitiness, alongside lesser hints of cinnamon, caramel, and earthy-ness.  It has a fairly thick body and interesting mouthfeel that mixes smooth creaminess with a prickly carbonation.  All in all, a very good beer (though far from a Rochefort 8!) Grade: B+

Weihenstephaner Weissbier Dunkel: Though not much of a fan of wheat beers generally, I do enjoy weissbier dunkels more than the standard hefeweizens, and this one typically rates so highly I couldn't pass up the chance to taste this LCBO offering when I discovered this bottle on a shelf.  It pours a thick frothy white head with a decent lace that one would expect from a good hefe.  With the body presenting a gold to light amber colour, however, the dunkel descriptor seems an ill-fit.  Respectably cloudy with a decent carbonation stream of thin bubbles, this h-d is quite aromatic with a combined yeast/wheat primacy dominated by bananas and cloves.  The flavour begins with a honey and bread thematic, though continues through to a fermented fruit and spice-laden finish that dries things out well making for a fine balance.  Medium-bodied with a substantial amount of carbonation that is quite prickly in the mouth and refreshing.  I find this to be an excellent hefeweizen, though for someone who is generally not a hefe fan this means I would give it an A+ as a hefe and, as not much of a hefe fan, would drink it rarely, but as a hefe-dunkel???  This doesn't taste like the other hefe dunkels I have had, smell like them, or look like them (and the term is an appearance descriptor, no?).  I would have it again though, if not regularly, but wouldn't imagine I'd be having a dunkel for most of my disappointment stems from there. Grade as a hefeweizen: A+; Grade as a hefeweizen dunkel: C+

Enjoy the season and some brews!  Bah humbug!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

A Dubbel and a Quad: The Weekend Allowed a Few Nice Trappist Tastings

This past weekend I managed to taste a Trappist dubbel and quadrupel, at Toronto's Sin & Redemption, that I had not, as yet, gotten my hands on.

Before I turn to the two I just tried, I am going to go on public record as saying, I have never been a huge fan of the modest amount of Abbey and Trappist beers that I have tried.  That said, I like them.  I just didn't get the super-hype.  I think the live yeasts don't always sit as well with me in practice as in theory, though the complexity is remarkable.  Or maybe it is simply my evolving palate.  But the last few Abbey/Trappist beers I have had are either better, or they are growing on me!

Regardless, I generally prefer a dubbel to a tripel, and (due to their Ontario/LCBO scarcity) had yet to try a quad.  So I was excited to try a La Trappe Quadrupel on draft when I found it (without realizing they'd be at the LCBO a few days later!) and a bottled Rochefort 8.

The Quad review stands alone for me since my frame of reference is to Trappist beers generally, as opposed to other quads (though some St. Bernardus Abt 12 and Rochefort 10's are on their way to my beer cellar in the near future).

The Quad (with an ABV of 10%) has the typical yeasty cloudiness of many Trappist ales alongside a nice deep amber colour that could perhaps even be described as copper.  The draft poured an ever-so-slightly off-white head with relatively poor retention, though it offered a smooth, creamy lacing while it lasted.

Aromas of cloves, cherry, pear and apricot could be discerned (alongside slight traces of rye bread) amidst the yeasty/malty combination that characterizes these extreme beers.

It is difficult to describe this taste, but it offers a warming spicy/sweetness.  That is to say, I was met with a more subtle, balanced, and drying semblance of the notes present in its fruity aromas, while more strongly affected by clove and cinnamon (yeasty) spiciness, alongside a bit of banana.

On the mouth, this beer is medium-bodied (or perhaps light for its style) though it is slightly creamy and its high alcohol percentage is slightly evident both in taste and in the smoothing/warming sensations in the mouth.  My first sip could almost be described as syrupy, though this diminishes as the beer does and the warmth becomes more present as the glass goes on.

It is a very nice beer, but my lack of any other quadrupel frame of reference makes me rate it against other Belgians and strictly my own tastes.  I see the complexity of this style and did enjoy drinking this beer, but would not buy it regularly.  It is a treat, but perhaps not my favourite treat.  B+

The gem I once again save for last.  The Trappistes Rochefort 8, a dubbel with 9.2% ABV, delighted me (and I intend to pick up some more alongside the 10 for the pending quad comparison).

This dubbel pours a nice beige head with good retention that offers a very smooth, creamy lace.  It presents a nice deep, dark brown colour with semi-cloudiness.

On the nose, aromas ranged from stronger hints of hearty bread, sweet figs and molasses to lighter semblances of chocolate and bananas.

Taste-wise, look for a delicious fruity malt characterized by sweet figs, though not to the exclusion of a drying finish.  On the tongue, this delicious beer is finely balanced between a creaminess and a prickly carbonation which masks the high alcohol very well!

After the quad, my first taste of this beer was underwhelmed, if pleasant, but by the end of the glass I was licking my chops in delight, such that I ordered another.  Unlike many high-alcohol brews, this one just gets sweeter and tastier and by the end of my second I was even more thrilled with the beer and, as I had devoured three 9%+ beers, my notes become less legible (which is odd, since I typed them into my phone)!  Regardless, the Rochefort 8 is easily my favourite Belgian and favourite Trappist beer so far, and ranks among my favourite beers in general. A+

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Innis & Gunn Highland Cask Review and the Risks of Beer Snobbery

It will come as no surprise to many of you that I am a big fan of Innis & Gunn's Oak Aged standard fare and I also appreciate many of their limited editions, one offs and variations (though I can't stand the blonde!)  Thus, I anxiously anticipated that first sip of the new LE Highland Cask product aged in 18-year old Single Malt Casks.

This is the closest that any of their specials has come to tasting to the original, only better, so if you enjoy I&G, get your hands on one or more of these bad boys and you won't be disappointed!

More specifically, this beer pours a more amber colour than the original with a creamy white head that has moderate retention and a very nice, if quickly receding, thin but smooth lace.

This beer smells identical to its bourbon-oak aged original counterpart, leading me to presume that the original beers deposited into the oak were identical and that the oaking process from these two different types of whiskey casks resulted in similar beers.  To clarify, on the nose this beer sends up moderate hints of caramel and toffee, with fainter aromas of vanilla and butterscotch.

Flavour-wise, this beer is sweet (not quite Creme Brulee Stout sweet, but sweet) with a smoothly malted delivery of the aromas on the nose: toffee and caramel most strongly present, though an ever-so-slight hint of vanilla is present as well.  Though still sweet, it is not quite as sweet as the original and dries out nicely with a more discernible whiskey-like finish (which I lack the palate and related words to describe) that leads to a slightly more balanced final product.

It has a nice clean mouthfeel and light body with a pleasant warming, though the sweetness still masks the alcohol even if a tiny Scotch warmth seeps through.

Enjoying this Limited Edition led me to reflect back on 2008's Limited Edition Innis & Gunn IPA, which I enjoyed immensely.  In trying to recall the specifics of that beer (which I tasted before I learned how to properly assess beers and take decent notes), I headed to the comments section on ratebeer and beeradvocate to try to bring the IPA flavour back to my mind.

Comments that called this "not an IPA" and even "not a beer" by otherwise informed beer reviewers strike me as ridiculous.  I get it: you don't like this style.  That said, however, the IPA, while having a longer oaking period, did contain a stronger and more substantial amount of hops than the original, fitting into the standards of an IPA.  Its relative absence in the finish makes it no less of an IPA than a Dogfishhead 120-Minute IPA, in fact possibly more so since it is closer to the origins of the style than the American IPAs that follow hop-head ideas of excess as desireable.

Though not meant as a comment on the pursuit of extreme hops flavours, imagine a hop-head (who enjoys pushing astringency to such a degree that it has been compared to a chef saying 'I have made my soup saltier than you could have ever imagined,' as if that were desireable) claiming that another beer is too sweet to qualify in the category?!  Is beer not sweetness and dryness in some sort of balance to varying degrees?  If IPAs can push the slate in the dry direction as far as possible why can't beers go sweet, and though sweet is Innis & Gunn the sweetest?  Heck no!

This difference makes Innis & Gunn no less a beer, it just makes it different and, in many ways, that's what has brought us all to craft beer, no?  I mean, craft beer is wonderful because of its diversity and varied flavours, aromas, adjuncts, and ideas. I don't particularly enjoy, say, an apricot wheat beer, but I will acknowledge that St. Ambroise (McAuslan) makes a quintessential one that lovers of that style would appreciate and it most certainly IS a beer even if not my choice on any given night.

Don't misunderstand me here though... I am not saying Innis & Gunn's Limited Edition IPA was a quintessential IPA.  A quintessential IPA it admittedly and assuredly was not, but it was assuredly a beer, assuredly an IPA, and assuredly quintessential of the rare, but growing oak-aged beer style.  If it isn't a beer would someone who disliked Belgian styles be allowed to call Westvleteren 12 "not a beer"?  How would the same reviewers feel about a similar comment (or commenter) on such a legendary beer?

Anyone is allowed to like what they like, but when we find someone who REALLY likes a pale American mass-produced lager we often say, 'here try this lager or lighter ale instead' and we hope that it will convert them to more responsible, tastier, fresher, less preservative-laden, less corporate, more original, and 'better' beer.

And, ironically, it was Innis & Gunn that brought me to 'better' beer.  While no longer my favourite beer on the planet, I still think it is darn good, quintessential of its unique style, and the beer that enabled me to appreciate things I may never have otherwise even considered, like a Rochefort 8 (to be reviewed shortly).  I think we can productively assess beers we don't like or from styles we don't enjoy (and we can probably all practice tactfully doing the same in discussion with everyday Bud Light Lime drinkers), but I assuredly anxiously await the release of little gems, such as LE Innis & Gunn's and I don't think that makes me any less of a beer geek, though it is this sort of snobbery that will hinder the more tolerant enjoyment of beer.

What do you think?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Innis & Gunn Highland Cask: Quick Take

If a couple days of work hadn't come my way, I'd be writing the full review now, but instead, I'll just say if you like Innis & Gunn's regular offering (and single malt) buy this limited edition.

It's even more of the same sweet goodness.  Full review to come soon!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Do the Jays Need a Prince?

On the question of whether the Jays should approach Prince Fielder, crucial questions relate to how one feels about our 1B/DH situation, on the price and years, and on the timeline to competition.

I won't go into each of these in detail, but I have noticed a few comparisons between Vernon Wells and Fielder at this same point in their careers; comparisons that note almost identical WAR numbers at this age, pre-big contract.  These comparisons always end with the implication that we should not go after Fielder.

I am not necessarily disagreeing, BUT this Wells/Fielder comparison raises the question of to what degree that is fair.

One key difference between the two is that Fielder takes walks whereas Wells strikes out and pops up/grounds out on pitches out of the zone at a high clip.  Batters with solid plate discipline tend to age better than their free-swinging counterparts (as do 1B over CF).  Admittedly, Wells acquired some of that WAR by playing CF, a more demanding and difficult position than Fielder's first base, but we have a center fielder and we need a big bat.

Does that inherently make Fielder the guy?  Well, not necessarily, but we are told big guys break down younger, though solid plate approaches might stave that off and, I wonder, have the makers of that argument forgotten about the Big Hurt's of the world who aged fine despite their frames?  My pount here isn't that he will or won't break down, but rather that injuries cannot be predicted with any accuracy, and though results can't either the estimates are often more reliable.

Sure, it must be considered and Fielder MIGHT break down a few years before the norm, but if signed to an under-exorbitant 5-6 year deal it might be fine even so.

Why?  The market for free agents (see Pujols) makes it such that teams must pay extra for later contract years in order to acquire the services during the stronger years.  I don't think it's right, but neither do I think it will  either 1) 'tie our hands' or 2) matter if it does.

That is, 1) is a controllable 28 year old superstar on a 5-6 year deal that involves giving up none of our youth core constraining on the team's well-built future?  No.

2) Here's another question: if he helped (by hitting ahead of Joey Bats) to bring us to the playoffs or, even, hypothetically to the World Series Championships once, twice, a few times... is it not worth the associated cost deferred until later even if any hindrance to the corporate owner should arise?

I am not saying we should sign him unless the final price is viable to the terms of Rogers' budget (and it should be!) but many of the arguments against his signing seem premised on unsupported assumptions and the very logic of perpetuated mediocrity.  As per my post on Santos, though, this trade benefits from a prompter playoff push and, if we are going to go for it, AA needs to do something and a few stars must rise from somewhere!

Barley-Free Malt as Good as the Gluten-Stuffed Variety?

Reading various blog posts and reviews, as well as glancing at beer awards, makes it clear that many people find Snowman Brewing's gluten-free beers to be indistinguishable from traditional barley-malted (or wheat) beers.  Every gluten-free beer I have ever had has been, well, less than respectable, but Kevin Snow and Hirsch Goodman seem to have figured out a way to fix any flaws since they have repeatedly won awards in regular (or gluten-containing) beer categories at several prestigious homebrewing events, such that they are now turning to commercial production!

The latest news has it that their first release, brewed at Black Oak Brewery, and known as Snowman Pale Ale will see its release starting December 22 at Kensington Market's Burger Bar.  I look forward to trying this soon!

For more information, check out: 
Canadian Beer News Announcement
Toronto Beer Blog Review
Hops and Malts Review of their (as yet non-public) Quadrupel and comments on their brewing and in-house malting

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

It Might Not Be the Twelve Beers of Christmas, But It Sounds Good To Me...

You may or may not be aware of The Brewery Market at Wychwood Barns just South of St. Clair and Christie.  This farmer and (often but not solely culinary) artist market allows the talented growers and producers of local foods and wares to share their products with the public, and local beer is no different.

Each Brewery Market event welcomes a single (and varied) Ontario craft brewery to bring some of their selection for public purchase and tasting with a portion of the proceeds going to "help support The Stop’s many healthy food initiatives, which include community kitchens and gardens programs, community advocacy, urban agriculture projects, sustainable food systems education and peri-natal care programs."

The event runs on a specific schedule with the next event, entitled "Twas the Beer Before Christmas," welcoming the newly opened Indie Alehouse (located in Toronto's Junction) to offer four beers for your enjoyment: A freshly brewed Christmas Spiced Porter, alongside standard fares in their breakfast porter, "Leadership Qualities," their Belgian IPA, "The Belgian Barnyard," and their "Instigator Pale Ale," west-coast style IPA.

This event takes place this Sunday, December 18 from 1-5pm at Wychwood Barns.  More information can be found at

See you there!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Southern Tier Oats Warm the Winter Chills

As a fan of oatmeal stouts generally, I couldn't resist the allure of Southern Tier's Oat (Imperial Oatmeal Stout) while recently shopping South of the border, especially since the LCBO only carries two of their products in Ontario regularly and this is not one of them.

At 11% ABV and, once again, in a 650 ml bottle, this beer either makes for one hell of a night or is otherwise better shared with a friend or two.  On this occasion, I went with the latter option and my review will probably benefit from this decision!

The head poured more thinly than I'd expected and receded nearly as quickly, a quality I find unappealing in a stout of any sort, though its mocha-brown colour alongside the deep, dark brown opacity of the beer itself were more reflective of the style.

Aroma-wise, I was happily greeted with the standard oats and grainy goodness typical of such ales.  The aroma itself was faint, but inviting.  The notes of deeply roasted malts covered (and facilitated) its more subtle chocolate and coffee traces, and its strength was also hinted at by a slight whiff of alcohol.

There truly is a triple part (at least) to this beer's taste.  First, coffee comes through before the malted oats take over while the finish is dominated by a drying combined with the warmness of the high alcohol percentage.  You truly can taste this beer's many strengths (yes, alcohol, but also oats and deeply roasted malts) though it is balanced enough to dry out in closure and warm you up towards your next sip.  At times its strength left me almost thinking I was drinking a barley wine in its place.

As far as the mouthfeel goes, it had a moderate carbonation and body alongside a healthy winter-warming, but seemed a bit syrupy or perhaps chewy.  While chewiness is desirable, the syrup sensation (in combination with the alcohol) in ways evoked a slight resemblance to some sort of dry liqueur.  In a sense this was unique and a bit different from most other stouts/imperial stouts/oatmeal stouts, yet it also took me away from appreciating the oats that drew me to this beer initially and slightly turned me off... yet, as noted in the flavour, its balanced drying kept me desiring 'just another sip.'

While I do enjoy both standard and imperial stouts, I do prefer the oatmeal variety and for that this beer draws me in, but (being the first imperial oatmeal stout I have ever seen, let alone tasted) I am not sure that they work entirely in conjunction.  Something about it kept me coming back for more, and I am glad Southern Tier did this for it makes me believe it is the dual-style variance more than the brewing that makes me a bit ambivalent.  Perhaps it is the super-high alcohol content that complicates what is otherwise a more appealing chewy meal for me, though not so much that I would say I didn't enjoy it!  Its strengths are wonderful and rich, but it may take its extremes a touch too far - at least for me.  B

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Southern Tier Beer Makes for a Fine Northern Dessert

On a recent excursion to Premiere Gourmet in Buffalo, I had the opportunity to pick up a Creme Brûlée Stout from Southern Tier (which is one of my favorite breweries).

Though it makes for a nice dessert (as my forthcoming review will make clear) at 9.6% ABV in a 650 ml bottle, it is (much like dessert) not something my diet nor parenting allows to be a one sitting swill! Well, today, with visitors, I found the opportune time to have this as a shared lunchtime dessert (though actually consumed simultaneously with lunch!) and my thoughts follow.

This beer pours like a standard stout, with a rich creamy off-white/beige head that dissipates a bit quickly with a medium lace trail.  It is not overly carbonated (in appearance or mouthfeel) but is perhaps smoothed out in texture as much as in taste by the lactic acid adjunct.

The sweet aromas this beer exudes are quite compelling.  Strong scents of vanilla so smooth and creamy as to remind you of a rich vanilla ice cream are supported by substantial notes of caramel (another malted adjunct) and what almost seems to be a butterscotch.  This beer quite literally smells like a gourmet ice cream!  Unfortunately, the sweetness masks the graininess of the malts such that the cone smell is unfortunately absent!

The taste is slightly less sweet than the aroma, bringing out a bit more of the grainy, malty, chewy goodness of the stout style tempered by two kinds of bittering hops, but these notes are much more subtle in comparison to the vanilla-caramel-mocha-coffee tastes that (though less flavourful than aromatic) still dominate this beer dessert.  It has a nice creamy-thick and almost chewy mouthfeel with little discernible carbonation that hides its alcohol quite well beneath the luxurious richness.

This beer deserves a few ratings.  Having never had another milk stout, I am limited in comparisons there, but as a stout it is a B, though as a dessert it is clearly an A+.  One complaint however... why serve it in such large bottles?  I guess it is bottled to share, like a cake, but as I often have a single beer alone, why can't I just have a slice?

Is Santos a Saviour?

I admit, I am as big an Alex Anthopolous fan as the next guy, but I haven't quite drunk the 'Sergio-Santos-will-be-our-saviour' kool-aid.  Sure, I am glad he's controllable and anxious to see how he develops as a pitcher, but let's assess the trade for a moment.

1) Needed a 'closer' (or at least bullpen help)
2) He's ML ready unlike Molina (possibly)
3) He's controllable

Let's consider the following, though.  Yes, we needed controllable bullpen help, without giving up 'too much,' and the question is, what is 'too much.'  While I don't have the numbers in front of me for the controllable years (nor can I predict the arbitration values Molina might get later) is Santos not less controllable (in terms of cost) than a guy who has yet to tick his ML clock?  That is, it is like the Jays signed a 28-year-old to Santos' 'controllable' (and yes, FAIRLY affordable) contract as well as trading Molina for him, since Molina would have been even more controllable and cheaper for those years.  That strikes me as a dual price.  That must be added into the assessment.

Further, what is the difference between the two?  I am no scout, and I have not seen Molina pitch, but we were told throughout the season of his two excellent, major-league-quality/ready pitches by the Jays' announcers and brass with more pitches developing.  Santos, we are also told, has two ML pitches.  Thus, that difference seems negligible or perhaps weighted towards Molina since he has greater likelihood of developing more quality pitches.

On quality, we can move on to strike throwing.  Both guys miss bats, but Santos misses the zone far too often for what is typically a repeatable success rate, whereas Molina hits it so often he ranks in literally elite company for both BB/9 and K:BB ratio.

Next, Molina is currently a starter (though, yes, some scouts say he might be ML reliever material), whereas Santos will never be and starters have more value.  Yes, Molina could end up the same but might end up with greater value and has greater upside.

So basically, the argument that Santos is affordably controllable is voided by the fact that Molina is more affordable and controllable, Molina has MUCH better control and (while admittedly at AA though at a young age) similar K rates, Molina has purportedly two roughly equal pitches, has greater upside in terms of positional value and pitch effectiveness and, we are told, could be playing in the ML in 2012 (though will be a late call-up probably and a work in progress).

I see one unmitigated plus for Santos there: readiness.  If that is Anthopolous' criteria for this trade, I expect to see a push to win in 2012, else I am willing to bet we regret this trade in retrospect.

Tell me if/where I am wrong... I want to believe!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Beers of the Year(s)

Tonight I ventured into BarVolo for a bite and a pint (that basically turned into three pints) and it got me to writing.

Through flights as well as only a single literal 'pint,' I managed to taste five draft beers this evening that were all new to me: Grand River Brewing's Jubilation Winter Warmer Spiced Ale, Great Lakes' Etobichoker, Black Oak's Nutcracker Porter, Denison's Dunkel, and Publican House's Henry's Irish Red Ale.  Some brief thoughts on each follow before a statement of some of my favourites as way of introduction to my tastes, preferences, and current beer awards.

The Dunkel from Denison's Brewing Company in Toronto is a very good beer that is exemplary of the style.  Though it was too dark to truly assess the colours (and the head in this flight glass was poorly presented), the sweet raisin-bready aroma and malty goodness were there to enjoy nonetheless!  Despite an overwhelming maltiness, the crispness of the carbonation and hoppy dryness bordering on astringency provided a very strong balance.  This beer is quite good and, were I more of a dunkel-guy, I might rate it higher.  As a dunkel it gets an A+, but as a beer'o'mine it falls into the B+ range which is highly enjoyable and high praise indeed!

The Nutcracker Porter from Black Oak presents beautifully with a nice, thick, creamy head that trails away with a fine lace.  A very pleasant grainy and nutty aroma greets the nose and the flavour finishes with a dryness reflecting of the style.  While a good beer, I couldn't help but feel like the bitter-sweetness of the roasted malt flavours were overshadowed by a slightly excessive dryness afterwards.  Enjoyable, but far from my favourite Porter.  B

I will refrain from commenting at length on the Grand River Jubilation since I was on the phone at the time and took only the briefest of notes.  Suffice it to say, as the style demands, it was indeed warming with spicy cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves flavours and a strong nutmeg aroma alongside fairly heavy carbonation.  B

The Great Lakes Etobichoker, a Belgian Strong Ale, presented obvious active yeasts in its cloudiness and heavily yeasty aroma which was smoothed out by fine citrus scents.  Flavours of yeast exemplary of the style are moderated by a touch of pear, though a delayed and slightly astringent afterbite seems a bit out of touch with the more dry properties typical of the style.  Good, but not great nor as exemplary of their style as others reviewed herein. B-

And the gem of the night year season: Publican House's Henry's Irish Red Ale.  This winter-only annual offering is as close to perfection as a beer can get, in my opinion, though I am partial to the style.  The beige creamy, yet slightly rocky (in diminishment) head left a remarkable trailing lace.  A strong coffee aroma greeted me and beckoned me further towards its allure and I was not disappointed in the slightest!  This beer has exceptional balance, providing a moderately dry finish to a smooth choco-malty (or perhaps mocha with it's coffee hints remaining in the mouth as well) toasted flavour, coupled with a creamy medium bodied mouthfeel.  Insofar as balance is desirable in a beer, this beer exemplifies not just the style but balanced my night. A+

It was this delicious Red Ale that got me to ponder writing tonight.  It made me reflect on my favourites and to that end I share this with you:

Favourite Styles: Traditional Pale Ales, IPAs, Bitters/ESBs, Dubbels, and Brown Ales

Once Upon a Good Beer: I do enjoy and will always love a classic Innis & Gunn for having introduced me to the world of good beer (beyond the Lager), though it is no longer my favourite, it is still unique, sweet, and noteworthy!

Brown Ale: Brooklyn Brown Ale
IPA: Innis & Gunn Limited Edition IPA (was it 2008?)
American IPA: Southern Tier IPA
Dubbel: Grimbergen Dubbel (with Chimay Premiere close behind)
Tripel: Koningshoeven La Trappe Tripel
Belgian Strong: Delirium Tremens
Dunkel: Gotta try Erdinger Dunkel and Denison's side-by-side to see (maybe Spaten)
Oktoberfest: Black Oak Oaktoberfest
Oatmeal Stout: Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout
Dry Irish Stout: Moylan's Dragoon's Stout
Amber Ale: New Belgium's Fat Tire
Pale Ale: Mill Street Tankhouse
Old Ale: Samuel Smith's Old Brewery Ale
Scottish Ale: Orkney Dark Island
Pale Lager: Neustadt Lager or Nickel Brook Organic Lager
Bitter: Coniston Bluebird Bitter

Go To Beer in Toronto: Mill Street Tankhouse

Favourite Breweries:
US: Southern Tier or New Belgium
Ontario: Mill Street?  (Their one-offs, like the Betelgeuse Tripel just push it over the edge for me, though Publican House is making a push)
Quebec: McAuslan
UK: Samuel Smith's, Orkney, and Innis & Gunn (Though I'd like to try a few more from Consiton... LCBO, care to help me out by bringing them to Ontario?)
Belgium: Chimay maybe though I tend to find good dubbels come from different breweries than good tripels (in my opinion) (again, though, could the LCBO bring more Grimbergen, please?)

Hope that introduces you to my beer loves which will change as you hear about them in the days, weeks, and months to come!



Hello and Welcome!

I suppose there is but one place to begin and that is with the oft-overrated, and even more frequently under-appreciated introduction (which will include a statement of scope and purpose).

I know that questions of my identity and purpose are foremost in anyone's mind who might 'wander' in and, well, before I go any further, I personally am pondering who you are and what brings you here.  Let me know in the comments if you come for the beer, Linux, the politics, or the baseball and I will (probably not) attempt to appease you!

What is this blog about?  Well, as an amateur beer aficionado who is somewhat dissatisfied with every organized rating option I can find, I have decided to write about craft beers in one consistent and searchable place for myself and for anyone else who cares to know what I think.

But... though beer will be my focus, I will also write about other interests if the whim strikes me.  Those interests range from left-wing politics and social issues to Linux and Free and Open Source Software, from baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays to life as a new parent and graduate student.

If relevant, I can elaborate on myself and/or my studies, and perhaps even waive anonymity, but my purpose in writing is partially to draw on the anonymity of the web and to make the focus not the author but the text, and therein not as art but as forum.  As long as you don't troll I welcome your engagements!

On the relevant topics, I have this to say by way of introduction:

Though I have always appreciated a good beer, it is only in the past few years that I have learned to truly appreciate quality beers and I am only beginning to both learn my palate and to understand how to express the qualities I am noting in a given beer.  In a way, this blog is my attempt to practice and grow in my appreciation and expression of admiration for the beers I consume.  That said, I have tasted and rated 353 beers and counting.  I have, however, lost 35 pounds this year (with a goal to lose 25 more) through hard exercise, tracking my food consumption (with sparkpeople), and willpower and have to watch my calories and carbs to fit in those few beers every week and they won't always be new or necessitate excessive comment, though I will post what I can when I can!

I began using Linux (or GNU/Linux as you may prefer) in 1998 with Red Hat, though hardware issues and the lack of any friendly assistance led me to go back to Windoze fairly quickly.  I tried Mandrake around 2000 and lasted a bit longer, but despite numerous attempts, a failure to get Evolution to connect to my POP server pushed me away once again, but in 2008 I switched for what I am sure will be for good.  I started with Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron), but have since moved on to Linux Mint as my main OS, and through virtualization am frequently trying other distros.  I am a big fan of Debian based distros, but also really like Slax, and enjoy lighter-weight desktops (especially Fluxbox and LXDE).  I may or may not write much about Linux, but it has become a part of my identity in a way that a Microsoft or Mac product never could, because of the open-source values that underpin its distribution and community.  I find that to be crucial to my personal values and I have often pondered reviewing distros as I will begin by reviewing beers.  Who knows... I may one day do so here.

I am also a huge baseball fan and, having lived the majority of my life in Toronto, I am a committed Blue Jays fan.  Insofar as this blog is not strictly a baseball blog, I will not comment on every Jays move/game/story (like the much appreciated, and always thoroughly read Bluebird Banter, Tao of Stieb, Jays Prospects, Drunk Jays Fans, and of course Fangraphs).  I will comment on major moves and share my thoughts from time to time on directions.  In fact, this is more likely than Linux posts, even though Linux means more to me than the Jays... and that is saying something!

What are my politics?  They change... and they should.  Politics should not be a rigid commitment to an immutable ideological stance that is divorced from the changing social realities of the world.  That said, however, I am committed to holding the rich accountable for the ways their wealth comes from and through, and exacerbates the marginalization of the poor.  I am on the left and I seek a more egalitarian world.  I find myself moved to occasionally comment on global, Canadian, and American politics most frequently, and this will probably come up from time to time as well, though links are often my way in this regard.

I have some thoughts on beer and baseball which will arise shortly, but for now, that is the intro.  Stay tuned and thanks for 'listening'!