Sunday, 23 December 2012

In the Spirit of the Season: Samichlaus as Rated Beer #800

I use the word 'spirit' somewhat loosely since this beer is allegedly the world's strongest lager, coming in at a whopping 14% ABV (or higher at times than listed, allegedly up to 15%).  Samichlaus Classic, an Austrian-brewed doppelbock currently crafted by Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg, warms the chest as if drinking a spirit, and in this sense is truly more of a winter warmer than most of the ales that are actually made in that style... but I am jumping the gun a bit here if framing the discussion.

I picked this up at the SAQ for $4.60 a bottle, but the LCBO is allegedly stocking it this season (despite rejecting it in years past for allegedly marketing to children with the image of Saint Nick on the label seen below.)

This "world's most extraordinary beverage" (as the label claims) is brewed but once a year, on Saint Nicholas Day - December 6th - and is then aged and then likely re-fermented several times to get the alcoholic strength up over a period of 10 months before bottling.  Each bottle is dated with the year it was bottled, and my purchases were labelled 2011.  Thus, this beer was brewed December 6th, 2010, aged 10 months, bottled and has found it into my belly to warm my cockles for Festivus 2012.

Even from cellar temperature to room temperature, one can see the evolution of this beer and it is clearly better warm (and warming!).

It pours a reddish-light brown with a thin white-to-ever-so-faintly-off-white head of poor retention and lace, with any semblance of head gone within a minute.  On the nose it smells strongly of its high ABV alongside characteristic malty doppelbock notes of plums, dates, and brown sugar.  Tastewise, it is very sweet up front and dominated by caramel and baking bread notes, while it finishes with an-alcohol-laden dryness and the characteristic chest-warmth resembling a licqueur.  Typical of a lager, it offers a clean, crisp flavour that almost seems counter-intuitive to its rather substantial body.  It is quickly bereft of carbonation and remains sticky and like a cross between a sticky liqueur and a doppelbock for the remainder of its sipping life.  In this sense, its sweetness and alcoholic warmth make it almost a boozy dessert on its own.

Is it worth the hype?  Yes and no.  It is an experience - and a great one at that - warming and bridging divides between beer and liquor for a winter's eve over the holidays.  Is it my favourite doppelbock?  Probably not at (two years) fresh, but this allegedly ages well and mellows as it does so, so I will have to stick a few away and make a new holiday tradition of testing the aging evolution.

Grade (as a beer): A-
Grade (as a doppelbock): A-
Grade (as a warming winter drink): A
Grade (as a new holiday tradition with its legend, like those of its namesake, framing the discussion): A+

'Til next time, ta-ta and cheers!

The Call to Darkness: Two Divergent Strong, Dark Ales

Besides being on the darker side of things with high alcohol content, the two beers under review here share little in terms of characteristics.  The other things they have in common are being damn good and getting rated (as numbers 798 and 799) on the same day.

The first was Het Anker's Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van de Keizer Blauw (Grand Cru of the Emperor) at 11% ABV.  This was purchased from the LCBO for around $7 for a 750 ml bottle and provides great value for the money, such that I should have purchased several more including a few for the cellar!

It pours a nicely coloured deep ruby-reddish brown with a tan head of decent retention with some lacing remaining on the glass.  The aromas are of dark fruits, mainly plums and raisins, while the taste is very sweet, almost cloyingly so, and dominated by candied brown sugar with a hint of raisins.  The alcohol is basically undetectable (by mouth, but not by head), masked by a slight creaminess and a moderate carbonation.  It is darn good, and very enjoyable, if a bit explicitly sweeter than ideally desirable.  I wonder if a year in the cellar would mellow it out?  Still, a dangerous easy-drinker!  Grade: A

The second had been sitting here for quite some time as occasionally happens.  At $2.59 for a 341 ml bottle (in Quebec), this is an affordable imperial stout, and I was hoping it would impress (as my last affordable imperial stout did not, though Peche Mortel always does!)

And... L'Alchimiste Impérial Stout (7.9% ABV) doesn't disappoint as it pours a black body capped by a fizzy, audible brown head of decent retention and thick, if rapidly diminishing, lace.  Boldly aromatic and reminiscent mostly of a dark chocolate, with lightly smoky hints, while tasting similarly.  It begins a bit malty-sweet with roasted biscuity notes but quickly evolves to a finely drying and lingering bitter cocoa.  It is medium to full bodied, if a touch lighter than I'd like in the style, with a creaniness that wasn't expected alongside the audible carbonation/head.  Grade: A-

All in all, these made for an excellent beer day and I only hope that beer number 800 impresses just as well!

More on that soon, and as I have it!  Til then, Happy holidays Festivus!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

By Way of Multi-Tasked Aside: Idle No More!

I have promised not simply beer on here and have given mostly beer, but for a brief aside, I'd like to call attention to the many issues facing Canada's First Nations peoples and the #idlenomore campaign, alongside those in hunger strike to address these serious issues and legitimate grievances.

With 7000 outstanding land claims in Canada being 'resolved' at a rate of one every seven years, it would be 49,000 years until these are addressed - if the genocide and assimilation are not complete by then (and if the corporate colonial model has not assured our climactic destruction long before then).  In the meantime, the federal Harper government is trying to circumvent the treaties already signed.

We are living in an advanced colonial settler state and should support the very real, very legitimate claims and actions of the people whose land and lives we continue to steal and deny.

For information from the movement itself, check out:

Saturday, 15 December 2012

On ONs Great Westy Debacle of 12/12/12

Here are some semi-disjointed observations on the Westvleteren insanity of the past week and I will finish with some tips for those who missed out, or at least would like to know what they were missing:

  • Obviously, the LCBO underestimated demand and the hype machine, but I find this somewhat incomprehensible since I predicted months ago it wouldn't last a day in stores, reducing my own estimate to hours after Josh Rubin's first Toronto Star article.  Why this wasn't distributed by lottery, I do not know - yes, that would still be random, but equalized random.
  • The subsequent explosion of inquiries at the LCBO main contact line must have tipped them off, yet several things happened:
    1. They seemed to have no-or-little information, and grew increasingly annoyed at the calls, such that they changed their FAQ page to list this as the #2 concern (after store hours and locations for the last few weeks).
    2. That FAQ page changed and said call the stores (as of Monday).
    3. Upon beginning my own calls to stores Monday evening, the first two told me I was "without exaggeration" over their thousandth and seven-hundredth call that day and none had legitimate information, but told me to call back each day despite growing increasingly annoyed each day at my calls!
  • At this point the LCBO had another opportunity to coordinate release dates and times, but again they randomized it.
  • Though the vast majority of staff I dealt with were friendly and cordial, and helpful beyond the call of duty, some deserve mention for the pros and cons:
    • 2 stores (one Wednesday, one Thursday) lied to me at 8:30 in the morning claiming it wasn't available when they had (small) lines outside and plenty of chance to still procure it
    • Many were friendly yet lamented the download of call to individual stores themselves, though one person I spoke with (twice) was extremely angry and rude.  I get being upset with your employer over the mishandling of this release, but that doesn't necessitate extreme rudeness to customers (once rudely saying no and hanging up before hearing my follow-up question).
    • That said, most staff ran a tight ship, came to work early, were super-friendly, and did an admirable job of dealing with a difficult situation imposed on staff and consumers alike
    • One amazing manager, at a tiny LCBO in small-town Ontario (closest to my home), not only spent many hours on calls for me, provided me more information than others, and tried her hardest to make me a special order (that the head office and the importer both told me they could/would do).  When this didn't happen, she even offered to have her son stand in line for me to procure me a pack!  Having never met this woman, I will be bringing her a beer sometime!  I called her to tell her I'd gotten a pack and she was genuinely thrilled for me and my sincere thanks made her day.  That was truly heart-warming.
  • Allegedly, the discrepancy between the 1404 packs for public sale and the 2000 the LCBO purchased is for licensees.  However, as far as I know, these monks have insisted none be provided for markup and wanted signed agreements from places as they do with individual buyers.  There may have been an exception here, but with this demand I am pretty disappointed that nearly 1/3 of the entire LCBO purchase goes to bars who will be charging anywhere from $30-$60 a bottle for this and profiting immensely from the hype for quite some time.
  • However, this does open up options for people who never got a case and wish to try it, but can I recommend that those who caught into the hype, but don't know the beer style, try the following first:
    • Wait until the new year, when the LCBO will allegedly begin regularly stocking Trappistes Rochefort 10 (for probably less than $4/bottle).  Try it and see roughly what you'd be getting.  Otherwise, come into Quebec or the United States, or go to one of Toronto's better beer bars (Volo, Sin & Redemption, BeerBistro, Bellwoods, Burger Bar, The Only Cafe, etc) and buy a Rochefort 10 or a St. Bernardus Abt 12 first
    • If you like those, you'll probably like Westy 12, and if you don't you probably won't.
    • If you do, then go shell out the bucks to a bar for Westy but let's drive their prices down by buying it only from the cheaper folks - which so far looks like Bellwoods at a promised $30/bottle (maybe share one!)
In conclusion, I am glad the LCBO got this and that I got one, but reports of thousands more purchased for Nove Scotia and Alberta, both with a far lower population means I can't help but wonder how and why the LCBO let this situation unfold as it did.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

How to Drink a Westvleteren XII

I have been prompted to write by a line-waiter's observation that, "Only one person I met today had heard of the beer before this week. I heard more than one person ask if it was a dark beer. One person talked about the beer being from a monestery in Amsterdam. All very innocent, and the people were quite nice."

I appreciate if people discover the breadth of flavours beer allows, but if you were fortunate enough to score one of these packs and have no idea how to drink a bottle-conditioned Belgian strong dark ale, may I offer the following to ensure this beer gets the respect it deserves and a proper chance to enliven your experiences?

1) Please don't drink it right away.  The living yeast in these bottles needs to settle for at least 24 hours, if not a week or more.

2) This beer is not meant to be drank ice cold.  Drink it at cellar temperature - 14 or 15 degrees celsius.  This means, perhaps either about 20 minutes in the fridge or out of the fridge for 30 minutes or thereabouts.

3) Please, DO NOT drink it from the bottle!  Pour at a reasonably quick speed at first into a goblet, chalice or wine glass (or the glasses that came with it!) so as to allow a substantial head to develop (which allows expression of the aromas).

4) Slow down towards the end of the pour and watch carefully so as not to pour the yeast into the glass which changes the taste when mixed in.  It is not bad, per se, even if different and drinking the yeast can be a learning experience (you can perhaps add it to your last sip or two just to see).  Though the yeast is remarkably high in B vitamins, it also tends to give one extreme gas!  You have been warned!

5) Sniff it, enjoy it!  Realize this is a unique and special beer, but there are others that are very similar and are at/will be at the LCBO in the near future for a much lower price.  Check out my earlier posts on drinking a beer in a new way to many, and finally...

6) ... consider yourself extremely fortunate.  If you don't like it, sell it, trade it, or gift it to someone who might, but for Darwin's sake please DO NOT down this 10%er with your nose plugged for a good buzz!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Best Beer in the World at the LCBO? The Pending Arrival of Westvleteren 12

Just what makes Westvleteren 12 so special? Well, really there are two things both tied tightly to those ever-present economic 'laws' of supply and demand.

Part of the demand comes from the fact that this beer is delicious and often rated as the best in the world. See my original review here, though this is a living, bottle conditioned ale of evolving complexity and it will likely seem different the next time around as it matures.  It is, though, assuredly excellent and, if you get the chance to drink it, please do it at cellar temperature (or just above) with a pour into an ideal glass (chalice, goblet, tulip, or snifter ideally, wine glass otherwise) that allows the growth of a full head, and don't pour the yeast sediment from the bottom into the glass (at least at first unless you want to explore the changes the yeast creates afterwards!).

But, really, despite being a solid beer, it is certain that its scarce supply drives up its stature, though this doesn't take away from its delicious sweet complexity.  Normally, procuring a case of this beer - outside of the grey market - means purchasing it from the monastery itself or its associated cafe; it means having called in advance - and lucked into an answer; it means scheduling your pickup date; it means getting whichever of the three beers they are making available the date of your pre-scheduled pickup; it means signing a waiver promising not to resell it; and it means not being able to use the (recorded) license plate or phone number for a certain varied amount of time (2-6 months) for any other purchases at the monastery.  Yes, I am serious.

You see, the monks of St. Sixtus (where Westvleteren 8, 12, and Blonde are brewed) brew beer one day a week.  When asked why they don't step up production, their reply amounted effectively to [paraphrasing here] 'we are in the beer business to sustain our devout life, not to make beer.'

This excellent Belgian strong dark ale normally sells for the very reasonable price of 39 Euros for 24 bottles at the monastery, but grey market cases in Canada (which must be sold by the case by law through private import in Ontario - when even available) sell for $400.

However, the foundational disrepair of the aging monastery is to the (potential) benefit of many a beer drinker!  You see, for a limited time, the monks brewed twice a week to make 163,000 extra 6-packs (plus two special edition glasses) of their beer for what is likely the only time for off-site legitimate sales.  93,000 of those gift packs sold out in hours upon their release in Belgium.  Of the other 70,000 - bound for various markets in North America - between 1400 and 2000 have found their way into a pending LCBO release.

At $75.40 per six-pack, the price isn't cheap, but these beers will age, make for an excellent gift, and are probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  Most folks I know who are fans of good beer, but know little about it have probably come closest (and not immensely close) to tasting something similar when drinking a Chimay Grand Reserve ("Chimay Bleu").  If you like that, this bodes well for you!

However, as exciting as this opportunity is, the LCBO neglected to use a lottery system as they did with Sam Adams Utopias and I (and many others) will be remarkably shocked if stocks of this remain in any store through the end of a single day upon the unknown time of their arrival on the shelf.

The exact date of release is unknown - though it could/should be any time within the next two weeks.

Watch for it in their online inventory database if interested - and if you wind up finding a cache before sell-out, please let me know in case my odds fall through!  It'll be your ticket into my pending blind quad tasting that will be complete with Westy!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Burton Baton: Again for the First Time

Every once in a while something knocks your socks off.

I sampled Dogfish Head's Burton Baton at Mondial de la Biere this year, but had yet to truly have one fully, on its own, and away from the countless other taste samples of that event.

I recently got that chance, and I have yet to find my socks and that has nothing okay, little to do with its 10% ABV.

I poured this beer into a Maudite tulip glass and was truly impressed from the beginning as it presents a gorgeous reddish-amber with slightly wispy cloudiness in the body, while crowned by a thick white, creamy head of good retention and smooth, thick, creamy lace.  All of these characteristics were inviting and appealing, and certainly excellent if not the best-of-the-best I have seen.  The creaminess is evident in both photos below (please forgive the phone quality, though I think they suffice to show the visual characteristics nonetheless).

The aroma is faintly earthy and piney, but with a nice, dominant citrusy hops representing orange primarily and only lightly grapefruity, with a balanced aroma of baking-bread maltiness, with some pleasant woody notes.

The taste is likewise complex and well-balanced, if drier than some might prefer, with some oak hints with vanilla discernible up front, before a finish that is equal parts chewy bready malt and citrus/rind hops notes insofar as this strong malt backbone is clear alongside the finely drying finish.  The dry piney finish is thus superbly balanced by the bread-like qualities of the excellent complex maltiness.  Sure, at 70 IBU it is bitter to the casual, non-IPA, beer drinker, but it is also remarkably complex and balanced and I truly savoured every sip and remaining drop.

On the tongue, you observe none of this fine beer's 10% ABV, though it is slightly warming while built by a full body, with a slightly sticky and mildly oily yet smoothly crisp carbonation.

This is one unbelievably amazing beer and I adjust my original A-/A rating to give it the deserved Grade: A+

I have to choose favourites by style because picking between unlike things is difficult and unfair, but this is right there on the list with every favourite I currently have and tops my list of Old Ales and/or Imperial IPAs, and probably oak-aged beers as well.

Please SAQ and/or LCBO - can you start importing Dogfish Head???

Saturday, 1 December 2012

What a Weekend! Pannepot, Cantillon, and Then Some!

So with a new job, it was inevitable: the night out for beers with some new colleagues.  Fortunately, they too like their beer and we had a "Craft Beer Pub Stroll" (rather than crawl, since somewhere along the way getting older meant being too respectful to crawl - a change I can accept, it's the harsher hangovers I rather dislike).

Shortly before the event, it came to my attention that Cantillon's Zwanze Day 2012 would be the very next afternoon at one location in Canada: Montreal's world-class brewpub Dieu du Ciel.  Being a family man, and mildly hungover, meant I didn't manage to stay for the tapping of Zwanze (at 3 pm) or Dieu du Ciel's special Peché Mortel offerings at 5pm (which included a Bourbon-Aged version... and yes, I regret missing this about as much as the Zwanze!)  But I did pop in for the Organic Gueuze and will say more on that shortly, but that is the end of the two-day crawl (with sleep in between!)

We kicked off at Le Cheval Blanc, a nice art-deco designed brewpub with some solid draught brews of their own, including a cask, and a fine selection of import bottles.  The service was great, but a bit busy as the place was packed from 5pm on (maybe even beforehand) and we had to colonize tables one at a time.

It being my first time there, I decided to check it out online first and discovered - to my pleasant surprise - that their import bottles list includes De Struise's quadrupel: Pannepot (Old Fisherman's Ale) a 10% ABV quadrupel brewed with spices.  As I am a big fan of Charlevoix's Dominus Vobiscum Hibernus (another spiced quad), I was anxious to try this and had them warm one up for me upon arrival without disappointment!

The Pannepot I had was dated 2010 and had some smoothed out balance to it from that time.  It poured a dark body with a full head of negligible retention, but nice lace.  It smelled mostly of chocolate malt with a roasted hint alongside raisins and a bit of caramel.  The taste was excellent: sweet in a roasted malt-backbone kind of way with just a hint of candied fruits and anise.  Full bodied and fully carbonated, and just plain fantastic.  Perhaps my favorite quad - and at least of comparable quality to Westvleteren 12, Rochefort 10, and Achel Extra Bruin!  Definitely an A+

Cheval Blanc impressed with their own beers as well.  Of particular note were the Double Porter and cask India Orange IPA, both of which were quite good, the India Orange even offering the best head retention and most delectable lace I have ever observed (not to mention a nicely dry-hopped citrus with a balanced maltiness of obvious quality).  I'd give the porter an A- and the India Orange an A-/A.

We then arrived at l'Amère a Boire, with a smaller and more modern, but gorgeous interior with some good looking grub (though I didn't taste any) where we would remain since Le Saint Bock was too full (though on my reconnaissance mission, my colleague and I did have a Hibernus to compare to the Pannepot - even if unscientifically separated by several drinks from evening's first quad!  For the record, I prefer the Pannepot and that is high praise indeed and takes nothing away from Charlevoix's marvel).

Though l'Amère a Boire impressed to a fair degree as well with a decent czech pilsner (Cerná Hora) that I'd give a B/B+, baltic porter (Odense Porter) I'd rate a B+, and a Boucanier American Porter that I'd likewise rate in the B+ range, their biggest hit for me was l'Amiral (an 8.5% ABV English Barleywine that they serve aged 1-year).  I had it late and would like to try it again on its own, though it offered very nice fruity and malty-sweet notes exemplifying the solid malt base, but with a fine dryness to match and balance it out to nice bold extremes of harmony, though the lingering finish was almost cloyingly sweet beyond the style norms.  That said, style norms are guides, not laws and it went down marvellously such that I look forward to a more thorough tasting and rating in the future.

Finally, I come to the sole beer of my Zwanze Day event - and unfortunately not the Zwanze, or any of their fruit lambics due to their limited quantity and my time (I was about the tenth person into the bar at open and their granted stock was so little that 2 of 5 bottles had sold out by the time I ordered).  Regardless, this beer was a marvel as my first Cantillon which lived up to the hype.  The bottle was their Gueuze 100% Lambic-Bio an organic gueuze - a blend of three (1 year old, 2 year old and 3 year old) wild fermented sour Belgian lambics without added sugar.  It, to me, was something like an unsweetened Duchesse de Bourgogne, but with obvious quality in every ingredient and a simply perfect blend.

Specifically, it appeared golden to light amber and slightly cloudy, with a moderate white head that dissipated quickly except for a rim that remains for quite some time and which finely laces the glass as swilled.   To the nose it is, as anticipated, sour and musty with a faint earthiness, but enticing with sour fermenting peach notes (and nothing I would call funk).  Tastewise, it is entirely sour in a pleasingly tart and nuanced manner while also slightly acidic but balanced and complex with a bit of sour apple.  Medium bodied and fully carbonated, it gives the sourness that tingly feeling that seems to fit it so very well.  This isn't a beer I could drink many of repetitively, but nor is it one I could turn down one of.  Best gueuze or lambic I have yet to taste!  Grade: A+

Experiments in Aging: Rochefort 8 and 10 One Year In

Around the time I started this blog, I also began cellaring beers (or, I suppose more precisely, I began systematically adding to the limited selection of 2007 and 2008 Thomas Hardy Ales I already had aging).

If you are unfamiliar with this process, yes, some beers can improve with age and aren't best drank fresh. Typically, Old Ales, Barley Wines, Imperial Stouts, and Belgian Strongs age well: note these are mostly 8+ % ABV beers. The exceptions to the strong rule are live/bottle-conditioned beers and gueuzes/lambics which can be aged even if lower in alcohol, while generally hoppier if-still-strong IIPAs (for example) which lose their hop profile fairly quickly should basically always be consumed fresh.  For more tips on the process, check out this excellent article.

Of course, like with most other things about beer, I am sharing my personal writing as I learn myself. Likewise, I am no expert at this. I have drank a few aged beers at establishments, but having just begun my own aging experiments, this is my first week of tasting the outcomes.

I am going to discuss two such 1-year attempts here. Trappistes Rochefort's 8 and 10, their dubbel and quad respectively. Neither was stored in a strictly climate controlled setting, but both were stored in predominant darkness in an actual cellar with temperatures ranging from 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit with slow seasonal variation.

The 8 was originally reviewed here, while in year-old form it remains extremely frothy, but with an even sweeter, less boozy fruity-sweet nose of plums but also sweet cherries. The taste is similar but with a drier earthier finish, and just a slight trace of chocolate towards the end. Simply marvelous! In my opinion this beer went from excellent to unearthly! I did not taste a fresh one beside it, but living in a Province where the local liqueur store makes this regularly available means I get to consume it frequently and this improvement is clear... And an improvement on a phenomenal beer is, indeed, noteworthy.  The fruity nose seems to exemplify the change, as it gets sweeter and bolder, while the taste and mouth likewise get even less boozy than beforehand - which was negligible for its high ABV.

The 10 seemed to change less, or at least less for the better, though not necessarily for the worse. Originally reviewed here, this offering again unsurprisingly retains its carbonated excess evidenced by a thick head.  The extra fruity nose, with plums, prunes, figs and faint wisp of chocolate is similar to the original, but also a honey/fermenting strawberries as it warms and a touch of leather and faint mustiness. Tastewise, however, this beer was far more boozy up front with a honey-ish sweetness (almost like a boozy/sticky mead, if far less cloying) with a hint of faint chocolate. The boozy notes temper somewhat after a few sips, though I am not sure if this is the beer's evolution, or my acclimatization to it.  It remains complex and smooth, though slightly sticky if finely carbonated.

The 10 was still good, but when fresh the 8 tastes far boozier than the 10 and this tasting brought the converse.  This is extremely odd since the 10 is remarkably non-boozy despite its hefty ABV normally.

Many online swear the following that could all be factors:

  • That the 10 could and perhaps should be aged for 5 to 10 years to see a substantial difference
  • That aging can be a crapshoot in that there are waves of good and bad times, ups and downs and it is virtually impossible to know when opening one how it will be at that point in time.
Things I have learned:

  • Next time, I won't be overly hasty and will drink them side-by-side with fresher examples (even if I am quite familiar with both)
  • With the success of the 8, I cannot wait to see what the 10 can - and hopefully will - become!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

My Journey to Craft Beer: A Provocative Review

I literally remember that day like it was yesterday.  It was nearly six years ago at a family gathering for Christmas 2006 when my brother gave me an Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer and inadvertently created a monster.

I had somewhat drifted away from beer over the years before this as I had just started to get bored with what I thought beer inevitably was; which as far as I knew consisted mainly of Macro-brewed American Pale/Light/Adjunct lagers for the most part.  Sure, I had tried La Fin du Monde (which I enjoyed but simply considered a way to drink 9% beer that didn't taste like those 9% beers guzzled by high-schoolers seeking a buzz), Maudite, Guinness, and a smattering of other beers, but too few and without any systematic insight into what I was drinking nor a fair ground of assessment or an evolved palate to appreciate the difference.

Innis & Gunn changed all of that.  It was sweet, chewy, dessert-like, with excellent vanilla and caramel notes present both to nose and mouth.  It was a revelation!  A sign from the beer gods that beer need not be bland, served at taste-numbingly-cold temperatures to mask its flaws!  A sign that beer could be more than a tolerable vehicle for the dissemination of alcohol!  It was delicious!  Not good, or sufficient, or merely nominally different from any other beer... it. was. delicious!

It made regular beer undrinkable for me as I grew accustomed to it and then, through exploration with friends (notably Riley who blogs here and here though not about beer), I learned more and began to discover the diversity of amazing flavours beer offers.

Riley had been rating beer and on our get-togethers we'd drink new things and share them two ways thereby diversifying our options.  Eventually, I took up ratings too and started to watch the list grow, to notice my tastes and experiences expanding, and before I knew it I was reading, writing, and thinking about beer more than I'd ever imagined I would (and still far less than many a beer-rater, if far more than most folks I know).  (And, btw, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, I actually don't drink too much of it at once very often and have even grown to lament the alcohol, wishing rather to enjoy the beer over the buzz.)

Though I would often call Innis & Gunn my favourite beer (and adored its 2007 Limited Edition IPA - for reasons unlinked to style as it represents that style poorly), and though I would turn many onto the beer and repetitively be called an ambassador for the brand (at one point keeping a count of those I had turned onto the brew - a count I lost in the dozens), I would even move away from this, but not without a lasting reverence for both the taste and historical role this beer served in my "Brewed Awakening."  It is, and even to my ever-evolving palate remains, a delicious beer.

That said, I have since discovered many I enjoy far more and, though I rarely drink an Innis & Gunn these days, I still periodically enjoy one and I fondly taste each of their unique special offerings, seasonals, and one-offs.

Innis & Gunn does one thing remarkably well: allow their beer to acquire excellent, sweet, caramel/vanilla/butterscotch notes from the oak barrels it is aged in - aromas and tastes that suit their beer to a tee.  They have inspired many an oak-aging brewer; many to success and some to failure.  However, I am not quite certain they are excellent brewers - in fact, they admit that Innis & Gunn was discovered accidentally by a beer they intended to discard which they had hoped would impart characteristics into the wood to bring back to a whiskey.  One can only presume the level of brewery masterdom applied to a beer intended for disposal would imply that the beer had not been optimally and carefully crafted.

The beer itself is quite unique - in its sweet flavour and in terms of style labelling - though is dominated by oak notes from the maturation process rather than specific beer characteristics of traditional beer styles.  Often called a Scottish Ale, but less because it shares many characteristics with such beers than because it doesn't really fit into other style categories and is simply brewed in Scotland.  Many of their other beers are similarly unique (Rum-Cask, Spiced Rum Finish, Canada Day) and presumably come from a similar base.  Though that style non-conformity is not a bad thing, and could arguably be a good thing portending ingenuity, it is when they apparently misappropriate styles that they get themselves into trouble with beer geeks and where their brewing shortcomings most expose themselves.

It was about a year after my first discovery of Innis & Gunn that I had their aforementioned 2007 Limited Edition India Pale Ale - and I was even more wowed.  This was like an Innis & Gunn on steroids: even more caramel and vanilla, and loads of creamy butterscotch.  It was then that I began discovering more about beer and for the first time found myself on beer advocate where I accordingly found myself appalled that many were upset this was called an IPA.  Having tasted two so-called "IPAs" at the time - this and Alexander Keith's - I really had no idea what offended people so, though someone said they admired the strong hops character of this beer.  It turns out this comment was made by someone who knew as little as I knew about beer at the time, for this made me presume I liked "hoppy" beers, a term I had learned but knew nothing of.  (Which led to my pending request for "something extremely hoppy," while in San Francisco - could it have been a Pliny at the wrong time in my beer journey? I will never know - that got me a shock I would now love to recreate now that I have learned to appreciate what was then appallingly offside to my taste buds!)

That said, I still recall the taste of that I&G IPA and still think I would love it - though I recall it as having about as much resemblance to an IPA as a gueuze probably does to a Miller lite (which is to say, just about none at all).  In fact, I believe the box may have simply said this was the same recipe with hops added during the oak maturation process.  To me (regardless of whether I am recollecting correctly) this doesn't make for an IPA - even if it makes for one of the most delicious beers I have ever tasted.  I think those expecting something resembling a Pliny may have been as off-put by this as by a Keith's when expecting an IPA that actually reflected common characteristic aroma and tasting notes, even if those two are still so vastly different.

Yet, the typical, light-amber Innis & Gunn beers are usually damn good - loved by many, hated by few - despite their stylistic uniqueness.

But then things get dicier... and I start to sound more like a beer geek as my appreciation of stouts and porters grows.

First, Innis & Gunn released their first stout - aged in Irish Whisky Casks.  I reviewed that beer here and therein note that "it wasn't a great stout, nor a great limited edition Innis & Gunn offering."  I even remarked to others that I had a difficult time even considering it a stout since its tastes were much more like a brown ale - cola like - and its body quite lighter than a stout's would/should be.  Regardless, it wasn't egregious, just not great as an I&G one-off nor as a stout.

Then, I picked up their newly released Winter Treacle Porter.  This beer pours a clear amber body - nothing like a porter - with overwhelming aromas of nothing but molasses (or treacle).  The taste has a tiny hint of oak and roasted malts, but is also vastly dominated by molasses.  The body I honestly don't recall as this became one of three beers I poured down the sink this year.

Maybe I just don't like treacle or molasses much - and I admittedly don't, but I don't mind hints of it in my beer - but that is all this beer is!  The treacle dominates even the oak and any underlying resemblance this beer may have had to a porter.  I certainly see no evidence that this beer is anything but a treacle-doused amber-coloured beverage that could just as easily be alcoholized, food-coloured water for all of the beer notes, let alone porter notes, that are evident.

However, perhaps I now sound like those bashing the IPA and I acknowledge this apparent hypocrisy - in fact, it is self-consciously part of the reason for this post!

In my beer journey, I have come to realize that despite my - personal, so very personal - taste for the I&G IPA, it is (as lamented) no IPA.  It is a butterscotch version of their original offering (or something close to that with allegedly more hops) and, if you like that, and don't expect otherwise, it is delicious.  Perhaps if you like treacle/molasses, this is the same, but if you want to try a porter, this will be immensely disappointing.  I realize that, at least, this time around I&G put Treacle in the name (unlike with the Butterscotch "IPA"), but I suppose my provocation here is to actually brew a solid stout, porter, and/or IPA or, in the absence of that, to at least avoid mis-labelling these experiments that play on my (now diminished) brand loyalty and style loves without meeting some resemblance to the product you claim to be selling.

I truly would love to taste a porter - a real porter - made and oak-aged by Innis & Gunn but, claims to the contrary notwithstanding, it seems they have yet to make one.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Alike and Unlike Juxtaposition: Drinking a Grande Noirceur and a Peché Mortel Simultaneously

Tonight I set out on a two-beer-mission that led to three typos in this sentence already (as they are 9% and 9.5% ABV beers and I always drink rated beers quickly - faster than I'd like!)

Being a publicly professed lover of all things beers Dieu du Ciel, and no less an outed fan of imperial stouts, I couldn't look a gift horse in the mouth.  That is, a few days past, an as-yet-unseen Dieu du Ciel beer came to my attention at my local dealer's Metro: a Grande Noirceur Imperial Stout (the 9%er).  For obvious reasons, I picked up a few (a few to drink, a few to age and drink eventually), especially since bottled oddities of DDC brews seem to come and go while being much more frequently gone.

After doing my personal review of the Grande Noirceur (trans. The Great Darkness recalling the Duplessis era of Quebec history which is reflected in name and label image, seen below), in which I commented on parallels to Peché, I did a web search to learn the availability of this fantastic beer only to discover (unsurprisingly) that this is allegedly the base for Peché.  [Correction: alleged is the operative word here, as the brewer has tweeted to me that this isn't so and that they are distinct recipes!  I got this information from several comments on beeradvocate AND ratebeer, as well as a stand-alone web page - hopefully this correction will end the rumours I have inadvertently participated in - which was why I used allegedly just in case!]

Thus, rather than simply post my review of the Grande Noirceur, I thought I may as well drink them alongside one another and add the comparison.  I will begin, however, with my original thoughts on le Grande Noirceur (which evolve in direct contrast):

This beer is about as black as promised and, like all good imperial stouts, is an experience in extremes.  The dark body is capped by a creamy and lacy mocha head of decent retention.  The aroma is dominated by bitter cocoa and coffee as expressed by a deeply roasted malt, with a faint hint of dry, nearly stale nuts.  The taste, however, loses everything except the cocoa, but gains in that immensely, before a finely drying, earthy and lightly piney hops finish.  To the mouth, this delicious beer offers a sticky feeling to a full body, with appropriate warmth alongside just a hint of its strength.  All in all, I loved this beer and drinking it made me question whether I liked it more than a (bottled) Peché Mortel.  Grade: A/A+

Here are my original thoughts from my first Peché, first posted here (with additional and even greater praise for the Nitrogen-tapped version here):

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

Now, in direct juxtaposition, the differences are exposed while the similarities are simultaneously intensified.  As evidenced by the photo below, the Grande Noirceur offers a darker head - more befitting of the mocha description - whereas the Peché should perhaps be called tan in contrast.  Both are bold and extreme beers in their own right, but with back-and-forth sips (before finishing the Grande first then the Peché) it becomes obvious that the Peché is like an amped-up, more extreme version of this very dry, very bitter, yet very delicious masterpiece of brewing.  In this sense, the Peché offers a longer lasting dry finish with an earthier lingering boldness and obvious espresso bitterness (that is obviously more extreme to both nose and tongue), though it becomes less observable as it warms.  After a sip of the Peché, the Noirceur seems comparatively tame, though both mellow as the sips go on and as one grows accustomed to their extremes.

In a nutshell, both are truly wonderful marvels and choosing would be impossible, though the Grande Noirceur caters to the milder moods of extreme decisions and desires, while the Peché is a no-holds-barred assault on the senses.  If you almost like Peché, try a GN if/while you can find one.  If you truly love Peché, I am sure you too will like its base this other DDC imperial stout.

And, on that note, let me re-evaluate my original A rating for a Peché, and give it a borderline A/A+.  If I should somehow only have access to one beer for the rest of my days, neither of these would disappoint me.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Belgian Beer, Trappists, Abbeys, and Official Designations

Many speak of Belgian beers with reverence, many of Abbey beers, and many simply (or specifically) of Trappist beers.  Many others are simply confused (isn't beer beer?  Monks make beer?  How can Belgian beers be made outside of Belgium?)  Some others, like... ahem... myself, have a slightly faulty memory and err on public blogs.

Despite my correction, I hope to also make this post clarifying and enlightening by, first, considering what Trappists and Trappist  Beers are and, second, distinguishing them by style and from Belgian/Abbey beer designations.

Trappists themselves are Benedictine monks who, as prescribed by Saint Benedict, strive to sustain themselves through quality production and sale of goods rather than through tithes and community contributions/donations.  Though Trappists also make cheese, liquor, wine, bread, soups, cleaning products, religious products, artwork, and more, they are famous in the beer community for their remarkable (and remarkably) strong ales.

Trappist Beers are, technically, only those marked by the Authentic Trappist Product hexagonal logo (easily found by google search) according to criteria set out by the International Trappist Association to protect their brands (which are not only beers). Amongst other criteria that are less pertinent herein, this logo essentially means that the product was made within the walls of the monastery either by monks themselves or at least under their supervision, while much of the proceeds go towards charitable endeavours.

Of late, this meant there were seven Official Trappist breweries, recalled by many via the memorable acronym WOW RACK:

Westvleteren (who sell a Blonde, a Dubbel [8], and a Quadrupel [12])
Orval (who sell a unique Belgian Pale Ale only)
Westmalle (who sell a Dubbel and a Tripel)
Rochefort (who sell two different strength Dubbels [6 and 8] and a Quadrupel [10])
Achel (who sell two Tripels [Blonde and Extra Blonde] a Dubbel [Bruin] and a Strong Dark/Quadrupel [Extra Bruin])
Chimay (who sell a Dubbel [Premiere/Red], a Tripel [White], and a Strong Dark [Grand Reserve/Blue])
Koningshoeven (or La Trappe, who sell nine different beers including the standard Blonde, Dubbel, Tripel, Quadrupel, and an oak-aged version of their Quadrupel)

However, it was widely known that another would be coming soon, presumably from Mont des Cats, and surprisingly, it was officially beaten to official designation by Austrian monastery Stift-Engelszell.  Mont des Cats, however, despite being allowed to call itself a "Biere Trappistes" (and the first from France, with the others all being in Belgium, except for Koningshoeven from the Netherlands and the newest from Austria) does not and will not for the foreseeable future carry the Authentic Trappist Product label - despite being brewed within the halls of a Trappist monastery by the monks themselves, since it is being brewed and bottled at Chimay's monastery as Mont des Cats lacks its own brewery.  Stift-Engelszell, however, does carry the official designation, thus officially being the eighth Trappist brewery (and the ninth may not even be Mont des Cats since "The Trappist monks of the Abbey of ‘Maria Toevlucht’ in Zundert have plans to start a brewery between the walls of their Abbey."

I had inadvertently recalled Mont des Cats as being the eighth in my prior blog post, but it is not officially the eighth - though it is the unofficial ninth in many ways!

For me, personally, the new acronym to recall this next time is WOW RACKS (or perhaps, WOW RACKS 'eM, I guess!)

Belgian beer styles - and not only those of Trappist production - developed a unique history through their geographical exemption from the Reinheitsgebot, often called the German (or Bavarian) Beer Purity Law which allowed them to experiment with different adjuncts (as well as through the specific qualities of their divergent yeast strains and their bottle-conditioned processes unlinked to the Purity Law).

Throughout European history, when water was potentially contaminated and untrustworthy, beer supported human survival (insofar as boiling killed parasites and beer wort had been boiled, but this wasn't known to be the reason at the time!)  Monasteries, as most other religious locations, had become the centre of local life and even those that didn't sell their product also brewed beer for their own consumption (and literal survival).  These beers, called paters (or, occasionally in contrast, 'singels') are still frequently brewed, but solely for the consumption of the monks and they are typically much weaker than their stronger, publicly sold counterparts.

Westmalle seemed to invent both of the styles we now, following their lead, call Dubbels and Tripels.  Though these terms often simply imply colour and alcoholic strength, as well as specific taste and aroma characteristics, they have at times reflected the gravity difference on the old scale - with the original gravity quite literally being double and triple that of the specific monastery's standard pater.

A dubbel is a strong brown ale that is bottle-conditioned (that is, primed with sugar to feed the living and unfiltered yeast within the bottle that continues to ferment and develop past the point of bottling), while a tripel is a strong(er typically) pale ale that is also bottle conditioned.  For flavour, aroma, colour, and other typical style guidelines, I link here to their descriptors from the Beer Judge Certification Program: Dubbel, Tripel.  Chimay premiere (otherwise called Chimay Red) is probably the most widely known dubbel, though I personally adore the Rochefort 8 (and long to try the much rarer Westvleteren 8).  Westmalle Tripel - the first tripel - is the standard against which all others are judged, though I personally found it less enjoyable when consumed side-by-side with the Achel Extra Blonde (even if the Westmalle defines the style and is still a clearly great beer!)

There is considerable debate as to whether a quadrupel exists as a distinct style, whether it is simply a poor differentiation from the "Belgian Strong Dark Ale" style, or whether it is simply an amped-up dubbel.  (This debate centers around the fact that the term was applied anachronistically to pre-existing beers rather than given to beers created to fit the criteria of a pre-existing style).  Regardless, and without siding in the debate herein, this characterization tells you what to expect from a quadrupel or Belgian Strong Dark Ale, again with the BJCP descriptor here.  Westvleteren 12 - often dubbed the best beer in the world - is perhaps the best known quadrupel, though the style is highly praised (when done well as it is difficult to sustain the alcohol without booziness and the resulting complexity of the style) and many of the highest rated beers on BA and RateBeer are quads/strong darks.

Yet, many praised versions of these - and other Belgian styles - are not made by Trappists (nor in Belgium) at all.  These are often called Abbey beers - a term literally without precise meaning as they could be made by non-Benedictine monks, outside of the Trappist Association's terms, or simply by a commercial brewery (occasionally masking their product as if to make it appear monastic).  St. Bernardus, Leffe, and Affligem are three famous Abbey brewers, though many others exist.

Personally, I care little for the Trappist (or Authentic Trappist) or Abbey designation and am much more concerned with the primary question of "is it a good beer?"  And, many Abbey beers certainly are, while many aren't, yet the Trappists are always of a high quality if still subject to the inevitable value of personal taste.

These - live, bottle-conditioned - beers tend to be very sweet with strong carbonation and often cater to both beer lovers and non-beer drinkers alike.  If you have the chance, I encourage you to taste them, and if you find any Stift-Engelszell or Wesvleteren, please let me know where I can procure some to advance my Trappist enjoyment!  (Note that expensive 6-packs of the famed Westvleteren 12 may be coming to Ontario soon - if briefly - though more on that when the news arrives and accordingly permits!)

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Four Phenomenal Beers: Royal Extra Stout, Acero, Chouffe Houblon Dobbel IPA Tripel and Duchesse de Bourgogne

Rated beers #749, 750, 751 and 752 all had their specific charm and this post is dedicated to them in review.

Number 749 was Carib Brewing's Royal Extra Stout (6.5% ABV).  This is one delicious stout, if a bit on the sweet side that I picked up at the SAQ (alongside the currently available St. Bernardus Abt 12 I had gone in for!)  The aroma is a bit like a dry stout, but with some semblance of caramel topped by a hint of sweet chocolate and vanilla and just a touch of alcohol.  Taste-wise, it is quite sweet a bit cola-esque but in a decent way, with vanilla and chocolate present and a slight, faint drying alcohol finish.  It is not very full bodied, and just a bit tingly.  Good, but a bit much even if not quite cloyingly sweet.  Grade: A-

Number 750 was Boquébière Microbrasserie de Sherbrooke's Acero (16.5% ABV), which I grabbed at Fromagerie Atwater at the Atwater Market.  This American strong ale (and, at 16.5%, the emphasis is on the 'strong') is unlike any beer I have ever tasted and is much more like a spirit than a beer, though made for a memorable 750!  This unique oddity is made with local maple syrup and is truly a one-of-a-kind.  It pours a reddish brown with no head and only the faintest carbonation discernible merely around the glass edge.  The aroma is slightly peaty-malty up front but also sugary-sweet and boozy like a licquere.  It smells a bit like a super-sweet and boozy version of a scotch ale or barley wine, while the taste is cloyingly sweet if good, like a mead made with maple instead of honey.  Full bodied.  Good but can't drink much and odd to call it a beer. Grade: A

Number 751 was Chouffe Houblon Dobbel IPA Tripel (9% ABV).  This beer is typically called a "Belgian IPA," but it could as easily be called a "Belgian Double IPA" yet is premised off of the Tripel style and is also in a class by itself (though with closer relatives more commonly found than those akin to Acero, above!).  It pours a golden-orange with chunky-thick particulate topped by a rocky mountainous white head something like what develops in a float: quickly receding but with chunks of head that remain.  The glass rimming lace is other-worldy!  On the nose, it is predominantly of citrus and rind but with an earthy-yeasty hops to complement it, while the mouth is met with a touch of spice, perhaps as hints of pepper and coriander, before a dry apricot and mango alongside a lemon/orange rind finish.  Despite the 9% ABV and high carbonation, it feels very smooth, silky, and oily.  A fine example of the style - if no Urthel Hop-It!  Grade: A

Finally, I come to Brouwerij Verhaeghe Duchesse de Bourgogne (6% ABV) (purchased at the SAQ) which is easily the best of a handful of Flander's Red Ales I have tasted.  It might be in the select company of my favourite beers ever and is my favourite of the style thus far - topping Rodenbach Grand Cru for me and that is high praise indeed!  The body is brown with a frothy tan head of fair retention and moderate lace.  It smells ever so faintly vinegary with cherry tartness and an earthy-musty funk,  The nose is good, if you like sours despite that description, while the taste is superb!  It starts off more tart with a biting sourness somewhat like an under-sweetened lemon dessert before a sweetly-sour candy like finish kicks in that lingers with a chewable deliciousness that is just remarkable.  On the tongue, it is quite carbonated, yet dry in a champagne sort of way with the chewiness I desire in this sort of beer.  I raved about this beer for several sips on end making my sour-hating wife try it and it even met with her approval!  Grade: A+

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Best of Late: Beers and Bars in Brief

Don't take the infrequency of posts as an implication that my beer consumption has dissipated, but I cannot catch up on all.  Thus, I offer you the recent brief best-ofs (only of those consumed for the first time within the past month):

Montreal Beer Bars: Having now been to L'Amère à Boire, as well as renewed trips to Le Saint Bock and Vices et Versa, I have to renew my statement that Vices is a true marvel, Le Saint Bock is a pretty damn fine (if pricier) place to drink as well, while I look forward to more of L'Amère's mellow vibe and a few more tastes soon!

Toronto Beer Bars: Finally got to King West's new(-ish) Barhop and was most impressed with the location, the draught, and the bottle selection!

For the beers, the new must-try gems list includes:

Les Trois Mousquetaires Doppelbock (8.7% ABV) is simply a delight with an excellent biscuit-malted nose and a finely grassy hops finish to a roasty beginning!  Grade: A

Mont des Cats, in bottle at Le Saint Bock, offered me a taste from the unofficial new Trappist Brewery and didn't disappoint, offering what could perhaps be the most light and easily drinkable of the Belgian Strong Darks I have had.  Grade: A-

Lindeman's Cuvée Renée (Gueuze) from the LCBO was a sour funky delight adding to my growing love of this style!  If you like the funk, you'll love this treasure... otherwise, steer clear!  Grade: A

Spearhead's new(-ish) Moroccan Brown Ale is a fine American Brown with raisin, fig and plum notes adding a new twist on a well-done classic.  Grade: A-

Pauwel Kwak, yes in the funky glass, is a fun experience, and though good is basically just your standard Belgian Pale, but worth having once - if in the right glass!  Having a side-by-side on the same night of two similar beers (Urthel Hop-It and Delirium Tremens made clear to all involved that the Urthel is a true marvel, with everyone preferring it!)  Grade: B+/A-

Hopfenstark's Loulou Porter continues the success of this small Quebec brewery.  With a smooth biscuity sweet aroma and a roasty, nutty taste along with a lightly drying finish, this beer is just delicious!  Grade: A

Dunham's Barley Wine likewise shows off the strengths of another of Quebec's superstar breweries in a beer with a quite dry finish following up on a smooth, syrupy, honey-like sweet malty prevalence.  Grade: A-

Brasseurs du Monde's La Seiglerie (Bitter au Seigle) is a Rye Bitter masterpiece with a malty-sweet aroma of toasted notes and bread, preceding a mild taste with a lightly/subtly dry finish.  Easy drinking and quite sessionable at a mere 4% ABV.  Grade: A

That's all for now!  That said, I have now had beers from all eight Trappist breweries and all of the available Trappist beers except for Rochefort 6, Westvleteren Blonde and Westvleteren 8 (and, I suppose the 150th Anniversary Chimay).  I should have some Westvleteren 12 soon, and have loads of Bernardus, Rochefort 8, Rochefort 10, and some aged.  I would gladly trade for the remainders.  Comment me!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Beau's Oktoberfest: A Fine Celebration of Beer

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to be able to put in a few good hours at Beau's annual Oktoberfest. The event seemed, to me, to be a resounding success.

It is held outdoors, with many a tent for the serving areas and tables, on the Vankleek Hill Fairgrounds where your entrance fee of $18 allows you a "free" beer and pretzel.  (The pretzel being a nice toss in, but it was mediocre especially compared to the beer!)

Many food vendors offer excellent-smelling, and stylistically-appropriate food and Beau's, of course, has a merch/swag booth that has the additional treat of selling engravable event-specific steins for the price of $10.

Competitions, such as the Keg Toss, Malt Sack Races, Sausage Eating Contest, Stein Holding Struggle, and the Spouse Carrying Race excite the crowd (but might benefit from an emcee livening things up), while two stages of music (one with a dance area for professionals out front) offer both traditional German folk (of the liederhosen and stein-chugging variety) and more contemporary Western folk such as Plants & Animals, Elliott Brood, and Ron Hawkins.

Yet, to readers here - and to me - most of this provides simply the mostly superficial, environmental context for what really matters: the beer and its consumption.

As a guy who'd rather taste many and drink a few, that all beers were $5=1 token=1 glass, with no smaller options available meant sharing with friends to get through a few (especially since I won't make it to cask days).  That, coupled with the quantity served meant little in the way of individual beer notes, but I will offer what did stand out, but first the offerings:

Aside from their flagship Lug Tread and their seasonal Night Märzen Oktoberfest Lager, Beau's offered seven beers from the Wild Oats Series.  I will shortly comment on each in turn, but first I should also mention that 48 cask conditioned ales from 20 different breweries were on offer, as was Thornbury Cider.

In brief, and all-around: the beer was excellent and too many wonderful offerings (in full sizes for 1x$5 token or two smaller (6-ounce?) samples of the cask offerings per token) made any attempt to get through them without a full-weekend pass merely an idea of folly!  Coupled with a publicly judged homebrew competition, there were options for all and excellent ones at that (though I should note that for the homebrew competition they simply ask which you prefer between two radically disparate styles: I got a rye beer and a robust porter!).  More specifically, and from best to wurst (noting that everything from Beau's was regular draught and everything else was cask conditioned):

Surprise, surprise: Dieu du Ciel's Peché Mortel is even better and creamier on cask than on draught (than on bottle).  I will say no more except to drink this in such a manner if/when you ever can.  Mmmm coffee and (naturally carbonated) imperial stout... together!  Grade: A/A+

Great Lakes Dude, Where's My Czar (Russian Imperial Stout) is a success on cask with its great chocolate nose and bitter cacao taste/creamy-feeling mouth.  Grade: A

Indie Alehouse Breakfast Porter is my kind of breakfast!  Apparently in the robust style, this offers an excellent coffee aroma, with a finish that is roasty, yet of piney dry hops.  Grade A-/A

Beau's Dark Helmüt (7.3% ABV "Imperious Schwarzbier") was delicious, with excellent aromas and tastes of darkly roasted malts that presented in a nearly smoky way.  Grade: A-/A

Nickel Brook Bolshevik Bastard (yes, another Russian Imperial Stout - my tastes are obvious!) is another gem on cask, where its bold, dry, roasty notes are allowed to shine with the creamy smoothness of the natural carbonation.  Grade: A-/A

Beau's Koru (6 % ABV Belgian Pale Ale) was quite enjoyable, with a nice floral hops on the nose and tongue, alongside a characteristic pear semblance.  Grade: A-

Dunham Dry-Hopped Harvest Ale was quite good offering a fairly balanced dryness up front before a nice piney finish.  Grade: B+/A-

Flying Monkeys Rose-Hopped Hibiscus Hoptical Illusion did quite well with the extra infusion of floral actual flower notes!  Grade: B+/A-

Dieu du Ciel's Voyageur des Brumes also shows well on cask, with its characteristic up-front boldness, and quite dry (yet tempered in contrast) finish matched by the smoother feeling of real ale. Grade: B+/A-

Nickel Brook Underground Pale Ale was good... I think... though I think I better try it again!  Grade: TBD, but I guess it fits in around here!

Beau's Night Märzen Oktoberfest Lager (5.5% ABV) was good and drinkable offering an up-front sweetness with a lingering dry finish that tempered its mildness somewhat.  Grade: B/B+

Beau's Octobock (7% ABV Bock) impressed as well, though consumed later in the day, I won't say too much here that I may regret! Grade: B/B+

Flying Monkey's Red Basil Smashbomb Atomic IPA was nearly indistinguishable from the regular offering to me (perhaps unless consumed side-by-side).  I love basil - had I observed it, I may be singing this beer's praises, instead I say I enjoyed it!  Grade B/B+

Beau's And Boom Gose the Dynamite (4.6% ABV Gose) was good, if not remarkable to me.  Some citrus on the nose with a slight tartness, but it was altogether mild across the board.  I never got much of the spice or salt, and even the tartness was faint.  I'd rather at least one of these possibly strong notes offered a bit more, than all tried to balance so smoothly, yet that too is praise in that it came out as more 'drinkable' (for the average drinker, presumably) than had it expressed the salt, or coriander, or sourness, more profoundly.  Grade: B

Beau's Weiss O'Lantern (Pumpkin Weiss at 5.6%) offered too little in the way of flavour for me as the pumpkin seemed indistinguishable from the wheaty notes, though it was otherwise fine.  Grade: C+/B-

Church Key Grains of Wrath (Double IPA) neglected to impress with a terrible aftertaste that none in my party enjoyed despite it being made up of 50% professed Hop-Heads.  It wasn't hops - it was funky - and it wasn't good.  Grade: C-

Beau's Vassar (6.7% ABV Heirloom Ale) attempted to recreate an extinct recipe from the Hudson Valley dating back two centuries - and in that it may have succeeded remarkably - but insofar as I hate banana which kicks in my gag reflex, I could barely desire to taste this beer after smelling its overpowering banana notes and in taste it was little different.  I won't offer a grade on this since it may simply have not agreed with me stylistically, but I do think - speaking stylistically - that it may even border on being a fruit/hybrid or at least it truly presents that way to me (and those with me).
Cheers, til next year's!

Friday, 28 September 2012

Pale Lager Drinkers Have Quite Traditional Politics?

Having seen this, an exploration of the political leanings and voter turnout of divergent beer drinkers in America, led to a few observations - aside from the obvious need to share!

Observation number one: Since nearly every beer listed qualifies as a macro-brewed American Pale Lager, I am inclined to presume that macro-brewed-pale-lager-drinking-Americans tend to have traditional dichotomous (Liberal-Republican) political stripes and conceive of political action in similarly reductionist ways (to vote or not to vote).  I know, it is more likely that those running the poll think in this way, or presume that such market research - which seems to be its purpose - is more crucial to the big guys.

Correlation may not imply causality, but if we could all just open up to alternative possibilities in lifestyle and choice, perhaps we would also open in ways that could help us reconceptualize our entire socio-political ontologies.

I suppose I am here making the hypothesis that those drinking New Belgium Beers in the United States or Beau's in Canada - and perhaps just local and/or craft beer in general might not be well represented by such a survey?  Is it my own bias, or would those of a more nuanced consumption also have a more nuanced politics that these market researchers would find difficult to quantify in these binary terms?

The lesson taken from this, according to the accompanying article, seems to be for brewers to stay politically neutral.  However, there is a specific politics not only to the business model of the smaller craft brewing scene, but to the partisan and legislative practices that hinder or advance the craft brewing phenomenon.  Part of my point is that businesses are inherently political and both consumers and entrepreneurs of various sizes and philosophies exemplify different ideologies.  Maybe embracing those isn't such a bad thing, indeed simply existence in such an economy sides with, and against, certain political formulations.  Standing aside is a politics too: the politics of the status quo, and certainly many large brewers depend on the way things are, but does this not differ for the smaller craft brewer - especially those with environmental leanings?

Observation number two: perhaps my presumptions are either wrong or limited anyway since some of the best (and by best, I mean less bad) beers on this list seem to be consumed by Republican supporters who vote.  I am not sure what this does to my leftist and ale/craft-loving worldview, but I am open to suggestions as to what I should drink to drown my sadness at this realization.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Beer Number 701: The Great Pumpkin, St. Ambroise!

I would tell you about rated beer number 700, but I have been told that if one has nothing nice to say, one should say nothing at all.

Thus, I come to beer number 701: Brasserie McAuslan's seasonal St. Ambroise Citrouille (The Great Pumpkin Ale) which is brewed with wheat, cloves, and pumpkin (aside from the usual ingredients!).

Coming in at the standard 5% ABV, this beer pours an attractive copper-coloured body topped by a nice fizzy, audible, white head that diminishes fairly quickly with negligible lacing.  It smells of sweet malt represented mostly by caramel, with a trace of spiciness and baking bread.  Tastewise, it is mild for a pumpkin beer - that is the pumpkin isn't overpowering and I rather consider that a strength though some may call it a weakness.  A faintly sweet, bready, roasty maltiness comes first before a spicy, peppery, and clove dominated middle that filters into an ever-so-faintly citrusy and pumpkin-y finish.  It is fairly light bodied, yet sweetly tingly to the tongue and is (of only a few tried) easily my favourite beer in this seasonal style.  That said, not only have I had few, but I prefer this mild pumpkin flavour to the stronger.  If that too fits your style, grab a few of these while you can - and Happy Hallowe'en!

Coming soon (when working life allows), a belated dual review of some Eastern Townships brewpubs: Brasserie Dunham and Microbrasserie La Memphre!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Affligem Dubbel is Truly a Gem

Despite having never really gotten into the more common (in Ontario) Affligem Blonde, I have to say that this beer impressed me! (Review after the pic!)

Visually, a thick, off-white, foamy head tops a light brown body that is faintly cloudy and full of chunky white-ish particulate. Gorgeous! Aromas of brown sugar, molasses, baking bread, raisins, and caramel predominate with a primary sweetness and just a touch of faint tart cherry. Taste is similar to the aroma and quite toffee dominant. So deliciously sweet it is nearly cloying, but not quite! It is quite creamy despite fairly high carbonation on a medium body. This is just an excellent dubbel and an LCBO must-buy if any remain on the shelves! Grade: A/A+

Sunday, 26 August 2012

On Scarcity, Sanctity and "the Best Beer in the World" at Bellwoods

Last week I had the opportunity to check out the new-ish Bellwoods Brewery on the trendy Ossington strip and to have my first Westvleteren 12 (the oft-called "Best Beer in the World").

The brewpub itself was packed by 5 pm on the day of my arrival, which could be perhaps partially explained by the pleasant patio weather which left the terrace entirely occupied, while my companion and I procured the last two remaining seats at the bar.

Bellwoods is a bit cramped, with extremely limited bathroom space and indoor seating, though the summer patio helps out a bunch!  The appetizer/light entree sort of menu looks good, if a bit pricey, though the beer (and excellent, knowledgeable, friendly staff) certainly meet the expectations.

I had $3 5-ounce samples of the following: the Biere de Garde (7.5% ABV - lightly funky mustiness, with a nice yeasty nose and slight sour cherry notes, slightly tart yet nicely dry; Grade: B+/A-), Lost River Baltic Porter (7.7% ABV - cola and biscuit aromas with toasty notes and a pleasing crispy-dry finish; Grade: B+/A-), Fortune Cookie Tripel (8.2% ABV - dry-hopped with Amarillo hops that makes it a bit of a hybrid US/Belgian somewhat like Urthel Hop-It, excellent nose, good flavour; Grade: A-), Mash Pipe Berliner Weisse (3.6% ABV - very unique nose something like sweet lemonade, with a taste of sour lemon and sourdough, but more like a weisse than a true sour; Grade: A-), Monogamy Pale Ale (excellent very fruity nose of pineapple, mango, and grapefruit citrus, with a moderate taste of fair dryness, but with mellowed rind that pales in comparison to the great nose; Grade: B+/A-), and the perfectly sessionable Muggle Weisse (a 3.9% ABV dark sour with a wild yeast start that offers an accordingly mild, lightly funky aroma with a taste a bit like sugar-free sour keys alongside a finely drying finish; Grade: A-/A).

Though none of these beers blew me away, all were quite good and remarkably unique.  What is great about this brewery is the obvious commitment to uniqueness through obscure styles and twists on old favourites.  This portends a promise of the sort exemplified by Dieu du Ciel, which is high praise indeed if you know my tastes and/or DDC itself.  Bellwoods isn't there yet - if off to a great start - but it fills a needed and crucial Toronto niche for breaking from the English predominance of Southern Ontario craft beer (much as I love many English beer styles) and their ingenuity portends great things to come (such as the fitting new DDC collaboration Imperial IPA I just learned of today after already considering this comparison!)

Yet, unlike DDC, Bellwoods also offers a selection of imported bottles ranging from Dunham's stellar Black IPA to Rodenbach Grand Cru and the famed Westy 12 that provokes the reflections of this post and its title.  Awaiting the warming of my bottle (from fridge to cellar temperature) I found myself struggling to temper my expectations and to curtail my excitement, but (thankfully) Westy 12 tasted as expected - great, not earth-shatteringly so, but satisfyingly so.

Thus, like Bellwoods itself, Westy impresses, though is nonetheless slightly overrated.  By this, I mean that it is excellent - and better and different from the St. Bernardus Abt 12, and comparable to the Achel and Rochefort quads that I do so enjoy though a side by side (blind?) comparison may be required - but were it more common I believe it would be (more aptly) called "a damn good beer," and that the "best-in-the-world" label comes from scarcity and hype coupled with its consumptive quality rather than from the latter alone.

Specifically, Westvleteren 12 pours a cloudy reddish-brown with a thick tan head of solid retention and thick, but smooth lacing around the glass edges.  I personally get excellent and complex aromas of chocolate and plums initially that evolves into dark fruits, prunes, dark/molasses bread and candied sugar as it evolves.  The taste is similarly complex, as anticipated, yet is dominated by a sweet licorice, before it evolves to allow discernment of some figs, brown sugar, and an herbal/floral mix of the drying yeast and hops presence which clears the palate well.  It is thickly carbonated, yet somehow smooth and creamy nonetheless, with no hint of the 10.2% ABV discernible.  Grade: A/A+

Yes, this is an excellent beer and, at $30 a bottle at Bellwoods for a limited time, well worth trying/sharing once at this price, but it is not that much better (if at all) than a Trappist Rochefort 10 that is available regularly for $4.65 a bottle in Quebec.  For scarcity, hype, and the experience, grab yourself one while you can - then enjoy the best Bellwoods has to offer complementing your unique experience with the uniqueness of Toronto's virtual abbey.

Personally, though, much as I love quads and with all due respect to this delicious rarity, I love Imperial Stouts more and would call a few I have already tasted "better," such that a pursued tasting of Dark Lord now tops my remaining beer-bucket-list.


Sunday, 29 July 2012

Two Fine Limited Offerings from Pit Caribou and Brasserie Dunham

Having just picked up an enjoyed a seasonal offering from Dunham and a one-off from Pit Caribou, I thought I'd share some thoughts while they may still remain on some store shelves.

First, Dunham's seasonal Stout Impériale Russe a l'Érable (8.5% ABV) pours a jet black with a small mocha head of fair retention and negligible lace.  The nose is mostly of chocolate and smoke, with just a faint trace of the maple, while the taste has a hint of the maple up front but has a quite dry smoky, dark chocolate, piney finish keeping the maple from being overly sweet or dessert-y.  It is fairly thick, creamy and chewy and, hence, would show well on nitro.

Usually I am not one to buy into seasonal beer styles, generally feeling that if a beer is good it is good anytime.  However, I have found myself lately realizing that I prefer an IPA on a hot Summer day to an imperial stout even though I generally prefer imperial stouts.  There is something to the feeling of warmth in the winter.  Yes, a good beer is still good in any season, but I am wondering why this is a summer seasonal?  I get that maple sugar is harvested in late winter/early Spring, but it keeps, and at the very least this beer might show better in Spring or Autumn, if not Winter.  That said, however, it is a fine beer at anytime, but I might buy more of them if I could in another season - though maybe I'll grab a few and sit on them a while!  Grade: B+/A-

Next, I come to Pit Caribou's one-off 5 Bière Anniversaire (7% ABV), a sour in the style of a Flander's Red.  Excellent foamy three-finger off-white head of good retention and thick, clingy lace sits atop a quite brown body.  Aromas of tart cherries and currants greet the nose, with sour acids being unmistakably obvious as well.  The taste is nicely tart with currant notes and an acidic, tannic, wine-like drying finish with no discernible hops presence.  Medium bodied with low-medium carbonation, and a lightly tingly feel, it is slightly astringent, but pleasingly so.  Having had about a handful of Flander's Reds (and liking them all), I'd have to say this one is quite good.  It is no Rodenbach Grand Cru, but it is worth the $5.59 pint-bottle price and is a rare treat indeed!  Grade: A-/A

Get'em while they're hot er cold or available, even!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Vices & Versa and Then Some: A Day of Delicious Treats

Having just had one of the best beer days of my life (yesterday), I thought I'd share the charms with you all!

I began writing this while sitting on the terrasse of one of Montreal's premier beer pubs, Vices & Versa, savouring what was easily the best flight I have ever had and then had another with some overlap due to the overwhelming success of the first!

Individual beer reviews follow, but first the establishment: this place is gorgeous, with a clean wooden, homey interior and a fine, secluded back patio/terrasse that is mostly empty this fine afternoon.  32 draft offerings fill a unique Quebec-only craft menu that is remarkable in selection and worthy of the trip alone.  This place is certainly deserved of its accrued praise and is perhaps more hospitable than many a beloved beer bar (at least on a pleasant summer afternoon!).  The flights offer 6 five-ounce samples for $14.  For essentially two pints of such quality rare draught beer, this is not bad in the least.  The staff is courteous and friendly, despite my insufficient French, and welcomes me along with that extra bit of suggestion that is always most appreciated.

For my first flight, I sampled the following:

Broadway Pub Célébration Ambrée (6% ABV) is simply marvellous, pouring a thin white head of fair retention and lacing atop an amber body.  Aromas of yeast are slightly present alongside a predominant biscuity/nutty malt with traces of caramel.  The biscuits remain present on the tongue alongside a (still malty imbalanced) drying finish that is slightly herbaceous.  It is very smooth and light up front before the sweetness kicks in and dries out just enough to invite the second sip.  It is but lightly carbonated, yet somewhat crisp.  As my first offering from the Shawinigan brewpub, I am most intrigued!  Grade: A

Brasserie Dunham Brown Ale (5% ABV) continues my rate of chosen successes at this Mile End pub!  Pouring an excellent creamy white head of noteworthy retention and smooth lacing atop a dark brown body, this fine brew offers strong aromas of coffee alongside some chocolate, biscuit, and caramel notes.  Just a phenomenal nose!  Despite no hops on the nose, this beer offers a decently drying finish to similar up-front sweetness in a US style.  It is quite creamy with moderate carbonation and body and is remarkably drinkable!  Grade: A+

Microbrasserie du Lievre's Cervoise (5% ABV) is an apparently undefinable border-style Belgian beer somewhere between a saison and a Flanders red that pours a cloudy light amber with a fair white head of moderate lace and retention. Or at least that was my guess on style until I asked my server. It is apparently an otherwise extinct unstyled herbed beer without hops (hence my uncertainty) though the herbs and yeast provide the pleasant dryness.  Slightly sweaty yeast and a very attractive sweet-and-sour pear greet the nose.  It tastes marvellous, offering a pleasing sweetly sour cherry note with a drying, yeasty-herby finish.  Very, very nice indeed!  Grade: A+

Next came Brasserie Dunham's Pale Ale Américaine (6.5% ABV) which I had had before, but in a tiny sample.  This fine beer presents a gorgeous white head of excellent retention and lacing atop a lightly amber body.  Aromas of grapefruit and orange citrus with some floral notes greet the nose alongside a slight grainy/cereal-like malt.  Very dry grapefruit notes finish an only slightly-malty sweet beginning, while the body is fair and lightly carbonated resulting in a very creamy and drinkable dry beer that is much like an amped-up Black Oak Pale Ale.  Grade: A-

Continuing my pleasant Dunham tastings, I then had their IPA Anglaise (5% ABV) which showed a nice smooth white head of fair retention and lace with an amber body.  It had a very mild nose of only faint malt sweetness and light piney hops, though tasted malty sweet up front with a nuanced, fairly drying, yet indescribably mildly-bitter and herbaceous finish.  Fairly thin in carbonation and medium bodied, this is a highly drinkable IPA, but as good as it is, it simply pales beside the others in this superb flight!  Grade: B+

 Finally, I come to Dunham's Black IPA (5.7% ABV), another tasted previously in just a tiny sample, which rests an excellent creamy beige head of phenomenal retention and simply unparalleled creamy lace atop a dark brown body.  This is the best looking head I have ever seen!  Moderate aromas of sweet chocolate, caramel and cereal grains come first before the more substantial and complex grapefruit, herbs, and spice of the hops characteristics that follow and develop as it is consumed.  On the nose and appearance, this is - hands down - the best black IPA I have yet encountered and the taste is still great if a bit less so than these first qualities though still deliciously complex.  Here it is briefly 'caramelly' up front before an even more bittering, spicy, herby and piney drying finish with a touch of citrus.  This is an excellent beer I would give an A+ if I could drink more than one, but the dryness (bordering on astringency) is a touch too much for me if style appropriate (though intense).  Hop-heads are sure to love it, and even moderate hop-fans will praise their one pint limit!  Grade: A/A+

My next flight included an additional Cervoise and Dunham Brown since they were so good, but also included the following:

Bilboquet Métaver Rousse (5% ABV) started it off with a nice white head with some lace and fair retention alongside a deep amber body.  The nose was met with a slightly nutty caranel malt that was almost peaty in its richness.  Tastewise, it was fairly dry and piney with little of the sweet notes though wasn't strongly bitter and it offered a medium carbonation with a lighter body than anticipated.  It was fine and enjoyable, but not remarkable.  Grade: B

Next came another from the Broadway Pub: La Sein d'Esprit Dunkelweizen (5% ABV) which was quite yeasty and sweaty to the nose with some pepper and coriander notes faintly hidden beneath.  It appeared with a darkly cloudy amber body that was lighter in colour than anticipated.  It was peppery and spicy in the mough with an almost candy-apple like sweetness preceding that but which was all overshadowed by a spicy/nearly salty dry finish that was a bit excessive for me (not IPA dry, but too much for a dunkel for me).  It was quite carbonated, as expected, and medium bodied.  Though enjoyable on its own terms it missed the boat a bit for my personal tastes since it was more weizen and less dunkel - the opposite of my tastes in a dunkelweizen!  Grade: B-/B

Broadway Pub made the cut again with their La Tchucke Tripel (7% ABV) which was surprisingly clear and golden while topped by a nice white head of solid retention and quickly-receding lace.  Spicy yeast aromas of fermenting pear dominated, while the tongue was met with sweet fermenting pears up front and a spicy-dry finish.  The carbonation was well-hidden and under-discernible alongside a lighter-than-anticipated body which made for a quite drinkable, if unremarkable, tripel.  Grade: B+

Finally, I came to Bilboquet's MacKroken Scotch Ale (10.8% ABV) that showed a fine off-white head of fair retention and silky-smooth lacing capping a light brown body.  Boozy scotch-like peaty aromas were dominant alongside remnants of some sweet cereal malt.  It was very sweet and honey/mead-like up front with a strongly warming and boozy finish that almost dried the sweetness.  It tasted very licquer-like and very nearly like a complex scotch, yet was worryingly warm to the tongue, throat, chest and brain! More like scotch, and more like mead, than any beer I have ever consumed!  Grade: A

I realize this is getting long, but so was my marvellous beer day!  After taking a break for dinner and hanging out with an old friend I returned to turn my day into a night with a few more.  Cam, being a superstar and all, bought me a long-neglected, but much needed Unibroue saison and it is there that things continue...

Blonde de Chambly (5% ABV) pours a nice gold cloudy body with a tremendous frothy white head of fair retention, but no lace to speak of.  Aromas are of earthy yeast with a bit of citrus rind and slight pear.  Flavorwise, it is much the same but milder with a touch of spice and a bit of a sweet pear beginning before a lightly drying yeasty/earthy finish.  Well-carbonated and lightly bodied, this beer is quite drinkable and more moderate than anticipated considering Unibroue yeast strains and saison funk.  Grade: B+/A-

Then, on my way home, two things came to mind: first, that I had now rated 649 beers and, second, that I would pass Dieu du Ciel on the way home so I stopped in for number 650 (and 651!) and what a 650 it was!!!

Rated beer number 650 was the single best cask beer, let alone cask IPA, I have ever tasted and it was a one-off collaboration beer by DDC and Hill Farmstead called Friendship and Farewell (6% ABV).  It offered an excellent frothy white head of solid retention and some lacing over a very pale body of deep golden colour that was cloudier than expected.  Aromas were of citrus and citrus rind predominantly with a trace of herbaceous notes, while the flavour was likewise very pleasant with a mild sweetness up front followed by a finely drying citrus finished tempered by mango notes.  It was creamy-smooth as expected on cask and just showed so very well in this offering!  Grade: A/A+

I figured, since I had yet to try it, a half-pint of DDC's Mild End (at a mere 3.9% ABV) couldn't hurt to finish things off!  Thus, I observed a observed a light brown body with fair off-white head and retention alongside some clingy sporadic lace.  Aromas of caramel and biscuits were enticing, though flavourwise it was less sweet with just hints of biscuits up front ahead of a more bittersweet finish.  It was fairly creamy and chewy with light, crisp carbonation and was quite drinkable/sessionable if not eniriely memorable.  Grade: B+

'Til next time... Santé!