Sunday, 26 February 2012

I Need Your Help Finding Montreal Beer and Blue Jays!!!!

So, I need some help.

With my pending move to Montreal (and a no-cable-initially plan), I really need to find somewhere I can catch the odd Blue Jays game.  There has to be a pub of Jays fans somewhere in the city, but my web searches have come up empty.  Anyone?  Post in the comments, then join me for a game, and have a couple on me as thanks!

Also, I am wondering about beer spots.  Yes, I will be frequenting Dieu du Ciel and St. Ambroise, but would love to find pubs with wider selections/imports - a place like Toronto's The Only Cafe or barVolo or even The Rhino rather than a brewery-only selection (as good as they are!)

Finally, while the SAQ selection can't compare with the LCBO, it does have a few nice ones (Rochefort and Bernardus anyone?!), but most beer is purchased in convenience stores/deps and many have standard macro lagers plus a few Unibroue beers and nothing more.  I have found two stores with wider selections (Rahman Le Paradis de la Biere and Deppaneur AS) but both are pricey and in the same area of the city (the Plateau) and I would love to find some others as well.

Thanks for the help!

Friday, 24 February 2012

Cheshire Valley Irish Red Ale

Disclaimer: Damn blogger for making this appear different in publishing than it is formatted to appear in editing!  That is, it won't accept my changes!  Sorry for the odd breaks, etc - I tried to fix them!

Without boring you with particulars of how I managed to taste this before it has arrived on any taps (to my knowledge) let's just say that Paul Dickey, the brewer behind who IS Cheshire Valley Brewing, is as wonderful a human being as he is a brewer - and he's a damn good brewer!

I have truly enjoyed everything I have tasted from Cheshire Valley: the English Mild and Robust Porter are phenomenal, world-class examples of their respective styles, while the Barley Wine, Unfiltered ESB, and the Scottish Pale Ale I have tried (which nearly round out my tasted samples, regulars, and one-offs) are also all very enjoyable at the minimum and noteworthy for certain.  My notes also tell me I have tried an IPA offering - though I can't recall it nor when/where I had it, so I presumably consumed it at, ahem, a drunken social point where I wasn't taking notes as it simply has a (solid) rating (4 out of 5) in my app with no comments!

Furthermore, it is no secret that I am a big fan of a good Irish Red, so when these factors coincided, I anxiously tasted devoured this beer... and it was damn good, slightly reinterpreted from the standard style norms, but nonetheless delicious.

According to Paul, it has the following characteristics, though I will mention afterwards where my perceptions differ slightly:

Aroma:  A dry roast aroma with some caramel malt notes..
Appearance: Ruby red, white-colored head with good head retention.
Flavour: Moderate caramel malt flavor that finishes with a taste of roasted grain, which lends a characteristic dryness to the finish.  
Mouthfeel: The mouthfeel is medium-light to medium body. Moderately low carbonation.
Overall Impression: An easy drinking pint with a complex and flavourful roasty character.
Vital Statistics: OG:  12.3  P
IBUs:  21 FG: 2 P
SRM: 15 ABV: 5%

I received the above notes after having tasted it myself, and my thoughts echo/differ as noted here:

It indeed has a dry toasty aroma with a slight caramel malt trace, though I would add that there is also a faint nutty/cereal-malt graininess alongside a very, very faint yeasty breadiness that is expressed in an appropriate malt-dominant fashion.  It is very nice on the nose and these latter traits are much less prevalent than the very appropriate toasty-caramel notes which dominate (and are not, themselves, inappropriate!).  These additional hints I gather may simply be personal (insofar as aromas are so varied and widely linked to memory) and are, assuredly, pleasant and nonetheless style appropriate.

As to this beer's appearance, I'd agree that the head has very good head retention (of a fairly porous, thick, yet creamy-ish head), though to me the body seemed a touch browner and slightly less red than described or expected, but it isn't off by much!  Still one fine-lookin' beer!

The flavour is well described with one key difference that I noted: there seems to be a very, very slight drying piney-ness to the finish that seems faintly hoppy.  I didn't mind it, in fact I enjoyed it as it seemed a unique twist on the style (I often enjoy variation), but it seemed a touch drier than the standard style guidelines would suggest.  Perhaps, as Paul suggests, it is simply the roasted grain providing the finish, but as I was not the only one to note faint hops flavours (including others tasting with me and Chris Schryer), I think there is something to this.  It makes for a remarkable balance often lacking in this sweeter style and this is praiseworthy!  Don't get me wrong here, it is not extreme: hop-heads might not even notice it, as it remains only 21 IBU, and don't mistake me as critiquing here since this adds to the greatness of this beer for me (and did for all but one of the folks I tried it with), but if you're a stickler for the no-hops-flavour-in-the-Irish-Red rules, you might notice this slightly.  On the other hand, if you like some ingenuity to your beers, you might praise this as your favourite Irish Red ever!

My notes on the mouthfeel were basically identical to Paul's: I called it "just below medium bodied," and noted the low-ish carbonation, but also said I'd love to try it on nitro tap for that extra creaminess.  (If it shows up on any nitro taps and you see it on one, please tell me where in the comments!)

Overall, this is indeed a delicious and easy-drinking pint.  It, for me, was quite enjoyable, but was also a touch different from my expectations.  This is something I both admire (for it was still excellent and since it allows for growth in our beer culture) and which at times slightly detracts for me.  How so?  When I try a beer from a style I don't often enjoy, the variation can make me find a greater appreciation, but when I love the style (as I do an Irish Red) I come with expectations - high expectations like those I share for Cheshire Valley beers.  Despite enjoying the variation, this ever-so-slight divergence from expectations oddly both increased and decreased my appreciation at the same time (for different reasons) and it could do either for you. Thus, my pros and cons were for the same factors and negated each other, such that I arrive at a final Grade: A-

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Lagged but Not Laggered: Delayed for a Reason

Yes, I have been busy and beaten down of late.  I have had far too little time to drink good beer (though not none, so life isn't bad, just hectic!)

Part of that is because I started a new job part-time, but the work hours themselves are not the reason behind my absence and semi-consumptive lack, rather it is because this job is in Montreal and until our pending move I have been commuting Mondays to Thursdays and returning only to do it again week after week.

I promise a pending review of Cheshire Valley Irish Red Ale soon and, though I won't be the first to review it, I did manage to get my hands on a pre-release swig or two so I will try to get the next Toronto blog review of this tasty beer rolling!

But before I get to punching that out upon the keyboard, I am seeking some advice from anyone out there who may know...

Good beer bars/(English)blogs/deps(beer stores)/etc in Montreal.

Yes, Dieu du Ciel and McAuslan's summer terrace will become my staple haunts.  Yes, Rahman Le Paradis du Biere and Depanneur AS will become my likely normal shopping hubs, but I have just pretty much exposed the entire extent of my Montreal beer scene knowledge and will need to expand my repertoire.  I NEED YOUR HELP!!!  Send me tips in the comments!

I do promise to continue keeping up on the Ontario beer scene (as I will visit frequently and hope visitors keep me stocked with non-Belgian style Ontario beers since, by my best estimate, about 99.8% of beers available in Quebec are Belgian-esque or crap - and there is admittedly less crap than elsewhere, but it is nonetheless still a category!)  (Don't get me wrong, btw, I do love a good Dubbel, a fine Quad, and a super Saison, or even a Triple, Blonde, Gueuze, or Lambic from time to time, but I will just miss so many other beer styles that either aren't made or aren't imported here!)

Help me out!

Monday, 6 February 2012

Briefs on Beer

As I am a bit swamped at the moment, but also wanted to share these promptly, I offer the following quick links:

BeerSmith offers a fantastic introduction to Noble Hops for brewers and sommeliers alike.

Beau's is releasing a very interesting sounding beer, Mates with Dates, that I really hope finds its way into my mouth somehow (since Beau's availability in the GTA is not superb and, though from an Ontario brewery, it doesn't exactly represent the 'local').

And finally, Beer for Boobs Toronto announces an event at Volo on March 25 with all female-brewed one-off beers as a fundraiser for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Winter Beer Fest @ The Only Cafe: Day One

So I spent a brief while at The Only Cafe's Winter Beer Fest this evening and had eleven samples.  Before getting to those, I'll just add the following: Yes, I will go tomorrow too and rate some of the different beers that then appear; no, like today, I won't get elaborate on the ratings since the cold (yes, it is mostly outdoors), the quantity, the socializing, and the whole event atmosphere complicate that, but in rough I give you the following from today:

Beau's Treading Water: This is apparently a (seasonal) blend of the Lug Tread Lagered Ale (Kolsch) and the Bog Father.  It is neither as cloudy as the Bog, nor as funky as the Lug, and seems unique in their union.  It has a sweet biscuity nose, a nice balance, and is, ultimately, smooth and very drinkable. Grade: B+

Beau's Beaver River IPeh? This is a very unique IPA with some malty biscuit aromas alongside piney hops.  It is not overly hoppy, though has some pine notes.  That said, it is a bit visibly cloudy and a bit funky/murky in flavour (if that can be a flavour - not off, but neither crisp nor dry, if you catch me?).  Odd, not bad, but not fantastic either, though I'd drink it again.  Grade: B

Wellington IPA: Part of the Welly One-Off series, tis is basically a hopped-up version of their Special Pale Ale (according to the rep).  It was served on cask and was additionally dry-hopped therein.  Typically, neither dry hopping nor cask IPAs are my thing, but this one was very creamy and smooth (as the cask offers) yet showcased a very fine IPA that is not excessively imbalanced. I would like to try this again and take my time with some notes, but I think it was a one-time thing.  Grade: A-

Wellington Russian Imperial Stout:  I had been looking forward to trying this, but had not been able to get to it, yet, despite my current Imperial Stout kick, this is kinda mellow and bland, malty sweet but no real bitter notes and, though good enough, it just didn't stand out for me, though I would like to try this again and take more time with it in different conditions.  Grade: B

St. Ambroise Scotch Ale: I had this one once before, but forgot everything I ever knew about it.  While the cold (and small sample sizes) muted the aromas of most, this offers a superb nose, with nice smoky aromas and a pleasant warming mouthfeel alongside a nice smoky taste.  Better than I remembered - and I remembered liking it, as I like most of this brewery's offerings.  Grade: A

Sawdust City Lone Pine IPA: Readers will know I like an IPA with a bit of balance and this lacks it, but does offer that complex nuance that fits the US style, even if not always to my taste.  It is nice, but bitter in the piney/citrusy sense, though with a very good nose, though the taste has a lingering dryness bordering on astringency for me.  If that's your thing, it does it well.  Grade: B

Sawdust City Long, Dark Voyage to Uranus: Yes, I just rated this and just had it on cask at the Only the other day, but I had to try the artificially carbonated version (if not to say the 'regular' offering... I mean, would the 'real' ale not be 'regular,' even if irregular???)  Needless to say, it is still excellent.  The head retention is still phenomenal, if a touch less so than from the cask in a full pint.  I was able to discern more of the vanilla notes on the nose today, though whether the difference had to do with me, the day, or the cask I couldn't say.  Less drying than the cask, but just as good, if a slightly different experience.  Grade: A

Flying Monkeys Dry-Hopped Barley Wine: Mmmm, mmmmm, mmmm.  My favourite of the event.  In a nutshell, this was excellent, with a great malty/bitter-sweet nose with a well hopped piney taste.  Yes, it was aggressively hopped, which is not always my style, but to me it works better with some malty balance in such styles as this.  That said, I might even prefer it without, but would drink it anytime regardless. Fantastic.  Grade: A

Railway City Dead Elephant Ale: I had this once before too, but had a bad experience due to LCBO issues I won't repeat here...  Anyway, it is fairly nice.  Drying, yet quite drinkable.  For an IPA, it is not too bitter at 'only' 48 IBU offering a nice piney but not excessively hopped thirst-quench.  Grade: B

Railway City Pomegranate Ale:  This one-off that may become a staple is quite good too - odd to drink after a Barley Wine and its sweetness was a shock indeed.  I do prefer others on the list generally - as beer styles go - but for its style this is very, very well done.  It works well as a beer a 'beer geek' could order and enjoy alongside a non-beer pal who wants the fruit beer to hide the hops and malt.  It is quite smooth and creamy, with a complex malt taste alongside the pomegranate sweetness.  As I said, it is a very nice fruit beer for both the beer fan and the fruit fan who may accompany them!  On fruit beer terms, this is an A+, but in my standards of the night assessment, Grade: A-

An excellent event, with some excellent beers all around!  I look forward to doing it again tomorrow!  New breweries (with some overlap), new beers, same venue!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Two Classic IPAs: Southern Tier and Red Racer

Central City Brewing, from Surrey, BC, has received widespread praise for their Red Racer IPA.  Though I can appreciate the complexity of this beer, I think it goes too far on the hop front (without any temperence), which to me has a limit that (though increasing on my palate all the time) can be fairly high, but not to this degree.  Yet, for the hop-heads out there, or for those who want to see the allure of hops excess alongside some decent complexity, this beer is certainly worth a try and is currently available (for a limited time) at the LCBO.

It pours a deep gold to light amber with a frothy, fizzy, white head with moderate retention and excellent lacing. The nose is overwhelmingly grapefruit hops as is the flavour. It begins bitter and ends bitter with a medium length finish. It is dry and refreshing, however, and never puckering or astringent. Medium carbonation with a light-medium body go along with a 6.5% ABV (at approximately 80 IBU). It is a bit tingly, but not enough to hinder the assault of citrus hops! Yes, this is justly praised as a very good example of a hoppy-as-hell IPA, though, for me, it is still just a hoppy-as-hell IPA - even if one of the better ones.  Grade: B+

Southern Tier Brewing's IPA (also available at the LCBO and with 6.5% ABV, yet only(!) approximately 65 IBU) is much more my style and is perhaps my new favourite US-Style IPA.  This beer pours a thick, creamy, yet large-bubbled and foamy white head with fantastic retention and lacing, alongside a light amber body. The head allows for a good release of piney and floral aromas alongside some citrus, but there's also a toffee-ish malty sweetness, as this beer boasts 4 different malts and another 4 types of hops on the label. This continues in the taste, that is again of imbalanced hops primacy, yet characterized more by pine than citrus, though the (slight) malt sweetness makes for a pineapple sort of flavour that is a bit unique on the IPA front. On the tongue it is medium bodied and fairly well carbonated, yet creamy feeling. It is not necessarily quintessential of the style, but it is a very, very nice IPA and a very nice beer all around.  Grade: A

Anybody else have a comparison/preference between these two?

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

My Ride is Slow: Doublewide IPA for Beer #416

As I dwell in the 416 area (Toronto), I drink rated beer number 416 while I await my slow ride and comment quickly for my second post of the day.

Since my technical installation of non-linux software on a linux system has been so slow (amidst mostly half-pints), and while I began with a 48 IBU beer, my options were negligible towards the end.  Furthermore, having previously tasted 23 of the 24 beers on tap, I decided to try the Beau's Doublewide IPA even though I don't usually enjoy excessively hopped IPAs.

Yet, I was pleasantly surprised!  This solid offering pours a slightly cloudy amber color with a medium white head with light retention and a slight lace.  Aroma-wise, the hops is hidden beneath a malty, bready, herbal, caramel sweetness, but don't let that deceive you: this is a double IPA without a doubt.  The taste starts a bit sweeter on the piney-citrus front, but ends with a strongly puckering dryness.  It is 'hoppy-as-hell,' but somehow bittersweet despite an excessively dry lingering finish.  The middle of the taste sensations is actually fairly sweet - indicating a fair maltiness - even though this beer is very far from balanced.  It has a fairly thin body for the style with only a slight carbonation and though the alcohol is well masked in taste, I can certainly feel it!  This is probably one of my favorite IPAs despite its extremely bitter nature!  Grade: B+

This is a very nice beer, and my favourite Beau's offering so far, but it is surely not for the faint of heart!

Dwelling in the Dark: Loving that Long, Dark Voyage to Uranus

As I sit here at The Only Cafe, awaiting the completion of a slow installation of MS Office on my Ubuntu system (don't ask - work need), I feel somewhat separated from the necessary work I need to do - even though this installation is step one of the process.

Yet, I am (not) entirely in the dark, as I enjoy not only another glass of Railway City's excellent Black Coal Stout, but as I finally get my hands on Sawdust City's Long, Dark Voyage to Uranus Imperial Stout.

I am both excited and upset by the fact that the offering is on cask/real ale.  Why?  Well, critics be damned, I don't always love casks (dry-hopped, as they often are, to the point of excess, while the flatness doesn't suit most excessively hopped styles in my opinion), but the creaminess for the stout style (rather than the oft-casked IPA) should be suiting.

That said, this is a very, very good, very, very bitter beer.  I have had beers in the 100+ IBU range that taste less bitter insofar as they are more balanced, but this offering (at 85 IBU, 8.5% ABV, and "2.57 billion SRM") hits you hard with a very fine, very pleasureable bitterness that draws you back in for more!

It pours a slick, thick, oily black with an excellent creamy, thick, brown/tan head which has the best retention and lacing I have ever seen.  Piney hops aromas mixed with notes of coffee, and slight traces of chocolate and vanilla meet the nose, while it offers a semi-(bitter)sweet chocolatey taste up front followed quickly by a remarkably dry lingering hop bitterness, again in a piney sense.  It is creamy due to the lack of carbonation offered by the cask.  The flavour makes me wonder if it is dry-hopped, though I can't find any evidence of this on the web.  Not malty enough for me, and remarkably bitter/dry, yet at the same time probably the most enjoyable and creamy of bitter beers I have ever had.  On the tongue it is smooth and creamy.  Though I have only had about a half-dozen, this is the best cask offering I have ever had since the negligible carbonation benefits the style so well in my opinion, though I'd like a slightly thicker body and a bit more maltiness ideally, but still a very good beer I'd love to try on Nitro tap.  Grade: A-

Yes, I am biased insofar as I love imperial stouts, but I also tend to dislike excessive hop bitterness, so that I still enjoy this unbalanced beer is high praise, yet, like I said, I'd love to see the different sort of creaminess a nitrogen tap offers and hope this great beer appears on one at The Only's Winter Beer Fest!