Saturday, 30 June 2012

Ontario Craft Beer Week Collaboration Brew Night at C'est What

This is the first of my less-than-detailed reviews of some beers and venues during my last visit to Toronto at which too many were consumed/great company was present thereby limiting elaborate reviews, but hopefully some general thoughts are welcomed!

OCB Collaboration Brew Night took place at Front Street's C'est What on Thursday, June 21st and offered seven unique (presumably) one-off collaboration brews - all of which were good!

For those who have never been to C'est What, the craft only bar and brewpub offers excellent food to go along with their craft beer menu, and made for an excellent dinner and drinks location - as always!

Having consumed several beers, as well as having many companions to catch up with meant my notes were negligible, so I will offer the following in brief.

The three that really stood out to me (see list in above link) follow, though all were enjoyable.

How Do You Say Monkey in Latin?  (6.8% ABV), brewed jointly by Black Oak, Sawdust City, and Charlevoix combined the Belgian dubbel style with an IPA and led to a blend that seemed somewhat like a tripel: fairly golden with fruity, fermenting pear notes, alongside some citrusy dryness.  It was, simply, excellent and I do hope they brew this again!  Grade: A+

Having been to Beau's for the start of OCB Week and being disappointed at the sell-out of Pan Ontario (8% ABV)  I was thrilled to try it!  This beer blends individually barrel-aged versions of Beau's Beaver River IPeh?, Flying Monkey's Smashbomb Atomic IPA, Grand River's Curmudgeon IPA, Great Lakes' Robust Porter, and Wellington's Russian Imperial Stout.  It is also remarkably enjoyable with a great oak nose with vanilla hints (from both the bourbon barrels and the stout presumably) yet it offers an IPA-like piney flavour predominantly, yet mixes these two styles quite well!  Grade: A-/A

Finally Pepparazi (5.2% ABV) made by F&M and Wellington combines roasted red peppers, fresh red peppers and three types of hot peppers into a rye ale.  This too was quite enjoyable for me, with a growing - then diminishing (as you 'acclimate') - spicyness not unlike Dieu du Ciel's Routes des Epices.  It wasn't excessively spicy, but was satisfyingly so as this well-balanced the maltiness of the rye style.  A fantastic beer I'd love to procure again!  Grade: A

Sorry for the brevity, but hopefully you got to try these, else perhaps you can join me in petitioning these brewers to make them again!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Canadian and Ontario Brewing Awards, and a Few More Links

Having been busy, drinking, working, and parenting, I have been behind on my news feeds, so I now offer a few great links.

First, here are links to the winners of The 2012 Canadian Brewing Awards and the 2012 Ontario Brewing Awards (watch for winners right now at the ongoing Ontario Craft Beer Week!)

And, finally, a nod to an excellent post by Jordan St. John (on his blog St. John's Wort) that captures the ways timing, historicity, and quintessence frame a beer's perception creating legends that don't always sit well with everyone, even beer aficionados.  Specifically, he relates the much-revered Pliny the Elder (that I have yet to get my hands on) to the cultural legacy of, for example, Citizen Kane.  Great writing that sums up a feeling I have had before on some purportedly quintessential beers.

That's all for now!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Wrapping Up (and Guzzling Down) Mondial 2012

In concluding my detailed review of the 19th Annual Mondial de la Bière, I'd like to point out a few final things: a few links to some discoveries, some awards, a brief reminder of my most highly recommended discoveries, a few regrets and a nod to the best breweries.

First, I'd like to note the ingenuity, excellence, and personal friendliness of the merchandise and crew at BBbarfly who make and sell decal-coated, multi-coloured, unique butterfly-knife styled bottle openers that have been apparently engineered to not damage caps (though I have opened three and one was slightly bent, but may have been my fault!)  They are very fun, very cool, much more legal and useful than the real knives, have excellent designs and you can support an excellent Toronto small business run by some friendly folks.  The website even includes trick tutorials/slowed videos!

Second, I met a friendly gentleman named Phillippe, the Beer Hunter, who has rated 7600 beers.  Though he is tens of thousands away from the top in the world, he reminds me of my thoughts to remind you that I truly am a beginner here (and deserves the aforementioned link).  I was once criticized on another blog for something that author missed which I make abundantly clear in my first post and wish to reiterate here: that in the process of learning about beer I am writing my own thoughts and may as well share them.  If you disagree (or agree), please share your thoughts back with me in the comments!  We can hopefully all learn from and get tips and hints from each other!  It isn't a pissing contest, for me anyway, but rather a pleasurable service in the enjoyment of excellent craft beer!

Third, I discovered an excellent designated driver service, Point Zero8, and as I do not, cannot, and will not support drunk driving, I found it my duty to pass it on (and also to note that I was only three times over the legal limit upon departure my second day, according to their test, though I assuredly wasn't driving!)

Next, I'd like to note the Awards of the event listed at though I wish several of them were not sold out by halfway through the second of (an otherwise wonderful) five day event and that I'd dispute a few though many listed there I hadn't tried.

In review and on my best of the fest, I'd encourage any/all of you to try any of the following as they were all simply remarkable:
Achel Blond
Achel Brune
Westmalle Dubbel
Westmalle Tripel
Allagash Curieux
Dominus Vobiscum Hibernus (or really any Charlevoix beer!)
Malheur 12
Lagunitas IPA
La Vache Folle RyePA
Dogfish Head Burton Baton
Dieu du Ciel Chaman
St. Ambroise Vintage Age Millésimée
Beau's Winterbrewed
Wilco Tango Foxtrot
Beau's Strong Patrick Irish Red
Founder's Porter
Grado Plato Chocarrubica
Elysian Dragonstooth Stout
La Vache Folle Imperial Milk Stout
Bierland Imperial Stout
Arcadia Imperial Stout
Chatoe Rogue First Growth Dirtoir Black Lager
Rodenbach Grand Cru
Lips of Faith Cocoa Molé
Dominus Vobiscum Brut
Bacuri Forest

Finally, I'd just like to give an extra special nod to Microbrasserie Charlevoix, New Belgium Brewing, Achel, and Lagunitas Brewing for simply continuing to impress above and beyond the high standards of great craft beer!  Many other were great too, but each of these breweries offered me numerous new tastes of note and deserve the accolades (as many others do and will again at another time!)

Thanks too to the organizers.  I can't wait til next year!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Best Brewpub Location Yet! Mill Street Ottawa in On-Site Review

As the wife and child attend a baby shower, here I sit pleasantly enjoying a gorgeous afternoon on the patio of the Ottawa location of the Mill Street Brewpub.  One thing that must be expressed is the absolute stunning beauty of this 170 year-old former mill building (the oldest still remaining in Ottawa).  The ambiance, the stone walls, the hum of the Chaudiere Falls, and the excellent staff just make the visit splendid even if they only served American light lagers, but thank Science they serve more (including many not available in Toronto!).

Though I began my very affordable flight tasting with the Helles Bock (7% ABV), I remembered to smell each before too much head and resulting aroma dissipation!  The Helles Bock has a standard yellow clear body, without obvious gassiness, while presenting a white head with slight retention  The lacing is thin, but smooth and fluid.  On the nose are aromas of baking bread, with slight citrus.  Flavorwise, I experience slight malt sweetness and drying hops somewhat like a pilsener.  It is finely dry for a beer guy, probably bitter for the pale lager drinker with a medium body and fine carbonation that results in a fairly standard lager crispness that is pleasing on the tongue.  Grade: B+

Portage Ale (a Cream Ale at 5% ABV) pours a golden body capped by a decent white head with fair retention and fair glass-clinging lace.  Aromas are of sweet bread, with slight toffee malts.  The nose is a bit light and faintly grassy.  As this has both ale and lager yeast, one can perceive the gassy flow of a lager and the straw notes on the flavour front, which it is dominated by.  It is fairly dry, and more bitter and lingeringly so than the Helles Bock with flavour notes of straw and grass, but it is oddly more pale-'lagerish' and has less flavour preceding these notes.  It is essentially much like a fairly dry lager or even a hybrid alt that is fairly light bodied, with only slight carbonation, yet a tingly and simultaneously smooth and slightly oily feel.  Grade: B-

Valley Irish Red (4.8% ABV) was essentially a disappointment, not because it wasn't the best beer I had so far, but because it was the worst beer in one of my favourite styles ever!  It is very light in colour at a dark golden to light amber, though with an EXCELLENT creamy white head that presents super retention and creamy lacing.  It offers faint aromas of caramel, toffee, and slightly smoky brown sugar, and the flavour is very mild and muted, with faint notes of toffee and fudge, alongside a lightly drying finish.  Though tapped on a dual nitrogen/carbon dioxide tap with low carbonation that offers creamy smoothness, it is also lighter bodied than it should be and wholly unremarkable if still pleasant to drink. To a guy who loves this style, I still enjoyed drinking it, but rating by style, I am forced to give it a Grade: C+ despite loving Mill Street and my location no less.

My last flight sample was the Ambre de la Chaudiere (a 7% ABV unfiltered Bière de Garde) which presented a thin head and a nicely cloudy almost glowing yellow (like an unfiltered, unpasteurized cider or apple juice).  It smelled, as it should, funky, slightly sour, with predominant aromas of fermenting pears and apples, with some yeasty spice, mostly cloves, as well as faint pepper.  It tasted similarly, though began (just briefly) with an upfront candy apple sweetness that quickly turned to a drying funky yeasty sour predominance characterized most by sour, fermenting apples and sweat.  Many times I dislike a sweaty yeast, but this was quite good.  On the mouth it was lightly carbonated and medium bodied with a fine light tingling that supplemented the flavour notes.  Grade: A

Before long I got a never before seen message on my phone about it being too dangerously hot to use and decided I should go into the AC for a bite and a final pint (and just in time to watch the Jays tie it up in the 8th - and hopefully win in extras!).  I sampled the Pilsener (good, much like a Steamwhistle, but just an ounce, that was mostly straw-like in colour and notes with a decent grassy drying), but returned to the much adored Cobblestone Stout with some very good, smoky Jamaican jerk wings before my departure.

The beer is affordable (and Tankhouse, Cobblestone, and the Ambre are near perfect), the food is good (if pricey), and the location is unrivalled.  All in all, a great afternoon and one I highly recommend!

Mondial Review #5: Strange & Sour Oddities

Some of the gems of Mondial de la Bière fell into odd categories, the first comprising two Flanders Red Ales, a Gueuze, an American Wild and a Bière de Garde, the latter being made up of a Brut, a Chilean spiced beer, and a fruit/spiced beer made with the rare Amazonian fruit called bacuri.  Let's dissect them further.


Personal Best of the Fest: Brouwerij Rodenbach Grand Cru (6% ABV), a Flanders Red Ale is simply fantastic - if you dig sour!  It pours a light brown with a fine, creamy-beige head of solid retention and lacing.  Aromas are primarily of sour cherries with hints of yeasty spice, and a touch of apple cider vinegar.  It tastes wonderfully sour - like everything that is good about a maraschino cherry without any of the artificially sweet additive notes!  Very sour, but just perfect for the style!  Medium bodied with fair carbonation, it floats smoothly across the tongue and is easy drinking for the style.  Grade: A+

Brouwerij Van Honsenbrouk's St. Louis Geueze Fond Tradition (5% ABV) is also quite pleasant if not legendary.  It pours a beautiful, dark amber with excellent tan head, retention, and lacing.  The aroma is faint and mostly of mildly-spiced yeast, though it is possible my sample came from a long-opened bottle.  The flavour was also fairly mild, sour but not excessively so (or seemingly not at all immediately after the above!) appearing at first mild and tea-like before some sweetly sour traces of a light lemony tartness.  Smooth despite fair carbonation, but perhaps thanks to a light-ish body.  Nice, just mild - perhaps a good intro to the sour for some?  Grade: B+

Jolly Pumpkin's Oro de Calabaza (8% ABV) was my first Bière de Garde with little frame of reference except what I have read in some books and on websites.  It pours a faintly cloudy golden in colour with little head but nice surface spotting.  There is a fine balance between sweetness and sourness, sort of like a dry wine or champagne, with a sweeter nose that has a touch of sour and a more sour, tart, acidic taste with just a touch of balancing sweetness.  There is a touch of coriander spice and a fairly drying floral hoppy finish.  It is smooth, creamy, and essentially lacks carbonation.  Very interesting and not bad, but just not as desirable for me personally as a true Belgian sour.  Grade: B/B+

Vermont Pub & Brewery's Tulach Leis (6.1% ABV) didn't impress around my crew.  Appearing with a nice amber colour and moderate off-white head of fair retention and lacing, it offered only a faint aroma with only faintly sour notes.  It was far too sour without the complexity of the Rodenbach alongside an unappealing funkiness.  Grade: C+/B-

Jolly Pumpkin's La Roja (7.2% ABV), an American wild ale allegedly in the Flanders tradition, didn't impress as much as those truly Belgian sour offerings.  I can get the appeal here, but also think the style (or this beer) goes a bit far, though with wild yeast who knows what can happen!  It pours a lightly cloudy dark amber that has negligible head (perhaps due to the pouring) at the event.  It offered funky, sweaty, and pear notes predominantly, though funky earthiness is easily the most evident and apt description.  It offers a bitter-sweetness (in that sour candy sort of way) with a peaty and earthy/sweaty flavour of unfiltered wild yeast.  It is tingly and pop-like on the tongue and I didn't find this very fitting with the funkiness, though I could get the appeal of it if it were what you were into.  It isn't the sourness that turns me off, rather it is the funk!  Grade: C+/B-

The Miscellaneous, Unique, and Bizarre

Yes, most of these beers can be categorized in some way, but rather than having three categories of one, I thought I'd go through them here, and rather than listing a 'best of the fest,'  all three deserve a medal type of honour in this catch-all category as all are very noteworthy for a reason!

The Golden Oddity: New Belgium's Lips of Faith Cocoa Molé (9% ABV) is simply amazing - but not if you can't stand a little spicy chili in your beer!  It's a good thing this was my last beer on day one or I might have drank it all day and tried no others (though I started the day with Allagash Curieux and ended just as strongly!).  It pours a golden-tinged dark brown with a nice creamy mocha head, though of negligible retention or lace.  Up front it tastes slightly sweet in chocolate molé way, but just after swallowing a fair chili spiciness kicks back through the palate in a very pleasant manner (unless you're my mother!)  It leaves a nice warming dryness from the chili that just smooths out the sweetness and leaves you me wanting more... and more.  I devoured this glass and tried to get a second only to discover I had finished their selection.  Best spicy beer I have ever tasted!  Grade: A+

The Silver Oddity: Okay, a Bière Brut (Champagne Beer) is not that odd to beer folks, if it is to the public, but they are fairly uncommon and it was the only one I consumed at the fest.  Yet, Microbrasserie Charlevoix graces the review pages again with their Dominus Vobiscum Brut (11% ABV) which I thoroughly enjoyed!  It offers a cloudy golden body beneath a gorgeous foamy, fizzy, white head that settles down fairly quickly leaving a decent lace.  Aromas are of lemon zest and rind as well as some sweeter citrus notes.  Flavourwise, there is a predominance of sweet pear/apple fruitiness with a lightly drying peppery/yeasty spiciness.  Simply delicious - champagne but better!  Grade: A/A+

The Bronze Oddity: Take a wild, rare Amazonian fruit, put it in a Brazilian beer without Canadian distribution and watch me try something I may never taste again.  Make it good and hear me rave about it!  Cervejaria Amazônia was able to do both with their Bacuri Forest (3.8% ABV) which pours a standard pale yellow with a fizzy white head that settles down quickly with just slight lace.  Orange scented hops greets the nose with fainter hints of rind and pine, like a mild IPA.  The citrus notes continue in the mouth but with a sweet lemon presentation that is quite enjoyable indeed and dried out with the citrusy hops.  With low carbonation, light body, and low alcohol, this beer is a smooth-drinking session beer if ever there was one... now to find myself a case for that session...  Grade: A-/A

Well, that's it for beer reviews, stay tuned for my final Mondial wrap-up!

Friday, 15 June 2012

The Clocktower Brewpub: Art of the Cask

Though I will still complete my reviews from Mondial, today I made my first visit to Ottawa's brewpub chain, The Clocktower Brewpub (visiting the Westboro location) and also had two further Ontario Irish Red/Brown Ales that I thought I'd comment on.  I will shortly complete the Mondial reviews, but also will be attending the Ottawa location of Mill Street Brewpub tomorrow and Beau's All-Natural Brewing on Sunday and promise pending thoughts on these as well!

Today, though, sitting on a gorgeous, large patio on a beautiful late Spring day made for ambience par excellence setting the tone for a wonderful lunch.  Between the three adult attendees we also ate salmon, chicken, steak, fries, salad, and sweet potato fries - all of which were excellent including the fries, though they came over-salted (ask for none and salt them yourself!)

The Clocktower serves five regular ales and always includes a seasonal offering that varies, and EVERY beer they offer is strictly cask conditioned.  I ordered a flight of all five and was given a free sample of the seasonal.  Though the flight was pricey ($12.90) it included five ounces of each sample making for more than one-and-a-half pints.  I will rate these in the order I tasted them (though I have learned from previous flights to smell all up front), and I find things generally started well and got better.

The current seasonal is not on the menu yet and my server had little information on it, except saying it was called Westbrew and had a similarity to the Kölsch (which it indeed did flavourwise).  Westbrew has but a negligible aroma that is faintly grassy with little else, came with but slight head (as per the cask) but has decent retention and a faint lacing on top of a clear yellow body.  Flavourwise, this is also mild if there is more flavour than aroma with predominantly wheat and grassy notes alongside a decent dryness and slightly lingering cleanse.  The Westbrew was probably the mildest beer I drank there and I don't have much more to say about it, except that it was fine if unremarkable.  Grade: B-

The Kölsch, at 4.4% ABV, 25 IBU and 3 SRM, is similar (identical in colour and with near indistinguishable head) yet more substantive than the Westbrew with a grassy, grainy, and faintly spicy wheat scent, tasting similarly with a predominance of grassy notes and a drier, more balancing and lingering finish.  With a fairly light body and a seemingly strong carbonation (for a cask), it was lightly sparkly and felt like a nearly bottled beer to the tongue.  Grade: B

The Raspberry Wheat (4.4% ABV, 25 IBU and 4 SRM) is faintly cloudy in appearance (and only seeming so when contrasted directly with the clearer Kölsch), with a similarly slight, cask-induced head of fair retention and lacing (as all of the beers are, the only change being in colour).  It offers a pleasant tartness and just whisps of grainyness.  Flavourwise, it is also sweetly tart and fairly drying with a pleasant and lingering grassiness that prevents the cloying trend of this style.  I would have even enjoyed more of this had my wife not been thrilled to take it from me!  Grade: B/B+

Beginning with Wishart's ESB (5% ABV, 32 IBU, 8 SRM) we are getting to the true pleasures of the day however, as it presents a fruityness on the nose alongside a floral hoppyness as well.  Flavourwise, it offers an initially faint toffee sweetness and a citrusy hops as well that becomes present in the nicely drying finish that lingers without excessive bitterness.  Similarly naturally-carbonated, but with a fuller (more medium) body, this beer feels like a typical English ESB should.  Grade: B+/A-

Next came the Bytown Brown (4.8% ABV, 28 IBU, 17 SRM) which presents a phenomenal nose of coffee and sweet roasted caramel malts.  I could smell this beer all day long and call it the best day of my life, though I'd surely want to sip it too as the aroma both foreshadows the flavour and makes the mouth water as per a bell for Pavlov's dog!  The menu informs that this beer is comprised of a seven malt blend and the quality, richness, and complexity of these flavours is astounding with predominant notes of caramel, toffee, and dark bread, alongside faint traces of chocolate and peat illusions.  Multiple hop varieties also infuse this beer and provide a dryness in that whispy, smoky, faintly grassy manner that differs from the standard connotations of 'hoppy.'    The cask truly suits this medum-bodied beers as the creaminess fits the style.  Grade: A/A+

Finally, I finished my visit with the Clocktower Red (5.3% ABV, 43 IBU, 15 SRM) which offers strong floral and orange hops aromas.  The taste begins with sweet bread-like malts up-front and ends with a piney finish that is way more bitter than standard for the style, but in a way that works.  For an Irish Red, the 43 IBU is comparably dry/bitter to a 60 IBU IPA since it clashes so boldy with the malt - in a good way, but one not for the faint of hops.  A very nice lace as well, for the cask conditioning anyway!  With a similar feel to the Brown, this was also quite delectable.  Grade: A-

Though disconnected (temporally, geographically, brewer-wise) from The Clocktower, I had two other Browns/Reds later (after a failed attempt to procure some Innis & Gunn Irish Whisky Cask Stouts).

The first was Trafalgar Irish Ale (a purported "Traditional Brown" that more fit with the norms of the Irish Red).  This 5% ABV beer pours a light brown, with an excellent thick frothy beige head with fair retention and lace.  The great aromas characteristic of the style are all present: caramel, toasty malts, cola, and faint nuts.  It has a wonderful balanced flavour that is malty-sweet up front and dominated by caramel primacy that finishes with a sufficient (if unexcessive) dryness that lingers well.  Full bodied with low carbonation, this beer feels smooth and creamy in ways that well complement its strengths!  It reminds me of Publican House's Henry's Irish Red Ale, and that is high praise indeed!  Grade: A+

Finally, I drank a bottle of Black Creek Rifleman's Ration (5% ABV) which is allegedly a traditional brown styled ale of the sort rationed to British soldiers during the War of 1812.  It pours a darker brown than the Trafalgar with a moderate/porous tan head of fair retention, with nice lacing and surface spotting.  Aromas are of caramel and cola, while flavour notes of bread, toasted nuts, and caramel predominate.  It's good, but perhaps could be said to be a bit under-sweet and over-dry though not at all bitter or lingeringly so.  It is enjoyable and full-bodied/smooth if a touch oily, but is a bit under-whelming. Grade: B+

More soon!

Update: found this about the Westbrew

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Mondial Beer Review #4: Wheat Beers and Lagers

If you know me and/or read the blog often, you'll know there aren't too many wheat beers, witbiers, hefeweizens, etc that I will rave about, nor are there many lagers.  While the wheat beers I had (just two of them) were fine, they didn't blow me away (as few of these styles do - personal preference), but there was that one legendary lager, but I am getting ahead of myself.  Wait for it!

Yes, there are numerous beer styles in each of these lists and the categories are really broad, but as I had one witbier and one hefeweizen, and just 3 lagers, amalgamation of broader categories seems useful if overly simplistic.  If this bothers you excessively, you are way more of a beer geek than I and need to chill out and realize this is just a broad way to categorize my ratings!  Hopefully they offer you something and hopefully you share your thoughts in return!

Wheats and Wits and Weizens

Personal Best of the Fest: Le Saint Bock's Pénitente (5% ABV), a 'spicy' witbier, wasn't that spicy but did offer spicy aromas of ginger and pepper alongside an orange sweetness.  It poured a cloudy light gold with a fine fizzy white head, though with moderate retention and only slight lacing.  Flavorwise, I picked up little fruit aside from the citrus, but some light spiciness though it was fairly mild.  Fairly thin in body with an average amount of carbonation that fit well with the style.  Not my favourite style, nor favourite beer in the style, but certainly drinkable and would be pretty delightful to a fan.  Grade: B+

The only other wheat-based beer I had was the UFO Raspberry Hefeweizen (4.8% ABV) from Harpoon Brewery in Boston.  Unlike your typical raspberry wheat beer, this one was more beer than sweet fruity 'near-cooler,' but had a few shortcomings despite its strengths and hype.  Despite being a nice cloudy amber, it offers little in the way of head or retention, for starters.  The nose is almost cloyingly sweet of raspberry and nothing else - as if a sparkling soda - which just makes the balanced flavour all the more odd.  That is, in taste it offers a drier tart-like raspberry flavour with a drying citrus hops presence that is somewhat unique and, if not amazing to me, much more nuanced and complex than typical of the style... but it smells worse.  Maybe I just don't get it - and I admit that is possible.  With a light-to-medium body and a similar level of carbonation, it is fairly standard here.  The taste is good if not my thing, but the nose and head are so horrific as to give this beer a hit.  Some seem to love it, so take my notes with a grain of salt.  Grade: B-


It may be more accurate if I called this category "Two pilsners and a schwarzbier," but the schwarzbier truly is in a class of its own!

Personal Best of the Fest: I was absolutely stunned and blown away by Rogue's Chatoe Rogue First Growth Dirtoir Black Lager (5.3% or 6% ABV, sources disagree), though not so blown away by its excessive name.  It pours a fine black with excellent mocha lacing, though the thickness of head and retention were tough to gauge since the poor pourer hindered me here.  Aroma is primarily of excellent coffee with traces of chocolate and bready malts.  Bitter espresso notes in the mouth are tempered by a semi-sweet dark chocolate and toasty breaded molasses hint.  Medium full bodied with fair carbonation leads to an almost spicy crispness on the tongue alongside a lingering finish that is as delicious and complex as the beer itself.  Hands down the best lager I have ever tasted.  Grade: A+

Lagunitas makes the list again as the first brewery to show up in all four reviews thus far with its Lagunitas Pils (a 6.2% ABV Czech Pilsner) that shows the standard golden appearance with a moderate white head of fair retention and lace.  Aromas are predominantly of grass and biscuits with a fairly sweet scent, though with a touch of sweaty, piney hops.  Flavour is spicy with just enough of an estery hops finish.  Crisp and refreshing - like a lager is presumed to be - with fair degree of carbonation.  Nice, just not my style.  Grade: B+

Finally, I come to Italian Brewer, Birra del Borgo's My Antonia (not to be confused with the Dogfish Head beer of the same name) (a 7.5% Imperial Pilsner) which pours a cloudy gold with a weak head of negligible retention and lace.  Aromas are predominantly of fruity-sweet and hoppy-sour citrus in balance, while the taste is very citrusy and drying - only vaguely different from an American IPA.  With a nearly medium body and average carbonation, it is as expected on the tongue, but though decent, not quite what was expected on the tastebuds.  Grade: B-

Okay, I am finally getting there on these reviews.  Two posts to go, Sours and Oddities, and final wrap-up!  I will be away for a few days and may not get to these right away, but bare with me and share some of your thoughts on these beers or others!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Mondial Beer Review #3: Stouts & Porters

Like many people, I used to think Guinness was what stouts were all about; it being allegedly quintessential, definitive, representative.  Then I learned otherwise and now I love stout, so I tasted 13 at this past weekend's event and have broken down the review categories into: 1) Standard Stouts and Porters; 2) Oatmeal Stouts; 3) Milk/Sweet Stouts; and 4) Imperial Stouts.  Unfortunately, Arcadia Brewing's highly regarded, whiskey-aged Shipwreck Porter was out by day 2 (as was New Holland's Oaked Russian Imperial Stout and Cervejaria Bodebrown's Imperial Stout both by day 4 of 5)!  That was just unfair, but regardless, here we go with what remained!

Standard Stouts and Porters

Personal Best of the Fest: Founders Porter (6.5% ABV) in the robust porter tradition (a preferred style) doesn't disappoint pouring midnight black with a creamy beige head of solid retention and lacing.  Sweet caramel and chocolate malts greet the nose and lure a taste!  On the flavour front, however, it is much drier, beginning with a faint caramel sweetness and drying out like fine coffee with an espresso-like lingering finish.  Full bodied and creamy, this is one delicious beer!  Grade: A

Birrificio Ticinese's Two Penny Porter (8.2% ABV), which is also a robust porter, came in second here.  It pours a near black, though with a poor head, yet I think I had a server who didn't get beer and poured it smooth down the side of the glass, so I will refrain from letting the head determine my assessment.  It smelled of semi-sweet baking chocolate with faint toasted, smoky notes behind and just a touch of dark bread and brown sugar.  With a slightly peaty taste (which was nice) and a strongly drying/lasting finish, I found it to be a touch over-dry, almost bitter (though far from astringent).  It was chewy and thick with only light carbonation, yet was a touch warming.  Excellent nose, and some very good qualities, but not out of this world good.  Grade: B+

In third place, I'd rank Cervejaria Colorado's Colorado Demoiselle (6% ABV).  This is another in the robust porter style, but which allegedly infuses its flavour with coffee, though I but vaguely sensed that so it seems slight.  That said, my bottle may have been open a while and the nose may have dissipated (and may also be where the coffee is most prevalent).  However, to me it smelled sweet and fruity, with just a hint of coffee - as if perhaps some sweet, frozen cappucino with added berries or something.  It was beautifully dark brown with a gorgeous mocha head and solid retention and lace.  Flavourwise, it was similarly (if less) sweet than to/on the nose, but the flavour seemed muted and mild, much less bold tasting than the others rated herein, with just a faint coffee bitterness in the finish that didn't even dry out the sweetness.  With a lighter body than desired and fairly heavy carbonation, this wasn't ideal to me - but I'd like to try a fresher bottle as I do so love coffee infused stouts and porters and perhaps got a long-sitting open bottle for my sample?  Grade: B- subject to change someday!

Coming in last in the category is Brasserie Artisinale de Puisaye's Puisaye la Grenouillette Stout (4% ABV) which poured a deep, dark brown, with a decent, frothy beige head with good retention and a moderate amount of lacing.  It smelled yeasty and bready, with notes of molasses and plums.  Flavourwise, it also tasted of dark bread with a dry finish, but in that dry Irish, not hoppy sort of way that I am uncertain how to describe.  It was a touch too sparkly/carbonated and too light-bodied for this taste/style if you ask me, but dry Irish stouts aren't my favourite variety to begin with.  It was decent and drinkable, but not very 'stout-like' in my opinion.  Grade: B-

Oatmeal Stouts

I do so adore the 'original' modern Oatmeal Stout from Samuel Smith, but until this event had never really been impressed with others I have tried.  Don't get me wrong: Sam Smith's still takes the cake, but there are some other good ones, for example both of those I just tried:

Personal Best of the Fest: Birrificio Grado Plato's Chocarrubica (7% ABV) pours a jet black with a creamy, thick, beige head of noteworthy retention and excellent glass-trailing lace.  It smells of sweet coffee and dark chocolate - I was unable to discern the difference between the carob that infuses this beer from the chocolate on the nose.  On the palate, however, it tasted more like fruity chocolate in that drying, unsweetened carob manner with a hint of raisins and some grainy, toasted oats hints though not prevalent.  Full-bodied, and chewy, this was a very pleasant beer to drink!  Grade: A-/A

At just a shade behind comes Elysian Brewing's Dragonstooth Stout (6.2% ABV) which - as I tasted my friend's on my second visit after having tried my own on the first day - verified how different beers can taste to you depending upon other consumption.  At first I sort of liked it and the second time I loved it, so I will temper my review to the mid-point.  Black as midnight, this beer offers a thin, but appealing mocha head that diminishes quickly but never entirely.  Lacing is negligible - or quick lasting at best - but present.  On the nose, it is a bit piney for the style, but toasted oats and whispy cereal/grainy notes are certainly enticing at the same time.  On the first taste, I found this beer to taste a bit piney and drying for the style, yet on my second try I was more able to discern the French toast/mocha sweetness that comes first and isn't completely dried out by the American-hoppiness of this interpretation of the oatmeal stout style.  On the tongue, it was creamy, though a bit light bodied (somewhat medium) than imagined with moderate carbonation.  Grade: A-

Milk/Sweet Stouts

Personal Best of the Fest: Malédiction (5% ABV) from Le Saint-Bock Brasserie Artisinale was delicious and sublime!  It poured deep, dark black with an excellent creamy mocha head with fair retention and creamy lacing.  Aromas were primarily of sweet milk chocolate and caramel malt, while it tasted similarly with sweet chocolate dominating upfront before a slight coffee bitterness finishes it off.  There is just enough drying in the finish to keep this from being cloyingly sweet - that is, it is not quite like a cloying dessert stout, but almost (and still a dessert beer) and it is damn good!  Medium bodied and carbonated, though creamy to the tongue.  Just delicious!  Grade: A/A+

Microbrasserie Charlevoix's La Vache Folle Imperial Milk Stout (9%) was also remarkably pleasant and fell in just behind the 'winner,' bringing the best of the imperial style to the dessert tastes of the milk stout.  Though pouring a deep, dark brown, I wondered if it could or should have been black, but it still offered a gorgeous, mountainous, frothy, mocha head with superb retention and thick, frothy lacing.  Milk chocolate is the strongest note on the nose, but it is complemented by caramel and coffee.  Tastewise, it is drier and (slightly) less dessert-like than Malédiction, and brings more of the imperial stout finish.  It begins with chocolate sweetness, before a touch of semi-sweet cherry notes, and finishes with a coffee lingering dryness supplemented by just enough drying piney hops.  With a medium-to-full body and light-to-medium carbonation, this is a fine creamy treat on the tongue!  Grade: A

Imperial Stouts

If you know me, you know I have a weakness for a good imperial stout and, though I tasted four good ones (and one not so good), a few I had hoped to taste were sold out and none blew me away as Lava, St. Ambroise, and Péché Mortel have in the past.  Yet, I'd gladly drink them over many other beers, so don't get too discouraged!  The Charlevoix La Vache Folle Imperial Milk Stout would win the category had I not ranked it as a Milk/Sweet Stout, since it is technically both and exposes the arbitrariness not just of my own categorizations, but of style categorizations entirely!

Anyway, as the categories stand, for my Personal Best of the Fest I select Bierland Imperial Stout (7%) from Brazil's Cervejaria Bierland which takes the nod despite its relatively low ABV (for the style - another Brazilian imperial stout, Bodebrown's, though sold out before I got there and highly rated comes in at a whopping 14.5%!)  Bierland's offering pours a nearly midnight black with a thick creamy mocha head, though its retention and lacing are just fair.  The aroma is originally simply mocha, but upon closer inspection it is chocolate up front and fresh-brewing coffee in the finish.  At first, it struck me as too sweet with a sweet mocha primacy without any coffee bitterness, but the complexity is noteworthy as, like with the nose, it evolves through sips and later tastes dry further with deeper coffee notes and a touch of licorice.  Despite being a bit lighter bodied than many imperials and despite a fair carbonation, it remains creamy and smooth.  There are some unique style choices here and at times I wondered if it all worked, but I enjoyed it and the nose and flavour offered noteworthy complexity such that it deserves a Grade: A-

Not far behind is Arcadia's Imperial Stout (9.5% ABV) which pours a jet black with a frothy, rocky tan head of fair retention and lacing.  Cocoa and molasses/grainy malt notes are most present on the nose, with a hint of smoke.  True to the American style, it is quite well-hopped, but this appears more in the flavour that is quite drying in a smoky sort of bitterness.  Medium-full bodied and chewy as desired, it felt great to the tongue.  As it is bottle-conditioned and meant for aging, I would like to taste it after some mellowing time, but for a 'green' tasting, it is still quite pleasant.  (Early) Grade: A-

Lagunitas makes its appearance on all three review posts so far (as has Charlevoix) with its Bourbon-aged (for one year) Cappuccino Stout (Fest said 7.9% ABV, their website says 9.2% and beeradvocate says 8.25% so your guess is as good as mine and it may vary by year).  Great in black colour with the requisite foamy tan head and solid retention as is characteristic of the style.  The nose is fairly sweet as the cappuccino infusion is obvious, but so too is the booziness and a piney-citrusy hoppiness, though sweet malts remains the order of the day with a boozy brown sugar breadiness lingering.  There are hints of the chocolate, cappuccino, coffee, and even some hoppy esters on the palate, but predominantly it is the booze and bourbon that comes out on the tongue.  It doesn't taste bad, but is overwhelming in a unique way somewhat different from your standard imperial.  Full bodied and nicely creamy/chewy, though you can't hide this warmth and it strikes me that a year in bourbon barrels may be a bit too long (and that the ABV is under dispute since it tastes like liquor).  Grade: B/B+

French brewer La Brasserie de Fleurac's Grains de Folie Impérial Stout au Café (9% ABV) has a fine, foamy, porous beige head atop a black body, while the head has fair retention but negligible lacing.  Sweet mocha aromas predominate amidst some brown sugary maltiness.  Unlike the sweeter aroma, the coffee flavour is more drying in the mouth leading to a greater balance than anticipated.  Medium in body with virtually no carbonation, it would be finely creamy to the mouth were it not for the present warmth.  Good, and enjoyable, but not a must find.  Grade: B/B+

Last, but not least, is Italian brewery, Birrificio Civale's offering, Imperiosa (10% ABV) which looks the part with an opaque black body, and a fine beige head of solid retention (though with no lacing at all).  It smells primarily of sweet chocolate and tastes similar with sugary sweet malts and chocolate notes present, but with no balance and without the complexity of flavour to taste like dessert.  Though creamy, it remains quite thin bodied and is fairly boozy.  Better than a Guinness, but one of the least impressive beers I have had in what is probably my favourite style.  Grade: C+

Well, that's all for now!  With a hectic weekend it might be a handful of days before I return for the last 3 posts in this series, which (as a reminder) will cover:

1) Wheat beers and Lagers
2) Unique Oddities
3) A final recap and some concluding thoughts

I feel like Mondial is still going on, btw, and rethink my tastings in each write-up from my notes as if tasting them again!  I hope you are (back) there with me in your readings!  Let me know in the comments what you think/have thought of these beers if you have had them!  Cheers!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Mondial Beer Review #2: Pale and Brown Ales

In this second review of beers I tasted at Mondial, I will cover Pale Ales, IPAs, Old Ales, Vintage Ales, Scotch Ales, Barley Wines, Amber/Red Ales, and Brown Ales.  For the sake of categorization, I will be lumping together: 1) Bitters, Pale Ales, IPAs and Rye IPAs; 2) Imperial/Double IPAs and Black IPAs; 3) Old Ales, Scotch Ales and Barley Wines; and 4) Brown Ales and Amber/Red Ales.  I am lumping some (slightly) diverse categories together just for organizing my 55 or so ratings from the fest and do realize I am not fully comparing apples to apples.  Now, without further ado:

Bitters, Pale Ales, India Pale Ales, and Rye IPAs

Personal Best of the Fest: Lagunitas IPA (6.2%).  This well respected brewery here offers a very well balanced American IPA that pours a dark golden colour.  The head was lacking, but was poorly poured, so I won't comment on its usual head.  Aromawise, this beers presents a toasty grapefruit primacy with some faint floral piney notes.  Tasting notes are similar, but the up front grapefruit is somewhat sweet with a more orange citrus-ness, before a finely drying estery finish.  It seemed only lightly carbonated (had the bottle sat a while?) with a medium body and was quite pleasant to drink.  Not my favourite American IPA, but a very good one!  Grade: A-

Microbrasserie Charlevoix's just launched La Vache Folle RyePA (6%) was a very close second in this category.  As I tasted this beer at the media launch, the poured glasses had been sitting for a short while and the aroma was faint and had mostly dissipated, so my assessment here may be slightly off, but it seemed to be more dominated by malty fruitiness with a VERY faint hint of smokiness that was primarily sweet.  Though it didn't smell bad, I would have presumed greater hops and will have to try this again after a fresh pour to be certain.  Despite sitting for a short while, though, the rocky white head was excellently retained with a thick, foamy lacing that looked simply gorgeous.  Flavorwise, the hops characteristic is predominantly piney and it is well (im)balanced, by which I mean it is fairly dominated by the imbalance of the style, yet without going over the top.  Only very faint traces of bready, smoky, peaty rye are present, but enough to add to the enjoyment of this fine brew.  With a medium body and a light-medium carbonation, there is ample 'crispness' to this beer and it is quite enjoyable indeed!  Grade: A-  (A promotional release photo follows with more reviews after the shot)

Central City Red Racer ESB (5.6%) is a bit of an oddity in this category that otherwise includes IPAs, but this isn't a traditional English ESB and is a bit more of an American styled Pale Ale, or at best a hybrid as it offers scents of mild-to-moderate grapefruit with a dominant bitterness present beyond what an English ESB would exude.  It is light amber in colour with a nice head and retention, though no lacing to speak of.  It is only malty sweet up front for a brief moment, before a nicely drying finish of toasty citrus and rind.  With a medium body and medium carbonation, this is a decent and enjoyable, if not exemplary offering, but a unique one and gets some marks for that, even if pushing the style boundary.  Grade: B/B+

For the last in this category, I had Swiss brewer, Birrificio Ticinese's Bad Attitude Hobo IPA (6% ABV) (which came highly recommended by "Beer Hunter" Phillippe who has rated 7600 beers at yet failed to overly impress.  It had a great piney nose and a fine deep amber colour, with an excellent faintly off-white head that had great retention but poor lacing.  The bitter nose led to to think this would be hop-head heaven, but though dry it was almost equally bready sweet (almost like french toast) and a bit of almost yeasty spice with equal parts grapefruit.  It was more balanced than it smelled like it would be, but didn't really work for me perhaps due to bordering on the style characteristics of many divergent styles.  Some might call it complex, but besides the nose it just didn't work for me.  It was crisp and tingly, yet probably excessively carbonated perhaps muting the hoppiness of the style for me.  Grade: C+/B-

Double/Imperial IPAs and Black IPAs

Personal Best of the Fest: Dogfish Head Burton Baton (10% ABV) is actually made by blending an English Old Ale and a Double IPA and then aging the blend in oak barrels.  The nose is dominated by oaky vanilla notes, while traces of pine are muted by this sweetness if still present.  It is clear and golden amber in colour with only slight head and retention, but nice glass-trailing lacing.  Though the flavour is quite dry as it finishes with a quite bitter citrus, the excessive dryness doesn't linger as it is tempered from beginning through end by the vanilla-citrus combined sweetness of the oak.  No it is not sweet, but it is complex, nuanced, and pleasant beyond what a 'normal' imperial IPA might offer.  The carbonation is fairly substantial making it crisp and tingly to the tongue, though with a lighter body than is characteristic for the style.  Grade: A-/A

In a close second is Dieu du Ciel's Chaman (9% ABV) which is cloudy amber in colour with just a slight creamy white head, though with good retention.  On the nose, the flavour is predominantly citrus hops with a touch of bread, though the taste is nicely nuanced characterized by both grapefruit bitterness and a peaty/earthy dryness that, despite also drying, adds a pleasant complexity.  Fairly full bodied with moderate carbonation, yet fairly smooth on the tongue.  Grade: A-

In a close third is Founders Double Trouble (9.4% ABV) which presents aromas of fruity esters, predominantly citrus, but also floral and with hints of rind.  It pours a golden colour that seems a bit light for the style, but offers a nice frothy white head with good retention and lacing.  Floral and citrus hops dominate the tongue and leave a substantive bitterness yet one without any lengthy lingering.  Medium bodied with only low carbonation makes this beer feel smooth - which to me detracts slightly from a bitter IPA which I, personally, find benefits from some crispy, tingly carbonation, but I am well aware this is an opinion open to much debate!  Still, a fine beer!  Grade: B+

Yet again, there isn't a huge distance between third and fourth in this category, but next is Le Saint Bock's Black Jesus (9.3% ABV) which pours a dark, dark brown with a fine mocha head, good retention, lace, and surface spotting.  Oddly, this beer smells like mocha, chocolate, and sweetened coffee much like a milk stout and without any style characteristics - but it smells nice!  Conversely, as there is nothing on the nose suggesting black IPA, there is nothing on the tongue resembling this sweetness, as the flavour is bitterly piney with hints of pepper and rind.  With a medium body and fair carbonation, this beer otherwise feels style appropriate.  I actually love the sweet stout aroma even if it is inappropriate, but though good, the taste isn't quite enough for me, but it is still enjoyable enough.  Grade: B/B+

Next, I come to Black Moon from Vermont's Rock Art Brewery (10% ABV), which pours jet black with a good frothy white head and solid retention, though negligible lacing.  It smells of pine up front with a trace of floral esters.  It is quite piney/earthy bitter and borders on astringency in flavour - which is certainly style appropriate - but it is a bit much for me and lingers a bit too long, though hop-heads are sure to love it!  It is full bodied with slightly low carbonation levels and doesn't tingle the tongue as it dries its way down!  Good, very stylistically quintessential, yet perhaps a bit too bold in that regard at the same time!  Grade: B

Finally, for this category, I come to the Black Rye IPA offering from Brazil's Cervejaria Bodebrown (7% ABV) which pours a gorgeous jet black, with a lightly cream-coloured thick, rocky head with good retention and lacing.  Aromas are slightly smoky and peaty, as well as offering faintly fruity hints, but are not very dominant and are faint at best and not exactly conforming to the style.  Flavourwise, it is more approrpiate as it is but faintly sweet up front in a citrusy way that dries out quickly with grapefruit, pine, and spice notes that linger excessively.  It is light-to-medium bodied and equally carbonated.  Aside from the aroma, it well fits the style descriptors, but pushes to the point of astringency.  Grade: C+/B-

Old Ales, Scotch Ales, and Barley Wines

Yes, there is fair disparity in this category, though strength, malt, body, and (rough) geographic origin offer some useful categorization and, since I only had one of each, perhaps we can lump these together into an arbitrary category!

Personal Best of the Fest: St. Ambroise Vintage Age Millésimée 2010 (10% ABV).  This aged ale (called both a Barley Wine and an Old Ale depending on the source) certainly ages well though I have never had a fresh one!  It shows unfiltered cloudiness with a dark red colour, while the head is fair, off-white, frothy and offers decent retention and trailing lace.  It smells quite boozy, yet also offers nice aromas of plums, brown sugar, and molasses.  To the tongue, the booziness remains present but is tempered by sweet caramel maltiness that makes it nicely drinkable, with only a slight-to-moderate drying finish (tempered by age perhaps?).  It is warming and fairly full bodied, but with a creamy, low carbonation that makes this fit the Barley Wine tradition and 'wine' inspiration quite well.  Grade: A

Next best for me would be the oddity of the grouping: Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale (8.5% ABV) from Founders Brewing.  This strong Scotch Ale pours a dark brown with quite nice head and retention, though with no lacing to speak of.  Faintly smoky earthy aromas meet the nose while the flavour is similar yet the peaty illusion is sweet in its toasty/woods maltiness.  With medium carbonation and a light-to-medium body, this beer is also fairly warming but not boozy.  Nice, but despite its commanded level of respect, I actual found it to be sweeter than desired and good, but perhaps not as good as many find it, though you should try it for yourself!  I'd like to try it again alongside the Dieu du Ciel Scotch Ale that I so thoroughly adored on draft.  Grade: B+/A-

Finally, I come to the Vermonster (10% ABV), a Barley Wine from Rock Art Brewery that meets the nose with piney/floral hops.  It pours a nice brown with excellent off-white frothy head and noteworthy retention.  There is some malty fruit up front, with very faint notes of raisins, plums, and caramel, but it is wiped out promptly by a very drying floral estery finish with a lingering aftertaste.  As typical of the style, it is fairly full bodied with negligible carbonation, such that it would likely show well on cask.  It was decent, but there wasn't enough barley for me... as the hops shut it down and I would have liked a few more malty aromas and or tastes.  Though I understand that hop heads love it - as one would expect.  Grade: B+

Browns, Reds and Ambers

Personal Best of the Fest: The winner for me is a rare hybrid oddity that almost shouldn't qualify: Beau's 2011/2012 incarnation of Winterbrewed (5% ABV) which is infused with brewed coffee and changes slightly year to year.  This Winter's batch had Guatemalan coffee rather than last year's Nicaraguan and was as delicious as I recall!  Pouring a dark amber-to-light brown with nice rocky mocha head full of lacing with remarkable retention.  Just gorgeous and then you smell it: freshly brewed gourmet coffee (and, with fair-trade Bridgehead organic coffee, it truly is quality!).  The nose has faint hints of earthy hops and caramel malts, but trying to smell anything other than the coffee seemingly brewing beneath your nose is difficult!  The flavour is toasty and nutty, but primarily offers a thick and lingering coffee goodness that is met with just enough hops to dry out the finish that maintains that lingering coffee for quite some time (though not long enough!)  Medium bodied, with slight carbonation, this is fairly oily (as per the coffee) but just a delight to drink!  Grade: A+

It may be somewhat unfair to let my coffee love name the Personal Best of the Fest for one whose "Amber" qualities are nearly indiscernible, so I offer the Backup Best of the Fest here as Wilco Tango Foxtrot (7.8% ABV) a so-called "Imperial Brown Ale" from Lagunitas.  This beer is golden brown in colour and a bit lighter than anticipated with a nice off-white head and decent retention and lace.  Oranges and drier citrusy hops aromas meet the nose while the taste is simply complex and remarkably balanced.  At times, I felt like it began with malty toasted grains before a piney drying finish that didn't last, yet on other sips felt the inverse, being met by floral citrus hops before the malty sweetness and drying end (without any lingering bitterness).  The complex balance is very, very good.  It is very creamy, nearly chewy, and medium to full bodied with medium carbonation.  Not boozy at all.  Very drinkable.  Grade: A-/A

Beau's Strong Patrick Irish Red Ale (6.7% ABV) comes in next, though I would love to try this again and offer more.  I adore good Irish Reds, but they must be consumed before Barley Wines and such and, for various reasons, this didn't happen and its subtleness was lost a bit on me at the time.  It was easy drinking for it's ABV, had nice caramel and toasty notes on the nose and tongue and finished with the lingering sweetness one expects from an Irish Red.  Saying more than that will require a second tasting, but I did enjoy it and I am sure I would again!  Grade: B+/A-

Next, is Maracaibo Especial (a 7.5% ABV American Brown) from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales.  It pours a deep amber with a decent, creamy, whiter-than-expected head of moderate retention and pacing.  There was also a remaining brown yeast sediment visible in the glass.  It has two-part aroma beginning with sweet-and-sour dark malty fruits and finishing with a slight citrus hoppiness.  Tastes like slightly smoky camp toast with a rindy/citrus finish.  It is good, but not exactly like expected in aroma or taste for the style.  It had a nicely drying finish, but more in an American Pale Ale manner than that of a Brown.  Good, but not legendary to me.  Grade: B/B+

Finally, I come to BarbaRoja Barrel-Aged Red Ale (9% ABV) which pours a gorgeous deep amber with an excellent frothy beige head with thick bubbles that remain and leave a fair trace.  It has but a faint aroma merely of sweet citrus and lightly toasted malts.  Tastes are of spicy fruit with a piney finish and they somehow seem to clash rather than complement each other.  Medium-bodied and moderately carbonated, though a bit oily and fairly warming.  Good, enjoyable, but not something I'd go back to often.  Grade: B

Well, that's it for now.  Remaining posts about Mondial: Stouts/Porters, Lagers and Wheat Beers, Sours and Unique Oddities, and finally a wrap up post with some concluding remarks - stay tuned as I keep re-living this phenomenal event!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Mondial Beer Review #1: Trappists, Abbeys, and the Belgian Inspiration

As a slight disclaimer before kicking into my series of five beer review posts from Mondial, I should say that I will slightly lump together some similar, but different beer styles to review a few together and note the best of the bunch first in their respective categories.  Sometimes these categories will be a bit catch-all and slightly unfair but will help organize things.

I'll also note that, when accompanied by some assistants on Saturday (thanks to Hec and Hec!), I tasted a few beers more than once and was reminded of the differences from day to day in what appeals.  These, as always are according to my palate on a given day and are of course personal, but also hopefully helpful!  Unfortunately, I only tasted 55 new beers at the event and cannot compare all of them, but of those, here begins a barrage of posts!

On the Belgian beer trail, I'll be including not only true Belgian beers, but beer styles associated with Belgium.  I have categorized these as 1) Dubbels; 2) Tripels; 3) Quads; 4) Saisons; and 5) Belgian Pale Ales.  Next, I will do a post on Pale Ales/IPAs/Old/Vintage/Scotch Ales/Barley Wines/Browns and Reds.  The next post will cover Stouts, Porters, and variations therein.  The fourth post will review my tasted Wheat beers and Lagers, and finally I will post on various sours and oddities.


Having staggered upon a few desired dubbels that were sold out, I did manage to have two long-awaited Trappist offerings narrowing my list of untasted Trappist beers to just the Westvleteren ones and Achel's quad, but Westmalle and Achel's dubbels were worth their high ticket price at the event.

Personal Best of the Fest: Trappist Achel 8 Brune (8% ABV) is simply stellar.  Plummy aromas greet the nose alongside faint hints of figs and dark bread and an even fainter note of floral hops esters.  This presented a thick, creamy, yet smooth head of fine carbonation with excellent lacing and retention.  It is, indeed, best described as brown, though since (both of my) samples came from the top of a new bottle, no yeasty cloudiness was discernible.  Flavorwise, it is sweeter even than anticipated, not so much in the sugary way of many Trappist and Abbay beers, but in a very strong malty fruitiness dominated by figs, plums, and prunes, with a trace of raisins.  Despite being sweeter than many, it was so fruity (as opposed to artificial) that it was delicious and refreshing both times.  There was no sense of its booziness as it offered a smooth creaminess alongside a medium body and nicely drying finish.  This probably equals Trappist Rochefort's as my favourite dubbel.  Grade: A+

Also: Westmalle Trappist Dubbel (7% ABV) is similar in aroma, with dark fruits up front but there is also some cherries, perhaps even smelling like a candied variant - sort of like a cross between maraschino cherries and what cherries would be like if candied like a candy apple.  I wasn't crazy about this artificial sweetness scent (or flavour) but did mostly enjoy it nonetheless.  This beer pours a darker brown than the Achel, but with a whiter, if equally creamy, head that also expressed excellent lacing and retention.  Though still sweet, it is more dissimilar in flavor to the Achel than in aroma insofar as raisins, molasses and pumpernickel bread flavourings were more predominant.  Likewise, this is also medium bodied and nicely creamy with a perhaps slightly drier finish, yet I found it to taste boozier despite a lower ABV.  Overall, a very good beer (in a style I enjoy) but one that was simply bested by Achel according to my tastes.  Grade: A-


As someone who generally prefers dubbels and quads to tripels, I was surprised by the tripels that rocked my world at this event.  Despite tasting the famous Westmalle Tripel for the first time, and liking it, I found myself adoring two other tripels in ways I never knew I could love this style (though the recently tasted Tripel Karmeliet and Dominus Vobiscum Tripels also entice!).

Personal Best of the Fest: A two way tie between...

Trappist Achel 8 Blonde (8% ABV) smells excellent with notes of honey, pears, and rind most evident alongside sweaty yeast hints.  Quite cloudy (with only fine particulate), this fine Trappist ale pours a nice golden colour with a very nice (and nicely retained) white head of medium bubbles.  Flavourwise, it begins with sweet notes of pear, apples, and faint citrusy whisps, yet follow with a drying floral semblance of hoppiness with traces of cloves and spicy yeast.  It is quite carbonated with a medium body that well masks its high ABV.  This beer is not boozy in the least!  I am a convert to the ways of the Tripel!  Grade: A+

and it is tied with...

Allagash Curieux (11% ABV) offers a variant on this highly respected beer style insofar as it is aged in Jim Beam Bourbon barrels.  Aromas of sweet apples, bread, and rind meet the nose alongside an appearance that offers golden, lightly cloudy beer though with only a faint head (with a bit of spottyness on the surface) though the head may have been absent due to a bad pour.  Curieux is delicious: a sort of sweet and simultaneously sour apple is predominant alongside vanilla hints from the Bourbon barrels that are clearly present and enticing, yet not overwhelming.  Somehow, the two flavours balance perfectly with a sufficiently drying finish presented by a medium body with a tingly-crisp feel of fair carbonation.  Simply blissful!  Grade: A+

Yes, the legendary, original tripel, Westmalle Trappist Tripel (9.5% ABV) comes in behind these others to my tastes (on that given day, anyway!)  Aromawise, I was met with spicy notes exemplary of Belgian yeasts, alongside sweet pears and alcohol.  Also golden, but not as cloudy as the Achel, this could be due to topping the bottle, while it was poured with a good and comparably retained/impressive white head.  Though there is a complexity of spice and fruits in the flavour, I was a bit disappointed by an excessive booziness and obvious warmth alongside an equally excessive sweatiness to the yeast that - while not bad - were to me less pleasant than its peers offered.  Much drier and perhaps better balanced, though with a lighter body and carbonation than their peers that perhaps prevented the masking of the booze.  Perhaps it was overhyped for me, but though enjoyable and quite drinkable, I was more blown away by the nuance of the others and wonder if this simply commands its great respect (primarily) on legacy.  Grade: B+/A-


Personal Best of the Fest: Microbrasserie Charlevoix Dominus Vobiscum Hibernus (10% ABV) wins out by a slight fraction over Malheur's below in my estimation.  It offers scents primarily of raisins and yeasty spices alongside faint remnants of caramel-like maltiness.  A bit lighter in colour than anticipated, it was still beautifully dark red with a near glow while the head was a perfect tan with remarkable retention, lacing, and yeasty surface-spotting. In the mouth, plum and berry notes are present, but so too are the raisins and spicyness evident on the nose.  A bit of dark bread makes its way in before the quite drying finish that comes off as very port-like.  It was a bit lighter bodied than anticipated, yet crisp in a moderate carbonation.  Very, very nice, even if a bit drier and lighter than desired.  Grade: A

Malheur 12 (12% ABV) finished just-a-shade below the Hibernus in my 50-point rating assessment (based on the BJCP).  The nose is dominated by sweet plums, caramel, and bready yeast.  It is dark brown with a fantastic creamy, tan head with superb retention and smooth lacing.  It is quite sweet in flavour as well with faint hints of chocolate alongside the ever-present dark fruits, but this sweetness is pleasant to me as it hides the ABV that could otherwise take over.  It brings a fairly full body with a medium carbonation, but perhaps not quite enough of a drying finish (if somewhat present) to balance for the sweetness, but it presents those notes so well, that this 'flaw' is, at most, negligible!  Grade: A

Ommegang Three Philosophers (9.8% ABV) is dominated on the nose by sour cherries that are quite enticing, as is brown colour and ample beige head of noteworthy retention, though with negligible lacing.  Flavourwise, I found it complex, yet overly sweaty and the cherry flavours became sweet but in an artificial sort of way.  Still nice, but not enlightening enough for me!  Though creamier and smoother than the other quads, I found it insufficiently drying and overly boozy despite a lower ABV.  Was it good?  Hell yes!  Was it worth the hype?  Not for me.  Grade: B+


I have sometimes loved a saison, and other times loathed them.  I do not consider myself well versed in the style though and one of these two was a taste of a peer's sample at the end of the night and I was unable to add too much nor smell too much, so I will say little, but I will note the following:

Personal Best of the Fest: Microbrasserie Charlevoix Dominus Vobiscum Saison Sainte Réserve (6% ABV) is fruity with pear and banana notes, alongside a slight spiciness and earthiness that can almost be called musty, but in a raw and appealing manner.  It is golden and slightly cloudy with slight head, yet fair spotting and retention though only slight lace.  The flavour is mild and mellow, yet faintly sweaty and earthy.  It is light-bodied and crisp on the tongue with a moderate carbonation evident.  It is nice, but a touch too dry bordering on astringency, yet I gather that this is style exemplary!  Grade: B+ (but on a scale I am just learning for this style that is yet to inspire a personal 'saison-spree')  (A shot follows with reviews continuing afterwards)

Again, I tasted a helper's beer called "Ichthus" according to the sign at the Le St. Bock booth - as it was on draft, I presume it was from Le Saint Bock.  It was called a "Saison Sushi" and was stated as 6.1% ABV, but the brewer was not listed, the beer is not in the program, and I cannot find it via internet search.  If anyone can help offer more information (or verify the brewer) or a link in the comments below it would be most appreciated.  All I can say for sure now is that it smelled and tasted a bit too murky, earthy, and/or funky for me at the end of the day and I would tentatively give it a Grade: B- 

Belgian Pale Ales:

I could call Ommegang's Rare VOS the best Belgian Pale I tasted, but I could also call it the worst as it was the only one I had at the event!  That said, it was good, if well overhyped for me personally!  It has citrusy and bready aromas, but they are dominated by the yeasty sweatiness.  It is lightly cloudy and spotty on the surface, while light amber in colour with a fine white head that boasts excellent lace and retention.  A hoppy pine quality not present on the nose comes through on the tongue, as does some yeasty spice.  It is bold and very, very dry nearly to the point of astringency, yet in an odd way: it is the combination of sweaty yeast and piney hops that dries as if merging the Belgian and American Pale Ale styles, but is closer to what could be called a Belgian/India Pale Ale possibly.  It has a medium body and a low carbonation that, if higher, could suit the dryness a bit better.  Grade: B-

That's it for now!  More to come soon as I'll continue with Stouts, Porters, Etc as soon as possible!

Mondial de la Bière 2012 in Review: The Event Before the Brews

Montreal's Mondial de la Bière may not quite be over - with today as the final day for the 19th annual event, but it is for me, so I will begin to offer my extensive thoughts now with beer reviews pending (in multiple posts by broad style categories) as I encourage many of you to check out its final day!

The event itself is simply excellent.  The beer selection (in quantity and quality - including rare gems from around the globe and a total of 637 offerings including a few meads and ciders) is unparalleled at any event I have as yet attended.  There is super food on site (including solid and kangaroo sausages, massive prawns in a chili-blackpepper-garlic-coriander sauce that was remarkable, fondue, churros, and much, much more!).

A special note of praise for the media handling of the event (Thanks, Katia and staff!), to the excellent barstaff in the Mezzanine, and to those brewers/brewer reps/brewery staff who know how to brighten a mood while filling a glass and sharing information in a welcoming way.  I am thinking specifically of:

Microbrasserie Charlevoix (esp. Luc Van Steene)
Beau's All Natural Brewing (esp. Laura)
The Vermont Brewers Association
The barkeeps at Le Petit Pub Oktoberfest

Those who go that extra mile deserve that special mention, and though I can't definitively say that my reviews won't be subconsciously twinged by their kindness (find me one without acknowledged bias, and I'll point out the most biased amongst us!) I promise to try to limit this.  That said, I can assure you that, kindness or not, Beau's and Charlevoix already had well-deserved special places in my heart on my palate and their remarkable people are an additional credit to these fine breweries that, through a personal touch, only add to the joys of phenomenal craft beer.

As always, there were a few slight cons to the event: the food was way too pricey, many great beers cost 5-6 tickets ($5-6 dollars) for a third of a bottle (yet the rarity of the offering made up for most of that), the venue (Place Bonaventure) has no windows for outside light, is made of drab grey concrete, echoes horrifically, and is generally a bit less than desireable if plenty spacious, and many, many great beers on my MUST TRY list were sold out by the evening of the second day (and perhaps sooner).  For a five day event, this was fairly sad and by Saturday, many of the 'pubs' had but 35-50% of their advertised selection (fortunately I went on Day 2 and Day 4!)  Perhaps some better planning in this regard would be great.  Hell, it's not like leftover beer would go to waste and could find it's way into a store or perhaps the day after could have a regular price (or even jacked up) sale of unsold stock to the public?  (I know it may not conform to import laws, but if they can serve them, why not and if not legal, that seems like a fair law change to me!)

Regardless, the event was a resounding success and next year, I hope to come for more!  Stay tuned as the beer reviews arrive over the coming day(s)!