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

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