Friday, 31 January 2014

Best of 2013

Most professional writers always seem well-prepped for the requisite best of the year post, while us amateurs seem bogged down by family commitments.   However,  as I still see these popping up, I figure I remain ahead of some and will,  thus,  go ahead with my own best of 2013.  I mean, what the hell, it's still January and the year is still new, right?

While some of these get extra credit for making their first appearance this past year, the requirement here is to have simply been new to me in the past calendar year.   I will rank, on these very broad criteria my top 10 IPAs, Imperial Stouts, Sours, and Others, before my top ten overall and a bid to some stellar Breweries as well.   It must be said, however, that regardless of ranking,  these beers and breweries are all phenomenal! 

One final disclaimer in that my experience is limited by... well... my experience and the local is that I remain most aware of and must indebted to.  I am honored to have such great local beer!

Without further ado, and with but the briefest of thoughts at most:

Top 10 IPAs, DIPAs, Etc

10) Benelux Anniversaire 2013 starts us off with a delightful double IPA that reflects both my 2013 hop love affair and the year itself in which it appeared.

9) Hill Farmstead Edward, while technically an APA is about as much of an IPA as anything else listed here and reflects the unfiltered PA mastery of Shaun Hill's brewing expertise. 

8) Hill Farmstead Abner offered intense and yet intensely delightful citrus and pine reflective of the style. 

7) Firestone Walker Double Jack is an oft-noted treasure that likewise warrants the praise. 

6) Founders Doom. This one-off Barrel-aged IPA balanced out the sweetness of the wood with the bitterness of a well-crafted IPA and was truly a marvel in the mouth. 

5) Great Lakes 25th Anniversary Imperial Black IPA offered another one off with some slick malty balance to an intensely dry linger. 

4) Stone RuinTen showed the palate assault of their fantastic Ruination (so named for its effect on one's palate) with an amped up intensity and depth of character. 

3) Elysian Doom provided simply a noteworthy example of the standard sort of American IPA presenting the hops in all their glory! 

2) Dieu du Ciel's Moralité came next for me personally,  for not only showing off the ideal wonders of hops, but for becoming a regularly available and affordable staple for the hop-heads of Quebec.

1) Firestone Walker Union Jack - as far as I can recall - remains the lone-stander in the end, however,  with a complexity unmatched by even the other top IPAs.

Top 10 Imperial Stouts

10) Mikkeller Black in Black. Yes an 18% ABV imperial stout can temper its ethanol notes and charm in its complexity nonetheless!

9) de Molen Hel & Verdoemenis Barrel Aged.  After side-by-siding this with their other BA RIS Hemel & Aarde, this stood out.

8) De Struisse Black Albert managed to shine alongside flights of De Struisse, Mikkeller, and Brew Dog.

7) Bellwoods 3 Minutes to Midnight offered a delicious fruity take on the style with a complexity of character that reflects well upon this marvelous brewery.

6) Founders KBS almost met the hype.  It is fantastic, but not as much so as it's non-BA breakfast stout brother for me but remained a treasured treat.  I found the wood complex but the bourbon mild.

5) Wals Petroleum shone beyond its decent ratings, offering delightful roasted chocolate notes without excessive sweetness.

4) Bellwoods Hellwoods again exemplified the joys of Bellwoods brews and served as a fine classic example of the style.

3) Hopfenstark's Kamarad Friedrich Bourbon illustrates the brewing and Barrel-aging prowess here,  as it shines in chocolate and bourbon complexity despite its intensely high ABV of near 16%.

2) Founders Breakfast Stout deserves all of its praise and then some showing off the coffee, chocolate and oats remarkably.  I could drunk this forever!

1) Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout again meets the hype.   I sometimes find the drivers of the American hype machines don't truly top our Canadian counterparts.   This one, however, does.  Next Black Friday, go south and shop for this instead... and give me one!

Top 10 Sours and Such

10) Tilquin Oude Gueuze a l'Ancienne was side-by-sided with the Girardin below and both impressed though the Girardin stood out for its slightly increased funk but that takes nothing away from this delightful lambic blend.

9) Girardin Gueze 1882 Black Label was a similar, if more funky delight than the Tilquin above.

8) Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge shows off sour like few other Flanders Reds.  And, for an oak-aged sour, its low price appeals, so I bought many.

7) Hopfenstark's Berlin Alexanderplatz Epilogue is easily the most sour beer I have ever had with a sucking-on-a-lemon sort of puckering quality to this raspberry berliner weisse.

6) La Trou du Diable Dulcis Succubus is a complex marvel of sour and funk that I'd gladly devour any day.

5) Allagash Confluence is one of many delightful American sours I had this year that show the evolution of brewing south of the border.

4) The Bruery Tart of Darkness was so fantasticly tart, but as a sole complaint was only slightly roasty alongside its sour perfection.

3) Drie Fonteinen offered everything Tart of Darkness lacked.  While a touch less sour,  it was every bit as roasty and stout-like as it was tart.

2) Cantillon Kriek.  I had always thought krieks were overrated until I had this from Brussels' Premier lambic brewer.  Cantillon's kriek, unlike many tempered by the fruit, offers puckering tartness with classic Cantillon dust and depth of character as promised.

1) Russian River Supplication ranks as the best sour I have ever had topping the Belgian masters and bring the crown to the States.  A complex masterpiece and worth every penny of its $15 price tag (for a store bought 375 ml bottle).

Top 10 Other

10) Flying Dog Raging Bitch.  Okay it's an IPA,  but a Belgian one that shows off Belgian yeast
complexity alongside American hops to great effect. 

9) Ommegang Hennepin Saison is just your standard Saison,  but a quintessential example of the joys that can bring.   I am not a huge fan of this brewery but it's regular availability in Ontario now prompts a crucial regular purchase.

8) Dunham/Kissmeyer Snowy Spring Royal Pilsner.  This is the only pils to make my list,  though Dunham's regular Pils nearly did.  I am not sure regular pils fans would like this as it is so aggressively (and deliciously) hopped,  but it well complements the grassy crisp Pilsner qualities most seek with a solid drinkability.

7) Kuhnhenn 4th Dementia gets boozier as it warms - as 13.5% old ales tend to - but its nutty and fruity character shines nonetheless. 

6) Dunham Saison Réserve blends the marvels of a standard complex Saison with the barnyard dusty funk of Brett and admirably blends the best of both.

5) Great Lakes Audrey Hopburn Belgian IPA is another that blends American hops and Belgian yeast to great effect... in a great bottle! 

4) Renaissance Elemental Porter does nothing extraordinary,  but does everything ordinary in an extraordinary way.   This is simply a magnificent representative of the style. 

3) Hopfenstark's rare Saison du Repos offers a blend of barnyard and American hops breaking style norms but offering a shockingly delightful treat!

2) Goose Island Sofie offers another delight that breaks my heart insofar as I buy an AB/IN-Bev beer every time I grab one,  but that makes it a regular product in Ontario (and now in Quebec IGAs),  and one that blends the best of saison with wine barrel aging to true delight.  This is a beer to convert wine drinkers! 

1) Hopfenstark 7 Sisters/La Pléiade Maïa (Fût du Vin Blanc) (9% ABV) continues the trends of wine-Barrel Aged Belgian beers, but with all due respect to its red-wine-aged sibling, this masterpiece exemplifies all that beer can be showing funk,  must,  and complex character in every moment of every sip.

All-Around Top 10

10) Kamarad Friedrich Bourbon
9) Dieu du Ciel Moralité
8) Allagash Confluence
7) The Bruery Tart of Darkness
6) Founders Breakfast Stout
5) Firestone Walker Union Jack
4) Drie Fonteinen
3) Russian River Supplication
2) Hopfenstark 7 Sisters/La Pléiade Maïa (Fût du Vin Blanc) (9% ABV)
1) Bourbon County Brand Stout

Top 5 Breweries

5) Hopfenstark opened its own bar,  Station Ho.St, this year that offers a stellar (if small) import selection, coupled with the best of beers from other quebec breweries and, if that weren't enough it supplements with rare beer night, cask night, and barrel-aged beer night which exposes again their mastery of barrel-aging.

4) Dieu du Ciel stands out again for pairing Zwanze Day with their 15th anniversary,  while bottling Morality and sharing oddities in collaboration with New Belgium and Dogfish Head.

3) Dunham from Quebec's Eastern Townships continues to shine in its third year of existence,  with bottled and draught oddities showing a mastery of diverse styles and unique twists 

2) Great Lakes Brewing finished its LCBO run of their 25th Anniversary line to start the year and ended with increased availability of their Tank Ten experimental brews as well.  All to my immense delight.

1) Bellwoods.  This Toronto legend deserves that praise in but their 2nd year of operation for they have shown a style mastery from sours and Imperial Stouts to IPAs and session ales - all of which trump the bulk of the competition.  Keep it up!

I promise more posts soon!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Beers You Can Actually Buy: IPAs

Periodically, someone informs me that, "Every time I look for beers you review, I can't find them," so I have decided to start a regular series considering some of the better products that are widely available in the markets I generally cover (Ontario and Quebec).

The criteria here, generally, will consist of brief notes on regularly available beers in these markets.  Though I may mention seasonal products with wide releases, these also tend to be some of my preferred choices in these categories.

Though you may not fancy yourself a fan of the styles mentioned in such a given post, I strongly encourage you to try some of these products throughout the series since doing so will acclimate your palate to newer tastes and will ensure that your dislike of the style at least conforms to its stronger representatives - though if you appreciate others that is certainly fine too!

I will begin with India Pale Ales due to their immense popularity (as probably the most widely consumed ale category amongst beer geeks - new and old, initiates and connoisseurs alike).  Though some find American IPAs too bitter, as I once did, many find them great from the get-go as a craft beer introduction while others (myself included) come to appreciate them immensely over time.

The history of IPAs seems to contain some truths and exaggerations, but there is general agreement that they were more aggressively hopped Pale Ales for export to the warmer colonies, originating in England in the Eighteenth Century.  They have since been embraced by the American craft beer movement who has pushed the style with bolder hops varieties (of higher alpha acid content) and even double and triple versions of the style with a more substantial malt backbone, even more hops (to combat the resulting malty sweetness), and a higher ABV (resulting from the increased fermentable sugars).

Rather than writing off a beer as bitter, try to ask yourself how this bitterness presents: is it earthy, fruity, citrusy, piney, resiny, floral?  Some of the stronger, more well-regarded IPAs (and beers generally) tend to offer a complex flavour evolution that presents waves of different expressions of the hops flowers.  Many examples are dry-hopped or even wet-hopped (with dry or wet hops added again after fermentation) to add additional (primarily olfactory) expressions to the beer.


Though Quebec was long devoid of many strong examples of English (and American) beer styles, the scene is evolving with the times and two of my absolute favourites are now available regularly in the province.

1) Rigaud, Quebec microbrewery, Le Castor's, organic Yakima IPA (6.5% ABV, 90 beeradvocate, 99/100 ratebeer) is a marvellous example of the style and currently tops ratebeers listing as the best IPA in Canada.  It offers a simply magnificent nose reflective of the citrus spectrum of the style, while the taste offers some toasty notes and a fine resiny, lingeringly bitter finish.  It is available in finer deps in Quebec for between $6.50-$7 (plus tax and deposit) for a 650ml bottle.

2) Regular readers know of my love affair with both Montreal/St. Jerome brewpub Dieu du Ciel AND its American IPA Moralité (7% ABV, 92 beeradvocate, 99/99 ratebeer) collaboration with Vermont brewery The Alchemist.  Moralité periodically hits taps throughout Montreal and in draught (and cask, mmmmm) tops the bottle, though the bottle is a now regularly available delight nonetheless which wafts a brilliant orange-tangerine citrus nose and hits the palate with a similar, though more grapefruit-centric quality.  It is my personal favourite Canadian IPA.  Six-packs are now available wherever DDC products are sold for around $14-$15 plus tax and deposit.

3) Montreal brewpub La Succursale's Angus IP "AAA" (7 % ABV, N/A beeradvocate, 90/80 ratebeer) deserves an extra shout-out in my opinion as a highly-drinkable, if un-bottled, brewpub-only option of noteworthy enjoyment, though it is a notch below the tops on this Quebec list.


Ontario boasts wider brewing of English beer styles than Quebec, for obvious reasons, though I do believe the top two Quebec examples above have now trumped my home province's IPAs.  That said, the breadth of English-inspired brewing and scope of LCBO importing make numerous solid options available for Ontarians and visitors.

1) First, two special shout-outs deserve mention here as worthy of the praise.  The first is Toronto brewpub Bellwoods, whose bottles are only available at their own bottle-shop or draught in the bar, though their IPAs, Cat Lady and Roman Candle, and their DIPAs Witchshark and Boogie Monster are delights.  None are always available but some of them always seem to be!  Go, enjoy, you won't be disappointed!

2) The second special mention goes to long-time Toronto brewing masters Great Lakes, who lack a regular IPA but seem to always have a solid seasonal or one-off IPA available (noteably Lake Effect IPA and Robohop DIPA for me personally) and they frequently appear at the LCBO.

3) Though not brewed in Ontario, BC brewery Central City's Red Racer IPA (6.5% ABV, 95 beeradvocate, 98/99 ratebeer) is consistently rated as one of the top in Canada and wafts grapefruit notes par excellence with some resinous characteristics as well.  This is a bold and highly drinkable delight and it comes in a can (bonus, despite the haters: no air and no light to preserve the fragile IPA) at a mere $2.45 (tax and deposit included)!

4) Flying Monkeys Smashbomb Atomic IPA (6% ABV, 89 beeradvocate, 98/98 ratebeer) is another citrusy delight with some grapefruit and rind aromas, and a rind-and-pine bitter bite.  Well praised, and well worthy of it, and priced at a mere $13.25 for a 6-pack (tax and deposit included) at your nearest LCBO.

The first honourable mention goes to the baseball-inspired, draught-only brewers, Left Field, who regularly ship their magnificent 6-4-3 Double IPA (8.4% ABV, 87 beeradvocate88/43 ratebeer) to beer bars in the Toronto area.  This double IPA boasts a more robust ABV and bolder bitterness than 'regular' IPAs, but smooths out both with a piney resinous finish of noteworthy complexity.

Second honourable mention goes to Amsterdam's Boneshaker (7.1% ABV, 86 beeradvocate, 93/86 ratebeer).  A bit more malty with a neat complexity alongside that unfiltered hoppy goodness makes this beer best when fresh, though cans are an IPA drinkers friends and the new tall-cans of this offer 473 ml for only $2.95 making this a best-fresh-and-fresh-for-longer-than-bottled treat.  Check it out too!

Did I miss something you prefer?  Post it in the comments!

Stay tuned for Saisons soon!