Monday, 21 December 2015

Homegrown Hops: Tasting Some Beers from Une Biere Deux Coups

Keeping up on the booming craft beer scene can be tough.  Breweries seem to open constantly (with few closures). In and directly around Montreal, mind you, with new brewpub exceptions like Harricana and Isle de Garde, most breweries have been established for at least a few years, with new breweries popping up further afield (Au Val, Sutton, l'Hermite, Hopera). Homebrewers, Brasserie Une Bière Deux Coups, hope to change this and open a Montreal brewery/tasting room in the near(-ish) future. Work on funding plans, the need for permits and space, and other practical exigencies mean this isn't around the corner, but the project is moving forward and, after tasting their beers, I hope we see this come to fruition sooner rather than later!

A joint brewing partnership between Dan Deeds and Eric Dion masterminds the project, which is both grounded in tested, well-liked staples and also experimenting for future delights.

I met up with Dan at his (hop garden backyard) home where he graciously provided me with some review bottles, beginning with their popular Session IPA, and this should assuredly be a staple in their future production. Session IPAs are quite the rage these days, offering the nose (and sometimes the full flavour) of a bold American India Pale Ale without the excess alcohol (or calories) making them a delightful, easy drink for a hot summer afternoon. Indeed, such were the conditions for my consumption, and this fit the bill perfectly!

Since this meeting, Dan has provided me with a few more samples, and I have been building a database of reviews, but note merely a few herein.

Summer Session IPA (3.8% ABV, 45 IBU) pours a quite hazy orange-reddish tinged deep copper in colour, with a decent (1.5-finger) soft white head. The head has pretty solid retention, and small rings of lace circle the glass briefly. Though still firmly within the pale ale camp, this was much darker than anticipated, which is fine either way!

It may seem odd to use vibrant and dank in the same description, but the nose truly wafts vibrantly in expressions of dank earthiness, with a distinctive resinous pine quality, and some tropical fruits, like mango and passion fruit in the background. There is little in the way of citrus - my favourite in IPAs usually - though some traces of rind are present, as are slight floral hints, but buried deeply beyond the fresh, dank resins. A very solid nose, nonetheless!

Upon sipping, there is a touch of a cereal grain and somewhat nondescript resinous quality that kicks things off, before a solid, moderately bitter pine-dominant linger that spreads well thanks to the carbonation.

Most Session IPAs truly lack the body to support the hops present making them aroma forward, but watery otherwise. This, I am pleased to say, is one of those beers that has no business having the body it does - and yet thank science it does! It isn't super thick, but is thicker than some 6% IPAs at medium-bodied and it comes bolstered by a pretty soft feeling spritz, even with moderate carbonation. It feels a bit resinous as well, adding to the flavour and complementing it nicely.

Overall, this is a super solid beer!  I'd buy this regularly if available as such. I think it is nearly as good as Le Castor's Session Houblon. The nose is just as strong - in a style of aroma that isn't usually my preference - and it competes on the body front (at 0.5% less ABV even!) while probably paling a bit on the taste front for my personal interests. But, and this is crucial: to enter that discussion means, to me, this is better than most of the other (non-Brett) session IPAs in Quebec. Bravo!

Though I have yet to try a regular IPA from 1B2C, I also got my hands on their Tempo Double IPA (9%
ABV, 110 IBU), and though solid as well, it wasn't as big of a hit for me personally.  It is darker than anticipated, presenting a hazy brownish, with a decent white head of fair retention. The nose is fruity in the mango and pineapple forward vein more than the citrus aspect.  Some candied sugar from the malt base and a hint of pine and booze also wafts.  Taste-wise it is good through and through, but to be a bit critical it is a touch sweet in the beginning, but the middle and finish come in with an increasingly resinous bitter bite.  It offers quite the lengthy and bitter linger as well, with a fairly full body and carbonation that feels lighter than it appears, offering a bit of oiliness.  A touch more effervescence might show well with the bitter bite.  Overall, the malt base seems a touch bold, such that the bitter bite seems a way to overcompensate in the finish.  However, that is a common enough presentation in DIPAs, so this critique is more personal preference than stylistic error on their part and I note it as this may fulfill your own DIPA criteria, though for me this has a strong nose but gets a bit bland in the somewhat nondescript bitterness that lacks the fruity or floral qualities one expects in the lengthy linger.  It comes off a bit (quickly sweet, then rapidly) 'bitter-for-bitters-sake,' but this is a very traditional DIPA quality.  Those in love with Vermont DIPAs may want a touch more fruit and flowers, while those in love with more West Coast styles may appreciate this for its strengths.  Take, though, my criticism with a grain of salt, for it is still better than many commercial DIPAs in Quebec (with exceptions like Isle de Garde, DDC Immoralite, LTM DIPA, and Route 138, I presume)

Gose Buster (3.5% ABV, 18 IBU), which I somehow forgot to photograph, is another hit in my personal opinion (though the summer batch was a touch better than the recent offering, and brewer Dan agrees, as we both wonder if there was a difference in the purchased grains from the same suppliers).  It pours a hazy yellow with a thick, super creamy white head that sticks around and clings to the glass.  It's aromatically inviting with offerings of lemon, sea breeze, and a muted hint of coriander.  In the mouth, it starts with a mild doughy quality, before a lightly tart, lightly salted, sharp feeling refreshing finish as if of a delightful (mild lemon) spritzer.  The bold effervescence serves to well spread the flavours across the palate, before assisting as it dries out nicely with a mild lemon linger.  Though gose fans who want a sour blast, a wheat-bomb, ocean-level saltiness, or forward-coriander may be disappointed, I rather find that this is an example where none of these components take center stage since all are well balanced in a super-drinkable, highly refreshing treat.  This would be the best in Quebec on a shelf if dropped in stores today.

Zeddemore Schwarzgose (4% ABV, 20 IBU) blends a dark malt backbone with salty sourness. However, while I could provide more elaborate notes for any interested, I will keep this brief, since this beer seems to fall short for two reasons.  First, the roast and lemon qualities just don't blend seamlessly.  Second, despite Dan's assertion that it contains the same amount of salt as the Gose Buster, it tastes saltier throwing the balance out of whack.  It seems odd that this somehow brings the salt more forward as it must compete with roastier malts and a slightly higher IBU.  Regardless, I mention this beer despite its misses because it portends a forward-thinking attempt to bridge styles in unique ways.  And I always appreciate the experiments that facilitate innovation.

Pony Boy Bitter (4% ABV, 40 IBU) comes from a tradition I have moved beyond.  That is, while English styles brought me to beer initially, I now find myself rather sensitive to their frequent (and frequently acceptable) diacetyl notes of buttered popcorn and bored by their traditional hops.  And yet, I can appreciate a well done example of the styles, and this is well done!

It pours a hazy, reddish-dark amber capped by a moderate white head of some retention.  That head wafts an inviting bouquet that fits the style norms but brings complexity of notes rather than unidimensional qualities.  In combination with the fresh-baked bread-like malt and yeast character, there are complementary notes of tea-like hops and some lemon balm.  It smells a bit like an Earl Grey/lemon tea hybrid, while someone bakes a whole wheat loaf in the oven behind.

The flavour begins with that similar yeasty bakery quality, before transitioning to a dry, lightly earthy, and black-tea dominant finish.  There is, also, a lowly discernible diacetyl quality, but that is both acceptable in the style and muted enough by other notes so as to not offend my diacetyl-sensitive palate.  The linger is fairly slight, while the notes are complemented by a fairly light body and just shy of moderate carbonation.  Together, these make for an easy drinking, stylistically sound brew.  A solid hit, even in a style I'd rarely procure!

To get your hands on some of these evolving products, to get a leg up on the evolving Montreal beer scene, and to support what may be our next local brewery, check them out on facebook at  Also, they are doing a survey as part of their business plan.  Please help them out by doing both parts: Part One AND Part Two.  Thanks!

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Brasserie Auval: Tasty Treats from the Gaspé's Hot New Brewery

In the current era of craft growth, new breweries open all the time.  Most of these, sadly, are mediocre at best (and at times far worse).  If you are at all like me, you await solid word before you spend your hard-earned dollars on something that is unlikely to impress, with the unfortunate ratio of crap-to-quality craft cluttering our shelves (as everyone seems to think brewing a good - or at least sellable - beer is like building a 90's era webpage on dreamweaver).

Yet, brewmaster Ben Couillard, who started Pit Caribou in 2007 comes with pedigree and praise even before his long awaited brews hit shelves, and I was fortunate enough to get my hands on the first three bottles from his new brewery, Brasserie Auval.  Auval is a very small scale, farmhouse brewery with a surrounding organic small fruit orchard and honey farm.

Now, I knew in advance that I was the target market for such a brewery.  You know a brewery is targeting a special breed of beer geek when their introductory three offerings are an IPA, a wine barrel-aged saison, and a sour/wild raspberry ale.  With such an introductory spread, coupled with equal parts pedigree and praise, I knew I had to seek these out and I am certainly glad I did!  It is worth noting that all of these beers are bottle conditioned and only the IPA is capped (and says it has a three month life), while the others are caged and corked with a two-year estimated shelf-life.

My initiation began with Arcane17 IPA.  This 5.2% ABV India Pale Ale is labelled as a "Hoppy Beer," which I find far preferable to something irrelevant like "Epic Beer" even if hops presents in diverse ways and 'hoppy' is a limited descriptor.  The ingredients back this up by telling us that it contains "tons of hops" though their facebook page clarifies that these hops are of the Simcoe and Amarillo varieties.  

It presents a lightly hazy body with a light amber colour, capped by a decently thick, creamy white head of some retention and lacing.  Aromatically, this is a fruit bomb with dominant citrus notes expressing as sweet tangerines, coupled with peaches, mango, pineapple, melon, strawberries, and passion fruit all discernible.  There is a trace of piney resin, but it is masked by this super-fruit-presentation.  Though not quite as explosive, this is like that wide open, multi-layered Heady Topper type aromatic hop-showcase complexity.  Nose-wise, I think this would be my favourite Quebec IPA, though other components need consideration before such a premature assessment would be even possible.

Tastewise, it begins with an initial and slight graininess, before a rapid switch to a fairly floral, mildly resinous, and predominantly lemon-rind driven hop presentation.  A moderately bitter and fairly lengthy linger completes the taste, which is likewise supported by a fairly light body and fairly light carbonation.  As it is live, I wonder if it needed just a few more days out of the fridge to carbonate further - though the hops may then have suffered instead.

I suspect there are two or perhaps three Quebec IPAs I enjoy a bit more in their entirety (Moralité, Yakima, maybe Pit Caribou IPA Americaine), but to have an initial offering come into this range is a noteworthy achievement!  Additionally, the low ABV is, for me, an extra selling feature, making for an easy work-night pint.  Moreover, brewmaster/owner Ben tells me that this recipe is in evolution and may be tweaked before future incarnations.  With such a strong start, I cannot wait to see what it becomes!

 Next, I cracked Saison Espinay (6% ABV).  It is pretty brazen - and a show of confidence - to begin one's first release with a 3-month Chardonnay barrel-aged saison.  The mass market rarely buys such styles, and those who tend to drink them have discerning palates and numerous good options nearby (from Dunham to Hill Farmstead).

Yet, this bold move pays off!  It pours a strongly cloudy, orange-tinged amber.  The body is topped by a lightly audible fizzy white head of some retention, with some sticky lace clinging to the glass throughout.

It wafts a bouquet of spicy yeast phenols, but not overwhelmingly so, in presenting some pepper and coriander notes that are tempered by a mild floral hops quality.  As it warms, initially a mild fermenting peach character presents, before more wine notes come to the fore in the form of grape skin and must.

The flavour kicks off with a mild dough quality, before drying out substantially with a spicy phenolic and floral hops finish.  The must/grape skin quality is also present in the finish from the get-go, though it increases as it warms, but the oak (though present) is less discernible than the vinous qualities.  It finishes in a very dry fashion while cold, though is substantially sweeter and more wine forward upon warming.  A medium body with ample sharp carbonation complements the dry and spicy characteristics.

In the final assessment, it presents like a fairly typical, traditional saison, with just enough from the barrel to add complexity to its character.  The barrel-aged geek in me wants to see the 12 month (Brett?) version to be overwhelmed, but its subtlety is its strength as floral/spicy/vinous/barrel qualities are all tempered enough to bring a delightfully complex, if not palate-exhausting classic style with a mild twist.  Once again, well done and, like the IPA, this is a brew-in-process subject to change and (semi-)regular production, so keep your eyes peeled!

Finally, I turn to Framboëse (a 5% ABV raspberry wild ale aged 8-months in oak barrels).  It is a gorgeous, relatively clear,deep red in colour, nearly reminiscent of red wine but with a brighter hue.  The head is off-white (reddish-tinged) and quite boldly effervescent, with an audibility that hints at its rapid dissipation.

The nose is quite possibly the boldest, straight-up, fresh-crushed raspberry character in Quebec - yes, even counting Solstice d'été!  Once again, the wood is negligible, though it could be as it would be dominated by the tons, yes I presume tons, of raspberries seemingly present in my bottle.

On the tongue, there is a mild raspberry sweetness, before a smooth transition to a mild raspberry tartness with a hint of oak.  Though delightful, and easy drinking, I would say this lacks the complexity of some fruited sours, but maximizes the raspberry quality in the way fruited sour geeks adore.  It isn't sour - or much at all - but there is the tartness of a not overly sweetened raspberry pie.  With multiple brett strains in the blended barrels, and some lacto, there is also a slight raspberry yogurt flavour present.

The body is medium, and the carbonation is sufficient, though it may benefit from an even bolder sharpness to spread the notes on the palate, but it is still a nice treat that promises to be an annual offering.

In conclusion, this is one heck of a launch.  None of these top the styles even in the province for me personally, but they all invite comparisons to the world-class Quebec offerings, and portend a strong future for this new bright - if small - shining star in the growing Quebec beer scene.


Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Not Your Father's Root Beer: Not His Son's Beer Either

You can't currently peruse American beer forums without seeing talk of Illinois-based Small Town Brewery's Not Your Father's Root Beer.  This seems to be about the weirdest and most divisive 'beer' in the community, with most loving it and some hating it, with little in between, though overall it rates phenomenally and apparently flies off of shelves.  Thus, I had to chime in since a bottle found its way to me in trade.

Though there are also 10% and 19.5% (!) ABV versions, this is your standard 5.9% root 'beer.'

Without wasting time, I am going to get right down to it, with all ratings out of 5.

Appearance: It pours a rather dark brown with an audible, just off-white head that dissipates almost instantly.  Looks like root beer!  I guess it deserves a 5 for that, but the beer geek in me wants it to be a beer with some retention and lace... but I guess that isn't to style.  Yet, much high quality draught root beer brings a head that never dissipates.  I'll settle at 4.

Aroma: It smells just like root beer!  Well, at first it does.  Initially one is blown away by the sassafras (or sarsaparilla) root but as it both warms and as one sniffs a little deeper, hints of molasses come through, followed by a faint hint of ethanol.  There is also something in the background that resembles that of a stale bottle of macro adjunct lager that has been sitting for a whole day after a party.  Part of me wants to give this a 5/5 for withstanding simple scrutiny and smelling like a root beer, because - let's be honest - who sniffs their root beer like they do their beer?  But, this rates well, and thus deserves to be rated, and in digging deeper its flaws become apparent.  Maybe these smells are also in other root beers and my consumption of them lacked this level of engagement, but I doubt it.  I am shocked, and amazed that a beer can present this... and bravo for that... but I am not shocked enough to overlook that which I find to detract.  3.5

Taste: It is super sweet and nearly identical to an A&W root beer with a few variations.  The taste is clearly of the syrupy-artificial root beer variety, not fresh draught, and is perhaps even sweeter than most root beers.  Loads of artificial vanilla is also present, yet the artificial taste is excessive and the slight hint of ethanol couples in being equally off-putting as it detracts from the root beer elements.  It is very 'root-beer-forward,' don't get me wrong, but perhaps not enough so to keep me from beer (see comments in overall below).  3.5

Mouthfeel: It is super syrupy, sticky, and carbonated, with a touch of warmth in the finish.  Yes, pretty much like root beer... but even more syrupy and even more sticky, if you can imagine that!  3

Overall: Before truly assessing, I'd like to note that during and afterwards I burped uncomfortably and with its lesser aromatics returning each time in a way that doesn't happen to me with other beers or with (non-alcoholic) root beer.  Like the flavour, it returned an artificial quality and was rather off-putting.  I can't help but feel like I want a real beer after, and yet I LOVE root beer.  To me, this isn't even a top ten root beer.  It is remarkably akin to the soda, and praise for that is deserved, but it may be one of my least favourite root beers.  So why would I drink it?  Booze?  If I want the booze, I may as well grab a beer... if I want a root beer, I may as well avoid it and be the DD!  I guess my point here is basically, wtf?  I mean, are we going to have others doing this now?  Then cola beers?  Then other sweet messes that no longer present hops and malted barley in balance, characterized by water and yeast specifics?  At what point will the gimmick run thin?  3

I enjoyed this, and I was truly happy to have some, but I didn't enjoy it so much that I finished the bottle.  I passed it to my wife and moved on.  It is noteworthy and impressive, but it isn't something I'll be seeking out again.

It is fine for what it is, but fuck I hope this doesn't start a trend of trying to closely mimic the tastes of other drinks.  Let's keep mimicking the taste of beer, in all of its diverse and ingenuitive complexity.  It can taste like other styles, hybrid styles, new styles, but I hope we don't seek to make too many more that taste like soda.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Epic Battle of the Adjunct Chili Stouts: Slaying Some Personal White Whales

Beer geeks not only seek the new, whether to tick or to chase the next big thing, but they further hold out dreams of slaying a 'white whale.'  Invoking Moby Dick, a white whale is that elusive, limited, hyped rarity that for some reason (amongst all other whales) elicits the deepest desires of the geek in question.  What constitutes a whale is subjective and depends on many factors, and I have had some rarer beers before, but this tasting epitomized the slaying (read: drinking) of multiple personal white whales, in styles that drive me nuts.

Several of these were brewery only and/or had bottle counts in the low hundreds.  They also trade at quite a high value, are highly rated, come from afar (to Quebec anyway) and aren't easily procured.  Moreover, faithful readers know I love me an imperial stout.  I also love chilis and chili beers, though there aren't too many chili imperial stouts on my regular radar.

Thus, the barrel-aged (and regular) variants of Hunahpu's Imperial Stout, Mexican Cake, and Abraxas all fall into that dreamy category for me... or they did.  It doesn't hurt either that, despite rarity, these beers are all immensely praised and (at the time of writing) not a one rated less than 97 on Beeradvocate. (Don't ask, however, how many 'loons flew the coup - and went South over the Farmstead Hill -  in quest of these bottles!* I can't count that many 'loons in flight.)

The lineup consisted of (in consumed order): Prairie Artisan Ales (from Oklahoma) Bomb!, Perennial Artisan Ales (from Missouri) Abraxas and Barrel-Aged Abraxas, Cigar City's (Florida) Hunahpu's Imperial Stout and Double-Barrel (Rum and Apple-Brandy) Hunahpu's, and Westbrook's (South Carolina) Mexican Cake, as well as two variants, Tequila Barrel-Aged Mexican Cake and Double Barrel (Bourbon and Rye) Mexican Cake, and a fine blend I like to call 'Quadruple Barrel Mexican Pu' made from a blend of both double barrel aged beers.  Yep, that's a lot of adjunct stout to review, so on to the goodness...

Bomb! (13% ABV) (2014) combines coffee, cacao nibs, vanilla beans, and ancho chili peppers in a solid imperial stout base.  It pours a deep dark brown to black, with a slight deep tan to light mocha head of minimal retention.  From the bouquet, I get dark chocolate in predominance, with some espresso and faint chili notes.  Tastewise, the chocolate is once again dominant, though traces of coffee are present and some chili spreads on the tongue via the carbonation.  That carbonation, however, is minimal with a medium-full body, yet despite a decent smoothness, this one is a touch sticky.  The alcohol is well hidden on both tongue and chest in a remarkable fashion; or, perhaps, with so many adjuncts, it isn't actually all that remarkable.  Overall, this is a great beer (and my second time with it), but it seems to not quite know what it is... coffee stout, chili stout, chocolate stout, who knows?  But it is super drinkable, and blends the adjuncts pretty well.  Grade: A-

Hunahpu's Imperial Stout (11% ABV) (2014 despite the 2015 in the pic above, brewed with cacao nibs, Madagascar vanilla beans, Ancho chilis, Pasilla chilis, and cinnamon) clomps into the glass exposing its mass alongside its deep darkness.  There is a moderately sized mocha head, though with negligible retention and no lace to speak of.  The aroma is inviting with loads of chili-chocolate (reminiscent in, literally, of a dark chocolate truffle with chilis) and a fair amount of what smells like super-fresh, wonderfully high quality vanilla beans.  There is a fresh vegetal quality, faintly reminiscent of olives as well.  It isn't ideal, but isn't entirely off-putting either as I suspect it is, rather than an off-flavour, connected with the vanilla beans of (once) fresh, gourmet quality.  The notes connect in my mind, at least, whether they do so in reality.  It tastes first of deep, rich chocolate, followed by those delightful vanilla beans, before concluding with a strong cinnamon presence and just a hint of chili warmth.  There is a mild dual-warmth after the swallow as both a trace of heat and a low-moderate chili burn return up the esophagus.  This beer has the creamiest, silkiest, thickest-bodied mouthfeel ever, even compared to nitro-tapped heavies!  (Perhaps not the thickest beer, though very thick, but the silkiest for sure!)  What a treasure on the tongue!  Overall, this does a lot of things right, but it feels a bit more muddled (than Bomb!) by the over-presence of too many conflicting adjuncts.  The chocolate, the vanilla, the chilis all just seem in so much competition (and too little chili for me, though it is over a year old) that the stout is long gone.  It is great, don't get me wrong, but I feel like I drank a thick, chocolate-vanilla, lightly hot, slightly boozy, creamy milkshake, not an imperial stout.  The beer was lost a bit in the adjunct process - or perhaps in the age. Grade: A-

Double-Barrel Hunahpu's Imperial Stout (11% ABV), aged in both Rum and Apple Brandy barrels, was brewed once in 2014 and released at the brewery only amidst a near beer riot.  It is visually undifferentiated from the non-BA Hunahpu, except for a smaller head.  The nose wafts an increased vanilla component alongside the presence of some wood, but is otherwise similar though that faint olive note is a bit more muted here, as are the other adjunct notes, though the chocolate remains fairly present.  The taste is a bit sweeter up front with vanilla and cinnamon taking more of a centre stage than the chocolate.  The middle brings some rum spice and woody characteristics, before a more heated, chili finish.  The carbonation seems a touch more pronounced than in the regular version, while the feel remains almost identically silky if a tad less thick. The alcoholic heat is well-hidden on the palate.  Overall, by muting the olive notes, as well as better blending the adjuncts with some wood presence, while effectively holding the body, this is the better beer, though I have heard that it has faded greatly since it is now 15-months past launch.  Grade: high A-

Abraxas (10% ABV), crafted with ancho chilis, vanilla beans, cacao nibs, and cinnamon sticks, was the biggest disappointment of the night for me.  And yet, it is still a fine beer, so I wasn't too disappointed to ingest it!  It is visibly a shade lighter, presenting a dark brown in contrast, while topped with a scant head that almost resembles red wine bubbling lightly from an aggressive pour.  The noise has more roast qualities than Huna, showing its stout origins more than simply the adjuncts.  As far as the adjuncts go, the cinnamon is paramount, before some of the chocolate and just traces of vanilla.  There is also a slight ashy quality to it, alongside a faint hint of ethanol that is more discernible than in either of the (slightly stronger) Hunahpus.  As it opens up, the chilis come forward a bit more, making the nose fairly dynamic.  The taste is fairly sweet and cinnamon-dominated, while there is an almost milk-chocolate quality to the middle.  It has a very, very faint return of mild chili spice and a touch of alcohol heat in the finish.  The body is a touch lighter, and it is even less carbonated than Huna, while there is also a more present alcohol burn (and detectable flavour) as well.  Grade: B+

Barrel-Aged Abraxas (11% ABV), aged in Rye Whiskey barrels, poured the same dark brown of the base beer, with a comparably negligible head.  The nose has transformed completely however, starting out with more cacao that is complemented by traces of oak and a hint of spicy rye.  There are also some slight chili pepper notes, and faint whisps of ethanol.  The taste likewise begins with a chocolate assault, before transitioning first to ethanol, then to a mix of rye spice and a smooth, if not over-bearing chili tingle.  It is slightly warm in the linger, but more of alcohol than chili, though both are present.  Overall, it presents just enough chili, and just enough barrel, with muted adjuncts overall to have all components enhance rather than detract from each other.  It offers slightly more barrel notes than DBH; just enough for that blended complexity of components aforementioned.  Grade: A

Mexican Cake (10.5% ABV, 2013 bottling date, brewed with cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, and habanero peppers) pours thickly dark with but a slight tan head, and no real retention to speak of.  The nose wafts a nice blend of roasted malts coupled with the chocolate to present this bittersweet cacao up front, complemented by vanilla and coffee-esque notes, with muted cinnamon, and mere traces of chili.  The taste is a bit milder up front than in the finish, but starting with a fine blend of roasty stout qualities, alongside adjunct chocolate and vanilla, before a chili finish that begins before the swallow and a lengthy linger lasting through the next sip.  The body is a bit thinner than Abraxas, and certainly thinner than Huna, but the feel remains fairly creamy despite a bolder carbonation (that works well with the spice). With just a touch more body, this would be perfect to me as the best obvious 'stout' tasted (on its own terms) and with muted adjuncts except for the one I like the most!  (BTW: though my notes remain coherent, I am terribly sorry that my pictures started to get drunk from here on in... damn Android, no app to increase either tolerance or to correct for the user!)  Grade: A/A+

Tequila Barrel-Aged Mexican Cake (10.5% ABV) almost identically resembles the base beer, and the nose is again similar but with a few key differences.  First, the aroma starts with a greater depth of chocolate, before more spicy notes of both tequila and chili which masks the chili a bit in the balance between the two.  The taste, again, begins a bit more chocolate forward than the base brew, while the finish is entirely spicy, yet only vaguely of chilis with an equal blend of tequila and woody characteristics as well.  It has a touch less carbonation than the regular version, but a similar body and remains quite solid indeed.  Grade: A/A+

Double-Barrel Mexican Cake (10.5% ABV) pours a similar colour, though the head seems a bit more mocha coloured and a bit less substantial.  The aroma presents a perfect blend of chocolate, whiskey, wood, moderate vanilla, and very faint chili.  The taste is similar, if a bit boozier than the base beer, while very woody with vanilla and chocolate preceding a spicy chili finish and linger.  This is a bit spicier than not just the other Cakes, but all of the other beers in the tasting.  It has a bit less carbonation than the other Cakes, but also seems to have thickened up a bit and leaves no residual stickyness on the palate.  This is clearly the best beer of the night, according to all four tasters involved, as it exemplifies balance in the adjuncts (except for the chili which the other non-Cakes leave as too weak), presents the strongest imperial stout base, and offers a solid if not dominating aspect of the barrels!  Grade: A+

Then, of course, there was the blend I like to call 'Quadruple Barrel Mexican Pu,' which offers a chocolate-dominant nose, supported by some cinnamon and vanilla (in a barrel-way), while the flavour is pretty chocolatey and vanilla forward, with a solid chili burn in the finish.  It works well by bringing much of Cake's strengths forward while adding aspects of Huna's remarkable body.  A fine blend, indeed!  Grade: A+

Though the Huna we tasted may have been showing its age at 15 months old, our Cake (non-BA) was even older and it stood up in a much stronger way, despite the bodily might of the Huna.  Huna just felt like a mess of adjuncts (if one can call a still great beer a 'mess') while Cake minimized the supporting adjuncts to the stout at hand - except for the personally desired chili.  Thus, I'd say: (Quad Barrel Mex Pu>) DB Cake>Cake tied with Tequila Cake>BA Abraxas>DB Huna>Huna tied with Bomb!>Abraxas.

Yet for me, a lesson here if this: it usually isn't worth it to trade and ship for high end prizes.  Yes, I loved Cake and DB Cake, but trading for Cake is about 10 times easier and cheaper than for DB Cake, and DB Cake is NOT 10 times better than its base.  In my opinion, flip for the regs and let the variants be... unless you have so many big trade guns that you don't know what to do with, or unless these top your whale search list!  That said, as these were basically all on my beer bucket list, it had to be done and I didn't regret drinking a single thing on this list, and nor would I ever.

'Til next time... cheers!

(By the way, if you wonder how I can safely drink this many strong beers in one epic tasting: it was four of us throughout, with, at times, a 5th and 6th person nabbing tastes, and we spaced it out over 5 hours with large glasses of water between each sip.  #drinkresponsibly-ish!)

*Beer geek jargon clarification/translation: "Don't ask how many [relatively rare and highly valued Belgian] Cantillon lambics and gueuzes - as well as Hill Farmstead beers - were traded to find these and compile them over the last year for this great night."

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The Case for the Crowd: Embracing Beer Reviews

Fret not, this post IS about beer, but begins with an analogy.

I started with plans to write about several of my favourite interests: baseball (especially the Toronto Blue Jays), politics, GNU/Linux, and beer.  Though I never truly explored many of these other aspects, and so I simply embraced the beer, there is something in common between craft beer and Linux (and the politics of Free and Open Source Software).

You see, Linux thrives through its community.  It is, essentially, coded by, fixed by, updated by, maintained by, and supported by that community.  Though I am a pretty skilled computer user, I am no programmer, and on occasion I seek help (and sometimes offer it) on various Linux forums.  The ready availability of assistance advises me on software packages, security solutions, problem solutions, tips, tricks, and more.  I love Linux, but I could never have been 7+ years free of Windoze (and wishing we had divorced sooner) if it hadn't been for searchable assistance through the online community.

The community, though, works because users re-contribute perpetually back to the loop for the benefit of all.  We rely on that contribution and, in turn, we should contribute back when and where we can.

Though Apple and Microsoft have their own communities, they don't function the same way: the source material is closed, and frankly, users don't care.  This is the product that is desired; users take what's fed to them and embrace it without the knowledge that things can be different (whether or not they should be different for them, like whether standard 'beer' drinkers should switch to craft, is another issue than that of the model itself).

Likewise, macro brews attempt to construct a community (through poor advertising) but it lacks the sharing, trading, tasting, rating structure of the craft community (not to mention flavour).

Yet, beer geeks have a pretty solid community.  We out bad traders publicly, thereby ensuring a safe space, and often attempt to make up for the trading shortfalls of others.  Craft brewers often collaborate rather than compete, and some even "Open-source" their recipes offering them up on their websites or for those who ask (and can we have even more of this, please?).  We have a share mentality around products for tastings, and in such a manner I have made friends with many of those I am closest to in my new hometown.

We also check ratebeer and beeradvocate often.  When we find a new product or a new brewery, when we vacation and wish to find craft beer hotspots, we jump on their assessments.  The initial numbers are just a start and the comments further our understanding of the notes to expect - in hopes that such-and-such beer will present the characteristics we desire.

Yet too many of us rely on these community-driven sites, and at times lament some user ratings therein, but free-ride on the system.  Sure, we "tap" things on Untappd, but I have heard more complaints of Untappd ratings than of the bigger sites. Yet, despite this, NONE of my top craft brew-loving friends review in the very places where they seek reviews.  Perhaps, however, this is because Untappd's 140 characters are truly insufficient to capture the experience of craft beer moments.

Myself, though I do tap my brews and will probably continue to for the social aspect, I care little for the ratings or comments.  Untappd gives room to note but one thing well: usually the single most or least appreciated aspect, not the pros and cons in totality.  And, if you're at all like me, you've probably never sought out a beer rating on Untappd when you discovered a new product: we all go to the big guns.

Thus, my provocation.  The system works when we contribute.  Our rating complexity and lexicon improve as we do so.  Assessing beers in their entirety not only expands our assessment capacities, but enhances our enjoyment of beer (and assures we don't return to re-try a mess we had a few thousand beers back and had long forgotten).  If you aren't a member already, join BA or RB (or any other full review site you may like if you think we need to disrupt the status quo), and take beer reviews seriously.

Though each site has individual strengths and weaknesses, BA (for instance) allows users to rate (and comment-review) on Look, Smell, Taste, Feel, and Overall criteria, while weighting the components of each for an overall numerical adjustment based on the percentages allotted to each of these aspects by the widely recognized Beer Judge Certification Program.

I don't care if Untappd users give a beer a 4.23 on average - and I don't truly care if BAers give an aroma rating that is higher or lower, what I value is, rather, how thoughtful reviews give an indication of more individualized components while offering a more nuanced assessment.

If you're like me, and you rely on the system, when will you start giving back to it?

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Topping Mondial: Personal Favourites from Mondial de la Biere 2015

Though family, work, and life commitments mean I couldn't have spent as much time at Mondial de la Bière 2015 as I would have liked, it is a testament to its delights that I dream of having spent all five days reveling in its delights.

This festival is equal parts party, revelry in fine food, and stamina-fest where us beer geeks attempt to try as many of its tasty treats as we can without succumbing to (excessive) inebriation or hangover - or worse, palate exhaustion.  I believe this is the first year I managed to avoid both palate exhaustion and hangovers (by ending early and sobering up before bed), but my notes faded (as they tend to do) as the tastes go on, and having sampled around 50 beers over two different visits means that some of this was inevitable.

Before getting to the brews, on the festival in general, I would like to add that the press event prior to the opening at Station Ho.St was delightful in a great beer location, while the festival this year also brought a fantastic new cask event (run by Benelux) and seemed to more adequately space the outdoor and indoor vendors, while seeming to have more seating and a wonderful vibe.  Too bad I couldn't make it to any Off-Mondial events this time around.  Regardless, and as always, this is a Montreal can't miss event - for all and not simply for the biggest brew-guzzlers amongst us.

Though I enjoyed the sausages, kangaroo steaks, and other ingested treats, I have to pay a special homage to this year's top (nutritional) treat...

Top Treat:

Annual food-service provider, Globe Trotter, brought their usual fares of kangaroo steaks, crocodile sausages, and more, but I was particularly thrilled (after a "few" samples) to purchase a "Bug-shot."  Politically, I am persuaded that insects can provide a nutritious and readily available food source such that I have made a commitment to trying more of these pests!  I've really only tried a few before so this was an opportunity not to pass up.  I mean, who wouldn't rather eat them than swat them?  They should at least die for a cause; better they are martyrs than genocidal victims of our hate-fueled wrath!  For a measly $2 (or was it $3?) Globe Trotter provided a small shooter with around 10-20 roasted grasshopper/cricket like creatures for human consumption.  Though I cannot say I loved them, I loved the experience, and I certainly didn't dislike them (perhaps beyond the heeby-jeeby thoughts of insect consumption).  They were well roasted with lightly smoky notes and a moderate saltiness (though could have perhaps used a touch more salt, or maybe some Sriracha?).  The crunchiness of legs and limbs in the mouth is a bit of an odd experience, but not at all unpleasant.  That is, I'd rate the flavour higher than the mouthfeel.  Were this BugAdvocate I'd give it:

  • Appearance: lightly browned, crispy looking small hoppers.  Looks appetizing.  4.5/5
  • Aroma: The mildest component, but lightly burnt smelling with some ashy components 3.25/5
  • Taste: As noted above, more smoky or lightly burnt (as if barbecued - though I forgot to ask about preparation) and can you imagine how easy it would be to get a lightly burnt taste in a crispy barbecued bug? 3.75/5
  • Mouthfeel: Oddly crispy, which could be fine but when it's crispy legs tingling your mouth and getting stuck in your teeth, it detracts a bit. 2.75/5
  • Overall: The price was certainly right to complement the experience!  A treat not to be missed! 5/5

Now, to the beer!  This year, rather than picking the best in styles or attempting to get through everything, I thought I'd categorize a little differently and pick the best(s) of the following: Top Surprises, Top Revisitations, Top Hops, Top Tarts, and Personal Best of Fest.

Top Surprises:

3) Le Saint Bock is a Montreal marvel with what is probably Canada's largest beer selection, though I am rarely delighted by their own brews.  Don't get me wrong... they're rarely (if ever) bad, but they're likewise rarely more than decent.  However, their Arcadia single-hopped Citra American Pale Ale (5% ABV) stands out to me as possibly the best beer I have had from them!  I have called Mikkeller's k:rlek a poor-man's Zombie Dust (and 'poor' not referring to cost, but wider distro), and this could be called a poor man's k:rlek.  Again, however, the statement of poor is relative to accessibility and this is a very solid APA.  This was so good, I even went to the brewpub for a pint afterwards, such that I have more extensive notes here and can say the following:  It pours a light amber with a magnificent, creamy white one-finger head that lasts through an entire pint.  The lacing is likewise thick and curtain-like.  The nose wafts mainly citrus with a hint of peach and mango.  The taste likewise presents citrusy, but is a touch less hop-forward, presenting a hint of cereal grains before a lemon rind dry finish.  There is moderate carbonation, and it is a touch thin.  My only real knock on this beer is that it is a touch watery in flavour and feel, but stands up strongly all-around.  Grade: B+

2) La Fabrique - a brewpub in Matane, Quebec - was new for me, and though Quebec has SO MANY great breweries, it also has so many terrible ones that I avoid the new without news leading me to risk my taste buds for the unknown.  However, such a recommendation led me to try La Simonne (5% ABV Wit with Camerises aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels) which was remarkable!  In fact, it was so good it led me to try two more of their beers (Gros Chars American IPA which was very solid and Kaliningrad Russian Imperial Stout which was a bit too ashy and thin for my tastes).  La Simonne was pinkish-red (with that minimal head of most sample pours, for poor assessment).  Vinous musty qualities were foremost to both nose and palate, while traces of fruit and oak were likewise discernible, though in no ways was this reminiscent of any witbier I have ever otherwise tasted.  Perhaps I liked it precisely for its vinous, red-wine qualities.  Good carbonation with a medium-light body made for super drinkability, coupled with a moderately dry finish.  Grade: A-

 1) Speaking of places I rarely try, Brasseurs du Monde is very close to the top.  They really aren't a bad brewery, per se, but they just have so many mediocre (or slightly worse) beers without having ever impressed me.  Thus, my friend bugged me all day to trust him on this one, and I finally (and thankfully) relented, to my great surprise: Blanche du Mur (4% ABV Berliner Weisse) is a remarkable product, and would be even more praised had it been brewed by a usual suspect.  The nose wafts lactic funk, with a fair semblance of berries, lemons, tartness, and yogurt, while tastewise it is less fruity, and more funky and tart (if not excessively so) and a slight lemony finish, coupled with a feel dominated by ample (if not excessive carbonation) and a fairly light-medium body.  This is wonderful and one of my favourites of the fest.  I am now ISO a bottle!  Grade: A

Top Revisitations:

With many faded hops beers (due to the SAQ import system predominantly), the local breweries best provide that crucial freshness which brought me to Les Trois Mousquetaires.  Their casked Camerises (Berliner Weisse with Camerises), casked Brett Double IPA, and casked blend of Porter Baltique and Double IPA were all also very solid and worthy of high praise, but in particular, it is that which I'd imbibed before which they brought most strongly.  Clearly, they dominated the revisitation category for me personally.

2) Les Trois Mousquetaires' Porter Baltique Fut de Bourbon et Brandy 2014 is a delight in bottles, and the draught version here was even better, complementing the chocolate and barrel notes with a delightfully creamy mouthfeel.  If you ever have the chance to drink this on draught... do so.  Grade: A

1) It's a tough call for 1st or 2nd place here and, really, my winner isn't a revisitation, but rather my first take at the newest iteration.  Though I may have preferred the 2013 DIPA, Les Trois Mousquetaires' Double IPA 2015 easily tops 2014 for me, wafting a fruitier nose with some of the grassy earthiness of increased Simcoe hops (as mentioned to me by their brewmaster, Alex).  Tastewise, it is more bitter than sweet and yet, the balance is ideal, while this keg was also at optimal freshness.  Another hit - I only wish I could get these bottles more than once a year.  A few days later, Beerism's Noah and I side by sided this with Lawson's phenomenal Sip of Sunshine and this 2015 version stood up, even after SOS.  Wow!  Grade: A

Top Hops:

I have to caveat this category and critique the ridiculous import system here (much like Ontario's) where SAQ testing holds back products for months before their appearance.  Thus, I avoided several American IPAs I wished to try due to 2014... yes 2014... bottling dates.  I also avoided those with no date. I believe this system needs serious correction, and that fault lies with government.  However, within such constraints I hope that Mondial will perhaps try to ensure these (IPAs, DIPAs) are the very last beers tested and brought in or else the category could almost be left to lo
cal brewers as hops fades and tastes moldy so quickly.

That said, I was stoked about the highly-rated hop-forward beers from Wormtown in Massachusetts and, fortunately, they were all canned or bottled two months back.  This still isn't optimally fresh, but neither was it a disaster.  And, I am pleased to say that Hopulence (DIPA), Buddha's Juice (DIPA), and Be Hoppy (IPA) all stood up!  I am not sure they tasted as great as their ratings, but that could be due to age, so it feels disingenuous to fully rate on that presentation.  However, my intrigue remains and I will seek out fresher versions to report back in greater detail.

And on the local front, check out Benelux Verdun's Short-shorts for a lightly sour, well-hopped session IPA!  (Grade: A-)

Top Tarts:

Yes, again, not a true beer style category, and in many ways I could include La Simonne and Blanche du Mur here - and with these others they belong - but I chose the above category to present their wonders and here we move to more usual suspects!

3) Limes from Italian brewer Birrificio Bruton is a super drinkable fruit beer (6.5% ABV), so categorized for the addition of vermentino grape must.  It pours yellow and lightly hazy with a decent white head.  The bouquet presents traditional sweaty and fruity saison yeast, coupled with some rind and a hint of the grape must to come.  Flavourwise, it has a nice mild lime character which seems to present as a fairly complex interplay between the yeast and the must, with just a mild sourness.  Very well carbonated and light bodied, the feel strongly spreads the flavours, while never becoming heavy on the palate,with well hidden warmth, making this a wonderful hot summer day delight.  Grade: B+/A-

2) Brasserie Dunham tops out the best two in the category (not counting the surprises above!), but begins with a collaboration brewed in conjunction with Rigaud's Le Castor.  Chevalier du Funk (a 6.5% wild ale or sour saison, in this case) brings hints of barnyard and moderate tartness to the nose, while the taste is mildly yeasty, with some leather, dust, and moderate sourness.  It is light-bodied and, personally, a touch undercarbonated - though live Brett may increase that some with a bit of bottle age.  Another hit from both of these masterful breweries!  Grade: B+/A-

1) Dunham once again hits a homerun, this time with Assemblage Numero 4 (6.3% ABV wild ale blend of barrel-aged Brett beers).  I have to note, however, that this brew has divided the Quebec beer community - some feeling the quality was lacking and others loving it.  Yet, I have now spoken with two different people who each opened two bottles and found one to be delightful and one to be off.  I am never one to speak ill of Dunham, but I hope this inconsistency is hearsay and that my bottle is as good as this one I tasted (and that such problems are addressed if there is any accuracy to these reports); for this offered a masterfully complex nose of dust, must, funk, cobwebs, and light tartness with just a trace of fruit.  Taste-wise, the complexity continued with a gueuze-resembling presentation of musty, vinous notes spread across the palate by high carbonation and a fairly light body.  I found this to be a touch under the stronger examples of traditional gueuze and some high-end American (and Quebec) sours, but it belongs in the conversation.  I cannot stress enough that dislike of this bottle either portends a dislike of the style or of bottle variance, for this is a wonderfully complex animal (complete with inherent critters).  Grade: A

Personal Best(s) of Fest:

This may not have been the top beer I tasted, though it was assuredly amongst them, but it was the genuine and solid token that stood outside of my intentionally odd categorizations.

Double Black IPA (8% ABV), from Providence, Rhode Island's Revival Brewing captures much of what I love in a Black IPA (or Cascadian Dark Ale).  That is, if there is no trace of the roast, make an IPA, and if the hops is secondary, brew a stout, but when done well, these flavours complement, rather than compete with each other.  That is what this offered, presenting an equal parts pine and roast nose, with a coffee forward quality.  The taste likewise began with espresso up front, but completed with a resinous, hop forward earthiness that went hand-in-hand with the roast.  For an imbalanced beer style, the balance between the notes was remarkable, and I could have consumed this all day long - except I had it towards the end (perhaps skewing my notes - though I had two) and limiting the remaining consumption capacity (not to mention breadth of choice!)  Grade: A

Well folks... until next year, that ends the Mondial coverage, but keep seeking these promising local delights, brewers keep stepping up the game, and stay tuned for a review of a pending Imperial Chili Stout tasting complete with Hunahpu, Double Barrel Hunahpu, Mexican Cake, BA Cake Tequila barrel, Double Barrel Cake, and more!


Sunday, 31 May 2015

Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down, Sunday Evenin' Rising: Battle of the Breakfast Stouts

Though I may not quite have been in shape as rough as that forewarned by Kris Kristofferson following Benelux Verdun's 2nd Anniversary party, I did feel a special need to commemorate this Sunday as the cooling temperatures - and fading coffee - encouraged an imperial stout afternoon/evening.

Having procured a bottle of Weyerbacher's Sunday Morning Stout, as well as recent bottles of Founders Breakfast Stout and KBS, I figured I had to do these together.  Some people have been calling Sunday Morning Stout "the KBS Killer," and memories fade while imbibing together produces a fairer (if still biased assessment).

Just what makes a stout a breakfast stout, you may ask?  Well, the coffee that is in each beer.  Founders Breakfast Stout also has chocolate (alongside flaked oats), while KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout) - though a different base beer - maintains the coffee and chocolate but adds aging in bourbon barrels.  Sunday Morning Stout follows the same pattern as KBS: coffee and bourbon barrels.

Though none of these beers are available in Canada (outside of trading circles), they are available in most North-Eastern States and are worth your quest, especially if you like BA Stouts and coffee.  And really, who doesn't?

For comparison, I will grade all as per BJCP ratings on the table below.

At 8.3% ABV and 60 IBUs, Breakfast Stout should be a bit drier than it is, but it is still a treat.  It pours a deep, dark brown body capped by a moderate mocha head of pretty fair retention.  The head lingers slightly for quite some time, sitting in spotty rings around the top of the beer with some thick, almost milkshake-like lacing around the edges.  It wafts a more coffee forward nose than chocolate, but smells almost like a cold coffee with added chocolate flakes.  The taste begins with lightly sweetened coffee notes, before switching first to what seems almost milk chocolatey with a hint of bittering hops (though only dark chocolate is used in the production) before finishing with tastes of semi-sweetened dark chocolate (and a final trace of coffee).  The body is moderately full, and yet not as thick as one would think for oats, chocolate, and ABV, and it remains super-drinkable with a creamy and velvety, lightly carbonated feel coupled with just a touch of warmth in the end.

KBS comes in at 11.2% ABV and 70 IBUs, for a less bitter BU:GU ratio than the Breakfast Stout.  Likewise, the head is a touch lighter in colour (between tan and mocha) and also dissipates faster, though this is not unexpected for its high ABV.  It seems a tad darker in colour, but it is not much different.  Though I have often said this smells like a vanilla bourbon bomb through and through, there is a hint of chocolate there too though none of the coffee which has been muted by the bourbon notes.  It smells pretty much like a marble ice cream cake would smell - if it was 85% vanilla and 15% chocolate.  The taste is a bit sweeter up front, with a more mocha or cappucino-esque sweet choco-coffee thing up front that evolves into the bourbon forward vanilla and semi-sweet chocolate finish with a fair linger.  The feel is very similar to Breakfast Stout in its velvety smoothness, but the body is oddly a touch lighter (not light per se).  This makes it remarkably drinkable for its high alcohol content, but also brings with it a touch of bourbon-like heat as it warms the chest on the way down.  The ethanol notes are quite muted by the dessert-like qualities of the beer, but you can't mute that feeling by adding adjuncts and aging in oak (so it isn't a knock against this marvellous treat).

Sunday Morning Stout is perhaps the boldest of the bunch, but more on that in a moment!  It comes in at 11.3% ABV, with unknown IBUs.  It is visually the thickest and darkest of the bunch, with the darkest mocha head, but also the slightest and the fastest receding, leaving only the faintest of rings around the top of the body.  Lacing is scant to non-existent.  The aroma presents as intensely coffee forward.  There is faint wood and just the slightest trace of vanilla bourbon notes, but nothing like the KBS: one is a vanilla bomb, this a coffee-bomb.  The taste is much like it smells with a bit more complexity.  Coffee is still predominant, but in the finish, just before the linger, one gets drier roasty and slightly hoppy unsweetened dark chocolate notes before some bourbon vanilla and caramel, yet the start and the linger are dominated by espresso - in a delightful way.  The body is more full than on the Founders beers, while there is also a touch more carbonation.  Yet the feel isn't as smooth with more of a syrupy, sticky quality.  The warmth is a touch more present on the back of the palate, as is the glow in the cockles.  KBS hides the ABV a bit more.  Though this gains marks for the body, it loses in feel for the remainder.  Still, a super treat!

Final thoughts, follow the rating table:

If you consider that I tasted somewhere in the vicinity of 80 beers at last year's Mondial de la Biere, and gave out merely two ratings over a 45, the ratings above attest to the stellar quality of each of these brews.  However, in many ways the comparison is poor.  Sunday Morning Stout would better contrast with Dieu du Ciel's Péché Mortel (or Péché Mortel Bourbon) or perhaps Avery's Tweak, while even BS and KBS are two different beasts, even if similar.  They are not comparing apples to apples, but if I had to pick, I'd gladly drink any of the above, any time.  Personally, it depends: you want chocolate, go BS, you want vanilla, KBS, you want coffee, that's where the Weyerbacher excels.  What a night... what a treat!

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Maneuvering Mondial: Malty Tasker's Guide to Mondial de la Biere 2015

Warmth: a sign of things to come. And no, I am not predicting the weather, rather I am delighting in the switch to beer festival season (known to some as summer) beginning with the mighty Mondial de la Bière 2015.

With 523 alcoholic beverages from which to choose, 475 of them being beers, 85 breweries, 40 Quebec breweries, 16 food pavilions, and an expected 150,000 visitors, how is one supposed to navigate such a crowd and so many options?  Mondial hits Montreal this June 10th through 14th at the Palais des Congrès (3:30pm to 10:30pm Wednesday, 11:30am to 11pm Thursday through Saturday, and 11:30am until 6:30pm Sunday).  As always, admission is free and tickets are $1 each, with most beers costing between 2 and 8 tickets per sample.

This year promises an on-site cask event organized by Benelux, with a delightful cask list including Jukebox Distorsion, Dunham Cyclope Alpha, La Succursale Angus IPAAA, and some yet to be determined.  This event happens from 4-8pm Thursday, June 11th on site, and you must pre-register to take part here.

In the past, I have put up unofficial Mondial survival guides, but while beers change, little else does. That is, planning ahead, going early, and drinking responsibly remain ideal goals, though for such tips you can click that link and explore past suggestions in greater detail. Thus, in the interests of avoiding repetition, I'll offer a few further taboo tips on the things everyone thinks but nobody says.

First, bring hipster repellant. They will be out in force and, accordingly, you must navigate the crowds without getting sucked into a conversation about obscure bands - try to discuss obscure beers instead.

Second, COVER YOUR DRINKS whenever you can. I don't think this is much of an event for drink-drugging douchebags (fortunately) but beards will abound and stray hairs spoil a great foamy head like nothing else.

Third, wear deodorant. It gets warm and you don't want to be the guy who sat beside me last year; or worse, you don't want to sit beside that guy.

Fourth, either join the drunken masses in excessive intoxication or be prepared for the incessant cheering every few minutes for five days.

Finally, don't come looking to meet a date - unless you're into dudes - this is a beer event after all! As with the rest of these tips, I kid, of course: unlike early morning, multi-hour lineup bottle releases, this event boasts much gender parity and brings in beer geeks, party animals, festival goers, professional judges, and more broadening all of our horizons beyond the usual "Beerd" scene we have all grown accustomed to.  Yes, faithful readers, I can only presume that you too are a committed beard cultivating beer geek (else what entices you to reading Malty Tasker?)!

In all seriousness, though, I cannot stress strongly enough to go with a plan.  Whether you wish to go early and seek whatever you wish to try before some options run out, or whether you wish to go late and party, there are WAY too many options to just buy whatever strikes you or whichever has a short lineup. Such strategies usually fail.  If you like crapshoots, be my guest taking your chances, but I strongly advise checking out beer ratings (ba or rb) and seeking out styles you enjoy or ones you have never tried.

As for what you probably came here for, advice... since you know I have carefully scrutinized the list while rubbing my fingers through my beard and checking reviews of the unknown, I offer the following:


From our neighbours to the South, come treats from Revival, Sierra Nevada, and Wormtown, alongside usual staples from Ommegang, Dogfish Head, and New Belgium.

From Quebec, Dieu du Ciel, Dunham, and Hopfenstark top the want list with excellent brews on offer and surprises likely.

From further afield in Canada, check out Central City, Amsterdam, and Muskoka.

And for the worldly-inclined (and who wouldn't be when beers are available here that are never otherwise found in Quebec), may I point out Germany's Bierkultur, and The Monarchy, Brazil's Colorado, Bodebrown, and Amazon, and Italy's Baladin as the brightest shining stars on this year's list.

The Czech Republic's Lucky Bastard also makes a first time showing and, while their ratings aren't superb, Czech styles are often under-appreciated by rating geeks and if these styles intrigue your palate, you should definitely try them while you can.


Really, I think you have to seek out what excites you by perusing the list, but I will share a few that excite me for those who value my take.

Sierra Nevada's Hop Hunter IPA and Narwhal RIS both rate very well and despite broad distro have not, as yet, hit my palate.

Germany's Bierkultur brings traditional, fruited, German Berliner Weisses for those with a sour-craving palate (the Abraxxxas beers), while The Monarchy offers numerous strong soured and alt delights.

Brazilian brewery Colorado has previously brought their delightful Guanabara Imperial Stout to Mondial, and this year brings a wood-aged variant that typically provokes high praise.

Amazon, another Brazilian brewery, brings Forest Bacuri, a lightly sour and low-alcohol fruit beer I had a few years back at Mondial (and loved at the time) alongside an Acai Stout that also sounds intriguing at the least.

Italy's Baladin brings the barrel aged variant of their Xyauyu barleywine. Last year's Xyauyu Gold was fantastic and mapley if a bit sweet.  If that's your thing, sip this strong ale variant.

Finally, from closer to home may I make a few final recommendations? We may think, "ah Dunham, DDC, these things I can always get," but NO, YOU CAN'T!  Treats from DDC, like Au fil des seizons, Saison St. Louis, and Matière Noir (Yes, the delightful Russian Imperial Stout Matière Noire!!!) are not always available. Nor are Dunham's delectable treats, such as... well, shit, such as their whole freaking list.  Pick a style you like, a style you don't, something you have never tasted, and Dunham cannot disappoint.

Off Mondial:

As always, numerous Off-Mondial Events abound, but I will point out only those of most likely interest to my audience:

La Succursale hosts a smoked beer night on Tuesday, June 9 - before the official festival begins.

On opening night, Wednesday, June 10th, as always, Dieu du Ciel hosts THE party, bringing in their past brewers to help create brand new concoctions that promise to be delicious!

Brouhaha's Anniversary Party comes on Thursday, June 11th, while le Saint Bock (and Beau's) offer a Randall night on the Friday.

However, also on the Friday is Station Ho.St's sour beer night which was a big hit last year and should be again.

In Closing...

Finally, note your day. Wednesday and Thursday (especially during the day) will boast a greater number of beards, but a smaller number of rowdy drunks, but if it's the party atmosphere you dig, there is nothing better than a Saturday evening at Mondial.

See you there!  Santé!

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Grab Yourself a GrOpener, and Open Luxurious Brews in Style!

Beer geeks not only love beer, but also love beeraphinalia.  Somehow, we always find ourselves loaded with glassware and bottle openers far beyond our actual needs, and I often find myself seeking improved versions of such products (only occasionally dumping the no-longer used).  Whether it be a keychain opener, a compact one, a cooler-attached opener, or a branded one, it seems there is always another opener to buy.

Yet, not all openers are equal: some are attractive, yet limited in functionality, others are sturdy and easily manipulable, yet bend caps.

I have now found the ideal product that fulfills nearly every requirement for my needs and has become my staple opener: the GrOpener (Grab Opener) hits nearly every nail on the head... errr, cracks nearly every bottle perfectly!

It is difficult for me to make a video of the ease and awesomeness of this product that could compete with their own, so go check it out at

Just what makes it so great that I'll endorse it and not simply beer?

  • It opens a beer with one hand, with relative ease (after a brief few attempts of giving it a shot to learn the required pressure).
  • It has a built in powerful magnet with a multi-purpose: it attaches to any metal surface for storage/easy reach, it snaps into place on the cap for ease of use, AND it holds the cap after removal.
  • It leaves caps in perfect shape for those who wish to keep them (and add to their beer-related memento stashes)
  • It is sleek, comfortable, and comes in many colours, as well as a scratch-resistant designed premium model
Quite frankly, these have become my go-to openers and basically the only ones I use, with the following exceptions, and slight limitations:

  • There is no keychain version (though the magnet would limit the desireability of such an incarnation anyway)
  • The GrOpener doesn't do quite as well with large format caps (Cantillon, BA Le Trou du Diable, etc) Though it can succeed with these, it takes much more force, occasionally falters, & is less effective at its near perfect cap preservation.
For these limitations, I cannot discard the rest of my openers, but in the few months of my GrOpener possession, it has not only become my go-to product for its expertise in these areas, but I have come to lament when I am forced to use something else.

And, if you need further proof, the company is run by responsive, friendly staff who care for your satisfaction!

Seriously, this is no gimmick.  Many ingenuitive products fall short in ways beyond their advertised strengths, but even with some limitations, this shit is as real as Hill Farmstead beers.  You may think this is false advertising as Shaun Hill's delights have no limitations, but really the only limitations to this well-conceived product are what it isn't (a large format or keychain opener), while HF saisons (for example) are not imperial stouts in the same way, but they are no less perfect at their strengths!  Believe the hype!  Grab your GrOpener at