Since being prominently mentioned on two of the world’s most popular beer blogs has drawn in literally hundreds of visits in the last couple of days, I was thinking it might be a good idea to get some new stuff posted to try and impress my new readers. But as usual, I’m too busy to sit down and write something new that would actually be worth reading (although that reminds me that I really should get the second part of my Montreal/Mondial trip report written before it’s completely irrelevant).
However – I do have a stockpile of material written for the last few issues of TAPS Magazine that I figured I could “reprint” – or to use some entertainment industry lingo, “repurpose” – in order to keep things from getting too stale.
Here, then, are my contributions to “Tasting Notes”, a beer review feature that started running in the mag as of the Fall 2008 issue. In a format that was shamelessly nicked from All About Beer, each beer is reviewed by two different writers, although we only do two beers each rather than the four covered in AAB’s “Beer Talk“, and the focus is exclusively on Canadian beers. My counterpart for these reviews has been Stephen Beaumont, and it’s been interesting to see which beers we agree on and which we don’t.
From the Fall 2008 issue:
Propeller Brewing Company, Halifax, NS
This treat from the east pours a deep golden-orange with a large snow-white head that shrinks to a thin layer, which congenially sticks around to the bottom of the glass. The aroma is pleasantly fruity, with strong notes of sweetened citrus (grapefruit & orange) and pineapple, and an undertone of caramel malt. Moderately full bodied, with a good level of carbonation. The sweet fruit notes come through off the top of the flavour, followed by the anticipated bitterness from the generous but not overpowering hops, finishing with lingering notes of grapefruit and a hint of spruce. That other so-called IPA might call itself “The Pride of Nova Scotia”, but this is a beer that Bluenosers can really be proud of.
Dieu du Ciel!, Montreal, QC
With the gothic looking label and a name that translates to “Last Will”, you might expect this beer to be an Imperial Stout or some other dark, demonic ale. Instead, this dry-hopped Belgian ale has a slightly hazy golden-orange colour with a large white head that leaves some beautiful lacing as it recedes. The aroma is fantastic, big and fruity (peach, apricot, pineapple) and slightly spicy, with a building floral & tea-like hop character. The body is full and a bit creamy. The flavour starts like a standard but solid Belgian golden ale – yeast, fruit and a bit of spice – but then the hops kick in and take it to the next level with lingering notes of orange zest.
From the Winter 2008/09 issue:
Wild Rose Cherry Porter
Wild Rose Brewery, Calgary, AB
To make a worthy cherry porter, brewers have to tread a fine line. Too much cherry flavour can create a beer version of a sickly sweet Black Forest cake, and not enough can cause the cherry notes to be pretty much lost. Wild Rose Cherry Porter manages to strike a balance between those two extremes, with excellent results. Poured from the hefty 1 L swing-top bottle, it reveals a deep ruby-brown colour with a tan head that leaves nice lacing on the glass. The aroma has inviting smoky roasted malt off the top, with hints of charred espresso beans and cherry juice. The body is soft and moderately full, and the flavour balances dark malt, coffee and cocoa notes with tart cherry and a hint of wood smoke. Goes great with chocolate desserts, and the mild boozy warmth in the finish makes it equally satisfying on its own.
Yukon Lead Dog Ale
Yukon Brewing, Whitehorse, YK
As a dog lover with an especially strong affinity for huskies, the label alone was enough to hook me on this beer. Luckily, the stuff on the inside of the bottle is pretty good as well. Mahogany-brown in colour with a large mocha head, it has a complex and appealing aroma of dry cocoa, dark malt, treacle and anise. The flavour follows with the same notes as the aroma off the top, combined with some dried dark fruit, followed by a hint of smoke and a nicely layered hoppiness that builds in the finish. They call it an English Strong Ale, but to me it brings to mind a robust and warming Porter. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s a fantastic winter treat.
From the Spring 2009 issue:
La Messagère Rousse
Les Bières de la Nouvelle-France, Saint-Alexis-des-Monts, QC
Given the increasing number of gluten-free food products available for those who suffer from celiac disease, it’s a bit surprising that Nouvelle-France is the only brewery in Canada brewing gluten-free beer, using rice and buckwheat instead of barley malt. Their first, the original La Messagère, is an extremely light golden ale with little aroma or flavour, so I was hoping for more from their new Rousse. It certainly looks better than its sibling, with a nice bright copper colour and a thin cap of white foam. With the aroma, however, things start to go downhill: a faint whiff of caramel is overpowered by surprisingly prominent alcohol notes and a slightly medicinal edge. The flavour is similarly medicinal and herbal, vaguely reminiscent of Brio soda, with a quick and sharp hit of tart citrus combined with cherry cough syrup in the finish. It’s laudable for the brewery to be catering to a portion of the population who wouldn’t be able to drink beer otherwise, but personally, this beverage just reminds me that there’s a good reason why most beer is made with barley.
Nickel Brook Cuvée ’08
Better Bitters Brewing, Burlington, ON
Normally, a single bottle is all it takes for me to put together a review for this feature, but I’m glad I was given three bottles of this beer to sample, as it took me that many to really wrap my head around it. The first bottle of this turbid mahogany ale struck me as being a bit unbalanced and one-dimensional, with not much beer coming through the strong woodiness imparted by the oak aging. But bottles two and three enjoyed over the next couple of nights revealed much more complexity, with notes of caramel, exotic herbs, sour cherry, a well-integrated spiciness, and a tannic quality from the oak that is just on the pleasant side of being astringent. Not something for everyday drinking, but a real sleeper that deserves return visits and careful consideration.