Christmas Cheer with OCB Beer

Just in time for the holidays, the latest batch of sampler packs to media from the Ontario Craft Brewers went out a couple of weeks ago – and interestingly, rather than just sending out their latest Discovery Pack, they did up one-off samplers in handy six-bottle/can carriers from the fine folks at CRAP, along with some tasty bottle and mug shaped cookies.

My package contained six beers that I’m quite familiar with – Beau’s Lug-Tread Lagered Ale, Black Oak Nutcracker Porter, Cameron’s Auburn Ale, Flying Monkeys Hoptical Illusion, Muskoka Cream Ale and Wellington Special Pale Ale. All nice enough quaffers. And quaff them I have – or most of them, at least, with the last couple sitting in the fridge to be downed soon.

Given my aforementioned familiarity with them, I haven’t bothered taking any tasting notes – and honestly, most of them are beers more suited to drinking and enjoying casually rather than analytically. But thanks to the magic of RateBeer, I’m able to bring you some notes I wrote up about each of them in the past (with a few new comments & amendments as needed)…

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A Six-Pack of Beer Books

Over the last several months, I’ve received a number of books for review, but various circumstances have meant that I’ve barely had the chance to read them all in full, let alone give them each a proper review.

So with Christmas looming and lots of people scrambling for last minute gift ideas, I thought that a mini-reviews of a half-dozen of them might help solve some shopping dilemmas (assuming that you have a combination beer geek and bookworm on your list, of course) – and it will also help me clear my backlog of planned blog posts so I can get a fresh start in 2011.

Reaching for the Soul of Beer and Brewing

by Charles Bamforth
FT Press – US$25.99/CDN$29.99

When I saw the title of this book – which references a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin that’s been proven to be false – I was disappointed that an author like Bamforth, who is one of the world’s leading experts in the science of brewing and fermentation, would make such an amateurish error. But thankfully, the book opens with an “About the Title” page that debunks the myth, and what follows is an interesting and entertaining combination of social history, business analysis and personal memoir; all revolving around the idea of respecting beer in all of its forms, and the corresponding preferences of every type of beer drinker, from the weekend Bud boys to the hardcore hopheads.

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I Was Not Informed That There Would Be Cameras Present!

Or maybe I was informed. I was pretty drunk after all. But either way, there is some unfortunate video evidence of the “Not Always in Good Taste: Beer Writers in the Round” event that I was part of at C’est What during Toronto Beer Week back in September.

In the video above, you’ll see Josh Rubin, yours truly, and Troy Burtch revealing some embarrassing beer-related moments; and below, you’ll see the two Steve’s – Beaumont and Cameron – and I ranting about some of the worst beers we’ve tried. For my part in this second video, I gave a spoken variation of the especially (and deservedly) scathing review of Wellington Silver Wheat Ale that I’d written for TasteTO a couple of weeks earlier.

Assuming that you can stand watching these two videos, there are a couple more posted to C’est What’s YouTube account, both of which are mercifully free of any of my aimless ramblings.

Yo Ho Ho and a (Small) Bottle of (Expensive) Rum: Appleton Estate 30 Year Old

I’m generally not much of a rum drinker, but around this time of year, it tends to pop up in my drink rotation more often, usually mixed with a few glugs of egg nog and sprinkled with nutmeg. And of course, many of the cakes, cookies and other treats that my wife bakes for Christmas feature a healthy shot or three of rum as a key ingredient.

Using some good ol’ Bacardi or Captain Morgan to mix or cook with is about as far as most people go with rum, but as I’ve learned on a number of occasions in the past couple of years, a high-end rum can be just as complex as a great whisky or bourbon. And like tequila before it, a few of those better bottles have started trickling into Ontario.

One of these is Appleton Estate 30 Year Old Rum, which can be found at a select few LCBO locations (LCBO 164103) in very limited quantities. In fact, it’s limited all around, with only 1440 bottles available worldwide, and 644 for all of Canada. And as is usual in the world of high-end spirits, such rarity comes with a price – in this case $503.00 for a 750 ml bottle.

By my reckoning, that means the cute li’l 50 ml sample bottle that was sent to me has a retail value of $33.53 – or $6.58 more than the full-sized bottle of Sailor Jerry that I picked up on the weekend for holiday nog quaffing. But just as it’s not fair to compare a scarce single malt to a mass-produced blend, so should this copper-amber liquid be ranked on a completely different scale from the Captains and Sailors of the rum world.

With that in mind, I poured it into my favourite whisky glass, and sniffed & sipped it like a single malt. What I found was a remarkably complex spirit that revealed an array of aromas and flavours including caramel, marzipan, orange zest, bitter cocoa, dark sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, clove, raisins and wood. The mouthfeel is soft and silky, and the finish is long and warm, but not as hot as expected given the 45% abv strength.

I was sad to reach the end of the glass, but also pleasantly satisfied. If I had the money to spare, I’d be tempted to pick up a bottle, if only to blow the minds of a couple of whisky-loving friends the next time we get together for a few drams.

As noted above, Appleton Estate 30 Year Old Rum is available in limited quantities in Ontario, as well as most other provinces. It’s also available in the US, and perhaps elsewhere, but you’ll likely have to hunt for it.

Catching Up

While I take some time to get things together for some posts I’ve got planned, here are links to the beery and boozy writing I did for Taste T.O. in the couple of months before we put the site on hiatus.

Nov 9th: Beers of the Week – Harviestoun Ola Dubh Series
A review feature on the five Ola Dubh versions – 12, 16, 18, 30 & 40 – that were released at the LCBO recently.

Nov 2nd: Pub Crawl – Parkdale
A virtual tour of five of the best places get a pint in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood.

Oct 28th: Glenfiddich – Not Just For Newbies
A re-cap of two Glenfiddich tasting events I attended in one day, one of which included the somewhat rare 21 Year Old, and the really rare 40 Year Old.

Oct 26th: Beer of the Week – Creemore Springs urBock
Review of a returning seasonal favourite.

Oct 19th: LCBO Opens The Whisky Shop
A look at the line-up of premium spirits on offer via the LCBO’s new Whisky Shop promotion.

Oct 12th: Beers of the Week – Birrificio Brùton
Some thoughts on the beers of Italy’s Birrificio Brùton, which I enjoyed in the company of brewery founder Iacopo Lenci.

Oct 5th: Pub Crawl – Downtown Yonge
The first installment in the returning Pub Crawl series, and also the first in the new multi-venue format, featuring short write-ups on five bars and pubs in the same neighbourhood.

Sep 28th: Beers of the Week – Here’s to Hallowe’en!
An advance preview of the pumpkin beers and other spooky ales brought in by the LCBO for Hallowe’en this year.

Sep 21st: Beer of the Week – Muskoka Harvest Ale
Review of one of the best seasonal ales available in Ontario this fall.

Sep 14th: Beers of the Week – The Ales of Autumn
Preview of the beers included in the LCBO’s 2010 Autumn Ales promotion.

Sep 7th: Hanging Out With Bud And Jack
Notes on a unique day where I met the men currently responsible for two of America’s most legendary alcohol brands: George F. Reisch, Brewmaster at Anheuser-Busch; and Jeff Arnett, Master Distiller at Jack Daniel’s.

Sad Endings, New Beginnings

Over the few years I’ve been posting to this blog, I’ve written very little of a truly personal nature. Others may be inclined to use their online platform as a diary or journal where they reveal a lot about themselves to their readers, but that’s not something that I’ve ever felt especially comfortable doing. Even when I had a LiveJournal account, I rarely delved very far below the surface with my writings.

For once, though, I’m going to make an exception, as there have been a number of upheavals in my life recently that I feel need sharing, if only to explain why I’ve been on yet another unannounced hiatus from writing anything here. For those who just come here for the beer, there is a brief mention – but mostly, it’s about three losses that I’ve suffered in the past few weeks.

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Beer Review: HogsBack Vintage Lager

Yes, I know that I still owe you all several more Toronto Beer Week recaps. Although it’s starting to get to the point where I’m almost embarrassed to be writing about it so long after it happened. So we’ll see.

In the meantime – it’s been a bit of awindfall of free beer around these parts lately, so I figured I should start writing about some of it before I get a bad name for myself as that goddamn freeloading so-called “beer blogger” who never keeps up his end of the bargain.

First up: HogsBack Vintage Lager from HogsBack Brewing Company, a fairly new venture that started up in Ottawa earlier this year. Like their fellow Ottawa newcomers, Kichesippi Beer Company, HogsBack has started as a contract operation, with their single brand being brewed for them at Cool Brewery here in Toronto.

Aside from where the beer is brewed, they’ve been a steadfastly local concern, selling their beer only on tap, and only in the Ottawa area. The first of those will soon be changing, though, as they’re getting set to launch their Lager in bottles sometime in the next couple of months, with plans to sell it in six-packs at LCBOs in and around Ottawa.

A couple of weeks ago, Paige Cutland – one of the four partners behind HogsBack – dropped me a note saying that he’d be coming through Toronto and would like to drop off some bottles for me. I was expecting a couple of bottles, or maybe a sixer, so I was surprised when he showed up with a full case (fellow Toronto beer bloggers: I’ll be in touch soon to share the wealth…), but it’s given me a chance to try a few bottles to form a solid opinion of the beer.

And that opinion is: It’s good. Not OMG BEST BEER EVAR!!!!!!! good, but also not one of those so-called “premium lagers” that is really just a very small step up from macrobrew.

It pours a pale gold with a respectable white head, very much looking the part of a “European-inspired lager” as self-described. Aroma starts with some husky malt with a touch of fermented fruit sweetness and clean grassy hops. The palate is a bit sticky/oily, and the flavour is a bit sweeter off the top than what I personally prefer in a golden lager, but it balances out in the middle as some of the huskiness suggested by the aroma comes through, followed by light but fresh and zippy Saaz hops in the finish.

So, like I said – good. Not something I’d travel to Ottawa for, but if I lived there, I wouldn’t mind it being one of my hometown beers.

Toronto Beer Week – Day 2: Eatin’ and Yappin’

Given my past record, I suppose I should’ve known better than to think I’d able to keep up a next-day diary during all of Toronto Beer Week. It went well enough for day 1, but then – well, it’s now two and a half weeks later, and I’m just getting to day 2. Hardly seems worth it given that everyone else has finished writing about the whole week and have moved on to other things, but I’m not gonna let all the goddamn photos and notes I took go to waste!

The most anticipated event for TBW for many folks was the BrewDog Brewery dinner at beerbistro, with co-founder James Watt flying in from Scotland to host. (He’s the sly looking fellow on the right in the photo above, next to me in the middle, and Josh Rubin – beer writer for the Toronto Star – on the left. Photo courtesy of Stephen Gardiner.)

I imagine that anyone bothering to read this blog already knows about BrewDog’s reputation for pushing the envelope of brewing and marketing with their super-strong beers, cheeky promo videos and media baiting. And it’s hardly news that you can always expect something pretty great from a dinner at beerbistro. So let’s skip the background and get straight to the proceedings…

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Toronto Beer Week – Day 1: Tappin’ and Shuckin’

I feel it only proper that any city-wide beer festival should be kicked off with a ceremonial cask-tapping, preferably by a political figure of some sort. And apparently the organizers of Toronto Beer Week agree with me, as they put together a trade and media launch of the event yesterday at Mill Street Brewpub, with Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, MPP Steve Peters, doing the cask-tapping honours at 11:00 AM.

This is hardly the first time that Peters has been involved in a beer-related event. In fact, he’s a long-time fan and supporter of craft beer, and in his role as the Speaker, one of his initiatives has been an annual tasting at Queen’s Park to choose which Ontario craft beers will be served in the dining room and at catered events. So while his riding isn’t in Toronto, he was still a great choice to kick the week off.

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Toronto Beer Week – Day 0: Dieu Du Ciel!

It’s only a few hours old, but I already feel like I haven’t written enough about Toronto Beer Week. Loads of other folks – like Jordan, like Stephen, and Jordan, and Troy, and Jordan, and Chris, and, uh, Jordan – were all over it well in advance, which has given me a bit of the ol’ blog guilt.

In order to assuage that guilt somewhat, I’m going to attempt to post a daily TBW diary this week, which will likely consist mainly of photos and a couple of paragraphs posted each day as a recap of the day before. Or that’s the plan, anyway. And I’ll likely be doing plenty of tweeting, as will many other folks.

To kick it off, here are some highlights from the TBW pre-party of sorts that took place this weekend, when the folks from Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel! came in from Montreal for a few events to mark their recent brewery feature at the LCBO.

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