Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Duchy Originals - Old Ruby Ale 1905

Beer: Duchy Originals Organic Old Ruby Ale 1905
Brewery: Wychwood (Oxfordshire)
Type: English Pale Ale
ABV: 5.0%

Hoping to get a hold the last of my pumpkin ales by the end of the week (just in time for Hallowe'en!).  

In the meantime, here's an interesting little number.

Duchy Originals is an organic food/products company from Britain, founded by none other than Prince Charles himself.  Starting in 1990, Prince Charles began utilizing land under his own administration to pursue an organic farming project that over the past twenty years has grown to produce vegetables, preserves, biscuits, jellies, wine and (of course) beer.   These products are all certified organic and available through the supermarket chain Waitrose, with a certain percentage of the proceeds given to support The Prince's Charities.  The ale brewing was outsourced to Wychwood, brewers of Fiddler's Elbow, Hobgoblin and Wychcraft.

Support both organic farming and charity by buying beer - if only this counted towards my community know...for that thing I did.  

So far there have been two variations of the Duchy Organic ale lineup available at the LCBO: a bitter and a pale ale, the latter having arrived in a few locations across the province.   According to the bottle label, this particular pale ale utilizes a unique English barley known  "Plumage Archer", which apparently was first cultivated in 1905 - hence the name. 

Looks good on paper, but how will it withstand a merciless critical lashing from yours truly?  Not too badly, in fact.

Poured into your standard nonic ale glass.  Nice ruby-copper colour, no visible carbonation - completely clear.  The pour produced a half-inch head of foamy head, which receded into a fine ring after a few moments (very common for the style).  Some flakes of lacing remain above the pour line.  All looks well so far.

The nose is fairly standard for an English pub ale: caramel, pale malts, loose-leaf orange pekoe, light hops, metallic tang. 

The taste is also quite standard, perhaps a touch better-made than most.  Similar notes as seen in the nose, with the malts providing a nice profile and the tea flavor from the hops smoothing things out a bit.  Notes of fruit as well.  Finishes dry with a mild bitter lemon hop character. 

Mouthfeel is thin and quaffable, carbonation is a touch high for the style, but for me, since I've yet to develop a full appreciation for lower-carbonated English ales, this was a plus.

Rounded, flavorful, an easily drinkable pale ale.  Now, there's nothing terribly interesting about the brew:  it drinks like many an English pale does, but it comes with a nice warm feeling of organic-grown charity goodness.  Indeed, there isn't much to write home about this particular barley grain - the strain was probably chosen because it was suited to the region and was receptive to organic growing techniques.  Or there was another reason.  No matter.

Duchy's Old Ruby Ale 1905 is definitely worth a try.   At the very least, by purchasing it you can say to those around you that you've "supported charity" today.  Drink up, hero.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Oktoberfestering Update: Some Beer I Vaguely Remember Drinking!

Well, Oktoberfest has come and gone, and for the Anti-Public Urination League, not a moment too soon, but for the KW Elite Vomit Removal Squadron, however, it left far too quickly because business in this department was certainly booming.

Actually, around KW, Oktoberfest isn't that bad - they (organizers and policefolk) have done a pretty decent job curtailing drunken mischief apart from the odd undergrad whose passion for Shot-Skis was not matched with a corresponding alcohol tolerance.  Security at most beer tents was tight, KW Police had a big presence inside the halls and on the roads, GRT Transit had free bus rides in the evenings - because of all this things went fairly well.  Festering occurred, beer was imbibed, pins were added to festing hats, sausages were heroically choked down.   

For those not in the know, Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest is among the world's largest celebrations in the style of the of the original Oktoberfest festival in Munich.  If memory serves, it's actually the largest Oktoberfest gathering outside of Germany, which is pretty damned impressive.   Kitchener has always been a very Germanic city, formerly going by the moniker of 'Berlin, Ontario' up until that rascal the Kaiser started some shenanigans a century back.  Since 1969 the twin cities turned what was once a small, club-based celebration into an official city-sponsored event.   Although Oktoberfest started out very small, over the years it has grown into a full-fledged festival with parades, pancake breakfasts, pageants, midways, bands (both oompah and non-), and of course all the wonderful, wonderful drinking.  Attendees can get their sloppy on at any number of 'Festhallen' across the cities, many of which - such as the Transylvania Club, the Alpen Club, the Concordia Club and the Schwaben Club - are fully-functioning German clubs the other 51 weeks of the year,   Suffice to say, it's a fairly big deal around here; most residents can probably claim to owning a festing hat and a stein or two.  

I happen to be a big fan of Oktoberfest, despite some of its major drawbacks.  First of all, it's cheesy.  Spectacularly cheesy.   On any given night, you can expect to hear the Chicken Dance no less than 13 times.  There are dirndl and lederhosen T-shirts, and all the usual crappy souvenir fare.   Secondly, the experience in the festhallen can be exhilarating and frustrating at the same time.  Although the music is lively and the ladies are up dancing in their dirndl dresses, the food can be pretty pricey, the hall gets incredibly noisy, and the 'loud-douchebags-drinking-Jager' factor is extremely high.   Then of course there is the lovely draught beer selection.  Once seated (and you must be seated), your waitress will bring you pitchers of only the finest German brews at only the most reasonable prices.  

 Pictured: German Beer

That's right - the only beer available on draught in Oktoberfest halls are these lovely little numbers.  And at 18 bucks a pop, it's hard to get your festering spirit up too high.    Mercifully, there was some relief to be had this year!  My first hint was at the Pancake Breakfast event in Uptown Waterloo - a chaotic affair that featured hundreds of students and young parents alike lining up at quarter-to-stink in the morning for free pancakes and Timmy's coffee.  Nothing really "Oktoberfest" about it per se, save for a cute little keg-rolling competition that drew a modest crowd.  Wouldn't have caught my eye if it weren't for the fact that the bottles were labeled "Creemore."  This proved to be a great portend, because sure enough at the Concordia Club tent they had bottles of Creemore available, offering a wonderful escape for those who prefer avoiding Molson's swill altogether.   Even better, they also happened to have (shudder!) an actual German-style beer available, Creemore's urBock.   With this news, I was more than set for the night, because the urBock is actually a fine little brew.

 (I had a picture of it in my 'Oktoberfest safety cup', but I figured an older picture was more appropriate.)

Beer: Creemore urBock
Brewery: Creemore Springs (Creemore, Ontario)
Type: Bock
ABV: 6%
 As readers of the blog (if any) may recall, bocks are a strong, German lager, traditionally brewed for winter/cold weather consumption.   Hearty, rich, with big malt, fruit and nut flavors, and sporting a slightly (or much) higher alcohol by volume to ward off winter's scorn, a result of long-term storage or 'lager-ing.'  This type of brew was traditionally a mainstay around the old monestary, as monks - having made vows to adhere to the occasional fasting period - would imbibe said hearty brews to ward of the chill as well as malnutrition.   Bocks are often held to have originated around the Hanseatic town of Einbeck, Germany.  Einbeck sounds a great deal like 'ein bock' ('a goat'), so many a bock beer is emblazoned with a goat emblem.   Nice to see Creemore adhere to this cute little tradition.

As per the beer itself, urBock pours an amber-chocolate hue, leaves about an inch of off-white head, which has nicely receded to a ring encircling the glass. Lots of foamy lacing. Looks like a root beer, oddly enough. 

The nose is malt and caramel, spices, and with possibly a bit of raisins in the back. Not bad at all.

The taste is quite nice, if a little muted. Nice and malty, with notes of toffee, caramel and sweet white wine. A lingering pepper finish, and this is where I detect a slight warming alcohol sensation. The flavours work well, but could have been more pronounced.   I've had a few bocks from Germany proper, and they tended to be a bit bolder (and stronger in alcohol), but Creemore certainly isn't too far off the mark here.
Mouthfeel is on the lower carbonation, slightly thinner than I'd like.

A damned fine brew, certainly among the better bocks I've encountered this side of the Atlantic.  Bocks are not traditionally consumed around Oktoberfest, but considering the frigid rainy night we had at the Concordia, it certainly hit the spot.  Considering the horrendous alternatives, holding aloft a bottle of urBock felt much more appropriate for the Oktoberfest season and made the night a great deal more enjoyable.  I'll certainly be back for more of this brew come wintertime.  (Grade: B+)

As happy as I was with the availability of Creemore's brews, I was still pining for an actual 'Oktoberfest' brew, something that eluded me at both KW festhalls.  So what exactly is an 'Oktoberfest' beer?  It's a bit tricky, because if you find yourself in Munich, you can enter into any number of festhalls run by the big Munchen brewers, which sell both Oktoberfest brews and regular fare (Lowenbrau being a good example of the latter), so you aren't necessarily restricted to any one type of beer.

Generally, a beer marked as being 'Oktoberfestbier' tends to be of the style known as "märzen".   Traditional märzens are lagers that were brewed during the winter months (März = March), and then stored over the course of the summer.  Without preservatives, these brews would expire by the following winter, so they were consumed in great quantities in the autumn and early winter - i.e., the Oktoberfest season.   Again, the longer storage means a smoother, slightly higher ABV product that was perfect for festival drinking.   Märzens aren't really exciting brews, but they weren't designed to be.  Flavorful but not overpowering, stronger in alcohol, but not strong enough to really knock you on your ass, märzens are great beers to drink with purpose.   Many German and American breweries (and a few Canadian, although not very many) boast an Oktoberfestbier among their lineup, and with good reason - traditionalists (like yours truly) want to savor the experience of Oktoberfest as closely to the original intent as possible.  This means the right kind of beer.   Unfortunately, the LCBO only had a few brews that could claim to be called 'Oktoberfest' beers, but I did manage to snag a couple, including this wonderful beast:

"It's pretty big....I guess...."

 This gem is Paulaner's Oktoberfest, and I managed to spot it hiding near the front of the LCBO, buried for some reason among their other gift set offerings.  I'm really digging the bottle image here: normally, your average heterosexual man likes to picture his Oktoberfest beer being served by an attractive, busty lady in a low-cut dirndl (don't believe me? type in 'Oktoberfest' into google and see what most of the first ten images are - go ahead, I'll wait here...)  Here, while the girls here are of more...robust stock, it's a cute reminder of what was more likely the case at old Oktoberfest celebrations - big beers being served by big women, because damned if those steins are heavy.  Nicely avoids further sexualization of the beer can label.  But what really impressed me with this brew was the size.  Perhaps a visual comparison is in order:

Yep, that's a full litre of beer.  Fantastic.  But as awesome as a litre of Oktoberfest beer is, though, there was something missing.  Perhaps some glassware?

That will work. 

A litre of beer in an authentic Oktoberfest stein, or 'Maßkrug'.  It's go time. 

Beer: Paulaner Oktoberfestbier
Brewery: Paulaner (Munich)
Type: Märzen
ABV: 5.8%

The pouring itself was quite something, as I've never had to pour a canned brew this big before.   It resulted in a brimming frothy head and scads of lacing. The brew itself is a brilliant golden, with visible carbonation lasting until the bitter end (bear in mind that, at a whole litre in volume, that 'bitter end' took about 45 minutes to reach, and I wasn't drinking all that slowly). I've got to say, the glassware brings out the very best in this brew; what I'm sure would be underwhelming in a regular lager glass looks bloody brilliant in a shiny new stein, so forgive my bias.

The nose is satisfactory, but less than exciting. Bready malts, honey sweetness, mild leafy hops, chestnuts. Not entirely unlike a German pilsner. 

The taste is not that of a darker, robust märzen, but again rather like a German pils. Slightly sweet, bready, and with a crisp, hop finish. A touch of lemon to the finish as well. Although I'd very happily drink this over the standard Oktoberfest beer in KW (sadly, Molson Canadian), there's nothing overly interesting about this brew, save for the fact that it's called an "Oktoberfestbier" and comes with a giant glass. Still, these things can't be overlooked - in a party atmosphere, a brew like this goes down outrageously well in vast quantities, which is entirely the point.

Mouthfeel is quite impressive; even near the finish of the giant can there's still a steady carbonation. Lighter bodied, but still above average for the style.

Paulaner's put out a great Oktoberfest quaffer - nothing overly exciting in the taste, but damned exciting to drink in such a cool mug in a festive setting.    A beer that sets out to do something, and does it well.  (Grade: B+)

For my other 'official' Oktoberfest brew, you may have seen this fellow hanging around the LCBO in quantities.   Hofbräu is another major brewer in Munich's Oktoberfest lineup, and has one of the larger beer tents at the festival.  Although the brewery features many different varieties of beer, their Oktoberfest is by far the most famous and most consumed.   The original brewery in Munich has inspired franchise versions to crop up in cities as diverse as Las Vegas, Genoa, Shanghai and Chicago, the latter of which I managed to visit a few years back.   (Unfortunately, the brewery also possesses a darker history, it's adjoining beerhall being the site of some of Adolf Hitler's early speeches on fascism and anti-Semitism.  One rally in particular in 1920 ultimately led to the codification of the main tenets of Nazism.) 

Beer: Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier
Brewery: Staatliches Hofbräuhaus (Munich)
Type: Märzen
ABV: 6.3%

Poured into a nonic - just didn't feel right to pour this small beer into my big stein.  Back to the classics.   Pale golden, with visible carbonation lasting for quite some time. A 1/2 inch head that survives quite well in the form of a ring and thin layer.  Some flecks of lacing - decent retention actually. Again, not the robust brew I was hoping for, but it still looks just fine.

The nose is extremely mild and hard to discern. Cereals, malty sweetness, a touch of hop bitterness. Truth be told, there's not much separating this brew's nose from that of the many Eastern European macro lagers that grace the LCBO's shelves (Tyskie, Lezajsk, Zubr, etc.).   Not a great sign.

The taste is surprisingly sweet and fruity, with notes of apple and pear.  The sweetness is quite overpowering, but eventually diminishes to a tart, peppery hop finish. A touch of warming alcohol here. Drinkable, nothing offensive or artificial, but the sweetness is almost cloying.

Thin, watery (actually a plus for an Oktoberfest brew), but with tart, aggressive carbonation that nips at the back of the tongue.  

I had this last year and wasn't that impressed with it; after a year, my tastes haven't changed much on this brew. For me, it struggles with the basic test of an Oktoberfestbier, namely: "Would I want to drink a LOT of this in one sitting?" A big no for me on that one - the sweetness is simply too much, and there isn't much else to distinguish this brew from other Euro lagers to make it worth my while. I can drink this, and a pint isn't bad, but marking for the style, it's not one I'd pick up again.  (Grade: C+)


A pretty good festing season all around - two festhalls, a parade, some new brews and a giant stein to top it all off (I also doubled my hat-pin collection too!).  Still searching for more of those elusive authentic Oktoberfest brews - like with many things beer-related, it might necessitate a trip to the states.  But when the alternative is Molson or Coors, a little hunting will pay off huge dividends in the end. 

Next up for the Den: The Great 2010 Pumpkin Ale Taste-Off! 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

God in Heavens 2.0 - LCBO Dieu Du Ciel Fall Release

Sorry for the long delay in posting, folks.   Seems the influx of disease-ridden undergrads has finally taken its toll on the ol' immune system, and I've been fighting a cold since the day before Thanksgiving.  Not only have I not really felt up to posting during my convalescence, I also haven't sampled any new beer since my taste buds have been so bloody compromised.   This wouldn't have been such a bad thing, were it not for the fact that the day before my throat started getting sore I finally managed to pick up a few bottles of Péché Mortel, a splendifferic imperial stout that currently sits at #1 on Canada's best brews list on Beer Advocate.  For those who've been reading the blog for a while, you will know I've been yearning to sample this brew for months now. The fact that over a thousand American beer aficionados have had opportunity to rave about this beer, while I, only a single province away have been left in the dark, has frustrated me to no end.   Thanks to the LCBO's wise decision to bring in this award-winning gem, I can rest a bit easier.

Now that my white blood cells have (finally) done a decent enough job to remove the offending cold bug, I think it's time to celebrate by cracking one open!  In honor of this momentous occasion, I decided to also review some of the more intriguing members of the LCBO Dieu du Ciel! fall release.  Now I try not to review too much from the same brewery, but dammit, Dieu du Ciel! gets me every time.   This past spring, I received a sampler pack from a Montreal-bound friend of mine and enjoyed every one of them.  But after finishing these off I was saddened to think that it would be quite some time (i.e., whenever myself or a friend passes through Quebec) before I would have the luxury of some more Dieu du Ciel brews.   Thankfully, my fears were allayed with the announcement that several of their beers would be available for sale at the LCBO this fall.  Good ones too.  Great ones, actually.

In addition to Rosee d'hibuscus and Corne du Diable, both of which I've already given mad props to on the blog, the LCBO is also offering four new DDC brews to a thirsty Ontario: Route des Épices; Dernière Volonté; and two of Canada's highest-rated brews: Aphrodisiaque (a.k.a. Aphrodisiac, a.k.a. Aphrodite) and the aforementioned Péché Mortel.   Naturally, I am super stoked.   

Let us quaff...

Beer: Route des Épices ("Spice Route")
Type: Rye beer
ABV: 5%

It might be hard to see in the picture, but yes - the man is wearing a ship for a hat.  I repeat: a ship for a hat.   Wonderful artwork once again - a surrealist tribute to both the Oriental spice trade and humanity's advances in beard-curling technology. 

This beer describes itself as being a rye beer brewed with peppercorns, which has gotta be a first for me.  Not sure what this is going to taste like, but I assume it will be a great deal like peppercorn steak.  Another win for the cause of experimentation, I guess.  I poured this one into a chalice because, not knowing what kind of glassware best accentuates a peppercorn beer, I stuck with my default.

A rust-copper brew, chestnut when out of the light. Not much head, just some patchy streaks of lace and a few islands of foam. Not the most attractive beer, I must admit: kind of looks like a limp Belgian dubbel.  Still, we press on.

The nose is caramel malts, with only the finest hint of nutmeg, cinnamon and peppercorn to be had. Remarkably deceptive; I had fully expected a spicy, peppery bouquet, but it just wasn't there.

The taste, however, is by far one of the most unique beer experiences I've ever had.  The peppercorn taste is not entirely unlike a ninja: you don't even know it's there at first with the less-potent notes of malt, caramel and fruit providing a distraction, until POW! It hits you with a shuriken to the throat from out of the darkness!  The finish is an unmistakable peppery explosion, which to me is comprised not so much of 'peppercorns', but rather ground table pepper.  The finish is incredibly bitter, spicy, lingering, and provides my esophagus with a thorough wakeup call. There might be other spices in here, but pepper really steals the show. I can't say I'm really enjoying it, but neither can I say I'm not fascinated with it. 

Big credit to DDC for making a brew that challenges my beer perceptions by giving me something totally new and exciting. Is it a beer I'm likely to get again? Probably not; in fact, I doubt I could finish more than one bottle. Still, kudos to the brewmaster for making such a unique product.  (Grade: B-)

Beer: Dernière Volonté ("Last Will")
Type: Belgian Pale Ale
ABV: 6.5%

Another wonderful label.  Similar to Christian imagery of Jesus in his crypt or the pieta.  After roasting my tastebuds on Route des Epices the previous night, a return to Belgian pale ales - a style Quebeckers brew so very well - was certainly welcome.
Poured into a Leffe goblet. A peachy-coloured brew, slightly opaque, with wisps and patches of sediment gracing the lower half of the glass. Frothy, patchy head is thin, but retains well. Crests of lacing appear here and there. Looks great, just right for the style.

Nose is peach, lemon, citrus, yeast, and a fine hop character as well.

A splendid tasting Belgian pale. Notes of peach, pear, spices, yeast and dry white wine. Lovely use of hops to the finish - peppery and leafy tastes linger after each sip. Warming alcohol burn as well. Great stuff

Could have used a bit more carbonation, but other than that, the mouthfeel is about right for the style.

Another winner from DDC, a great BPA that can challenge any Belgian or Unibroue product. Definitely worth a pick up - or two or three.  Anyone who has enjoyed Maudite, Fin du Monde or Chimay will certainly dig this.   Great stuff (Grade: A-)

Beer:  Aphrodisiaque (a.k.a. "Aphrodite" in Anglo territory, "Aphrodisiac" in the States for some reason...)
Type: strong stout
ABV: 6.5%

The cashier at the LCBO joked that this must be a chick beer or something, to which I replied: "It's a strong stout with a hot chick on the bottle - which sex you think the brewer was aiming at?"
Indeed, that is some sexy bottle artwork right there.  For a beer named after the Greek goddess of sexuality, they certainly put the right type of label on the front.  A minxy goddess figure, seductively chewing on a piece of grain, staring right into you....whew, is it getting hot in here or something?   My pants are chafing me a little...

Again, poured into a chalice glass.  The bottle states that this was brewed in August of 2010.  Nearly pitch black, with only the faintest line of chestnut near the brim. Produced about a half inch of mocha head, which left some scattered patches of lace and islands of foam lasting throughout the sample.

The nose on this is terrific: a lovely blend of chocolate, roasted malt, coffee, vanilla, cream, caramel and toasted marshmallow. All this without smelling artificial or syrupy. Delicious.

A very tasty stout, which opens with a big hit of chocolate, caramel and vanilla, but leaves with a bitter coffee finish. Good interplay of sweet and bitter here. A pleasure to drink.

Could have been a touch thicker, but the carbonation was right on the mark. Creamy and satisfying.  Clearly, the name "Aphrodisiaque" was undoubtedly appropriate, because Dieu du Ciel has completely seduced me with this brew.  Outstanding stuff yet again from DDC. Well worth the wait, and very glad to see it grace Ontario shelves.  Flavorful, rich, but neither too strong nor to hearty for seconds (or thirds), provided one has the stamina.  Wow.  I need a break from all these sexual innuendos.  Moving right along.   (Grade: A, A+ for sexiness)

And last, but certainly not least, the brew Matt has been anxiously awaiting since he first got into craft beer, the legendary Péché Mortel!

Beer: Péché Mortel ("Mortal Sin" - but not "mortal fish" or "mortal peach"!)
Type: Imperial stout au cafe (Imperial Coffee Stout)
ABV: 9.5%

Péché Mortel means "mortal sin" in French, and features creepy artwork that seems to have been lifted straight out of the the Book of Genesis.  A seductive treat, Péché Mortel, is dark, rich, hearty, flavorful, but damns you with its high ABV and piercing espresso bitterness.   Truly a fantastic brew.

Poured into my trusty Duvel goblet. Nearly pitch-black, with a half inch of tan, frothy head.  Leaves lovely swirls and island patches on the surface, a thick ring that retains well, and a few patches of lacing.  Looks terrific.

The nose is rich in roasted espresso beans, toasted malts, cream, marshmallow, a touch of alcohol (bourbon and sherry) and mild hoppage as well.

The taste is a tremendous burst of espresso flavor that attacks the tongue with vigor. As the brew warms a touch (and after the tastebuds acclimatize to all the espresso goodness), I'm also picking up some subtle notes of caramel, dark fruit, and just a hint of bourbon. The finish is surprisingly dry, boasting peppery hops and coffee bitterness. Although I can certainly detect the alcohol, it is warming and flavorful. Long, bitter finish.

Chewy, velvety, and with a fine, creamy carbonation, this brew is going down tremendously well.   Great body to it; I'm swirling around the last few sipsworth and you can really see the viscosity holding everything together.  First rate.

Once again, Montreal proves to be among the finest brewing cities to be found.   Certainly well worthy of the hype (and the wait). One of the finest uses of coffee/espresso I've seen in a stout. Seriously, I'm almost getting a coffee buzz here, despite nearly being at 10% alcohol! About two bottles of this would be about all I can handle in an evening, but nevertheless, the drinkability for such a thick, hearty, high ABV stout is still high for me. I will most definitely be back for a few more for cellaring and extensive sampling on my part.


A great lineup for the LCBO - though I often bash them for their Toronto-centric release policy and frustrating lack of American and interprovincial shipping, credit where credit is due.  For those who love fine stouts, Belgian pale ales and new, different beer experiences, any one of these brews should fit your bill.  The Corne du Diable is also fantastic and worth a pickup.   If some calamity were to strike Canada's brewhouses, leaving us with only Dieu du Ciel brews to be had, I certainly will be quite happy.  Everything I've had from them has been terrific - or at least unique and exciting - and I still have about 20 more brews of theirs to get through.    A trip to Montreal is certainly in order.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mini Stout Roundup: If It's Brown, Drink It Down; If It's Black, Knock One Back

Well, it's October, truly one of my favorite months of the year.  Two major eating holidays and three major drinking holidays are just ahead of us, in addition to some delightful fall foilage.  Ahem...'foliage'. Tonight's forecast calls for frost, which for me is a mixed blessing; although the wave of cold will surely destroy any and all allergens and the majority of the hornet population, it also is a harbinger of snowy days ahead.  There's a delightful nip in the air, a welcome change from the oppressive humidity of this summer, but soon this 'nip' will turn into coldness of the nut-freezing variety, so I'm going to enjoy it while I can.  And by 'enjoy' I mean drink.  Heartily.

Keeping in line with my seasonal drinking schedule, fall-winter is the time of year for bocks, pumpkin brews and stouts/porters.  Since so much of my drinking relies upon the mercy of the LCBO, I'm going to kick off the fall drinking season with two new stout additions.   Both of these came out only a few days ago (at least to the KW liquor stores anyhow), so naturally I'm super pumped to try them.   Not all LCBOs will have the entire fall lineup at any given time, so for the more dedicated beer geek, it sometimes involves trips to multiple locations.  Generally speaking, if I'm anywhere near an LCBO, I usually pop in to check things out.   Fortunately this weekend I managed to luck out. 

Here goes:

Beer: Dark Star Espresso Stout
Brewery: Dark Star Brewing (West Sussex, UK)
Type: flavoured stout
ABV: 4.6%

A great little label that reads almost like a charity concert poster, listing all the ingredients and attributes right on the front of the bottle.  A bit strange, but somehow it works.  Haven't heard much from Dark Star, but from the looks of things on Beer Advocate, these guys put out some damned fine brews.  I'm a big fan of espresso coffee, so this brew seems right up my alley.  Hopefully the folks at Dark Star did things up right and proper!

Poured into a Chimay snifter. Dark brown, nearly black in colour - looks a great deal like black coffee.  Sturdy tan head that does a ring around the glass throughout the tasting.  A few spots of lacing here and there.

Nose is unmistakably that of cold coffee, to the point whereby a blindfolded person offered a whiff would identify the drink as coffee, rather than beer. A touch of caramel and hops in there as well.

The taste opens with a huge blast of strong, cold coffee to start, with notes of nutmeg and fruit kicking around as well. Roasted malts provide a backbone. The finish isn't quite as good, however; a touch too weak, almost like weak coffee.  To truly be an outsanding brew, the whole thing needed a heartier flavor blast to compliment the bold coffee entry. That being said, I am still certainly enjoying it.

If this beer has one definitive fault (at least in bottled form) it is this: far too thin.  A coffee brew such as this deserves a rich and hearty body: otherwise, it feels more like I'm drinking cold alcoholized weak coffee, which isn't what I was going for. Still, the carbonation was more than sufficient to keep things together.

This is truly a beer that did exactly what it set out to do, and did it fairly well.  It could have been more robust, and could have possessed more body, but still it tasted pretty good. I'm not sure if I'll pick up more than a couple of these, however, but I'm certainly respectful of the effort here. I definitely plan on having one of these with breakfast this week, just cause I can.  Oddly enough, Dark Star Espresso Stout tastes so much like coffee that I'd probably get a buzz anyways.   After that, though, I'd probably just crash.  (Grade: B)

Beer: Southern Tier Imperial Choklat Stout
Brewery: Southern Tier (Lakewood, NY)
Type: Double Imperial Stout
ABV: 9.5%

Putting Southern Tiers brews into regular rotation has been one thing the LCBO has certainly done right.  This New York brewer has put forward some remarkable brews from a variety of different beer genres.  I've given mad Beer Den love to their IPA and Raspberry Porter before.  Like many a great craft brewery, Southern Tier also delights in experimentation, offering up unique beers that push the boundaries of what one could potentially brew.  Last year, I had the pleasure of trying their Creme Brulee Stout, a stout that, naturally, tasted a great deal like a creme brulee.  Never tasted anything quite like it.  To be fair, it's not something I'll probably get again, but I certainly enjoyed trying it.  Choklat is another of these brews that, however well made, I probably won't pick up too often, save for on special occasions when I feel like sharing an after-dinner dessert beer with folks.   I'm happy to try it, but it's just not necessarily a flavour of beer I want regularly, especially on nights when I feel like getting silly.

Poured into a Duvel chalice. An inky black brew (even when held to the light, all I can detect is black), with a thin tan head that dissolves into a fine ring. Some lacing when I swirl the brew around a bit.

Nose is rich, milky chocolate, very delectable.  Almost like chocolate syrup or an Aero Bar. Hard to detect anything else, but frankly, I don't care. The chocolate smells that damned good.

Despite such a sweet-smelling nose (and bearing in mind the super-sweet concoction of their Creme Brulee stout), I was surprised as to how sharp the chocolate was in this brew. Not bitter, mind you, but certainly not sweet milk chocolate.  Much more in tune with the Mexican chocolate featured on the label.  Probably something around the 65%-80% cocoa range.  Big flavor burst here of both the chocolate and some coffee/roasted malts, with delightful warming alcohol taste to the finish.  My mouth is well-coated in bitter chocolaty goodness, which lingers for quite some time. A great evening brew for the first frost of the season!

Rich and hearty, Choklat has a thick, velvety mouthfeel, with light but detectable carbonation.   Certainly a slow sipping beer.

Well worth the pickup, despite the price (nearly ten bucks for a 650mL bottle).  A great stout, neither too bitter nor too cloyingly sweet.  A heartier, stronger version of Young's Double Chocolate Stout, to offer a bit of perspective.  Certainly a well-made brew, although not one I'd return to regularly. Despite the delicious flavors here, I'm having a bit of trouble finishing Choklat because it is so incredibly rich. I'd advise that folks share a bottle after dinner with friends, because an entire bottle is pretty heavy for one person.  

Great work by Southern Tier. (Grade: A-)