Thursday, October 13, 2011

Autumnal Ales and Fall Festiveness

October is quickly becoming my favorite month of the year, having recently ousted the once stable monthly dictatorships of May and December with unprecedented revolutionary fervor.  December of course was all about Xmas and Xmas cheer; for a kid, there's no finer month to be had.  Until, of course I had to start paying for it.  Don't get me wrong, I dearly enjoy a well-decorated house, presents under the tree, sitting before a roaring fire with a mug of Christmas cheer and baking.  But there's so much work and irritation that goes in to all those things that one wonders whether it's truly worth it sometimes.  Plus, my wife works in a shopping mall, which in December is a special kind of hell Dante Aligheri could not have foreseen even in his darkest moments.  May is fine, I guess: the weather is lovely and the awful five months of winter awfulness has been reduced to an awful memory.  But there aren't really any major holidays to enjoy, so the whole thing has a sort of dress-rehearsal-for-actual-summer feel to it. 

No, there can be no denying it; October truly is the greatest month.  The oppressive heat of summer has finally diminished to a lovely crispness, the leaves are showcasing their secret shame, and three of the best holidays are right around the corner.  Thanksgiving has all the food-related fun of Christmas without all the commericalism and carols - really, it's just a pumpkin pie and turkey delivery system, and that suits me fine.  Oktoberfest is really a KW thing, but when done properly it can be a peck of fun - especially when one considers the possibility of drunk girls in low-cut dirndls.  Then it all ends with a drunken, spooky, slutty blast that is Hallowe'en - a holiday that, in one's overall life bell-curve, goes from Awesome to Awkward to Awesome, and I'm right in the midst of the second Awesome bell curve.  Throw in the return of the Winnipeg Jets and an undefeated Green Bay Packers squadron and you've got yourself one hell of a good month.

With the arrival of fall, for those who enjoy their beverages well-liquored, it's also another great time for brewing.  The light refreshing lagers and witbiers of the summer replaced with hearty ales, bocks and ciders, each more delectable than the last.  I myself have been doing a bit of brewing; a well-spiced pumpkin pale ale is nigh ready to be transferred to secondary fermentation, in hopes of being ready for Hallowe'en.  For those not of the mind or patience to brew their own concoctions, there's lots of great autumnal offerings this month, and so far they have all proven to be tasty brews.  In the spirit of the season, let's dive right in!

Beer: St. Ambroise Citrouille
Brewery: McAuslan Brewing (Montreal)
Type: Pumpkin Ale

Though I truly enjoy a fine-crafted pumpkin ale, my tolerance for this seasonal favorite tends to be limited to the first few weeks of fall-ish weather.  I love the stuff, but I can't drink too much of it.  So when I do try to sate my pumpkin ale fix, I try to go for the newer releases, just to see if they offer anything different as well as to extend my pumpkin ale stamina.  Lo and behold, we have this little gem from McAuslan of Montreal, home of one of my favorite Oatmeal Stouts.  Plus it has the word pumpkin in french ("citrouille"), which for any Ontarian forced to learn awkward french in public school, has to be one of the funnest words to say (along with grenouille and pamplemousse, of course). 

From a four pack from the LCBO, poured into a nonic.  Amber-ruby, very clear, about a solid half inch of frothy head, some lacing.

Nose is pure autumny goodness - pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, molasses and mild clove.  Pleasant and enjoyable - this is what I've been waiting for all summer.
Tastes pretty fair, though I feel the brew is thin malt wise. It has the body and character of a red lager, than of a pale ale, which comes as a bit of surprise.  The spices are spot on, though - the usual suspects are there, and it finishes with an extra bit of pepper and clove.   Certainly no mistaking this for anything but a pumpkin ale.

Thin bodied like a red lager, a bit oily, but the carbonation is about where it should be.

Above average pumpkin brew, but I still feel like this could have been fuller.  I guess I'm a bit biased, considering how flavorful and hearty brews like Southern Tier's Pumking can be.  Felt a bit thin, but the flavors are all there, and what this brew does have going for it is drinkability - it's not so sweet and spicy that I couldn't drink more than a bottle in a sitting.  A beer drinker's pumpkin ale.  Worth a try, at any rate.  (Grade: B)

Beer: Cannery Maple Stout
Brewery: Cannery Brewing (Penticton, BC)
Type: English Stout

Last summer, Penticton's Cannery Brewing sent their Blackberry Porter Ontario-way , and I thought it was absolutely terrific.  Flavored stouts and ales always sound amazing on paper, but rarely do they work out in reality.  Any number of things can possibly go wrong: the fruit flavors can be overly sweet or artificial, dominating a weak malt base, or it could be the other way round, whereby the fruit flavor is barely perceptible at all.  Cannery's Blackberry Porter indeed sounded amazing, and mercifully it actually was - the blackberries were fresh and added great character, but did not overshadow the excellent porter base, making for a unique drinking experience.  Now they're trying their hands at a maple stout, which is a brew that could either be incredible or awful, depending on which way things go.  Let's find out!

Poured in to a Duvel chalice. Dark, nearly black, with a half-inch of light brown head that dissolves into a thick ring.

Nose is sweet and roasty, with marshmallow, caramel, and yes, maple syrup. Smells exactly like how I've always thought a maple stout should smell, which is a big plus.

The taste is quite nice, and on par with the nose. Roasted mild coffee, caramel, vanilla, and maple syrup, a bit of toasted grain. Sweet, and with enough of a maple flavor to identify it as a 'maple stout', without being cloyingly sweet.  Now, the grain and hop flavour could have been more robust - it's a little mild, like many an English stout I've had of late, and the sweetness pushes in to cola territory.  I wonder if this would have worked better as a Russian imperial stout?  No matter; it's still pretty damned tasty.  Thinner bodied for a stout, and the carbonation is a bit strong, but it coats the tongue well enough.

In my years of drinking ales, this is certainly the first maple beer that I've actually enjoyed, which I find strange. I mean, it sounds like such a natural idea, especially for a Canadian brewery: I love beer, I love maple syrup - but somehow every edition of the style seems to fall flat.  Now, this brew still could use some work - the body isn't quite right and lacks the depth of a good American stout or RIS - but nevertheless, it's an enjoyable brew that fits the season well (and provides a welcome change from all those pumpkin ales!)   I think Cannery has done an admirable job here and should be commended for it.  Would be an excellent breakfast brew.  Keep sending em this way! (Grade: B)

Beer: Dunkel Buck
Brewery: Beau's All Natural Brewing (Vankleek Hill, Ontario)
Type: Dunkelbock
ABV: 6.8%

Speaking of breweries I've had limited experience with, we have this offering from Beau's of eastern Ontario.  Sadly, this will only be my second brew from Beau's - I really wish that more of them would come out this side of Ontario.  Now, I should count my blessings, as their flagship brew, Beau's Lugtread is a terrific little koelsch that goes down well pretty much any time of the year, and is available in many pubs this side of the province.  But I'm always looking for more, so I was very excited to find this one on the shelves.  This brew is a delightful play on the 1989 John Candy film Uncle Buck; the bottle features Candy's trademark fedora and the plot-critical power drill.  It's a great film (look for a young Macaulay Culkin before he was cast in 1990's Home Alone) and plays so very well on the rich and flavorful dunkelbock style, one that is very appropriate for the season.

Poured into a hefeweizen glass. A murky light chocolate brew, with the pour producing about a half inch of sturdy head that sticks to the sides of the glass. Looks like a dunkel, alright.

Nose is quite pleasant: chocolate, caramel coffee, a bit of banana and clove.

A solid dunkel indeed - hearty, with a nice chocolate malty intro, dark bread, and banana, bubblegum and clove finish. Slight booziness as well, but come winter time I'll be demanding that of my brews. A bit thinner in flavor than I would have liked, but still quite nice. Lighter carbonation, medium bodied.

quality Ontario weizen, with enough character to place this brew among the better German examples of the style. Great stuff indeed, and another fine offering from the folks at Beau's!  Catch it if you can. (Grade: B+)
Hopefully these seasonal treats will find their way in to your glasses before the lovely autumn weather gives way to the horrible wintry blues that are surely headed in our direction.   Fall is, sadly, a very short season in Canada - we really should make the best of things, and a cold pint will certainly help in that regard.  
Cheers, everyone!  Good to be posting again!