Thursday, October 25, 2012

Middle Earth Drinkin'!

Holy shit! United Video!
In just over a month, fantasy-film buffs around the world will have their eyes fixed on Wellington, New Zealand, for after years of labour issues, director changes and casting development, J.R.R. Tolkein's "The Hobbit" will finally have its premiere in the capital of the nation which has provided the labour and the landscape to bring Middle Earth to life.  So much has the Lord of the Rings, and now the Hobbit film series impacted the nation of New Zealand that the two have become inexorably linked, with the government and tourism agencies fully playing up the "New Zealand as Middle Earth" theme to bring in those essential tourism dollars.  Check out New Zealand's official tourism website, if you get the chance, to see what I mean.  As the islands' breathtaking natural scenery and images of its Maori heritage sweep across the screen, so too do images of the natural and constructed filming locations from Jackson's trilogy, including a shot of Bag-End.  At the bottom of the page, New Zealand's recent travel slogan has been amended to reflect this global desire to visit the world of Tolkien; not just "100% Pure New Zealand", but also "100% Middle Earth."  A simple googling of "New Zealand Lord of the Rings Tours" yields dozens of results of tour groups that will take you to Bag End, Lothlorien, the plains of Rohan and the roads of the Shire - for a reasonable price.

I know that there is so much to the country beyond the films to explore - the Maori culture, the natural beauty, the unique wildlife, a fucking scary rugby team - so I probably would have made a trip to the country anyways, but don't get me wrong: if I get the chance to visit New Zealand, I'm doing everything Lord of the Rings I can. After reading the books several times over (save for the impenetrable Silmarillion), and obsessing over the films (I watch the trilogy every couple of months, including all of the making-of documentaries), I am absolutely stoked for The Hobbit, and thus cannot wait until I can make a pilgrimage to New Zealand myself.  In the meantime, I can gear up for the film, re-read the books, and try this New Zealand craft beer that just arrived in Ontario!

Beer: Craftsman Chocolate Oatmeal Stout
Brewery: Renaissance Brewing (Blenheim, South Island)
Type: Oatmeal Stout
ABV: a hair under 5%

Renaissance Brewing is, to my knowledge, the first NZ craft brewery to hit the LCBO shelves, which it did about a year ago with their Scotch Ale, "Stonecutter."  It was a stellar brew, one of the best of the style I've encountered, so I've been very much looking forward to this arrival!

But here's the thing about craft beer from overseas: they can be a bit...temperamental.  Because of the long travel time and temperature changes and such, the beer that makes these long journeys can have an end result that might be a bit off from what the brewer intended, and so I try to keep in mind that at any stage in the beer's travels from brewery to pint glass, something can happen.  Fortunately, this particular brew turned out just fine, save for one minor issue: the carbonation.  When I opened the bottle, what spewed forth was a foamy mess, as if I had shaken the bottle vigorously before pouring (I hadn't - it's been sitting in my fridge for several hours).  After an emergency glass grab and a few minutes of slow pouring and waiting, I managed to pour the contents into a respectable-looking pint.  It took some extra time, but in the end, saving the beer is what matters the most!

After the brew settled, we were left with a truly All-Black brew, with only a few hints of caramel around the edges of the glass.  The foamy head survived for quite some time, forming a sturdy off-white cap.  Nice lacing as well.

Nice hearty stout nose to this: roasted malt, caramel, coffee, dark chocolate, a woody tartness, a bit of fruit.  It reminds me somewhat of a porter.

Nice chocolate character to this brew, though it is by no means sweet.  Roasted malt, a touch of caramel, oak, dry dark chocolate, oatmeal.  The body is creamy and mild, with the oatmeal character smoothing out the mouthfeel.  It's a bit thin, but this might be due to that carbonation burn-off so I'll have to try this again to be really sure.

Great stout that any Orc or Shirefolk could enjoy!  It's no trip to New Zealand, but I'll take it.  Solid brew, a bit pricey, but worth a try at any rate!  (Grade: B+)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

An Oktoberfestivus for the Rest of Us!

With summer completely out of the picture, we can now officially begin celebrating the awesomeness that is October, or as it is written on the calendars of folks from Kitchener-Waterloo, Oktober.  That's right, Oktoberfest is right around the corner. The first events of the year took place just the past couple of days, with the keg-rolling competition taking place on Saturday morning, and some opening festivities the day before with the ceremonial first keg tapping taking place in front of Kitchener's city hall.   On Thanksgiving Monday was the parade, and the start of when things really get rolling with the week of festhall drinking and carousery that follows.  As folks who have visited the blog before will notice, authentic Bavarian-style ales are hardly the theme of the events, with Molson Canadian holding exclusive beer rights for all the events, thus giving beer drinkers the choice of Canadian or Coors Light, with maybe some Creemore in there if you are lucky (and probably not on draught).  But crappy beer selection and overpriced food are part of the cost of Oktoberfest fun - if you get a good group of friends together, you can get your chicken dancing on with reckless abandon and have a wonderful time, so don't let the generic lager get you down.  After a few of them, you won't notice anyways.

But if you want to go for something a little closer to a German beer experience, here are some brews that might just do the trick, some locally available in Ontario, others a bit more off the beaten path.   I won't go into as much detail for each as I usually do, however, because I have to say that most of these beers are quite similar in taste.  The two styles featured here (Altbier, Marzen) are traditional German styles of brewing that are generally quite malty, grainy, toasty, and with a mild enough ABV to allow for Oktoberfest levels of drinking.   Altbier is from the central-western German city of Dusseldorf, and is a long-aged (lagered) ale designed for cooler months, while the Marzen is the Bavarian specialty, brewed in the spring (Marz = March) and stored over the summer to be consumed around Oktoberfest.  Both styles are crisp, smooth and easy to drink in quantity, which is precisely what the season is designed for.  There are of course differences between the styles and between the four examples I've provided, but in this case I'd rather you try them out yourself!


Beer: Creemore Springs Anniversary Altbier
Brewery: Creemore Springs
Type: Altbier
ABV: 5%

This brew was created in order to celebrate Creemore's 25th anniversary, and was a collaboration effort with Dusseldorf Altbier brewery Zum Schlussel.  Creemore's brewers traveled to Dusseldorf to learn the style in person, and were able to make an arrangement with Schlussel to use some of their specialty house brewing yeast.  Over the summer, Creemore put this brew together and made it available on limited release.  I picked this can up at the brewery, but it is also available at the LCBO until they sell out.   In case you were wondering, Schlussel is German for key, so the key on the label is a nod to their brewing friends in Dusseldorf!

Beer: Great Lakes Oktoberfest
Brewery: Great Lakes (Cleveland OH)
ABV: 6.5%

This was a recent pickup across the border, and because of the potential for confusion between this brewery and its counterpart in Toronto, it is unlikely that it will make it our way anytime soon, which is a real shame.  Fortunately, if you are stateside, Great Lakes is fairly easy to find (I found several packs of this in a Buffalo Walmart) so you won't have to look too hard for it!  Inexpensive as well.  

This is one of the better American Oktoberfest brews out there, with a nice malty backbone and a clean herbal-citrus hop finish.   Like many of the style, it is quite sweet and bready.

Beer: Les Trois Mousquetaires Serie Signature Oktoberfest
Brewery:  Trois Mousquetaires (Brossard, Quebec)
ABV: 4.1%

I was recently in the Ottawa region and couldn't resist a trip across the provincial border to pick up some Quebec microbrew goodies from Broue Ha Ha, since I so rarely get the opportunity to do so.  It also helps that I don't have to put up with the hassle of crossing an international border - with the lineups and potential duties - to get some brews that I haven't had before.  Well, apparently, you can consider me a hardened criminal, for up until the summer of this year, what I was doing was technically illegal!  That's right, until the passing of Bill C-311, transporting alcohol across provincial lines was actually against the law, but without any border crossing checkpoints and inspection areas, it is completely unenforceable - indeed, most people didn't even know about it!  Fortunately, clearer heads have prevailed and we now can continue buying spirits across provincial lines without fear of imaginary reprisal. 

I always make a special point of picking up Trois Mousquetaires stuff, especially their Serie Signature brews (their Baltic Porter is particularly sublime), so this was a no brainer.  I have to say, however, that this brew wasn't a knockout for me - especially given the price of the bottle.  However, it is still a decent Oktoberfest brew and the larger bottle is certainly useful for sharing or longer drinking sessions (or, if you happen to have a hefty Oktoberfest stein about).

Beer: Mill Street Oktoberfest Beer
Brewery: Mill Street (Toronto)
ABV: 5.8%

This one comes in a seasonal sixpack alongside their clevely-named pumpkin ale, "Nightmare on Mill Street", so you get both of your major Oktober festivals taken care of in one box (for those interested, the Nightmare is also quite tasty, and is on the spicy end of the pumpkin ale spectrum.  It's label emblazoned with the distinctive checker pattern of the Bavarian flag, this brew certainly has a classic Oktoberfest flavour: grainy, smooth, slightly fruity.

There are some other brews out there that also fall into the Oktoberfest category that shouldn't be too hard to dig up.  Again, the emphasis should be on an aged ale or lager that is malty and with just a touch of fruit (though they are present, hops are rarely the defining attribute to these brews), which can be easily consumed in quantity as befits the season.  I know that either Ayinger or Paulaner has an Oktoberfest seasonal out our way - if not, their hearty weizenbocks and doppelbocks would certainly not be out of place - and Sam Adams has a perennial Oktoberfest lager in the mix.   Whatever direction your Oktoberfest drinking takes you, I wish you all a happy Oktober filled with good cheer and gemuetlichkeit!