Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lousy Smarch Weather...Made Better With Hops!

Hey gang,

All the beers you didn't get to see me drink.   Sorry.
First of all, I have to apologize for the extreme rarity of my blog posts the past few months, and thus I also have to give a big raising o' the glass to those of you who have stuck with the Den during this period of scarcity - I really appreciate it!  Just to give you some idea about how crazy this year has been, this post will represent the first post of 2012.   And we are well on our way into March.  That's bloody ridiculous.  I know I said back in September that I would be more haphazard than usual with my drunken ramblings, but I didn't realize just how ridiculous commuting into Toronto for school would be.  The work is not difficult, it's just that a lot of busy work coupled with commute time and a general lack of sleep means that come the weekend I really don't have the energy.   Let alone the lack of blogging, I've noticed that my beer drinking in general is at its all-time low, and frankly it's getting sad.   Teacher's college has given me a real chance to re-evaluate my priorities in life, and I really have to say I miss talking brews, writing about brews and finding new brews.  The fact my love of beer remains so very high on my list to go without it for so long has been a real challenge.

 Fortunately, there's good news on the horizon!  It's March Break, so the endless stream of work and no sleep has finally abated.  The weather is improving greatly, giving real promise to the idea of patio drinking this very week!  Finally, I only have two more weeks of practicum, after which things really level off.  Come the end of April, I am (almost completely) free!   I still have work to do, but it will be stuff I can do at home, meaning more beerventures to be had.  There's even a distinct possibility that I might be returning to my favourite beer store in Orlando this April - keep your fingers crossed!  The thought of a spring and summer full of wonderful brews with terrific people is what's keeping me going - just over a month to go!

With an extra day off, I ventured into the LCBO to reacquaint myself with an old friend.  Low and behold, more or less the exact same lineup awaited me upon my return, but with a few noticeable new entries that filled my tired heart with excitement: a veritable smorgasbord of well-hopped and well-alcoholized India Pale Ales awaited me, from three fantastic breweries no less!  We have a double-bill of Double IPAs from BC's Tree Brewing and the always exciting Southern Tier, as well as some local flavour in the form of Ontario's own Beaver River IPeh from Beau's!  It's been a long-time coming folks, let's get back to business!

Aren't they lovely, folks?

A word on Double (or "Imperial") IPAs that I may have said before, but it certainly bears repeating.  'Double' is a bit of a catch-all word that is used to describe almost any style of brew that has been amped up beyond its usual standards in terms of alcohol content.  The more popular word in the States seems to be 'Imperial',which is often used interchangeably with 'Double'; in this case the word is meant to harken back to the bold and potent Russian Imperial Stout style developed for export to St. Petersburg.  But it means more or less the same thing - bold and boozy.  I've seen the moniker attacked to almost every style of brew imaginable, especially from our wacky craft-brewing friends to the south.  Imperial Pilsners, Imperial Hefeweizens, Double Porters, Doppelbocks - you name it.   However, the name really doesn't tell you a lot, other than the fact that the malt content has been sufficiently elevated to give the brew an extra alcoholic punch.  By doing so, it changes the composition of the brew to something outside of the familiar, meaning that sometimes Double brews take on a unique characteristic of their own, while other times they might even start to resemble other styles.  In this case, something I've noticed - and other brew-loving friends of mine have done the same - that the maltiness of a Double IPA often masks the hoppiness of the brew so much so that the resulting flavour profile is sometimes more akin to that of a barleywine than an IPA.   Just something to keep in mind - "double" doesn't necessarily mean twice as strong in the flavour department.  It's just got more booze in it.

Let's start with the Canadian entry, Tree Brewing's Hop Head Double IPA!
Beer: Hop Head Double India Pale Ale
Brewery: Tree Brewing (Kelowna, BC)
Type: Double IPA
ABV: 8.3%

650mL bomber from the LCBO. Enjoyed their earthy Hop Head IPA last time around, so I was excited to see this - and more Canadian bombers in general - available on the shelves.

Poured into a nonic. Nice hazy orange-amber brew, with a half-inch of foam that recedes into a generous ring. Patchy lacing. Good looking DIPA. 

Nose is citrus and earthy hops, biscuit, candied orange.  This is a quality Double IPA and a great example of where the extra malt doesn't overpower the hop bitterness. Hop heads out there will not feel disappointed with the bitterness of this brew.  Earthy, citrus, nice marmalade flavor as well. Solid DIPA, I really enjoyed this. Full bodied, slightly creamy, good carbonation. 

Second brew from Tree was a fine example of the DIPA style that, thanks to its solid hop presence is definitely a brew to my liking. Will be back for another bottle or two!  (Grade: B+)

Let's keep going with the Canuck entries, but bring it down to the standard IPA level for the sake of my liver.  Here's the spring seasonal from Beau's of eastern Ontario!

Beer: Beaver River IPeh?
Brewery: Beau's All Natural Brewing Co. (Vankleek Hill, ON)
Type: American IPA*
ABV: 5.5%

Single bottle from the old LCBO, packaged on Feb 15th. I vaguely remember having this on cask in Toronto, but I was in no condition to remember details, so it's great to see this again. 
Poured into a nonic. Deep amber-copper, nice billowing head that settles to a sturdy thin layer, with frosty lacing. Fine lookin' brew.

Nose is a bit funky, but it's got a nice woodsy character to it, with fruit, cracker and citrus. Tastes like a fine earthy IPA, certainly more towards the English style, but I tend to like when the two styles of IPA are blended together into something new. The citrus tartness really gives this brew a lot of bite, but the malt profile allows Beaver River to be enjoyed - possibly even sessioned, given the lower ABV. Finish is pepper-citrus, long and lingering. Medium bodied, nice carbonation.

An enjoyable IPA, certainly worth purchasing. I know it's a seasonal, but I hope that they will bring this brew into regular rotation.  (Grade: B+)

Two great offerings from the Canadians - how will the Yanks fare?

Beer: Unearthly Imperial IPA
Brewery: Southern Tier (Lakewood, New York)
Type: Double IPA
ABV: 9.5%
Bomber from the Conestoga LCBO. No freshness date on this - not sure where this came from, but I'm happy to see it all the same!

Poured into a tulip glass. Slightly hazy amber-peach in colour, with a half inch of head that recedes into a thick ring. Some icicles of lacing.

Nose is biscuit, citrussy hops, orange, mango, a bit of earthy quality as well, and a slight booze wafting in the background.

Took me a few sips to get this brew figured out. The malt profile in this is quite something, almost overpowers the hops with its malty, biscuity goodness. I'm starting to find this to be characteristic of ST brews. Another example of where the line between DIPA and American Barleywine blurs, in my opinion. The hops are there, of course, and are more fruity than tart and juicy. The malt gives the fruit flavor an almost 'candied' quality - very intriguing. Finishes earthy, as per the name.

Full bodied, mild carbonation. Sweet - the earthy hop bitterness does not linger.

Interesting DIPA - I have to say I'm digging it, and I might pick up another bottle just to age. Packs a quiet wallop. As I'm finding, the maltiness of a DIPA such as this tends to overtake the hops that my tastebuds were expecting. So, if I'm in the mood for a DIPA or Barleywine, this brew would probably satisfy both urges sufficiently. Price tag is typical for ST in Ontario.
Lots of hop options available around this time of year.  As the wind continues to bite at you, you'll have some brews that can bite right back.  Solid offerings all, each worth trying before they disappear from the shelves.  And hey, they all have green labels, so you're covered in terms of St. Patrick's Day wear.  Just smear yourself in four or five bottles of these brews and you'll be all set.

Great to be back!  Keep your eyes open for more posts in the near future!