Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Drinkin'!

With only two more weeks and a half-dozen more assignments to go, I can finally say that my year-long Toronto adventure is nearly at a close, and I can look forward to a return to normalcy back in Waterloo.  With the workload and time demands being what they were, I feel I wasn't able to really get a chance to explore the best Toronto has to offer beer-wise, though I did manage to score several visits to BarVolo and C'est What to satisfy my craft beer cravings.  I must also admit that I did tend to do well when it came to finding new bottles for purchase.  Due to its status as the Centre of the Universe, Toronto and its numerous LCBOs tend to get first dibs at the province's new releases, a fact I've long bemoaned from the quaint and bucolic country town of Waterloo, but one that I tried to take full advantage of in my weekly sojourns to T.O.   Whenever I had a spare moment, it was off to another liquor store to see what they had on their wonderful shelves.  While most of the liquor emporiums have proved to be disappointingly lame, a few have really impressed me by boasting a diverse selection of craft brews both regular and newly released, especially the one on Lower Jarvis at the Lakeshore.   Rarely did I make the trek down to this unassuming store did I not find several surprises worth mentioning and this weekend was no exception.

Holidays in Canada are indeed a double-edged sword.  Though the time off is certainly welcome, I suppose, I seems to me that it always is the case that every time you want to get something  accomplished that involves the retail world, a government-sanctioned holiday stands in your way, meaning that the emotional lead-up to the Long Weekend is nothing short of full-fledged panic as Canadians scurry around the house searching for something, anything that they might need to survive the weekend and must purchase before the hurricane arrives.   Last weekend I had all the time in the world to take care of my consumer needs, but didn't take any advantage, but of course this weekend I had all sorts of shopping dreams that were very nearly scuttled.  Case in point: on Saturday afternoon, I ran out of beer.  A more tragic thought I could not imagine.  Mercifully, the one weak link in the Easter Holiday Chain of Store Closing was indeed Saturday, so I was able to sate my desires for all things ale without resorting to gin-fueled civil disobedience, as appealing as the idea might be.   And I definitely found some goodies that also happen to fit the spirit of the season.

Religious holidays are not my family's forte.  My side of the family has traditionally seen religion as, at best, a means of escaping other social commitments, but generally speaking we couldn't be bothered with the whole thing as it tends to take place early on a Sunday morning when sleep, hangovers and other sinful commitments stand in the way.  So if we do celebrate holidays, it tends to be done in the most secular and booze-centred way as possible, particularly with Easter (or, Eostre if you are keeping score).  But, in honour of what for the vast-majority of the world's Christians and Jews is a very special weekend, I tried to keep my beer-drinking centred around the spirit of the holiday.  It's the very least I could do.

First, this offering from Mikkeller, one of the most prolific, yet enigmatic breweries in the world.  Mikkeller is definitely one of the most in-demand breweries of the craft brewing world, and this is due in part because of the brewery's unique organizing structure (and of course, their brews tend to be pretty damned good.)  Founded in 2007 by Danish "gipsy brewer" Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, Mikkeller has been one of Northern Europe's great brewing success stories, which is all the more surprising considering that it is essentially a one man show.  Mikkel takes his brewing skills on tour, and produces beers at breweries across Europe and the United States under his brewing name, but with a healthy share of the profits going to the brewery who lends him the time and assistance in his efforts.  It's really an ingenious, but incredibly risky idea; fortunately, it seems to be paying off well.  In the past five years, Mikkeller has produced over 100 different brews at their own site as well as at Scotland's BrewDog facilities, Denmark's own Nøgne, Drake's Brewing of California, and Belgium's de Proefbrouwerij and Brouwerij de Molen, to name a few.  Freelance brewing, as it were.

Frelser, a doppelbock, is my first brew from Mikkeller, and keeping with our Easter them, frelser is Danish for "savior".   Its name is also a nod to the mother of all doppelbocks, Ayinger's Salvador ("savior") from Germany.  Bocks, as you may remember, are traditionally the style of brew that monks used to guide them through the long Lenten fast.  Since this fast ended this morning, I feel this brew was very much appropriate!

Beer: Mikkeller Frelser
Brewery: Mikkeller (Copenhagen, this brew via de Proef Brouwerij Belgium)
Type: Doppelbock, though the label describes it as a "Trippelbock"....
ABV: 11%

Poured this mother of a brew into a dimpled beer mug.  Dark chestnut brown, with a billowing off-white head of frothy goodness.  Sticky lacing clings to the mug in thick patches.  Great head retention.

Nose is dark bread, caramel, chocolate, faint hops and a bit of smoke, peat or leather.

The brew enters lighter than I had anticipated, but still delivers a fine, flavorful punch.  Rich dark bread, raisin, fig, caramel, and nice hopped bitterness and smoke/leather to the finish.   At 11%, and with a label that describes the bottle’s contents as both a “trippelbock” and “strong malt liquor”, obviously the booze is going to be a factor.   However, to me the strength of this brew is hardly off- putting, and the hops do a decent job of cleaning things up so that the finish is dry, bitter and boozy.  Still, a snack and some water would not be a bad idea when attacking this brew.  Medium bodied, mild carbonation.

My first Mikkeller brew did not disappoint, but nor did it completely blow me out of the water.   Still, this is an intriguing beer, full of flavour, and well worth pondering over a crisp Easter weekend.  The price tag is of course expensive (13$), but what did you expect? Definitely worth a one-time go. I'm also finding that I'm getting pleasantly drunk off of this, which is a great thing to behold. 

Next on the agenda is a wonderful brew from the Trappist monks of Westmalle, in Flanders, Belgium, whose piety and skills of brewing are certainly world-renowned.  I have had their dubbel many moons ago, so I was excited to see the tripel available this month!

Beer: Westmalle Tripel
Brewery: Brouwerij Westmalle (Belgium)
Type: Belgian Tripel
ABV: 9.5%

Single bottle from the LCBO.  Poured into a Chimay goblet in keeping with our Trappist theme.  Light, hazy golden in colour, with a thick foamy head that possesses great retention.  Sheets of lacing abound on the sides of the glass, and carbonation scurries forth from the depths.  A great-looking brew indeed.

Light and airy, a bit of hops, fruit (apple and pear), yeast, pepper, clove and spices.

Wonderfully light and dry, Westmalle Tripel is certainly a pleasure to drink.   The fruit is certainly there, but sweetness is not an issue, and so the hops and yeast flavor endemic to Belgium are allowed their chance at full attention.   Again, pepper, banana, and floral hops are also present.   Medium bodied, vigorous carbonation.
Complex and satisfying, this is certainly a brew worth seeking out.  Though my favorite of the (regularly available) Trappist ales is the Orval, I still very much enjoyed this and will be back for more! (Grade: A)

Happy Easter drinking everyone!