Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's La Fin of Du Monde as we know it, and I feel fine.

Beer: La Fin du Monde
Brewery: Unibroue (Chambly, PQ)

War...war never changes.

If you are reading this post, then congratulations - we have survived the Scourge of the Mayans.  The battle was bloody, but in the end, the victory went to the humans, and with it goes the spoils - a world bereft of resources and habitable ecosystems.   Radiation stalks the Earth like a plague, forcing the rest of the 'survivors' to live a bitter, psychologically demanding life in a series of poorly-designed vaults that litter the badlands.  The future is bleak; the possibility of a return to our former lives is negligible.  But it was not all in vain, for the wisest of the surviving humans saw fit to bring with them into the vaults the finest ales and lagers of the once great civilized world, so that those who would carry on the struggle at least have something worth fighting for.

It is the end times.

It is humanity's greatest challenge.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it has been a privilege drinking with you.

We have seen....La Fin du Monde.

If tonight is truly humanity's last night, one could not have picked a more appropriate ale, nor a finer one.  Fin du Monde is one of those brews that stands the test of time, consistently impressing with every repeat tasting.   It's one of Canada's best known and most beloved craft brews, and for good reason.  Indeed, you would be hard pressed to find a better Belgian-style Tripel around - and that includes Belgium itself.

Nice thing about La Fin du Monde, and indeed all Unibroue offerings, is that its label shows you exactly what kind of glass to serve it in and what temperature is ideal for tasting.  This bright coloured ale is best served in a tall goblet to really let that billowing head hit some serious elevation.  The colour is light honey-golden, with a bit of haziness.   Sheets of lacing grace the sides of the glass, while the head - initially about three inches of it, settles into a thick pillow.

Nose is dry, fresh, and citrussy.  Lemon peel, clove, mild yeast, and lightly medicinal hops.  For a 9 percenter, this one is impeccably dry, which is how I'm finding I enjoy my Belgian ales best.

La Fin du Monde starts off sweet, with some wheat malt and cracker, before transitioning to a citrus and spice finish.  Lemon, coriander, light pepper, clove, peach, and only the faintest hint of traditional Belgian yeast.  Finishes dry and slightly medicinal.  Superb stuff, very thirst-quenching, and without the any of that high alcohol content hitting your tongue, save for a pleasant warming feeling.   FDM has some lovely, vigorous carbonation that does not overpower the brew and set off a chain reaction of Eudora Welty-esque belches, but rather it enhances the light citrus notes and makes for a damned good thirst-quencher.  Slightly creamy, medium bodied.

If this is my last beer review ever, I'm honoured to have La Fin Du Monde beside me at the bitter end.  It is a stalwart companion and a true champion of Canadian ales.  (Grade: A)

Oh, and Happy First Day of Winter, and First Day of Yule too.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ø Christmas Beer, Ø Christmas Beer...

(Wordy one today, so cozy up with a glass of something tasty and indulge me for a little while longer than usual!)

Scandinavia is an area of the world that continues to fascinate me, mostly because I really know very little about it.  First of all, I'm not even really sure if Scandinavia is the right term or not.  Nordic Countries?  Europe's hat?  Anyways, wherever it is I don't know a great deal about Scandinordicia. I mean, I know where it is and everything, I know all their flags are roughly the same, and that their climate, social mores and way of life are more in line with us in Canada than most other countries in the world.   Their GDP/GNP, press freedom index, and development are all among the world's highest, and they usually kick some serious ass in the Winter Olympics.  Our languages are somewhat on the same team, even though it doesn't really sound this way; the English language is in the same Germanic language family as all the Scandinavian countries save for Finland, and with the Norse influence on England's development more than 1000 years ago, many of our words have Norse ancestry.  

And yet, for an area of the world so similar in many respects to Canada, there are such striking differences from our own country as well, and I'm ashamed to say I don't really know what's going on up there.  There is indeed a whole history of Northern Europe that is an utter mystery to me, with the Swedish Empire of the 18th century and the union of Denmark and Norway, and later between Norway and Sweden, and all sorts of developments along the way.  Other than the names of the capital cities and a few other places, I couldn't name more than five cities in any of the Scandinavian countries, let alone the provinces or regions.  Apparently, Sweden and Denmark have been on opposing sides in warfare more times than England and France.   And then there is the language, or languages I should say, that while similar to ours in some respects sound unlike anything I have ever heard, with their secret letters and dots and umlauts and strikethroughs.  I'm reminded of something Bill Bryson mentioned in In a Sunburned Country, his travel journal through Australia.   He muses that Australia is a mystery to North Americans, not necessarily because of its isolation, but instead because they just don't come up in the news very often.  He observes that Australia is mentioned less in the New York Times over the course of a year than some celebrities are; we really don't know what's going on their either.  Because Scandinavia, like Australia, seems to have its act together and is politically stable, it means that we don't hear about them very much on a day to day basis (save, of course, the tragic attack in Norway last year).   It's like the "no news is good news" policy; we don't need to call them every week to make sure they're okay.  We see them every few years at the Olympics or a hockey competition, and that's about it.  We really should invite them over more often, cause they seem like good people.

I have to say, however, that this year has been a real Scandinavia awakening for me, as more and more pop culture and history from the region has come to my attention, and the rise of Scandinavian craft breweries has certainly had something to do with this.  It started off with the Nørrebro brewery release last winter, which first exposed me to the Danish craft brewery scene; shortly after this, a friend of mine visited Iceland and had some amazing pictures of parks, villages and weird dishes he was subjected to.  Then there is the highly entertaining and educational webcomic Scandinavia and the World, in which the nations of the world are personified as adorable little cartoon characters with flags for shirts (Canada is the well-meaning, but rarely-listened to buddy of the USA, a beefed up loudmouth who confuses and frightens the Scandinavians with his overt religiosity).  True to the title, much of the humour is derived from the relationships between the nations of Scandinavia.  Norway seems to be the straight man, next to fastidious and dignified Sweden (whom everyone always makes fun of), frat boy Denmark, silent Viking metal music-listening Finland, and Iceland, who apparently is just insane.  What really makes this strip work for me is the fact that the creator explains the situation at the bottom of the strip, which really does teach you a great deal about what goes on in the area.  One such comic, this one, directed me to a Youtube video from Kollektivet (a sort of Norwegian "Lonely Island", I guess), in which the duo boast about how, despite Americans' achievements, they can suck it, because Norway has the bigger alphabet.  It's pretty funny, I have to say, and it had the dual function of getting me interested in the Norwegian language.  Just a few days ago, I started browsing the interweb for videos about how to speak Norwegian (settling on this one, mostly because it shows the text, and gives some tips, but it doesn't hurt that the girl hosting is pretty cute).  It's a strange language, but logical at the same time.

The big thing to remember about Norwegian is that, thanks to the Danes, they do indeed have three extra vowels that make no goddamned sense, but are essential to learning the language, and damned if one of them doesn't show up twice in the name of the latest LCBO brewery release.  The brewery is called Nøgne Ø, which apparently means "Naked Island," with the Ø for island being a rare instance of a single-lettered noun.  The name refers to all those lonely little bare islands that grace Norway's southern coast, not too far from the brewery's hometown of Grimstad at the south-eastern tip of the peninsula.  According to the brewmaster (and also by our lovely Norwegian tutor girl), Ø is pronounced sort of like a cross between "eugh" and the first two vowels in the world "early" (or something like the umlauted 'o' in German), giving us something like "Nuhgneh Uh." Or something like that.  Scratch that: here's brewmaster/part-time Viking Kjetil Jikuin saying it properly.  The brewery was founded in 2002, and has quickly become one of Norway's leading craft breweries, and - oddly enough - also happens to produce its own like of sake as well.  Go figure.  Their imperial stout made it this way all by its lonesome last year, acting as a sort of scout mission, and was pretty damned tasty. With a favorable report back to home base, we now have for this Christmas a whole flight of Nøgne Ø brews to check out, all with that distinctive, minimalist 'Ø' label.   Let's get at it!

Actually, before I get going I should say this: I purposely left out one of the five brews of the release - Tiger Tripel - from the list for two reasons. First, I haven't heard terrific things about it so far, so I thought I'd spend my money elsewhere.  The second reason is something I've been noticing lately, and will take a minute to address.   As I talk to folks about the beer they like to drink, I've found that the Belgium Question has led to a pretty sharp divide, with a large number of people saying they can't get enough of the taste of Belgian-style brews, and an equally significant proportion claiming that they can't stand the stuff and won't go near it.  My wife is that way when it comes to wheat beers - she just can't get over what she tastes as rotten wheat (she's right, of course, cause that's what it is), so all wheat beers are off the table for her.  Another friend of mine can't stand the taste of grapefruit, so American hops are rarely his thing.  Others are the same way about Belgian beers, and it probably comes down to the unique yeast and associated esters that are featured in most Belgian brews; ergo, if you don't like that yeast and what it does to the beer, you won't like most Belgian beers.  For the longest time, I've been sitting in first-class on the Belgian Love Train, and have happily snapped up any beer remotely related to that great brewing nation that I can.  However, in recent months, I've found my tastebuds have shifted somewhat, or at least become more confident in what they like and what they don't.  Because of this, I find that more often than not Belgian ales just aren't doing it for me.  I'm not sure if it's the yeast or the higher carbonation levels or some of the esters there, but I've been on a bit of a Belgian funk recently, no pun intended.  Don't get me wrong, I still love many Belgian brews and haven't written off the styles whatsoever; I just find that I'm pickier about them than I used to, so I'll save my reviews for those that I really like and won't deter the rest of you from trying something that I didn't like simply because the style no longer appeals to me.  Tastes change, and yours might as well.  I just look at it like I'm fine-tuning my beer radio dial to the style stations I like the best.  

Back to it!

Beer: Nøgne Ø Porter
Type: English Porter
ABV: 7%

First off the mark is the porter, which is done in the English style with a bit of American hops (Centennial).  It's a dark, cold day, so I figure a hearty porter is just the trick.

Poured into a nonic glass.  Dark and thick as it should be, with a thick, sturdy head of off white foam.  Great lacing.  Stellar-looking porter.

Nose is rich and roasty, with some vanilla sweetness and some dark fruit (currant or blackberry).  Some dry chocolate as well.

If well-roasted, slightly dry porters are your thing, you are in for a treat here.  The bitterness of the roasted malt really dominates the brew, but it has company in the form of that dark fruit and lingering sweet vanilla.  Long bitter finish, dry, and with a touch of hops.  Very nice, hearty brew.  Somewhat thick, not so much so that it enters into stout territory, but it's close.  Feels like a porter - creamy, medium bodied, light carbonation.

Picks right up where the imperial stout left off last year.  Very dependable porter.  (Grade: A-)

Beer: #100
Type:  American Barleywine
ABV: 10%

With a name like #100, you'd expect this to be their 100th beer.  It totally is.  No secret links to Norwegian history here, at least as far as I can tell, though somewhere I did read that this is supposed to be a reference to the 100th anniversary of Norway's independence from its union with Sweden in 1905, the website simply states that this brew was their 100th batch.  But it could very well mean both things.  Get used to this from Nøgne Ø.  Apparently, this was just supposed to be a one-off celebration beer, but demand was high enough for it that they made it a regular offering.

Poured into a Belgian ale goblet.  Dark chestnut in colour, with a bit of amber highlighting.  I've been running into more of the darker barleywines recently, so the colour shouldn't be that much of a surprise, and yet I still find it strikes me as being a bit off.  Their ingredients online list chocolate malt as being part of the mash, so there you go.  No matter, it still looks fine.  Pour yields a good half inch of froth that holds up well and brings up a great deal of lace.

Nice combination of smells here that are certainly quite pleasant, though difficult to pin down.  There's the sweet malty blast of a typical barleywine, chocolate malt, some smoke, raisins,   resin and citrus hops, and bubblegum or some other sweet candy.

A little on the boozy side, but that's to be expected.  Quite enjoyable, lots going on here.  I think this is a brew that is totally up to personal interpretation; well, all beer is up to interpretation, but some brews are easier to unpack than others, and this one is complex enough that some people will smell certain notes, and others will get something else entirely.  I for one happened to get two R's - raisin and resin - above all other subtler flavors, swimming in a sweet and boozy malty base.  There's also some spice - cinnamon, maybe ginger?  Complex and tasty, no doubt about that.  Good crisp carbonation, warmth from the booze, medium bodied, somewhat creamy.

A solid barleywine, with lots going on to keep the tastebuds and nasal cavities well occupied.  Glad they kept this one on regular lineup. (Grade: A-)

Beer: Two Captains
Type: Double IPA
ABV: 8.5%

Again with the double-meaning behind the beer's name.  Two Captains could refer to the Mustang plane on the label, which is an F-82 Twin Mustang - two planes fused together.  Since there are two cockpits, there are also, in effect, two captains. The idea behind this plane was to allow for longer-ranged flights during the early years of the Cold War; with two pilots behind two engines, the planes could be flown for longer (one could fly while the other could rest).  However, this also could refer to the fact that the brew came about because of the efforts of a Norwegian homebrewer, who came up with the recipe, and the Nøgne Ø brewmaster, who brewed it.  Both of these men were once captains piloting for Scandinavian Airlines.  It works either way - double plane/double pilot for double IPA.

Back to the goblet for this brew.  I have to say, in terms of appearances like the double Mustang on the front label, this brew just...didn't look right.  A murky peach-caramel colour, with a decent half inch of foam that rests stubbornly on the surface, creating some nice lacing.  The real problem here was some ugly chunks of sediment floating around the bottom of the glass like those gross bubble sodas from the 1990s.  Orbitz, I think they were called.  I know that sediment is a common feature of many a strong brew, and I know that it's there to give the brew a possibility of some extra bottle conditioning, but this one just looked unappealing, so I ended up filtering it out.

No matter, the brew smelled and tasted just fine.  All double IPA to the nose: fruity, nice pine and resin hop base, with mango, orange peel, and malty caramel sweetness.   Tasted quite similar with nice fleshy fruits (mango, peach, orange) and bitter, citrus/resin hops.  Pine hops to the finish.  Could be a bit hoppier, but there you go.  As I've said many times before, double IPAs are tricky characters that could just as easily be classified as American barleywines.  This one leans more towards the latter, which is fine with me, though I'd just as easily take a stronger hop bomb.  Either way, appearance aside this is also a fine brew.  (Grade B+)

What is this, a beer for giants?
Beer: Underlig Jul
Type: Christmas Beer?  I guess?
ABV: 6.5%

Sorry again for the crap photos - my cameras (good one and cell phone one) still can't take great evening pictures with low light.  Either it doesn't focus with no flash on, or the flash obliterates everything in sight.  If anyone has any good suggestions for how to fix this, I'd love to hear it, because we've got about four months of cold and dark ahead of us.

Underlig is Norwegian for "Peculiar", and since this is a winter brew, I'll leave you all to figure out what "Jul" means.  Unlike other winter brews that more or less take the standard pale ale or IPA and add some spices to it (not that there's any problem there!), Underlig is a brew that, of our list, is perhaps the most uniquely Norwegian.  The idea here was to brew something that tasted like a glass of Gløgg, a Nordic drink that we in Canada call "mulled wine."  So there will be lots of spices, but with a particular focus on those herbs and spices that normally would go in a glass of Gløgg.

Another goblet for this one.  Dark brown with a hint of ruby around the edges, and with a fluffy head of foam that recedes into a thick ring with some lacing.

Once you open the bottle, a blast of herbs greets you - really opens up your sinuses, actually.  The bottle lists cinnamon, ginger, cloves, coriander and - perhaps most strangely - cardamom as being added spices to the mix, and I'll certainly say that the ginger gets top billing here.  Peppermint, herbal medicine (cough drops?), orange peel are also in the mix.  A spicy conglomeration, this.  Really gets you in your sinuses, but in a good way.

This is actually the second bottle I've had of this, and the first one was not a success (the general consensus was "too much like medicine").  I think the problem with this was that we had prefaced that beer with two hearty imperial chocolate stouts, so the change was pretty damned drastic.  Consumed on its own and with the whole bottle to myself, I can certainly see the medicinal quality to the brew, but I have to say there's a lot more to it than that.  The first few sips are quite strong in the ginger, peppermint and herb department, but as your tastebuds acclimatize, things become far more balanced.  The Christmas flavors of cinnamon, oranges with clove, and sweet malt start to get some time to shine.  As you go further along, the hops (American, again) start to become more assertive, giving the brew a nice pine woodsy feel and also cleansing the palate of the rich heaping of spice.  Really interesting beer this, and the more I sip it, the more I'm enjoying it.  Medium bodied, generously carbonated.  (Grade: B+)

Good showing from the largest craft brewery in Norway.   Most of the brews are of a style that is easily found in the US, but I always give immense credit when good styles are done well, and these are certainly up there, with bonus marks for the porter, a style that is often overshadowed by its stouter brother.  For sheer originality and sense of Norwegian-ness, I have to give the credit to the Christmas Underlig Jul ale, but all the brews had their own charm.  I was able to find these in Kitchener without too much trouble, and at around $6.50 per bottle, they aren't beyond the realm of the reasonable in terms of price.   Might be a nice Christmas pickup.

God Jul to the folks at Nøgne Ø! 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Morning Brew Coffee Cream Stout

Beer: Morning Brew Coffee Cream Stout
Brewery: Wellington Brewery (Guelph, ON)
Type: Milk Stout
ABV: 6.7%

Christmas is a mere two weeks away, and for once in my adult life I am actually ahead of the game when it comes to present shopping.  Amazing, I know.  A few cards in the mail, and some cookie making to do, and I'll be free and clear to spend the yuletide season in a pleasant, carefree drunken stupor.  Actually, that's not quite true; I still have some Christmas shopping to do, but for a very important person indeed - me.  Got me some Christmas money and I gots to spend it.  Fortunately, there's lots of brews out and about that I've been meaning to try - including a Norwegian brewery release that will be the feature of a future entry - so I know that money will be well spent.   As it happened, however, I was out in the Guelph area today and passed by the Wellington Brewery.  It's been a while since I've stuck my head in there, and I've been craving some of their Imperial Russian Stout to have on hand, so I made a quick stop.   Good timing, because it so happens that another one of their "One-Off" series is now available in cans, and only at the brewery.  So I spent a bit of Christmas money and picked up a few.  Actually, I would have spent the money anyway, but 'tis the season for justifying excessive spending in the name of good cheer, and I can think of no greater cheer than a fresh brewed craft beer.

Holy shit, that's an amazing slogan.  Better copyright that shit right now. "I can think of no greater cheer, than a fresh brewed craft beer."   Much better.

Now then.  Anyways, the beer that Welly has put out is in line with the holiday season, a chocolate cream stout that features "peruvian cocoa powder, lactose, and a touch of  flaked oats."  A bit of confusion with the name, as befits a new brew: on the website, the brew is listed as "Chocolate Milk Stout", but the can I picked up had the wonderful name of "Morning Brew: Coffee Cream Stout."  My default is to go with what's on the can, rather than the website, and after drinking this brew, having coffee in the name is absolutely essential.  So, with that in mind, let's dive right in to Wellington's Morning Brew: Coffee Cream Stout!

Poured into a nonic glass.  I should have brought out the good Welly 25th anniversary glass, but it's already in the basement and it involves several stairs I'm not interested in committing to.  Coffee black, with a hint of chestnut around the edges.  Good half inch of off-mocha head, nice retention, lots of sticky lace.

Nose is unmistakably sweet cold coffee, very bold, and with a bit of that lactose creeping through.  I'm also getting hazelnut, and yet more espresso coffee.  Very nice.

Tastes similar to what was in the nose.  Quite tasty, actually, if you don't mind the sweetness.  But then again, if you're looking for a beer that isn't too sweet, and you go for the one with "cream" in the name that contains lactose, you're gonna have a bad time.

Coffee, cream, espresso, chocolate, lots of other goodies.  About the only thing I can say this beer needs is more depth.  Crank this puppy up with some extra thickness, and maybe something to work with the sweetness, and you've got yourself one ridiculously good stout.  But as it stands, the beer really is quite good, and I really hope Welly keeps playing around with this.  Hell, they could probably just keep it as it is and I'd be happy with it.  The coffee is rich and it really does taste like a breakfast brew.  I might try to swing back for a few more - doesn't sound like this one will be in the LCBO or elsewhere anytime soon.   (Grade: B+)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

I'm the kind of guy who likes his stouts imperial. Can't understand what I mean? Well, you soon will!

Beer: BNL Imperial Chocolate Stout
Brewery: Flying Monkeys (Barrie)
Type: Imperial Stout
ABV: 10%

Ah, Flying Monkeys.  Definitely one of the big names in the Ontario craft beer scene.  They really have been one of the first out of the gate to apply American brewing practices and techniques (and American hops) to their brews, giving us one of the province's first - and, in my opinion, best - American IPAs, Smashbomb Atomic, as well as Netherworld, a Black IPA (or "Cascadian Dark Ale").   But if you were to go back in time a few years, take a look at the brewery that sits by Lake Simcoe and consider its image and output, you would be hard-pressed to have convinced anyone that this brewery was a few years away from being one of the zanier, wildest craft breweries in the province.  First of all, the name was much simpler and less exciting back then - Robert Simpson Brewing Company, a tribute to the first mayor of Barrie (who himself was a brewmaster, much like a certain mayor of Halifax I could mention).   When I first started working at the campus bar in Waterloo, we always had Robert Simpson Confederation Ale on tap, and it was...okay.  Actually, that's being generous - it was a pretty bland amber ale, and that's about it.  Their light ale was pretty good for a light beer, I will say, but their standard lager was pretty forgettable.  Basically, Robert Simpson suffered from a problem plaguing many an Ontario craft brewery - they weren't really brewing anything interesting.  The labels were traditional, and frankly, pretty boring, and the brews were similar to many being brewed across the province.  Nothing to really get excited about.

But a few years ago, you could start to see some changes, starting with a redesign of the brewery's beer labels to reflect a more quirky, modern art style.  The zen, Snapple-like slogans that are now featured in all Monkeys brews began to appear on Robert Simpson packaging and coasters. Then, in 2009, came the drastic change, as owner Peter Chiobo announced that the brewery was completely changing its name and image to the more psychedelic and seemingly Ken Casey-inspired Flying Monkeys.  Admittedly, my first reaction was one of incredulity.  Really?  You have a chance to change your name, and it's Flying Monkeys?  Like many, I was unconvinced at first, but with the release of their first Monkey brew, Hoptical Illusion, I started to see more of where the brewery was heading.  As Peter explained: "it'll be weird for a while, but the new name opens up so many more possibilities for us to express ourselves."  And this was totally true - Robert Simpson Smashbomb Atomic IPA just doesn't really work, does it?  This Hoptical brew was no American IPA to be sure, but it was hoppy and flavorful.  It became one of my go-to brews on tap.  When it was announced that Smashbomb Atomic IPA was coming on draught, excitement hit fever pitch, and it became my recommended IPA for folks who wanted a hop bomb.

Now, I'm completely hooked and will readily purchase any Monkeys brew I can get my hands on.  Like the bigger American craft brews, Monkeys has been experimenting with its brewing potential while appealing to the beer geeks out there with brews like Supercollider, their double IPA (which admittedly wasn't my favorite), and the newsmaking Alpha-Fornication, a self-proclaimed "world's hoppiest beer," which I unfortunately cannot claim to have tried, but heard it tasted more or less like drinking hop cones.  Not all of their one-offs have worked, but the desire to experiment is strong, and I salute them for it.  Their latest offering represents a big divergence from their normal trend of brewing, eschewing the usual hop-dominated brews and opting for something from the imperial stout spectrum.  And it's inspired by one of the giants of the Canadian music scene, the Barenaked Ladies.

Apparently, the guys from Barenaked Ladies hung out with the Flying Monkeys folks in September, and together they worked to make this new brew, which instead of being hoppy and citrussy would be a rich chocolate stout.  While Peter admits that the stout recipe was his own recipe, the BNL guys were excited about the chocolate stout idea, and helped in the brewing process by adding ingredients to the tuns, including the Ecuadorian cocoa nibs.  So yeah, I guess you can safely say that the "BNL" is essentially a marketing thing, but who the hell cares?  If it gets people excited about craft beer, I'm all for it.

Released a couple of weeks ago at the LCBO, BNL Imperial Chocolate Stout comes in a quirkily-decorated box, and a higher than usual price tag: around thirteen bucks.  But take it from me - it's totally worth it, because I can safely proclaim that this brew is one of the best to come out of Ontario this year.  Period.

Let's dive in, shall we?

Normally, I like to start things off in my reviews by considering the appearance of the brew, but for BNL stout I have to make an exception and start with the nose, because the second that we removed the bottlecap to this brew, the entire room was filled with the sweet smell of rich milk chocolate.  I've never encountered anything like this before.  Sweet chocolate, roasted marshmallow, a touch of toasted malt, dark cocoa, and a hint of grape or currant. Absolutely stunning, and this great smell greeted me with every sip of the beer.

The beer itself is jet black with a hint of dark chestnut around the edges.  It poured a bit hot, so there was considerable foam to work through, but once it settled, a sturdy cap of mocha foam had set up a permanent camp atop the brew, and yielded some impressive lacing.

The imperial character of BNL comes out a bit more to the taste than in the nose, but it is still overshadowed by the impressive array of chocolate flavours, both sweet and dark-dry.  It's pretty safe to call this brew a "chocolate bomb."  Good mix of milk chocolate, and dark, dry chocolate.  Really, the best way for me to describe this beer is that it tastes like having assorted chocolates in your mouth, and then washing the whole thing down with a decent, roasty imperial stout.  It's pretty damned tasty, I have to say.   Decent carbonation, nice carbonation does the trick.  Quite creamy.

Just a damned terrific brew, and certainly well worth the pricetag, at least once - or as a Christmas present (hint hint).  Loads of chocolate, but enough imperial qualities to give your tastebuds something to work with.   This brew is an excellent addition to the Ontario beer pantheon, and hopefully a sign of greater things to come.  These are the sorts of brews you can find in many a great beer store in the States - I'm happy that this one comes from our neck of the woods!  (Grade: A)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

High Octane Brueing!

One of the more newsworthy aspects of the craft brewing-industry in recent years has been the battle to achieve the title of "World's Strongest Beer." This quest for high alcohol content has also had the effect of rethinking what we consider "beer" to be, and how far we can go in that direction.  Two of the heaviest hitters in the War for Potency has been Scotland and Germany; oddly enough, the Americans, despite their massive craft brew industry and penchant for competitiveness and experimentation, have more or less adopted a policy of isolationism here, with only Sam Adam's "Utopia" being anywhere near the top ten, as seen on RateBeer here.  With the opponents ready to brew, what followed was more or less a retelling of the shipbuilding wars of the Second World War - just replace battleships with beer. The first to really get things rolling were the folks at BrewDog, a Scottish brewery that I've taken issue with before, but in recent months have developed more of an appreciation for what they do, with the exception of the gimmicky crap that they've done in association with the Strongest Beer War.  Known for their experimentation and mild insanity, the folks at BrewDog already had a respectable 18%er, "Tokyo" in 2009, before opening the floodgates with a mammoth brew later that year, Tactical Nuclear Penguin, which sat at a mammoth 32% ABV.   Within just a few months, a German brewery with the Sean Connery's German brother-sounding name of Schorschbrau released a 40% doppelbock called Schorschbock which overtook the Penguin.   Naturally, the BrewDog folks countered with a historical fuck-you to the German brewery with Sink the Bismarck (41%) in February 2010.  Controversy revolved around BrewDog's follow-up brew, The End of History, the twelve bottles of which came housed in the bodies of dead squirrels, much to the ire of animal rights activists and reasonable human beings.  The title was appropriate for BrewDog, because they seem to have bowed out of the Strongest Beer race for good, which allowed another Scottish brewery to hold the current title - a unthinkable sixty-five percent ABV bock aptly named Brewmeister Armageddon, which is much stronger than your average sipping whisky.  About the only thing that we can say about the Strongest Beer title is that it doesn't really mean much, save for serving as a bit of a pissing contest I suppose, considering how little of these brews get produced, and how expensive they run for. I guess that's not really fair, because there is a great deal of science and brewing expertise needed to distill these brews down to such a potent end product.  It's just important, in my humble opinion, to remember these brews are novelties, and are (thankfully) not on the liquour-store shelves (the End of History retailed for $750 - each!), so there's no risk of beers ever getting that strong in the forseeable future.

There's a typo here: it should read
"Contains a Metric Fuckton of Alcohol."
What is happening is that craft brewers are consistently pushing the envelope with their one-off, or special edition brews, which tend to almost exclusively range between 10 and 20% ABV, more than sufficient alcohol to knock you firmly on your ass.  These, are sipping brews that really have to be shared with others, lest you awaken in a drunken stupor with a blistering headache and no memory of the previous nights' events.  And one craft brewery that has really found a niche with these high octane brews is the feature of today's entry - The Bruery.

Started in 2008 in California by Patrick Rue (get it?), The Bruery has quickly become one of the big names in experimental craft brews.  While most of the Bruery's lineup sits in more reasonable levels of alcohol content (mostly Belgian style ales with a healthy number of American-style brews), there is a disproportionate number of brews in their lineup that push well into the 10+ range.  These limited brews have proven so popular that The Bruery has set up a sort of pay-in "Reserve Society" where you pay a big price up front and get a whole smack of the "big" brews guaranteed, plus some other perks.  The closest thing to a country club membership I've seen in the craft brewing world, but there you go.  Demand is high, and beer geeks are getting more and more assertive in their drive to acquire the hottest brews around, with some bottles of other rare beers going for over 100 dollars online, much in the same way that folks purchased PS3s after waiting in line, and then turning them around on eBay.  I was lucky in this case, and thus I've had the pleasure of enjoying three of their biggest brews over the past couple of months, and - having pieced together what little memories exist from those evenings,  I'll try to take you through them all.  In honour of our World's Strongest Beer theme, we'll start with the lowest and work our way up.  It's crazy when you have to say that the lowest strength beer of the list is approximately fifteen percent booze.  That's the kind of shit we're dealing with today, folks, so hold on tight.   A huge thanks to my friend and fellow member of the Beer Society of Odd Fellows for sharing these brews with me over the past few months.  Cheers Brad!

Beer: Fruet
Type: Old Ale
ABV: 15.5%

An anniversary brew (for their fourth in 2012), this brew is of a style known as Old Ale, which really means what it sounds - a strong ale that has been aged until it is old and smoothed out a bit.  In more technical parlance, the brew will be big and malty and extra dextriny (whatever that means) with lots of fruit (usually grape, raisin, a few other goodies).   This one does precisely that, except the alcohol content is well above the charts!

Poured into a sampler goblet.  Hazy caramel-chocolate brown, murky, and with a small but sturdy head of foam that survives as a thin ring.  The sheer viscosity of this brew is remarkably evident with the pour - this brew has some legs to it.

Nose is bloody spectacular: a rich caramel sweetness, cocoa, vanilla, bourbon, figs, dates, wine grapes, raisins, toffee and a rich warming booziness.

Tastes just as good as it smells, if not better.  If you're wondering how a beer this strong tastes, think of drinking a good port or fortified wine and you get the idea.  Fortunately, this one is so tasty that you don't even notice the booze, at least not until you attempt to stand up. It tastes like it might be only about 9 or 10 percent, which is damned fine with me. A terrific blend of sweet sugar, fruit, caramel and vanilla.  Rich and well worth each slow sip.   Thick, a bit syrupy (no surprise there), but with enough carbonation to be easy to drink - dangerously so.

God freaking damn, this was good. (Grade: A)

Beer: Black Tuesday
Type: Double Imperial Stout
ABV: 18%

First of all, I have to apologize for the shit picture.  Apparently, my last digital camera was on its last legs when I took this, and I thought that the picture was merely set on a high exposure setting, but actually it was about twenty minutes from death. Really, I'm just glad that I got any shot of it at all.  But in case you weren't sure, the beer is black.  Pitch black.  That's about all you need to know.  Black Tuesday has a dual meaning: the first refers to Tuesday October 29th, 1929, the day of the stock market collapse that officially marks the beginning of the Great Depression; the second refers to the colour of the brew combined with the fact that the Bruery was founded on a Tuesday.

Had this a couple of months ago at a big beer tasting, and it really capped off the evening nicely.  Like looking into a black hole this one was.  Thick as molasses it seemed - well, maybe not quite, but again the heft of this brew is apparent just by pouring it.  A thin off white ring is all that survives.

Nose is sweet and sugary, with notes of roasted malt, chocolate, coffee, molasses, bourbon, vanilla, and a slight peat or leathery note in the mix.  And yes, I can detect the booze - it's almost five times stronger than your typical bottle of beer.  But again, I've had 10%ers that smelled boozier than this.

Well this is all kinds of wonderful.  Rich, sweet stout flavours, just amped up considerably.  Assertive notes of bourbon, vanilla, chocolate, sugar and vanilla.  A strong alcohol burn is there, but because I'm sipping it so slowly, it's not much of a chore to deal with.   Thick, mild carbonation, creamy and oily on the palate.

When drinking this brew, I think I felt that calm, assured euphoria that folks in September of 1929 must have felt after trusted economist Irving Fisher assured the nation that stocks had reached a "permanently high plateau."  I was comfortable, complacent, and so I kept drinking.  And man did this brew give me a Depression-level headache a few hours later.  Granted, this was my several-th beer of the evening, but that much sugar and booze is going to have an effect.  So drink this brew with caution - take it slow, and enjoy it.   Cause it's damned good.  (Grade A)

Not pictured: Florida's electoral votes.
Beer: Chocolate Rain
Type: Double Imperial Stout
ABV: 19.5%

Enjoyed this one celebrating the victory of President Obama last month; sadly, none of us could find a "White and Privileged Bitter" to toast the Romney camp.  Oh well, such is life.  Again, several beers into the evening's drinking, so take this one with a grain of salt.

Wine glasses for this majestic brew.  Black as pitch, slightly chestnut when held to the light, and a thin, off-white head that recedes into a thin ring.  At almost 20%, I'm not sure if appearances really are going to play into this one.

Nose is incredibly sweet and sugary, with coffee, cream, booze, vanilla, caramel, chocolate, and lightly toasted sugar.  You can smell the weight and strength of this beer.

Very tasty indeed, but probably my least favorite of the three, simply because it is just that strong.  The nice thing is, far worse beers than this have had far less alcohol, and still tasted much more like someone had snuck a shot of vodka into the bottle, so as strange as this sounds, for being 20% the alcohol is well-hidden. But trust me: it's there.  The sweetness and booziness is more pronounced than in the Black Tuesday, though the notes of chocolate, sugar and vanilla still hold true.  Syrupy, velvety feel, and with enough carbonation to keep the sweetness somewhat at bay.   Kind of felt like drinking a glass of Kahlua.  Rest assured: you need to share this beer.

The Bruery's high octane stuff is well worth seeking out, though because of the market demands and such, this can be tricky, unless of course you know where to look.  If you do see them around, however, give them a try, but fair warning: they are sweet, they are delicious, and they pack a serious punch.  Have a glass or two of water handy - the blood vessels in your head will thank you for it in the morning.