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by Stephen Beaumont

It all started with a tweet. Or, to be more precise, a pair of tweets.

I had just read a much-linked article on the website vinepair.com, written by Cat Wolinski, which bemoaned the declining sales of the flagship brands of many of the older and most well-established craft breweries in the United States. It was nothing new, really. Flagship beers like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, New Belgium Fat Tire and others had been bleeding volumes for some time, a sad but, among industry insiders, widely recognized fact.

And yes, I use the word “sad” deliberately here, although perhaps not for the reason you might immediately suspect. I’m not concerned about the sales of Sam Adams Lager or Sierra Pale any more than I am with the numbers put up by Russian River Pliny the Elder or Central City Red Racer IPA. What I do think is unfortunate is that many younger beer drinkers are diving straight from the Bud Light kiddies pool into the double IPA deep end without first testing the waters of the foundational ales and lagers of North American craft beer.

So, thanks to that concern, and also because the next month on the calendar begins with an ‘F’ and I have an abiding love of alliteration, I tweeted out an off-the-cuff suggestion that we make Flagship February a ‘thing’ and devote the month to reacquainting ourselves with the ground-breaking and palate-evolving beers that birthed the flavourful beer renaissance, and then repeated the thought on Facebook.

I apparently touched a nerve.

Almost before I had a chance to consider seriously what I had done, people were lining up to support the idea. First off the mark was Zak Rotello of the Olympic Tavern in Rockford, Illinois, who commented within minutes that he could “make this happen…” and followed up moments later with a post declaring that classic flagship beers would be on offer at the Olympic for $5 a pint throughout February. Then someone – it might have been me – put the perhaps inevitable hashtag in front of the thing and #FlagshipFebruary was born.

After that fateful hashtag moment – which could have been the fault of Forbes contributor Tara Nurin – the Flagship February movement exploded and I was faced with any number of individuals suggesting, cajoling, insisting that I do something further about it. My response was to do what I imagine many people in the same unexpected situation have done, namely to go back to social media and ask for help!

Assistance arrived in the form of two friends: California-based beer writer Jay Brooks and the Toronto-based creative firm Porter Hughes, co-owned by another friend, Suzanne Porter. With this triad now in place, we attempted to tame the social media dragon.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, since as I write this we are still trying to get the website up and running and figure out how we can afford the expenses we have incurred. The important thing is: Why #FlagshipFebruary?

First of all, here is what it is not. It is not a campaign put together by the big breweries to support their craft brewery purchases. Secondly, it isn’t a well-meaning attempt to shore up sales of stalled brands. And thirdly, it is most definitely not an old beer guy – which admittedly I am – telling you young hazy IPA-swilling kids to get off of my lawn.

What it is, plain and simple, is a pause. What we, (Jay, Suzanne, myself and whatever breweries might wind up supporting this effort) are suggesting is that while chasing the new and exciting is fun and, in fact, a large part of what craft beer was designed to promote, we collectively miss out if we turn our backs on the solid, dependable and flavourful beers that paved the way to today’s hazy IPAs and kettle-soured goses. So, it is in our and the industry’s best interest if we take a moment occasionally to appreciate the flagship beers of the industry’s foundational breweries, or in the words of the flagshipfebruary.com website, “celebrate the beers that got us here.”

As I type these words in mid-January, I have no idea whether #FlagshipFebruary will be a runaway success or abject failure, but whichever fate befalls it, I am glad that I had the chance to back its movement. Because truly, if we forget where we came from, we risk getting lost on the way to where we are going.

 

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Lundy Dale, December 2018

During the holiday season we stop by our favourite liquor store on one (or more) occasions, walking right by the craft beer section to head over to the wines, proseccos and Champagnes.

We have been educated over the years that the sparkling wine family is the beverage of choice for the season with holiday parties, dinners and of course New Year’s Eve.

But…one of the latest beer trends that has been a hit might just be the perfect alternative and will get you right back in that craft beer aisle: the Brut IPA.

What is a Brut IPA?

We know that the use of the word “brut” on champagne or prosecco is a word to describe very dry or unsweetened wine varieties. In beer, IPAs in particular, it is being used to classify extremely dry beers with less residual sugars. They also have low bitterness, effervescent carbonation, a light body, and are hopped with varietals offering fruit-forward or wine-like notes and flavours.

What creates this “brut” dryness and breakdown of the sugars is the use of an enzyme known as amylase glucosidase. It’s an enzyme that has been used commercially in the past by macro breweries to remove carbohydrates in beer, making for a lighter product.

It was Kim Sturdavant, brewmaster at California’s Social Kitchen and Brewery in San Francisco, that played with this enzyme to create a standard-strength IPA that was extra dry, light in colour, low in bitterness, effervescent, yet hoppy, in late 2017. He originally named it a “hop Champagne” until some of his wine friends suggested the term “brut”. The idea caught on.

While Kim has created his own rules and guidelines for his Brut IPA creation, it seems that the only constant that exists with this style is the use of the enzyme and use adjuncts like rice and corn to keep the beer that light “Champagne” hue.

So, why a Brut IPA for Christmas and New Year’s Eve? Why not!

There seems to be such a variety to this new hybrid IPA right now that any of them would be well suited for one of the many holiday occasions, along with any part of a festive meal. It’s light in body, but has enough carbonation to cleanse the palate and balance the richness of creamy cheeses, shortbread and chocolates and, yes, even the turkey dinner.

Here are just a few from across the country to seek out; some have been bottled or canned and some are only available on draught at the brewery taproom.

BRITISH COLUMBIA

It seems that BC has the mother lode of Brut IPAs, and with such a variety being released, it’s impossible to keep up and try them all. There is everything from a

“Pinot Noir Brut“, made by Fieldhouse, using Pinot Noir grape juice in the mix, to the “Family Reunion”, a collab by Riot Brewing and Blind Enthusiasm of Edmonton, where they use the addition of cranberries and everything in between.

STEAMWORKS BRUT IPA 6.6% ABV

This is the first one that appeared in the market and it hit all the notes of what you expect from Champagne: pale, super dry, effervescent, but with the use of the Northwest hops most commonly used in our favourite North American-style IPA.

It’s hazy and straw gold in colour, with aromas of tropical and stone fruit, with just a hint of hop bitterness that finishes dry as a bone.

PARALLEL 49 – 6TH ANNIVERSARY BRUT IPA 7.1% ABV

For their 6th anniversary the Parallel 49 folks created a Brut IPA that was bottled like Champagne in a 750 ml bottle. Their variation was the use of Hallertau Blanc, Saphir and Mosaic hops. They used Chardonnay white wine yeast, making the flavour profile more reminiscent of a sparkling white wine.

ALBERTA

DANDY BREWING CO & BLOOD BROTHERS (ONTARIO) – Station to Station Brut IPA 5.5%

A hazy version of the style with citrus, pine and tropical hop notes, biscuit malt, very bubbly and a dry, low bitterness finish. Available in 650ml bottles.

SNAKE LAKE BREWING – Bubbly Brut IPA 6.6% 15 IBU

Double dry-hopped (Citra, Amarillo and Bru-1) with a very subtle aroma and flavour of pineapple and citrus. This one is medium-bodied, with a crackery pale malt background, light on bitterness and a dry finish. Only available on draught and best to head to the brewery!

BLINDMAN / TROUBLED MONK COLLAB – Burbank Series – Brut IPA 7.0%ABV 20 IBU

The two local breweries together created their version of a Brut IPA with the use of Mosaic, Motueka and Mandarina Bavaria hops giving this light-bodied ale a citrus and piney aroma and flavour with a dry yet slightly bitter finish. Available in 355ml 6 packs.

MANITOBA

ONE GREAT CITY BREWING (Winnipeg) – Et Tu Brut IPA? 7.3% ABV 35 IBU

A highly carbonated, dry finishing IPA with citrus and melon notes. Best to try the brewery for this one.

BARN HAMMER BREWING (Winnipeg) Backstabbing Brutus 7.1%ABV 30 IBU

Created as part of their “Test Batches”, this one uses Rakua hops creating a blend of grapefruit, a hint of citrus and grass, reminiscent of a Sauvignon Blanc.

ONTARIO

MERIT BREWING –One for Us Brut IPA 5.9%ABV

The first Brut IPA in the province. “One For Us” uses large amounts of Citra, Ella, Mandarina Bavaria, & Hallertau Mittlefruh for a full-on Sauvignon Blanc taste profile with a hint of the North American IPA citrus hops popping through.

The style was so popular that the brewery has recently come out with “Sail Away – Brut DRIPA” (7.7%ABV) that uses the addition of rice in their malt bill and freshly pressed Riesling and hopped with Citra, Amarillo, Mandarina Blanc and Huell Melon- quite the combination!

 

GREAT LAKES BREWERY – Brutalism IPA 7.5%ABV 20 IBU

Great Lakes Brewery is known for making top notch IPAs so of course they got into the Brut IPA trend using Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe hops for a more hop-forward version. Available in 473 ml tall cans.

QUEBEC

MICROBRASSERIE CHARLEVOIX – Double Brut IPA 8.8% ABV 46 IBU

A slightly hazy double IPA that is surprisingly light-bodied and very effervescent with aromas and flavours of citrus, melon and stone fruit. Not stingy with the use of Mandarina Bavaria, Elixir and Ekuanot hops and additions of oats and rice in the malt mixture. Available in 500 ml bottles.

NOVA SCOTIA

NORTH BREWING (Halifax) – Alloy Champagne IPA 6.0% ABV 23 IBU

Dry and errervescent with a crisp hop bitterness with the aroma of citrus and melon. The Alloy uses Champagne yeast, and is hopped with Citra cryo hop and Ariana hops. It sounds like there will be more Champagne IPAs in this brewery’s future!

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

COPPER BOTTOM BREWING (Montague, PEI) -Birthday Beer Brut IPA 7.5%ABV 30 IBU

The only Brut IPA I have read about that does not use adjuncts in their malt bill in with their pilsner malt. On draught and very limited can run.

As you can see from all these examples, there are many interpretations of this style and so many options! So next time you are heading to the Champagne section at your liquor store, do a backtrack, head back to the craft beer area and pick up one (or three) of these Brut IPAs to try out. Happy Holidays!

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Beers you should Pair with your Favourite Shows
Rob Symes

The nights are long and cold, and there’s no doubt that Winter has finally arrived. You can embrace it by snowshoeing across the tundra, or you can grab a bag of chips, snuggle under a blankie and watch TV. If you’re like most of us non-superhumans, here are a few beers you might want to pair with this year’s hottest shows:

Big Bang Theory
After many seasons, TV’s geekiest show is soon drawing to close. The Big Bang Theory glories in its nerdiness, so what better way to honour it than with a beer nerd’s choice? A lighter comedy with some spritzy playfulness would be well matched with a barrel-aged sour. Heavy themes call for weightier beers, so in this case a lighter ABV with a that edge is perfect for humour.
TRY: Four Winds Nectarous

Game of Thrones
Winter is finally coming to Westeros. For a show of this weightiness only an imperial stout will really do. George RR Martin and the showrunners have never been afraid to kill off major characters, and with the final season in the offing, there is likely more offing to come. Grab something strong and dark (to match those long nights).
TRY: Walkerville Kremlin Russian Imperial Stout

Narcos
Looks like Netflix have uploaded another season of everyone’s favourite drug show (now that Breaking Bad is finished). Call us cliche, but the oppressive heat and atmosphere of the show calls for a lightness in any matching beer. Grab a lager, and be open to a lime. This isn’t Corona, but you can hit the same notes, with a better craft option.
TRY: Amsterdam Starke Pils

Hockey Night in Canada
Whether it’s the hockey game or a spot of baseball, this beer pairing calls for drinkability. Sports viewing is inherent with nervous tension, and if you’ve ever been uncomfortable at a party, you know that this can accelerate your drinking behaviour. You can find a nice match in a Canadian pilsner, and this is a traditional pairing with sport, but you may have more luck with a session IPA. The carbonation tends to be slightly more restrained, and for multiple glasses that can be a bloat-free plus.
TRY: Red Racer India Session Ale

Stranger Things
You know a show has hit the big time when it has its own end aisle at the local Walmart. The first season of Stranger Things was a blockbuster success, but if you’re one of the many people who has more shows than they can watch, season two may still be in your queue for the next binge session. One of the sweetest things about Stranger Things is its throwback appeal for eighties kids, and for this reason, we’re recommending a style that’s becoming a little bit of a throwback because of changes in taste and style – the American IPA.
TRY: Brassneck Synthesiac

American Vandal
Two seasons and done for this Netflix mockumentary, but if you missed it on release, you have an absolute treat awaiting you. High school documentarians tackle wrongful conviction judgements and identify the inconsistencies that crack the cases right open. Pair season one with a cream ale, and what better way to join in the hunt for season two’s turd burglar than with a brown ale!
TRY: Brasserie Mille-Îles English Brown Ale

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HOWE SOUND BREWING, Squamish BC

Father John’s Winter Ale

5.5% ABV 18 IBU Style: Winter Warmer

For the last ten years if not longer, I have taken a 1 litre bottle of the Howe Sound Father Johns Christmas Ale with me to share at a Holiday party or dinner. Whether the group is filled with wine drinkers or beer drinkers, the ale is always well received.

The beer was originally released in the early 2000s, with a recipe created by Howe Sound’s original brewer John Mitchell (hence the name Father John) and is based on an English and traditional Winter Warmer recipe. In the last two years, there has only been one notable change to this ale. To make this beer the slightly more sessionable, the ABV has been reduced from 7% to 5.5%.

This beer pours a very rich, dark copper colour with warm highlights and a light and fluffy off white head that dissipates slowly.

The aroma and flavour is a reminder of a liquid Christmas toffee pudding with malt forward flavours of biscuit, molasses and caramel which help to complement the array of spices of vanilla, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. And this is when you really appreciate carbonation in beer! This beer is so rich in flavour, the medium carbonated bubbles really help to cleanse the palate. It’s a great sharing beer for the holidays!

 

YUKON BREWING, Whitehorse, Yukon

Fruitcake Spiced Ale 

5.5% abv, 15 IBU Style: Winter Warmer

Just like fruitcake is a Christmas tradition, so too is a fruitcake spiced ale release from Yukon Brewing. For many years they have released some form of spiced dark ale for the holidays with subtle changes over the years.

The 2018 version is a Winter Warmer that has been brewed with cherry, apricot, cranberry, mandarin puree, ginger, cinnamon sticks, allspice, and vanilla bean. Everything you would expect from a fruitcake.

This is a Winter Warmer on the lighter side, without the higher alcohol content (only 5.5%) and without the alcohol warmth you tend to taste with beers over 7 or 8 %. It pours a rich and deep garnet colour with a very light head that disappears quite quickly, while the carbonation is very light.

The spices are not overwhelming, allowing for the candied fruit, the light breadiness and a hint of molasses from the malts to shine through. An easy drinking spiced amber ale for the holiday season.

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By:   Stephen Beaumont

Great Lakes Brewery, Toronto, Ontario

Grandpa’s Ol’ White Eggnog Stout 5%ABV 10 IBU

Not being much of a fan of so-called ‘pastry’ beers, nor a proponent of likewise so-called ‘white stouts,’ I was honestly fearing this beer. But leaving aside the “stout” billing, which relates in no way to this ale, it really does deliver what it promises.

Start with the aroma, which is truly eggnog-y, filled as it is with nutmeg and cinnamon notes plus a bracing but not overdone sweetness. Then on to the flavour, which I must admit is about as convincing a mix of beer and eggnog characters as you could desire, with vanilla notes up front, a creamy mid-palate loaded with sweet and savoury spice notes and a drying, though still sweetish, aftertaste. Finish off with the charity aspect of Grandpa’s – $1 from the sale of each can goes directly to the Daily Bread Food Bank – and you have a beer that is both equal to its billing and yet far better than what its name suggests.

Unibroue Brewing, Chambly, Quebec

Unibroue Grand Réserve 17 10% ABV 35 IBU

Tasked with reviewing a Québécoise holiday beer, I took first to Facebook to ask brewers from that province to let me know if they had such a beer available in Toronto, or were willing to send me a bottle for review. Crickets. I then visited my local LCBO to see if anything along those lines was in stock. Nada. So I settled on this festive-ish, once-a-year offering from Unibroue.

In truth, it’s been a while since I last tried this dark amber, oak-aged, abbey-style ale, but one whiff brings memories flooding back. The nose is spicy, as are the aromas of almost all of Unibroue’s beers, with nutmeg and a hint of clove supported by dense notes of oak and slightly burnt caramel. The body is lively and less sweet than you might expect of a beer of this strength, with cooked brown sugar up front, a spicy palate loaded with notes of cocoa and dried fruit (prune, dark raisins), and a gentle, oaky, warming finish. Definitely a substantial beer for after-dinner sharing.

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6 Beer and Cookie Pairings

Rob Symes

We’re not going to argue that anything can beat a glass of milk when it comes to finding the perfect partner for a cookie session. However, you are a beer person, so if you’re willing to think outside of the box, there are some intriguing beer combinations to try.

 

Chocolate Cookies and Belgian Strong Dark Ales

Imperial Stouts may be the obvious choice here, but you’ll find many of the same notes in the best Belgian ales, but with a bonus spiciness from the yeast profile. Rochefort and St Bernardus are great pairing options because their robust flavours can more than hold their own, while the higher alcohol content mingles with the chocolate to provide a truly decadent finish. 

Chocolate Chip Cookies and Barrel-Aged Beer

Rich chocolate flavours with a residual sweetness and hints of vanilla. It’s no wonder that chocolate chip is the king of the cookie hill. By pairing it with barrel-aged beer you can highlight the vanilla, while coaxing new notes out of the chocolate. Barrels can lend a distinctive spiciness to a brew, and that can aid even the most plain jane cookie.

Ginger Cookies and English IPAs

English IPAs have a spiciness that their American counterparts often lack, and that makes them perfect in this combo, where they can pull out the ginger and other spice notes from the cookie. In addition, English IPAs may have marmalade notes, and you’ll be surprised by how well this works with the ginger.

 

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies and Sour Ales

If there’s a cookie that has at least a pretence of healthy, it’s oatmeal raisin. However, the chewy, gluey mouthfeel can really coat the mouth and remind you of your morning bowl of porridge. The answer is to cleanse the palate with something acidic and light. Any sour ale would make a good suitor, but the perfect match may be a flanders red or fruited sour, where the raisins can find their reflection.

Sugar Cookies and Barleywines

The sugar cookie is a holiday staple with a limited ingredient list, but when done correctly, it delivers a buttery, sugary punch. The smooth caramel notes of a barleywine can pick up on this, while adding some layers of complexity. The higher alcohol content and any prominent hopping can round off the palate into a satisfying finish, leaving you ready for the next bite.

Salted Caramel Cookies and Old Ales

When my son brought home a tub of this cookie dough, much experimentation was had before I realized that not only did it require something with toffee-like malts, but also something that could clip a potentially too-sweet finish. Old Ales tend to have a higher alcohol content, as well as a robust malt profile, so they deliver on both fronts.

While the suggestions above are a good start, you may want to try to find your own unique pairing. If you adopt this approach we have two recommendations to make. Firstly, have an open mind. Sure, there are tried and true styles, but do you really want to close off potential surprise hits? Secondly, there’s an inherent riskiness that you’ll screw up big time, so have a couple beers on hand. Hopefully one of them will work, and if not, at least you’ve got a head start on forgetting your failure.

 

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THE MARITIMES – Craig Pinhey

LONG BAY BREWING COMPANY – ROTHESAY, New Brunswick

Chalice Belgian Ale 6.5% ABV 29 IBU

I chose Chalice as one of my holiday selections because I enjoy strong, spicy ales on cold winter days, but not sweet, overly spicy or flavoured versions. This is one of the more authentic Belgian influenced strong blonde ales I’ve had in North America. It has a great label, too. 

Chalice pours with a white head that dissipates fairly quickly. It is deep gold and slightly hazy. It’s spicy on the nose, with cloves, which I expect from using an appropriate Belgian yeast. There’s also spice from a small addition of Grains of Paradise with a touch of fruitiness there as well.

The carbonation is fine, although head retention could be better. The body is medium and the palate is a combination of spice and biscuity malt. Chalice finishes refreshingly dry and clean, with balancing hop bitterness.   

GARRISON BREWING – HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA

Ol’ Fog Burner Barley Wine 11.3% ABV 100 IBU

Another holiday tradition is the release (and consumption) of Garrison’s legendary Ol’ Fog Burner. This potent brew is a perfect drink to warm up after coming in from the cold. They also make a one-year barrel aged version which is excellent, but I prefer the purity and dryness of the non barrel aged version.

It pours silky smooth, with a fine creamy head which disappears pretty fast. It looks gorgeous, glowing with orange/copper tones and the nose is super fruity, with citrus, as well as spice. Part of the fruitiness is fermentation related I expect, but it is also the hops (Cascade, Amarillo, Citra, El Dorado and Warrior) as well. 

It’s a delicious beer with great texture and balance, and plenty of toffee malt, ample bitterness to balance, and the aforementioned fruit and spice. It’s dangerously strong, but holds its alcohol well. It finishes appropriately dry, with initial bitterness, then a long, lingering maltiness.

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by Stephen Beaumont

 

Well, it’s getting to the end of the year, which means it’s time for every writer worth their printer ink to start making lists. And since I have no problem caving in to peer pressure, I’ve decided to make mine a list of things I am very grateful for in beer this year, and what I expect to worry about in 2019.

I’m happy for…the brewery taproom experience. Every town and city I visit these days, including my hometown of Toronto, seems replete with brewery taps, and that is very much a good thing. The taproom allows the brewery to both control the quality of their beer, thus eliminating issues arising from old stock, dirty lines and grimy glassware, while also presenting a clear picture of themselves to the customer.

But I worry about…tensions arising between bars and restaurants and brewery taps. Increasingly, I hear about bar and restaurant owners and managers taking issue with brewery taprooms that are selling their beer in direct competition, sometimes just down the street and for less than a licenced establishment can afford. I expect such tensions to rise further in 2019.

I’m happy for…the astounding creativity found in brewing these days. Yes, sometimes a beer will evoke the old ‘Just because you can doesn’t mean you should’ sentiment, but equally I find myself facing down beer concepts that should be rubbish, but are actually quite wonderful.

But I worry about…the infantilization of beer. Microbrewing was born of bringing adult tastes back to beer, things like bitterness and alcohol that tastes like alcohol. These days, however, a growing number of beers are becoming either gimmicky or juvenile, and when we have to start questioning the difference between a milkshake beer that looks and tastes like a fruit smoothie and major brewery fruit beer that looks and tastes like a soda, well, that’s a pretty slippery slope.

I’m happy for…the resurgence of quality golden lagers. Where I used to have to shop European to find a decent helles or pilsner, I can now find great locally brewed lagers almost everywhere I travel in North America. And savvy beer drinkers seem to be responding with great enthusiasm!

But I worry about…a flood of poorly-conditioned lagers hitting bar taps and store shelves. As golden lagers grow in popularity, there will be the temptation to get new brands into the market, which could well result in the arrival of all sorts of under-conditioned, three-week lagers. And that’s almost certain to drive savvy beer drinkers away from the category again.

I’m happy for…the popularization of mixed fermentation beers. As a long-time fan of lambics and Flemish red ales and the like, it’s heartening to see such beers reaching much-deserved popularity, even if it does mean that I now have to pay more for them.

But I worry about…the equivalency of long-aged mixed fermentation beers and ‘kettle sours.’ If you’ve ever tasted a Drie Fonteinen Gueuze or Rodenbach Vintage or Russian River Beatification and then shifted to a kettle sour, you’ll appreciate that the much longer aged beers have a complexity, depth and character that no kettle sour can match. Yet all these beers, including simple kettle sours, are often grouped under the banner of ‘sour beers,’ as if they were equals.

And finally…

I’m happy for…the popularization of IPA.

But I worry about…never again seeing a glass of beautiful, golden, crystal clear India pale ale.

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December’s Latest, Greatest Releases
Rob Symes

Winter means many things, but for beer, it usually means heavier, more intense and more flavour-forward brews. If you’re expecting your local brewery to release a new pilsner, now is probably not the time to go on the hunt, but, if you’re a fan of all things big and seasonal, the holidays just came early. Below is a roundup of some of our favourite releases in the month of December:

Alberta

Take note, because even if the availability of this beer dwindles by the time you read this post, there are more delicious instalments on the way. Calgary’s Alley Kat is a stalwart of the Alberta scene, and they’re in the midst of their Dragon Double IPA series. It’s all a bit Game of Thrones, but their latest version, Veridian Dragon (7.5%), delivers an alcohol punch with bitter pine in the finish.

British Columbia

Old Yale Brewing has announced its third annual 12 Days of Beermas, available exclusively at the brewery taproom from December 12th. A new beer will be released each day, and announced on social media, all the way until December 23rd. All beers TBA.

Also, back for its 11th appearance is Driftwood’s Old Cellar Dweller Barleywine. Clocking in at 10.3%, this brew is fantastic to drink now, and has also shown that it can hold its own if laid away for a few years. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to make 2018 part of a future vertical.

New Brunswick

Picaroons is releasing not one, but two brews in time for the holidays. Blitzen Coffee Porter (5%) is described as “a rich, dark and decadent coffee porter with notes of vanilla and hazelnut that’s all wrapped up in a silky smooth mouthfeel.” Meanwhile Xmas Tree IPA is brewed with generous amounts of spruce tips, that are accentuated though the use of simcoe and chinook hops to create a chewy, resinous experience, and at 8% this brew is nothing to be sniffed at.

Nova Scotia

Their crosstown neighbours have an award-worthy baltic porter of their own, and now Halifax’s Propeller Brewery is getting into the mix. The Barrel Aged Baltic Porter (7.5%) is described as, “Dark and complex, with roasted coffee and toffee aromas and hints of raisin and dark cherry. After a lengthy stay in oak bourbon barrels, aromas flavours of vanilla and caramel are accentuated along with distinct bourbon influence.”

Prince Edward Island

For one of the season’s bigger releases, head to PEI, where PEI Brewing has announced the arrival of their 10.5% Barrel Aged Barleywine. Brewed in the English style, it has a rich, sweet taste, mild carbonation, and balanced bitterness, complimented by extended aging in Kentucky bourbon barrels.

Ontario

Sours aren’t just for Summer (at least according to Toronto’s Muddy York Brewing). Krampus Dark Sour with Cherry (6%), named after a child-stealing demon, who represents the slightly more metal side of the season. This ale promises notes of roasted malts, sour cherry and mulled wine.

Saskatchewan

Rebellion Brewing has released a new winter beer, and they describe their Coconut Cream Stout (6.5%) as follows, “A decadent stout, rich with flavours of toasted coconut, milk chocolate and a hint of espresso. It’s perfect with a slice of cheesecake or a chocolate fudge brownie.”

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By Rob Symes

The holiday season is here, and if you need to grab a gift for a craft beer lover, we have a few ideas for you:

For the social drinker: Wooden Beer Caddy

If your craft beer lover likes to share a selection with friends, then you’ll have seen them carry their beers in a cardboard six-pack or backpack. Give them something more durable, stylish and practical with a beautiful wooden six-pack. A number are available on the market, but this version comes with a built-in bottle opener. Probably impractical for regular use, but good in a pinch when the opener is misplaced later in the evening. The big plus of a wooden carrier is that you don’t have to worry about wet cardboard spilling liquid gold over the sidewalk.

For the thinker: Beer Education

Whether new to craft or wise beyond their years, education can always provide new insights to the drinker. Because of the wide range of courses available, there is something for everyone, whether an introduction to styles for the novice, or an analysis of off-flavours for the expert.

For the competitive drinker: Beer Boardgames

Check out something like Brewcrafters – a euro-style boardgames of resource management, where you take control of a craft brewery, with the goal of developing the greatest beers and flourishing as a loved treasure. Alternatively, if a simpler, more drinking-angled game is preferred, try The Red Dragon Inn, where the last play sober-enough and shrewd enough to hold on to all their gold coins wins the game.

For the ticker: Beer subscription / club

Beer of the month clubs have proliferated, along with brewery-specific clubs.  What’s not to love – unique brews delivered direct to the door or available for local pick up. Tickers are hard to satisfy because they’re usually willing to put in a few kilometres to get something new, which is why you have to go a few further. A subscription or club can provide that, along with something truly novel.

For the homebrewer: Personalized tap handle

If you have a dedicated homebrewer in your life, chances are they may have some form of kegerator hooked up. The downside of this, is that while bottles may have intricately custom-designed labels, keg systems often use plain standard taps. That doesn’t need to be the case, and there are a number of sellers on etsy and elsewhere who can provide you with custom tap handles. Laser etched designs on wood can be as simple or complex as you can agree with a designer, with prices typically beginning around $35.

For everyone: Beer

Sometimes we overthink gifts. If you have a beer lover in your life, perhaps the best gift of all is… beer. It’s not the cop out it seems because your recipient has already demonstrated a proven love for this exact gift! Here’s the thing though, not all beers are created equal. Rather than gift something readily available, go the extra mile by visiting a craft brewery and picking up some beverages not available in local retail stores.

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