Sunday, December 1, 2013

24 Days of Beer

24 Days of Beer

Those of you who know me, know I like beer. All beer, any beer. I can be all sophisticated and sip wines that have been expertly paired with the meal I am eating, but if I had to choose, I'll always choose beer. I like cold, crisp clean beers on a hot summer day and I love rich, dark malty beers on a cool winter evening. I love them hoppy, bitter and strong. I love the skunky smell you get from some beers and the citrus kick from others. I love them all.

I feel pretty happy at the bistro these days. I have a lovely selection of beers on tap. We have two perennial favourites from Half Pints, the St. James Pale and Bulldog Amber. We have a tasty bitter from Russel Brewing, the Blood Alley. I have a tasty wheat beer for the wheatiest province in the confederation, the Saskatcheweizen from Paddock Wood. And the newest member of our craft beer family,  we have the Paper Maker Pilsner from Lake of the Woods Brewing in Kenora, ON. This is a German style Pilsner made in the Krozenen (sp?) style which makes for a particularly smooth beer through an extra round of fermentation.

Today, December 1st, I am particularly lucky. My lovely, and thoughtful wife, gave me a Craft Beer Advent Calendar. So, for the next 24 days, I get to enjoy a variety of Craft beers from Across North America. And you know what, I am going to share them with you.

Well, not actually share them. I like you just fine, but not that much. I am going to drink the beers all by myself, and then tell you all about them.

Day One: Maple Porter from Nickel Brook.
I  can't figure out why this brewery has two names, It is Nickel Brook, but the company is called Better Bitters Brewing, but I am enjoying this beer. Brewed in Burlington Ontario, this beer is a rich, dark, chocolatey stout. The first thing you notice when you pour it, is that is has a substantial, very rich and frothy head. Pour it carefully. The maple syrup used is a dark syrup and it is added at the beginning of the fermentation process to give the beer a distinct maple syrup flavour with out adding the unpleasant sweetness you can expect from other maple beers. You can taste coffee, molasses, burnt caramel notes. This beer is bitter, but not the same bitterness you have been tasting in over hopped IPA'S. It is more the bitterness you get from coffee that has been in the pot too long. This Maple Porter is a very tasty and well-crafted beer. If you like Young's Double Chocolate Stout or the Localy brewed Stir Stick, you will enjoy this one.

I am excited for day 2.

Day 2: Kudzu Porter from Back Forty Beer Company.

Back to back porters, this is probably the first beer I've ever tried from Alabama. It's fun to compare these two porters side by side. This one still has the burnt sugar, molasses tastes, but is a much lighter/thinner beer than the Nickel Brook. Only half a percent less alcohol at 5.5% than the maple stout, this beer goes down much quicker. Although I think I prefer the richness of yesterday's beer, this one I could drink a couple where yesterdays I would stop at only one. In addition to the dark caramel notes, the Kudzu has a nice toasted nut flavour as well as a hint of orange zest. Very enjoyable, this makes me want to try other Back Forty Beers with great names such as Truckstop Honey and Naked Pig. While yesterday's beer had an excess of creamy "Guinness style" froth, the Kudzu poured with almost no head. Kudzu is a very tasty beer, can't wait till tomorrow!


Day 3: Cucapa Obscuro

They describe this beer as an american brown ale. It actually reminded me of our own Fort Garry Dark. It is dark in colour, but not overly heavy in taste. It is quite easy drinking, not very bitter, and quite refreshing. The Obscura has some pleasant nuttiness, some brown sugar and a nice woody finish. The bottle describes it as "cerveza robusto de cuerpo mediano". They describe their beer as the "only Mexican beer that doesn't need a lime to taste better." I  didn't need a lime to enjoy this one.

Day 4: 39 1/2 Foot Pole by Yukon Brewing

Named after a line from the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, "I wouldn't touch you with a 39 1/2 foot pole", this seasonal ale is infused with black currant. What I like about it, is that the black currant is subtle. I am not usually a huge fan of fruit beers, but Yukon Brewing handles this well. You catch the fruit in the nose and in the first sip, but then it fades away to clean beer flavour. I like the brightness of this beer with refreshing acidity and just a hint of sweetness. Although it is a strong beer, at %6.7 it goes down real easy. This beer will warm your heart, even if it is two sizes too small.

Day 5: Hurricane Amber Ale from Newport Storm

Remember when  Starbucks first came to town and we all got excited because finally a chain coffee shop was providing us with the rich flavour of a dark roast coffee? And then we realized they were over-doing it, the coffee all tasted burnt.  I feel the same way about the new trend towards super hoppy IPA's. We are all happy that they are taking us away from ice-filtered cold-brewed beer with no beer flavour beers, but sometimes I feel they are just overdoing it. I can enjoy one, but i feel its just too much. This is why I really enjoyed this amber ale from Rhode Island. The Hurricane, their flagship beer, was their first and still their best seller, is an exercise in balance. It has enough hoppy bitterness to make the IPA fans happy, but it balances this with the creamy maltiness of a great british ale. I really enjoyed this beer. On a cold winter day, I feel that a nice malty beer, resplendent with caramel and toasted nutty notes, is like a warm blanket beside the fire. This beer, would definitely provide shelter from the storm.

Day 6: Moose Knuckle Winter Porter

Okay, once you get past the funny name, this is a serious beer. This seasonal beer is from Grizzly Paw Brewing in Canmore, Alberta. Grizzly Paw started its life as a brew pub, and quickly became a microbrewery, outgrowing its space a couple of times in a quest to keep up to its demand. This almost black porter is rich with lots of dark roasted flavours; Dark coffee, burnt almond, bitter chocolate. I would have liked a little more weight to it and a little more creaminess to adhere to all those nice roasted flavours.

Day 7: Existent, American Farmhouse Ale

Probably the only beer that quotes Nietzche in its description, "and if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you". At %7.4 this is a strong beer from Stillwater Artisanal Ales in Baltimore, Maryland.  This beer is quite dry, has some dried fruit notes, toasted malt and just enough hops.

Day 8: Spark House Red Ale

So far, I think this is my favourite beer in the set. I really enjoyed this beer, from first sudsy sip to the bottom of the glass. This Irish style red ale brewed by Lake of Bays Brewery in Baysville, On. This beer pours a rich dark red colour with a thick creamy head. This ale has a subtle smokiness, delicious english toffee, a pronounced malted barley balanced with hoppy bitterness. This is definitely a beer I will try to find more of and I would like to try more beers from Lake of Bays.

Day 9: Tap It India Pale Ale
This craft brewery out of california sponsors a nascar car. That should be enough to earn it some cool points. The website is loud and agressive and could probably cause seizures in some poeple, but the beer is easy to drink. Tap It IPA lands right in the middle between the aggressively hoppy IPA's the hipsters and beer geeks love and the bland, but easy drinking IPA's that some people refuse to even call IPA's. (I'm looking at you, Mr. Keith) The hops in this beer take on a more citrus flavour, with orange and grapefruit notes. The citrus taste, makes this beer go down easy. But its not a simple beer. It has enough bitterness and complexity to make beer lovers happy.

The Problem with writing a nightly blog about beer is I find I am running out of ways of saying "toasty" or "hoppy". I feel that all good beers display similar characteristics. The best beers are made from the same few ingredients, hops, barley, yeast and water. They employ different types of hops and different yeasts, how dark they malt the barley, how they ferment or how long they age the beers, these factors all effect the taste, but they are still using the same basic ingredients and the same basic technique. So, in describing the beers, I find myself repeating the same words, over an over again.  This does not make for good writing. However, what I find most fascinating about this project, is that even with this limited palette of ingredients and techniques, the craft brewer is able to make wildly different beers. In each beer, the way in which the small set of flavours interacts, is what makes the beers unique.  Each beer on this list, has been wildly different, even though they all contain the same ingredients and the same tastes. So, I guess its a failure of language, or my ability to use language, so my best advice, is to seek these beers out and try them for yourself.

Day 10: Truck Stop Honey

Nothing complicated about this beer from Back Forty Brewing. Tasty, easy drinking. You can taste the honey, but it doesn't make it sweet. Nice barley flavour, this medium brown ale tastes like a beer should taste.

Day 11: Newport Storm IPA

Another very tasty IPA, but I can't figure out why they called it India Point Ale instead of "Pale" ale. I checked their website and I tried using the google, but no luck. If you know, please comment. This one is nicely balanced with a good hop presence. Perhaps the most remarkable feature, was the nose of this beer was filled with flowers.

I did learn something interesting the other day from the bartender at Barley Brothers. Apparently this style of beer originated when British brewers needed to export their beers to India. In order to survive the lengthy journey, they fermented almost all of the sugars out of the beer, and over hopped it as a way of preserving it. Today, in England, the term IPA is generally used for beers with lower alcohol content. In Canada and the US, the tradition of hoppy IPA's has survived and these days are the biggest trend in craft beers. There is a style difference between the east and west cost IPA's. East coast IPA's have a stronger malt presence, where on the west coast, they go heavy on the hops. North American IPA's tend to use american hop varieties.

Day 12: Cameron Auburn Ale

This beautifully red brown ale is brewed in Oakville, ON. Their website claims it is "Brewed by a connoisseur, not an accountant". I suppose that might be the very definition of a craft beer. I've enjoyed this brewers Deviator Dopplebock before, but this auburn, their flagship beer, was new to me. It was exactly what I want in a beer when I am sitting down for a little relaxation. Well balanced, nicely malty,  but with enough going on to keep you entertained. Citrus notes and toasted nutty notes trade places as you sip this beer. No rough edges here, this beer is smooth.

Day 13: Peak Organic

Sometimes a label oversells a beer that under delivers. This is a righteous beer, fair trade certified, organic, you can feel good about drinking this beer from Portland, Maine. And although it wasn't a bad beer, it wasn't a great beer. Medium body, medium colour, the promised espresso flavour tasted more like diner brewed coffee. The coffee, instead of adding a richness, like it does in Mill Street's Coffee Porter or Half Pint's Stir Stick Stout, just gave the beer a harsh edge. This brewery has a wide range of products and I would like to try other beers in their family.

Day 14: Bolshevik Bastard

My teenage rebellion was to claim I was a bolsheviek. My family had to flee their homes when the Russians marched in, so being a communist was probably the worst thing I could be. Although I still lean left, the longer I am in business the more I tilt right. My uncle would be proud.

This beer, from Nickel Brook, is aggressive. It is thick like molasses and strong. It is called an Imperial stout, which I have learnt means double fermented. This accounts for it's high, %8.5, alcohol content. Getting through this beer requires stamina and moral fortitude. I enjoyed it, I am always up for a challenge, but I would only ever want to drink one of these bastards. This beer makes Guinness look like bud light.

Day 15: Hollow Point

My first reaction to this beer's guns and ammo motif was that it was quite funny. Then, maybe when I realized that this brewery was in Connecticut, I started to wonder whether such a motif was appropriate coming from a place so recently dealing with a tragic act of gun violence, coming from a society that seems to be plagued by daily acts of gun violence.

However, I didn't let my political musings prevent myself from drinking this beer. Neither do I believe that the brewers are making any pro-gun statement in how they label their beer.

This is the strongest beer in the set so far. At 10% alcohol, this beer has fumes coming off of it when you inhale. Hollow Point is quadruple distilled; I have never heard of that! This beer tastes like someone dropped a shot of whisky in it before they handed you the glass. Don't drink this beer on an empty stomach, it will burn.

When I first tasted the beer, I used the whisky analogy to describe the strength of the beer, but as I sipped (and it is a sipper), I began to feel that this is a beer that tastes like a whisky. More rye than bourbon, this is a beer for whisky lovers.

My friend Kevin Bailey ( said that this was "easily the most impressive beer so far in the #AdventBeerBox".

Day 16: Crosswind Pale Ale

Another beer from Baysville, ON. This is the lightest beer we have had so far. When you pour it out, it looks like a Keiths or a Standard. However, looks can be deceiving. This beer is far from simple. This beer has a strong hops presence that moves from citrus to earthy to floral. Not overly aggressive, this pale has enough bitterness to keep the beer geeks happy, but is definitely sessionable and would not feel out of place in an ice filled cooler on a dock by a lake on a beautiful summer day.

Day 17: Hedonism Red Ale

Ruckus brewing makes three beers, Hedonism, Euphoria and the brilliantly named "Hoptimus Prime". This brewery makes no bones about the fact that they are all about hops. This is a red ale, made in the Irish style, with a nice creamy head, but has a solid kick of bitter hops. Red or amber ales tend to have a little sweetness and creaminess, this one, kicks all that out of the way and showcases hops to rival any craft IPA. If you like lemon peel, not the nice yellow zesty part, but the nasty white pith, you will love this beer. I also catch some burnt almond. The bitterness is like the bitterness of radicchio. This is not a beer for everyone, but if you like bitter hops this is the beer for you.

Day 18: Cameron's Cream Ale
Another fine beer from Oakville Ontario, this one a tasty cream ale. Light in colour this beer has a thick creamy froth. There is nothing particularly remarkable about this beer, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with it either. Enjoyable, went down in about 2 sips.

Day 19: Newport Storm Blueberry

I have to admit when I saw the word "blueberry" on the label I panicked. I am not a big fan of fruit flavoured beers. (unless its that crazy grapefruit beer that goes down super quick on a hot day on the beach) I was also a little disappointed to see another bottle from Newport Storm. Its not that I dislike the brewery, in fact I have enjoyed the beers from Newport very much. However, with the number of craft breweries available in North America I am not sure why in a twenty four beer collection we have to have repeats. They should have been able to find twenty four distinct breweries. I get the feeling that this calendar was put together by a broker and the beers are all beers he represents. But anyway, back to this beer.

So, its a blueberry beer. I was surprised how light in colour it was, I expected it to be a little more... well... blue. The nose was incredible. It was like sticking your shnozz into a basket of freshly picked blueberries. The blueberry flavour was a lot more subtle. Which I appreciated, and the beer was not at all sweet, which I also appreciated. But you kept coming back to this incredible blueberry aroma. I must say this beer was well done.

Day 20: Lighthouse Winter Ale

This beer from Victoria BC is made in the classic british "Winter Warmer" Style. Dark and smooth, this beer has christmas-y flavours without being overly "spiced" and has notes of dark rum.  There are enough nice figgy dried fruit flavours to make you feel like you are having a piece of christmas fruit cake. I would have liked it if it were a little more frothy. This brewery uses sustainable brewing practices.

so... christmas happened and I dropped the ball... 4 beers to go!

Day 21: Hop Noir by Peak Organic

This was a much better offering from Peak. A rich, malty black ale with a very thick and creamy suds. Heavily hopped, this beer is balanced out with a delicious roasted sweetness. I was catching all kinds of interesting spice notes. You know those flavors that you recognize but "just can't put my finger on it?" This beer was full of those.

Day 22: Tap it American Ale

Just not very good at all.

Day 23: Evil Twin, Low Life

Under-promise, over deliver.

"A clever woman once said; ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’. On that note we threw in a young, unacknowledged hoppy pilsner gave it a limp, wrinkly flavor and finished it off with an insulting high price that will give you a foul feeling in your mouth. That’s why we name Evil Twin Brewing’s Low Life the Golddigger of Beers."

It was actually very tasty. It was like the craft beer version of a "standard". Tasty and fun.

Day 24: Dunham Black IPA

Seriously people, Black IPA? Who thought up this name? Black India PALE ale. Clearly, a contradiction. Maybe the first person to do this thought it was funny, but the second person? I get it, it is a black ale made in the hoppy style of an IPA, but couldn't we call it a India-style Black Ale?

Anyways, this Black IPA was delicious. Maybe the best Black IPA of the set. Ridiculously creamy, thick and frothy, toasty malty notes. I enjoyed this in the middle of the afternoon before heading off to church for the Christmas Eve service. It was the perfect little respite in a the busy maelstrom of Christmas.

This Beer Advent calendar was lots of fun. On the whole, lots of very tasty beers. It was so much fun to discover a different little gift each day. It also made me want to change the way I enjoy beers. Instead of sitting down with a six of Lucky, I want to make each beer I enjoy a special moment, a new experience. So now, when I go to the LC, I pick out a couple nice craft beers and really savour them. (ok, sometimes I'll still grab a six of lucky)

I suggested that my next blog would be 365 Beers: A year of tasting craft beers. This plan was vetoed.

Looking forward to next year's Whisky Advent Calendar.