Around 2009 when I was first getting into the crazy world of beer Halifax, Nova Scotia’s Garrison Brewing was one of the first interesting Canadian microbreweries to hit Alberta shelves. At the time the craft beer available in Alberta was mostly limited to German, English and the local Canadian breweries. A few American microbreweries would soon enter the scene. Garrison was one of my favourite breweries because of their flagship East Coast Pale Ale and their good seasonal brews like their high alcohol Barley wine and Baltic Porter. After the saturation of the market with tons of European and American breweries Garrison fell by the wayside a bit with so many choices for interesting brews. The Garrison Spruce Beer is an interesting style with an incredible mixture of ingredients. Brewed with spruce and fir tips, blackstrap molasses, dates, oats and high alpha acid Citra hops. The Spruce Beer has a moderate 35 IBU’s and an ABV of 7.5%.
Pouring out a dark, ebony black with burgundy hues in the body and a finger of light tan head on top. There are several blotches of beige lacing left all over the glass. The aroma is spiked with floral and medicinal aromas of spruce and fir needles. Notes of caramel, toffee and molasses and a nice toasted malt base. The first sip has a syrupy sweetness with light notes of dark fruit like dates, prunes or raisins. A good dark malt base with toffee and toasty caramel malt notes. The spruce notes come in towards the finish along with the moderate hit of Citra hops. Medicinal and herbal flavours with a light minty note are left on the finish with mild astringency and bitterness. A nice blend of styles with an ingenuity in the ingredients that is rare in beers like this. The citra hops and dates add a nice complement and contrast to the dark malts and spruce notes. An interesting brew that also ends up being incredibly tasty.
Surrey, British Columbia’s Central City Brewing Company has built a reputation in the Canadian craft beer community for making great and unique brews. Most well known for the Red Racer IPA which is consistently voted the best IPA in Canada. For the 2014 Christmas season Central City has brewed Gingerhead, a 6% ABV stout with natural ginger used in the brewing process.
Opening the bottle and pouring a completely opaque black body fills the glass. Sitting atop is a puffy, bubbly beige head that dies almost instantly leaving but a few splotchy rings on the glass. The aroma is laden with tantalizing notes of gingerbread cookies and ginger spice. Notes of roasted malt including subtle hints of espresso and vanilla are also found on the aroma. My first sip of Gingerhead has a moderate ginger spice and a sweet, rich malt composed of roasted barley, chocolate and subtle vanilla. The finish is smooth, light and slightly creamy with a lingering aftertaste of roasted malt and ginerbread. The body is a bit watery and mild mannered. Overall I commend Central’s City choice in making a Gingerbread Stout instead of a spiced strong ale that most breweries make for the holidays. I can’t say I’ll try this one again as I found it monotone and a bit boring.
Alberta based importer A.Z. has been bringing exciting and new Californian beers into Alberta for the past 13 months or so. Moylans Brewing based in Novato, California is one of A.Z.’s newest arrivals with a good selection of typical Californian or West Coast style beers hitting the shelves in Alberta. With 6% ABV and a profile of spices that includes curacao, mace, white pepper, cinnamon and coriander White Christmas is technically classified as a spiced beer. Moylan’s is most well known for the hop bomb called Hopsickle that is an absolute bombastic 9.2% brew featuring upwards of 90 IBU’s. White Christmas is aimed towards being a winter warmer with the spice profile to prove it.
Pouring out a murky and muddled amber colour in the body the head is steadfast with an appearance of thick soapy yellow that leaves streaks of lacing around the glass. A first incidental sniff has a bit of a spice overabundance with notes of cinnamon, allspice, coriander and nutmeg filling the olfactory senses. Mild caramel and toasted bread malts blend moderately well despite the heavy spice blend. Notes of fake vanilla bean, toffee, caramel and brown sugar are all rather moderate. The body is full and a bit slick with a good malt to spice balance overall despite have a lingering spice profile overall. Not exactly my cup of tea in general but I can certainly see the appeal of this style to many amateur beer drinkers.
With a bit of an impromptu return to the Alberta craft beer scene, Seattle’s Elysian Brewery has returned with a 650mL bomber of their pumpkin ale Night Owl hitting the shelves these past days. To be completely honest with the readers, I will not pretend to be a fan of pumpkin beers and the like. I find pumpkin beers to be a style lacking originality and creativity with moth beers tasting similar to others of the style. Night Owl is brewed with pumpkin, pumpkin seeds and is fermented with spices. Elysian Night Owl is brewed with over 7 lbs. of pumpkin per barrel and spiced in conditioning with nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, ginger and allspice. Despite the sessionable but higher 5.9% ABV Night Owl should be beer unlikely to impress me due to my skepticism.
Pouring out a dark amber with an orange glow in the body and a cap of thin off white head. So far Night Owl looks like most pumpkin ales I have experienced. The nose has a beautiful essence of pumpkin spice and a mild vegetable like pumpkin aroma. Notes of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg are duly noted on the aroma with a mild toffee and caramel malt. The flavour profile albiet mild and easy going had a solid spiced complex with notes of cloves, cinnamon and allspice blending with malt notes of nuts, toffee, caramel and rye bread. A good balance in the mid palate with almost no hop bitterness on the finish. The finish is replete with a pumpkin like flavour that lingers for about 10 seconds before dying down. Night Owl has an interesting profile and is honest to god one of the first pumpin ales I actually found enjoyable. Overall the balance of spices, pumpkin and malt is well done and gives a great profile of delectable flavours.
Baltimore, Maryland’s Stillwater Artisinal Ales is one of America’s most well known brewers of farmhouse styles beers. I recently uploaded a video review of Stillwater’s As Follows a Belgian Strong Ale and was very surprised by Stillwaters flavorful yeast strain. Debutante is a Farmhouse Ale brewed to 6.4% ABV and crafted in the style of Biere de Garde. Debutante is brewed with spelt and rye along with heather, honeysuckle, and hyssop. Biere de Garde is a style traditionally brewed in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.
Stillwater Debutante pours out a bright and sparkling golden orange with a fizzy densely bubbled head. A few lacing rings stick easily to the glass as I swirl a few times. A first small sniff and I note a pleasant estery spritz of citrus fruit, floral hops, musty barnyard notes as well as mild herbal aroma. Debutante has a generally pleasant and bright aroma that reminds me of the best saison beers and a blend of grassy herbs. A bit of a toasted bready malt that blends well with a refreshing bouquet of herbs, citrus, mild hops and a musty ester essence. The finish is refreshing and crisp with a relatively mild bitterness. The spices and herbs that Debutante is brewed with aren’t individually notes in the flavour but come through as a mild floral spiced note. Overall Debutante is certainly unique and tends to remind me of a cross between a spiced wit beer and a saison.
East Vancouver’s newest and best craft brewery has been releasing some of British Columbia’s most inventive craft beers. Last fall they released the spixed pumpkin ale Schadenfreude to many accolades. A stronger big bottle version which includes chocolate malt was made available in Alberta this paat week. Lost Souls is a 6.8% ABV stronger porter classified as a spice or vegetable ale.
Pouring out a nearly opaque black with a thin beige head that settles quickly to nothing. The body has a slick almost syrupy appearance in the glass. Leaning in for a first smell I notice a mild pumpkin and spice combo of ginger, cloves and cinnamon. Beautiful roasted malts, toasted nuts and toffee balance out the spice in the aroma. The mid palate is sweet and syrup-like with moderately bitter roasted malts and an overlying vegetable like flavor. The finish is mildly bitter with a heavy spice and pumpkin taste that fades with the bitter finish. Overall Lost Souls is a good brew that exhibits an interesting new side of pumpkin beers.
Several months ago I wrote a review of Le Bilboquet Microbrasserie’s MacKroken; a heavily malted Scotch style ale with tons of robust character and peaty smoked notes. The small brewery located in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec is well known for creating unique yet traditional brews (like many Quebec breweries). L’Affriolante is a stylized as a heavy amber ale but brewed with local honey and spices. At 7% ABV this beer should be perfect as a beer for a winter night with a boozy warmth and an extra kick of spice to warm you up.
Pouring out a silken amber colour with a thick foamy head with soapy density and mild body carbonation. After a few short moments the head fizzles away and leaves a half inch cap of creamy beige foam atop the mild amber body. A wafting spice aroma with components of nutmeg, allspice, cloves and coriander accompany a mild roasted malt, toffee and brown sugar notes. A nice spicy aroma overall with a mild malt character peeking through the blend of spices. A bit sweet and peckish to start with mild caramel and toffee notes, a hint of honey or brown sugar and a rather full body. The spices take over entirely and warm my bones with full nutmeg and allspice notes. The finish has a warm alcohol linger and a noted spice flavor aftertaste. Smooth taste and goes down rather easily for a 7% brew.
Grade: 85/100 Price: $7.00
The Uncommon Brewers founded in 2002 stay true to their name by using extremely unusual and organic ingredients. Located in Santa Cruz, CA the Uncommon Brewer’s have a small but unique repertoire of flagship brews. Their mantra is “uncommon beer for uncommon people” and after looking at the ingredients I couldn’t agree more. The Siamese Twin ale is an 8.5% ABV Belgian Dubbel brewed with Kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, coriander. Unlike most Belgian Dubbels Uncommon Brewer’s further distances themselves from the norm by using 500mL cans rather than bottles. On a past trip to Vancouver I managed to find Uncommon Brewers’ Baltic Porter which is brewed with licorice root and star anise. I was rather impressed by the unique pseudo-Baltic Porter and so the Siamese Twin Ale is similarly interesting to me.
Cracking the can and pouring into a trappist glass, mild carbonation helps form a thin but dense beige head atop a burgundian brown body. Holding the glass up to a light a beautiful ruby red tinge and a slow cascade of bubbles become apparent. The nose has a mild roasted character with an overall fruity aroma. But first and foremost a strong accented coriander and cracked pepper spice waft off the head. Delving deeper into the aroma I find earthen malts with a toffee and caramel sweetness atop the candied Belgian fruit notes. The aroma is in general a nice combination of malt, fruit and spice despite straying from the usual Belgian Dubbel style. My first sip has light caramel and toasted bread malts, toffee and molasses sweetness with a light candied raisin also become present. Beautiful mildly roasted malts and sweetness part to a prominent coriander spice note towards the finish with a bit of lingering on the finish. A hint of citrus fruit and hop bitterness dry out the palate towards the finish. Despite the 8.5% ABV this is remarkably sessionable by taste. Despite all the odd ingredients, this tastes like a Belgian Dubbel except for the intense coriander nbtes and a lighter than usual body. Overall this is a unique and definitely uncommon beer.
At long last the Deschutes Brewery out of Bend, Oregon has become available in Alberta. The fifth largest American craft brewery is known for its unique lineup of session beers as well as their rotating seasonal heavyweights.
The Jubelale is a 6.7% ABV English Strong Ale that has been brewed for the past 25 years with different artwork each year. In the winter of 1988 Jubelale was unveiled as the first seasonal beer ever from Deschutes Brewery.
Jubelale pours out a bright ruby tinted brown mahogany with a bountiful fluffy yellowish head. A steady stream of big bubbles rise to the head as it dies to a thin inch leaving a track of sticky off white lacing along the glass. The nose is heavily malted from the get go with big toffee and caramelized notes. Taking a deeper smell I find brown sugar, molasses, a hint of vanilla and a mild splash of citrus hops. Enticed by this gorgeous aroma I take my first sip with a ton of bready malts, biscuits, toffee and a hint of rye taking the middle. A hint of vanilla and light nutmeg spice with a warming toffee malt character towards the finish. A hint of citrus and resinous hops are mostly lost midst the heavy malt flavours. This isn’t an incredibly well balanced beer and reminds me plenty of the Scottish Wee Heavy style. Overall, a great full bodied and warming heavy beer for the holidays with a fantastic malty character.
Grade: 86 Price: $3.50