Widmer Brothers origins date back to 1979 when homebrewing became legal in the state of Oregon. In 1984 Kurt and Rob Widmer quit their day jobs and opened the Widmers Brother Brewing Company in Portland, Oregon. Widmer Bros. is one of the first craft brewers in a state chock full of great craft breweries. The Barrel Aged ’12 is an imperial version of Widmer’s Brrr Seasonal Ale that has been aged in Kentucky Bourbon barrels and additionally for a year in bottle. Brrrbon touts a heavy 9.5% ABV and 40 IBU’s with the addition of Alchemy, Simcoe and Cascade hops.
The pour is a light amber colour with copper tones on the fringes. The head is soft and fizzy with a colour of off white. Tons of lacing rings are left on the glass as the head subsides. The aroma is rich with barrel aromas and wooden notes as well as mild fruity and hop notes. As the beer warms a bit I notice light floral and spicy hop notes along with apple and light citrus fruits. Light toffee and candied caramel malts in the middle lead with apple and fruity flavours. The finish is heavy and burdened with alcohol presence. A subtle flavour of vanilla pervades on the finish through the wood and barrel flavours. Slight bitterness subsides quickly leaving light sweetness and a mild astringent aftertaste. A good balance overall with a prominent alcohol flavour in the flavour profile.
Over the past several years Alberta has received a treasure trove of new beers to satisfy our appetite for the bigger and better. No single brewery has been more wanted or requested than Escondido, California’s Stone Brewing Co. The beer we have today for review is the Double Bastard Ale which is a hyped up “imperial” take on their flagship Arrogant Bastard Ale. Double Bastard is an 11.2% American Strong Ale by category that has been described as “one lacerative muther of a beer” and that “your feeble palate is grossly inadequate and thus undeserving of this liquid glory.” The Arrogant Bastard Ale has a similar but much less intensive warning.
Opening up the Double Bastard there is no hiss of carbonation which is a bit offputting at first. Pouring a deep and rich amber colour with a clear, sparkly body and a thin beige head that clings to the glass. The aroma is heavy and rich with loads of toffee and caramel malts atop surprisingly sweet and fruity aromas of orange peel and citrus. A bit of spice and bready malts pervade that aroma. The first sip is overly sweet and sugary with toffee and caramel malts, notes of nuts, pine and citrus hop notes and raisin. Towards the finish the fruit notes peter out leaving more hop emphasis with pine and grapefruit resin notes. Alot of biscuity and bready malts leave a rather heavy mouthfeel that comes across a bit oily and thick. The finish is dry and moderately astringent with a surprising smoothness. The alcohol is well hidden but for a slight warmth on the finish. A nice big brew with an interesting profile and a good balance of hops to malt.
One of the newest American craft breweries to launch into Alberta is Spokane, Washington’s No-Li Brewhouse. The Winter Warmer is a 7.5% ABV American Strong Ale and is brewed as a seasonal specialty. No-Li was founded in 2012 and is passionate about using ingredients sourced from the inland Northwest.
Opening up the bottle this Winter Warmer pours out a dark burgundy with a copper hue in the body. The head is full and creamy with a thick, frothy yellowish foam that dies slowly. Tons of lace coats the glass nearly 360 degrees. The aroma is hopped well with boisterous notes of grapefruit and floral hop notes. Aromas of caramel and light toasted toffee are also noted. A bit sweet with mild toffee and hazelnut notes that impart a bit of a richness to the profile. Nice floral and spicy hop notes with added grapefruit and citrus hops notes that balance well with the maltier aspects. Caramel and honeyed malts layer to the finish with a hint of vanilla and hazelnut. The finish has nice notes of spicy hop bitterness with loads of pine resin and mild grapefruit. A great balance between malts and hops in this barley wine esque brew. When I think of a winter brew I usually foresee some sort of toffee malt based brew with unusual spices and fake vanilla extract notes. Being a unique self dubbed Inland NW Winter style brew I love the attempt at originality in a market filled with flavoured and spiced junk.
It was truly a joyous occasion when Albertan’s were able to drop in to their local off-license store and purchase Ninkasi beer. Eugene, Oregon’s Ninkasi Brewing has been near the top of my Christmas list for years. Ever since I first tried one of their brews on a trip to Southern California in 2010 I’ve yearned for more of their delicious brew. Sleighr Double Alt is one of the latest seasonal brews to hit Alberta shelves. At 7.2% this brew is an American twist on the classic Dusseldorf beer style.
Pouring out a dark, nearly opaque brown with a thick creamy tan head that holds nicely. There is some minor carbonation in the body that keeps the head strong. The aroma is overly malty and grainy with light roasted notes, toasty barley and toffee aromas blended with nut and chocolate notes. A bit of a hop aroma is noticed among the throng of malts. A little bit sweet in the mid-palate with a syrupy toffee flavour that adds to the hazelnut flavour and floral hop notes. A bit of vanilla peaks out with light earthy notes before the finish. The finish is slightly warm and boozy with an overall grainy profile and a moderate hop presence. A warming, cozy beer perfect for the cold nights in an armchair. I appreciate the unique take on a Christmas ale and as always, Ninkasi excelled with this brew.
La Guillotine is a Belgian Strong brewed in the triple fermentation method to 8.5% ABV by the Belgian family brewery Huyghe in Melle, Belgium. The Brewery Huyghe is best known as the producer of Delirium Tremens which also comes in the ceramic-like painted bottles. A brewery has been in operation in Melle since 1654 but it wasn’t until 1906 when Leon Huyghe bought the brewery. In 1989 the Huyghe Brewery launched La Guillotine to celebrate the bicentennial of the French Revolution. Within recent decades, Huyghe has bought many breweries and now brews close to 100 beers and brands.
La Guillotine has a brazen copper toned amber appearance with a huge fluffy white head that settles at a snails pace. A few lacing rings form are short lived but the head tends to slide right off the glass. The nose has a bready malt base with spicy yeast notes and an accompanying handful of grassy vegetal hops. A definite alcohol aroma with a hint of honeyed and caramel malts. The first sip is quite sweet with big bready and light caramel toasted malt notes. Hints of lemon rind and citrus fruits with a few pinches of spices blend well in the middle. The finish has a gentle spice that lingers and a moderate hop bitterness. The aftertaste has an impending and lingering alcohol presence that seems unrefined for a triple style beer. After letting La Guillotine warm up to near room temperature I notice more cloves and a cracked black pepper in both the aroma and the taste. The hops have seemed to settle in well and have been covered by quite a forceful alcohol presence throughout the finish leaving a mild bitterness but quite a pungent booze filled aftertaste. Overall, a good Belgian style beer but the unrefined alcohol presence certainly draws away from its overall quality.
Few craft breweries have the ability to put out more than one Christmas seasonal beers annually besides the Danish gypsy brewer Mikkeller. Thanks due to the unique situation at Mikkeller, the brewery is able to release close to ten seasonal Christmas beers. I recently wrote an article on the Fra Til Christmas
porter from Mikkeller which I found to be simply outstanding. Santa’s Little Helper is a annually brewed Belgian Dark Strong Ale brewed to 10.9% ABV. The high alcohol level is achieved by the addition of Belgian candy sugar during the boil.
Santa’s Little Helper pours a purely opaque viscous black oil with a thin dense tan head. A few bubbles slowly seep to the dying layer of head and a pungent rich aroma wafts out of the glass. The nose is incredibly rich and intense with massive chocolate and roasted almost burnt malt aromas. “Santa’s” has an
incredibly sweet molasses and brown sugar richness that accompanies the roasted malts well. This beer has a literally enticing and appetizing aroma that truly defines a great beer.
Taking the first sip I find a sweet, luxurious almost syrupy flavour with intense roasted malts following soon afterwards. Dark ripened and dried fruits joined with dark chocolate and a hint of of nutmeg spice are noted mid palate. I think I may have poured this a bit too cold and I cup the trappist glass to warm it up. The flavour of roasted malts lingers on well into the aftertaste despite a moderate alcohol presence on the finish. As the beer warms up the flavour profile seems to shift and I find more dried and candied fruits predominate. This is just an incredibly diverse and unique beer that I could describe as part Imperial Stout and part Belgian Quadrupel. Overall, Mikkeller never seems to fail and I’d have to say that Santa’s Little Helper sure doesn’t break that rule.
Brouwerij De Ranke located in Dottignies, Belgium opened in 1994 when Nino Bacelle brewed Guldenberg, an Abbey Tripel named after the Guldenberg Abbey in Wevelgem. The Guldenberg Abbey had previously brewed Abbey style beers in the early 1900’s. Stylistically, Guldenberg is a Abbey Tripel with a rather heavy dose of hops so I suppose it falls under the pseduo category of Belgian Strong Ale.
Guldenberg pours out a bright glowing orange with a thick foamy white head that streams endlessly from the bottle. Sparkly effervescence in the body with a fairly sediment heavy appearance. A fresh and floral hop heavy aroma with zesty citrus notes. Taking another long sniff I get bright fruity esters with notes of lemon peel and a hint of tartness with a pinch of black pepper.
My first sip has a burst of floral esters with a ton of fruity flavours including lemon peel, honeydew and bit of green grape. A rather vinous and dry mid palate with a crackingly astringent finish. Mild toasted and wheat malts with a light estery base. For an Abbey Tripel, Guldenberg is rather dry and astringent with a heavy hop finish. Overall, a very well balanced beer with some definite oomph throughout the taste.
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.
If you are a true craft beer fan and have never heard of Danish gypsy brewer Mikkeller you must have been living under a rock for a few years. Mikkeller started in 2006 when homebrewers Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Kristian Klarup Keller decided to join forces and challenge the boundaries of craft brewing. Mikkeller soon got the reputation as a “phantom” or “gypsy” because they brew at a several different breweries and don’t house a brewery of their own. Instead of a brewery, Mikkeller uses its world famous Mikkeller bar in Copenhagen as its base for wacky new experiments. Since 2006, Mikkeller has brewed more unique beers than any other brewery eclipsing the 400 mark. Mikkeller has made a name for itself for its use of unique barrel woods and the use of ingredients as odd as hot peppers and civetcat coffee (coffee harvested after ingestion and excretion from civetcats, a weasel like creature).
Fra Til Christmas Porter is an 8% ABV Imperial/Baltic Porter by style brewed at De Proefbrouwerij in Belgium. The name is actually means From, To and the label is fashioned as a label on a Christmas present. Fra Til is brewed with a blend of unique spices as well as cassonade sugar.
Gently pouring this into a glass I am met with some of the most absurdly foamy, whipped head making it quite difficult to salvage a decent pour. After settling down a bit, Fra Til coats the glass with a ton of outrageous mocha coloured lacing. The body is an entirely opaque ebony black with a dying head of dark tan. Giving the glass a swirl, a solid stream of bubbles poke their way through the now thin cap of appetizing tan head. The first scent off the nose I get is a seriously intense roasted malt with huge chocolate and espresso notes. A hint of woody smoke, with a light spice blend including subtle scent of anise and gingerbread. The aroma is so appetizing and enticing with the warmth of a true Christmas ale.
Like a Baltic Porter or Imperial Porter should have, Fra Til has alot of sweetness and a syrupy mouthfeel throughout. A strong roasted malt character with pronounced anise, vanilla and a solid amount of a smoked malt blends well with a brown sugar and its accompanying sweetness. The spice notes are somewhat lost in the mix with a rather fervent smoke and ash flavour that drys the palate out towards the finish. The finish is rather sweet at first but a slow astrigency drys the palate and leaves a robust roast and smoked malt in the back of my mouth. This is an absurdly well crafted Baltic Porter with a unique Mikkeller twist; the robust smoked malts as well as the anise and gingerbread spices. That being said the sweetness and syrupy dark malts are spot on stylistically. Fra Til warms my heart on yet another chilly December evening.
Lagunitas Brewing out of Petaluma, California has been pushing the boundaries of craft brewing for the past several decades. As a hop head, Lagunitas cannot be ignored as they consistently produce some of the hoppiest beers available. The Brown Shugga is a Barley Wine or perhaps an American Strong Ale by style that was first released in 1997. According to Lagunitas, the story goes as follows:
“Brown Shugga was originally a failed attempt to make our Olde GnarlyWine Ale way back in 1997. Boatloads of Brown Sugar were added to the boil in an attempt to rescue the batch. The result was quite different from the Olde GnarlyWine we were looking for, but the Accidental Release of Brown Shugga that year was the beginning of an annual rampage caused by a beer that follows no style guidelines and can best be described as…. Irresponsible.”
Brown Shugga’ pours a beautiful bright orange and amber hued body with a thick and creamy yellowish beige head. Tons of sticky lacing splotches coat the glass all over and entice my hop senses. The nose has a bursting resinous hop aroma with a slathered molasses and brown sugar toffee malt. A hint of warmth and pungent alcohol is also duly noted in the aroma. From my previous experiences with this beer I anxiously wait for it to warm up a bit before taking the first sip. Cupping the glass in my hands and swirling the beer I notice a fine cloud of tiny carbonation bubbles in the body. The first sip is sweet brown sugar with a candied toffee and fruit flavour. Caramel and toasted bread malts accompany a never ending molasses and sugary sweetness. The finish is mildly bitter and astringent with an impressive floral and resinous hop flavour. Brown Shugga has a warming and pungent alcohol presence with a very mild aftertaste. Brown Shugga isn’t exactly a Barley Wine by current American conventions with a bit of a thin body and a lack of hop bitterness, but Brown Shugga’ pulls it off. With a bit of grace, Brown Shugga’ seemingly blends a strong brown ale with an IPA whilst adding a ton of sweetness. Very curious indeed…