Every year the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co of Chico, California collaborates with 12 breweries and their fans for a mixture of brews collectively known as Beer Camp. In 2014 the stand out was a brew made with San Diego’s Ballast Point and so has been resurrected as a spring seasonal in 2015. The Hoppy Lager is a strong Blonde lager with a heavy hop twist. Brewed to a heavy 7.0% ABV and an agreeable 55 IBU’s the Hoppy Lager is the perfect early spring brew. In addition to a lager yeast the hop manifest includes Palisade and El Dorado as bittering hops and Citra and Equinox as finishing hops.
Pouring out a bright, clear golden hay colour the body has a solid stream of carbonation and is capped by a dense cap of pure white head. The aroma is fresh and heavily accented with citrus hop notes. Light floral and spicy hops add a nice dimension to the hop profile. Impossibly light caramel and crisp bread malts have a touch of honey sweetness akin to the blonde style. Crisp lemon and grapefruit notes and a mild acidic crunch towards the finish. Overall the bitterness is moderate and mostly negated by the cascade of finishing hop flavours. Light floral and perfumey notes blend with zesty lemon and grapefruit notes. A pinch of pine resin on the aftertaste with moderate astringency and a heavy lager esque mouthfeel. A nice brew overall with a bit of a unique take on the style. My only wish is that we Albertans could get our hands on Sierra Nevada’s products.
Calgary’s biggest brewery Big Rock has been attempting to reclaim its roots as the vanguard of Alberta craft beer over the past few years. For a long time Big Rock has settled into a position of making the same 6 or 7 beers and never breaking stride. Then this movement of craft beer hit Calgary about 4 years ago and Big Rock started to take the time and energy to create more unique and craft centric brews. As someone who has been a craft beer nerd in Calgary since turning 18 in 2006 when the choice of good beers were slim pickings Big Rock was many of my first beers as non-minor. Birch Bark is a part of Big Rock’s Alchemist Series of beers that have been crafted with the intention of trying to regain former glory. Birch Bark is a Russian Imperial Stout brewed with Birch syrup, Fuggles and Challenger hops to a weighty 8.5% ABV.
Birch Bark pours out a thick syrupy sludge of purely opaque black with a nice fizzy body that settles into a dense tan head perched atop creamy with a marshmallow esque top. The aroma is quite impressive and has a nice rich and robust malt with heavy roasted notes and notes of light vanilla and earth. A thick body on the first sip with noted sweetness akin to syrup with a slick full bodied mouthfeel. The roasted malts are heavy and present with nice woody and roasted notes. Overly sweet in the middle with a light roasted bitterness on the finish. Lighter notes of coffee, dark chocolate and a pinch of spice also present themselves. The finish although firmly rooted in roasty bitterness has a light fruity component that accompanys a balancing floral and citrus hop. This is hands down the best beer Big Rock has ever made despite being oriented for the most discerning of palates. I appreciated the attempt of an Imperial Stout which is bold in its own right but to use Birch syrup to enhance the flavour with a woody flavour was impressive. The only downfall being the overly intense sweetness throughout the profile.
© Laurie P Smith
Anchor Brewing is seen as a the gtrandfather of American craft brewing. Founded in 1896 Anchor has a long and esteemed history that has seen many of America’s worst and best moments including being destroyed by the Great San Francisco earthquake. During prohibition Anchor survived despite having “nothing” in production. In 1965 Anchor Brewing was saved from bankruptcy by Fritz Maytag of Maytag washer/dryer fame. In 1971 Anchor expanded its lineup with four other brews; Anchor Porter, Liberty Ale, Old Foghorn Barleywine and the annual Christmas Ale. By 2015 Anchor has over a dozen flagship and seasonal releases but still get back to their roots with the original Steam beer. Old Foghorn is a Barleywine style ale with 8.8% ABV and is single hopped with Cascade.
Pouring a bright ruby amber colour with a finger of dark beige head and tons of streaming sparkles of bubbles. The aroma is emphatically malty with tons of toffee and caramel malts that fill the palate entirely but for a subtle citrus hop and dark dried fruit aromas. Light flavours of prunes, raisins, tart cherry and woody malts in the front blend with heavy toasted bread, toffee, caramel, licorice and burnt brown sugar. A bit sweet throughout with a nice balanced profile. The finish has a moderate presence of alcohol that along with the full bodied mouthfeel make this the perfect winter warmer.
Based in Surrey, British Columbia Russell Brewing has been in operation since 1995. In addition to the Surrey operations, Russell also owns and operates Fort Garry Brewing in Manitoba. In recent years Russell have been developing more unique and complex brews. Peaks and Valleys is a 5.7% ABV Extra Pale Ale brewed with BC grown hops. Extra Pale Ale is a bit of a stylistic conundrum in that it lives somewhere between the hop content and alcohol of an American Pale Ale and an IPA.
Peaks and Valleys pours a bright orange and coppery hue in the body with a massive thick off white foam onto. The head dissipates slowly as it settles into a thin tight cap. The aroma is beautiful laden with fresh hop aromas. A nice blend of hop aromas including citrus, tropical fruits, floral and spicy notes. The first sip is a bit sweet with tons of fruity notes including grapefruit, pineapple and pear and tons of citrus zest. Light floral and green hop notes with a light peppery note. Caramel and a light toasted malt profile balances the hops well resulting in a very easy sipping brew. The finish has moderate hop presence with a solid but not out of place bitterness and lingering astringency. A smooth sipping brew with a ton of amazing hop flavour.
One of Bend, Oregon’s Deschutes Brewing Company’s most well known seasonal varieties has finally made it into Alberta for the first time. Cinder Cone is a Northwest style Red Ale brewed with Amarillo and Tettnang hops to a pseudo sessionable 5.3% ABV.
Cinder Cone pours out a rich, deep mahaogany with a burgundy hue throughout the body and a thick mess of beige head. The aroma is distinctively rich with toffee and caramel malts atop a toasted bread note. A hint of vanilla extract blends with light floral and spicy hops and a pinch of citrus zest. Quite mellow in the middle with light toasted caramel malts and mild sweetness. Spicy hops with a light vanilla or herbal flavour towards the finish. The finish itself has moderate hop bitterness and lingering astringency with a prominent citrus hop and light pine resins (from the Amarillo). Cinder Cone has a medium to full body with a great hop to malt balance and light carbonation. Overall, not a earth shattering brew by any means but a fantastic example of an Amber ale with lots of flavour.
For me beer isn’t just something to drink for its obvious intrinsic properties but also for the experience of tasting something crafted with the purest of abilities. Over the past 7 years of diving headfirst into the craft beer world there have been several beers attached to memories and moments special to me. I recently wrote a review of Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout Aged in Cognac Barrel that brought back so many crazy memories of experiencing Oslo and Bergen during the celebrations of Norwegian Constitution Day which is May 17. This review can be found here: https://albertabeersmith.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/nogne-o-imperial-stout-aged-in-cognac-barrel/ For me a simple beer can be related to an incredible experience or even a great night out with friends. Elysian Dragonstooth is a 7.5% ABV Imperial Oatmeal Stout from the chain of Brewpubs based in Seattle, WA that I had heard of for many years from friends in British Columbia. Last September I visited a friend of mine attending Graduate school at UBC when we decided to head out to the legendary Alibi Room for a few libations. To keep this story short I should mention that I was a mere 13 beers short of my thousandth so I had reason to over consume. To the chagrin of the bartender my thousandth beer was Dragonstooth on tap. For me Dragonstooth will remain connected to the experience of celebratory drunkenness and the following consequences of my over consumption. When I met Elysian Brewmaster Dick Cantwell in October this year and he mentioned that Dragonstooth would make its way onto Alberta shelves for the first time I was over the moon. Anyways, on to the beer.
Elysian Dragonstooth pours out an entirely black colour with a creamy oatmeal based head that froths against the glass heavily leaving a collection of sticky lacing blotches. At first look the aroma is heavily roasted with big notes of espresso, used coffee grounds, porridge with brown sugar, molasses and a hint of cocoa. The roasted malts are rather heavy on the nose and should lend a solid amount of bitterness to the flavour profile. A bit of an overly sweet mid palate with creamy oatmeal malt notes as well as hints of brown sugar, molasses, toffee and chocolate. A smooth finish with a creamy oatmeal palate and a full body that has quite a hit of roasted malt bitterness in the lingering aftertaste. Nice espresso and coffee notes blend well with the malt sugars giving a surprising balance overall. The nose falls a bit flat comparatively to the flavour profile as it lacks the complexity and solid overall balance.
Oude Quetsche Tilquin à l’Ancienne known simply as Quetsche or Quetsche Tilquin is a rare plum lambic brewed by Gueuzerie Tilquin in Rebecq-Rognon, Belgium is one of the most uncommon lambic beers. Not only is it produced in low quantity but as a plum lambic it has a unique place in the Belgian beer spectrum. Old Quetsche Tilquin is made from the fermentation of a minimum of 250gr of plums by liter of lambic to an ABV of 6.4%. In addition Quetsche is unfiltered, unpasteurized and refermented in the bottle like all lambics should be. Quetsche is one of the rarest beers to be available to beer lovers in Alberta with only 10 cases being imported this past week. I picked my bottle up at Kensington Wine Market where there was a limit of 1 bottle per customer rule.
Quetsch has a light golden amber body with a hazy appearance. The head is off white and puffs up while and pouring into my glass although it later settles down a bit. The nose is very musty and barnyard-esque with notes of hay and sawdust. A mild fruit aroma on the nose accompanies a mild tart and sour funk. Taking the first sip I note a mild floral flavor with a tart plum and citrus taste. The flavour profile has considerable less must and dust notes that the aroma with a sweeter flavour than most lambic beers. So far I note that Quetsche is incredibly well balanced and although not the sourest or funkiest of lambics a great brew. The plums are not exactly the star of the show here but give enough sweet fruit notes to not blow the balance out of proportion. The only drawback to this beer is that I can’t get any more.
Brouwerij De Ranke in Dottignies, Belgium is a bit of a fairy tale story for many beer enthusiasts…started in 1994 by two best friends as a home-brewing fascination it quickly turned into more than a hobby. After a few short years they acquired weekend brew space at the historic Deca Brewery in West Flanders. After 11 years of sharing space and capacity with Deca, De Ranke built their own brewery in Dottignies, a town only a few minutes from the French border. De Ranke beers have been scarce both out of and in Belgium until their import to Alberta last year. Pere Noel is a Belgium Strong Ale (a category lacking boundaries besides being of Belgian origin)> brewed with brewers gold, hallertau hops and licorice. Unlike most Belgian Christmas beers that are rich, dark and fruity Pere Noel is spicy, sweet and bitter. At 7% ABV Pere Noel is about normal for Belgian style beers but rather low for a Christmas beer with most others hitting upwards of 9% ABV.
Pouring out a bright golden amber Pere Noel lacks the heavy effervescent head of other De Ranke beers and settles rather quickly. A thin line of lacing foam sticks easily to the glass as the head subsides slowly to a thin layer of bright white bubbles. The nose seems a bit out of place with the style as it is predominant with citric and grassy hops, toasted caramel and bready malts, mild spiced notes and a bit of alcohol warmth. A subtle yet pervasive funky aroma sticks to the nose throughout the tasting lending a bit of intrigue to this beer. The mid palate of taste is smooth and somewhat fruity with mild citrus hop notes as well as hints of apple and pear combining well with notes of toasted wheat, caramel, cereal grains and light licorice/anise spice flavors. The finish has a moderate bitterness that lingers unexpectedly into the aftertaste leaving mild resinous notes and sweet fruity flavors. Pere Noel has a great balance overall with bitterness, spices and malts blending well and leaving a crisp, clean but bitter Belgian flavor profile. Overall, a interesting and unique twist on a Belgian Christmas beer.
Price: $12.99 Grade: 90/100
Amidst the deluge of new craft beers from across the globe making their way onto Alberta shelves are brews from Stockholm’s gypsy brewer Omnipollo. Omnipollo is one of Sweden’s newest breweries to brew unique and artisinal brews in a wild variety of styles. Nathalius is an 8% ABV Imperial IPA by style but with a major twist. Nathalius is brewed with rice and corn; ingredients usually considered to be adjuncts in beer. Nathalius was first brewed as a collaboration project with Baltimore, MD brewery Stillwater.
Pouring a bright yellowish orange Nathalius is well topped with a heady serving of dense white foam. A nice stream of bubbles stream upwards glistening in the body. The nose has a certain graininess that is slightly off putting. Aromas of rice, slight skunk, firmly resinous hop notes and lemon zest are duly noted. A mild honeyed sweetness in the mid palate with an adjoining maltiness of cereals and grains. Light grassy and citrus hop notes become prevalent towards the finish with moderate bitterness. A rather acidic finish with a lingering resinous bitterness. Overall Nathalius is a bit of a mess stylistically despite the firm hoppy characteristics.
Over the past 7 years I have delved into the world of craft beer; every so often I encounter a brew I place aside to enjoy down the road. A good amount of these brews are of high alcohol content that were either too intimidating at the time or needed some rest to become properly enjoyable. Once in a blue moon I drink one of these such brews….today I open a brew from Microbrasseurs Les Trois Mousquetaires out of Brossard, Quebec. This bottle is the Porter Baltique a 9.2% strong porter from the Autumn of 2010. Three years of maturation inside of a bottle does wonders for such a beer allowing the in bottle yeast sediment to continue the carbonation process while allowing the flavour profile to mature.
I have previously drank this beer on several occasions so subtle details may become evident.Sometimes an aged beer has such pent up carbonation the cork will have a violent and rapid expulsion from the bottle…so be careful. Porter Baltique’s cork is a bit stuck at first but let go with a modest pop. Pouring out a slick, purely opaque black with a huge foamy tan head which settles to a thin layer a few mere bubbles thick at parts; this is true evidence of aging. A few quick swirls of the glass shows some minor alcohol legs on the glass that disappear quickly. The nose has a heavy roasted aroma with accents of vanilla bean, hazelnut coffee, used espresso beans, bourbon casks and a hint of sultry smoke. I have always said that the best beers are ones you just want to keep smelling and that Porter Baltique is one of those beers. The aroma has such a grabbing quality that in intoxicating. Taking the first sip Porter Baltique is smooth almost silken with a casked style flavour from the smoky notes as well notes of dark chocolate, espresso, toffee and a hint of dried fruits. A truly complex flavour profile with a palate as smooth as can be. A full bodied and heavy beer with an smooth mouthfeel and a heavy roasted malt isn’t rare but the execution of this beer is exceptional. The aging process has taken away some sweetness and changed the mouthfeel from syrupy to silky. Overall Porter Baltique is an exceptional brew that can and has stood the test of time. I look forward to trying my remaining bottle in a few more years.