North Coast Le Merle Saison

To properly tell the story behind my enjoyment of this brew a short story is in order. The year was 2007 and craft beer wasn’t really a thing in Alberta. We got a fair amount of British, German and Belgian beers but none of the Canadian or American micro brews we are now accustomed to. One of the first American craft breweries to appear on beer shelves in Alberta was Fort Bragg, California’s North Coast Brewing. In many ways this was one of my gateway breweries as their more unique and exotic beer styles got me into crazier and craftier beer. Nowadays with the beer market flooded to point of near hyper-saturation I often find myself reminiscing about some of those first extreme beers that got me started with this hobby. One of those was North Coast’s Old Rasputin an Imperial Stout that had no rival in 2007. Before the days of extreme beer taxation a 4 pack of that 10% elixir cost around $10 before tax and deposit. Le Merle Saison was another that got me excited and interested in Belgian style brews. Now its 7 or 8 years later and for the first time since 2008 Le Merle Saison is appearing on craft beer shelves again. So to my giddy excitement I took home a 4 pack now costing around $16 before tax and deposit.  

Le Merle pours out an effervescent coppery gold colour with a steady carbonation stream. The head is a hue of creamy off white with a thick but porous foam. The head subsides slowly leaving a surprising and welcome amount of lacing. The nose is at first quite spicy with loads of coriander and a more subtle cracked black pepper note. A little bit of florality with a citrus zest ester note. Light crisp and toasted malts, mild caramel sweetness up front with zesty citrus notes. Coriander is present throughout the profile with a light orange pith note. The malt profile is light enough to allow the spice and ester notes to shine, a mild bready note gives good balance. Earthy saison yeast notes open up as the beer warms with delightful fruity pear and mango notes complement the spice. The finish is mildly bitter, crisp and lingers with coriander and pepper spice notes. Effervescent and steady carbonation is on cue stylistically and gives a nice refreshing quality. 

Grade: 90/100

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Two Sergeants Passion d’Ale Wit

One of Alberta’s newest brewers is Fort Saskatchewan’s Two Sergeants Brewing who released their first beer in early 2015. I previously wrote a glowing review of the intensely bitter Bangalore Torpedo IPA and now upon the release of their second brew I hope to do the same for it. Passion d’Ale is a Belgian Wit named by pun after the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as Passchendaele. Passion d’Ale is brewed to 5.2% ABV with a splash of blood orange juice. In brewing this beer Two Sergeants worked in collaboration with Escarpment yeast to create a one of a kind wit.

Pours an insanely hazy, cloudy straw yellow in the body with a thick tower of puffy off white head. A light stream of carbonation in the body seems low for the cloudiness and the style. Some splotchy lacing marks are left on the glass as the head subsides slowly. The aroma is grainy, bready and floral with a heavy earthy and floral hop leaf aroma. A heavy coriander and black pepper spice coagulates with a wet cardboard and musty ester note. Overtly floral and earthy with a lingering cardboard malt note. Bitterness is moderate and comes mostly from the blood orange juice and citrus zest notes. The wheat malt falls a bit flat amidst the esters and wet cardboard note that pervades the flavour profile. This is a very unique and complex witbier that falls somewhat outside the confines of the style. Packed with spice, fruity esters and musty yeast notes that creates an interesting beer.

Grade: 86/100

Phillips Barnstormer IPA

One of the hot craft beer styles this summer that has been making many appearances as seasonal releases is the Saison IPA. An evolution on a white IPA, this style involves making an IPA that is fermented with a strain of yeast normally used in Saisons. Phillip’s brewing in Victoria, BC is one of Canada’s most prolific craft breweries an specializes in Cascade heavy IPA styles. For a long time I found Phillips beers to be the same but recently rekindled my interest in them. Barnstormer Saison IPA clocks in at 7.2% and is has a small limited run in BC and Alberta craft beer stores. 

Pouring out a bright, hazy coppery straw colour with a thick, puffy pure white head that sustains and leaves a bunch of sticky lacing blotches on the glass. The aroma is a nice hybrid of citrus heavy hops and floral, spice forward ester notes. Light lemon rind, grapefruit, wet grass and a light floral note from the saison yeast up front. A pinch of coriander and black pepper cracked on top are less apparent and subtle. The aroma is a nice middle of the road balance between the IPA and saison counterparts. A light toasted bread malt, a bit of honey sweetness and light grassy notes up front. Too much of a malt base would counteract the saison ester notes that soon become bigger in the profile. Black pepper, coriander, and lemon rind esters with light grapefruit juice notes, zesty citrus hops and typical Cascadian notes. Barnstormer is really well balanced with enough hops to satiate the hop heads but to still be in good balance with the esters. 

Grade: 87/100

Boulevard Smokestack Series: Long Strange Tripel

Well there is nothing more interesting to me than a new beer from Kansas City, Missouri’s Boulevard Brewing and a beer named after one the most legendary lines in music. The Grateful Dead was one of the most prolific bands in the history of modern music. On their 1970 album American Beauty the words “What a long strange trip its been..” were spoke in the song Truckin’ and so was born the ultimate hippy yearbook quote. Long Strange Tripel is a 9.2% Belgian Tripel by style and was the third beer brewed in Boulevard’s Smokestack series of limited and small release brews.

Pouring out a beautiful colour of bright honeyed orange with a steady carbonation stream and a thick off white head. The head isn’t exactly sticky but certainly persists. The aroma is boisterous and overly estery with tons of citrus and spice notes filling the profile. A big coriander and lemon zest note with mild toasted malts, a bit of caramel and honey sweetness to offput the spice. Overall the aroma is that of a tripel, yeast heavy with tons of ester and malt notes. Rich and full bodied on the taste with a bit of lemon pledge and orange rind making appearances before the mild coriander spice. Floral and almost perfume notes appear as the glass warms towards room temperature. The sweetness is there but isn’t cloying and is actually in good proportion. The finish is warm and the 9.2% ABV is certainly noticable but falls hand in hand with mild bitterness and lingering ester notes. Sometimes tripels fall flat for me in the world of Belgian style brews and Boulevards Long Strange Tripel is no different. Although this tripel is expertly made and offers a great profile of Belgian esters, light toasted malts, mild hops and good balance I find this a bit unimpressive. My bias is in no way a reflection of the quality of this beer I simply don’t enjoy tripels as much as their Belgian brethren. 

Grade: 88/100

Wild Rose Hef Nelson

Wild Rose Brewery is often considered to be the old guard in a scene that is finally starting to flourish and expand. Opening in 1996 at a time when there were only two other “microbreweries” in Alberta (Alley Kat and Big Rock) Wild Rose has been taking a very Albertan approach for almost 20 years. Hef Nelson is a mixture of styles per say. A traditional German Hefeweizen with a unique and modern hop. Nelson Sauvin are a New Zealand hop strain that is known to produce a myriad of fruity notes akin to white wine. The similarity is so pronounced that the hop got its namesake from the Sauvignon Blanc that is produced in New Zealand’s Marlborough area. Hef Nelson is brewed touting a sessionable 5% ABV and a heavy 40 IBU’s (heavy for a hefeweizen).

Pouring out of the amazing 90’s esque bottle that brings back the memories of watching WWF (now WWE) in my friends basement is a cloudy, opaque bright straw yellow. A minor highlight of orange in the body with a thin almost soapy white head. The aroma is beautiful with tons of floral and fruity ester  notes, banana, apple, cloves, coriander and the typical Nelson influenced stonefruit, mango, kiwi and gooseberries. Grapefruit and passionfruit are more apparent in the flavour profile. Mildly sweet malts, toasted wheat, bready notes, light honey and caramel. The fruit is the big show in this beer with tons of tropical notes sparring off against the hefeweizen yeast esters of clove, coriander, lemon rind and banana. Nice crispness on the finish with a moderate bitterness that doesn’t linger long. A nice contrast between the hefeweizen components and Nelson Sauvin hops leads to a nice balance in the profile and an extremely complex yet drinkable brew.

Grade: 84/100

Dandy Bright Young Things English Summer Ale

Calgary’s newest edition on the brewing scene is the nano startup of Dandy Brewing who have been releasing no holds barred bomber bottles for the last 10 months. Through a series of experimental and one off releases Dandy has released 7 unique and authentic beers. Bright Young Things is their first seasonal style and it is fashioned as a hoppy English Summer Ale that boasts a 5% ABV. Despite starting off with classic English styles such as an Oyster Stout and a Golden Brown Ale, Dandy has recently changed directions. By releasing a rauchbier, a sour and an upcoming Berliner Weisse the future of Dandy Brewing has an interesting and exciting road ahead as they continue filling a void in Alberta’s beer market. Personally I find the beers released to be very good both because of their flavour but also because of the originality of the styles themselves. 

Bright Young Things pours a bright orange with hues of copper and straw in the glass. A light burst of carbonation towards the finger of frothy off white head. Aromatics cascade off the glass with notes of toasted bready malts, light citrus and grassy hops and a light floral note. Sweet up front with toasted caramel and biscuity malts; a very English style malt base. Notes of pear and apricot are subtle but present. Crisp and ultra refreshing style of beer that boasts the name of English Summer Ale very well. A fresh floral and grassy hop blend with a light estery note towards the finish. The finish itself isn’t overly bitter but has enough to showcase the profile. As I sip more the hops show off more spice notes than I ever saw in the aroma and first few sips. Initially this beer was a bit cut and dry but as it warms up and I enjoy more of it the complexity reveals itself. The mild bitterness builds up over time and lingers well into the aftertaste. Fruits are more present and sweeter in the middle of the profile. Very refreshing and crisp with a nice touch of bitterness to create a fantastic balance.

Grade: 84/100

Russell Brewing Punch Bowl IPA

Russell Brewing out of Surrey, BC has rapidly become one of Western Canada’s best and most reputable craft breweries. As someone who works in the craft beer industry I have seen a great improvement in the past few seasonal releases from Russell Brewing. Punch Bowl IPA is billed as a tropical and fruity IPA made with Citra, Mosaic and Amarillo hops that has 65 IBU’s and a very appropriate 6.5% ABV. 

Pouring out a dark orange and amber in the body with a thick off white head that coats the glass in lacing blotches. There is a  light stream of carbonation that simmers the head down to a thin layer after a few minutes. The aroma is certainly emphasised by tropical fruit notes of pineapple, mango, papaya and grapefruit. Citrus fruit notes although exceedingly common in IPA’s are somewhat more subtle beneath the juicy tropical notes. Light biscuity malts with a touch of caramel sweetness adds a balance to the flavour profile. After a few sips the lingering bitterness is noted although rather subdued. Simply sublime pineapple and mango notes become even more appetizing with a pinch of pine resin and citrus bitterness. Overall a great IPA with succulent, juicy tropical fruit notes that give a bit of character to the already great IPA. Punch Bowl IPA is another fantastic specialty brew from Russell Brewing.

Grade: 88/100

Ninkasi Dawn of the Red India Red Ale

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It’s no secret that Ninkasi Brewing Company of Bend, Oregon loves hops. Dawn of the Red India Red Ale is a spring seasonal created to blend the best of both worlds; tropical hops and sweet caramel malts. Often the hindrance of such a mixture the sweetness can overpower the glorious hop notes and conceal their flavours. With Dawn of the Red Ninkasi has attempted to create a rich red ale that isn’t overtly sweet so as to allow the hops and malts to live more harmoniously together. Dawn of the Red is a 7.0% brew that includes Galena, Millennium, Ahtanum, El Dorado and Mosaic hops. 

Pouring a bright ruby amber in the body with a thick and puffy yellow head on top the glass is coated with tons of lacing rings. The nose is fruity and fresh with noted aromas of tropical fruits, citrus, light pine resin and sweet caramel malts. A malty backbone with toffee and caramel malts props up the sweetness a bit in the middle with a medium to full body. The hops are juicy and fresh with tons of papaya, mango and pineapple flavours seeping through. The typical citrus and grapefruit notes are present but seem less important in the profile. A nice malt to hop balance with the hops edging out the caramel and biscuity notes a bit. The finish is bitter and cloyingly astringent with a typical IPA esque aftertaste of grapefruit and pine resin. Overall a very good mash up style brew with a ton of beautiful tropical fruits. 

Grade: 88/100

Modern Times City of the Sun

Over the past year I’ve seen images and reviews of Modern Times beer more often than I’d like to considering it is not available in Canada. The San Diego, California brewer born in 2013 is named after a crazy utopian society founded in 1850. Modern Times was started by a former Stone Brewing Co. employee Jacob McKean after many years of homebrewing experience. City of the Sun is an India Pale Ale brewed with Mosaic, Simcoe and Moteuka hops to a heavy 85 IBU’s and 7.5% ABV. I was lucky enough to find this brew at Maui Brewing Company in Kihei, HI after a tap take over at the brewery. 

Pouring out a bright, glowing orange and gold in the body the head forms quickly as a stream of cascading carbonated bubbles light the body. The head is frothy and leaves many lacing splotches around the glass. The aroma is poignantly hopped with boisterous citrus and tropical accented notes. Lemon rind, grapefruit, papaya, pineapple and mango are bountiful with heavy pine resin notes. Light caramel and munich esque malts add a biscuity and bready malt character that acts as a good balance to the heavy hops. Bright and fruity with fresh citrus notes on the aroma and in the mid palate. The finish is bitter and astringent but also manages to be crisp and succinct. Nice smack of pine and hop resin with a sticky aftertaste and lingering citrus based bitterness. A truly unique and well crafted San Diego style IPA; hop heavy with floral and tropical accents to off set the overblown citrus and hop bitterness. 

Grade: 90/100

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp 2015 Hoppy Lager

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. 

Grade: 89/100