Wild Rose Barrel Aged Gose Rider

A few years back Calgary’s own Wild Rose brewery took a huge step in our little microcosm of beer and made a gose. Gose is a top fermenting German style of beer that is typically moderately sour and salty either from the water sources or by the addition of salt. The style has recently undergone a Renaissance in North American with many craft brewers rebooting the unique style. When Wild Rose made Gose Rider, I honestly had only heard bits and pieces about the style and was eager to research, drink and learn more. In addition to salt, coriander is often added for flavour to this beer style that averages between 4 and 5 percent alcohol. As such, most Gose do not comply with the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516 or the Reinheitsgebot. Wild Rose decided to take the Gose Rider (which I found delicious in its first iteration) and age it for 18 months in barrels having previously contained red wine. I should mention that I previously reviewed the un-aged Wild Rose Gose Rider here and gave it a resounding 90/100 rating (https://albertabeersmith.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/wild-rose-gose-rider/) This Barrel Aged Gose Rider was limited to only 99 cases (1188 bottles) and clocks in at an uber-sessionable 4.5% ABV. Enough of the technical, let the adjectives fly and lets get down to the business at hand. 

The beer pours a surprisingly dark coppery straw colour with a largely evident effect of the barrel in the body colour alone. The head is a thick but porous off white with little carbonation evident by appearance. The nose is rich and complex at first look with a tons of woody oak notes and tart lemon aromatics. A delightful aroma on its own with the heavy, rich and earthy wood notes vying for attentions from the fresh, fruity citrus notes. The first sip is zingy with a lemon tartness at first. As the beer warms a mild dark fruit note replaces the tartness that I had become accustomed to. The oak is extremely complex and almost takes over the entire flavour profile. The underlying gose base regains some form by adding a tart sourness throughout the profile. The sourness is reserved but quietly present enough to give balance. This is a difficult beer to put into words as I’ve never had anything quite like it. Wooden, mild earthy and dark fruit notes are sweeter and obviously accentuate the barrels impact. This is one of those beers that I could smell and taste for hours and still have words to describe it so lets end it short. This is one of the most intriguing and convoluted brews made in Alberta and I hope to see more like it. For Wild Rose to take on a Gose in the first place was mighty ambitious but this is another level entirely. I have a lot of respect for them to create this beer and I think this rivals as one of the best craft brews in Alberta.

Grade: 94/100

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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

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

Westmalle Dubbel

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Back in the year of 2007 I was a young university student drinking junky adjunct lagers and European beers like Pilsner Urquell. I happened upon Bottlescrew Bills a beer bar in my home town that was one of the only Canadian bars to gain the praise of Beer Hunter Michael Jackson. I ordered a Westmalle Dubbel not knowing how much one beer would change my entire life and take beer from a way to hang out to a passion and eventual career. Westmalle Dubbel is brewed by one of six Trappist breweries in Belgium where monks of the Strictest Cistercian Observance brew beers for charitable proceeds and consumption within the monastery. The brewing of beers by monks originally began to give monks sustenance during the fasting month of lent. This beer consumed by the monks is termed paterbier or monks beer. In 1856 the Westmalle monastery brewed a strong, dark ale that they termed double or dubbel. Today the dubbel is one of the Belgian Abbey styles and is generally characterised by a dark, fruity body and alcohol content up to 8%. I like to re assess this beer every year or two to see how my perception of beer has changed since going head first into the craft beer culture.

Less talk and more about the beer. Westmalle Dubbel pours a dark, murky burgundian brown with a massive beige head that fills the chalice. The aroma is rich and laced with dark fruity esters. Notes of prunes, raisins, cherries and light spice notes waft off the glass. The malt profile is composed mostly of rich toffee, light cocoa notes and a bit of a nutty flavour. Rich and smooth with a silky  mouthfeel and strong carbonation that dances on the palate. Rich and well rounded profile adds a sense of class to the proceedings and allows the beer to make a lasting impression. Every time I have this beer I am taken back to that dimly lit bar taking my first sip of this rich malty treasure and thinking damn is this a great beer. 

Grade: 93/100

Dageraad Brewing Blonde

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One of British Columbia’s newest and most exciting craft breweries has hit Alberta shelves this week. Burnaby’s Dageraad Brewing is influenced by Belgian’s great beers and takes its name from Antwerp’s Dageraadplaats which translates to Sunrise Square from Flemish. Brewer and founder Ben Coli has tried to take the experience of drinking Belgium’s great beers is Dageraadplaats and transporting it to Canada. As with great Belgian beers Dageraad’s beer are bottle conditioned and unfiltered with traditional Belgian yeasts. Dageraad Blonde is the brewery’s flagship beer and boasts a very Belgian 7.5% ABV. 

At first glance the bottle and label are exquisite and fine with an appearance usually reserved for fine wines. The pour is a light golden amber colour with steady, almost effervescent carbonation and a puffy off white head that clings all over the glass. The aroma is accented with yeasts and ester notes including straw, lemon rind, orange peel, light coriander spice and a bit of a nutty malt. Light toasted wheat and caramel malts in the mid palate act as a balance to the heady yeast profile. Fruity, spicy and floral hop notes blend with esters and light spice. Lemon rind is tart and pairs well with the spicy notes. The finish is moderately dry and astringent with a bit of lingering bitterness. Full body, heavy carbonation and a smooth, crisp finish add to the flavour profile well. Overall Dageraad Blonde is a good example of an approachable and easy drinking Belgian Blonde. The depth of character is evident but not as unique as most great Belgian beers. Often that character is cultivated over time. Regardless Dageraad has certainly taken the Belgian beer culture and transplanted it to their Burnaby operation. 

Grade: 83/100