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

Boulevard Smokestack Series Tank 7

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Alberta has finally received Kansas City, Missouri’s Boulevard Brewing. Known to many as being one of the dustbowl’s best maker of fine ales Boulevard hit shelves this past week. I had personally never tried anything from Boulevard’s vast catalog so what better place to start than with a saison. Tank 7 is a Belgian saison style brew with a heavy 8.5% ABV and is brewed with Magnum, Bravo and Amarillo hops. Unlike the traditional saison beers of Belgium which are brewed with home grown Saaz, Goldings and often Challenger hops Tank 7 should have a more American hop presence. 

Tank 7 pours an effervescent golden straw colour with a thick puffed up white head. The head subsides slowly leaving tons of lacing blotches on the glass. The body appears to be extremely carbonated with a steady stream of bubbles cascading towards the surface. At first glance the nose is subtle but complex with layers of spicy hop and ester notes, citrus fruits, musty barnyard notes and light toasted wheat malts. Crisp and clean first sip with a nice effective coriander and spice blend on the finish. The mid palate is refined and fruity with notes of pear, lemon rind and grapefruit. Crisp toasted wheat and bready malts make up a malty backbone. The esters are really the star of the show with tons of fruity and spiced notes working well with the citrus hops. On the finish a moderate bitterness helps keep it true to style with a lingering spice and saison yeast aftertaste. A truly exquisite saison!

Grade: 93/100

The Bruery Saison Rue

One of California’s most esteemed brewers is the aptly named Bruery located in Orange County. The Bruery is a self described boutique brewery specializing in barrel aged and experimental ales. The brewery was started by Patrick Rue an avid homebrewer in 2008 and is named with his surname as the moniker. Saison Rue is a nod to the family saison brewers common in Belgium who often name their saison style beers after their surname. Saison Rue is one of The Bruery’s few year round offerings and is billed as a bottled condition saison brewed with rye malt and brettanomyces. 

Pouring out a rich, murky burgundian amber with a thick and lively yellowish head. There is a solid stream of bubbles reaching up to the soft pillowed head of foam. At first the aroma is of ripe fruit, old leather, earthen and woody notes and a bit of lemon pledge cleaner. Richly steeped with crisp and spicy rye malt that quickly contrasts the notable citrus and light pine hops. A bit of a musty, earthy aroma from the inclusion of brett presents itself in moderation. A nice crisp first sip with light caramel and toffee malts with hints of cracked pepper, floral and citrus hops and musty barnyard wood. A very complex yet approachable profile that is reserved where it should be and takes liberties elsewhere. Ripe fruit and rich leathery earth flavours combine with toffee and spicy rye towards the finish with a trademark saison finish. Dry and astringent with lingering yeast and ester flavours. Citrus hops linger on with a backbone of cracked pepper and floral notes. Saison Rue is a wonderfully exuberant and complex beer that shows a different story with every sip and for that reason it is consistently one of my favourite brews. 

Grade: 95/100

© Laurie P Smith

Oude Quetsche Tilquin à l’Ancienne

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. 

Grade: 93/100

Price: $13.99

De Ranke Pere Noel

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

Rogue Ales Beard Beer

DSC_0341Newport, Oregon’s Rogue Ales has been one of the big boys of West Coast craft beer for the past 25 years. Since 1989 John Maier has been the brewmaster and has implemented the brewing of non-pasteurized, all natural beers mostly made with the proprietary yeast strain known as Pacman. As an interesting and unique twist John decided to cultivate a yeast strain from his beard which he has had for the last 30 years. To a beer geek this is intriguing and also a bit offputting but as all beer geeks know, we are also up to try something new. I’ve drank beer with civetcat coffee, chipotle peppers, mint, rosemary, oysters, coconut, bacon, maple syrup and the list goes on. Using John’s beard yeast, Rogue decided to brew a 5.6% ABV Belgian ale.

Beard Beer pours out a bright hazy golden colour in the body with a thick heady off white foam atop. There is a nice small stream of bubbles cascading up in the middle of the glass. The nose is rather nice with a subtle estery yeast aroma as well as milder grassy and floral hop accent. Mild spiced aromas of coriander and a nice beautiful floral aroma blend well with a bready and crisp wheat malt. My first sip is crisp and estery with a mild mustiness and floral notes. A bit of caramel and honey with crisp clean wheat malt blends rather well with the mild floral hops. A nice balance and a exquisite drinkability for a rather sessionable Belgian style ale. Although this seems like a rather standard Belgian style ale the use of the beard use is an interesting and intriguing idea. And it is a rather beardy ale!

Grade: 82/100

Price: $8.00

 

 

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Cantillon Cuvée Saint-Gilloise 2010

In early June as I travelled through Belgium I made a stop in Brussels the mostly French speaking city in Belgium. The second day I was there I made my way to the legendary Belgian lambic brewer Cantillon located only a few short blocks from Zuidstation. The self guided tour was an eye-opener into the traditional way of brewing gueuze and lambic style beers. After the tour a sample of unblended young gueuze as well as another beer were given. Arriving back home in Calgary I decided it might be ripe time to open some of the bottles of Cantillon aging in my cellar. Cuvée Saint-Gilloise is a Gueuze style created by using only a single vintage of two year old lambic that is dry hopped with aged hops for three weeks with Styrian Golding hops. Unlike most other gueuze available, Cuvée Saint-Gilloise is not a blend of two or more vintaged lambics. This bottle of Cuvée Saint-Gilloise was bottled in 2010 and personally aged for 2 years prior to today.

Cuvée Saint-Gilloise pours a bright glowing orange colour with a very short lived pure white head and a general haziness in the body. The appearance is beautiful overall with the orange colour coming fromthe significant dry hopping. The aroma has a mild peppery and spicy hop aroma with a bone dry almost Champagne like aroma with tons of hop nuances. A light barnyard funk pervades the aroma with noted tart lemon fruitiness and acetic sourness. Although I have had many different gueuze the aroma always surprises me with its acidic backbone and tart, dry notes. The first sip I take has an intense citrus fruit to the point of puckering tartness until a mild oaky creaminess settles the citric flavour down a bit. The finish is crackingly dry with a mild bitterness from aged Golding hops with nice solid sourness. Funky fruits and barnyard yeasty esters are rather subtle as the acetic acid, dry hops and citrus fruits are much more abashing on the palate. Overall a nicely soured, complex Gueuze with a creaminess that balances out the dry, acidic flavour profile.

Grade: 96/100

Price: $24.95

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