Big Rock Birch Bark Canadian Imperial Stout

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. 

Grade: 85/100

© Laurie P Smith

Brew Brother’s Amarillo IPA

I recently had a pint of Calgary based Brew Brothers’ Amarillo IPA a single hopped IPA brewed to 6% ABV. Brew Brothers has been a small almost hidden fixture on the Calgary craft beer scene for quite a few years. Until recently finding their beers on tap around town was very difficult but thanks to recent renovations, draft is more available as are fill and go growlers.

Amarillo IPA has a beautiful light glowing orange pour with a fluffy beige head. The nose has a beautiful forward Amarillo aroma with forward grapefruit and sticky resinous hop notes. Mild caramelized and toasted malts balance well with the rather intense hop character. The first small sip gives evidence to light toasted and sweet caramel malts along with hints of citrus fruits and light grassy hop flavours. The finish has a forward citrus splash with noted pine needle and resinous smack before quickly fading into the aftertaste. The finish although not as intensely bitter nor resinous as I like, a solid astringent finish with a mouth of piney grapefruit hops.

Grade: 84/100       Price: $6.50/20 oz Draft

Granville Island Imperial IPA

Granville Island Brewery in Vancouver, British Columbia has been a cornerstone of the Canadian craft brewing industry since its founding in 1984. Despite its purchase by SABMiller via Creemore Springs in 2009, the Granville brewery has been pumping out solid craft brews for close to 3 decades. Thanks to the recent purchase by the large conglomerate, Alberta has recently been able to sample many of the lesser known Granville brews made at their Granville Island brewpub. The Imperial IPA is the most recent addition to this big bottle lineup of full flavoured brews.

This Imperal IPA is fashioned in the San Diego style at 8.6% ABV and 100 IBU’s with added citrus peel to the boil. As is typical, Granville’s Imperial IPA is brewed with toasted English malts and a full heap of Pacific Northwest hops. Pouring a bright, vivid orange-gold colour with a well carbonated body and a light beige head that fizzles instantly to nothing. A few white splotches of head coat the glass for a short while before fading away prematurely. The aroma has a mild Pacific NW feel with heavy resin and piney hop aromas full frontal with obvious citrus notes. The aroma lacks an overall malt character midst the heavy hop scents. The flavour is unbalanced and rather resinous upfront with heavy citric hop acids and a light toasted malt. A bit of an overall sweet flavour and notes of lemon peel and fresh grapefruit juice join the party. The finish has an abrupt and potent astringent bitterness although short lived as it fades quickly. Overall, not as memorable as many BC or Cascadian counterparts, this is a solid well hopped Imperial IPA.

Grade: 87/100         Price: $7.59