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.
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!
Big Sky Brewing Co. of Missoula, Montana has been at the forefront of Montana’s craft brewing industry since its inception in 1995. Best known for their Moose Drool Brown Ale, Big Sky is the largest craft beer producer in Montana and also has the largest distribution area out of state. Olde Bluehair is a 10.2% ABV Barleywine by style that has been aged for 3 months of Kentucky Bourbon barrels. Olde Bluehair is a relative rarity with only 3750 bottles produced annually of which this one is marked 1663/3750.
Bottled in a 750ml with a cork and cage, a huge explosion with a slight pull on the placed cork. Pours with a heavy carbonation, almost effervescence that builds a huge foaming, overflowing head. A bright golden hued amber with light orange and ruby red accents in the body capped with a densely bubbled off white. Tons of lacing foam coats the glass and despite the initial outburst the carbonation settles down to nothing. The aroma is at first glance filled with overtly sweet toffee and caramel malts, candied and dried fruits and with a drizzle of fruity hops. Light apricot and candied apple aromas with a candy like aroma blend with toffee and caramel malts and the poignant hop flavours. The barrel has imparted a rich earthen aroma with a light vanilla and bourbon notes that extrudes itself through the candied malt aromas. The first sip is just as sweet as the aroma indicated with maple syrup like malt flavours combining with toffee and bready caramel. Sweet dried fruits of apricot and apple add to the character as the barrel becomes involved. Light vanilla and maple notes, earthen notes and a slight smoke come through towards the finish. The hop profile is notable and present throughout but is a bit lacking in character imparting only light spice and citrus notes. The finish is warm with alcohol and lingers through to the aftertaste with light hop bitterness and astringency. Olde Bluehair is a great beer to share on a cold or wet winter night. A beautifully complex and well rounded barleywine with nice barrel accents and sweet candied fruits.
East Vancouver’s Parallel 49 Brewing Company has quickly become one of my favourite Canadian breweries since forming in 2012. One of the predominant reasons for this assertion is Parallel 49’s fondness for brewing unique styles and taking risks with seasonal brews. For example, Parallel 49 has recently produced a Finnish farmhouse Sahti ale, a Jelly Doughnut Strong Ale and a Black Forest cake Imperial Porter to name a few. Jerkface 9000 despite the name is a more reserved and moderate style and is touted as a North West Wheat Ale brewed with Mosaic and Ahtanum hops to 37 IBU’s and a sessionable 5% ABV. The label art and name are a standout for me already as I’m sure I’ve called someone a Jerkface 9000 a quip to which there is no come back.
Jerkface 9000 pours a light orange hued straw yellow with a thin veil of off white head. The head subsists throughout drinking with a few remnant lacing rings left on the glass. The aroma is accented well with citrus based hops. Zesty grapefruit and citrus fruit aromas blend with earthy pine and a few tropical fruit notes typical of Mosaic hops. A bit of a stone fruit aroma after a while reminiscent of Marlborough, New Zealand area Sauvignon Blanc. Light crisp wheat malts add some balance to the fruity, hoppy core. Crisp and fresh finish with a heavy hop presence that leaves zesty citrus and sweet mango and pineapple notes. Moderately dry and astringent with a light lingering bitterness. Overall, Jerkface 9000 is a crisp and fresh wheat beer with pine and citrus hop notes in good balance with light bitterness and a refreshingly light mouthfeel.
This unique IPA is a creation from the hands of Stone Brewing in Escondido, California as well as Baird Brewing in Numazu, Japan and Ishii Brewing in Guam. Baird is a well known brewer and one of the main proponents of the current Japanese craft beer wave. Ishii is a brewing I have to admit to never hearing of. On the back label it explains that Toshi Ishii was a brewer at Stone before moving to Guam to start the islands first brewery. The Japanese Green Tea is brewed as a Imperial IPA with 9.2% ABV that is ‘dry-hopped’ with whole leaf tea. This beer was first made as a collaboration in 2011 and has been recreated with Helga hops from Australia.
Cracking the bottle and pouring out the body is a bright ambery orange with a solid stream of carbonation reaching to the thin cap of dense pure white head. The aroma is heavy with green tea notes as well as noted herbal and floral accents. A rather malty Imperial IPA both by appearance and by the presence of toasted caramel and toffee malts that contrast the tea leaves. A fresh and zesty hops with a beautiful citrus and grass flavour. Quite leafy and herbal tasting with a commanding flavour of green tea throughout the profile. You certainly must have to like green tea to find this beer agreeable. A good hop and malt balance with a fairly heavy body and a thick, slick mouthfeel. Overall a unique and expertly executed collaboration that I hope to try the next iteration of.
Alberta based importer A.Z. has been bringing exciting and new Californian beers into Alberta for the past 13 months or so. Moylans Brewing based in Novato, California is one of A.Z.’s newest arrivals with a good selection of typical Californian or West Coast style beers hitting the shelves in Alberta. With 6% ABV and a profile of spices that includes curacao, mace, white pepper, cinnamon and coriander White Christmas is technically classified as a spiced beer. Moylan’s is most well known for the hop bomb called Hopsickle that is an absolute bombastic 9.2% brew featuring upwards of 90 IBU’s. White Christmas is aimed towards being a winter warmer with the spice profile to prove it.
Pouring out a murky and muddled amber colour in the body the head is steadfast with an appearance of thick soapy yellow that leaves streaks of lacing around the glass. A first incidental sniff has a bit of a spice overabundance with notes of cinnamon, allspice, coriander and nutmeg filling the olfactory senses. Mild caramel and toasted bread malts blend moderately well despite the heavy spice blend. Notes of fake vanilla bean, toffee, caramel and brown sugar are all rather moderate. The body is full and a bit slick with a good malt to spice balance overall despite have a lingering spice profile overall. Not exactly my cup of tea in general but I can certainly see the appeal of this style to many amateur beer drinkers.
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.
The newest beer from Dieu du Ciel! to arrive in Alberta is Isseki Nicho an Imperial Dark Saison a style which has started to slowly develop in the craft beer community. Dark Saisons from breweries such as Stillwater, Widmer and Upright have all been recently released. Isseki Nicho is a collaboration project between Dieu du Ciel! and Shiga Kogen a Japanese sake producer. Isseki Nicho is described as having a grain bill of an Imperial Stout with a saison twist. At 9.5% ABV this brew is certainly a heavy hitter in the class on an Imperial Stout.
Twisting off the cap a slow hiss of vapor trails out of the bottle. A gloopy, pure black viscous body with a thick, bubbly, tan head forms in the glass. The head settles slowly with larger bubbles and small, dense bubbles forming well. The nose has a general rich malt aroma with a moderately heavy roasted note, hits of coffee and chocolate and a beautiful mild saison style yeast scent. Soft esters complement the light saison yeast well with light barnyard dust notes and mild citrus zest. The aroma is rather elogent and the heaviness is a refreshing change for the saison style. My first sip has a thoroughly roasted, heavy malt flavour with a note of espresso and vanilla. More subtle flavours of smoke, wood, bourbon, lemon zest and barnyard dust work their way through. The finish is heavy with a mild saison yeast and a roasted malt bitterness that lingers for a while. Well balanced, Isseki Nicho is a unique twist on the style of saison despite being alot like an Imperial Stout.
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.
Half Pints is Manitoba’s best and single true craft brewery known for their incredible seasonal and special releases. One of the rare seasonal beers to make it from the Winnipeg brewery to Alberta beer shelves is the summer brew Hoppen Heimer. Hoppen Heimer is stylistically defined as a wheat ale but I think it may be best described as a wheat IPA. Single hopped with Topaz to 73 IBU’s and brewed to a very sessionable 4.8% ABV Hoppen Heimer is guaranteed to be a unique beer.
Hoppen Heimer pours a bright clear gold with a thick soapy off white head atop. A small spritzy stream of bubbles as well as tons of soapy lacing rings coat the glass evident of the fresh hops. The first sniff out of the tall weizen glass has a bursting citrus and resinous aroma as well as a milder but present hefe style yeast. Notes of banana, orange rind and a pinch of coriander are all noted in the nose. A great big bursting hop flavour in the mid palate with orange and lemon zest flavours as well as crisp wheat and estery notes. A bit of banana and bubblegum blend well with the big hops. The finish is bitter and lingers on a bit relentlessly with an astringent dryness. The balance is a bit out of whack but the flavour profile is exciting and heaped full of hops and full bitterness.