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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
© Laurie P Smith
Clown Shoes Brewing has rapidly become one of my favourite American craft brewers to hit the shelves in Alberta stores. The beer is contract brewed out of Mercury Brewing Co. in Ipswich, Massachusetts and has recently been named one of the Top 100 Brewers in the World by RateBeer. Most of all Clown Shoes has taken risks in making unique and obsure styles steeped in humour. Chocolate Sombrero is a Mexican Style Chocolate Stout brewed with ancho chiles and cinnamon to an ABV of 9%. The concoction of spice and heat with roasted malts and robust espresso and chocolate notes is a pairing used often in beers nowadays to acclaim.
Cracking open the Chocolate Sombrero the pour is a deeply opaque brown nearing black with a thin layer of dark tan head tightly coiled on top. At first the aroma is heavily laden with smoky roasted malts, espresso and vanilla beans and dark chocolate. As the beer opens up a subtle spice aroma presents it self with the chiles and spices coming through the barrier of roasted malts. A bit sweet in the mid palate with a dessert like flavour of chocolate malts and frosting. The spice remains well hidden and reserved until the finish. Rich and smooth mouthfeel with a thick oily body the finish is heavy with roasted malt bitterness. In the aftertaste the chile makes another appearance adding heat to the bitterness akin to fighting fire with fire. Overall, a very smooth and rich stout with a robust profile and spice blend. I enjoy this beer alot as it adds another dimension to the sometimes overworked Imperial Stout. Clown Shoes seems to have a knack for taking styles popular in the US and tweaking them in their own unique way.
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.