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

Modern Times City of the Sun

Over the past year I’ve seen images and reviews of Modern Times beer more often than I’d like to considering it is not available in Canada. The San Diego, California brewer born in 2013 is named after a crazy utopian society founded in 1850. Modern Times was started by a former Stone Brewing Co. employee Jacob McKean after many years of homebrewing experience. City of the Sun is an India Pale Ale brewed with Mosaic, Simcoe and Moteuka hops to a heavy 85 IBU’s and 7.5% ABV. I was lucky enough to find this brew at Maui Brewing Company in Kihei, HI after a tap take over at the brewery. 

Pouring out a bright, glowing orange and gold in the body the head forms quickly as a stream of cascading carbonated bubbles light the body. The head is frothy and leaves many lacing splotches around the glass. The aroma is poignantly hopped with boisterous citrus and tropical accented notes. Lemon rind, grapefruit, papaya, pineapple and mango are bountiful with heavy pine resin notes. Light caramel and munich esque malts add a biscuity and bready malt character that acts as a good balance to the heavy hops. Bright and fruity with fresh citrus notes on the aroma and in the mid palate. The finish is bitter and astringent but also manages to be crisp and succinct. Nice smack of pine and hop resin with a sticky aftertaste and lingering citrus based bitterness. A truly unique and well crafted San Diego style IPA; hop heavy with floral and tropical accents to off set the overblown citrus and hop bitterness. 

Grade: 90/100

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp 2015 Hoppy Lager

Every year the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co of Chico, California collaborates with 12 breweries and their fans for a mixture of brews collectively known as Beer Camp. In 2014 the stand out was a brew made with San Diego’s Ballast Point and so has been resurrected as a spring seasonal in 2015. The Hoppy Lager is a strong Blonde lager with a heavy hop twist. Brewed to a heavy 7.0% ABV and an agreeable 55 IBU’s the Hoppy Lager is the perfect early spring brew. In addition to a lager yeast the hop manifest includes Palisade and El Dorado as bittering hops and Citra and Equinox as finishing hops. 

Pouring out a bright, clear golden hay colour the body has a solid stream of carbonation and is capped by a dense cap of pure white head. The aroma is fresh and heavily accented with citrus hop notes. Light floral and spicy hops add a nice dimension to the hop profile. Impossibly light caramel and crisp bread malts have a touch of honey sweetness akin to the blonde style. Crisp lemon and grapefruit notes and a mild acidic crunch towards the finish. Overall the bitterness is moderate and mostly negated by the cascade of finishing hop flavours. Light floral and perfumey notes blend with zesty lemon and grapefruit notes. A pinch of pine resin on the aftertaste with moderate astringency and a heavy lager esque mouthfeel. A nice brew overall with a bit of a unique take on the style. My only wish is that we Albertans could get our hands on Sierra Nevada’s products. 

Grade: 89/100

Stone Delicious IPA

Stone Brewing Co.’s newest IPA varietal is the aptly named Delicious IPA an 80 IBU brew with 7.7% ABV that is brewed with Lemondrop and El Dorado Hops. Delicious IPA is crafter as an ode to the citrus based IPA with the bottle description as follows: “This one was all about packing as much unique and, you guessed it, delicious flavor into a glass as humanly possible, regardless of oomph or octane. This intensely citrusy, beautifully bitter beer is worthy of the simple-yet-lordly title of Stone Delicious IPA. Lemondrop and El Dorado hops combine to bring on a magnificent lemon candy-like flavor that’s balanced by hop spice. It’s unlike anything we’ve tasted in nearly two decades of IPA experimentation, and another lupulin-laced creation we’re excited to introduce to hopheads everywhere.”

Delicious IPA pours out a bright golden in the body with a huge head of off white. The aroma is heavily laden with zesty citrus aroma including tons of lemon rind and orange notes. Smells of bitter grapefruit aromatics with huge pine resin notes wafting through honey sweetness and and mild caramel malts. Resinous throughout with tons of citrus fruit hop notes that accompany lighter pine needles and sticky grapefruit notes. Mild pineapple and papaya fruit notes blend well with honey and caramel sweetness. Well balanced with light astringency and mild malts the hops enter the forefront. Punishing bitterness with tangy citrus zest notes that build up towards the finish with heavy acidity and hop bitterness. Overall, Delicious IPA is an ode to the citrus hop effect and is crafted perfectly.

Grade: 91/100

Ballast Point Sculpin IPA

One of the most respected and revered American style IPA’s is Sculpin a 7% brew from San Diego, California’s Ballast Point Brewery. Ballast Point originally started as San Diego’s Home Brew Mart and grew to become one of the United State’s craft brewing vanguards. More recently Ballast Point has brewed special editions of Sculpin with Grapefruit and Habanero pepper additions. 

Pouring out a bright cascade of golden orange with a creamy froth of yellow tinged head Sculpin looks like an IPA from the get go with tons of sticky resin lacing. The aroma is distinctly emphasised with citrus fruits including lemon, orange, grapefruit etc. Lighter floral and spicy hop aromas are noticeable but dulled by the citrus heavy notes. Light caramel malts with honey sweetness and a plethora of fruity hop notes. Citrus notes and lighter tropical fruits fill the mid palate with notes of pineapple, mango and papaya. The finish is characteristic of the San Diego style with a resin predominance that leaves a sticky, astringent aftertaste of pine needles and bitter grapefruit. A bitter finish overall but mostly a fruity beer with glorious citrus and tropical notes. Sculpin is a great example of the San Diego IPA style and is a classic beer in general. 

Grade: 94/100

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

Anchor Brewing Old Foghorn Barleywine

Anchor Brewing is seen as a the gtrandfather of American craft brewing. Founded in 1896 Anchor has a long and esteemed history that has seen many of America’s worst and best moments including being destroyed by the Great San Francisco earthquake. During prohibition Anchor survived despite having “nothing” in production. In 1965 Anchor Brewing was saved from bankruptcy by Fritz Maytag of Maytag washer/dryer fame. In 1971 Anchor expanded its lineup with four other brews; Anchor Porter, Liberty Ale, Old Foghorn Barleywine and the annual Christmas Ale. By 2015 Anchor has over a dozen flagship and seasonal releases but still get back to their roots with the original Steam beer. Old Foghorn is a Barleywine style ale with 8.8% ABV and is single hopped with Cascade. 

Pouring a bright ruby amber colour with a finger of dark beige head and tons of streaming sparkles of bubbles. The aroma is emphatically malty with tons of toffee and caramel malts that fill the palate entirely but for a subtle citrus hop and dark dried fruit aromas. Light flavours of prunes, raisins, tart cherry and woody malts in the front blend with heavy toasted bread, toffee, caramel, licorice and burnt brown sugar. A bit sweet throughout with a nice balanced profile. The finish has a moderate presence of alcohol that along with the full bodied mouthfeel make this the perfect winter warmer. 

Grade: 91/100

Moylans White Christmas Spiced Lager

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.

Grade: 78/100

Price: $8.49

Anderson Valley Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout

When Anderson Valley was first imported into the bustling craft beer scene in Alberta sometime last year I never had any idea that a WIld Turkey barrel aged beer would be later making its way up north. One of the first Anderson Valley brews to hit Albertan shelves was the Barney Flats Oatmeal stout which is a very solid sessionable stout that could be perceived as the base for this barrel aged version.  The 6.9% ABV barrel aged version was aged for 3 months in Wild Turkey casks to lend rich and woody flavours to the aroma and flavour.

The bomber of barrel aged stout a syrupy and velvety ebony black into a tulip glass with a thick foamy beige head expanding quickly on top. This head slowly dies to a thin cap which is evident of the barrel aging process. The appearance overall has a gorgeous mahogany and ebony glow throughout. Taking the first sniff of the glass I note an outstanding emphasis of bourbon and wooden barrel aromas as well as pinches of less than subtle vanilla. A minor more subtle aroma of licorice root and coffee blend well with the robust and intense roasted malt aroma. Overall the Wild Turkey has had a major and emphatic effect of the nose of this beer lending rich woody and earthy notes of vanilla and bourbon. Incredibly stoked for the first taste of this beer I dig in with a major rich yet robust flavour profile of wooden and earthen malts. Bursting roasted malts and notes of espresso and chocolate lend an intense and rich profile. The vanilla becomes more present and lingers on as I sip more of this silky, syrupy beer. Although the flavour alternates between a boisterous and robust malt and a smooth earthen vanilla essence the balance is awesome. Overall this beer is a sipper that doesnt last quite long enough.

Grade: 90/100

Price: $8.99

Mission Dark Seas Imperial Stout

During a visit to Palm Springs in January of 2013 I was able to experience my first brew from San Diego’s Mission Brewery. The Shipwrecked Double IPA is a colassal blend of hops with big booze brewed in the traditional San Diego style. My blog article on Shipwrecked can be found here. The Dark Seas from Mission Brewery is a 9.8% stout brewed in the Russian Imperial Stout style.

Pouring out a completely dark, opaque black thick as motor oil with a thin tightly held tan head Dark Seas looks like it sounds. The nose has a sweet blend of freshly ground French roast, dark, bitter chocolate with a hint of licorice and vanilla. Big boisterous roasted malts fall evenly with the subtle notes to give a rich and robust aroma complete with a warm whiff of alcohol. Big roasted malt flavour profile with much more subtle chocolate but nice espresso and licorice flavours. Sweet and syrupy mouthfeel lends an almost dessert like appeal. The finish has a satisfying roasted bitterness with a subtle oak or bourbon barrel flavour as well as a alcohol warmth. Dark Seas is a complex and well brewed Imperial Stout with all the best parts working together. Although I which this had a bit more oomph, Dark Seas is a great example of a Californian Imperial Stout.

Grade: 92/100

Price: $10.99