Russell Brewing out of Surrey, BC has rapidly become one of Western Canada’s best and most reputable craft breweries. As someone who works in the craft beer industry I have seen a great improvement in the past few seasonal releases from Russell Brewing. Punch Bowl IPA is billed as a tropical and fruity IPA made with Citra, Mosaic and Amarillo hops that has 65 IBU’s and a very appropriate 6.5% ABV.
Pouring out a dark orange and amber in the body with a thick off white head that coats the glass in lacing blotches. There is a light stream of carbonation that simmers the head down to a thin layer after a few minutes. The aroma is certainly emphasised by tropical fruit notes of pineapple, mango, papaya and grapefruit. Citrus fruit notes although exceedingly common in IPA’s are somewhat more subtle beneath the juicy tropical notes. Light biscuity malts with a touch of caramel sweetness adds a balance to the flavour profile. After a few sips the lingering bitterness is noted although rather subdued. Simply sublime pineapple and mango notes become even more appetizing with a pinch of pine resin and citrus bitterness. Overall a great IPA with succulent, juicy tropical fruit notes that give a bit of character to the already great IPA. Punch Bowl IPA is another fantastic specialty brew from Russell Brewing.
Alberta’s newest craft brewery is Two Sergeants Brewing Inc. located in Fort Saskatchewan 20km north east of Edmonton. Bangalore Torpedo IPA is their first beer to hit off license shelves in Alberta and is billed as a 5.7% IPA with an explosive 100 IBU’s. Bangalore Torpedo gets its namesake from the incendiary device used to destroy mines and munitions left over after the Boer War. During WW2 the Bangalore Torpedo was used to weaken German defenses during the beach assaults on D-Day.
Bangalore Torpedo pours a rather dark amber tinted orange with a modest off white head with tons of sticky lacing that coats the glass. The aroma is rather moderate and reserved for a 100 IBU IPA touted as being “hopsplosive”. Light caramel and grassy notes with accents of citrus fruit and pine needle. After my first sip it is evident quickly that during the brewing process the majority of hops were added to the boil early. This left the brew with a more moderate aroma and heavy, lingering bitterness. Light sweet caramel malts up front with citrus fruits, floral and grassy notes. Heavy, pungent grapefruit notes blend with poignant pine resin notes. Dry and astringent finish with heavy bitterness and a sticky, full body mouthfeel. The bitterness lingers on infinitely and doesn’t seem to subside. Overall a very strong first beer with a hell of a punch.
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.
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.
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
The first time I tried a Ninkasi beer I was on holiday in Palm Springs, California and found a bottle of Oatis at the local grocery store. Ninkasi is a larger craft brewery located in Eugene, Oregon and is named after the Sumerian goddess of brewing and fermentation, Ninkasi. Unfortunately I would have to wait 4 years for Ninkasi to finally import into Alberta. Oatis was stuck in my head as the epitome of a creamy oatmeal stout with a moderate bitterness and full body flavour. Since Ninkasi started hitting the shelves in Alberta I’ve been lucky enough to try nearly a dozen of their brews and even attend a sensory class with Ninkasi founder Jamie Floyd. The Devil Went Down to Oregon is a collaboration brewed with Roseland, Virginia’s Devils Backbone Brewing Company. Stylistically, “The Devil” is a Imperial Dark Rye or Roggenbier brewed to 72 IBU’s and 7.2% ABV with Northwest hops and an Alt style yeast strain.
Pouring out a dark, opaque blackish brown with a thick, puffy head of off white that does not subside but rather coats the entire glass in lacing. The aroma is heavily malted with spicy, bready notes of rye and biscuity crystal malts that give in to solid caramel and toffee malt sweetness. A bit of a nutty aroma with a hint of vanilla blends with the notable hop aromas. Light citrus fruit and a pinch of pine resin adds a Northwest twist to the staunchly German style malt profile. The first sip comes across rather sweet and a bit fruity with caramel and biscuity malts with a spicy twist of rye malt. Citrus zest and tart hop flavours build towards the finish with a light pine resin and lingering astringency. The malts and the hops are both blown out of proportion but also balance out well in the middle. An interesting mash-up of styles with the hop content expected from Oregon with the malts of a traditional German alt or roggenbier. A very peculiar brew overall.
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.
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.
One of Bend, Oregon’s Deschutes Brewing Company’s most well known seasonal varieties has finally made it into Alberta for the first time. Cinder Cone is a Northwest style Red Ale brewed with Amarillo and Tettnang hops to a pseudo sessionable 5.3% ABV.
Cinder Cone pours out a rich, deep mahaogany with a burgundy hue throughout the body and a thick mess of beige head. The aroma is distinctively rich with toffee and caramel malts atop a toasted bread note. A hint of vanilla extract blends with light floral and spicy hops and a pinch of citrus zest. Quite mellow in the middle with light toasted caramel malts and mild sweetness. Spicy hops with a light vanilla or herbal flavour towards the finish. The finish itself has moderate hop bitterness and lingering astringency with a prominent citrus hop and light pine resins (from the Amarillo). Cinder Cone has a medium to full body with a great hop to malt balance and light carbonation. Overall, not a earth shattering brew by any means but a fantastic example of an Amber ale with lots of flavour.
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.