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.
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 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!
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.
For me beer isn’t just something to drink for its obvious intrinsic properties but also for the experience of tasting something crafted with the purest of abilities. Over the past 7 years of diving headfirst into the craft beer world there have been several beers attached to memories and moments special to me. I recently wrote a review of Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout Aged in Cognac Barrel that brought back so many crazy memories of experiencing Oslo and Bergen during the celebrations of Norwegian Constitution Day which is May 17. This review can be found here: https://albertabeersmith.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/nogne-o-imperial-stout-aged-in-cognac-barrel/ For me a simple beer can be related to an incredible experience or even a great night out with friends. Elysian Dragonstooth is a 7.5% ABV Imperial Oatmeal Stout from the chain of Brewpubs based in Seattle, WA that I had heard of for many years from friends in British Columbia. Last September I visited a friend of mine attending Graduate school at UBC when we decided to head out to the legendary Alibi Room for a few libations. To keep this story short I should mention that I was a mere 13 beers short of my thousandth so I had reason to over consume. To the chagrin of the bartender my thousandth beer was Dragonstooth on tap. For me Dragonstooth will remain connected to the experience of celebratory drunkenness and the following consequences of my over consumption. When I met Elysian Brewmaster Dick Cantwell in October this year and he mentioned that Dragonstooth would make its way onto Alberta shelves for the first time I was over the moon. Anyways, on to the beer.
Elysian Dragonstooth pours out an entirely black colour with a creamy oatmeal based head that froths against the glass heavily leaving a collection of sticky lacing blotches. At first look the aroma is heavily roasted with big notes of espresso, used coffee grounds, porridge with brown sugar, molasses and a hint of cocoa. The roasted malts are rather heavy on the nose and should lend a solid amount of bitterness to the flavour profile. A bit of an overly sweet mid palate with creamy oatmeal malt notes as well as hints of brown sugar, molasses, toffee and chocolate. A smooth finish with a creamy oatmeal palate and a full body that has quite a hit of roasted malt bitterness in the lingering aftertaste. Nice espresso and coffee notes blend well with the malt sugars giving a surprising balance overall. The nose falls a bit flat comparatively to the flavour profile as it lacks the complexity and solid overall balance.
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.
Brouwerij De Ranke in Dottignies, Belgium is a bit of a fairy tale story for many beer enthusiasts…started in 1994 by two best friends as a home-brewing fascination it quickly turned into more than a hobby. After a few short years they acquired weekend brew space at the historic Deca Brewery in West Flanders. After 11 years of sharing space and capacity with Deca, De Ranke built their own brewery in Dottignies, a town only a few minutes from the French border. De Ranke beers have been scarce both out of and in Belgium until their import to Alberta last year. Pere Noel is a Belgium Strong Ale (a category lacking boundaries besides being of Belgian origin)> brewed with brewers gold, hallertau hops and licorice. Unlike most Belgian Christmas beers that are rich, dark and fruity Pere Noel is spicy, sweet and bitter. At 7% ABV Pere Noel is about normal for Belgian style beers but rather low for a Christmas beer with most others hitting upwards of 9% ABV.
Pouring out a bright golden amber Pere Noel lacks the heavy effervescent head of other De Ranke beers and settles rather quickly. A thin line of lacing foam sticks easily to the glass as the head subsides slowly to a thin layer of bright white bubbles. The nose seems a bit out of place with the style as it is predominant with citric and grassy hops, toasted caramel and bready malts, mild spiced notes and a bit of alcohol warmth. A subtle yet pervasive funky aroma sticks to the nose throughout the tasting lending a bit of intrigue to this beer. The mid palate of taste is smooth and somewhat fruity with mild citrus hop notes as well as hints of apple and pear combining well with notes of toasted wheat, caramel, cereal grains and light licorice/anise spice flavors. The finish has a moderate bitterness that lingers unexpectedly into the aftertaste leaving mild resinous notes and sweet fruity flavors. Pere Noel has a great balance overall with bitterness, spices and malts blending well and leaving a crisp, clean but bitter Belgian flavor profile. Overall, a interesting and unique twist on a Belgian Christmas beer.
Price: $12.99 Grade: 90/100
Amidst the deluge of new craft beers from across the globe making their way onto Alberta shelves are brews from Stockholm’s gypsy brewer Omnipollo. Omnipollo is one of Sweden’s newest breweries to brew unique and artisinal brews in a wild variety of styles. Nathalius is an 8% ABV Imperial IPA by style but with a major twist. Nathalius is brewed with rice and corn; ingredients usually considered to be adjuncts in beer. Nathalius was first brewed as a collaboration project with Baltimore, MD brewery Stillwater.
Pouring a bright yellowish orange Nathalius is well topped with a heady serving of dense white foam. A nice stream of bubbles stream upwards glistening in the body. The nose has a certain graininess that is slightly off putting. Aromas of rice, slight skunk, firmly resinous hop notes and lemon zest are duly noted. A mild honeyed sweetness in the mid palate with an adjoining maltiness of cereals and grains. Light grassy and citrus hop notes become prevalent towards the finish with moderate bitterness. A rather acidic finish with a lingering resinous bitterness. Overall Nathalius is a bit of a mess stylistically despite the firm hoppy characteristics.
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.