With a bit of an impromptu return to the Alberta craft beer scene, Seattle’s Elysian Brewery has returned with a 650mL bomber of their pumpkin ale Night Owl hitting the shelves these past days. To be completely honest with the readers, I will not pretend to be a fan of pumpkin beers and the like. I find pumpkin beers to be a style lacking originality and creativity with moth beers tasting similar to others of the style. Night Owl is brewed with pumpkin, pumpkin seeds and is fermented with spices. Elysian Night Owl is brewed with over 7 lbs. of pumpkin per barrel and spiced in conditioning with nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, ginger and allspice. Despite the sessionable but higher 5.9% ABV Night Owl should be beer unlikely to impress me due to my skepticism.
Pouring out a dark amber with an orange glow in the body and a cap of thin off white head. So far Night Owl looks like most pumpkin ales I have experienced. The nose has a beautiful essence of pumpkin spice and a mild vegetable like pumpkin aroma. Notes of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg are duly noted on the aroma with a mild toffee and caramel malt. The flavour profile albiet mild and easy going had a solid spiced complex with notes of cloves, cinnamon and allspice blending with malt notes of nuts, toffee, caramel and rye bread. A good balance in the mid palate with almost no hop bitterness on the finish. The finish is replete with a pumpkin like flavour that lingers for about 10 seconds before dying down. Night Owl has an interesting profile and is honest to god one of the first pumpin ales I actually found enjoyable. Overall the balance of spices, pumpkin and malt is well done and gives a great profile of delectable flavours.
Baltimore, Maryland’s Stillwater Artisinal Ales is one of America’s most well known brewers of farmhouse styles beers. I recently uploaded a video review of Stillwater’s As Follows a Belgian Strong Ale and was very surprised by Stillwaters flavorful yeast strain. Debutante is a Farmhouse Ale brewed to 6.4% ABV and crafted in the style of Biere de Garde. Debutante is brewed with spelt and rye along with heather, honeysuckle, and hyssop. Biere de Garde is a style traditionally brewed in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.
Stillwater Debutante pours out a bright and sparkling golden orange with a fizzy densely bubbled head. A few lacing rings stick easily to the glass as I swirl a few times. A first small sniff and I note a pleasant estery spritz of citrus fruit, floral hops, musty barnyard notes as well as mild herbal aroma. Debutante has a generally pleasant and bright aroma that reminds me of the best saison beers and a blend of grassy herbs. A bit of a toasted bready malt that blends well with a refreshing bouquet of herbs, citrus, mild hops and a musty ester essence. The finish is refreshing and crisp with a relatively mild bitterness. The spices and herbs that Debutante is brewed with aren’t individually notes in the flavour but come through as a mild floral spiced note. Overall Debutante is certainly unique and tends to remind me of a cross between a spiced wit beer and a saison.
Brewed in the Leaside Village area in Toronto, Ontario the Amsterdam Brewery has been redefining craft beer in Ontario since 1986. The first Amsterdam beer to leave the province and land in Alberta is the Boneshaker Unfiltered IPA. Brewed Amarillo hops with a 90 minute continuous hopping to 65 IBU’s and a heavy 7.1% ABV, Boneshaker is for hop fans only.
Pouring out a bright golden orange with a big bounty of white head Boneshaker has the generally IPA esque appearance despite a lack of haze or cloudiness. The nose has a big dose of pine and gooey resinous citrus aromas. A mild malty nose with hints of caramel and toasted breads the aroma is hop dominated. The first sip has full on resinous hop sweetness with grapefruit and zesty flavours. Toasted malts and bready notes blend well and help balance the flavour out but are lost quickly with big hops. The finish isn’t all that bitter for me but lingers quite well with a sharp and tangy grapefruit along with a moderate smack of resinous hops. A good beer overall if I can say so.
Price: $17/ 6 pack
In a century old warehouse a few blocks from the bustling Zuid Station (South Station) in Brussels, Belgium lives a true gem of lambic brewing. The small family owned and operated lambic brewery in the Anderlecht area has been in operation since 1900. At current date the Cantillon is in the capable hands of a fourth generation descendent of founder Paul Cantillon. Known best for its Champagne of Brussels – the Gueuze style lambic Cantillon also brews several other lambic styles including kriek or cherry lambic. During a recent visit to Belgium I was privileged enough to tour the brewery and try out 4 styles of lambic beer for a cost far, far cheaper than bottles cost at home. The brewery was incredibly unique and eyeopening with highlights being the walls upon walls stuffed with barrels and bottles of liquid gold. In addition since lambic involves wild yeast and open vats during fermentation, spiders are revered and protected in the brewing area as a defense against insects and other such things. Cantillon Kriek is a 5% beer produced by blending lambic beer with lambic beer brewed with cherries grown in Belgium.
Unlike many other Belgian beers that are corked, Cantillon beers use a bottle cap instead of a wire cage to hold the cork in place. Opening a bottle of Cantillon not only takes more time and patience but also more reverence for the liquid inside as you are opening a $25 bottle. Popping th ecork out and pouring Cantillon Kriek you notice the cherries instantly with a bright pinkish red body colour and a huge foamy pink head that fizzes itself out quickly. The head caps off at a thin tightly held layer of pink bubbles. The nose seems overbalanced by tart cherries and a big acetic sourness commonplace in Cantillon lambic beers. A bit of a sweetness comes through as I take a few more sniffs although the sourness complicates with a mild sour funkyness entering the mix. The first sip is sweet and tart with juicy cherry nectar bud subsides to a hairy funk and sourness. The balance is lacking despite the heavy cherry presence because of that traditional strong Cantillon sourness. The finish is sour and acidic with a puckering tartness. Overall the cherries are a bit lost in the mix but this is a great lambic with a ton of awesome funky sour flavours and aroma.
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.
Evil Twin is a Danish/American gypsy brewery known for its extreme and obscure craft brews. Although brewed at several locations and distributed from Brooklyn Evil Twin is a Danish brewery at heart. I have previously written several blog articles and beer reviews on this blog on Evil Twin beers. Falco is a 7% ABV India Pale Ale brewed in the style of an American IPA.
Falco pours a bright gold with a subtle highlight of orange in the body. A gigantic white head with a ton of big soaplike bubbles clings to the glass leaving a ton of big lacing rings. A few slowly cascading bubbles stream towards the finger of head atop the glowing body. A first small whiff and I notice a mild grapefruit and freshly squeezed citrus fruit aroma. Mild toasted and grainy malts blend rather well with the citrus fruits and a hint of light pine needle. Mild and sweet flavour with a hint of honey, caramel malts, toasted cereals and a whole lot of citrus fruits. Freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and lemon zest. The finish although moderately bittered is not as intense nor as lingering as I would have hoped. Mild astringent and puckering aftertaste subsides in a few seconds. Falco is a truly well brewed and complex IPA despite its bitterness shortcoming.
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.
BooGoop a highly lauded collaboration between two of the worlds most prolific craft breweries is a barleywine brewed with Buckwheat malt. The two breweries involved in the creation of this beer are Copenhagen, Denmark’s Mikkeller and Three Floyds from Munster, Indiana. I recently wrote a post on this blog reviewing Three Floyds Dark Lord 2012 an Imperial Stout which I was privileged enough to taste on tap at Mikkellerbar Viktoriagade. Boogoop was brewed at De Prouf Brouwerij in Belgium to 10.4% ABV and 80 IBUs.
BooGoop pours a highly carbonated mixture of creamy pale yellow head and a burgeoning blend of murky brown and ruby red. The aroma has a sensational toasted graininess with the aroma of a barley field. Sweet brown sugar with an emphasis of resin and grapefruit hops in the nose blends well with the overblown malt backbone. This beer has the aroma of a truly beautiful barleywine. Taking a first small sip a mouthful of brown sugar and molasses lends a ton of sweetness to the flavour. MIld toasted grains with a noted buckwheat flavour and light toffee and caramel malts. The mid palate has a large grapefruit presence with a tangy pinch of lemon rind and citrus zest. After the citrus subsides a mild resinous finish has a nice solid hop bitterness that lingers into the aftertaste. Boogoop has one of the most outrageous and solid barleywine flavours thanks to the heaps of hops and buckwheat. Boogoop has an incredible balance with a warm, resinous and hoppy finish that makes me want more.
Price: $11.99/ 750mL
Grimstad, Norway’s Nøgne Ø is Norway’s golden child in their growing craft brewery scene. Luckily Albertan’s have been privy to many imported bottles of Nøgne Ø beers over the last year. In May of this year I made an adventuresome trip to Scandinavia to climb mountains and see the fjords. Starting in the beautiful harbour city of Bergen I found myself to arrive on May 17th or Norwegian Constitution Day. Little did I know at the time that this would be the most eyeopening and interesting day of my entire European vacation. After watching the parade along Bryggen the strip of old Hanseatic buildings along the harbourfront I made my way to Hakon’s Hall and Rosenkrantz tower atop a hill overlooking the entire harbourfront. From there I could see the true amount of Norwegians who were out to party the town in traditional dress. I made my way up towards the hills and mountains surrounding Bergen to take the Mt. Fløyen funicular up to see the best view of the city. Due to an overflow of locals trying to take the funicular I thought maybe I would go back later close to sunset. So I made my way back to my hotel to meet my hiking group for the next week and passed by a bar called the Garage a block from my hotel. I noticed the Garage had a few signs up for Nøgne Ø and Haandbryggeriet so I thould I should probably take a look.
Bergen Fish Market on May 17th
View of Bergen from Mt. Fløyen at night
Before I continue I should note that Norway is the most expensive country on earth where a Big Mac costs 95 NOK or $19 CAD. Walking up to the bar a very friendly bartender asked me where I was from and why I was in Bergen. I told him I was going hiking on the fjords and glaciers for 10 days and this was the starting place and that I was from Calgary, Alberta. He asked me if Calgary was like Stavanger in Norway which are both oil cities. After questioning him about the Norwegian craft beers he had he offered me a pint of Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout on cask for 110 NOK ($22 CAD) which was truly delicious despite its price tag (but a pint of crappy lager was around 80 NOK). I sat down in the corner and used the wifi to check some news back home until a young Norwegian guy named Jos approached me and asked why I was in the corner and not celebrating with the rest of the locals. Jos was in Bergen to celebrate with his friends who were late to the party after travelling all the way from somewhere near Trondheim. The next few hours were an interesting insight into Norwegian solcialist life and the high cost of living. Jos was a factory working who welding compression parts for off shore oil rigs. After several more expensive beers Jos and I were discussing the differences between Norwegian and Canadian life. We finally talked about the etreme right wing people in Norway like Varg Vikernes and Anders Behring Breivik discussing the church burnings and murders in Bergen in the 1990’s. Later that night after thinking of all we had talked about I could not of asked for a more interesting experience than meeting Jos in Bergen and seeing Constitution Day celebrations. But now maybe I should talk about the beer…
Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout aged in cognac barrels is a 9% ABV beer laid down in previously used cognac barrels for an entire year. Pouring out of the 8oz bottle a gloopy viscous entirely opaque black with a thin light tan head. The glass has a few noted alcohol leggings with sizable lacing splotches. The appearance is definately that of an aged Imperial Stout. The aroma is outrageous with huge roasted and slightly smoky malts leading to earthen barrel notes and vanilla bean shavings. After a few more whiffs of the aroma an overall sublime aroma of vanilla and woody booze is left. Sweet, syrupy mid palate with vanilla nuances and a light cocoa dusting are well combined. Sweet finish with roasted robustness and a rather mild bitterness caps off the aged flavour. Earthy and woody barrel flavours persist into the finish with a noted barrel emphasis throughout. This beer is incredibly complex and well rounded for a barrel aged Imperial Stout. Although I am a bit biased because Imperial Stout and in particular barrel aged Imperial Stout are my favorite, this is one hell of brew. Expertly and exquistely crafted and aged I think I would like to try more of Nøgne Ø Imperial Stouts.
Price: $7.99/8 oz
During my weekly stop at one of my favorite craft beer stores in Calgary last week, the owner who knows my love of interesting brews offered up a sample of a Berliner Weisse. The Berliner Weisse brewed by Montreal’s Dieu du Ciel! With raspberries is my first chance to try tgis rare style. The Berliner Weisse is a style of beer originating from you guessed it Berlin where it is the local specialty. Brewed with wheat malt and often fruit Berliner weisse have a moderate sourness akin to lambic beers from Belgium.
Pouring out a beautiful glimmering pinkish colour evidence of raspberries. A nice tuft of pink foam on top with a solid bubble density caps off a glorious appearance. The aroma a beautiful sourness blended with fresh picked raspberries and a crisp clean wheat malt. The nose is rather sublime although the sourness is unlike most other sour/wild beers Ive encountered. Sweet raspberries and fruity flavors in the mid palate show like in the aroma with a mild crisp finish. Not until my second or third sip does the sourness creep up and linger into the finish and aftertaste. A beautiful balance and a crisp sourness blend well together in creating a refreshing sour brew.
The Dieu du Ciel has the ability to brew amazing beers in rare and uncommon styles which begs the question… can they brew a bad beer?