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.
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.
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.
For many years Fort Garry was the big boy in the Manitoba Craft beer scene. Until Half Pints opened its doors they were the only one. Recently several big bottle seasonal brews from Fort Garry have been sent to Alberta. Several months ago I did a blog entrty on Portage & Main IPA from Fort Garry Brewery. Fort Garry was started in 1930 but was merged with Molson later on. It was not until the mid 1990s that a craft brewery of the same name was opened.
Kona Imperial Stout is a 6.5% abv stout brewed with coffee from the big island of Hawaii. At 6.5% I fear this may lack the buzzing warmth and thick richness of a true Russian Imperial stout. Most Imperial Stouts are upwards of 8% ABV with most falling around 9 or 10%. Kona coffee is arabica bean grown on the slopes of Hualalai or Mauna Koa and as such is rather expensive. Due to rarity and cost most coffee roasters or brewers whole sell Kona coffee often use a blend of Kona arabica and other coffees grown from elsewhere.
Pouring a dark as night black with a thick foamy beige mess on top this looks more like an Oatmeal stout to me The head srays rather bulging and thick for a while before settling down to a few small bubbles. The nose has a moderate roast with big coffee and espresso aromas floating peacfully together. Earthen and smoky notes although subtle are also duly noted. Mild sweet coffee and chocolate flsvours up front with mild roasted malts coming in soon. The finish is roasted and mildly bittered but lacks the big smack in the face of roasted malts I love. This is a solid brew but has neither the finishing warmth nor the full roasted malt I love. I think this could be a great Imperial Stout if brewed in the traditional Russian Imperial Stout style with more roasted malts and a higher alcohol content.