Russell Brewing Punch Bowl IPA

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.

Grade: 88/100

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

Big Rock Birch Bark Canadian Imperial Stout

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. 

Grade: 85/100

© Laurie P Smith

Ninkasi/Devils Backbone The Devil Went Down to Oregon

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.

Grade: 86/100 

Clown Shoes Chocolate Sombrero

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.

Grade: 90/100

Parallel 49 Jerkface 9000

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. 

Grade: 87/100

Deschutes Cinder Cone Red Ale

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. 

Grade: 86/100

Elysian Dragonstooth Stout

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.

Grade: 94/100

Price: $7.29

Dieu du Ciel! Isseki Nicho

The newest beer from Dieu du Ciel! to arrive in Alberta is Isseki Nicho an Imperial Dark Saison a style which has started to slowly develop in the craft beer community. Dark Saisons from breweries such as Stillwater, Widmer and Upright have all been recently released. Isseki Nicho is a collaboration project between Dieu du Ciel! and Shiga Kogen a Japanese sake producer. Isseki Nicho is described as having a grain bill of an Imperial Stout with a saison twist. At 9.5% ABV this brew is certainly a heavy hitter in the class on an Imperial Stout.

Twisting off the cap a slow hiss of vapor trails out of the bottle. A gloopy, pure black viscous body with a thick, bubbly, tan head forms in the glass. The head settles slowly with larger bubbles and small, dense bubbles forming well. The nose has a general rich malt aroma with a moderately heavy roasted note, hits of coffee and chocolate and a beautiful mild saison style yeast scent. Soft esters complement the light saison yeast well with light barnyard dust notes and mild citrus zest. The aroma is rather elogent and the heaviness is a refreshing change for the saison style. My first sip has a thoroughly roasted, heavy malt flavour with a note of espresso and vanilla. More subtle flavours of smoke, wood, bourbon, lemon zest and barnyard dust work their way through. The finish is heavy with a mild saison yeast and a roasted malt bitterness that lingers for a while. Well balanced, Isseki Nicho is a unique twist on the style of saison despite being alot like an Imperial Stout.

Grade: 89/100

Price: $4.00

 

Cellar Selections – Les Trois Mousquetairs Porter Baltique Autumn 2010

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.