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.
One of California’s most esteemed brewers is the aptly named Bruery located in Orange County. The Bruery is a self described boutique brewery specializing in barrel aged and experimental ales. The brewery was started by Patrick Rue an avid homebrewer in 2008 and is named with his surname as the moniker. Saison Rue is a nod to the family saison brewers common in Belgium who often name their saison style beers after their surname. Saison Rue is one of The Bruery’s few year round offerings and is billed as a bottled condition saison brewed with rye malt and brettanomyces.
Pouring out a rich, murky burgundian amber with a thick and lively yellowish head. There is a solid stream of bubbles reaching up to the soft pillowed head of foam. At first the aroma is of ripe fruit, old leather, earthen and woody notes and a bit of lemon pledge cleaner. Richly steeped with crisp and spicy rye malt that quickly contrasts the notable citrus and light pine hops. A bit of a musty, earthy aroma from the inclusion of brett presents itself in moderation. A nice crisp first sip with light caramel and toffee malts with hints of cracked pepper, floral and citrus hops and musty barnyard wood. A very complex yet approachable profile that is reserved where it should be and takes liberties elsewhere. Ripe fruit and rich leathery earth flavours combine with toffee and spicy rye towards the finish with a trademark saison finish. Dry and astringent with lingering yeast and ester flavours. Citrus hops linger on with a backbone of cracked pepper and floral notes. Saison Rue is a wonderfully exuberant and complex beer that shows a different story with every sip and for that reason it is consistently one of my favourite brews.
© Laurie P Smith
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
Since their inception and arrival on the Alberta Craft Beer scene I have had nothing but accolades for the small East Vancouver brewer Parallel 49. Starting as St. Augustine’s one of Vancouver’s best craft beer bars with a bonkers rotating tap list, the brewery has quickly grown into one of BC’s best. The cavalcade of amazing beers from Parallel 49 keeps on coming and the newest arrival is Black Hops Cascadian Dark Lager a Schwarzbier type of Black IPA.
Black Hops pours a purely black body with a foamy bubbly beige head and a few sparse carbonation bubbles in the body. The nose is rather exceptional with big grapefruit and mild spiced hop resinous. A subtle note of smokey cocoa tantalizes me to take me first sip. The body is incredibly light and nearly watery with a mild roasted malt unlike the nose made me believe. A light sweetness with a hint of cocoa and a subtle earthen woody note. The finish is mild and a bit disappointing with a hint of light grapefruity hops. After finishing this brew I found it a bit disappointing especially after the last several seasonal brews form Parallel 49. I hope the next East Vancouver creation from this generally awesome brewery exceeds my expectations.
Price: $7.49 Grade: 78/100
Granville Island Brewery in Vancouver, British Columbia has been a cornerstone of the Canadian craft brewing industry since its founding in 1984. Despite its purchase by SABMiller via Creemore Springs in 2009, the Granville brewery has been pumping out solid craft brews for close to 3 decades. Thanks to the recent purchase by the large conglomerate, Alberta has recently been able to sample many of the lesser known Granville brews made at their Granville Island brewpub. The Imperial IPA is the most recent addition to this big bottle lineup of full flavoured brews.
This Imperal IPA is fashioned in the San Diego style at 8.6% ABV and 100 IBU’s with added citrus peel to the boil. As is typical, Granville’s Imperial IPA is brewed with toasted English malts and a full heap of Pacific Northwest hops. Pouring a bright, vivid orange-gold colour with a well carbonated body and a light beige head that fizzles instantly to nothing. A few white splotches of head coat the glass for a short while before fading away prematurely. The aroma has a mild Pacific NW feel with heavy resin and piney hop aromas full frontal with obvious citrus notes. The aroma lacks an overall malt character midst the heavy hop scents. The flavour is unbalanced and rather resinous upfront with heavy citric hop acids and a light toasted malt. A bit of an overall sweet flavour and notes of lemon peel and fresh grapefruit juice join the party. The finish has an abrupt and potent astringent bitterness although short lived as it fades quickly. Overall, not as memorable as many BC or Cascadian counterparts, this is a solid well hopped Imperial IPA.
Grade: 87/100 Price: $7.59
To be honest I had never actually heard of Hook Norton Brewery, but after a quick google search it was something I definitely had to try. Hook Norton Brewery located in Hook Norton, Oxfordshire was founded in 1849 and still operates as a brewery from the era. In what is known as a Victorian tower brewery, a beer is brewed sequentially starting on the top floor and making its way down. Until 2006, the Hook Norton Brewery was powered by an on site steam engine making this a truly unique and real ale. The Haymaker itself is a 5% ABV Premium Bitter or ESB. The ESB style of beer is a term used to refer to Brtitish style bitter ales over 4.8% ABV.
The Haymaker has a gorgeous bright golden copper tinted body with a thick bright white head. There is a steady stream of of fine carbonation bubbles streaming upwards that help form a few lines of sticky lacing. The nose has a beautifully floral bouquet with a typical English accented biscuit malt and yeast. A fresh citrus fruit with grassy and floral hops accompany a mild caramel and toasted bread malt. The finish has a solid hop bitterness and a lingering grainy malt flavor. Beautiful light lemon and fresh floral notes make this a fantastic session ESB. The body is quite full and a bit of sparkly carbonation truly makes this a good example of the brush pub style strong bitter ale.
Grade: 78/100 Price: $4.99