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Are U-Brews Worth It?


A typical U-Brew set up.

Last week the Manitoba government announced that it is legalizing U-Brews, sometimes known as Brew-on-Premises. The idea behind U-Brews is to allow people to make their own beer and wine on the site of a commercial operation. They get access to professional equipment, advice and oversight from professionals and avoid the mess and storage of brewing at home.

Manitoba’s announcement leaves Alberta as one of the last hold-outs prohibiting on-site brewing. As usual.

Over the years I have been a big advocate of U-Brews. I believe they are a great way to open the world of homebrewing to the average person. Many people are simply overwhelmed at what it takes to brew beer or wine at home. I talk to people often who say “I would homebrew but…”. Their reasons usually revolve around the equipment needs, the mess, fear of contamination and/or lack of knowledge. U-Brews eliminate almost every one of those issues.

U-Brews can make homebrewing more accessible. I have family members who regularly make use of their local U-Brew (obviously not in Alberta) and they love it.

There is no question that U-Brews should be legal everywhere (are you listening new Alberta NDP government?). But I am starting to wonder if they really achieve what we veteran homebrewers desire. I have long felt that U-Brews are a good gateway option. People can start there and later they can move to their own at-home operation. I am not sure I believe that anymore.

As I look at other provinces, most notably Saskatchewan which is the most recent convert to U-Brews, I am no longer convinced they advance the homebrewing cause. In the flat province, most of the U-Brews focus exclusively on wine – beer is an afterthought. As I scan B.C. and Ontario, I find the same issue. Wine gets most of the air time. In both provinces beer has its adherents, but definitely wine is bigger.

Maybe that is fair enough. The consumer speaks. But, really, wine is much easier to make at home than beer. It has one ingredient, is less sensitive to sanitation issues and doesn’t need to be carbonated. Is making a batch of wine in a U-Brew store all that different than making it at home? Not really. Consumers seem to be choosing to bypass the relatively greater advantages of brewing beer in a commercial facility.

ubrew2My bigger question these days is whether U-Brews actually serve as a gateway to more serious homebrewing. I am beginning to think they don’t. The average U-Brew client wants an easy, quick, hassle-free approach to making their own beer. I am beginning to doubt that this person will ever make the jump to full-fledged homebrewing. Why should they? They pay a bit more for the U-Brew experience, but they gain tons in terms of convenience, ease and simplicity.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not criticizing those people or the U-Brew shops that service them. The more ways to create your own beer the better is my motto. Which is why I still advocate for their legalization. I guess I am just finally shedding my own naivety around the role of U-Brews in the homebrewing community.

I am beginning to believe their function is akin to laminate floors. It gives you the look of a hardwood floor without the hassle of actually installing hardwood. There is nothing wrong with it, but it will never replace the feel of a real hardwood floor. U-Brews give you good tasting beer, but they lack the full satisfaction of doing the whole thing yourself.

Maybe I am in the minority, but I find the feeling at the end of a brew day to be unmatched anywhere. To know I constructed a nectar out of grain, water, hops and my own sweat is a pretty sweet thought. A U-Brew simply can’t replicate that.

So, congratulations to Manitoba for opening the door to U-Brews. But you will forgive me if after my applause I quickly return to my usual strategy of encouraging burgeoning homebrewers to join their local homebrew club, as that is the way to create a lifelong homebrewer.


North Belgian Milk Stout

northbelgianstout2In a recent post I look at the newer breweries in the Nova Scotia craft scene. One of the missing pieces at the time was an unopened bottle of North Brewings’ Belgian Milk Stout. I was intrigued by this beer from the moment I saw it on the shelf. I don’t think I have ever seen a blending of milk stout and Belgian influences. I was curious.

I got around to opening it the other day – after it had at least a few days to settle from its travel shock. I will admit in the back of my mind I was hoping for something like Hercule Stout, which is a highlight of Belgian style bending for me. However, my brain reminded me Hercule is more of a tropical/imperial stout in its base beer.

Well, the beer starts impressively. For appearance my notes simply read “black, black, black”. It builds a tall, thick and rolling dark tan head. It seems substantial enough to rest a coin on it. The aroma wafts as mocha, dark coffee, licorice with a blanket of mustiness and dark earthy yeast spice.

The taste starts noticeably sweet. It is a lactose sweetness (appropriately) accented by some mocha chocolate and dark fruit. I find the middle gets a bit weird with a dank silkiness and tinge of tartness. The Belgian character dominates the latter stages of the beer, coming across as a musty, earthy overlay. The linger is medium roast coffee mixed with a dirty spoon, but in a good way (if that makes any sense at all).

The yeast doesn’t come across like pepper or phenols as one would expect in a straight up Belgian (is there such a thing?), but more of a root cellar character. You can tell it has Belgian yeast but it reacts in an unexpected way. It makes the beer seem a bit oxidized and more earthy. I can’t quite decide if it is due to the interactions of the sweet malt base and the yeast , if they use a strain that seems earthier and mustier, or they did something else to the beer that I haven’t read.

So, it turned out not to be all that much like Hercule Stout after all, which I guess shouldn’t really surprise me. They are simply different beer (alcohol content and the residual sweetness being two differences). North’s stout went a different direction. The yeast and the roast do fit well together, just not in the way I was expecting. It draws out the mustiness of the beer more than it adds a phenolic edge. It is more subtle than I expected. A casual drinker might not even know that it is Belgian inspired, but it clearly is.

Girder Bender, Behind the Scenes

neil stirring

Neil Herbst stirs the mash while brewing Girder Bender Historical Stout while your humble author looks on.

As I mentioned here, last month the Edmonton Heritage Council hosted a beer history tour of Edmonton. One of the cooler aspects of the tour was an heritage beer made exclusively for the tour. The organizers rather cheekily dubbed the beer Girder Bender to link it to the epic 102 Ave bridge fail of 2015.

At the time I offered a few details about the beer and promised to tell more about it another day. I guess that day is today. So come backstage with me and experience the inside story of the creation of Girder Bender. It is a tale of BBQs on fire, popcorn poppers, missed targets and, in the end, a pretty decent beer.

The process started in the office of Alley Kat’s Neil Herbst. Neil and I examined a book of historic beer ads in early 20th century Alberta. We noticed most breweries, in addition to “beer”, which we assumed to be their lagers, sold porter or stout. The idea of a stout seemed to fit the bill well. I went off to research old recipes. I focused on late 1800s England, estimating that early 1900s brewers in Alberta would be working with similar recipes. Rather than go with one recipe, I crafted a malt bill that reflected the general approach. We went with a bill of 80% pale malt, 13% brown malt and 7% black malt.

Interestingly, stout malt bills were very simple until the 19-teens, when they became noticeably more complex – paralleling the shift from brewery-based malting and kilning to professional maltsters. We thought the simpler approach would produce a more authentic version.

A brew day scene. I promise I did do some of the work, really.

Neil, Shane and I work on the brew. I promise I did do some of the work, really.

I made some rough hop addition calculations from the historical recipes – which wasn’t easy since they didn’t report alphas or much else for that matter. My initial calculation of 2.75 pounds per gallon turned out to be seriously over-hopping. Neil calculated using 5% alpha Goldings (which is what we were using) it would have 220 IBUs! We figured that alpha levels and kettle utilization were much lower then. We scaled back to a more reasonable 100 grams for our 50-litre batch.

The initial idea was to home roast the brown and black malt. I took on the black malt and Neil volunteered to try making the brown malt. I did some reading to work up how to best do it at home. Oven roasting seemed possible, but the warnings of excessive smoke scared me off that approach. However, I read doing it on the BBQ with indirect heat can work, so I gave that a try.

Hmm. Not so much. I couldn’t keep the heat consistent and ended up scorching half while leaving half untouched. It even caught fire at one point. I moved on to Plan B. A friend has a Big Green Egg, a fancy ceramic BBQ known for their finessed temperature control, and he offered it up. So I walked over to his house and we set about egging the malt. Three hours later it had only turned a middling brown, not even close to black malt. I reluctantly called the experiment a failure and informed Neil we would need to use commercial black malt.

While I was busy setting my BBQ on fire, Neil was trying to use a hot air popcorn popper to make his brown malt. He made only half of his intended volume because it took too long and he lost patience. On brew day we compared my Green Egg malt and his brown malt to a bag of commercial brown malt. We declared my batch, while slightly uneven and with a slight smoky character, was not a bad representation of brown malt. So in the mash it went, along with commercial pale and black malt.

Brew day started fairly smoothly. Alley Kat’s pilot system is Continue reading Girder Bender, Behind the Scenes

Spring Has Sprung Us Some Beer

toolshed_uniteredaleIt really is starting to feel like spring. We have had our requisite May snowfall, the trees are budding and the grass is turning green. Sounds like a good time for a beer.

And that thought had me realizing it has been a while since I have done a news roundup. In fact it has been a good seven weeks or so. What? I’ve been busy.

So, I guess it is about time. I am not entirely sure I have captured all the latest comings and goings, but this is what I have on my list (with the usual disclaimers):

  • On the government front (no, not Alberta’s), Manitoba announced last week that the province’s breweries can now operate tasting rooms associated with their production facility. No question this is a positive step forward for craft beer in Manitoba, and somewhat overdue. To my eye it looks similar to rules recently passed in Alberta with requirements for basic food, a cap on capacity and flexibility in operating hours.
  • The king of the news this week is unquestionably Half Pints, with a frightening number of releases in the coming weeks. This Saturday is the glorious return of the Trinity Series after a six-year absence. What makes the series noteworthy is the yeast process. They start with a Belgian monastery yeast to produce The Father (a Dubbel). The yeast is then harvested to create The Son (A dark Belgian Ale) and then finally used one more time to brew The Holy Spirit (Witbier). It will be available in mixed six-packs. They are also doing their Queer Beer again for Winnipeg’s Gay Pride festival next month. Also returning sometime in June is Black Galaxy, their Cascadian Dark Ale. Half Pints Dave tells me on the on-deck circle are Heiðrún’s Sweet Mead (a self-explanatory name), a new batch of Le Temps Noir and an aged Old Red Barn (for two years!), their sour ale. They also note an upcoming collaboration brew with the folks from Black Bridge Brewing from Swift Current. Rumours have it that it might be some kind of SMASH (Single Malt and Single Hop) beer. Whew!!
  • Staying in Winnipeg, Fort Garry released Belgian Witbier this week as their summer seasonal. A light (4%) wheat beer that will be released only in cans.
  • Calgary is the next big site for news. Young upstart Tool Shed participated in the International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day in March. This is a project of the Pink Boots Society, a group created to promote women in the beer industry. The product of that effort is being released later this month. Called Unite Red Ale, the same beer was brewed across the world in conjunction with women brewers. Proceeds of the sale of Tool Shed’s version will go to establish a scholarship at Olds College Brewmaster Program for women students.
  • ribstonegreatwhiteBig Rock has announced its latest Brewmaster’s is Hefehöpper, an unfiltered version of their popular Grasshöpper. I have also noticed they quietly have launched the Pull Tab Series (I saw no release or statement about it – it just showed up on the website) which marks the return of AGD (Alberta Genuine Draft) and AGD Light as can-only product. The return of AGD is a deviation from their renewed focus on craft in the past couple years. I must also wave a dis-approving finger at their choice to spell it d-r-a-f-t, instead of the more proper d-r-a-u-g-h-t. Tut-tut.
  • Still in Calgary, Village Brewing’s latest seasonal, in time for summer, is Village Triplet Three Berry Kolsch. A light-bodied, light-alcohol blonde ale, Triplet is made with blueberry, blackberry and saskatoonberry to create a fruity flavour and a distinctive pink hue.
  • Two Sargeant’s had their official launch a couple weeks ago. Their inaugural Bangalore Torpedo IPA is now available on tap in select locations.
  • Ribstone Creek is about to release their summer seasonal. Great White Combine is a White IPA named after what area farmers call large hailstorms that create significant crop damage. It will be available in cans and on tap around Alberta.
  • And, as usual, the folks at Yukon Brewing are being their busy selves. Just out is Belgian Gothic Saison in fairly limited quantities. Another limited distribution beer is the return of Longest Night Black IPA. They also have coming bombers of Yukon Holiday Kolsch and Secret Service Imperial IPA, both also comebacks.

That is all I have heard of during my rounds, but there may be more out there. Enjoy the burgeoning spring and whatever beer may come across your path as a result.




Nova Scotia’s Burgeoning Beer Scene

boxingrock logoLong time readers will remember that in the springs of 2011 and 2012, I spent considerable time in Halifax. At the time I reported occasionally  on the beer happenings on the east coast and my general observations about craft beer in Atlantic Canada.

When I was there, Nova Scotia had 9 breweries/brewpubs, mostly in Halifax. The biggest, of course, were Propeller and Garrison and they were the only ones reliably available across the city. You might find a bottle once in a while of Hell Bay or Sea Level, who were new and quite small. The brewpubs were of varying quality. It was a decent beer scene, but small and unremarkable in many ways.

I was back in Halifax for a couple days last week. And I was struck by the change. In my absence, 12 new breweries have opened up in the province, and there are 5 more in the planning stages. Most of the new breweries are quite small and only serve their local community, which is fine. However, the availability of locally brewed beer in pubs and stores had jumped significantly.

I only had a couple of days so could only dip my toe into the new beer world of Nova Scotia, but what I did sample impressed me. In general I think the quality of the beer has gone up – rivalling some of the best in Canada – and without question the range of available styles has expanded.

My first pint upon arrival happened to be  Big Spruce Cereal Killer Oatmeal Stout (brewed in Baddeck on Cape Breton). It was a full-bodied stout with a touch of coffee roast. Over the next couple nights I tried beer from North Brewing (Halifax), Boxing Rock (Shelburne), Rare Bird (Guysborough), and Uncle Leo’s (Pictou). I also stopped by the new Gahan House Halifax, the new brewpub from PEI Brewing, located in the location of the now-closed Hart and Thistle in the Historic Properties.

north logoNorth Brewing may have been the most intriguing. They appear to focus on Belgian-inspired beer but use base beer unusual for Belgian beer. In addition to Belgian IPA, Belgian Dark Strong and a couple farmhouse ales, they offer up a Belgian Milk Stout and a Belgian Coffee Brown. While I found the farmhouse a bit too assertive, the Dark Strong is particularly noteworthy (the Milk Stout awaits opening at this point).

Boxing Rock also stood out for me. One evening I had their Temptation Red Ale and it stopped me. It is best described as a hybrid of a red ale and a pale ale. Soft toffee and caramel arise upfront to be quickly followed by a fruity, zesty hop flavour. Not too much bitterness, but enough to add a bit of zip to the end of the beer. Quite original. Their Crafty Jack English Ale, a brown ale, is also quite well done.

I wish I had more than a couple of nights to explore the new dimensions of Halifax’s local beer scene. Next time I think I should rent a car and get out of Halifax to try some of the nano-breweries and small local brewpubs that scatter the Nova Scotia countryside these days.

The last remaining question his how? How has this small province built such a noteworthy beer scene is such a short period of time? Well, in part it is just the times – craft beer is growing everywhere. But it is more than that. Alberta is gaining new breweries as well, but at a much slower pace. That boils down to a couple of things. First, is government policy. The Nova Scotia government perceives breweries as local economic development and treats them as such. They have lowered barriers to start ups and help with market development. The Alberta government (at least until last week) has been quite passive when it comes to beer.

It also doesn’t hurt that  most of the breweries opening up in Nova Scotia are tiny. Some of them are nano-sized. By being small, they lower their upfront capital needs considerably, allowing for a faster transition from planning to brewing. Most of the planned Alberta breweries are traditional micro-sized, meaning more headaches up front.

Alberta can learn a thing or two from scrappy Nova Scotia when it comes to beer. And maybe with a new era in Alberta governance, that might just start happening.



A Silk Purse of a Rig Pig

RigPigLogoIt may seem like I would have reviewed this beer years ago, but I actually have never written a word about Brewsters’ Rig Pig Pale Ale. Not because it wasn’t worth a review. The main hurdle was its limited availability – having for years only been available at the various Brewsters locations around the province.

The limited availability made it less of a priority in terms of choosing which beer to review – there are always more candidates than those selected. However, that all changed a few months ago when Brewsters, taking advantage of new AGLC rules permitting retail sales by brewpubs, launched their core brands in six-packs in select beer stores around the province. Suddenly, anyone can get Brewsters beer, meaning a trip to one of their pubs is unnecessary. Which meant a review was more practical – and thus it is my latest Vue Weekly column (read here).

So I had a few Brewsters beer to choose from. Why Rig Pig? Well, in part – as I say in the review – it was the very first beer I ever tried at Brewsters. Also, I really like that a beer that most breweries would have named their pale lager or light beer was an unapologetic pale ale. Keep in mind at the time – more than a decade ago – pale ales were a boundary-pushing style in this part of the world (for confirmation see Full Moon, Alley Kat). I have always respected that they both designed their anchor beer (reputation-wise – their fruit beer are the best-selling beer) as a pale ale and then named it after oil workers, a crew known for their affinity for basic corporate lager.

How is the beer? Well, you can read the article for a full review, but it is an appealing, accessible, drinkable ale. What I like about it is its interesting mixture of British and American characteristics. The malt has a British toffee note and it has a noted fruitiness, but the hops are more American in their grassy character.

It may be a bit more conservative on the IBUs than some of the best pale ales around, but it still offers a well-balanced and flavourful interpretation. The more hophead-y among us will likely criticize it for not being assertive enough. Fair enough. My point is that it isn’t meant to be the most out-there pale ale. Keep in mind the original design (I am certain there have been tweaks) was created at a time when pale ales were odd entities in this market. That doesn’t necessarily justify its current incarnation, but I personally feel a pale ale doesn’t have to push the lupulin boundary – that is what IPAs are for.

It is interesting to see Brewsters take a stab at the retail market. They have long been a mainstay of the Alberta beer world, but one bounded by its brewpub status, meaning only a sliver of beer drinkers could experience their beer. With the inclusion of retail sales in liquor stores, I will be curious to see how consumers respond.




So Many Beer, So Little Time

beer101logoI have found recently that trips to the beer store have been more stressful than they used to be. It is simply an issue of possibilities. There are just so many more beer on good store shelves these days than in that past. Not only has the total number of beer grown significantly – from a few hundred less than 10 years ago to almost 2,500 today – but the pace of new entries has hastened. There are more new beer in the province arriving each month than before.

It can be dizzying to show up at a quality beer store and decide what to buy. I will admit to struggling more than I used to in picking my regular allotment of beer. What do I choose? Go for the new stuff? Pick locally made beer? The latest oak-aged porter or a nice, light blonde ale?

I have coined the issue “choice fatigue”; the struggle to select a handful of beer from a list of thousands.

As I try to do, rather than just lament, I contemplated solutions to the issue, both for myself and for the average beer consumer trying to humbly make their way through beer life. In doing so I worked up four core principles that I find are helpful for me. I wrote them up for my latest Beer 101 (which you can read here)and share them in summary form for you here.

  1. Style: This can be a fairly crude filter but it can be very helpful in winnowing the crowd. Simply, what are you in the mood for? No point buying that new Double IPA if you are really hankering for a hearty stout. Follow your palate’s desires.
  2. New vs. Reliable: What are you in the mood for? Something adventurous and unknown, which would mean try a new release you have never heard of. Or do you simply want a quality beer that you know, remember and appreciate? Both answers are equally valid – again it is all about the mood you are in.
  3. Import vs. Local: While this is a more general question, one that can spur moments of existential angst in a commtited craft beer drinker, it can help in the more specific moment of picking your beer purchases. Do you want to do your bit to support your local breweries, or do you want to stretch your beer legs and explore something new and novel? The answer will differ from trip to trip, but it is important to be aware of it. What have you bought recently? Is there anything particularly interesting from down south or across the pond? An experienced craft beer drinker will do some of both – either in the same trip or by balancing over multiple trips. No local brewer will ever ask you to swear off trying imports, but if all you buy is imports, you might want to ask yourself why.
  4. Price: This may seem like an odd category, but it is both fair and an accurate reflection of what most of us experience. None but the wealthiest among us has a bottomless wallet, meaning we have to make some choices about how much to spend. There can be some expensive beer out there these days – $10, $20, $30 per bottle. Most of us simply cannot afford to buy these beer every time. Not when a six-pack of something local and quite lovely can be $15 or less. I often allow myself one expensive beer per trip, meaning the other new, exotic and pricey options have to wait.

The best way to use these principles is as a guide to understanding yourself (how Zen, eh?). They help you explore your desires, needs and practical limitations. We cannot buy every beer available in the province. We can’t. So we have to select a sub-set, which means making some kind of cut. Those cuts should be based on an honest evaluation of what we want. Nothing more should matter.

I hope this helps.




More on the Virtues of Temperance (Brewing)

temperancecoopNot long ago I profiled Temperance Brewing, a Saskatoon brewery working to drum up memberships to create western Canada’s first full-fledged brewery coop (read it here). My most recent Planet S/Prairie Dog column also profiles the new project (read that here).

I will admit most of the content is not new – really what is the point of re-writing things just for the sake of re-writing? – but I still think it is worth highlighting.

I like the concept. Get average consumers to buy into your brewery, giving them ownership which increases their interest in your success. They get some insider benefits and the democratic right to participate in key decisions, and you have built a significant crowd of brand ambassadors. They, naturally, will talk you up among their friends, because they are invested emotionally.

Of course, coops are not just about those practical business outcomes. They are grounded in longstanding principles of democracy, member involvement and empowerment. That is the second reason I think the model is super cool. Why not trying to run a brewery based on democratic principles, where the fruits of the success are shared by many, rather than just a couple of co-founders?

Temperance’s membership drive continues apace, and they still hope for a grand opening in 18 months to 2 years. They are the proverbial David in a beer industry rife with Goliaths (well, just a few, but, man are they big!). Who knows if it will ultimately succeed. All we can do is sit by and watch – or buy a share or two and be a part of making it happen!




Red Hook Aims to Hook Alberta

redhooklogoMaybe it has something to do with the (still remote) possibility of an NDP government on May 5, but Alberta has become an awfully attractive market for the big American craft brewers of late. A number of the older, larger breweries have entered the Alberta market, including Stone, Goose Island, New Belgium and Widmer Brothers.

The most recent wooer of Alberta beer drinkers is Redhook Ale Brewery. The Seattle-based brewery opened in 1981 and grew quite a lot over twenty years or so. It grew big enough to open a second, east coast brewery in New Hampshire a few years back.

In 2008 Redhook also became the centre of a controversial agglomeration called Craft Brew Alliance (CBA). CBA began as a merger between Redhook and Portland’s Widmer Brothers. They subsequently purchased Hawaii’s Kona Brewing in 2010. What makes CBA controversial is that about 1/3 of its ownership is held by AB-Inbev. That stake is sufficient to knock CBA, and its related breweries, out of the definition of “craft beer” as defined by the Brewers’ Association.

Of course, definitions are just that, and it doesn’t mean the beer made by Widmer, Kona or Redhook are not craft-quality. We just simply need to remember to whom they are beholden.

Redhook is launching in Alberta with three beer. I decided to give each a try to see how Redhook stacks up against some of the other American giants.

First up is Audible Ale, which they describe as a sessionable beer designed for drinking while watching sports. I interpret this as something of a blonde ale. The appearance plays this prediction out, as the beer is medium yellow with a loose white head. The aroma offers faint grainy malt, some honey, but is fairly subdued overall. The first flavour impression is a light graininess, some honey and soft earthy sweetness. The middle sharpens a bit with a touch of hop bitterness and some light fruitiness. The finish is a classic blonde ale linger, with touches of hop and a sharp, pilsner like grain.

I find the beer a bit boring but overall fairly well made (not unlike NFL football). Nothing really to criticize, it has all the flavours it needs to have. The overall effect is a bit non-descript, but the individual pieces are interesting.

redhookesbI then opened up one of their flagships, the ESB. It pours medium orange and building a tightly beaded white head with touches of lacing. The aroma has some light toffee and nut balanced by an earthy hop. The toffee extends itself into the taste, accompanied by light sugar malt. I also pick up British-style fruitiness. The background suggests touches of biscuit and lightly toasted toast. The hops are subtle but enter as earthy and floral, offering some complexity and just enough bitterness to create balance.

Again, the overall effect of the beer is middling but the individual flavours are endearing. It is not a world-beater, but certainly is true to style. It is soft and nicely balanced. A few more IBUs might bring out character in the beer a bit more.

Finally, I pop open their Long Hammer IPA. It is medium gold and almost lager-like in its brilliant clarity. Its wispy white head fades quite quickly. The aroma brings out biscuit, some lingering grass and a bit of honey. There is a floral, bright hop aroma, but like the other two the aroma overall is a bit subdued. The front is quite light, emphasizing graininess and a bit of light fruit but overall fairly quiet. In the middle a sharp citrusy hop flavour picks up, rough and intense. The bitterness builds in the end. It is a blend of floral and citrus. Draws out a grainy harshness as well. I get a fruity, apricot character to the beer – a combo of prickly citrus hops and fruity esters I imagine. Linger doesn’t hang around as much as I would like.

A decent beer but lacking the extra little pieces an IPA needs. The front is a bit too timid, which means the hops has nothing to rest on. There is a bit too much sharpness overall, edging into astringency. The linger is a bit soapy as well. It is fine for a pint, but not sure I would make it a regular offering.

What have I learned from my trek through Redhook? Well-made beer with some lovely elements but the final product is a bit quieter than I would hope. In a way it makes sense – Redhook is one of the oldest craft breweries and its size requires that it aims more for the accessible end of the craft market. Their situation is not dissimilar to Calgary’s Big Rock these days.

Still, it was worth the effort. After all those years reading about Redhook in Zymurgy, it was nice to finally get a chance to sample the famous product.

Anchor Weighs in on Saison

anchor saisonIn the last year or so I imagine one of the styles with which my palate has been evolving most is Saison and Farmhouse Ales more generally. I have been intentionally seeking out different versions and paying close attention to the differences in interpretation. I even found myself doing a Farmhouse Week a few months back (here, here and here).

I think I am drawn to its duality of complexity and refreshment. The two must be held in tension, a hard thing to do. Add in the funky, spicy yeast character and you have a pretty hard style to brew. Thus my intrigue.

A couple weeks back I saw in the new release shelf Anchor Saison, their spring seasonal. Without even thinking, I picked it up to add to my growing collection of saison tastings. When I got home I read on the label they added lemon, lemongrass and ginger, which piqued my curiousity further.

I poured a bottle and got a dark gold beer with light copper accent. It produces a huge, white, loose head that kept building for a long time. It is very effervescent. The aroma gives off a light peppery spice with an earthy backdrop. The background contains some fruit and a bit of lemony accent. I get wisps of hops, but it could be more the esters than hops.

The taste starts with a grainy, meadow honey sweetness upfront. Then some musty earth notes emerge  followed by a white pepper character. The back end gets more sharply spicy, akin to black pepper and dirty Belgian clove notes.I do get touches of hop bitterness to add another layer of interest. Lemon is perceptible but not particularly noteworthy. The finish is prickly and not quite as dry as I would like. And there is something in the linger I don’t like. It is a bit too medicinal and sharp. I find it does not provide enough refreshing qualities.

A decent beer but not as light or as delicate as many I have had recently. The yeast may be a bit heavy handed and the beer needs to finish acouple gravity points lower to dry out the palate.It doesn’t have the quenching-compex balance right, I think. Even though I don’t really taste the ginger, I wonder if in some fashion that is what is throwing the overall impression off?

I am a big fan of Anchor. I respect their history and perseverance. Their Steam Beer is a classic and most of their seasonals are interesting and pretty on the money stylistically. Their spring Saison meets the first descriptor, but I am not sure it hits the second.

I am curious what others think?