I just looked at my watch and realized it has been weeks since I have offered a beer news update. With my life distractions, contests and other goings on around these parts, I simply haven’t thought to put together a collection of what is happening. Plus, my visit to the Edmonton Craft Beer Festival on the weekend (more on that another day) gave me some nice intelligence on what some breweries have coming up.
Let’s get to it, starting with what is already out there:
- Alley Kat Avenue Whyte IPA, the latest in their Big Bottle Series, came out on June 10. I had a sample of both a cask version and the bottle version at the festival (and what a difference between the two!), and will savour a bottle more slowly in the coming days, but this appears to be a nice example of an exploding style – which is essentially a Witbier with extra hopping. I must admit I have come to appreciate the style so much that I brewed my own version last week.
- Big Rock’s latest Alchemist Series beer is a keg-only product releases a couple weeks ago. Cherazz is a Belgian-style sour ale brewed with cherries and raspberries. Think Kriek/Framboise blend. I had a sample of this beer at the Fest, too (see the value of such events?). The lambic character is subdued, but the fruits come through quite strongly.
- As mentioned in an earlier post, Wild Rose’s Gose Rider, a traditional Gose Bier, is now out. A quick taste (yes, at the festival!) suggests it is nicely within style, plus it had more salt character than I was expecting. A delicate saltiness is a feature of Gose, and I suspected that the Wild Rose brewers would tone it down given it is such an unusual flavour in beer.
- St. Albert’s Hog’s Head has released 2 new beer, both tap only. Clockwort Orange is a witbier with blood oranges added, pluse Hog’s Head usual hoppy bias and will be available at various tap accounts. They also have Whole Lotta Rosie Rosehip Coriander Ale. As the name implies, it is brewed with rosehip and coriander but, surprisingly, is not a Belgian style. Given those ingredients you might expect a twist on Witbier, but they have chosen to make it a North American interpretation. I am told the coriander is roasted to add a toasty character to the beer.
- Yukon Brewing’s latest A.D.D. Series (#7) is now in stores. This one is a classic Saison called Belgian Gothic. My festival sampling suggested it is a light, fruity interpretation of the style.
And some stuff coming in the near future:
- Half Pints Weizenhammer will be released July 6. Their semi-regular summer hefeweizen makes its return this year and will likely wander slowly westward to Alberta beer shelves.
- Paddock Wood are busy beavers this summer, making it hard to know exactly who can expect what when. No they haven’t suddenly become afflicted with ADD, but instead their new taproom in Saskatoon gives them the ability to fire off many small batches to see how they go over. I am told this summer they are doing a summer Ordinary Bitter, both a hefeweizen, called Saskatcheweizen and a still unnamed dunkelweizen. They may also do a Belgian Wit and are even contemplating re-brewing Yasigi to do popularity. Black Fiars, their robust porter, possibly brewed with Brett this year to give a more traditional 17-th century character. However, to complicate things, I was chatting with the PW Alberta sales rep, who indicates that in the coming months Alberta will see, in addition to some of the above, a Cascadian Dark Ale and Hop Burst II, which is the second version of their ale using the technique called “hop bursting” here all hops are late addition, including those that create the bitterness.
- Ribstone Creek, freshly off its new brewery and one-time release of an IPA, has told me that they are currently designing a second beer for their line-up. The beer will be a Pale Ale, which is yet unnamed, and should be released in the fall.
- Returning to Alley Kat, just last week they brewed up a collaborative beer with New Zealand Brewer 8 Wired. I didn’t get much info on the beer, but will update you when I hear (or if someone knows more than me, feel free to comment).
In the news this weekend was a Business Section article examining Alberta’s Ribstone Creek Brewery, which you can find here if the paywall doesn’t stop you. In short, the story examines Ribstone’s early success and their original approach to launching a small brewery on the prairies. It offers some interesting backstory about the men behind the brewery and how they see themselves fitting into the craft beer scene in Alberta.
On the events fron I got word of a charity fundraising event for Room to Read, a charity that works to build literacy among children in developing nations. Beers for Books Trivia Night will be on June 20th at Yellowhead Brewery on 105 Street in Edmonton (here is their facebook page). Tickets are $10 in advance ($15 at door). Attendees can register teams for a trivia contest and win prizes. Before the trivia free brewery tours will be provided. $2 of every beer sold will go to Room to Read. If you are into pop-culture, interational and beer trivia, consider supporting a good cause, have a couple beer and enjoy the contest.
Also on June 20 at 6:00 pm at Calgary’s Craft Beer Market will be the Alberta Book Launch of Craft Beer Revolution: The Insider’s Guide to B.C. Breweries. The author Joe Wiebe will be on hand to sign copies of the book, which will sell at the event for $19.99 – the price includes a free pint of Central City Red Racer IPA. See the Facebook page for more details.
I have no doubt that I have missed something – as there seems to be a whole heck of a lot going on right now. If I have, feel free to chime in. And, as usual, happy drinking.
My Vue Weekly column, which ran last week in the Hot Summer Guide (plus you can read here), was a profile of some summer-y fruit beer. As I have said before, I am generally not a big fruit beer fan, as they in general a bit too one-dimensional for me. However, I can fully appreciate the appeal of fruit beer for the average drinker. For many, the addition of fruit perks up the beer, giving it some unusual yet familiar flavours to focus on.
The good sign is that we are starting to see brewers take the art of fruit beer more seriously. We have long had a few examples of innovative fruit beer (Cannery Blackberry Porter comes to mind), but in the past couple of years the number of fruit beer I feel compelled to try has jumped.
In the column, I highlight three (3 and 1/2 actually). I chose them largely because all use fruit not normally added to beer. The first is Alley Kat’s Summer Squeeze, with grapefruit. The highlight of this beer is its massive sweet grapefruit aroma. It really is something else and is worth a pint just to experience the aroma. (The 1/2 was a quick nod to the Mountain Dewiness of Steigl Radler).
I turned to Big Rock’s Purple Gas next, which might surprise some. However, I tip my hat to them for trying to brew with saskatoon berries. Anyone who has eaten them (or made a saskatoon pie) will know they are intense little guys. It seems quintessentially prairie to try to make a beer with them. The addtion of agave syrup I think helps bolster the base beer a touch. Plus a point for a cool, prairie-esque name.
Finally I looked at Howe Sound Four-Way Fruit Ale. Four fruits, three of whom are rarely found in the same sentence as the word beer: mango, passionfruit, raspberry and pomegranate. None of the fruit stands out on its own – I can’t really identify a noted flavour of any of them. But that might be what makes the beer kind of interesting. It is the fusion of the four flavours that creates something rather unique.
To be frank, none of these beer has “won me over” to fruit beer. But all did have me sipping with some degree of interest, which is likely to be considered a victory for them. And for those who are more inclined to fruit beer, they may offer some unique options for your summer drinking.
As promised, I have selected the winners for the Edmonton Craft Beer Festival contest (see rules and prizes here). I have to say, you didn’t make it easy on me. I had lots of entries, most carefully considered and persuasive. It took me quite a while to winnow the list down to the winners. I want to acknowledge everyone who entered – there wasn’t a single entry I could reject without carefully considering it. You all offered great reasons why you should be given the prizes. It was a tough decision. I apologize that I couldn’t respond to every entry (there were too many), but please know that I appreciate your effort and took your entry very seriously.
As it worked out, I failed to actually cut the list to the top 3, for reasons I will explain. So, the organizers of the Festival very kindly agreed to allow me to award 4 awards – the honourable mention also gets two free passes to the festival. Clearly my reputation as a contest organizer will quickly become that of a big softie that gives out extra prizes.
So, I gave out four because I couldn’t bring myself to drop the fourth person from the list. I appreciated their entry and their emotional appeal caught me. It just seemed only fair. And since I am not paying for the tickets, it is pretty bloody easy for me to be Mr. Generous.
Without further ado, I will get to announcing the winners, starting with 4th and working to the grand prize. I will be emailing the winners privately, so here in the blog I will only offer their first name in the interests of privacy.
In 4th place is Jay, whose closing statement is what made me unable to cut him from the list. I am a sucker for new parents. Any night out is a good night, but a night out with beer seems too much to deny them. Here is his entry:
The Beer List I would like to try starts local. I have not heard anything on Wood Buffalo Brewing but I always like supporting local businesses. Another local Brewery I would like to try is Hog’s Head Brewing. I have really wanted to try the Hop Slayer IPA since your review of the beer back in March. Your description of the beer has intrigued me and I would like the chance to try a unique Alberta Beer. Another Alberta brewery I would like to give a second change is Big Rock with their two new beers, the Rosmarinus Aromatic Ale and the Erratic Stone-Fire Ale. I really like the idea of unique ingredients like rosemary and as a homebrewer the idea of boiling with hot rocks really elicits my imagination. The reason I would like to be considered in the draw is that my wife and I recently had a little baby boy and well my beer budget has magically shrunk overnight and has been replaced by diapers and formula.
Good beer sense, a commitment to local, and then the baby angle. Who am I to say no?
3rd Place goes to Kiana with this entry:
Now. You may ask- why does a 19- going on 20 city girl want to win tickets for (saturday)’s beer festivities at the expo? Beer brings people together. I think this festival would be a great father’s day gift/bonding experience for me and my father. I don’t think I’ll be able to afford to go if I don’t win tickets. But I realize I haven’t really answered the question. I would say the beer I would want to taste the most- is Ol’ Willy Wit – the Belgian White Ale from The Fernie Brewery. My father went to Fernie for his 50th birthday in January and I couldn’t afford to go with him. He raved about this beer when he came back, and I think it would be great to have it together and such. (insert mushy family feelings here)
I loved the combination of her youthful interest and her desire to connect with her beer-loving dad. He will lead her in the tasting, which means another beer fan might be born this weekend.
2nd Place goes to Ernie, who wins simply because of his biting sense of humour. It has an edge of seriousness to it, but you can totally tell he is having fun with the idea. I couldn’t resist his entry:
I want to taste the beers from Minhas Brewery. I pride myself on tasting lots of different kinds of beer. But to appreciate good beer, you must also understand what bad beer tastes like. I just don’t want to pay for a whole bottle or six-pack of it. And I want to be able to wash away the taste of it with all the other breweries there.
And finally, the big prize, 1st Place goes to Andres, who wins both VIP passes to the festival, but also the whitewater rafting trip. Actually, Andres asked me not to share his entry, for personal reasons, but it was a detailed, touching story about his father in Costa Rica with links to Calgary’s Wild Rose and dreams of opening a brewery. I apologize for not being able to relay the story to you, but it was a very personal, private story. I am honoured that he was willing to share it with me. You will have to trust me on this (well, you don’t, actually, as it is my site and theoretically I get to do what I want. However, fairness and transparency are important to me, which is why I apologize for not publishing the winning entry).
So there you go. Have fun everyone! I plan on going on Friday, and so if anybody (including those who entered but didn’t win) see me, don’t hesitate to say hi. I would love to have a beer chat.
The cozy atmosphere of the Wild Rose Taproom will soon be no more.
I was in Calgary briefly this weekend for a work commitment. Just one night, which meant I couldn’t arrange much. But I did decide to make the trip to Wild Rose’s Tap Room since I knew I could get a couple of beer not available elsewhere.
As it worked out I got the very last glass of their New Zealander Tripel, which was a decent tripel with a bit of a sweet edge to it. I also tried the Gose Rider on tap, which I will talk about another time.
What I want to talk about at the moment is the recognition that it is likely the last time I will ever sit at the bar in the Wild Rose Tap Room. I was told by the bartender that the room is slated for closure December 15, with demolition shortly after that. You see, the old army base where the Tap Room’s famous green quonset sits is an active redevelopment site and soon will be posh housing.
Wild Rose has thought ahead and is soon to open its new, much enlarged, brewery in southwest Calgary, which much larger capacity and new equipment. Their issue, however, is what to do with their retail space. The new brewery is not well situated for a tap room, which means they need to either find somewhere new or give up on the concept (which would be a shame).
When I inquired into the fate of the current brewhouse, the bartender (who I appreciate may not the most “in the know” source) speculated that it will be relocated to a new tap room where it will produce special one-off batches for the brewery. Where that location might be was unknown at this time.
I have always enjoyed the atmosphere of the Tap Room. Small, fairly cozy, understated decor. No televisions and the music is never too loud. The focus is always on the beer. As it should be. I regularly found myself striking up conversations with complete strangers sitting next to me at the bar. As is only appropriate for a place like that.
So, it might be around for a few months yet, but I want to tip my hat to that green quonset, inside which many good beer have been brewed over the years. Farewell, AF23.
In my latest Beer 101 column (which you can read here) I take a look at a beer style with a long history but for which the recent explosion of craft beer interest has passed it by. I am talking about Rauchbier, or smoked beer.
I start with the contention that beer palates have shifted significantly in recent years. The apparent acceptance of big bitterness, tart beer and other flavours that at one time were considered outrageous is really something to behold. Beer drinkers are embracing a host of flavours that 10 years ago would have been unthinkable (at least in Canada). I am very encouraged by that.
But then I started thinking about beer styles that have not received the thumbs up from beer fans. There are a few, but the most intriguing, for me, is rauchbier. So I spent some time contemplating why it hasn’t been embraced in the same way as other styles.
Sure, some breweries have taken a stab at the style, the latest being Winnipeg’s Half Pints with their yummy Smoktoberfest (read my review here), but usually as one-offs or experimental seasonals.
I think it comes down to 2 reasons. First, smoke is a hard to describe sensation – we all know it but at the same time don’t easily understand how it fits into beer. Smoke is neither a daily taste experience, like sourness, nor is it widely recognized as a beer-like flavour, such as hops. Only the small cadre of peaty scotch aficionados will have a clear sense of smoke’s effects. It doesn’t lend to an instinctive understanding.
Second, smoke has an image problem. The word smoke, these days, conjures up images of cigarettes or camp fires – neither of which will lead one to seek it out in beer. Of course, rauchbier is nothing like those kinds of smoke, but that is the hurdle it must overcome before people will embrace it in their beer.
Even I, a longtime beer judge and educator, took quite a while to warm up to smoked beer. I think I have finally come to understand and appreciate its earthy subtleties and now look forward to a well-made version. But that was a long time coming. So imagine the person who is newly reveling in the joys of bitterness; it might be a bridge too far for the moment.
I think that will change. Rauchbier will never be the “it” beer, like Imperial IPAs, barrel-aged beer and such. But I do think, in its own slow, plodding way, it will become both more available and more popular. I could be wrong, however. I have been before.
Just like with Calgary a few weeks ago, the organizers of the Edmonton Craft Beer Festival have generously offered up some prizes for me to give away to onbeer.org readers. So who am I to say no to such an offering?
The festival runs June 14 and 15 at the Edmonton Expo Centre at Northlands. At latest count the number of exhibitors is over 100 with more than 600 different beer. It is a varied list of beer offerings. Nothing most close beer watchers won’t have tried, but there are always a few gems to be found. I noticed there is a meadery, some ciders, Ribstone Creek has their IPA and Great Western presents their brand new Original 16 Copper (more on that another day). Of particular note is that the big boys are limited in their offerings – Labatt’s has only Keith’s Hop Series and Molson has their new Canadian Wheat. Whether that is the organizers refusing their more ubiquitous brands, or the big boys wisely demurring to the nature of the event, I do not know.
But, on to the contest. First, the prizes:
1st Place: Four VIP Guest Passes to the night of the winner’s choice, PLUS a whitewater rafting trip for four with Alpine Rafting.
2nd Place: Two VIP Guest Passes to the night of the winner’s choice.
3rd Place: Two VIP Guest Passes to the night of the winner’s choice.
(Okay, yeah, it really is two runner-up prizes. Whatever. You get free entry to the event. Quite nitpicking.)
What do you need to do? Here’s what you need to do:
Go to the Edmonton Festival website beer list. From that list pick one beer or brewery you most want to try. Send me an email at beerguy [at] telus.net giving me the reasons you really, really need to taste that beer.
I don’t care what the reasons are. Maybe you have never tried it before. Maybe it is your favourite beer ever. Maybe it is the beer you had on your wedding night. However, I suspect saying “because their servers are really hot” won’t make the cut (unless you are referring to Yukon Dave!).
Your answer can be as short or as long as you want. It can be earnest, funny, satirical. Whatever you like. Creativity wins points. As does serious beer appreciation. As usual, I am the sole judge and my decision will be final.
Entry Deadline: Tuesday June 11 at midnight MDT. I will post the winners on Thurday.
Have fun and good luck. I hope to be forced to read dozens of entries over the next week.
And see you at the festival!
Ironically, Saskatchewan is the only province where Calgary Beer has been sold continuously since the late 1800s.
My latest Planet S column takes a look at so-called “regional brands”, their history and how that rich tradition has been usurped by the big corporate brewers for marketing purposes. You can read the column here. Because it is written for a Saskatchewan paper, I emphasize three so-called regional beer sold in Saskatchewan – Lethbridge Pils, Calgary Beer, and Bohemian Lager.
I walk through their true historical origins and point out that every single one of them is now a Molson-owned property, brewed in Vancouver or even further flung locations. My point is a basic one: these are beer that resemble their history in only one way – the name. Okay, maybe two. The name and the label. Everything else is different. Certainly the ownership has changed hands, sometimes multiple times, since the beer could last call itself truly local.
But the beer is radically different too. All are now part of the discount market, meaning they are so light-bodied as to be watery, laden with corn syrup and probably only had hops waved over the brew kettle (I exaggerate, but the IBUs are stunningly low). I would require some evidence before I believe that the beer are actually DIFFERENT recipes these days.
The three I highlight all happen to be Molson properties, but Labatt (AB-INBEV) has its share as well. And every region has these same pseudo-regional beer. A brand only available in a particular province that once had a real connection with the region, but no longer. However, there is enough nostalgia to keep new generations of drinkers buying it, thinking they are drinking the same beer their grandfather (or grandmother – I remember my grandma in Toronto sitting down with a pack of Export A’s and a case of Red Cap to watch her evening television shows). Of course they aren’t, but it is good for sales.
One correction from the column. I finish the article with a hat tip to “real” local breweries, such as Paddock Wood. Somehow (not sure if it was me or the editor) Great Western got downgraded to a parenthetical aside. That is an oversight. They legitimately can claim to be a prairie regional brewer, making beer for Saskatchewan and other prairie provinces. Much of it might be in the same segment of the market as the pseudo-regional brands, but that doesn’t make it any less authentic.
I am in Toronto for a conference related to my day job (usually the only way I get out of town). I flew in Tuesday and the conference didn’t start until Wednesday, meaning I had a few hours of classic beer time. I knew I could hit a couple of Toronto’s beer pubs, quietly have some beer and a bite to eat, but opted instead to see if I could arrange a visit with the folks over at Mill Street Brewery. Thankfully they were more than happy to host me.
I spent a couple of hours with Mill Street’s Brewmaster, Joel Manning, and another staffer, Trevor Walsh. First, they were very gracious hosts, answering all of my insanely technical questions about their brewing process (and even offering me a few very useful tips for my homebrewery regarding sour mashing, water chemistry and pH). I really appreciate opportunities to spend extended time with the people behind craft breweries. Even if X Brewery’s beer is not your favourite, spending time with them gives you a clear sense of their passion, their commitment to community and their pride in their beer. They are always some of my favourite moments as a beer writer.
Second, I gotta say, there is a lot going on over at Mill Street. For beer geeks, Mill Street might be a brewery you pass over, enamoured as we can all be by a big, bold imperial something-or-other. There are some pedestrian beer in their regular line-up (Organic Lager and Stock Ale are clearly not designed for me), but if you choose to look more closely, they are playing around quite a lot. First, there is a constant barrage of seasonal and one-time beer (most don’t make it to the west, so you can be forgiven for not knowing that). Second, as I discovered yesterday, they are now also a nano-distiller. Okay, to be accurate, the retail license isn’t coming for another 24 hours or so, meaning they make the stuff but can’t move it outside the distillery yet. Third, Tankhouse Ale has long been a wonderful pale ale.
I won’t go on and on about them for the moment, as I am planning some columns focusing on them in the near future. But I want to relay two things here for the moment. First, the distillery. It is truly unique for Canada. It is very small, producing only 200 or so litres per batch. They are likely the first distillery to be located (legally) in a residential building, as the site is the first floor of a large condo complex. But second, and more important, they create spirits from beer, rather than mash, which is super-cool. They brew up a batch of beer, pipe it over to the distillery and proceed to distill it. Their product, for the moment, is a Bierschnapps, which is made from a mixture of their Tankhouse Ale, Framboise and Coffee Porter. One of the great advantages of distilling from beer is that it is impossible to create the toxic and dangerous methanol (which is the major – and totally justifiable – reason home distilling is illegal). The other advantage is that it creates a totally unique spirit – a hoppy (but not bitter), fruity spirit with a touch of roastiness.
Second, my visit made me way more appreciative of their commitment to their local roots. They may sell beer across Canada, but they care a lot about their location. For example, did you know that Tankhouse Ale is named for the building the original brewery and brewpub is housed in? The brewery is located in the Old Distillery District and the building, constructed in 1872, was a tankhouse for the distiller, where spirits would sit while waiting to be piped over to the barrel house. Joel tells me that the distillery on the site (which operated until 1989!) was, at one time the largest distillery in the new world, producing more than 2.2 million litres of whiskey a year at its peak. Don’t you love brewers who are also history buffs?
They care deeply about connecting their beer to their location. For example, some beer only gets brewed at their Ottawa location because of the water (Ottawa water is softer than Toronto water), and they want to make sure each location can claim legitimate local roots. It is also why most of their beer never make it outside their pubs. When you sell beer in every province (except Quebec in Mill Street’s case), it can be easy to see the project as transcending space, so I think Mill Street has done an admirable job of keep in touch with its roots.
As I say, I will write more about them in the near future – as they have an interesting story. But that will do for now. Besides, I got some beer pubs to hit before I return home.
Lundy, my beer mail pal from B.C. recently sent me a care package of various west coast beer not available on the prairies. One of the bottles was a beer from the small upstart Tofino Brewing on Vancouver Island. I have been curious about this brewery since they opened. Tofino is a small, environmentally conscious community whose economy relies on forestry and tourism (which can create interesting conflicts). Opening a brewery there is a challenging prospect, I would think. So I was glad to give the beer a try.
The bottle Lundy sent was their Hoppin’ Cretin IPA, which they call simply their IPA, but its stats suggest something a bit bolder than that. At 7.5% alcohol and 60 IBUs, that suggests an IPA on the aggressive end of the scale.
The appearance seems normal enough. It pours dark orange with a thick, dense off-white head that lasts a long time and leaves behind a decent lacing. Great clarity. It is in the aroma where you start to see what is going on here. It has a HUGE grapefruit hop aroma. It also has a decent level of soft malt in the background, but did I mention grapefruit hops? And if that wasn’t enough, IK also detect some lemon and pine in the background. This beer is about the hops, no question.
Upfront the malt is soft with a slight biscuit, toffee and touches of ripe fruit. the middle is kind of watery and then hop comes in late. It starts as a moderate citrus flavour and then slowly builds, becoming more complex as it evaporates – pine, grapefruit, passionfruit, lemon and other tropical fruit. The linger is quite pleasant. It doesn’t present quite as big as it is, although it is pretty damned big.
What we have here is a hop-accented, forward beer. The hopping is great. I do think the front seems a bit flabby and the middle needs something more. Otherwise it is a lovely IPA – bold, big and brash. This is about the hops.
Just like the town it resides in, no compromises for this beer. Did I mention grapefruit??
My Vue Weekly column this week (which you can read here) is a review of Brooklyn Brewery’s Local 2, a Belgian Dark Strong ale. I remember trying Local 1 a few years back and being quite impressed with it. Given its price point, I only bought it a couple of times, but felt it was a well-made Belgian strong.
Somehow the release of Local 2 slipped past me, and I only finally got around to trying it a few weeks ago. Where Local 1 was/is a Belgian Golden Strong, the new brethren goes darker and fruitier. I really appreciated the complex fruitiness and dark sugar sweetness in the beer. It also found a nice way to stay balanced and relatively clean (for an Abbey-style). Just like Local 1, the alcohol lurks in the weeds and sneaks up on you as you near the end of the glass.
In the column I played up the union angle, which is both obvious and fun (for me anyway). I do find it a bit ironic that a non-union brewery is playing with a distinctly labour-ish branding. However, at least Mr. Oliver and company are not shuttering breweries that kept hundreds of unionized workers feeding their families for generations (yes, I am talking to you Molson/Coors).
Also, to set the record straight, the factual error in the sub-title is due to the editor, not me. I am fully aware that Brooklyn is the 11th largest craft brewery in the U.S. In the body of the review I make reference to them being “one of the largest”, which is true. An unfortunate, but ultimately forgivable mistake.
I suspect I won’t be purchasing too many bottles of Local 2 either. Not because I didn’t enjoy it. Simply because it costs too much. But those of you who don’t have padlocks on your wallets should go out and give it a try.