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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?

 

 

The Glorious Inglorious

ingloriousIt is usually a damned good thing to have a friend who lives in a place like Belgium. In my case it means a couple times a year my friend brings me (or has their father-cum-beer mule deliver) a gift of quality Belgian ales I can’t get here in Canada.

The most recent delivery was one that caught me completely off-guard. I had never heard of it and had no idea who brewed it. The beer was called Inglorious Quad from something called Inglorious Brew Stars. Odd, eh?

As it turns out the Inglorious Brew Starts are two guys in Antwerp who have their beer contract brewed at a non-descript brewery elsewhere in Belgium. They started the company in 2014, and so are quite new on the scene. I had received what is their anchor beer, brewed (obviously) as a Belgian Quad. At 10.3% it certainly fits the alcohol bill.

In my glass it looks deep dark brown, almost verging on black. It is darker than a robust porter. It builds a so-so dark tan head with tiny bubbles but does lay down some noteworthy lacing. The aroms offers  dark raisin, molasses, some chocolate and a distinct dark clove phenol. Surprisingly, I get no alcohol in the nose.

The initial taste is molasses, demerara sugar, treacle and dark fruits including plum and a touch of raisin. The middle palate starts to create a spicy accent, with clove, pepper, anise and black licorice. In the linger the licorice builds, as does an alcoholic spiciness make an appearance. The linger gets a bit alcohol hot as the glass empties.

This is more than your average Quad (if there is ever such a thing). It is close to being a Belgian stout due to is darker colour and fuller body. It is rich, complex and substantial. It starts to get a bit hot, but holds enough spiciness and dark fruit to get away with it.

Does it rate with other classic Quads I have known? I am not sure, but it certainly carves its own path with its extra dark interpretation. A pleasant surprise from across the ocean. Makes me curious about their other beer (there is only one other at the moment, but I suspect that will change).

 

The Shifting Beer Scene, Redux

beer imageMy latest Vue Weekly column offers a re-take on a recent post on this website (read here) that looked at the relative strength of the craft beer scenes around the continent. The article (read it here) doesn’t really contain any new information (except I somehow screwed up the data reporting, I talk about per capita when I meant to say per 100,000 – it doesn’t change the concept but can be misleading if you are reading carefully). But I want to discuss it here because I am amazed at how quickly things change.

The numbers, themselves have not actually changed. What has changed is the potential. At least for Alberta. When I wrote the article a few weeks back (I tend to work ahead due to my busy schedule – it saves me last second deadline panics which can be hard one a person) I discussed eight Alberta-based breweries in the planning stages. In the time since, I have almost doubled that number as I have followed leads on various new breweries. My latest calculation is that there are at least 15 breweries in the planning stages in Alberta.

That would more than double the current number and is quite the transformation, just in a few months. One might be tempted to credit the AGLC policy changes in late 2013, and I do think they deserve some of the credit. The relaxation of minimums, location and other changes likely made a number of people shift their dreams into plans; the changes did create more potential for a small brewery.

However, I personally think it is mostly timing. Alberta has lagged in terms of beer culture for quite a long time, but I have sensed a palpable shift in the past couple of years. When I talk to beer drinkers, I find more familiarity with craft beer, and in particular local beer. I find, slowly, more establishments are improving their beer offerings, again including local. Something has been slowly shifting for a while. And that usually is a portend for more breweries.

I have no idea how many of those new breweries (some of whom I have told you about and some who have asked me to wait) will actually produce beer a year or two from now. I hope most of them. But if even if only half make it to production, they will transform Alberta’s beer scene.

And isn’t that a good thing?

The Americans are Coming (to Saskatchewan)!

gooseislandAlberta-based readers of this humble missive are long familiar with the recent influx of reputed American craft breweries into their province. New Belgium, Stone, Goose Island and most recently Red Hook have entered the market, with others, including Boulevard, arriving soon. I also remember a few years ago Alberta being the sole outpost for Dogfish Head before they re-calibrated their distribution network.

Alberta is a natural first stopping point for American breweries. Alberta has open borders with no restrictions on the number of SKUs allowed in the province.This is part of the government’s “free market” approach to liquor. I have written before about the consequences of the open border on fostering local production. In short it creates a more difficult market environment for Alberta breweries.

The situation is quite different in Saskatchewan. The SLGA keeps a tight rein on imports into the province, although it has been loosening up in the past couple of years. I have seen a steady growth of Canadian beer, in particular, in the province, suggesting a shift of policy. More recently some of those same big names have stuck their toe into the Saskie market as well.

All of this is to introduce that my latest Planet S/Prairie Dog column focuses on some of the new American arrivals (you can read it here). It is a fairly straightforward column, discussing some of the more interesting breweries, including Anchor, Goose Island and Elysian, and trading in some of the rumours I have been hearing lately.

It makes sense for agents to try to ship some product to Saskatchewan, even if small quantities. The pallets are coming to Alberta anyway, so it is a short jump to get it over to Saskatchewan. What is more interesting to me is that the SLGA is willing to increase the number of SKUs active in their warehouse. Government may more slowly, but it still responds – sort of – to consumer demand.

 

Tour Edmonton’s Beer History

One of the more obvious stops on the Edmonton beer history tour.

One of the more obvious stops on the Edmonton beer history tour.

Traditionally the prairies have not been particularly good at preserving and honouring our history. Historic buildings are razed for strip malls and mega-stores. Our public spaces focus more on looking forward than back. Things are getting better. We are slowly realizing that it is important to keep our  history alive.

One group that has been working hard to preserve and promote Edmonton’s history is the Edmonton Heritage Council. This non-profit group has been developing programs and outreach to make history more accessible to people. One of their more intriguing projects is ECAMP, which stands for Edmonton City as Museum Project, which is designed to get history out of the museum and show us that history is all around us.

No, this website hasn’t suddenly become a history blog. I mention all this because the Heritage Council has organized Brew Curious: YEG’s Brewing History, a bus tour of the city’s beer history. The tour will include stops at some well-known historical sites, like the old Molson plant, but will also include lesser known locations such as one of the oldest standing brewing structures in the city (you will have to take the tour to find out where it is). The guides will tell some of the stories of Edmonton’s beer personalities and grand events. The tour will also create a link between our past and our present, with stops at Edmonton’s craft breweries for brewery tours and tastings.

At Alley Kat, attendees will get a chance to taste a one-of-a-kind beer brewed specially for the tour. It is an historic stout, designed and brewed by myself and Alley Kat’s Neil Herbst (with some brew day assistance from Shane Groendahl of the Edmonton Beer Geeks Anonymous). We picked a stout because it was a very popular style in Alberta in the early 1900s.

I found a late 1800s British recipe that seemed a likely candidate to be how they would have brewed it. We home roasted some of the malt (the story of which I will save for another day), selected a yeast that we think is similar to what they might have used, and we used locally grown hops produced by Northern Girls, a new hop farm west of Edmonton. We brewed it on Alley Kat’s pilot system, so there is only enough for the tour. How’s that for an incentive to come along!

I have also been consulting with the Council on the tour itinerary (they have great historians – I have mostly been adding some beer knowledge ) and will be one of the guides for the tour. They hope to sell two busloads scheduled an hour apart.

So, here are the particulars. The tour is Saturday, April 18 with one bus departing at 11:00 and the second at 12:00. Expect about a five-hour tour. Tickets are $85 and include the tour, beer, some food and a bit of swag. You can buy them online at the ECAMP website. They are on sale now.

If you want to learn a bit about Edmonton’s beer history and spend a day hanging out with other beer curious people, consider signing up!

What the Alberta Budget Means for Beer

Photo-Budget2015Last week’s Alberta budget, as the whole world already knows, increased liquor taxes. A case of beer in Alberta will cost 90 cents more than a week earlier. I know no one is particularly happy to pay more for their favourite beverage, but I personally am not going to get wound up about it, especially given cutbacks to health care and education and other, more significant tax increases.

Before I get to my main point of the post, a quick aside. The new mark-ups took effect Friday, March 27. This does NOT mean beer prices went up that day. The new mark-ups apply only to any product purchased by stores and bars from Connect Logistics after that day. Any product that was already on their shelf/on tap is unaffected. I say this because this is a grand opportunity to find out how honest your liquor supplier is. Did they hike their ALL their prices immediately? Or are they planning on phasing in the new prices as old stock is replaced by newer, more expensive cases? I know my regular store (loyal readers know of whom I speak) is planning a colour-coded system indicating when old stock has been replaced by new stock, thus justifying the price hike.

However, the price of beer is not my focus of attention today. I wanted to take a closer look at HOW they distributed the mark-up among the different sized breweries. As many will know (and those who don’t, get a primer here) beer is marked up based on the production size of the brewery. Small brewers get the lowest rate, while the big boys pay full share. A sound policy and one replicated in many jurisdictions.

The political issue in Alberta over the past few years has been that the smaller rates are given not just to brewers who produce in Alberta but to any brewery, regardless of their point of origin. The ever-controversial Minhas, based in Calgary but who brews the vast majority of their beer in Wisconsin, is a particular lightning rod.

So, what did Mr. Prentice and Mr. Campbell do to address this situation? Well, they made it sorta worse and sorta better. See my not-so-fancy little chart.

Brewery Size

Old Mark Ups (per litre)

New Mark Ups (per litre)

Less than 20,000 HL

.20

.20

20,000-200,000 HL

.40

.51

200,000-400,000 HL

.40 on first 200,000
.98 on second 200,000

.51 on first 200,000
1.20 on second 200,000

Over 400,000 HL

.98

1.20

First the bad news. Mid-sized breweries got hit with a 27.5% hike in mark-ups. The largest breweries received a 22.4% increase. Admittedly this is a fairly large jump in either case, and I can see that the government doubled the dollar increase for large breweries (22 cents vs. 11 cents). But it still seems a bit perverse to me that smaller breweries are hit harder than the big multinational breweries.

Big Rock is already crying foul (read here) and I can’t say I Continue reading What the Alberta Budget Means for Beer

Juxtaposing Bitter and Sour

fourwindsjuxtapose2Four Winds Brewing is one of the new breed of B.C. craft breweries that have been taking the province by storm over the past couple years. Four Winds opened in Delta in mid-2013 and in less than two years has already developed a reputation for producing high quality, boundary-pushing ales.

In my latest package from my B.C. beer pen-pal included a bottle of Four Winds Juxtapose Brett IPA, part of their Zephyrus Series (named after the Greek God of the west wind). The trick in the beer is an addition of Brettanomyces to create an extra layer.

A few weeks ago I opened it up to give it a try (it has taken me a while to turn my notes into prose). It presents light gold with an effervescent, loose white head that reminds me of a snowy mountain top. Decent clarity. The aroma is the first sense this is no ordinary IPA. I get a light malt with a bit of biscuit. This is met quickly by a funky, earthy mustiness and a slightly sharp pine hop aroma.

The flavour starts with a dry, grainy malt along with touches of a citrusy, piney hop flavour. After that comes a complete overlay of musty, pungent earthiness. While I also get some light fruit and grainy pilsner malt, these are all background notes. What really comes through is a tension between bright hop bitterness and rustic barnyard. They dance right through to the end. The linger has a sharp pine, citrus note and a dank mustiness.

This beer has a fascinating flavour mix, true to the name. I kept my attention through the glass as there are many layers and I kept trying to work out that juxtaposition. Clearly not a daily quaff, but a praisse-worthy experiment. Looking forward to more opportunities to try Four Winds.

Six Corners Coming Soon to a Corner Near You

SixCorners_full_320x320Luke Wooldridge knows the brewing end of beer. The former Paddock Wood head brewer, who holds a Masters in Brewing and Distilling from Harriet Watt University in Edinburgh, can work his way around a brew kettle. The marketing and retail side of the business are a bit new to him, though.

“My experience is in the production side. Sales is a new experience for me,” he admits during a phone interview when I relay my surprise to find his Six Corners Brew Works beer on the Sherbrooke Liquor Store shelf last week. Wooldridge acknowledges he has been so busy planning the brewery that he has not focused enough yet on getting the word out.

Wooldridge is so busy because his dreamed-of brewery does not exist yet. He has long wanted to open a brewery in Okotoks, a town about 30 minutes south of Calgary. He grew up near Okotoks and still has deep family roots in the area. For now, he plans to “chase contract brewing capacity here and there” to get some beer on the shelf. “I turned to contract brewing to get the ball rolling so I was not starting at ground zero when the brewery opened”, he explains.

Wooldridge’s experience tells him being a gypsy brewer is not conducive to consistency. “Developing a consistent brand and moving from brewery to brewery will be difficult. The beer will be different when you move anyway, so I decided why bother.” Instead, until the brewery is built, he plans on releasing one-off beer under the brand name to get consumer’s palates wet. “Isn’t one of the exciting things about being a brewer is making different beer?”

The first contract release, brewed by Wooldridge at the new brewhouse in Original Joe’s in Saskatoon (“I traded expertise and advice for some time on the system”) is Trailhead IPA. He describes it as a single hop beer using a new, experimental variety from SS Steiner. It is so new it doesn’t yet have name, going only by #07270. “I wanted to make a beer I was excited about, and thought a single hop IPA would be an interesting first release,” he says. “It is heavily dry hopped, and a lot of late hop additions. The malt bill is simple, some caramunich, malted rye”. The next one-off will likely be a Saison, he predicts.

The brewery is likely “a year or two away”, Wooldridge notes because of the hurdles he still has to clear. “Okotoks is a water sensitive town. They have to decide they have enough water for you to get started”. Wooldridge is confident municipal approval is about to be granted, and then it will be on to constructing the brewery, AGLC requirements and moving forward.

While he is still exploring options, Wooldridge expects when the brewery (which he anticipates will be in the 20 to 30 hectolitre capacity range) is fully functional it will produce a range of styles with a leaning toward Continue reading Six Corners Coming Soon to a Corner Near You

Old World, New World

beer101logoI hosted a beer tasting a couple months back where one of the beer was Fuller’s IPA. I find it is a quality English-style IPA. We can debate where it ranks in the style, but I think there is no question it is flavourful, well-made and accurately reflects the style profile.

I overheard a table of men trashing their samples of it. Curious, I wandered over to inquire. As it turns out all were big fans of IPA and through questioning I discovered their only experience of the style was big, citrusy, American-style IPAs. For them, the Fuller’s was embarrassingly not bitter, not recognizing that it actually achieved what it aimed to be.

It got me thinking. I have noticed an uptick lately in the dismissing of traditional European styles. Not just Engligh IPAs, but German Helles, Scottish Ales, Northern Brown Ales and other long-standing styles. Thinking led to writing, which resulted in a Beer 101 column published last week (you can read it here). It is the first Beer 101 of the new year due to some technical glitches over at the website.

In the piece I suggest that North Americans have become a little too enamoured with big and bold. Breweries feel the pressure to constantly push boundaries, to create a more intense version of this or a barrel-aged batch of that. I think in all the rush to bigger and crazier, some people lose sight of the joys of more traditional, old world styles.

By no means do I mean everyone. Most of the beer aficionados I know are thoughtful, varied in their preferences and respectful of old world approaches. But the craft beer world is growing and there is now a sizable number of beer drinkers who appreciate quality craft beer but are not as steeped in the histories of beer. There is no question in my mind I have been observing more dismissiveness than before.

I actually think it is a trend that is much broader than beer. Allow me to quote from the Beer 101 column directly:

The culprit, I believe, is our North American fascination with big. It is not just beer. Everything on the continent is getting bigger or more extreme. Hamburgers. Houses. Cars. Sex and violence in movies. Even our politics are becoming less moderate as market fundamentalism takes hold. We have become enamoured with everything big and boundary pushing. Anything less is settling.

Maybe that puts me in the camp of old fogeys, and so be it. But there is value in the old school approach to restrained flavour and balance.

Personally I intend to double up my efforts to educate Canadian beer drinkers about the wide diversity of flavours possible – both to get timid drinkers to open up to something more bold and to urge lupulin-heads to consider the beauty of a quiet English Brown Ale.

Are you in?

March Beer Madness

yukonrapscallianIt has been a while since I did up a news update, in part because it has actually been a bit quieter on the prairie front in the past few weeks. I am certain that is all about to change, however, as spring seasonals start to get unveiled, meaning this will likely be out-of-date hours after I post it.

I am also hot on the trail of an ever-growing number of rumours around new brewery start-ups around the prairies. So, if anyone has any leads of a brewery I haven’t mentioned in any of my recent profiles, let me know.

Now, with the usual caveats (no particular order, anything missing is because I didn’t hear about it, etc.), here is the latest news:

  • Currently in planning stages, Two Sargeants Brewing (I did a profile of them here) have announced a short-term arrangement to contract their flagship Bangalore Torpedo IPA at Tool Shed in Calgary. This will permit them to have beer available for the upcoming Craft Beer Festivals in Edmonton and Calgary later in the spring and to allow for some initial profile while they complete construction of the brewery.
  • Speaking of Tool Shed, both the brewery and tasting room are now open in northeast Calgary (801 30 St NE). The tasting room is Alberta’s first full-service location, meaning they can serve full pints of their beer. It  also means the beer you find on shelves and on tap around the province are now made in Calgary and the contract arrangement with Dead Frog has reached its end.
  • Big Rock has announced that last year’s one-time release, Fowl Mouth ESB, has been added to their year-round Signature Series.
  • Sticking around Calgary, Wildrose Brewery’s latest seasonal will be Switch Hitter India Pale Lager. It will be released on April 9.
  • Yukon Brewing currently has two new beer on Alberta shelves, both part of their ongoing Bomber Series. First is the return of Yer Gallus (Gaelic for “your’re cheeky), their Scottish Export Ale which was first brewed back in 2012. They also have out a Roggenbock called Rapscallion’s Cousine. It is brewed like a weizenbock, but with rye rather than wheat. A third, tap-only release is also floating around selected locations. Buffalo Stance Robust Porter is as the name implies and, like the buffalo, is scarce. So when you spot one, snatch it up (the beer, not the buffalo – the latter would be unwise).
  • Alley Kat will soon announce it next two seasonal releases. Next up in the Dragon Series is Argyle Dragon – a sister of last year’s Plaid Dragon. No word yet on the hops being used. Also slated for the summer is a keg-only release of Cloudy With a Chance of Lemon Hefeweizen. The decision to go with a tap-only offering is interesting
  • The first contracted brews from Wildcraft Brewery in Lethbridge have hit the market. The beer is currently brewed at Big Surf in Kelowna while they construct their brewery/restaurant. There are three beer available at the moment: Wild Pilsner, Wild Amber and Wild Hops.
  • Jumping over to Winnipeg, as usual Half Pints has a few things on the go. Particularly noteworthy is the return of the always popular Pothole Porter in late March. Also currently pouring on their brewery growler station is Chris’ As Yet UnNamed Wheat. Finally, in a rather cryptic message, Half Pints Dave says that another upcoming release is “Our Most Requested Retired Beer Makes a Comeback– Yep, it’s coming. Still not gonna tell you what it is tho. 😛 All will be revealed sometime in April-ish”. Let the guessing games begin now!

That’s what I got for the moment. As you all know, more news as events warrant.