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Canada vs. U.S.: Who Has the Best Craft Beer Scene?

Some of the useful data the U.S. Brewers' Association releases. Canada has no equivalent organization.

Some of the useful data the U.S. Brewers’ Association releases. Canada has no equivalent organization.

In a pique of stats geekiness the other day I decided to run some numbers on how Canada and the U.S. compare in terms of craft the craft beer scene. And while I was at it, I decided to look at the various Canadian provinces as well.

What I was hoping to do is get past the anecdotes about craft beer scenes and get to some harder numbers. We see lots of talk about how amazing a particular city is (e.g., Portland, Denver, Vancouver) or about a particular region’s reputation (e.g., Quebec). Such praises are unquestioningly deserving and do reveal much about the nature of craft beer culture, if for not other reason than to give the rest of us something to shoot for.

Yet I do find it interesting that we talk so much about the amazing beer scene in Oregon or California or Quebec, but rarely does anyone talk about craft beer in Mississippi, South Dakota or Utah. Similarly Toronto or Montreal get all the love, but we don’t consider our options in Salmon Arm, Peterborough or Antigonish.

I get there is a reason for that. The places where craft beer is succeeding get discussed the most. Yet, there likely is something, at least at some scale, going on craft-beer wise in the other places I mention (for example I picked the three small Canadian cities for a reason – they all have at least one craft beer brewery/brewpub). That is my point. Emphasis on the anecdotes of where craft is strong can distort the full picture.

I am no Nate Silver but I wanted to take a bit of a number-based look at craft beer. There are a number of ways to measure craft beer success: number of breweries, percentage of market, brand recognition, pub culture, etc. I couldn’t look at them all (this isn’t a thesis, for goodness sake!) but decided to focus on two that, at lest theoretically, have some solid grounding in statistics.

The first is the number of craft breweries per capita. This number says a lot about the space in the market for craft beer. Oregon has more than 150 craft breweries. That speaks volumes about the potential to make money brewing beer in that relatively small state. The need to control for population is obvious, I hope.

So, how do Canada and the U.S. compare? The results may surprise you. Canada has more craft breweries per capita than the United States.

Craft Breweries Craft per 100,000 population
Canada 440 1.23
U.S. 2822 0.89

In both cases the population figure is the most recent census estimate. The U.S. data for brewery numbers comes from the Brewers Association, so they should be pretty solid. The Canadian numbers come from a personal database I have been maintaining for the past few years. I keep track of Canadian brewery openings and closings, using a number of sources, including Canadian Beer News. I don’t promise to have captured every new brewery or bankruptcy (Quebec is a particular weak spot) as my collection method is imperfect. However, if anything I under-estimate the number of breweries in Canada. The list only counts breweries currently operating. By my latest count there are an additional 32 breweries in the planning stages across Canada. I do not know how many breweries-to-be there are in the U.S.

The spread between the two numbers is actually rather staggering. Of course, breweries in Canada will be smaller on average than their American counterparts. We don’t have breweries the size of Samuel Adams and we have a higher proportion of breweries  with rather small outputs (no numbers here, just well-grounded logic). Yet Canada has 50% more breweries per capita than the U.S. I personally find that astounding and very, very unexpected.

I also looked at the numbers across the provinces. Again, the numbers might surprise Continue reading Canada vs. U.S.: Who Has the Best Craft Beer Scene?

Old Man Winter Goes Casking

ribstonecreeklogoOver the past couple of years, the cask event scene in Edmonton has quietly plugged away. The number of events has grown (the original 2 monthly events at Sugar Bowl and Next Act joined by weekly casks at Beer Revolution and Craft Beer Market), but the overall buzz factor has, in my opinion, dropped off. While that is somewhat expected – it is far more exciting when there is only one per month vs. eight or ten – I was also hoping to see more breweries and pubs engage in cask-related activities. Alley Kat has been a solid anchor, deserving kudos for it, but I wonder if the lack of diversity limits the potential reach of these events?

That question is why I made a point of swinging by the Next Act the other night to partake in the first Ribstone Creek Cask event. It took place on the regular Next Act cask night, and I was curious if the novelty of a different brewery and the use of their promotion networks might shift the dynamic.

For the record, this was offiically Ribstone’s third attempt at casking. The first was the Beer Geek’s Real Ale Festival, where their cask unfortunately got bunged up. The second was an event hosted at the brewery in Edgerton that reportedly drew 250 people (out of a town of 400!). [Edit: The Ribstone folks tell me this was actually their SEVENTH cask, including two events in Edgerton.]

For Next Act they were offering up their Old Man Winter Porter, dosed with cardamon (as a tea) and vanilla beans. It sat a surprisingly long time in the cask – almost two months. The base beer is a chocolatey dark ale with a noted molasses character and touches of coffee. In my opinion it is something of a hybrid between a porter and a winter ale.

The cask version was completely different. I am always amazed at how the cask process can transform a beer. The coffee and molassess slip away to be replaced by a noted vanilla aroma and flavour. I get a strong cardamon hit on the nose, but not so much in the taste (although others in the room reported they got a clear cardamon flavour, so it might just be me). The vanilla gives the beer a bit of a candy character. The chocolate seems sharper and overall the beer seems slicker in some fashion.

No question it was an enjoyable pint and an admirable first effort.

I cannot report with any reliability that the event garnered more attention than others. The Next Act was packed, but it usually is, and the cask ran out at the usual rate. I noticed a number of beer industry people that likely came for the novelty, and at least a couple of other tables that had the cask purposefully in mind.

Still, Ribstone deserves credit for taking the plunge into cask. The folks there indicate a desire to do casks more regularly. How often and where remains to be seen.

 

 

 

Sprucing Up Winter

Photo courtesy Toronto Star

Photo courtesy Toronto Star

A while ago I spent two springs living in Halifax, enjoying its amazing pub scene and learning more about Nova Scotia’s burgeoning craft beer scene (and, you know, working and stuff). Along my travels a number of different people told me I had to try Garrison Brewing’s Spruce Beer. Alas, since I was there in the spring and Garrison put out this annual release in December there was never any around to try.

I chalked it up to one of those things you have to be there to appreciate.

So imagine my surprise last week when in the liquor store here in Edmonton I saw a handful of Garrison’s 2014 release of their Spruce Beer. I figured I couldn’t snub my nose at the universe’s fortunate turn, so I scooped up a bottle.

I will be honest I was not sure what to expect. I have had homebrewed spruce beer before (they never really impressed me), and of course am very familiar with heather ale, but I wasn’t sure how spruce-y it would be. Often commercial breweries are more muted in their interpretations than their marketing suggests.

As for the marketing, Garrison claims the beer harkens back to 18th century Nova Scotia brewing traditions. I am too lazy to do the research, so I will take their word for it. The beer, for the record, is brewed with both spruce and fir tips as well as molasses and dates (again reflecting the historical recipes). For a modern balance they add about 35 IBUs of Citra hops as well. The beer comes in at 7.5%.

So, did it live up to the Haligonian hype?

It pours dark brown with a medium tan head. I would say it looks like a brown porter or a dark brown ale. Noticeably light carbonation. The aroma has dark caramel with a rustic, earthy tree needle note. The spruce comes through quite subtly, surprisingly. I could be heather as much as spruce. Still, you get a sense that something is different with this beer.

The spruce is more evident in the flavour. At first you get some chocolate and dark sugar and an undertone of molasses. Then comes an earthy tree-needle effect. You know it is spruce right a away. It has a resiny character and is sinew-y note. The spruce builds as the sip continues. It turns what is likely a sweet base beer into a complex creation. The linger is like chewing on a spruce needle coated in sugar.

It is an interesting beer. If it wasn’t quite so dark and full its spruce-ness would be overpowering. You can’t fault the beer for being too timid on the spruce character. Given the richness of the base beer, aided by the molasses, the spruce fits in rather nicely.

I wouldn’t call this a brilliant beer by any stretch, but it is definitely intriguing. I can see why it has developed a loyal following; it offers a set of flavours not found anywhere else. Some will find it weird and likely not take another sip. Others (as I am told happens) scoop up as many bottles as they can find each year.

I land somewhere in the middle. I would definitely try it again but neither am I chopping down my neighbour’s spruce tree to make my own version of it. Still, glad I finally got to try it.

 

Saskatchewan Policy Review and Other Blustery January Beer News

sask flagWhile the actual weather today might be unseasonably warm, all of us on the prairies know full well that the frigid temperatures are soon on their way. January on the prairies. Makes me both proud at how hardy we all are and bewildered at why we live here in the first place.

Since the pre-Xmas rush, the pace of new beer happenings in the region has slowed somewhat. Yet, there are still a few things accumulating that I thought I should talk about.

I want to start with the announcement earlier this week that the Saskatchewan government is launching a full-scale policy review of what it calls the “craft alcohol industry” (see the press release here). The review, to be conducted by a third-party, appears to be rather broad in scope, including “the mark-up structure applied to craft alcohol, production thresholds, direct shipping of craft alcohol to retailers, the ability for growler fills to be done by retailers such as taverns and restaurants and the overall impact of the industry on Saskatchewan’s economy”.

Yup, that is pretty broad. Of course at this stage is it impossible to know what changes will happen, but with its sister review of liquor retail in the province, we can safely assume some significant changes are coming to Saskatchewan in the next couple years.

What with the ongoing controversies with Ontario’s The Beer Store and Manitoba’s policy review, I suspect 2015 might have plenty of fodder for guys like me. Stay tuned.

In other news, there is a smattering of new beer releases and other tidbits (as usual in no particular order).

  • Yukon Brewing has a lot on the go right now. They are re-releasing later this month their occasional Imperial Red as part of their bomber series. The beer is a bigger version of their popular Yukon Red. Following the Imperial Red, they are slating a Roggen Bock for the bombers (date: TBA). A Saskatoon Berry Kolsch will be available at the Whitehorse tap room (only) soon.
  • In other Yukon news (but deserving of its own bullet point) they are edging ever closer to releasing their craft whiskey. It now has a name – Two Brewers Yukon Single Malt Whiskey, and should be hitting the market later this year. Yeah, I know it is not beer but scotch really is just distilled beer, right?
  • AKoatmealstoutlabelEdmonton’s Alley Kat has a couple of new things coming. Already out is a draught-only version of their seasonal beer Three Bears Oatmeal Stout. On February 19, the latest in the Dragon Series will be released. This time it will be Red Dragon, using Simcoe hops exclusively.
  • Half Pints, over in Winnipeg, have a few announcements. First, one of their long-standing year-round offerings, Stir Stick Stout, is being phased out. It will soon be draught-only and after that eliminated. Declining sales are the single reason. However, in good news the annual release of Saison De Ceinture Flechee is slated for mid-February. They are also experimenting more – which allows for their weekly Test Batch Tuesday at the brewery – and in the coming weeks you will see a handful of one-time creations (if you live in Winnipeg, that is). Grand Slam Breakfast Stout (made with locally grown oats) is being released January 24 for growlers and may also make its way into bottles. A currently “un-named” amber ale with tons of Galaxy hops is in the fermenter and will be released next month.
  • A teaser from Paddock Wood. Steve Cavan tells me they are currently barrel-aging a batch of 1000 Monkeys that has been dosed with Brettanomyces. Look forward to that in the coming months!
  • Finally, I normally don’t report unconfirmed reports, but I have two separate sources telling me that Swift Current’s Bin Brewing has gone bankrupt. If anyone has information otherwise, let me know. Opening just over a year ago, its fast demise is a bit of surprise, but a number of people have told me they started off too big and couldn’t create the sales necessary to support the operation. Too bad. I always hate to see the loss of a craft brewery. Just another reminder that this is a hard business to get into.

That is all I have for now. I fully suspect Big Rock will have some news in the coming days, but I couldn’t pry any info out of them this week.

 

Beware, Troubled Monks Ahead!

red deer logo bigIn my evaluation of the recent AGLC changes around beer production policy (which you can read here), I mentioned in passing a couple of breweries who have successfully gained their license, but have not yet opened up for business. One of those operations is Troubled Monk out of Red Deer (no website yet, but they do have a Twitter thing, @TroubledMonk). They have not released their logo yet (hence the goofy city logo).

Troubled Monk is the brainchild of brothers Charlie and Graeme Bredo, two Red Deer denizens who have spotted a growing desire for craft beer in the central Alberta city. I spoke with Charlie last week about their plans. He is owner of a green power retailer in central Alberta and the brothers have been brewing “on and off” for about 12 years. Their initial plan last spring was to open up as a nano-brewery. They set up a tiny 50-litre system in one of the bays of Charlie’s residential garage. It was that system that got the AGLC license. They began testing recipes with a plan to start “one-keg at a time”, says Bredo, and then expand a year or two later. (Full disclosure: back in the spring the Bredos asked me to try some of their test batches and offer feedback on ingredients, process and design to tweak the recipes.)

But as they did more research, they started to second guess that plan. They went back to the drawing board and decided to make the jump to a full-scale micro immediately. “We thought we better do this right the first time,’ says Bredo. “We were concerned about consistency and repeatability on such a small system. Plus we wanted to create some buzz, and for that it was better to have a location”. So instead they purchased a 17 hl system with four fermenters and a bright tank, scheduled for delivery at the end of March. They have recently hired a brewer, who will start in the spring. With luck the first batches of beer will be rolling out of the brewery by the early summer.

An Older Troubled Monk Design. Newer branding TBA.

An Older Troubled Monk Design. Newer branding TBA.

In an interesting twist, they are planning on packaging in cans (as well as growlers and kegs), making them the third craft brewer in Alberta (and second in Red Deer!) to go that route exclusively.

They are still playing with the beer recipes, but they want their beer to be approachable and well-suited for the Red Deer market. “We want to sell beer that people want to drink,” says Bredo. “Our plan is to start with three: a quality, lighter-end wheat ale, blonde ale; something in the middle, a pale ale with great hop aroma but still approachable; and then a brown ale or something darker”.

The pale ale, the expected flagship, has a provisional name – Pesky Pig Pale Ale – honouring Francis the Pig who is famous around Red Deer for his brazen escape from the local slaughterhouse and eluding capture for many months back in 1990. Charlie describes the goal of the beer as having “India Session Ale qualities with big hop aroma and flavour but going a bit easier on the bitterness”.

With a name like Troubled Monk, you might forgive people at getting confused, thinking they were specializing in Belgian-style ales. Bredo acknowledges there is some of that among craft beer afficionados. “A lot of beer people are saying you are going to make Belgian beer. But we are not concerned. The average guy is our target market and most people don’t know what a Belgian beer is”.

Instead, the name is inspired by a commitment to mix old and new approaches. “The troubled monk is committed deep down to tradition, but wants to take a different approach. He wants to give beer to the people, sometimes try new things”. Bredo says that conflict is the vision behind the brewery. “We are merging the traditions of the monks brewing beer and their history with the new world craft beer. Different ingredients, hops, etc. Old World monk. New World approaches.”

Despite already possessing a production  license, a few hurdles remain before Continue reading Beware, Troubled Monks Ahead!

A Three-Way Mortal Sin

ddc peche mortelOver the Xmas holidays I decided it was time to rummage through my ever-expanding beer cellar (I am good at collecting, bad at drinking). In doing so I came across two bottles Peche Mortel I had been holding on to. Peche, of course, is Montreal craft brewer Dieu Du Ciel’s Imperial Stout. Dark, big and black, it is a nice candidate for aging being over 10%. And the bottles I came across were no ordinary Peches. One was a bomber of the 2007 edition given to me by the owners from their private cellar when I visited the brewpub back in 2010 (you can read a piece on that visit here). The second is a 2010 edition that had been aged for 1-year in bourbon barrels, given to me by their Alberta agent during a visit a couple years back. (See, I told you I was lousy at drinking special beer.)

As it worked out I also had a new bottle of Peche Mortel hanging around at the time purchased, I think, in October. And thus, a three-way pseudo-vertical tasting was borne. The bourbon barrel aging of the one slightly throws off the verticalness of the vertical, but, really, who cares. It is fun to do anyway.

Let’s start with the new one as a baseline. It is deep, inky black with a rich, dark tan head that offers a bold landscape and leaves behind some lacing. In the aroma I pick up dark coffee, dark chocolate, dark molasses and dark fruit. Did I mention that it has a deep, dark aroma?

The front flavour is expresso mixed with Burnt Almond chocolate bar (okay a gourmet, fair-trade version of that). The middle is sharp with some bitterness and tougher coffee character. The finish draws out the dark fruits and a lingering warming that is quite pleasant. Linger also has a distinct chocolatey roast character. It is a full and intense beer. The alcohol is well hidden and the beer is neither too full nor too sweet. Unbelievably balanced yet inense all the way through. There is a very good reason why it is one of the most highly respected beer made in Canada.

Next up the 2010 aged in bourbon barrels. It pours identical, although lacking the same kind of liveliness in its overall impression. The head is not quite as big but still leaves some lacing. The aroma is quite different, dominated by bourbon, sweet oak, vanilla and touches of raisin mixed with a soft coffee roast, dark chocolate and hints of alcohol.

The taste is similarly altered. I still get a molasses sweetness upfront but now mingles with vanilla and a sweet brwon sugar note. The middle sharpens up with some rounded roast, the wood flavours and touches of chocolate. The back end and linger give all the space to the bourbon, some roast and more bourbon. Noticeable alcohol warming on the linger as well.

Overall it is a beautiful beer made on a beautiful beer base. Any other base beer would get Continue reading A Three-Way Mortal Sin

Paths to Craft, Part Three

beer101logoTo close out 2014 my Beer 101 column at the Sherbrooke Liquor website took a look at how to transition non-craft beer friends into the vast world of craft beer. The first couple installments (here and here) looked at the first initial steps away from pale lager, including moderate craft beer with similar profiles and then at some of the darker beer options.

I intentionally left the issue of hoppy beer and other more extreme options until the last piece (which you can read here). In my experience in beer tastings and workshops, I find the experience of hop bitterness is the hardest for many new to beer to appreciate. That pungent, puckering character of hops can take some time to develop a palate. Yet, I believe it is possible, as long as you work them into those flavours slowly.

My suggestion is to start with a fairly balanced beer, one that allows the newbie to experience where they will get a sense of where in their mouth they will pick up the bitterness, and what hops smells like. One of my go-tos for this, in addition to just generally being a superb beer, is Fuller’s ESB. A world (or at least an ocean) removed from American IPAs, it still gives enough bitter character that you can help them isolate hops.

From there many options exist. A solid American Pale Ale is a good next step. Alley Kat’s Full Moon Pale Ale/IPA (read here to explain that) is a reliable local option. After that, they are ready for the world of IPAs. Central City’s Red Racer, with its assertive citrus hop yet overall balance, is a good starter. From there, as long as they are open to it, keep trying different interpretations of the style. Before you know it they will be exploring the world of bitter beer on their own as they fast approach their own personal lupulin shift.

Sour, oak-aged and spiced beer, in a way are quite a bit easier in comparison to bitter. Often just go with something they already like. If they like pumpkin pie, likely pumpkin beer will appeal to them, for example. I find red wine drinkers are quite open to Flanders Red, such as Duchess du Bourgogne. Oak-aged beer are a bit more challenging, but if they appreciate a good scotch, likely you will find an open-mind.

Transitioning friends to craft beer isn’t hard. It just takes time, patience and paying a bit of a attention to where they sit at the moment. Like any transition you need to do it one step at a time. Don’t push it.

The good news is that as you share the transition with them, you will get to drink a wide variety of quality craft beer. Not bad for doing a friend a favour.

 

 

The Year that Was/Will Be

happy new year beerAs I sit watching my New Year’s Eve beer cool in the fridge, I ponder the year that was and consider the year that is about to be. More accurately I thought carefully about those things a couple weeks ago when I neared the copy deadline for my year-end columns. But I reflect on those reflections today – re-reflections if you will. Consider it a bit of year-end re-gifting!

The Vue Weekly piece (read here) looks at the past 12 months in the Edmonton beer scene. In sum, it suggests that while on the surface it was a fairly quiet year – no big openings or launches to be had – there were subterranean rumblings that may very well pop to the surface in 2015. Of course, Alberta did see a couple of new breweries, and the entry of some of the American cool kids of craft into the market, which is good news. Despite the quietness, I think it was a year of stable building; the breath before the next surge.

I remember a couple years back watching salmon work their way up a river. I was surprised at how stop and start it was. They would force their way up a few feet, and then find a nook where the current was quiet where they would stop to rest. Dozens would pack up in that little corner and then, one by one, shoot off again to face the next few feet. Man, if humans had to work that hard for sex our species would most certainly have died out by now!

I think 2014 was like one of those pockets of quiet water. Craft beer types paused to take stock of their surroundings before plunging forward again in the coming year. (Editor’s Note: All metaphors appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real beer persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.)

Yes, this has to do with beer, although it is one of onbeer's oddest metaphors yet.

Yes, this has to do with beer, although it is one of onbeer’s oddest metaphors yet.

My Planet S/Prairie Dog piece took a slightly different (and lazier) tack (you can read it here). Instead of accounting the changes in 2014 (I had recently written about the province’s new breweries, so that seemed redundant), I scanned the SLGA’s inventory database to identify what beer entered the Saskatchewan market in the past few months. Turns out it is a pretty impressive list. Read the article if you are interested in finding out about the beer.

What about 2015? I am generally loathe to make predictions, as they are usually wrong and no one actually remembers what you said anyway – meaning you can’t brag in the rare times you are correct. However, allow me to offer a few blindingly obvious prediction for the coming year:

  • Alberta will see at least 3 new breweries open. This is a safe guess, given the number of breweries currently in development. Still that number could be much higher if things turn out (although $50 oil won’t help matters much).
  • At least one more of the American craft icons will enter the western Canadian market. I am putting my money on Sierra Nevada, but there are others swirling in the rumour mill.
  • We will see a new, significant beer bar opening somewhere, sometime. About as vague as it gets, right?
  • The Alberta provincial election will be called early and beer drinkers around the province will launch a campaign demanding changes in the province’s beer policy. [Editor’s note: File this under “Fat Chance Predictions”].
  • 2015 will offer more craft beer options, both local and import, than 2014 did.

The predictions are hardly the stuff of re-tweets. However, I do them for a different reason. It is to create some perspective, to show that the shift to craft beer is not a revolution – it is an evolution. It occurs slowly, incrementally (much like my beer belly), as success builds upon success. The more impatient among us may roll our eyes and stomp our feet, but you can’t force the pace of change. 2015 may very well offer a big splash or two – and that would be great – but the more important changes will be almost imperceptible They will relate to slight adjustments in the beer created by local breweries, the hope-filled appearances of small new breweries and a quiet increase in the range of beer options available to western Canadians.

Mark my words, my 2015 year-end columns will gush about the advances of the (then) past 12 months. There will be some very good things that will have happened that will make my words ring with truth. But the only true measure of how we are doing will be to compare where we were in 2005 with 2015 and again in 2025. That is how you measure beer progress.

Happy New Year!!

 

Reflections on a DIY Advent Calendar

adventbeerline

The Advent beer, pre-selection. Photo courtesy of Kevin.

As I have mentioned in previous posts (and on CBC) I took part this year in a Do-It-Yourself Beer Advent Calendar, organized by homebrewer, loyal onbeer.org reader and friend Chad Heinz. The idea behind a DIY Advent Calendar is to get a group of beer fans together to share beer and give each other a surprise. Each person buys 24 bottles of the same beer, preferably wrapped in some way. The beer get distributed so that everyone gets one bottle of each of the 24 supplied beer.

Just like a traditional advent calendar, starting December 1 each day you unwrap one beer, with the intention that you will try it that day (although in beer editions that is a loose requirement). The last beer is opened on Xmas Eve and leads you into the big day.

A couple of years ago I posted about my experience with the Craft Beer Advent Calendar (see here, here, here, here and here). In general terms, while many of the beer were quite interesting and some were sublime, there were issues of beer being past their prime and beer that were not really deserving of placement in an advent calendar.

Still, the concept was an interesting one.

Which is why a DIY version is intriguing to me. With DIY, you get beer that matches the beer awareness of the participants, which necessarily means something of a mixed bag. But the fun in this case is seeing what other people wanted to give you.

I joined Chad’s group because I trust him implicitly and know he knows good beer people. I figured for the most part the beer would be fine. Plus I wanted to see what it would be like to participate.

My first surprise was the difficulty in picking which beer I should contribute (which I will reveal below). I struggled with whether to go big or experimental, or find something more accessible. After weighing a number of options I decided for something solid, unexpected yet very accessible.

A popular day. Photo courtesy of Chad.

A popular day. Photo courtesy of Chad.

My logic was based on an assumption – eventually proven wrong – that many of the beer would be quite big and/or edgy. So I went for something that would balance those theoretical contributions. That is not how it played out.

As it worked out the variety in the beer offered was much bigger than anticipated. There was only one beer I had not tried before (I am tough on that front), although the offerings did include an Xmas beer that changes every year, making it two beer I had not yet tried.

The range was impressive. There were five IPAs of various shapes and sizes, plus three Belgian styles. However, there were also three Winter Ales made for the season, a couple of wheat beer, three red ales, a fruit beer, plus three darker beer. The mix also included a sour beer, a barley wine and a strong American ale.

Overall, I found the beer to be of decent quality but relatively moderate in their reach, with some notable stand-outs. Most people contributed a beer that would be amenable to a wide range of craft beer drinkers. Most of those offerings were still flavourful, just not particularly boundary pushing. The minority offered something bigger and more challenging, unintentionally creating an interesting balance to the calendar. Interestingly 15 of the beer were Canadian, suggesting a degree of nationalism in the selections (or maybe a price point issue). Five were American and only four were European.

Of the 24 beer, I was disappointed 8 times (in the interests of not embarrassing anyone I won’t say which beer). Conversely, there were 7 days where I was a very, very happy camper. The remaining 9 were in the middle.

Of course, I am a tough customer. I can be hard to  please. How I choose to interpret the results is that Continue reading Reflections on a DIY Advent Calendar

Beer News Fit for Last Minute Gift Shopping

brewstersbluemonkHappy holidays to everyone! But before I go enjoy my final beer advent calendar beer (a fine choice, by the way, to be discussed next week) and shake my presents under the tree, let me offer some last minute beer news suitable for the procrastinatiest of the procrastinators who know have something they can grab at the last second.

As usual, they are in no particular order:

  • Yukon Brewing is over and out with their two latest beer. Over the Moon Milk Stout is their latest bomber series beer and is brewed in the traditional style of a British milk stout, complete with addition of lactose. Out of the Ordinary Ordinary Bitter is an intriguing growler-fill only beer at the brewery. It appears to be brewed as a traditional ordinary bitter – a rare style in these days of big, bold beer. However, I will likely never know as I don’t live in Whitehorse (which might be a blessing or a curse, in December I am not sure which).
  • Brewsters is taking advantage of its newly gained right to retail sales of bottles. Following their release of six-packs earlier in the year, they have just launched two new seasonal beer in bottles, . Fans of Brewsters will be familiar with Blue Monk Barley Wine in a bottle complete with a wax-tipped neck, making it easier to cellar. Complementing it is Brooding Soldier Tripel, a one-time Belgian Abbey ale.
  • Big Rock finishes their crazy 2014 of new releases with their 2014 edition of Cuvée Bru, their Druivenbier, which is a beer-wine hybrid style rarely seen in North America. This second annual vintage was brewed using three varieties of malt, Hallertau hops, Pinot Gris grapes from Therapy Vineyards, and honey sourced from hives kept at the brewery.
  • Popping up around the Edmonton area with unpredictability is Alley Kat’s latest holiday beer. These one-off beer are brewed as a thank you to the brewery’s loyal clients and customers. This year’s version is Happy Holidays Mild, a traditional British Mild. You may find it at a beer bar near you or in bombers if you are in the know.
  • The third beer in Black Bridge Brewery’s troika of initial beer, their IPA, has now been released and is slowly working its way across Saskatchewan and Alberta. It will be interesting to see how it stands against their first two.
  • Staying in Saskatchewan, December 16 marked the official opening of Rebellion Brewing’s taproom. Their beer have been available in select Regina pubs since the early fall, but now you can officially try their beer at the source.
  • RBL_LogoOver in Winnipeg Half Pints have been busy entertaining both themselves and their loyal customers. Alas, most of it will only be accessible if you live in the city. First up is The Mighty Red, their take on an Irish Red ale, offering 4.9% and 17 IBU. It is available only as growler fillers at Manitoba Liquor Marts. Next is King James, brewed as a celebration of their 1000th batch of St. James Pale Ale (yes, you read that right – they have made a MILLION litres of this beer since 2008. Impressive!). It is a maltier, hoppier version of St. James. It, too, will only be available in growlers. Finally, they have begun promoting Test Batch Tuesdays , an opportunity for regulars to drop by the brewery and get growlers of stuff the brewers are trying to see if it is ready for release.
  • Finally, the Edmonton Beer Geeks Anonymous has announced a new cask event for the height of winter. Freeze Your Cask Off will play out just like their annual Cask Day, with a cluster of one-off cask ales on offer, but it will focus on darker and stronger winter-appropriate ales. It will be February 21 from 1 to 7 pm. Tickets are $25 and will likely go fast.

Allow me to wish you and your loved ones a restive and festive holiday season. May all your beer wishes come true. I will try to post once or twice next week if I can. In particular I want to pontificate on my inaugural participation in a DIY beer advent calendar. I will see if I have time. Until then, enjoy your time off and appreciate all the things you have to be thankful for.