More English Pale Ales

bomb2In the spirit of the post that had to end, I picked up two world classy pale ales from Engherlant – Charles Wells Bombardier and Shepherd Neame Spitfire, both bought at the main LCBO in downtown Kingston. Bombardier is pretty much available year round now while the Spitfire is part of a seasonal selection they bring in each autumn. While that is great, I wonder why they need to rotate and also why do they only bring in one Shepard Neame product. Clearly they have access to the distributor and clearly there is a market for this sort of quality. Sometimes the beer buyers of the LCBO amaze me. Fifteen types of identical eastern European lager for sale every day. Dribs and drabs of quality unique ales. As the single largest buyer of alcohol products on the planet – fact – the LCBO should do better, given that a corner store in the ‘burbs of Syracuse, NY State, can put it to shame for variety, price and quality. I invite the LCBO to take up my call and ask me to lend a hand.

Charles Wells Bombardier: left, is at the limit of pale ale and old ale due to its mahogany hue and rich raisin dark crystal malt profile. This is a standby for me in the winter when I need an ale…”need”…it is all about need. Christmas cake rum rich, it also has a good balanced hop bite but one that is subdued compared to the malt. For all that flavour, the body is not heavy compared to other pales we have lived through together, either from the USA or England. As a result, it is quite refreshing – not stodgy. Like me. Anyway, it comes in a 586 ml bottle, a full Imperial pint. Empire! The Beer Advocatonians approve, this review being typical:

The taste. Ooooh, the taste? There is a distinct bitterness matched with a solid body right from the start. There are notes of dried fruits, nuts, diacetyl and a gentle touch of alcohol develops into a cream-like mouthfeel and a very complex bitterness with flavours of lemon, bitter almonds, raisins, cocoa and gunpowder. The aftertaste lasts for ages, and keeps on developing well after ten minutes.

Ummm….dried fruits. Sound weird but never tastes weird. Diacetyl is a butterscotchy thing that can be an error in the brewing of one beer and a blessing in the next. Here, good. For the record, due to events prior to my high school graduation involving thoughtfully made rockets and reasonable explosions over certain make-out parking areas of Truro, I can personally confirm the gunpowder comment.

Shepherd Neame Spitfire Kentish Ale: right, is made by England’s oldest brewery dating from 1698 out of Faversham, Kent. Hoppy but given what I have been able to sup this summer, the hops are not out in front by any respect compared to, say, Tröegs Pale Ale. The hops are citrusy but to my palate are more orange and lime as opposed to the lemon and grapefruit a lot of US varieties will give you. It is a nicely refined bitter and, at 4.5% more of an Extra Special Bitter than an India Pale Ale. Not heavy in the mouth and not overwhelmingly malty. It actually just whelms rather nicely. A very civil ale. Fine where the Bombardier above is fullsome. Well received by the advocatonians. Very subdued toffee, unlike Old Speckled Hen but definitely similar in style. The brewer says:

Tasting notes: Crafted from traditional varieties of English malt, this golden ale combines an underlying depth of maltiness, tinged with a subtle hint of toffee, with the bold citrus and fruity spiciness of Kentish hops, to produce a well-balanced, thirst quenching, popular drink…Containers: 34 pint Polypin, 9 gallon Firkin, 18 gallon Kilderkin, 500ml Bottle, 440ml can and 25cl Stubby.

Ahhh…to be able to pop around for a firkin or quarter keg. I have the 500ml version, by the way. As with wine the volume and construction of the container can make a difference. You would not lay down a polypin or can but a firkin or kilderkin of any brew over 6% would do very well being buried three feet down away from frost for a few months.

Both very worthy additions to any cellar.

Four North East IPAs


PA’s Tröegs Hopback, southwest NY’s Southern Tier,
Ithaca’s Flower Power and Maine’s Shipyard.

Porter lost out to India Pale Ale somewhere in the mid-1800s. The style came out of the export trade to the British soldiers in the Empire – by brewing double strength and double hopped, the ale travelled better and was expected to be diluted when it got there. Plan B was rapidly brought into play. In the revival of beer making that has occurred over the last twenty years, big hops and big body have been something of a flagship for each brewer. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. These suds are all in the game. You’ve seen the Ithacan before but now it is with compadres.

As an aside, this is something that has not taken off in Canada in the same way. If there is a great hopped ale it is more in the English style like the excellent Propeller ESB out of Halifax. The micro-micro brewery at Rogue’s Roost also in Halifax made small batches of wonderful IPAs but they were not a hit with the crowd and ended up dry-hopped in corny kegs (ie soda pop canisters) for the select crowd of Lorne’s pals. I have not had a micro in Ontario that went anywhere near where either Nova Scotian went – even they are “IPA lite” compared to any number of available brews from below the border. Can enyone suggest a rival for these four?

Southern Tier IPA:This beer is not so complex as either the Ithaca or Tröegs examples but that is not necessarily a bad thing. At the end there is a bit of alcohol heat which is expected at 6.5%. Woodsy hopping feels more like Fuggles than Goldings but there is a bit of the orange peel of the latter as well. Not real green or minty, either. Spicy, however, and with the extra body it is not unlike or perhaps a good compliment to a Sussex Golden Ginger Ale. A bit heavy to be a session beer. The Beer Advocate reviews are positive and I will buy biscuity but I am not finding the hops grapefruity. That all does go to the problem of describing taste as no one is really wrong to a certain point. Located at the very south western corner of New York, the Southern Tier Brewery is a worthy new find for me.

Ithaca Flower Power IPA: I wrote about this one before but it is good to be a standard. In fact, of the ales tested, Ithaca Flower Power IPA and Brooklyn Brown are real winners so far. This time I am impressed by the balance of the Flower Power without recourse to a particularly heavy or heady body. The brewery tells us:

Available April 1 – September 31. Elegantly traditional and rich in its hop character, this India Pale Ale is thirst-quenching and soul-satisfying. Each sip delivers a bounty of herbal and floral hop character, balanced by the fruity signature of our house yeast. Cheers! This seasonal product is available only on draft, 1/4 bbl keg, or 1/2 bbl keg.

The website is a bit behind as I am clearly drinking a bottle. The lads at the Beer Advocate think it may be a session beer but that would be like eating arugula all evening instead of dill pickle chips. I like this opinion:

It kind of sneaks up on you, through the easy going, crunchy, jam band listening feel. The oak is very distinct, meeting a walnut yeast flavor and balancing biscuity grain. A lingering woody hop flavor, with a bit of grainy malt sticking to the back of the tongue. Medium bodied, with soft but steady carbonation. A bit of a rough-hewn mouthfeel, with all the earth, wood and grain going on.

I like it. A very earthy, natural feel. The graininess is somewhat like an organic ale, and the oak flavor really conjures up a cask feel. It’s a nice enough IPA, but perhaps a little more bite would make it better. Some of that herbal, piney oiliness. Regardless, I like the woody, earthy feel, it creates character and makes the brew distinct.That is it! Arugula. The beer has that bit of black pepper zing with vegetative green in the hops that is like the green aka roquette. Damn good beer.

Tröegs Hopback Amber Ale: far left, this beer is pretty fine, a notch above medium body, a fresh hops profile, fairly sweet from crystal malts with a light citrus edge through it. The brewer says:

Tröegs HopBack Amber gets its unique name and taste from the HopBack Vessel in our brewhouse. Packed full of whole flavor hops, each batch circulates through the vessel, creating a fresh hoppy aroma, spicy taste and rich caramel note that defines this signature amber ale.

It is rich, mellow, satisfying and quite morish and the Beer advoates approve. It is not as molar janglingly hopped as other pale ales or IPAs US brewers will throw at you but sometimes the hopping can go too far if you are looking for something to have more than one bottle of. At 6% it is not a session beer but you could fool yourself despite the warming. Like the other ales I have been happy with, the challenge they place on the Canadian bigotry against US brews is definitely on.

Shipyard IPA: I have a sectret that is no secret and that is I love Shipyard’s ales. I have crawled all over the brewery on a ad hoc tour by the brew master one Saturday with portland at Portland. I have t-shirts and a ball cap. I have (briefly) abandoned my family on visits immediately upon dropping them off at the home being visited to rush to DiPietro’s around the corner – the great pizza maker, beer and wine store, corner grocery of South Portland – to pick up a captain’s case, the variety packs US micro-brewers put out of three bottles of four styles that make such sense. It sums up much of what is great about Maine – quality, tradition and independence. (In fact, the current polling in Maine giving Bush the lead give me the expectation that Kerry will win nationally…they go their own way to that degree.)

At the brewery I was stunned to find open top modern square fermenters, like found at the excellent Samuel Smith’s brewery of Yorkshire, England. Ale fans and even Ale-fan will know that the open square is a form of fermentation that requires the yeast head to effectively seal the fluid forming in to beer below it. No gauges and pipes up top, just a burbling crops of foam. That foam replicates itself when the bottle purs into a big rocky head that leaves a venerous lightly beiged lace on the glass as it settles. It is very mich alive. It also, again like sherry, arguably allows for a certain respiration, which when your Brewery is by the seashore in Casco Bay, can be argued to add a sea saltiness aspect to the brew – sort of like certain Islay malts.

The brew itself [Ed.: click on IPA on the java-ed frame] is fruity and fuggley which makes it fairly close to the orange juice of ales. The beer used to be called Fuggles IPA according to one of my t-shirts and is fairly brave in its selection of a single hop. Fuggles is the oldest variety of hops still used and has a twiggy edge not present in the more noble hops like Goldings with its fine candy cane, citrus characteristics. The website uses the word spicy but that is a little general in the sense that I like to use that word for either Christmas pudding flavours you can get in darks or peppery nutmegy clovey flavours you can get in hefeweissens. At 5.8%, there is a little bit of heat to Shipyard IPA there but it is well-framed in the hops and medium bodied malt. The beer advocatonians are mixed on this brew, 13% giving it a thumbs down for the properties that the square fermenation and use of Fuggles actually intends. They are not a mistakes so much as decisions. I also have noted that Shipyard’s flagship Export had been described as a Canadian ale in some quarters. The grainy roughness of the brews certainly is familiar to me in that regard. Consider this review:

Certainly bitter, though so many IPAs are made with one of the hops that starts with a “C” that this one seems unique despite its blandness. Well carbonated and lively, it’s certainly refreshing. Bits of lemon and berry tart drizzled in caramel. But then it’s really just hops. You get the hint of complexity, but dry, grainy, hop oily intensity takes over. Hops is the word of the day. They’re all over the backend of this beer. No harshness or alcohol to slow consumption. Goes down well.

In a sense this beer is a pinnacle of former glory Maritime brewing style which I grew up with out of the Olands and Moosehead breweries. It is like the beer Oland’s Export might be were it brewed as a real ale rather than a beer replicant containing mainly corn sugar and irish moss. If I were Mike in Halifax, I would load up a rental van with non-drinkers, drive the eight hours to the brewery, buy their share of the border crossing allowance with taxes paid and have a very happy winter.

There you have it. All my USA summer brews are extinguished, supped, downed and the reviews are complete. Good thing I have a week off after Canadian Thanksgiving and am planning a day trip two hours south to the Galeville Grocery and even perhaps the Party Source in Syracuse.

Beer Shop: Galeville Grocery, Liverpool, NY



Directions to Galeville Grocery

So we hit the road at 8:00 am and were at the fair at 10:30 am after a few stops – one of which was the Galeville Grocery. Unlike Pennsylvania and its restrictive distributor system, New Yorkers have some of the most civilized laws relating to the purchasing of ales. As in Quebec, any corner store can pretty much be one of the best sources you will find. Thanks to a tip from the Homebrewers Digest, we turned off I-81 at the Liverpool turn-off and hunted for the 116 year old shop.

As the photo below shows, it was a small trip into a pretty nice selection of micros. Lots of Ithaca, Brooklyn and other New Yorkers plus a good selection from across the land. They even had sixes of Sleeman’s honey brown for 4.99 which is about 6.50 CND – or 4 bucks less than it costs here in Ontario where it is made. I picked up a variety pack from both Ithaca and Southern Tier as well as a six from each of Brooklyn, Wagner Valley and, because I could, one of Shipyard IPA from Portland Maine. Expect a few comparing and contrasting reviews over the next week weeks including much reference to the works of Lew Bryson.


It was a bit of a lesson in surcharges. The beer cost me $50.45 USD or $67.10 CND. I then paid $2.10 USD New York State bottle return, $3.66 USD New York state tax, $4.00 CND federal duty, $9.64 Ontario Liquor Commission mark-up, $5.44 Canadian Federal Goods and Services Tax, $10.48 Ontario Provincial Sales Tax. Total was $103.78 CND. If I had spent 48 hours in the states it would have only been the $78.20 as there are no border charges but I am not exactly going to plan a three day holiday around saving 29 bucks.

Later: Visited again today and noticed the returns sorting room at the back and its impressive dusty collection of unreturnables. Spot any favorites?