The Stash

The results of a trip south are often a slowly decreasing but merry little stash of singles in the closet and the fridge for the best part of a month as reviews get written. Sweet 1978 Rawlings, too. I am pretty sure I have only had two of the bottles previously, the McEwans Export and the Smuttynose Hefe. The future is unknown and that is great. I see about new brewery reviews including those nine new bottles for me from Middle Ages, three from Wolavers, four from Southern Tier as well as a couple of new Wittes and my first Mackeson’s XXX stout.

One other pick-up at FLBC was a variety 12-pack of Great Divide ales from Denver Colorado which has obeyed my two rules for variety twelve packs: give me four types, three bottles each, and no lager. If you like lager you likely won’t like an ESB or IPA and if you like those the lager is likely just a waste of space. Saranac makes a largely lager 6×2 pack which is quite legitimate…though I don’t think I would buy one with great anticipation.

Finger Lakes Beverage Center, Ithaca, New York


You know when they say someone or something
is truly beautiful on the inside once you get to know?

OK, I have been a little quiet around here as of late but that is because I have been on special assignmentTM and this last special assignmentTM took us to Ithaca, New York about 3 hours due south of Beer Blog HQ in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. And what a good idea it was – and not just because of Purity Ice Cream.


Ithaca is a loverly little city at the south end of Cayuga Lake, known for Cornell University and the most famous vegetarian restaurant on the planet. Touristy, academic and foodie. The perfect spot for a good beer store loaded with micros – and the Finger Lake Beverage Center is it. I have to be honest in that I have not been to a huge number of US beer stores, maybe ten or fifteen, but this one is pretty damn fine.

flbc2I was the nice beer blogger and asked if I could take some photos. There was a quick pow-wow after I explained a bit and sure enough it was fine. As usually happens, I find myself a bit dumb-struck in the face of hundreds of beers I have yet to buy and more so when faced with a well laid out, friendly and clean environment in which to be dumb-struck over beer. I also had to quickly calculate how much I could afford, how much I can get across the border and how much will keep my marriage on that level field we all call sanity. Once all that was done figured, it was time to talk and buy. I learned that the store was big on turnover of bottles and, as a wholesale distributor and retailer, they were able to ensure none of the bottles were sitting around too long. This is a curse of many shops with long lists – not enough nerd action. You could see that there was no dust on these bottles. Staff were friendly and knowledgeable and not a bit concerned that I was taking photos of their well-stocked shelves like the weirdo I am.

I only bought about 30 beers but I hit many of my wish list: a Belgian cassis lambic, California’s North Coast “Old Rasputin” Russian Imperial Stout, a mixed six of Stoudts from PA and Bert Grant’s Perfect Porter from Washington State among others. Price seemed good, though to be honest I was a kid in a candy store. This may be nothing to a citizen of the USA but the simple layout of single bottles over six-packs over 24 cases of region after region, brand after brand, brewer after brewer is quite a revelation to a Canadian. The idea of a growler selection, above, let alone a fill your own growler on a Sunday strikes the average Canuck like…well…something very hard to the temple that also makes you happy.








All in all a quick visit has left me about 20 beer reviews behind, which is not a particularly bad place to be with the summer here and all. I will definitely go to Finger Lakes Beverage again. I will probably go there again in about a month when I pass through Ithaca again and have a little more time. You go, too. Go on. We’re watching.

By the way, the Customs officer moment was good:

Customs: (kind of offical-like) …and where did you buy these beer?
Me: Ithaca.
Customs: yes but where?
Me: Finger Lakes Beverage.
Customs: and where is that?
Me: Ithaca? What are you wanting to know?
Customs: (quieter) I want to know because I go to school in Ithaca and haven’t heard of the place…what’s it near?

A Norwegian Travels South-west

I was in London last week, which is pleasant during all seasons, but this has been the hottest July for 30 years, so there is an extra need to refill the body’s liquid reserves.

I first visited the splendid Pitfield Beer Shop, which sells both a number of bottle conditioned ales from its own micro and a broad selection of beers and ales from Britain and the rest of the world. Friendly staff that know their beers as well, so it is definitely woth seeking out, even if it is a bit out of the way for most visitors to London. I bought as many bottles I could reasonably carry, and walked back through the Clerkenwell area, where I decided to try the new golden ales on offer from Young’s and Fuller’s, the two independent London brewers which both own a number of pubs serving their beers.

Next stop was the Sekforde Arms, a friendly Young’s local on a side street. Young’s have Golden Zest as their seasonal ale this Summer. It is dark gold in color, but while it looks like a lager, it is certainly an ale. Light and refreshing, but not a groundbreaking brew. Served at the proper cellar temperature – what critics of British beer call “warm beer”, this could actually have been served colder on a hot day like this. It was nice to try the Golden Zest, but the next time I will return to their Special. The brewery blurb for this 100% malt brew: Maris Otter pale malt, lager malt, English Fuggle and Golding hops come together to produce a wonderfully light and refreshing golden beer. A few minutes walk to the Fuller’s pub City Retreat, a great place on a hot afternoon (or a cold Winter evening, as I’ve been there before). The new ale from Fuller’s is Discovery, and this was something else. An ale with a depth of flavour. It is fruity, with hints of apple and peach. A splendid summer beer, but I am not sure where it will fit in the market, as it is neither a lager nor a typical ale. According the Fuller’s, this is to be added to their year-round range of ales, along with London Pride and ESB. This was served chilled, and I found that suited the beer well. According to Fuller’s, this is “brewed using a unique blend of malted barley and wheat for a delicious malty taste bursting with rich, biscuity flavours. Liberty hops are added for a distinctive zesty character and fruity bite, whilst Saaz hops add a gentle bitter taste for a clean, refreshing finish.”

It seems like they have both aimed for the same type of beer, with “zesty” being a common denominator. It is worth mentioning that Young’s launced a beer a few years ago, the Triple A, which also aims at the drinkers who dont’t want the full flavour of their bitters. This is not a real ale, and it is served chilled, rather like a Kilkenny, but with a bit more taste. Purists frown on this, of course.

If you stay in the British Museum area of London, these two pubs are just a few minutes away by bus or taxi – if it’s not too hot they are within walking distance. They are much to be preferred to the more busy and touristy pubs in the Covent Garden/Soho area, being frequented by people who live or work in the area. You can look up their addresses on and, where there is plenty of information on their beer range, too. And, if you have more time on your hand, both breweries have tours of their premises and they have brewery taps and souvenir shops. Young’s even have published books on the history of the brewery and their pubs, see a review on my self-named Knut Albert’s Beer Blog.

Buying Beer In Quebec


The Government Store, Canada

When I was a kid old O.H. Armstrong in our church called it the “Government Store”. In the South Shore of Nova Scotia apparently it is called the “Power House”. What ever you call them, there is a little left over from prohibition in every province in the country – the need to control…which also leads to the inability to shop around much. We are lucky here in eastern Ontario with the shops of Quebec and New York state not that far away, so that an hour and a half or two gets you into another world with another set of wacky regulations. If you are looking for something different when you travel, you can plan ahead with the web…but just don’t get too depressed from what you read:

What do you learn from looking at these sites? Don’t go beer hunting in PEI right off the top: no selection, six imports three of which are Heineken, Becks and Stella – mmm, macro-industrial North Sea lager. Quebec has very interesting beers, allows you to find out if a bottle is actually in your shop and shop on-line but if you are in a northern village you have to let the local authorities know what you have ordered. Newfoundland calls beer from New Brunswick imported. Alberta has privatized the shops in 1993 and has since only regulated but still they are left, according to the Bar Towel in 2002, with limited selection.

So – what do you do with a country that cannot organize itself better than a cornerstore in a suburb of a small US city or a pub in Halifax

Stouts: Freeminer Deep Shaft, Gloucestershire, England

dss1Who can resist when one reviewer says: ” Very possibly the darkest beer in the world.” Well…I suppose lots of people who do not like dark or black beer. But for people who understand that Guinness is actually red, this kind of line makes an ale very attractive.

Freeminer Brewery is one of the small brewers in the Wessex Craft Brewers Co-operative, a shadowy group that appears to make – or perhaps only bottle – fine traditional West Country English ales through some sort of equipment sharing. RCH Brewery, Ash Vine Brewery, Hand Brewed Beers and Freeminer Brewery all appear to have been part of the co-op. Ash Vine, makers of the excellent Hop and Glory pale ale which the LCBO carried in the spring of 2001, went under a couple of years ago. RCH started in a Hotel serving only the clientele. Small timers.

But small is good. The advocatonians rate it 4.31 out of 5 which is the only stout ahead of Guinness at 4.27. Which is all very nice but I have yet even to open the bottle, so verklempt I am over the Sox and Yanks going into the 10th inning as I type. The head is mocha and below, inky. The stout fan I married…yet did not buy a second of these for…equates a good stout with a good chocolate and that is there, fine graininess like espresso or dark chocolate. Raisins from dark crystal malt. Like Shipyard IPA, it only uses the woodsy Fuggles hop, so less minty than Guinness which uses Northern Brewer. The brewer says:

Guardian Bottle Conditioned beer of 1996. Not for wimps! Everything a BCB should be. Packed solid with malt, hops, and oats. Possibly the darkest stout of all time, a single varietal beer, made only with Fuggles hops, packed with bitterness, and brimming with aroma hopping, a deep and complex beer, worth taking some time over, and exploring the Hampton Court like maze of complex flavours. Initially, the dry, biscuit flavour of roast barley attacks the palate, soon to be replaced by the soothing Fuggles balm of rich smokiness, and then layer upon layer of malted oats, rich dark malts, and an unidentifiable eutectic¹ finish of pure stout character. The definitive stout for the discerning drinker, dive in and explore!!

Expensive at 4.99 USD for a single pint but this is pretty much the premier grand cru classé of stouts. If you were to look for a more available comparable stout you could try Royal Extra from Trinidad but you have to remove its sweetness and replace it with about 27 other layers of flavour. And that is impossible.


¹Loverly word. “The lowest temperature at which a mix of two materials will melt. Often the temperature is an anomaly, that is, it is much lower than the melting temperatures of only slightly different mixtures. Lead-tin solder is an example. Lead melts at 327C, tin at 231C. The lowest melting combination is 67 lead, 33 tin (180C). Non-eutectic mixtures have a melting or softening range. Such mixtures do not flow well until thoroughly heated past the softening range. This softening phenomenon is what makes glazes hang onto the ware.”

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?