Eephus, Bricks And Mortar – Left Field, Toronto

imageIs it just me or are samples you don’t ask for different? A wee giftie. A few brewers still send me stuff like these two beers from Toronto’s Left Field Brewery. I don’t hunt them out anymore and get so few these days it hardly matters. That’s what I tell myself. I still pure, right? Let’s be honest. Years ago, though recent enough to have been in this house, two separate UPS vans met face to face on the street where we live. They laughed over how they were sick of dropping of stuff at my place. Each driver had a box packed with various beers sent by gracious and keen distributors anxious for approval, when once this blog was the sort of place read, I am told, by the staff of the New York Times Food and Drink section. Now? Let’s stick with that word – different.

I still get samples I don’t write about. Some free beer is still just that Heineken Light sent in a cheap beach cooler with a 57 cent AM/FM radio built into the side. Or it’s an oddly foul crap craft that should never have been made. In an embossed bottle made so badly that the extra trim cuts you, leaving you will bloody palm. That was a great one. Beer from Left Field are nothing like that. With Game 4 between the Cubs and the Tribe on, they certainly fit the evening’s entertainment given the brewery’s baseball themed branding. The neck label is shaped like home plate. The names are usually linked to the game.

Not so with Bricks and Morter, a special release coffee porter. The back of the expensively presented painted bottle describes it as a tribute to the history of their neighbourhood’s brick trade. The coffee is from a nearby roaster, added during the final stage of extraction. I am told. The beer pours a deep cola with a thick, mocha coloured head.  One the nose, sweet dark coffee. In the mouth, a thick ale – bitter dark coffee made more so with a dose of twiggy hop. A small nod to licorice and eucalyptus. There is husky, rough texture to the beer that works, accentuating the espresso. The result is a 6% dark ale full of flavour that comes across as a light version of an imperial stout.

Eephus is an old friend. When I drink it I feel like I am cheating on The Whale, CBW’s flagship brown ale. I like brown ales.  Two years and a season ago in June 2014, I was out with Ron and Jordan on a rare trip to Toronto. The evening struggling to understand what good beer meant in that place at that time was well capped with Grizzly Beer, a solid comforting thoughtful brown ale at Bellwoods. Eephus was Left Field’s first beer and one that signaled good things. This bottle, like its sibling above, displays a fresh powdery texture that conveys goodness, thickness. A touch lighter at 5.5% there is no adjunct between you and the ale, unless you consider oats a novel ingredient. It’s flaked oats and not oat malt, by the way. Only a partial fermentable, a body builder that gives a silky touch. I will say that the hop profile is a bit more flowery, a bit more bitter than I recall from earlier happy sessions but it sits well in this incarnation.

An Eephus, in case you are wondering, is a slow looping trick pitch rarely trotted out, meant to throw off a batter. “Spaceman” Bill Lee would use when he was an Expo or a Red Sox.

Ontario: Byward Brown, Big Rig Brewing, Ottawa

A mad half week on the road. Two business meetings, a ball game plus a 97th birthday party in the family saw me driving from Eganville to Ottawa to Toronto to Owen Sound and back. Good thing I picked up a growler of this nut brown ale as I was passing from highway 417 to the 416. Big Rig sits in a small mall in Ottawa’s east end next to the big Ikea and serves both local passing car traffic as well as nearby residential community. The on-site restaurant was packed when I stopped in with folk catching the NHL playoff game happening in another part of town that evening.

After a morning of gardening and, err, home organization this hits the spot. The beer pours an attractive reddish mahogany with a fine creamy off white head. Nuts and dried fruit on the nose. In the mouth, there is a good bracing jag of twiggy hopping paired with a minority vote from something adding some citrus rind. As the beer warms, the malts open up with flavours of cola, dark sugars, dates and other brown things. The level of hopping might have attracted an earlier craft era designation as a Texas brown ale but that’s a label that seems to have faded away, a style that wasn’t then might have been but now may not be anymore. A black tea dry finish highlights the hazelnut notes and grainy texture.

A reasonably drinkable 5.2%, not enough BAer reviews to warrant an average. I like.

Ontario: Eephus Oatmeal Brown, Left Field Br’y, Tra’na

I think I only dislike one thing about the prospect of drinking this new beer. I have a strong suspicion that Jays fans made it. Have I mentioned I really dislike the Toronto Blue Jays? Years ago when I bounced in a bar in London, Ontario there was another bar down the road all done up with Detroit Tigers memorabilia except for signs that said “Jays Suck” which I loved. See, as an Expos fan since ’67 when I was a toddler with a cap and ’73 when I saw the Yanks lose at Fenway, I have had a dual allegiance. One sadly past. One present. Yet… I love baseball. The season starts this weekend. Spring, summer and fall all lay before me again filled with baseball. See, I have done this. I have hit doubles in America in recent years as a rather fat man off a better player than me. I have hand lathed bats. So, the baseball theme chosen for Toronto’s new Left Field Brewery has me.

But how about the beer itself. Start with the bottle. Note the Mississippi mud hue of the label’s background tone. I have a ball in that hue from the day I watched the Sox smoke the Jays. A one pitch knuckle ball with the Wakefield fingertip inprints and the Vernon Well’s pop up all marked. Far defter branding than Coopertown‘s even if I do have the yellow t-shirt. The aroma is date and brown bread. Lots of molasses but something herby spicy, too. Verging on Abt 12 with half the alcohol. Mohagany ale with mocha cream lacing foam and rim. Lots going on in the swally. There is that smoothness one associates with oat but also enough placement points of hop over the arc of the quaff that you are aware this is not someone’s take on Peculiar. Yet, that dripping brown malt. The blackstrap. The nut. The bread crust, dry cocoa and black tea. It is also a rejection of all those trendy needy nanos. It’s, bear with me, reminding me of the intention behind the Whale. Beer for people who like the taste of beer. And a bigger beer than its strength. I had an oatmeal stout from Quebec’s Le Castor earlier and was only disappointed with its heft. None of that here. Heft to lend.

I am given to understand from one young pup to my west that this bottle is not actually for sale but zooped up for samplin’ and reviewin’. It can be bought around town on tap in the Big Smoke. I don’t go there much. Next time I am there, I am finding me some of this.

New York: Frankenwhale, Community Beer Works, Buffalo

OK, it is Frank and The Whale, actually, the two brews from Buffalo’s Community Beer Works. The recent Euro 2012 Beer Bloggers Conference has sent the up a red flag about the ethics of samples. Really? I suppose some have ethical debates within about the free bit of gak they might foist upon you at a grocery if you don’t plan your cart route cleverly. I think Tandy is on the right track. Missed PR opportunity. That’s all.

These samples sparkle ethically. A work friend was coming to this end of Lake Ontario from the other end and rather than stay in Canada popped south. He asked if there was anything he might pick up and I directed him to CBW who hand filled these two bottles for same delivery back across the border. They are only on tap so far so the bottling is a bit of an experiment. The “F” and “W” black markered on the cap is not actual branding. So, not available in my town or country and not available in this format. If I like them, I know the pain and torment of alienation from the beloved. If I don’t, well, what was the treat that I was somehow leveraging against my inner compass? No ethical mine field when the prize is crap. Result? My soul is as pure as the lamb’s.

Let’s see. Gimme a second to get a glass…

Frank poured a clouded light gold, under whipped egg white head. The aroma jumped at me as soon as I popped the cap. Bright apricot and lime citrus on the most modest snort. On the swish, it is a lighter bodies mouthful of grapefruit and arugula. Very much the lawnmower in the the weedy ditch sort of hopping. At 4.6% God knows I could not possibly suggest this is sessionable but one sure could consume a significant quality at a moderate pace over a long period of time. The slightly drying finish reminds me a lot of Nickle Creek’s APA of a couple of weeks ago. But this is a bit more of a fruity take of a pale ale. Like it lots. BAers who have had it have the love.

The Whale is beefier at 5.9%. Rahther than rocky meringue, from above this looks like a very large espresso with its fine mocha cream head. Plenty to smell: date, cocoa, coffee. In the mouth a wonderful wash of soft water cream and coffee with nut and dark dry fruit flavours wafting about. Really quite rich and lovely. Hopping is there, a bit minty but only a bit, to cut any cloy and also to frame the flavours in the malt. I get licorice and a bit of white pepper, too. Maybe even a little cigar. Quite the thing. Rich but not flabby. Still bread crusty. More BAer love.

So. Feeling ethically pure still? Sure am. A fine brace of beers as ever I had and certainly so given that they are from a brewery that has only been open for month and could fit in my shed.

Belgium: Thinking About Four Sorts Of Brown

belrod2

Continuing in the style of Four Belgian Blondes and Four Wittes, I am going to try to work through the Belgians I have squirrelled away over the last few months style by style. I also want to avoid one problem that arises doing a side-by-side, especially when you are looking at triples and strong ales. Four of those at 8 to 11%, especially when one or two only come in a quart, can frankly blow the top off yer heed. So, to ensure some benefit of the colour and head comparison, while at the same time avoiding a public display of the ever famous liquid lobotomy, I have decided upon a handy-dandy chart format for these posts. As I open each brew within the set, I will add it to the table with a photo of its label and one of the pour along with some notes. Click on the photos for a bigger view.

The trouble with this first set, however, is that they are not a style all. They are just a grab bag of styles all of which fall under the word “brown” more or less. The Petrus is a tangy Oud Bruin, while the Leffe Brown is something more familiar, a rich brown. The Kasteel is more of a barleywine while Rodenbach Grand Cru is a sour beer gone mad – the best malt vinegar you will ever find. All, however, are forms of browns from Belgium.

 

Belgian Browns Bottle and Pour Notes
belpet1

Petrus Oud BruinFlemish Brown




translucent mahogany
petrus1

Lambic-like, sour cherry aroma, refreshing but also, at its core woodsy. Tart orange and spicy but in a good Christmas cake way. The body is not heavy. Slight carbonation – very light for a Belgian. 5.5% in a 250 ml bottle. BAs speak.

belkas1

Kasteel IngelmunsterQuadruple or Barleywine

 



Demarrara
belkas2

This is a dandy big beer – brown sugar plumy or red grape malty goodness at 11%. Without a trace of orange peel or spice so no hint of a dubble. No sour at all so nothing oud about it. This is surprisingly fresh for its bulk…like me. Rummy. Very subdued hops, only enough to keep the sweetness from being cloying. Here is the brewery’s take on it. A juicy swallow ending in a hot port finish. 330 ml bottle. Advocates comment.

belrod1

Rodenbach
Grand CruFlemish Red





cherry wood patina

I said that this was the best malt vinegar you will ever taste and I am not kidding. This is pure soured, oak aged Belgian brew. Michael Jackson is kinder speaking of a vanilla-like oakiness, passion-fruit flavours, a clean sharp acidity like sour cream. That is all there but you have to appreciate that the acidity is that of a sub-puckeringly sharp wine. Vineous does not cover how sharp. Tart but only in the sense of King Tart of the Tartonians. Within the tart the is some reflection of spice and certainly a gooseberry-rhubarb custard trifle would go well with this. That acid lingers the palate with the yeast with some deference to richness. It is nice. Try it but prepare to wish for a nice light double IPA as a cleansing light chaser. 6% in a 330 ml bottle.Beertonians blown away.

 

bellef1

Leffe Brown Belgian Dark Ale

 

 

 

 

 

Chestnut

bellef2

Hard label this one. It has some rich round brown like the Kesteel and also some tang like the Flemish Browns. Another calls it an almost double and another a dark ale. But labels have a limit. A lively head which leaves a rich foam ring. Medium to strong body. Cream and chocolate with a strong hop edge cutting the sweet. 6.5% in a 330 ml. Great on tap.Beersters consider.

 

New York: Variety 12- Pack, Cooperstown Brewing, Milford

Another big buy from my trip a few weeks ago to the Party Source in Syracuse, NY. The case of this happy vista upon cracking the cardboard. Cooperstown Brewing is not actually in Cooperstown but is a proud cornerstone of the Milford, New York business community.

Like the Smuttynose case review posted ten days ago, I will work through the varieties included in this combo pack and give my impression of what the brewery is up to. One preliminary point, however. In this pack there are twelve bottles of six types as opposed to the four types. For me this takes out the “what do you think opportunity” – I don’t mind sharing a third but I think two bottles separated by a couple of days helps me think about whether I like a brew or not. Also, without having had one, drop the “golden ale”. Maybe once I have popped them, I will feel differently but to me that sounds like a pale ale that can’t work itself up to call itself even that. Plus, having sneaked one each of the stout and porter already, I know you could drop the stout. The porter is a real winner but the stout is not. You are trying to win me over with these mixed cases, so my advice is play your best cards.

I will review all six ales – and they are all ales which is a plus from the get go – as I pop ’em.

Golden Ale: I am not sure whether I have to retract what I wrote above, now a few days ago, but I am also not minding this light ale. That is what it really is at 4.3%. The brewery says:”Nine Man” is a golden ale, brewed from English pale and crystal malts, and with torrified wheat. It is bittered with Cascade and Cluster hops and finished with Cascade hops. “Nine Man Ale” was first brewed as a summer seasonal beer in 1996. It was kegged the first season but not bottled until the opening of the baseball season in April 1997.

– Original Gravity 1.045 / Final Gravity 1.012 /4.3% abv.

There is more body in this than a supposedly full-bodied Canadian macro-ale like Labatt 50. The hop selection and timing provides a good edge to the brew without florals or fruity flavour – maybe a wee lemon rind thing. The crystal malt gives it a slight nutty tone as well. Nothing remarkable except that at that moderate alcohol level, it does not come across as any kind of compromise. The beer advocatonians are a little restless with a 19% thumbs down rating. Here is one unhappy soul’s tale:Found this to be a decent, quaffable light ale. It has a pleasant medium gold appearance with a slight head. The aroma has hints of mown grass with some hints of Saaz hops. Tart, slightly fruity flavor. At the end, find it to be a bit clingy and starchy on the aftertaste.That reviewer rated it 2.9 out of 5. What do you want from a light ale?!?! But that is it! It is not called a light ale or even a lite one but a golden one. By not admitting what it is, has Cooperstown lost a market? Perhaps. For now, I say leave three of these in the box…maybe as a summer seasonal.

Pride of Milford: Strong Ale. The brewery says 7.7% which is about 2.2% higher than I would have guessed from the mouthfeel. It is rich but not Belgian fruity, more restrained like a low-end barley wine. The excellent Lew Bryson in his excellent, nay, seminal New York Breweries (1st ed. 2003 Stackpole Books) calls it at page 166:…a big beer that showcases the beautiful character of the Yorkshire [Ringwood] yeast. It’s malty, cookie-sweet and touched by fruity esters and Ringwood nuttiness that I love…I would agree with everything but the “cookie-sweet” unless we are talking ginger snap or milk lunch. I think this is actually moderately rich and dry – think amontillado or oloroso rather than fino if we were taking sherry which we are not but I thought I would say it anyway. The brewery says:

“Pride of Milford” is a very special ale with a tapestry of complex flavors and aromas. It is brewed with five malts and fermented with the Ringwood yeast at a higher temperature which gives this beer a uniqueness all its own. “Pride” has a distinctive reddish copper color. It is strong and rich beer. When “Pride” was first brewed in December 1999, many thought the flavor and aromas of this beer had fruit overtones. No fruit or adjunct flavoring is added to this beer. The unique flavor comes from our special brewing process.

It is not particularly pungent and has a soft mouthfeel, which would make it quite sneaky if one faced an afternoon at a cottage in winter with a fridgefull. Which raises the question of why this would be included in a case in July. I say include three of these in the case in winter replaced by the Golden Ale in the summer. I think beerish advocates would agree.

Strike Out Stout: The head fizzed like a Coke as it was poured and dissolved away within ten seconds. A nice flavour with chocolate and dry darker malts but subdued, a lighter bodied stout. An oxymoron. Fades in the mouth leaving a cocoa-chalky feel then just a little sour tang. The brewery is kinder to itself:

“Strike Out” is brewed with 6 malts including a balanced portion of chocolate and crystal malts. It is also brewed with 5% flaked oats for a velvet-like mouth feel. English pale, Munich and black malt, plus roasted barley round out the malt bill. Considerably lower in alcohol than both Benchwarmer Porter and Old Slugger Pale Ale, “Strike Out” is a well-rounded stout, opaque black in color with a roasted palate.

        People looking for a stout will be disappointed, especially with the 4.6% but also the crystal malt, quite off style, even for an oatmeal stout. Consider these

two great oatmeal stouts

         easily accessible to someone in the east end of Lake Ontario region. Both have richness. Strike Out does not. It should be reformulated with some body added or it should be called a dark ale, a lesser style. The yeast is a bit sour, too. Not really on for the style. I think I have made a stout like this and not been that proud of it.

One unhappy beer advocate

       captures my thoughts:

Almost black. Big Huge fizzy brown head. Good retention. Head forms craters as it dissintegrates. This beer appears to be very charged up by its appearance. Coffee bean, soap and leather are present on the nose. There’s something wrong with this beer. (Actually, many things.) Mouthfeel is way too carbonated. I get so damn much gas in every gulp that a burp is always the aftermath. The taste is astringent. Husky. Tannin like. Soapy. Stale. No stout qualities to speak of. I haven’t dumped a beer in months, but I just don’t feel like burping 20 times by the time I finish this one.

      So ditch this beer, Cooperstown. I think I am going to like the porter better from the recollection of the first. Leave this one out of the variety case to make some room of the seasonal.

Old Slugger Pale Ale: If there are two words that are bad in beer they are “Mt.” and “Hood”. Some call them spicy. Others, like me, rough and dirty, like a little bit of bark in every sip. I didn’t know what was so odd about this brew until I saw those two words – then I knew. Al Korzonas in his text Homebrewing – Vol. 1 (Sheaf & Vine, 1997) writes:

Another recently released American-grown cousin of Hallertauer Mittlefrüh. It is spicy (cinnamon), resiny and slightly sweet. It is recommended for any German or American lager. It is quite close to the Hallettaur Mittlefrüh in character, perhaps a little spicier. I recommend against using this hop for beers in which you want dominant bitterness – in a recent experiment I found its bitterness to be slightly abrasive when used in a recipe where the bitterness strongly dominated the malt.

      Not good news for a pale ale – that fairly malty, fairly bitter style.

Don’t get me wrong. This is an ambitious brew – ringwood yeast and its sour, woodsy thing; three very different hops, Mt. Hood as well as twiggy Fuggles and citrusy Cascade; as well as four barley malts including two types of crystal. For all that work there is an absence of finesse, the balance that makes all that flavour pull together. What would help? There is butterscotch but it is sitting there in a gap that needs to be filled up with biscuit. Again with the body…Cooperstown is just making them too light for the amount of flavour they want you to take in. Like the stout, it leaves you with an impression that it is thinner than it ought to be. Also like the stout, the head disappeared fast. The beer advocates give at a fairly low average for a micro.

Back Yard India Pale Ale: The head sustains longer than the stout or the pale ale. This is a good sign. The first taste is of vegetative rather than herbal hops. Clover sweet. There is a rough malt grain edge but is works in this one. This beer would go well with rich earthy flavours like ox-tail soup, parsley potato soup or roast squash. You know what I saying. I know you do. Maybe it is just that the ringwood challenge has been met with this one. A full three ales in the variety pack year round.

Interestingly, the unhappy beer advocates are talking about gushing bottles, cloudy ale and high burposity. These comments all go to problems at the brewery. My bottle was nothing like this, fairly still and balanced. So be prepared for bottle variation. The brewery says something very interesting:

English pale barley malt is predominant in this beer with just a small amount of crystal malt. It is well bittered with Cluster and Cascade hops and finished with a mix of local hop and larger amounts of Fuggle hop.The southeast zone of the leather-stocking region in New York (west of the Syracuse-Binghampton corridor south-west of Albany) was a hop growing area before the west was truly won and a local hop is a good hop if it is a heritage variety as this claim might be taken to imply. All in all, I am very happy with this beer. No Flower Power IPA from Ithaca but a worthy if less brassy neighbour. Redemption in the case.

Benchwarmer Porter: Comfort beer and, again like the IPA, a worthy placement in the case. The head is rocky and tan. The mouthfeel is full and full of mocha and fresh picked unsweetened black current. A beer fit for the Ringwood, but porter usually is. I used to make Ringwood pumpkin porter in my homebrewing days…but less about me, more about the brew. The brewery says:More than 4% chocolate malt, which is the most similar to the brown malts of the early 1700’s, gives “Benchwarmer” its dry coffee-like finish. It is fermented with the Ringwood yeast which is an excellent yeast for the brewing of porters.I am buying it but are the beer advocates? 43 reviews all all positive. One says:

Big foamy head and very dark color, but not opaque. Lots of hops for a porter, and they work well in drying out a slightly chewy mouthfeel, as well as imparting nice hints of herbs and dry leaves. Very tasty underlying flavors of espresso, dry molasses and earth. The finish is dry, with the coffee/espresso flavors lingering with a touch of alcohol. Really complex on tap.

Many reviewers taste some smoke which I did not get at all. Oh, well. Such is life. Very decent porter.

So all in all this is an ok variety pack but I now know what I will buy in a six and what I will not. Some concern for production quality but when they do well they do well. Nothing life changing but they are thinking and they are achieving – two things I have to remember to get around to from time to time Work on the stout and the pale ale, mix up the case to go with four styles not six and you are going to be ok.