Ontario: Dark Ale, Muskoka Cottage Brewery, Bracebridge

1934Just learned that my camera died. Also just learned what a crappy camera I bought my kid last birthday. No focus. No warm tones. The corner of the cold room looks like the corner of a cold room. Sad.

Today for Ontario craft beer week, I went out to the LCBO and bought a few cans of beers that I hadn’t tried before. Muskoka Dark Ale is one of them. Dark ales were Ontario’s version of ambers in the States – an entry style that first generation craft brewers relied upon. Upper Canada Dark was a pitcher beer for me in the mid-90s pre-kid days in Ottawa Valley taverns. Easy and moreish. But, as Stan noted about ambers, they can suffer from sameness and the blahs. This one, however, is a great take on the idea. It’s like Theakston Peculier light. Molasses on the nose and in the mouth except a bit of Frye’s dry cocoa, too. HP sauce, even. Yogurty yeast but in a good way, more rich than sour. Nice dusty texture like the cocoa was sifted in at the end. Like it a lot. Some respect from the BAers.

Joints: Collaboration Not Litigation, Avery / Russian River

cnl1What to call these beers? For the last few years, brewers have been getting together to make something new together. This one has a deeperback story than most but the point is the same. In the end they are joint projects, opportunities to get together, to share and learn. And no doubt to have a lot of fun. But what do they offer us, the consumer? They are the specials of the specials. The seasonals with only one season. Yet surely they have to stand up for themselves as beer and not be the wall hanging commemorative china plate of the beer world. What can I learn from just this bottle?

Blended three years ago, it pours a lovely light cola colour with a frothy deep cream head. The aroma (aka smell) is dandy – date and sharp apple.with a floral thing that is almost rose. On the sip and swish, there is plenty of rich pumpernickel malt but with that Avery drying hard water. Dark chocolate, dark plum and a nod to cinnamon with an interesting juiciness that nods to pear or white grape. It is styled as a Belgian strong dark ale and that makes sense. Yet there is an the underlying tone. The hard water for me is not working but that is a personal thing for me that I have noticed since I tried a line up from Colorado’s Great Divide. I am a soft water man. Yet there is a rich plum dark sugar finish. Solid if, for me, slightly sub-moreish.

Plenty o’ BAer respect. Take their advice.

Belgium: Canaster, De Glazen Toren, Erpe-Mere

can1Here is a hint when you are traveling. If, after a tiring 600 km drive (to be followed the next day by another 600 km drive) you notice contract street sweeping equipment in the parking lot, get a new hotel. Street sweepers come and go in the night, you see. After idling their massive engines for fifteen minutes or so. It was like sleeping in a public works depot.

My only consolation was the bottle of Canaster I had brought. Labeled as a winterscotch-style ale I had brought it along as a reward for being me. It’s by the same good folk at KleinBrouwerij De Glazen Toren who made that saison I had last Thanksgiving. The beer is basically a Belgian brown with plenty of round brown maltiness, burlappy nutmegged yeast and some black tea and perhaps black malt astringency. It pours a thick sheeting cream head over chestnut ale. In the malt there is date and maybe dark raisin with a bit of a tobacco effect. It could have done with another something something but it was a very pleasant 9.5% brew that came across nothing as big as that. Plenty of BAer approval.

Not needing anything was the bottle of The Lactese Falcon Flanders Sour Brown Ale I picked up at Church-Key on the way home – you know, as a reward for being me. Yum – but I like the tastes of Parmesan cheese and Flemish sour beer and here they are in one brew. Plenty of roasted beef broth notes, vanilla, pear juice, balsamic, Worcestershire and Parmesan. Herself gets only molasses on schnozzal analysis. Somewhat controversial when it first appeared, here is a beer that intends to be itself – and one that may sort the style huggers from the brave and the free. I have another put away for a long sleep. I want to make sauces with it, soak meat in it – make welsh rarebit with it.

Ontario: Wind And Sail Dark Ale, Barley Days Brewery, Picton

bdb1So what do I do when back from a beer hunt? Go beer shopping I guess. Barley Days Brewing on the west side of Picton is the resurrection of the former Glenora Springs brewery to the east side of Picton which had an unfortunate track record of unintended lambics noted here and here a year and a half ago. Well, on the way home we drove by the countryside brewery and the associated pub but when I saw a fresh six of their dark ale at the LCBO today I thought it was time to try it again given the new facility and, I am pretty sure, new management.

I am very glad I did. The beer pours an attractive chestnut ale under a rich fine tan head, cool in the 40s F, this dark ale has plenty of nutty grainy goodness along with a core of dry cocoa. While it has whisps of date and coffee, it lacks that dark raisin sweetness that you find in a lot of darks but that sets it a bit apart from other good Ontario dark ales like 10W30 by Neustadt and Stone Hammer Dark Ale by F+M. There is also a nice twiggy earthiness from the hopping that is very well balanced and reminds me a little of Ithaca’s brown, though lacking its lime tang, a jug of which I shared with Gary last weekend. Certainly superior to Hockley Dark, though a side by side of the four Ontarians would make for a worthy inquiry. And while it is still a Canadian government issue 5% beer, it would make a very good session ale.

So, well done Barley Days. I will try this again and likely next time as draft at the Kingston Brew Pub where I saw it was on tap the other night. And note the very specific local branding including the artwork of Manly MacDonald (1889-1971). If Ontario suffers one thing compared to our southern neighbours it is specific pride in actual local history. Growing up in Nova Scotia where every child and every corner is deeply soaked in the real if nasty and difficult past and, then, later living in PEI where history is actively suppressed in favour of #*&$^ Anne of Green Gables, a Victorian propaganda piece the successful infusion of which any totalitarian Ministry of Truth would admire, it is great to see the specifics of the beer attached to the specifics of the locality where it is made.

Ontario: F + M Brewing, Elmira Road, Guelph

Neat and Tidy

Not all my travels for beer around Lake Ontario were on the US side. No, I headed straight for what must be the densest centre of brewing in Canada: Guelph, Ontario. Between the 401 and highway 7 on the west side of town you have national brewer Sleeman as well as venerable province-wide supplier Wellington as well as the more local micro F+M Brewery.

I dropped into F+M just before lunch and was met by the brewer who was right in the middle of mashing in. Rather than saying I would pop back at a more convenient time, I barged into the back…or, rather, followed him back to check out what was going on. What was going on was a heck of a lot of activity. In addition to the mashing man – is that Charles MacLean? – one guy was loading kegs onto the delivery van while another was cleaning out one in a row of bright tanks. It was the busiest little operation I had ever seen. When he got a moment, I was told they have been around for about a decade, are in the middle of a great season with 70 or so draft accounts and have their bottles in many stores from Toronto west to London.

 

 

 

 

Soon a few more guys showed up and I had a quick chat with Brian Reilly, the brewery’s General Manager as I picked out a mix to review:

Stone Hammer Premium Light: I like that breweries are being honest about the need to supply the summer beer market as well as the demands of those who are not wanting to move too far from the comfort of their macros. Light beer can have a perfectly respectable place in a brewer’s range and this one is a fine example. Clearly grainy and a bit honey sweet, it also has some bright apple notes as well as a subtle touch of twiggy hop. Very light champagne in hue with white clinging foam. 4.2%, this one is not rated on Beer Advocate.

Stone Hammer Premium Pilsner: one notch towards gold deeper in hue with a fine rich head maintained by the very active carbonation. Sweetish with a slight stocky aspect, a short of lightly-smoked husky quality, with a tiny bit of an orange peel note in the aroma along with grass. The finish is stone, grass and honey. 5% and all but one of 14 BAers approve.

Stone Hammer Dark Ale. Translucent chestnut with a cream froth and foam head. A very nice take on a dark ale with, again, plenty of grain, maybe a note of black malt as well as smoked raisiny malt. Fresh bread yeasty. A fairly dry example with some twig bitterness from start to stop. Just two BAers take note but both approve. Another 5% brew. A beer to have bacon on a bun with. Cooked over a fire. In the woods.

MacLean’s Pale Ale: Deep amber ale under a fine white head. I have tomorrow night’s BBQ ribs wallowing in this one overnight. Good move. Strong grain with some smoked rye-esque thing happening over pear juiciness. The label has a piper and, except for the level of hop bitterness, this might be a Scots 80/ ale. In the malt there is a little apple and date with some autumn herb but plenty of husky bread crustiness. Dry stoney finish at, again, the government approved 5%. This one would go well with grilled coarse sausage with onions. All eleven BAers like it.

So all in all, very Canadian with our love of that tilt towards grainy stockiness. When fresh, like these beers, it can be a great thing and really the thing that sets Canadian beer apart – a roughness that verges on rye. Smart brewers given the Canadian taste for rye whisky. This brewer provides a great lesson in what that profile can be. Plenty of chew to the malt but a good reminder that beer is made of barley.

National Six-Pack XI: 10W30 Dark Ale, Neustadt, Ontario

10w30

The trouble with Ontario is really expressed in its beer distribution system: it is too big. Half the nation lives here, half the office space and half the bears as well. It goes from the arctic to the Carolinian forest, from the western prairie to a few miles from Montreal. The effect on beer distribution is a focus on localization so that if you want to find one of the beer from the handful of brewers in the province you have to drive. Driving on the weekend for other reasons, I took the opportunity to test the LCBO stocks in Guelph, north on highway 6 just past the Sleemans Brewery, four hours drive to my west.

This beer was worth the drive. A dark ale that actually tries to be something other than a darkened lager like the quite foul Waterloo Dark. Dark ale is not really a style so much as a place there by brown on the lighter side and porter on the richer. It is a small place and this beer settles there well. The body is heavier than the average Canadian ale – as the automotive oil name would imply. It is however fairly fresh with bright, if twiggy, hops cutting quite a sweet rich malt profile. Within the malts there are grainy pale malt flavours as well as some chocolate. Amongst those there is also a treacle note and perhaps a little hint of licorice. A brighter and lighter Theaksons’s Old Peculier? Here is what the advocates say.

Perhaps not the most amazing ale but – for those named dark – the best I have had from Canada.

Belgian Dark Strong Ales

This is a very pleasant pastime this comparison of Belgians which is already into its third month. To say pacing is required is more than stating the obvious. These are big big beers with two of today’s selection coming in at over 10%. Good reason to have a get together.

Just as one observation on the photos I like to add to these posts, this was a very hard grouping to shoot as the paint on the Terrible by Unibroue is actually mirroring silver while the bottle is black glass. There was no way around using the flash, which I do not think provides you with the best photo of glass. So that being noted, here are my notes on the three examples of this style I have gathered:

Gulden Draak: A true Belgian, 10.5% 330 ml from a variety six-pack from Van Steenberge sold during the pre-Yule rush by the LCBO. The first thing you notice is the malty heat from the dark candi sugar – tastes of fig, pepper and prune. Also, it is surprisingly juicy very nice, grapy and there is a bit of milk chocolate truffle in the centre. Unlike a dubble there is no burlap or oaken notes or orange peel and spice. This is all about the malt, like a barleywine stripped of the English hops. The yeast is prominant as well, butter pastry and cream. It is all like a tart of prunes with whipping cream dolloped on top. The hops balance rather than cut the malt, providing structure but it is all about the malt. Advocates say yeah.

Dogfish Raison D’Etre: An entry from Dogfish Head of Delaware in the USA, this beer is 8% and 12 oz. sold by the single bottle at the LCBO. This one is lighter and somewhat reliant on the addition of grape juice to the beer but the result is surprisingly similar to the Gulden Draak. The yeast is bready rather than pie crusty and the hops are even more subdued. The rich core is more about dried apple more than prune. With its fairly soft water profile and relative simplicity it is still very pleasant. I am coming to think that these beers are also like Scotch heavy ales without the smoke of the barley and that northern strian of ale yeast. Soft blankets of malt. Some advocates disappprove citing poor head and thinness yet it was awarded American Beer of the Year 2000. Can’t we all just get along?

Unibroue Terrible: Canada’s entry is again fantastic – lush, juicy and more-ish. Amazingly, at 10.5%, there is no heat. I am recalling that Terrible is less complex as well than the Unibroue’s Trois Pistoles, their other Belgian dark strong ale. [By the way – imagine a brewer in North America selling two Belgian dark strong ales. I hope Sleeman knows what it bought.] There is some orange but it is more as juice than peel. Big malt but the least signs of dark candi sugar than the Gulden Draak or Dogfish. A little figgy, a little leathery, smooth. Some dried cocoa like a can of powder for baking – dusty and light. Perhaps a recollection of black cherry. The yeast is milky rather than butter or cream – not rich and it adds to the juiciness. Hops again are structural rather than bitter. BAers approve as all but one.

I see that this style is just all about the capacity of belgian pale malt if concentrated. These are ‘s beers. This is what beer imagines it could be if it only put its mind to it, think of the big picture.

Belgian Dark Strong Ales

beldk1This is a very pleasant pastime this comparison of Belgians which is already into its third month. To say pacing is required is more than stating the obvious. These are big big beers with two of today’s selection coming in at over 10%. Good reason to have a get together.

Just as one observation on the photos I like to add to these posts, this was a very hard grouping to shoot as the paint on the Terrible by Unibroue is actually mirroring silver while the bottle is black glass. There was no way around using the flash, which I do not think provides you with the best photo of glass. So that being noted, here are my notes on the three examples of this style I have gathered:

  • Gulden Draak: A true Belgian, 10.5% 330 ml from a variety six-pack from Van Steenberge sold during the pre-Yule rush by the LCBO. The first thing you notice is the malty heat from the dark candi sugar – tastes of fig, pepper and prune. Also, it is surprisingly juicy very nice, grapy and there is a bit of milk chocolate truffle in the centre. Unlike a dubble there is no burlap or oaken notes or orange peel and spice. This is all about the malt, like a barleywine stripped of the English hops. The yeast is prominant as well, butter pastry and cream. It is all like a tart of prunes with whipping cream dolloped on top. The hops balance rather than cut the malt, providing structure but it is all about the malt.Advocates say yeah.
  • Dogfish Raison D’Etre: An entry from Dogfish Head of Delaware in the USA, this beer is 8% and 12 oz. sold by the single bottle at the LCBO. This one is lighter and somewhat reliant on the addition of grape juice to the beer but the result is surprisingly similar to the Gulden Draak. The yeast is bready rather than pie crusty and the hops are even more subdued. The rich core is more about dried apple more than prune. With its fairly soft water profile and relative simplicity it is still very pleasant. I am coming to think that these beers are also like Scotch heavy ales without the smoke of the barley and that northern strian of ale yeast. Soft blankets of malt. Some advocates disappproveciting poor head and thinness yet it was awarded American Beer of the Year 2000. Can’t we all just get along?
  • Unibroue Terrible: Canada’s entry is again fantastic – lush, juicy and more-ish. Amazingly, at 10.5%, there is no heat. I am recalling that Terrible is less complex as well than the Unibroue’s Trois Pistoles, their other Belgian dark strong ale. [By the way – imagine a brewer in North America selling two Belgian dark strong ales. I hope Sleeman knows what it bought.] There is some orange but it is more as juice than peel. Big malt but the least signs of dark candi sugar than the Gulden Draak or Dogfish. A little figgy, a little leathery, smooth. Some dried cocoa like a can of powder for baking – dusty and light. Perhaps a recollection of black cherry. The yeast is milky rather than butter or cream – not rich and it adds to the juiciness. Hops again are structural rather than bitter. BAers approve as all but one.

I see that this style is just all about the capacity of belgian pale malt if concentrated. These are ‘s beers. This is what beer imagines it could be if it only put its mind to it, think of the big picture.