Ontario: Skeleton Park Session Ale, Stone City Ales

scaspsa2

Minimalism. I like this sort of labeling. It’s all I really need to know. Even if the Skeleton Park thing seems to be some sort of out of season Halloween branding. It’s actually the name of a district here in Kingston with its own claim to a particular corner of our a rich history. They have an arts fest there every June, just a couple of blocks from the brewery.

scaspsa1Golden amber cloudy ale under a fine clingy whipped egg white foam. Wafts of orange juice and ginger aromas from the Frankenhops these kids are brewing with these days. In the mouth, fruit cocktail. By which I mean the canned fruit cocktail of the 1970s dinner table. Lots of pear, a little cherry and a base of orange – all with a frame of weedy herbal bittering. By Stonch’s law, it is not much different than a lime and lager. Not a barley sandwich. Yet, it’s really attractive at this strength. Flavours that you see a lot a 7% or more but better suited in this more watery form. Lush. I like.

One thin BAer rating but certainly CAMWA approved.

About Oaked Beer: Bam Noir, Jolly Pumpkin, Dexter, MI

jpbn1Just a few days after saying that I could not find copies of Celebrator magazine – I find one at Jolly Pumpkin’s store in Dexter, Michigan. I also found this Bam Noir labeled as Batch #246 even though the brewery does not list that one as a Bam Noir batch. No never mind. Numbers can have that quality.

This beer is a great introduction to the style of this brewer. The drying planks of oak are there in the glass with the tang picked up from whatever was in the pores of the wood. I find that there are hazelnut, fig and brown sugar notes with twig hops. At 4.3% it’s a great candidate for the CAMWA brew of the year. Soft water. But be warned – a full 15% of BAers reject this one. Conversely, Bam Noir makes me want to roast a chunk of fatty salmon as it would cut through that richness well.

Session 7: Visiting The Brew Zoo

galt1It is the first Friday of the month and that means it is the day of The Session. Rick Lyke named it this time and chose “The Brew Zoo” demanding we all drink beers with animals on the labels. I forgot this earlier in the week when I popped a Struis with an ostrich on the front. That would have been perfect. A real shoe in for most exotic. Now I have to drink that beer with a goat on it. Do you know how many beers have goats on them? Good lord. It’s about as many as Belgian beers with monks or elves…or German lagers showing lassies with costume malfunctions. Goats…jeesh.

So I will have to see where I go with this month’s choice or choices for reviewing after work. I have to think about this and get back to you. The photo above has nothing to do with it. I just felt guilty after promising reviews of the growlers I brought back from Grand River the other week – but plans got hijacked last Friday evening after work when BR and Paul from Kingston showed up. Click on the picture. They were that good.

bam1

The Actual Beastie In Question: Bam Bière by Jolly Pumpkin. I have never had this one before or anything by this brewer but, as far as I am concerned, the lack of hordes of folks making tiny batches of farmhouse ale thoughout the villages and hamlets of North America is one of the faults of the culture.

Plenty of BAer love but is it a saison or bière de garde? Just farmhouse ale we are told…hmmm… The brewer says:

An artisan farmhouse ale that is golden, naturally cloudy, bottle conditioned and dry hopped for a perfectly refreshing balance of spicy malts, hops and yeast.

It’s only 4.5% and, ok, I admit it – dogs are rarely in the zoo. But who cares? I didn’t pick the topic. And what do I think?

[Ed.: give him a moment, would you?]

Well, this one could do with a cage or maybe just a shorter leash. An explosion of froth out of the 10.00 USD 750 ml bottle leaving me scrambling for a number of glasses to collect it all in. It was worth the scramble. In the mouth, this is like a subdued cousin of Fantome – white pepper and cream of wheat but also lemony like a Belgian white. Straw ale under a massively rocky white meringue head. Hoppy with astringent dried out hops leaving a lavendar. Dry with under ripe strawberry. The nose reminds me of poached haddock with only white pepper that I had as a child but that should mean nothing to you. Fabulous. A cross between straight-up Fantome saison and Orval?

Good doggie.

Ontario: Grand River Brewing, Cambridge, RMW

grand3

If Canada has a hub of microbrewing, a very good argument could be made that it is in the cluster of smaller cities around Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph about an hour west of Toronto. Off the top of my head I can think of seven or eight breweries in the area. Maybe there are more but however many there are the newest is Grand River Brewing in Cambridge’s old Galt district.

grand1

grand2

grand7

 

 

 

 

We stopped in on a two day weekend zip across the Province and were very happy we did. Although they have not been open long, they already have ten draught accounts including some with the finer beer bars of Toronto – and apparently a brisk trade in growlers if our short time at the place was any indication. The brewery is housed in an old knife factory, a long and narrow building lit by sunlight. Even on the largely grey day when we were there, there was plenty to see in the large reception hall and the adjoining brewing rooms and plenty to sample, too.

grand6-1

grand5

grand8

 

 

 

 

I heard about Grand River from the discussion on The Bar Towel, like this thread discussing Grand River’s Mill Race Mild. Hearing there was a mild out there to be had was reason enough to stop to check it out given all the interest in session beers as well as my own home brewing interest in milds. But when I got there I found out from one of the owners, Bob Hanenberg, that all of their four beers are under 4.7% and that these sorts of beers was to be their focus. We tried them all and, honestly, all were among the best Canadian micros I have ever tried. Even with the area’s natural hard water, the two lagers and two ales were all rich and more-ish with the mild being the favorite. At 3.5%, it had plenty of grainy and nutty texture and, frankly, it was as big in body than most micros made in Ontario of any style. I took away a number of 15.75 CND (including 5 buck deposit so a good deal) growlers of the mild as well as their rich and hoppy Plowman’s ale, a green hoppy pale ale that was also nicely rich.

I will give a more detailed review of the two brews that I brought home soon but suffice it to say that this is a brewery that is trying and achieving something new – lower alcohol, full flavoured beers with no compromise. Go find them.

CAMWA: The Campaign For Watery Ale

camwa
Two Nations Joined By Water
Why can’t we admit it? We are all sitting around drinking flavoured water. We craft beer lovers like to pretend it is like wine, an art based on the manipulation fruit juice – but it ain’t so. In a very real sense, fine beer is a far more crafted product than fine wine. People put it together, do the job of the vine. And it is put together for the most part with water.

My favorite Pennsylvania (unless Mario Lemieux is now officially a Pennsylvanian) Lew Bryson is continuing to develop his very cogent argument, as we have discussed before, for the support of lighter flavourful session ales as an equally legitimate part of the broad beery spectrum. To my mind, the problem is that the water in beer needs to be described in a way that is the equal to the pervasive mass marketing by the macro-industrial BeerCo or as legitimate as the current alt.beer mania for the big bombastic hophead’s dream or rarefied boozy ancient monkish elixer.

In short, there has to be something about lower strength beer that can be described to capture the imagination. Think about water – it is vital, something we consume daily, it is can be fresh and refreshing…yet to call something “watery” is a slander. And remember when we talk about water we actually are talking about a heck of a lot more than the H20. Water is the conduit for the mineral make up of beer, the very defining element of the terrior that in large part makes the finest wines desirable. We know that Burton and Colorado makes hard water beer while Dublin and central New York make their brews soft due to what is under foot. It is the under foot print.

What is the campaign slogan that can make the water in your beer the preferred characteristic of distinction? All I need to think of is good old batch 29 but that is just me. Twenty five years ago, we Canadian kids, then aware of the then superiority of our brewing, knew the very successful “Tastes Great…Less Filling” ad campaign for southern brew Miller Lite was really all about taste and low alcohol strength. We were all told that anyone could drink it all night and so you could – except we up here would never dream of it because we were looking for the effect, we were going for the buzz. Does that idea of beer should not let you down now need to be added to the cultural mix? Does a long day at work demand a long night’s worth of beer without the hangover or the drunk tank? You can see what would happen. First, MADD would go…mad. It would be glorifying beer drinking even if it would be a campaign for moderation. Then, there would be the issue of price. I should be able to drink four pints of 3% beer for the same price as three pints of 4% and two of 6% or at least there should be some significant reflection. But that may strike at the bottom line. How can that be the story be told without risking the premium rightfully placed on brewing craft ale becoming part of the spin?

So what is the slogan that will frame it all for us so that we get the idea that we can learn to love the water, too? Having one for the road is never the right idea but having another because it is a beer that it built for two might be exactly what we all need.