Click for a wider shot of the Adolphustown to Glenora Ferry. Battery died in the camera so no shots of the Black River Cheese Company. Maple cheddar is a good thing.
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.
Finally the wee truck from Fitzroy Harbour up on the Ottawa River near Arnprior made its way down to Kingston giving us a taste of this excellent local ale. This is a hoppy beer that reminds me a lot of my recollection of the Dragon’s Breath Ale contract brewed and bottled by the old Hart Brewery of Carleton place about (without looking) 35 miles south of Fitzroy Harbour. Candy cane Goldings and grapefruity Chinook hops combine to provide quite a bit of a sour tang to this fairly lightly bodied clean ale. The finish is a nice combination of the slight rough edge of the hops and the light graininess of the pale ale.
The brewery has a pretty good web presence which provides the names of bars where you can buy a pint of tap. It also describes the Sgt. Major IPA as follows:
Our Sgt. Major’s IPA is our most intense ale to date. It’s a massively hoppy and quite bitter beer, yet one with a nice, full-bodied malt background. It weighs in at 5.5 percent Alcohol (balanced by its big body). It is hopped with lots of Chinook hops which impart a tasty white-grapefruit/spice/resin flavour and aroma (and a total of 68 IBU) making the ale wonderfully refreshing. Being at the low end of the alcohol range for the style, it’s as close to a supping pint as tradition allows. While the Sgt. Major’s rather considerable bitterness is nicely balanced by its full-bodied maltiness, this is overall a predominantly hoppy ale. The full body of our India Pale Ale comes from lots of English pale ale malt and crystal malt, with a very small amount of chocolate malt. Our all-natural draught ale uses no artificial additives or preservatives.
I don’t know if that means the bottled version does have artificial additives and preservatives. I would also think that the full-bodied characterization is pushing it a bit in a world where a drive as far south as this is north will get me a Middle Ages Wailing Wench or Druid Fluid. It is, for example, lighter but hopper than Propeller’s ESB from Halifax, one of the nicer bodied ales in Canada, but according to the standard scheme of bitters and pale ales a grade below an IPA. But this all is not to distract from the ale, just the adjectives. Like Mill Street Tankhouse Ale, the lighter mouthfeel I think reflects the apparent or possibly emerging Canadian style of pale ale, as opposed to my suggested putative style sweeter fuller Canadian amber but less hoppy. Both are a degree or two off the standard for an American pale ale or its amber sibling and different again from English ones.
Nevertheless, this is very good beer and a worthy addition to quest for the National Six-Pack. The quality of the craftsmanship makes me think a wee trip to the Manx in Ottawa is in order to try out the brewer’s draught only Session Ale, a rare ordinary bitter which – if true to style – should not hit 3.5% and ought to be as refreshingly quaffable as a good dark mild.
I got off the 401 at the Brighton exit and headed away from that town, going north. I will write more about this brewery tomorrow when I am not so tired but for now here are some pictures and the assurance that some of the best beer in Ontario is being made in a small Victorian church in the rolling hills of Northumberland county. Just one point before tomorrow, however: there were renovations going on and that is why a good swiffering looks due.
The Next Day: You have to spend an hour getting to and from Church-Key Brewing from the 401. Do it. It sits between Campbellford and Springbrook on route #38 on a high point among small century farms. If it is not on the road, you will notice the yellow draft dispensing van out front. The brewery is housed in the former Zion United Church which was likely the former Zion Methodist Church. The main body of the building is from the 1860s or ’70s with an addition from the 1920s that the brewery is expanding into at the moment. Its 3000 litre conical fermenters stand floor to rafters like the dullest organ pipes in the what was the sanctuary.
I got to spend an hour with Church-Key Owner John Graham and Marketing Director Cary Tucker. We got so quickly into talking that I didn’t even sample any samples. They only sell six-packs at the brewery, moving kegs to bars and restaurants from Ottawa to Toronto, Kingston to Peterborough. Cary and I got into beer travelling, the joys of the Galeville Grocery and his website. These guys like to know what is going on in the industry and, after five years or operation, are still self-described beer nerds.
They brew a lager, a pale ale, a smoked ale and a chocolate porter and, going by the two sixes I picked up, the beer is some of the best made in the province. I’ll review the smoked ale and chocolate porter later but suffice it to say that I can easily see making the two and half hour round trip some Saturday just to get another fix. Recently, they have won some important awards:
Church-Key Brewing picked up three Gold Medals at the second annual Canadian Brewing Awards held at the Duke of Westminster Pub in Toronto. Church-Key’s first gold medal came in the Scotch Ale competition as Holy Smoke was chosen Best of Category. In the Cream Ale Category, Church-Key’s Northumberland Ale tied for the Gold Medal with Gulf Islands Salt Spring Golden Ale from British Columbia and Quebec’s Microbrasserie du Lievre La Montoise. Church-Key’s Decadent Chocolate Porter, flavored with cocoa from World’s Finest Chocolate in Campbellford, tied for Gold in the Stout or Porter category with Black Oak Nutcracker from Oakville, Ontario and Boreale Noire from Quebec.
Impressive competition which makes me think we have a couple of candidates for the National Six-Pack.
Readers in the local area may have noticed I have yet to write about the Kingston Brewing Company, more commonly called the Kingston Brew Pub. It’s just that I have not got a set of photos that capture the place more than anything but I popped in mid-afternoon today and made a start.
I have been going to the Kingston Brew Pub for more than a decade. When we lived three hours drive away, during LBK (Life Before Kids) we planned long weekends around meals there. Now I work a block away and am happy because of it, even to pop in for the lunch special or a cup of coffee mid-afternoon. The beers on tap are mainly their own but they do have McAuslan Oatmeal Stout and Guinness – based on the belief, I think, that now one can improve much on these examples of the styles. There is a bloggers meet up tomorrow evening there at 5 pm so I will have more thoughts and notes on a couple of ales after that.
Later: Ok. I never took any notes. I blabbed about blogs and failed to note the Winter Whallop or the Dragon’s Breath IPA. But I did get a couple of pictures of the upstairs.
Last night before going to see the Pixies, the siblings and I took advantage of the moment to visit an old friend, Irene’s pub in Ottawa’s Glebe district. Irene’s is a neighbourhood bar which means it is not necessarily the place to take someone on a first date unless you are on a serious testing night-out. If she agrees to go to Irene’s again, she wins. If she suggests going to Irene’s again, you win.
Here are six dark ales which I have stuck away over the last while to describe some of the differences. This is a special message to Nils who I think can start his hunt for a beer he likes with some of these.
If you were buying beer in 1880, these might appear ranked on a brewer’s list they are degrees of the same thing. On the light side in the latter part of the 19th century, pale ales ranges from light (dinner ales) through bitter/pale ale, extra special bitters, India pale ales to barley wine. Similarly we have the dark range from mild, dark, porter, stout (porter), extra stout, Russian/Baltic/Imperial stout. Gradations were marked by combinations of capital letters the most well known of which would be of the “XXX” label which would be a fairly strong pale. On top of that, just as browns are not all the same, neither are stouts. There are dry dry stouts like draft Guinness, extra stouts like Guinness in the bottle, strong stouts like Trinidad’s 7% Lion Extra Stout, milk stouts like Lancaster Brewing produces and Sweet Stouts which can be a light and 2.9%. Oatmeal stout, like these, is a sub-class all its own.
McAuslan’s St-Ambrose Oatmeal Stout: second from the left. When I see adds that make fun of American beer I think – what Canadian beer do I actually drink? This is it. From Montreal, St. Ambrose from McAuslan is on tap here in town at the Queen’s Grad House and at the Kingston Brew Pub, this stout had big body and the velvet touch. Tied with the products of Unibroue, also from Quebec, I cannot think of a finer Canuck brew. Licorice, coffee and chocolate in a sip that approaches thick and textured like espresso. McAuslan says:
At the World Beer Championship in 1994, St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout received the second highest rating of the over 200 beers in the competition and won one of only nine platinum medals awarded. Brewed from 40 percent dark malts and roasted barley, this intensely black ale carries strong hints of espresso and chocolate. Oatmeal contributes body and a long-lasting mocha-colored head to this well-hopped beer.
Paddock Wood reminds us that rolled oats are added pre-gelatinized directly to mash. It “improves head retention, body, adds grainy flavour” all of which is on display with the McAuslan – very highly rated here, too.
Wagner Valley Caywood Station Oatmeal Stout: far left. This beer from Lodi New York in the Finger Lake district makes for a great comparator with the St-Ambrose as it also an oatmeal stout – which is really not a very popular style. The brewery says of the beer:
This robust, full-bodied oatmeal stout is rich in highly roasted malt flavor, rounded off by a touch of oats, caramel malt and Fuggles and Willamette hops… This robust, full-bodied oatmeal stout is rich in highly roasted malt flavor, rounded off by a touch of oats, caramel malt and Fuggles and Willamette hops.
Comments here include “like a mouthful of dirty pennies” and “silky smooth and sumptuous”. This stout is a little less carbonated than the St-Ambrose, which is good. Carbonation, along with acidic water, is a way of creating mouthfeel without spending money on hops or grain. If I have a complaint with the St-Ambrose, it is the carbonation level in the bottle that is not present in the draft. Wagner Valley does not have that. Not as death by mocha chocolate rich, it is nonetheless a fine example of the style.
Fuller’s London Porter: third from the left. A full pint sets you back $3.20 at the LCBO but it is worth it as there are few real porters going around and this one is one. Porter brewing was the vanguard of early industrial standardized production capturing much of the English speaking world’s beery imagination from around 1720 to about 1840. Just one London brewer in 1820 produced 300,000 barrels – nine million US gallons in a city of around 2 million. In 1814 one single vat of porter burst flooding local streets and drowning eight people.So when you drink porter, you are drinking history. As stated above, stout was originally stout porter and side by side it is clear. Where stouts rely on the darkest malts, the burnt flavors of black malt and roast barley, porters use chocolate malts and brown malts to provide a similarly big but more mellow flavour. As a result, hopping is also lighter than, say, Guinness Extra Stout which is one of the most highly hopped common traditional beers there is. It is still a mouthful, however, as Fuller’s example shows. Coffee with a hint of licorice, unsweetened cocoa, pumpernickel. Fullers says:
Fuller’s London Porter is a superb, award-winning beer. We’re proud to have won gold and silver medals at the 1999, 2000 and 2002 International Beer & Cider Competitions. The origins of Porter date back to London in the early nineteenth century, when it was popular to mix two or three beers, usually an old, well-vatted or ‘stale’ brown ale, with a new brown ale and a pale ale. It was time consuming for the publican to pull from three casks for one pint, and so brewers in London tested and produced a new beer, known as ‘entire’, to match the tastes of such mixtures. Using high roasted malts, ‘entire’ was dark, cloudy and hoppy. It was also easily produced in bulk and ideally suited to the soft well-water of London. Very quickly, it became popular amongst the porters working in Billingsgate and Smithfield markets, and gradually, the beer took on the name ‘Porter’, in recognition of its main consumers. Fuller’s London Porter captures the flavours of those brews perfectly, although you won’t find a cloudy pint these days! Smooth, rich, and strong (5.4% a.b.v.), our London Porter is brewed from a blend of brown, crystal and chocolate malts for a creamy delivery balanced by traditional Fuggles hops.
These guys like it – here is a good comment:
The mouth feel at the end is water which leads to a high drink ability, smooth and almost creamy. They way that all the flavors blend smoothly and subtly together in this beer is what makes it great. One that will fool people who don’t know that dark beer doesn’t necessarily mean strong and bold flavors. This is what I would call a perfect intro to porters.
I used to brew a pumpkin porter that needed a few pounds of roasted mashed pulp to show up in the flavour profile rather than just add body – bodacious it were, by the way. If you want to try a dark beer and like a good black coffee, you can’t go wrong with Fuller’s London Porter. A standard in the fridge around my place.
Southern Tier Mild: second from the right. Well I never expected this. A pale mild. So it is definitely the far end of the scale of darks. Why so? Because it is soft, it is lightly hopped and it is built for a session. Other pale milds I can think of are Manchester’s Boddingtons and Newfoundland’s Black Arse Horse. All look like a pale ale but are so recessed in flavour you would think you were drinking a light ale. Then you notice it taste good. Then you realize that your beer is not largely made up of Irish Moss and other seaweeds. Then you think mild is interesting after all. Maybe there’s a hint of orange peel and a little honey and a little sugar cookie – but only a little of each.The brewer, Southern Tier (of the very lower corner of western New York) says it is a beer that “deserves to be imbibed often”. As it had a little sweet, a little hop, a little grain, low carbonization and a soft water background that is a pretty good recommendation. These guys talk about its biscuit malt, doughy, bready. A small beer but that is what it wants to be.
Waterloo Dark Ale: far right. This is a beer I have liked but, like most Canadian micro-brews, is lighter in taste than the US brewers would make. How odd given our mass produced stuff holds itself out as being stronger than our southern cousins. Brewed by the Brick Brewing Company of Waterloo Ontario, who says:
A dark beer can be a very scary thought to some people. Surprise, surprise. There’s no other beer quite like Waterloo Dark, refreshingly light and delicate in taste but rich in colour. Don’t be afraid of the dark. surprise yourself.
Hmm. Not very hope instilling. Well, it is a dark…but a dark lager. I would have thought it was a dark ale, a little brewed style that is way less than a porter but bigger than a brown. No hop imprint like a US brown would have. A little molassas and a little brown sugar and a little lighter mahogony in hue than a cola: “After seeing this dark colour, I expected quite a bold, rich taste…” was a particlarly prophetic comment. Beer advocate gives it a 74% thumbs down. Yikes. They also categorize it as a Munich Dunkle lager, not something I would say I have had a large acquaintance with. I think that is actually pushing it. As I think this is really a pale ale with some caramel and maybe some other malts added. Watery end with a sour tang left in your mouth. I can leave it with this wag’s comment:
I’ve come to the conclusion that from my experience their beers seem to be very lacking in flavour and body. I do however love the stubbies though.
I do like stubbies, too, but from now on I will stick to Brick’s original Red Cap revival in the little tubby bottles.
Southern Tier Porter: The last of the set. It has sat for weeks in the back of the fridge, the ur-porter incarnate…or at least the ur-porter of the back of my fridge. Smelly of coffee and licorice. Tastey of coffee and blackberry and cocoa and tobacco. Easy-peasy good beer. Big and fresh. We like that on the committee. I did tell you there is a committee behind me, right. Anyway, the advocatonians say this, including the following:
After a hard pour, beer produces little to no head, and is not quite as dark brown/ruby as is to be expected by the style. Too much light gets through this one. Sweet roasted malt and chocolate are the predominant odors. More reminiscent of a milk stout than porter. Smokey in character, with a definitely sweet malt presence on the tongue. Not as complex and chewy as I like my porters, but thoroughly drinkable.
I have had smoked porter and smoked herring and smoked cheese so I am a wee bit surprised by the call that this is a smokey beer. A wee bit less than smokey but the faintest hint might be there. I do not know why a call can be made that something is more milk porter yet also smokey but go figure. The brewery talks about “overtones of chocolate ans espresso beans” – a bit blabalonian for me. It is bigish and yupping. Eat steak, drink this, live long.
At the corner of Brock and Clergy up from the Hotel Dieu Hospital and half a block down from the back door to the Royal Tavern sits the Elizabeth Cottage built in the 1840’s. It was the private home of the architect of the Kingston Pen and is now a national historic site. I was thinking of typing this out but I am too lazy so here is the FedGov’t plaque out front.
When I was going up to find the back view of the Royal Tavern the other day, I passed this pub and realized that it said established 1839 on the awning. For those of you in outside of North America, this may not be extraordinary but for Canada – especially west of Quebec – operating establishments of any kind older than, say, 1900 are rare. Far rarer are bevvy related things of that age as we had prohibition for a good chunk of the period before WWII. In PEI this lasted decades, from before WWI to after WWII. As a result, few aspects of the inn and pub life of the place remain. Ontario’s prohibition lasted only from 1919 to 1927 but as this article points out the rippling effects of misguided do-goodery were felt for decades.
I had suspected the Queen’s Inn in large part due to the brick wall seen in the alley and the somewhat phoney limestone rebuild out front but when you get back behind the place you see the real history. The brick wall in the alley must have been pit in when a neighbouring building was removed and you can clearly see from the rear views to the left and below that the limestone walls are indeed of the early or mid-1800s, rough and irregular. Similarly to the Royal Tavern, to the post on which I have added two exterior rear shots, there is the monarchist aspect to the name, too, that requires a certain age for the use of reference to the Crown to be grandfathered.
Also like the Royal Tavern, I have yet to make a stop at this pub but will do some interior reconnaissance soon.