Ontario: Stuart’s Natural, Scotch Irish Brewing, Lanark

snsa1Out and about on Friday I was quite happy to see this stubby at the LCBO, a cousin to the porter, imperial stout and IPA made by the Scotch Irish branch of Heritage Brewing. I was even more happy to see that it was a 3.7% ordinary bitter for $2.20 a bottle.

It pours a bright caramel-amber with a rich off-white head that resolves to a thick rim. In the mouth, there is a bit more of a carbonation zip than I would have thought an ordinary bitter might provide but it is relatively still compared to most ales you run into. The real pleasure in the beer is the amount of raisin-nutty grainy body that is packed into such a light brew. 95% of 5% beers in Canada would be thinner than this. The bitterness is in the English rather than American style with no room for citrus or pine or any other room freshener scent. Just a sweat (and cloy) cutting black tea jag.

Entirely delightful take on a too rare style usually reserved for thoughtful home brewers these days. If this is the same beer reviewed by three beer advocates, they have missed the point.

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.

Quick Note: 2006 Vintage Ale, Fuller’s, London, England

This one is being peddled at the LCBO right now for $6.50 for 500 ml. Nice packaging. This is bottle #65180. I have another 2006 hidden away with a 2005. Why? Because I am a nerd.

Tan frothy head over caramel ale. On the nose, just malt sweetness. Rich. Plenty of grain texture all in all and an exceptionally well hidden 8.5% with sweet malt and twiggy and slightly astringent hops on the wash around the chops. There must be more – start again. The nose is more than just sweet. There is a hay loft sort of clean organic smell. Tweedy. What about the taste? Fruit? Sultana and apple perhaps. Maybe one of those green fig varieties as well. Some smokiness as well but gentle. Black tea at the finish with creme caramel.

Some day I will do a side by side. Meantime, pick a few of these up even at this price. Thinking ale. BAers say yes.

Quick Note: Shepherd Neame Goldings, England

We don’t get enough Shepherd Neame around here. Just Bishop’s Finger in the LCBO and I thought I had heard rumours that even its days might be numbered. And just like Spitfire was a seasonal release from the government store in 2004, so too this summer we had their Goldings Summer Hop Ale.

I have to re-adjust just my scale for English pale ale. Having much more access to the heavier hoppier US versions you have to gear back and think of these not as light ales but delicate ones. And delicate this one is indeed. Pure white pin-point foam and lace over amber ale. The aroma is floral and reserved. Not staid, though – more freesia than marigold. In the mouth there is a gush of fresh water, pale ale bread crust graininess, plenty of stone fruit – apple, pear, peach notes – and a nice lemony citric hop bite. A gentler pale but worthy.

The 17 BA reviewers are 12% unhappy. Restless. Some say too watery. Some say not enough hop. Even at 4.7%, I say this is a decent English best bitter and that is something you don’t get your hands on too much anymore in the international drive for big. I like.

 

Four More English Pales Ales

I have done a couple of sets of tastings of English pale ales before and with a guest about this is another good opportunity. Here are four more English ales: a 4.3% best bitter from Somerset to the left, then a 5.5% pale ale from East Sussex, next a 7.5% Burtonian IPA and to the right an organic 5.0% ESB from Oxfordshire. What an excellent selection with which to consider the pale ale family as expressed from its homeland.

Pitchfork Bitter: White merenge stiff whipped head over medium straw ale with a light floral and grainy nose. The mouth feel is light, full of pale malt graininess, bright with pear and unripened peach fruit from the malt. Dryish with significant but not overwhelming hopped. Well balanced and refreshingly clean. A very attractive lighter pale ale. Here is what the brewery says. Here is what the BAers say.

Thomas Paine Original: white foam and rim over amber. Black china tea hops plus fruity malt with caramel and a hinty molasses note. The fruit is raisin and fall apple. Heavier again, clearly an ESB, some way to Chas. Wells Bombardier but just one wee step down that path. Yes, here is what the brewery says and, yes, here is what the BAers say.

Burton Bridge Empire India Pale Ale: Woah, Nelly! I had a Burton Bridge Porter in 2001 and this is its somewhat nicer twin cousin. White whipped egg white head over cloudy deep straw. Unique Burton Bridge hops along with that Burton Bridge unique tang. The hops are sharp, green and like a marigold-based drink from the blender. The only brewery’s hop profile which is beyond my descriptor of the smell and taste of driving a lawn mower into a patch of weeds in June. Tangier than that. So tangy it is tongy, like licking a cast iron pot coated with plain yogurt. [Not really but no other ale I have had could plausibly have that image in the review.] Yet underneath is grainy malt and creamy yeast. Black pepper at the dry finish. Again, here is what the brewery says and here is what the BAers say.

Duchy Originals Organic English Ale: Light tan foam over orange ale with no notable aroma. Soft water, quite flavourful watery water. Some sweetness but not yet up to raisiny. Some thought of orange marmalade but nowhere near Special London Ale. Hints – all hints. A tiny notch heavier than Pitchfork above, more tangy white grapefruit hoppy. This beer is brewed by Wychwood for Prince Charles:

When the Prince of Wales created Duchy Originals in 1990 it was because of his belief in the clear advantages of organic farming: the production of natural and healthy foods and sound husbandry which helps to regenerate and protect the countryside. Profits from sales of Duchy Originals products are donated to The Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation, which has to date raised more than £1.7 million.

Imagine that! It reminded me a bit of St. Peter’s organic. Finalissimo and once again, here is what this brewery says. Here is what the BAers say.

An excellent collection and instruction itself as to a portion of the English pale ale continuum.

Maine: Export Ale, Shipyard, Portland

I got a little fancy the photo effects but this is one of my first favorite south of the border ales and the only US beer I ever saw listed anywhere as a “Canadian ale” but I am thinking this is very like Mendocino Eye of Hawk and Special London Ale from Youngs.

A rocky off-white head sits over orange-amber ale. Soft water and a lovely aroma of marmalade. Rich malty and a tad sweet, this is a very clean brew with a nice edge of twiggy hops cutting through. I swear I taste a salty tang which is not too odd given where Shipyard brews its beer. If you don’t like the ringwood yeast, you will find an odd note. I like the ringwood yeast.

Three More US Pale Ales

A Sunday afternoon on a balcony overlooking the St.Lawrence and Lake Ontario and these three fine examples of American brewing. On the radio, the Yankees and Red Sox in the rubber game of the weekend’s series. Perfection.

Dogfish Head Shelter Pale Ale: From Delaware. I picked up a few of this ale last weekend in Syracuse and am glad I did. It poured white foam over fairly still orangey amber ale with a relatively soft mouthfeel. The hops are not overwhelming with their green profile. The beer is minerally even salty. There is lots of toasty bread crust graininess to the malt. Also, a sort of shadow of unsweetened chocolate lingers – maybe not from the use of chocolate malt so much as the combination of pale malt fruit, bitter hops and a modest but rish yeast strain. The finish is dry with a little white pepper heat. A very well balanced pale ale that satisfied even though it is not juicey moreish.

Stoudt’s American Pale Ale: From Pennsylvania. A rocky half-inch of white head resovles to foam and rim leaving lace. The ale is deep golden straw. Its aroma is floral as is the first sip. It is a far hoppier take on the pale ale compared to the Shelter Pale Ale. Again, it is minerally with green weediness to the floral hops. The strength of the hops overwhelms the pale malt, exposed and lightly braced as it is by a small addition of crystal malt. There is some toffee but less than you would expect from an English pale ale or a US IPA. The finish has some pear juiciness and accordingly a bit of moreishness. If this were any other brewer this might be their IPA but given Stoudt’s dedication to the big as well as their Double IPA this is a relative pip squeek.

Stone IPA: From California. Again a similar white rim over orangey amber ale, though lighter on the red notes, halfway to deep golden straw. Similar to the Stoudts but softer with less weedy green in the hops, more grapefruit rind and green herb. They are chewy without being bombastic – as Stone
can well be. A bit hot in the mddle, it has less of the salty mineral feel of the Stoudts. The yeast is creamy but quite subdued, just a rich note behind it all. Really nice if you like a hoppy ale and perfect with ballpark peanuts in the shell for the game – even if the Yanks beat the Sox 1-0.

 

 

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.

National Six-Pack III: Labatt 50, Quebec

fifty50. portland asked me to. And worst of all, this is actually a case…which I can never remember what they call in Ontario where a case is really a two-four. In Halifax, a case was 12. I don’t know what I will do with the other eleven. A slice of lime won’t even make it a Molrona as this is from Labatts.

50 was exotic in the early 80s Maritimes. You paid a premium under the category “western beer”. Why? Twelve years ago I might have had a few quarts of 50 on Friday night at the Lockmaster in Ottawa listening to bands. Having brewed my own beer for a long time, a beer like this stands out for its cheap ingredients – rough hops, sourish yeast and that funny coated feeling on your lips brewer’s sugar leaves behind. Here is one Minnesotan beer advocatonian‘s take:

This is pretty much a bizzarro world beer. Answers the question “What would an ale taste like if it was made by a macro brewer?” And it’s just as bad as a macro lager, maybe even worse. Flavor smells grainy, musty, and only faintly of the hops that a Pale Ale should have. Barely any hops at all, tastes pretty much labatt blue. It is crap. Since only respectable brewers pretty much make PA’s, against the style this is the bottom of the barrel. I feel bad that I could have gotten a 6 pack of summit, schell, flying dog, goose island, or many other far superior pale ales for the price. If ever offered one, just say “no.”

Twenty years ago Harpers magazine ran an article on the Seattle micro-brewing scene which ended with the reaction of one beer lover having a mass produced beer after a number of micros. He said “did I miss my mouth?”. This sets the benchmark for the low end of the Canadian pale ale scale…but you know I bet it doesn’t, if you really hunted them out. I won’t be bothering. I have my eye on Kawartha Lakes Pale Ale or Big Rock Traditional for the next examination of our national pale ale heritage.

I think I remember that 50 goes well as a red eye with V-8. It’ll be ok.

National Six-Pack I: St. Ambrose Pale Ale, Quebec

 

As I walk through this troubled world hunched over starting at my feet I sometimes wonder things. Things like why do the Red Ensign bloggers let me hang out when we don’t believe in too much in common. Things like why golf is. Things like why can’t Canada make good beer like the British and Americans do. Then I stand up straight and say out loud – “did I really think that?!?”

Through this summer’s examinations of all things aley, I have realized that I am not being much of a homer. Now, to be fair, no one is as attractive as the foreign girl at the party and when you travel it is nice to try different things so it is some what natural that you might pass the familiar confines of the Beer Store and trip down to the LCBO for a daring fling now and then…and who can blame you if you drag some friends news home after shopping. No one can – but now I’m coming home because for the next while, every couple of weeks or so, I am going to buy a six-pack and test it out. And I am going to try them pale (not necessarily my first pick on a trip to the power house) and see if there are any good Canadian ales that I can call my own again. Requests for test drives will be entertained.

The first guinea pig is McAuslan’s St. Ambrose Pale Ale from Quebec available at the LCBO and I think the Beer Store as well. This beer advocatonian hit the nail on the head:

Taste: Biscuity malt goodness with a nice smack of peppery/grassy hops on the finish.

When I think Canadian pale ale, I think pepper and grass thing that a certain type of our barley must add. This has it big time. Tastes like the beer your Dad drank in the 70s…no better as I think that is what I am going to say about Brick Red Cap. No big floral hoop-la over hops either, just a jaggedy bitter edge. The kind of beer that goes with a shot of rye. Grain as much as malt flavoured. Not sweet either. Both English and American pales are sweeter generally. The brewer says:

St-Ambroise Pale Ale is the brewery’s flagship beer. Introduced in February 1989, it is a hoppy, amber, full-flavoured ale. In The Simon and Schuster Pocket Guide To Beer , beer critic Michael Jackson gave it three stars and described it as: “An outstanding ale… amber-red, clean and appetizing, with a very good hop character, from its bouquet to its long finish. Hoppy, fruity, and tasty all the way through.”

Only available in half the Canadian provinces and apparently in Switzerland, too.